Day 1: Drive from city to Buffalo/Flight from Buffalo to Chicago/Chicago to Europe
January 3rd, 2013(New York, U.S)
9:30 a.m.: Today I start my journey to the one area of the world that I have always longed to go to. This study abroad trip has been on my mind for the entire fall semester as I sat through boring lecture center classes. I took a study of Islam in Morocco and Spain course along with a Western art course geared to medieval and gothic art in Spain. Although classes were informative and an amazing learning experience, nothing is to prepare me for the hands-on experience I’m about to receive abroad. Not only am I going on this trip to learn about these countries but I’m also going in order to learn about my own culture. Growing up in a Spanish/Arab household has always made me different from my peers and friends. I’ve had the ability to balance both nationalities and culture’s my entire life. My mother coming from a strong Catholic, Puerto Rican household and my father coming from a traditional Muslim, Palestinian culture have made me the person I am today. That is why this trip has meant so much to me. To see the mixtures of cultures among Spain and Morocco brings about a feeling of my own childhood and an understanding of how influential these cultures are to one another.
10:00 p.m.: We’re all set to head to Buffalo! The car is packed and ready to go. Just charged my camera, which was a gift from my family for this trip. My plan is to really take advantage of my photography skills during this trip especially since I’m Journalism major and I’m planning to get started in international reporting and photography. Everyone in the car is amped and excited to go. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who has butterflies in my stomach. The others are feeling the same exact way. The anticipation is killing me! But now we’re off on our journey to our first stop, Buffalo.
January 4th, 2013(Chicago, U.S)
12:00 p.m.: This is my first time visiting Chicago! I’ve already started to cross off places on my list to visit. We took a trolley tour of Chicago which was actually a lot of fun. Haven’t slept in almost 24 hours, but it’s all worth it. Plus, I’ll probably crash on the plane anyways. Got to see this interesting building in Chicago that had rocks and pieces from monuments from all around the world including the Great Wall of China and the Petra. Chicago has such a unique style to it, and its history has such a cool style to it. The tour guide had such a passion for the city and it seems like she truly enjoys her job. We got to stop and try authentic Chicago style popcorn which was definitely an experience. Caramel and cheese popcorn mixed together! I really liked how we started the trip in Chicago even though it was a long layover. My anticipation to step into Europe is still there but it was definitely cool to see Chicago for the first time.
January 4th, 2013 (Frankfurt, Germany)
9:50 a.m.: Finally arrived in Germany which is one step closer to my final destination! It seems like there are a billion steps I have to take just to get to Spain which is causing my nerves and anticipation to increase. But I can say I stepped foot in Germany, the first European country I’ve stepped on. This entire trip seems to bring a lot of firsts which means a lot to me and my experience here.
January 4th, 2013 (Barcelona, Spain)
12:00 p.m.: FINALLY! I’m finally in Spain after all these long plane flights. Starting to see the Spanish words everywhere J I can’t believe I’m actually here! Listening to the locals speak Spanish and I’m just so excited to step foot in Spain. People in Spain look just like Americans, except that they speak Spanish. We’re finally on the bus and ready to explore Barcelona J
Day 2: Barcelona, Spain
I couldn’t have started this trip better than to be walking the streets of Barcelona! An amazing city with such rich gothic balconies and an old traditional feel to it. All over the streets you see “Tapas” on the deli signs. The true understanding of these food terms came into place as I ordered my first Spain dish. The group of friends with me automatically assumed because I was partially fluent in Spanish that I had no problem ordering lunch. But the terms in Spain are very different from those learned in my Spanish class. We ordered tortillas, however, they are not those tortillas you may find at a Mexican restaurant, and instead they are Spanish style omelets. Our first meal was delicious and we even got to speak a bit to locals. We learned that “Tapas” were small portioned meals. I asked the store owner if they are many tourists in the area and she told me “Not that many, majority of tourists crowd in Madrid, more so than Barcelona”. Our tour guide’s name is Carmen and I can tell automatically that she loves what she does. Her face lights up as she talks about Spain. She warmed up to us quick and gave us directions to get to Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a long street of shops and vendors that leads straight to the ocean view. Barcelona is known for having two views: one of the mountains and the other of the ocean, which are directly across from one another. At Las Ramblas, we walked the entire strip and even got to order our first real sangria straight from Spain!
Day 3: Barcelona, Spain (cont.)
I love the style of Barcelona. It’s antique but new all combined in this historical representation within the buildings and monuments. And even here you can see an Islamic influence as well. Today we were able to visit the Parque Guell which is a huge park that has monuments and unique architecture representations. Afterwards, we saw the Sagrada Familia Cathedral which is one of the world’s largest cathedrals. It was such an amazing sight to see as the majestic building towers stood tall and in every direction you looked, there was no way of missing that structure. Near the Sagrada Familia, I got to try an authentic drink in Spain: Café con Leche J It was by far the best coffee I have had in a long time and I loved how rich the taste was. After our tours we explored Barcelona a little more and even got to see some local Spain graffiti. We even got to take the metro and I feel like a Spain local already!
