Each night after I eat dinner around 9:30 p.m. I am ready to sleep. I become so stuffed I can't fathom doing anything but star-fishing on the bed and relaxing for a bit, but I can't. I have to be strong willed and complete more homework and items on my to-do list. After being here for the semester my body has adjusted to eating late in the evening, except the longing to face plant on my bed has not disappeared. At first I was alway starving by 7:00 p.m. and thought I would never be able to adjust to eating so late, however my body has shocked me by its ability to adapt and now I have found that I love eating later in the evening, even when I have more work to do after. I will miss the late night dinners and having a nice study break around 9:00 each night, but I will be taking this Spanish custom back to the U.S. and can't wait to eat later in the evenings, around 7:30 or 8:00, each day. It's a great way to avoid the cravings for a late night snack and munching. 
 
I love food. There is no doubt about this statement. If there is food in front of me I will eat it, it's a curse.

Today I will be learning how to cook some of the delicious meals Irene has made for me and I am beyond excited. I already have my notepad and pen ready and the cooking extravaganza does not even begin until 6:00 this evening. 
I am not a good cook, I take after my mother that way who can make the staples: chicken, goulash, pastas, potatoes, etc. but she can make a mean stuffed manicotti and chili. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. 

This semester I have been spoiled. Irene is one of the best cooks I have ever met and I have certainly not starved or dwindled away in the last five months. Her homemade soups and authentic Spanish dishes she learned to cook from her mother have left me stuffed each evening and I dread the day I leave and have to cook for myself. I'm going to forever miss her wicked croquetas and carrot soup. However, I am excited to go back and devour a Chipotle burrito and eat two bowls of my mothers chili after shoveling the snow that is accumulating in Minneapolis.  This is going to be such a bitter sweet goodbye. No pun intended. 
 
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A wonderful surprise from Dani, my intercambio, today. American staples I miss: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, peanut butter, and brownies.
Try explaining what a brownie is to a Spaniard and you will finish feeling exhausted. 

After that failed attempt try explaining what peanut butter is, and you will receive a weird look. 

Then, go to the next level and try explaining the importance of Heinz Tomato Ketchup to a Minnesotan and most likely they will not just give you a weird look but also tell you you're weird. 

This was my experience with my intercambio one of the first times we met. For those who don't know what an intercambio is, it is a concept created by our director where you exchange cultures and languages with someone from the country you are studying in. In my case I practice my Spanish with Dani, my intercambio, and Dani practices his English with me. We talk about cultural differences, stereotypes, ask questions regarding verbs and tenses, and yes gab about ketchup. Our conversations terribly deep and sophisticated. 

Today, after I was having a bit of a rough day in regards to exams my intercambio appeared in our Marquette University office. Much to my surprise I asked what he was doing here and he handed me a bag. Still confused he said told me it was a bag filled of things I said I missed from the United States. I was so taken aback by his generosity I had no idea what to say except one thing: What is it? He laughed and told me to open it but only after he left. The anxiety was killing me. I had no idea what to expect. My friends told me it had to be peanut butter, we all know how much I love that crunchy and creamy food staple. I mean, what college student doesn't? 

Before he left he told me he wrote me a letter and to only read it after he had left the office as well. I was in a state of confusion and had not expected this at all. He said goodbye and quickly ran out of the office, and when I say ran I mean a pace between a speed walk and jog. I think he was nervous that he may have misunderstood my food obsessions months ago. 

