Orientation, Alcalá and Madrid (May 30, 2014)

My Spanish breakfast
My Spanish breakfast

This right here is a picture of what my Spanish breakfast looked like. I learned there that breakfast in Spain is not really that big of a deal as it is in the U.S. Usually the breakfast is the lightest meal of the day and a lot of Spaniards don’t eat it at all. Well… coffee. Everyone has coffee.

In the picture there is a croissant, a magdalena or muffin, orange juice and chocolate milk, because I’m not that big on coffee. Now, this chocolate milk is made with a chocolate powder called cola cao which I miss dearly, and even though I like my very continental American breakfast, I do miss my Spanish breakfast. It may just be the memory it brings mixed with the fact that I’m unable to find cola cao here in the States, but sometimes that’s all I want after I wake up.

It was 59 degrees outside… I woke up really early today. I’m guessing it’s because I was really excited. I didn’t even need my alarm, which is a miracle. My host mom walked with me in the morning to the university, where I had orientation all morning. We took a placement test and discussed important topics such as: historical facts about the city of Alcalá de Henares, information about the university, safety tips, information about public transportation, information about field trips, disciplinary norms and information about internet access. Basically, a lot of information about everything we needed to know.

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Orientation Packet

In orientation, I met other American students from across the country and after orientation was over, we took a tour of Alcalá de Henares. The city is beautiful. While we were touring, a guy that wasn’t part of the tour started screaming, which scared us all, until we realized that someone was recording him. We later found out that high school kids were doing that when they found tourists, as a joke, to put the video of the reactions on YouTube. We laughed afterwards, after the creepy moment had passed.

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Jackie, me, Sydney

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Jillian, Leila, me

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Tapas

That last picture is tapas. Something you will love while you’re there. Tapas are basically a variety of Spanish appetizers and snacks that are served when you buy beer or sangria or wine… The concept of the tapas is that you buy an alcoholic beverage and you get free tapas. Apparently, this was something that was done throughout Spain but lately you are unable to find it in most places. (the concept, not the actual tapas. Tapas are everywhere!). However, Alcalá is one of those places where you can still buy a beer and get delicious tapas for free.

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Leila

We then went to the train station to take a train from Alcalá to Madrid…

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Madrid was a city I had been dreaming of for a long time. When I was little, I remember my friends wanted to go to Paris or Rome, and don’t get me wrong I want to go to Paris and Rome as well but Madrid was the place I was always thinking about.

We toured Madrid walking as well, and it was fun being able to see everything but we didn’t really have enough time to stop anywhere, so the guides explained where things were located and how to get to them so we could go on the weekends. They were really sweet and fun.

Madrid is beautiful but that first impression wasn’t the best. It didn’t feel like I thought it would. I took pictures and walked with the group trying to figure out why it didn’t feel like home away from home. The amount of tourists didn’t help either but I kept on walking and snapping away. It turns out, it was just not the right time. I would figure that out, later on…

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I believe we came back from Madrid around 9pm and my host mom was waiting for me at the plaza because I don’t know my way home yet. Once we got home, I ate, took a shower, got dressed and met up with students from UCF and other American universities.

We went to a really nice tapas bar, and later on to an Irish pub that was playing bachata and some mix of reggaeton with techno. Jackie and Sydney walked me home after the night was over.

It was the perfect ending to a hectic weekend of cultural immersion. I was sleep deprived and I still couldn’t believe that I was living in Spain…

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Jillian, Jackie, me, Sydney (left to right)

Rambles of a first day: Alcalá de Henares (May 29, 2014)

From Barajas Airport to the Alcalá de Henares
From Barajas Airport to the Alcalá de Henares

Upon arrival we got our luggage and bags, went to the plaza across the street and met and left with our host families.

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First thing I noticed when I got to Alcala is the greetings. Spaniards kiss twice, once in each cheek. That kind of took me by surprise, but it was easy to get used to. To the point that even back home, we (UCF students that went on the program) still greet ourselves with two kisses.

Warning: Another thing you are going to notice a lot in this city are cigüeñas or storks in historic buildings. These are protected and the city makes sure they are well taken care of, meaning that they provide “them with an easy-to-reach special supply of twigs and branches for their nests, as well as making sure they suffer as few disturbances as possible”(AlcalaNow).

