The Generalife in Granada, Spain.
Before leaving for Madrid a dear friend of mine and I exchanged decorated block letters for us to remember each other by. When times are rough and we have no motivation to do anything, or we simply want to remind ourselves of our silly life moments, we look at the letter. Mine hangs above my desk, hers sits on top of hers. On the "E" she gave me is a quote saying, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer" and that couldn't be more true. 

Traveling is the one thing that you walk away from being a more informed, experienced and cultured individual. After researching a few places I have visited this semester I realized that several of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, places considered to have significant cultural and natural importance regarding humanity and the heritage of the world population. 

As of 2012 there are 962 sites, and over the course of my travels since I was girl I have been to over 20, six of which I have seen since the beginning of the semester. Traveling makes you richer and the fact that these sights were recognized for doing so makes the fact that I went that much better. 

Engraved details are everywhere in the Alhambra.
SPAIN, 44 UNESCO SITES: Andrea = 4
1.) First is Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra was originally built to be a military base in the tenth century but became home to royalty and the court of Granada in mid-thirteenth century  As the centuries went on the Alhambra slowly became both a fortress and a home. The walled town had quarters for the military, the Alcazaba; an area for the top government officials, the Medina; and quarters for the servants. To the east of the Alhambra is the Generalife, the royal gardens of the Alhambra. Both the Generalife and Alhambra look over the district of Granada called Albayzín and are incredibly beautiful architectural monuments that pay tribute to Muslim Spain in the 16th century. 

While you walk through the Alhambra your jaw will drop in awe. Don't even bother lifting it up either because it will just keep falling down. Also, if you trip over your own feet, like I did (I have a battle wound to prove it) don't be embarrassed, its happens more than you think. Here, the Moorish and Andalusian architecture blend beautifully, the amount of hand engraving makes your hand hurt just looking at it, and the best thing about the architecture and art is that none of it has been altered, even with the Christian conquest, the buildings and art have only ever been restored. This is by far my favorite UNESCO site in all of Spain.

Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo.
2.) The Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza. I won't sugarcoat this one, it was rather boring but the Chapel of El Salvador del Mundo was beautiful. Úbeda and Baeza, frequently called twin towns, are approximately 10 km from one another and combined make for decent day trip, we did it within two hours on our way back from Granada. The significance of Úbeda and Baeza and why they are considered 
 UNESCO World Heritage Sites is due to their Iberian and Roman backgrounds that lead to their abundance of Renaissance architecture.

3.) Segovia, rhymes with Genovia (that's right I watched The Princess Diaries), Spain. Segovia is amazingly old. I don't know if I have every used those two adjectives together and for the same noun but for this medieval city it definitely works. The three cultures that coexisted: Moors, Christians and Jews created unique architecture and style while also paying homage to the Acueducto, the symbol of Segovia for all intensive purposes. Built in approximately 50 A.D. and restored by the Catholic Kings of Spain in the fifteenth century, the roman bridge is one of the few well-preserved monuments of its age left on the peninsula. Walking around the city and stumbling here and there on the cobblestone is nothing but a treat as you gaze at the ancient buildings, the immaculate Segovia Cathedral and try the delicious pastries. When we left Segovia after our day visit I was filled with new knowledge on architecture and art, but also full of delicious chocolate and cream filling. Never say no to a pastry from Segovia. 

Acuedcuto in Segovia, Spain.
Segovia Cathedral
Rear entrance of Cathedral of Toledo.
4.) The last is Toledo, Spain, The City of the Three Cultures and home to El Greco. Toledo is a city that has been home to several civilizations, architectural styles and was influenced by many cultures but primarily by three religions that co-existed: Islamic, Hebrew and Christian. The imprint of the three religions accompanied by the many civilizations Toledo was home to make the city beautiful. Mudejar architecture, a mixture of Catholic and Islamic styles, is the predominate style in the city and is a reminder that religions have the ability to co-exist. 

      Important (and of course beautiful) places to see in Toledo: 

Banks of the Seine in Paris, France.
4.) The one UNESCO site I have been to in France counts for a lot more than one monument, thank gosh. If it hadn't I feel I would have cheated France with my 24 hour day trip. The site is Paris, Banks of the Seine and includes seeing various landmarks such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame de Paris, city squares and basically anything along the Seine River. Paris, being the river city it really is, is a beautiful city that has historical masterpieces every which way along the Seine, from hundreds of years-old to more recent developments Paris balances the different architecture styles. The only thing left for me to do is go back and visit the rest of the breathtaking country. 

