Thursday, November 27, 2014

"It's better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times"- Asian Proverb

My trip to Rome was awesome. Dakota, Kelsey, and I got to spend more time together, and we were able to explore a new city and see prominent historical monuments.

The weekend started early Sunday morning where we all met at 5:45 am to walk to the gates of the school for our taxi. We all were exhausted, but were super excited for our trip. My roommate called a grand taxi to take us to the airport the previous Friday, so we stood at the front waiting for it. For some reason, the taxi never came and we were left standing in the rain at 6 am with no way to get to the airport... We walked back to our dorms in hopes of finding someone who was out that early that could call a taxi for us and we happened to find a group of kids willing to help us out! We called seven grand taxi numbers and not one answered, and as the clock ticked by, Kels, Dakota, and I were convinced we would miss our flight and never get to Rome. We decided to call a petite taxi to take us to a grand taxi station instead, which ended up working and we were finally able to get on our way to the airport. It did not take too long once we got to Fes-Saiss to board our flight (which was delayed about 30 minutes anyways) because security in Morocco is almost non-existent. We slept on our three-hour flight to Rome and once we arrived we were hungry and ready to explore the city! We took a short bus ride from the airport to Termini Station and it was only a five-minute walk to get to our hostel, Alessandro Palace. We booked three beds in an eight-bed room which only cost us about 60 USD for three nights! The hostel was very nice and we quickly put our stuff in our room and headed out to a restaurant on the corner. I ordered a latte and a mushroom pizza. Dakota and Kelsey both ordered pasta and coffee, so I would say we all started the trip off on the right foot! We then bought a three-day metro pass and took a train downtown to explore for a little before heading back to the hostel. When we returned to the hostel, three new people were in our room; one was from Australia, and two were from America. We went downstairs with them to the bar and hung out for a little while before heading off to bed.

I would like to start this next paragraph with how we woke up the next morning at 8am ready to conquer the day, but unfortunately, before 8 we were woken up at 5am by the three people also in our room playing "Turn Down for What" with a strobe light. This is what I would consider a rude awakening. We were all peacefully asleep when about five people, completely drunk, came into our room yelling and playing that song over and over again. They woke us all up and invited us to go to the Colosseum to see the sunrise. When we said "no", they continued to stay in our room for the next hour being ridiculously obnoxious and annoying. Looking back, it was absolutely hilarious because now we are fully rested, but during that night, I am pretty sure we all wanted to kill them. Three hours later, we woke up...again...and got dressed and took the metro to the Colosseum. We walked around for about 45 minutes trying to find a place for breakfast, and after a crabby morning, we finally found a place that served eggs, toast, and bacon. Pork products are not available in Morocco since it is a Muslim country, so eating bacon while in Europe is a huge deal for the non-vegetarians. We were able to get some coffee into our systems and then bought tickets with a tour group for the Colosseum.

The Colosseum was breathtaking. It was so huge, and had so much history. I am really happy we decided to go with a tour group because we were able to learn about each important piece of history in the stadium and did not have to navigate it alone. I couldn't believe that I was actually seeing the Colosseum. I have heard about it thousands of times and never expected to be standing in it. We then tried to find this Virgin Temple in the area because Kelsey really wanted to see it since she loves Roman Mythology. It started pouring while we walked around so we tried to hurry and find the temple so we could get some lunch. We finally found it and then ran to the bus station to get on a bus to take us to our hostel. We ate sandwiches and took a short nap before waking up to explore the nightlife of Rome. We went to a nice restaurant where I got gnocchi and cheese before getting some much needed gelato. We found the Trevi Fountain, but it is under construction until 2016, so we could not really experience it fully, but we all still made a wish! I have been wanting to see the Trevi Fountain since seeing it on the "Lizzie McGuire Movie" when I was really young.

The next morning, this time at 6am, we were woken up AGAIN by the noisy guys sharing our room. Once again, they had a strobe light and played "Turn Down for What" while asking us to go see the sunrise at the Colosseum. We were not amused. I ended up getting up and taking a shower, then going back to bed after they left before waking up at 9am. Dakota, Kels, and I decided to go to the Vatican and then work our way back to Termini Station through the major shopping area and the Pantheon. The Vatican was split up into the museum and the Sistine Chapel and then the Basilica. We opted for the museum and the Sistine Chapel since it was too expensive to do both. The museum was really cool because it was full of artifacts and intricate statues and artwork. The ceilings were always ornate and we spent a couple hours walking around. The Sistine Chapel was really just one giant room and then they tell you not to take photos, but I took one anyways because I was so excited to see the famous Michelangelo ceiling. We then got some pie across the street (soooooo good) and then started walking to the shopping district. The shopping area had H&M, Cartier, Longchamp, Gucci, Prada, and so many more awesome stores. We say the Spanish Steps and we then tried to find the Pantheon. After a lot of back-alleys and walking in circles we finally found it. The Pantheon was cool, especially the ceiling, and we stayed in there for a little bit. We then went back to the hostel and took a nice nap before heading out to dinner. We got back at about 9pm and went to bed since we had to wake up at 3:30am to catch the bus back to Rome-Ciampo Airport. We returned to campus at 11am, and then went to Gender and Politics at 1:40 and we were exhausted but so happy.