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My host family is super nice and chilled. We live 15 minutes walking distance from the university in an apartment. The homes here are small but cozy. The elevator to go to our floor is extremely small, I know my roommate and my friend Barbara would definitely opt for the stairs.

I have no curfew, a set of keys, a room and bathroom to myself. The house rules are pretty standard and I have a pretty cute bunk bed and a nice view.

Bunk bed
Bunk bed

Working Space
Working Space

I got to meet my host sister when she came back from school and Luna, the beauty in the picture below.

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Luna

Laura is three years younger than me. She is super nice, funny and loves languages. She’s also been to Portugal and Italy and has been telling me all about it.

Alcalá is such a beautiful place.

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After I took the siesta (yes! I did take the siesta, that’s why I’m still awake right now), we took a walk around the city so I could learn the route to school and just for me to know where places are at.

There is a bus stop right in front of the apartments. One bus takes you around Alcalá and the sort and the other one takes you to Madrid, to the central station, where you can take buses that go to the rest of Spain.

Alcalá is small but it has a little bit of everything. There are a lot of restaurants, bars, tobacco stores or estancos, “chinos” (which are like convenience stores owned by Chinese people where you can buy pretty much anything), supermarkets, and bookstores. You can also find cathedrals, museums, plazas, and a lot of people.

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So far, I really like everything and soon I will write more about it and post a lot of pictures. Tonight however, I’m about to go to sleep because tomorrow is going to be a really long day…

Tomorrow is orientation day, early in the morning, and then in the afternoon, we are going to take a trip to Madri”th”.

Extremely exhausted
Extremely exhausted

Good night!

Source: http://www.alcalanow.com/storks-alcala/

 

Rambles of a first day: getting to Madrid (May 28-29, 2014)

This is probably going to be one of the longest posts I will ever write. If you are planning on going to Alcalá de Henares, hang in there, the first 72 hours are  pretty eventful and full of excitement.

First of all, I’ll let you all know that it is currently 64 degrees outside. I was expecting a warmer weather and I’m guessing that so was everyone else on the program. I don’t think any of us really packed for it, but we’ll figure things out as we go.

I wasn’t really able to sleep that well the night before I left Florida. I was too excited and had this plan in my mind that I would make myself tired so I could sleep on the 8 hr plane ride and be wide awake when I arrived in Madrid at 7am on the following day. Well… that didn’t really work out.

On my way to MCO
On my way to MCO

I got to the Orlando International Airport early in the morning on May 28th, checked my luggage and went through security and on to the gate area with a backpack and a camera bag.

I randomly met Tyler, a guy that is also on the same program as I am, and we talked for a little bit until he had to leave on a flight from Orlando to Charlotte, the stop that we both had to make in order to go to Madrid. However, we were in different flights. He left an hour earlier and so I ate something, walked around, made some calls I had to make before I left and just waited.

The flight was very quick. I was listening to Rozalen all the way there and when I got tired I read the first three or four chapters of “Veronika Decides to Die” in Portuguese.

Plane ride from Orlando to Charlotte
Plane ride from Orlando to Charlotte

When I got to Charlotte, I met with Tyler again and we hung out for a few hours until we had to board the plane that would bring us to Madrid.

On the plane we ended up being on the same section. He was a row in front of me across from where I was sitting and had another student next to him that was going to study in Madrid with another program. I on the other hand, had Amanda.

Amanda and I after many hours of traveling
Amanda and I after many hours of traveling

Amanda is a really nice girl from Texas that is also studying abroad for four weeks. She’s studying in the city of Cadiz with another language school. Out of the eight hours that lasted the flight, I’m pretty sure we spoke for 7 1/2.

Sometimes it’s hard to find people interested in languages and education and traveling and all that, so we hit it off pretty quickly. We had fun on the plane trying to figure out what the movies were about, trying to understand what the crew was attempting to say through the speakers that weren’t really working and enjoying the humor, language and personality of an Andalusian lady that was traveling to Cadiz as well.

