Wednesday, July 30, 2014

83 Days Later and A Lot of Nostalgia

I finished my summer job exactly four days ago. And while I'm ecstatic that my sweaty days of leading little kids around and taking fish off the hook and hiking with twelve first-graders and cleaning up someone else's vomit off of the cabin floor are over, I can't help but miss being a camp counselor at the same time. It's a strange but not unfamiliar feeling-- longing for somewhere, something, someplace, a period of time in your life that you can never return to. I guess they call it nostalgia. For someone who's never content staying in one place for very long, I have the hardest time letting go of the happy times in my life. Which is probably why I found myself scrolling through Yahoo's travel section this morning. Among the Top 10 California Beaches and the Truth About Summer Road trips, I come across articles about the places I've been. And I miss the glittering lights and sweater weather of romantic Paris that Paige and I spent a week in this past November. And I miss the stunning view of the Swiss Alps from my hotel window. And I miss freezing in Amsterdam in February, waiting in line to visit the Anne Frank House. And I miss staying in a house with no roof or shower in the Moroccan heat. And most of all, I miss my Spanish home, Sevilla. This morning, my host mom sent me a text, "echo de menos tu sonrisa, "I miss your smile." And if my Spanish were better, I would tell her that I miss how her home always smelled like lemon cleaning supplies, how I loved coming home to a huge meal at 3 in the afternoon (and that she fed me when I wasn't hungry), and how grateful I am for the kindness she showed to a little, jet lagged American girl that showed up in a taxi at her door speaking no Spanish. Sometimes people ask me if I was scared about living with strangers in a foreign country where I don't speak the language. I wasn't at all-- I was beyond excited that life would become interesting again. Maybe I should have been scared, but things have a way of working themselves out. If had let fear keep me from Spain, I would have missed out on the grandest adventure of my life. And so, while I'm sitting here, flipping nostalgically through photos of my travels, I'm telling myself that it shouldn't make me sad. One day I'll get to experience the rush of getting on an international flight by myself again. One day, I'll visit the cities that I fell in love with. One day, my path will cross again with the people who shared my journey. The absolute biggest challenge upon returning home has been learning how to be content with staying still. So far, the remedies are taking siestas, writing about my experiences, and talking about travel with anyone who will listen. I've been really lucky this summer to have made some friends from Colombia, England, Kenya, and New Zealand. Their daily presence reminded me of the world beyond Arkansas and that yes, it still exists. (I've added a few more places to my bucket list, too. Next stop, Bogota.) 

I was sad to leave Spain, am sad that the amazing people I've met this summer have moved on to better things, but happy knowing that each change in life presents new opportunities and adventures. It doesn't mean that people and places won't find their way back into your life again. Because they will, if they're meant to be there. 

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." -- Lao Tzu

Always looking up, still independent, still fiercely passionate about travel, just a little bit stuck in Arkansas, 


Monday, June 23, 2014

Where is home?

I've been home for six weeks now. I decided to blog because my 8 months in Spain continues to influence me here in Arkansas. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss my Spanish life, family, friends, and culture. My experience abroad is still so much a part of who I am. One of the first things I tell people when meeting them is that I lived in Spain, as if without knowing that piece of information, they wouldn't really know me. Of course, most people only acknowledge it, say "that's cool," and the conversation moves on to something else. I don't blame them. It's much easier to talk about something everyone relates to. And I guess that's what's so disheartening about being back in America. While all of my highschool friends talk about their first year of college, roommates, and frat parties, I keep silent for one of three reasons: A) mentioning that you lived in Europe makes you come across as a prick, B) mentioning that you legally drank sangria by the river on the weekends/ went bar hopping/ clubbing tends to win over red solo cups, C) mentioning how awesome your host mom was really detracts from the college roommate horror stories. I've just learned to accept that my experience was unique and that no one cares about it as much as I do (except of course all of the wonderful people who were there with me.)  I've also had to accept that the world didn't stand still when I left and that everyone else has changed too.  It can put a lot of distance between myself and people who used to be a part of my everyday life. We have different paths out into the world now and less in common. Change is inevidable, but I appreciate the time that our paths intertwined.

