Gina in Granada

Conquering Europe One Step at a Time

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Moroccan and Rollin’ in Northern Africa

Hey study abroad students! Are you sick and tired of your European country being far less technologically savvy than America? Don’t you just wish for once you could give your señora a pair of jeans and get them back the next day? Are you sick of eating french fries with a fork? If the answer to previous questions is “yes!” then you should go to Morocco! Morocco is the perfect second world country to make you realize that wherever you are is not so bad. All jokes aside, Morocco was quite the experience! Sure we weren’t allowed to drink the water or eat their salad, but hey, who wants water and salad anyway? Am I right?

I should have anticipated that the weather would suck just because that always happens when our group goes on a cool excursion in which I hope to take a lot of pictures outside, but we soon realized that everybody was destined to look like crap and it was surely acceptable (especially there). Forty days of rain per year and we were there for two. What are the chances?! See, if I was good at math, I would follow this up with a legitimate answer, but instead you’ll have to envision my blank stare.

Our first stop was at a restaurant where I could spend the rest of my life and be perfectly content. It was there that I officially became one of those people. You know which ones I’m talking about–the ones that photograph their food. I couldn’t help it though! This was the first time I had seen couscous in three months and had food that was flavored with someone other than salt. I was in all my [ever-so-cultured] glory. Our tour guide informed us (eight times nonetheless) that we would get to try the mint tea of Morocco. He was right! Sure it was delicious, and I bet he was really excited, but the entire weekend he repeated his sentences in various sentence structures, and interchanging adjectives after everything that he said. I don’t know if he was just really excited to show off his English skills, or he has some type of disorder, but regardless I became easily frustrated with him. Immediately after we went into a walking tour around Tangier, however it wasn’t long before we made our first diversion at a Moroccan “pharmacy.” Up the stairs we went to a room filled with long benches set up for what looked to be a camp talent show, though the man that emerged next was far better than any act I’ve seen before.  His display table was filled with bags of spices, herbs, and creams promising the removal of any unwanted blemishes or fat on the human body. “Hello, Please!” eventually became his tag line as he would preach the miracles of orange oil and test our knowledge of saffron. It took me about 15 minutes before I realized just who he reminded me of. Willy fuckin’ Wonka. This guy wore a lab coat and had something so condescending about him, yet everyone wanted more. He even had his own version of oompa loompas come out between each product and rapidly, one by one, give each of us a sample without saying a word. Everyone thought they were so clever by taking him up on his “buy two get one free” offers and splitting it with their friends to save money, but let’s be honest, we all just paid 5 euros for Johnson and Johnson’s baby lotion in a container the size of a silver dollar and packaged in arabic. Jokes on us.

can i have your autograph?

I want to suck your blood 

After this sitcom we weaved in and out of the streets of Tangier, occasionally stopping for novelty items and every so often getting a tidbit of information from our tour guide. At the end of our walk, the man who had latched onto us at the beginning (whom I believed was another tour guide) stood with his hands out, expecting tips. Was he not actually with us? Is he insane? Literally what was going on? This was only the beginning of the series of ridiculous men who would later follow us around like groupies. I should say we were given fair warnings that this country was accustom to frequent tipping, however I did not know that local pedestrians with nothing better to do but lurk, were included in this. And so we were off to Hotel Chellah, finally able to unpack, unwind and spend the rest of the night soaking in the fact that we were in officially in Africa!

Early the next day, and by early I mean earlier than everyone else thanks to slight confusion about daylight savings, we had breakfast at the hotel. Special shout out to the Arab woman who made me a delicious pita-esque bread with her bare hands while sitting over a small grill. You rock, don’t ever change. After loading the bus, we were headed to Chefchaouen, which in my opinion was the best city we saw. About an hour and a half from Tangier, tucked away in the mountains is this pretty little village where all the houses and buildings were painted the same beautiful blue color. The narrow uphill streets were a little bit frightening seeing as they had been freshly coated with rain, and I was sure to link arms with those around me, if by some chance I were to go rolling down the hill. At least then I would not be the only one embarrassed. We were led through Chefchaouen by an old man wearing a traditional long man dress called a Djellaba, and a fez (the hat, not the character from That 70’s Show) (Common mistake no worries). Yet again I was able to pinpoint his animated look alike, and so he became “the little old man from 8 Crazy Nights.” He was such a nugget and spoke such good English in cute old man fashion! Although we were told that taking pictures of people in Morocco was somewhat forbidden, this man was all for it. He even threw in the peace sign for a full effect. Of course the day wouldn’t have been complete without a tourist trap, so naturally we stopped in a rug shop? Sorry for the question mark, I just have no idea what to call this place. It was full of tapestries, and carpets claimed only to be authentic and available from Chefchaouen. They were so pretty, I just couldnt resist. I figured that if I was a legitimate person who collected post cards and shot glasses from each city I traveled to, then by this point I would have spent the same amount on those as I spent on my new blanket. I haven’t decided where exactly it will wind up, but if you get a silky, cream colored tapestry from me as a birthday present, just know it’s legit.


