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Thanksgiving and New York

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Thanksgiving was simply amazing. I’m very lucky because my roommate is from the US, she lives in Pittsburgh. When she arrived at the dorm 3 months ago, she was with all her family, and her mom immediately told me I was invited to have Thanksgiving with them. So I was so excited all this months. In Spain we don’t celebrate thanksgiving, so it was a huge thing for me. I spent the whole week there, and I really have a good time. I ate so much food, I had never eaten so much as I did during Thanksgiving. There were so many different types of food, and I had to try everything, Hope’s family made sure of it, not that I complained.

I also went to my first football game, although the team lost I really liked. I’m not a sports girl, and at first I didn’t understand what was happening. However, when they explained me the rules I started enjoying it. I’m definitely going to go to another football team this year. I also got to know Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and steel, which was great. It really was an amazing week.

Overall, spending time with Hope’s family was the best, it reminded me so much about Christmas and my family. It also made me homesick, but I loved every single minute of it.

Then it was time of coming back to Washington. And on Thursday we had a farewell dinner with all the exchange student team. I really enjoyed it, the food was so good and we played trivia. It was fun trying to guess things about this country and the leaders.

On Friday we went to a bar to play billiard, and we had so much fun. It is nice trying new things, and going to different places. Washington DC is the best city for that, there are so many restaurants that look amazing, the only sad part is that I can’t afford to go to as many as I want.

Saturday arrived, finally. We went to New York, yeah again. I sincerely would go every weekend if I could. Everyone told me about New York on Christmas, and how beautiful everything is with all the lights. We were only going for two days, but we had such a good time. We even had time to go to see a Broadway show. We went to see Chicago and I loved it, although I love every single musical. I think New York is one of my favorite cities ever.

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Cuba Before Finals

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At this point, I think you can understand that one of the main things I enjoy doing in my 4 days long weekends is travelling. I just enjoy visiting new places, taking more pictures and discovering new cultures. And I would say that the on-campus part-time job I got this semester helped me a lot in doing that. This weekend destination was Havana, and it was the most exotic and different place I have been to. I’ve never thought that I would visit this country before, but I think Camila Cabello’s song “Havana” had a big influence on this decision. And it was such a perfect place to celebrate my roommate’s 21st birthday.

Havana was the best place to escape Washington’s cold weather because of its tropical warm weather. I stayed with my four friends in an Airbnb that was in the Old Habana, and once we got there we knew we’re in a totally different place from the US. Havana felt like an old movie from the 70’s and it was beautiful. The special thing about the city was the colorful retro classic cars. And what was really cool about this trip was taking open cars music for a city tour or just to get from a place to another as a normal taxi. Besides that, I also enjoyed taking the Coco taxi, which a yellow cute covered motorcycle, around the city. Not only the cars in Havana were colorful but also the buildings especially the ones around the capitol. What I enjoyed doing the most was wandering around the colorful narrow streets of the city and taking tons of pictures in front of the classic cars. What was also interesting was visiting the museum of the revolution. They portrayed the whole timeline of the Cuban revolution in the walls of the museum and it really helped me learning a lot about the history of this country. And of course what would be a vacation in the warm Havana without going to the beach. The beach was 30 minutes from the city but the road was really enjoyable since we took an open car to get there. From enjoying the clear water of the ocean to drinking coconut water, the beach day in Havana was perfect to forget about studies and GWU.

Even though Havana was a great place to visit and spend four days in, I don’t think I would be able to live there. It felt like the country was laid back in the 70’s. One of the most surprising thing during this trip was the limited internet not only for us tourists but also for citizens. To get internet in Cuba, we had to purchase an internet pass which was around 1$ per hour, search for a WiFi hotspot (Internet park) which weren’t many in the city, and then hope to get some really slow internet connectivity. It was really funny to see dozens of people around the WiFi router trying to connect to the world outside. When I asked locals about how they felt about it, they said it doesn’t really matter for them since they are used to socialize more. No wonder locals were always socializing in the streets or balconies or trying to make conversations with us.

