Tuesday, September 15


Tuesday, September 15
Even though I returned from studying abroad more than 4 months ago, I continue to be profoundly surprised at the way those experiences impact my life even still. I know, the common responses to "how was it" are either: "it changed my life!!!!!" or "it was the best decision I've ever made!!!!" Well...it's true. And these are just some small reasons why.

I'm taking Music Appreciation this semester. Having been in band before I expected it to be more of a blow-off class, something I wouldn't really spend a lot of time studying. Instead, it's become one of my favorite classes, and not just because I am learning a ton of things about music, but also because the backgrounds of composers have solid meaning for me now. I wrote something in my early posts about our first solo trip to Austria. After seeing Salzburg, I wasn't surprised that Mozart composed his amazing music. This was the beginning for me to realize that what we see goes through our eyes into our bodies and souls and doesn't just stay there. Where we are impacts us but also changes us enough to be reflected in our actions and goals.

We talked today about Smetana, a Czech composer, and listened to one of his pieces, Moldau, that actually tells the story of a trip along a river that flows through Prague. I stood on the Charles Bridge, overlooking that river. These pieces have such meaning to me now. Not just that I can identify where they came from-- you can feel the nature of a city, those intangible things that make Paris Paris, or Tuscany Tuscany, coursing through a piece that took something from its surroundings, intentional or not. I know that whatever I do, and the kind of person I am, has taken something from those varied and beautiful surroundings I encountered last semester.

People really are products of their surroundings. I know, I know, being in psychology means that I have to acknowledge heritability and genetics and biology and sure those things play a role. But in expression, in life events, in goals...people reflect the places they have been. Did it take this semester abroad for me to realize this? Yes. I think part of the reason is that I have always been hesitant to be "proud to be an American." Honestly, I'm not all that patriotic. Nationalism was always something that it was hard for me to grasp in history class. However I am starting to understand. Like it or not, the person I am and the actions I take are going to be influenced by my living here. That is another thing studying abroad does for you. You are forced to see your country from far away. Sometimes we are too close to things to see their flaws-- OR to see what is so great about them!

Studying abroad tests you. Traveling tests you. I have said to some that I have learned more about myself in that semester than I thought I could know about myself. The effects of lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, and stress really come out when you are in an unfamiliar place. I had to be vulnerable and honest, because let's face it, being with a group of people nonstop for a month means you can't really hide anything. But that's what is soooo good about this challenge- you grow because of it. You learn to twist your lack-of-sleep-grumpies into a chance to find something beautiful or wonderful in that moment instead...and that makes you appreciate it all the more.

What I mean to say is, study abroad = good. So do it.

ALSO fyi! You can click on any picture on this blog and a larger size photo will pop up in a new tab. I have to make the in-text ones smaller now since well Blogger says I am running out of space!

Wednesday, May 20

come back!

Wednesday, May 20
FYI! I hope you keep this blog in your tabs-- I am beginning to upload pictures to the entries from the month that don't have them yet, as well as add hostel, restaurant, and tour advice and names. So check it out! :)

Sunday, May 17

that's all...for now

Sunday, May 17

Here ends the stories of my travels in Europe! I know the other thoughts are a little scattered but I'll sum up the return. Kathy and I left the next day (she was heading back to the US early) to head back to Maastricht through France over two days of travel. We rode back through Barcelona and killed time and had an amazing lunch. We went through the seediest train station ever at the Spanish/French border. We made a friend there. We braved the Paris metro (to switch train stations) early in the morning. We endured the ridiculous wait for the platform number to appear on the Paris Nord timetable. We were literally the only passengers on the train from Liege to Maastricht.

And finally, we arrived at home sweet home- blossoming with flowers and sunshine. Seriously?! Since when had Maastricht become the Garden of Eden? And it was lovely. I spent the rest of my time there cleaning, packing, and walking around the city. A huge group of us went out on our last night to Nora's, a kebab place that we had started to consider our spot. Then, it was time to come home.

Tuesday, May 12

lies of hollywood part 2!

Tuesday, May 12
April 19

In the morning, I met up with Jenny, a friend from church who goes to SMU. She's studying in Madrid this semester. We all spent the morning at Rastro Market- the largest market in Europe! No lie, it is as big as a neighborhood, and you could find almost anything you've ever wanted there.

