Spain 2016

Hasta la proxima (Until next time)

Nick Browning

 

After finally getting into my routine, it’s already time to leave Alcalá, but this past week has been awesome. On Sunday, my class went to Madrid to go to El Retiro, the Madrid equivalent of Central Park, and afterwards we stayed in Madrid to go to a bull fight.

La Plaza de Las Ventas

La Plaza de Las Ventas

The bull fight was exactly what I thought it would be, and although it’s becoming a controversial topic in Spain, I really enjoyed it. Classes this week were interesting because they were more of a conversation than a lecture. Because we have a small class, myself and three others, we were able to hold a few of our classes outside of a café. I guess that’s the perks of studying abroad on a small program through our small college. We talked about everything from the economic situation that Spain is dealing with, to the outlook for college graduates in Spain, and even the elections that are crazy enough to rival our own in the United States.

On Wednesday, we took our last excursion to El Escorial and El Valle de los Caídos (The Valley of the Fallen), and despite all the amazing places we went over this past month, I think this was my favorite trip. El Escorial was built in the 16th century as a tribute to the battles won by Felipe II and as a place to entomb his father, Carlos I. To this day, the building is still used as a school, a library, a monastery, a museum, and the actual burial site of all the kings and queens of Spain since the 1500’s. We went down in the octagonal room where all of the coffins are and could see the names of the kings that we had studied over the past month, and for me this was the coolest part of the entire building. I really appreciated El Escorial that much more after this visit, because I was able to follow everything that the guide was saying, and I was able to connect it back to what we had learned in class. After the tour, we took a trip up into the nearby mountains to visit El Valle de los Caídos.

El Valle de los Caidos

El Valle de los Cáidos

This is actually a basilica that was completed 20 years after the end of the Spanish civil war as a memorial to those nationalist soldiers that fought in favor of Francisco Franco. It is an amazing place because it has a giant stone cross that sits on top of the mountain, but the basilica itself is actually built into the mountainside. The building itself represents a dark time in Spanish history, however, it is hard not to be amazed by the architecture.

 

I can’t believe that our month in Spain is already up. I definitely picked up on some subtleties of the Spanish culture that I missed before. One of the most interesting things that I realized while I was here is the fact that the Spanish people, and people from other countries as well, are extremely in tune with the American presidential election. Almost every day since I’ve been here, I’ve seen either Clinton’s or Trump’s face on the television. People would constantly want to talk to me about it, and I couldn’t believe how interested they were about the whole thing. I find it especially interesting that they are interested in our election, but the Spanish presidential election is coming up in a few weeks on June 26th. Their election is just as, if not more interesting than ours because it is actually a run-off election. The first election was in December but there wasn’t a majority winner out of the four candidates, so now they’re having another one. After talking with my host family and some other students from the University of Alcalá, I got the impression that they’re just as fed up with the political process as many Americans are. It was awesome to be able to have these in depth conversations with people in their own language. I realized that even though our cultures are completely different, Spanish and Americans deal with and care about many of the same issues.

I’m really going to miss the Spanish lifestyle when I get back to the States: the food, the laid-back attitudes, the weather, the public transportation, but most importantly the people. The people here have been extremely nice and helpful. I plan on staying in touch with my host family and especially my little brother here in Spain. They’ve been awesome this entire trip. I’m extremely glad that Hampden-Sydney makes it so there is only one student with each family because I don’t think I would’ve had the same experience had one of my friends been with me.