Tor Peterson and Kevin Kriz in Heroes' Square.
5.) My three day trip to Budapest was wonderful and I'm pretty sure it will be deemed the highlight of all trips I will have taken this semester. I know I said knowing a place I have visited is a UNESCO Site makes my experience even richer, but if Budapest hadn't been it still would have been well worth the trip. The World Heritage Centre entitles the location Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue and I can happily say I have been to each tourist sight listed in that title. Budapest is a city that used to be two, Buda and Pest, and is now joined by several bridges. On the right bank is Buda, on the left is Pest and civilization can be traced in both cities back to the Palaeolithic period, we're talking Stone Age here people. Budapest is a beautiful city that has some of the most amazing things including bath houses, labyrinths, monuments and a democracy that is only a year older than me. 

      Important places to see in Budapest: 

The Banks of the Danube and Parliament building.
A quick snap of one of the churches in the Castle District.
6.) If you read my blog post about my weekend trip to Lisbon, Portugal you know I fell in love with the ocean, beautiful city, the people, and of course the pastries - what else is new. The history of Lisbon dates back to over 300,000 years ago, needless to say I was told a lot of information on the walking tour that I could not digest, but these are the important things to know. 
  1. Though it dates back to over 300,000 years ago, only in the early 12th century did it became a nation state.
  2.  According to a legend the city was named Olissopo and founded by Ulysses. Olissopo has origins in Phoenician Allis Ubbo which means "enchanting port" and this is where Lisbon, or Lisboa, received its name.  
  3. During the 15th century Lisbon was the departing point for Portuguese discoveries that lead to finding colonies in Atlantic islands, shores of Africa, Asia and Americas. 
  4. It was during this same time period that the UNESCO sites I have seen were built: Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon
  5. Earthquake of 1755 destroyed almost the whole city and it was rebuilt by Marquis of Pombal
  6. It is one of the world's longest founded cities 
Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon, Portugal.
Rachel Arsen on Atlantic Coast beach in Lisbon.
After traveling to each of these destinations I have walked away being happier than I was when I arrived and also more informed about each city's culture, history and people. The more I immerse myself into the Spanish culture and the culture of being a frequent traveler, a nomad some would say, the more I enjoy investigating the places I have been and want to go. You truly do walk away from a place being a richer person, and I have learned to never  doubt the power of traveling because of this. 
Map of Madrid's Metro. Click the image to take you to the online map.
We all know the drill when it comes to transportation that isn't reliable: arrive ten minutes before the bus in case it is early and don't be surprised if you have to wait ten minutes after the bus is scheduled to come. That is the case for Milwaukee, and sometimes Minneapolis, but here In Madrid, Spain I have never waited more than eight minutes for a metro or bus and when I do it is because I  am running late. 

The public transportation is clean, efficient and fast. There are 13 metro lines with over 213 stations, more than 170 bus lines with stops less than a block apart from one another, and the InterBus and 10 Cercanias lines take you from the city center to the suburbs and other communities within the Community of Madrid.  The most commonly used if living in Madrid however are the Metro and the EMT buses

The Metro: 
The Metro is extremely easy to use. The lines are identified by both number and color, so knowing Spanish is not even necessary and if you miss one the odds of one coming in the next three minutes are high. The Metro trains run from 6:00 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. and the frequency of the trains depends on the line, time of day and day of the week. On average the trains come every two to three minutes and every five minutes during rush hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., it is not recommended to travel during rush hour, unless you want to feel like a sardine in a can. At night and on the weekends the metros run every 10 to 15 minutes. It's all very convenient and when in doubt hop on the main line called the greysix, or circular, which continuously goes in a circle around the city center. All lines, at one point or another, connect directly with this route and if they don't they connect to one that does. Also, if you are directionally challenged, don't worry. There is a new application Madrid Metro iPhone application that calculates the easiest route to your destination for you, it even estimates the time. A personal treasure of mine.

