Camino de Santiago

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The Camino de Santiago (or The Way of Saint James in English) is a Christian pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. There are many different routes that people take to get there. The most popular and traditional route starts in France and continues across Spain. This route is 800 km (about 500 miles) and it usually takes people 30-45 days to complete. You can go by horseback, bike or by walking. The Catholic church can grant penance and an indulgence (less time in purgatory) with the completion of at least 100 km on foot or horseback or 200 km by bike.

The Camino has become very popular in the last 10 years. People complete the pilgrimage for many different reasons. Some do it for religious reasons, some for a challenge, some for tourism and some just want time to think. For me (Ashley), I wanted to prove that I could do it. My body has been through a lot the past two years and I still haven’t figured it all out. I let my body limit me a lot. I wanted to prove to myself that my body is strong and that I can push myself.

There are yellow arrows or shells (the symbol of the Camino) that show you which way to walk. Sometimes there is an arrow every couple hundred feet, other times you question if you are walking the right way because you haven’t seen an arrow in a long time.

Along the camino there are albergues, or public hostels, for pilgrims to stay. There are a limited number of beds and it’s first come, first served. They open at 1:00 PM and fill up fast. The pilgrim price is 6€ (about $7) and the hostel usually has a kitchen, showers and a room full of bunk beds.

Another part of the Camino that is important are the credentials or passport. When starting the camino you receive a booklet that must be stamped 1-2 times a day in order to prove the distance completed. We typically had our credentials stamped at the albergues and churches along the way.

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Kyle has wanted to do the Camino for quite some time. We decided it would be a nice way to end our time in Spain and see a part of the country that we haven’t really experienced. We decided to walk part of the Portuguese coastal route. We wanted to have as much time near the ocean as possible before returning to ocean-less Idaho.

We packed our backpacks (they probably weighed around 20 lbs. each) and set off on our journey.

Here’s what our pilgrimage looked like:

*Note: We found a huge discrepancy between what the guides said the distances were each day and what my daily tracker said. I decided to put the average of the two distances.

Day 1: Caminha, Portugal – A Guarda, Spain (4 km/ 2.5 mi)

This was a short day of walking for a couple of reasons. One, we wanted to ease into it. Two, we had to start by taking a ferry across Rio Miño into Spain. The ferry runs based on tides, so we couldn’t predict or plan when we would be able to go. We didn’t want to arrive too late at our destination and not have a place to sleep.

We ended up being the only ones at the albergue, which was kind of nice, but also very quiet. We enjoyed the afternoon by the ocean and relaxed.

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Day 2: A Guarda – As Mariñas (28 km/17 mi)

This was a hard day for me. One of my goals for this trip was to not complain, and to turn my whining into motivation. I struggled with this, but still maintained a decent attitude. We had to stop frequently because of low blood sugar, which was frustrating, but I had to listen to my body.

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Reality: Stopping to have some sugar

We arrived at our hostel, ate and relaxed in the evening. The views from the hostel were amazing. Other pilgrims arrived at the hostel, but they were a group of Polish people who had been walking together for awhile and so they stuck together and didn’t interact with us much.

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Day 3: As Mariñas – Ramallosa (20 km/13 mi)

We got a little lost because we misread the direction an arrow was pointing. It was just a slight detour that we figured out pretty quickly. We arrived at our hostel and enjoyed a lunch by the river.

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I enjoyed making animal friends along the way

This day was special because it was Kyle’s 31st birthday. I wanted to plan something special, but we didn’t have a lot of money and there wasn’t much to do in Ramallosa. We celebrated by enjoying a bag of grilled meat, french fries and wine by the river.

Day 4: Ramallosa – O Freixo (20 km/ 13 mi)

We had originally planned on stopping in a big city, but there weren’t any pilgrim hostels, so someone advised us to take a detour to the middle of nowhere and stay at the pilgrim hostel there.

