Europe: 2017

Last week I returned home after spending about 12 days in Europe. I’m still not sure how or why I have been blessed with two back-to-back European trips, but I have seen, felt, and experienced so many beautiful places and people over the past year and a half and I am extremely grateful.

My cousin Leah and I graduated high school back in May. We were promised graduation trips by both our grandpa and our uncle, with the only stipulations being we had to agree on a location for the trip (obviously). We discussed the matter very seriously amongst ourselves and decided to do a European river cruise.

The idea was that a river cruise would be able to show us the largest amount of countries in the shortest amount of time, but would operate as our home base every night. Every day we would wake up in a different city, but we wouldn’t have to unpack and repack 15 million times. We ended up picking a Danube River cruise that would take us through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany and then we added Paris onto the end of the trip.

Before I get into the post any farther, I just want to take a minute to thank my grandpa and my uncle for this amazing trip. I realize that not many teenagers get to take a trip like this, and I truly feel lucky and blessed to have a wonderful family that supports me and recognizes my accomplishments. I also feel lucky and blessed to have a family that has the means to make this trip happen.

Hungary

Day 1: Budapest

Today, after flying from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to London, we finally landed in Budapest. A driver took us from the airport to our hotel, which sat right next to the famous Chain Bridge. After unpacking our bags and changing, we headed out into town to get dinner.

Dinner was at a restaurant recommend by one of Uncle Jon’s friends and it was incredible (looking back I think it was the best meal I had on the trip, and that’s saying a lot). Located in a typical European alley, the restaurant had a quaint feel and a wonderful menu. I ordered steak, which is very unusual for me, and loved it. I took pictures of everything we ate that night and will make sure they are posted below. On top of the wonderful food, our waiter was cute and that’s always a plus.

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Leah’s beet risotto with fish and prawns. July 30, 2017

After dinner we went back to the hotel and crashed, hoping to get ahead of the jet lag enough to be ready for the full day ahead of us.

Day 2: Budapest

Today was all about exploring Budapest. We enjoyed a very filling 2 hour breakfast at the hotel, then lugged our suitcases to the dock so they could be put on our ship (we were leaving Budapest that night). We then began our adventure on the hop-on hop-off city tour buses.

While on the bus, we saw a lot of interesting places, but we went by very quickly and only got a few explanations of what everything was. Eventually the sun and heat were too much and we had to get off to stop at a cafe and get water. We then hopped back onto the wrong bus and had to get off and find a cab to take us in the right direction. The cab was tiny and I had to ride on my Grandpa’s lap all the way up the hill to the citadel sitting above the city.

The view from the citadel was breathtaking. We could see both Buda and Pest (fun fact: they are technically separate because the river cuts through them) and our ship on the river. On the way back to the ship we sat in the same tiny cab and Leah had to sit on my lap. Two Hungarian men pulled up beside us, laughed when they saw us, and tried to talk to us. None of us knew Hungarian, but our cab driver wouldn’t repeat what they said so it was probably a good thing.

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Our view of the city from the citadel. Our ship is on the left. July 31, 2017

We checked in at the ship and explored our beautiful, mobile home for the next week before going to the chef’s dinner. Everything was delicious and there were a lot of combinations that were unexpected, but surprisingly good. We sailed out of Budapest that night and went to the top deck to see everything along the water lit up. It was gorgeous.

Our time in Budapest was very rushed and we weren’t able to see or learn about the majority of the city, so I would definitely love to go back eventually and take the time to explore everything.

Slovakia

Day 3: Bratislava

This morning we hung out on the boat since we didn’t dock in Bratislava until 3 pm. I ran and worked out and watched as the boat went through the largest lock on the Danube. I don’t quite understand how locks work, but sitting on the boat and watching it go up or down because the water level is changing is pretty interesting.

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, has had many different names throughout history, and was a place I had never heard of before deciding to take this trip. It is now one of my favorite cities. Leah and I went on the castle “hike” (it was more of an uphill walk) after we docked and got to see the church where Maria Theresa was coronated. I quickly realized that Maria Theresa and her daughter Marie Antionette would be focal points of the entire trip, which was fine because girl power, right? We “hiked” up to the castle where Maria Theresa’s favorite daughter (not Marie Antionette) lived and were able to see Slovakia, Hungary and Austria all at the same time from the top.

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Our view from the castle in Bratislava. August 1, 2017

After the castle visit, we walked through Old Town, a charming city center that looks and feels like one would picture Europe to look and feel like. We went to a restaurant our cruise manager Martina recommended for dinner and I had onion soup and a potato pancake filled with meat. Leah and I walked around after dinner and went to a really fun, famous ice cream shop where the servers throw the ice cream around, do tricks, and joke with the customers. The city center was full, but still quiet and relaxed and we felt very safe. It was a very welcoming atmosphere.