Photography by: Amanda Beasly
Photography by: Amanda Beasly

Photography by: Amanda Beasly
Photography by: Amanda Beasly

We had dinner on the plane and it was actually pretty good. They still do the “Chicken or pasta?” that I had not heard in years and they had a really good dessert that I’m still trying to figure out what it was. I’m calling it a “cinnamon oatmeal thingy”.

Later on, we had a snack that was pretty good as well and when we finally landed we stayed in the plane longer than necessary because there was plane traffic. As ridiculous as that sounds, it was true. We stayed on the plane until it was our turn to get off.

Plane food
Plane food

We finally gathered our belongings and walked out of the plane, into the Aeropuerto Adolfo Suarez Madrid- Barajas.

First thing that I noticed right off the plane is that people walk and exercise a lot in this country. The path to get to customs was really long with lots of stairs on the way.The people with large carry on luggage were definitely suffering.

When we finally got to customs we didn’t have to fill any paperwork or anything and the line was very short. There were only four maybe five people before me. The security guard that works at customs asked me a few questions about why I was there and for how long I was staying  and he stamped my passport!

Passport stamp from Madrid, Spain
Passport stamp from Madrid, Spain

After that, we waited for each other outside of customs, we went to get our luggage and I had my first mini heart attack when I thought I had lost my phone, but then I found it in the pocket of my camera bag.

See, for this trip I had only two rules.

1. Do NOT lose your passport. (for obvious reasons)

2. Do NOT lose your phone. (It’s your only way of communicating with everyone back home)

We were trying to figure out where would the other girls arrive at so we could wait for them but that was a little more complicated than expected. We arrived in terminal 1 and flights from Miami arrive in terminal 4, we had to take a shuttle.

Before all of this, we needed Wi-Fi or Wee-Fee (as the Spaniards say). The Barajas airport lets you log into their internet for a period of 15 minutes, so that was the time to update Facebook statuses, send texts through WhatsApp, send Snapchats, send emails and Google where things were at, because we were pretty much completely lost. Fifteen minutes was obviously not enough and afterwards we were all left incommunicated.

Tip:  For all of you that are coming to Madrid at some point, just know that if you have an Ipod, a smartphone, an Ipad and a computer, you get 15 minutes on each device, so at the end you would have an hour of internet.

Amanda ended up joining Tyler and I in the adventure of finding Jackie and Jillian. We hopped in one of the shuttles that drives from terminal to terminal with all of our luggage and arrived at terminal 4.

We are here! Photography by: Tyler Booth
We are here! Photography by: Tyler Booth

Selfie!
Selfie!

Inside an elevator on terminal 4 Amanda found a girl that was from her program and university and she joined us as well. She had already been in Spain for a week or so before the actual program started and was waiting for their professor, as well, to arrive at 10:30am.

On our way to T1
On our way to T1

As we were waiting, I bought a turkey sandwich for 5,50 euros (so you get an idea of prices for food at the airport) which considering how airport food is always expensive no matter where you are and how hungry I was, it was pretty good. It also tasted really good.

Paying for the food was a little impersonal, I believe, but it was still pretty cool. You put your euros into a machine, and the machine gives you your change. However, If you are paying with credit/debit card, you will need to show your passport to the cashier.

Eventually, we got tired of waiting for the girls and we assumed they had already arrived because that’s what the arrival board said. So we went back to take the shuttle, which took us a little while longer to find this time, and we hopped in with all of our luggage again and left for terminal 1.

If you’re going to Barajas, and you’re in terminal 4 and want to go to another terminal, planta cero is where you will get picked up at.

We finally found the girls and the rest of our group right where we were getting picked up by the staff from the Instituto Franklin and we eventually left on a huge bus to Alcala de Henares, the city where we would all live for the next month or so…

Saying good bye is never easy…

There is no way I can summarize how incredibly crazy this year has been.I’m still going to try though. Like I said in a post before, It’s been a year of first times and amazing adventures.

