Last days in Nerja and a visit to Granada

One last adventure in Spain before returning home

Friday was the last day of classes in Nerja and the students received their evaluations and diplomas from school and said goodbye to their teachers with dos besos (the traditional one kiss on each cheek).

The rest of the day was free to go to the beach, go for last-minute shopping, and of course stop for at their favorite ice cream shop. The weather at the beach was surprising when later in the afternoon the fog rolled in and covered all of the beaches. It was thick but warm. Made me feel like I was back home in San Francisco except that it was still hot out. It lasted on the beach throughout the night.

Later we met up after dinner to go see more dancing. At the plaza de cangrejos (plaza of the crabs) they have different types of shows nightly. Tonight’s show was a flamenco dance school, so there were several different performances by dancers of all ages. Later the students had some free time to go dancing. I wonder if they used their newly learned salsa moves?

An indulgent breakfast of churros and chocolate

Breakfast in Spain is much different that it is in the US. Here they have a piece of toast or muffin with some jam and a cup of coffee or juice. But they also love their pastries for breakfast. Today we had a typical breakfast and went to have churros which are served here with melted chocolate. Yum! They are made to order and if you have not had them they are long pieces of fried dough, somewhat like a doughnut but not sweet.

Our Last Day in Nerja

Saturday was our the last day in Nerja. We spent time with host families and packing our bags to take off for Granada tomorrow morning. The weather did end up clearing up and we were all able to head to the beach for some more fun in the sun before saying goodbye to Nerja.

That night we all met up for some fun. We headed to the plaza de cangrejos to listen to some music. Most of the kids just wanted to go and sit by the beach for their last night. We had a big day following, so we cut curfew and sent them to bed early. Off to bed and a huge thank you to Nerja for such a wonderful trip. They kids couldn’t believe it was the end of the trip already. Alisha said “I should have done the month trip!”

Goodbye Nerja, Hello Heat in Granada

We left early on Sunday to be able to get to Granada for a full day of fun. This day was going to be packed to the gills. Wear comfortable shoes cause we are going to be running around! After checking in the Hotel Carmen we dropped our stuff and headed next door for some quick pastries before our tour at the famous Alhambra. There are normal buses in Granada but there are also some funny smaller buses leading up to the Alhambra. Luckily we are a small group so we all fit. We had a bit of time to kill before our tour so we played with a friendly cat and told jokes in the shade.

Visiting the beautiful Alhambra

The Alhambra is not just a palace, it’s an actual city and we could have used more than the 2 1/2 hours than it took to visit. The Alhambra is filled with marble columns, stucco carved walls with Arabic writing, and beautiful tiles. Zachary, who has been studying Arabic, translated a couple of the scriptures on the walls. Great job Zachary! We had a special treat and we able to see the court of the lions which are normally either covered up or being restored. Lucky us! Our tour guide was great and kept the kids interested in the history. I had no idea that there are over 8000 visitors per day to the Alhambra and that it is the 3rd most visited site in Europe after the Vatican and Versailles.

Rejuvenating at the Arab baths

After our tour we ran down the hill to the Plaza Nuevo for a quick lunch and back to the hotel to grab our swim suits and off to the Arab baths. What a welcome break from the busy day of traveling. This was definitely a treat!

The baths were lit with dim lights and candles. There were several different rooms; 1 with the small cold bath, 1 long shallow pool with the hot bath, the large lukewarm bath with the arches and columns that came into the water, the steam room which gave off mint smelling steam, the area with the hot marble slab with the fountains and the tea room which served sweet mint tea. They wanted us to be quiet but we could barely contain our excitement. First you go into the lukewarm pool, then head into the hot pool, then directly into the cold pool. Then repeat the hot and cold pool as many times as you want.

We also got massages and had our choice of oils. Olivia said, “This is actually my favorite thing we’ve done. It just keeps getting better!” After our amazing soak we showered up and got dressed. The girls noticed that in the girls locker room there were amazing smelling lotions and body oils which we enjoyed. Ahhhh! Check out the website for the baths

Before going back to the hotel we wandered into the Arabic neighborhood behind the Plaza Nuevo where it felt more like an Arab souk than the streets of Spain. Colorful cloths and clothing and yummy baklava was being sold and instead of Spanish we heard Arabic being spoken. Thanks again to Zachary who helped with some of the bargaining.
We had dinner at a yummy restaurant right below the Alhambra. As the sun sets on the Alhambra it turns beautiful shades of gold and pink. Dinner took a while but was fantastic and worth the wait.