Day 4: Valencia, Spain
I love the grand architecture and advanced look of Valencia. It really emphasizes the use of modern architecture everywhere. We stopped at the aquarium and it was interesting to see the Mediteranean sea life which is way different from our local American species. The rest of our night in Valencia was spent exploring the city which has an old fashion apeal. Cathedrals and old, gothic buidings suround the city life of restaurants and open seating everywhere. It’s such a beautiful place to walk through. We explored through the city architecture at night and even got to taste a local traditional drink recommended by Carmen known as “Agua de Valencia”.
Day 5: Granada, Spain
Probably my favorite city of this entire trip. Granada holds the key to the Muslim/Spanish influence in everything from architecture, food, and even dance. As we walked the streets of Granada, I could almost feel the history under my feet. The local shops and alleyways resemble those of the Arab markets. Old architectural buildings stand tall throughout the city and at the very top stands the Alhambra, one of the most phenominal pieces of architecture signifying the Spanish-Arab culture in one. I loved every bit of this city because I felt the history as we walked through each building and street corner. It was amazing to see how rich the history is in Spain where as the United States is such a new country. Granada was named after the pomegranate fruit which was rather popular. I loved learning about the Alhambra and seeing the Arabic scriptures on the wall. It amazes me how beautiful all the pieces of architecture in the building are and I wonder how these large structures could have been built. They left a large stamp on Spain and the Alhambra really stands as a piece of history for all to see. At the end of the night we took a trip to see a Flamenco show hosted at a gypsys house. This was byfar my favorite night and I even got the chills watching the flamenco performance. It was truly the most beautiful thing I’ve seen and I even got chosen to perform the traditional flamenco dance. It was such an amazing night and I especially loved learning about the gypsys culture. It’s interesting to see that they have such a strong pride expressed in their dance. They throw all their emotions into the dance and tell stories about heartbreak and happiness. Granada really captured my heart with its rich culture and historical significance. I will forever be amazed with this city!
Day 6: Costa del Sol, Spain
Costa del Sol was a great break in between all the traveling and I loved the warm weather. Both nights we spent here, we really got to take in the ocean feel. It was beautiful and I loved being able to touch the Mediterenean Sea. How many people you know can say they’ve done that? While it wasn’t the best Spain cultural spot it did bring about the ocean cuture of Spain. It was great to spend time with the other study abroad students. We’ve already turned into this small family. Not one night has gone by where we haven’t adventured off into the Spain culture and I have to say that is probably one of the most memorable things I will take with me. Talking to locals and enoying a night of laughs in a country abroad, who can ask for a better experience!
Day 7: Morocco
The part of the trip that I was anxious and nervous for was definitely Morocco. While the other students had no idea what to expect, I already had in my mind how Morocco was going to be like. Coming from a half-Arab culture, I could see my family and traditions throughout the market alleyways. The faces of the women and men, resemble those of my father’s side. The spices and pastries all lined up fresh were those of my grandmother’s. The tour guide calling everyone “my family” was not so strange for me. One thing about the Arab culture is that welcoming is engraved in our identities. From the moment you walk into an Arab’s household, you are welcomed as family. Walking the streets of Morocco was like walking through a house full of my relatives. All warm and nice. It was interesting to see the reactions of the other students as we walked through Tetuan. Much of them were shocked at how poor and also how welcoming the Arabs were.We, as Americans, tend to have this set view of Arabs based off media and politics. But to walk through these streets there was no sign of danger or unwelcoming gestures. It was also a far different feeling than the rich Spain culture where as you can see how poor some of the areas look. But the people live in such peace. It really teaches you that materials and fortunes aren’t everything. We visited a carpet shop and it was beautiful to see how much detail and hardwork go into each piece. I talked to our tour guide Abdul (Michael Douglass) and it was a great feeling to speak to someone who felt like a family member from back home. It was also a great feeling to feel accepted in another country. For me, identity has always been an issue since I was younger. Being half-Spanish and half-Arab; people have always forced me to choose or to pick one over the other. I have always had to struggle with two different cultures, two different languages, and two different religions. But here in this country far from my hometown were strangers who were ecstatic to hear about my mix. They were intrigued and warm. So for me this trip to Morocco represented a moment in my life where I could say I walked through my Arab culture as an American and as a woman, which is something I can’t say all women can experience. It was definitely an eye opener and an emotional feeling of belonging to a group of people. From both Spain and Morocco, I was able to feel a sense of belonging. To see my cultures infused as one and not having to choose between my identities but rather embrace both in the midst of walking through these streets of history.
