Thursday, September 11, 2014

Public Transportation

Since it's taking me so long to get through these posts, let me "re-start" by talking about one aspect of Spain, and probably Europe in general, that I thought was amazing - and that is: the public transportation.

Being from a pretty rural town, we don't have a lot of public transportation. Even at school in Raleigh, where there is a bus system, the efficiency is not all that great. Needless to say, I was amazed by the bus system in Spain. The buses were efficient, meaning they were on time, and there were plenty of them. Even if the bus wasn't on time, the system has developed an app, and a website, where you can track where you bus is, and how long until it gets to you. 

I'm mainly talking about the buses, because that's what I used the most. When we arrived, all of the students were given a bus card with 20 bus passes on it. Each ride costs one pass, and the card is refillable as you run out. You can even personalize them.

Other than buses there's the metro, plenty of bike lanes for personal bikes, and a system called "Valenbisi" which is essentially a bike rental system. With the Valenbisi you can rent a bike for 30 minutes from a checkout point. Then when you are done with it (or if you need more time, you can switch it out) just return it to a station near you.

The streets are well taken care of, with trees and recreational areas found all over the city. All in all, I loved being in such a big city as Valencia, being able to easily navigate probably played a large part in that. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Spanish Food

Let me interrupt my talking about our wonderful events, with a short explanation of a major part of the culture. The food. It's one of the things people seem to be curious about. I'll start by explaining that Spain is on the Balearic Sea, closer to the Mediterranean than you might think, so the food is very fresh, and a lot, and I mean a lot, of olive oil is used.

It may have been that my host family was just really healthy, but I didn't find the food served at the house to be all that much different from the food that my family normally eats at home. Healthy food seems to be somewhat universal in that a lot of fruits and vegetables were served, along with grilled meats. I say meats because we had dinners ranging from chicken, to white fish, to chicken burgers, to octopus.

One major difference was that in Spain, bread is served with every meal. Except breakfast, they eat little to no breakfast. At no point is bread eaten plain, there is always something to dip it in, whether it's olive oil, or the juices from the rest of the food. A native Spaniard never eats dry bread.

In an earlier post I mentioned that my host mother made me bocadillos, so let me explain what those are. Basically, they're sandwiches.  But they look like this:

Imagen: Eugeni Pons. Bocadillo de butifarra con judías de Fastvínic
At least, mine normally did. The sausage and egg, or tuna and egg were my favorite. Although there was also some kind of tomato, chili that I sometimes got which I also loved. Because of my class schedule I got a bocadillo almost everyday. The rest of the time my madre would give me a tupperware container full of something from the night before or other left-overs. The main meal was lunch, or "comida" which is served around 2:30, when I had class. So I had to pack one everyday.

There are a lot of interesting food in Valencia, which I'll talk about in a couple later posts. One about a cooking class that I was able to be a part of, and another about an excursion for my culture class. If you have any questions before then I will definitely answer them to the best of my abilities.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Old Valencia

One of the perks of being on a college trip abroad, is that the program gives us plenty of time to figure out the city alone. But, they also take us on little trips that allow us to be tourists every once in a while. Peñíscula was one thing, but early on in our trip we were able to take a walking tour of the older parts of Valencia (where we are usually trying to blend in as students, not stick out as tourists).

Everyone going on the tour met outside of the cathedral, La Catedral de Santo Cáliz, and waited for our lovely guide Paul.

A lot of the conversation was about the architecture and the different forms of construction.  I myself, being in school for civil engineering, found it to be extremely interesting. Especially when we looked at the historical events and happenings that caused the changes in design.

Since this was an opportunity to be a tourist, of course I took a lot of pictures. Here are some more.

We walked around the cathedral, and then over to the Lonja, which used to be the silk market, where I found this window. Finally, we ended up at the train station, and that concluded our tour.

Monday, July 14, 2014


During the first week of classes, we already had activities prepared for us. (As we do for the entire trip.) As it happened, the first activity with the program happened on the same day as activities for both of my classes. But right now I'm going to focus on the guided tour of the Lladro factory, the middle event of the day.

Lladro is a world renowned porcelain manufacturing company. When I say world renowned, I mean, their porcelain can be found not only in the same shopping area as Swarovski, but in the same store. I haven't been in one, but I'd imagine that some of the jewelry costs less than the porcelain.