After dinner we headed up the hill to the lookout for a wonderful view of the Alhambra lit up at night. We had a guide tell us a bit about the history of Granada and of the neighborhood we were in. We walked over to the Sacramonte neighborhood which is known as a gypsy neighborhood. We then headed to the Sacromente caves to watch a Flamenco show. It’s a small cave painted in white and could seat about 20 people. There were several different performers that performed right in front of us. Lots of stomping and spins and wonderful guitar playing and singing. Sam said that was his highlight of the trip. The kids were ready for bed after that full day.

Saying goodbye to Spain

I couldn’t believe how talkative everyone was on the bus at 6 A.M.! They were excited to get home. Well most actually wanted to stay but I know that it will be good for them to get home and back into their routine knowing they had this experience under their belt. We got the airport in Malaga and had to split up. Olivia and Rebecca had a flight on Delta and the rest of us were flying on American. We said goodbye and caught our first flight. In Madrid, everything went smoothly as some students took their own independent flights home before we departed. After our weather delays for the departure, it was great that everything went according to plan for the travel home.

It was a great experience chaperoning this group and I really enjoyed meeting all of them! They were all great and we had a ton of fun! I hope to see them all again in the future. My email is for anyone who wants to keep in touch. Besos!

– Marya Kahan, US Leader

Enjoying our time together in Nerja

After travel stress, we begin our study abroad in Spain

Terrible weather in New York caused extra travel stress for our Nerja group. My flight to JFK almost needed to be diverted to refuel, but thankfully arrived in time for the group flight to Spain. At the airport I met Alisha, Maura, Sam, and Zachary initially. Sam told me that he actually did have to land and refuel in Syracuse, but he made it on time and was good to go. Matt joined us last because he flight was heavily delayed due to the weather. His flight was so late that there was no time for his bag to be checked in, but our staff person in New York helped retrieve it.

It was great to meet the students. They were all a bit nervous about what to expect; the group, the language, the food, the host families, etc. I showed them photos of what they would be seeing as I had just been there the week before with the ECI Salamanca 1 group. They then became more excited than nervous. On the plane, most slept and watched movies. I slept and had dreams of the tapas I will be eating back in Spain.

Our arrival in Malaga

We finally arrived in Madrid and had a small layover before heading to Malaga. We met Delilah at the airport in Malaga, and then there were 6. We jumped on our enormous bus and headed on our hour-long bus ride to Nerja. All along the way we had glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea and whitewashed houses on the hills of seaside towns.

When we got into Nerja, the students were picked up by their host families and whisked away to go eat lunch. We all had big appetites by that point. Olivia and Rebecca would not be arriving until tomorrow (Monday) due to terrible weather and their flight being canceled. Pobre chicas!

Getting to know Nerja with Language Partners

Later in the evening the students were introduced to their language partners. These are young Spaniards who do activities with the students and show them around town and the students get a chance to practice their Spanish conversation skills. Our first excursion was a tour of Nerja to learn all the necessities; pharmacy, ATMs, best beaches, and of course best ice cream shops.

Later that night we all went out for ice cream. One of my favorite pastimes in Spain for sure! Most had already had ice cream earlier in the day but didn’t turn down a chance to have some more. YUM! They had all gone to the beach and were so excited for the chance to spend 2 weeks in this beautiful location. Then it was off to bed since the next day was the first day of classes!

First day attending language school classes

The students started the day with short interviews to asses their correct level, which of course made everyone a bit nervous. No worries they did great and I believe that everyone is in the level they belong.

Classes went well, and we jumped into our first briefing meeting where I explain the day’s activities. We have our meeting in the common area of the residence/club where some of the classes are held. In this first meeting another student from one of the classes sat in our circle while I went over the orientation including the rules and regulations for the trip. I used her as an example of someone being rude and not paying attention and said I would most likely need to contact her parents for lack of participation. Now every time we see her we all laugh and joke about how she is not fully participating in group activities. HA!