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Leah and I in Old Town, Bratislava. August 1, 2017

I really enjoyed Bratislava and can’t wait to visit again. Because it is only 1 hour from Budapest in one direction, and 1 hour from Vienna in the other, it is the perfect place to stay.

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España: Verano 2016

This is my last blog post about Spain! Today is June 27, and tomorrow is the one year anniversary since we left Spain and got back to the states. This trip was the trip of a lifetime and I not only became more confident in myself and my Spanish speaking skills, but I learned so much about a culture so different from mine and made lifelong friends along the way. I will be forever grateful for everything I experienced on this trip and I will always look back on it with love and fond memories.

So here it is, finally, my last post about Spain:

Madrid

Dia Trece: Madrid

Hoy es mi último día en España. We hung out around the house in the morning waiting for Gary to get up (he was trying to sleep off jet lag). Once he woke up we headed downtown to go shopping for traditional Spanish shoes for me and gifts for my friends. We had a great time walking through the stores and browsing. After shopping for a few hours and finding a lot of cute gifts, we headed back to the apartment to watch the Spain vs. Italy game in the Euro Cup. Even though Spain lost we had a lot of fun watching because everyone had so much passion and Perla brought us authentic snacks and Fanta Límon to have during the game (again, she’s a saint).

We had a large dinner because it was Gary’s first dinner in Spain and it was the perfect ending to my trip, as well as the perfect beginning to his. We had gazpacho, smoked salmon and more. After dinner I had to pack and it was a complete nightmare, but I did manage to get everything in. I am going to bed at 1 am and have to get up at 5:30 am to catch the bus to the airport so I’m sure I will be exhausted tomorrow!

Dia Catorce: Madrid to EEUU

Today is the day I left one of my favorite places in the world. I woke up at 5:30 and got ready to go back to the Real Madrid stadium to meet up with the rest of Live N’ Learn and catch the bus to the airport. Saying goodbye to the Lara Rey family was really hard because they have become family to me, and I can’t thank them enough for everything they did for me. I’m pretty sure I had the best host family out of everyone and I loved getting to know them and being a part of their lives. Hopefully I will see them again soon!

The Madrid airport was huge, but luckily we found our way pretty easily and had time to relax at the gate. The plane ride to Atlanta was long but exciting because we were all ready to be back on American soil. When we got to Atlanta we were so happy to be around English speakers! We all kept saying “gracias” and “pardon” out of habit but we laughed and bonded even more as a group. We had an eight hour layover so we said goodbye to the Denver kids and headed to TGI Friday’s for “American” food. Our little family dinner was nice and I had a BBQ Chicken Burger which was so good!

After dinner we all rested until our flight (most of us were going on 24 hours of being awake) and waited anxiously to board and head to Cincinnati. Our flight was delayed almost and hour but we finally boarded and got going on our way. We played a loud game of “Go Fish!” in the beginning (to the annoyance of our fellow passengers) and then slept the rest of the way. We got into Cincy around 1 am and it was a relief to see my parents and be back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone, but luckily we all live close enough that getting together in the future won’t be hard.

I got home, went to bed, got up the next morning, jumped in the car, and drove all the way to Maine with my family. I didn’t have a lot of time to recuperate in between trips, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s one adventure after another and I can’t wait to see where I go next!

P.S. I’m going to Europe again this summer and I’m planning to blog again, so be on the look out for that and hopefully it won’t take me an entire year to document the trip this time!

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España: Verano 2016

This is my second to last post so let’s get right into it!

Madrid

Dia Once: Madrid to Las Montañas

Today we toured Estadio Santiago Bernabéu before heading to the mountains. The stadium is in downtown Madrid and is where Real Madrid plays. As an American, I don’t see many stadiums dedicated to soccer only, so this was a very special experience for me and one of my favorite things I did on the trip. The stadium was open for self-guided tours that included a panoramic view from the top, a walk through three separate rooms filled with trophies, gear and history, photo opportunities with trophies and photo-shopped-in players (I have a picture with Sergio Ramos!), a walk through the locker rooms, and a walk onto the field to sit on the benches. It was truly an amazing to walk through a stadium that houses one of the best clubs in the world.