After reading the letter I was filled with the longing to stay in Madrid forever. It reminded me of all the great connections I have made here and how much I am going to miss his and I's weekly conversations and excursions to different parts of the city. 
The letter was a great start to the entire gift and after reading it I could not wait to what else was inside. Immediately I saw ketchup. Not just any ketchup either, Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Here in Madrid we all have been having a hard time with the lack of ketchup. And the strange taste of it. Also, the color. It is just really not the same here. I was overwhelmed with joy when I saw the bottle and the label. The first thing that popped into my head was, Now I can actually enjoy my nuggets when I splurged on them for lunch! I kid you not. It's the little things back in the States that you take for advantage. 
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Heinz Tomato Ketchup Fiery Chilli.
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Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter from Dani.
After the ketchup, which later upon further inspection has "fiery chilli peppers" in them, was peanut butter. Those who know me well know I love my peanut butter. Obviously Dani could not get my favorite,  Market Pantry Creamy Peanut Butter from Target, but he purchased the next best thing: Jif Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter. How the heck did he find this when I searched high and low for it over a month ago? Answer: Taste of America, the self-dubbed Original American Supermarket. I should have used Google
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A two-bite size brownies. Scrumdiddlyumptious.
Under the delightful peanut butter and ketchup were ... Wait for it ... Feel the suspense ... Do you really want to know? ... OK, I will tell you ... Brownies! Oh thank Bajesus. I had not seen a brownie in over four months. This summer I baked them all the time in the evenings when it was cool enough and in Madrid we don't eat a lot of junk food. Except for Príncipe cookies, those are deadly. When I saw those sixteen two-bite size brownies with chocolate frosting I about died. OK, that is a little strong, but I did become extremely overwhelmed with joy. Who knew a pastry could make you feel so such happiness. And the desire to eat them all, by myself. Luckily, in public you have to have self-control so instead I opened them and shared them with those who were in the office. However I will not release the details as to what happened to the ones no one helped me eat. Let us just say they did not go to waste. 

Dani made me realize something else today, that one person can really change the way you think about something, or someone. I never thought I would miss our conversations so much. Or the funny way when we both don't know what one another are trying to say and then hover over his dictionary to search for an appropriate word. At first I thought the intercambio would be awkward and was nervous, but we became friends within minutes once he tried to crack a Simpsons joke without success and I had to break the news to him that Bart Simpson is not the badass he once was on primetime T.V. He then broke the news that my chances of Pasapalabra were slim to none. A girl can dream though, can't she? 

Now, 16 two-bite size brownies later (don't worry there are some left), with two unopened containers of condiments I am going to wait to open until I get home, and four months of wonderful experiences here I am glad that I have stepped out of my comfort level and had an intercambio with Dani. Sure, he may not understand my love to peanut butter and jelly minus the jelly, but I also don't understand why going to Arizona to see the desert is on the top of his bucket list when he has been to Egypt. We all have our quirks and he and I laugh at them. Maybe I will make him a peanut butter sandwich to show him what he is missing out. Then we can talk about a rendezvous in Arizona. 

If you're in Spain and want to try a brownie, hit me up at my piso, I'll be nommin' on them. 

 
When you go to a restaurant in Europe, especially in Spain, your wine will cost less than your water. That was definitely something to get used to. When you order a glass of water, it comes in a bottle with a glass on the side, but the glass does not have ice cubes or a straw. Wow, I know I'm blowing your mind right now. I am not going to miss paying for water or the lack of ice cubes and straws and I relish in the idea that will be able to receive a glass of water free of charge. With ice cubes and a straw. Holler! But I am going to miss the cheap cost of vino. That's is wine in Spanish, folks.
 
Nothing screams Christmas season for someone who isn’t living in a winter climate like 30-degree weather and hailing snow. My short journey to Brussels, Belgium was a nice wakeup call for what I will be facing in just thirteen days when I am back home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

I was told Brussels was an ugly city by many people, including travelers I have met who live in Belgium and even some who live in Brussels and I can’t say that they were wrong. They were absolutely correct. In Brussels there is not a ton to see and the main reason I wanted to go was to go to their world famous Christmas Market, if that wasn’t there I don’t think I would have gone, and I don’t think I will ever return...

We arrived late Tuesday night and were greeted by a sharp wind and dropping temperatures. It was a flashback to a normal winter that we haven't faced in Madrid, Spain. Upon arriving at our hostel we decided to go grab a quick dinner and rest up for the fun-filled day we had planned for tomorrow.

On Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. sharp we began our search for Belgian waffles and we found a restaurant called Grandmother’s Waffles, also known as Mokata, online and on our map that was supposed to be cheap and authentic. So we set out in the freezing cold to find us some good eats. Much to our demise it began to hail, then snow, then rain and after an hour of searching for the restaurant we ducked into the nearest, most authentic looking restaurant that advertised breakfast food we could find. This was a bad decision on our part as everyone was going into the same restaurant and we ended up waiting an hour and a half for our waffles. They were OK, but not quite as warm as I was hoping they would be. The chocolate was to die for though. 
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Andrea with her first real Belgian waffle in Brussels, Belgium.
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The result of waiting an hour for your first Belgian waffle.
After our breakfast turned lunch we headed to the Musical Instruments Museum and learned about the evolution of each musical instrument through geographic region and era. The main reasons the majority of the group wanted to go were a.) the cost: free every first Wednesday  and b.) the temperature, everyone wanted to warm up. I wanted to go because I am an Orch Dork and former Band Geek who played the alto saxophone and bassoon. It was really interesting as we had a cassette tape with us and each instrument you stepped up to synched with what would play in your ears. One thing that was very different about this museum was the fact that there were no English translations or explanations. I absolutely loved this because it reminded me of my time in Budapest, Hungary where I literally had to communicate with hand gestures. Before this trip my experience with language barriers was minimal and it was hard to adjust to the fact that there have been several language barriers but, as I said before, it is actually fun not knowing the local language because it really stretches your brain and makes you step out of your comfort zone. 
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Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels, Belgium.
After about an hour in the museum we left and headed towards the main attraction: the Christmas Markets. The maps for Belgium are not the easiest to follow so we wandered for a bit towards the general direction and soon bumped into the delicious smell of vin chaud (hot wine), bratwurst, hot bread, and grilled onions. The smell was overwhelmingly mouth-watering. Everyone was filled with joy when we saw the Christmas decorations and the colorful lights. We don’t have the merriment in Madrid like they do in Brussels and all of us couldn’t help but become a little giddy – even the boys. 

Once we became filled with the Christmas spirit we began to look for those unique gifts – the boys opted out from this for the most part. Along the first street were multiple vendors selling ornaments, winter clothes, and food. When we reached the end of the first street we were a little concerned that this was all there was going to be. We knew there was supposed to be an ice rink and Ferris wheel, but we couldn’t find it. After speaking with a vendor, who had the most gorgeous Indian ornaments, we walked a few blocks and came upon a winter wonderland. Four rows of shops lay before us and the Ferris wheel, lit up in the jolly green and red,  towered over the ice rink at the very end of the streets. We took our time in making our way to the end, wanting to look at all the vendors, weigh our options, take in the sight of Christmas, and embrace the sensation of the vin chaud on our cold hands. I am proud to say I found some wonderful gifts for my family and friends at the market. They were pricey but all handmade and one-of-a-kind. Cross your fingers they like them. 

After making a few purchases we splurged and went on a Ferris wheel ride. It was so incredibly cold and anyone who knows me I am fine with heights. Until I get up to the top. I was a little afraid and hand to hold on to my friends while we stopped at, wait for it, the top. The view was incredible though and we all were put into the Christmas spirit even more. After the chilly and fearful ride we ate dinner and Rachel and I, the true Minnesotans that we are, shared a ginormous bratwurst with fried onions, ketchup and another spicy sauce. It was gone within ten minutes. You could say we were a little hungry. 
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Rachel Arneson at the Christmas Markets in Brussels, Belgium.
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Amanda, Emily, Alissa, Tor and Rachel with their vin chaud.
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View of Market from Ferris wheel.
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Rachel and Andrea with their joint bratwurst for dinner.
By this time we were a tad bit chilly, the only time we had inside was at the museum and lunch so we decided to head to Café Delirium, a famous bar that is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most choices of beers at a single establishment. The total number of beers they offer, you may ask? The answer is 2,004. The bar even has a syllabus that lists all of the options of beer. Emily, one of the girls who seems to have friends studying abroad everywhere, was told by a friend who studied in Brussels that the tradition is to close your eyes, open the book to a random page, point to a beer without looking, and when you open your eyes the beer your finger has landed on is the beer that you order.

Apparently this isn’t the wisest decision according to the bartender. When I went up asking for my beer he asked how I had chosen it. Little to my knowledge he said my beer was really old and had the chance of tasting bad. Instead he brought out his favorite beer, Gouden Carolus Classic, and gave it to me. I am a big beer fan so it was an enjoyable experience. 
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Café Delirium, Brussels, Belgium.
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Larger than life beer caps on the ceiling of Café Delirium.
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Signs in the upstairs of Café Delirium.
Information on Gouden Carolus Classic*:
This Mechelen Emperor’s brew is a traditional beer of the fox hunting of Charles Quint but named after his golden coins, is still being brewed with dark, very well-balanced malts according to the classical infusion method. The aromatic malts and high fermentation process combines the warm roundness of wine with the light freshness of beer. Because of its high density of 19° Plato, the Gouden Carolus Classic is classified under ‘special beers’. It’s also highly appropriate for culinary purposes like stew, game and even sabayon. De-li-cious!