Later that night we were taken to a dinner show in a large tent which featured performers such as “The Man Who Walks on Glass,” “The Man Who Spins with Candles Glued to the Tray on His Head,” and the ” Thank G-d She’s a Belly  Dancer because Her Face is an Atrocity Lady.” Not sure if those were their actual titles but they’ll just have to do. This reminded me of an upscale Bedouin tent, if you will. It was humorous, moderately entertaining and the food was good so what’s there to complain about? Being one of the last people to get seated, I found myself at a table with only three of my friends. We we’re perfectly fine with this, that was, until the random older couple from Ireland joined us. I’m not good at sharing and I really wanted them to leave, but as it turns out they were quite lovely! The two of them shared stories about when their son was abroad, which made us all a bit emotional especially when she tried to express how much he loves the friends he made and how quickly everything is going to be over. Eeeeek. Must. Not. Digress. And write. Depressing. Blog entry.

a true shining star

As far as night life goes in Morocco, there is none. Literally it does not exist to my knowledge, and therefore we were banished back to the hotel for the evening. I’m sure you can guess this did not upset me tremendous amounts. Plus, I needed a good night’s sleep because I had a hot date with a camel the next day. Any Nice Jewish Girl (that is a title, it required capitalization) has ridden a camel once or twice before, so while I was definitely excited, I was not expecting anything too crazy. Our last day in Morocco was spent in Asilah, but the camel ride was a pit stop along the way. Perched on the African coast of the Atlantic Ocean, four camels, and a bratty little baby one awaited us. They smelled like shit and made a lot of weird noises, but so do a lot of people and that’s even more unacceptable. The ride only lasted about two minutes, but I’m pretty excited to say I’ve now done this on two different continents. Asilah was a pretty town along the water full of walls covered in artwork and authentic little shops. We were given free time to wander around, and make some purchases. This was my time to shine-the hour of haggling. Now you know I love handmade pottery as much as the next aspiring house wife, but there there’s only so much I’m willing to spend. Most of the girls on my trip decided to get a henna tattoo, but I was ultra reluctant considering I will be doing my signature betch pose in many upcoming spring break pictures.

get in the van

get in the van

I realize this post is a bit shorter than the rest, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because we barely did any historical sightseeing. While all of Morocco is history in itself, we stayed clear of mosques, and other important buildings. I suppose not being allowed in to places unless you are Muslim makes it a tad difficult to go on a tour. That’s okay though, the culture and the locals were the true stars of this trip, and it was nice to turn the intensity level down a few notches. Salaam Aleikum, Morocco, and thank you for rockin’.


Life as a Granadian

I’ve debated writing this blog post for quite some time. I feel as though I haven’t done anything exceptionally “blog worthy” in a few weeks. However after much deliberation I realized that many of you are probably wondering what I’ve been doing in between my travels and classes! And that is why I’ve decided to give you a sneak peak into my Andalusian adventure.