Right before I returned up until now, I've gone through through reverse culture shock. There are generally four stages of it: Disengagement, Initial euphoria,Irritability and hostility, and Readjustment and adaptation. On the plane ride home, I was really excited to return to my previous life. I had all of these ideas and images in my head of how great home would be. And while, I was happy to see everyone and everyone was happy to see me, my initial excitement only lasted a few days. After that, I fell into a post-Spain depression. I longed to return to my days of siestas. I felt like no one understood me. I was critical of the US, of our wastefulness, our wealth, and our attitude. I felt like a stranger in my home. My independence was threatened as I readjusted to living with my parents, rather than a host family who didn't really set boundaries. I kept seeing all of the negative aspects of my return, rather than the positives of my journey. I've now adapted back into American life, but it's not the same as it was and I'm not the same I was. Back in the spring, I spontaneously applied to be a summer camp counselor at a camp near my house. I figured it would be a good way to be home for the summer and to have a little bit of adventure. This job is a lot less glamorous than my travels, but it's been more rewarding than I could have imagined. It's hot, dirty, humid, and I don't have time for a siesta. But I get to be outdoors all day, meet people from all over, and stargaze at night. It's truly a beautiful place and it's been a humbling experience. I think I'm learning how to just be without things I thought were necessities before: my iPhone, air conditioning, and makeup. Not only did I grow as person abroad, but I'm growing in Ferndale, Arkansas too. A place where I thought I might shrink. You see, you don't always need to travel to find yourself. I'm learning things about myself here that Spain couldn't have taught me. As much as I wanted to see the glass half-empty this summer, it's getting pretty full.

I plan on going to college in the fall. I plan on spending summers traveling. Maybe I'll go to South America or spend a year in France somewhere in between. I'm going to do whatever makes me feel whole and I'm going to be completely myself, two things I had never been this time last year. I'll keep this blog and update it occasionally, and when I have time, reflect more on some memories. But for now, I'm still getting used to being here and it's an adventure in itself.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why do you go away?

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving." 
 I spend a lot of time on airplanes. In fact, I started writing this blog as I flew from the beautiful island of Mallorca to Barcelona. And then I fell asleep. And now I'm writing this blog on the plane from San Sebastián back to Barcelona. A new blog post has been long overdue. Since I last posted, I've been to Lisbon, London, Ireland, finished my program in Spain, and am at the end of my final adventure through Spain. I meant to post about each and everyone one of these places but time just got away from me. So while I won't go into the details right here (I'll share plenty of stories when I get home), I will take the opportunity to write about the ways in which my travels have changed me.

I've had to navigate London Heathrow airport four times by myself in the past two months. For those of you haven't ever been in Heathrow, it's a nightmare. On my way from London to Dublin, I had to go through security twice, two passport checks, customs, take a bus from terminal 1 to 5, and walk what felt like a mile to reach my gate, which then changed, making me walk across the airport again. To me, it just seems pretty casual. But in reality, I'm an 18 year old American girl navigating her way successfully through Europe's busiest airport without blinking an eye. I think I'd say I've developed a skill. Or maybe I have an affinity for 3 ounce bottles, ugly terminals, long layovers, and hard plastic chairs. Or probably, it's just something that comes with becoming independent. My travels have made me fiercely independent. On my way home this Wednesday, I will fly from Sevilla to Madrid to Dublin, where I will lug my huge suitcase to a hotel, spend the night, and return to the airport to fly to Heathrow, then Chicago, and finally Little Rock. A year ago, I'm not sure I would have had the confidence to do all of this on my own. But I've been to Morocco, Paris, Portugal, Ireland, London, Holland, and all around Spain this year, and I've managed. Before I left, people said it was a brave thing to do, to leave my comfort zone and go out into the world by myself. But that's another thing about travel, it connects you with so many other people. The friends I've made on this eighth month journey have influenced me in incredible ways. I've learned to be far more open-minded and accepting of other cultures, backgrounds, and religions. I left a tiny part of the world-- the conservative Bible Belt-- and I've found so much more. I've learned to not define myself by what I was taught growing up. Gay, straight, Christian, Buddhist, conservative, liberal, agnostic, Muslim, black, white, rich, poor-- no matter your circumstances or your beliefs, you have the right to be exactly who you want to be and I respect you. And I will go home as a better person for having discovered this, thanks to the friends I've made along the way.

And finally, my travels have made me fearless and passionate. Leaving my comfort zone was the best decision I've ever made. There have been ups and downs, days when I wanted home and days when I was on top of the world. But at the end of the day, I'm happy, because I'm doing what I love. I am passionate about travel and passionate about sharing my love of travel with other people. I would love to literally travel and photograph the world one day-- and I think I just might. I've learned that you can't let fear hold you back from pursuing your passions. I think I can do anything (and pre-gap year I got nervous ordering pizza on the phone.) 

