30 March 2014

Bankhead to Guatemala

Obviously my favorite past time is traveling... No brainer.  But I'm not a selfish traveler I want everyone else to travel too.  I'm so lucky to be able to do both at the same time.  As a Spanish Teacher each year I take a group of well-behaved students from my school the study and volunteer abroad.  What makes these trips even more special to me is that I work at an all boy school in Bankhead Atlanta.  If you've ever heard of Bankhead you would also know of its infamous reputation of drugs, gangs, and violence.  Everyday I get to witness, and be a part of, the amazing change that is happening in that area.  One way I try to contribute to positivity in my community and in the world is by introducing my students to the global community in which they were previously unaware that they belong to.  
Each year my students live with host families (2 students per family), take Spanish classes in the mornings, volunteer with children in the afternoons and tour during the weekends and evenings. In 2012 we traveled to Panama City, Panama, in 2013 we traveled to Granada Nicaragua, and this year we are in Antigua Guatemala.  Yes we are in Guatemala at this very moment!!!!
Today we all met at Atlanta's airport at 4am and after a 2 hour layover in ft lauderdale we landed in Guatemala at 11:40am their time (2 hours behind EST).  Our program coordinator and driver from Spanish Academy Sevilla were there to pick us up and take us to our new homes and schools.  One things we were all pleased to see was the nearly silent Easter procession in the street.  Our new caretakers informed us that for the Easter season they will be a procession every Sunday.  I got great video footage of it and look forward to sharing it with you all.  We are all exhausted now, so now I lay my pretty dread head to sleep! 

Taking students abroad

The only thing is love to do more than travel is taking other along with me.  In this case I get to share my passion with 9 of my students and 2 if the best chaperones ever!  

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One love,

22 March 2014

Ciao Roma!

I leave Roma was a heavy heart and a full stomach.  So sad to leave la morena behind yet still happy to get to my boys and man! La morena will spend another day here participating in a food tour and getting a massage! She woke up bright and early with me (5am) to let me out of the main gate to the apartment.  The bus starts running at 5:30 so i hoped to be on the street at the bus stop waiting between 5:30- 5:45am.  At about 5:20 on my walk to the bus stop the mis approached and picked me up I was at the the termini train station by 6:15 just in time to catch the bus to the fiumicino airport.  The bus arrived at 7:15 and I was making great time for my 9:15 check-in.  
While waiting for the flight I was asked by an airline employee to help an older couple from Albania find their way to their son in Atlanta.  No I don't speak Albania but we could communicate well enough. I made sure they knew where unseat was in the plane and told them to wait since we landed so we could walk together. 

Echo in airplane mode!  Plane bathroom selfie

 After a couple of movies and a good sleep we landed and I joined up with the Albanians.  The husband have me a small slip of paper with their sons name and information on it. But called their son let him know that we'd landed safely and that I would see them through to help out.  He was very appreciative and was happy to also speak to his father.  At immigration we were split up.  Foreign nationals must enter one area while US nationals enter another line for entry.  Once we all cleared they were out in the care of a customs agent who help them from that point on.  I called the son again and let him know they were no longer with me but in good hands nonetheless.  
After changing euros back to dollars, sighed a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction... There's no place like family!  


Last night I was so excited about everything, I just couldn't sleep.  First I checked in with AlphaPoppa and the boys.  I'm constantly in contact with AlphaPoppa through the viber app, but with the boys being in school I have to be a little more strategic about making contact.  Midnight here in Rome made it about 7pm in Atlanta, Zane finishes his skype Spanish classes at 6pm so I was hoping that he was still on-line.  I was so excited that he was on and answers my skype call.  the first things he asked was if I liked Rome and if he could get at tour of the house.  Quickly dude and foxymama joined in the skype call.  Foxymama was generous to give us a week of her time to help AlphaPoppa with the boys whole I was gone.  Her main duties are after school pickup, cooking dinner, preping school lunches and giving those good ole grandma hugs and kisses upon request.  They all reassured me that all was well with them and they wished me a great time.  Shortly after talking to them AlphaPoppa viber texted me that he'd passed yet another level of helicopter pilot certification.  Good job babe! <3
After all the family love I spent the next hour blogging and filling out postcards for family and friends.  When I was ready to sleep, I sleep well.  The bed was so comfortable, the air was a little cool but just perfect for the many covers that made it all cozy.
Since la morena went to bed earlier than I she also woke up first.  I didn't get up until about 11 but we were up and out of the house before noon.  Not only was I excited to see more of Rome, I was also excited to speak Italian as much as possible.  Right before leaving I found a fantastic language app name "molto bene" which means very good in Italian. The app was great because it had the written and audio for a many many Italian phrases, words, and verb tense conjugations.   It was well worth the $10 I paid to download and I used it to practice whenever we had a little down time.  
We once again successfully caught the #446 bus to the Cornelia train station, but this time decided to get off at a different stop, San Prieto- Vaticani.  Yes, saint peters basilica and the Vatican!!!  As soon as we hit the street was were approached by a tour guide coordinator.  He made a great case of how the lines would be unreasonably long to enter the basilica and the Vatican museum... Without a professional tour guide.  According to him the line would be an hour and a half to get into the museo Vaticani then once you enter another hour plus to wait in the line to see the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina). For his charge of 49€ a person we could get a personal guide to help us skip lines and explain all the major works of art in il museo.  Ummm, no grazie signore!  We will figure this out on our own, but first we shall eat, and once again we ate well at another corner cafe.  This time I had lasagna e insalata (salad) and la morena had a carnnollira e insalata.  The portion sizes here are ideal, you are not full when you're done but you are definitely satisfied.  