Havana was great and having this trip with great company made it even better. Now, it’s time to stress about finals coming in a week and begin my late night journeys in Gelman library.

Bienvenue à Canada

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This week we had the thanksgiving break that we all were waiting for to get some rest from studies and classes. Since it was kind of a long break, I took the opportunity to travel to Canada. I know many of you will wonder why am I leaving the US in such a big American holiday, Thanksgiving. What’s great about the US is that they start their holidays days before the actual day so I got the chance to try some Thanksgiving food before my trip.Being in Washington DC made it really easy for me to travel to Canada unlike when I’m far in Morocco. I started my trip by Montréal. The city was in Québec, the French speaking province of Canada. Since my second language is French, I and my French friends enjoyed speaking French with the locals. We also enjoyed hearing the Quebec French accent because it was really different from the one in France, which I’m used to use in Morocco. Montréal reminded me a lot of Europe (The architecture, the language, the streets…) One of the coolest thing I did was to hike to the summit of Mont-Royal. The hike was pretty tiring and cold but the breathtaking view of the whole city from the top made me forget about all of that. We visited a lot of places like Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, the old port…  And I enjoyed walking through the old city of Montréal in the Christmas vibe. I also tried my first Poutine there which is a typical Canadian meal and I loved it.After 2 days in Montréal, we took the bus to Toronto. I really loved Toronto over Montréal. Because of the cold weather, the streets in Montréal become dead as soon as it gets dark. However, Toronto was such a lively city and it had a lot of places to visit. One of the main characteristics of Toronto’s skyline is the CN tower. So, we took a ferry to Ward’s island to see the beautiful skyline from front of the water. I also enjoyed taking pictures in the Graffiti Alley, trying to ice-skate in the Nathan Philips square with regular shoes on, walking through the Christmas market and trying the really good food in all the diverse restaurants of the city.One of the main reasons of my Canada was to take Niagara Falls off my bucket list. And the greatest thing was that I had the opportunity to visit them from both sides, the American and the Canadian one. The Niagara Falls were the most breathtaking natural wonder I’ve ever seen. They were just magnificent and powerful. I got the chance to see them from really close by taking the ferry to the heart of the Falls and you can feel their real power from there. We walked after that to cross the bridge that links between Canada and the US. It was really cool to cross between the countries in such an easy way. In the US side, I saw the Niagara Falls illuminations which were colorful lights projected on the Falls, and made them even more beautiful during the night. Seeing the Niagara Falls was one of the most impressive things I saw in the nature, and I’m grateful for that. And what a great unexpected way to end my Canada trip is by enjoying music, ice-skating show, Christmas tree lighting and fireworks in my last night in Toronto.

 

Birthday Weekend

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So this week was really good, but only because on Thursday it was my birthday. Also, on Tuesday I went to the movies to see Murder in the Orient Express, and I really loved it. The end was so unexpected, and it kept you guessing all the movie. You should go, because every Tuesday the tickets cost only $5, which is really cheap.

On my birthday I woke up to receive calls from all my family and friends, which I loved because it had been a long time since I’ve talked with some of them. Then I went to have lunch at a restaurant called Mediterranean Grill, and I really loved the food. Later we went to buy groceries because we were going to make two cakes for dinner. We spend all the afternoon cooking, and my Spanish friend also made me Spanish tortilla for dinner, which is my favorite food, so it was great. Then we invited everyone to have cake, and we spent the night talking and eating. I also received an awesome present from my family, a map in which you can scratch the countries you have visited, and as I love traveling there is no better present for me.

Friday was also amazing because we went to see a NBA game, the Wizards against the Miami Heats. Sadly we lost, but only for two point in the end, so the game was really exciting. It was the first time I went to a basketball game, and I really loved it, more than football I think. Then, we went to have dinner in Chinatown, and I have to say I have never tried a fried rice as good as that one. I really want to do both things again.

On Saturday we went to Georgetown, as we usually do every week, to buy some things, and see if the ice skating ring was already prepared. It was closed, but I think it will open this week, and I’m eager to go. I have loved ice skating since I was a little kid, and it will be so much fun. Also, walking down M Street and the Waterfront is one of my favorite  things to do here in DC, I think I will never get tired of doing it.