Type of beer: Dark special beer
Colour: Ruby red
Alcohol: 8,5% VOL
Hops: Exclusively Belgian hops

* Information from Brouwerij Het Anker  
We relaxed for about an hour, sitting in the old basement of the bar with larger than life beer caps on the ceiling and gabbed about our remaining time in Europe. It is still hard to wrap our minds around the fact that we are leaving so soon. Some of us are ready, some of us aren’t. I fall within the former. I haven’t seen my family in four months and spend the whole summer away from them. It is time to be reunited. 

The day took its toll on us and we decided to call it an early night and headed back to take warm showers and bundle up under the covers. The next day we repeated Wednesday due to a lack of a game plan. We headed back to the Markets, the only difference in the day is that we actually found Grandmother’s Waffles and it was delicious and cheap and went on a scavenger hunt for chocolate.

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The great Grandmother's Waffles Belgian waffle.
After devouring the waffles we went on a search for inexpensive chocolate for our family and friends. Some of us chose to purchase the expensive chocolates that are more like delicacies for locals and others, such as myself, stuck to the more affordable but still good quality chocolate. It will just have to be a surprise as to whom they are for! After the hunt for the perfect chocolates ended we made our final stop at the Christmas Market and called it quits to relax at a small café where it was warm for the remaining few hours until our flight later that night. 

All in all, Brussels was a great place to go for five things: waffles, chocolate, beer, the Christmas Market and a wake up call for the weather back home. I wouldn’t say it was good for anything else. I wouldn’t say it was a waste of money, that would be rather harsh, but part of me thinks that at times it kind of was. However, after talking to my father and listening to his wise words of wisdom, I realized that not every place I am going to travel to is going to tickle my fancy. Case in point: Brussels, Belgium.
 
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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
 
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. 
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Photo courtesy of Metro Lisboa
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Photo courtesy of Metro Lisboa
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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. 

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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.  

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Rachel soaking up the hot Lisbon sun.
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Braving the water! From left: Kevin, Emily, Andrea, Rachel
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The Minnesota crew. From left: Kevin, Rachel, Andrea.
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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
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Kevin by tile art illustrating a Fado performance.
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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. 
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Pastéis de Belém before first bite.
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So happy to have the Pastéis de Belém.
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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?
 
Paris, France is a real life doll house.

Beautiful old buildings, delicately designed doors and ornate scaffolding. Monuments that are centuries old are placed along the sidewalks all while the new mixes well with the old. Paris could be one of my favorite places to travel, but the only thing missing was someone special to share it with. 

That sounds cliche, but many of us who traveled to the city of love felt the same way. You see a different type of beauty in Paris and you can't help but think that you want to share it with someone else that you see that same beauty in. 

Yes, I am an independent woman who can handle things on her own, but that doesn't mean I don't want to share a moment or two with someone special at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or walk through the halls of the Louvre and share interpretations. Now, don't think that got me down. Not having a soulmate to share my time in France didn't effect my level of extreme joy one bit. The pure exhilaration of being in the city was enough of a companionship for the 24 hours I was there. 

If you recall I had a to-do list for my adventure in Paris, but not everything went as planned due to the rainy weather, but I made the most of it. 

We arrived that morning in Paris around 9:00, met a taxi driver who sped along the streets but stopped abruptly for any woman who wished to cross the streets (what a gentleman), ate at a Moroccan restaurant (some what contradictory, I know) and then we dropped off the groups bags at their hostel. I was meeting my friend from home so I was the definition of a tourist and carried it with me. By 2:30 we were off to see the sights. 
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Musée du Louvre, Paris.
First up Musée du Louvre
Anyone who knows me well enough knows that my father is a art enthusiast and former art teacher turned special education principal. (I still don't understand how one job progressed to another.) But somewhere along the way of him raising me, his affection and love for art wore off on me and now I find myself going to museums and art exhibits to clear my head and see the world from different perspectives. Naturally, when I arrived outside the Louvre, I was giddy. One student even laughed when I was unable to hold in my excitement and skipped a few times.

