Time to Fess Up

Deep breathing.

I have a confession to make. An admission, really. I’m gonna level with you. You being, of course, anyone who cared to read what I had to say last fall. Eight months ago.

I am not going to finish this blog.

I know. I know. I’m sorry. Really, I am.

You might say this admission is a little late. You are correct. My friends might be disappointed. Sorry, Bree and Berlin. I’d imagine most people might have already closed this and gone back to Facebook. That’s okay.

Because here’s the thing. There is nothing I can write here about Brazil, Barbados, or Cuba that I can’t convey face to face. I’m home now. And I’m assuming that if you really wanted to know what Rio, or Salvador, or Bridgetown, or Havana was like… you would have already asked me.

I created this blog one year ago as a way to update my family and friends on where I was and what I was seeing. I loved writing it. I loved people telling me that they’d read it. I’d like to think someone other than my best friend and grandmother looked forward to the posts. But, it was the moment that made the process enjoyable. Let me try and explain that….

There was a certain thrill to stepping off a ship into a brand new city and trying to take it all in at once. The entire time I explored I wrote down facts, made mental notes, and drafted ways to explain what I was seeing to someone who had never seen this before. When we pulled away from port I’d sit in my cabin with my iPad and that stupid pink keyboard and furiously type away everything before I forgot it. Between meals, attempts to catch up on sleep, classes, homework, world cafes, presentations, lectures, game nights, personal journalling- I’d try to find time to draft emails to family and friends, sort and select pictures, form a cohesive story, write, edit, rewrite, edit again…

Then I’d get into the next port and hunt down a bar, or cafe, or museum with stable WiFi. I’d upload each picture, one by one, pasting my article in between the photos, double checking all sentences made sense and everything was spelled correctly. I’d wait. I’d buy another latte to satisfy the waitress shooting me annoyed looks because I’d been sitting there three hours. When it was done… I can’t even explain the feeling I got when I verified the entire post was up and running.

I loved it.

This process wasn’t difficult in Europe. This process WAS very difficult in South/Central America.

I’ve offered a lot of excuses as to why I quit posting. Most are valid. There were more places in Brazil I wouldn’t take my electronics than would. I was simply too busy in Barbados. Cuba, at the time, did not have any form of the internet whatsoever. And so I returned home with an unfinished blog. I posted what I had already written and then I stopped.

I just returned yesterday from New York City, where I visited three of my very best friends who traveled with me last fall. In a way, eight months after getting off the ship in Fort Lauderdale, I finally had closure. It’s hard to explain. But tonight, sitting in my mom’s kitchen eating raw spinach to try and convince my body to forgive all the horribly unhealthy foods I’ve eaten in the past five days, it just hit me that I want to write another blog post. Because even though I don’t have a run down of the last three ports to share, I have a lot of other things I want to say.

Participating in Semester at Sea has been one of the best choices I’ve ever made. It was expensive. It was crazy. It was stupid scary. It was me.

I think I had so much trouble adjusting back to Midwest life because I thought the trip was over. I had said goodbye to my best friends. I had unpacked my carefully planned suitcases. It was so easy to go back into a normal routine. I focused on what was done and over with, and not with what the semester had left me. That attitude didn’t really change until like…. an hour ago, when I realized I had a crazy urge to blog about what I did in NYC.

This is what blogging is to me. Writing in the moment. Writing when the emotions are fresh and the memories aren’t glossy. And I realize now, I can’t write about the last three ports like that. I didn’t at the time, and now it’s too late. I’m sorry.

But, this is what I can do. I can tell you about the final three ports, one on one, in person. I’d love to sit with anyone and share travel stories and make crazy plans to go somewhere, anywhere, in the future. I’ll keep posting SAS pictures every now and then, just in case you’re not sick to death of hearing my stories. And I’ll keep writing. Maybe it won’t be about travel. Maybe it won’t be about study abroad. Like everyone else, I have a lot of opinions on the world that I sometimes feel the need to share. Now that I’ve found some closure here, I might start doing just that.

But for now I’ll end with this. As always, I’d be more than happy to talk with anyone considering Semester at Sea or a semester abroad somewhere. I’m biased, but I truly believe SAS is the perfect study abroad option for someone who just wants to see it all. For more information, please visit http://www.semesteratsea.org or check out the blogs of my fellow SAS’ers.

Finally, if you read my blog last fall, thank you. It meant the world to me. It still does.

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This was a big year for me.

There’s really no way I can summarize this how crazy 2014 has been for me. It’s been a year of big decisions, amazing adventures, first hellos, and hard goodbyes.

I put together more pieces of my life. I pushed my body and my mind to its limits. I laughed and cried like I never have before. I wore the same shoes in seventeen countries. I studied abroad. I backpacked. I travelled completely alone. I met people from all over the world. I met disappointment. I met my passion. I met intense pain. I met myself. I learned phrases in Russian, Polish, German, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Italian. I learned how to be an individual. I learned how to figure things out for myself. I found old friends. I found new ones. I found myself surrounded by people I loved.

I was 20 for most of the year. I lived in a crappy apartment with a great roommate. I took a bunch of Spanish classes at Northwest. I found out my favorite band was getting back together. I bought their new album and listened to it 10,000 times.

I watched a study abroad video. Decided to dream. Talked to the study abroad office. My idea was rejected. Competed in mock trial. Won an award. Was promoted in one of my two jobs. Was published in the university journal. Fought the study abroad office. Wrote a 50 page proposal. Crossed my fingers. Watched my closest friend get engaged. Fought the deans, provosts, and professors. Denied to study abroad again. Almost gave up hope.

I moved out of the crappy apartment. Moved into a great one. Danced in it when I found out I was granted a huge scholarship and could study abroad after all. Took my last Spanish class with my favorite professor. Sent in my money to Semester at Sea. Applied for visas. Ate dinner with the girls from India. Wore a sari. Decided a sari is not my best look. Sweated at my cousin’s wedding. Taught a bunch of swim lessons. Walked through a cornfield at 6 AM. Made friends with some high schoolers in a cornfield. Was referred to as the blond girl wearing a trashbag. Decided a trashbag is also not my best look.

Bought a plane ticket. Said goodbye. Said goodbye again. Went to the state fair. Started a blog. Packed. Repacked because it didn’t all fit. Drove three hours to see the best concert of my life. Cried during the last song. Got on a plane. Landed in Heathrow. Almost had my cover blown by an old lady named Fran.

Saw Harry Potter. Saw Big Ben from the Eye of London. Saw a ship. Met a girl who thought I was from Indiana. Met my cabin steward when he woke up at 8 AM. Turned 21. Drank a smoothie. Ate some pasta. Found a piece of home along the Kiel Canal. Woke up in Russia. Drank some vodka. Walked through a geometric cathedral. Walked through a humble cathedral. Walked through a giant marble cathedral. Visited the Hermitage museum. Saw two Da Vinci’s and a masterpiece finger-painting.

I was confused for a Polish girl. Multiple times. Found a tree wearing a sweater. Took a picture of the tree wearing the sweater. Lost by the Berlin wall. Found by the Berlin wall. Found a quote in a book that changed my outlook. Bought a bunch of Belgium chocolates. Ate them all. Bought some more. Navigated Amsterdam’s canals. Ended up in a sketchy French bar. Became friends with a New Yorker. Navigated first of eight metro systems. Failed. Watched a storm from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Ate a baguette. Ate a crepe. Literally inhaled an eclair.

Went to a pub. Drank an Irish whiskey. Saw a guy get legit murdered. Stood on a hilltop over the Irish countryside. Nearly tripped over the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. Nearly fell off a zip lining platform on Sintra mountain. Decided I was too clumsy for heights. Went to Gibraltar. Sat in an Arabic cafe ordering English fish and chips in Spanish. Had to speak Spanish for a day. Stayed silent. Rode a bus through the Western Sahara for 36 hours. Became best friends with a Canadian. Rode a camel I named Fran. Star gazed in the sand. Slept on a sand mattress. Rode another mean camel. Ate saffron chicken. Got sick from saffron chicken. Got homesick.

Travelled seven Italians cities in two days. Became friends with a Kentuckian. Sailed around the kool aid blue waters of Capri. Covered my shoes in the ashes of Pompeii. Sang the song “Pompeii.” Went thirteen-year-old-girl-crazy seeing the Colosseum for the first time. Ate tapas in Barça. Went back to the same place four times. Went to some furbol game in Barça. Drank some sangria. Asked a taxi to take me to a rowboat instead of a cruise ship. Made some friends on a beach.

Started a journal. Crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 14 days. Woke up to the sound of drums. Jumped in a pool of fish guts. Kissed a dead fish. Didn’t do homework. Went to game night. Played mafia. Was champion of concentration and champion of avoiding homework. Played hamchuck. Was a psychiatrist. Read the entire Harry Potter series. Read four more novels. Decided to start writing one myself.

I wandered through a Brazilian favela. Tried a Caiprihana. Realized they are much stronger than they look. Hung out with a Jesus statue in a cloud. Spent a day shopping. Spent too much money for the best barbecue of my life. Spent a perfect day on the beach. Watched the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Competed in sea Olympics. Watched two dozen movies. Continued avoiding homework. Assigned homework. Got super dressed up for a $30 meal and took 900 pictures.

Got caught in a Barbados hurricane. Saved a sixteen year old’s life. Was told by a Barbadian zip liner that I must be on drugs to have eyes this blue. Then asked for the drugs. Halfheartedly attempted homework. Walked off the ship to a camera crew. Danced with Cubans. Claimed a pub and collectively drank all the cocktails. Ate too many two dollar pizzas. The first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. Watched a Norwegian lit a Cuban cigar with a ten million dollar Zimbabwe bill. Smoked a Cuban cigar on a Cuban beach. Had my advice ignored. Got blood on my Sperrys. Got back on the ship for the last time.

Took a test. Failed a test. Failed three classes. Learned how to make sweet tea. Stayed up all night. Signed some maps. Painted flags on sixteen hands with sharpie, then real paint. Took pictures at 3 AM. Watched the ship pull into Florida. Cried and hugged and said goodbye. Made promises to visit soon. Sobbed over a blue sticky note from my roommate. Flew home. Woke up my little sister at midnight and almost cried again when I heard her happy, sleepy giggle.

Re-applied to my university. Still waiting. Decided to attend a new university this summer. Decided to move to Canada this summer. Had my first US legal drink. Gave my family all my souvenirs as Christmas gifts. Skyped for hours and hours. Took my best friend to get ready for her wedding. Set up for the wedding. Watched my best friend get married.

And through all that, I came to the realization that nothing will ever be the same. 2014 was a year of deciding who I am and who I want to be, and I am no longer letting the space in between intimidate me. Thank you to everyone who impacted my year. 2015 is going to be full of questions, but thanks to 2014 I cannot wait to find out the answers.

Carrie

The Unofficial Tour Guide of Bar(th)lona

That would be me. But I’ll get to that later.

Barcelona was definitely a bittersweet port. For the first time this semester, I realized that the end of the voyage was approaching much faster than I could handle.

My only goals for Barcelona were to conserve money and energy. We arrived just one day after leaving Italy, where I had just got done spending ungodly amounts of euros on train, bus, ferry, and museum tickets. No, in Barcelona I was gonna lay low at the beach with nothing but a towel and a pitcher of sangria.

Then I went on my field lab.

My field lab for Travel Writing was the fourth lab I’ve been on so far this semester and by far the best one. (Reminder that field labs are days in port we have to spend with the class doing educational things that relate to the class.) And because it was travel writing, anything could relate to the class as long as we wrote about it. That meant instead of boring lectures and long visits to power plants, we got to go shopping. Educationally. In Spain.

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Marilyn waved at us from high above La Rambla. Spoiler alert, she was a he.

Out of the really cool places that we shopped out, one of my favorites was easily this nut shop, where they roasted all their nuts and seeds on site. The second you walked in on the wooden floorboards, the scent of roasting almonds, chestnuts, and cashews was heavy in the warm air and the walls were lined with jars of homemade jams and spreads.