The EMT buses: 
Buses come all the time in Madrid. The stops are equipped with electric signs that countdown the minutes for the next four approaching buses. All EMT buses are air-conditioned as well, which is a great thing in the hot Spanish summers. They are fast, frequent and if one is completely full you won't wait more than five to ten minutes for the next bus. The most common buses in Madrid are the C1 and C2, the Circular, just as the frequent Metro line is Circular. The route runs in a wide circle around the city, stopping at major Metro stations such as Atocha, Plaza de España, Moncola, Retiro, Argüelles and more. During the night the day buses do not run, but there are 24 Búhos (owls) that run from 11:45 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. every 15 to 30 minutes and are numbered N1-N24. They all begin from Plaza de Cibeles (metro stop is Banco de España)  and go to the suburbs and within the city, while Metro Búho, weekend night buses, leave from the bus stops closest to the 11 central metro lines. They are L1-L11. For all night buses the times vary though you should never wait for more than 15 to 30 minutes. 

If you are worried about your safety, don't be. If you are conscious of your surroundings you will be just fine in the Metro and on the EMT buses. At each Metro station there are also guards and plenty of security cameras to ensure that you are safe. 

Spain is in an economic crisis and one way people in Spain are showing their opinion of the matter and actions made by the government is through strikes. The unions representing Madrid's public transportation companies have followed suit and have both planned and spontaneous demonstrations. In the past two months I have experienced delayed and packed bus rides and hot and uncomfortable Metro rides during the times of 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.. On the days of the strikes the Madrid Metro operates at 50 percent of the usual services, and though the EMT buses only strike for two hours on the designated days, you never know what time of day it is going to occur. 

The cost:
I use the metro and bus more than three times a day and wouldn't have it any other way. If I had to pay for each individual use I would mind but Madrid makes it cost-effective with an Abono. An Abono is a transportation card you renew every thirty days and it is valid for all modes of public transportation except the InterBus and Cercanias, but you rarely, if ever, take these. The cost is 52,20 euros for adults (ages 23 and up), €33,50 for 22 and younger and €11,80 for the tercera edad, or senior citizens. If you break down any of those prices and take the metro twice a day that is less than a single euro round trip, the price of single trip is 1,50 to 2 euros. I think you have a bargain on your hands with the Abono.
This weekend I breathed the smell of Minnesota. The smoke from a fire in the mountains mixed with the smell of hot s'mores, that then combined with the smell of a fresh downpour and cut grass. After a bit the smell of fallen leaves and fall came and soon I couldn't help but take deeps breaths of the wannabe Minnesotan air. Cercedilla, Spain you had me fooled from the get-go. 

This weekend  seven of us hiked the trails of the Sierra de Guadarrama, a stretch of mountains located approximately 60 kilometers from the capital of Spain, and in the Northwest of the Community of Madrid in Cercedilla. Madrid is a cosmopolitan city, there is no doubt about that, and when we found out there were hiking trails and outdoor activities nearby we all became anxious to get out of the city and stretch our limbs. 

Getting to the town was easy. You can hop on the Renfe or take a bus, each the same price, and it takes you directly to the bottom of the mountains where you walk up the road for about half a mile before you get to the beginning of the trails. At first we planned on taking the Yellow Trail, a five hour hike with a slower incline but farther distance, but before we began our trek we found the Orange Trail with a duration of three hours with a steady incline and better views. We opted for the latter. To our surprise the approximated times were not accurate, we finished the Orange Trail in two hours, with stops for the views and lunch. Next time we will  dominate the Yellow Trail instead. 
The weather was unpredictable. For hiking it's better to overdress than underdress and the majority of us came covered in layers but some opted for a more breezy experience. As we hiked I became hot, I took my North Face fleece and rain jacket off, ditched my scarf and was still hot hiking up the hills in my t-shirt. Being bundled up served me well when we came to the top where the wind was strong and the temperatures were significantly lower. I even donned a pair of mittens while we ate our bocadillos at a plateau in the mountain ridge. Emily and I bundled up as much as we could at this point, but we soon realized that our group had a wide spectrum in terms of tolerance for cold weather. 
Andrea and Emily bundled up at the top of the Orange Trail.
Emily and Kevin: one bundled, one not.
Not only was it nice to get some exercise it was a great way to see a different side of Spain. We're used to such a busy city where it seems no one ever sleeps and cars are on the roads 24/7. In Minneapolis and Milwaukee there are at least times of the day and places where you can go an escape the hustle and bustle, but as of yet we haven't been able to find somewhere to do that, until now. 

