Sunday, July 5, 2009

Day Sixteen-Day Nineteen

To start off our first full day in Sevilla, we had an AMERICAN breakfast. It rocked. Everyone had been craving eggs and bacon and fruit and it was all there in front of us. After filling up on breakfast foods, we meet up in the lobby because we were going on a tour of the Cathedral with a tour guide. Thankfully, she spoke English and had some good humor.  We had to have the tour start at 9 so we wouldn't all fry; it was 109 degrees in Sevilla the previous day! The tour lasted about 2 hours and it was so interesting! The cathedral was spectacular. The best part of the Cathedral was the tower we were able to walk up to see an awesome view of the city. There were 36 ramps we had to walk up to get to the top; there were ramps and not stairs because back in the day, horses had to get up there. After we admired the view, Avery and I decided to run down. That was fun until I ran into like 5 people, scaring them. Once we were all done with the tour, we headed back to the hotel for a 4 hour siesta. Some people swam in the pool on the roof and others worked on their assignments and there were some like me who slept. That night, we all got what we were craving, American burgers. We found a Tex Mex Bar. Tex Mex in Spain? It was random but believe me, the burgers were so good! A lot better than the spanish burger people had ordered thinking it was normal when they were not at all. After dinner, we go outside the Cathedral to shoot self portraits with the timer on our cameras. We all had a little too much fun with that and took a ton of pictures using the timer. We also met a group of kids our age with another study abroad group, and one girl happened to live in Houston and goes to St. Johns. So, that was fun to meet them. We all headed out to get ice cream, but instead of getting ice cream, I got a chocolate milk shake, it was to die for. Well I think anything would have tasted good. We head back to the hotel and hit the sack. The next morning, we had 3 options. Two of the options were to go to these different areas and tour them and the third was to sleep in. I was exhausted, so I decided to sleep in. After we slept in and had a bite to eat, we headed to the river to have a boat cruise/tour. It was really cool because it was in english and we were able to learn a lot about the architecture around us. Later after our siesta, we went to a 2 hour Flamenco performance. After seeing them practice in Granada, it was really cool to see what it was like in a true performance. We grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the hotel and packed because we were headed for Cadiz the next day. We all met in the lobby, some people decked out in their 4th of July apparel and we loaded the bus for the 2 hour ride to Cadiz. Cadiz is a beach city, it is really nice. We got to the hotel early before the rooms were ready, so we decided to check the beach out, which was right behind our hotel. We walked around the beach for about an hour and then went to the grocery store next to the hotel and got lunch food and ate it in the lobby of the hotel. We all got our rooms, I am with Brandon this time, and get ready to actually go to the beach. We got to the beach and immediately went for the water. It was beyond cold, but we all went far in anyways and had a blast. After cooling off in the water, we all head back to "lay out". I put a ton of sunscreen on, but that didn't seem to work because I still managed to get burned. I never really heard of Spain having nude beaches but now I know they do. It was an interesting experience. We all headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner and headed out to find a place to eat. We found some restaurants with some shops around it so we shopped then ate. After dinner we had American ice cream - Ben&Jerrys! It was so good. We all went back to the hotel and went to bed. The next morning, breakfast was even better. Fresh fruit AND sunny side up eggs. Best breakfast in a long time! We all met in the game room in the basement of the hotel and worked with our on assignment projects with our group. After working on them for about an hour and a half, we all presented them. And I have to say, they all went really well. At the same time, we also submitted our photos to National Geographic. I ended up submitting 14 photos. We all went to the store to grab some lunch and those who wanted to go to the beach were able to go. I decided to stay because I needed to work on assignments and other things. Tonight is the night noone is going to sleep because we have to leave here at 3 am to catch our flight to Paris. There is only a 1 hour lay over from the time we land to the time our other plane leaves for Houston, and having experienced changing terminals and going through security in Paris coming to Spain, we know there is the possibility of us missing our flight and having to stay in Paris overnight. We are all going to sprint in the airport though, well at least I am because I am going home tomorrow, so we shouldn't have any problems. This trip has been such an awesome experience and I have had the time of my life. Along with meeting a ton of new people and having a blast, I was able to expand my knowledge of photography by a lot, because going into this trip, I honestly know not a thing. So, these past 3 weeks in Spain have definitely been a success and completely worth it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day Fifteen

