So Long, Boys!

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I'm taking a break from packing for my EuroTour! I'm so excited! I'll be flying to Amsterdam, and will work my way (by train) to Hamburg, Berlin, and Copenhagen. I'm hoping to finally get to use and brush up on some of my German, which has been sitting idle since GER 003 two springs ago. I've been to continental Europe before, but these 4 cities will all be new for me.

Since my last blog post, I've had a quiet Easter weekend. Most of us have been trickling off to go on holiday, but a few of my friends were still here last Saturday, so we enjoyed a wonderful day and had a picnic lunch at a park atop a hill overlooking Bath. And then on Sunday, I went to Bath Abbey for an Easter service that was sung by the outstanding girls and mens choirs. Stone cathedrals are definitely the place to hear choral works performed. They let us walk through the main West Doors. Usually, they're closed and the side doors are used.

So, I'm mostly writing this post as a what-to-expect because I won't be able to blog whilst in Europe; however, fear not - my trip is only 11 days, so it won't be terribly long before my next post, and I will definitely bring you photos and stories after a good night's rest following my return on a hopefully-before-midnight train.

The Boring Stuff I Remember Most

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Today was the last day of lecture. We'll have two weeks off for Easter, a week of revision (study week), and three weeks of exams. My exams only last a week and a half, so I'll be spending the last week in London. (But that trip is for another blog post.)

So much has happened in the past two weeks, it's all been rather surreal:
  1. I saw A Woman of No Importance at the Mission Theatre here in Bath. Oscar Wilde is one of my favourite authors, and I enjoyed hearing the actress who played Miss Hester attempt an American accent. It was pretty convincing, though I could tell a slight difference.
  2. A classmate from Penn State suddenly passed away. We were in the same year, same (double) major, and were both in Schreyer, so we saw each other often.
  3. We had our end-of-term international student party in Bristol.
  4. I went to Oxford with a group of friends (the morning after said party -- I was quite tired and slept on the outgoing train). We took a walking tour around the city and got to tour Christ Church (one of the most famous colleges in Oxford. In case you're not aware, Oxford is not a single university; it is a collection of smaller colleges).DSCF5863.JPGDSCF5880.JPGSome of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed or based off sites in Oxford (specifically the Bodleian--the main library--and Christ Church)!DSCF5892.JPGDSCF5902.JPGDSCF5913.JPG
  5. I booked an 11-day trip to Europe: Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, and Copenhagen. I'll be sure to blog about that!
  6. Thursday was the last day of lecture! (as I already mentioned.) I wrote my last essay for the 19th Century British Literature course (on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest), and I had a final Algorithms and Complexity lecture. Being the last day, a group of friends and I took an obligatory picture by (or on--don't ask why we wanted to sit on pointy rocks) the wall at the entrance to the University.DSC03635_1.JPGAnd I even took one with my Flat Lion.DSCF5958.JPG
  7. Also on Thursday was MusicSoc's Battle of the Bands. I was wearing my BWS T-shirt and was walking past this chap who stopped, stared at my shirt for a bit, and asked me if I was from Penn State. As it turns out, he studied abroad at Penn State last year! Small world! (Anyone meet a Stu from University of Bath?)

So, amid all this excitement, what is the boring stuff that I'll remember? Riding the bus up and down Bathwick hill, enduring rain, double-checking my spelling, drinking cider at a pub, having afternoon tea, seeing housemates in the kitchen every morning, jamming with guys I randomly met through MusicSoc, trying to understand thick accents, taking a train to somewhere new almost every weekend, living with the best people from New Zealand, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, (window) shopping at boutiques along the high street, walking beneath some of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, being a foreigner, putting vinegar on chips, calling French fries chips, calling soccer football, dialling 001 before US phone numbers, my dumb-phone with battery life measured in weeks, having a postcode with letters in it, saying "cheers", figuring out how to answer "all right?". Ok, so some of the things on this list may not sound boring, but they all became routine for me, and looking back and comparing it to my life back home, it's enlightening to see what I've adapted to and how much we have in common.