When we got to the factory, we were welcomed by a tour-guide, and taken to watch a short video about the process of making the porcelain. The video was a brief glance at everything that they make, and a bit about the family Lladro. After the video our group was taken to see more of the process, albeit, sped up, with most of the waiting cut out. The porcelain is made in a mold, and the guide spent a little while explaining the negative and positive aspects of the process. He also told us that one mold can have up to 30 pieces. Once the porcelain has dried for a specified time, the porcelain in the middle of the mold is poured out, leaving the hollow figure. This has to dry for much longer. We got to walk around and see how the pieces are put together. The people working in the Lladro factory are professionals, and have exquisite talent. Each piece is hand-painted, and then fired according to specific instructions. I won't go into the process much deeper here, but if you ever have a chance I definitely recommend taking a tour. Whether it's Lladro, or elsewhere similar.

After the tour, the group was taken into the show room. Pictures are not allowed, so I can't show you the amazing things that they create, but -> here's a link to the website <-, so you can look for yourself. Since everything they make is of such high quality, even the slightest defect makes a figure unfit to be sold. However, there is a small shop at the factory, with said imperfect pieces at discounted prices. They are still beautiful, and to the untrained eye, there is nothing wrong with any of them.

I wish I could leave you to one last picture. But, as I said taking pictures was prohibited. Definitely take the opportunity to look through the galleries on the website. The pieces are varied, and subject matters cover a wide variety of feelings, cultures, and time periods.

Just because no blog post is complete without pictures, and I want to share the cool things I find with you, here is one of a building that I found while I was wandering Valencia one afternoon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


After the length of my last post, and the time that it took me to write it, I've been a little put off of blogging. That being said, I do want to start telling you about all of my adventures and such.

As you know, our getting here was an interesting process. However, the next day we turned around and ran off to Peñíscola (aka Peniscola). A little history: Peñíscola is a small walled-in town in the province of Valencia, slightly north of the city. Not only does it have a beautiful beach, there's a castle! The castle was built in the 13th century by the Knight's Templar, and was later reverted to the Crown of Aragon.

The history of the castle was interesting, but I was honestly more focused on trying to drink in all the sights. Yes, the beach is amazing. But as my host-mother told me, Peñíscola is a unique town, and a beach is a beach. [Words of wisdom for anyone and everyone traveling anywhere.] So after spending enough time at the beach to eat my bocadillo and cool off in the water, I found some friends and we went wandering around the town.

Basically, once you enter the city all of the streets are uphill. I'm not exaggerating. On the way up to the castle (which you can see at the top of the picture above), there are no flat streets, none at all. A typical street looked something like this:

But then you get to the castle, and it's amazing. It's very split level, and the church below is somehow connected, but also outside? I'm not quite sure. The view from the top was breathtaking.

That's all for now, but I'll work on having slightly shorter posts, and more of them. Hasta luego!

Monday, June 30, 2014

3 Days of Travel

When I left my house at 7:00 am EST on June 25th I had no idea that it would take until about 4:00 pm CET (Summer) on the 27th, to make it to Valencia. Neither did anyone else in our group. This post is going to be long, because it was a long couple of days, but bear with me.

A few days before the group was set to leave, we were told that it was possible that our flight itinerary may change because of strikes going on in France. We're not going to France, I know, we're headed to Valencia, Spain. But, our flight connected in Paris. Anyway, because our plans weren't concrete everyone arrived at the airport in Raleigh at 9am. That way, if anything were to happen we would be able to adjust.

The funny thing is, this being my first time flying at all, much less flying internationally, the thing I was most nervous about was airport security. Actually, that's what I was the most nervous about for this whole trip. Yea, I don't know why either. In the end, or I guess really at the beginning, our flight was not moved, and we loaded onto the plane at our scheduled 2pm boarding time. Take-off was scheduled for 2:30. Once we were all on the plane the pilot came on the intercom and announced that due to weather conditions at JFK there was a ground lock. This ground lock meant that our take-off time was moved to 3:30 as we sat on the tarmac for an hour.

Another thing that I was worrying about was getting motion sick. Lately I haven't even been able to ride in the back seat of a car without feeling nauseous at some point, so a plane seems like it would be much worse. I was delighted to find that not only was I not motion sick, I could even read without a problem. Other than the one hour delay, the flight to JFK happened without any problems. We arrived in New York some time around 4:30. It took us a while to navigate the airport, but eventually all 17 of us made it to the Air France desk. There we were told that our boarding time was 7:30, although there was some problem with our connection in Paris to Valencia.

This is from the plane descending into Valencia, but I thought you might enjoy a picture.

Knowing that there would be more negotiating ahead of us, because it became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight, the flight to Paris went fairly smoothly. It was a 6 hour flight, and while we left the airport around 8:30pm, we arrived in Paris at 9:40 or 10:00 am. Fortunately our luggage arrived with us, though we missed our connection flight to Valencia. The staff at the airport had to be working hard in order to get all 17 of us flight for the next day, so it's hard to be too bitter about the wait.