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Down on the field at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. June 25, 2016

After the tour Perla, Javier (Carmen’s padre), Javi and Coco picked me and Carmen up and we headed to their abuelo’s house in las montañas. The house was very big with a pool and a large yard. The temperature is on average 7 degrees Celsius lower in the mountains than the city (according to Perla) and this really made the house a nice escape from the heat. Their abuelo was harder to understand because of his strong accent, but he was very kind and sweet. For lunch we had a traditional flan and it was different from what I was expecting, but still very good! We swam in the pool, played cards and watched Portugal beat Croatia in the Euro Cup. For dinner we had gazpacho and A LOT of jamón (their abuelo owns a butcher/meat shop) and the cookies and Betty Crocker cake I brought for them. They loved it!

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Playing cards again (Javi is very focused)! June 25, 2016

After dinner we were able to get a little wifi, and it was nice to lay down and reconnect for a little bit (Carmen and Javi didn’t have service either so we all crashed in one room to share our social media posts and what we missed out on for the half-day we didn’t have wifi). It was a nice vacation away from my vacation!

Dia Doce: Las Montañas to Madrid

Today we slept in and had churros for breakfast (they were awesome). We hung out all morning and I was able to shower, read, write, and listen to music before lunch. Lunch was one of the best meals I had while in Spain. Perla found out that paella was my favorite Spanish meal and decided to make it for me (I’m not kidding when I say she is a saint)! They let me eat almost all of the shrimp and kept feeding it to me, but of course I didn’t mind! It was sooooo good, better than the restaurant. After lunch we hung out more and packed to head back into the city for the fiesta we had with the entire Live N’ Learn group!

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Me, Carmen’s abuelo, and Carmen with the paella Perla made. June 26, 2016

We showed up early and Eduardo met us at the bar, so we played cards again while we waited for everyone else to show up. Once everyone got there we had a great time! Everyone loved Javi and his dance moves (he even got me to dance) and Carmen was able to meet some of the Spanish girls she would be traveling with when she went to America later in the summer. It was so nice to see everyone again before our long trip home.

We had jamón sandwiches for dinner and just relaxed after the fiesta. We all were excited to meet Gary (Javi’s exchange student from Boston) the next day! Today was my last day of being the only American in the house!

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España: Verano 2016

Ok, my goal of posting everything by June 28 is rapidly approaching and I still have a decent amount of posts to write, so I’m really waiting until the last minute and would like to apologize in advance for the frequent posting that will be happening this week. Now back to my adventures in Madrid!

Madrid

Dia Nueve: Madrid

Today we went to Parque del Retiro to meet back up with the Live N’ Learn group and row boats on the “lake” in the center of the park. The park was beautiful and it was nice to speak English (only a little bit!) and see my American friends. Carmen and Javi met Tori and absolutely loved her and we were all sad when it was time to go. (On a side note- Tommy_boy2020 was in full attack mode the entire boat ride and we had a lot of fun screaming, trying to row away from him and not get splashed, and splashing him back.) When we left, we went and had lunch at Carmen and Javi’s grandfather’s very nice restaurant, Domingo 1920. On the way to the restaurant a group of guys stopped me on the street because they recognized my Citadel baseball cap and told me they were cadets. It was so cool to be able to make that connection halfway around the world.

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On our row boat at Parque del Retiro before we got into a splashing battle. June 23, 2016

After lunch the entire Lara Rey family had to go renew their passports so I hung out at the house by myself for about an hour and had another nice break from all the Spanish. As proud as I was with myself for trying to stick to Spanish, it could become mentally exhausting and taking breaks to sleep or read the news on my phone in English was a great way to recharge.

When the family returned, we went to a pueblo right outside of the city to attend their cousins primary school graduation. Juanpe (Juan Pablo) and Zara were so cute and the ceremony was very interesting but long. It was pretty religious (Catholic) and I didn’t understand very much of what was being said and what the protocol for those events was. During the card game Carmen and Javi taught me a Spanish card game that I was actually good at (although I sadly don’t remember the rules now) and we had fun passing the time on a picnic blanket to the side of the ceremony.

After the ceremony we went to Perla’s younger sister’s apartment and and went to the pool. I’m not a huge fan of the pool, but it was fun and I had a good time. Juanpe actually found a snail in the grass and decided to keep it as a pet until he stepped on it by accident and killed it, so the day was full of me asking him questions about his caracol and then trying not to laugh at the silliness of the entire situation.

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From left to right: Carmen’s Tia, me, Juanpe, Carmen, Carmen’s abuela. June 23, 2016

When we got home we had grilled squid for dinner and it was amazing!! I felt a little homesick this day, which isn’t like me at all, and I hoped it would go away in the coming days so I could enjoy every day to the fullest. Day 2 with the Lara Reys was a success!