The pine trees, rocks, gravel, actual green grass, and the action of hiking all made the three of us from Minnesota feel right at home and added a little kick to our step. Nature was upon us and it felt oh so good. The views were absolutely stunning. Clouds covered the peaks of the Sierra, mountain bikers engraved their paths on the side of the trails, there were actual boulders on the side of the trails and for the first time in months we saw wildlife, including  a n earthworm Kevin named Herman and later a cow we all took photos next too. Needless to say we needed a dose of nature rather than city. All-in-all our excursion took about six hours from meeting at the metro station to arriving back to our designated Señoras and it was a highlight of the study abroad experience. Could we go again? Yes, but it's beginning to get cold and we all know Emily and I don't handle that well here. 
Today I received my absentee ballot for the 2012 Presidential elections! This is the first Presidential election I can vote in and I must say it is stressful. 

It is hard to be an informed voter, there is no doubt about that. You can listen to all the chatter and talk within your social group, you can watch television and unwillingly listen to the campaign advertisements but in the end you really need to put your own foot forward and do the research yourself. 

At this time the United States, in my opinion, is ready for change and I believe it has been for quite some time. This change is not the coined term for Barack Obama, nor is it to say Mitt Romney is the answer, I simply mean a positive change away from what our country is currently facing. There are things that I would personally benefit from if either candidate was elected, and there are things that would not help me in the least and don't coincide with my beliefs at all, however you have to remember that November 6, 2012 is about the greater good, not just yours. 

As I was watching the debate this evening I couldn't help but think: Can they stop interrupting one another? Oh my word, it was horrible, but it showed me just how much each cared. In retrospect, it made me realize how much I hope everyone else cares and how many people think their vote doesn't matter. As we learned in our history class here in Spain, voter turnout is not equal across the world. In Spain approximately 75 percent of the population votes, in the US it is slightly under 60 percent, that means a little over 40 percent of the population in the US believe their voices can't be heard. That's not a great feeling. 

The students and faculty at the Complutense are currently protesting the price of education and the lack of reciprocation they have received from the government. I may not agree with the fact that their education cost the quarter of ours and they are upset, but I applaud their participation and ability to standup for what they believe in. Some go as far as to not attend class and walk the halls of the school chanting. They want their voices to be heard and I genuinely think people are listening. 

So, today when I was doing my own research I made sure to know everything I personally needed to know in order to make an informed decision not only on who I wanted to be President, but also on many other positions that are less glamorous, but nonetheless just as important, such as school board Representative or state Representative. Oh, and don't forget the proposed Constitutional amendments - I was sure to vote on those too. 

Today was a day packed with politics, but I can now proudly say I have fulfilled my civic duty and voted in my first Presidential election. All that is left is to mail it back and await for the final ballots to be counted on November 6. 
Who knew it would take me traveling to Europe to see the Golden Gate Bridge, well at least its semi-twin. 

In Lisbon, Portugal the 25 de Abril bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Europe and happens to look like a cross between  the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oakland Bay Bridge. The Portuguese bridge was built in 1966, has a reddish-orange tint, and was constructed by the same company, American Bridge Company, that built the Oakland Bay Bridge. One of the girls on the trip cracked the joke that San Francisco was coming to us, I thought that was funny since I have been all over the world but not all over the United States. This sounds melodramatic but going to Lisbon, seeing the Golden Gate Bride/Oakland Bay Bridge look-alike, and traveling Europe has made me realize I have not seen enough of my home country. An early New Years resolution: Go to a national park before another country next year. Lets hope that happens. 

Back to Lisbon. What a beautiful country. When we arrived we were astonished by how beautiful and modern it was. We took the metro to our hostel, Yes! Lisbon Hostel, and each metro stop was absolutely gorgeous. The metro has been called "an underground gallery" since many of the stations are decorated with modern art, and the architecture is there to match. Unfortunately I was so in aw of what I was seeing I didn't take any pictures, luckily there is such thing as the internet and a website for the metro. 
Photo courtesy of Metro Lisboa
Photo courtesy of Metro Lisboa
Cristo Rei monument, Lisbon.
When we arrived at the hostel we dropped our belongings off, changed and headed out for dinner. Irene, my señora said Lisbon was very cheap and my goodness was she right. My dinner of fresh salmon, potatoes, wine and bread cost ten euros, I was pleasantly shocked. After eating dinner we walked around the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and saw a beautiful view of the water and across the way was the Cristo Rei statue. I had seen the Catholic monument on the television and travel shows but never did I think I would be seeing it myself. We never went very close to it, but I think I will leave that for another visit to Portugal. The monument was built in 1959 as a symbol of gratitude to God for excluding Portugal in WWII. Many statues and national monuments in Europe are from centuries before the United States was founded and it was nice to see something that was more modern and relatively close to the ages of many sights in the U.S. After gazing at the water for a bit we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep for our big beach day the next day. When you take later flights they are always considerably cheaper, but you have to be prepared for the trade-off of being tired that night and OK with having a quiet evening. 