The trip was really amazing. I know I didn't mention it, but we were laughing almost every second. I am so lucky to have found such awesome friends. We have spent more time together than apart, and I know leaving in three weeks will be absolutely heartbreaking, but we already found the halfway point between our houses and are looking forward to the summer. Today is Thanksgiving and I am so thankful for being able to study abroad. This is truly a life-changing experience and I am growing so much and experiencing life in a way I never thought possible. I am thankful for my family and their continuous support for my endeavors, I am thankful for my friends, and I am thankful for having the opportunity to experience life. This is my first Thanksgiving away from home and I am going to miss the food we order from Boston Market (just kidding Mom :) ) but on campus, we are having our own little Thanksgiving feast and I am looking forward to it! This weekend Kelsey, Dakota, and I are heading to Chefchouen (The Blue City) and then we have our last two weeks of classes and then finals begin!
You can't say you went to Rome without at least one photo of a fountain.

The outside of the Pantheon.

My illegal photo at the Sistine Chapel. Breathtaking.

Left to Right: Kelsey, Me, Dakota

The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine!

The inside of the Colosseum, it was so cool! I definitely could not see the Games though if I lived during those times.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharal Nehru

This past weekend was spent in the gorgeous city of Marrakesh! Since we had Thursday off because of Green March, Dakota, Kelsey, and I wanted to make our way down to Marrakesh since it is a 9-hour bus ride away. Unfortunately, Kelsey ended up staying behind because she had three papers to write, so Dakota and I went with an international student who is fluent in both French and Darija named Martin. We left early Thursday morning on the CTM (the popular bus system in Morocco that is actually very nice!). The bus ride was extremely uneventful, but we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep. We arrived at about 5 to the city, where we walked an hour to the iconic square and historical souk. After navigating through the sketchy alleys and many twist and turns of the souk, we found the hostel we were staying at. We stayed at the Kif Kif Hostel, which was overall a good experience, but I am almost positive they never have ever changed the sheets, and I would never take a shower there. This was the first time we stayed at a hostel during our travels, and I really wish we stayed in them earlier! Almost everyone there was around our age, and we met really great people from Australia, Britain, Estonia, and the Netherlands. We traveled the next two days with a British guy named Matt.

We checked in to the hostel, and headed off to go see a sandwich maker Martin knew from his previous weekend in Marrakesh. The sandwich maker was so hospitable and made us tea and egg sandwiches as Martin practiced his Arabic. Dakota and I learned a few new words and practiced the little we knew as well. We then headed off to the square and grabbed 5 dirham hrira soup (my favorite) and then were off to bed. The next day we woke up to go explore the souk! The souk was so crowded and larger than the ones we visited in Rabat and Fes, so we got lost multiple times. We went to an old palace and walked around the grounds before entering the labyrinth of the souk once again. One of the skills that came out of our time in Marrakesh was my ability to barter improved significantly. I bought gifts for my family and friends this past weekend and I tried to get each item for 40-60% of the price the vendor told me it was. At first, that did not happen, but gradually, I was able to convince the vendors to go down in price more and more. We spent most of the day walking around, so we decided to grab some eggs, avocado, cheese, potatoes, and carrots to make omelets and mashed potatoes in the hostel. With the help of two Australians, a Canadian, and a Brit, we made a delicious dinner!

The next morning Dakota and I woke up and headed off to grab some m'semn and cheese at a nearby street vendor. We then decided to go walk around the Old Medina for a couple hours. We then went back to the hostel and watched "The Princess Diaries 2." What's nice is that we don't feel the need to be on the move constantly seeing new sights and exploring everywhere because we live in Morocco. We are not tourists, and because of that, travel is so much more laid back and fun. We spend more time learning about people and hearing stories, rather than seeing all the monuments and snapping photos. After watching the movie, we went out to dinner in the square again with Matt, Martin, and Matt's friend, Nate, who just flew in from England that day! At the square, dozens of guys who were promoters for restaurants swarmed us and grabbed us pulling us in every direction trying to get us to eat at their restaurant. It was so obnoxious and made me a little nervous when they started touching us. Eventually we just sat down somewhere and they went away. We ordered hrira soup... again, and then walked around the square. We tried these delicious coconut cookies for 1 dirham each (about 12 cents in USD) and then went up to a woman selling them with her young children close-by and bought all of her cookies she had for sale. It was really awesome seeing her face light up because since we bought all her cookies, she was able to go home for the night with her kids and I do not know if she would have sold all the cookies that night anyways. We walked around with a giant box full of 50 cookies and got smoothies before heading back to the hostel. Everyone was stopping and asking us if we were selling the cookies, and we actually traded a couple for some street toys. The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to walk the 1.5 hour walk to the CTM station and rode the bus back to Ifrane!