We packed all of our things up and made our way to the bus that was taking us to Sevilla. All of us huddled around the bus to have the driver put our bags on the bus and then some of us waited on the bus and some waited outside. It was clear that when they were still trying to stuff the 18+ bags on this bus after 25 minutes that the bus was too small. We call for another bus and wait for 30 minutes for it to arrive, which gave us time to get breakfast, I didn't get anything though. The bus finally arrived, and believe me it was more like an oversized coach bus, everyone got their own row with many more to spare. We finally hit the road and started our 2 hour drive to Cordoba. We decided to stop in Cordoba for a couple of hours because of the well known Mezquita. We arrived to Cordoba and I don't think I have ever been so hot. We made our trek to the Mezquita and it was like nothing I had ever seen. We roamed around inside and took a ton of pictures.  After about 2 hours of walking around, we eat a quick lunch and then head back to the bus. It took about an hour or so to get to Sevilla and once there we found our hotel. Considering our living conditions in Madrid, this hotel is like the ritz. Most rooms are only 2 people, I got roomed with Robert. It is a lot better than 4 people. We had around a 2 hour siesta time and in that time we all checked out the pool on the roof and just relaxed. We went to an early dinner and then got some ice cream. I had a chocolate shake, it was so good! I can't wait to have American food back in Houston. We walked around the city a bit, but not very long because it was so hot. We got back and had our usual nightly meeting with the leaders and headed to bed. I stayed up till 1 working on my photography book because I want to get it done before we get back to Houston. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day Fourteen

Today was our last day in Granada, we are moving on to Cordoba and then to Sevilla tomorrow. Today was the long awaited free day. The girls were finally getting their shopping day they had been asking for since day one. We didn't have to be downstairs until 1:30 in the afternoon, nothing can beat that. We woke up at around 10:45 and hit the town at around noon. I had a goal to buy a gift for everyone in my family. I succeeded in buying something for everyone, it was not easy. Tomorrow is Brandon's birthday and the leaders have been planning a "birthday lunch" with cake and all and today was that day. The group with Brandon was to be back at 2 and the ones not a 1:30. It ended up being just me and Brandon towards the end of the trek around the city so I had to keep him from going back to the hostal. It was not easy because he kept wanting to go back and I kept on saying no we need to shop some more, even when I was so sick of walking around. Finally at 2, we made our way back to the hostal and we went to the courtyard where everyone was waiting. It was definitely a surprise to Brandon. We had a good lunch, left over pasta and salad from the night before and a cook cake. We had a short siesta time after lunch and I worked on my assignments the whole time because the list keep growing as each day goes by. Once our siesta time was over, we had class to learn how to send in our work to National Geographic, which I'm still indifferent about. After that, the teachers talked to us about camera stuff and we went out to do an assignment. We were then given the chance to work on our on assignment project but since we had enough pictures already, we decided to go to a cafe and get drinks to cool off. Tonight, we all dressed up and went to a nice restaurant that looked out on the Alhambra. It was a great view and the food was awesome; a five course meal! Talk about a lot of food. I got the chance the try blood sausage and goose liver. They actually weren't that bad. After a good meal, we headed back to the hostal to pack and go to sleep. These 10 days here in Granada have been wicked awesome but I'm sure Cordoba,  Sevilla, and Cadiz will be just as cool.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day Thirteen