We decided to walk toward the museum to just see the outside, outside there was no line AT ALL. So we decided to peak inside, and inside there we as no line AT ALL.  It took 2 whole minutes to get through security and only cost 18€ to enter.  One of the first signs we saw was to il posti vaticani, a post office right there in the museum, and it just so happened to have all my postcards with me!!  Woohoo,  the stamps were 2€ each(geez Louise!!) but they were super cool special pope/ Vatican stamps.  I hope my peeps are happy to get them.  

After il posti, at the main entrance I saw were you could rent an audio tour for 7€. If you've never used these at a museum they are super cool.  Depending on the museum the audio tour is usually some my headphones or a big telephone type device.  You can set your language of preference and as you pass pictures, sculptures, and other works of art you can enter that piece's specified number and hear all of the details.  Now if my math serves me correctly 18€ + 7€= 25€ per person if you choose an audio tour that is much cheaper then the 49€ "special offer" we got on the street.  We didn't go with the audio tour but it is always important to me that you get money saving tips and that you know the many options you have while traveling.  
The painting, sculptures, tapestries, etc. were all mind blowing.  Being in il museo Vaticani was like sensory overload.  Even centimeter of every room was a work of art.  Every floor was made with great detail every wall and ceiling were covered with paintings that told the many stories of the bible and the history of Rome and the world.  Amazing, magnificent, incredible will all be understatements.  There were tapestries that could cover the floors of several rooms in my house and that measured much taller than any wall we have.  Since I felt words could not properly describe I was sure to take plenty of video that you can view on our youtube channel: EchosJourneys.  

As we walked thought the museum each corner had a sign pointing to the climax of all the art, la Cappella Sistina, Michael Angelo's famous Sistine chapel.  It was a wonderous journey to get there.  All i could think was how happy I was to be there and how happy I was to have just purchased more memoria for my fotocamera!
Finally we arrive to la Cappella Sistina and it did not disappoint,  the images painted on this world-known ceiling were in 3-D, so far away but seeming to reach down to touch you.  I imagined this great artist laying on his back on top of many levels of scaffold to bring the images in his head to life.  Every head in the room looked upward in wonder.  I'm surprised that we weren't all colliding with all mesmerized eyes pointing to the ceiling, unable to pay attention what surrounded us.  At this point I will guiltily admit that even though I (all of us) were specifically instructed to not film, I did anyway... I had to... I couldn't help myself... If you feel offended that i did this please accept my sincere apologies and do not watch the video.  If you understand my need to record this magical moment and place and want to quench your curiosity then please enjoy.  My mother's side of the family is catholic and I was happy to be here for my deceased grandmother, aunt, and other family members, even if I don't share their same beliefs.  
After the Sistine chapel we exited and the museum and headed to the St Peters Basilica/ Vatican.   By then is was already 3:30 on and that line was truly looooong.  Luckily both of us felt more of a pull to bask in the warmth of the sun and enjoy the delicious spring breeze while we soaked in the splendor of the Vatican standing tall and timeless before our eyes.  
Since being in that area specifically we saw so many nuns and priests.  What called my attention most was that 95% of the nuns we saw were Asian.  Things like this blow my mind.  There is no better stereotype killer than travel.  Last night while taking pix and throwing coins into the trevi fountain, i saw a gorgeous Somalian women in full Muslim robes and head covering posing in front to the fountain while a man (her husband perhaps?) took her picture.  I told her in Italian that's she was "molta Bella" (very beautiful) then went back to taking pictures with la morena.  While doing so the Somalian women stops me mid sentence, "where are you guys from?" She asks in an accent much like mine.  "We are from Atlanta in the US."  She immediately throws open her arms "I'm from Minnesota!!"  You have no idea how much I loved that.  We chatted for a while and wishes each other happy travels before parting ways.  The world has changed to much and people are in the move world wide, the days in which you can look and assume a person's nationality and life story are dead.  While here in Rome we've been asked repeatedly but sooo many people if we are Brazilian, people are shocked when we say no.  I asked a few people when Brazilian? Some say because we are beautiful and ALL Brazilian women are beautiful.  The men here are extremely flirty and seem to have equal love for all races, sizes, and nationalities.  They know how to make a gal feel pretty.  We are no longer safe to assume and categorize and I love it.  It is a different world.  