I can’t believe-no,scratch that. everyone else can’t believe that it’s taken me until March to make my way to the local hotspots, but regardless, I finally know the true meaning of being an abroad student in Granada. Better late than never, I suppose. Shock is the only way to describe how I feel that my program is officially more than halfway over. I keep toggling between the ideas that I feel like I’ve been here forever, and the fact that although I’m having a wonderful time I often find myself craving my friends, my dog, and bagels (duh). Being in the single digits for the number of weeks I have left is odd to say the least, so it dawned on me that I better start “living it up!” The past two weekends I mustered up the strength to test out the ever popular El Camborio discoteca and Hannigans Irish pub. I was skeptical, but rest assure they are all they’re cracked up to be! El Camborio is a club nestled in the Albaicín with a picture perfect view of the Alhambra. If you don’t have a stroke on your walk up, it’s definitely worth a picture before you are bombarded with the drink specials of the night. “Special” is a nice way of saying concoction at Camborio. If you are a diabetic, perhaps you should skip out on the sugary mixture of juice posing as an alcoholic beverage, and just cough up the 3 euro for a real one. Just a personal opinion. The Spaniards laugh as we recap our night at El Camborio because it is so stereotypically touristy, but it’s nice to not be in the minority for a change.The cave-like atmosphere and outdoor patio area are nice changes from the same ole club setting you’re used to. As for Hannigans, I would not typically consider myself an irish pub goer, but I forgot how amazing it is to hear English. As much as I would love to be a frat bro, I just cannot enjoy consuming beer, which is another reason why I’m a fan of Hannigans. They serve Strongbow,the hard cider-type drink that I tried in Switzerland, but it looks like beer makes me feel like I’m one of the other kids. That just sounded like a commercial for prosthetic legs or a heart transplant, but it’s true. Also, they played the Beegees, which undoubtedly won my heart.

Remember my internship at the school?  Well it’s already been 5 weeks there! I feel as if I’ve known some of these kids forever and already find myself way more attached than I thought possible. When I first started, my heart belonged to the six-year-olds. It truly is impossible not to find them adorable and contemplate smuggling them out in my purse, however I’ve realized that the work I do with them most likely will not have a substantial influence in their lives. That’s alright though, because I’m seeing big changes in the other classrooms. Opening the door to my 6th grade classroom, I have to brace myself for the standing ovation; I kid you not. The once timid 12 year olds now start an uproar before I even have time to take off my jacket. They chant my name and bombard me with hugs as they stumble over their thoughts attempting to tell me about their weekends. Though their rowdiness should bother me, it does the complete opposite, and I become almost as excited to hear their stories as they are to share them. It takes a solid fifteen minutes for an actual teacher to arrive to the classroom and give an assignment, so in the meantime, we chat, and I try my best to give all of them a bit of individual attention. I cannot speak highly enough about them, and about how much I appreciate their enthusiasm. I’m being too cheesy for my liking right now, but I can’t stop. I have to speak about the seniors, who I recently found out, are 18 years old. Only two years separates us, yet it feels like ten. They’re certainly immature, which I attribute to the fact that the educational system is Spain is subpar, and also, in America they would already be in college. Our routine goes as follow: I plan an activity, and take six or so students into another room to make a more conducive setting for learning. For example, last week we worked on homophones. Sadly, half of you reading this probably don’t know what those are. Homophones are words that sound identical but are spelled differently. I would put an example such as “pear/pair” on the blackboard and wait for someone to attempt figuring it out. As I imagined, there weren’t many words these kids were familiar with so I would try my best to explain it in spanish or draw it on the board.  When we finished in English I felt a bit bad for my challenging game, so I threw myself under the bus and let them do the teaching. Soon it was six against one, and I was getting a Spanish lesson. The week before that, I constructed a crossword puzzle with American fun facts. They were SO into it and it humored me to see them struggle with clues like “name the breakfast food made with eggs, flour, sugar and milk.” The answer is pancakes for all you not-so-suzy homemakers out there.

Botellón. There aren’t even words to describe this Spanish phenomenon translating into “big bottle.” Each weekend, people gather in various locations for some outdoor partying. I’m not talking a party on the lawn of a frat house, or your cousin’s 4th of July barbecue. We’re in the major leagues now. Though it is not technically legal, it’s a tradition that has been 100% accepted here, and there are way more drunkards than there are policemen, so what can you do?  The Botellón happens all the time, however this past weekend was the largest one of the year: La Fiesta de la Primavera. My pictures do not do it justice, because it’s impossible to get all 20,000+ attendees in one picture. This all day affair takes place outside of a large department store, and the streets are completely covered in bottles, bags, remnants of costumes, and a lot of mud. Who cleans it up? I have no idea, but my heart goes out to them. I only spent an hour in the craziness, but that was enough. I told myself I wouldn’t go home without a prize, so I began scoping out which locals I could coax into letting me take their hat. Don’t ask me why; I have no idea. Anyway, I found the hat I wanted and approached a guy, probably around my age with a few of his friends. Out of nowhere Spanish began to spew out of my mouth as I explained that I needed a hat from the Botellón to bring to my class on Monday because of a competition we were having. He wasn’t buyin’ it, and after a few minutes of begging and giving puppy dog eyes I finally called it quits. I could say “there’s always next time” but this was one of those “once in a lifetime” kind of experiences, I’d say.