By noon it was extremely packed (as Madrid often seems to be!) so we headed to the enormous, beautiful Parque Retiro for lunch and helado. It had a gorgeous pond with people lazily rowing boats and enjoying the sunshine.

(And again, the ridiculous street performers...props to Mickey and Minnie, standing outside and taking family pictures like we were at Disneyland, haha.)

We found the beautiful Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), a pastel pink and glass structure next to a pond. We relaxed in front of the palace on the bright green grass for a good while, enjoying strawberry ice cream and the calm, cool air.

After much debate, I mustered up the guts to attend a bullfight with Jenny, Kaitlyn, and Kathy. Let's be honest. The only knowledge I had of toreadors came from a VHS clip of Goofy Goof as a bumbling, kindly matador. So I was a little shocked when Jenny explained the show to me. I'll tell you a little about it, but I won't chronicle the graphicness- you can read about it here. (This is Las Ventas, one of the best known arena for bullfights)

First of all, there are different groups of people that stab the bull before the toreador even comes out into the ring. Second, they kill the bull at the end. I am glad I went, because it was an eye-opening cultural experience.

I could understand appreciation for a talented and graceful toreador, but at the same time it wasn't the romantic, subtle dance I was expecting.

When Jenny headed back to her host home for dinner, the rest of us were hoping to catch a flamenco show, but once we arrived at the venue (early, to see what it would be like) the area was a little too seedy for nighttime, so sadly we missed out on this. We did however want to indulge in a tradition: churros y chocolate.

These aren't your creepy Six Flags Grandpa's churros! And the chocolate is thicker than a cup of hot chocolate. It's quite rich.

We enjoyed the friendliness of the waiters who spoke a little English, and then headed back to get some sleep.

Oh yes, I can tell you about a dinner experience we had (not sure what night this was) that finally makes sense to us now. We had a friendly but non-English-speaking waiter one night. Our table was in the basement area of the restaurant, and as we left, he passed us with wide eyes. "Besitos, besitos!" he cried and also looked like he was going to cry tears of joy. ("Little kisses" in Spanish). We were utterly speechless as to why he would lavish such praise upon us. You see, this whole time we had been leaving a tips at restaurants. But Jenny keyed us in to the fact that in Spain, no tip is necessary...you just ask for la cuenta and go on your way! Glad those besitos had a basis!!

Tuesday, May 5

my trip to the hundred acre wood?

Tuesday, May 5
April 18

In the afternoon, we wandered to Plaza Mayor, and were greeted by a mariachi band and a ton of street performers.

For some reason, Pooh Bear is exceptionally popular among Spaniards...we saw 4 Poohs within 100 feet of each other! Hahaha.

Enjoy also this aging Spiderman, and an odd couple:

Next we walked to La Basilica de Santa Maria, one of my favorites. The ceilings were so colorful!

Then we visited my favorite palace of the entire trip. Palacio Real. Man this thing is a beast. We didn't even plan on going in, but some of us really needed to find a restroom and paying the entrance fee was our only option. As we walked through the first three rooms, we all realized this palace is WAY more ornate than Versailles. We couldn't take pictures of the inside, so check them out here.Outside, the surreal Spanish clouds greeted us. The Prado art museum is free at night, so it was our next stop. We made sure to see "the bot" and the Spanish masters. (I should explain...our Dutch Art History professor was obcessed with Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Delights, and loved to point out the questionable sexual acts occurring in the painting, including a man with flowers coming out of his bot [English= butt]).

We didn't make it to the Reina Sofia- thus one of my regrets of the trip is not being able to see Picasso's Guernica. However, Madrid is definitely a really cool city with lots to see and do.


April 17

The train from Barcelona to Madrid was heavenly!

The whole process was like an airport, only less stressful. I changed into shorts so my legs could continue to recover from the sunburn. We watched a movie (Meet Dave-- superbly bad acting of Eddie Murphy with a just as questionable Spanish dub), stretched out in the super nice chairs, and the "stewardesses" handed out candy at the end of the ride...yes please!

The weather in Madrid wasn't much better, but we checked into our hostel and the six of us met up with Chris again at La Plaza Mayor, a happening place. There was a group of happy people singing and dancing so we enjoyed the music even though it was drizzling.
After a fun reunion dinner at an all you can eat buffet (complete with flan!) we headed back to the hostel to dress up for a night unlike any other. Let me preface this by saying it was a cultural experience more than anything else.