Tonight is my last night in a hostel. Tomorrow we will wake up and return to Sevilla for the Feria de Abril. I come back to the United States on Thursday. And I plan to fit one last blog post somewhere in between. 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Power Of Communication

     I can't believe it's been a month since I last blogged. Time here in Spain is a strange thing. It seems to pass slowly, especially during the lazy, warm hours of siesta. But at the same time, this morning I woke up and realized that I have less than two months left in this paradise. Spring has finally arrived, the days are 70 degrees and sunny. Each day after school, I lay by the river, soaking up the sun until lunch. We've been spending late afternoons in the park or drinking chai lattes in a cafe or taking advantage of 3 euro movie nights. These are all things that the locals here do as well, so I guess I've finally made this place my second home. I'll go home to the United States with a piece of Seville in my heart. When I'm sitting in class next semester on a dreary day, I know that I'll be wishing for the Spanish sun. I belong to two places.

     Since I went to Amsterdam, I've been to Cordoba twice, Granada, Cadiz, and Malaga. The highlight of all of this was seeing Carla, my precious Venezuelan friend. Carla studied at my high school two years ago. She came to America without knowing any English. Over the school year, we became best friends. Without her example, I probably wouldn't be sitting here typing this right now. I think she probably gave me a little bit of her courage. It's hard to learn a new language, much more difficult than I first imagined. It doesn't come easily. I've found it frustrating at times to have such little command of the Spanish language when writing. In English, I can write a complex, meaningful sentence without any thought, and even with all of my attention, I can't reproduce the same thing in Spanish. Have I improved since I came here with NO knowledge of Spanish? Absolutely. Can I effectively communicate with those around me? Yes. Am I fluent? Close to it. Will I be bilingual by the time I leave? Absolutely not. In CLIC, my international school, there are 6 basic levels of learning languages (this goes for all European languages.) I started in level A1-- beginner-- which according to the CEFR means that I "can understand and use basic phrases, introduce myself, and interact in a simple way." I'm now in the 4th level, B2-- upper intermediate-- which means I "can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in a field of specialization, can interact with a degree of fluency that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party," and I "can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options." And the last level, C2, means that you interact like a native speaker.  These guidelines of language learning have really changed my perspective. I used to think that you either speak a language or you don't. But it's much more complicated than that. You can be fluent in a language, but not bilingual. In fact, it would take years and years of study and immersion for me to call myself "bilingual." I'm not perfect when I speak Spanish, I make mistakes, but I can communicate. This will serve me well wherever I may be, in Little Rock or Latin America. And when Carla came to visit, I was the one who was speaking a new language. It was really interesting the way that we communicated, I would say a sentence in Spanish and throw in an English word or two. She would say something in half English, half Spanish. It was completely chaotic, but it was effective. Anyone else listening to us would have been lost, but we understood each other better than we ever have before. A Venezuelan. An American. In Spain. Speaking each other's language with southern accents. And it's all worth it, a thousand times over.

     There's a girl from Ecuador in my English class that I help to teach once a week in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Seville. She speaks very little English, so our conversations are always in Spanish. Our worlds are nothing alike and without this new language, they would have never collided. Today, we bonded over music. There we were, walking down the street, listening to Romeo Santos, and laughing like old friends. You know what? We're not so different after all. 

We're not so different after all.

Until next time,


Monday, February 24, 2014

Becoming a Global Citizen: The Netherlands

I did a project on Netherlands in my seventh grade Geography class (shout out to Mrs. Noble.) I remember how magical and far away Holland seemed, like a place out of a fairytale. I knew I wanted to go one day. I just didn't know that one day would be so soon. If I haven't said it before, I want to say that I'm unbelievably grateful to be seeing the world at my age. I've learned what it means to be a global citizen and the importance of understanding and respecting other people and where they come from. 

