Adventure to the Sahara Desert

This past weekend in Spain we had a “puente” aka a long weekend, so therefore I decided I might as well use this time to get in one last trip before my year abroad is through. Living in Andalusia and being so close to Morocco, I decided it was finally time to venture to Africa for the first time!

I ended up going alone, since all friends were either traveling or otherwise busy so I found an excursion company that was going to Morocco for 5 days, but not just the northern cities, also the Sahara!!!

The friends I wound up making were incredible. People from all over the world came together to be on this trip: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hungary, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Australia and many more!! Spending so much time in a bus traveling would be unbearable without these amazing people.

Our first day we made our way to Fez, the oldest city in Morocco. I was instantly shocked by their culture. The way they dress and treat women there is COMPLETELY different, something I was definitely not expecting. Women weren’t seen much on the streets and wearing western style clothing made us all stick out like a sore thumb!

Walking through Fez was like watching Disney’s “Aladdin.” Small crowded streets filled with vendors trying to sell you things and making deals with you. Bartering is a must in Morocco! Shops were filled with handcrafted trinkets such as scarves, leather bags, shoes, ceramics and much much more. The shapes colors and quantities were overwhelming in the best sense of the word.

The following day we made our way to the desert, stopping on the way to see a kasbah or fortress which also held a koran school and the most beautiful handmade carpets and tapestries I’ve ever seen.

By the time we got to our hotel in the desert it was late, but we were greeted by Berbers, aka a nomadic tribe in the Sahara, and a typical drum circle.

The next day many of us took 4x4’s through the dunes of the desert, stopping by fossilized fish and shells that were embedded into where an ocean used to be but where the desert now resides.

Finally, it was time to pack our bags and hop on to some dromedaries to get to the tents we were going to be staying in while in the desert. Dromedaries are actually the proper name for a “camel” but with only one hump. The ride was AMAZING! Being lead into the dunes by Berbers while on dromedaries and being surrounded by nothing but sun, sand, and sky.

While on the dunes we did activities such as making sand angels, using a snowboard to surf down the dunes, and of course a spontaneous dance party. For dinner we had another traditional drum circle followed by amazing Moroccan food: various vegetable dishes, couscous and amazing traditional bread (there was meat too, but since I’m vegetarian I have no idea how it was).

That night we formed another drum circle high in the dunes and watched shooting stars. I was so captivated by the stars and the sand that a few of us, instead of sleeping in the tents decided to sleep under the stars of the Sahara. Never in my life would I have imagined doing something like this. This trip was so spontaneous for me that even a week before, I didn’t imagine myself going to Morocco let alone the SAHARA!

On the way back to Spain, we made a few stops, one including a park where monkeys run wild. We were even lucky enough to get to feed them nuts and seeds, they took them right out of our hands, they were so well behaved!

The next stop was to Asilah, a small fishing village in the north of Morocco. This quaint village is characterized by blue and white painted buildings, an ancient arch and an amazing view of the Atlantic ocean.

Needless to say, I did A LOT in these past five days. I never thought I would be going to Morocco let alone the SAHARA! This is truly a trip I will never forget.

Feeding monkeys in a forest

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Donkeys are basically used as cars here. We almost hit these two while on the 4x4 through the dunes.

Riding our dromedaries through the dunes!

Standing by 1/7 of the doors that lead to heaven at the King’s palace.

Relaxing by the dunes before our ride through the desert!

I’m a sucker for high viewpoints, this is overlooking Fez

They just wanted candy, I just wanted a high-five.

"How do they get the buildings to look so old…?" Finding home decor inspiration inside of a kasbah in Fez.

Becca Mincieli is a student at St. Joseph’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Becca is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.

Listography: Another Paris playlist

Inspired by Leah’s post earlier this semester, I decided to make my own playlist for Paris (even though she already named so many good songs, zut!). Activities during which you should listen to include: fast-walking through confused tourists in the Chatelet metro station, browsing the twenty-five different types of butter at the Carrefour dairy section, standing in line for the self-checkout of Gibert Joseph at the Sorbonne, and trying not to get hit by Mercedes taxis while biking on your Vélib’.

1. Camera Talk – Local Natives

2. Paris 2004 – Peter Bjorn & John

3. Airport Taxi Reception – Sondre Lerche

4. Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas) – Regina Spektor

5. The Party – St. Vincent

6. The French Open – Foals

7. Eau d’Bedroom Dancing – Le Tigre

8. French, I’m Faking – Architecture in Helsinki

9. Paris – Friendly Fires

10. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel

11. Une Année Sans Lumiere – Arcade Fire

12. Foux Du Fafa – Flight Of The Conchords

Here’s a link to listen on 8tracks. Profitez!