I struggled to get through this day of walking. It was mostly uphill and steep and I didn’t have any energy. My biggest concern with trip was my controlling my blood sugar. My second biggest concern was that, even with all the walking, I would gain weight due to constantly eating trying to keep my blood sugar up. To offset this, I thought it would be a good idea to eat light and healthy for lunch and dinner. I would eat a salad and some fruit, but it wasn’t enough fuel for walking as much as we were. I learned this day that I need to eat a lot more and not shy away from carbs.

We finally arrived at the hostel and were told it was donation based. The man at the hostel asked if we were hungry (YES!!) and said that he would cook for us. We both ate two pork fillets, a huge plate of french fries, a salad, a loaf of bread, had some tortilla (Spanish omelette with eggs, potatoes and onions) and shared a bottle of wine. We were both amazed that after such a big meal we could keep eating. It’s crazy how much your body needs when it’s working hard. We thought that for all the food and a place to stay 15€ each was a small, but doable donation for us. The man asked for our paperwork and the donation and was shocked when he saw 30€. That was our first indication that something wasn’t clear. Before leaving the man asked us to clear up our tab- 30€!! So, we ended up paying 60€, which was WAY over our daily budget. We felt a little deceived because they advertise that its a free place to stay for pilgrims and stress that they just want to help out pilgrims, but aren’t up front about food cost. There weren’t any stores around, so we didn’t have other options, either. Lesson learned.

Day 5: O Freixo – Redondela (25 km/ 15.5 mi)

This day we passed through the city of Vigo. We stopped at a nice looking church to get a stamp and the priest prayed for us and gave us a blessing. He also told us that we should pray that our future children go into the priesthood. 😉

There are two Portuguese routes; the interior route and the coastal route. Redondela is where they meet up. Most days we would get started around 7:30-8:00 AM, stop for coffee or breaks and take our time. We thought we were making good time and would typically arrive at our destination around 2-2:30. This day we realized that this was a mistake. Up to this point, we hadn’t come across many pilgrims. We saw so many pilgrims when entering Redondela and were shocked. We got to the public albergue around 2:30 and it was full. We had to scramble and find another place to stay. The lady running the private hostel we stayed at was really strange, but we had a place to sleep. We also met a nice girl from the Canary Islands named Bea who we hung out with a lot the rest of the way.

Day 6: Redondela – Pontevedra (20 km/13 mi)

We crushed this day. Kyle will say I was sprinting, but I felt like I maintained a good pace. We were now aware that we needed to get an early start to arrive to the hostel and get a bed as well as to beat the heat. We left Redondela around 6:45 AM and arrived by 10:30. We had a routine of stretching once we arrived at our location, but since we had to wait 2 and a half hours before the hostel opened, we went to a nearby cafe and had a snack. Sitting for awhile and getting up makes you feel old. We were super stiff and sore.

Day 7: Pontevedra – Caldas de Reis (25 km/15.5 mi)

I can’t think of anything significant on this day of walking. We walked, saw the countryside and arrived at our destination. Our hostel was right by a river and it didn’t take long for us to put our feet in it!

Day 8: Caldas de Reis – Padron (24 km/15 mi)

This was a beautiful walk. Some days we spent a lot of time walking on asphalt along the highway, but this day was mostly in the woods and through small villages.

Kyle was excited about being in Padron because they are famous for their peppers. They are typically fried and served with salt. We devoured a plate of them while enjoying some local white wine called Albariño.

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Day 9: Padron – Santiago de Compostela (31 km/19 mi)

We knew this day would be tough. It was our last day and the longest walking day. Oh, it was also mainly uphill. I didn’t think we’d ever get there. At one point, as you are nearing Santiago, you get a glimpse of the cathedral, so you think you are close, but in reality it is another couple of hours away. At another point the path comes to a “T” and there are yellow arrows pointing both left and right. We chose right and I’m pretty sure it was the longer route. We were about 10 minutes from the cathedral and I had to stop to treat a low, which was frustrating because I just wanted to get there.

