I love the UK, but sometimes ya girl just really needs some warm sunshine feelings. The perfect opportunity to get some UV rays came up during reading week at Uni. Final exams here at Aberystwyth extend over a month period, starting May 11th until the 31st. Lectures end with the end of April and so the first week of May before exams is dedicated to “reading” and revisions for the exams. It is basically dead week at Purdue minus all the classes. Like I have said, the UK does a lot of independent learning. While all my classmates were slaving away over their texts (probably not actually), my friends and I were off to Gibraltar, Spain, and Morocco! We left Aber on Wednesday night by train to get to the airport for our flight leaving early Thursday morning. I got to pull my second night ever sleeping in the airport and it was still as uncomfortable as the first time. Even though sleeping in the airport isn’t ideal, it certainly makes me feel like a true backpacker. Not to mention, I managed to pack for a whole week in only a backpack! The over packer in me was proud. Once we landed and we got through customs in Gibraltar, we had to find our hotel. The hotel we booked was actually across the boarder in La Linea, Spain. The boarder was rather lenient both ways with just a simple flash of the passport to cross. Once we got into our rooms and settled in, we headed out to explore Gibraltar. Gibraltar is known for their “Rock of Gibraltar.” This is what we spent most our day exploring. We rode a cable car up to the top and worked our way by foot back down into town. At the top of the rock, there are not only gorgeous views of the city and the sea, but there are also wild monkeys. I think I read that they are the only wild monkey population left in Europe…maybe. The monkeys are free to roam and interact with the guests as they please. It is clear to see that some want nothing to do with people and I even watched some give warning facial expressions to tourists (including myself). Other monkeys are happy to grab at you and even climb on your head. We got lucky and had one befriend us. He climbed up on my friend Perry’s back and was pulling his hair and being super adorable. Other than the monkeys, there is a castle that is less than impressive after all the other castles I have visited on my travels, St. Michael’s Caves, and some other small remnants from more historical times. By the time we got down the rock and into city center, all of our legs were trembling with exhaustion and so we rushed to find somewhere to sit and have dinner. The next morning, and the next 3 days, my legs were beyond sore. Gibraltar not only has the Rock, but there are gorgeous beaches around the small UK territory. Unfortunately we only had a day and half there before we were off for Morocco so we never got to lay out on the beaches there. We spent the rest of our second day in Gibraltar shopping and exploring city center, which was having a big concert during the day so it was filled with life and people. Then we were off to Morocco!! To get to Morocco was exhausting, but completely worth it. First we had to take our bus to the ferry port, then we took the ferry across the Straight of Gibraltar, had to drive to customs/boarder control, and finally all the way to our hotel in Tangier. By the time we got in, we dropped off our bags in our rooms and went straight to dinner then basically straight to bed. Then Saturday morning we began our African weekend! The cities we toured around were a bit of Tangier, Chefchaouen, and Tetouan. All of them were unique and gorgeous in their own ways, but there are still plenty of cities in Morocco I haven’t reached yet and so I already know I will be returning for more.
In Tangier we stopped at a lighthouse that marks the division between the Sea and the Ocean. While looking out at the water was lovely, the highlight of this stop was that I pet a fuzzy baby donkey! Next we walked down onto the beach and got to ride Camels down the beach. The camel ride was basically a hope on walk in a giant circle and come back sort of path, but it’s still cool to say I have ridden a camel on the beaches of Africa!
Chefchaouen was my favorite of the cities we saw in Morocco. It is also commonly known by its nickname of “The Blue and White City.” The second you enter the city, it is clear to see where the nickname came from. Everything from the doors, building walls, and some street floors are painted in bright shades of blue. Between the bright blues everywhere and the incredible architecture, it almost felt like walking through a wonderland. The first thing we did here was have lunch. Lunch was served community style, and was traditional African food. For the main course, they set a huge bowl with sauce and bone-in chicken on our table and we all could help ourselves. Following lunch, we met up with our tour guide to show us around the streets. He was a little old man who claims to be the most popular man in Chefchaouen. He said has a show on Lonely Planet and that he is friends with Obama (aka he “liked” Obama’s facebook page). While he was not the best tour guide in the sense of learning the history of the city and moving at a decent pace, he was hilarious to spend some time wandering around with. To end the tour, he dropped us off in a shop where they hand weave scarves, blankets, and rugs using a loom. We got to watch the process some and they see samples of blankets and scarves with their intricate designs. The rugs and blankets were stunning, and if bag weight on the flights wasn’t a problem I am sure I would’ve come home with one. The rest of out time in Chefchaouen was spent exploring the medina and shopping. A lot of the shops seemed to carry pottery, which had been made in Morocco. The pottery was painted to perfection in bright colors and patterns, and again if weight wasn’t an issue I might have been tempted to come home with a complete china set. Maybe when I become a grown up and have use for that stuff more I will return for my pottery. Before we left the city, I was tricked into getting a henna tattoo. I was simply considering the idea of one and browsing the booklet of designs when a lady grabbed my friend and me and basically threw us into seats and started painting on us. At first I was unsure about getting henna, but once it was finished I was in love. It’s amazing how they can just free hand a beautiful design up someone’s arm. I’m not going to lie when I say it made me feel pretty cool to have. Following getting my henna tattoo, I noticed that men were behaving differently towards me and that I was getting a significant increase in attention. It started as guys just staring at me/my hand, then I would get comments such as “do you want a husband?” or “happy husband, happy marriage!” I was completely confused, but also amused (sorry I love attention). The only time it got creepy was when a man literally followed me between 3 shops and as he gave up the fight and walked away, he waved to me. No thanks!! It turns out that henna is used mainly for women who are getting married and so there is a good chance all the men who made comments were actually making fun of me as a tourist, but that’s ok! Other fun tourist comments we have received include “Hey Hannah Montana” and “Tom Brady.”