Cascaes beach in the early afternoon.
The next morning we headed to Cascaes, a suburb approximately 40 minutes from Lisbon via train. The weather that morning was chilly but once the sun poked outside of the clouds it heated up and turned into the perfect beach day. Lisbon and the surrounding areas are known for their beaches and are extremely accessible. You can take the train, bus or taxi. It was strange to be in the capital of a country and a big city and have a number of beaches nearby, but I am not complaining. Being from Minnesota I was positive that the Atlantic Ocean was going to be absolutely freezing in mid-October, I will have you know that it was great. The water temperature was between a Lake Superior and summer beaches in the city of Minneapolis, more towards the latter temperature. It took a while to become acclimated to the temperature but once you creep in little by little it is not so bad. Throughout the day at the beach I couldn't help but think how lucky I am to be in Madrid and be able to travel. We all laid on the sand , attempting to tan, soaking in the bright blue water and listening the different languages surrounding us and I still could not grasp that I was in Portugal, at a beach, in the middle of October. It is all still very surreal.  

Rachel soaking up the hot Lisbon sun.
Braving the water! From left: Kevin, Emily, Andrea, Rachel
The Minnesota crew. From left: Kevin, Rachel, Andrea.
The day came to an end. Sunset on the beach in Lisbon.
The day on the beach was relaxing and rejuvenating. With sun kissed faces we headed back to Lisbon to shower and get ready for dinner and a night out in Lisbon. There is an area named Bairro Alto in Lisbon and is known for having a big nightlife where you hop from bar to bar, all the locals go to that area so we decided to make an appearance. Well, it proved to be more difficult than what we thought. In Madrid you can tell that a bar is a good place to go by the loud music, numerous people coming in and out and it all just seems to be alive, in Lisbon it was different. It was much more casual. It is customary to grab a drink at a bar and take it outside to drink in small groups. If you don't want a drink from one place you can go grab it from another and you all reconvene in the street. The music was decently loud but nothing like we have become accustom to in Madrid. In order to blend in a bit more we went to a bar to get a drink and sit outside, to our liking it played 80s and 90s music. One word: perfection. We sang to a few songs, gasped at ones we missed hearing and soon began a conversation about what music from our generation would be popular when our kids would be growing up. We were all over the map, but we came to the consensus on three: Lady Gaga (because you just can't forget her), Britney Spears (obviously), and Taylor Swift (of course). After our heated, intellectual conversation we decided to call it an early night so we could be prepared for our culture day.

When you're traveling  you want to get the best of both worlds; the fun, local experience and the touristy side where you learn the history and see the important monuments. Hostels are a good way to find cheap, and periodically free, tours, transportation and activities that allow you to do so. A free walking tour was offered at our hostel Sunday morning we walked around Lisbon and saw amazing views and learned more about the Portuguese culture. The six of us and two Canadian girls, backpacking across Europe, walked in the rain up and down the cobblestone hills and roads getting our workout in. When it's raining and you're on a European adventure you can't really be mad, that's my philosophy at least. With umbrellas in hand and raincoats on we learned about the Fado, a Portuguese music genre that originated in the 1820s, saw tile art posted on apartment buildings (a common sight in Portugal),  and a beautiful rainbow on top of a grocery store of all places. There are not many monuments in Lisbon, it is mostly populated by towering apartments, quaint houses, narrow streets and of course the beautiful ocean view
Kevin by tile art illustrating a Fado performance.
Rainbow over Lisbon. Photo courtesy of Emily Schmidt.
Following the tour we headed to eat pastries, what else is new? My diet totally went out the window the day I arrived in Spain. Lisbon is famous for a pastry named Pastéis de Belém and ironically the best are found at the bakery called,   Pastéis de Belém. The custard tart was absolutely to die for. They give you packets of cinnamon and sugar to put on top of the palm-sized piece of Heaven and I swear, once you have had one you can't stop craving another. After we nommed out of control and ate our daily consumption of calories in two pastries we went to Jerónimos Monastery. The building was beautiful but by this time in our trip we have seen so many beautiful churches and monasteries that they all are beginning to blend together. It's a sad truth. 
Pastéis de Belém before first bite.
So happy to have the Pastéis de Belém.
Best Pastéis de Belém I have ever had.
All in all, Lisbon was a great decision. If you're looking for a nice weekend getaway this is the place to go. It's reasonably priced, the people are great, and the views are incredible. You will walk away sad you have to go back to reality, but everyone needs a few days of R&R, and what better way to do just that than at a beach in Portugal?
There will be a new flock of students taking our place next semester here in Madrid, Spain and after hearing who is coming I think our señoras will be in for a good time. 

