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“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” – L. Frank Baum August 4, 2013

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Upon returning from our weekend trip to Morocco, we packed our bags once again to head to Las Cuevas del Tio Tobas, a cave hotel in a region called Guadix in the southern part of Granada. While staying in the caves, we visited several museums, made a trip to a solar energy research and development plant, made our own pan (bread), and had a cooking contest among other things. The cooking contest involved making tortilla espanola and carne en salsa, two very famous Spanish dishes. We also participated in a drop-off scavenger hunt where two students were dropped off in different provinces of Guadix and were forced to explore and interact with the locals to learn about the different pueblos. 

After spending three nights in the caves, we returned to the comfort of our host families in Granada and prepared for the weekend. On Friday, we decided to hike up to the second highest peak in Spain and of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Veleta. Immediately upon exiting the bus at the base of the mountain, we all quickly realized we had made a mistake. We were all wearing shorts and t-shirts, but the wind was gusting, the air was cold, and yes, there was even snow on the ground. Luckily, we had over a 15 mile hike ahead of us to warm us up. Reaching the peak of the mountain was quite an accomplishment for us after hiking for over three hours, and the view we were greeted with was totally worth it. I was sure to also bring home some rocks from the top of the mountain as souvenirs. 

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After returning from our hike, it was time to conclude the weekend by working our final projects and studying for our final exam because even though it was hard to believe, our second class was starting to wind down. On Monday, we had an excursion to the coast which included visiting greenhouses, learning about the flow and supply of water in southern Spain, and having a typical Andalusian meal. On Tuesday, we had our final exams and presentations, and then it was somehow already time to pack our bags for the return trip to the U.S. Where had the time gone? 

After thanking our host families for their extreme generosity and parting ways with our new friends from across the globe, our travels began with a bus back to where the program had started, Madrid. A fitting way to end the program! We had all come together as complete strangers in the Madrid airport, and now, we were hugging each other goodbye in that exact same airport talking about the next time we would all see each other again. 

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As I sat on the plane making the nine hour trek back to Atlanta, I took a couple of minutes to think back on the program and think about what an experience it was. The things I did, the memories I made, and the friends I shared these times with are all irreplaceable. My time in Spain has come to an end, and I can honestly say I had the time of my life and it was the experience of a lifetime! My trip can be summed up by the fact that when my parents asked me how my trip was, I was nearly speechless because I simply did not know where to begin. 

I Bless the Rains Down in Africa! July 25, 2013

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After our first week with our home-stay families in Granada, fifteen of the Spanish LBATers decided to embark on a journey that we would never forget. We were going to Africa! That’s right, we were taking a train from Granada to the southern port town of Algeciras, a ferry ride across the Straight of Gibraltar, and a shuttle to our destination of Tangier, Morocco. Going to Morocco during the Holy Month of Ramadan was going to be quite an experience, and it all began with the ferry ride. 

Traveling across the Straight of Gibraltar on a massive ferry boat late at night was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. To be able to see two different continents under the stars was breathtaking. Upon arrival in North Africa, the streets were filled with people and street vendors because during Ramadan, the local Muslim population is only allowed to break their fast once the sun goes down. 

Our weekend in Morocco involved exploring the city, purchasing authentic Moroccan tea and spices, learning about and appreciating the Muslim culture during Ramadan, and constantly bargaining to spend less dirhams on the street. Oh, and how did I forget? We took a taxi tour through the entire city of Tangier, Morocco visiting the palaces of the Moroccan royalty, visiting the famous Hercules caves, and my personal favorite, riding camels through the mountains. Having lived in Dubai as a young child, I had heard many stories about riding camels. Therefore, I was extremely excited to have the chance to do this in Morocco, and it certainly lived up to it’s potential. Below is a picture of a group of us mounted on camels along the beaches in Tangier.

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On the way back from Morocco, we made a game-time decision to make a pitstop in Gibraltar, which is a British territory on the southern end of the Iberian peninsula. We were able to walk through one of the most historic cities in the world and view the Rock of Gibraltar from its base. Pictured below is a historic monument in the heart of Gibraltar:

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After visiting three different countries and two different continents within three hours on the same day, it was truly a special weekend that I will never forget. 

From Madrid to Barcelona to Granada July 17, 2013

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After returning home safely from the Running of the Bulls, it was time to enjoy our last week in Madrid and finish our first class of the program. In addition to studying for our final exam about the history of Spain and the European Union, our last week consisted of visiting el Museo Reina Sofia, an art museum with special exhibits from Picasso and Dali, taking a walking tour through the part of Madrid from the era of the Austrias, and completing a flamenco dance lesson to prepare for the second half of our trip in Granada, the home of flamenco dancing. 

After completing our final exam and wondering how our program was already halfway complete, we boarded a train and headed to Barcelona, which would soon become my favorite city in Spain. After visiting la Sagrada Familia, one of the most beautiful sites and views I have ever witnessed and experiencing the nightlife that Barcelona has to offer, I wished I could spend more than just one weekend in the capital of Catalonia. 