Dia Diez: Madrid

Today we went to the Reína Sofía art museum. The museum is famous for having a lot of Picasso paintings and it was insane. The exhibits were all so large and the topics of the exhibits covered such a wide range of ideas and time periods. A few of the exhibits were about the history of Spain and how the art changed and was influenced by the events of the time. I really enjoyed these exhibits in particular because they gave me more background into the history of the entire country, which I was not, and still am not very familiar with. I also met Carmen’s boyfriend Eduardo (Edu for short) and he was very nice and easy to hang out with!

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One of my favorite paintings from la Reína Sofía. June 24, 2016

After the museum we went back to the apartment for lunch and rested before we went to go see Finding Dory (Buscando Dory) in Spanish! The movie was very good, and even though I didn’t understand a lot of the Spanish, I was able to grasp onto a lot of it because I have seen Finding Nemo. Javi really want to see the movie because he loves Finding Nemo and American movies in general, so he was very excited and invited some friends to join us. It was nice to meet even more Spaniards and to have a little group to hangout with.

After the movie we all went to McDonalds and I got a caramel and praline McFlurry that was really good. I’m pretty sure we don’t have that combination at American McDonalds, and besides the difference in McFlurry flavors, the entire menu was pretty different so I enjoyed trying to read it and see what sounded good and what didn’t (they had a lot more fish on this menu then we are used to seeing). For dinner we had pizza, which was fun because we eat that a lot at home and it was nice to see that pizza seems to be the universal dish in people’s homes. Day 3 was great and made me realize how blessed I was to have such a great family!

P.S. I forgot to mention that the Lara Reys live close to the bullfighting ring, so we stopped by there on our way to the museum and, even though I don’t like what it stands for, it is a beautiful stadium. I’ll have pictures of that in the gallery too!

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España: Verano 2016

We are finally into Week 2! This week is where I lived with my host family in Madrid and spoke almost completely in Spanish. Week 2 was challenging in many different ways, but I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to share it with you.

Madrid

Dia Siete: Granada to Madrid

I was sad to leave Granada, but I know I will be back at some point. We all hopped back onto the bus and drove about an hour to Jaén to tour an olive oil plantation and factory. I’m not even going to try to explain the detailed process of making olive oil, so I will just say they our tour guide was very passionate and the tour was interesting, even though it was extremely hot outside. We were able to try some of the famous olive oil, and it was so good that I had to buy a few bottles to bring home. I was starting to wonder how I would get everything in my suitcase!

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An olive tree in Jaén. June 21, 2016

Next, we drove a short fifteen minutes to a tiny town in the mountains for lunch. The chef at the restaurant we ate at is very famous and has worked at many well-known places around the world, but decided to come back and cook in his hometown. The food was amazing. I had ox tail, which tastes very similar to a beef roast or beef stew. After meeting the chef, we set off on our journey to Madrid with full stomachs.

We were all so nervous when we got to Madrid. It was both exciting and terrifying to meet my host family for the first time. Luckily, they are so so nice and really challenged me by speaking almost exclusively in Spanish (even though they are very good English speakers). Looking back, even though it was hard to speak so much Spanish, I’m really glad they pushed me and had faith in me because it is exactly what I needed to grow more as a Spanish speaker and person.

The first night was a little bit awkward, but they really liked all of the presents I brought for them and we had a wonderful family dinner. Also, I met their dog Coco, a tiny Yorkie, and he was so cute and sweet! I knew it would be hard to be away from my American friends all week, but I also knew that I would have a great week, full of memories I will never forget!

Dia Ocho: Madrid

Today was my first full day with the Lara-Rey family. They were awesome and let me sleep in and when I woke up Carmen (my host sister) was still sleeping! When she got up she was so nice and made breakfast for me! We had freshly squeezed orange juice (Carmen and Javi were shocked that we don’t make fresh juice everyday in the states) and had a really good tomato jam on toast. I needed to be back at the apartment at one to meet up with old family friends (who I’ll explain about later), so we headed out to visit the four tallest towers in Madrid.

We took the subway, which was a little intimidating at first, but Perla (my host mom) was so mice and bought me ten passes and I became fairly comfortable on it as we continued to use it throughout the week. The four buildings are all grouped together and, if I understood Carmen and Javi correctly, two are office buildings, one is a hotel, and one is an embassy. We tried to go to the top of the hotel and the embassy to look out over Madrid but we were blocked. Instead of moping around we headed for the Starbucks across the street for a few mini-frappachinos.

Carmen then had to go back into school to get her final report card, so Javi was going to take me back to the apartment to meet with my friends for lunch. We walked away from the metro station we had used to get to the buildings in the first place and attempted to find a bus station. I think. We never found the station and ended up walking through random parking lots until Javi decided that going back to the original metro station was the best idea. He was really sorry about the whole thing but I didn’t mind because it gave us the chance to have a nice conversation and get to know each other. It was really nice to not have cell service on this trip because it forced me to be more in the moment. And, when I do have WiFi in my downtime, it’s more meaningful and relaxing.