Free time by the beach

Later they were all eager to go get lunch and have free time at the beach. By this time they have all bonded and are doing things together. All smiles and fun to be had in Nerja. Olivia and Rebecca finally arrived and after they relaxed in the morning Patricia and I met them at the school to go over everything. And then there were 8! They were a bit apprehensive about fitting in with the group but I told them not to worry. No to worry indeed, when they met the group later it was as if they had been together the entire time.

The rest of the day was free to do what they wished, which meant beach time. Matt, Patricia, and I ran around to replace items he needed until his suitcase arrived. The boys had lent him some clothes until now and he had already purchased swim trunks and flip flops, so he had the basics, we just got the rest. All set now and we expect the bag to get here by the end of the week.

Visiting the Plaza de los Cangrejos

Later in the evening we visited the Plaza de los cangrejos or Plaza of the Crabs where there were a ton of people dancing, kids playing on a bouncy castle and people sitting and eating in the square. As soon as we arrived the girls were up and dancing while the boys watched on. Then we went to the beach and played a bit of soccer. Delilah had bought a beach soccer ball earlier in the day. Fun!

On Tuesday we started with classes then our daily briefing. We had our favorite “other” student attend the meeting again and actually had someone else join the group as well so we moved it outside.

After more beach time we had our “Introduction to Spain – then and now” by Olivia and Sam’s Spanish teacher. They all understood most of the talk and participated when asked questions. Good job groupo! Then back to the beach!

Salsa lessons with Paco

Later that night we met for our first salsa lesson with Paco, who is one of the language partners and quite a good salsa dancer. Paco started right away and we were off and dancing. Everyone got into it and had a ton of fun. The boys were paired with the girls and Paco had to bring in one of his friends to even it out. Before the friend showed up the girls would rotate with the boys and dance with Patricia. They all did great! All future ‘Dancing with the Stars’ participants for sure (well I guess they need to be stars first… details).

Today is Wednesday and I have just dropped them off at class so more to come, but a sneak peak at today is cooking class for dinner and we are making paella then a scavenger hunt in the evening-yes, all in Spanish!

– Marya Kahan, US Leader

Visiting Frigiliana and more Nerja fun

Another busy week abroad in Southern Spain

After class today we headed up to a small village called Frigiliana, or Frigi as the locals call it, which is much easier to say. It is a small town known for its sweet wine production, olive oil, sugar cane honey, and fig cake. We arrived and wandered along the narrow streets up the hill to an overlook where we were able to look down on the ocean and on Nerja. The bus ride was only a short distance away, but I felt as if we were in a much different world. Hardly any tourists helped the experience feel extra authentic.

We then went to a specialty store where they set up a tasting for us of the fig cake, sugar cane honey, and olive oil. The man who owns the store let us know that they do all of their own production of all of their products including the sweet wine that they have. The grapes are out on the hill we can see the view from the store. Also Frigi is the only place in Europe that produces the sugar cane honey. Pretty cool.

After we tried all of the samples and had some chocolate we had some time before our bus left, so the kids sat and watched the Olympics. It’s one of the groups’ favorite things to do. Sam, Rebecca, and Olivia also helped with putting the corks in the wine bottles which they sold in the store. Rebecca and I also helped put the plastic wrap on the top of the bottle as well with what resembled an industrial hair dryer. We all had a fun visiting Frigi.

Our growing love of Tapas

I have fallen in love with tapas and so have the kids. They are so fun and easy. Bite sized meals that are so delightful. It’s really easy to eat a ton of them. Tonight, instead of dinner with their families we headed out with the language partners to do a tapas route. Basically what that means is they hit different spots to try different tapas. Patricia and I decided to do the same and actually bumped into them at the first stop which was a fish/seafood place. I was so proud of Alisha, I know that she doesn’t like seafood but said she would give it a shot. And, she actually liked it! Awesome! We didn’t see them until the end of night and they were all very talkative and energetic and said they had a great time. One of the language partners was going on vacation so she would not see the group again and they were so sad as they had so much fun with her. Well gracias, Laura!

