Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Morocco- November 1-6th

We spent 5 days in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Day 1: The first day was definitely the most adventurous day for Jamie and me. After taking only a few minutes to settle in and change we grabbed a cab and headed into the mountains around Marrakesh. This was completely unbelievable. There is no way I could write how different the cultural expectations were and how immediately visible they were. We were lucky to have our friend Jamal from Marrakesh to show us around because I do not speak French or Arabic- the 2 main languages in Morocco. Anyway, while on the way into the mountains we stopped to have a camel ride. Camels are not comfortable or attractive but, alas, I rode a camel. After camels we continued driving and drove through tons of small villages on the way which, in no way, resembles the big metropolitan atmosphere of Marrakesh. All women were dressed in full scarves, donkeys were everywhere carrying carts, small boys stood on the road trying to sell local fruit, and open stores to keep them cool from the heat. Don’t get me wrong, there are clear areas of Marrakesh where poverty is obvious and where markets are fashioned in the same manner; however, these smaller villages were extreme.

After arriving in the mountains we started the climb up. Small stores and shops lined the mountains and trails to grab tea or souvenirs. The climb wasn’t too bad but the weather in Morocco was about 25 degrees Celsius every day. Finally we arrived a clearing where the stream met a waterfall. Looking down over the mountain was incredible. The sound of the waterfall behind you and the markets below is something I will never forget. It was also incredible to across the horizon and see the villages which are built into the side of mountains. Remind me to use donkeys when I build my house (just kidding). To rest we grabbed Moroccan tea, which is delicious, ate bread and talked to Jamal. He filled us in on some normal Moroccan traditions and holidays. Again, when he explained the method of courtship and how men greet each other in the street in local villages, I was speechless. To think that a majority of women in Morocco live at home until marriage is crazy to me. I was also interested in his descriptions of peace and violence. For example, Jamal explained that in the village where he’s from, when you pass another man in the street you say the Arabic word for “peace” to signify to the stranger that you mean no harm.

Anyway, after walking back down to the taxi we drove back into the city center of Marrakesh. Jamal brought us into the world famous Marrakesh markets. There were literally hundreds of small shops and places to grab food. It was immediately obvious we were going to be targeted because of our obvious Western appearance and shop owners continuously asked us to come into their stores. We were lucky to have a local with us to shew them away. We ate an authentic Moroccan meal (I can’t remember what and I’m not sure I want to) and headed to bed. It had been a really long day and we were both exhausted.

Barcelona: October 30-November 1

I wrote the next few entries in a notebook while on location.

Jamie and I, of course, had an extremely early flight out of Newcastle on Friday, October 30. First stop on our 2 week break: Barcelona. Jamie has been to the city and loved it so I was so excited and knew we’d have a great time, even for just 2 days. I’ve finally gotten used to figuring out public transportation on site when arriving somewhere new so it wasn’t too difficult finding our hostel after arriving in the Barcelona airport. We were lucky and flew in with EasyJet which flies right into Barcelona.

Our hostel was really nice and very secure. Although we’d been up almost all night and traveling part of the day, we immediately left the hostel to go explore. Our hostel was located right on La Rambla Street in Barcelona (a main street) and only a 5 minute walk from the ocean. Honestly, I can’t remember being so excited about traveling. Jamie and I walked around the markets and ocean for about an hour and enjoyed really good conversation. It was quite obvious to me at that point that I’ll be close with Jamie for an extremely long time.

After meeting up with a few other girls from the program we decided on a boat ride around the Barcelona port. It wasn’t a long ride but the breeze was nice and the sun was setting so looking into the city was beautiful. When the ride ended we grabbed some sangria on the beach and I entered the ocean for the FIRST TIME EVER (it wasn’t that exciting because the water was cold so I only put my feet in). Jamie and I parted from the group and decided to look for Halloween costumes. This turned into a 2 hour escapade of running around Barcelona asking people on the street if they could direct us to a costume store. We really tried to follow directions but neither of us speak Spanish and ended up giving up around 10 and heading back to the hostel.

For the record, hostels really need more plug-ins.

The next morning we headed to Barcelona’s famous park: …. It was massive and the sun was extremely hot but it also had something to overcome the head: an amazing view of the city. The heat was soon forgotten as we were able to walk around the enormous grounds of the park. Jamie was set on finding this famous lizard statue in the park which turned out to be an amazing display of architecture. After returning to the hostel to grab our bags, we headed to Girona for the night where Ryan Air would fly us to Morocco.