Spain 2016

Nick Browning

Finally Getting Accustomed

Classes this week have been more interesting in the sense that we’re finally being able to see how Spain’s history is affecting life today. Most of the issues that Spanish people are dealing with are due to a combination of medieval history and the struggles that the country faced over the last one hundred years. For nearly forty years, from 1939-1975, Spain was ruled by the dictator Francisco Franco. I’m not going to go into all the details of his reign, but just know that some of his biggest allies were Hitler and Mussolini. In 1975, after Franco died, the historical royal family, the Borbons, resumed power but only as a figurehead of the state. Spain is still feeling the repercussions of Franco’s reign as there is once again a lot of uncertainty and instability in the country’s government. One could say that their presidential elections that are set to take place on the 26th of this month could rival our own unpredictable presidential election. As for the effects of medieval history on Spanish politics today, the country is currently dealing with an attempted secession of one of its regions. Hundreds of years ago in the late 1400’s, Spain was united by the marriage of the Catholic Kings. King Fernando brought the region of Cataluña into the Spanish kingdom, but even to this day, the people of Cataluña speak a different language called Cataluñan (Spanish is also spoken there). Due to cultural and economic reasons, the region is attempting to secede from Spain, but I really don’t think that is going to happen for various reasons. We are only a few classes into our class on contemporary issues in Spanish culture, but I’m really enjoying the fact that I am able to apply what we learned in our Spanish history class to the issues that the country is currently dealing with.

Week three has been exciting in the fact that we’ve taken more trips to historical sites around the Madrid region.

Aqueduct of Segovia

Aqueduct of Segovia

On Tuesday, we went to Segovia to see the Alcázar of Segovia, the city’s roman aqueduct, and the Cathedral of Segovia. The Alcázar was not only the site of the marriage between the Catholic Kings, it was also the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney’s movie Cinderella. The aqueduct is by far my favorite monument in the city because it is still standing perfectly after 2000 years. It is impressively large and is definitely a testament to roman engineering. The Cathedral of Segovia was interesting; however, I enjoyed the Cathedral of Toledo which we visited on Saturday much more.

Cathedral of Toledo

Cathedral of Toledo

Toledo is the home of the grandest cathedral that I’ve ever seen. I’m not Catholic, but just being in the building made me appreciate the magnitude of the project and the power of the religion in Spain. Toledo is also famous for its mixture of three cultures: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Before Spain was united as a Catholic country, the three religions lived peacefully in the city. My favorite example of this is the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca. It was a synagogue that was built for the Jews by Muslim architects at the order of the Christian king Alfonso VIII. Toledo, aside from Valencia and its beautiful beaches, is my favorite city that I’ve visited thus far. On top of visiting historical monuments, we spent Thursday in Madrid visiting the Reina Sofia Museum and going to a Flamenco Show. Being modern art, some of the art in the Reina Sofia was a little too abstract for my liking, but I did enjoy Picasso’s Guernica and the Salvador Dalí collection. The show was interesting; even though I didn’t understand half of the words in the songs because it was Spanish sung like opera, I understood the storyline. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before in the States. Despite the fact that I’ve been to and seen most of these places and things before, it was awesome going back to see everything again, and this time I found out and saw new things.

Plaza Mayor in Segovia

Plaza Mayor in Segovia

It’s hard to believe that our trip to Spain is coming to a close. It really feels like we just landed a few days ago, but I’ve already seen and learned a lot on this trip. My ability to speak and understand Spanish has increased immensely which has been awesome. There’s something about being able to communicate with people that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to that makes me want to continue to work at becoming fluent. The way I see it is that if I can speak another worldly language, then it opens many more opportunities for me. One example of this is the conversations that I’ve had with my host family. My little host brother has taught me a lot about soccer just by us being able to play FIFA together on his PS4. I’ve talked with my host parents and their friends about the state of the Spanish economy and comparisons between the United States and Spain. That’s awesome for me, because I’m talking to them in their language. I didn’t realize I would be able to have these high caliber conversations before I came here, but my Spanish has really advanced over the three weeks that I’ve been living with them.

Spain 2016

Nick Browning

Work Hard, Play Hard

Our second week in Alcalá was a little less exciting than last week, but that’s because we had to do all of our classwork in the first half of the week, so that we could enjoy a vacation during the second half of the week. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were each days full of six hours’ worth of class. For us, that meant covering Spanish history from the medieval times until the early 1900’s. This completed our crash course of 2,500 years of Spanish history that we completed in six days of class. We didn’t find out until the last day of class, but we completed in two weeks what Spanish high school students learn over two years. At first it was very tedious having to learn dates, the organization of the government, the various capitals and the constant power struggle in Spain; however, for our final project we had to write a paper about one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain, and I realized that everything in Spanish history is still relevant to everyday life. Learning the history of the various regions of the peninsula gave me insight into why things are how they are today. For example, Aragón has historically disagreed with the kingdom of Castilla. The two were brought together through the marriage of the Catholic Kings, but even today the land of Aragón (Cataluña) is fighting to be an independent, sovereign nation.