“Are there bats in the cave?”

Asked Rebecca. “No”, I said. “Darn”, she said, “I like bats”. It is too bad I like bats too. “It’s my third favorite animal,” said Sam. I wonder what the others are?

We took a trip to the Nerja caves where we saw the largest stalactite and stalagmite structure in the world. Yes, it does hold the guiness book of world record for being the largest. The different caves were huge with thousands if not millions of tiny stalactite and stalagmite structures all around us, making it seem like we are in a Dr. Seuss book. Today there was a group of archeologists looking for fossils. I learned in the museum that it was actually inhabited by humans and clay pots, cave drawings, and other items were found here. Rebecca and I spotted a group of people with headlamps climbing behind the walls. They must have a special tour to other portions of the cave. While waiting for the bus back to Nerja, the kids had their daily dose of ice cream.


After dinner we met up for our second salsa class with Pedro. The kids did so well. Olivia said this was her favorite activity. And the kids all came up to Patricia and I and asked how they did. They did great. It was just us so no one was embarrassed about having 2 left feet, including me. The boys were spinning the girls almost out of the room and at times all I could see were skirts and dresses twirling. All smiles and lots of fun was had that night.

Play ball!

We didn’t play baseball, but after class then lunch we all met on the beach with some of the language partners for a game of beach volleyball. When we got to the beach we all realized that no one had a ball. Luckily, there are several stores around the beach where you can find all sorts of fun beach activity items. Problem averted! The sand was so hot we were all jumping around like we were walking on hot coals. We spotted a hose and wet the sand. Problem averted!

We split up into teams and started. Some knew the game, others had little knowledge but I think everyone had fun. Matt was, per usual, competitive but a team player and he was on my team so ok by me. Sam was all over the court and Patricia had to keep telling him to stay in place. There was funny banter between the teams in both English and Spanish. Some played with their head and their feet but that didn’t count. Delilah had the most ace serves of the entire game. Maura kept intending to get the ball but would then move at the last moment leaving everyone else to think she had it; including the one that was high in the air and came down on her head. She was ok but her sunglasses weren’t so lucky. Maura’s serves were good and she just wanted to be the server the entire time. Olivia’s serves got better and better as the game went on. Rebecca had an interesting style of serve, for one of her turns she stood backwards, hoping that the serve would actually go forward; didn’t work but good effort. Alisha had a good couple of headers. Zachary, I believe, would rather be swimming but had some good hits and serves.

We then played a funny game with vowels in the water with the ball. We stood in the water in a (semi-ish) circle and would hit the ball around to different people in the circle. A-E-I-O-U When it got to U the person would spike the ball to someone in the circle. If the other person missed the spike they would get splashed. If the person spikes the ball on U and the other person catches it, then the person who spiked the ball then gets the punishment. Super fun! We played another game of volleyball then the students were all in for some ice cream.

Enjoying a traditional flamenco show

Later in the evening we all met up to go for some live music. The show was great but we couldn’t get a seat inside the place-it was packed. It was flamenco music and dancing. There were 2 female singers/dancers, 1 guitar and another man on the percussion. The show was fantastic and I think the kids enjoyed it.

– Marya Kahan, US Leader

Our Weekend Travel to Sevilla

All aboard the bus to see more of Southern Spain!

After classes on Friday and lunch with the host families the students hopped on our bus to Sevilla. It was a 2.5 hour trip that was broken up with a rest stop for the students to buy ice cream, of course. To pass the time they sang, read, watched videos on their ipods, and laughed. Upon getting off the bus in Sevilla we were greeted with a hot breeze. The temperature in Sevilla was between 38-42 in the daytime which roughly translates to 95-105 or just plain HOT!

First impressions of Sevilla

We got to the hotel with just enough time to take a dip in the pool before we headed to dinner. On the way to dinner we walked through the cobblestone streets of Sevilla and passed the horse drawn carriages in front of the cathedral, which looks amazing lit up at night. For dinner we ate at a quaint little restaurant in their inner courtyard which was equipped with water misters overhead which would cool us down. For dinner we had delicious salad and Paella! For desert we all tried something new called Cream Catalan from the Catalan region. It was a hit!