Cheers!

Bratislava

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(FYI: I will be adding pictures to go with the blog when my electronics start cooperating with me. Sorry.)

Last Sunday (April 6th), I took another day trip to Bratislava with a few other people. Bratislava is an interesting city; the main part of the city is very definitively split into two sections. On one side of the Danube, the lingering effects of the cold war are visible. When I climbed to the top of the UFO tower and looked out across the river, there were literally just miles and miles of socialist housing blocks. Some buildings were different colors, but other than that they were carbon copies of each other. However, on the other side of the Danube, the side with the Bratislavsky Hrad, the old town is visible along with individual homes. This side of the river is riddled with old homes and small cobblestone streets. The city has a lot of potential, and in other 20 years it could become another popular tourist destination in Europe.

Yet again, there wasn't really a set plan of what to do when we arrived. We decided that the first course of action should be obtaining a map of the city (It proved much more difficult, than it sounds). After we ate, because finding maps makes you hungry, we set off to find the blue church. The Church of St. Elizabeth, aka The Blue Church, is a Hungarian Secessionist church. It's called the Blue Church because it's literally blue. Like all of it, every part, is blue. Though that may sound like an eye sore, it is actually beautiful. It stands out even more too, because across the street is what looked to be an abandoned health or living facility of some sort.

Next, we walked along the Danube River back to Novy Most. There we split off for a bit; they went to check out a museum, while I headed up to the UFO tower. The view is incredible. We met back up, and started our hike up to Bratislasky Hrad (literal translation: Bratislava Castle). Unfortunately, it was slightly hazy farther out from the city center. The castle itself was a little basic in design, but still pretty neat. At this point, we were all exhausted from wondering around the city and made our way back to the bus station. All in all it was a good day trip from Vienna.

Ibiza, We-biza

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 I just got back from an exhausting but amazing weekend in Ibiza. Ibiza is a small island off the eastern coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea.  We planned this weekend through Tripbiza, which was a packaged deal that included hotels and parties all weekend. This was a trip that I had planned at the very beginning of my abroad experience and I was so excited for it to finally be here. I met some of my friends in Barcelona on Thursday night and we flew to Ibiza bright and early on Friday morning. The entire plane was study abroad students who were starting off their week long Spring Break with this weekend excursion. Even though I already had three weeks of break and have almost another two weeks in May to look forward to, I was a little jealous of every. On Sunday when it was all over, I had to come back to France and get ready for all of my exams, while everyone else was going to straight to Portugal for a week! I was just happy to be back with all my friends from school and relaxing by the pool. The party began after take off when someone decided to whip out speakers on the plane and start blasting Jay-Z. At that point it was 7:30 in the morning so I needed something to wake me up anyway.

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When we landed in Ibiza the weather was a little overcast but it was still warm enough for bikinis. After getting to the check-in point, I realized that this whole Tripbiza program was a little unorganized. They had over 500 study abroad students checking in at one time. It was complete chaos because everyone just wanted to put their things down and get to the pool. Luckily we got there early so we only had to wait about an hour before we were all settled into our room and ready to hit the beach. Ibiza is basically just a tourist destination. There was really nothing there except for hotels and resorts. Our trip was a little before the island was officially "open" so nothing was really going on except our program. While we were walking around trying to find a place to eat, we spotted a Burger King and figured we had hit the jackpot. We asked the woman who was sweeping outside when they opened and she told us "Monday".  Not the most ideal response, but in retrospect it was probably better that we didn't eat Burger King before a weekend of beach parties. We ended up just going to a local market and getting some snacks that ended up lasting us the entire weekend (great for my bank account!). 