When we left Chefchaouen we took our bus to our final city, Tetouan. When we arrived it was close to 10pm and we were headed to dinner. It is completely normal for people in Morocco to have their meals this late at night, but my stomach was protesting it the entire time up until the meal. We ate in a type of Palace where we again we served a 5 course, community style meal of traditional African food. The palace’s inside was gorgeous and as we ate, dancers and musicians filled the place putting on a show for us. At the end of our meal, we were all able to get up and dance around with the performers! When we finished eating, we checked into our hotel rooms and were off to bed. My hotel room here had a huge balcony overlooking the sea, so I was lucky enough to see the sunrise when I woke up. After breakfast we were off on a walking tour of the city and to hit up the markets. While I never felt too completely unsafe while I was in Morocco, our tour was escorted by at least three “body guards” with walkie-talkies to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for. I really loved having them around because I felt like I could let my guard down some and enjoy the city a bit more. Tetouan had the same beautiful architecture as the other cities, but was painted in a lot of shades of purple and green. As we walked around we explored the shops where people were selling their home-farmed crops or baking breads. Leather is also a big product sold here, and there were plenty of purses and belts being throw in our face to haggle a price on. Everything excluding food in Morocco does not have a set price, so it was interesting trying to barter with the shop owners to get souvenirs for as cheap as possible.
I wish I had the words to describe the architecture, culture, and people that I saw and experienced. Hopefully my blog gives some sort of insight to Morocco and my experiences in Africa. It’s so surreal to be able to say I am only 21 and have been to Africa! I only brushed the tip of the country, and I am hoping to make it back one day in the future to see even more including Marrakesh, Casablanca and more. Sevilla/Barcelona: When we got back into Spain from Morocco, we headed by bus off to Sevilla. We spent Sunday evening and all of Monday in the city, but I wish we could’ve had longer. Sevilla is in Southern Spain, and there is a common joke that the further South you go in Spain, the lazier the people get. It was pretty clear to see this as part of the culture immediately, even though we only had one full day there. Monday we woke up bright and early to get breakfast and to make the most of our day, but the streets were rather dead and quiet until almost noon when people seemed to finally be starting their days. Another thing that we got to experience was siesta. Shops and restaurants either closed or slowed business for a couple hours in the evening. We met up for tapas Monday night with one of Perry’s friends studying there, and she told us how her house dad would come home from work, take a nap, and then go back to work after siesta. It’s such an interesting concept, but I wouldn’t mind if the States ever adopted it. We also got a bit of rain showers on Monday afternoon/evening and a lot of stores and restaurants just closed for the remainder of the day due to rain, which Perry’s friend said was also very common.
Our Monday, besides meeting up for tapas, was spent exploring as much of the city as we could. First, like I mentioned, we stopped for breakfast at a small café before most of the city was even awake yet. Our waitress didn’t speak any English, and while a couple of us took Spanish in high school, we were all pretty rusty. I was somewhat embarrassed of myself because I barely have anything to show for years of Spanish and IB level exams. So, basically through incredibly rough communication with our waitress, we all ended up with coffee and cured ham on baguette sandwiches for breakfast. Not exactly what we had in mind for breakfast, so after we ate our unexpected meal, we headed to Dunkin Donuts for a more familiar vibe and to fulfill the rest of our hunger. After breakfast, we were off for our free walking tour of the city. Over our travels, we have come to love the free walking tours as a way to learn some history of the city as well as a sense of direction for when we are going around on our own. On the tour we walked through the Plaza of Espana, which was absolutely gorgeous and definitely the heart of the city. Following the tour we explored the Palace. Again, stunning and authentic Spanish architecture everywhere you turned. My favorite thing about the palace was that there were so many gardens to explore and walk through, complete with a peacock wandering around. Our day was pretty relaxing, but it was wonderful to spend some time in Sevilla. I think it would be a perfect city to study abroad in for learning the Spanish language better, which I clearly need. After realizing both how poorly my Spanish is and how much knowing the language could help me help more animals in the future, I am beginning to consider a maymester or summer term in Spain in the following year or so.