We finally arrived and it was so exciting. It was an amazing feeling and we felt accomplished, proud and tired. It was great to see people entering the plaza after all their hard work.

We received our compestela, which is the official document, in latin, that certifies the completion. We also attended a pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. It was packed, but a great experience. They have a large incense burner that the swing across the cathedral and it goes so high that it comes close to hitting the ceiling.

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After eating and resting in Santiago for the night, we took a bus to A Coruña. We enjoyed a relaxing beach day before returning to Bilbao.

When you tell people that you are going to do the Camino, everyone’s first piece of advice is to take care of your feet. Walking on asphalt day after day is wearing on your feet. I got two blisters, but Kyle survived without any! He did have to retire his shoes in Santiago, though.

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Kyle is doctoring up my feet

Overall, the Camino was tough and exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding. We enjoyed seeing a different part of Spain, meeting great people, and pushing ourselves physically.

 

 

 

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Dachau

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“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because of their fight against National Socialism unite the living in their defense of peace and freedom and in reverence of human dignity.”

Going to Dachau Concentration Camp was heavy. It was a surreal experience that we will never forget. My stomach was in knots knowing that on the very ground we stood on someone was unfairly taken as a prisoner, starved, tortured, beaten and even killed.

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“Work sets you free” Gate into the camp

Words (or even our pictures) can’t do justice to what happened there, so I’m not even going to try. Instead I will share a little bit about the history of the camp and leave some pictures for you to see.

The camp was set up in 1933, shortly after Hitler became Reich Chancellor. It is seen as the first concentration camp for political prisoners and all other camps were modeled after this one. Initially the camp was used for political opponents of the Nazi regime as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, homosexuals, “asocials” and repeat criminal offenders. Overtime and as Hitler pushed for ethnic cleansing, Jewish people began to fill the camp.

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On April 29th, 1945, American forces liberated Dachau. The number of prisoners held at Dachau through the years is estimated to be around 200,000 and the number of deaths estimated to be around 45,000.

Jourhouse intake rooms

Description of some of the medical experiments performed on prisoners

 

The camp grounds

The barracks

Camp Prison

The Crematorium

The Gas Chamber

Execution Sites

Graves

Memorials

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Russian Orthodox Chapel

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Protestant Church of Reconciliation

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Jewish Memorial

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Jewish Memorial

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The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel religious memorial

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The Mortal Agony of Christ In 1972, Polish priests who had survived in the camp hung a plaque on the back of the chapel recalling the suffering of Polish prisoners who suffered in the concentration camp.

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                                                           The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel                                                The memorial bell, donated by Austrian survivors, bears the inscription: “In faithful memory of our dead comrades of all nations, dedicated by Dachau priests and laymen from Austria.”

 

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Never Again in Yiddish using Hebrew letters, French, English, German and Russian. An urn with the ashes of the unknown concentration camp prisoner lies before it and recalls the fate of the thousands of people whose corpses were burnt in the crematorium

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Represents prisoners trying to escape through the barbed wire fence

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Patch Relief. Shows different identification patches on a chain.

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Munich, Germany

We had plans to go to Munich after the New Year’s celebrations in Budapest. We were a bit hesitant in the days leading up to the trip, though. If you watch the news at all, you’ve seen that there have been a lot of terrorist attacks in Europe recently. We’ve felt pretty safe in our bubble in the Basque Country, but going to a bigger city makes me a little nervous. On New Year’s Eve there was attempted terrorist acts that were stopped in Munich. They had temporarily shut down their metro system and were on high alert. We had a lot of conversations about what we should do; if we should change our plans or continue on to Munich. After a lot of consideration, we decided that we would go, but just be cautious.

We had two full days to spend in Munich, but our timing wasn’t the best. We were there for Three Kings Day, so everything was closed and the other full day we had planned to visit Dachau Concentration Camp (blog post to follow). We didn’t have a chance to see or do too much in Munich, but we did enjoy the time we had there.