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 We partied at the pool of the hotel all day. At night we had access to a club that had a dance floor that turned into a pool halfway through the night. Tripbiza provided us with transportation to and from the club, which was great because the club was a 30 minute drive from the hotel. For Saturday, there was a boat party scheduled, but it never ended up happening. There were three different boats, which were first come first serve. So obviously everyone was running down the beach, charging the boats and trying to get on the first one. They ended up kicking everyone off and telling us that no other boats were coming and the whole boat party was cancelled. In our defense, if they didn't make the boats "first come, first serve" I think the whole situation could have been avoided. I mean, what can you except from 500 study abroad students on spring break? We ended up just going back to the pool/beach area and having an awesome time. It would have been cool to be partying in the middle of the Mediterranean, though. 

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The weekend was just the craziness I needed after relaxing in Montpellier for the past three weeks after our Winter Break. And it was the perfect little taste of what is to come for Spring Break. We are planning on going to the Amalfi Coast! 

À bientôt

Listening to the Sound of Music

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(I did intend to release 4 blogs in 4 days, but I'm on spring break currently. The past three days I was getting everything for the trip organized/literally travelling to Croatia)

I'd just like to start by admitting I have never seen The Sound of Music... I never planned on going to Salzburg, but I ended up with a free weekend and decided that I should probably try to see more than one city in the country that I am staying in. And so, I decided that the free Saturday I had was a good enough reason to take a day trip to Salzburg.

The train ride was only 2 1/2 hours long and wasn't bad at all. It was a nice trip through the country side of Austria. When I arrived, I realized that I didn't really have any sort of plan on what I was going to do. I grabbed a free map from the tourist information kiosk in the train station and hopped on a tram to the old town section of Salzburg. At the stop I got off, I could see this massive old wall that extended to my right as far as I could see be for it turned left behind the mountain.  (See picture below, because that was a terrible description of how it looked. Also, this view of the wall is from Hohensalzburg Castle) 

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Anyway, I thought it would be fun to climb it, so I put the castle off for later in the day and made my way towards the wall. I would also like to point out that I was unaware of how long the wall was, and it took up a lot more time than I planned. I navigated my way through the streets until I found a sketchy little staircase leading upwards. I passed said staircase at first and continued along a street with a steep incline, only to realize that it was necessary to go up the staircase. After many, many steps, I reached the top of the wall and started my trek along the mountain following the path of the wall. I followed the wall all the way until it made a sharp left turn upwards. (reference the picture above for the distance I walked)

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(where I stopped walking...)
 
Once I got back off the hill/mountain, I made my way into the old town to find food. I found a cozy little restaurant next to a market and got wiener schnitzel. Next was to find a way up the other hill/mountain to get to Hohensalzburg Castle. After about 15 minutes, I found the gondola like thing to take me up. The view from the castle was pretty sweet, and there were a few displays inside the castle which were interesting. I explored the castle for about an hour and a half. By that point, I was exhausted from my psuedo-hike earlier and decided to call it a day. I grabbed a milkshake, and made my way back to the station around 6. For an impromptu trip, it was quite enjoyable (the train ticket was a bit pricey but whatevs).

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Amsterdam!

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The weeks leading up to the midterms were particularly stressful, and not just because of studying; I had a very important decision to make: Croatia or Amsterdam. The last midterms ended in the middle of the week giving me a 5 day weekend. Before coming to Europe, there were only two places that I 100% wanted to visit. I knew that I would have two long breaks also; the first one would fall after German intensive and the second would fall during spring break. However, I didn't think to plan my big trips properly and went to Italy during the intensive break (not that I'm disappointed about it). When the midterm break came up, it was the perfect solution to my Amsterdam/Croatia dilemma; seeing as how I couldn't do either in a weekend. I had decided that I'd go to Croatia during that break, but after a last minute decision I chose to go to Amsterdam instead. Enough about my dilemmas though, let's talk about the Dutch.

If I had to choose two adjectives to describe Amsterdam, they would have to be easy-going and rowdy. I know that sounds odd because it seems like those would be opposite words, but that isn't exactly true. This is why: The citizens of Amsterdam are easy going. They are friendly and willing to help if you ask. BUT the center of Amsterdam attracts many different characters. Specifically though, loud groups of British and Irish 20 something guys (surprising I know *sarcasm*). That being said, I didn't mind either trait. It made the city feel alive and welcoming.