We finished the week going to Founding Farmers for brunch, everyone had told us that we should go, but we hadn’t gone before because you have to make a reservation, and we always forgot about it. The food was amazing. I’m starting to get used to have breakfast food for lunch. Well, American breakfast food, because no one in Spain eat that kind of things for breakfast, we usually only eat toast or something like that. Either way, I definitely will be doing brunch more often.

Hola Mexico

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At the beginning of the week, I and another exchange student were invited to have a dinner with an American family to get to know more about the culture and try some homemade food. The event was organized by the exchange program advisors and it was a great opportunity to discover other sides of the Americans and their local life. Our host was working as an exchange advisor in GWU years ago. So, it was really nice to talk to her and her partner about her previous experiences with exchange students and to share with her our adventures in Washington DC. The food was really good and the two hours we spent there made me realize more about the American culture in some different states of the US.

For the weekend, as it says from the title, I went to MEXICO. I have always been dreaming of visiting this country but it was really difficult to do it from Morocco since the flights are really expensive from there. So being the US gave me the opportunity to discover Mexico. My flight was to Cancun but I stayed in Playa Del Carmen which is a city an hour from Cancun. I stayed there from Thursday to Monday. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had. In the first day I went to an island called Cozumel where I had the chance to snorkel and swim with all types of fish, sea turtles and starfishes in the Caribbean sea. I also went to two parks: Xel-ha and Xcaret and they were insane. The first one was a water park with many snorkeling spots, slides, rope jumping… And the other one was exhibiting the Fauna and Flora of the region and at the end I stayed for a show that represented the specific music and dances of each region of Mexico. It was really beautiful to see how within one country there are different cultures, and that show was a summary of it all. Mexico is also known for its cenotes which are holes that lead to a pool of turquoise-colored water connected to secret underground caverns. I visited two of them: Dos Ojos and Ik-kil. Those cenotes were surreal and snorkeling there was simply fascinating because under the clear water you can clearly see all the reefs and the beautiful underwater life. And apart from the beautiful beaches and turquoise water, Mexico has a very rich history especially of the Mayans and Aztecs culture. So, it was a must to visit Chichen Itza which is a complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and one of the seven wonders of the world. It was really fascinating to see how the history of Mayans was carved in the rocks and how it’s still preserved until now. Tulum was also a great city to visit both Mayan ruins and the beach at the same time. What made this trip special is spending it with other Mexicans so I had the chance to get to know more about their culture from a local perspective.Mexico is one my favorites countries right now because it combined between the beautiful white-sand beaches, the tropical forests, the turquoise-colored cenotes, the rich history, the great food and the nice and outgoing people. And it was really nice to see with my eyes that it’s really far from its stereotypes shown in the media.

 

 

 

Winter is finally here.

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After nearly three months of good weather winter has finally arrived, and this week has been freezing cold. With cold meaning that on Friday we got -4 degrees. However, I really love winter, and the cold too, so it has been a nice week for me.

As always, my week has been the same until the weekend. Friday was really a long day due to all the things I did. We decided that after three moths of being here it was time of visiting the Library of Congress, so despite of the cold we took a bike and went through the National Mall to the library. The National Mall, as always, was mesmerizing with the sundown. I think I will never get tired of taking pictures there. Sadly we didn’t arrive on time to the library, because it closes at 5 pm which is kind of early for me so I didn’t think about it. It seems we will have to go another day.

Later that afternoon, we went to the first basketball game of the season, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. In my university back at home we don’t have “university spirit” and I don’t even think there is an official basketball, or other sport, team. So, it was quite surprising for me seeing so many students there. Of course, the event started with free food, drinks and music on the entrance. The food lasted from 6 pm until 7:30, when the game started, which is pretty awesome.

I loved the game, seeing the cheerleaders, the band and everyone supporting the team. Everything was just like in the movies,  which is one of the things I have always envied of United States’ schools and universities. And to make everything even better we won the game. Needles to say, I’m planing on going to as many games as I can.