Last week, a few of my friends and I boarded a RyanAir flight for Eindhoven. If you aren't familiar with RyanAir, it's the best and worst thing ever when traveling country to country in Europe. The flights are impossibly cheap (78 euro roundtrip to Holland from Spain) and they're almost always on time. The downsides are the uncomfortable seats, rough landings, poor customer service, and the ways in which they find to charge you obscene amounts of money. For instance, if your bag is bigger than the tiny carry-on requirement, you're charged to check it. When you buy your tickets online, you have to scroll through pages of advertisements and unnecessary extras. Don't forget to check all the boxes with "no" or else you'll end up with a bill of hundreds of euros. And finally, if for some sad reason your host sister spills water on your tickets that you printed out and RyanAir has to print them for you at the airport, you'll pay a fine of 170 euros. This actually happened to my friend Allyson on this trip. Two. pieces. of. paper. Also, RyanAir flies you outside of main cities. We flew to Eindhoven, which is an almost two hour train ride from Amsterdam. Seems like they forgot to advertise this along with their car rentals and city tours. I've learned to expect the worst, and in turn, have mastered the art of RyanAir. 

We took a taxi to the airport in Seville. Caught a plane from Seville to Eindhoven. Took a bus from the Eindhoven airport to the train station. Took a train from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. Took a tram from the Amsterdam train station to a plaza near our hostel. And then walked. These trips are always stressful and it seems like we're always running late, running for a train, etc. As glamorous as travel can be, it can be just as unglamorous. Things get stolen (someone's camera), lost (my hat), and people wander off (my friends.) You run into people, you get elbowed in the face on a crowded tram, and in Amsterdam, you almost certainly get in the way of thousands of bikers. So, even though we may look like we have it all together in our pictures, we actually don't. We're just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B without getting run over. And I guess we succeeded. 

The first day, we checked into our hostel and explored the magical city. It's full of charm, history, canals, and amazing pastries. Literally every bridge has an incredible view of the river. It's such a contrast from the slow, colorful pace of Seville. I still can't believe the variety of landscapes and cultures in Europe. That night, we headed to see Ellie Goulding in concert at the Heineken Music Hall. We didn't really know where we were going or how to get there, but we figured it out in the end. Her concert was amazing and full of 6,000 screaming Dutch fans. In European countries, (mostly)American and British music is really popular. I've found that concerts are a really good way to remind you of home, and also really cool to tell people that you saw so-and-so in a big city in Europe. Thank you, Ellie. 

It was my goal to visit the Anne Frank house. If I was going to see one thing, that would be it. We waited in line for over an hour in the wind and freezing cold the next day, but we finally made it inside the museum. I had read her diary and was pretty knowledgeable of the Holocaust, but none of that prepared me for the museum. To actually see where her family lived for two years, to see the room that confined her, gave me a tiny taste of what it felt like to be stripped of freedom. She couldn't even look outside without fear of being discovered. I can't really grasp the torture of it, but by being there, I was trying to understand. I'm not Jewish, but I am human, and I felt connected to her in a way that maybe I can't put into words. Maybe as a writer, maybe as a teenage girl who's figuring herself out, or maybe in the way that she longed to make a difference in the world. I will never take my freedom for granted.

That night, we ventured into the Red Light District and quickly ventured back out. It wasn't really a recommendable view, just mostly sketchy. On our last day full day, I saw the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. As an art fan, I really enjoyed both. Van Gogh's works were really cool because they were in chronological order. As he succumbed to his mental illness, his work became heavier and darker. I won't say anything more, because art museums are not super interesting to blog about, so go if you ever get the opportunity. 

We finally made it back to Seville exhausted. Now when I say I'm going home, I'm referring to Seville, at least for the next few months. I look forward to returning to my tiny bed and chatting late at night with my adorable host mom. How lucky I am to have two places that I belong to. I have many more trips planned in the future, but tomorrow, CARLA IS COMING. Carla is my best friend in the world from Venezuela, and I get to show her part of my world these next few days.

Un abrazo,

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why You'll Miss Walmart When Studying Abroad in Spain

"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." - Bill Bryson

 Here are some things you may not know about Spain: 

1) The schedule 

Spaniards move at a pretty slow pace, at least in the south. Work here starts a little bit later (my school starts at 9:15) and lunch is around 3. After lunch, which is the biggest meal of the day, there is the best part of the day, siesta. Siesta is wonderful. Siesta is two to three hours of relaxation and rest. Siesta is also when all of the stores shut down. Pharmacies, supermarkets, you name it. If you need something you better get it before 2pm, or else you'll have to wait until about 6pm. It can be really inconvenient. Dinner is eaten around 10pm, though my host mom isn't hungry until almost midnight. 