When Javi and I got back to the apartment Victoriano called.

Backstory: Victoriano and Isabelle Lopez-Pinto (or Nano and Titabel as I call them) are old family friends that are from Madrid and still live in Madrid. They are my grandparents age, and when their daughter Isabelle stayed with a host family in America about thirty years ago, she stayed with my mom and my grandparents in Boston. Our families have kept in touch all of these years later, and when they found out I was going to be in Madrid they wanted to meet up with me and invited me to their house for lunch. I had never meet them before.

When Nano called I could not understand his Spanish for the life of me, so I put him on speaker phone and had Javi translate everything to me in English. This made me even more nervous to meet them for the first time because they don’t speak a lot of English and I wasn’t sure I would be able to understand them. They have very strong accents (as many older Spaniards do) and it was not something I was used to.

Luckily their son Antonio and his daughters Carmen (16) and Elena (8) came to pick me up and Antonio and Carmen both speak English. Carmen was actually leaving a few days after our lunch for Boston to stay with an old friend of my moms and go to camp. They were very nice and made me feel much more comfortable with the entire situation.

I would also like to add that Perla is a saint and is the one who set up the entire lunch for me, even though her family doesn’t know the Lopez-Pintos. I could not have asked for a better host mom or family.

By the time we got to Nano and Titabel’s house I felt much better. Their house was beautiful! It was in an older neighborhood of the city and had a front yard, library, huge kitchen, and everything! And they were so incredibly nice! Antonio and Carmen helped translate and we talked about how I was going to visit my Mammy and Papa (my mom’s parents, who the Lopez-Pintos know) for their 50th wedding anniversary and how Nano and Titabel had just celebrated their 50th the past year. We had a delicious, home cooked lunch, and then they showed me pictures of their family and of my mom when she came to visit them in Mallorca as a teenager. I also showed them where Cincy and Boston are on a map and they were in shock at how far away all of the cities in the states are!

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From left to right: Carmen, Nano, me, Titabel, and Elena at their house. June 22, 2016

They also gave me a bottle of wine from their vineyard with a silhouette of their daughter Isabelle. Isabelle was friends with my mom and passed away many years ago. It was a very touching present. We also took pictures together before I left. I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to such a nice family. It was so special to be able to meet with them and I am so glad I did, even though I was very nervous.

When I got back to the Lara-Rey residence, we decided to go see the palace. We took the bus to get there and I was amazed by the palaces size and beauty. We couldn’t go in because the tours were already done for the day, but seeing it was still amazing. We also saw the cathedral and it was absolutely beautiful! Next, we headed to the Corte Ingles (giant supermarket/Macy’s combo store) and went to the top floor to get a beautiful view of the city at sunset.

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Me and Carmen at the palace. June 22, 2016

For dinner (another homemade meal at the apartment) we had chicken and tomatoes and that is one of my favorite food combinations, so I loved it! Before bed we watched MasterChef and had quiet time to relax. It was a jam-packed but fun first day and got me excited for the rest of the week!

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España: Verano 2016

Ok so I guess writing and posting personal stories in a timely manner is not one of my strengths. I left for Spain almost a year ago and in the time that I have been back I have only been able to post about the first week of our two week trip. My goal is to finish posting everything before the one year anniversary of getting back from the trip. June 28, here I come. Keep your fingers crossed.

Now back to Spain. Granada was the last city we got to explore as an entire group before going our separate ways for a week in Madrid. I fell head-over-heels in love with the city, so I hope this post conveys that.

Granada

Dia Cinco: Sevilla to Granada

We headed to Granada with excitement and sadness, know that the next couple of days were our last together as a group. At this point we had all grown very close and were nervous about living with different families in Madrid. Robin did her study abroad in Granada and arranged for her former advisor and one of his friends to give us a walking tour of the city as soon as we arrived.

The tours were great. Our guide used the right amount of Spanish and English to explain the rich history of the city. Granada is famous for its mix of Christian and Islamic culture. The city was held by the Moorish people for a very long time, and was actually the last city the Catholics won back when they reconquered Spain. Our tour included the open markets and squares spread throughout the main part of the city and the cathedral where Isabel and Ferdinand are buried (Isabel is the monarch who gave Christopher Columbus money to travel to the New World). We couldn’t take pictures in the cathedral, but it was beautiful. I really enjoyed the tour because it gave me a good idea of how to get around the city. Granada is a smaller city and I immediately felt at ease because I knew how to get around.

