Porto, Portugal: Day One

I was constantly checking the weather for Porto, Portugal on my iPhone. Casie and I were only going to be there for Saturday and Sunday, after all. No way can it be raining this weekend, right?

Looking out of the window on the airplane ride over, there were dark clouds in the sky. It was still beautiful. To our surprise (and favor) the weather turned out lovely. As our host-mom Sol says, We bring the sunshine! We all stayed at the Gallery Hostel, and I know what some of you may be thinking as soon as I even mention the word hostel: dangerous, sketchy, dirty, even the movie Hostel. But those notions need to be thrown out. Because although it was the first hostel I’ve ever been to, I know it will be my favorite. Free breakfast and walking tours in the morning, artsy décor, super clean everything, friendly (English-speaking) staff, and for 10 euros, delicious and plentiful dinners at night. Plus I met some cool people while I was there, including two girls who are backpacking across Europe. The place exceeded my expectations in every way. Upon arrival, Casie and I knew close to nothing about Porto or even Portugal. Luckily the  staff of Gallery was there to give us maps and advice on where to go. Our first stop? The garden of the Palacio de Cristal.

Leaving the Porto airport to begin our journey

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I know I say this about a lot of the architecture in Europe, but the buildings in Porto are truly beautiful. Each are unique in their colors and many were tiled.

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The walls of the newly renovated hostel were adorned with these original, historical tiles

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Bottom bunked.

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Yes to, um, everything!
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 How did they know it was my birthday weekend?!

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Lunch at this tea house, one of the places the staff from Gallery suggested, and it was perfect.

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The egg and spinach quiche was delicous

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And tea of course!
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I don’t know what this graffiti means, but I thought it looked cool.

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There’s a face in the sidewalk!

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And here starts the garden’s of the Palacio de Cristal

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Shadows

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Got a little startled when this broken-looking fountain spurted up with water

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I found blackberries in this tree. And sweet, they were.

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This looks safe. But, the blackberries were worth it

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There were so many peacocks at the garden. This one was doing what I think to be a mating call to the other bird for a good ten minutes

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Stopped in a store that specializes in olive oil products, made in Portugal, and got some free tasting.

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Dinnertime!

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Pimientos Fritos-Fried Peppers
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Ensalada-Salad
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Fresh cheese
And a little bit of everything, including chicken with vegetables, mushrooms in a cream sauce, fava beans, scrambled eggs, and a flakey meat pie …Don’t judge my huge plate, I walked miles earlier.

Best. crepes. ever. All homemade of course, and yes that includes the chocolate sauce.

Happy Early Birthday to…

Me!

So tomorrow, I’ll be flying into Porto, Portugal for the weekend. That’s right, Portugal. Last week Casie and I were checking out flights to nearby cities on this website everyone was telling us about, called RyanAir.com We found cheap tickets to, you guessed it, Porto. My birthday is Monday and I’ve never been to Portugal before and I figured, When else am I going to have the opportunity of being in Europe, finding airplane tickets this cheap? I won’t be bringing my laptop with me, though, so that means you guys will have to stay tuned for my next blog, coming Tuesday. But I promise you this: it will be worth the wait.

Dr. Conrod took us to this really cool place today called La Casa Encendida. It is a pawn shop-turned into a big and beautiful social and cultural center. This place offers workshops, courses, art, exhibitions, a library, cinema, and more. The best thing about this place? Access to it is free and open to the public!

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The gorgeous rooftop overlooks Madrid and even has a garden where they plant vegetables, like lettuce.

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Dark rooms still exist! This part of the photography room is where people can come in and learn anything from the basics of photography to Photoshop — even how to develop pictures

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Relaxing before Spanish class in my favorite spot, el Retiro Park

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My favorite dish again for dinner, la tortilla de patata.

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And sopa de fava!

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Ice cream again, I don’t think there can ever be too much ice cream

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El Teatro Lirico de Muñecas

As I sat in el Teatro Lirico de Muñecas, I couldn’t help being distracted from my teacher. There were bright pink walls, headless Barbie dolls, and wigs bursting out of the room.