2) Living

Most of the houses and apartments here don't have central air conditioning or heating. During the summer, they open the windows, turn on their portable fans, and say "Que calor!" During the winter, they put blankets on their beds, exchange the fans for heaters, and wear six layers and slippers at all times. I'm used to walking around barefoot and my host mom seems to find this shocking. She even bought me slippers for Christmas so that I wouldn't catch a cold from the freezing floor. The best thing about winter in Spain are the tablecloths. They're basically big blankets that you cover your lap with and that trap the heat from the heater underneath the table. I could spend hours eating dinner because of this. Also, they're much more energy conscious. My host mom placed a timer in my shower because I was using too much water. She turns off my power strip when I accidentally leave it on. It really has taught me to be more aware. 

3) Shopping

Walmart. Don't ever take Walmart for granted again. Until you get outside of the United States, you don't realize that the rest of the developed world doesn't have access to the same things you do. For example, my friends and I want to make cookies for Valentine's day. In the States, you would go to Walmart/Target/Kroger and have all sorts of varieties of cookie mix. You probably would even have a whole aisle dedicated to baking. In Spain, they don't have cookie mix in the supermarkets. I ended up having to pay about 6 euro for a box at the tiny American store here and they only had one kind, chocolate chip. I'm not complaining really, just marveling at the variety and abundance of what we have in the US. Also, if you want Tylenol, you go to a pharmacy. If you want shampoo, you go to a toiletries shop. If you want bread, you go to a bread shop. If you want pencils, you go to a school supply store. Each category of items has its own separate shop, there is no place where you can buy everything. Watch this video of a few British guys talking about Walmart if you want to see it from their point of view: here

4) University

The European college experience is super different from the American one. Dorms, school spirit, sports, fraternities and sororities, and parties filled with red solo cups are non-existent. Spanish students pick their path of study while still in high school, and then go to the part of the University that offers it. They have to take an exam in their chosen career before they enter. If they decide they want to change careers halfway through their studies, they have to start all over. Also, students live with their parents (this very normal for Europeans, even into their late 20's) or rent apartments, there are no dorms. Extracurriculars and academics are kept separate, too. University is for studying and your free time is spent off campus. This makes me appreciate college back home a lot more.

5) Jobs

Spain is in an economic crisis right now. Basically, the young educated Spaniards can't find work. I have a friend from Seville who I met at a little cafe by my house. She's 25, an architect, and works full time as a barista at this cafe because there are no jobs in construction right now. This is a very common story. I've met lawyers, writers, and teachers who are about the same age who are either unemployed or overqualified for their day job. As a result, the young generation is leaving Spain for other countries in Europe or the United States. 

6) Mindset

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking by the river in shorts and tank top, because it was 70 degrees and sunny. I kept getting stares from all of the people who would pass me by. They were all wearing heavy coats, scarves, boots, and hats. I asked my host mom why no one was dressing for the weather. She told me that Spaniards follow the seasons. It's still winter here and so Spaniards wear winter clothes, no matter the temperature. I found this funny, but also consistent. The people here are very dedicated to traditions, culture, and family. They adopt many of the habits of their parents and grandparents, and connections with their past are strong. America may be new and exciting, but Spaniards know who they are and they're proud of it.

I can't believe I've already been here for a month. I'm excited to celebrate Valentine's day with cookies and Sweethearts that I bought at the American store (because they don't have those either here.) Saturday, I'm leaving for the Netherlands to visit Amsterdam and see an Ellie Goulding concert. I'll definitely post about the trip. Wish me luck!!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Not-So-Glamorous-Side of Student Travel

The holidays are officially over and after spending some great time with my family back in the States, I'm ready to take on Seville for four more months. I'm not going to lie. It was much less exciting returning here than the first time. The city is no longer a secret. I'm already back in the routine of school. I know which winding, narrow back roads to take to get me where I'm going. I'm used to walking by the Guadalquivir river every day. I'm able to communicate in the language without awkward pauses and hand gestures. Seville is familiar. I crave the unfamiliar. But I have the feeling that there's a lot more to discover here. This semester is about finding it.

After the long flight from DFW and a few siestas, I left my apartment to meet the new students that are here for the second semester. As I was walking to meet them, I couldn't help but grin at my surroundings. There's something exciting in the air. Or maybe it's just the smell of the orange trees. I just have a good feeling about these next few months.

But in contrast, I think that sometimes people have the idea that everything in my world, in Spain, is perfect. And while I'm having an incredible time so far, I'll reflect on December's trip to Madrid to clear things up. Because I'm 18, independent, and making mistakes. 

