Week 4 Storming the Castle

Being a history person at heart as well as by major, I was interested in the history of Tübingen. I was particularly interested in the history of the castle at the center of the old town, ’cause let’s face it castles are just plain cool. One day after classes I took a walk up to the castle. The ‘old town’ in Tübingen is something of a maze to a new comer and can be confusing. Finding the castle, however, is a simple matter of heading uphill. The castle being on the highest point in Tübingen, if you keep going uphill you will eventually find it. When you do find it this is what you are rewarded with; a view of the outer gate of the castle.

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I know that a number of the castles in Germany that are still in good shape were built during the late renaissance, long after they were needed as military fortification, which was the original purpose for a castle. Many others were redone after the renaissance, and although they look like castles they really don’t function as fortification, they were simply ‘Story Book Castles’. I was curious to know if the Castle in Tübingen was for real or simply one of the Story Book Castles. After going through the Main gate you come to an inner gate and a mote that would have served as a formidable barrier. Once inside I discovered that there was a museum and that it was open.

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The museum did a great job of telling the story of the castle and it was pretty clear that it had been a military structure from the beginning. I suspected that given the very real nature of the defenses that I saw as I entered the castle. The castle was originally built on this spot sometime in the 12th century, and then it was no more than a wooden palisade that was about the size of the inner court yard of the castle today. It was large enough to protect the knights and their horses. Because of its location on top of the hill, it was a military strong point even then.

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Like most castles it was added to over the years and improved. Looking closely at the gate to the inner courtyard you can see older stones alongside newer more decorative stone work.

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The Last of Beautiful Barcelona

The last month has been absolutely crazy- well make that the last two months, actually. I’m so far behind on updating the blog and I apologize! There are no shortage of photos and stories though. Below are some of the last photos of my final weeks in beautiful Barcelona. I’ve been in the states for 2 weeks now, back in Portland for one; I can already tell you I’m missing Europe and am already scheming on my next adventures! I’ve caught a bad case of the travel bug.
Below are some photos from an awesome Catalan cooking class we took in our final weeks in Barcelona. We made tradition dishes including paella, tortilla de patata (Spanish omelet made with potatoes), creme de Catalan (sort of like the French creme brulee), and a tomato-gazpacho-shot thing. I’ve taken a few cooking classes and I never leave disappointed. I love to learn & I love to cook. We had a great time and I’m excited to whip up some paella one night here when I’m feeling extra nostalgic of my days in Spain.
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On my last day of my Spanish sports class, we toured the famous FC Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou. So impressive. It was great to visit the stadium again, especially after learning about the fascinating history- the team served as Catalan symbol of perseverance and unity under the Franco dictatorship. FC Barca is arguably one of the best teams in the world so I’m glad we took advantage of the behind-the-scenes tour of Camp Nou.
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Photos below from my last day at Carmel 29- my Spanish home away from home. I can’t even stress how fortunate I was to spend the majority of my time abroad. Carmen and Teti, the two sisters who were like my 3rd and 4th grandmas, were the most fun, supportive, and interesting ladies. They went above and beyond what their “host-mom duties” called for and really make it their mission to feel all who enter their home feel like family.
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Below a photo from our “farewell dinner.”  Really fortunate to share my experience abroad with these two ladies, Lynsday & Taylor. Lynsday lives in California, Taylor in Colorado. I definitely plan on visiting them in the near future. We traveled together and we laughed together, we missed our families together… We shared some important experiences that I can’t say I’ve shared with all of my friends here at home. Very blessed.
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Week 3 Mega Study