Today is the day everybody had been looking forward to, the hike day. Well, not everyone but some of us were excited. We woke up and had a small breakfast and then headed to the bus; we had a two hour bus ride. They told us during breakfast to take dramamine if you get car sick but I rarely get car sick, so I blew it off. The beginning of the bus ride was not bad at all, but after about 45 minutes, we hit the mountains and were doing u-turn after u-turn around the mountains. It was then I wished I had taken the dramamine. I fell asleep to avoid getting sick and woke up just as we were arriving at the destination. We all get together and head for the start of the trail. Davin, Shelby, Avery, Brandon, Connor, and I all made it to the trail and we looked back to see where the rest of the group was and there was no one in sight. Shelby and I ran back to see if we saw them, and it was a ghost town. It was mind boggling, we had no idea what could have happened to them.  We spent an hour and a half roaming the town looking for them, finally deciding to just go ahead and do the hike so we could go swimming in the swimming holes that were supposed to be awesome. The hike down was easy and the swimming hole was even better. We all jumped into the freezing water and walked around the rocks for a while. The whole time I was thinking what on earth the other group was doing at the time. After we had had enough cold water, we hiked back up the trail to the town for some lunch and to see if maybe the other group has possibly appeared. Still, no group members, but we did get a good lunch. We make it to the bus, with still no clue where the other group is and sit down to wait. Finally, the bus driver came to Davin and said that Megan was on the phone.  You wouldn't believe where they ended up. They were in a completely different town. Apparently, we lost them because they took the other direction in the fork in the road. We get on the bus and make our way to town below us and pick up the crew. We all shared our different experiences and how funny it was that we both thought each group was doomed. The drive back was not bad at all because I took dramamine and passed out. We are back at the hostal now and we are having dinner in an hour, finally a normal dinner time, those 10 pm dinners are not fun. Later tonight, the teachers have a photography event planned for us, but I'm not sure what it is. Other than getting split up for the hike, I have to say it was an awesome experience and I'm glad we went ahead and did the hike. 

