Oh Ryanair, how I love you so. 

Last week I came across an article in the business section of Time and what caught my attention? Three words: Ryanair, standing, flight. 

The article, "New Low for Flying? Standing-Room-Only Flights Possible," informed me that the European low fare airline is currently attempting to launch a standing-room-only section on their aircrafts for short-distance flights within Europe. The cost you may ask? A whopping 1.50 USD without the airline administration fee, and with the fee flying one way the cost would most likely come out to be around $11.00 -- drastically less than even its cheapest flights currently. 

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about an airline who has a habit of having technical difficulties allowing standing-room tickets, but the student in me thinks it is a great idea. With the creation of a stand-room-only section the cost of all tickets will decrease, bring more name recognition and popularity to the airline, and maybe even make them a profit so they can fill the plane all the way with gas. It seems like a win-win in my mind. 

That being said, I do have my reservations about how safe it would be during the takeoff and landing but I think, like any student who wants to travel Europe, they would install some sort of handle bars both vertically and horizontally so you can brace yourself. I would hope. Then again I will contradict myself and say I recall reading that Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, did say that if an aircraft did crash a seatbelt would not save you. He is correct, but I just wonder what else he may skimp out on. Time will only tell, but for now I wish my flights all cost $11.oo. Viaja con Dios, lucky ducks. 
 
There has been a change in plans, no longer will Elise, my friend studying in Copenhagen, Denmark, and I be going to Geneva, Switzerland liked we planned earlier, instead we are going to Brussels, Belgium. We will shop at the Christmas Market, share a bed in our hostel, go ice skating and sledding (both offered near the Christmas Market) eat waffles on waffles on waffles with a side of chocolate and sample some delicious beer. That doesn't sound to shabby to me. 

I made a point in coming to Spain with a less rigid schedule and the vow to not plan out every last detail, to be more of a go with the flow type of person. So far it is going rather well. (Insert audible gasp by my mother here.)

As a more detailed explanation as to how my flexibility has changed I have created two before and after scenario. 

"Andrea, Switzerland is not going to work and we have to find another option:"
Three months ago: My jaw drops and I say, "You have got to be kidding me."  I then would have become extremely frazzled, distraught and frustrated. I would have entered an extreme planning mode, whipped out my planner, calculated which weekends work best with upcoming exams, trips, cost, hostel arrangements etc. 

Now, three months later: "No problem, lets see what we can find." (Insert an audible gasp by my friends who have thought this day would never come.)

Since I've adopted the more carefree, less pressure mentality it's been quite easy and pain free to change plans, make spontaneous decisions and at times just follow the crowd. 

In three weeks time I am heading to Barcelona to recoup after our midterm exams and the weekend before I believe another student in the program and I are taking a day trip to El  Escorial, The Valley of the Fallen and or Avila, a beautiful town Northwest of Madrid and coincidentally where my señora grew up. We haven't made any concrete decisions yet, but we have plenty of time.  

Day trip and we haven't made any concrete decisions:
Three months ago: This is not enough time to plan, what are we going to do? How are we going to get there? What time of the day should we leave? Get back? Oh my gosh this is all happening so fast! Are we sure we want to go to El Escorial and The Valley of the Fallen all in one day? Jeepers, this is stressful. 

Now: Okie doke, lets worry about it after exams and look it up a few days before we go. 

I personally laugh at this personal growth. All my life people have told me to take a chill pill and calm down. I thought that was absurd because who else was going to get things done? Well, the answer is still me but in a calmer, more convenient manner that benefits everyone involved. Who knew all it would take was half a contingent, the Atlantic Ocean and four months abroad to calm my worrywart side of me down. 

In summary, studying abroad gives you more experiences than you could ever imagine and it simultaneously allows you to develop as a person as long as you let it. At first I didn't want to let the experience change me because I was afraid of what it would change, but now I'm glad I did. And so is my warnout planner. 
 
It has come to an end. The political ads, the e-mails, the phone calls, the constant Facebook statuses and Tweets, they all are fading into the past and I am quite thankful for that; however, I am more thankful for the fact that our country has the right to cast their vote and participate in a democracy. 

Last night I could not sleep because for the first time I was able to vote and see what impact it had. I followed Twitter, Facebook, the election webpages for CNN, National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Post, the first ever special election website for Marquette University Student Media and I was becoming incredibly frazzled. Why? Because there were so many different tallies, numbers, percentages, nothing was in sync and all I wanted to know was which was most accurate regarding the Presidential race. 

At 2:30 a.m. my time, 7:30 p.m. Central time it was looking like this: 
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NPR shows electoral votes: Obama 65, Romney, 82
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CNN shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
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HuffPost shows electoral votes: Obama, 65, Romney 67.
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MSM shows electoral votes: Obama, 64, Romney, 56.
How did I know which one to trust? I didn't, it was too early to even think about trusting one over the other and all the predictions I was seeing made me anxious because it was too early to call and I just wanted to know. 

Being abroad in Madrid, Spain while the elections were happening, especially my first ever Presidential election I could vote in, was difficult because I didn't get a taste of the hands-on, in the moment excitement. I always pictured myself in the newsroom in the basement of Johnston Hall on Marquette's campus biting my finger nails and live-blogging, that obviously did not happen but the students who were able to did a great job keeping me informed on a state and national level. While I am a little melancholy over the fact that I wasn't in the States  I was also thankful I was not because all day I didn't hear a thing about it. No one talked about it in the streets, in class, at work, it was a relief. Yes, there were multiple newspaper articles about it and my señora was kind informative and told me Obama is the reason most of Europe still takes a liking to the United States, but that was the only point I really spoke about politics. Though, I did see enough "I voted" comments online and have seen enough Facebook statuses and Tweets to gain a sense of the tension that may be occurring on campus and across the country. I guess you can never really escape reality when you follow social media websites. 