Then the actors began to show up. One by one, they recited their lines for us during their audition for the role of Miguel — the main character of the novel, El Hijo de Hernandez — that we are in the process of filming. It’s going to be a fun five weeks!

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Taking measurements for our actress/classmate/friend Marcella

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On our walk to school…Image

But before spanish class — lunch in el Retiro Park. Sarah showing me the “sandwich” her host-mom made for her, feeling grateful I get to make my own lunch.

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ahh, it’s so relaxing here.

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Amigos-friends

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Nathan, Casie, Roxy, Kevin, and I 🙂

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Hah, good one.

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Tonight was a feast! Two new girls who will be living and studying at the same school as me just arrived today. We devoured roasted chicken with potatoes and onions, and a side of tortellini.

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Sol prepared a beautifully designed dessert. Three-flavored ice cream drizzled in chocolate syrup and served with a biscuit. It was so decadent!

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La Paz Mercado

Today I finally got a chance to go to one of Madrid’s several markets. There are so many, actually, that in order to decide which to go to first, I ended up pulling an eeny-meeny-miny-mo. The one I went to today is called La Paz. There are outdoor shops and a restaurant that lead to the entrance of the mercado. Once inside, I felt like I was in one of Anthony Bourdain’s episodes of No Reservations.The mercado was full of vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and seafood and I just wanted to taste well, everything.

There are also small restaurants where all the locals — and many businessmen — come to eat. At this point, I was wishing I hadn’t packed my lunch.

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I know ham is a very big part of the Spanish cuisine, but I don’t think I could ever eat this.

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So many different types of beans.

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Just when I thought this fish couldn’t get any scarier, the vendor decided to pretend it was alive and eating another fish.

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The people here are friendly, to say the least. Once they saw me taking pictures of the food, they wanted in.

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All this food had me day-dreaming about dinner tonight.

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Fried eggs, potatoes, and Sol made the traditional dish “Paella” for me. It has rice, peas, red pepper, squid, shrimp, and mussels.

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Then we had chocolate mousse with apples!

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Eyephoneography

Instead of meeting for class in our room at Estudio Sampere today, my teacher Dr. Conrod took us to a photography exhibit. But this was no ordinary photography with expensive, snazzy cameras, it was all from smartphones. We even got a personal guide of the exhibit “Eyephoneography,” from the founder herself, Rocío Nogales

It began in 2010 and is a project of exhibits and activities around mobile photography. At this particular exhibit, there were four artists who were chosen to have their work displayed. All varied in types of photography and all were cool in their own unique way. Rocío said  the exhibit will only grow from here, and I don’t doubt it. So next time you take a picture on your Blackberry or iPhone, imagine how cool it would be to have your pictures shared with the world!

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My teacher, Dr. Conrod, and founder of Eyephoneography, Rocío Nogales Image

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Rocío gave us all a couple postcards from some artists and a pin.Image

Discussing art and eating — two of my favorite things to do!

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The gang

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There was an American market right next to where the exhibit was, so when it was over, Casie and I decided it was time to satisfy our peanut butter cravings.

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So happy for the ccrema de cacahuete, we know what’s for breakfast tomorrow, and the day after that…

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Dinner time included a medley of vegetables.

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Papas fritas!

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Then this delicious bar of ice cream!

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Not all who wander are lost

Today was a quite morning. My kind of Sunday morning. The apartment was still as I got up to have breakfast by myself. I didn’t mind it; in fact I kind of liked it. It’s those rare moments of silence when I can let my stream of thoughts flow, even enjoy them. And as I sat under at the table, sunlight crept through the window shades and  I realized — today is Sunday, I’ve already been in Madrid for a week!

It then occurred to me you guys might be curious as to what my new cozy home looks like, so here it is.

Breakfast first

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FYI: the brown bits are chocolate chips, I’ve found my new favorite cereal.