After dinner we went for a walk along the river. Then off to bed as Saturday is going to be a big day! The kids wanted to sleep in, but we have a big day on Saturday. Maura said “can’t we sleep, like, forever!” HAHA!

Touring the amazing Alcazar in Sevilla

After an amazing buffet breakfast, we walked to the center of the city to take a tour of the Alcazar. It’s a beautiful old palace with many gardens with Arab influence. The students loved walking around the gardens, looking at the fish in the fountains, taking photos under the archways and seeing the gigantic tapestries on the wall. Rebecca told me that this is where Christopher Columbus came to pray with his men before they set out on their voyage.

We then headed into the neighboring Cathedral that we had passed the night before. We headed straight up the tower, climbing 30 plus ramps to get to the bell tower. We took in the amazing views from up top. Back down inside the enormous cathedral we saw Christopher Columbus’ tomb. The cathedral also houses many gold and silver and artifacts that Matt and I were trying to figure out what they were used for. There was also a large wooden alligator that is hanging above the door of the cathedral that could have been used to ward off intruders. 

The heat was really settling in and at lunch and we were all feeling it. Another funny Maura quote, “I’m sweating like a mountain.” I’ve starting making a list of these gems from Maura.

Visit to the plaza de Torros

After lunch, we headed to the plaza de torros where they have the bullfights. The fights are normally held around April but we did get a tour of the ring and the museum. The visit was interesting and the kids had varying opinions of bullfighting.

Highlights from Sevilla

Zachary – Tomb of Christopher Columbus.
Alisha & Maura – Plaza de Torros and museum.
Sam – Breakfast buffet at the hotel, ha ha!
Matt – Fountains and gardens at the alcazar.
Rebecca – Alcazar for sure.

Karaoke fun back in Nerja

On the way back to the hotel, we walked through the hot streets finding as much shade as we could.  At the hotel we were able to take another swim in the pool before heading back to Nerja. After showering up and eating with host families we headed out on Saturday night for a fun surprise, Karaoke. Everyone got up and sang! Others danced while the students sang, which was fun. Then the kids had the chance to go out in the Plaza Tutti Fruti and dance with other tourists and locals alike. Fun was had by all!

Parque Aquatico

Sunday was a free day to sleep in and have an early lunch before heading to the water park. What a great way to spend the afternoon. There were probably about 8 different slides to choose from with several having multiple routes so you could race each other, which of course we did! There was one slide that was very wide and had 4 lanes. With the steep first drop this one was notorious for turning you backwards. I raced down with Alisha, Rebecca, and Zachary. I have no idea who won because by the time I hit the water I went in sideways. There were also 2 pools and a wave pool. We ran around and went on all of the slides.

Enjoying a Flamenco show

In the afternoon we saw a flamenco show under a gazebo. The performers’ ages ranged from about 4 to 64 and were fun to watch with the different choreography, ability levels and many costume changes. After dealing with the heat of Sevilla, this was a perfect ending to a great weekend. After free time in the evening the kids were tired and ready for bed when I saw them at curfew.

– Marya Kahan, US Leader

Cooking a paella feast in Nerja

Fun activities while getting to know Spain better

After our language classes we took a cooking class at the school. Many of the kids had never chopped many veggies, let alone cook before, so this was a fun experience for everyone. On the menu was traditional Paella with chicken, shrimp, clams, calamari, red and green peppers, tomato, garlic, rice, spices, and lots of love. We also made typical Spanish mixed salad of lettuce, red and green peppers, tuna, tomato, corn, olive oil, and vinegar. We also made a tasty Sangria, but our version was non-alcoholic. We enjoyed the entire menu!

We made everything from scratch, including pulling the heads off of the shrimp. Thank you Maura, Sam, and Matt! Everyone kept switching stations so they would get a chance to do everything. The pan to cook the paella was huge! Good thing cause we had a ton of food to cook and several hungry students. Although this is a typical lunch time dish, we prepared it for dinner. Dinner in Spain is normally later at around 9-10pm but today we were finished cooking at 7:30 which made for a late lunch and early dinner. I think the record for Sangria consumption was Zachary with 7 glasses. Runner up I believe was Sam with 5. Super fun!