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An entrance to one of the many open open-air markets in Granada. June 19, 2016

After the tour we went to lunch, where I tried a squid-ink rice/pasta. It had a very interesting flavor and tasted similar to something I was familiar with (I still don’t know what the flavor is which is really annoying), but I enjoyed it and was happy to try something new.

Later that night, our group drove up into one of the neighborhoods on the side of the mountain and enjoyed a flamenco dance performance in a cave. It was very interesting and completely different from anything I had ever seen before. After the dance we walked to a look out spot that overlooked La Alhambra and the city of Granada below us. It was breathtaking. There was a fountain at the lookout that had pure spring water from the mountain pouring out of it. We were told that the water brings luck and love, so of course I had to drink some before we left. We had a very late dinner that night and ate at Kebab King, a fast food place that served gyro-like wraps. It was legendary and I miss it everyday. The food was so good that I had to go back and order seconds.

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Enjoying the delicious food at Kebab King the right way. June 19, 2016

After dinner Señora Richardson brought a small group of us to a famous helado place that Michelle Obama has been to. I had kiwi ice cream for the first time and it was delicious! We were set to tour La Alhambra the next day and I was beyond excited!!

Dia Seis: Granada

Today was the day we toured La Alhambra.

I have no words to describe how beautiful it was. It took my breath away. The Moorish architecture was incredible and unlike anything I had ever seen before, and the sweeping view of the city that sat below the mountains was magnificent. On top of possessing a grand view and other-worldly architecture, La Alhambra is also home to an interesting and important history that holds a special place in Spain’s past.

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The view from La Alhambra, looking out over the city of Granada. June 20, 2016

Once the summer home of the Sultan’s who ruled the area, it was transferred to Isabel and Ferdinand when Christianity came to rule Spain again. It was built to protect the villagers as a last resort in an attack and to bring peace to the rulers who looked to escape from the city below. It was able to operate as its own city within a city, and its ability to withstand both war and time is astounding. I was in awe of everything I saw and heard. I also realized that this was the oldest structure I have ever toured, as it is older than the entire history of Los Estados Unidos.

After the tour and lunch we had an afternoon full of free time and exploring. I decided to meet up with my friend from home, Becca Martin, who happened to be visiting at the same time (small world right). On my way to meet her I became lost (which was very unsettling for me because I never get lost) and had to ask for directions in Spanish. Luckily a kind woman was able to point me in the right direction and once I recognized where I was, I was able to navigate from there.

It was so nice to see Becca and talk as we roamed around the open markets, looking for tapestries and other items unique to Granada. After we had made our purchases, we went back to her room and I met her Irish roommate, Kate, before we headed back out to the famous helado shop I had visited the day before. I had pineapple sherbet this time and it was the perfect way to cool off from the hot summer sun.

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Outside of the helado shop with Becca. June 20, 2016

After saying goodbye to Becca and Kate, I headed back to the shops closer to our hotel where I met Tori and the rest of the group to do some more shopping. Tori and I each found really cool trinkets to bring home and circled back to one store more times than I would like to admit to see a cute shopkeeper.

After free time was over we headed out on our TAPAS HOP! Granada is the tapas capital of the world, and with every drink you buy, you get a free tapa to go along with it. My drink of choice that night was a rotation between Fanta Limon and Aquarius Limon. I drank a ton of each.

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At our second stop on the tapa hop, enjoying more Fanta Limon. June 20, 2016

Once we finished up at our third restaurant of the night, the majority of the group decided to go get ice cream. I thought visiting only three places was lame, considering this was a potential once in a life time experience, so Pablo, Francesca, Andrew, Señora Richardson and I wandered into one more place to try something “crazy.” We found a little bar that was serving “duck ham,” a meat similar to Spanish jamon, but made out of duck. It was delicious. We then continued on our way and stopped to get ice cream (where Pablo swore that the apricot flavor was the best he had ever had) before we made it back to the hotel.

I am so thankful I decided to try a few more foods and stay out longer because not only did I get to have more awesome food and ice cream, but I was also able to be a part of a smaller group, where I got to talk to Francesca, Pablo, Andrew and Señora Richardson one on one and have a very meaningful and authentic experience. This really capped off the end of our crazy week together for me and helped me calm down the anxiety I had over meeting my host family the next day.

Back at the hotel we joined the rest of the group on the roof and watched the beautiful city of Granada from above. It was peaceful and relaxing, and we all took a moment to enjoy each other’s company before we had to go our separate ways the next day.