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Casie and I are not the only girls to have stayed at Sol’s house, she’s been doing this since 1998. No wonder  she does such a great job, the proof is on the tack-board.

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The cat, Diana, enjoying some tea with me

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The living room

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The cute winding stairwell that leads up to Sol, her husband Jose, and son’s rooms

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Study area and the door to the third bedroom for visiting studentsImage

Dining table and Diana (again)

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Quaint little bathroom

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Mine and Casie’s bedroom, but you’ve seen that already.

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Entrance to the kitchen, my favorite room

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Good old-fashioned line-drying

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Hallway leading to the front door entrance and dining/living room

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Balcony from the dining room table, I love it

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I had the itch to go on a run this morning, it’s been over a week since I had the pleasure of hitting the pavement.

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Note to self: Don’t go running without a map in a city you’re not familiar with. I’ve never been one good with directions, but I figured if I just ran straight down the street and straight back, I’d be fine. I even timed myself, 15 minutes up the street, so it should only take me another 15 minutes to get back down. Half an hour passed . I should be getting back to Principe de Vergara — the street adjacent to where I live — soon.

50 minutes passed. All I can say is, thank god I have a roomie who was willing to meet me at the nearest metro stop to ride back home with me! At least it was a pleasant run, the weather was cool and I saw some interesting things. Not to mention its only 1:30 pm and I already got my workout in for the day. But I definitely won’t be doing that by myself again.

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Ran by this store, hoping they sell peanut butter so I can buy some next time. People here think it’s weird. I think it’s the best thing invented since toilet paper.

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I believe this was a sign from Nadal, telling me I can find my way home. He was wrong.

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Saw what looked to be Pro-Palestine protestors on bicycles

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Boredom kicking in as I waited for Casie to find me

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And then he dropped it..

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Casie and I were going to go to the Museo Del Prada this afternoon, but ended up taking a wrong turn and walked through the Retiro Park instead. That makes the second time I got lost today. But this time, I didn’t mind it.

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The Mad Hatter was having tea at the Retiro Park, it was my unlucky-lucky day!

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After the park, Sol and her husband Jose picked us up in their car and drove us through the city and the Calle De Campos where there are pretty nature trails, a zoo, and even an amusement park.

Sol and Jose 🙂

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Love this lady

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Esta lluviendo! It was raining during the car ride home, and pretty much all day.

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Dinner time! I was starving after my unexpectedly long run today.

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Pescado blanco con verduras-white fish with vegetables.

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Also, a fried egg with white rice. I’m digging the variety at dinner.

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Love this flan, especially with the dried pineapples. I have to remember to buy some when I’m back home

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The Beautiful City of Toledo

It’s 7:30 am and my alarm is ringing. Why? No one should have to wake up this early on a Saturday. Then I remembered, today is my group excursion to the city of Toledo! Meet at the buses at nine in the morning, “al punto,” as my teacher would say. One hour later and we arrived at our destination. What a sight for sore eyes this city is. Located high on green hilltops, Toledo is connected with an arched stone bridge and surrounded by the Tagus River giving it a moat-like appearance. I thought I was about to step inside a fairytale, one that used to hold executions in the main plaza (de Zocodover)…

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Roomie love

Our group representing FAU

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Toledo is famous for making swords and armor.

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Like a boss.

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The weather was a bit rainy and chillier than expected.

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We were all constantly gazing up at the incredibly embellished ceilings.

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Sandwich break!Image

We had an hour and a half of free time for lunch, so we decided to let our taste buds guide us to a panaderia — bakery —after we ate our sandwiches. We sat outside a cute little bakery and enjoyed ice cream, and a dessert specially made from Toldeo: Toledanas, Mazapan de Toldeo, and Mazapan de Chocolate. Yum.

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Frolicking in the garden

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Found this cute little guy in a tree

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A mini replica of the city, Toledo

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All the kids from Estudio SampereImageImageImageImageImageImage

Two of my housemates are leaving tomorrow, so dinner tonight was particularly special. We enjoyed lasagna, salad, fried calamari, and fresh bread. I’ve come to learn that eating bread with every meal in Madrid is as common as drinking water.