now imagine that times 8

now imagine that times 8

Well everyone, I’ve now spent over an hour of my time yet again avoiding the ample amount of work I have to do. It’s midterm week here and so far I’ve only taken my Spanish exam. To be honest, the only test I’m worried about is history. My teacher reassures us not to be nervous, then follows up with “so yeah, just know…everything.” Nothing like a few thousand years of Spanish history crammed into one night of studying! But don’t worry, once I’m done here, I shall begin writing sample essays. I am the little engine that could. Besides, there are too many good things to look forward to to bring down my mood. This friday is my much anticipated trip to Morocco, and shortly after that is spring break! THAT MEANS I’M IN THE SINGLE DIGIT COUNTDOWN UNTIL I SEE TWO OF MY BEST FRIENDS! Cannot. Contain. Excitement. Not surprisingly, another Spanish airline strike and I went head to head when they came dangerously close to sabotaging my reunification with my girlies, but I proved victorious yet again.  I say you can take my money, but you can’t take my spirit, stupid airport.

Gibraltar Rocked! (Sevilla & Cordoba too)

No worries if you don’t get my title. Allow me to explain my witty pun. This past weekend, all of AIFS loaded the coach bus yet again for another excursion. I have to be honest and say I was partially dreading this trip solely because I had just returned from Switzerland and had less than two full days to catch up on life. However it didn’t take long to do a complete 180, and now I can easily say this was one of my favorite weekends yet!

Around 1 pm on Friday afternoon, the bus dropped us off in Gibraltar under a sky that was seconds from opening up. It did in fact rain a good portion of the time we were there, but none of us let the weather affect our moods. Turns out Gibraltar is actually owned by the U.K. therefore we needed to show our passports at border control upon walking into the city. Once we ventured over the runway (not kidding, you literally walk through the exterior of Gibraltar’s airport) everything was in English-SUCCESS!  Also, everything was in pounds-FAIL. Luckily we had brought a lunch from home and didn’t really need to buy anything. Or so we thought. A few of us found a milkshake kiosk that could not be resisted, however the women who owned it were extremely friendly and accepted our euro, which we later found out that most places would. I’ll never forget you, Toblerone milkshake. Over two hours of free time is a dangerous thing. It allows enough time to wander far, far away, or to get extremely frustrated attempting to find cover from the rain. I obviously did the latter for quite some time until we stumbled upon a glass blowing exhibit/showroom. Everything was so pretty and I even took mental note of all the pieces I want as wedding gifts! (a girl can dream,right?) (I mean the wedding, not the gifts). What the hell were we supposed to do now? It seemed like the only thing in Gibraltar was the plaza we were stranded in, and we still had an hour to kill. After venturing to the opposite side of the plaza, we realized there was indeed an exit which lead to an abundance of cobblestone streets and places to windowshop. I suppose it would have been nice if we had realized this earlier but so be it, at least I got a milkshake. We met back up with the group and were divided into two groups while boarding a hybrid of a minivan and a bus; finally time to do something cool.

Our tour guide/minivanbus driver, whose name is long gone from my memory was about to take us to the rock of Gibraltar, AKA, the reason we were there in the first place. The rock is about 14,000 feet high, and consists of the most amazing caves I’ve ever seen. Granted I haven’t been to a surplus of caves, but these were legitimately awesome. The drive up the rock was about 3 miles but we made a slight pitstop at the halfway mark for a photo op.  Believe me when I say I’m a sucker for geography, so when it was made clear that we were at the southwestern most point in Europe I nearly freaked. We could legitimately see Africa from where we were standing at “Europa Point.” Only ten minutes to look around didn’t seem long enough, but time was a wastin’ and there were monkeys to be seen.