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It was on this field lab that I found some really cool of the way places in Barcelona. It didn’t take me very long to decide I wanted to return to all these shops and I started drawing a sketchy little map in my notebook instead of taking notes like I was supposed to. I ended up using this map everyday I was in Barca to take friends back with me.

But Barcelona wasn’t all about the shopping. I had arrived in the heart of Catalan just weeks before the vote of independence from Spain. Catalonia historically has always been a difficult state for Spain to manage, and from their ancient language to their regional flag, Catalans wear their differences from mainland Spain like a badge of honor. Catalan flags were strung from windows and balconies, draped across shoulders and drawn in chalk over sidewalks. It’s a proud, defiant coat of arms: Four blood red stripes over a yellow background and a white star over a blue triangle in the corner. The guide told us they will announce the upcoming vote on Nov. 9th.

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The eye of Catalan watched us as we wove in and out of the old Jewish quarter: Cathedrals, fortresses, monasteries and wonderfully rustic shops that looked like they belonged in Diagon Alley. We found the oldest shop in Barca, the 200 year old roasted almond shop I just mentioned. We visited the Torre chocolate store, where they sell traditional Catalan Christmas candy all year around, and passed by too many pottery and hand blown glass displays to count.

But by far my favorite was the La Bocaria Merkat.

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Included on my list of things Europe does better than the States are these juices cups. When you go shopping in one of the many fresh food markets in Barca, make sure to stop and grab one of these amazing cups of pure blended fruit and ice for 1 euro. They have every flavor imaginable: mango, pina, uva, coco, fresca, granadilla.. (mango, pineapple, grape, coconut, strawberry or passion fruit).

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It’s not all about the fresh fruit cups in these markets. Walking through them is sensory overload, but there couldn’t be a better place to lose yourself. In each direction you look, you’ll find crimson strings of dried and floured sausage, heaps of dried and roasted almonds and walnuts, and crisp piles of fresh cucumbers, firm tomatoes, and crisp beans. Unlike the well organized, methodic grocery stores I am used to, here all foods are jumbled in an edible and maybe not-so-edible maze. The homemade sweets stands in stacks next to the dried pig legs, sold whole. Stop for a taste of the fruit blends mixed just seconds before. Walk past the crabs, legs still stirring feebly, indicating that just hours before they were swimming contently in salted water. Take in the scent of the sharp cheese and buy them by the kilo, or in a paper cone with samples of sausage.

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I had to tell myself not to buy anything and wait for lunch which has been promised to be a mouth watering assortment of traditional Spanish tapas, but my resolve is broken almost immediately by a stand of freshly fried calamari, then by plate of shiny black olives, then by a display of frothy iced tea. I don’t think anyone would be able to resist the redness of that watermelon, or the honey colored peaches.

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But I was in class after all, and all too soon it’s time to go. I looked up and saw my class pushing their way through the crowd and back through the market. But I’m not ready yet. I spot my professor handing over a euro to a Spanish woman in exchange for a plastic cup full of fresh cut fruit and I figure, if she can be late to meet the class then so can I. I buy my own cup and pause to admire the plump grapes, rosy red strawberries, nutty textured coconut, and the slice of crimson fruit of whose name I do not know in either language.

Then I heard a quiet curse behind me, “Oh, dammit Ruth..” I turn around, having forgotten that my professor was there, and her mutter brings me sharply back into reality. Our class is long gone. Together we navigated through the shelfs of ice cradling soft heaps of pig fat and whole skinned lamb heads until we find the class outside of the market. I turn to congratulate my professor on finding the group, but see she’s already dug into the sweet trophy of victory, the little one euro cup of fruit.

It was just one of those strange moments where I wonder how is this considered college.

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I left the market, only sure of one thing. America needs these. Actually we just need fresh wholesome foods like this to be as easily accessible and affordable as they are in Europe, but I could write a whole other blog post on that.

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The class was understandably hungry after the market and we ended up at this amazing little tapas place called QuQu for a lesson in Spanish tapa cooking. I loved everything we made so much that I came back to this restaurant to eat… four times. Each time with different people, but still. I had that menu memorized.

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Another pinch me moment. Learning how to make cocktails with your college professor.

We made a variety of different tapas:

Flatbread with stewed tomato rubbed on top, olive oil and salt.
Crab montadillos, little pieces of hard toasted bread with shredded crab, mayo, green pepper
French fries with fried eggs broken over and mixed in along with shredded jamon serrano
Brie montadillos, same piece of hard bread with goat cheese and truffle oil spread
Patatas Bravas: steak fries with mayo and spicy sauce
Chicken fingers dipped in eggs, flour, and crushed potato chips, surprisingly not greasy at all
Raspberry Sorbet and cream

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So full. But oh, that food was great. And the best part was hearing that we were done with the lab! I was not expecting that at all. Best field lab ever. After eating all that food, I decided to partake in one of my favorite Spanish traditions: La siesta.

The next day, with the help of my little map, I retraced the steps from the field lab with my roommate Erin. Without such a large group to try and navigate through, we had a really great day of shopping and hanging out. It was really nice just to have a day of shopping, because it felt like such a normal thing.

Before Semester at Sea, I had been to Spain twice, and by the time I made it to Barcelona it was the fifth Spanish city I had visited. And having spent more time in Spain, there were a few things that I discovered a passionate love for. Every time I came across one of these loves, I just HAD to share it with Erin. The old Jewish quarter shops? That was new to me. But frozen yogurt from LLao LLao? Now I was in Spain. And the second I saw that neon green sign, I ran.

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Sorry Erin, I probably freaked you out a little with my obsession with this stuff. Because I think you were pretty skeptical at first. But then you loved it too, right?? This is one of my favorite parts of traveling: finding something that you love and being able to share it with someone who also appreciates it. And I wasn’t done making Erin appreciate Spanish food just yet.

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It wasn’t my original idea of a pitcher on the beach, but still delicious.

Already assuming my position of unofficial tour guide, I took her back to the same tapas place that I went to with the field lab the day before, because it was so good and I wanted her to try real tapas and sangria. We ordered almost everything from yesterday, plus my all time favorite tapa: a plate of ensaladilla rusa, a mayonnaise mixture with tuna, olives, shredded vegetables and egg.

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I finished Erin’s tour of Spain in the heart of one of my favorite shopping centers ever, the intimidatingly massive El Corte Ingles. A brief explanation of El Corte Ingles. Imagine a typical Walmart sized building that’s nine floor tall. Except instead of all the merchandise being scattered in different sections throughout the store, each floor is a section all it’s own. You want women’s clothing? Floor 2. Electronics? Floor 7. Groceries? Second basement? A new car? Ground floor. It’s all sold by the same store in the same building.

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There’s not enough time in a lifetime to browse everything El Corte Ingles offers, so I took Erin on an escalator tour. Once we made it to the top we had a nice view of the city from the penthouse restaurant. We finished our tour with some much needed grocery shopping, second basement. In three days time we would be beginning our two week trek across the Atlantic Ocean, and the prospect of two weeks of eating nothing but ship food wasn’t pleasant. We bought our groceries and hurried back to the ship to get ready for that night’s entertainment, the FC Barca futbol game.

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I had thought it nothing short of a miracle that SAS was able to pull together six hundred or so tickets to one of the biggest sporting franchises in Europe just weeks before the game. And we were hyped up about it. I didn’t buy any apparel, but I was probably one of 3 SAS people who didn’t. We were 20 buses full of navy and maroon college kids ready to go crazy cheering at a soccer game.

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We get there and I’m expecting something bigger than the biggest football game I’ve ever been to, which is admittedly an Iowa game. I’m expecting a NFL sized stadium. But I don’t see anything until we’re almost there. It wasn’t really a small stadium… but it wasn’t impressive like an NFL stadium. My friend from high school, Steph, has seats next to me and we find them and sit down, along with the other 600 or so SAS people. It’s quiet. Also not full. Okay, maybe everyone comes at the last minute. SAS told us they scraped together enough tickets, it wasn’t easy…

Pretty soon I realize the game is starting. There’s an announcer, and I’ve heard a more exciting line up call for high school football games. He announced the away team (Netherlands futbol) with the same enthusiasm as the home team (FC Barca) and there was no music, no cheering except from the Dutch, who were literally chain link fenced in in their own section.

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Except for the Dutch section, Camp Nou is silent. I think if I stood up and started yelling the whole stadium would turn and look. That was not what I was expecting. I thought my ears would be ringing and there would be crowds of screaming and pushing people. It was like watching the ballet in Russia. We stood up like 3 times in that game. And us Americans were the only idiots in jerseys and face paint.

It was still fun though, just a very different experience from any sporting event I’ve ever attended. Maybe it would have been more lively if the game had higher stakes, I don’t know.

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And leaving the stadium was no big deal either. They dropped us off in La Rambla (where the “party” was) and it was deserted. But I was starving and so was Steph and we were one block away from QuQu. So, five minutes later we’re sitting down and looking at the menu. Don’t judge.

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Steph was so impressed with my tour guiding, she decided to accompany me the next day. So we meet the next morning and head to the metro, destination, Park Guell.

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As I learned from every single Spanish class I’ve ever taken (which is quite a few at this point) Barcelona is famous for it’s unique Antoni Gaudi architecture. I’m not kidding, I’ve seen pictures of the architecture here for years. It all seemed to lead to Park Guell. And when we got there and paid the for the not so cheap tickets in and saw the map, the place looked huge. Makes sense, I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of Gaudi architecture.

Well, my only conclusion now is that the pictures are combing all the Gaudi architecture throughout the whole city and just naming the park. We could’ve covered the whole thing in about 10 minutes.

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Don’t get me wrong, the park was beautiful, especially the mosaics. We saw the lizard, made famous to every sorority girl on the ship by the Lizzy McGuire movie. Then there’s the room with the 80 columns that are all wavy and cool. Then up more stairs to the curvy benches with a great view of the city, that was only slightly obstructed by the blue netting of the constuction below.

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Then we headed back around the circle to the long twisty tunnels that make you feel like you just fell out of a Dr Seuss book. Then all of the sudden we’re back at the beginning and both of us are going, wait, that’s it?

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Conclusion: All the textbooks pictures I’ve ever seen of Gaudi archtechture must be combining everything from the city. So next time, I’ll have to make it a point to visit all the other sites too. Park Guell wasn’t a waste of space, but definitely a waste of money.

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That evening I ended up on a random beach in Barcelona with a very random group of people I had met throughout the semester so far, and somehow became best friends with all of them. And because we had one day left in Barca, I gave my tour one more time.

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After making all the rounds (Old Jewish Quarter, QuQu, La Bocaria, La Rambla) we headed back early to serve out our dock time from being late in Italy. One of my favorite parts of Barca was sitting on a curb right outside the ship terminal enjoying the last minutes of solid ground. We were about to cross the Atlantic, a journey that took two full weeks, and many times during those two weeks I looked back and was glad we took time to appreciate the last port in Europe.

And if anyone’s interested, I would be more than happy to go back to Barcelona to play tour guide again. 😉

– Carrie

Favorite Moments in Italy

The semester is over for me, but I still have several blog posts to update. Since internet was practically non-existent in the middle of the Atlantic or throughout South America and the Caribbean I ended up falling extremely behind in updating while traveling. But I do want to finish this blog, so the posts will just have to be scattered over the next month.

So , I left off in Morocco, which was an interesting experience to say the least. There were a few days on the ship between Italy and Morocco that were basically spent recovering and making sure I would not end up with a repeat experience. I had four days to do whatever I wanted in Italy, but I had no idea how I wanted to spend them. All I knew is I didn’t want the entire time planned out like it was in Morocco. So I asked: What are two things I would be disappointed if I left Italy without seeing? The answers were easy.

Pompeii and the Colosseum.