Marisa Benitez is a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

Listography: Euro trip

I don’t often find myself hankering to watch 90s cartoons, wear jelly shoes, or watch tapes via VCR. In fact, I really like 2014, and I don’t think I would go into the past if Doc Brown presented me with a time machine. But since being in Paris, I have to make a confession: sometimes I sit down on my bed, sigh, and think about how great it would be if I was studying abroad, it was 2001 again…when the U.S. dollar was stronger than the euro.

This is a completely illogical thought - capitalism does this to you sometimes – but when you spend five months in one of Europe’s most expensive cities, you spend five months there, and the currency exchange rate seems like a good enough scapegoat.

In honor of something called “financial responsibility,” here are some tips for getting the most out of your euro while in Paris.

- Learn to think in EUR. If you can’t, you have full permission to think in  U.S. dollar (or whatever your home currency is), and have a converter at hand at all times. Not learning the difference will make you and your bank account sad, especially if transactions show up in not-euros.

- Ahead of time: have a bank card that is nice to you. It should be said at this point that your money should be in a bank and not under your mattress or the small pocket your suitcase. And getting a card that uses that money without (1) charging international transaction fees and (2) charging ATM fees will help you out a lot in the long run. Quick tip: French bank ATMs don’t charge their own fees, so any fees are from your home bank.

- Get a wallet with a zip pocket. It’s very easy to have a lot of money in coins while you’re on the euro, so make sure you’re prepared to have somewhere to put them. Relying on a card slot or other not-zipped space will lead to lots of lost 2 euro coins, and you will also be sad!

- Get on your Mint, You Need A Budget, tons-of-bank-alerts game. Especially when you’re travelling and using your cards in a lot of (weird) places, you should have a watchful eye on them, or else “you’ll” be spending 350€ in Budapest while you’re in Seville. Oops.

In the spirit of not being sad, here are more various Paris-specific budget tips!

- Learn and commit to heart the translation of “Do you have a student ticket?”

- Drink café at the bar, not at la terrasse.

- Go to the Galleries Lafayette and Champs-Élysées for fashion inspiration; go to standalone stores for buying items.

- Ryanair, Easyjet, and Capitaine Train are your best friends even though they’ll do you wrong sometimes.

- Go during Happy Hour! side note: if the wine is cheaper than the water at a restaurant, you’re almost obligated to order it.

- Even though the French don’t use Yelp so much, decide if you’re on a $, $$, $$$, or $$$$ dinner budget and figure out a restaurant from there.

- Love your local marché for cheap produce!

Marisa Benitez is a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Paris, France.

How To Be The WORST Tourist Ever In 7 Easy Steps

To start off, many of us don’t realize the difference between being a tourist and a traveler. Normally we associate the term “tourist” with khaki shorts, socks and sandals and the inevitable Hawaiian shirt; and “traveler” has more of a backpacking, bug eating, sleeping on the floor type of connotation.

To my own experience, I can say I’m a pretty bad tourist, in fact, probably the worst tourist there is. But I can say that I have had a pretty great time traveling.

  1. Forget your map, or rather misplace it, or don’t have one to begin with. Instead, get REALLY lost and ask locals how to get to your destination (if you even have one at this point). Just wander aimlessly for hours until you know every street corner and can basically write your own map by hand.
  2. Have no game plan. I’m serious. Just go out there without any expectations and don’t look for anything but look at everything. Every sickeningly small little detail and embrace those small differences. If you’re in a city with a famous museums but hate museums, don’t go just to go! Find something you like that is cooler, theres definitely something else out there that you will enjoy more. For example, I LOVE foreign grocery stores and book stores (so what if I can’t read Hungarian? Or ingredients labels), I can wander around those bad boys for hours without getting bored! Make your own rules, follow the crowd if you want, make your own path, people watch; whatever you feel like doing!
  3. Put down the camera. I love when I walk into a museum that has a rule against photography. I’m not sure if its because the flash will really destroy the painting, or copyright restraints, but I personally like to pretend its because that museum officials are really museum people (you know, the type who genuinely enjoy standing in front of an obscure painting for hours before moving on to the next one) and understand that to appreciate what the museum has to offer you must be IN the museum! If you take a picture of the Mona Lisa you are not appreciating her in all of her majestic beauty, you are simply getting in the way of a thousand other people pushing through to take her picture, selfie or artsy instagram shot. Actually open your EYES and take in the majesty that is the museum and all of its splendor. A lot of the time the museum is just as amazing as the artwork inside of it.
  4. Talk to locals. This is something tourists never do, because there is no access to locals (besides a tour guide, but ehm. You’re paying them to). You find the coolest places this way and they aren’t replete with loud tourists.
  5. Don’t get anything stolen. You’re not a real tourist until something horrible happens like losing your wallet, or passport or fancy iPhone. So if you really want to be a tourist instead of a traveler I recommend putting these important items in your back pockets, open backpacks and sticking out of purses that do not close properly. (Disclaimer: in all honesty BE CAREFUL, don’t be an easy target)
  6. Go to small cities no one has ever heard of and find out what makes them cool. No one wants to hear about Utrecht or Braunschweig or Bratislava or Zagreb (what? Where are these places?!) Whelp they are some pretty cool places and the coolest places are the ones you find by accident so therefore they are AWESOME places.
  7. Take your time in a place and don’t just check it off a bucket list. Not to hate on bucket lists BUT, don’t rush through things just to say you’ve been there. You don’t have to see every statue, building, museum or monument. Don’t go to another country just to check it off the list. I can’t stress this enough, to be an absolutely horrible tourist its best to just figure it out as it goes go see things that truly interest you! Remember traveling is more about you than showing it off to friends at home!

