Alive and..

Well I did in fact make it to the Galapgos. After my very indirect flight I arrived to the island I am staying on, San Cristobal, on Wednesday.I have to be honest and say that I doubt I will update my blog again while I´m here because one, the internet is entirely too slow to post pictures, and let´s be honest, my descriptions aren´t exactly enthralling, and two, I usually am busy all day long and I rarely find time to stop and use a computer.However, I want to try and give a brief update of my past couple of days so you have an idea of what my time is like on the island.

My time here is pretty much divided in two. I spend the morning volunteering from 8-12 and then I go off on adventures after lunch.

Volunteering here has been…trying. I am helping out a teacher with a class of twenty-two 4 year-olds with special needs. One boy has a very severe case of autism, and a few others might be a little behind, but it seems like the majority of the special needs are bad behavior.

The students kick, bite, and push each other all day long, and getting them to do an activity has been nearly impossible. The school systems are in a transition period and they are attempting to create a more effective system, but right now there is no discipline and not much learning is happening.

At the end of the first day the teacher pulled me aside and asked me to come up with lesson plans and ideas to help the class be more organized. Without a disciplinary system we really can´t get anything done, so I decided to make a giant chart to hang up on the wall with all of the students names so that we could give them stars when they behaved well, and take away stars when they behaved poorly.

Two minutes after hanging up my chart a boy ran up and tore it apart. And that essentially describes how my efforts go in the classroom.

Since then I have made a more durable version of the chart, and there has been some improvement in the behavior, but it feels a lot like I am trying to teach this large class on my own.

Aaanyways, this sounds very negative, but I do have faith I am making a difference. I have already seen a slight shift in the attitudes of the kids since I made my chart and started giving high-fives for doing well. Unfortunately, I am only here one month and making any sort of significant difference with this group is going to require time, so hopefully I can start some changes that will be continued by future volunteers.

Also, while the volunteering is really hard, the island has been AMAZING. I have been here less than a week and I have gone snorkeling with turtles, seen a blue-footed booby and tons of iguanas, swam with a sea lion (but really, he was swimming around me as if we were dancing and he even toughed my toes with his nose!), ridden in the back of the truck through the jungle to a beautiful beach, watched the sun set….and these activities are just part of an average afternoon here.

Which is why I don´t have time to blog. Anytime I think about needing to check my email, something like hiking to an inactive volcano or swimming with a shark pulls me away…it´s really tough for me.

In fact, I am only blogging now because I am waiting for the stores to open so I can buy my own snorkel gear and go swim with the sea lions again. Then I think I´m going to hike to this tiny isolated beach and watch the sun set.

So that is what I will be doing. I am taking a ton of pictures and I can post them when I get back!

Ciao

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The Galapagos

I ended my blog in Spain writing posts while procrastinating instead of studying for finals, and now I am starting my blog again for my trip to the Galapagos while procrastinating instead of studying for my final. How appropriate!Today is my first and only final, but more importantly,  it is also my last day in Austin before my month-long adventure to the Galapagos.Tomorrow I am heading to the Galapagos to the island of San Cristobal where I will volunteer and work at a school with special needs children through the program Projects Abroad. This program organizes for volunteers to go all over the world and, before landing on the Galapagos, I was considering spending this month in Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam, and Fiji among others. It was pretty hard to go wrong.I chose to study in the Galapagos because one, I will be able to speak the language there, so I think that will make a more effective volunteer and I will get to practice speaking. Also, I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to visit the Galapagos and see the amazing biodiversity and animals before it all disappears.

Aaaanyways, so that is why in approximately 12 hours I will be heading on a very round-about flight to the Galapagos.

I honestly have no idea what to expect once I get there. I am staying with a home stay family, and I know I am volunteering at the school, but that is ALL I know. Seriously. I don’t know a single other person on the island, I don’t know what exactly I will be doing while volunteering, I don’t know what the area is like, and there could be anywhere from zero to hundreds of other volunteers there (probably not hundreds, but I just don’t know!).

If you know me well you know that I like to have plans, which has lead me to constantly try to decide exactly what I will be doing from 5 years from now, if not 10 years down the road. Some might say that it is impossible to plan so far in advance, but that doesn’t stop me from trying! So maybe it is a good change that I can’t even try to make such extensive plans even if I wanted to. I will relinquish my control–or more appropriately, my delusion of control–and just take things as they come.