I loved Amsterdam. I think a lot of it had to do with the similarities I drew between the city and my hometown. Amsterdam many canals were shadowed by tall, thin buildings that were characteristically Dutch. There weren't too many buildings that looked even remotely modern. The houses had huge windows with beautiful shutters; the canals were lined with all kinds of boat houses. The small shops were built into the Dutch style rather than the buildings accommodating the stores. Then, in the main tourist strips, it still didn't feel like it was consuming the city.


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I took a bus on Thursday and arrived Friday morning (longest ride of my life) and left on Sunday afternoon. I stayed at The Flying Pig Uptown for one night, and The Bulldog for the last two nights. Both are very well known hostels, but they were clean, comfy, and friendly. I covered all the basic landmarks and more. The Rijksmuseum was huge and I spent a solid 4 hours there. I ended up being more interested in the special exhibits though. They had this maritime display that had over a hundred different sized models of warships. I visited the Anne Frank house with a couple other people from my program on the last day. The space that the family hid in was actually larger than I imagined. That isn't to say that it was a comfortable living space for 8 people. I walked around Jordaan and the Albert Cuyp Market and the Red Light District. I also visited The Hermitage (which is based off the one in Russia), which had an awesome exhibit about the Silk Road. Also, the Dutch know how to do pancakes and fries (not together). They are delicious and perfect and crispy and awesome.


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All in all, the trip was fantastic. There wasn't too much to tell about where I went, because I only visited a few museums. I spent a lot of the time walking around the different neighborhoods, and taking pictures of graffiti and bridges. Regardless, I loved Amsterdam and it made me feel like I was back at home again.


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3/21/14. First day back from break. Actually that was yesterday, but I slept from breakfast time until well after the sun went down, so it kind of feels like that entire day never happened. Today is the first day back to school. Break was an experience unlike any I've had.

I, in the company of three individuals from my study abroad program, bounced from Montpellier to Barcelona, Dublin, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and finally, Lyon. I must say that all of this was truly as incredible as it sounds. If I were to rank-order my preferences, it would look something like this: 1) London 2) Barcelona, Lyon, & Dublin tie for second place 3) Berlin.

London is a brilliant place. It feels a lot like home, (Bryn Mawr, PA), but in the form of a big, refined city. Everyone that I encountered was kind, helpful, and warm. The shopping scene was perfect. Healthy food is literally available everywhere, and the Whole Foods in downtown Kensington is a magical metropolis. Definitely booking future voyages to the mother country.

I found Barcelona and Lyon to be rather similar; perhaps this is because they're not too far apart geographically (although Montpellier is closer...) In any case- the food, people, and weather were lovely in both places. The architecture was remarkable, with each part of town more ornate than the last. Especially in Spain- I'm a sucker for mosaics.

The Irish have a reputation for being nice. But one cannot understand quite how kind, how welcoming they really are without actually visiting the country. I barely noticed the cold, dark weather in Dublin, because the people were so cheery that their good spirits overshadowed all of the chilly winds and dark clouds.

My first and last trip to Berlin was, well, interesting. The area is cold and dark, the architecture unremarkable except for a few landmarks. Even the Berlin Wall was shockingly unimpressive, covered in profanity and explicit graffiti. All of the food that I consumed there was subpar, even the coffee at Starbucks tasted weird once I put milk in it (mistake).

It should be known that horrifying majorities of the people wear sneakers with jeans, and in such an urban area no less. The only upside to this is that I was not obviously distinguishable as a tourist while wearing my leggings and sneakers, but the fashion genocide did not go unnoticed.

