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Camels, Crack, and the Cold

Camels, Crack, and the Cold

WOW IT’S BEEN SO LONG!!! While Liam Neeson hasn’t had to come rescue me yet, these past few weeks I have actually found myself in a way scarier predicament. Believe it or not, I have been in Spain for about a month and a half now, meaning that it is MIDTERM season. How the heck did that happen!?!?!? But anyway, due to this unfortunate situation that my professors have created with their grossly long and thorough testing, I have not found much free time to blog. So before I completely digress into a pointless tangent about midterms, here is my life-recap for the last 3 weeks!

During the last weekend of January, my friends and I traveled outside of Spain for the first time to Morocco! We booked our trip with a tour agency, who provided all of our transportation and other accommodations, leaving us with very little to worry about. After an extremely long bus ride to the Southern tip of Spain and a ferry ride over the straight, we arrived on the continent of Africa. We were herded (quite literally) right into our planned activities for the day, which included camel rides on the beach, a visit to the Hercules Caves, and a walk through a traditional Moroccan market. The camel rides were incredibly cool, and a little scary. Camels can apparently be pretty dang reckless when they don’t want people sitting on their backs. Who knew. However the bumpy ride was definitely an awesome experience and something that every tourist visiting Morocco should do in my opinion. Blooper: the wind was horrible on the beach that day, so any pictures you see of my friends or I on the camels were 100% staged and had a lot of behind the scenes effort that went into them. Please throw these pictures a “like” to show solidarity with our situation and efforts. The caves were next on the agenda and were also very cool. They were especially beautiful since we arrived right as the sun was setting over the ocean. Lastly, our stroll through the traditional market was very, um, interesting. The vendors could definitely sense the euros in our pockets and thus were very aggressive. Luckily, our guides were good at keeping us moving through the stalls and at pushing the locals away when they did become too eager to sell their goods to us. However at an exchange rate of 10 dirham for every 1 euro, the deals were very enticing. Everyone should expect to receive Moroccan oil from me as gifts for the next few years, as I stocked up big time. We ended the day at a Moroccan restaurant where we got to relax while listening to a live band and brought four courses of food. As someone who loves Mediterranean food, I was definitely in heaven during this trip as the food was both extremely cheap and served in huge portions with multiple courses. We retired to our hotel that night, eager to sleep in a real bed, as the over night bus ride the night before did not leave us feeling too well rested. The hotel itself was very nice, which was surprising to us as we were convinced that “4 Stars” in Africa might be a tad different than the “4 Star” accommodations we think of in the United States. But much to our surprise, we were wrong, and the hotel which was located right on the beach, was perfect. The next morning we headed to Chefchaoeun, nicknamed the “Blue City” for its blue buildings and walls. I loved walking the city, as the markets here were much more calm and friendly to visitors. We spent the whole day here shopping around, relaxing at restaurants, and admiring the aesthetics of the small city. The only negative aspect that I could find were the vast number of cats that roamed the streets. Now hold up. You might be thinking to yourself, “Becca complaining about cats? What has Europe done to this future cat lady?” Well don’t worry, as I still do have an unhealthy level of love for little kitties, but the stray cats in Morocco were honestly the nastiest. One, which we nicknamed Snaggletooth, could be the poster-cat for rabies. But other than the occasional need to run away from Snaggletooth or his gang of friends, the city of Chefchaouen was magical and was an incredible place to visit for the day. The next day we headed home, which included another 11 hour bus ride. While agonizingly long, this did give me much time to reflect on my brief visit to Morocco. It was my first time in a place in which I did not have the slightest clue as to how to read, speak, or understand the language. Communicating with the locals thus was very different and I was reminded that while, fortunate for us, English is spoken in many countries across the world, we can’t always expect this. As a visitor in Morocco, I probably should have researched some basic Arabic phrases that would have helped me communicate, instead of relying on the locals to understand my native language. Another thought I had on the long ride home was about how differently religion has shaped different areas of the world. While Christianity has pervaded the United States and most of Europe, it is Islam that shapes Morocco. The influence of this religion is apparent everywhere, from the more conservative or traditional beliefs,  to the more modest dress. While different, it was extremely interesting to experience.