One thing I know I am excited for is to see all of the animals and wildlife, so I plan to take lots of photos and hopefully keep everyone updated through my blog. However, Disclaimer! Along with the many other things I have no clue about, I have no idea what my schedule will be like or what my access to the internet will be, so I hope to write frequent updates, but who knows what will happen. If I disappear after this short pre-departure post, I’m sorry, but you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Well, I am off to finish packing and to go to sleep. I’ll send off with a picture of an island inhabitant that I hope to meet: a blue footed booby! And this guy looks like he is waving with his foot! Silly.

Hasta pronto

Munich

We woke up bright and early to head to the train station and catch our train to Munich. The walk to the train station wasn’t extremely far, but the whole thing was uphill and we had all of our luggage with us, so by the time we made it we were dripping in sweat and exhausted.

(Old Town Hall and the Christmas market)

The hostel where we were staying in Prague didn’t have a printer, so we were counting on getting to the train station and printing out or ticket there. When we got to the station we looked for those computer things they have in airports to print our tickets, but they were no where to be found, so we headed to the ticket desk and asked if they could print them for us. Apparently the ticket people do not have Internet or any access to our ticket information, so the only option the lady offered us was to buy another ticket. The ticket lady also told us there was Wifi on the other floor, but she said there wasn’t a single printer in the entire train station, so basically we were in trouble.

(The Christmas tree in the market and the moon!)

Sarah and I ran upstairs and, planning to take a picture of our tickets, found a Burger King with Wifi. Obviously their Wifi didn’t work, so I went wandering through the station looking for Internet. Luckily I found an Exchange place with an Internet station and printers (looks like the ticket lady was wrong!), so we downloaded the tickets, printed them, and made it onto the train just in time.

(decoration stand)

As I said in my earlier post, our train to Munich was the Hogwarts Express! The train wasn’t literally the Hogwarts Express, unfortunately, but it was made of cabins just like the ones on the Hogwarts train, and Sarah and I ended up with an entire cabin to ourselves. The train from Prague to Munich is 6 hours long, so Sarah and I closed our curtains, stretched out on each row of seats, and napped for about half the trip!

Once we made it to Munich and checked into our hotels, we headed straight for the Christmas markets. I thought Prague was full of Christmas markets, but Munich seems to have even more! From our hostel it was about a ten-minute-walk to the first plaza with markets, and from there markets stretched out in all directions.

(ornament stand)

We walked around looking at all the pretty decorations and Christmas ornaments, but once again I put my money towards food. First, I stopped and bought a few cherries, which were so good, and then I got a bag of “kettle corn” (it wasn’t warm and coming fresh out of the pot like the kettle corn at the trail of lights, but it was sugar coated popcorn, so I guess that’s the same!) which I had been craving ever since we got to the markets.

(ornaments!)

After walking around for what felt like hours, it was only 7 and we were exhausted, so we decided to be super American and have an early dinner. We picked a random restaurant on the same road as the markets (I don’t have Rick for recommendations because I sent my Germany book home with my dad) because the inside was decorated and it looked really cozy.

I had Spinach dumplings, which probably significantly raised my cholesterol, but they were pretty good! From dinner we headed straight back to the hostel and went to sleep.

Our second day in Munich we woke up early and decided to cancel our third night and head to Salzburg early since besides the markets there isn’t much to do in Munich that I haven’t done, and neither Sarah nor I have been to Austria.

(another cookie stand!)

First we cancelled our hostel reservation and then headed to the train station to get our Salzburg tickets. Buying the Salzburg tickets was quick and painless—and cheap!—so we were feeling pretty good about our choice and then we headed to Radius Tours (the company my dad and I used while in Munich) to see what was going on for the day.

(ornaments…so many ornaments!)

Our good luck continued, and when we checked out the schedule we found out there was a “third reich” tour in 30 minutes, so we bought tickets and went to get some breakfast in the station before the tour.