I was 19 for most of the year. I turned 20. I traveled to California and had to make stops in Texas and New York. I traveled to Mexico, Spain, Germany and Puerto Rico. I visited Puerto Vallarta, Las Caletas, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Málaga, Barcelona, Tarragona, Pamplona, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Segovia, Toledo, Oviedo, Wiehl, Cologne and San Juan. I studied abroad. I backpacked. I traveled solo. I found myself completely alone at times. I had wonderful relationships. I made new friends. I met people from all over the world. I spoke to people in English, Spanish, German and Portuguese. I learned to read and understand Portuguese. One of my closest friends moved to Japan. Most of my classmates graduated. I won a poetry contest. A dear friend passed away. I took 18 planes, 17 buses, 16 taxis and more than 30 trains/subways/metro. I was diagnosed with a disorder.

A poem was a finalist in another contest. Another one got selected to be in a book. I figured out my college life. I cried like I’ve never cried before. I was featured in my school’s arts and humanities website and in the modern languages’. I pushed the limits of my body and my mind. I laughed like I’ve never laughed before. I met romance. I met love. I met passion. I met intense pain. I met myself. I discovered the things I like and the ones I dislike. I became stronger and compassionate.

I was bit by a stray cat. I met disappointment. I was scared for my life. I got rabies shots. I met someone with my name. I realized what best friends are. I learned about literature and linguistics. About Latin American countries and about Spain. I learned to be an individual. To figure things out on my own. I met authors. I read around 40 books. I went to a Brazilian film festival, to the San Fermín festival, to a Hindu festival, to a Manu Chao concert at the beach. I traveled with strangers. I started a novel. I got injured and sick many times. I ran 5 miles without stopping.

Dedé Mirabal passed away. Luis Raúl passed away. My roommate turned 21. Presented a story at the Spanish Colloquial. I got new best friends. I did Relay for Life. I went to an ASL comedy show. I learned some ASL. I decided to go volunteer in South Africa. I applied for Peace Corps. I started my Capstone Project. I took a 7 hr a day intense class for 7 days. Made a stop in North Carolina on my way to Spain. Was incredibly jet-lagged.

Went to the Guggenheim Museum, to El Prado Museum, to The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, to the House Museum of Lope de Vega, to the Reina Sofia Museum. I hiked the Gibralfaro castle and the Alcazaba fortification in Málaga. I hiked the Monte Urgull in San Sebastián and The Park Güell in Barcelona. I hiked all the way to Roca El Yunque in Puerto Rico and to Cima del Malvecino in Alcalá de Henares. I stayed in hostels.

I watched soccer matches in Europe during the World Cup. I saw a wedding in Spain. I went to one in Mexico. Went to La Noche en Blanco in Alcalá. Went to las fiestas de pueblo in Valverde. Went to Kapi (7 store club). Went to the Festival del Mondongo, to the Calle Orange Festival.  I’ve felt unstoppable and heart broken.  I got the most amazing books. I tasted the best ice cream and the best empanadas I have ever tasted in my life. I got lost.

I found my favorite movie. I saw a gator up close. I read a book in Portuguese. I served as a translator. I went to a college football game. I read poems in Galician. I got insmonia. I went to Disney. I had poetry nights. I had partying nights. I got to be part of Sigma Delta Pi.  I made some delicious coquito. I finally created a decent blog. Reached 74 followers…

And out of all that the most rewarding experiences are the wonderful and frustrating times I’ve spent with family and friends during this year and understanding that I am stronger, wiser and more capable than I ever thought I was.

I’ll miss 2014, but It’s my mission to make 2015 even better!

Good luck to you all in making this upcoming year the best one!

Happy New Year!

Hindu Festival in the Caribbean (JAGANNATHA RATHA YATRA)

I like to think my life is full of pretty random moments. Today, I had one of those…

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My sister, my sister-in-law and I were strolling down the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan when we walked into a Hindu Festival.

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Now, Hinduism isn’t a big religion in this island conquered by Spaniards for over 400 years. Needless to say the majority of the population, 85% to be exact, is Roman Catholic. So, to be able to find an exotic gem in this tiny place was beyond amazing.

Apparently, “Ratha Yatra is a hallmark of the Bhakti tradition, and dates back over 2,000 years. It symbolizes one’s spiritual self pulling the Supreme into his or her heart. In essence, reconnecting with the Supreme. The original Ratha Yatra, still celebrated in Puri, India, attracts millions and can be seen from space” (Wikipedia).