Tuesday the students at Marquette University who applied for the Spring 2013 Marquette en Madrid program found out if they were accepted into the program. It's a rarity that anyone is not accepted, but I was still crossing my fingers for those who applied. 

Generally the Spring group is much larger than the Fall, my group is abnormally small with eleven students, and I have a feeling this coming semesters group is going to be abnormally large. However, a large group will make it all the more fun to plan trips, go out in the evening, allow for more familiar faces in class and make for an even better opportunity to get to know students that you may never have met at Marquette.

Right now it may be overwhelming with all the tasks that need to be done before you go, but take some time and say congratulations to yourself for being accepted into a great program. Brace yourself for a great time.  

Now, here are some tips that the majority of students here have mentioned along the way: 
  1. Don't pack a lot, it sounds redundant but everyone repeats their outfits and soon no one even notices. Plus you will want to bring a lot of things back, save space!
  2. Follow the guidebook that is provided to a point, we found a lot of discrepancies with it. You can wear what you want here, yes colored jeans and skinny jeans are in, but so are flared jeans, khakis etc.  Everyone here has their own personal style here,  you can too.
  3. Girls don't bring heels, you don't use them. Guys a nice pair of shoes but nicer more stylish tennis shoes are popular. Oxford shoes are the way to go, along with boots.  
  4. Bring tennis shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking tours with Ricardo the art professor, no one cares if you look "American".
  5. Get ready to eat a lot of delicious food, so much for a diet. There is no gym here unless you pay for one.
  6. Don't by a Eurrail pass unless you plan on taking the train multiple places with people and you have planned trips ahead of time, bus and plane are the most frequents modes of transportation for weekend trips. 
  7. It's chilly at night, if you don't want to buy a light jacket, for sure bring one! 
  8. Flannel pajamas keep you nice and warm at your señoras
  9. A backpack for trips on the weekends is more common than a carry on. Each cheap airline here has different measurements and they are generally smaller than the carry ons in the United States. Backpack is a safer choice.
  10. Make a list of places you absolutely want to go, time goes by so fast! But don't forget you're here for Spain. 
LeRoy Edward Anderson Jr. is not old, he is well-aged like a nice bottle of wine. He loves his family and his work, even though he gripes about the latter, he doesn't like the holiday season except for the delicious food, and he certainly doesn't like being reminded that he is getting older - unless it reinforces the fact that he can retire soon. 

I'm not going to say my dad is better than your dad, but he is pretty awesome. He took me under his wing as a wee little girl and let me into the garage at our cabin, a sacred ground, where he would watch over me when I would try to build numerous things that would soon fall apart. On duck hunting weekends he would wake me up well before dawn, hand me my pink snow pants and coat and we would ride out in the rickety white Ford pickup truck to the pond. Barbie dolls in one hand, hot chocolate in another. There, in the camouflage duck boat we sat for hours, freezing I might add. While he watched for ducks and complained about our neighbors hunting on our land I did my dolls hair and dreamed I was someplace warmer. When the beaver periodically peaked its head out from the water, I would snap back to reality and become excited, antsy to try and become friends with the big toothed animal. My dad would just smile at me, sometimes laugh, and go back to watching for ducks. I'm almost positive I was the cause of many failed shots due to my numerous questions like, "What type of duck is that, dad?" "Can we go get more hot chocolate?" "Don't shoot it if it's a female duck!" I'm surprised he didn't throw my dolls in the water. 

My dad is a funny guy too. He finds humor in sticky situations and attempts to lighten the mood by cracking a joke here and there, but if that doesn't work he tends to avoid a situation. Not the best idea in my opinion, but then again I do the same thing. Like father like daughter, I guess. 