rock and roll gibraltar

DID I SAY MONKEYS?! YES, YES I DID. 300 Wild monkeys, living in the caves of the rock of Gibraltar and entertaining thousands of daily visitors including myself. Before the van even stopped to let us encounter the monkeys firsthand, one had hoisted its way into the open window on the driver’s side. You can bet your last dollar that I was the first one out of the van the second it came to a full stop. And there they were in all their glory-running around like….well,monkeys. Because the monkeys travel in packs, there were only about 10 in our immediate vicinity. We were warned that they are known to jump and to just keep an eye out. Clearly I was not fully aware of their capabilities, and crouching three feet in front of one to take a picture was all it took for one to grab hold of my hood, and maneuver its way up my back and head. I think I pulled my neck with my initial reaction to jerk my head around to fling it off, but that lil fella had quite the grip, and decided to work all the way up my head by clawing at my scalp. Yum, hepatitis and herpes B! This all happened so fast, but I vaguely remember and was told later on that I managed to yell “it’s killing me!” which then cued our tour guide to pry the monkey off me. Highlight of my life right there.

headed straight for the jugular

That ordeal will go down as one of my fondest memories ever, and I wasn’t sure if the weekend could get any better at this point, but alas, Seville was incredible. If I hadn’t chosen Granada for study abroad, I would have gone to Seville. Not to mention it was finally starting to feel like springtime here in Spain, and everything is that much better when there is no need for a winter jacket. At 7:30 p.m. we arrived to our wonderful hotel, and got ready for dinner. So.Many.Vegetables. I literally went buckwild piling on the veggies as if I had never seen/nor will I see them again. When I say I had vegetables at my dinner at the residencia, I hope you know I mean french fries or potatoes, so please understand how exciting this was. A small group of us decided to go to a bar for the evening. Finally got a much anticipated (and overpriced) mojito. The bar felt very Barcleona-esque, and of course I got to see every bit of it because of the lack of people. I will never adjust to the time in which people go out in this country. Grandma just can’t handle the European lifestyle at all. Plus, I didn’t mind having a good night’s sleep before a three hour walking tour the next morning.

The tour took us to Plaza de España which is a plaza located in Parque de María Luisa and now used as government buildings. The grey skies did not make for ideal photos but it was still gorgeous and a bit overwhelming in regards to the size. The buildings are lined with tiled alcoves of each province of Spain and decorated to the specific characteristics of the region. The park also extends beyond the walls of the buildings to incorporate plenty of orange trees, flowers, park benches and fountains. Muy bonita! After, it was off to the Alcázar, an old Moorish palace that was similar, yet not as breathtaking as the Alhambra. We learned that many of the materials were recycled from the Romans, which was a good explanation as to why the pillars were made of different marbles, and were different sizes. The palace also focused on the acceptance of all religions, and Christian and Jewish symbols could be seen in many of the rooms. And lastly, a view of the Cathedral of Sevilla. You know what they say, “if you’ve seen one gothic church, you’ve seen ’em all.” Or maybe that’s just what I say. I’ll give it credit for being magnificent, plus the Gothic period is one of my favorites, but If I see one more church I will throw a tantrum. Also, If you are reading my blog to gain accurate historical information, I apologize in advance because that’s as much as you’re gunna get out of me. I’m not here to teach, I’m here to entertain!

Of course no tour is complete without nearly sending me into cardiac arrest, so to go out with a bang we climbed up 33 flights of stairs ramp (still difficult) to make it to the bell tower of the Cathedral and get a view of the city. I stayed up there about 10 minutes to soak it all in, and to allow my heartbeat to return to a normal pace before descending and anticipating the buckling of my knees. Free at last, free at last! Time to explore the city at my own pace and enjoy the sun that finally decided to peek its head out. Soon it was 75 degrees as me, Allie and Ruth perused Seville. We got lost, got yelled at for sampling ice cream without making a purchase, made up an incredible rap song and returned to Plaza de España. Once we finally found our way, we were dead set on renting a paddle boat which allowed us to row around the interior of the buildings for only 5 euro. It didn’t take long for me to cross professional rower off my list. I was 100% incapable of moving the boat in the right direction and was sick and tired of strangers yelling at me in Spanish, so I handed the oars and my pride over to Allie who had clearly had some practice. For 35 minutes we (semi) circled around the moat-like thingamajig with the sun beating down. A perfect way to end the day if you ask me.