The first thing that caught my eye was the traditional Indian clothing. It was incredibly beautiful and full of colorful patterns.

After that, we noticed a line of people waiting by a table to our left to get their faces and hands painted.

Then, we walked two steps forward, and when we looked to our right we found a man greeting us with foreign words and offering each of us a disposable plate. He wanted us to taste Indian cuisine! And so we did 🙂

I think I had chick peas, yellow rice, potato and broccoli curry and Indian pudding, but I’m really not sure. The food was cooked without any salt making it hard for the Puerto Rican palate to adjust, but I really enjoyed it. The blending of the sweetness of the dessert with the rest of the food made the meal more like what my palate is used to… sugary things 😉 Then we enjoyed the music, the singing, the dancing, the performances, the beauty, the sunset…

Singing:

Hindu Festival Music

Dancing:

Performances:

Beauty:

Sunset:

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“Sunset del Mar”. Puerto Rico. 2014. Photography by: Mónica Zoé Cruz Ríos

All photography by me 🙂

❤ (Mónica Zoé Cruz Ríos) ❤

“A Childhood Dream” by Colin Howell

I first saw a picture of Angkor Wat in an elementary school textbook and became fascinated with it. The caption read something to the effect of “…one of the largest buildings/temples in the world.” Having little else in the picture to put the size of Angkor Wat into perspective, my mind wandered. For over a decade, unbeknownst to me, it wandered. Flash forward to April, 2014 and the curiosity reignites.

It had been four years since I went to Germany – my last trip. Itching to go somewhere again, I looked for trips online. “To Asia”, I thought, “That’s exciting! I haven’t been anywhere over there yet.” Looking through my options, I happened to come across a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Initially, I ignored it in favor of China. Another glance, though, and something caught my eye. I knew I had seen it before, long ago. It was a picture of Angkor Wat. Suddenly reminded of this place, I searched for as much information as I could find about it. To have that childhood curiosity come rushing back to life…what a crazy feeling. I said to myself “I’m going there.”

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A few months later I was in Cambodia, driving up to the temple itself. There I was, on the other side of the world, looking at what had brought me all this way. It felt so surreal. The first night there, I sat on the steps of Angkor Wat for what felt like hours and watched as the sun lowered beyond the canopy of trees. It was quiet; a cool, breezy evening with nothing more than the white noise of windswept tree leaves and the distant chatter of fellow travelers to listen to. I don’t believe I have ever been more at peace than I was at that point in time.

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Upon returning the next day, we explored the inner confines of the temple. This is what I had been waiting for – to explore this place as best I could. Almost every wall and column of the entire compound has a story carved into it. Be these a mere form of symbolism or a portrayal of historical events, there is much to be learned from them. The temple itself is incredibly beautiful…well, you know, as far as 900-year-old stone temples go. I did this for a few more hours, taking in every little sight that I could see. In the native Khmer language, ‘Angkor Wat’ translates as ‘City of Temples.’ Unfortunately, no number of pictures will do this place justice. It must be seen in person.

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Walking out of the inner section of the complex, I found a small marble lying amongst the stones. I picked it up and carried it with me to the outer entrance where I accidentally dropped it. Looking down, I pondered a while and decided against picking it up, believing that I would return someday.

You might say I lost my marble that day, as I and the rest of my group later drove off. But perhaps this was not the case. Two days later, from one of the many local and very talented artists, I bought a painting for my mom. Beautifully rendered across this canvas were two elephants in the foreground of Angkor Wat. The painting has no title, but I call it simply “Elephants at Angkor.” They say an elephant never forgets. Perhaps I am that elephant. Perhaps I have been for all these years. I will return someday to this childhood dream. Until then, I’ll wander elsewhere. After all, I am a citizen of the world – all its places are home to me.

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Contact Information:

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/colin.howell.31

EMAIL: cghowell93@knights.ucf.edu

A Puerto Rican in Israel…

My name is Roberto Rodriguez Calderon and I’m 19 years old. I live in Canovanas, Puerto Rico and I’m a third year B.A. student of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico in the town of Carolina. Usually in my free time, if I ever have any, I like to write, read subjects of astronomy, neuropsychology, philosophy, physics, literature and history, listen to music and sleep.