Week 3 found me deep in learning the German language. Grammar and vocabulary in the morning and then a tutorial in the afternoon where we basically reviewed and practiced what we learned in the morning. I noticed that I was extremely tired at the end of the day and not physically tired but mentally exhausted. I wondered if any of the other students were feeling the same or if it was just my age that made me so tired. I asked around and without exception the other students said they felt the same. This was something that I remember being told about in our orientations, but I didn’t realize just how tired I would be. Someone brought this up in a class and it was pointed out to us that of course you are mentally tired at the end of a full day. When you are learning a new language, you are using a part of your brain that isn’t used for ANYTHING else except learning a new language. And in an intensive environment like we are learning we are using that part of the brain to the max. We were told that it would be at least a month before we became used to this and didn’t feel so tired.
During the third week we also had our first test and that was a real shock for me. In all my other courses I’ve gotten As and Bs, but on this first test, I barely got a C. In other classes, I read the material, do the assignments and can count on at least a B (and that’s if I am, for me goofing off). Learning a language doesn’t work quite like that. The grammar concepts were easy enough for me to get a handle on, but that has to be backed up by rote memorization of words and verb conjugations and articles, etc… etc..
I used to have a good memory for rote memorization when I was younger, and while I still have a good memory in general, not when it comes to rote memorization. I found that I was spending three to five times as much time on homework as I did on any other class and was making Cs instead of As. Now don’t take this as a complaint, it’s not, just a report of the facts. I expected this to be a lot of work and it is. I am also really glad that I applied for this program.
As far as the studying goes this is an area where my age seems to be a factor. While the other students (all of which are 19, 20 and 21) aren’t exactly having an easy time of it, they don’t spend near as much time on homework as I do and get better grades. At 56, I feel like I am constantly in catch-up mode. I also learned that while I only had two terms of college German before coming here some of the students have had more. A number of them took German in high school. That actually made me feel better, less incompetent. In any case I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything; hard work is good for the soul.
The highlight of week three was a hike to Wurlmlinger Kapelle and the small town of Pfäffingen. Wulmlinger Kappele, or Chapel is on the top of a hill in the Neckar valley that affords a great view of the surrounding area. Here is a picture of the chapel from a ridge line near bay:

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These are some pictures from the top, looking at the surrounding area:

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We finished the hike by hiking down the hill and into the town of Pfäffington and to Silvia Kunze-Ritter’s house where we were treated to an excellent Swabian dinner. As well as good conversation and an all around great time. We then walked to the train station and took a train back to Tübingen. The hike, someone said was about 13 kilometers. I think that was pretty close and it was easy going terrain and a pleasant day with wonderful weather. Although slightly physical it was somehow relaxing after the mentally exhausting week we had just had.

Week 6?! Viva Mexico!

So week…6? Gosh time flies, am I right?!

Last week was so great =) it was the week after the trip to mexico city, so as you can imagine, we were all pretty tired, but we had to return to our classes! You know, sometimes I would like a day off from classes. There are so many free days in May that we don’t get off of school like the rest of the kids. Haha I understand it’s an intensive program, but wow. It’s intense. Spanish 24/7 is a lot sometimes. I speak it at home with my family. I speak it at school with my teachers. I speak it with strangers. It’s like we can’t get a break…I really relish the few times that I get to speak English with my friends. Sometimes you just need that to stay sane. I mean honestly. My Spanish is totally improving though. Like my vocab and everything is going great. I’m working really hard on the verbs. There are a lot of ones that I’m having problems with, but I’m trying to get them down. I mean, I’m doing great in the classes and ‘learning’ the verbs, but applying them to my actual speech is where the problem is. I’m not sure the context where it’s appropriate, etc. I’ve decided, though, that I’m definitely going to be enrolling in Spanish 300-level for fall term. I need to; I need to continue this and try to be ‘fluent’. Right now conversations are ok. Sometimes I need stuff repeated several times, and sometimes I cheat and tell strangers who say weird things to me that I don’t speak Spanish, but I guess it’s going to be important in my life to know more than just conversational Spanish. I’ll try, and see where it takes me!

Ok, let’s get back to the week =p Monday was pretty rough cuz we were all tired, but it was nice too because we didn’t have classes in the regular school, we had them in our other ‘back-up’ school because it was a holiday. (May 6, the day after Cinco de Mayo, they take off school, I guess. O, by the way, cinco de mayo here? Yea, not the same party that we have back home =p just want you all to know that. Haha they don’t do anything for it because it’s actually only a holiday for Puebla, a small state who won independence in Mexico. So there is your new information for life!) so we all went to this other school, I like it a lot better because it’s closer to home and there are more things around it because it’s nearer the center. Our first class, grammar, went by like usual and then in our oral class we watched a movie! =) we watched basically the equivalent of romeo and Juliet, but for mexico. It was interesting. We had subtitles on, so we could actually understand what was going on. Let me tell you, the ending sucked. Haha, but what can you do, right? I was just happy we didn’t have normal classes. Head needs a break sometimes. And after! Some girlfriends and I went to this amazing restaurant and got food and just hung out for a little while. That was fun for sure. Some of the restaurants here are just super chill and delicious.