Tired and achey we walked back to the hotel, only to immediately venture back out for a well known gelato shop. My feet may have been in agony, but I make sacrifices for things and people I love and this was no exception. It was as delicious as the reviews said, and these people (unlike the evil lip-linered troll from before) allowed us to try as many of their 40+ flavors as we wanted. And thus concludes a marvelous afternoon. I swear my intention to go out later that night was there. I was dressed and everything, but then..someone turned on the T.V. Slowly, our group of party-goes was morphing into the “I’m gunna stay in and watch some National Geographic” crowd. It didn’t take much convincing before I was one of those people, in pajamas, watching a special on heroin addiction.

Before I knew it I was back on the bus, wishing I had a few more days in Seville. Our last stop of the weekend was Cordóba, settled on the Guadalquivir river. Yet another city where the Jews and Muslims once were thriving communities only to be kicked out. Surprise? Cordóba which at one time was the most populated city in the world, is also the birthplace of Socrates and Maimonides. That’s a pretty big deal! Almost immediately we were taken on a tour through the “Juderia” or Jewish quarter, that today holds one of only two synagogues preserved in Spain. The difference between this synagogue and the one seen in Toledo was that this one actually resembled a synagogue, you know, sans crucifix and patrolling nuns. Our tour guide really knew her stuff and it was nice to finally see some Jewish signs of life. These were some of the narrowest streets I had ever walked through. Seeing as this city was one the capital of the Islamic caliphate in Al Andalus (Andalusia) it seemed pertinent to visit the Cathedral that was once the mosque of the city. This mosque was ginormous I tell you, literally never ending. Similar to the Alcázar, the mosque incorporated many leftover materials. The red and white arches repeated for what felt like miles. Although when first built in the year 600 it was a Visigoth church, it was quickly changed into a mosque before ultimately winding up as a Roman Catholic church post-reconquista. Soon after, our journey back to Granada was in effect, and I was beyond satisfied with my weekend.

rambam himself

Planning a visit to Spain? These cities are a must see. Want to go but don’t want to travel alone? Take me with you! I promise these places won’t disappoint. And now that I’ve made you jealous, my work here is done! Until next time.

A Lot of Swiss Chocolate and a Oui Bit of France

A wise, anonymous friend of mine once said: “The only way to cure a chocolate hangover is with more chocolate.” Trust me, she is so right. And that is why I have returned to Spain with seven different varieties of Swiss chocolate and a higher BMI in exchange for leaving my dignity and sense of judgement in Geneva.

I’m kidding. But if you are an avid reader of this blog you know there’s always a somewhat ridiculous story to accompany my adventures.

At 2 A.M. on Friday morning me and the rest of my travel gang headed to the bus station to catch our five hour bus ride to Madrid, where we would then catch our two hour plane to Geneva. I would have been perfectly content staying on board for some extra pizza and swiss chocolate, but apparently that is strictly prohibited under the Swiss Air code of conduct. Upon arrival at the hotel, we had quite a bit of brainstorming to do. These next few moments would determine the rest of our trip and possibly whether or not I would end up in a Swiss jail cell. To sum things up, we had legitimately purchased two hotel rooms suitable for two people each, with a total of six people. Now I’m no mathematician but I was pretty positive that meant four people could stay in Hotel Moderne legally. I decided to take one for the team and volunteer to be the stowaway for the weekend along with my roommate’s friend from home who is also abroad and joined us on our travels. For the next five days we interchangeably exercised pretending to not know each other, returning strategically before and after the others (six minutes. every time) and pretending to be foreign. By foreign I mean that if the receptionist spoke to us in English, we were Dutch. If he spoke Dutch, we were American. If he spoke Chinese, I would be thoroughly impressed and ultimately blow our cover. Upon arriving at our room, my two hotel-mates and I noticed how tiny our bed was in comparison to our other friend’s. Without hesitation my friend Krissy marched down to the front desk and gave the “why is our bed so much smaller if we’re paying the same amount of money?” shpiel, which worked flawlessly. We then picked up our luggage and trudged up one more floor to our new temporary home. As we opened the door, a few angels harmonized and welcomed us with open arms (at least that’s how I recall it). Not one, not two, but three beds! We couldn’t help but hug each other and make awkward sounds expressing our excitement. This was our “IT’S A GIRL!” hospital room moment.