Becca Mincieli is a student at St. Joseph’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Becca is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.

Praha

This past weekend I visited Prague through Bus2Alps. I went with my friends and roommates; we departed from Florence Thursday night at 9pm and got back at 9pm on Sunday. Florence and Prague are two very different cities. Florence exudes a culture of art history, while I honestly found Prague’s culture/identity a little difficult to figure out. Being in Prague I felt as if I were stepping into a fairytale because of all the architecture. I had a simultaneous feeling of stepping back in time because some of the bars and establishments in Prague, as well as the people, seemed very dated and underexposed as compared to many Italians and especially Americans.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Prague was its food. Because of Easter, Old Town Square was full of vendors and tents selling various goods, souvenirs, food and beer. Before climbing the clock tower, I got some hand cut potato chips. The bird’s eye view from the tower was great. Afterwards, I enjoyed a beer and a sausage in Old Town Square. 

My friend and I also went to the Tim Burton exhibit in Prague’s Stone Bell House. It was cool to see all of his sketches for movies that I am familiar with. The exhibit included some sketches he’d made on napkins. The exhibit was like seeing a peek at someone’s thoughts. Afterwards, I got a sausage and beer in Old Town Square.

One night for dinner I had a traditional Czech meal. Czech food includes sausages, smoked meats, meat skewers and apple desserts. I got smoked ham with red cabbage for lunch, and for dessert an apple strudel…delicious.

After visiting Prague, the rich culture of Florence was definitely even more apparent to me. I like that Florence has a very strong culture full of art history, food and architecture. One thing that did give Prague some sort of identity was the John Lennon Wall. The wall was started in the 80s as a reaction to the country’s communist leader at the time. People started writing John Lennon/peace inspired messages on the wall. Its paint is constantly changing, as are its images and messages.

Hanna Daboul is a student at UMass Amherst and an official API Student Blogger. Hanna is studying abroad with API in Florence, Italy.

Spring Has Sprung in Spain

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Although the weather has consistently been much better than the winter weather I am used to in Michigan, spring has certainly arrived in Sevilla. Throughout the month of March, the temperatures increased, the rain went away, and people began to spend more time outside. However, because it was not technically spring, the Spaniards still wore their parkas, scarves, tights, and boots: even on the day when it reached 88 degrees! Spaniards dress for the seasons, not the weather. When the first day of spring arrived, I was anxiously awaiting the difference in clothing that I had expected. However, even at the end of April, the women are still wearing sweaters and scarves, and certainly still wearing tights.

When packing for Spain, we were told that it is very uncommon to see people wearing shorts, even in the summer. However, I knew that towards the end of the semester it would certainly be necessary when the temperature would reach the 90s. The first day it reached a temperature where shorts were necessary, we were nervous. However, we saw some Spanish students wearing shorts as well, and found that the people who were spending more time outside were the ones who were dressed appropriately for the temperature. Therefore, although it’s uncommon, sometimes it’s necessary to dress the way you’re used to, even halfway across the world. Chances are, you will not be the only one!

Sarah Scheinholtz is a student at the University of Michigan and an official API Student Blogger. Sarah is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Olá Neighbor

Sóla tres horas. Three hours is all it takes to be completely immersed in a new culture, new language, and a completely new country. Only three hours separates Seville, Spain to the Atlantic paradise town of Lagos, Portugal.  