Why take the high-speed train for 100 euros when you can take a six-and-a-half hour bus ride for 40 round trip? This the conclusion that my friends, Sophie and Faith, and I came up with when discussing how we would travel to Madrid, which is located in central Spain. Why pay more than 12 euros a night for a hostel? It seems that sometimes, in our quest to save money, we teenagers forget the little phrase, "you get what you pay for." 

And so we boarded the bus and arrived in Madrid pretty late at night. After a long ride on the Metro, we emerged into the glittering center of Madrid, which was still bustling with people. With instructions to look for our hostel between two shops, we found a sketchy door with graffiti plastered all over it. A closer inspection revealed a small sign with the name of our hostel, directing us to the third floor. We dragged our bags up the stairs and walked into the 1 star lobby filled with drinking, tattooed men and were promptly checked in by one of them, who seemed to care more about inviting us to the pub crawl than anything else. We were welcomed to our room that we would share with 8 other people, pointed to the bathroom that lay on the other side of the building, and allowed time to get to know our stained sheets. I'm not exactly sure when we realized that this was not the best idea, probably when the stench of the man's feet in the neighboring bed wafted near me. Call the Ritz. We're getting out of here. After a few calls to our parents for extra money and an extensive TripAdvisor search for a decent place to stay, we literally ran out of the place and into the overpriced comfort of a basic hotel room. I was just grateful for the lack of insects and a warm shower.

The next day we had to move hotels because ours was booked for the rest of the weekend, along with the rest of the hotels in all of Madrid. We chose to travel on a holiday weekend, which meant that we could find no place to stay! Finally, after sitting in the lobby for two hours, we found a decent hostel for a reasonable price. I'd say that we lucked out, because our choices were narrowed down to the street or the same hostel that we ran away from. FINALLY we were able to enjoy Madrid. 

The best part of our trip began and ended with the Imagine Dragons concert. At my graduation in May, they played one of their songs as we entered. Here I was in Europe a few months later, screaming with my fellow Spaniards as we danced to the very same song, feet away from the band. It was a strange feeling, like I was being reminded of everything I've accomplished since then. 

Everything quickly went downhill the rest of the weekend as the extreme crowds made it difficult to enjoy much of anything. Walking through the city center was a struggle because it was literally wall to wall people. We saw a few of the touristy sights, but mainly were just exhausted by the effort it took to get to them. Things really, really, really, went downhill on the last day as we were headed home. We had to take the Metro to the bus station and of course, had all of our luggage with us. I guess in the chaos of it all I wasn't paying enough attention to my surroundings. As we entered the train, I became separated from my friends. Seemingly by chance, but in reality it was all part of a scheme to steal my wallet. And steal my wallet they did. As the Metro began to move, I realized that I had nothing to hold on to to keep my balance. The woman standing next to me gestured at the rail in front of her. I unassumingly grabbed it, putting myself in an awkward, vulnerable position for her to have access to my purse. A few seconds later, I felt a tug on my purse. I looked down to find it out of my line of sight, covered by the jacket in the woman's hands. I quickly pulled it back and it was zipped. I opened it up to make sure that my wallet was still in there.... and it definitely was long gone. I knew the woman beside me had stolen it, so out of anger and adrenaline I yanked her jacket from her hands to look for my wallet. She pretended as if I she didn't know what was going on and had already handed my credit cards, money, and ID off to her accomplice. When the Metro came to a stop, she ran out before any of us could even really process what had just happened. It was the worst moment of my time here in Spain. We then missed our bus talking to the police, because my ticket was in my wallet (that was probably somewhere in a trashcan in a sketchy part of Madrid.) I had plenty of time to think on the long night ride back, so I came up with a few things that I would do from now on.

1. Actually use the money belt that my mom insisted I wear when traveling (sorry.)
2. Look up detailed reviews of hostels before I book them.
3. Take an earlier form of transportation so that I don't arrive to my destination at midnight.
4. Not ever take the cheap bus ride from Seville to Madrid again, because the companies aren't very sympathetic when you have to buy three new tickets after a crisis.
5. Maybe pay a little more for things next time. 
6. Don't overpack and have to carry two bags and a purse on the Metro, which clearly makes me a target.
7. Not let this experience keep me from enjoying traveling, but just be more aware next time.

And though some things about this country evoke horrible memories, today is January 26th. Today I walked along the river in shorts and a tank top. Today I layed out in the sun and 70 degree weather. Today I got a sunburn. Today I was grateful to be here. 

At the end of the day, I love Spain with all of my heart.

Un abrazo,