Travel Blog

Pickpockets, Platanos, & Podcasts, oh my!

Hi everyone!!! I know I haven’t written in FOREVER… like, forever. So I thought it was time to give you all a quick update from the last 5 countries I’ve been to! This isn’t going to be the most articulate, eloquent blog post, but I thought you still might want to know the haps. So here goes.

SPAIN:

     Spain was edgy, unique, unexpectedly wow-ing, and amazingly rich in culture. I stayed for the first 7 nights with my friend Abigail who is taking her junior year abroad in Barcelona. It was definitely a lot, coming from having my own room in Israel to living in a small dorm room, not having any alone time or physical space to be alone. Though at times it was stressful, I did have some AMAZING experiences. For example, I LOVE architecture, and Spain had the best architecture! There is a famous Spanish architect named Antoni Gaudí, who built all these crazy, unique, weird buildings in Spain, and I went on tours of all of them. It was SO cool and fun; I was just in heaven. It felt like an educational Disneyland.

     I also went to the Salvador Dalí museum, which was amazing for me. I hate art and I hate museums, but Dalí has always been the only exception. I find his art so incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking in the same way I find literature. I think the reason I don’t like most art is because it’s either too obvious (i.e. a painting of fruit or of a naked lady), or it’s just too abstract that there’s absolutely no way to figure it out (a white canvas with red and blue splatters). Dalí’s work on the other hand gives you all of the visual tools you need, and it’s kind of like a puzzle to figure out what a melting clock could possibly mean and how it contributes to the overall meaning of the painting. And then when you figure out what he intended, it is just SO cool and so fascinating!!!

     On my last night, I went to a Barcelona vs. Sevilla fútbol (soccer) game. What an incredible cultural experience! It was so full of energy and pride for Barcelona; I have always loved sports and think that games can be such an immersive way to learn about a culture. So I loved that, and getting to take pictures and freak out over watching Lionel Messi play. 

     As for the food, I didn’t like the food at all, which was heartbreaking for a foodie like me! It stemmed from the fact that almost everything had pork or shellfish in it, which I normally don’t eat because of Judaism but I had to resort to eating in Spain because there was literally NOTHING to eat if you don’t eat ham. And as for clubbing and the Barça night life, well… I hate clubbing, and sometimes I wish I was more of a typical teenager because EVERYBODY always wants to club and party and I just am not into it. Don’t get me wrong, it has been SUPER fun to be legal and order drinks with meals. I even like going to bars with my friends, but I just don’t like to go to grimy, sweaty, gross clubs and get super wasted. So I definitely didn’t live the wild Barcelona life, but I was fine with that, because I was doing so much tourism during the day that I needed the rest anyways.

     Overall I had a really great time in Barcelona for the culture, architecture, and art, not necessarily for clubs, but I was a-okay with that. I loved all of my experiences there but definitely didn’t fall in love with it. It had something to it that I can’t quite put my finger on; all I know is I was kind of consistently on edge there. But Madrid was the complete opposite. 

     I fell in LOVE with Madrid the minute my cab driver pulled away from the train station. I don’t know what it was – maybe the tall, white, grandesque buildings or the classy and collected air to the city and people. Whatever it was, the minute I got there I felt so so safe, comfortable, and happy. I was only there for 2 full days, which was a bummer, but also exciting because now I know that I want to go back, which I think is kind of the point of this whole year, figuring out which countries I want to continue exploring later in life. Maybe I’ll do a junior year semester in Madrid. It reminded me so much of Manhattan, which is maybe why I felt so comfortable there, because I’ve always felt so comfortable in Manhattan.

