My trip to Morocco was not only a highlight of my time abroad but also of my entire life. It was amazing.

This is first, and potentially only time, I have ever been to Africa. We took a ferry boat through the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Port Med-Tangier in Morocco. It was a bumpy, stormy ride but I did get a pretty good look at rock of Gibraltar. (Remember, In Spanish, it is pronounced hi-bral-tar) 


We drove through the beautiful and varied rural parts of Morocco. In fact, most of the trip was driving because Morocco isn’t known for it’s extensive highway system. It was all lovely though and we spotted monkey’s, desert, oasis, date palms, canyons and much more.

We spent the first day and night in Fes. The first stop was one of the palaces. The king of Morocco has one in all the major cities and apparently, he was in Fes while we were. We wandered through the old Arab town, in the part called the Medina. I tried lots of new foods, all cooked in a tagine. While in the medina, we visited co-ops to see & buy silk woven fabrics and beautiful hand knotted rugs. We also visited a pharmacy that sells cosmetics, herbs & spices for cooking and healing instead of prescription medication.

After Fes, we took the long journey to our campsite in the Sahara desert. We had to switch to 4 X 4 jeeps to travel through the desert. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to see the stars with no light. It was dark when we arrived but we woke up early to see the sunrise and our first views of the dunes.

After breakfast, we were greeted by more then 100 camels who arrived at our camp. We rode the camels over the dunes. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done, although not super comfortable. I nearly fell off the camel while trying to get off and I would have if the man leading us hadn’t caught me.

Morocco was a great chance to experience a truly different culture. Although, Europe is pretty different than the US, it’s still pretty western and we have a lot of exposure to it at home. Morocco is incredibly different but the experience has been one of my absolute favorites!

Lisbon, Portugal

The first chance that I had on this trip to visit another country besides Spain was to go to Portugal for the weekend. Portugal is not very far from Sevilla but it feel very far because of the language change. I’ve studied Spanish for a decade, taken a little Italian and can recognized some French food words because of my experience with Julia Child’s cookbooks but I have no knowledge or understanding of Portuguese. Regardless of the language barrier, I loved Lisboa.

The weather was cold and rainy but we still got to see the major sights. Like the San Jeronimo Monastery and the ruins of a old castle.

We climbed the Torre de Belem, or Bethlehem Tower and explored some of the downtown plazas. One of my favorite sights were the university students who dress in uniforms that look straight out of Harry Potter- complete with black cloaks.

We also tried some of the local cuisine. Lots of local fish and rice dishes, similar to Spain but with different spices and flavors. We also tried vino verde- a sweet sparkling wine and Pasteis de nata- the famous local pastry.

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On our way by to Sevilla, we stopped in the small medieval town of Evora, Portugal. There was a Renaissance style market selling yummy food and interesting souvenirs. They also had a petting zoo and a booth with all kinds of owls and falcons. We tried this pizza-burrito things, meat and cheese wrapped in dough and cooked in a wood fired stove and cinnamon sugar crepes.

The main attraction of Evora is the Capela dos Ossos or the Bone Chapel, a very strange and creepy chapel completely decorated with real human bones. The idea is to remember the dead and recognized the cycle of life. It was one of the most unusual  things I’ve seen on this trip.


Hope and Faith

So I know that this blog isn’t really meant to get political and if you want, you can skip this post without hurting my feelings. However, it is meant to share my experience in Spain and the outcome of Tuesday’s election has already had a big impact on my time here.

I spent most of Wednesday in some denial and shock. Today is Thursday and I’m still as upset and disappointed as many of you, my friends and family. I  have a deep need to write about my thoughts and feelings as I process. I voted absentee several weeks ago and I loved casting that vote for a women. After initially supporting Bernie Sanders, I was firmly #withher. I was also pretty sure the majority of the rest of the voting population was too. I’m religious but I’m very consistent in prayer so it was kind of usual for me when Tuesday night, I repeated this line of the Lord’s prayer over and over as I fell asleep. “Thy will be done, On Earth, as it is in Heaven”

Despite the shock I feel, I have no choice but to have hope and faith for the future. We’re used to empty campaign promises and there are systems in place to prevent some of those things. Things like this Buzzfeed post give me hope.
“Somewhere the first woman president of the USA is watching Hillary speak and she is making plans. It will happen.”
I also hope that we all allow this to be a wake up call to the division in our country. Unfortunately, a large portion of the country sees the flaws in our political system as a bigger problem than the flaws with the president-elect. We need to work together to fight against all those flaws. For me, this means that I need to step up. I’ve been a, so called, online “social justice warrior” for a while. I share things I think are important on Facebook or sign petitions or retweet. I have my Amazon account set up to make a donation to Straight but Not Narrow with every purchase. Occasionally, I sent emails to my representatives or have gotten on the phone to tell them what I think they’re doing wrong. I fear that this behavior will not be enough to fight for my beliefs in 2017. I fear that I will have to make hard choices between what is right and what is easy. It’s easy to press the share but or send a pre-typed email. I am committing now to go one step further but getting more involved in furthering this “social justice” away from my computer. I’m going to list some of the things that important to me so that I have the accountability to stick to this commitment and I give all of you permission to remind me about it when I fall short.