On Saturday we went to see the Archive. I have done many things in DC but I have been putting aside all museums and stuff like that, so it is time for me to start visiting all the museums I can. Most of them are free so no one has an excuse to not going. I really liked seeing the Constitution, The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, at the end of the day they are three of the most important documents of United States’ history, and being able to read such old documents is a privilege. In the door there was also an exhibition of army helicopters and you could even sit inside and take all the pictures you wanted. It was a really cool experience.

Sunday was a busy day. We woke up early to go to the Tanger Outlets, some of the other students had told us that thy had good sales, so if you like shopping there is no better place to go. There are lots of shops and most of them have lots of discounts on everything, which is amazing. Nevertheless, it is also bad, at least for me, because you are tempted to buy everything!

We had all the day planned because that was the day the National Harbor´s Christmas Tree was going to be lighted up. We walked from Tanger Outlets to the Harbor, and we stopped to have lunch in the MGM Hotel and Casino, and it was quite an amazing hotel, sadly also too expensive.

National Harbor is just beautiful. I really loved the place, it reminds me of the beach and its atmosphere, which are the best. The afternoon was full of events, with Christmas films playing out in a big screen, an orchestra singing Christmas songs and even fireworks. Sunday was one of my favorite days so far, which probably has something to do with me loving Christmas.

 

 

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Halloween is a huge thing here and last weekend wasn’t everything, not at all. On Monday the exchange leaders prepared an event in the rooftop of 1959 E Street with pumpkins, music, and candy. It had been a long time since all of us were together, now all of us have things to do and I only see some of the exchange students and leaders. So it was really great to meet with everyone again. We had a really good time carving pumpkins, it was my first time and I really had fun, now I have my little pumpkin as decoration in my room.

Tuesday was the real Halloween day, and of course we went to do trick or treat.  A group  from the university planned everything for us, and when we saw on Facebook it was going to be in the embassies we thought there was no better way to spend the day, and we did´t need costumes. So we met in Kogan Plaza and walked to Embassy Row where we started going from embassy to embassy. Some of them only gave  one candy per person because we were many people, but others gave us tons of candy. In most of them there were people disguised, and you could take photos with them. I wasn’t  that exited about trick or treat at first, because in Spain only the kids do that, but it was a good time to get to know more about Washington DC. What most surprised me was all the university students that were doing trick or treat on their own, dressed up with costumes, as I said, in Spain this is not something a university student would do.

 

During the night there was another event in 1959 E Street, with free pizza, cotton candy, and cupcakes. I really love when they do things like this, because is the only way we have to meet people in the hall as we don’t have a dinning room to meet with the rest. Another crazy thing about the United States is that they really have a thing with free food. There is always some type of event with free food in it. You won’t see that happening any time soon in Spain. I think that is probably because we don’t have clubs as they have here, so no one is up for preparing anything. After all, students are much more invested in university activities here.

The rest of the week was as any other, although we went to Georgetown on Thursday to buy clothes for winter as the weather is finally getting colder, the rest was all about writing all the papers I have for next week.

However, on Saturday we tried something different and went to a coffee shop to study. It is especially prepared for that, with books everywhere, and enough space for you to study. It is called Busboys and Poets, and you can also have lunch there. In the afternoon we went to Arlington National Cemetery. I had never been there before, and I have to say I was impressed. There were so many rows of tombs creating a beautiful picture, being autumn made everything even better with the beautiful colors of the trees. Visiting it is a must of the things you have to do in Washington DC.

On Sunday we went to have brunch. We went to a place called Ted’s Bulletin, and I love this place. The food was amazing. But it was crowded, so maybe you need to make a reservation beforehand. Anyways, it was one of the best brunch I have ever tried.

Other exchange students had told me about running in the National Mall, and how awesome it is. So to finish my week I decided to go for a run instead of going to the gym. I’m not used to running, but I enjoyed it anyway. Of course I had to stop to take some photos because the monuments at night are breathtaking. I’m definitely doing it again.