Once we finished our final paper on Thursday, we were able to travel for the rest of the weekend. Most of the group, including myself, went to Valencia. I traveled with two other guys, Kyler Vela and Brett Shaw, and I enjoyed not only my first hostel experience but my first Blablacar experience as well. Blablacar is like a long distance Uber, you can catch rides with people driving to other cities for only a fraction of the cost of a train ticket. Our driver, Benjamin, grew up in Valencia, so on the 3.5-hour car ride he told us where we should visit and what we should do. It was a cool experience given that he didn’t speak any English and we were able to travel the highways like Spaniards do. It was my first time really getting outside of Madrid in either of my trips to Spain, and it was awesome being able to see the changes in the landscape as we drove from the middle of the country to the coast. While we were in Valencia we divided up our time between visiting the

Paella

Paella

historic monuments like the two medieval towers, the silk market, the cathedral, and the functioning market in which you could buy almost any food you could desire. When we weren’t exploring the city, we were either trying out some local food like the famous paella,

or we were hanging out on the beautiful Playa Marvillosa.

Playa Marvillosa

Playa Marvillosa

The lifestyle of Valencia was a lot different than the lifestyle in Madrid; it was still a giant city, but it had a small town feel that would be impossible to obtain in Madrid. Valencia is large and historic but it is also inviting and modern. As of now, if I were able to move back to Spain, I would more than likely move to Valencia.

The UEFA Champions League final was on Saturday, and just like in 2014, the two teams were Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Soccer in Spain is a religion with politically infused sentiments, and it was awesome being able to experience the madness that takes over during big games like this. We weren’t even in Madrid during the game, but the Valencians were going crazy. We were at a restaurant that didn’t have a TV when we realized that the game was going to be determined by penalty kicks, so we ran over to a bar. When we got there we found out that there weren’t any TV’s in any of the restaurants or bars on the street, so we listened to the end of the game on the radio with the Argentinian bartender. It wasn’t ideal, but it was an experience that I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy if I wasn’t able to understand the Spanish language.

The second week of our program was definitely front loaded with

Torres de Serrano

Torres de Serrano

classroom work given that we had to study nearly a millennium of Spanish history, but it was well worth it. I’m loving being back in Spain again. It’s like no place else. I can’t believe how fast the experience is flying by, and even though it’s my second time here, I’m constantly learning more about Alcalá and all of Spain.

 

Spain 2016

Korbin Bordonie

Week three
Week three was quite an adventure. We visited many very important Spainish landmarks. The first landmark and most fascinating landmark we visited, in my opinion, was the Royal Palace.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

You may think your own personal house is big, but try a 1.45 million square foot one. We were not allowed to take any pictures of the inside of the house, but let’s just say the chandeliers were as big as cars and everything was gold. To put it into perspective of how much money is in this building, in 2012 there was a violin that fell off of a table that was on display and the damages were worth 20 million. The family itself actually lives in the palace, only a few months out of the year, if any. They are always on the go and have things to do. I’ll share some pictures of the courtyard and from the outside of the X10 huge mansion.
The second place we visited was the Nacional Bibleoteca.

Biblioteca Nacional

National Library of Spain

This library holds 26 million different books, newspapers and manuscripts. The library is by far the largest library in Spain and one of the largest in the world. There were many sculptures of famous Spainish leaders all around the library that helped represent it’s 304 years of establishment. Right next to the library is a huge museum of modern art. There were many Picasso and Dali paintings here. I’m not really a big art guy but these paintings really caught my eye. Many of the paintings that were on display were almost priceless and extremely unique.
Don Quixote’s hill and castle of windmills was the fourth landmark we visited. Don Quotis windmillsThis is a famous folk story of Spain, and has been around since there were knights walking around in armor (1607). Don Quixote was a man who was very mentally confused. To summarize the story, he went to the top of the hills in his small town to fight the windmills alone, which he thought were dragons. He failed miserably and the “dragons” clocked him in the side of the head, he then retreated. This story is one of the most important stories told in Spain and has been the most popular for many years.
Learning about the Spanish culture has been quite an experience and by going to major landmarks, plays, castles and museums, it has really opened my eyes to see a different perspective of the world.