In the end we were all put on flights, the airline gave us lunch vouchers, and a stay at a hotel (with complimentary dinner). I'm willing to bet that once we got to the hotel and sorted out rooms, that everyone took a nap. At least, that's what I did. We met up for dinner at 7, and then a group was making plans to go into the city. Of course, we're in Paris, so I'm interested. The trip they were considering, a half-way guided tour with stops for pictures, was 50 euro a person. That's a lot. You all know how I've budgeted, and planned for this trip. I was trying to talk myself out of going. At the same time, I knew I would regret it if I missed this amazing opportunity. So I went. Myself, three other girls, and our driver (Errol) toured Paris, with all the lights on and people out and about. The rest of the group in other taxis behind us.

Let me just take a minute to say that not being able to have a real conversation with anyone in France (because I don't speak French) was one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced. Definitely in the top 5. If I can encourage you to do anything, it would be to learn the language of the country you're visiting. At least to a conversational level. Yes, we weren't supposed to spend that much time in France, but I hope you can see what I'm getting at.

Now, I'm not going to tell you about racing around France taking pictures and not show you any. Here are what I consider to be the best four of the night:

The Eiffel Tower isn't as delicate as I had imagined. It's still breathtaking.

After we got back to the hotel at 1am, the rest of the traveling didn't seem as bad. Our group met in the lobby at 4am, went to the airport again, where we waited, then flew to Madrid. In Madrid we waited some more, and then flew to Valencia. Finally we got to Valencia at 4:00pm, then went through orientation, and got to go home with our host families. 

I know I sped through those last hours, but not a lot happened, and I'm honestly happily surprised if you've kept reading this far. Please leave any comments or questions below. Until next time.

One last note: I'm keeping a journal of everything that happens, so I can get as much feeling, and be as accurate as possible with these posts. That being said, there will most likely be a considerable time lapse between these events are taking place, and when I am able to sit down and write about them. Thanks for understanding.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I am leaving tomorrow! While I can barely get this through my head, I suppose that means it's time for me to finally post about my packing experience.

First of all, I am attempting to take as little as possible, while still taking everything that I need. Right now the majority of the weight of my bag is taken up by toiletries. You know, the necessities, shampoo, conditioner. But then I also included things like, sunscreen, lotion, and a couple other hair products. And where would I be without my acne wash and cream? Up the creek, that's where. A majority of those things I was able to fit in the L.L.Bean toiletry bag that I've had for years. The rest I put in zip-lock bags so they wouldn't leak everywhere.

The other items in my check bag include a beach towel, sneakers, my yoga mat (yes, I am taking my yoga mat, and man does it take up some space), and then my clothes. Clothing for this trip includes:
  • about six dresses, 
  • two tank tops, 
  • one pair of non-workout shorts, 
  • one pair of jeans
  • two bathing suits
  • one pair of work-out shorts, 
  • yoga pants, 
  • two t-shirts (for exercise), 
  • underwear, etc.
  • and last but not least, pajamas
Normally I roll my clothes, even to put them in my drawers at home. In an effort to be as efficient as possible, and hopefully have a major reduction in wrinklage, I did a little research on different packing methods.

What I found could potentially be called the burrito method, and is similar to rolling. You start with all of your underwear, etc. in the middle, tightly wrapped in a t-shirt. Order the rest of your clothing from least-likely-to-wrinkle to most-likely-to-wrinkle, and then simply wrap the pieces one by one around this core. (Garments most-tailored/most-likely-to-wrinkle on the outside). My end product looked like this: 

Which is why I say it could be called the burrito method. This bundle is about a foot across, and a little over 6 or 7 inches tall. Since there is a chance that our luggage won't arrive at exactly the same time that we do, I have a similar, smaller bundle in my carry on with a couple days worth of clothes.

A carry on is for much more than clothes though, as I'm sure many of you know. It's where I have more valuable items, things I need to be easily accessible. Below you can see I have some electronics, my straightener (which I opted to take instead of a hair dryer), an umbrella, my bible and journal, and some reading materials provided by the program. Not shown, but included are a small make-up and jewelry bag, and some other electronics.

And how could I possibly make it through such a long flight process without some for-me books?

Even though it still hasn't hit me that I'm leaving, I think I'm ready to go. My mom is taking me to the airport early tomorrow morning, and I honestly don't think the reality of this trip will hit me until I've been in Valencia for three days.

¡Hasta pronto!