Tuesday morning we headed off to the airport and were on our way to Barcelona. Our hostel in Barcelona was awesome. It really focused on making the hostel feel like a community and getting everyone to know each other! Our first day there we set off to explore some of the parks in the area. We wandered Parc de Ciutadella, which seemed like it would be the perfect place to relax or have a picnic. We also rented a rowboat in the park while there. The second day I went to Park Guell to see all the mosaics. It was beautiful and also mind-blowing to wonder how long it was to make so much just in mosaics. Following the park, we went down to the beach to tan some. It felt so nice to lie in the warm sun. I also saw in the Mediterranean Sea, which was considerably warmer than the Irish Sea here in Wales. As I had said before, the hostel was big on having a community feel. The first night there we played drinking games in the lobby with free sangria. We got to know a lot of the people staying in and working at the hostel. Following the game, we went on a pub-crawl as a group. The coolest place we went was a shot bar. They had about 400 shot names written up on the wall and you just had to pick one and hope it tasted good. Some of them they lit on fire or would put into a syringe in your mouth. We took one as a group called the “Boy Scout” where they gave you a marshmallow on a stick and lit the bar on fire. You had to roast your marshmallow and then eat it and take your shot. The second night in the hostel we went out with all our fellow backpackers again. This time we went to a nightclub on the beach. It was hands down the coolest place I have ever been. It had an indoor part, a section that was inside, but with no roof, and then you could walk right outside and be on the beach. We danced the night away making all sorts of friends with both our hostel-mates and other people at the club. Whenever we got too hot, we just ran out to the Sea and played on the beach. I wish I could go to beach clubs all the time, but Barcelona will definitely be missed. Our week seemed to fly by and on Thursday morning we grabbed breakfast and were on our way to the airport and back to Wales. May Ball and Exams: The Friday night when we got back from our travels was May Ball on campus. This is basically the combination of prom or a sorority formal, with a casino, with a concert, with carnival rides. It was definitely talked up a lot, but I still had a good time going! We basically danced to the DJs the whole night, but I did manage to ride one of the carnival rides before I left! Exams started on Monday. I had one the 11th, the 21st and two more on the 26th and 28th of May. It’s hard to go from traveling and fun and games all semester (aside from a few papers) to studying for exams. When the professors said we should be revising and reading all semester, they weren’t kidding. Exams here are basically 2 hours long, you are given a list of 4 or 5 essay questions and you have to answer 2 of them. They also expect you to reference sources by author and date in your papers. By the end of my first one my hand was trembling with exhaustion. Memorizing sources is a new thing for me, but hopefully my exams are going well and I come out with high marks! Bath and Stonehenge: Since I had about 10 days in between my first two exams, I was able to take a trip to Bath, England. My friend Becca’s aunt and grandma were visiting Bath and let us come to visit them. We were lucky enough to have them let us stay with them in their hotel. It was a quick two-day visit, but it was a lovely last trip before I return home. Seeing Stonehenge has been on my bucket list for forever. I know it sounds super lame to see a bunch of stacked rocks, but I find it completely fascinating to wonder how they heck they made it so many years ago. The first day there we took a bus tour where we went up to Stonehenge and my rock dreams came true! We also saw Avebury Circle, which I had never heard of before but was equally enthralling. These people dug a mile long trench and built a mound around it using their hands and bones!! Then they lined the inside with huge rocks and stones for some sort of ritual grounds. If this doesn’t blow your mind I don’t know what possibly could. It must be the coolest thing in the world to be an archeologist and find/study these ancient monuments. Imagine digging up a body from centuries ago along with his utensils and then trying to figure out his way of life!! SO COOL! If I didn’t want to be a vet, I would probably want to study archeology at some point in my life. After seeing the rocks, we went to a couple small villages around the area. Two of them were Lacock and Castle Combe. In Lacock, scenes from Harry Potter were filmed and Lilly Potter’s house in located here. In Castle Combe, while there aren’t any castles, there was a beautiful manor and War Horse was filmed here. If you haven’t seen War Horse, you definitely should ASAP!!! That night when we returned to Bath, we took a walking tour called Bizarre Bath. It is listed as something to not miss while in Bath. It is a comedy show and magic show combined as you casually stroll through the city. I laughed harder than I have in awhile and completely agree that it is a must see in the city!
The second day in Bath, we toured the Roman Baths! We were given audio guides and spent at least two hours listening to explanations and history lessons about the Baths and what has been discovered there. At the end of the self-tour, we popped up in the Pump Room. There, you can drink a glass of the water from the baths. I was hesitant at first, but did it anyway. It was warm water that smelled kind of funny and tasted heavily of minerals. Apparently it has healing qualities and is good for your bones and skin though so it must be safe. We finished our day in Bath by having high tea in the Pump Room. We each had our own pot of tea and got a three-tiered tray filled with finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries. I felt very classy and sophisticated the entire time, and am not well practiced for meeting a prince of the Queen. Tea was all fun and dandy until 7 cups of tea (2 pots) later when I had to pee every 15 minutes. Not the recommended way to prepare for a 5 hour train ride, but I survived. We got back to Wales that night and it was back to preparing for exams!
I officially have 2 more exams until I am finished with my semester abroad and my junior year. I don’t know how time can escape so quickly, but it has been an amazing journey and I wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks for following my adventures!