That night I thanked God for introducing me to a place that was able to capture my heart with its unique quirks, and I thanked him for giving the Christians that took over La Alhambra from the Muslims the guidance and wisdom not to tear it down, but to preserve it and add their own culture to it. I also prayed for strength, safety, and love in the days ahead as I traveled to Madrid to meet my host family and live the next week on my own.

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Dear Chronicle,

Wow. It’s over. Two years of paper cycles, interviews, deadlines and distributions is done. Nothing about graduation and leaving has quite hit me yet, and neither has the end of my adventures in room C103. I have changed so much as a student, writer, leader and person over the past two years and I cannot imagine my high school career without the Chronicle in it.

When I joined staff last year (I barely made it, DC put me in the “no” pile) I had no idea what I was in for. The story idea sessions, pitching, interviewing, roasting and “work” atmosphere was fairly new to me. I was thrown into the “world’s worst internship” (as Jess and I like to call it) and had no idea what I would get out of it. Little did I know that the Chronicle would give me so much.

Year one I gained my confidence. I began to get to know other students on staff I had never interacted with before and never would have had we not been placed together. I made friends, learned the importance of good communication, became more professional and found my voice in my writing. I had never looked to writing as an outlet before, but I began to see my style and quickly found my love for it growing. I have always loved being a part of a team, and “chronding” became something I looked forward to and enjoyed. As my confidence grew, I started to pursue bigger stories and decided to pursue an editorial position.

Year two I grew into my own skin. I have always been a mature, nurturing (aka “motherly”) person, but during my first year on staff I tried to please everyone and not bother anyone more than I had to. Boy did that change.

Becoming an editor forced me to toughen up and learn how to manage people (I’m not the Managing Editor for no reason). I managed everything. Laying out pages. Done. Editing stories. Done. Listening to pitches. Done. Sending out passive aggressive (or sometimes just aggressive) emails. Done. Hosting “Hell Weekend” layout sessions and food at my house. Done. Stopping to breathe and roast staff members with Jess. Yep, I did that too.

While being an editor was extremely stressful at times, I would do it over and over again if I could. It taught me valuable life lessons that I will always have with me moving forward. It also helped bring me out of my shell. I became more vocal, even more confident, more decisive, more comfortable being myself. I found topics that I am truly passionate about through my writing. I became the punchline of many jokes and the object of many roast sessions (Charlie and Eric Miller I’m rolling my eyes at you through the screen), and I was ok with it. I made life-long friends that I hope will come visit me in North Carolina next year.

To Mr Conner: Thank you. You have no idea how much your friendship, mentorship and support means to me. I feel truly blessed to have someone like you in my corner, and I have enjoyed changing from a newbie who was scared of you to someone who can work beside you. I promise to keep you updated from Elon, but I won’t come visit until the end of the year (I don’t want to become one of those people). You gave me one of the most meaningful and unexpected compliments the other day when you told Gina that out of everyone you have had on staff I am the one who reminds you most of you. I am honored. Keep sticking it out in your little corner of the room next year.

To Jess: You rock. I could not have asked for a better partner-in-crime. I have never once complained about you (and you know I like to complain about people) because in every decision we have made you have been thoughtful, fair and right. You helped balance me out this year in ways I really can’t describe. I never worried about getting everything done because I knew we would do it together and you would magically make whatever we were working on ten times better. Thank you for trusting me with pages and people I probably shouldn’t have been trusted with, thank you for always letting me in on the decision and asking for my opinion, thank you for letting me roast people and joining in on the fun, thank you for letting me grow into this position and thank you for being a wonderful friend. You have a way with words and I can’t wait to see where it takes you in Charlottesville. They are so lucky to have you, and don’t worry I will definitely come and visit. Love you.

To Disch: You are the reason I applied to be on staff. Sophomore year, during sixth bell Honors English Two, you would come in with your unfinished lunch and talk about the Chronicle almost everyday. You even told me to apply. I will be forever grateful. You are my go-to person. Everything you do, you do it with ease, precision and quality. Nothing slips by you. I wish we had twenty of you on staff. You truly lead by example and every returning member should aspire to work a little more like you. You are the glue that keeps us all together, planning events, making powerpoints, befriending everyone, no matter their experience or grade level. I am so lucky to be friends with you and I can’t wait to see what you do at OSU!

To Eric Miller (honorary senior): Sometimes I actually hate you. Like when you make fun of the Cardinals even though you don’t care about baseball. Or when you make fun of soccer, my food, William and Mary, my opinions about football, etc. Most of the time I love you though. Thank you for including me in sports discussions even though I’m not a sports writer. Thank you for being the third little brother I never wanted. Thank you for making me look short. I don’t really know how to describe our relationship but I appreciate you and I can’t wait to see you lead an amazing sports staff next year. Advice: please make sure you are on top of Bryan and Joey, they will need to help the newbies a ton and sometimes they’re just not productive (love you guys). I can’t wait to see what amazing school you will play football at at I’m hoping it’s one close to me.