Tuesday it was back to the grind at the normal school. We go to the tech college here where the engineers study. So, because it’s a mostly science school, there are definitely more men than women here. You get used to hearing a zoo outside of the window, I guess =p

Wedneday, Thursday and Friday were the norm. wake up, walk to school, sit through classes, get home, take a nap, eat ‘lunch’, do homework, use the O SO LIMITED internet, and then bed. =p my routine, it’s great. Haha I wouldn’t call life boring, I would call it super relaxing. I have no idea how I’ll survive back home without my daily nap. Here, if for some reason I can’t take my nap, like we’re doing something, I totally feel it. Haha I’ll need some readjustment time back home that’s for sure!

Wednesday I did have an oral exam. Yikes! It’s the second oral test we’ve had, but this one was in groups, and we had to give a presentation for 20 minutes minimum and 70% of our grade depended on the group part, not the individual part. It was kind of scary. My group, thankfully I like all the girls in my group, talked about music in mexico. It actually went SUPER good. I’m so proud of the girls and how hard they worked and how well we all did together. Other presentations we about the trip we took to mexico city and the differences in routine from back home and here. They were all really good. I feel like we’re learning a lot.

Thursday I actually got a few hours to myself just wandering around the center. I went shopping a little bit, but the main reason was to visit a museum for extra credit. I had to visit this museum, write about the location and exhibits and interview one of the employees. Eazy-peazy, right? Well, actually, for probably the first time ever, what was supposed to happen, actually DID happen! Haha it was fun. I’m definitely an independent person, and I love walking around alone and exploring by myself sometimes and not being responsible for other people. So it was really refreshing to do. And then after exploring around for a bit, I went back home to my house, ate dinner, and then went out with my friend to the market to buy flowers for mother’s day for our host moms. There was a birthday party for one of the people in our group that night with a piñata, but we didn’t really feel like going so we just walked around. I bought some flowers for the next morning to give to my host mom, and we just sat around after the market.

Then the following day, Friday, I had a presentation with another boy for 20 minutes. It’s like all of the hard things were all packed into one week. Our presentation was about superstitions in mexico. I honestly think we did a good job. We don’t know the grade yet, but I have confidence. Later that day, to celebrate mother’s day, my host mom’s entire family went out to a nice seafood restaurant. i kid you not, we got there around 2:30-3, and we didn’t leave until about 6. Talk about a lot of family time. It didn’t really bother me, I was just bored mostly. =p Once we got back home I got ready and then that night me and my best gal here, Rebekkah, went to our favorite bar/hang out and saw our local friends. It was fun! it’s always fun there =D I invited our friends to the Saturday excursion, but they couldn’t because they worked until about 4 in the morning. Crazy!!!

Saturday was so much fun! 8 of us and Luis, our ‘guide who goes with us everywhere is one of the most awesome people ever!, went to a waterpark in Tequisyapan. It’s a little city about an hour away from here. We met around 9 to go, but because of busses and things, we didn’t actually end up getting there til about 11;30 or so. then we took a pit stop to go to the tsore abd buy some food and drinks to take into the park with us. It was really fun! I got ‘tan’ and bruised on the slides =p we went home about 5 and arrived at about 7 ish. I would say it was a Saturday well spent.

Now I’m on week 7, but I’ll write more about that later ;) lots has happened this week! Stay tuned!

we all gathered around danald duck at the water park!

we all gathered around danald duck at the water park!

some of my girlfriends and me having super fun!

some of my girlfriends and me having super fun!

we ran into the highway, and took a picture in the middle like stupid people.

we ran into the highway, and took a picture in the middle like stupid people.

luis and me!

luis and me!