Overall, the trip to Marrakesh was amazing. So far, it tops the list as my favorite city in Morocco. I felt very safe there and I loved the colors, people, food, and the Old Medina. It is definitely the most tourist-filled city out of the ones I have visited, but it was so fun. Next stop is Rome! Dakota, Kelsey, and I planned a girl's trip and we are leaving on Sunday!

The old palace grounds

A silver and jewelry shop in the souk

Spices and Grains!

Monday, November 3, 2014

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill

The last couple weeks have been really busy since we had midterms and I had to register for class for next semester back at Kent. I am finally getting around to writing about my birthday, my trip to Casablanca, and volunteering with refugees!

On the 23rd, I turned 19! I am the youngest study abroad student here, so I was really happy to turn 19 so I did not have to be the only 18-year-old anymore. After a day full of classes, a group of my friends went out to a restaurant downtown and head milkshakes, smoothies, and dinner! They all surprised me at the end when a cake with candles was brought out and they all sang "Happy Birthday"! I am so grateful to be here at AUI with so many awesome people.

I wanted to do something for the weekend after my birthday, but with so many different groups heading out and a virus heading around campus, Dakota, Kelsey, and I weren't sure where to go. On Friday, we decided to head out to Casablanca with a group to go run a half-marathon! We left that afternoon. I want to make it clear that us three have not trained for this and I have never ran more than a 5K in my life, but we still decided to go to Casablanca and run the marathon. We took a train from Meknes to Casa and arrived late at night. We finally got to the hostel at about 11pm and that was when we realized that Dakota forgot her passport. For some reason, someone decided to tell the concierge that it was stolen, and so the guy at the desk told her she needed to go to the police station and fill out a report in order to stay in the hostel. Another person in the group decided to call the US Embassy to see if they could talk to the concierge and let her stay without going to the police station, but they told her that she needed to go anyways to get another copy notarized. Dakota is really scared of guns and police so she was just dreading going to the police department. While I went off to grab pizzas for the group with two friends, she headed off to get a copy of her passport with some of the French people in our group. Unfortunately, once they got to the station, the police told Dakota that she could not bring a translator into the office, so she was stuck alone. She finally returned at about 1am, and was able to sleep in our room. The next day, we registered for the half-marathon. Then, we went to the Morocco Mall, which is the largest mall in Morocco and then went to the Hassan II Mosque, which is the largest mosque in North Africa. At the mall, we got Starbucks and delicious falafel and walked around. When we were at the Mosque, we watched the ocean for a little while and explored the grounds. We got back to the hostel and rested before heading out to dinner. After dinner was when the nerves started to kick in that we were actually running the half-marathon without any training... We weren't going to back out so we headed off to sleep and woke up early to run. The next morning, the first thing Dakota and I hear is Kelsey coming out of the bathroom saying, "Guys, I don't think I can run the marathon because I lost a contact." We immediately just start cracking up and roll out of bed. Once we arrived at the starting line, we were swarmed by people trying to get photos of us and with us. It was pretty funny because we felt like celebrities. We then found a couple from Oregon on their 8-month honeymoon. The girl was running the half-marathon, because she found out she was pregnant and she could not run the full marathon. They were so adorable and she finished way before us. The marathon started and we started running! I ran all the way up to kilometer 7 without stopping, which I was really surprised about. I was upset though, because I thought the markers were in miles so when I got to km 7, I thought I was more than halfway done...but I was not. I ended up finishing at exactly 3 hours, and one by one, each of my friends crossed the finish line! We were so happy to finish and we got t-shirts and medals, which may or may not have been our motivation for running in the first place. We left for the train station and then stunk up a first-class cabin on the way home. It was such an awesome weekend and I cannot believe I accomplished a half-marathon!

This past weekend Dakota, Kelsey, and I went to Fes with a Church group on campus to volunteer with refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa. Boys all around our age travelled from Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Congo, etc. to go the Spain-Morocco border and hopefully get to Europe. Unfortunately, at the border, they were beaten and forced to stay in Morocco. We talked to them as they received medical attention for their wounds and made lunch for them, and played soccer and hung out. It was crazy to think that they were our age, and their lives were so different than ours. It was really great to spend time with them. I was proposed to four times and was called "Hannah Montana" by most of the guys I talked to so I laughing the whole time. We returned home and the three of us watched a movie and then went to sleep.

Periodically, the thought of returning home crosses my mind. I think it started when I signed up for classes back in Ohio, and I realized I have to go back. I am really nervous about returning home, because being here is just so amazing and I have met such amazing people that will make leaving really difficult. I can't wait to see my family, but I feel like I am really coming into my own here, and I just wish I could stay here longer. Traveling is such a wonderful gift, but everywhere you go, a little piece of you stays once you have to leave.
Before the marathon!

After the marathon!

The beach that the mosque is on.

Hassan II Mosque!

With my medal! I could not walk the day afterwards because I was so sore.