I was so fortunate enough to recently drive those three hours and see Portugal for my first time. Despite its proximity to Spain, Portugal is a country with its own zest and feel. Unlike Spain’s Costa del Sol along the Mediterranean, Portugal is situated entirely on the Atlantic Ocean, giving its coastline a unique flair. The landscape is a union of soft sand and serrated cliffs, merging with the multiple blue layers of water. It was refreshing to spend my weekend on the very familiar Atlantic Ocean, taking in the spring sun and breathing in the warm salty air.  

 To greater appreciate Portugal’s scenic coast, my friends and I took to the wind via sailboat. We sailed to the end of the bay and anchored along the ceaseless row of rock face ascending to the sky. Music played and iced tea was poured as we took in this unsurpassed seascape. In small groups, we were guided by boat through the grottos and were informed of the different rock formations. It was in this moment I was reminded of the importance of travel and just how awe-inspiring it truly is.  

We finished our boat cruise and made our way to a nearby beach. After consuming my first beef sandwich in over three months, I spent the remainder of the day relaxing on the warm sand and listening to the water lap onto the shore. Since tourist season hadn’t officially started, it appeared we had the beach to ourselves. Minus this little guy!! 

I was ready for an adventure on day two. Having never kayaked in my life, I thought why not give it a shot in Portugal? I perceive it would have gone more smoothly had the weather cooperated. The sun was veiled by overcast skies, the wind was harsh, and the water was choppy; but I was determined to make my kayaking debut. My friend and I struggled against the current while trying to maintain synchronization of our paddling. We were challenged by jutting rocks and big, unexpected waves. We may have been the last kayak to arrive on shore, but I am proud nonetheless. As the sun came out, the kayakers and I took a pit stop on a beach only reachable by boat. I explored the oceanic caves, seeing firsthand how the power of nature incredibly sculpted the rocks into works of art. Just stunning! 

The remainder of our afternoon was spent winding through the cobblestoned streets of downtown Lagos. The rich history was unmistakable throughout the city: stone walls, old churches, and colorful houses. Lagos is certainly a place like no other. While Portugal is often overshadowed by its bigger Spanish neighbor, my weekend abroad proved that good things really do come in small packages. Adeus Portugal e obrigado!

Marisa McCann is a student at Salve Regina University and an official API Student Blogger. Marisa is studying abroad with API in Seville, Spain.

Learning How To Cook A Traditional Spanish Dish

Last semester I decided to live with a host family, which was an amazing experience and I have nothing but love for the family that willingly took me in and taught me so much! However, this semester I wanted to challenge myself and look for an apartment in which I would only be speaking Spanish (no American-English speaking roommate) and living with other students my age. Although the search was difficult at first, it DEFINITELY paid off once I started to realize all the benefits of having my own apartment with the locals.

In my case, spending some quality time with my roomies means going to visit their family in Guadix, a city nearby Granada, and also learning how to cook a traditional Spanish dish: Tortilla Española. This dish is typically served for lunch and is about as commonly made here as scrambled eggs are back home. It’s extremely simple and easy once you get the hang of it.

1. Start off by gathering your ingredients. Eggs, potatoes, salt and olive oil. Also you will need two frying pans, a spatula, a wooden spoon and a plate that is slightly larger than the frying pans you are using.

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2. Heat the olive oil, there should be enough oil in the pan to completely cover the potatoes. While the oil is heating up, peel and chop the potatoes into small pieces. It doesn’t matter how big or small as long as they are around the same size.

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3. In a separate bowl crack eggs and whip together (as if making scrambled eggs) with salt.

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4. Let the potatoes cook for a bit while chopping up onions. Spaniards LOVE their onions, so they add a lot! Since onions cook faster than potatoes add them afterwards.

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5. Once the potatoes and onions have finished cooking, they should look something like the picture above.

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6. Using a spatula, scoop out the pieces of potato and onion and put them into the bowl of egg. (The spatula allows any excess oil to drain out).

7. Mix all of the ingredients together. Then add some oil to the second pan (it can be oil already used or new oil) and add the mixture to the second pan.

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8. Once the mixture is added, continue to stir until it feels as if the sides are sticking. Using the spatula or wooden spoon, press down the edges, thus helping to make the rounded shape of the edges.

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9. Once one side has cooked sufficiently, place the plate over the frying pan and flip the tortilla. Then allow the other side to cook (its okay if you’re not sure how to tell how long to cook each side, just remember slow and steady!). Once the other side has cooked (making sure the inside is not raw) serve with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

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Becca Mincieli is a student at St. Joseph’s College and an official API Student Blogger. Becca is studying abroad with API in Granada, Spain.