Kapital is a famous seven-story club, each floor with different music. We went with two of Amanda's friends who are studying abroad in Spain this semester. The club doesn't really get started until waaay after midnight, and by then it is completely packed. Packed. We arrived at 12:30 and stayed until close...6 a.m. Yes, I know. You are surprised! Somehow time is weird in Madrid. It is always later than you think it is. We were shocked when we looked at the clock for the first time and realized it was already 3:45.

Surprisingly, and perhaps unfortunately, there were way more guys than girls, and Spanish guys (at least the ones here) were very forward and direct. I fended off numerous males but considered it an opportunity to practice my Spanish at least! In fact as I reflected later I realized I used the most Spanish of the trip at Kapital!

Anyway, we did have fun dancing, although I am pretty sure I witnessed some risque behaviors. Rachel, Kathy and I tried some karaoke. The real reason we stayed until 6 is that the Metro starts back up then, and a taxi, well, costs money. Needless to say we slept in the next day until 1 pm!

Monday, May 4

architecture of barcelona

Monday, May 4
April 17

Today, we ventured to some major Barcelona architectural landmarks.

La Pedrera- A curvy corner building- very modern and interesting.
La Sagrada Familia- Apparently this epic cathedral is always under construction-- every postcard had a crane in the background! But, what we could see of it was pretty cool. It was actually really busy, and we were short on time, so we weren't able to go inside. But it has the characteristically wild, curvy, pale stone look of famous Barcelona architecture.

La Catedral- Again it became sunny and rainy, plus the entire front was covered up by construction, so we weren't able to see much of this one.

After that, it was time to head to Madrid!

Sunday, May 3

i know, i know

Sunday, May 3
the updating...still working on it!! :)

Wednesday, April 22

coming to a close

Wednesday, April 22
Hello there!! Long time no blog. Here's the deal. I'm safely back in Maastricht for the next few days-- I have a lot of blogging to add on to since I wrote about Barcelona (mainly, the rest of Spain). Right now I'm working on a paper for one of my classes, editing and uploading photos, and packing and cleaning to head back home.

I returned to glorious, warm weather and flowers in Maastricht (quite a change from all the rain). I've just been washing clothes and catching up on the office and taking a shower with pressure...you know, all that good, important stuff. I'll try my best to update soon, but just so you know, I'll be getting in to Dallas at 4:40 on Saturday afternoon! I need to see all of you, stat. So let me know when and where we can reunite! :)

Monday, April 20

the rain in spain falls mainly in the plain, and other hollywood lies

Monday, April 20
April 16

The way to Barcelona didn´t start out so swell. I think I wrote last time about Alvin´s singing permeating my sleep. But really, I couldn´t sleep at all on the train because I have a pretty bad sunburn on my legs and couldn´t get comfortable. I made the mistake of borrowing Rachel's shorts when we lounged on the beach in Nice...so my entire legs are bright red. Then on the train to Barcelona, we were asked for our passport three times...at the same stop.

I used some Spanish in the train station, but once we used the Metro we began to realize that no one told us the primary language in Barcelona is not Spanish. It´s Catalan, a mix between all the Spanish words I don´t know, and the French nuances I´ve never understood...Okay, I´m exaggerating, but it was a little frustrating as I had been looking forward to finally knowing a language.

And then, as we (6 of us now, because Brittany met her parents in Spain: Lexie, Rachel, Kathy, Amanda, Kaitlyn, and me) walked to our hostel, the skies, still sunny, parted to bombard us with eggs of hail. We scurried around trying to find the hostel and once we did, I took off my shoes and saw that my ankles had swollen to twice their size because of the sunburn plus all of the walking. [warning, gross picture follows....]

Not to be thwarted, we journeyed out to Parque Guell, which my tour book called a twisted Disney world.


It had some interesting, curved structures and we would have explored more but it started to rain again, horribly. So, next stop, Picasso Museum, which did a great job focusing on his earlier works though the museum wasn´t organized too clearly- we were confused about the order of the rooms, which probably should have been chronological. This is a view from outside since cameras weren't allowed inside. Oh, yes, and I was officially sun poisoned at this point...my friends actually tried to get a wheelchair for my hugely swollen ankles!!

Food adventures were also quite interesting. For lunch we learned about tapas, appetizers that Spain is known for. You can make a meal with tapas, but I think a little more elegantly than we did that time. Oh well! For dinner, we had some tasty tapas and paella along La Rambla, Barcelona´s main walking and shopping street.