One of my favorite things about my experience in this country was the spontaneity of where I ended up. I took the scenic route to each of these destinations through Italian city after Italian city, without ever really knowing where I’d end up next. In order to get to Pompeii from Civitavecchia, you have to take a train through Rome and Naples. I found some friends who wanted to go to the island of Capri as well, which is an hour’s ferry ride from Naples. Cue the long line of train tickets. Dolph is out of dollars. Euros. Whatever.

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The brave Italian explorers: Steph, Lynn, Santhya, Bryson, Cassie, and Anjuli on our way to Naples. Right before we transferred onto the wrong train and had to pay a penalty fine. Don’t mess with the conductors, folks.

By the time we had arrived in Naples, we were starving. Thankfully for us, we were in Naples, the best city in the world to be hungry in.

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Prior to my Italian adventure, I had thought I knew Italian food. Eighteen countries later, I now know better. There’s pizza in every country, but not Italian pizza. There’s pasta in every country, but not Italian pasta. And Italians go big or go home. They don’t serve a single slice of pizza. They serve a whole pizza. The magical thing about food while traveling is it instantly puts everyone in a better mood. I’m throughly convinced that this pizza could make Kristen Stewart smile.

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Maybe it was the effects of that pizza, or maybe it was the few minutes of WiFi we got, but the taxi ride that followed that first Italian meal in Naples was one of my favorite random moments of this entire semester.

We left the pizza parlor and headed back to the train station to find a cab to take us to the ferry harbor. Parked in long lines around the train station were cabs and cab drivers. But the cabs weren’t really in a straight line along the street, they were boxed in rows of five or six, so the only way any of them could leave would be if the cars in front of them moved. The drivers didn’t seem to notice this and as we walked up the circle to the front of the queue they followed us, calling out in Italian to get in. Juli voiced our confusion with their offer (when they are so clearly stuck) by pointing and calling out in her best Oprah impression, “You can’t get out, and YOU can’t get out, and YOU can’t get out!” But every single driver thought she was pointing to them specifically because she wanted a ride and they all followed us up the driveway. By the time we reached the end where the cabs can actually get out, we had a little parade of cab drivers chattering behind us and I realized Juli started an Italian cab driver brawl.

You know that stereotype that Italians talk with their hands? Like how they put their fingers on top of their thumb and move their hand out when they speak? True. So true. We have no clue what they are saying: the seven of us are standing there speechless watching this fight breaking out between all of these cab drivers get more and more heated. And it keeps going on! We had this group of at least eight or nine drivers arguing in rapid Italian enunciating every word a violent little hand gesture. They all think we said we would go in their cab. A new guy comes up and says what I can only imagine was “Okay, okay, break it up, what’s going on here?” Then fifteen seconds later that guy gets drug into the argument and soon is arguing just as passionately as the rest of them. Then another one comes in to break up the fight and gets involved too. Then another. Pretty soon, there’s more than a dozen drivers arguing over us, I’m breathless from laughing so hard, and Juli keep prodding it on with comments here and there. Not that it mattered, none of them spoke any English.

I’m not really sure how it ended, all I know is one minute we’re standing there listening to this Italian fight get louder and louder and the next we’re being lead to two taxis and ushered quickly inside. I’m in the backseat with Bryson and Cassie. Juli’s in the front seat and everyone else is in the other cab. Before we’re even decently out of the lot, Juli starts rifling through the cab’s glove box, a huge taboo to me and the rest of the cab, but she doesn’t notice. She whips out an AV cord and plugs it in the radio and turns up “Drunk in Love” by Beyonce as loud as the car gets and starts singing. The windows are down, and we’re in standstill traffic. EVERYONE is watching our cab. By this point, Bryson and I crying from laughter. The driver is looking at Juli like he’s never seen anything like her before… I don’t think he probably had. Juli waves and blows kisses at the cars stopped nearest us and other cabs drivers wave and wink back. At one point she taps the driver on the shoulder and does a little dance indicating he should dance with her. He does.

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The best part was once we had turned the out of the traffic circle, 10 minutes later, I caught a final glimpse of the mob of cab drivers outside of the station. They were still fighting.

That cab ride ended far too soon and my stomach ached from laughing. We bought our ferry tickets (the price wiped the smile off my face pretty quickly) and three hours later we find ourselves on the now dark shores of Capri.

Having only 18 hours on Capri, we had to manage time carefully. Open top cabs back and forth to the hotel served as both transportation and sightseeing. The hotel we found suggested we take a boat tour the next morning before leaving, so we said yes.

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Because when you just have a few short hours on a breathtaking Mediterranean isle, why wouldn’t you circle it on a boat? Unless of course, you live on a boat.. but that’s another story.

Looking back now, the tour we took was one of the best spontaneous decisions we made in Italy. After a late night of home cooked Italian food and decent enough wifi to Skype, we just barely made the tour on time. And since we were awake in Europe before 10 AM, we almost had the entire ferry to ourselves.

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When I was a kid, having grown up next to the Missouri River, I was always confused when people colored water blue. I had seen muddy water in ponds and rivers and clear waters in drinking glasses, but never blue. However, if I had been to Capri as a child, it would have taken a lot of convincing to keep me from drinking that water with a straw like it was a giant pool of blue kool-aid. Or like a juice pouch of “Capri Sun.” Wait….

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As we circled the island the boat driver seemed to be torn between paying attention to driving the boat and telling us stories in broken, heavily accented English about the isle. Because the English was so difficult to understand, the only words we ever really caught (besides some strange little dialogue about getting rid of your spouse on a cliff) were the driver’s exclamations every time we hit one of the huge crashing waves. “Mumma Mia, Mumma Mia!”

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Seven college kids who have been living on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic for over two months should be pretty used to waves. But then again, six foot waves are a lot less scary when you’re on a giant cruise ship. But we didn’t mind at all. The views of the island were enough and we screamed and laughed and screamed again every time that little boat threatened to capsize. Part of the thrill of this little voyage was getting up close and personal with the many caves and crevices of the coast.

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Remember what I said about growing up next to muddy water? Well this water was anything but brown. The sun just sparkled over the waves in endless shades of navy, teal, aqua, sea foam green. It was quite a trip. We rounded a corner and the boat slowed to pass under a narrow archway that stood guard over the open sea. I swivelled around in my seat as we exited the tunnel to appreciate the majestic arch, until my thoughts were interrupted by the captain who was continuing his losing battle with the waves. “MUMMA MIA!! ” he bellowed, and I heard the letters capitalized and the words italicized with surprise. (Is this why it’s called italicized??) I had just enough time after snapping this picture to turn around and see a monster of a sparkling blue wave ahead, twice as tall as the speed boat.

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I still can’t believe we didn’t capsize. We were all screaming and laughing and clinging to each other for dear life. But even with all the chaos of the waves, it was an incredibly peaceful hour. How much freer than that do you get? Wind whipped through your hair, sun on your face, sea salt on your lips. A beautiful island stretched out in front of you and the promise of three more days in the country. Oh yes, life was good.

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After a ridiculously amazing morning like that, it was hard to leave Capri. But I remembered my two goals for this country, Pompeii and the Colosseum, and stepped on the ferry to Sorrento, the nearest port to Pompeii.

When we finally arrived at Pompeii, via an overcrowded train (and a furry little dog standing on Bryson’s feet,) I was all ready to go. We bought our slightly overpriced tickets and headed in.

Now, I wasn’t an expert on Pompeii. I actually knew very little, other than the fact that it was a city frozen in time after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, and there were people and ancient Roman artifacts still preserved in ash. I came ready to see these people, and the animals, and the little bits of daily life, just like I’ve seen in textbooks. But after an hour of searching through the ruins of the main city, I came to discover the biggest lie textbooks have ever told.

The people of Pompeii are not in Pompeii.

They are in Naples.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

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But even without the people, I still loved seeing the city and learning about its history before Mt Vesuvius decided that it had enough of that, (which was coincidentally, on my birthday, over 2000 years ago.) I’m now full of Pompeiian facts. For example, did you know that in 62 AD, there was a massive earthquake in Pompeii. It was buried in 79 AD, but at the time that Vesuvius exploded, most of the city was still being repaired from the earthquake 13 years before. I guess the earth just never did like Pompeii.

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The insides of the Pompeiian buildings are interesting enough in themselves, even without the people. Wall frescos, like the one above, are amazingly preserved and represent the fantastical battles and stories of Roman mythology. How cool is it to stand in a room of a house built more than two millennium ago and admire the same stories? Actually what was even cooler was seeing the similarities between the old city and modern cities. Scattered throughout town was ancient public graffiti. Restaurants had marble counters and to-go boxes instead of dining rooms. The streets were indented from mule cart traffic, which brings me to this guy..

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I exaggerated a little bit when I said there are no people in Pompeii anymore. There are actually three people still living in Pompeii. My favorite was this guy, who confirmed any desire I’ve ever had to see all of the people of Pompeii. The detail that you can see in the ash is incredible. He was huddled up on a seat, which gave him the name ‘The Mule Cart Driver.” His fingers were wrapped over strips of leather reins, his knees were pulled up to his chest. And there was long scarf pulled tightly over his nose and mouth, probably in an effort to breath through the mountain of ash raining over him. In my mind, that scarf was red.

After many hours and many miles of wandering through the city, we were all pretty tired. It was time to make the long journey back to Civitavecchia. This particular leg of the journey took hours, and involved multiple train tickets, a return visit to the pizza parlor in Naples, another gelato, and an overnight train compartment that looked just like the Hogwarts Express. Without the lady bringing snacks. To sum that up, we were beyond exhausted when we finally made it to the ship at 1 AM. We had been through seven cities in two days. And I had slept for three hours the night before.

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But, as the world traveling troopers we are, we got up the next day at the not too ambitious time of 10 AM and headed back to Rome.

By the third day, our group had shrunk from seven to five. I don’t remember much about that train to Rome, because I was in zombie mode the whole way. Only the promise of seeing Vatican City was keeping me going at this point. And after sightseeing in Rome for two days, I decided that this must be my lucky city. For one reason or another everything just kept working out for me in Rome. Who’s the Roman god of luck again?

We had planned on spending the entire day waiting in line to get into the Vatican City museum to see the Sistine Chapel, something I had been hoping to see for years now. I had heard the lines are 3 to 4 hours long to get in, and if you don’t start early in the morning you might wait in line for hours only to have them close the doors in your face. So when we got off that train to find the museum, we were ready to find the long line at the door.

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We turned a long curve and found ourselves in the middle of group of people waiting by the door. Over to the left was a long, long line of people. So long that I couldn’t see the end and had no clue where to go to get in the line. So, doing what I do, I waltz up to the security guard and ask where the back of the line is. He doesn’t listen, or maybe he didn’t speak English. I don’t know. I do know that he looked very annoyed and gave me the most exasperated look I’ve ever received and pointed angrily at the double doors to my left. I backed up, confused, and the five of us follow his pointing finger into the doors, hand over our bags to security, and look up.

We were in. All five of us are speechless for a few seconds. Then all at once, “Wait… Did he just.. Is this…. ?”

And that’s how you skip the 4 hour line into the Vatican Museum. Blend in with the people who had reservations.

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It took us a good ten minutes to buy our discount tickets (hooray for student id’s) and to fully appreciate what just happened. I’m 100% convinced that if we had tried to sneak in on purpose it never would have worked.

The Vatican Museum is huge. I haven’t been to the Louvre yet, but I imagine it’s comparable in size. There were hundreds upon hundreds of statues, busts, frescos, maps, gifts given to Popes past, “gifts” taken forcibly by the Roman Empire, including an entire Egyptian room with a mummy so well preserved we could see the curls of hair on the scalp and each perfectly rounded fingernail. I loved the museum. A huge highlight was seeing Rapheal’s School of Athens, because we had discussed it in length just a few weeks before in my Math and the Arts class.

