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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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Acuedcuto in Segovia, Spain.
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Segovia Cathedral
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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: 

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Banks of the Seine in Paris, France.
FRANCE, 38 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
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. 

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Tor Peterson and Kevin Kriz in Heroes' Square.
HUNGARY, 8 UNESCO SITESAndrea = 1
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: 

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The Banks of the Danube and Parliament building.
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A quick snap of one of the churches in the Castle District.
PORTUGAL, 14 UNESCO SITES, Andrea = 1
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 
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Monastery of the Hieronymites in Lisbon, Portugal.
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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. 
 
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?
 
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.