Okay BA, I see you…

Hey hey hey!! This past weekend I was in Buenos Aires visiting one of the largest cities EVER. I was hosted by an intern of the Argentina Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans (FALGBT) who is from Boston and has been in Argentina since January. I was in Buenos Aires for a total of 3 days, 2 nights and was without a doubt exposed to a different scene. Though Rosario is the third largest city in Argentina, it does not compare to the size, culture, atmosphere, and reality of Buenos Aires.  The architecture of the buildings is so beautiful in the downtown/center part of Buenos Aires, millions and millions of people live within the Buenos Aires metro/surroundings, you have coffee shops, restaurants, stores, etc. at pretty much every street corner, public transportation such as buses or subways are filled with a wide range of diverse individuals, and the list goes on and on.

I was given a few tips before departing to Buenos Aires: don’t walk alone, be aware of your surroundings, don’t take your iPhone, be careful with the crazy drivers, subways are sketch, and so forth. I wasn’t scared, however was a bit nervous once I arrived. Luckily, Joshua knew his way around the city and I felt a lot safer knowing he had some knowledge and navigation of the city. Though I did go out the last night I was in Buenos Aires alone, I did not experience anything too scary except for a random guy jumping in front of me and saying something that I did not grasp because I quickly, without really thinking, moved aside and began walking at a fast rate.

While in Buenos Aires, I was able to attend a presentation/seminar on homophobia presented by SIGLA, Sociedad de Integración Gay Lésbica Argentina. We watched short video clips regarding gender roles, sexuality in athletics, coming out to your family, and a few others. In between the clips, folks were given the chance to speak on what they felt were the most important points or what touched them the most within the clip. Some of the clips brought back memories that were quite emotional. Seeing community members, teachers, mothers and fathers, activist, etc., attend was truly warming to me. Since being in Argentina, I had not been in a space where these topics were conversed and discussed with a wider range of individuals. I would love to organize some sort of similar activity back in Oregon, especially one that my parents could attend and learn more about the LGBT community.

On another note, I was the typical tourist with the camera out and taking pictures of everything from buildings to birds to people sitting down on the side walk, etc. Below are photos from my weekend in Buenos Aires:Image

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Budgeting for Tokyo

This is a topic that I’ve wanted to start writing about for awhile it because it is very important and I wish I had known more about this subject before coming.

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Tokyo is expensive. By most estimates, it’s the most expensive city in the world, and I can definitely see why. My tiny dorm room is costing me $700/month here, which is more than the entirety of what my very large apartment costs back in the US. Additionally, back home I had 1-2 roommates at all times to cut down that expense at least in half. Thankfully, we get internet and electricity included in the rent, and there is also a subsidy for being an exchange student at the dorm which means that I will be getting back somewhere around $65 a month (in a bulk payment in July).

(Side note- if you live in a dorm, outgoing students throw away perfectly good stuff, so go take a look in the garbage room. I got myself a mini-fridge, and some of the other exchange students have gotten TVs, computers, umbrellas, and a variety of other goodies. There is no dumpster, so it’s not *technically* dumpster diving, just in case you need an excuse to preserve your dignity. Avoid actually buying appliances at any cost, because you straight up cannot afford them)

Food is also expensive. At the dorm, the exchange students are lucky enough to get breakfast and dinner included in the rent. Regular students, on the other hand, have to pay for each of their meals. The better meals at the dorm run from about $4.50 to $6 each time. The main problem with the dorm cafeteria isn’t the quality of the food (I actually like it, but my fellow exchange students might give you a different review), it’s that the hours they serve breakfast are pretty terrible. Breakfast is served from 6:30am-8:45am which means that I almost always miss it. So far I have actually made it down at breakfast time a grand total of 3 days. One of those days was a Sunday, which is the day they don’t serve breakfast. The disappointment of that morning still stings. So in actuality I’ve only ate breakfast at Hiyoshi twice.

Additionally, restaurants and groceries are expensive. Most restaurants will run *at least* $6 for an ‘ok’ amount of food, and if you want anything to drink along with that, it will add on another $3 and the drink portions are especially tiny. Don’t despair, I have the solution! MA-TSU-YA! I eat at Matsuya pretty much any day that I don’t have a lunchtime session in the chat room. For 280円 (Currently around $2.80, the exchange rate rocks right now for being easy to calculate) you can get a big bowl of beef and rice, along with a small miso soup. The food is filling, tasty, and cheap. Plus, if you happen to be deathly afraid of trying to converse in Japanese, you don’t even have to talk to anyone. You get a ticket out of a machine that has the pictures and prices of everything on the menu, and then you go sit down and put the ticket in front of you. You’ll have your meal in less than a minute. いただきます!