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However, the crown piece of the museum was a few hours in: Michelanglo’s Sistine Chapel. No pictures allowed here (Bryson definitely does not have a ceiling selfie on his phone) and it was super crowded, but that didn’t take away from the giant masterpiece. I had seen pictures of the Sistine Chapel before, mainly of The Creation of Adam, but pictures could never do the real thing justice. I could lay under that ceiling for hours and hours and never see it all. Also, apparently the idea of Michelangelo laying on his back to paint the ceiling is a myth. He has journals full of complaints about his aching back, neck and shoulders. After staring up there for 10 minutes, I think I could start to appreciate that.

We made a quick stop at Saint Peter’s Basilica after leaving . It was too late in the evening for us to go into the church, but we did get to see the square where the Pope comes out and addresses the world. It was really cool seeing the same place where hundreds of thousands gather to watch one man speak. It will be really cool in the future to see the square on TV and know that I’ve actually stood there between the double columns that represent the open arms of the church.

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The final stop this day in Rome was to see the Colosseum lit up at night before heading back to the ship in Civitavecchia. Italians don’t mess around when naming their metro stations either. We got off at the stop labeled Colosseum and the second we climbed the stairs out, the Colosseum hit us in the face.

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I didn’t expect my own reaction to seeing the Colosseum for the first time. Completely unreal. I think I did a little jumping dance, grabbed Juli’s shoulder and started not-so-silently cheering. I was a thirteen year old seeing Justin Beiber in person. Okay, bad analogy, but seriously. I was speechless. Here was this incredibly historic landmark, sitting here for more than 2000 years just waiting for me to walk up and see it. I was beyond excited. I know I keep saying this about Italy, but it was another favorite moment.

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That night was just a photo op since the place was closed and we would have to come back the next day to actually visit inside. So, after taking a few WKU towel pics, we ran into Bree’s roommate Abby Pierson, who recommended this great gelato place to try before heading back to Civitavecchia.

I’m going to go into some detail about this gelato, because the place we found right outside the Colosseum was the best gelato we found in all of Italy (and we had hit quite a few places by this point.)

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This parlor, if one could give it such an eloquent name, was nothing special. Crammed in a little five by three foot space, we hovered over the display deciding which flavors to try, and annoyed the poor gelato lady, who clearly did not care if we selected the mint or the caramel, as long as we just made our choice and left her alone. I first tried the raspberry and yogurt – simple and sweet.

If you’ve never had real Italian gelato before, I’m sorry, and I’ll try and help you in imagining what it’s like. You’re given a little 2 euro cup that fits in the palm of your hand and a tiny colored plastic spoon that looks like it belongs in a dollhouse. I suppose this is to encourage you to eat the tiny cup as slow as possible so you feel satisfied when it’s gone in 30 seconds. I don’t know. But the gelato itself is light, yet thick with a smooth complexion that has just a dose of icy grainy-ness that brings out the flavor. Forget anything you’ve ever had: Sonic and Dairy Queen insult this stuff. It’s impossible not to be greedy, to not shove in tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful and hope the little two euro cup won’t have an end, then desperately scrape the sides of the cup for one more drop.

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There’s a running list on my phone of things Europe does better than the States. And right up there with gas stations, beer, and coffee is ice cream/gelato presentation. At home, when you go to a Breyer’s for a cup of ice cream, you read your choices on damp little signs and pick from ice crusted plastic tubs straight from the freezer. Not in Europe. Not in Italy. Each flavor is beautifully displayed with artisan care: the cream’s in soft waves like ripples left in the sand after the sea dances over the beach, the eye pleasing little decor arranged so carefully around each wave: curls of sunny orange peels around the citrus, thick shavings of chocolate sprinkled around the stracciatella, plump berries pressed into the surface of the raspberry.

I really love gelato.

So I’m here now, standing fifty feet away from the Colosseum, now glowing orange against the royal blue night sky, surrounded by some of the best travel partners I’ve had all semester, each clutching their own cups of pineapple, mint, strawberry, speculoos, or one called “mystery,” (which looks suspiciously like a mixture of all the leftovers,) and I take yet another moment in this country to appreciate life. Because these are the moments that I will be most nostalgic for in the months and years ahead that I’ll look back on this semester.

Once I’ve finished throughly enjoying that sweet little cup of heaven (and brushed off the realization that I will never be able to thoroughly enjoy a Dairy Queen blizzard again), I turn to my friends who all have similar looks of melancholy as they examine their empty cups. In silent unison, we look at each other, look up at the shop across the street, stand up, and make our way back for another scoop.

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I woke up the next morning, which was the last day in Italy feeling simultaneously joyful and exhausted. I had done more traveling in the last three days that I had in a long time. On ship time that night was set for 1800, which meant after accounting for a couple hours travel time, if we wanted to go back to Rome to see the inside of the Colosseum, we had to get up pretty early. It ended up being that just Bryson and I were left to go to Rome though, because everyone else was too tired. I don’t blame anyone. Only the recollection of my excitement seeing the outside of the Colosseum the night before convinced me to leave my bed at 7 am and get on a train to Rome.

I suppose here I should give my Kentuckian friend Bryson, who is an excellent travel partner and one of my best friends on the ship, a shoutout. Thanks for waking up that morning. No really, thanks.

The train to Rome was uneventful, unless you call accidentally sitting next to Semester at Sea’s head Dean and his wife and thinking they were just random American tourists, then trying to explain SAS to them uneventful. (I just call it embarrassing and plead exhaustion. Oops.)

We had another one of my now signature lucky Rome moments while standing outside the Colosseum finding the line to buy a tour. I think we figured we had about 4 hours to do whatever we needed before catching the train back to Civitavecchia and getting on the ship on time. Our plan was reserve a tour and visit the Forum while waiting. Fate had different plans. While standing in the massive crowd of tourists all scrambling to get in, a young woman approached us asking if we would like a tour. 9 times of 10, I say no to these people and move on. But for some reason this time, I said yes.

She was from one of the few companies allowed to give legal tours of the Colosseum and gave us a decent price to skip the hour long line and to get into both the Colosseum and the Forum with a guided tour. Looking back now I realize that this could have been a total scam. But instead, we got lucky. We paid up and joined the group of 10 or so British and Canadian tourists she also rounded up. We were given tickets, followed the guide, and were inside within 10 minutes.

My main motivation for getting a guide was for information. There are some sites to be enjoyed by yourself, and then there are others that need history to appreciate. I was not disappointed. For over an hour, Bryson and I had everything explained to us. We learned that only 30% of the original structure is still standing, due to a large earthquake in the 12th century. That all the chunks missing in the stone walls were from thieves stealing the more valuable building materials once the stadium was shut down. That the stadium had all the comforts and facilities of modern stadiums: bathrooms, food stalls, water fountains. That gladiators were not usually slaves, but coveted rockstars that wealthy women paid copious amounts for to spend one night with. And that their sweat was sold in vials, much like Elvis’s scarves were priceless to the fans he threw them to. On and on came the stories and information. I was in heaven.

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But it wasn’t just gladiator fights that took place in the stadium. Several times it was flooded to reenact naval sequences. Men would fight exotic species from Africa or Asia, or criminals would be thrown out naked and unarmed to be ripped apart, or just animals would fight animals. He said there once was a fight here between 100 lions and 20 elephants, and challenged us to stay and imagine that rather than just snap pictures of a ruin. And to remember that the criminals publicly executed here were lessons to the masses to obey the laws. It’s no different that our movies today where the good guy who listens to the rules gets the girl or the victory and the bad guy dies a painful death. I hadn’t thought of this before.

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After the colosseum we headed across the street to the Roman Forum. I hadn’t heard much about this place before, which is a shame because this is ruins of the heart of Rome. Every political, economical, social movement of the Roman Empire took place here. This is the heart of Rome, the home of figures like Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Marcus Aurelius. However, only 3% of the original Forum still exists, compared to the 30% of the Colosseum. So there wasn’t much to see.

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Here, Bryson and I were treated with another round of information. This guide focused on the phases and traditions we still have that originated from the Romans. Did you know that the Romans used a hand shake to seal a deal and that’s why we ask for a hand in marriage? Or how that the phrase “something up their sleeve” started because Romans used to keep long knives up their sleeves to stab foes, and Marcus Aurelis invented the wave as a friendly gesture to show that nothing was up his sleeve. Bryson and i were captivated by the entire speech, until the guide made a joke about a nearby cathedral being 200 years old, then said directly to us, “Oh wait, we have some Americans here. I know 200 years is a kind of a big deal to you.”

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By the time we were done, we were running out of time to get back to Civitavecchia. We had already missed the second to last train home and had to wait another hour until the last train we could take that would get us back in time. So we spent the hour in typical Italian tourist fashion: a wifi cafe with a large pizza and a roadside souvenir stall to find the perfect shot glass.

The train ride back to Civitavecchia went quickly and lulled us into a false sense of confidence about how much time we had left. We had to be back on the ship by 1800. That means physically on the ship, past security, ID card swiped in, passport turned into the reception desk. The punishment for being late is dock time, aka, hours that we are in port that you can’t leave the ship. No one wants dock time. But, as Bryson and I are hurrying along through the cafes and shops surrounding the port, we got distracted by…. gelato.

Cantaloupe gelato to be precise. Never have I seen anything flavored “cantaloupe” before, and never again will I be able to see the flavor again without thinking about this afternoon. That cantaloupe gelato was the best thing I’d tried in all of Italy, and ended up the final favorite moment in Italy, and completely worth the price.

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Two euros and two hours of dock time. Worth it.

– Carrie

A Limited View (of Morocco)

When I was in grade school and I’d come home and complain to my mom about a kid in my class (it was usually the same person), she’d always give me the same response: “Just another person you know you don’t want to be.” I hope she’s laughing that I’m mentioning this now, because I’ve always HATED it when she told me that. But along with a whole other host of things we all realize about our mothers, she was right. I’ve met more students with Semester at Sea that I do not want to be like than I have in all of my 21 years.

I’ve been internally debating for a few days now about how to write this county’s blog post. This just might be one of the longest blogs I’ve written yet, because unfortunately some of this isn’t going to be about Morocco itself. Before I go into my time in Morocco, I want to share a story that might explain my reason for writing about some of these experiences.

In Ireland, I had the incredibly unique opportunity to say thank you to a local farmer for letting me trudge up his land to see the coast by helping repair a stone wall (see Ireland post.) Because I was with a Semester at Sea program, I was in the company of other American college students also blessed with this opportunity. Throughout the couple hours I was helping build the wall, I was listening to hundreds of complaints from a particular group of girls who were assigned to a section near mine. They were annoyed they had to help, they didn’t sign up for this, there’s so many bugs I-can’t-even-deal-right-now, wasn’t last night’s bar so fun? It’s too hot outside, it smells here, look I just broke my $400 boots they like, totally owe me a new pair.

I did my best to ignore it and keep the euphoria of the moment intact, but listening to stuff like really makes it hard to enjoy an experience. Then I watched at the same girls start taking pictures of each other doing cute poses with the coast in the background to upload to Instagram with an inspiration quote they found on Pinterest, sixteen emoji’s, and six hundred likes and comments from people saying things like, “Stop Your Life Is TOO Perfect.”

To me, posting pictures like that is more than just a focus on the positive. It’s a misleading representation to make other people think your experience is greater than what it was. It really bothers me. After that day in Ireland, I made a mental resolve to always report an experience accurately, even if it’s not great.

There hasn’t honestly been anything major this semester so far that I’ve had many complaints about, other than the other students on Semester at Sea. I haven’t needed to exaggerate any experience to make it sound good when it wasn’t, because I’ve had an incredible time, and I hope that shows. But now I’m sitting here with the task of writing this Morocco blog, and my resolve to report accurately is being tested for the first time. But because I’m supposed to be learning on this trip, I’m going to tell a couple of stories throughout this post about the people I do not want to be and what they’ve taught me.

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Morocco is a beautiful country that I highly recommend seeing someday. Even though it is in Africa, it had a Middle East feeling to it, or at least what I think I Middle East feel is like. The buildings, desert landscape, and clothing all reflected everything I’ve ever seen about the Middle East. So while I didn’t get to see a different culture in Africa, I am glad that I had this taster of this unique culture.

