Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Hazards of Kinder Eggs

We've now been back in the United States for a whole week, and I already miss Spain!  However, at the same time, it is nice to be home.  It’s wonderful to see my family, and I am looking forward to being back at UCF for the spring semester.

At this point, I think our blog is drawing near to a close, but we still have a few post topics left up our sleeves.  Today, I shall relate a cautionary tale about the dangers of European candy.  It is the story of how I was detained in United States customs for the possession of Kinder eggs.

Amanda and I woke early on Thursday the 20th for our trip back to America.  Fernando drove us to Cervantes Plaza, where we said our goodbyes and boarded the bus to the airport.  Upon our 7:15am arrival to Madrid-Barajas airport, we learned that our 10:30 flight was delayed and would not depart until noon, so we had a long wait in the airport.  We eventually boarded and had a long, uneventful flight to Miami.
We made it off the plane and through the preliminary customs line with our heavy carry-ons, sleepy and warm, since we were overdressed for Miami weather.  Next we found our suitcases and made our way to the final line.  Amanda made it through without trouble, and at first, I thought that I had, too.  The man looked at my passport and customs form and told me to have a nice day, before he said, “Wait a minute.  Please follow that blue arrow.”

Instead of following Amanda through the doors to family and freedom, I was directed to a line off to the side.  I could only shrug at Amanda through the glass door and head off where I was instructed.  There, I waited for another half an hour.  I had no idea why I had been sent off to this mystery line, and my nerves intensified when the girl behind me grew frustrated with a security officer at the line and he told her, “Ma’am, by getting angry, you are only making this worse for yourself.”

Worse?  Were things already bad?  Were we, in this line, in trouble?  I racked my brain for anything that I possessed that could be the problem.  I did have a sword-shaped letter opener that I bought in Toledo, but I had packed that souvenir in my suitcase since I knew it wouldn’t be allowed in my carry-on.  I did have coconut-flavored turrón.  Did that count as fruit?

Eventually, I made it around a corner to a counter where a man explained to me that I had been flagged because I had Kinder eggs.  Kinder eggs are hollow chocolate eggs with toys inside, hugely popular in Europe.  I had a few in my possession to give away to friends and family here in the States.  I learned that they are not sold in the United States because they are considered a choking hazard, so the customs officer warned me not to give them to small children, and I was good to go.

All in all, it was a nerve-racking half hour, but in retrospect, not a big deal.  I was reunited with Amanda and my mom and brother, and we made it out of the airport and back home without further hang-ups.

But you can be sure that I will never, ever, give a Kinder egg to a small child.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Goodbye, Spain! We'll miss you!

          Just a few days ago, we were celebrating my birthday, cake and a movie included! We went to see the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Madrid with our friends Alicia and Rodrigo. We were all speaking Spanglish and exchanged fun sayings and expressions while the Christmas lights illuminated the streets in a final marvelous display. I had an amazing birthday, one that I am sure I will not forget any time soon!

     Our last few days have been filled with invitations to visit our friends across the country, giving thanks for a great semester, and sad goodbyes. We've definitely had our fair share of hugs and double kisses! Haha! It’s been great and sad as with each goodbye we cherish that person more and more for all the fun they added to this semester.   
Friends in UCF and Spain!
Same pose, different country!
     Wow, it’s hard to believe that this is our last day.  We’re packing up our belongings, memories flooding back as each souvenir finds its way into the suitcase. The feelings are so conflicting! We are excited to go home and to begin the next exciting chapter in our lives, but we are also sad to leave this amazing and incredible place filled with some of the best people you can find. We have been blessed with a fantastic host family, incredible Intercambio friends, and great American buddies. Back in Florida and here in Spain, we definitely have the best friends one could ask for!
         "In the end, what you do isn't going to be nearly as interesting or important as who you do it with." --John Green


      So, I will finish my time here with these final words from the song 93 million miles by Jason Mraz, “We’ve come a long way to belong here, to share this view of the night, this glorious night, and over the horizon is another bright light.”

                 Get ready Florida, we're coming home!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Beginning of the End

So, I’ve been filming too, and I intended to make my own Vlogblothers-style video to respond to Amanda’s.  However, because we’ve been busy and my camera’s been feeling ill, I don’t have quite enough footage for what I was planning.  Instead, I’ll keep recording during our final weekend adventure for a video early next week, and meanwhile I’ll use plain old text to relate a few recent events.

We graduated!  Today we had a cute little “graduation” ceremony in the oldest building of the university, where we were awarded “diplomas” for completing our semester at Instituto Franklin.  This seems a little premature, since we haven’t even taken all our finals yet, but I guess they have a lot of faith in us!  It was a nice ceremony, although it was alarming to realize that in less than a year and a half, I will be graduating UCF for real.