No post would be complete without a traumatizing situation in which you can laugh at my expense. And so, the following story is the real reason I brought you all here today. It is what I will refer to as “555: The Incident” for as long as I am on this earth, and you’ll see why in just a minute. I don’t care who you are, how many tattoos you have, how many bar brawls you’ve been a part of, you do not know fear until you are about to be homeless (okay, hotel-less), in the streets of a foreign city.

One fine morning, Em (my sneaky companion) and I decided to be daring and go down to breakfast. Our sneaky stunt had been flawlessly executed and we felt we were deserving of a 1,000 calorie reward. Of course we knew better than to speak to our other friends, but we figured at this point it would be safe for us to enjoy a croissant or four. Then, out of nowhere, a disgruntled French woman appeared from the kitchen and demanded our number. I had a split second to decide if I wanted to fake a heart attack or surrender. I even thought maybe I could get away with a “this isn’t where I parked my car” moment, and make a mad dash for the door (my sprint is still slower than the average walking pace), but instead I simply decided to stare at her until she melted. Angrily, with her spit flying onto my butter knife, she repeated: “!” This back and forth occurred approximately three more times, and every time our answer, in unison, was “I don’t remember.” Finally, we caved. “551, I think?” Close to vomiting on the table, I crossed my fingers that this would be the end of her interrogation. Room 551 was actually the room number of our other friends who were ye close ( )<— [that is drawn to scale] to entering the room when they saw us struggling and ran back upstairs. From then on we decided the best method would be the sneaking food back to the room via napkin.

All debacles aside, Geneva is beautiful! I strongly recommend a trip to anyone looking for somewhere touristy that doesn’t necessarily scream “mug me, I’m not from around here!” or “make sexual advances from the stoop of your convenience store!” We  were just steps from the bus and train stations, the tourism office, and the lake. Each day we decided to do one main attraction and then just go with the flow. Day number one was designated for aimless walking and getting situated. Our first stop was the tourism office to make sure we had all the information for our tentative plans. We then strolled along the lake where I took an uncanny amount of pictures of birds, and got my first glimpse of the Jet d’eau, a 459 ft fountain that is more or less the most famous landmark of Geneva. I swear for 10 minutes I was in some weird sci-fi film because out of nowhere appeared a man stripped down to a speedo and strutting his stuff down the snowy/icy dock in the middle of Lake Geneva. Not caring who was watching he hopped right in for his early evening dip. The water must have been 30 degrees, if that, and this dude’s in there playing with swans. At this point I was certain we were in for a great vacation. Next we found a cafe and enjoyed our first bites of Swiss chocolate. The chocolatiers were outrageously priced (to match everything else in Geneva) so we opted for supermarket chocolate which is definitely just as amazing. However soon our tiredness caught up to us and we all agreed that an early bedtime wasn’t such an awful idea.

what a powerful bidet!

what a powerful bidet!

Early the next morning we met in front of the tourism office for an actual professionally guided tour of the old city. Our guide was an American who moved to Geneva with her family some 40 years before but never went into detail. After ending at the site of John Jack Russeau’s house, we  took advantage of the beautiful weather, bought some paninis from a truck and ate lunch outside. Hey, remember that time a bird attacked another bird mid-air and threw it’s mangled carcass just inches from where we were eating? Yep, me too. Well, after losing our appetites from that, we got on the local bus headed to the outskirts of Geneva to ride the cable car up the Saleve mountain. The bus only cost us $3.50, but we soon learned this was a rookie mistake because the bus drivers never even checks tickets. I need to backtrack for a second and explain how complicated of a process finding this destination was. Not because of the bus system, but because the woman in the bus station the day before had convinced us that the only way to get up to the mountains without actually skiing was to go to France, which would cost at least 40 Swiss Francs. Confused and tired of exploring any more options, we almost left the station with no plans for the next day. Miraculously, the lightbulb in my head went off and I remembered the name of what I had looked up online weeks before. The moment uttered “Saleve,” her face lit up. I’m still boggled as to how she didn’t realize what I had asked her about in the first place. She understood me, and clearly this is a popular tourist destination, so thanks but no thanks for suggesting I go to another country and spend four times the amount of money. Anyway, the cable car went virtually straight up the mountain and let us off for as long as we wanted to take pictures of the Alps and play in the little bit of snow that was there. Word to the wise: strangers do not think it’s funny when you joke about “getting some air” while simultaneously reaching for the door in a cable car. I learned that one the hard way. Little did I know my ears were going to seal themselves shut as the air pressure increased and I thought knew I was going to die.  Some have ‘nam flashbacks; I have Disney flashbacks. There I was, six year old me, unable to be excited because of the tremendous amount of pressure and pain in my ears caused by the airplane. I was scared to yawn, scared to swallow, scared to blow my nose, and scared to do anything that didn’t involve eating chocolate, really. Instead I bitched about the pain until it took me by surprise 10 minutes later walking back down to the bus. It sounded exactly like a fog horn when it finally happened. I honestly may have blacked out. I thought my hearing was back to normal after the first explosion but over the next 15 minutes, it happened two more times. Those who know me personally know that I have an extremely low tolerance for pain and this was not pleasant. Not pleasant for me, and certainly not pleasant for those around me. Later that night our group of nine decided to split up. I wound up at a bar with three of my friends and tried a Strongbow “beer.” I put that in quotes because I literally had to ask the bartender if there was an alcohol content in what seemed to be sparkling apple juice. I also should mention that for $8.50 you better believe I split that bad boy with Ruth (my partner in crime.)