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day Six-Day Twelve

Well, we have been in Granada for a week now, and I must say it is an awesome city. From the great atmosphere to rolling night life, I have to say it's a winner. Our first four days here in Granada were filled with many adventures with Tino. Our first adventure was definitely my favorite. After we took some practice pictures to put into play what we had learned the night before, we hiked up to the top of the city where we reached the most spectacular lookout point. We spent about 30 minutes shooting many pictures, but making sure not to take too many, because we were going back later that night for better lighting. Between the time we left and the time we went back, we went to a park to practice our shooting. Our experience when we went back to the lookout point was 10 times better. The view was breathtaking. To add to the awesome view, we were also entertained by the many illegal street vendors, who when cops came quickly put all their stuff in the backpacks and sat there whistling like they are innocent. It's as if they think the cops don't know, shows how much they know. By the time we were done it was near dusk so we stopped at a local Middle Eastern Restaurant. Our adventure the next day was quite different than the first. We went to "Parque de Ciencias" aka science park. It was kind of like the Museum of Natural Science in Houston. The first thing we did was go to a planetarium for 35 minutes. The first 5 minutes was interesting but for some reason I have no memory of the next 30 minutes, I guess I fell asleep. But who can blame me? Peaceful music, reclined seats and darkness. From there we went outside to take pictures of the many things they had to offer. One of those things was a bird show. We watched 4 birds give us a show and we were able to get some really incredible pictures with the birds frozen in midair. From there, we went to the Butterfly Exhibit. We were warned that it was their natural habitat but I didn't really know what that meant so I joined in. Walking in to the exhibit, my first thought was I'm back home in Houston. It was beyond humid. I took my pictures as quickly as possible so I could get out of there. But I have to say, they were really incredible! Our day at the museum continued with a couple of more exhibits. The rest of the day, we were able to work with our photos and have another late night session with Tino. Day three with Tino was not a normal adventure day. Our day started off with a five hour lesson with Tino in a conference room in a hotel. We all put 20 pictures on a flashdrive and Tino put them on the projector and said what was good and bad about each picture. After our long session, we had some siesta time which was really nice but what was even better was what we did that night. It was the night Spain was playing the US in soccer, so we went to an Irish Pub and watched the game. It was a blast. Seeing all of the American people there and everyones reaction was great. Sadly though, we weren't able to watch all of the game because we had to go to the Alhambra to take pictures. On the way to the Alhambra, we were able to stop when the sky was a perfect shade of blue and snap some photos, and believe me they turned about incredible. Our experience at the Alhambra was not what we were expecting, for it was 11 at night. We go on this barely lighted path for like 10 minutes to find out the gate is closed and locked so we turn around and head back on the dreaded path to find out that it should be open. We again turn around and go back. Guess what, the gate was open. That was a bit creepy because it was definitely not open on our prior trip. Well we walk around the place taking picture after picture and finally heading out at around 12:30. Unfortunately, the next day was Tino's last day with us. Tino arranged for us to see first hand a show put on by Flamenco Dancers. It was quite a show, considering the fact that I took 250 photos. After watching the dancers put on 4 shows for us, we headed back to the hostel for class and photo work. Tino left that evening, so before he left we had a group picture outside of our hostel and gave him on of our custom made shirts for this trip. As he was leaving, all the girls lined up to give him a kiss and you could tell how that touched him. Tino's stay with us was full of fun and eventful days, but in those days we also learned so much about photography. Just from him, I can tell how much better I have gotten. For the next couple of days, Davin and Megan (our National Geographic leaders) planned some really awesome events. The day after Tino left, we were given the opportunity to go to a farm about 45 minutes outside of Granada and watch the testing of the cows for favorable traits for breeding for the riding of the bulls. It was quite an experience because I had never seen anything like it before. We were able to watch them test 4 cows. There was surprise thrown in there though. Hanna was allowed to be on of the matadore for a couple of minutes. Don't get confused, the teachers were about to have a heart attack, the actual matadore allowed her. But who would pass that up? When the last cow was finally done, we made our way back to Granada. In the latter part of the day, we were given our on assignment projects. We were put into groups of four and were told to come up with a proposition and prepare a presentation for the last day of the trip.  My group's proposition is the difference of lifestyle based on settings and within on culture there are many different lifestyles, and each lifestyle is reflected through varying types of settings. The rest of the day we were given time to venture out and get some picture for the project. The next day, we were given 3 hours to roam around the city as groups and capture some good moments on camera. We broke up into groups of 2. Jamie and I mainly took pictures of children and people in the main square but also went to the alleys and made friends with a lot of the shop owners. Later in the day, we were given the chance to go to the Cathedral here in Granada. I had never seen a Cathedral, so I was astonished at the size! Everything in there was so ornate, I wondered how it was built back in the day. That night, we had a surprise planned by the leaders. At midnight, we made our way to an Arab Bath. There we spent about 2 or 2.5 hours relaxing in our choice of cold, warm, or hot baths and also 15 minute massages. It was so nice! The next day we went to newly constructed stables to take picture of riders practice on their horses. I have never seen a stable have so many horses! We were able to walk around the whole perimeter of the complex and it was incredible. After about 2 hours of watching the training, we headed back to the hostal for siesta time and then later on the Brazil vs. US soccer game. Overall, out week here in Granada has been awesome and can't wait to see what else it has in store for us.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day Five