Backtracking to this summer really quickly. This June, as part of my preparations for this voyage, I spent hours looking through the field trips Semester at Sea offered in each country. I bought quite a few, and I now have slightly mixed feelings about it. True, all of the trips have been well planned and interesting and I’ve almost always been satisfied with the content. But it means I could be stuck for long periods of time with other SAS students that I don’t really care for. On the day trips, it doesn’t matter really at all. But on the four day trips, it does.

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We got really familiar with this bus..

So this summer, while signing up for field programs, my friend from high school, Steph, had texted me and suggested I sign up for this camel trek in Morocco. I thought, riding camels in the Sahara? I’m in. I didn’t look into too much, which was my first mistake. If I had looked closer, I would have discovered that the trip visited a city that was on the other side of the country, crossing a mountain range. I also should have thought about the fact that it was a four day program. We were the first ones off the ship and the last ones to come back. That means I spent four solid days with the same group of people.

But I didn’t know. Nor did anyone else on the trip. In order to get to the Sahara desert from Casablanca, 90 SAS kids would spent a total of 28 hours on three crowded charter buses. And that wasn’t 28 hours of highway driving. That was about 12 hours of mountain driving. Hairpin turns at 60 miles an hour on roads so narrow we had to slam on the breaks and pull over every time we met a car. Then having to floor it so the bus had enough momentum to make it up the mountain. Then whipping around another corner. You couldn’t sleep either, because the stops and starts and turns were so violent that you were thrown around in your seat and you had to brace yourself. For 28 hours.

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I think the phrase every single person on the trip said was, “If I had known, I would not have done this.”

But we didn’t know until we were about 8 hours into the drive and wondering if we were there yet. We did stop for lunch and for a few bathroom breaks along the way. I’m not even going to go into how difficult it is to find a bathroom in Morocco, something that would’ve otherwise been survivable if we hadn’t been so sick from the drive. On a positive note, the meals were all great. We had the same thing for every single meal but it was still good.

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Usually the meals started off with some homemade flat bread to dip in the salad, which was a combination of various fresh and steamed vegetables, spiced lentils, and hot sauces. The main course was always yellow saffron chicken on the bone cooked in special domed ceramic pans. And dessert was a bowl of fruit: seeded grapes, tart green apples, and orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon (I can’t eat an orange without cinnamon now, that combination was just so fantastic.) The whole meal was wrapped up with a little glass of fresh Moroccan mint tea. The tea surprised me more than anything else. I’m used to seeing hot tea served in either mugs or teacups, but here it was always in little clear glass cups that resembled shot glasses. Mint leaves are laid in the bottom of the glass and then the tea is poured over the leaves from a kettle lifted high above the glass to create a creamy foam.

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So, aside from eating, the first day our only real point of interest we saw besides driving was a little argon oil co-op on the side of a mountain. They showed us how Argon Oil, also known as just Moroccan Oil, was made. I may or may not have spent all the dirhams I brought with me here. Oops.

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Basically from what I was able to gather from the presentation, the oil is extracted from a nut. The nuts are each cracked individually with a stone, the shells are discarded, and the inner portion is thrown into a basket to be ground.

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This was the grinder. It reminded me a lot of the mortar and pestles that are used to grind corn into tortillas. Except this one you just cranked the handle around and around until the paste started flowing out from underneath the rock and into another bowl. My Spanish teacher asked to try the grinder, turned it about three times and said there was no way she would be strong enough to do it for more than ten minutes.

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From there, I think the oil is somehow separated from the paste and used to make both cooking oil and beauty products. The remaining paste is used to make soap. And all of these items were conveniently located right behind us.

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It was some of my favorite shopping on the trip.

After that little 45 minute stop, we drove for another 5 or so hours until it was late enough to get dinner and stay at a hotel. So it wasn’t until that night that I had my first experience with some of the other students on the trip. (Side note, someone on Semester at Sea has coined the term “SASholes.” It’s a real thing. Another phrase I said repeatedly on this trip.)

Somehow while getting off the bus that night, my little group of friends (who I’ll talk about in a minute) ended up getting off the bus last. That meant that by the time we got into the restaurant, the only seats left were just here and there at different tables. That should’ve been no big deal. I end up at a round table with 8 guys and three other girls. My first thought was great, here’s a chance to met some people on this trip! But then they opened their mouths.

They were disgusting. I’m not going to repeat some of the topics that were openly discussed at the table, but there were more racial, sexual, and religious slurs that I have ever heard in a single conversation in my life. Because of the layout of the table, it wasn’t a conversation that I could easily block out, especially when they started making fun of the performers who had come out for our entertainment. The performers, mostly women, were dressed in traditional clothes, beating drums and chanting rhythmically. It would have been an incredibly moving experience if I hadn’t been simultaneously listening to the boys at the table mock the chanting in obnoxious sarcastic cat calls.

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Then they called the waiter over by saying, “Can we get some beers up in here?” The waiter did not speak much English and did not understand what they were saying. Finally they get the message across that they want beers. “How many?” asked the waiter. “Five.” “Okay, I bring five.” “No, no, five for EACH of us!” Then they clap each other on the back and laugh and laugh. The waiter looks confused but then leaves and brings back about 40 bottles of beer (the restaurant’s entire two month supply). By now, all the restaurant workers are staring. This entire time, myself and the other three girls haven’t said a word, we’re just sitting there in silent horror. One of the guys throws his phone at me and tells me to take a picture for them. I don’t think, I just say, “No.” They stop their laughing and stare at me. The guy repeats the question and I say “no” again. It’s awkward silence for several seconds. Then one says, “Ooo, look at her. She is disgusted man, you’ve made her mad! Better watch out!” Then the guy has another guy take the picture and they go back to opening their drinks and calling each other champs.

After about 10 minutes of this, the first plate comes out. It looked like a pastry filled with chicken and rice and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. I was excited to try it. But the second the waiter lowers the plate, the guys help themselves. Not that it mattered at this point, but not one of them offered it to anyone else first. They’re attacking it like it’s a pizza in a frat house. One of the most obnoxious guys was using the knife to try and get some. Then he gives up, and shoves his hand in it and starts taking fistfuls of the stuff. They’re already getting drunk at this point and think he’s the coolest thing ever for doing that. The four girls at the table, Bree, Morgan, Nichole and I now refuse to eat it. They laugh.

I’m downright angry at this point. I realize I’m missing the entire performance, which has still been going on this whole time, but their disgusting conversation is so loud I can’t block it out. Occasionally a comment is dropped about me refusing to take that picture. My friend Bree is just as angry. The best thing that can be said for this dinner is sometime during it, Bree and I have become really good friends. Bree is a sweetheart from Canada, where apparently the mentality that you need to be drunk all of the time doesn’t exist as prominently in college students as it does in the States. She told me later that the people like these boys on the ship (Because there’s many more that act like this) have been a bigger cultural shock to her than anything she’s seen in all eleven countries we’ve been to so far. I feel nothing but shame that that’s American’s are presenting themselves to her, then I realize that’s how they’ve been representing the United States in every country. No wonder we have a terrible stereotype.

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Finally that horrible meal is done. We go to our hotel and I’m looking forward to having some quiet time and sleep. Unfortunately for me, our hotel room is infested with ants. I’m talking thousands of them. We grab our bags and head to the manager’s desk to ask for a new room. He doesn’t seem to take us very seriously until a couple of guys come up with the same problem. Then he’s all “Oh, of course I’ll get you a new room!” The new room still wasn’t the cleanest, but no bugs that we could see. We were some of the lucky ones too, when we got back to the ship a few days later there were several hostels reported in Marrakech that had bedbugs and the people who stayed in them had to turn in all their stuff to be frozen or fumigated.

The next day we drive and drive and drive from early morning to late afternoon making only one pit stop and one break for lunch before we finally get to the desert for the main attraction, the Sahara Desert camel trek. I had been a little worried about what to wear because I thought it would be super hot, being in the desert and all, but it was around 5 PM at this point and the temperature was completely comfortable. Once I get all dressed up in my turban (I now know how to tie a rockin’ turban) I get in a group with friends and select the friendliest camel I can find of the bunch. I name my camel Fran.

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That’s a pretty sweet turban though…

Fran was pretty relaxed, no spitting or biting. The process of getting on a camel is more difficult that I had anticipated. The camels somehow fold their legs underneath themselves and sit on the ground for you. Your job is to scramble up the blanketed saddle with bicycle handlebars without disturbing the camel too much. Then they straighten their back legs first and you have to hang on tight to keep from being thrown over it’s head. They they straighten their front legs and you have to cling to it again to keep from sliding off the back. Bonus points to whoever can do it without crying out.

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I can’t think of a better way to view the Sahara than from the back of a camel. Our camels were strung together in groups and once you get going, you can have your hands free to take picture of the surrounding sand dunes, which were gorgeous. Maybe it was because we were on the outskirts of the desert, but there was a lot more vegetation in the desert than I thought there would be. Fran enjoyed holding the entire line up to grab a snack.

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Riding a camel is pretty surreal, but I will say it gets a bit uncomfortable after about an hour. It’s nothing like riding a horse where you can steady yourself and keep from just bouncing in the seat. But thankfully, we only went about an hour and a half before arriving at our camp for the night. Here I found my first real example of the blatant sexism of the country. There were two groups of tents set up for us at the camp, one for guys and one for girls. Steph, Bree and I went to one of the girls tents and found three hard packed sand pallets on the ground. We just figured that’s how it was in the desert and didn’t think of it too much until we saw the tent our friends from Singapore, Wilson and Ivan, were staying in. The boys had two people to a tent, soft mattresses on real bed frames, running water, mirrors, colorful blankets, and a skylight to see the stars.

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View of the camps from the dune

We ended up climbing a giant sand dune (I almost didn’t make it to the top it was so big) to watch the sunset and then ate dinner, which was the same meal we were given for all the other meals.

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Steph, Bree, Wilson and Ivan on top of the dune that almost killed us.

After dinner, there was a counter the camp workers set up where they were selling wine, beer, and water. People went crazy. I waited in line to buy some water and by the time I had made it up to the counter there were plenty of water bottles left, but nothing else. It was dark at this point, and someone turned on their phone with music and pretty soon you had an American college party right there in the Sahara desert.

After a few minutes of witnessing this, myself and seven other people I left the camp because we couldn’t deal with all the drinking anymore. We found a quieter sand dune to sit on away from the main camp. I’m so grateful now for the friends I did make on this trip, because despite being stuck by some weird college frat party in the desert, we had a lot of fun chatting, exchanging riddles and ghost stories, playing games, and stargazing through the clouds.

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Terrible quality, but it was night.

Something I had never realized before: the constellations must in different places depending on where you are in the world. I’m used to being able to spot the Big Dipper and the North Star at home, but here when I looked I found a whole new set of unfamiliar patterns. I supposed that was sort of a metaphor for this trip.

When we finally went to bed, we didn’t sleep much, partly because of the horrible mattresses and partly because SAS kids partied loudly well into the early hours. But I’m not even just annoyed.. I’m confused. You get one night in the Sahara Desert, but all you want to do is spend it like every other night in college? I am completely comfortable with social drinking and the occasional going out in the right setting. But I considered this to be extreme. I don’t understand it, I don’t know how to handle it. It’s like they don’t know what to do with themselves unless they are drunk. It’s such a limited way to live life.

Honestly, the attitudes of a large percentage of the people on this voyage have been my biggest disappointment this semester. I had some crazy expectation in my head this summer that the all the people on this trip would be worldly, and interested in learning and interacting with new cultures and so on. And I have met a few people like that. But the vast majority of people I’ve met are just like those kids, choosing to spend their one night in the Sahara Desert so drunk they can’t remember it, blatantly disrespecting the culture and the people around them.