LeRoy is a tough guy on the outside, but on the inside he is a big marshmallow - my brother takes after that, though he won't admit it. I like to think he secretly loves his birthday for the sweets, but I know he likes the day because he gets to spend it with the people he loves and who love him. That being said it's a little hard being away from Papa A on his big day, on the flip side though it makes me remember all the great memories I have had with him. So, here is a list of some of my favorite father-daughter moments. (Mom, don't cry). 

- Drinking hot chocolate and playing with Barbies while you hunted
- Learning how to check the oil in my car
- Spending time with you in the garage
- Breaking my arm by falling backwards down the stairs with my rollerblades on, you saying it is fine, mom coming home and saying it is broken. 
- Hearing all about your adventures in Africa and seeing you happy - When we're driving and you're listening to Larry the Cable Guy and I'm obviously being tortured, but secretly like how it makes you laugh
- Watching Frasier, M*A*S*H, Antiques Roadshow, RedGreen and British comedies with you
- Singing Eric Clapton and B.B. King together in the car.
- When a good photo of us is taken, and then putting it in my father-daughter picture frame from JoDee
- Eating peanut butter on saltine crackers as a midnight snack, falling asleep in your and mom's bed and then mom coming home from work and being upset that I was not sleeping in my own bed

These are just a few of many, dad! You deserve a great birthday and I know you will spend it well. Just think, it is one year closer to retirement! 

Feliz cumpleaños papá, I love ya. 
- Bugs
You're in Europe and you want to travel everywhere. A desire that is completely acceptable and quite the norm for travelers and citizens, the only snag is you're on a budget and a time crunch. So, you have to make decisions. Tough ones at that. 

Before coming to Spain I had a list of several countries I wanted to visit, I knew going in that it would cost a decent amount of money but as the economy changed in the United States so did the economy in Spain. As a result I have had to dwindle my list down to two more out of the country visits and a few city trips in Spain. A decision I am content with. 

There are cheap airlines in Europe, RyanAir and easyJet are the two I prefer. Well, maybe not RyanAir, but there are also buses that are inexpensive and trains that can take you to nearby cities for a decent price too. One thing to always remember when you are planning trips is the cost of food and lodging, something I didn't realize would influence my decision to cut down on travel as much as I thought. No one judges you for having a tight budget, especially if you're a college student. The reasons why I am heading to Lisbon, Portugal this weekend are because the transportation was fairly inexpensive, lodging was reasonable and the cost of food and other items are also fairly cheap. Everyone wants the same thing: a fun experience that doesn't break the bank and you can do that, you just have to be willing to look and make some tradeoffs.

After a nice long Skype session with my friend who is studying in Copenhagen, Denmark we have decided to rendezvous in Geneva, Switzerland in mid-December. It was one of the few locations her and I both could find cheap (well, cheap-ish) flights to. We wanted to travel to each others current homes, but both of us would have paid an ungastly amount of money, so we made one of those tradeoffs. For three days we will be hiking, sight-seeing, and eating all the fondue, cheese and bread possible. Geneva is an expensive place to travel in so we will cut back in other ways, like making sandwiches for lunch when we will be hiking, finding cheap places to sleep (but still secure so our mothers don't have a bird) and just being smart about what we really need to spend money on. I must admit, when I saw the Expatify.com breakdown of the ten cheapest countries I was excited to see Geneva on it, only then to be heartbroken when it was on there for being one of the most expensive cities in Europe, coming in at $111.49 US/day. My travel companion and I will not be touching that price mark, no way jose.

All in all, I am more than satisfied with the amount of traveling I will be doing. In Spain I will be heading to Barcelona and Sevilla at some point, though it is to be determined when, but I also am glad to spend time here in Madrid on weekends. There is plenty that I have not seen and I don't want to take the city for granted. I often think that students become enthralled in what country they can go to next, which is a good thing, but forget about the places they can go to within the country they are studying.
Doble AA sign in Chueca.
I write as I should be packing for Lisbon, Portugal but I can't help but think about all the little things that matter while you study abroad. You would be surprised by what triggers memories and what makes you miss the people you left behind. Here are a few things that I have seen that remind me of home. 

While walking around in Chueca,  a neighborhood in the center of Madrid, I found a sign that said Doble AA, or Double AA in English. At my internship this summer with Tap Milwaukee a co-worker and I were AA as her name began with the letter A as well, but I also would be called Double AA alone since my first and last name both begin with an A. It's strange how one sign can bring back great memories, make you smile and also make you realize how much you miss the people you worked with. 