I feel like I may have written this in a slightly frustrated mood, but it´s the truth. So far, Spain has been completely different from my expectations. Barcelona is a cool city, with lots of curvy stone architecture, and mainly seafood based comida.

the rich life

April 15

We took an early train to Monaco this morning. It´s the second smallest country (I think), after the Vatican, known for the Grand Prix, Grace Kelly, yachts, and everything else that comes with being rich. Because I´m pretty sure everyone here is. Monte Carlo is basically every man´s paradise, starting with James Bond. It really is full of fancy expensive cars (there is a Ferrarri store right near the port) and boats, with lush plants (trees and flowers spill out of every balcony). Some of the city, including the casino, is on a cliff overlooking the ocean on the French coast.

We basically just walked around, admiring the city and taking celebrity-style pictures in front of the casino (which we couldn´t enter, being neither rich nor famous).

I had to remind myself that this is a rare lifestyle. And really, that´s true for the entire trip. Never again in my life will I have such time and opportunity plus youth and energy to travel basically every day like this. It´s hard not to be jealous of the people who live here and enjoy not only fine things but fine views. And yet, this somehow makes it easier to appreciate the beauty of my home and the opportunities that I have to experience such things.

We returned to Nice for lunch (delicious kebabs...I am officially addicted) and another stop by the beach. We also visited an amazing Russian-inspired church in town. I think it is one of the coolest buildings I have seen so far. After, we spent an afternoon walking down the Promenade along the beach and shopping. I scored some cute shorts and dressy tops since my few outfits have been WELL worn [out]. Plus I only really have cold-weather clothes and the weather is warming up. Also I can´t wear jeans because of my sunburn! I borrowed Rach's shorts to suntan outside. Ok, I´m really just trying to justify my purchases. Moving on...

I´m writing this on a train...to Spain! These cute kids are sitting in front of us but earlier an explosion of French Alvin and the Chipmunks busted through the train. They are cute but oh dear they are loud. Anyways, our last dinner as a group was tonight as Caroline took a train to the UK and we split for Spain. We had dinner at a patisserie where we made a ruckus laughing as usual but this time we were unfortunately approached by a creepy wino as we ate outside. He crept up behind me and asked us, "why are we all wet?" because it had started to rain. While our neighboring French diners laughed at our discomfort, our nice waiter came to the rescue and fended the creeper off. Thank goodness.

Saturday, April 18

spain update!

Saturday, April 18
Hola! Just a quick update...I know I have a lot to update but don´t worry, I have it all written down. Things have been a little crazy but exciting. I am in Madrid right now until Monday morning, when Kathy and I are journeying all day and half of the next day to get back to Maastricht. Then I have a few days to clean, pack, upload a zillion photos, and say goodbye because we leave for the USA on Saturday morning and get in on Saturday evening (TX time). I can´t wait to see you all!

Tuesday, April 14


Tuesday, April 14
April 14

Today was fantastic. It is our last full day together (the group of us eight girls). We basically spent the day lounging on the beach in Nice-- it was sooo great. The water is bright blue and the weather is perfect. Nice is really...nice. Haha. It is a cute, sophisticated but not pretentious town. It's beautiful, but not fast-paced like a lot of other cities we have been to.

I did get a tomato red sunburn on my legs but hey the truth is that they haven't seen the light of day in ages...so naturally it was a little overwhelming.

Anyway we spent the afternoon on the beach and then Kathy and I decided to take a 30 minute ride to Cannes while everyone else chilled.

It was really cool!

It is also along the coast and has palm trees, and actually reminded us a lot of California. We saw the red carpet and the film festival building and enjoyed a quick trip over there.

Interestingly we encountered an Irish couple on the train back as well as a younger guy who was clearly interested in Kathy. He moved seats to sit directly in front of her in our compartment! He also spontaneously jumped out of his seat and squealed as we passed a city he had lived in before. Later the dude asked us if we wanted to come over when we got back to Nice...thanks but no thanks buddy.

I know we're in France but we had Asian cuisine for dinner which was delicious. Now some of us are doing laundry while others are blogging. :) I am heading to bed and then tomorrow we are going to visit Monaco and then enjoy an afternoon in Nice before our night train to Barcelona. Sadly Caroline is splitting off tomorrow night for the UK and Brittany will be meeting her parents in Spain, so our number is decreasing!

Believe it or not, this is in Nice!