IMG_7808IMG_7821IMG_7827We were able to sneak into part of a mass for Three Kings Day, which we enjoyed.

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We spent some time in Marienplatz plaza. There is a large building called the Rathaus Glockenspiel. It is an impressive building all on its own, but the most facinating part is that it is like a music box. Bells ring and figurines of dancers, knights and horses go in circles while the music plays.  It plays a couple of times a day and recounts the story of a wedding, jousting and traditional dancing. It was crazy to see pictures from the 1930’s of the Nazi flag with the swastika hanging from that same building.

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We spent the next day in Dachau Concentration Camp. It was a heavy and surreal experience and I feel like it deserves a post all on its own.

On a lighter note- We saw this sign everywhere. Now, we don’t speak German, but it must be saying to stop farting, right? 🙂

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Austria

Here’s a little backstory: Kyle and I had a conversation with Jaron and Milenka when they were visiting about country counts. We were discussing how many countries and US states we’ve been to. Of course it’s a competition (that I’m losing). Jaron and Milenka were arguing over who has been to more US states and plotting on how to get ahead of the other person. Jaron claimed that he had been to some states on the East Coast, but we shut him down saying that it doesn’t count if you just drive through a place. You have to experience the place in order for it to count. We also agreed that airports don’t count. I tried to argue that I spent many hours in an airport in South Korea and even have money from there, but they said no.

Fast-forward to the new year. We left Budapest and headed to Munich. We went by BlaBla Car which is essentially like Uber, but for longer distances. It was about a 9 hour drive, but about 7 of those hours were spent driving through Austria. I was trying to say that it counts as a country we visited, but Kyle said it didn’t because I told Jaron that just driving through a place isn’t enough to count it. We debated this during the 7 hour trip. I feel like it’s not the same as driving on the East Coast. On a different leg of this trip we rode a train through Slovakia, but it was short and dark, so I don’t count it. I would like to argue that after the amount of time spent in Austria, seeing the scenery, eating and peeing (multiple times) there, I can count it. We also made some videos in honor of being in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother land!

Can we put this debate to rest? Does it count?

Note: Here are our current country counts – I have some catching up to do.

Ashley: 18 (US, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, Laos, China, Spain, Portugal, France, Croatia, Bosnia*- also could be debated, Italy, Vatican City, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria*, Germany, Morocco)

Kyle: 22 (United States, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Croatia, Bosnia*, Italy, Vatican City, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria* , Germany, Morocco)

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Budapest, Hungary

After spending Christmas in Prague, we took a train to Budapest. It seemed like it would be an easy process; hop on the train, enjoy the scenery, arrive in Budapest and meet up with our Airbnb host and settle in. That would be way too boring for us, though.

We got on the last train out of Prague and got settled in for the 8 hour ride. Right before the train was departing we saw a ticket inspector coming, so we went to get our tickets out…only we couldn’t find them. We were frantically looking everywhere and tearing through all of our bags. Kyle went back to the platform (the last place we remembered having them) and had no luck. We were freaking out because we didn’t know what to do. If we stayed on the train and got caught without tickets, we’d have a huge fine (which we can’t afford). If we got off the train, we’d be out the money we spent on the tickets, have no other way to get to Budapest that day and would have no place to stay that night. Kyle set our bags on the seats across from us when we first got on the train, so we thought that maybe the tickets fell out there. There was a German family sitting in the seats, so we tried asking them if we could look for our tickets. We don’t speak any German, and they spoke very little English. I spoke very clearly and slowly while trying to act out what we were asking them. They stared at us like we were idiots.  Finally, I had a great idea – Google Translate. Thank God for technology. I typed in our question, translated it, showed it to them and they smiled and said, “ohhh!” They got up and, lo and behold, there were our tickets…just as the train started leaving.