Speaking of genocide, we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. I was disappointed by the framed displays arguably glorifying Nazi leaders (as individuals, not for their conquests,) but I found it to be inappropriate nonetheless. Also, quotes in the museum such as, "Concentration camps in Germany contributed only indirectly to the genocide," attempted to displace blame in a way that is utterly inexcusable.

Political demonstrations downtown made the group that I was travelling with and I rather nervous, but not as nervous as we were in the airport! The experience was needlessly stressful and severe.

Back in Montpellier now; with eight weeks to go until I return to the States.


I'll be writing,

RJB

 

Delays and Midterms

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Wow, so my last blog entry was almost a whole month ago. Oops. Long story short, I had midterms after my Alps trip and kind of put off the blog...then I forgot about it. Now, one month later, I feel like an idiot. As a result, I will be posting four blogs in the next four days. So let's get into what I've been doing for the past month.

Midterms, ugh. They are the worst, and I think I can say with confidence that nobody likes them. Taking midterms in Europe is a different experience than in America. To start off, only one of my tests had "short answers" and even then, they were paragraph long short answers. Every test was structured in an essay format. It wasn't fun. The German test was difficult, but there weren't too many surprises. One thing I noticed that was very different was the preparation leading up to the tests. A couple teachers gave us a paper that had the topics we should study. The other two (excluding German) didn't tell the class anything really. For my history class, she gave us a timeline sheet of important dates and told us that we should just reread everything; also, not to worry about anything we learned on our excursions (nearly every Wednesday we go to a museum or landmark). It wasn't much to go on. Now my psychoanalysis class, that was on a whole other level of non-preparation.  Not only had he not really given us much to take note on in class, but didn't tell us anything that could be on the test. (There is a long winded reason for the lack of notes, but it will lead to me going into a very pleasant rant about the class. To be clear: Psychoanalysis class= nicht gut) Actually, we went on a trip to the Freud House museum, and he had mentioned that there would be a couple questions on the midterm about it. I guess he did technically give us a miniscule insight about a couple questions on the test. All in all, it was characteristic of how the class had been so far, but that still didn't make it fair.

I have gotten my test results back for all classes. I did well enough on my tests, so I won't complain (too much). Now that I know the finals are going to be set up the same as the midterms, I can better prepare for them. I unquestionably like the way we do midterms, and the preparation for them, better in the US than here. Granted, I do realize that it's just a cultural difference and respect that.

Tomorrow's blog: My trip to Amsterdam

Greetings, from Босна и Херцеговина!

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I finished Finals in December and my program didn't begin until March 4. With all that free time, I decided to do what any logical and self-respecting person would do:

I went to Bosnia.

My first welcome into Bosnia was on-board the barely functional flight from Belgrade to Banja Luka, in Bosnia, where I was treated to a delicious lunch of bread, dried meat, and sour cream -- the 3 essential vitamins. After surviving, which I wasn't sure I would, we were ushered through Bosnian customs, which I believe doubled for someone's garage.

From there, my uncle drove me to the home he shares with my grandparents, and for the next 3 weeks, I got to live like a Bosnian. Here are some of the sights you see as you pull into my grandparents' propertyIMG_0054.jpg:
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Not pictured are the chickens. Chickens are everywhere in the country. At first it was cool. The first time I woke up to the cuckooing of a chicken was really fun, since I've never woken up to that before. That lost its authenticity really quickly.

My family also took me around the country, to see some local attractions.

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This is a local ski resort/hiking trail. Due to the unseasonably warm weather there was no snow. Look at the architecture! I find that building to be really cool, and also beautiful inside! But I didn't take pictures of the inside, for fear of looking like a tourist (which they don't get many of in Bosnia so that would have turned some heads).

Next my aunt took me to Banja Vrucica, a multi-million euro spa resort for people suffering or recovering from cardiovascular diseases.

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Only problem is half the country is in Cyrillic, so I had to learn a bit of Cyrillic:

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I went to Bosnia to see my family, not to sight-see. Truth be told, however, there aren't too many touristy sights in the country. Bosnia doesn't have money to rebuild after the war like Germany, nor does it have money to build grand palaces, museums, and attractions like most developed countries.