The next weekend I ventured to Dublin, Ireland. I knew it was going to be an awesome time right away, as I received a huge welcome after a customs worker noticed my last name. This happened even after I tried speaking to her in Spanish, forgetting where I was and that, you know, they actually speak English in Ireland. Duh. Our first day in Ireland was actually not spent in Dublin at all, but on the opposite side of the country at the Cliffs of Moher. We booked a day tour that showed us historic and interesting sights around the Irish countryside on our way to the Atlantic coast. I was shocked at how green the countryside was, even in the beginning of February. I also found it funny that the Irish countryside looks exactly how you’d think the Irish countryside looks – complete with rolling hills, stone fences, small farm cottages, and pastures with grazing animals. The scenery looked almost familiar and like something out a movie, which we later learned, could possible to true as many famous movies were filmed around the Irish countryside. When we finally arrived at the Cliffs, it was an awesome sight to take in. Now, I had seen a million and one photos of the cliffs that past study abroaders had posted, so I had them pegged in my mind as something that would be cool, but mainly a necessary sight for tourists to visit. However I was absolutely blown away when I finally saw them in person. Pictures can not put into perspective just how massive the cliffs are and how beautiful they are with the contrast of the ocean in the background. We were told that we traveled to the cliffs on the nicest winter day imaginable, with relatively clear skies that made them even more impressive to look at. Our tour guide gave us a few hours to spend there, which you may think was unnecessarily long as I originally did, but believe me when I tell you that I could have sat there all day just walking the area and staring at the view. On the ride back to Dublin we all knocked out, as apparently sitting on a bus and looking at cliffs makes for an exhausting day. However upon arrival back in Dublin, we took the advice of our tour guide and headed to a restaurant/pub called The Celt, where we were in for an Irish culture shock. The restaurant was authentically Irish, which prompted my order of bangers and mash with a Guinness. Props to the Irish, because who knew some mashed potatoes topped with sausages could be so freaking good. And the Guinness. Wow. This was my very first Guinness, which being in Ireland, I deemed an appropriate time to officially try. Needless to say I was very happy with my choice, as it has become my new beer of choice. Halfway through dinner, a live singer emerged to entertain the now extremely crowded pub area which created a really fun atmosphere. When we finally did leave, I was happily surprised to find that most of the popular pubs included live music, which I thought was absolutely awesome. I really loved that the pubs in Ireland were laid back, which then attracted a huge diversity of people. In any particular pub, you could find an array of drunk 50 year old men attempting to Irish dance but also young people dressed for the club. The variety of people made people watching very interesting, but also made it acceptable for me to wear gym shoes on our second night out without feeling like a complete idiot. Not complaining at all. Our second day in Dublin was spent exploring the city. We visited Trinity College, Dublin Gardens, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Guinness Storehouse to name a few of the sights. One of the coolest things, in my opinion, was being able to find my family crest and read some information about the “Flynn” family origins. By the end of our stay, I had fallen completely in love with Ireland. From the laid back feel of the cities to the beautiful countryside views, I was completely in awe the entirety of the time we spent in Ireland. I must admit that I was so in love upon my arrival back to Spain, that I actually started looking up law and graduate schools in Ireland. Nevertheless, I am extremely excited to have the chance to visit again at the end of the semester with my parents, and am hoping to feel the same awe that I originally experienced.