Spain 2016

Korbin Bordonie
Week one
After I stepped off the bus into the city of my new home earlier this week, I noticed things were a lot different in Spain. Along with the extremely fast language they speak in Spain, something as small as the layout of their grid of the city is different. This first week I found myself pulling out my phone quite a bit after I got lost a few times to check my GPS. The grid of the city is set out however it fell hundreds of years ago. There is no coordination in the streets or any set structure, so the streets go all different ways and directions. The people of Alcala de Henares and of Spain walk an enormous amount. The amount of walking they do in Spain has resulted in a very fit population. And when I say walk, if it’s 5 miles a day to get to work, they are walking. They walk to dinner, they walk to the grocery store, they walk everywhere. With this being said, the streets are not as clean as ours in the United States due to the amount of traffic they endure. One of my first experiences, on the first day, was an old man almost getting hit by a car. The cars here do not have to yield to pedestrians as they do in the United States, if you would like to cross the street you just take a step out into the street. Kind of risky if you ask me, so I look both ways every time I cross, as they do not. Things are very different here and I’m sure I’ll discover some new things to share with the readers in the next few days.

Week two
I just ate my fourth piece of bread for the day. For every meal of the day, Spaniards eat non-processed bread. Bread cleans your pallet in your mouth and has some kind of history with their culture I have not figured out yet. (The language barrier is quite difficult, haha!) Oh, and lunch is at 2:30 where dinner is at 9:30, a little different than at home, huh? The nice family that is sharing their house with me for the month has two boys. One of the brothers is 15 and the other is 17. Both speak very little English and the parents speak none at all. The conversations between the family and I have resulted most of the time in me saying, sí and no, from what I can translate from the rapid fire talking.

I went to a bullfight earlier this week. There were tons of people in the coliseum. It was kind of strange to see a human fight an animal because that would never happen in the United States. This is part of their culture, and has been dated back all the way to 1726. Things like this may be something us as Americans would not agree with, but it is their culture and we must respect that.

Spain 2016

 

 

My First Week Back

Nicholas Browning

 

I have been lucky enough to be able to return to Alcalá de Henares for the second time during my career at Hampden-Sydney. We are lucky that we are able to return to the historic town and study at one of the oldest universities in Spain: La Universidad de Alcalá de Henares. When I came back, I felt like I never left. The town hasn’t changed at all over the past two years, and with laws in place that maintain the historic feel, I don’t see much change happening any time soon.

Historic Plaza de Cervantes

Historic Plaza de Cervantes

The town has a rich history that includes being the cite of the birthplace of the famous author Miguel de Cervantes, the first meeting between the Catholic Kings and Cristopher Columbus, and the creation of the first Spanish grammar books used to teach the language to natives in the new world. However, it is very much so a modern city. Once you venture away from the center of town and the countless historic buildings and churches, Alcalá becomes much more modern.

On my 20-minute walk from my host family’s piso (apartment) to the school, I walk by other apartment buildings until I reach the main road that I take all the way to the Plaza de Cervantes. On my walk there, I pass by everything from clothing stores to bakeries. The window of my favorite bakery is filled with freshly baked pastries and sometimes paying 1.50 euros for three of my favorites is too good of a deal to pass up. This is especially the case when I’m heading home for our siesta/lunch break in between classes.