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Devoured!

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For dessert, pudding-like flan, or flan-like pudding, I couldn’t decide which suited it better.

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Ketching-up

Today was another long day at school, but on the bright side, my teachers didn’t give me any homework for the weekend! Even more exciting? My group and I will be going on an excursion to the city of Toledo tomorrow. It is a municipality about an hour (give or take a little) south of Madrid. I don’t know much about Toledo, but I do know that it is an old city rich in history — it’s been around since the Bronze age — and culture: it’s declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in part for its coexistence of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cultures.

Oh, and there is a huge medieval castle there along with the Tagus river. Let’s just say my camera will be hard at work tomorrow, so for today, let us rest. After all, tonight is popcorn and a movie night at the Cubas-Knott residence (and my body is begging to get over my jet-lag).

My favorite for dinner tonight, tortilla de patata.

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White beans with chicken in a tomato sauce

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Ice cream again for dessert!

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I didn’t want it to end.

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Friday nights are movie nights for my Spanish family, accompanied by palomitas de maiz-popcorn!

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Urban Art

My apologizes for being a little tardy on this post, fellow followers, I’ve been uber busy here in Madrid. My teacher, Dr. Conrod, wrote a novel called El Hijo de Hernandez that a student  (his name is Lorenzo) wanted to adapt into a film. So in addition to studying Spanish while I’m here, I will also be the first assistant cameraman. Pretty cool, and before Spanish class yesterday, we went “location scouting” for the film. While Lorenzo found awesome places to use, I unfortunately cannot show you guys many of these pictures. Yet.

But don’t worry, dinner will still be served!

One of the streets we went to yesterday was Glorieta de Embajadores. I loved it because it had urban appeal to it (a lot of graffiti/street/industrial art).

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Then we went to this gorgeous park, sorry I don’t know the name!ImageImageImage

I need this bicycleImageImageImageImageLooking down, it’s higher up than it looks.

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This awesome building/structureImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Baby pinecones.Image

Gatos de la calle — street catsImage

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This metro stop, Principe Pio, rocks!Image

Para cenar anoche — for dinner last night — hamburgers and Sol’s famous avocado and tuna salad.Image

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And the best ice cream sandwiches for dessert!ImageImage

Jet-lagging

Ever experienced one of those moments where you had absolutely nothing to say? This is one of them.

Well, maybe not completely, but after three days of running on, maybe, 15 hours of sleep combined, I think this jetlag has finally gotten to my head.

To top it off, Casie and I took the long walk to school today, literally. Calle de Alcala is the longest and one of the oldest streets in Madrid. And although we spent most of the day inside Estudio Sampere learning Spanish, what a beautiful walk to school it was. We originally took this route in search of a mercado (market) that we were told has many fresh fruits, vegetables, desserts, and comidas (food) of all kinds, but what we encountered along the way was building after grandeur building.

Seriously, it was like I was walking through another era. We didn’t have time to find the market on the way to school, due to the fact it’s the longest street in Madrid, so that will have to be saved for another day.

This is what I get to wake up to every morning, not too shabby.

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And here starts the beautiful buildings of Calle de AlcalaImage

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Interesting mix of modern and traditional stylesImageImage

Casa de AmericaImage

Had to throw in some pretty trees.Image

Since we use the metro a lot, we are going to buy an unlimited month pass for June. This requires us to get a small identification picture-photo-booth time!  ImageImage

Taking a picture while taking a picture.ImageImage

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We stopped at El Tablon after class-our new hot-spot-but made sure not to spoil our appetites for dinner.Image

My plate looking lonely because part of dinner tonight was fried pork — which I don’t eat. The other part was brown rice with a medley of vegetables.ImageImage

But mi madre, Sol, accommodated me with a delicious fried egg and some more vegetables.Image

That’s more like it!Image

And fresh, juicy watermelon for dessert!