I woke up at 6 AM the next morning sore, tired, and homesick. But sometime during that long night I resolved to focus on the eight people that I truly enjoyed on the trip rather than the 82 that I didn’t, and the decision was just about the only thing giving me energy. We find a group of camels again for the return visit and this time I pick a scrawny looking camel at the end of the row. I named this camel Lil’ Troublemaker, because when I was trying to scramble on, he stood up while I had one leg over him and I was knocked over. I’m sure it looked really funny actually. Lil’ Troublemaker was quite bony though and I was already sore from riding yesterday and from that sand mattress last night.

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Once we got back to the bus we started the long, 16 hour drive back. I was dirty beyond belief, carsick, in pain from my back, and on a bus full of other smelly people who were going on and on about how fun last night was. When we stopped for lunch I didn’t eat, I just did some yoga in the corner with Bree to try and release some of the tension in my back. My mom would have known a way better stretch than sun salutations, but it was all I remembered how to do. (And it helped, so no regrets there.) I also got to lay in a pool side chair at the restaurant, which was incredibly comfortable after all those hours on a bus. It was hard to drag myself away from there.

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Then we drove for a million more miles in the mountains. Thank god for Stephanie’s foresight to bring some motion sickness medicine and ibuprofen. I also made a promise to myself to never, ever live in the mountains where a drive like this is necessary every day.

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This time we also stopped to see a few of these amazing Arabic palaces we kept passing.

We spent that night in Marrakech, which I recommend very highly if you ever want to travel to Morocco. This time we had an AMAZING hotel, with clean rooms and showers. I think that was the best shower I’ve ever taken. Holy clean. Do not underestimate how good it feels to be clean. My friends and I played heads up charades (my new favorite app) in the lobby where there was American outlets to charge our phones and enough wifi to post a couple of pictures. My poor phone and camera took a beating in the desert. I got some good pictures, but sand and electronics do not mix, even if you are trying to be super careful with them. Lesson learned. Even though I hadn’t done much that day but sit on a bus, I went to bed exhausted.

The last morning we were told to be on the bus by 830 so we could do some shopping before driving the last 5 hours to Casablanca (You knew we had been driving a long time when I was thinking 5 hours on a bus was no big deal.) This was a part of the trip I was really looking forward too, because I had heard many stories about how great Marrakech is and I was itching to try out some of my haggling skills I learned in Morocco Alley in Granada. So Steph, Bree, Wilson, Ivan, and myself, along with a handful of other people were sitting there on the bus by 830 like we were supposed to, ready to make the most of the time we got to shop.

But no one else showed up. Pretty soon it’s 8:45. Then 9:00. Then 9:15. People slowly coming in late because they were so hungover from the night before. Apparently there was some sort of night cub nearby that they had discovered and spent the night in. I’m getting more and more frustrated until I look up and it’s 9:30 and there’s still one person missing. It was the same kid who had sat at my table the first night and stuck his hands in the food. He finally comes stumbling out of the hotel, still black out drunk, covered in vomit, one shoe on, no bag and only holding some clothes. We waited an hour of our precious little time of actually getting to do stuff other than driving in Morocco for him. Half the people on the bus are very upset. But the other half starts applauding him when he walks on the bus. He’s called “hero” “buddy” and “rockstar.” People have to carry him to his seat he’s so drunk.

We leave to shop in Marrakech. Now we only get three hours to look around, but I quickly put aside my frustration and get wrapped up in the scene. Marrakech old market is overwhelming on every sensory level, but I loved it. You can easily get lost wandering through the maze of twisted alleys and stores, and each store you pass you hear the same comments over and over. “Lady, lady, come into my shop! I make you good price! You want leather? I have best. No, don’t listen to him, my shop better come look, come see!”

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I crack up every time I hear that, because of course each shop is basically identical right down to the last dusty leather satchel and threadbare tapestry. No matter which crammed crevice they manage to coax you into, you’ll find strings of scuffed sandals hang from the ceilings, rows of carved onyx masks and heaps of faded, chipped pottery cluttering the corner of the shops. If you are very fortunate, or very unfortunate, you might pull back the racks of colored linens to find wire cages crowed with of beady-eyed lizards or jet black cobras coiled in perfect little tornados. Every now and then one of us will stop to negotiate a price for a little stone camel, or woven bracelet, all the while taking in the heavy mint scent of the tea they love so much here.

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Photo credits to Wilson, who was the only one brave enough to pull out his camera here. I’ll upload the higher quality versions when I get home.

If you have an extreme sense of direction (Or if you’re with Ivan and Wilson), eventually you will find your way into the open plazas the shops pour into. Be very careful here though. This time the cobra’s aren’t in cages, they’re in the open being constantly provoked by the unrelenting wailing of the snake charmer’s wooden flutes. But if you watch the show for more than a few seconds, you’ll be expected to pay the man walking around the snake with an overturned hat. We made that mistake early on, and when I shot this picture I was asked for 200 dirham, the equivalent of $20.

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I refused to give him any money and slowly the five of us back away from the aggressive snake charmer. Then we turn around and find ourselves face to face with elderly women demanding we pick a henna pattern from the books they were throwing in our faces. None of us want henna yet, so we politely tell them no and start walking away. But then one of the women grabs Bree’s arm and begins scribbling henna in a black, blotching mess. Bree’s saying no over and over and is trying to yank her arm away but the woman has it so tightly she can’t break free. So Steph steps in a tries to break them up and a second woman grabs HER arms and starts drawing there too. A third one comes up to me and I lock my arms behind me and say, “NO!” all the while watching around us to make sure we aren’t being pick-pocketed. It takes them less than 30 seconds to complete the henna and they they demand 350 dirham each (about $80 total). We freak out and say no way, they attacked us and we didn’t ask for the henna in the first place! Then they start trying to dig in Bree’s pockets for the cash. I finally found a 200 dirham bill in my purse and throw it at them and we all take off running. That was one of the craziest things I’ve ever been a part of.

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Bree’s henna. Almost two weeks later.

Later, I find a nice henna place where I get a super cool design for only 100 dirham. It got smudged before I took a good, picture though because it’s really hard to navigate out of that crowded market without letting your arm touch anything. And my left hand just really sucks at being a hand sometimes.

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My name in Arabic. I asked three different people to confirm it was really my name. Success.

But even after all the craziness of the Marrakech market, it was easily my favorite part of the trip. And honestly it’s because that’s the only time I think I really got a taste of Morocco. Everything else I saw was through a bus window, and the only people I really got to interact with were the other SAS students on the trip. But I’m trying to make a positive out of my experience, and the best way I can think of it to talk about it now. While my time in Morocco wasn’t spent learning about the country and culture (a heartbreaking shame, I know), it was spent learning about what it means to be a traveller.

I believe that every person who chooses to visit another country and another culture accepts a certain set of responsibilities. When you set foot in a new and unfamiliar place, you have the responsibility to be aware of the cultural norms around you and to respect them. Ignorance is not acceptable as a world traveller when it come to this. Even if you are uncertain if there are any different cultural norms, it is your duty to tread lightly until you have a sense of what is right and wrong here. You are a stranger in somebody’s home, and you must conform to their rules, not expect them to tolerate yours.

Whether you’re traveling from Orange County to Detroit or from London to Cairo, you will find new people with ideas that will be different from your own. And it is your responsibility, as a traveller, to show respect to those new ideas. If you are in a conservative country where it is not the culture to drink excessively at dinner, then do not drink excessively at dinner. Not only is it exceedingly rude to the hosts, who probably believe you are drinking because you do not appreciate their meal, but it also dilutes the experience for others around you. I’m speaking directing to other SAS students when I say: You are on a once in a lifetime voyage that few others will ever experience. Don’t waste the opportunities handed to you.

Finally, you also have a responsibility to respect the fellow travelers around you. So many people on this trip seem to forget that we are all here for the same reasons. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been smacked with a “selfie stick” (A rod you can attach your phone to to get a better picture of yourself), interrupted while enjoying a beautiful sight by being asked to take a trophy picture of people, sat through a meal or on a train around people discussing an extremely insensitive conversation topic, or otherwise was embarrassed by the conduct of students representing not only Semester at Sea, but also the US.

Because if you don’t want to learn about the culture, something you can only do if you are respecting it, then why would you leave home at all? Everywhere you go should leave an impact on you, not the other way around. Tread lightly, gather memories and experiences, and leave places the way you found them.

And if you cannot handle this, if you only going to countries to live like you do at home, then you should just stay at home. Although if you truly cannot handle something as simple as respecting a way of life, then it might be time to reevaluate yourself.

I’m incredibly lucky to know the few people on this trip who I enjoy very much. A handful of people on Semester at Sea have been absolutely wonderful, and every day they remind me not to give up on everyone on the ship just yet. They have no idea what they mean to me, and as we just hit our halfway point on the voyage, I’m already dreading the day we have to say goodbye. Maybe someday we’ll return to Morocco again, and this time there will be no buses involved.

– Carrie

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Well. Let’s not keep Spain and Portugal waiting.

Hey Emma, what movie is that from?

In honor of that movie quote (and because I’m always two ports behind) I’m going to combine two countries into one post. This blog was also written and updated on the run between places, so I’ll apologize in advance for the quality. I’ll write something better for Morocco.

Partially because I had two field labs, one in each country, and partially because we only had two days in each, I didn’t have much time anywhere. Refresher: Field labs are days in port you have to spend with your class doing academic related activities. You only have one per class the entire semester and I’d only had one before Portugal and Spain. They’re not bad, it’s just time consuming and you don’t have much freedom.

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So I’ll start with my time in Lisbon, or in Portuguese, Lisboa. A comment about Portuguese: It looks a lot like Spanish. It does not sound like Spanish. I thought that I would be able to maybe understand it a little. Probably not though.

The first day in Lisbon I had my field lab for Math and the Arts. This class has actually gone pretty well for me considering I haven’t taken a math class since junior year in high school and I haven’t taken a math class where I didn’t completely rely on Makayla since 8th grade. The class focuses on geometry and how it was used to build some of the most famous structures on Earth or to paint and sculpt art. If nothing else, it gives me a more educated appreciation of art museums. Which is good, because the field lab basically just visited art museums.

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We spent quite a lot of time at the Gulbenkian museum, which was arranged by time period and culture, starting with an ancient Egypt room. Things were put in perspective pretty quickly when I saw a plague under a stone figurine, estimating that it was made in about 3100 BC. Think about that. This statue was made 3100 years before Christ. It’s actually existed longer BEFORE Christ than it has after. Just putting that in perspective.

There were also Greek rooms with coins from Alexander the Great’s rule, Islamic rooms with beautiful illuminated manuscripts, East Asian rooms with early dynasty era pottery.. the list goes on and on until it ends up in a sort of modern art display with paintings only a coupe of decades old. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an art museum that was set up like that, but I thought it was a really neat effect to be wandering through the centuries.

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I also learned that a lot of the oldest pieces of this musuem were originally from the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the first art museum I visited on this trip. They were sold during WWII to make money for the Soviet Union and bought by Gulbenkian and many other art collectors world wide.

Outside of the Gulbenkian was a city garden where we ate lunch. My favorite part was this building built right into the landscape. The architect wanted a building that would interfere with nature the least, and came up with this design that incorporated trees and plants into the structure. I wish I would have taken a better picture of it.

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It was a very impressive little nature escape right in the heart of the city. I enjoyed it a lot.

The rest of the field lab was spent visiting various museums and significant architectural structures. I’m getting better at identifying the category of architecture, but I’m still a little lost when it comes to understanding the means and methods. Oh well.

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Once the field lab was over, I was supposed to meet up with some friends to go to the beach. But, as I keep learning over and over again, it is nearly impossible to meet up with people on this trip. Even if you set specific places and times to be there, something always goes wrong and you have no way of telling the other people plans changed. Unless of course you find wifi, which can be a challenge, and even then there’s no point unless the other person just happens to have wifi at the same time. I should have learned this after Germany. Or after Belgium. Or after France.

So as my per usual, I never found those friends and ended up getting dinner in town with my roommate Erin. There’s worse ways to end a night.

The next day was definitely one of my favorite from the voyage so far. I woke up early to join a zip lining program through a mountain by Sintra. It was kind of on a whim that I decided to go zip lining in the first place, but I’m so glad I did.