As if that wasn’t stressful enough, we had more issues once we arrived in Budapest. We rented a small studio apartment through Airbnb and I had been communicating with the owner all week about our arrival time and everything seemed good to go. We didn’t arrive to Budapest until around 11 pm and headed to the address listed on the website. It was ridiculously cold and we wandered up and down the street, but couldn’t find the number we were looking for. We obviously looked confused, so a woman who was out walking her dog (thankfully) spoke English and asked us if we needed help. I showed her the address and she just looked at us sympathetically and said, “That address doesn’t exist.” She said she lived on the street and the address is a fake address. We both tried calling and messaging the owner with no response. The woman who was helping us called her brother that runs a hostel to ask if he had any rooms available. The had one room for the night, but it was going to be difficult to find lodging for the rest of our stay because of the holidays. The woman was incredibly sweet and was concerned that we would think poorly of Hungary or the Hungarian people. We didn’t have any other options, so we hopped on a tram and headed to the hostel. On our way the owner of the apartment called and was irritated with me that we weren’t there. Excuse me?! I calmly (maybe not so calmly) explained that I have been calling and messaging her with no response and the address she listed was different. She said she didn’t know how to change the address on the website, gave us the correct address and said someone was waiting for us. We arrived at the new address and were incredibly grateful to be out of the cold. The owner sent me a message the following day apologizing profusely.

After that, it was (mostly) smooth sailing. We walked a lot and explored the city in the freezing temperatures. The sun went down around 4 pm and it got even colder, so we would wander during the day and hang out at our studio apartment after 4.

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Matthias Church

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Looking at the Danube River and Buda

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St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

I didn’t realize that Budapest is separated into two parts – Buda and Pest. Who knew? We stayed on the Pest side and crossed the Danube River to see the Buda side.

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Chain Bridge You can see how cold we are! Look at our rosy cheeks!

We celebrated the new year in Budapest and were shocked at how random people were lighting fireworks in very close proximity to people. So many times since being in Europe we find ourselves saying, “Oh, that would never happen in America! That’s a liability! Someone would sue!” In Europe, people don’t care. 🙂

One of the unusual things we found in Budapest was the ruin pubs. People take old warehouses or abandoned buildings and make bars out of them. They don’t fix them up and make them fancy, they just build a bar and put in seating. You kind of feel like you are hanging out in a junkyard. We went to a couple of them, but it was too cold, so we didn’t last long.

We even had a snow day on our last day! The temperatures were cold and any exposed skin would hurt. We were always excited to go back to our studio apartment and warm up! Apparently American football is popular in Hungary, so we were excited to watch a bit.

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We try to eat local food as much as our budget will allow (sometimes it ends up being just rice or pasta), and I always like to try the snack food or candy in different places. I might be the worst diabetic ever. I saw these chips in the store and was SUPER excited to try them. They were absolutely disgusting. They tasted like dust and smoke. Gross.

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We both decided that although we enjoyed Budapest very much, I’m sure it is much more enjoyable when the temperatures are warmer and there is more daylight.

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Back to School

Greetings everybody. Ashley has been the blogging queen keeping everyone back home informed of our adventures and life in general, while I haven’t written anything yet. Well, I’m done with classes now, am enjoying my internship and am going to write several posts about some food highlights during our time here.

Let’s start with my schooling. The school is located on the University of the Basque Country campus in Leioa and serves around 1,000 meals to students and faculty per day between its three restaurants. My group and I started in the menú restaurant, which in Spain means a first course, second course and dessert. The food isn’t anything complicated, but the amount produced is pretty incredible. For example, the first day we were responsible for making stuffed zucchini and we had to make 200 portions. That was only one of the three first courses available. The academic side of the school isn’t very well organized, but the kitchen side is extremely well organized. They have a software program that allows for menu planning, calculates the quantity of ingredients necessary to complete the number of servings of each dish, makes orders to purveyors and makes sure the more time consuming parts of dishes get done the day before they go out. The part I liked least about being in the menú kitchen was that we only did the production in the morning and had no part in the service.   The more relaxed atmosphere of doing prep work is nice, but I like the rush of the service.