That's not to say there's nothing in Bosnia. The experience lies not in museum tours and sight-seeing, but in walking down the streets, talking to people, and actually experiencing the culture. I got a better view of the country's history, culture, and mentality from speaking with my family and walking around than I ever would have in a museum.

I mean, Bosnia may be ailing, but it's a beautiful country:

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I mean no disrespect to my family, but I am very happy I live in America. I have so many opportunities in America than my family has in Bosnia, the most important and potent of them being my education. I think we have a tendency to forget how lucky we are to be receiving the education we are; this is hardly an opportunity for most people around the world.

But there is one opportunity in America that is severely lacking:

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Cevapi should not be so difficult to come by in the US. Also, Fanta Shockata is the best soda ever, and I've only ever seen it in Bosnia. These are Banja Luka style cevapi, by the way.

Banja Luka is the second biggest city in Bosnia. Population: 200,000.

Well, I'm currently in Berlin and have been for a month, so I'll be posting about that soon!

Bis später!

An overdue post...

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Halfway through this roller coaster ride and I'm getting the typical thought of "How is this almost over?" I really can't believe how much has changed since I first arrived. The weather has gotten exponentially nicer, my Spanish has gotten exponentially better, and I've gotten exponentially closer with all of my new friends and family here. I absolutely miss everyone at home but I battled through a little homesickness when my real family came to visit and have a few trips ahead where I'll get to see even more of the people that I miss from my real life.

 

Since my last post, I've taken two more trips to Granada, two trips to Cordoba, a day trip to Ronda, a weekend in Barcelona, and celebrated Carnaval in Cadiz. Wow, I love Spain. I've fallen in love with the free tapas of Granada, the amazing monuments of La Mezquita in Cordoba and La Alhambra in Granada, and I've seen more men than I could ever want to see dressed as drags in Cadiz for Carnaval. I'm incredibly, incredibly blessed to be here right now.

 

As I type, I'm fighting off the muscle memory of putting a "y" where an "and" should go and putting my hands through my Spanish sideburns that decided they would start growing in Europe (who knew?). The clock is winding down on my time here and I'm finally starting to realize how much I'm going to miss this place. Sure, the optional afternoon naps are great, but I'm going to miss the people and the culture most of all. My host family has been truly amazing and wonderful in every way and I'm really annoying when I describe them to people but I can't help it. I'm waiting for my host sister to come home from Brussels so that we can go to my host family's house in the Sierra Nevada to celebrate her birthday this weekend. As this will be my last weekend in Spain for a while, I'm glad that I'm going to be enjoying a peaceful one with them.

 

So where am I headed? This coming Thursday I depart for the Amalfi Coast of Italy with a helluva lot of my friends to kick-off Spring Break/Semana Santa where I'll be off from classes 4/10 - 4/20. I will spend three days there before spending three more days in Rome. After Rome, I'm headed to Florence and then on to Venice for a day trip. I'm capping off the trip with an overnight stay in Pisa where I'll be flying out on a cheap Ryan Air flight back to Seville to catch Easter in my city. After my final full week of classes (what?!), I'm headed to Lagos, Portugal with a bunch of my buddies here and my great friends, Chris and Kelsey, from school. Then, I will undertake some finals before heading off to my last trip to Munich, Germany for Springfest! I will return that following Sunday to spend my last five days here in Seville, enjoying Feria before flying home on May 9th. I love life.

 

Hopefully I'll be able to post a few more blogs before I head home. Hope everyone is healthy and well and cannot wait to talk your ear off with more stories when I get back! Hasta Luego hombres


P.S. I apologize there aren't any pictures. It's the biggest pain in the butt to upload any on the blog site I use. Check out my Facebook albums for more. If anyone reading this isn't friends with me, feel free to friend Daniel Marr and I'd love to talk to you about Seville and show you some surreal pics. 

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