A Madrileño wearing a U of M shirt.
Another instance was when I was with the group and saw a man wearing a University of Minnesota Twin Cities t-shirt and playing the violin. It reminded me not only of home and my family but also of my two years in high school where I took classes full-time at the U of M. I thought about all the fun times I had there and the friends I made but the man with his violin and Golden Gophers shirt also made me grateful for all the people I have waiting for me back home.

Thirdly, television shows. I won't lie, I like Gossip Girl, I like Glee and I love Covert Affairs, so when I am not in the same timezone as my friends who also watch the shows it becomes very difficult to share our thoughts let alone oh, ah, and gasp together. On the other hand, it's nice to have people with me here who also watch the shows so we can share our belated viewing experiences together.

Last, but certainly not least, you get excited when you see you have an email from your family and friends back home saying they are thinking about you and miss you. When they also expand upon the course of events from the week, or the night before, the email is even better. There is nothing better than waking up to an email or text from someone you miss back home, it's a great way to get motivated to start the day.

Pedro Córdoba (right) and Carmen González (left) dance a live Flamenco at Casa Patas in Madrid, Spain.
"Carmen" dancers. Photo from Ballet Flamenco Madrid.
Flamenco, a popular form of song, dance and music that originated in the southern region of Spain, Andalucía, is a part of the Spanish culture you can't help but love. It's not hip hop, it's not pop nor is it Broadway, it's pure theatricality melded into a classy jam session. Or at least that is how I tend to think of it. 

Since I have been in Spain I have seen three very different flamencos, each equally elegant and full of life. The first was "Carmen", a theatrical rendition placed in Seville in the year 1830 where one gypsy, Carmen, uses her beauty to seduce three different men and eventually all four turn against one another. The show lent itself to a more dramatic performance that had more of a mix of dance and acting than the other two. Being the first flamenco I had seen I was enthralled. The colorful layers of the dress, the red lipstick carefully applied to the dancer's lips, and the men who move carelessly around the women all were something new to take in. It brought me back to the days when I danced and made me miss it. The dancers moved, stomped, clapped with assurance that was inspiring and set high expectations for the next flamenco at Casa Patas Flamenco en Vivo

Pedro Córdoba dances a serious flamenco at Casa Patas.
Casa Patas had a different vibe, a smaller stage with tables and chairs compared to Carmen's theatre. Our group sat in the front row and sipped on sangria while Carmen González and Pedro Córdoba, stomped, clapped, swirled and moved aggressively but somehow daintily at the same time. González's dress was all black, the only color visible was from her red lipstick. The mood was low-key, you could tell it was their job but they had fun doing it. Here the singers sang from their heart and did improv, taking turns at making jokes and egging the singer on. The guitarists enjoyed the quarrels between the singers and strummed the guitars with passion. A solo performance during the intermission kept the music and ambiance flowing.  It was a lighthearted and enjoyable performance with some serious kick to it, no pun intended.  

The next flamenco we would go to would turn out to be the most enjoyable so far, even if I couldn't see the stage. It was after a long day of sightseeing in Granada at Jardines de Zoraya. Two singers, two dancers, a drummer and two guitarists crowded the small stage and the beautiful thing about it was they all had smiles on their faces that exemplified their enthusiasm. They began with a song featuring the guitarist and drummer and up next came the young female dancer, dressed in black but per usual the red lipstick popped and her earrings added more color. She clapped her hands then twirled them together near the center of her chest before spreading them outwards and then above her head. Towards the end she moved back to her chair but remained standing as she danced in place for a few moments. She took a bow and soon the man took his turn. The atmosphere was more relaxed and you could visibly tell the performers did this for joy and referred the lively music compared to the previous Flamenco's serious tones. One woman who sat in the front row tapping her foot and clapping while also nodding to the beat. She had a look of approval as she stared at the male dancer's feet which were moving like a high speed pendulum. I'm going to take a stab at her past and say she was a great flamenco dancer growing up but somewhere along the way she found a new calling and lives vicariously through young dancers. The entire performance flew by in what felt like a matter of minutes though it lasted about an hour. The groups consensus was that the performance at Jardines de Zoraya was the best of all three. They danced with their heart and appeared to have the most fun doing it, all we need to be like them is a life of flamenco lessons and a miracle. Though that still may not help me.

Videos of the flamenco dancers at Jardines de Zoraya