Next we had a sort of picnic in a different university building, where we ate empanadas and tortillas, socialized with our professors and fellow students, and posed for some photos.

The last event of the day was a talent show.  A class presented a virtual yearbook to the tune of Gangnam Style, and prizes were given for various contests.  Our very own Amanda took second place in the photography contest with a lovely picture of the stained glass in the cathedral in Cuenca.  Go Amanda!  After a slideshow of pictures from university events throughout the semester, a few people were persuaded to take to the stage in some unrehearsed displays of talent, and it turns out we have some great singers and dancers in the group!  It was also fun to see the confusion on the faces of the Spanish faculty at the gusto with which every American student joined in singing Don’t Stop Believing.

A week from now, we’ll be back in the air over the Atlantic Ocean, this time heading home.  It’s crazy to think about how quickly this semester has passed.  I wish we could stay longer, but at the same time, I feel like Amanda and I have made the most of our time here, filling our months with school and adventures and new friends.  Maybe it sounds cheesy, but Spain has been everything I could have asked for and more.

All that said, this country isn’t getting rid of us just yet!  We leave shortly to head for Madrid, where we’re catching an overnight bus to Sevilla!  We are going to make the most out of this final week!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Tribute to the Vlogbrothers

        This week,we have decided to do something different. After discovering the amazing videos of John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers, on Youtube, we thought it would be fun to do something similar on our blog.

 First, who are the Vlogbrothers?
         John Green is an award winning author of books such as Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. Hank Green is his brother, who started the company EcoGeek and has created many amazing Youtube channels. They started this project to speak to each other without text for one year, and instead they made video letters. Their videos became so popular that they have kept making videos and have started some educational channels and charity work.  They are really awesome!

Second, what are Nerdfighters?
            Nerdfighters are people who like nerdy things and fight "worldsuck" which means that they fight the things that make the world suck such as starvation or bullying. Their symbol is a X made with the Spock hand symbol and the catch phrase is "DFTBA" which stands for "Don't forget to be awesome!" They now have over 840,000 followers on Youtube and are constantly growing and changing their work.

Finally, here I am, in my first attempt at a vlog. I apologize for some of the weird camera angles; filming was harder than I thought!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Windmills! ....or giants?

This Friday, we followed in the footsteps of one of the oldest, greatest, and most insane protagonists in literature: el ingenioso hidalgo, Don Quixote.  Except, of course, for the fact that we were in a tour bus instead of on horseback (or donkeyback), and that our excursion only lasted for one day.  This school excursion, called La Ruta del Quixote, took us to the autonomous community of Castilla y La Mancha, where first we breakfasted at the inn which Cervantes himself supposedly visited and used as the basis for the scene in which Quixote is “knighted” by the innkeeper.  We drank some coffee while sitting on hilariously tiny stools and then watched as some of our fellow students acted out the aforementioned scene at the water trough in the courtyard of the hotel.  This was made very enjoyable by the fact that Don Quixote’s sword and shield were made of paper and his lance was, in fact, an umbrella.

Next we boarded the bus and traveled the remaining distance across the largely empty landscape of La Mancha until we reached Consuegra.  Consuegra is notable for its windmills, its castle, and its vast variety of hot chocolate flavors.  We filed off of the bus and posed for some very chilly pictures on the windy ridge with the windmills.  Of course, the students from the literature class had to act out Don Quixote’s most famous scene, so we all got to witness a student, armed with only a red umbrella, valiantly charging a windmill-I-mean-a-giant.

Then, castle!  I love castles.  We have been fortunate enough to see so many castles while here in Spain, and I could visit many more without losing my enthusiasm.  This castle was notable for its false doors, its water collection room, and its series of concentric walls to defend it from attackers from the time of its construction in the 10th through 12th centuries through the time when the reconquering of Spain was complete in the 15th century.

Next we got to go up inside one of the windmills and learn about how they functioned.  The whole top of the windmill could move to adjust to the direction of the wind, and a series of interlocking gears within used the power generated by the wind to move a large grinding stone and crush grain into flour.
Finally, we took a lunch break down in the town of Consuegra, which lies at the base of the ridge, down below the castle and the windmills.  There, we sampled some hot chocolate.  My white chocolate café was delicious, but our classmates recommended against the whiskey-flavored hot chocolate, comparing it to drinking a substance that resembled melted plastic.  (This made me very happy about my choice.)

Then we headed back to Alcalá, where snow is now visible on the tops of the distant mountains.  We’ve been told that fall was mild, but this week, winter has decidedly arrived.