To Ashton: Thank you for sharing my no-nonsense attitude. I love sassy Ashton. You rule with an iron fist and I am truly grateful that I never had to worry about money, business or ads. That’s your area and I knew to stay away. Your ability to pick what interests you and throw yourself into it is incredible. I have no idea how you tackle some of the stories you have tackled but they are always amazing and truthful. I truly admire you for your persistence with administration and central office. I know they can be frustrating and it brings me great joy to think about how much they fear a visit from you. I am so happy to have a friend like you and I cannot wait to read your work from OU next year.

To Arnav: Thank you for being diligent, empathetic and loyal to this staff. You are more patient then I will ever be and I am jealous of that. We always joked that you were “Human Resources,” but it’s true. Everyone feels comfortable talking with you and they know you are listening. My favorite Arnav quote is: “Rhode Island is not a state. It’s too small.” I will never let that go. I know this year was rough at times but I’m happy we all made it through with our sanity and friendship. Good luck at Miami, I can’t wait to hear all about it!

To Charlie: You annoy me. Like every day. On purpose. Which is even more annoying. But I love you anyway. Thank you for being the one sports writer we never, ever worried about this year. You always get it done, no matter what the circumstance. I am so thankful for our friendship and your ability to be funny, caring, and mean all at once. Just like my relationship with Eric, I don’t really know how else to put ours into words, so just know that I am extremely grateful. I can’t wait to hear all about UC next year. Also, soccer is much harder than tennis.

To Duncan: You also annoy me. But you’re the better twin so it never really upsets me that much. You sit quietly in your corner of the room and insert a roast, story idea or lead at the perfect time. I don’t know how you do it. Your ability to be thorough, detailed and precise all at the same time is incredible. I love editing you because there usually isn’t much to edit. You are an extremely talented writer and I hope you continue writing in some way, shape, or form next year at OSU. I am more grateful for your friendship than I am for Charlie’s because I like you more (totally kidding). I can’t wait to “see” you as Brutus and here all about your adventures.

To Eric Michael: You annoy me too! Wow, there’s a pattern here. You cannot be trusted with almost anything, you are very spastic, and you say the most ridiculous things. Despite all of this I feel so blessed to have a friend like you. You are caring, funny, and positive when it matters most. I could not have asked for a better Prom Fashion Show partner (because we killed it). You are creative, hardworking when you want to be, and you have the ability to have a conversation with anyone. I know you are going to do amazing things at UC and I cannot wait to see a picture of you at a concert or sports event (maybe hockey?) making a fool of yourself in the best way possible.

To Meg P: Go Pats! Thank you for always rolling your eyes with me at the ignorant insults of others. Thank you for being someone I can always rely on to get it done and to do it right. You are such a people person and your ability to fit in with all kinds of groups and write stories about everyone is awesome. I have never heard you sing so I’m a little annoyed by that. You are a kind, nurturing person who makes sure everyone is included. You may not be to loudest person of staff, but your presence as a writer and friend is always felt. Good luck in San Diego next year and never forget about the brutal Boston winters. I know you are going to do amazing things!

To Jonathan: Thank you for being the only guy in that back corner that doesn’t annoy me on a daily basis. Thank you for having long political discussions with me and writing with the knowledge of an expert. You found your niche so early on, and I hope you stick with it next year (business is dumb, do something more interesting). I am so happy we have become friends over the past two years and I cannot imagine our staff without you. Your sassy political commentary, bromance with Ryan and outbursts with Freddie make class so much more interesting. You are such a talented photographer and I’m counting on you to somehow get a picture of Duncan in the Brutus costume (even though it’s supposed to be a secret). I can’t wait to hear all about The Ohio State University (I hate that so so much, I just cringed typing it) and to see your name associated with a political campaign in the nearby future.

To returning staff members for the 2017-18 school year: You guys can do it. You are all extremely talented and diverse and I can’t wait to read and hear about your success in the coming years. Please follow the deadlines, think everything through, actually pitch a story, not just an idea, stop using stupid excuses, and start covering more CSPN events. Don’t annoy DC too much. Just a little here and there. Please be nice to Asia and Delaney and Luke. They are going to do a great job, but just like me and Jess they will not be perfect and they will make mistakes. I hope you all enjoyed this year on staff and I will miss you all next year. Please come to Elon so I can give you a tour!

And with that, I am officially done with the Chronicle.

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