There are a lot of things going on in Spain. It may not always be exciting, but there's always something to do. My life this past month has been different, to say the least. There's been a lot of change going on for me, the main one being that I am living with a new family for the second semester. They are very nice, and I am very happy.
Recently, I went to Africa with my host mother, sister and cousin. We went to Fes, Morocco, to be exact! I never realized how close it actually is to Spain. It was only an hour flight from Madrid and the flight was only a 10 Euro ($15) roundtrip! Fes was a lot different from what I expected. I was expecting to see ... well you know, Africans, or what we Americans picture as Africans. However, Morocco is more or less an Islamic nation, and Fes is the second largest city of Morocco. So, even though there were no wild animals, there were plenty of people riding donkeys!
Even though I only went for two days, it was still an amazing experience. There was so much to see and do, and to try. Our hotel was in the Medina of Fes, which is an old section of Fez with monumental buildings. It has an ancient type of beauty that's not corrupted with bars and restaurants and all that. There's an abundance of tiny man-run shops selling items varying from candy to antique swords. Sometimes the prices are a bit extreme even counting the currency exchange ($1 = 8.24 dirham), but hey, isn't that what bargaining is for? For my trip's memento, I picked up a pretty, teal porcelain bowl with bronze criss-crossing through it.
One of the most interesting things I saw was the Leather Suoq, the oldest leather tannery in the world, which dates back at least nine centuries. I didn't understand why they had given us mint leaves before we walked up to the balcony, but I found out quickly. The smell was absolutely awful! Another site we went to was the Karaouine Mosque, the biggest mosque in Fes, which is also famous for its library. However, since we are not Muslim we could not enter, but the doors were open so we could see a little bit of the inside.
Another important part of Fes is "la ciudad nueva," or the new city. It is a lot different from the Medina. La ciudad nueva is just like it says ... new. There are stores, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, and even a McDonald's! It's definitely a contrasting taste from the Medina, but still fun all the same. On our way to la ciudad nueva, we stopped by some ancient ruins on the top of a giant hill. I don't know the name of them, but they were called "las ruinas," the ruins. The view of the city from there was absolutely breathtaking and so were the actual ruins. We also stopped by a ceramics factory, where they showed us how they made all of their products. Our last stop before we got to la ciudad nueva was at the golden doors of the royal palace. Unfortunately, they were closed, so we couldn't see inside.
The food was interesting and not my typical norm. However, I love going places and trying new foods. In my eyes, you're not getting the whole cultural experience by being picky and choosing the foods you already know well. Food is a huge part of culture and no two cultures are identical. Many factors -- like the area and what can be cultivated, trade, migration and religion -- can influence food. For example, I noticed that there was never pork on the menus at the restaurants we ate at, which would point to the religion factor! I also ate real couscous for the first time that wasn't out of a box. I didn't know that it is native to Morocco before I went.
It's hard to believe that I've hit the halfway point of my adventure. I have seen so much, but still have so much more to see! I really hope I get the chance to travel some more before I head back home to Albany. I know I have at least one more trip to get excited for though. My mom and some friends will be coming to pick me up at the end of June. But before we get on that plane to Atlanta, we're planning on making a trip including Barcelona, Spain; Florence, Italy, and Corsica or Nice, France! I am definitely looking forward to it and I hope I can see even more before then! I plan on taking in everything I can of this huge continent before I leave.
In the meantime, I'm expecting a visit from my father the first week of March! There is plenty to do and see within the city that I still haven't yet seen. I'm very excited to experience these things with my father and show him my new life here. Fortunately, he is a lot like me in the sense of wanting to actually see a place and taking time to see it's sites. We both love going to museums, so seeing the rest of the Prado Museum is something I am looking forward to. I also hope we can travel to another city for a night or two!
Ah, so much to do, so little time.
Darby Calhoun, 17, is the daughter of Bill and Laura Calhoun of Albany. During her year of study in Spain, she is contributing a periodic column to The Albany Herald on her experiences. You can also keep up with Darby's columns at www.albanyherald.com.