Spanish scavenger hunt

Later that night the students split up into pairs and went off in search of answers to the scavenger hunt questions. They said it was hard but I think mostly because it was in Spanish and they needed to speak with people in Spanish to get the answers. Matt and Delilah’s team came back sweating as Matt made them run around and find ALL of the answers. He is dying to know who won. He might just be a bit competitive after all.

First Impressions of Nerja

Zachary – Nerja is beautiful. Salsa dancing is much different from Arab dancing.
Olivia – The dos besos or two kiss greeting is very different from home but I like it.
Delilah – Siesta is awesome except when your 9 year old host sister is throwing balls at your head.
Alisha – The crapes are awesome
Maura – Great view of the sea
Sam – Tired feet make for a good rest. (Also the kids are now calling him “the Zag”)
Matt – Where’s my luggage? jk
Rebecca – Clear blue ocean.

Operation Save Small Bird

While I was sitting in the courtyard doing emails waiting for the kids to get out of class I noticed a small bird on the ground fluttering around. He wasn’t flying or walking around he was more like flopping. I asked Patricia about the bird and she said this type of bird needs height to be able to fly. He was trapped in the patio of the school which was four flights down and enclosed by the other buildings on all 4 sides but there is no roof so it’s all open, which is how he got down there.  When the students got out of class we set off to work on freeing the bird. The idea was to get a towel and carefully capture the little guy then take him to the roof terrace and hope that he flies away.

We gently captured the bird, Mateo saying “have Patricia do it she is gentle!” We took the elevator upstairs to see what we could do. When we let him go on the roof he flopped some more and we thought we should get him some water and maybe some bread and perhaps put him in a cardboard box. I picked up the bird again so it could rest in the towel and he closed his eyes for a moment. “Is he dead?” they questioned? Nope his heart was beating fast, he was just resting. Then we took him outside for another try and this time he actually flew away. Hooray! Operation Save Small Bird was a success thanks to the team. I wish I had photos but I was too involved in the action to stop and take any pictures. Hopefully you can imagine the scene.

It’s a beautiful day to Kayak

Later in the afternoon we went on a kayak trip by the Nerja cliffs. On the walk there I learned that Zachary and Sam had swum from our beach to the beach where we were kayaking and that Zachary actually swam all the way back. Very impressive!

We maneuvered our double kayaks in and out of the rocks by the cliffs in the crystal blue waters. Not long after launching there were splashing flights. Olivia and Delilah were splashing Matt and Sam and Matt said if you don’t stop I’m going to jump on your kayak and tip you over. They didn’t stop and sure enough he did what he said he was going to do. All in fun the girls giggled and got back into their kayaks and plotted their revenge.

We quickly got the hang of the kayaks and made our way through pretty narrow rock walls. We entered a cave where the light shown through an opening under water and was a brilliant color turquoise.

On the way we stopped at a cove which we learned was a Marine preserve and jumped in the water for a swim. Our guide had brought snorkel masks so we were able to see what was lurking below. Lots of fish as well as a few jellyfish we were careful to stay away from. It was fun swimming around and they had a blast. Olivia and Delilah got their revenge here when the boys got on their kayak they came underneath and tipped them over.

We paddled along the coast and got to a spot with a small waterfall which had fresh cool water. We all took turns dunking our heads in the waterfall. On our way back we spotted thousands of jellyfish in the water. The boys started flinging the creatures and Maura said “is there such thing as a jellyfish nest cause if there is, we have hit it.” The waters were calm which made the way back short and nice. When we finally got back to shore all the kids were hungry and just had to have ice cream. What a great outing! I wasn’t able to bring a camera as it was going to get wet for sure so I don’t have any shots of the kids unfortunately.

Practice mi Espanol

Later that night they had their second session with the language partners. They went to the beach and played some funny games. They were trying to explain them to me today but I didn’t quite catch on. It seems like they had fun and practiced their Spanish which is the goal. What a great day! I only got one photo from the day with the kids and the language partners with the inclusion of some random folks from the Balcon de Europa and 1 fluffy dog. 

– Marya Kahan, US Leader