The third reich tour was a guided walking tour that told the history of the rise of Nazism while taking us through Munich to see some of the significant sites. First we stopped at Hoffbrauhaus, which is the most famous beer garden in the world, but many don’t realize it also is the symbolical birthplace of Nazism. Hitler joined the German Workers Party, which later became the National Socialist Workers Party and held their meetings in this very beer hall. The dark history is still evident in the swastikas that are painted (although now more discretely) on the ceiling.

On the tour we walked around to a few other sites while the guide talked to us about the information and the history, but there wasn’t really much to see since Munich was almost completely destroyed World War II, so now most of the city is reconstructed; also, Eisenhower directed a “de-nazification” program, in which all remnants of Nazi ideology were destroyed.

(capital. Destroyed in WWII and rebuilt with glass to show “transparency of the government”)

Although the information the guide was telling us was really interesting, the tour was really long and entirely outside, so by the second hour I was miserably cold, so cold that I thought I would have to leave the tour early and run somewhere to get inside.

Luckily I was able to stick it out until the end of the tour where we went inside one of the last remaining Nazi buildings—the Nazi headquarters—where our guide described the events leading up to Hitler’s suicide, and then she read aloud his last will and testament.

When I heard Hitler’s will, I really understood Hitler’s persuasiveness and his talent as a speaker and writer. Obviously I detest Hitler for the terror he caused and the horrible crimes he committed, and I was disappointed when I heard about the numerous assassination attempts against him that failed, but when I heard his will spoken I actually started to sympathize with Hitler and imagine him as a nice man who was willing to sacrifice everything for his country and his people.

(English Garden)

Five seconds later that sympathy disappeared and the abhorrence returned, but I was completely shocked by how well spoken he was and how convincing he was, to the extent that it made me better understand how history occurred the way it did.

After the tour ended we stayed in the building a little bit longer so my toes and legs and fingers and nose could thaw out, and then I insisted on first stopping to buy more clothes to put on before doing anything else (I don’t know what is wrong with me but it seems like my body refuses to produce its own heat).

With a new turtleneck, wool sweater, my wool coat, and scarf, I was finally able to head back out into the Christmas markets. Sarah and I shopped around for gifts and snacked on some chocolate covered strawberries for a while before deciding to head into the hostel and rest until dinner.

(one of the entrances to the Munich market)

Once we made it into the hostel Sarah and I were overcome with laziness and we lied in bed showing each other pictures of our friends and family and dogs from home. All day it was horribly cold, and then while we were lying in our room it started raining, so we had a perfect excuse to continue our sloth-like behavior.

As we were pretending to consider heading out into the markets again and being good tourists, the rain turned into snow. With the weather change we were completely rejuvenated, so we jumped out of bed and headed out to experience the Christmas markets in the snow.

(Me and Sarah in the market while it is snowing)

We wandered around for a little while enjoying the falling snow until it got to the point that we were pretty soaked and our toes were going numb. Then we headed to one of the little food booths and got frankfurters for dinner, which were delicious, and for dessert I had my very first crepe! I had been intending to get a crepe since we got here, but it hadn’t worked out logistically until our last night, and I have to say, I saved the best dessert for last!

(Market in the snow)

For my very first crepe I got nutella and bananas, and by the time Sarah ordered her crepe and made it to our table I had already almost finished mine! I can’t even begin to describe the deliciousness that was this crepe; nutella makes anything amazing, and with the combination of bananas and it being all melted, it was heaven.

Anyways, with the dessert crepe I would say that Munich ended on a high note, and that night we went to bed early and then woke up the following morning and headed to Austria!

Prague: Part II

In our hostel we are staying in an 8-person room because it is the cheapest, so each night we can be with any random 6 people. When we got to the hostel on Thursday, we were the first moving into the room, so it kind of made it feel like this is OUR room, and all incoming guests were therefore intruding into OUR room. Luckily our possessiveness wasn’t a problem because all the people were generally nice and so we figured we would let them stay in our room.

(Near the river in Prague)

One night a pair of Australian guys came and they were nice so we let them stay in our room. When they first met us they were like “whoa, let me guess, you are from the U.S.” because apparently they say I have an accent (I never really thought I had an accent but everyone here says I do). Anyways, we started talking and they were really nice and funny and they asked us to go out to the bar with them that night, but Sarah and I had to study (I don’t know what for since I don’t have finals, right?) so they went on a pub-crawl our hostel advertised.