After being in Madrid for 4 days, we said goodbye because we were headed to Granada. We woke up and got all our things together, and then made our way to the bus that was to take us to the train station. We all stepped outside of the hostel with our bags and were all shocked by the temperature. If you know Spain in the summer, you know how hot it is. Well this was a different story, it was cold! It was almost as if we were in Houston in December. We made it to the bus stop and waited for about 30 minutes to realize the bus had been there the entire time. Well the bus ride was the usual, I fell asleep. Once at the train station, we all got breakfast and waited to board the 4.5 hour train ride. Thankfully, this time I was next to people. I was expecting to be alone as usual, good thing I wasn't. I had never been on an actual train before so I didn't know what to expect. I was next to Avery, and honestly, I have never met someone who falls asleep in the blink of an eye. One minute she was writing in her journal and the next she was snoring with her mouth open. Not to mention in a  really awkward position, which is why I moved next to Shelby. I fell asleep myself, for only an hour because I got hungry. So Jamie and I went to the cafe in the last "coche" and had cookies, chips, and a coke light. I have to say, I don't know what I would do if there was no "diet coke" here in Spain.  The views during the train ride were spectacular. I wish I had taken pictures. Well, we finally made it to Granada and took a bus to our hostel. We were all looking forward to that night because Tino, the National Geographic Photographer, was coming to work with us for 4 days. Hostel Costa Azul is no hostel, it's more like a hotel it is so nice. The rest of the day was just a chill day, so we just walked around the city. Granada is tons better than Madrid, not that Madrid was bad or anything, Granada is just calmer and tourist friendly. Our hostel is the best location. It is across the street from a fresh fruit store, down the street from a grocery store and also down the street from a ton a restaurants. Tino arrived at around 8 pm and we our first session with him. We showed him some of our pictures we had taken and he told us what he thought of them.  We were able to let him know what our expectations were and what we really wanted to learn about photography. We had a lesson with him until 12:30 am that night and believe me it was so interesting but I had to pinch myself to stay away I was tired. We were finally able to go to bed and await the next day with Tino.

Day Four

For our last day in Madrid, we decided to take a side trip to Toledo. I was really excited about it because I heard the architecture was spectacular. So on Saturday morning, we rise early and make way to the subway, that will take us to the train station. I don't know if you know, but if there is one place you have to be worried about gypsies, it is the subway. We got on the subway and I sat next to Allison but next to some random guy. The guy was really creepy, he was either intoxicated or was just twitchy because he was not acting normal.  I kept my eye on him, don't worry. He kept eyeing my backpack, as if he thought he was going to be able to take it. Ha he was wrong, I quickly put it in my lap and held on to it. At the station, we have time to get some food at the little cafe there.  After having some great pineapple, we make way to wait to the counter to get our tickets. Of course, my seat isn't near anyone; I was in row 5 and everyone was in either 15 or 16. We board the train and I find my seat and get settled in for the long 30 min train ride. Ms. Bottoms was nice enough to come sit by me so I wouldn't be alone, but I ended up catching some z's. We arrive in Toledo in the heart of the morning, no trees and sunny. I thought Madrid was hot? No. We began our hike up the hill to the main area of the city and on the way, I got some amazing pictures. After a couple of hours of walking around, we find a restaurant, I was starving! I got the two most typical spanish plates for the region, I can't recall what they were called, but they were really good! After we lunch, we headed to the Cathedral. The exterior was astonishing. The last supper was sculpted on the structure. I have a picture, no worries. We were planning on going inside, but at the present time it was 2:30 and it closed at 2. We were bummed but the exterior was enough to grasp it. So, we made a new plan. We went to the a church which held El Greco's most famous artwork. I sat inside the church a little while to soak in the atmosphere and it was amazing. We decided to go to another little cathedral, I think that is what it was, and took some pictures. By this time it was around 5 and we were to leave at 7, so the leaders brought us to a square and let us have 2 hours of free time. Avery, Shelby, Brandon, and I all got ice cream, well I got a coca-cola push up icie thing, but it was still just as good.  We walked around to a lot of the stores. Most of the stores had collector swords and guns, it was really interesting. I looked around for some gifts I could possibly get for people, but nothing really appealed to me. It was time to head back to Madrid, so we make our way back to the train station and get on the train back to Madrid. We have a quick dinner at Pans aka Spanish Subway. We ate there the first day and it was not good at all. I decided to get a salad and it actually wasn't too bad. All of us get back to the hostel and pack because we were headed for Granada the next day!