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What do you think about traveling?

I believe traveling has to be a vital decision on the life of every human being, especially on young people. If we look at it from a philosophical point of view, its stated that we humans are always trying to understand our surroundings, of course some of that understanding can be done by reading books, but obviously it doesn’t compare to what you experience by actually doing the traveling. It is in that particular experience that you learn from the world and about yourself, at the same time. Traveling helps you grow as a person and brings personal joy, when you realize that you know a lot more about the world you live in.

What do you think is most important, the journey or the destination?

I pretty much believe that the journey is the most important thing. Because, yeah choosing the destination is always a hard choice because they’re a lot of places that one wishes to go, but it would definitely be the journey you do since most of the learning that really counts occurs from the moment  you go out the front door until the moment you come back.

Before this summer, had you traveled anywhere outside the island of Puerto Rico? Did you learn anything?

Yeah, I traveled to the Dominican Republic, the states of Florida and North Carolina. I can’t say I learned much from those places since I was a little kid when I first visited them. But I still have the memories which I usually analyze and I get some bit of information that helps me think about deeper things. For example, I have memories of being with my family in the Dominican Republic and having conversations, even though we all speak Spanish, in which they would laugh about some words that I said. By the time I didn’t know the reason behind their laughter, until I read a book in which I learned that some Spanish words in a country have a different meaning in another country.

It seems that culture is always a key component when traveling. Why did you decide to go to Israel, out of all the countries in the world, during this summer?

That’s simple. I have a cousin that lives there and so I thought it would be a great idea to go visit her, visit the country and actually meet her for the first time. I had no idea about the political history, neither the language but I knew one or two things about their culture.

Did any negative events occurred while you were visiting? and if so, how did those events affect your stay?

More than an event I would referred to it as a social phenomenon which is war. Is funny because I always had this dream of becoming this great soldier, obviously I got rid of that dream once I got into college, but having experienced that phenomenon in which my family and I took on the role of the civilians suffering casualties, helped me recognize that I made the right decision on not joining the army. The war affected in great way the whole stay since we had to keep moving from city to city trying to escape the missiles. It was really hard because it didn’t matter in which city we were, we always had the alarms go on as a sign that there were missiles directed to the city.

When you heard those alarms, what thoughts came to your mind?

The first time I heard the alarms I was reading so I didn’t really assimilate what was happening. But after having the alarms go on from 4 to 8 times per day I started having thoughts on wanting to get back to Puerto Rico. I was scared that the airport was going to get hit by a missile and that the war was going to get out of control.

Having experienced a situation like this one, what would you say to people who want to travel but are worried about safety issues?

Well… I mean we always have to, not be worried, but conscious about everywhere we go. Because bad situations can happen anywhere and it’s just a matter of knowing what to do when things like that happen. But nevertheless you shouldn’t deprive yourself from traveling just because of safety issues, because at the end of the day we never really know what’s going to happen.

Considering this particular voyage, what has been your most memorable ‘out of my comfort zone’ experience?

I have some memorables ‘out of my comfort zone’ experiences from this trip. First, the fact that I was traveling alone and without a cell phone from Puerto Rico to Israel was a bit nerve-racking. Second, since every Friday afternoon we did a religious ceremony call “Shabbat”, through all the afternoon of Friday until Saturday afternoon we couldn’t use any electronic devices.  That was hard because I’m always reading or studying from my laptop. And the last one was changing my eating habits for the period of time I spent there from eating rice, chicken and beans to vegetables, fish, bread and a lot of hummus.

From all the things you experienced when you traveled to Israel, what are the top places or main attractions that you would recommend to other travelers that are wanting to go to Israel as well?

I would tell that someone to go to the dead sea and have a great time floating in it covered in mud. If the person is into old fashion or vintage I would tell them to go to Tel Aviv/Yafo especifically the Yafo part. To those who like to be more active and go out I would recommend to go to Eilat, which is a city packed with a lot of hotels and a lot of people to meet. Jerusalem should be visited because it has a lot of history, plus visiting the wailing wall is a great experience. The beach definitely has to visited and stay there until you experience watching that beautiful sunset that Israel has to offer. The last one I definitely think it should be the Holocaust Museum(Yad Vashem) which is a World Center for Holocaust Research and has much information about the holocaust.