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Instead of the usual buses that take us everywhere, this time we go to ride in open 4WD jeeps to the mountain. We got a lot of stares from the local people on their morning commute traveling like this.

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Once we made it up to the top of the mountain, we had time to hike and explore an ancient castle hidden in the forest. Holy stairs. We had to take a lot of breaks.. for pictures of course.

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From our vantage point here we could see all of the town Sintra as well as almost all of Lisbon. We could even see our ship, or at least the bridge that our ship was docked right next too.

On the way back down, I looked up and happened to notice a zip lining cord dangling above a huge drop in the trees. That was the first time it occurred to me that this might be slightly terrifying.

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I mean, I’m terrible at judging distances, but I would have said it was a good 500 ft above the ground. (Later they told us in places it was 600-700 ft down.) I hurried up to grab my gear from the first station before I could really think about it. It’s basically the same equipment used for rock climbing, something else I love to do. You also get a helmet, gloves, and an emergency safety clip. You know, just in case your zip cord decides it doesn’t feel like holding you anymore once you’re 500 ft up in the air.

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So after a quick practice run on a baby line (We had to practice the backwards sloth crawl just in case we got stuck in the middle) we were ready to go. I was with my friend Akilah for most of the day, and we made sure to get in line together to get pictures of each other. I’m really glad we did that now. Some girl almost dropped her phone from a stand trying to take a selfie.

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The lines started off pretty easy, but consistently got higher and faster. Well, not technically higher, but as we were curving around the mountainside, it was a longer and longer drop to the bottom. And in between each line was just an old wooden platform, like a deer stand, bolted on to some swaying 800 ft tall tree. Emphasize the swaying.

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I’d like to say I was pretty good at it though. It’s really one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. That adrenaline rush right as you step off is hard to beat. Just don’t look down. When it was over, I was feeling pretty confident I just did something incredibly cool and unbeatable.

Then I looked at the park map and saw we just did the beginner’s course. The one made for small children. Go figure.

On the way down from the mountain our jeeps took us to another cliff overlooking the other side of Lisbon. This time we could actually see our ship. I’m starting to seriously fall in love with all these coastal views. It seems that between Lisbon and Ireland I’ve been treated with too many breathtaking panoramic views to count.

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My plan for the rest of the day basically just included finding one of the thousands of surfing school in Lisbon and take a couple hour lesson before we had to be back at the ship. There ended up just not being enough time to fit it all in, but I’m not too worried about it. I have a lot of people together who want to go surfing before this semester is over, and we’re thinking about seeing if there’s any good places in Barcelona next week. If not, I’ve heard El Salvador has some great waves.

I did make it to the beach though. Cascais beach in Lisbon is one of the biggest reasons I want to come back to Portugal,

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I had the choice to travel by myself between Lisbon and Cadiz this time, since they were so close. I really did want to spend more time in Lisbon and almost decided to sign up for overland, but ended up realizing train tickets were about $200 and since there was no direct line, they would take about 10 hours. Since Dolph is starting to run out dollars, I decided to just travel with the ship. It took one day to get to Cadiz, and I took full advantage of that day to sleep. Seriously, I haven’t slept in since I left for this trip. It was much needed.

When I woke up, we were in Spain.

Because I’ve been to Spain before, I decided to take a trip to visit another country farther South, a country that I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know existed until Semester at Sea: Gibraltar.

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Actually I’m not if it’s considered a country. It’s more of a British providence. Honestly, it was one of the strangest places I’ve ever been too. It’s literally just a rock. No, I’m not kidding. What you see in that picture is what you get. it’s a giant rock that’s basically hollow. i spent one day there and I think I saw everything.

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I said the rock is hollow right? That’s because it’s full of caves. Just a little background information about me: I do not like caves. Granted, I haven’t been in one since probably second grade, but that experience was terrifying. It was in Branson and all I remember is a huge dark deep cavern that they said was so deep it would take a day to fall and one time an Indian boy wrestled a bear and fell down there. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Basically it freaked me out enough that I have never wanted to go back into one.

So of course, first stop in Gibraltar is a cave.

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But this one was actually okay. Mostly because it was a single cavern that was turned into a concert hall. I’m serious. Apparently during WWII the British were freaked out that the Nazi’s were going to bomb the rock and decided the only place safe for a hospital was the inside of this cave. So they came in, knocked down all the walls that took millions of years to form, whitewashed the whole place, and waited. No nazis. They ruined the cave for nothing. And now that the damage is done, they use the place for special concerts because apparently the acoustics are fantastic.

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Overall, it was perfectly survivable. But I’m still not a fan of caves.

Next stop was seeing more of the inside of the rock, this time in tunnels. Again, the British decided that in order to defend this place, they probably should dig a bunch of siege tunnels through it. Walking through them was again one of the strangest things. I’ve got this guide in front of me explaining the various “rooms” in the tunnels in a British accent, there’s ridicously patriotic British military music in the background, and there’s this guarding the halls..

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And I look out the window and I see Spain. Not knowing much at all about the history of Gilbraltar, I’m sort of asking myself, why isn’t this just part of spain? I mean, seriously. What’s the point of owning this rock? But I think every singe person I met in Gilbratar said to me in a cheetry British accent; God Save the Queen!

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The best part of the tunnels was they were high enough on the rock to provide an excellent vantage point. From this perch, I could see literally the entire country.

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This is the boarder. Also known as the 4th most dangerous airstrip in the world. Sea. Strip. Sea. That’s it. You over shoot your landing a bit? Sucks to suck. I did get to see one plane take off actually. It was pretty anti-cimitc, he didn’t even use half the airstrip to take off.

Oh, and the other feature of Gibraltar! The monkeys! There’s monkey severywhere. They just roam wild on the rock stealing from unsuspecting tourists. I was waiting by a gift shop by the first cave when a lady came out with two wrapped Magnum bars for her and her husband. Out of nowhere a giant yellow monkey swoops down over her head, grabs the ice cream, and takes off running.

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They’re also interested in electronics. They know how to play you. They’ll sit pretty posing until you feel safe coming closer and closer and then you look down and your camera’s gone. That didn’t happen to me, but I saw it almost happen to a number of people.

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They also aren’t afraid to hitch a ride.

I ended up getting lunch in the one plaza in the country, next to the six apartment buildings that the entire population lives in. I think there’s more housing at Northwest than there is here. Lunch was fish and chips, served by a Spanish couple, in an Arabic style restaurant. I can’t explain Gibraltar any better than that. What a strange place.

When I finally made it back to Cadiz, I found a group of people who had heard there was a live Lion King performance in town for free that they wanted to check out. I definitely wanted to go and before we know it about 25 people are headed off to this thing together. It wasn’t close, in fact it was about a 45 minute walk away, but the promise of free entertainment was good enough for us.

Unfortunately, by the time we found the theater, there was a line wrapping around the entire building. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally the doors close and the line breaks up and leaves. But we were determined and walked right up to the door to see if there was anyway they could squeeze us in. So we waited probably another 45 minutes here. Still no luck. We leave two hours after we arrived without getting to see the show. Which we told ourselves probably would have been awful anyways, right?

Instead the remaining group (most people had given up on this a long time before) decide to salvage the night by finding some tintos and tapas. We were so far away from the main part of town that finding a restaurant was hard, but we ended up finding a good one, where I attempt to translate the menu and order for everyone. It was good practice for the field lab I had the next day.

Day two in Cadiz was completely devoted to my field lab for my Spanish class on the ship. I was okay with how long it took though, because it was the most relaxed lab I’ve done yet. My other labs were very academical and practical. My Spanish one? The only requirement was that we spoke in Spanish the entire time. She had a little clipboard with our names on it, and for every English word she heard us speak, we would get a little check. Get enough checks and you fail the lab, simple at that. Mostly I just didn’t talk much that day.

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What better way to discover what Spain is really like than to spend the day at the beach, dancing flamenco, or eating tapas in the cathedral plaza? That’s exactly what we did all day.

I have to take a second to acknowledge this sand castle we found at the beach.

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I don’t have much else to say except that that’s the best sand castle I’ve ever seen. And I’m jealous.

Chilling at the beach led to flamenco dancing. First we got to watch, then we were pulled on stage to dance too. I pretty much nailed it. See video on Instagram.

Tapas downtown were prime too. You just can’t go wrong with tapas.

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Last stop for the day was the lookout tower. Holy stairs, again. If I thought that castle in Lisbon was bad, it was nothing compared to this. I think there were at least 12 stories of narrowing swivelling stairs to get to this point. I’m dizzy just thinking about it.

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It was like a telescope over the entire city. Cadiz is like a peninsula, not really connected to mainland Spain, so through the telescope, which is projected on this dome you can see everything, including our ship. The picture quality was so good that we could see workers out on deck six cleaning tables. It was kinda of creepy, actually. In the way that makes you think how else are we being surveyed all of the time..

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The top of our ship

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That was just about the end of my time in Cadiz. I did manage to find a frozen yogurt place before heading back to the ship, (priorities, I know) but it wasn’t the brand I was looking for. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend a little more time in Spain when I’m in Barcelona. And hopefully I’ll have my Morocco post up in a couple of days before we start our two week trek across the Atlantic!

– Carrie

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Reasons to be Irish

For the record, I am not Irish. At least I don’t think so. Also, I’m not Polish either, (see earlier post.)

But, after just 82 hours in the tiny green isle of Ireland, (It takes about the same time to cross the county as it does to get from Maryville to KC) I have now decided that despite no known Irish ancestry exists, there are certainly some lessons we could all learn from the Irish.

Ireland was one of the countries on the itinerary that I was most looking forward to. It was well placed on our voyage itinerary. Until this point, we (as Semester at Sea students hadn’t been hearing much English on our travels. While this is really one of my favorite parts of traveling and something that I think every single person should experience at least once in their lives, it does become frustrating and wearing after awhile. They say the French hate it when you can’t speak their language, but in my experience it was the Germans who were the angriest when I resorted to pointing to the menu instead of asking politely. I think I speak for the majority of the ship when I say, I hadn’t realized how much I missed understanding everyone you meet until I went to Ireland.

I also want to clarify a question that I’ve had about the languages spoken in Ireland. Historically, the Irish people spoke Gaelic. But centuries of British imperialism has all but destroyed the language completely. You will find many people who still keep it alive, especially on the west coast, but even those people will speak English like a native. What I found to be really interesting though was the fact that almost every single sign and notice was posted in both English and Gaelic. When I asked an Irishman why that is, since no one speaks Gaelic, he said it was just another way to them to preserve their heritage.

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But anways, hearing English was a huge plus for everyone. And what made it even better was the accents.

Irish accents are horribly underrated. It didn’t matter who was talking, I thought they were attractive just because of the way they talked. So reason number one for wanting to be Irish – Killer accents.

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The ship ported for four days in Dublin. One the first morning while disembarking on The Terminal Stairs of Doom, I happened to run into my friend Amber. She invited me to explore the city with her friends that day, which I gladly accepted. We had a blast that day and I’m so glad to have happened to run into her that morning.

We started off by heading to Trinity College or University of Dublin, which I believe is something like the Harvard equivalent of Ireland (except it was founded in 1592). Not counting a small university in Murcia, this was the first college campus outside of the US I’ve ever seen. It had a very unique atmosphere from many I’ve seen in the Midwest, and was completely different from my home university. All the campuses I’ve ever seen have this obvious air of commerciality that I can never see past. This is something that really bothers me – I’ve always thought my home university will say and do anything it can to attract students, even it it’s not entirely honest. But I didn’t feel that way at all about Trinity college. It seemed to attract students all on it’s own, without fancy new buildings, or perfect flowerbeds, or multi-million dollar football stadiums.

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It just looked like a place I would be really happy attending. I wish I could’ve seen inside more of the buildings. But I’ll go ahead and chance saying, reason number two to be Irish: Dublin Univerisity.

