I know you’re sick and tired of my love-hate relationship with the city. But this entry is full of pure love ... for the mountains. Last weekend, my host family and I were invited to my Rotary counselor’s home outside of Madrid. We went to spend the weekend, with my counselor, her husband - who happens to be the counselor of another exchange student from Minnesota - and Mariah (the Minnesotan).

They live on the grounds of a small little B&B, perched up on a little hill, and surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. The land was speckled with randomly placed abstract figures, because in addition to being a brain surgeon, Mariah’s counselor is sculptor - you know, no big deal.

The week before I had been having some trouble with the usual: missing my dogs (sorry Mom and Dad). So of course when everyone was taking in the breathtaking view, I was preoccupied with the three chocolate-labs that I had spotted down the mountain a bit. Considering that playing with them didn’t require Spanish, and that thankfully I’m already fluent in wet-noses and wagging-tails, they were a needed pause in my daily struggle.

After settling in, Mariah and I decided to see what else the land had to offer. As soon as we turned the corner of the house the most adorable donkeys ever - floppy ears and all - greeted us. The paddock was home to the weirdest bunch of animals I’d ever seen; there were the two donkeys making weird donkey noises and faces (these consisted of sticking their tongues out at us repeatedly), two horses (one of them an albino), and the labs weaving through the hooves of the horses. Seeing as I used to ride horses and love animals in general, the logical thing to do at the time was to hop the fence and see if I could make some friends. I’m so glad I did it because as soon as I did, the groundskeeper came running with a handful of carrots offering me the opportunity to ride.

So the weekend went like so: mountain exploring, romping with the dogs, horseback riding, and watching the most gorgeous sunsets ever. I couldn’t be happier to be where I am, with close friends, and new family by my side. Seriously, you’re crazy if you’re not an exchange student.