     The first day I went to a beautiful park, a cool temple gifted to Spain by Egypt, a cathedral, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Jewish museum, a churro restaurant (imagine like a Spanish version of Ghirardelli with churros instead of ice cream), an adorable fancy market, and the BEST TACO PLACE EVER right across from my hotel! The craziest thing happened to me that day… I am at the Royal Palace of Madrid. It says it’s closed for an event which pisses me off because of course I would’ve loved to go on a tour if it had been open. Then I meet an adorable Irish couple and we end up talking for like 20 minutes because they are so sweet. Then they ask me about my sweatshirt, which has Hebrew on it. Then they tell me they saw Israeli flags flying in front of the palace. So I look closer and THERE ARE ISRAELI FLAGS WAVING NEXT TO THE SPANISH FLAGS AT THE PALACE. So I look it up and WHO arrived in Spain yesterday??? None other than REUVEN RIVLIN the president of Israel. Which is why the palace is closed for this week. Literally the reason I can’t get a tour is because the president of Israel is in there right now dining with the president of Spain. What a coincidence !!! THEN I’m walking to this churro place, when I AGAIN COINCIDENTALLY run into the Jewish Cultural Center/Museum!!! And of course they closed 5 minutes before so I wander around and find this SUPER FANCY ADORABLE MARKET and buy veggie paella for dinner and a vermouth because in Spain there’s this time called la hora de vermut in the middle of the day when every one drinks it, so I’m like I can’t go to Spain and not do it! So I get carded for the first time which is so funny but I get my vermouth and then I hear HEBREW!!!! Turn around and ask this couple in Hebrew if they’re from Israel, they say yes, so we sit there for like 20 minutes drinking our vermouth and talking about Israel and Judaism. Then after my adorable market time I go back to the Jewish museum, and finally make it to the churro place for delicious churros dipped in thick, creamy, hot chocolate. So that was a crazy good day.

     The next day I walked around and did more exploring, before meeting up with my friend from Nicaragua, Andrea, who is doing her 4 years of university in Madrid! So many coincidences, but it was great to see her and practice my Spanish more. That night I had dinner with a random friend of a friend of a friend, who is 24 and teaching English in Madrid. That’s been one of the coolest things about my gap year, meeting strangers, and having time to spend with people that I wouldn’t normally spend time with if my best friends or family were with me. 

To say I ate well in Madrid would be the biggest understatement of my life. SO surprising, but literally I think the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life (except Sol Food) was in Madrid. EVERY SINGLE MEAL I had is up there among the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I had tacos, green tea/matcha waffles, eggs benedict on a bagel, a breakfast burger with a fried egg, etc… granted I did in depth research about the best restaurants and a lot of them are the hipster places where the Americans go (but we know how to find the good food! Or maybe we just have too high of standards). Definitely killed my bank account but made my stomach very happy.

Overall, I had an incredible 2 weeks in Spain, and will definitely be back.

CUBA:

I had absolutely NO idea what to expect from Cuba. It ended up being an incredibly challenging, different, crazy new experience. I learned a lot about myself and how to travel safely and smartly in new countries. I spent 2 weeks with two friends from Marin Academy, Tule and Francesca. We rented a room in the apartment of friends of friends of Francesca’s family. The owners of the apartment were named Piñol and Sari, and we fell in love with them. They took us under their wing and immediately assumed the roles of our temporary parents, giving us soup and tea when we weren’t feeling well, taking us to Cuban music concerts, and Piñol even insisting we call him Papá Piñol. We spent the two weeks exploring the neighborhoods of El Vedado and La Havana, walking around, discovering our favorite restaurants (Vampirito forever <3!), making friends (shoutout to Charlie, Maya, Freddy & Elena), going to numerous concerts and sometimes even going out with the band afterwards for beers, suffering over the painfully slow Wi-Fi in the Wi-Fi parks, and laughing at the crazy propoganda that is the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. A favorite moment of mine was when the museum claimed to have “papers found at the bottom of the ocean” proving that the Americans committed terrorist acts against Cuba. These papers were on display in a case, however, and I found it very, very, very hard to believe that they would be in such great condition after sitting at the bottom of the ocean for many years… We also went on an overnight to Viñales Valley, where we rode horses, visited a tobacco plantation and smoked our first puros, hiked to a cave, and ate breakfast at a finca, or farm, in the countryside. I even got to go to Shabbat dinner at the Gran Sinagoga. Who knew Cuba had such a bustling Jewish community? I had such a great time going to services, even though Francesca and I laughed almost the whole way through ebcause the two teens running the service were so tone deaf… but still, it’s not everyday you attend Kabbalat Shabbat led by Cubans in tallitot pronouncing the Hebrew perfectly and knowing every single word!!! But of course, my favorite moment of the trip was my last night when we were out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, El Cimarron. The band asked if we wanted any songs to be played. Tule immediately blurted out “Despacito” which you all know is my favorite song in the world and I know every single word (and I mean it). I did not hesitate to tell the band this impressive fact. A few minutes later, the same woman from the band came back, saying that the singer sadly didn’t know the words, and unless someone could sing it, they couldn’t play the song. I knew there was only one thing to do. So I got up onstage, dragging Francesca and Tule along with me, and sang my heart out to every single word of Despacito, in Spanish of course, in front of a full restaurant. Cameras were busted out from audience members to film this hilarious scene, but I didn’t care. It was one of the most exhilarating, adrenaline-rushing, AMAZING moments of my life!!! I know Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber would be proud. I wish more than anything that I had the video to share with all of you and to treasure forever, but sadly, on my second to last day in Cuba, I got pickpocketed on a bus. I don’t really want to write much about it because in actuality it was pretty scary even though I was unharmed. I still hate remembering how victimized and vulnerable I felt right after. At first I was really shaken up, freaking out about losing ALL OF MY PHOTOS from the trip, not being able to contact my parents, etc. But then I realized that all of the things they took were replacable… except the photos. How could I ever deal with the fact that the pictures of every memory I had made in Cuba were gone forever? That I could never show anyone my Despacito performance, or a photo of me cooking dinner for the family with my host mom? I tried for days to find the silver lining, but it wasn’t until I got to Mexico and I missed my friends and family that I found it… I realized that only we know what really happened there. We don’t have photos, but it’s all in our hearts + memories, and nobody gets to know but us 🙂 I guess it’s our own little secret, and that’s kind of cool, especially in a world so dominated by technology and where photographing every minute of our lives is such a priority. So I guess you’ll just have to believe me on everything I’m telling you! I didn’t fall in love with Cuba but I’m very happy I went and have memories in my mind and heart that will last a lifetime.