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After the university, we completed what ended up being a tour of all the major churches and cathedrals in town. In the first one we went into, the pastor told us all about the other places to see in town and all about the church he helps run. He was so kind and willing to share the history of the church he loved, we stood and talked with him for almost an hour. He was the one who made sure we saw the chapel connected to the Dublin Castle.

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When I first walked in, I thought it was sunlight streaming in the room in tiny little rays. It took a little while before I realized it was actually thousands of threads of silk, illuminated by the sun and attached to ceramic doves placed throughout the church.

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There was no sign so I have no clue what the significance was, but it was one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever seen.

We also visited Christ’s Cathedral Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Each had their own points of interest. Christ’s Cathedral has a really cool crypt under it, full of history videos and artifacts dating the history of Catholicism and Christianity in Ireland. This was also the place where the HBO show The Tudors was filmed. I’ve seen several episodes of that show and was really exited to see many of the costumes on display.

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Saint Patrick’s cathedral likewise had videos and artifacts from history spread throughout it’s ancient walls. This one was more of a museum than a cathedral though. I learned that Saint Patrick was the man who introduced Christianity to Ireland a long, long time ago. (I did not know that’s what St. Patrick’s Day celebrates). The cathedral/museum was dedicated to him and his life story was told throughout many of the stained glass windows.

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There was also portions of the museum that told stories of the cathedral. That one I found most interesting was an ancient looking wooden door with a rough hole cut in the middle hanging on display. I read the story from a nearby sign: In 1492 two Irish families were fighting openly in the streets of Dublin. The losing family decided to take refuge in the cathedral and refused to leave. The other family followed them and demanded they leave the cathedral to return to the fighting. The inside family said, “Yeah, probably not though” and they argued through the door for hours. Finally, the outside family offered a truce and guaranteed safe passage from the cathedral if the inside family would just go. But the inside family still says, “Um, no way dude,” until the head of the outside family cuts a hole in the door to shake on it. So they shook hands through this hole and made peace. From this the Irish get the expression, “To chance your arm.”

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Moral of the story? If you’re losing a fight, go find a cathedral. And bring an axe.

The rest of our day in Dublin was spent eating, shopping, and finding hair salons and tattoo parlors (for my friends, don’t worry Grandma.) Lots of SAS kids ended up with haircuts and tattoos after this port, taking advantage of the English and the fact that they could communicate exactly what they wanted. (I heard a horror story from someone who tried to get a tattoo in Amsterdam..)

That night we explored the Irish pubs, met some local college kids, saw a guy get legit murdered… you know. The usual. Reason number three to be Irish: Dublin nightlife.

The next three days in Ireland I left on a SAS field program destined for the West of Ireland. This was my first time taking an overnight SAS field trip and it was not disappointing. It was fantastic actually. I loved the break from having to plan out what to do port and just letting them do all the booking, transportation, etc. That might sound ridiculously lazy, but you try booking train tickets and making hotel reservations using internet so slow it takes ten minutes to send an email (And we only get two hours of free internet the entire semester). No phone calls either.

It took about three hours for us to get from Dublin to our hotel Galway, but on the way we stopped at Kilbeggan whiskey distillery, where saw how the Irish make their whiskey.

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This particular distillery was hundreds of years old, so we saw both the old and the new distilleries. We learned the step by step process to make whiskey as well as a few extra facts. Like how apparently in the old distillery, the workers used to bathe in the hot water before they used it to brew grain. I made a mental note to never drink whiskey again.

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But the tour concluded with a free shot of their Kilbeggan whiskey. The bathing story (even though it was supposedly a long time ago) combined with the fact that it was about 10 in the morning did not make me all that inclined to try it, but.. when in Ireland.

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After the distillery we continued our drive to Galway (pronounced “Gullway” with an Irish accent.) The guide in charge of the trip was from this small coastal town and was so happy to share everything he possibly knew about it. This resulted in frequent stops in random shops and restaurants where we heard everything from food recommendations to medieval history. Reason number four for wanting to be Irish: no one gets crabby that there’s suddenly a group of 25 people standing in your shop just to see the medieval stonework.

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Throughout the Galway tour, we saw the city’s famous swans..

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History museums..

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Fresh flower markets..

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I was a pretty tired fella when we got to our hotel that night. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go out to dinner, but instead were treated with a three course meal from the hotel.

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I don’t know what it was called, but it was amazing.

The next day, we left Galway to venture in the Connemara countryside. I realized that this was really my first time in a rural area since leaving SW Iowa, and I didn’t know that I missed it until we were here. This semester I’ve seen city after city, but this was something entirely different.

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We stopped at the Dan O’Hara farm, where we were taken by the owner (I never did catch his name, but I know it wasn’t Dan) to the top of a bluff via a large tractor and wagon.

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That looked familiar.

The view from the top of that bluff was one the prettiest I’ve seen in my life, and I’m not saying that lightly. The countryside was miles and miles of fields and farmhouses and stone walls. Just barely on the horizon you could see the sea. But except for the narrow, winding road that snaked in the distance, there was no other sign of people.

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The sun was kissing the scene with just enough light to make all the colors stand out. I was completely frozen, trying to take it all in, before realizing I wanted pictures so I’d remember what it looked like. I’m so glad I did now, every time I look through these pictures again I remember how quiet and free I felt standing there.

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Also, I think I should make a clarification here. See the sheep in the picture above? They’re just marked with red paint to indicate their herd, they aren’t suffering from stab wounds or a wolf attack. Close call.

I was finally brought by to reality by the farm’s owner. I’ve never met anyone as thrilled to share their home with other as he was. He had grown up here and this same farm had been passed down for generations in his family. He had so much to tell us about the place that he talked nonstop for the few hours we stayed there, and he was only satisfied when he thought you were as appreciative of his home as he was.

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Here was where we learned about the famous peat fires of Ireland. Peat is turf made of wood that’s been fossilized for 5800 years that is just under the ground in West Ireland. It’s so compact that no insects or plants live in it. The Irish (historically) take brick sized chunks of the peat and lay it out to dry in the sun and wind. It takes about a week to dry throughly, and once it’s dried it as hard an actual brick. Just one of these peat bricks burns for about 4 hours.

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But telling us about the peat fires wasn’t enough. Demonstrating how to dig up the peat and making us practice setting up the little pyramids to dry the peat wasn’t enough. No, he had to show us a real peat fireplace burning. He then took us to this little stone cottage on the hillside.

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Once inside the cottage, he launched into a long story of the house’s owners, of the life of the typical Irish farmer, and stories of the Irish potato famine. He told folklore stories, sang old Irish songs, and told us all about the traditions his family has passed down from generation to generation. All the while, we can smell the peat fire burning low in the fireplace and we can look out the windows and see this gorgeous landscape outside. It was an unforgettable experience, to say the least. For one of the first times this Semester, I didn’t feel like intruding tourists, only a guest in this cottage. He shared his life with us, he wanted us to really be a part of it, not just view it from the outside.

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That’s about the last place I’d expect to see a picture of Obama, but apparently he too has Irish heritage, along with all the other presidents on the poster.

My favorite part of his speech though. We’d been sitting there for awhile as he’s telling us this long winded story of a type of liquor that’s been banned in Ireland for years called Ūīsee Bālhā (pronounced Ish Kabaha, meaning “water of life”). It’s homemade, the Irish equivalent to moonshine, but 10x stronger. He keeps saying it’s completely illegal in Ireland and I’m listening and wondering where he’s going with this. Then out of no where he reaches up by the fireplace and pulls out a little piece of wood concealing a cache in the wall. Out comes a dusty bottle with this illegal alcohol and he’s beaming and pulls out equally dusty shotglasses and says, “Who wants to be Irish?”

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And that’s reason number five for wanting to be Irish.

When he’s done with his speech in the cottage, everyone goes outside for some last minute pictures. At this point he corners me and says very matter of factly that I must be Irish. I told him that I didn’t think so, as far as I knew my family was Danish. But he didn’t let it go. For whatever reason, he really wanted me to say that my family was from Ireland. I think it was partly because he didn’t want to admit being wrong, but also because he wanted to be able to share some sort of ownership of his country. He was no different from the pastor at the Dublin church we met, the man from Galway, and many more people I’d meet in Ireland. And that right there is the biggest difference I saw in Ireland versus all the over countries I’ve been to. The people I met in Ireland wanted to share their country and history, not just have people stop and look and leave. Reason number six.

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After the farm tour, we left and a driving tour of the coast and Ireland’s only fjord. I wasn’t the only person feeling a little sick as the bus was winding up and down the steep roads in the mountains. It reminded me a lot of driving a camper through Yellowstone. But the views we got were completely worth it in the end.

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By this time, I had seen too much beauty for one day, and I didn’t know how much more I could absorb. I think anyone would need weeks and months and maybe even years to fully appreciate the splendor of the mountains here.

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When the next morning came, I was really reluctant to pack my bag to leave Galway. We were told to be on the bus by 6:30 that morning (still not a good time for me) and we had a new driver. This guy was just as enthusiastic to show us everything, and every ten minutes or so we would pull over to see another view or ancient cemetery or castle.

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He definitely made the most of the time we had, but I think a lot of people might have liked a nap.

The first place we stopped at for a lengthy amount of time was the headquarters of the Burren, a natural environment preserve in west Ireland. We listened to a lecture on conservation and archeological finding in these areas. They haven’t dug up much of the land at all, but what they’ve found dates back thousands and thousands of years ago. We also learned about the local farmers and how they are the ones mainly responsible for the upkeep and preservation of the land. I really appreciated this. The area of Ireland recognizes that it’s not the bureaucratic men who know what’s best for the farmers and the land, it’s the people who’ve been passing their farms down for generations.

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Then it was time for us to help out a local farmer who let use his farms to get a good view of the coast. Local farmers use stone to build fences in their fields. These stone walls have been used for centuries. The stones lock into place with one another, but since there is no mortar holding them together they can fall down from time to time, especially when kicked by feral goats (which sounds like a band name to me). Our job was the help repair a stretch of the stone wall in the places it had fallen.

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The farmer came out and was delighted to have us help. Once again, everyone was pressed to see if they had Irish heritage and reminded if so, that this is the same thing their ancestors would have been doing if they were Irish farmers. Minus the florescent vests.

Building these walls takes more skill that I originally thought. It’s like giant puzzle. You have to start from the bottom with the largest rocks standing on end. Next comes the rounder, thicker stones to place in between. Somehow at the top you have to build one more layer, but at this point there is no more uniform shape. You just have to find what fits and wedge it in. Nothing can more or shake or it will fall, and there has to be large enough spaces in between so the wind can escape through.

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I think I nailed it.

The last stop of the day was the famously beautiful Cliffs of Moher.

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I’m really running out of ways to describe natural beauty like this, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and say that they in no way do the cliffs justice.

It takes a little courage to make it to the top. As you climb up there’s a sidewalk that marks the safest path around the edge and that’s dotted with foreboding signs like this:

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That wasn’t gonna stop me from seeing the edge though. I think at the exact moment my friend Val snapped this picture I was catching my breath after stumbling a little. Not a place where you want to be clumsy.

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But so worth the view.

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I can’t think of a better place to end my tour of Ireland on. It was such the perfect climatic moment, standing there on the edge listening to the waves crash seven hundred feet below.

Ireland was by far the hardest country to leave. I’ve really enjoyed every port we’ve been in so far, but Ireland trumps them all. I didn’t expect to find a country that I loved as much as Spain, but I was surprised.

It takes a special place to make you feel as if you’ve left pieces of your heart there. I was incredibly blessed to only have met passionate, kind people who wanted to share their knowledge and homes. From the Irish I learned the importance of sharing your story instead of boasting to gain admiration and to feel exclusive. And I suppose that’s what I’m hoping to achieve with this blog. I don’t want anyone to read it and think I’m placing my experiences higher than anything else. I’m learning to be Irish. I want to share my adventures and I want to encourage people to see these places (and more!) for themselves. I want everyone to be able to appreciate this crazy, beautiful world.

– Carrie

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