Day 8: Gibraltar
So far I’ve stepped foot on Germany, Spain, Morocco….and up next is Britain! Gibraltar, which is techincially British territory stands straight smack in the middle with Spain and Africa by its sides. Going from hearing Spanish accents to British accents was an adjustment but it was phenominal to see the midst of cultures in this one area. The Gibraltarians, as the tour guide told us, favor a Britain rule while the Spaniards want Gibraltar back as their terrritory. You can see all over the towns, historical buildings and naval bases that were used back in the world wars. It’s interesting to see the role Gibraltar had in both Europe and Africa. But my favorite part of the trip was going up to the caves. It was a great experience to see the caves up on the top of the large mountain but it was even more fun to hang out with the monkeys. The tour guide warned us by saying “You guys can’t touch the monkeys, but they sure can touch you”. I learned my lesson as a monkey places his hand straight on my back. Who can say that they got a back massage from a monkey in Gibraltar?
Day 9: Seville, Spain
Definitely one of the coolest experiences in Spain. Our hotel in the middle of the Seville nightlife added a little spice to our trip J But the beautiful architecture surrounding us really demonstrated a more majestic, cultural influence. Castle looking buildings with grand arches and designs. It really demostrated the technique and dedication placed on the creation of these structures. We even got to walk through a building used in the Star Wars movies. May the force be with you, Seville!
Day 10: Cordoba, Spain
My favorite piece of architecture from the entire trip was the Mezquita, the Mosque/Cathedral of Cordoba. Coming from a Catholic/Muslim household it was truly amazing to see the infusion of both religions in one area. It’s crazy to think that it is the only standing of its kind in Cordoba since the majority of the mosques were destroyed after the Spanish conquered. But it is a grateful feeling to see that this piece of art was left. The Spanish added much of their strong catholic customs however the archs are filled with Arabic style and scriptures remains. The Mezquita really holds a historical connection to the combination of both of these majestic cultures.
Day 11/12: Madrid, Spain
And they saved the best city for last! J Madrid was definitely an experience I will never forget. Visiting the Royal Palace was quite an adventure and it was amazing to see each and every room’s style and history. I could see the grand kings and queens of Spain walking through these palace rooms. Besides the architecture, Madrid gave me a relaxing feeling and I felt like I was almost back in New York City. It was amazing to speak to locals and to meet people from all over the world stopping by Madrid for a moment. We even had lunch in the middle of a protest, which was amazing to see since it was so peaceful and happy. No cops to break down the lines, just simply free speech for the people of Spain. My favorite area was Plaza mayor which was a large architectural structure surrounded by shops, bars, and restaurants. But the best night in Madrid was the very last night in Spain, where the majority of the study abroad group linked up together at the clubs and bars downtown. It was a celebration and toast to this amazing trip that we have had. My greatest accomplishment was speaking to Spaniards in full Spanish, which I have to say improved dramatically after this trip J Madrid left us with memories and laughter, and just like the cats of Madrid, we’ll continue to hold our heads high as Gato Matos (Killer Cats) as Carmen would say.
Day 13: Night train to Portugal/Lisbon, Portugal
A night train to Portugal..more like a wine train to Portugal J It was such a cool experience to just hang out on a train with no phones or technology, simply just people talking and enjoying eachothers company. I learned so much about the other study abroad students and what they plan on doing career-wise and about Carmen and her life story. It was such a cool experience except the lack of sleep no one got haha. At first, Portugal didn’t grab my attention. After all we had just adventured through all of Spain. But after a while I actually started to like Portugal. Lisbon or Lisboa was a beautiful city and it was amazing to see the influence of the ocean right next door to this area. We even got to try a tart pastry that was amazing! The views of Portugal was so astonishing and I felt like it was a great, relaxing way to end the trip. It was also really cool to learn a few Portuguese words like Abrigado! meaning Thank you. But the last night of Portugal was us toasting off to an amazing experience. So a couple of us grabbed our wine bottles, headed to the beach and toasted. For an experience that would last us for a lifetime
Day 14: Farewells
And back to the states we go… The moment I dreaded the moment I stepped on those streets of Barcelona. But all good things come to an end and the most I can do is take this experience with me. I’m so glad that I made the decision to study abroad in these areas. It has created a new found understanding in me of life outside of my bubble of school, family, and work. It has created a sense of appreciation on my part for the beauty of life which we take for granted at times. It has made me more social and willing to talk to new people. Each place we visited will remain apart of my heart and I hope to travel to other places in the world to experience those feelings again. Maybe it’s an addiction (one that I wouldn’t mind) but I want to travel the world someday. And while though the trip is done and gone, I take these experiences with me in my writing. As a Journalism major, I’m already brainstorming all the story ideas I can bring from this trip and it’s definitely longer than a page. I take with me such an amazing feeling of accomplishment, understanding, belonging, and love for a culture farther than that of my own. Adios Espana, Shukran Morocco, and Abrigado Portugal J until we meet again….
Bucket List Check
ü Travel all over Spain
ü Walk the market streets of Morocco
ü Travel on a night train through Portugal
ü Have a monkey touch my back
ü Visit a British territory
ü Dance flamenco with gypsies
ü Drink genuine Spain Sangria
ü Order a meal in complete Spanish
ü Try coffee in every city I visit
ü Touch the Mediterranean Sea
ü Ride a camel like a true Arab would
ü Party in Madrid like those Madrid cats