Finally, this last weekend was spent Berlin, Germany. My friend and I met up with my cousin who lives in Germany, which was awesome as we got our own private tour guide who speaks the language. I must say that I’m incredibly proud that my friend and I were even able to find the hostel without my cousin, as the German language is quite intimidating to a foreigner. But we spent out first afternoon walking around the area near our hostel and got our first taste of the deep and complex history that the area boasts. We walked to a church named the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which stands today in ruin from bombings that took place during WW2. The church was purposefully kept in ruins as a reminder of the horrors of war, and while the church itself was very powerful, I think I was more intrigued by a recent historical development that happened in that spot. The plaza that the church sits on was also the sight of the 2016 Berlin terror attack, in which a truck drove through a Christmas market killing 12 people. There was a memorial that featured thousands of candles, flowers, and other tributes to the victims on the plaza, which was both beautiful and saddening. How awful, that such a horrible atrocity happened directly next to a monument meant to warn against the destruction of war and hatred. I thought that it was very powerful as it provided a glimpse of the sad reality facing our world today. The next day in Berlin was similarly thought-provoking and disheartening, as we took a walking tour around the city that showcased important WW2 sights. While I cannot say that this was the most fun three hours of my life, I believe it was incredibly important to see, learn about, and attempt to understand what occurred during that time in history. Some of the sights that stuck with me were an old apartment building that, like the church, had kept its original facade after the war. The building was completely covered from top to bottom with bullet holes, without even a square foot left untouched. Again, this is meant to remind the future generations, whom might not experience war firsthand, of its devastation and destruction capabilities. We learned that this building was rare in that it survived the war, whereas most of Berlin was reduced to rubble. It shocked me to learn that because of this, much of Berlin is very new, with some buildings intentionally being rebuilt to appear “old”. This should not have been a shock, but it had never clicked in my head that the need to rebuild virtually everything was another consequence of the war. We also were able to visit the Holocaust Memorial, which features hundreds of cement blocks of all different heights. As you walk between the blocks, they grow in height, leaving you feeling trapped and overwhelmed the farther you venture into the memorial. One interpretation that our tour guide offered us was that the blocks symbolize the organized terror that marked WW2. In the beginning of the war, or at the beginning of the memorial, you notice the blocks, but because they are small and you can still see an exit, you do not think much of them. However as you venture inside, the blocks grow, and an exit is not so easy to find. Eventually the blocks are so tall that you become disoriented and even a little lost, despite the fact that the blocks are organized in a logical, grid-like pattern. This is meant to symbolize how the Nazis were able to enact their terror during the war, as once people allowed them to get away with the “smaller” acts of hatred, their organized system grew until it was all encompassing. Our tour guide was great at pointing out and explaining the meaning behind the sights we saw, and gave us insight into the modern German mindset. She explained how younger generations are taught at a very young age about the atrocities that happened, and that the Germans have chosen to fully acknowledge everything that occurred. I think this is incredibly important and I applaud the modern German government in taking this path, as I believe it is now more than ever important to remember the past and to attempt to learn from past societal mistakes. In my head, I dubbed this day our “WW2 day,” and the next day in Berlin was our “Cold War day.” I feel stupid even admitting this, but I honestly had no idea how big of a part Berlin played during the Cold War. Of course I had heard of the Berlin Wall, but it never registered in my head that it was used to restrict as entire population of people from leaving or entering a section of the city. When we visited the East Gallery and some other sections of the wall, I was honestly a little shocked that I hadn’t learned about this in school, however it later dawned on me that this part of history is so recent that it might not even be written into text books yet. The Berlin wall was especially powerful in light of recent political events, and sections that had been painted with verses saying “NO MORE WALLS” in the 90s are conveniently very relevant again and sadly ironic. We visited Checkpoint Charlie and spent a few hours at the Topographies of Terror exhibit, learning about how the horrors of WW2 turned into the horrors of the Cold War. This could be the German in me, but I felt a little defensive for the city. Like couldn’t the whole Soviet-American face off during the Cold War have happened anywhere else other than Berlin, an already injured and depressed city? I will also admit that my inner history nerd was thriving during this weekend in Berlin, as there was so much to learn about and take in. You could barely walk to the local currywurst or bratwurst vendor without getting slapped in the face with some tidbit of history. Because of this, it might not have been the most over-the-top fun weekend of my life, but I thought it was very cool to stand in a city that hosted events that absolutely shaped the world we live in. While Ireland still has my heart, the history of Berlin along side the new modern vibes, great food, and fun people definitely made it my favorite trip thus far. EVEN THOUGH IT WAS SO FREAKING COLD, I MUST ADD. At one point I didn’t think my toes were going to make it through the weekend. Thankfully all ten were troopers and survived. It was around 20 degrees, which is actually really normal for February in Chicago, but as I have been spoiled and pampered with 50-60 degree weather in Madrid, it was absolutely necessary to complain during our three days spent in real winter temperatures.

While Berlin was obviously very insightful, I assure you that I also learned a thing or two in Morocco and Ireland as well! So here is the “I promise I’m actually learning while living it up in Europe for 5 months” list for the last three trips!
– In Morocco: 1) Arabic is written right to left, who knew?? 2) Morocco, while on the African continent, actually still receives snow. You can see it high up on the mountains while driving through the countryside. 3) Tangier is home to a Laughing Cow production factory. As such, I ate a ton of Laughing Cow cheese that weekend.
– In Ireland: 1) In Galeic, “crack” is synonymous with “fun” or “having a good time.” So for example, I can say that “I had so much crack in Ireland” without it meaning that I ingested really scary, bad drugs. Hence the title of the blog post. No need for concern or drug therapy. (Also if anyone brings up the title and does not know what it means, then I will know you did not read through this post entirely, and thus you will be exposed for being super fake and I will not like you anymore.) 2) St. Patrick was not from Ireland, but from Wales. 3) It take 119.5 seconds to properly pour a pint of Guinness. This was obviously the most important fact from the trip, and why I saved it for last.
– In Berlin: 1) While giving a speech in Berlin, JFK attempted to express empathy to the citizens and say something along the lines of “I am also a Berlin citizen.” Due to grammatical issues, he instead said “I am a jelly donut.” 2) Berlin has the second highest Turkish population outside of Turkey itself. As such food such as the “currywurst” have been popularized, something we can all be happy about. 3) The interior Reichstag, or main governmental building, is mostly made of glass so that citizens and visitors can observe their government while they meet and decide important government things. It is so open today because they messed things up so badly in the past, to say the least.

So I know I know I know it took me forever and a half to finally write this post, but I was obviously just building suspense. I like to keep the demand higher than the supply (can you guess my major???). But I do hope this was worth the wait, and thanks for reading everyone!

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