After sunbathing and chilling we decided on the coliseum just a few train stops away.  Unfortunately it closed 8 minutes before our arrival, so the next best things to do was to eat!!  And we did just that once again.  The food once again was delicious and satisfying.  After that's meal we jumped back on the train to the opera house train station then walked to the Spanish steps again.  We talked, window shopped, and laughed.   After another few hours of Rome-ing we decided to eat again before going to our home in Rome.    Roast chicken and roast potatoes as recommended by my BFF were the delight of the night.  My flight was the next morning at 9:15am and in would have quite a trek to get there by 7:15 check-in. 

20 March 2014

At home in Rome

Once we landed in Rome our next step was to take a 4€ shuttle to the Rome city center. There we would get in the metro's A line to the Cornelia train station.  Our host Daniela would be there to pick us up in front of the bank on the corner at 1:30pm.  We got there exactly at 1:30 and Daniela (Dany) was there waiting for us in her car.  Her house was a 10 minute drive from the train station and she explained to us in a mixture of English and Italian how to take the bus to and from her house.  Now if you know me well you know that I'm a natural born polyglot and I absorb language at an abnormal rate.  I'm fluent in Spanish, French, and Portuguese so Italian is not that hard for me.  I can guess most if what in saying and at the least be understood.  The funniest part of the drive to our new home a as la morena looking at me confused from the backseat and asking "Echo, since when do you speak Italian?!"  That really cracked me up because in my mind I really think inknownwhatnimnsaying and talking about!  Anyway i understood all of our instructions, asked a variety of important questions and had a good convo with Dany about why she host people from all over the world.  
Dany's apartment was beautiful, like old school roman perfection.  She showed us around the kitchen, and our suite, gave us a key and headed back to work.  
I couldn't wait to jump in the shower,  change clothes, and take a nap so I did all 3 in that order! 

That nap was sooo good and sooo needed.  I woke up at 4 so we could leave the apartment by 4:30!for a walking tour in the heart of Rome.  
Even though we somehow missed the tour we made the best of our time.  We first bought more memory for my camera. Then we found a corner cafe and we ate.  Now when I say we ate... I mean we ATE!!  We didn't necessarily eat a lot or eat quickly but we ate the way you would imagine one would eat in Italy. As we bit into each note of our insalata, cardonara spegheti, and margarita pizza we moaned and groaned at the flavor and detailed seasoning.  It was spectacular.  I had mixtures of ingredients and flavors that I'd never had before.  I are things I hate but due to the mastery of the food hate turned to love and olives and tomatoes made my taste buds dance like the staccato notes the nearby street band played to mozart's rondo.  This may have possibly been the best meal of my life.  It was so good that Felt compelled to eat as many different dishes offered in Italy in the attempt to not repeat meals or miss out on something that inevitably had to be within the same realm of deliciousness.  La morena teased me that the delicious birthday meal was a good attempt in making up for the bullfight rating as the most traumatizing horrific bday present ever.  I hope I made up for it and that she was enjoying her official birthday in Rome.

After we are we walked.  We bought post cards and finally ended up at the fountain of triva.  It was like no other fountain is ever seen and made me wish I had someone there to explain its history, origin, and purpose to me.  Hundreds of people were there sitting in its glowing radiance and relaxing.  We joined the crowd with pleasure and accompanied by gelato.  