When I awoke this morning I was not entirely sure I wanted to know the results, both on a national and state level. Minnesotans voted on two potential constitutional amendments. The first was to clearly state that a marriage is between a man and a women, the other was to implement the concept of a Voter ID. Regardless of whether I wanted to see the results or not I had to look, there was no questions about it. 

First I went to CNN.
Then I wanted a second confirmation and a more visual breakdown of all the states, especially to see who took Virginia, Ohio and Florida. I went to Huffington Post
After seeing both results match up with one another I wanted to see how my former and fellow colleagues at Marquette Student Media handled the reporting and see if their information matched up.  
It sure did and to go full circle I went and checked on NPR's election site. 
For the first time in the whole election process I was looking at the same numbers and the same outcome. It was nice to know I was being informed correctly, regardless of who won or lost. 

After seeing who won the positions on a national and state level I hurried on over to see how the proposed constitutional amendments turned out on CBS Minnesota. Minnesota voted against both amendments, last night when I went to bed it was neck and neck, too close to tell. 
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Fifty-one percent of Minnesotans voted against stating marriage is solely between a male and a female.
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Fifty-two percent of Minnesotans voted against the implementation of a Voter ID.
This morning I woke up seeing clear results and in fact, results that made history. Tammy Baldwin made history twice becoming the first openly gay politician, and the first Wisconsin woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Two states, Colorado and Washington also legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Also, an understated vote took place win Puerto Rico yesterday where nearly 80 percent of the population voted and 54 percent of the voters said they wanted to become the 51st state of the United States. The 2012 elections were not only about the Presidential race, something I feel many people forget. 
In my opinion, it doesn't matter who you vote for or what you voted for, if our opinions are the same that makes a conversation over politics that much easier, if not that is OK with me since I don't enjoy talking about politics anyhow. To each their own. The only request I make is that if you chose not to exercise your right to vote and are going to rejoice or complain about the results being released I think you may need to reevaluate whether you should be since you didn't put your vote to use.  If you want change you have to make it happen. 

Today I watched President Barack Obama's acceptance speech, regardless if it would have been him or Romney, hearing these words made me feel as if my voice can be heard and that there is hope. Especially for Puerto Rico, I would like to go there without the hassle of a passport. 

"Whether I have earned your vote or not, I have listened to you. I have learned from you, and you have made me a better president. With your stories and your struggles I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever for the work there is to do that lays ahead. " - Barack Obama, Nov. 7, 2012.
 
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My beloved jar of peanut butter. You served me well.
I love peanut butter. I don't care if the peanut butter is organic, processed with preservatives, crunchy or creamy if it's peanut butter in any shape or form, I will eat it. 

If you have a peanut allergy, this post is not for you and I advise you not to read on, because I will be talking about my love for the delicious, peanut-y paste.  

This weekend I finished my jar of peanut butter that I brought with me in August. The jar of Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter, "creamy fresh roasted peanut taste" as it says on the label, was purchased at Target and opened in the beginning of August and lasted three months. That is a long time folks. Almost everyday I would come home, take a cracker or two and spread a little bit on top as a treat to myself. It was not the highlight of my days, but it was pretty darn close. 

I'm not sure where my love for peanut butter began but I think it stems from the late night snacks my dad and I used to have when my mother worked the night shift at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center as a nurse and I was in kindergarten. The four saltine crackers with a light coat of peanut butter were stacked one on top of another to make a saltine-peanut butter sandwich. The tower of crackers and peanut butter made a thick paste that called for a glass of water after two bites, but let me say it was delicious, and probably didn't help my waste line one bit. 

What many consider to be strange is my strong dislike for jelly to accompany the peanut butter. I never understood how people could mix the two together and make a PB&J, hold the jelly and you have a deal. In fact, all through high school I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches. Everyday for lunch that is what I had: a PB&J sandwich, hold the jelly, a banana or another fruit, and water. So scrumdiddlyumptious. If you cut the bananas up and put them on the sandwich it was ten times better. 

In Spain, there is no peanut butter. I have looked and cannot find it. I asked Irene, my señora, as well as Dani, my intercambio, and they had no idea what I was talking about until I explained it in grave detail and even then they thought it was a strange thing to put on bread. Irene said, "Este es un condimento muy extraño," (This is a very strange condiment) and Dani just stared at me and said I was weird. I guess both responses are correct. 

It is strange to think about all the things you miss, especially the little things. Here the group misses ketchup, you don't get it a lot and when you do it is a single packet like you would receive at a fast-food drive thru. The same goes with mustard. We also miss free water at restaurants. Madrileños say they have the best water in the country because it comes from the mountains, so why don't they give it to us instead of bottled water?  Ice cubes are also missed by the majority of us. They are just nice to snack on. Oh, and hamburgers. Red meat is not very common to eat here; chicken, fish, croquetas are all the norm but red meat is expensive. 

In summary, if you wanted peanut butter, ketchup or mustard you should bring it to Europe. Emily, one of the girls in the program, had her mother bring ketchup for us, we are forever indebted to her. A friend of mine is sending me peanut butter in a care package, bless her soul, and as for the free water, ice cubes and red meat - that all will have to wait until December 22, 2012 when we step back on American soil. 

Lastly, for you peanut butter lovers and for pure amusement, check out this amazing song about peanut butter that I found on this underground website called YouTube
 
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. 
 
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.