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SmileSmile(This is the reason I love Matsuya)

As far as groceries go, forget about buying fruit. If you truly want to eat cheaply, your new diet is vegetables and eggs. Your “basics” back home might be hard to find or very expensive here. Dairy products like butter and milk are expensive; beer is ridiculously expensive, etc. Shop around, for most of your stuff you are better off heading to a supermarket, but you can find some things cheaper at convenience stores and other places. If you wander around the prepared food section at the supermarket with less than 30 minutes before closing time, you can get some decent markdowns as well, but it’s still too rich for my blood.

For miscellaneous goods: school, cleaning, cooking supplies, etc. head to one of the hyaku-en shops (hyaku is hundred, and ‘en’ is the actual way you say “yen” so it’s basically the dollar store). The quality is actually pretty good on most of the things they stock, so don’t be shy. Basically you’re looking for a place called Daiso or any store that prominently displays “100円” on the signage.

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SAM_0821(I KNOW you’re jealous of my sweet hyaku-en banana breads)

For random entertainment type stuff: Don Quijote (or ドン・キホーテ) has a wide variety of items for fairly good prices. “Book Off” is a second-hand goods store chain that has video games, books, music, movies, etc. “Hard Off” (no relation to ‘Hard On’) is a second-hand store for clothes and appliances and the only place besides Craig’s List that you might possibly consider breaking the “no buying appliances in Japan” rule for.

SAM_0819(Floor after floor of everything from man-thongs, to shoes, to sporting goods, to kitchen supplies)

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Hope this advice helps for anyone wanting to visit or move to Japan. I’m happy to revisit this subject in small doses as I continue to learn new tips and tricks! Perhaps at some point I’ll mention where you can find yourself some 40 yen beer, or as I like to call it: 25 beers for $10!

Week 2 Stuttegart

I am really behind on these blogs, so I’ll be trying to catch up in the next week. We have been really busy, so much has happened and that is partly the reason why I’m behind. (bet no one else is having that problem, hehe).
The Medieval castle that is the center of the town of Tübingen, sits atop a hill. And much of the rest of the town is on hilly terrain, something that I noticed as I had to walk up and down those hills. Bikes are real popular here as a form of transportation, but to me all those hills make the bikes somewhat less than useful, but they sure seem to work for the locals. Thinking about this lead me to the thought, I wonder if all the cities in Germany are as hilly as this one. I found out this week.
For me the highlight of the second week here was our outing to Stuttgart. I flew into Stuttgart, but really all I saw was the airport and autobahn, nothing else. We went there by train which is how people get almost everywhere in Germany. There are no high speed trains between here and Stuttgart, so we took a slower commuter train. It made a lot of stops but the ride was smooth as silk. And one of the big advantages to taking the train, is that you can study or talk or read while you get where you are going. It beats the heck out of driving as far as I’m concerned. Here is the train station that we left from in Tübingen:

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Here is the main train station in Stuttgart where we arrived:

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This is Koenigsstrasse it is a long flat wide street that is for pedestrian traffic only, with shops and café’s on both sides. The street must be over a mile long and is where the real upscale shopping is. And this street is flat, as most of the old downtown part of Stuttgart is. So not all German cities are as hilly as Tübingen is.

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This is the “New” Schloss or New Palace. In an earlier blog I mentioned the fact that the term new, doesn’t mean the same thing her as it does in the US. This palace was built originally about the same time that our country was founded, but it is the new one because there is an old one from the middle ages, which is now a museum. In general, however, new seems to mean anything built after the Second World War. When the Germans talk about new buildings this is usually what they mean.

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weeks 4 & 5 in mexico!

Sigh…so I fell behind again on my blogging. This no internet whenever I want it is really hard. I’m a child of the technology generation, what can I say? =) So I’ll have to combine weeks 4 and 5 in this post. Can’t believe it’s already midway through week 6!!!!!