That night when they got in they were a huge mess and they were still rowdy from being out. One of the guys left to use the bathroom or get water or something and got locked out so he started knocking on the door. I eventually ended up answering and he was super apologetic and then he went and punched his friend and said “Why didn’t you answer the door!?” and his friend said “who was it?” to which the locked out guy yelled “me you dumb ass!”.

(River and Charles Bridge)

I feel like this story isn’t as funny typed out, especially since I had to explain so much, but all the people in OUR room started laughing.

Anyways, that morning we had breakfast and then headed to the castle quarter to do some more touring. On the way we walked across Charles Bridge, which was covered with street performers, artists, and bands. In the castle quarter we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral, which was my favorite, Golden Lane, a small street with tiny old shops, a couple other small churches, which weren’t very interesting, and then a medieval castle that had a hallway so big that they used to have jousts in it!

An interesting fact I learned along the tour was that Prague used to have a Defenestration law. According to this law, if a government official wasn’t behaving appropriately it was legal to push them out of a window, and what is funny is that people actually took advantage of the law. ­­­­ I were a government worker during this time I would avoid all windows at all times.

 

After seeing all the sights in the castle quarter we headed to the markets to buy a side of some potato dish that was covered with cheese for our breakfast sandwiches that we saved for lunch (we really are being penny-pinchers on this trip).

(Stained glass window in the Cathedral)

The night before the Spanish guy I had met on the plane had e-mailed me about meeting up, and we were planning on going to a café after lunch, but by the time we finished it was too late to meet them, so we ended up making plans to meet up that night. So after a short nap we woke up and met with them and then walked to a restaurant to get drinks and talk.

(Giant hall that had jousts)

We ended up talking about the school systems in the US and in Spain after they asked us to go out with them and we said we were going to study. I could go on and on talking about the differences in the system and which one is better/worse, but I would probably end up writing a 5 page pointless rant (particularly because I am so frustrated with my finals situation), so I will save talking about the differences and complaining about their system for a separate post. These posts are about my travels and I still refuse to face the reality of my classes and finals in Spain (but seriously…I really am going to give this topic its own post, partly so you can see I am not just being whiny about these finals, partly just so I can

complain).

(View of Prague)

We hung out with the Spaniards for a few hours then parted ways after making plans to meet up the next day to go out for some classic Czech cuisine.

(Me and Sarah with Prague in the background)

For our last day in Prague we didn’t really have any big touring plans (because we had been such efficient tourists the first few days!), so we just wandered around and tried to hit some of the smaller sites Rick recommends.

(Delicious sugary cinnamon thing I was talking about)

(Cooking said sugary cinnamon thing)

We crossed Charles Bridge again to get over to the other side of the river and then we wandered around some parks and markets in the Little Quarter; from there we walked to the John Lennon wall.

In 1980, John Lennon was murdered, this wall was spontaneously covered in graffiti saying things like, “all you need is love” and “John Lives” in Czech. Each day the Soviets would come and paint over the wall, only to have to repeat their efforts the next day after more graffiti popped up over night. Today the wall is still covered in graffiti and a lot of tourists (like me and Sarah) go by to take their pictures and sign the wall.

(John Lennon wall)

From the John Lennon wall we headed towards the Klementinum to check out the “largest library in Eastern Europe.” Being a nerd, I was extremely excited to see so many books in one place and to take pictures, but we went to the sight only to find out it was closed for reconstruction.

At this point it was extremely cold and windy, so Sarah and I decided to get hot chocolate in a café just so that we could sit inside and get out of the cold. We still were being penny-pinchers, so we just ordered hot chocolate (which was AMAZING! It was so rich and then it had the best homemade whip cream on top), and then we decided to eat our breakfast sandwiches at lunch.

(Park)

It probably is frowned upon (okay, it is definitely frowned upon) to bring outside food into a restaurant and eat, but Sarah and I were trying to be cheap and it was sooooo cold outside. When we whipped out our breakfast sandwiches and started eating, we got strange looks from the waiters, but rather than put away our sandwich and just eat later, we decided to yell things loudly at each other and pretend like we were in a fight so maybe they wouldn’t come up and bother us.