During the third term of the first year, my group was moved to the buffet and carta restaurants. Buffet was much more entertaining to me because there is an incredible amount of things to get done in the two hours before the service starts and then serve around 300 people in a matter of two hours. One day I was put on the fish station and had to go down to the fish butchering room to filet and cut cod into individual portions for 120. When I got down there, the fish had just been delivered and it was completely frozen. The fish had to be soaked in water to thaw them, which is not ideal, and then I had to get the help of two classmates help cut the cod before the service started. We only got about half of it done by the time I was supposed to be back upstairs on the grill. I went back up to the kitchen, but my classmates stayed down cutting the rest of the cod. Buffet is a much more realistic experience than menú since we worked the service and felt the pressure of getting food out that is prepared well and leaves in a hot and timely fashion.

Both the menú and buffet options are very affordable, while the carta restaurant is noticeably more expensive. The change in price is reflected in the higher quality of ingredients, the complexity of the dishes and the quantity produced. In menú we were used to making 30-50 liters of stock, while in carta we only make a liter or two per day. The restaurant offers two canapés, two cold appetizers, two hot appetizers, two fish and two meat options followed by dessert. The food and type of service is more aligned with fine dining. Here are some examples of some of the dishes we made in carta.


 

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Canapé: Piperrade, cured albacore, fish eggs and microgreens

Milhojas de mi cuit

Cold appetizer: Milhojas of foie gras, apple compote, candied apple slice and salad

Arroz cremosos con vieras y langostinos

Hot appetizer: Risotto with scallops and prawns


 

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the meat or fish entrees but if my classmates can send me some I’ll be sure to post them.

Overall the time in the kitchens or butchering rooms at school was pretty great, but unfortunately we didn’t have as many hours as I had initially hoped. Since I signed up for the kitchen management program we had a lot of time in the classrooms, which was boring, and in my opinion, not very productive. Spanish students talk a lot and the majority of the teachers simply read from the book. Don’t get me wrong, I learned things, but I would have preferred more time in the kitchen and getting rid of several of the most disruptive classmates.

Stay tuned for stories of a typical day with our friend Angel’s family in his hometown of Larrabetzu.

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Prague, Czech Republic

I find it hard to be so far away from friends and family on regular days, but Christmas is especially hard. Last year we spent Christmas with Ángel’s family, and they are great people and make us feel like family. Even with being embraced as family, its not the same. Their traditions are different than our traditions. I was still mopey and homesick.

This year I was insistent on going somewhere else. I thought that if we were visiting a new place and seeing new and amazing things, that maybe I would forget that we are over 5,000 miles away from family. I thought it would distract me and I wouldn’t be homesick and I wouldn’t be mopey because we’re not spending Christmas with our families. Well, it didn’t work, BUT we did have a good trip and we did get to see some great things. I am beyond excited to be able to spend next Christmas with our families, but this past Christmas will be one that I will always remember.

We were in Prague from Christmas Eve until December 30th. My favorite word to describe everything during this trip was “magical”. I don’t know how to better explain it. I know it’s cheesy, but all of the buildings and Christmas decorations and Christmas markets were simply magical.

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The Christmas markets were the highlight of Prague for me. Kyle was extremely patient with me wanting to look at EVERY. SINGLE. STALL. I couldn’t help it. I love Christmas and wanted to see everything.


The highlight for Kyle was probably the food. He loved the smoked ham, sausages, bacon and cabbage, and of course the beer.

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We enjoyed seeing the architecture around Prague. We visited a synagogue, cathedrals, the astronomical clock and spectacular bridges.


 

We took a train to a city called Kutna Hora, which is about an hour outside of Prague. It is the home of the Sedlec Ossuary, or Bone Cathedral. It is a small church that is decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 humans. Kyle thought it was awesome. I was undecided if I thought it was cool or way too morbid. It was something we had never seen before though, so it was worth the trip.


 

We spent our last day in Prague wandering the streets, drinking hot chocolate and mulled wine, and taking in the beauty of the city.

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