I love the experience of living with my host family. My host mom, Tere, is always checking up on me when I’m in the house to see if I need anything, and she has constantly been reminding me that I can grab some fruit or yogurt whenever I want anything to eat. There’s absolutely no chance of going hungry. My host dad, Nacho, kind of reminds me of my own dad. He’s serious when it comes to work, but likes to hit the one-liner jokes. He’s constantly giving me a hard time, but it’s always in a lighthearted manner and makes me feel at home. I also have a little brother this time around. Pablo is 15 and most of our relationship thus far consists of us playing FIFA together on his PS4. Sometimes I’ll sit down at the kitchen table with my host mom or on the couch with my host dad simply to talk. It took me a couple of days to reacquaint myself with only speaking Spanish; however, the entire family was and continues to be extremely patient with me.

Despite the fact that I’ve been here before, it is still extremely difficult to get used to the eating schedule of Spain. Here, breakfast is not bacon and eggs; it’s coffee and a sweet pastry or cookies. I don’t usually eat either with breakfast back home, but I’m slowly getting re-accustomed with it. Another difference is, due to the fact that breakfast is so small, the first filling meal of the day is the lunch we eat around 2:30. Then we won’t eat a real meal again until about 9:00 or 9:30.  This isn’t just my family, it’s the way the Spanish culture works. Another thing that is hard to adjust to is the way we dress. Everyday it is between 85-90 degrees during the hottest part of the day, but you’ll only see foreigners wearing shorts. I don’t understand it; it’s as if Spaniards just don’t feel the heat because they are always wearing pants and usually a long sleeve shirt. I tried to wear pants for the first couple of days in an attempt to assimilate, but it was way too hot for me.

So far we have visited Consuegra and Madrid. Consuegra is famous for its windmills that Don Quixote fought in Cervantes’ novel and the 1100-year old castle that sits between the windmills. We toured both and then we were able to explore through the modern town.

Roman Caves converted in to a dining area

Roman Caves converted in to a dining area

I use the term modern loosely, because Kyler Vela and myself ate in a medieval palace that had been converted into a restaurant. We took on the “when in Rome” attitude, so we paid 13 euros for a ration of Manchego Cheese from the region and then decided it needed to be paired with some wine from Consuegra. It was definitely worth it. When we were done, the owner took us inside the restaurant and showed us that the dining room in the back of the restaurant is made up of old caves that the Romans used to store their grains.

On our two other class trips thus far we went to Madrid. Every Sunday morning in the middle of Madrid, there is an open air flea market that takes over called “El Rastro”. There, you can buy anything from clothing to kitchenware and anything in between that you could imagine. We also went back this past Friday to see some of the major attractions of Madrid. With these being a feat that would take more than one day, we stuck to touring the Royal Palace of Spain and going to El Museo del Prado. In 2014, we were unable to go inside of Palacio Real; therefore, it was extremely cool to see the inside of it. It is beautiful from the outside, but the inside is unbelievable.  After we toured a portion of the Palace, we made our way to El Prado. This museum houses art dating back to Roman times up until the start of the 19th century. My favorite painting, El Jardín de las Delicias, is housed there, so I immediately made my way to go see it. I know we have more trips coming up as a part of the program, and I’m excited to see what other new things I learn this time around.

Panaroma of el Palacio Real and la Catedral de la Almundena

Panaroma of el Palacio Real and la Catedral de la Almundena

 

” Bon Voyage”

Semester at Sea 2016

Michael Willis

Neptune Day is a historic maritime tradition. The transformation from pollywogs to shellbacks. This tradition takes place after you cross the equator for the first time aboard a ship. The MV World Odyssey has adapted this tradition to include the tradition of sailors shaving their heads after crossing the equator and being accepted into King Neptune’s court. The ceremony of King Neptune’s court consisted of our ship’s captain, Captain Kostas painting himself green, wearing a Santa beard, and being dressed in traditional ancient Greek regalia. A sailor first started the process of being accepted into King Neptune’s court by being covered in green slime, jumping into the pool, and swimming across the pool. Once the pollywog emerged from the pool they were immediately greeted by a fish which you had to kiss. After kissing the fish you went and paid your respects to King Neptune and kissed his ring. After completing this process you were officially welcomed into King Neptune’s court as shellbacks. To maintain the maritime tradition shellbacks were given the opportunity to go and shave their heads. I took part in this tradition and have since gotten my scalp sunburned. OOPS.