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Pinching the top of one of three pyramids.
We walked along the outside and in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) and pinched the top of the Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre), but we didn't have the time to squeeze in a grad tour of the inside. I could feel my dad's head shaking in disapproval, but all the more reason to come back and take him with me!

After the Louvre we walked along the Seine river and took in the breathtaking views. We knew we were missing out on Paris' hidden gems and the history of the city because of our short window of time, but we tried our best to stop at buildings we thought were important and figure out what their significance was. That sounds absolutely terrible, go to a famous city and decided what was more important to see and skip other parts, but we all justified it by telling ourselves we would be back one day. I'm crossing my fingers.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral.
We walked along the Seine until we hit the Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and boy was that beautiful.  As the former religious and social justice reporter for the Marquette Tribune, I find every house of worship to be fascinating. They are places that are central to a culture and tell you much about the history of a country and a population. Notre-Dame was not an exception, it was the rule. 

The beauty inside was moving, and the number of candles being lit by those who were worshiping and tourists was astounding. "Our lady," another name for the cathedral, took over 200 years to build, seeing completion in 1345.  That makes the cathedral  over 800 years old and to this day it is still used for Sunday mass by the Roman Catholic Church and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris. With it's age, the church has seen it's share of positive and negative moments.

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Rose window inside Notre-Dame.
•    In 1431, Henry VI of England was crowned King inside the cathedral.
•    1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor inside the cathedral, and before saved Notre-Dame from demolition due to its state of disrepair.
•    In 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified in the cathedral by Pope Pius X. 
•    During World War II, France was afraid the Germans would destroy the newly installed stained glass windows, so the Church decided to remove them and were put back in after the war.
•    For more history visit Notre-Dame's historical website here.

After I processed the age and importance of the church and picked my jaw up from off the ground, we were off.

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Angelina hot chocolate.
Next was hot chocolate, and not just any hot chocolate, Angelina's hot chocolate.

Angelina is a short walk from the Louvre and worth every bit of the 4,50 euro it cost for a cup of hot cocoa. The thick, dense chocolate is the richest form of deliciousness I have ever tasted. Piet Levy, a former coworker of mine at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, recommended the spot before I left Madrid and I can't thank him enough. Everyone moaned at the price but ten minutes later when our straws scratched the bottom and all that was left was the annoying suction sound, you didn't see a single frown, only smiles that symbolized our happy tummies and satisfied sweet tooth.

As we drank our to die for liquid candy, we walked toward the Eiffel Tower and along the way saw women who were the epitome of French. One woman had wavy hair tucked in a high pony wrapped with a bow, perfect makeup and red lipstick, a blazer and blouse paired with a high wasted skirt and heels with tights. Don't forget the gorgeous man her arm was wrapped around either. His dress pants, casual blazer, button down and loafers flattered her outfit. The couple made me swoon. Love was in the air, and I was in love … with my hot chocolate.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
Shortly after, we ran into the Eiffel Tower

All I can say is that it is huge. I mean, I can say more than that but that was my first impression. It was strange to be at the foot of something you see so many times on television and in the movies. It's no lie to say I had to pinch myself. When we were in line to buy tickets to go up I couldn't believe I was seeing something that I always dreamed of. I think this was the moment that the fact I was in Paris hit me. My mother always dreamed of coming here and here I was, for 24 hours, and feeling guilty that I was there before her. So, I took it in just as she would have.

  • When we went up the elevator, I was afraid of the heights. Just like my mother.
  • When we got to the top, I took a lot of photos. Just like my mother.
  • When I tried to look over the side, I think I vomited a bit in my mouth. Possibly like my mother.

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View of Paris from the top of Eiffel Tower.
It was a breathtaking view and experience that was worth the 7,50 euros (student discount, ka-ching!) After we descended the tower, we went and had our crepes and I joined my friend Milea from the United States for the night. The next morning two men from our group and I were off to Budapest, Hungary. Talk about a change in trips.

Overall, I really enjoyed Paris, France but it is expensive to travel. I spent approximately 40 euros on food, transportation and fees to get into places. Was it worth it? Yes, but if you're going to go there on a student budget search for deals and be efficient in where you eat, what you want to do and how you are going to travel within the city. Walking is your best bet if you want to save money on transportation or make sure you see a group of things in one area before you hop on the metro to other sights.