However, I had to return home because early Monday morning, we were off to our next destination, the home of La Alhambra, the city of Granada. I was especially looking forward to this part of the trip because we were assigned to stay with host families, which means I would be directly immersed into the Spanish culture and language. As we waited anxiously on the side of the street, a car rolled up, and my host mother, Matilde, came and gave me the typical Spanish greeting of two kisses on the check and we were off to my home for the next two and a half weeks. Shortly thereafter, I learned I would be staying in a nice three story house right next to the main hospital in Granada. I also quickly learned that my host mother was a phenomenal cook. Oh, and did I mention she also owned a dog? I think I can get used to this place. As I sit here in Granada, I can’t wait to explore the city throughout my time here and see the beauty the city is well renowned for. 

Running of the Bulls! July 11, 2013

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Have you ever watched SportsCenter or the news and seen the annual Running of the Bulls clip in July and wondered what those people were thinking or even what the festival was all about about? I know I certainly have. When I first learned I would be in Spain during the month of July, the first thing I looked up was whether my trip coincided with the Running of the Bulls. Booking a hotel room and actually going to Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin are two very different things.

The first thing I learned was that the city of Pamplona at least triples its population for the seven day festival. This sounded crazy, but the experience I had last weekend was simply unimaginable. After arriving in Pamplona on Friday morning, there was a feeling of anticipation in the air as the locals waited for the chupinazo, or the official start of the festival.  As we headed towards the center of Pamplona on Saturday around eleven, I don’t think any of the Spain LBATers were prepared for what we were about to experience. As we entered the crowd near the Town Hall just before 11:30, utter chaos broke out as we found ourselves in the middle of the biggest crowd I have ever seen in my life. As everybody pushed in different directions and the locals dumped wine and water on us from the balconies, I was not always sure where my feet were or if they were even on the ground. Once we were finally able to exit the crowd, we headed towards the opening ceremony where everybody held up their Pamplona pride, and the festival of San Fermin was officially under way. After witnessing the city go wild throughout the entire day on Saturday, the moment I was really waiting for was nearing. The first encierro, or the Running of the Bulls, would take place Sunday at 8 am. After having nearly all of the residents of Madrid try to talk us out of running and after watching countless YouTube videos of past runnings, we suited up and left our hotel before 5 o’clock to cross an item off of our bucket lists. Below I am pictured before the run in typical San Fermin attire:

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As the time approached 8 am, we found our starting place at the end of the first straightaway in hopes that the bulls would pass us around the first lefthand turn. As the last ceremonial song was sung one minute before the bulls were let loose, I could not help myself from jumping up and down as the adrenaline began pumping like I had never felt before. Everything went according to plan as the blur of the bulls passed me around the first turn, and I had officially survived the Running of the Bulls. As someone who has played sports throughout my entire life, nothing I had ever felt was like what I experienced as I began the run knowing that 1500 pound masses were coming after me and I very well could be in harms way.

Now, I am sitting back in my dorm room Madrid as I have now finished my first class on the history of Spain and the EU. The program is now halfway over and I am heading to Barcelona tomorrow morning for the weekend and then we leave for Granada on Monday for the second half of the program. I have also booked my train/ferry tickets to travel to Tangier, Morocco next weekend, so I still have a lot to look forward to as my study abroad experience continues to not disappoint.

¡Bienvenidos a Madrid! July 3, 2013

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¡Hola de Madrid! Landing in Madrid and Europe for the first time in my life on my 19th birthday was quite an experience! Furthermore, my first couple of days in the largest city in Spain have not disappointed. After exploring the city on our own on Saturday, we visited the Rastro flea market, which is the largest open air flea market in Madrid, and took a three hour guided walking tour of the city visiting everything from la Plaza de Mayor to el Museo del Prado on Sunday. Below is a picture of me with a famous statue in la Plaza de Mayor, the center of the city of Madrid.

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On Monday, classes at the International House began with a guest lecture from a Spanish economist and our “Spain and the EU in the 21st Century” class also commenced. After a break for lunch and a small “siesta”, which is an interesting concept used by the locals here, we had our first cultural visit, un paseo de Madrid, or a walk through the city focusing on landmarks of the Bourbon dynasty. Today, our cultural visit was a tour of the Real Madrid Futbol Club, one of the largest and most successful soccer teams of all time. As a former soccer player, this was an extremely amazing experience for me as they took us through the trophy room, through both locker rooms, onto the field, and into the souvenir shop. Below, I am pictured at field level:

Real Madrid

After only three days in the city of Madrid, I can honestly say “¡Yo estoy enomorado de la ciudad de Madrid!”, “I am falling in love with the city of Madrid.” I cannot wait to see what else my study abroad experience has in store for me.