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pinata time!!

Week 4 was great. I honestly have a hard time remembering everything that I’ve been doing =p One of the biggest highlights of week for was that we made, and broke, a pinata! Like a legit pinata, and apparently they are actually no paper mache; they are made with a big clay pot with paper around it! Who knew, right??? One of the ladies on the trip had her birthday, and so we got a chance to get together, eat jello (apparently that’s the ‘cake’), and get candy. The woman whose bday it was broke the pinata and we just watched, but it was fun. She broke the stick TWICE before we finally decided to throw it off the roof. haha yea, good times.

My girlfriends and I also got a chance to go to this super awesome restaurant for the first time. It’s called “Biznaga” and it’s probably one of the chillest places I’ve ever been. There is writing all over the walls, there is artwork, it’s very “Oregon” if you know what I mean =p The food was great and cheap! We have planned to make that place a regular stop until we go home.

the artwork and drawings were everywhere!

the artwork and drawings were everywhere!

i got amazing crepes for food. yum!!!!

i got amazing crepes for food. yum!!!!

we had to leave our mark too =p

we had to leave our mark too =p

Week 4 was great, nothing bad happened, and that’s always a good thing =)

Week 5 also brought some really fun opportunities for me. First of all, it’s the halfway mark in the program. Part of me is soooooo happy that I’m over it, and part isn’t ready for it to be going so fast. Week 5 was a super fast week too! On Wednesday, May 1, it was Labor Day here. Nothing government ruled was open. No classes =D And then on Friday, our whole group left to visit Mexico City for the weekend! Yea, super fast week. So many great things happened.

A few weeks ago I, along with a friend, met 2 Mexican girls while they were working at a bar. We exchanged numbers and stuff, but finally this week we had a chance to hang out in real life. We went out on Tuesday because there were no classes on the following Wednesday. It was a lot of fun. We ended up going to one of the girl’s house and we sat on the roof and just looked over at the city in the dark. The lights were gorgeous! It was such a fun night. We have standing plans to hang out again soon =) I’m really happy I’ve been able to finally meet a local person. It makes me feel like this is worth it =p O, by the way, we spoke in Spanglish the whole time. She talked a lot in English, and I tried to answer in Spanish. It’s good practice!

the city at night <3

the city at night <3

me, a girl from my group, and the 2 girls =D

me, a girl from my group, and the 2 girls =D

The rest of the week just flew by, I’m sure you can imagine! We left from Queretaro at 8 am on Friday to head to Mexico City =D  It’s about 3 hours to the city. I could honestly write a book about what I saw in the city and all of that. But no time! So I’ll just give the highlights =)

We saw the pyramids. And climbed them =p

i dominated the pyramid del sol!

i dominated the pyramid del sol!

there were a tin of vendors trying to sell things, and i was able to buy some gifts =) for cheap if you know how to bargain!

one of the oldest cathedrals in the country

one of the oldest cathedrals in the country

we saw one of the oldest churches in the country

templo mayor...ruins in the middle of the city

templo mayor…ruins in the middle of the city

we saw the ancient ruins of the old city. they are literally right in the middle of the modern city!

the canal tour

the canal tour

we went on a canal tour! it’s just like a tour in venice, except we were in mexico! =p

the national house

the national house

we visited the equivalent of the white house. the first day that we went it was under lockdown because obama was there. we just came back the next day.

the castle of maximilian

the castle of maximilian

we saw the castle where maximilian lived. it was so beautiful and amazing.!

the castle

the castle

the anthropology museum

the anthropology museum

and last we went to the anthropology museum. it would take you at least a week to see everything that it had. but we only had a few hours.

I can’t believe that week 5 is over, and week 6 is well under way! So many things are changing me here. I’m seeing so many things, and I’m learning so much. I’ve hit a brick wall in my classes with a certain topic. I just can’t understand it. I’m studying hard and trying to get it all down. In general the classes are going well. I’m just extremely tired all the time. Somehow the Spanish is sinking in though, so I guess that’s good. =p

I can’t wait to be back home sometimes. Everything is going great. But it’s been awhile. And I miss people. A month from today I fly back out. It is so crazy to thnk of it like that though!!!!!