Did I complete my to-do list? Let's see:

To-do list:
1. Pinch the top of the Louvre  -- Check.
2. Eat cheese and crackers and drink wine in front of the Eiffel Tower for lunch -- Weather complications, next time.
3. Pinch the top of the Eiffel Tower and go to the top -- Sadly, no. Weather prohibited us from going to the top of the tower and from taking a photo of me pinching the top.
4. Go to Angelina and have the best hot chocolate in Paris -- My sweet tooth craves nothing more than another.
5. Eat a crepe with strawberries for a dear friend of mine -- Does Nutella count? Strawberries cost more...
6. Try not to drool while looking at all the extremely well dressed Parisians. -- That is just impossible.
7. Not be mad if I don't succeed at number six because it is a tall order. -- Not a bit upset, only jealous I can't pull off a bow in my hair.

 
Old people are the best. Trust me on this one. 

My grandma Fran Masson was a lady with spunk. She couponed better than anyone I know and her and Alfred Dunner were two pees in the same pod, even ask Macy's. Her take home strawberry blonde hair dye experiment gone awry the day before my grandfather's funeral is still one of the funniest memories I have of her and the nights where I squirmed when I saw her dentures in a glass by the sink in the bathroom will never be forgotten. Whenever I think about these things all I can say to myself is, #totalgrandmafranmove. That was a joke, Twitter speak annoys me, but when I do recall the many memories I had with her I can't help but smile. No one can ever replace their grandmother, and you certainly can't replace your mom either. Frances was a rock star and Elin, my mother, is one of a kind, and now I have met the Spanish version of them both combined: my señora, Irene. 

Irene, a woman in her seventies has lead an incredible life. She is one of 13 children, a mother of five and a widow of her husband she knew since the age of two. She played tennis her whole life until her knees gave out, and her pride and joy now are her two granddaughters and one grandson. However, Irene isn't just a woman who likes to be a grandma that spoils, she is a woman who has faced a lot of challenges in her life and isn't afraid to share them. 

The time was approximately 6:15 p.m. when another Marquette student and I arrived at Irene's home near Argüelles, the closest metro stop. She buzzed us up and then we got lost, thankfully she found us. We then dropped our suitcases in our rooms and sat in her plush red chairs that remind me of the ones you see in Pride and Prejudice. I sank into her comfy chair and after a few introductions and talk about our families I asked Irene how many children she had. She said, "Yo tenía cinco, pero perdí una y ahora tengo cuatro." Irene's youngest daughter died from brain cancer at the age of 37. She left behind a daughter and a husband. Three months later Irene lost her husband and just last year she lost her final sibling, a sister, whom she said she adored. 

The whole time all I could think of was my grandmother. How Irene has the same hair color before my grandmother attempted her one-stop home beauty salon. How my grandma always shoved food at me when I came over and how Irene does the same. Irene even says I will never get fat walking around Madrid so I should eat all the dulces I want - you can't not love a woman who says that. She even gave safety advice like my grandma except this time it was about not being mugged on the streets compared to my grandma assuring me it's better to go 45 in a 55. Needless to say my grandma drove in the right lane. 

Irene took the whole conversation with stride. She reminisced on her times with the family she lost with a twinkle in her eye that conveyed happiness in the chance to share her stories with someone new. You could tell by the way her smile stretched from one side of her mouth to another that she was going to be a positive influence and an absolute blast to live with. Her laugh fills the entire room and she even said she likes to dish out fashion advice, something my grandmother and mother would do all the time. Also, being the indecisive person I am this will be great.

After being given two more croissants with dark chocolate she asked if I wanted another before leaving and I said no. She tilted her head and gave me the, oh-stop-you-are-beautiful-the-way-you-look look but gave no protest and proceeded to say she loved the game show Pasapalabra. I chuckled at this. It's like being with my grandma all over again and watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy

Irene and Fran are quite possibly the same person. Grandma was a whippersnapper and Irene is like the Energizer Bunny. Did I mention she just broke her back too but refuses to stay still and not do anything? Yeah, Irene doesn't take no for an answer. My father would say that is a trait that runs in the Masson women. I guess Irene and I were meant to be together. 

For now all I can say is every older person I have met in my life has rocked and that's not an exaggeration, all people from Minnesota are nice. I think I want my new best friends to all be 70 and up, so if you don't meet that standard we can't be friends. #sorryimnotsorry.