Environmental Protection and Recovery
Universal Healthcare
Sexual Assault Prevention
Stopping Gun Violence
Women’s Rights and Healthcare
LGBTQ+ Rights and Protection
Eliminate the Death Penalty and Institute Death with Dignity
Criminal Justice Reform
Immigration Reform (but not the wall building kind)
Education Reform

So sure, let’s take until January to mourn and prepare but we have be ready to come together and work together by then. Let’s not reject every idea to come of the White House because of who it originated with. That’s the reason President Obama failed to achieve so many of his goals in office. Let’s be better. Let’s protect anyone who needs our protection. Let’s be the bigger person and move past party affiliations to fight for “social justice” in the real world not the online world…
So thanks for sticking with me through this long post. I’ll leave you with the thing that has really comforted me: The song Head Full of Doubt by The Avett Brothers, in particular this line. “When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected”

Adventures and Mis-adventures

October in Spain has been incredibly busy for me. I’ve been traveling through Spain and exploring Sevilla. I’ve made new friends, tried new foods and walked a whole lot. I’ve also been going to classes and trying to stay on track for graduation in the Spring.

In Sevilla, I got to visit the very giant wooden structure in the center of city. It’s officially called Metropol Parasol but locals call it Las Setas or the mushrooms. It certainly looks like mushrooms. It has a very cool view of the city and it the largest wooden structure in the world. When it was first built, the people hated it because it stuck out so much in Sevilla, which is very traditional and this is so modern. However, it has been a very cool talking point and tourist attraction that has revitalized the surrounding neighborhood.

I kicked off the month by visiting the beautiful coastal city of Málaga. It’s Picasso’s home town and we visited the Picasso museum there. It’s a very cool collection because it came from donations from his family and his personal collection so it’s very unique and has many experimental pieces. We visited the cathedral there which is notorious for being the only intentionally incomplete cathedral. The money to finish it was sent to support the American Revolution and when the money was returned, they decided to spend it on roads, instead. This meant they can avoid paying taxes on it. Because of it’s lopsided appearance they call it La Manquita or the one armed lady. We also spent some time at the beach and stuck our feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

Later on the day, my friends and I visited the Sevilla Aquarium at midnight which was a very cool experience. We saw sea turtles and fish of all kinds. We even found Nemo
and Dory there.

During this month, Sevilla has been hosting the Festival de Nacciones. It’s a very cool event with crafts, gifts, little shops and interesting food from all over the world. I got to try lots of different foods. Among the group, we sampled empanadas from Brazil, different Argentinian sausages, kangaroo and zebra, Mexican tacos, crepes, Margaritas and very fancy Cuban Mojitos. They also have performances which seem to only feature tributes to dead singers. We watched a very dedicated although not terribly authentic, Freddie Mercury and Micheal Jackson. Amy Winehouse performed the weekend before.

Last weekend, I went to Barcelona with a few friends to see the famous and amazing city and primarily Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. It’s been under construction for more than 100 years and is still a few more decades away from being finished. Finished or not though, it is amazingly beautiful. I’ve visited a lot of cathedrals here and in Italy but this one was very different. We sat in the pews staring up for close to an hour even after we walked around and around. The weekend was very cool but we hit a few bumps along the way. We planned to stay in Air BNB (last time I use that site) we rented but at the last minute, we lost it and had to frantically find a hotel at the last minute. We soldiered on spent a great day in the Park Güell, also featuring works by Gaudí and mazing city views from the mountains and the Cataluña National Arte Museum. A highlight of the day was the incredible light and water show at the Magic Foundation of Montjuïc. The last day we visited the Olympic Stadium and the Botanical Gardens which also have beautiful views of the city. I was sad to leave but ready to return to my new “home” when I arrived at the airport. Unfortunately, I got a little confused by the European 24 Hr time system and arrived 12 hours too late for my flight. Whoops! Luckily, my wonderful mom and sister got me on another flight that night but it wasn’t an easy task due to problems with the airline’s credit card system.

As much fun as I have been having here in Spain, I’ve also had my fair share of challenges, maybe more than my fair share. There’s been issues with course schedules, communication and then there are the things that are completely my fault. I’ve learned a lot, about being a responsible adult, a good student and a better traveler. Next up is more traveling, hopefully with less challenges. I’m headed to Lisbon, Portugal tomorrow and Morocco next week!