Girona that night was somewhat uneventful. We, again, completely failed at the directions from hostelworld.com and ended up roaming around for an extra hour looking for our hostel. Somehow, however, we found it. Anyway, that night was the “Girona Festival” which was a huge display of food and rides. It was identical to state fairs in the U.S.- stands full of hotdogs and popcorn, rides for kids and games to win prizes. The interesting thing was the theme of the rides. I never knew the Spanish had such an obsession with American Indians. There were numerous rides themed with “cowboys and Indians” and one particular ride even gave the children fake feathers to represent American Indians afterwards.
After walking around the incredible display, we headed to sleep because we were up at 4:00 to grab the bus to the airport.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Acklington Prison

The trip to the Acklington Prison last week was not what I expected. I have been to 2 prison systems in the United States, one in Iowa and one in Missouri; however, both were completely different than this UK prison. I was first and foremost overwhelmed with the friendly nature of the prison. I’m not sure if this was due to their nice living quarters in relation to other prisoners, their enjoyment of seeing some “outsiders” or something else. I believe I would be angry if a group of students were allowed to come into my living space and examine the way I lived or if I was paraded around for young American students to see. They, however, did not seem to mind in the slightest. In fact, they were very friendly and open to answer questions. Beyond the prisoners, the rehabilitation effort seems to be miles ahead of the United States. I am, admittedly, not an expert in the United States prison system, but have never even heard of programs being so successful. My father is a police officer in the states and he certainly does not talk about the rehabilitation programs as being very successful at all. It makes me wonder what the differences are and I would be so bold as to guess it’s the treatment of the prisoners. When I toured the prison in southern Missouri, the guards refused to even interact with the prisons whereas here, the guards were joking with them and being openly friendly. If you are constantly treated like an animal or a criminal, it’s no surprise when you are released you are tagged as a repeat offender and end up behind bars once again.

To be fair, the tour through the prison seemed completely staged (we were given coffee/tea and cookies). And I felt quite uncomfortable being forced to tour a facility where I believed us to be judging a group of people we knew nothing about.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

So Far

I know I've been bad about weekly updates or what not but it's crazy busy here. My classes take up most of my time- the rest is spent making travel plans and penching pennies. I highly wish the exchange rate were in my favor- the best advice I could give about being abroad is bring more than you'd need for a semester in the US. The best the exchange rate has been since I've been here is 1.56.

Anyway, I spent a week in London. It was a fabulous time. However, I don't think I'm as in love with London was I originallyt hought after my weekend getaway there. I haven't quite figured out why. So, we did tons of things while there- BUT - my favorite by far was seeing Wicked. It was more amazing than I could have possibly imagined. The staging and music was absolutely breathtaking. Maybe everything just appears to have more meaning on a beautiful stage in London, who knows. I really wish Michael and my mom could have been there. They would have also loved it. I was also able to tour Shakespear's Globe Theater. While here, I'm constantly astonished how connected I feel with "history" or my ability to imagine being part of prior centuries. This may sound stupid and childish but I find it fascinating and it makes my time here 10 times more enjoyable.

Being in the Parliament building was also far more interesting than I anticipated. Compared to our government buildings, the UK blows us out of the water. The sculptures, architecture, and paintings inside were phenomenal. The House of Commons and House of Lords were both structured in such a different and intersting way (even though I've been learning about it in my Contemporary Britain Class, being there was different). Maybe it's my nerdy affection for politics talking, but any political atmosphere interests me.

We also took a tour of an old Royal Palace. It was huge and beautifully decorated with gardens and landscaping all around the premises. This was also the most blatant example of class divison within Britain I have yet seen. Of course there are obvious class disparaties (obviously, I live in the castle with the Duke of Northumberland), this was outrageous. Just thinking about the amount of money fueled into building and maintaining the palace then and now, it almost sickening. Class divisions are frustrating.

All in all, other than the 7 hour bus ride, it was a great time.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


The second half of my one week break was spent in Berlin. I really wish I'd been able to spend more time in not only Berlin, but Germany as a whole. Although some members of my party saw the language difference as a large barrier, I quite enjoyed being in a surrounding where English wasn't the first language. It's interesting to be in a country where being an American doesn't give you a free pass in society. We arrived at Schonefeld airport and began having immediate problems figuring out the transportation system. I did admittedly take German in high school which was only mildly helpful. After a small amount of struggling, we arrived at our hostel, "The Generator." This was a monster of a hostel, just huge. We threw out bags down and headed out to explore- this led us straight to food. I chose a traditional German hot dog- yum.