Do you have any travel plans in the immediate future? Or where is the number one place on your list to visit next?

For now I’m planning to visit once again the Dominican Republic to spend some time with my family and actually travel within the country and learn more about their culture, history and famous places. But my number one place to visit I believe is India. India is recognized as a place of much wisdom but at the same time much poverty, so it makes it really interesting for me.

Would you ever go back to Israel?

Yes, I would. Because even though I couldn’t experience much of the country because of the war, I had an amazing experience in those short periods of time that I was doing something else besides escaping. As a result, I ended wanting to see more and experience more and because of that I would love to go back to Israel and spend more time in that amazing place.

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Top 5 Things To Do In The Beautiful Old San Juan

From walking down the cobblestone streets to breathing the fresh ocean air and enjoying the history behind the old Spanish fortifications located right across a beautiful set of colorful colonial houses, Old San Juan has become my favorite traveling destination of all.

History:

Old San Juan is the historic core of the city of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. It is the oldest city under United States jurisdiction founded in 1521 by Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor of the island. In 1493 Christopher Columbus landed on the island on his second voyage, and named it San Juan Bautista in honor of John the Baptist. The location made the original settlement Spain’s most important military outpost in the Caribbean. In 1509 the settlement was relocated to the islet now called Old San Juan and it was named Puerto Rico or rich port. However, around ten years later the confusion of the names led to a switch where the city took the name of San Juan, while the island became Puerto Rico.

Top 5 Things To Do:

  1. Fortifications

Walking or taking the free trolley on a beautiful warm morning to the different fortifications in Old San Juan is a great way to start the day. Old San Juan has over 500 years of history and colonial architecture and visiting the castle San Felipe del Morro, the fort of La Fortaleza and the fort of San Cristobal will allow you to travel back in time with their canons and ramparts used to protect Spain’s empire against Carib Indians, pirates and other countries. These monuments are the must-see attractions in the area and give the region a sense of magic that may not be experienced in other cities.

  1. Cafe Manolín

After a morning full of walking and sightseeing a delicious lunch is in order. My favorite restaurant at this time of the day is Café Manolín located where San Justo street meets La Fortaleza street. Manolín is a family friendly café that has been there for over 70 years and serves the most exquisite Puerto Rican food at an affordable price. The clientele varies from functionaries of the government to tourists and citizens of the island. This restaurant is opened 7 days a week and offers homemade mouthwatering desserts such as: Tres Leches (three milks cake), chocolate cake, and Flan de Queso (cheese custard). It is also very well known for their traditional coffee called ‘café colao’.

  1. Art Galleries

A wonderful and relaxing activity after a delicious lunch is to walk up and down the streets of Old San Juan where delightful art galleries can be found. Here, you will be able to find Caribbean and Latin American contemporary art, pop art, sculptures, naïve art, etchings, silkscreen, photography and much more. You can browse the many galleries while getting lost in this beautiful city and enjoy the very special and cozy sunshine that reminds you that you are in an island in the Caribbean.

  1. Paseo de La Princesa

After enjoying an afternoon full of art and beauty I recommend to head off to one of my favorite spots in old San Juan. Stroll down Paseo de La Princesa when the sun is going down and enjoy the magnificent view of the water and the docks while being entertained by life music and free cultural performances. In the Paseo you can also find street vendors, artisans and a restaurant called Café La Princesa located in a beautiful garden by a colonial fortification that offers traditional Puerto Rican cuisine. Dine in this rustic and homely atmosphere surrounded by the enchantment of a night showered by stars.

  1. Poet’s Passage

When the night has set in and you have finished dining, there is a wonderful little place that should be visited. The Poet’s Passage is an artsy café located on Cruz street that hosts creative events such as open mic and poetry slams. It is an amazing experience that will stimulate your creative thinking by meeting talented artists, writers and poets. This is definitely a delightful way to end your night.

Old San Juan is a magical place where there is a little bit of everything for everyone’s taste.