pre-departure prayers for the cables not to snap did occur

pre-departure prayers for the cables not to snap did occur

It was only the third day and I had felt as if I’d been in Geneva for weeks. We had plans for a bout tour at 3 pm, but time is precious on a five day vacation so yet again wakey wakey eggs and bacy by 9. Onto the bus we loaded and rode for a few minutes to the United Nations building of Europe. The building was closed so the only pictures we took were from the outside, but that was good enough for me. I do realize there is a UN building in New York, but obviously everything is just cooler to do in Europe, so I got my artsy wind-blown flags pictures and called it a day. Just up the road there was a glass and pottery museum which was  empty besides us. Clearly not a popular place to visit, but still worth the visit. Plus you know I love me some good ole fashion china and cutlery that I can visualize at parties I’ll be throwing in my future house. After we had killed enough time and eaten lunch it was off to the lake for our hour-long boat tour. There’s only so much detail I can go into about a boat sailing on a lake, but believe me it was  gorgeous and a lot of fun.

The real highlight of this day was dinner. We figured when in Switzerland, do as the Swiss-get fondue.  I prowled the internet to find out the best spot for authentic fondue and we made a reservation for 8 pm. We got there right on time, and were quickly disappointed when the owner told us we did not have a table because the reservations go to her e-mail which she only checks every 24 hours. Was this bitch surrious? What if she checked her email at 2pm and I e-mailed her at 2:30. How is that fair? I don’t take no for an answer, however, in this jam packed establishment I couldn’t even get close enough to her to argue as I normally would. Luckily after seeing our disappointment and realizing we probably didn’t fully understand the website’s French directions, she promised us a table 20 minutes later. Success. I had spent an ample amount of time on google earlier that day making sure it was safe to take two lactaid pills at once (you can all thank me for that one), and sure enough-it was. I was excited, and rightfully so.

smile and say cheese

On our last full day in Switzerland, we went to France. Funny, right? Don’t you just love when countries are all molded together all pangea-esque and what not? The bus to Annecy, though more than I would have liked to pay wound up being well worth it once we caught our first glimpse of the fairytale setting. Mind you this was over an hour and a half after we got there because eating lunch and getting lost took a bit lot longer than expected. It felt like the setting of a princess movie, and so stereotypically French, at least in my mind. Annecy had a lake as well, with more views of the mountains, lots of swans, some sailboats, and cute surrounding gift shops and cafes. Right in the middle of the river was a really old castle, that was…old. I don’t know anything about this stuff and really don’t feel like trolling the internet so just bear with me. I wish we had been able to spend more time there. Luckily, I’ll be seeing France again later this month!

how does one get in or out?!

Our night winded down in true peasant-like fashion, eating yogurts and fruits purchased from the grocery store and listening to music in the hotel room while recapping our trip and obviously preplanning Facebook album titles. I can’t really capture how much I loved this vacation, nor is there much I would change. But what I can do is ponder the following: Why isn’t everything in life made out of Swiss chocolate? If your reservations for fondue are illegitimate is it called fondon’t? And lastly, how do the owners of the clock stores not go cuckoo?

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