2016 Shellbacks

2016 Freshly Shaven Shellbacks

On March 9th 2016, the MV World Odyssey docked in Port Louis, Mauritius the island nation off the coast of Madagascar, which was once home of the Dodo bird. While on the Island of Mauritius I had my last field lab of the voyage. This field lab was with Intro to Environmental Science. The itinerary for the lab was to hike up La Pluece Mountain the second highest peak on the island, and then go to the Populmous Botanical Garden. This was an adventurous day that would lead to lots of slipping and sliding. It had rained the entire day before on the mountain and the trails were wet, slippery, and extremely muddy. It was a two hour hike up the mountain and an hour to get back down. Following the trail that Charles Darwin took on his trip to the island aboard the Beagle. The view from the top of La Pluece was fantastic. The view looked out on to the “bowl” of the island. This is where some volcanologists believe, was the mouth of the volcano that created the island. On the hike down, there were only one or two people who didn’t slip. The trail had turned into a creek while we were on the top. It had rained on some portions of the lower mountain after we walked through the area. Once we got to the bottom of the mountain, we then boarded our buses and headed to the Botanical Garden for a guided tour of the native and endemic plant species that were found at the garden. This particular garden is revered as the oldest garden in the southern hemisphere. We saw many different species of palms as well, some of these were 30 feet tall with leaves that were five feet across. There were many species of plants that aren’t found in the United States Botanical Gardens, because of the climate and the possibility of invasive species. This made the trip to the botanical garden a very unique one.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016

“O, to die in Cape Town”, said Andy Pringle, the 89 year old gentleman sailing around the world with his family. The MV World Odyssey docked in Cape Town on March 15th 2016. This was the most westernized port we had been to in a very long time. It felt like your typical United States city with its own African flare.  Cape Town is a city where it was easy to find something to do; between exploring the V&A waterfront which was full of local musicians and western chain stores, to hiking table mountain, to having a relaxing afternoon in Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the many extreme sports people participated in, and lastly the fantastic tours of the wine lands.

While I was in Cape Town, I went to the waterfront and found many interesting places to eat and hang out with friends. We also ventured to Long Street, which would have the Richmond equivalent of Cary Street. There, we found a wide array of unique shops and more local eateries. One afternoon my friends and I participated in a wine tour, getting to taste many of the local areas best wines. We even got to try the local specialty. The Pinotage. This is a grape variety that is completely unique to the Cape region. It is a red wine that is sweet and fruity while still maintaining the complexity of a red wine. This trip to wine country happened on the “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus program. A unique tour experience where at any bus stop you can get off and explore the local area then get back on and go find a new place to explore.

The next day, we planned a sunrise hike up Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a very unique mountain, as it is much more like a plateau. It is also one of the most recognizable figures of Cape Town. This was a challenge, but completely worth the adventure. We left the ship at 3 am and started hiking by 4. We hiked up the gorge trail that was expected to take roughly two hours. We stopped along the way to let a group, moving much faster than we were, to pass and after the short stop we all went from our short sleeve shirts to all of the layers we could get on us. It was a bone chilling temperature, with a light mist of rain. When we summited Table Mountain the sun was just starting to rise. Thankfully the table cloth, as the local’s call it, had not yet started to cover the top so we were able to look down on the city of Cape Town as the sun rose. The view from the top was stunning, but the short cable car ride down the mountain was necessary after a long morning of hiking.

 

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain Cable Car

That afternoon, I went with my friends from Canada to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. We wondered around the gardens for hours. Looking at all of the local flora type fynbos. The fynbos variety of plants is very unique and is one of seven floral regions in the world. The plants in this niche have a wide variety of characteristics. They range from small rock plants to small trees. There were many of the flowers in bloom. They all released super strong, sweet odors that could be smelt throughout the garden. They also have a very large collection of cycads. Cycads are a type of tree that was around during the dinosaur era.