We made wishes in the fountain then moved on to the twisting small connecting street.  There we were sucked in by great prices and Italian leather.  I bought a much needed travel purse that wrapped around me, a business card holder, a new global print travel carryon (almost identical to the one I often photograph, that's also falling apart) an and Italian jacket.  I'm never such a big spender, but I couldn't help myself today.  After all our purchases we walked talked and decided to head "home" so we could properly rest and enjoy the next day.  On the bus ride we joked about how we felt so comfortable in Rome and what we'd do at home.  We've been here les than 12 hours and we've already made ourselves at home in Rome. 

Rome the world

After seeing a few Fallas burn last night we went to bed at about 1:30.  I didn't actually fall asleep until 3:30 because I was updating the blog and YouTube channel.  We then woke up at 5am got dressed packed up and left Guillermo's place in Valencia.  It was time to head to the airport for our 9:05 flight to Rome, Italy. We had to be at the airport by 7am.  When we stepped out to the street of Valencia it was completely silent. After days and weeks of firecrackers and 24 hour celebrations it all stopped on a dime.  It was easy to imagine the whole town exhausted in a coma-like sleep trying to recover from such a huge event.  The streets were cleaned to perfection there were no signs of the fallas or the burnt piles left in the aftermath. It was like it never happened.  I joke with la morena asking if I'd dreamt it all and was somehow confused, she verified that it was all really but definitely creepy that it all disappeared without a trace.  The walk to the metro station was short and straight into the airport.  We had tobwait for a while but finally we boarded out Ryanair flight to Roma as two extremely tired, extremely excited women.  What was waiting for us in the other side was yet another adventure and yet another way to celebrate our freedom to Rome the world. 

19 March 2014

New friends, mascletas, and killers

After seeing a few of the beautiful fallas in our barrio, I decided we should head to the city centro to see the huge fallas.  In the way there we ran into our Australian house mates who were headed in the same direction.  We all immediately got it off and walked and talked for a long time in search of mascletas.  

Las mascleta are the noisy firecracker displays set up in each barrio.  Some are bigger than others but all are loud enough to rattle your inner eardrum and shake up your heart.  The deafening sound is like none other.  

After missed a few mascleta by mere minutes we finally found a small one and waited here for the explosions.  It was well worth it.   Our housemate were so cool.  Originally of chinese and Malaysian decent they lived in Australia and were recently married.  Their plan was to spend 2 years traveling the world, a year in Europe and a year in Asia!  I LOVE meeting other travelers!!! After a few hours we parted ways.  Our plan was to go to a bullfight, which they'd done the previous day and enjoyed, and they were in the search for more fallas and mascletas.  The bullfight would be la morenas one day early bday present from me!

La morena and I made it to the bull fighting rink bought our tickets and grabbed a delicious quick lunch and a Spanish sandwich fast food joint.  Before we knew it we were af the bullfighting rink  watch or first of 8 matches. Of course the first match had to be the most traumatizing.  The bull was not going to be an easy win and was a true champ.  After being repeatedly stabbed he fell in dispair, while the matadors tried to deliver the final blow by stabbing him in the too if his head. He didn't die.  The matador continued to stab him 5 times to be exact but the bull refused to die, he bravely stood up and began to charge again.  Every single one of us was in shock!  Finally the bull couldn't take t anymore and dropped only to be stabbed several more times as his body quaked and quivered.  I was traumatized and sick all at once.  To make matters worse there were 7 more matches to follow.  This is one of those cultural
Differences that I find it almost impossible to appreciate.  It was bloody, cruel and unfair.  Right next to us however wa a very sharp older man who was a former matador and explained so many thing to us in detail.  He spoke so passionately about the kill that it was like poetry.  The matador (or killer, from its Spanish meaning) is supposed to be skilled enough to have a clean kill in which the bull is not repeatedly stabbed as we saw in the first fight.  After so much killing and conversation we'd made a new friend Carmelo Espinosa.  After the bullfight he led us to a restaurant that had the best paella in town and went in his way back to Madrid.  

After a nice long super delicious dinner we stepped out of be restaurant to see the smaller fallas were being burned already!  It was amazing.  After seeing some small fires we decided to take a taxi home to rest before leaving to see the bigger fallas but at midnight.  We hulled at home for about an hour then headed out with our German housemate Julian, just to see the larger fallas in our barrios burn.

Today was everything Spanish, everything Valencia, everything fallas.   Having la morena to share it all with also meant everything to me.  Feliz CumpleaƱos nena!!!!