Week 1- The Adjustment Process

By now I’ve completed my first full week in Spain (this was supposed to go up on Wednesday but it took me 3 days to finish so I added the events of a few more days.) and it has been a blast though a blur, to say the least. I’ve been to 3 cities and visited enough things that I could come home now having learned and seen A LOT.

I flew in Madrid after a long but smooth trip. I spent the first two nights of the trip in Madrid and visited the Prado Museum (traditional and classic art) and the Reina Sofia Museum (Modern Art) where I got to see some masterpieces like Las Meninas and La Guernica. We also walked through the city exploring churches, plazas and enjoying tapas and sangria.

After Madrid, we rode a bus to the former capital of Spain, Toledo. It’s a fascinating old and hilly city that has great mountain views  and churches that feature lots of works by the artists Goya and El Greco.

My roommate and I arrived in our new neighborhood, Triana, on Saturday to meet our señora. Juliana. She’s friendly, warm and an excellent cook. She’s offered me the perfect amount of support and space since I’ve been in her home. The apartment is in a beautiful building, in a quaint local neighborhood and I love watching the neighbors come and go. In my classes, I’ve studied the financial crisis in Spain and I remember learning that the family unit here is undergoing a major change. People aren’t getting married as young or maybe at all but I don’t think Sevilla is in trouble. There are babies in prams, young kids on practice bikes, pregnant women and little dogs everywhere. I particularly enjoy seeing the people who have matching pairs of dogs and the young niñas pushing their own dolls in prams. The concept and makeup of families in Spain maybe have shifted but the Spanish family is still intact.

During this week, I’ve been exploring, making friends, trying new foods and drinks and adjusting to a more Spanish way of life. I visited the Cathedral, La Plaza de España and the Alcazar, eaten tapas, drank a little cava and a lot of sangria. I ate paella, tortilla and lots of Tostada. I’ve also attended class.

As fun and exciting as this week has been, it hasn’t been easy. I miss my family. I miss my bed. I miss air conditioning. Because, it’s hot in Sevilla. It’s beautiful but hot. So far my major issues stem from the intense heat. Those of you who are also from South Carolina might scoff. It’s hot at home, I know, but there I don’t spend that much time outside when it’s hot and humid. I go from the house to the car and back again. Here, I walked 45 minutes to class at 8 am, turn around at 2:30 for lunch everyday and again anytime I want to see any of my friends or the major attractions of the city that are located across the Guadalquivir river. The Sevillanos walk everywhere. They have public transport but it’s not that wide spread so even taking a bus or metro requires at least 10 mins of walking from my apartment and then again once you get off. To paraphrase the book of Matthew, “my soul is willing but my [feet] are so weak”. I was betrayed by my well worn Chacos and ended up with terrible blisters right away. By now, they’ve healed and when I wear the right shoes, I’m power-walking my way through this amazing city.

The first few days have been so much fun and so challenging and I’m excited to spend the next few months here exploring Spain and Europe.

I’d appreciate some love from home so if anyone who wants to send me mail you can do so here.

ISA Sevilla

Attn: Hannah Woodson

Calle Brasil 3

41013 Sevilla Spain

 Hasta Luego!

One Week Out- Packing Woes

While I only  started packing for my 4 month trip a week before I was supposed to leave, I’d been planning for a while. I downloaded lists from travel blogs and guides to packing light and efficiently. I planned the bags I wanted to take. I shopped a little. I bought rain boots that are cute enough to double as regular booties and a couple of new sweaters but since the climate isn’t supposed to be that different from SC, I felt like I was pretty prepared.

The actual word for what I am is probably over-prepared.

The first time I packed my suitcase, it weighed 51 lbs, just a lb over the allowed weight. However, it didn’t include pajamas, undies or any accessories or anything too summery because that was all in the laundry. So I had my sister, AKA the expert packing czar, who coincidentally returned from Spain in May, go through it with me and force me ruthlessly cut weight.

Draft #2 weighed 44.5 lbs. Much better.

So then I added the things we’d decided I need to purchase, the things I had to have I’d left out the first time, and a couple things from the laundry. 56.8 lbs. Oops.

Unfortunately, by now, I’d parred the mountain of stuff down pretty much as much as I could. Everything had multiple uses or it was an absolute necessity. So rather than eliminate anything else, I started switching things around. I moved several things to my carry-on bags. I added shoes to my backpack and the school supplies went in with my laptop. Take 3- 47 lbs. Perfect.

When I get back from this trip, I’ll report back whether those necessities are still as important to me and what items in that suitcase went unused or forgotten.

I’m still 5 days away from leaving but my suitcase and bags are pretty much ready to go. So now I’m probably more ready physically than mentally. Last night, I read a quote that summed up my feelings. “You can be scared and really ready.”