On another day exploring Cape Town, we ventured down to see Simons Town in an attempt to go and see the Penguin Colony at the tip of the continent. We unfortunately did not make it to the penguins, but we were able to explore a new town that is still a part of greater Cape Town. We went to the beach, where the water was freezing because it is approaching the early fall in Cape Town, and Antarctica isn’t that far away. We took the train home from Simons Town which saved us lots of money, and made for an interesting adventure. Going from a train station that you walk onto the train from the street, to the Cape Town station that is more like an airport terminal than rail station.

“O, to die in Cape Town” that is the motto we lived by while exploring South Africa. It led us to many great adventures and motivated us to be out of our comfort zone.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016
The country of Myanmar is a beautiful country that has much more to offer than expected. The MV World Odyssey arrived in the industrial port an hour and a half south of the former capitol city Yangon on February 18th 2016. We first got off the ship and boarded a shuttle that would take us into the city center of Yangon. While on the shuttle bus you can see a wide variety of sights. You can see the elegant gold pagodas that litter the country side, back dropped by extreme poverty. You can see the elaborate monasteries, the houses of the wealthy, the poor road conditions that deteriorate daily, the magnificence of the Rangoon River, to the crowded city streets.

Golden Pagodas

Golden Pagodas

Myanmar Countryside

Myanmar Countryside

The country of Myanmar has about 750 thousand people that are religious figures such as monks or nuns. We had the opportunity to have a monk named Unan sail with us from Ho Chi Minh City to Yangon. He taught us many different things about his country and the things that are considered respectful and the things that are highly offensive. This allowed us to make better decisions and hopefully not accidently offend people. Myanmar is also different when it comes to currency exchange. They only want the freshest crispest bills possible. If it is worn or has a mark on it they see it as valueless. Also every USD note has a different exchange rate. The higher denominations getting a higher exchange rate.
On the first day in Myanmar I traveled with a group of three girls to the markets. In a country that has only had ATM’s for a little over a year, there were bound to be a few problems. One of my friends ATM card wouldn’t work at any of the ATM’s so we were sharing money with her all day. When we got to the market we were exploring the different things they had for sale. Myanmar is one of the world’s largest exporters of rubies and the market was dominated by jewelry sellers. There were also a lot of people selling art, lacquerware, and the traditional clothing bottom that is a longi. A longi is similar to a skirt that you have to tie in the front. These are for both men and women and is seen as a sign of masculinity in the culture. Not to mention they are very comfortable in a culture that requires you to wear long pants almost everywhere. We all bought a longi, and at this point two of the girls had run out of money for the day. Since I hadn’t spent as much as the others, I became the bank that people flocked to when they wanted to buy something else.
The next day, I went to the Zoological gardens. This was just a fancy name for the zoo with a garden off in the corner of it. The animals here were different still from the animals in other zoos I have visited to date. They had local bird and mammal species that were endemic to Myanmar. They also had elephants. Although elephants are a common animal in Zoos, the elephants in this zoo you could come up and pet on the head, and quickly move out of the way of their swinging trunks. Elephant trunks seem to grow when the sugar cane that you are feeding them comes near, extending what seemed like an extra foot. They also had many other well taken care of animals, from white tigers to dusky leaf monkeys. After a trip to the Zoo, we went and sought out lunch. We ate at a café that overlooked another religious site. This site was a boat with two golden dragon heads, golden tails, red bodies and a pagoda mounted on the dragons. The dragons served almost as pontoons for the vessel. We then made another trip to the market, to explore more of the seemingly never-ending market.

Kandawgyi park

Kandawgyi Park

” Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea  2016
On February 9th, 2016 the MV World Odyssey arrived in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. We arrived a day later than scheduled due to extreme weather conditions on the Saigon River. Vietnam was a fantastic country. The weather was hot. When we arrived it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This was so comfortable after the two weeks of winter we experienced in Japan and China.

