Sunday, May 15, 2011

and that's a wrap?!

Amsterdam proved to be a nice last hoorah! Our first night there, Amanda, Sarah, and Rosie (three other girls from our program) were finishing up their last night in Amsterdam, so we met up with them and Eve’s cousin, Jenni. We tried to see all “top” destinations for tourists: the red light district, the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank’s house, and the Heineken museum. We also got the hummus and Mexican food Eve and I had been seeking out for the past few months, along with Nutella and peanut butter and jelly thanks to the Hostel breakfast.
The Van Gogh museum and Anne Frank museum were amazing! I couldn’t believe I was seeing the actual paintings of prints I have in my house! There was a “Picasso in Paris” exhibit as well which I really liked that had all of the work Picasso had done while he lived in Paris. The museum also had some Monet—three for one deal! The Anne Frank house took us on a tour of the house she hid in from the Nazis. It had quotes form her diaries on the wall and her actual diary at the end of the tour, along with video clippings from people who had known her, including her father. My eyes got blurry more than once….
Lauren, Eve, Rosie, & Sarah outside the Picasso exhibit. I quickly got yelled at to put my camera away, so this is all I have for proof that we were there!

Anne Frank's dad when he returned to the house they hid in
One day we all kind of divided and did our own thing. Lauren and I decided we wanted to try to see the tulip fields—Sarah and Rosie had told us it was a must! So we got on the train to get to the fields, but quickly learned upon arriving to a small suburb of Amsterdam called Leiden, that it was going to cost us 50 euro. We decided to pass, and walked around the town instead. It was beautiful! We saw swans, windmills, people taking pictures for their wedding, and a lot of green! (something Sevilla doesn’t have a lot of). No one spoke English, so we heard a lot of Dutch and felt more emerged in the culture than we had in Amsterdam. We got pitas for lunch, had some miscommunications with ordering, and ended up getting a lot more food than we wanted! The waiter realized something had gone wrong and gave us “souvenir” shots. I thought it was funny that the guy knew the word for “souvenir” but not “bread”. Once back in Amsterdam, we went on a tour of the Heineken factory, which was cool. When one of the employees asked Lauren and I us where we were from we were sure to drop the Coors Brewery reference.

Outdoor bookstore in Leiden!

Amsterdam in a pic: canals, bikes, and cool, flat buildings
Lauren and I having a good laugh
What goes into beer? The answer.

My cool new friends!

Hamburger/ hot dog vending machine?

"Eat as much as you like in one hour!"
The reason we were able to go on our weeklong trip to Prague and Amsterdam was due to Feria in Sevilla. Feria is a week-long party in Sevilla during which a bunch of red and green and white striped tents are set up, women wear flamenco dresses, men wear suits, everyone dances flamenco and drinks rebujito. The area in which Feria goes on is so big that it has it’s own street signs, map, and, of course, area of carnival rides! I was able to go Saturday when we got back. Sarah put on her new flamenco dress and I put on my old birthday dress (hey, I tried, it’s a flower print at least) and we headed out to see the festivities.  Some old men pushed us out of the way to sit together on a neck-jerking ride that Sarah and I, therefore, endured separately, ate churros and caramel apples, and watched a lot of Sevillano (a type of Flamenco) dancing. It was so cool to see everyone (and I MEAN everyone, there were people ranging from age 4-80 still out at 1 am!) so happy and patriotic. It made me wish the United States had a song and dance that everyone knew (besides the YMCA, of course) and a time of year we all looked forward to.
Leonor & our neighbor in their Flamenco dresses!