Overall the strategy worked, although it was slightly uncomfortable/embarrassing, but since we started our Big Trip and spent hours walking around in the cold, I have really lost concern for what is “socially appropriate” in favor of being warm and cheap.

(National Theater)

After enjoying the warm restaurant and our amazing hot chocolate, we headed to our Christmas concert! With the cold weather and Christmas markets and decorations, I have really been getting in the Christmas mood, so I was excited to hear some carols and maybe sing quietly along. The theater with the concert was beautiful and the songs the orchestra and choir played were really pretty, but unfortunately they were all Czech Christmas songs!

(Theater for the advent concert)

I guess this is one of those examples of being American-centric and I shouldn’t have thought that another country would have the same Christmas song as us, but I thought that maybe they would play a Nutcrackers song or something that is Christmassy in all cultures. At the end of the performance the conductor turned around and played some song that I assume is a well-known Christmas carol in Czech. Obviously I had no idea what the words were and I didn’t recognize the tune at all, but I wanted to feel the Christmas spirit and fit in so badly I pretended to know the song and mumbled along with made up words. Although it was kind of disappointing not getting to hear a carol I recognized, I really enjoyed the music and it going to a concert in Prague was a pretty cool, unique experience!

(Me and Sarah after the concert)

The Spaniards met us outside of the Theater after the concert and we walked over to a small pub, recommended by my buddy Rick, to have goulash. Sarah and I split some goulash and a cucumber salad, and we mainly kept to ourselves over dinner because we didn’t have the energy to talk in Spanish and they were discussing how they are more proud to be Catalan than Spanish and other Spanish-people-problems, so we didn’t really have much to contribute anyways.

(Goulash)

After dinner we said our goodbyes and then headed to the markets to have one more amazing cinnamon dough thing dessert before going back to the hostel and watching the Nutcracker on youtube and going to bed.

Prague

After waking up at 5am Thursday so that we could walk to the bus to take us to the airport to catch our 8am flight, we finally began our Big Trip (that is what we called it before it was even an official plan). Everyone in my group is taking advantage of a couple days off this first week to make a giant trip and travel. When we were on the bus headed to the airport, two of our girl friends from our program ended up getting on the the same bus because they were catching a flight to Dublin, so we made our way to the airport and through security together.

First we flew from Sevilla to Barcelona where we had a two-hour layover before our flight to Prague. On the flight to Prague I ended up sitting in a row of Spaniards from Barcelona who were headed to Prague to visit a friend studying there. We ended up talking most of the way there (between my naps) and I gave him my e-mail so that we could meet up once in Prague. I was surprised that after heading so far from Spain I still ended up speaking Spanish!

(chocolate store we found)

Once in Prague we had a complicated journey on the bus, through the metro, and into the center of town to find our hostel (it always seems to turn out this way!). After a couple hours we finally managed to find where we were staying and check in. During the flight I read Rick Steves’ book on Prague (obviously), and when we got to the hotel I started looking up things to do in Prague. I found that the National Theater in Prague was putting on the nutcracker and advent concerts, so Sarah and I headed to the Theater to try and buy tickets.

(Castle Quarter across the river)

It gets dark extremely early in Prague, so although we checked into our hostel around 330, it was already nighttime when we walked out in search of the tickets. Sarah and I picked our destinations for the big trip because we read about amazing Christmas markets that these cities have in December, and when we walked out of our hostel it was like walking into Christmas land! Everything was strung with lights, there was a Christmas tree in every plaza, and we kept passing markets selling ornaments, sweets, hot cider, and everything Christmas!

(Statues on Charles bridge)

Prague is a beautiful old city, with a lot of pretty old buildings (they came out of World War II with almost zero damage) that added to the dreamland atmosphere. On the way to the Theater we passed a cute chocolate store so we made a pit stop. The store was filled with antique chocolate boxes and tons of amazing looking chocolates, so I bought a couple of things for gifts and then picked out a bag of chocolates for myself. Once we made it to the theater we tried buying Nutcracker tickets, but there was only standing room left, so we ended up getting tickets to the Christmas concert on Sunday, which I was equally excited for.