Saigon river

Saigon river

As we sailed up the Saigon River to get to the Ho Chi Minh City port we saw brown, murky water under us and on either side of the river lots of palms and other native greenery. A beautiful lush and full tropical forest on both sides of the river with the occasional house on stilts built right into the river. We passed several other freight vessels docked on the sides of the river. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, I got off the ship and boarded the local shuttle to the center of town, this is what the port authority requires of any passenger vessel docked in the industrial port. I set out with two friends and we went on a mission to explore the city of Ho Chi Minh. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh it was the second day of Tet. This is their celebration of the lunar New Year. This is a time full of red and gold colors all over the city and most of the shops had closed as they spent the holiday with their families.
On the first day, we explored the touristy strip of the city looking at all of the souvenir shops. The first few shops were all so impressive with the wood carvings, the elaborate designs of figurines, the bright colors of shirts, and the different raw materials that had been carved into anything you can imagine. However, after the first few shops all of the souvenirs become the same. It just becomes a game of where can I go to get the best price. There was not much else to do on the first day, except go to these touristy destinations, as most of the shop stalls were closed. As the Tet holiday began to wind down, more of the shops opened and then the famous markets opened up.

 

Ben Than Market

Ben Than Market

The Ben Than (said like Tohn) market was an experience. Aisles that were wide enough for a person to walk, and that was it. However, it was uncommon to be the only one trying to occupy the space you were in. The shop venders had further cut down on the aisle space by overcrowding their stalls with all of the same touristy trinkets and the locally made Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, and other clothing brands of shirts, pants, and hats. Their stalls cut the already narrow aisles in half. Not to mention the building it was in. It was a large, metal, garage like structure with no air conditioning or fans, except the ones any vendor would wave in your face to try and lure you to their stall. So, the second you walked into the building your body began to pour with sweat. However, if you could handle the heat and the pressure of the locals, you could find the best deals around in this market.
On the last day in Vietnam, I did a Semester at Sea field program to the Cu Chi tunnels and a cooking class in the morning. The cooking class took place at a local organic farm. This farm was full of different herbs and greens. A huge variety of mint and basil grown alongside tapioca, guava, and lemon grass. They also grew oyster mushrooms, straight out of the bottle. The farm owners had developed a unique system of growing the mushrooms out of two liter bottles. These bottles hung in stacks 15 high in a dark, hot and humid shed to get the mushrooms to grow big and lush. When it finally came time to cook, we made ourselves a four course meal. The first dish was fresh spring rolls. We rolled the herb leaves into a fresh, rice paper with rice noodles for a light and delicious appetizer. The next dish was a salad. This was the most labor intensive dish of the day. We had to cut up a part of a papaya, cucumber, and carrot with a “fancy knife”, it made the vegetables look like crinkle cut French Fries. We then dressed this with a traditional dipping sauce. Then the protein of the dish was made. You had to cut up ginger and lemon grass to marinade the pork of tofu in. This was a spicy salad that was fresh and delicious. We then made the entrée. It was called Chicken or tofu in clay pot. The name was very creative. It combined few ingredients, but got the most flavor possible out of those few ingredients. Finally dessert was deep fried banana spring rolls with coconut ice cream. These were the highlight of the meal. They were so tasty and the coconut ice cream that went with it made the flavors of the banana shine. It was also nice to have the cold ice cream on a hot day.
After the cooking class we moved on to take a tour of the Cu Chi tunnel system. This tunnel system stretches for thousands of miles underneath the country side of Vietnam all the way to Cambodia. These tunnels were used by the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were an incredibly humbling experience. The tunnels that we went through had been widened to over double the original size to allow tourist to crawl through them. You were still hunched over at a 90 degree angle and squatting a little bit to be able to move through them at all. In several places you had to slide to make it through even at its widened state.

Cu Chi Tunnel

Cu Chi Tunnel

This made you think how small these people were and how determined to win they were that they would use these tunnels with no light and small cramped and crowded conditions. Trying to pass someone in the widened parts was nearly impossible and people passed each other daily during life in the tunnels. The tunnel entrances were unbelievably well hidden too. The large openings were disguised as water wells and the smaller entrances were covered with leaves. Our guide when trying to find the tunnel entrance began banging her foot on the ground trying to find it until the exhibit soldier came over found it after a few tries and showed us the proper way of getting into the tunnel system. Vietnam was an unbelievably beautiful country and one that I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to explore again.