Sarah & I in front of the Feria "portal"
Getting ready to leave has been pretty bittersweet. Manola keeps randomly telling me she’ll miss me—I’ll be eating a strawberry, walking out of the bathroom, looking for a water-glass and she’ll pop in saying she’s going to miss me. When I showed her my half-packed (and already pretty full) suitcase, she shook her head and left the room sighing, saying, “Don’t show me things like that!” 
It gets hard when the neighbor remarks that the baby (Manola’s grandson) never stops crying when she holds him, but as soon as I have him he only smiles. Or when María Jesús (my host-sister) and I laugh together as her daughter Leonor denies that napkins come from trees and we’re crazy for lying to her like that. Leonor grabs my hand when walking home from school and asks me if she can have my cow key-chain to remember me by. Trini, the teacher I observed in the schools here, refuses to say goodbye and plans on seeing me next week—I leave Sevilla Tuesday morning. Watching Greg shake his head over and over, denying that he leaves in the morning makes my heart ache a little bit, and the  “remember that one time…”s between Eve and I as we sit on the beach, perfectly comfortable being silent together besides these little interruptions, have started up-- they end in laughter and then silence each time.
Nora's great drawings in my room!
my room!

WORMS! (before becoming worms, that is)!
From here I have two final days left in Sevilla in which I plan on packing, going to all of the cafes Eve and I kept saying we’d go to and still haven’t, and laying in the sun by the river. Tuesday morning I catch the train to Madrid where I’m staying in the hostel I stayed in my first night in Spain and hanging out with Liz (who saved me my first day in Spain!). Wednesday I will head to the airport to go back to JFK to wait and wait and wait and think and think and think (and maybe see Kelly!) before I finally get to DIA, my house, and then, my very own bed (perhaps the most anticipated part)!

I guess I’ll have come full circle. Only now I can speak another language, have been to three continents, seven countries, and have taught English to over 70 Spanish-speaking, smiling students. I have made some friends that I know I will have for the rest of my life and have seen things that have completely changed my view on my future, the United States, and the lifestyles we chose (or don’t) for ourselves. All of this has taught me so much, including one stupid, childish phrase that I’ve heard over a hundred times and never really gave much thought to until now when I can feel it so much.
A nice view from my Boulder kitchen, thanks to Lee Runyan :)

Home is where the heart is.
Oh, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Defenestration-- Prague's favorite way to get rid of bad leaders

If Sleeping Beauty, Shrek, or any other fairy tale ever decides it wants to become part of real life, it needs to get set up in Prague; the city is adorable and made me want to be some sort of Princess. Since that was, clearly, not going to happen, I settled on breakfast.

Sevilla could learn a thing or two from Prague: 1) Bagel shops should exist 2) Bagel shops in Europe that provide tours are going to be successful. Each day of our stay in Prague Lauren, Eve, Greg, and I ended up at Bohemia Bagel, the restaurant down the street from our hostel that knew what breakfast was!, chowing down on bagel and egg sandwiches and chugging endless coffee (free-refills don’t happen in Europe until Bohemia Bagel!) as if we had never seen breakfast before—then again, it’s been 3 ½ months since we’ve seen real breakfast. The bagel shop had a pretty smart deal going in addition to their treasured circular dough—a tourism desk was set up in the front of the store offering free tours everyday. We met a great tour guide named Kate who was originally from Australia but had moved to the Czech Republic twenty years before to teach English. While she was there, she met her husband, and never left. She, too, is studying to be an elementary school teacher, so Eve and I flocked to her for questions about the Czech school system (it’s apparently horrible for those of you who were curious). She took us on a tour around Prague that included the Jewish Quarter and the castle. The tours were based off tips, except for the optional castle tour which was 10 euro, but in our opinion totally worth it.

Oh, and when I say euro I mean whatever 10 euro is in Czech krona. Upon changing our money, we all received 1000 dollar bills and didn’t know what to think. The whole trip felt like a giant monopoly game—paying 500 for a sandwich and 42 for a beer.