(Street near the markets)

We walked around the city taking pictures and ended up coming across the infamous Charles Bridge, so we walked along that and then headed back towards the Christmas markets. It is hard to put these markets into words, except to say they are basically like my heaven. The whole market is filled with the amazing smell of these cinnamon doughy desserts, everything is lined with garland and lights, and all the little stalls are selling cute ornaments and fun little Christmas gifts.

(Christmas tree in the market)

We bought an apple cider and wandered around a while admiring all the ornaments and gifts before deciding to spend our crowns on a giant sausage/hot dog and some weird potato thing that we decided had sauerkraut and gnocchi in it. We headed home pretty soon after dinner because we were tired from traveling.

(Horses and the Christmas market)

The next morning we got a pretty early start and headed down for our free breakfast in the hostel (unlimited cereal and a sandwich, it was amazing). After approximately 5 bowls of cereal (I had to get my moneys worth! And I haven’t had cereal in months), we headed for our first touring activity: the Jewish Quarter. On the way to the Jewish Quarter we ended up passing the Astronomical Clock, which is another infamous symbol of Prague. The clock is giant and dauntingly complicated keeping Roman time, Bohemian time, it also has a dial to show the location of the sun/moon in relation to Prague, another showing Zodiac signs, and finally a list of the Saints names to show whose day it is.

(Astronomical clock)

In the Jewish quarter we saw a number of Synagogues, the most interesting of which was the Pynkis Synagogue. This synagogue’s walls are lined with names of all the Jews from Prague who disappeared during World War II. Each name is listed with the Family name, date of birth, and last date known to be alive. Apparently while the country was under Soviet control, the Soviets came in and attempted to wipe off all the names, which can be seen in one section of the synagogue which has only the original paint, but the other names were all redone.

(Each saints name on the clock)

This synagogue also contained artwork that young students did while in the nearby concentration camp, Terezin. A teacher in the camp had students draw pictures to express what they were feeling to help them cope, the result of which was really moving drawings that show the young children’s perspective.

Included in the Jewish Quarter is also the Jewish cemetery, which is filled with topsy-turvy gravestones, piled almost one on top of the other. The Jewish people were only allotted a small, limited area of space for their cemetery and the Jews believe that once buried, bodies shouldn’t be moved; so with such little space the Jewish people were forced to essentially layer their dead in the cemetery. Over time the cramped burying caused the graves and headstones to create a hilly landscape that looks like it is from a macabre cartoon.

(Jewish Cemetery)

After the Jewish Quarter Sarah and I just wandered around and took more pictures of all the beautiful buildings. We ended up returning to the chocolate shop we found the first day and picking out another bag of chocolates, and then we stopped at McDonalds to have our breakfast sandwich for lunch with some French fries. For dessert we walked out onto the street and had one of the little cinnamon things that make everything smell like heaven (don’t judge! I saved the chocolates for dessert after dinner!), and they were amazing!

They are made by wrapping dough around a giant rod that is rotated over a fire, which toasts the outside of the dough while leaving the inside nice and gooey. When you order one they take the dough things off the fire and then immediately coat them in a cinnamon sugar mixture inside and out, and then they are ready to eat!

Although it was dark outside after our lunch, it was only 430, so we ended up walking around trying to find things to do. We decided to go to the Communist museum, which shows old Communist propaganda, and it had a displaying showing how a grocery store looked with the uniformed packaging and plain products. After our day of touring we wandered around the big Christmas market again, bought a few ornaments and ate another giant sausage/hot dog for dinner.

(By the river)

Traveling in a country that doesn’t speak English, but doesn’t speak Spanish either has been really weird. I am so used to speaking Spanish that if someone doesn’t speak English I immediately start talking in Spanish, which obviously wasn’t helpful in Prague. Since I speak Spanish, I am not used to not being able to communicate what I need or want even when I am in a foreign country; luckily, sign language has sufficed for my needs in Prague.

(Cookie Booth)

The hardest has been trying to find people willing to take a picture of Sarah and me. Since we are traveling without anyone else, it is hard to get pictures of us in front of monuments things together. While in the Christmas market we stopped on lady and asked if she could take our picture (while also using hand signs) and I don’t know if we did some hand sign wrong or what, but she responded by looking at us funny and then kind of backing away….now we generally try to find English speakers to take our pictures.

(Big tree in one of the markets)