MEXICO: Besides seeing my grandparents and cousins and enjoying the beautiful beach, Mexico was sadly a bust. I got an intestinal infection from Cuba, and spent my entire Thanksgiving break either in bed or on the toilet! No fun. On the bright side, though, I got a doctor’s appointment, antibiotics, and Pedialyte all for under $12! Perks of getting sick in Mexico and not in America.

NICARAGUA: As always, Nicaragua was amazing. This was the first time I finally felt like I was there for myself, and developing my own relationship to the country independent of my family. It was the most special feeling, going around the country, making plans with my friends, sitting in someone’s house and conversing fluently in Spanish, and partaking in a Nicaraguan national holiday called La Purísima with my best friend Anabelén. I also ate platanos (plantains), pescado frito (whole fried fish), and gallo pinto (beans and rice) every day, and I was in HEAVEN. I also drank Toña (Nica beer) like water and felt like a true Nica. I can’t really put into words how incredible of a time I had there, but thinking back to my blog post about redefining home many, many months ago… I can finally put Nicaragua on the list, wholeheartedly and confidently. Te quiero mi Nica! I’ll be back as soon as I can ❤

OTHER RANDOM UPDATES:

  1. I’ve gotten super into podcasting recently which has been a fun development in my gap year experience! It definitely made long walks on my gap year more enjoyable, and I did do MANY long walks because public transportation stresses me out sometimes, and I needed a way to get exercise anyways. I pretty much walked anywhere as long as it was an hour or less. I listen to the podcast Dear Sugars with Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed. I got into this podcast after reading the book Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. The book and podcast are both so amazing, so heartbreaking and sad at times for sure, but I find them comforting because they remind me that everyone is going through their own stuff, and life is hard sometimes, and that’s okay. The podcast is also really humbling because it makes you realize how much worse things could be. 
  2. My Spanish has definitely been improving a lot, which is a ton of fun!!! There have been numerous occasions where people have told me I have perfect Spanish or asked where I’m from because I sound like I’m from a Spanish speaking country. I consistently talk to all of my waiters, cab drivers, etc in Spanish and even one night in Spain went to dinner with a group of Spaniards and spoke the whole time in Spanish. It definitely is exhausting but I know is helping me improve my conversational Spanish. I’m going to be sad to go home and return to the world of English!
  3. I am thrilled to announce that I will be interning at Alexander Muss High School in Israel at some point during second semester. The internship will include joining AMHSI day trips and taking photos, finding and updating alumni information, helping with market and community research online and helping with different tasks from fixing up guest rooms, setting up events, office tasks, to helping the Head of School with emails and phone calls. I cannot wait to be back in the Hod and helping out with my favorite program in the world!

So that’s the deal! I will update you all on Peru at the end of my trip. I think this blog post is enough for now! Anyways, It’s been an incredible 4 months, but I am exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and ready to be heading home in a few days. Though I will miss Latin American cuisine, speaking Spanish, and of course, being able to drink legally, I am beyond excited to see all of my friends and family back home, getting back into a consistent exercise routine, making some money, and figuring out what next semester has in store for me.

Signing off,

Sof

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