Outside of the castle

A mosaic on the Cathedral in Prague-- people nakedly popping out of coffins in weird ways

The back of the Cathedral which is actually inside the Castle
Which brings up the beer. Sevilla could also learn on that one: people tend to like more than one flavor of beer—thank you for recognizing this Prague (Sevilla has Cruzcampo and that is it.. and it isn’t my favorite to say the least… or my father’s favorite to show some real authority). We went to the Prague Beer Museum which had some great, unique beers and a cheap taste-testing thing. We also did a bar crawl which was pretty hilarious—Gabe (who we saw in Barcelona before this trip) and I danced like chickens and made fun of a lot of people who apparently couldn’t hold their alcohol during this event. Those bar crawls love the cheap vodka shots more than the trashy frats back in Boulder do-- I stayed away from those.
Eve and I cheers-ing our blueberry brews

Gabe lost a thumb!

It was very cold in Prague—I’ll take Sevilla’s weather—and we wanted to curl up in bed for warmth more than once, but quickly realized why hostels are not always ideal. We figured that getting a 5-bedroom room for 4 people would be fine—who would want to live with 4 random American kids? Well, let me tell you, 45-year-old, balding Gas from Wales would. Now, I’m probably spelling that wrong, but it is pronounced the same (just with some Wales accent) and it really adds to the effect to explain this man. My first introduction to this character was when I rolled over in bed and saw a bald man with a giant dragon tattoo (of course, I had to call him The Guy with the Dragon Tattoo the remainder of the trip since I was reading that book) laying on the bed over. Needless to say, I rolled back over to spare my eyes. So, yeah, we tried to avoid the hostel. Sorry, Dad, I know this paragraph is making you furious and scared—I’ll be home soon?

Since we didn’t want to be outside, we made the decision of doing a more in-depth tour of the Jewish Quarter. This was probably my favorite part of Prague. Kate had told us about the museum of the old synagogue during the previous day’s tour. The museum contained drawings from Jewish children who had lived in Prague during WWII. The children were deported to London to avoid the Nazis, and the teacher who accompanied them encouraged them to draw to deal with their feelings and distract them from what was happening to them (awesome teacher!). Many of the children died on the way to London, and those who didn’t made it to London but never got to see their parents again. So we loved seeing these drawings—it’s hard to describe how powerful the view of a child can be to make you realize how horrible something was.

The suitcase they found all of these amazing drawings in!

Also in the museum were listings of all of the victims who were deported during the Holocaust from Prague and the areas surrounding the city. Some amazing person had the idea of painting all of the names on the wall with their name, city of deportation, birth date, and death date. These line-after-line facts covered over 15 walls in giant blocks. It honestly took my breath away, feeling like someone had just hit me in stomach with a giant hammer. Eve and Lauren were also immediately quiet as rows of names with different birthdates but similar death dates poured over us; the sadness was drowning. I have to say, traveling to places (I went to Amsterdam next) where the Holocaust was so prevalent really makes the atrociousness of it all more intense.
Names in red followed by birthday

The Jewish Cemetery in Prague-- there are 12 layers of bodies with tombstones piled upon one another

On a lighter note, we went back to the Bar Museum that night and played card games and drank berry-flavored brews. Greg had a burning desire to eat Czech food (Eve and I were pretty satisfied with our bagels, but we figured we’d humor him) so we also ventured to a traditional Czech restaurant the next day. Lauren, Eve, and Greg all ordered goulash, and I stuck to spinach and steamed rice. The waiters didn’t speak any English and we got to practice for our next game of charades, and now, although it probably will never be the card she draws, Eve can complete the task of creating the charade for “I would like my change of 20 euros back please” while trying her best to not come off as rude. As my host sister María Jesús had warned me, the Czech people aren’t always the most polite to foreigners. To sum it up, Eve got her change (most of it at least) and we made a beeline for the exit.

The John Lennon wall

We packed up our bags, said adios (not hasta luego) to Gas and the cold. Then we headed to the airport for our next adventure in another place with another unknown language—Amsterdam.
On the Charle's Bridge- freezing in my bright raincoat again
 P.S.-- A defenestration is when you throw someone out a window. Prague has had multiple.