I opted for a short nap after we walked around. Almost immediately I noticed the massive amounts of graffiti that have overtaken parts of Berlin. Some may see it as trashy but it was quite impressive and gave a "face" to Berlin right away. We had a great dinner in the center of Berlin and called it a night somewhat early. The next day we woke up earlier to catch the "Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin." This was well worth it. The 4 hour bike tour covered the most famous sites in Berlin including: Check Point Charlie, The Berlin Wall, The Holocaust Museum, the site of Hitler's underground Bunker, and more. It was refreshing being outside and being shown the historically significant portions of the massive city. More dinner and exploring the night life ensued later on.

Our last full day in Berlin was spent at a concentration camp (Sachsenhausen) just out of the city. This was difficult and not exactly what I had expected. The site was originally used by SS officers for a camp and after the Soviets took over Berlin, it was converted into a Soviet "special camp." It was difficult seeing all the structures still in place and the audio guide provided testimonials from survivors of both camps. People were shot on site if they attempted to escape and outrageous medical experients were performed in the infirmary. 2 mass graves were also present on the site. The most difficult was going into the execution trenches where a large concrete block stood, filled with ashes. That's all I'd like to write about that.

Overall, I had an amazing time in Germany. I'd like to go back.

Sunday, 27 September 2009


This past week marked our first break from classes. Myself, along with a few other individuals on the program, decided to start the week off in Dublin, followed by a tour of southern Ireland. Instead of flying, we used a rail and sail system. It began in northern England by catching the train in Newcastle which took us (after an annoying amount of stops) to Holyhead on the coast of the Irish Sea. Although it took a bit longer than taking a plane would have, it was refreshing to see the countryside and I quite like the train. A ferry then took us across the sea into the Dublin port which, of course, means I'll be buying a boat in the (not-so-near) future.

We arrived in Dublin and made it to our hostel which was quite nice. It was then time to explore, even though we were all exhausted from getting up at 4 am. Dublin is a huge multicultural city and although I saw and met more tourists than Irish folk, it was still a great time. We had dinner at an interesting little restaurant. After dinner I called it quits and headed back to catch up on some sleep. Sunday morning we grabbed some pizza and went to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour. Although Guinness is certainly not my choice for beer, their displays were awesome and we were able to relax in their gravity bar overlooking Dublin afterward. We decided to take a horse and carriage ride to the Temple Bar area for dinner from the storehouse which was awesome. Dinner and drinks then ensued.

Monday morning began our 3 day paddy wagon tour of Southern Ireland. We all got onto a huge coach with our hilarious tour guide, Tom and headed out of Dublin. Some memorable stops along the way: The location where Christian teachings began in Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher (where I was able to see the Atlantic Ocean for the FIRST time), the city of Galway, and another horse/carriage ride through an Ireland national park. We also went to a local pub in Galway where they played traditional Irish music- it was surprisingly enjoyable and the varying insruments were fascinating. Overall, Ireland was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and relaxed. It also made me realize what a cruel and outrageously horrendous history the Irish have (mostly because of the British) and it's becomming clear why the US and the UK are such great allies.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


So far, I've been meeting some spectacular people here, both within my program and while vising other parts of the UK. It's been motivational in many respects and I believe has been helping me map out really what to do after college. The first example, and possibly the most influential, is meeting Diego in Edinburgh, Scotland. Diego is originally from Columbia but getting a master's degree in England. Although he technically took English classes while in Columbia, the quality was lacking and ended up teaching himself how to speak the language by watching American movies with subtitles etc. He is now fluent. Not only was he able to team himself another language, he was constantly encouraged to attend university outside of Columbia as a tool to expand his opportunities (this is true of his whole family). He has a sister studying engineering in Holland and another sibling working in Mexico City. I wonder why most Americans are never encouraged to seek education through other means (usually). Beyond educational boundaries, he also experiences things I've never thought about due to being Colombian. Massive stereotypes exist in terms of being tyrants or terrorists. In fact, U.S. border patrol tried to deport Deigo to Mexico because he appeared to be Hispanic when in reality he's Colombian (he had a legal tourist visa to be in the U.S.). Never have I worried about being turned away from a location or business due to my origin. In fact, although some communities have anti-American feelings, I have yet to, as an individual, face the repercussions of those feelings abroad.

I'll finish this update later when I have more time.