sisterhood of the traveling training tourists


Karolina, Hayley and I at today’s el Maratón de Patinaje. Journalists or airport runway crew? Unsure. Shout out to Karolina and Clara for waking up at 9 a.m. on a post- Kapi Sunday to film and photograph the event with us.

We ended up at a rollerskating marathon for the story Hayley and I are writing on active tourism in Madrid. Turns out the event has less to do with our story than expected, but was quite the experience nonetheless.

Our press passes were in the form of neon staff vests, prompting people to ask us lots of questions, most of which we didn’t understand. We also served as professional pen-lenders. I’ve never worked with a co-writer on a story before, or written a sports or tourism- related story, so there were a ton of firsts here for me.

I loved working with Hayley and having a fancy-modern-Madrid-cafe partner at all times, someone to bounce ideas off of, and someone as friendly and uninhibited to walk up to random strangers as Hayley is. (One of my struggles with journalism has always been my shyness. I don’t think she knows what that word means.)

I could go on and on about this story and today, but the large pile of clothes in my room is calling my name. It’s time to pack… how did these 5 weeks fly by so quickly?


Ancestry bill will allow Spain’s Jewish descendants to gain citizenship

NU Journalism Abroad · Spain 2015

Story by Freda Spencer

MADRID–Louis Fernando San Jose stood among the crisp white pillars and detailed tile in Santa María Blanca synagogue on the outskirts of Toledo, Spain. He recalled one of the most memorable experiences he has had as a tour guide of the small town just south of Madrid, which was once the Jewish capital of the country.

Opened in 1180, The Santa María Blanca museum was once a synagogue when Toledo was the Jewish capital of Spain. It closed in 1411 when Jews began to be persecuted. Today, it is a museum owned and preserved by the Catholic Church.  Photo by Joe Thomas Opened in 1180, The Santa María Blanca museum was once a synagogue when Toledo was the Jewish capital of Spain. It closed in 1411 when Jews began to face persecution. Today, it is a museum owned and preserved by the Catholic Church.
Photo by Joe Thomas

When the Jewish people of Spain were forced to leave by King Ferdinand in 1492,  he explained, they were given only three months and brought few belongings with them as they fled to various parts of the world. They did, however, bring with…

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In-between story bliss

Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me what journalism is all about.

I spent the majority of the day frantically running between the classroom and building stairwell, Carlene’s phone within my death grip, making calls to just about every Sephardic rabbi and community leader in the United States. I sent countless e-mails and navigated dozens of websites and databases. What I got were a lot of voicemail boxes, a few disconnected lines, a number of “I can’t speak to that”s and by the time 4 p.m. rolled around I was a sweaty, disgruntled mess who was on the verge of giving up.

I had found a foundation online that was dedicated to the advancement of Sephardic culture in the US. There was no contact info listed for its leaders, however, and I was apprehensive to start calling up random New York-based doctors who I suspected might be one of the guys I was looking for. But I did. I happened to get the foundation’s president on the phone after explaining to his secretary that no, I wasn’t a patient or looking to book an appointment. We had a great conversation about Sephardic culture in the US, his own family history and connections to Sepharad, and what the new law means.

Just as we were wrapping up our lengthy conversation, Carlene came out of the school doors, as everyone had already left for the day. It was 5 – the day had literally flown by me.  I heard Carlene, Chloe and #23 whispering in the stairwell, where I sat hunched over in the dark one floor above them.

I handed Carlene her overheated phone and we all left for the day. I felt extra deserving of the caipirinha I ordered at a nearby outdoor cafe later.

This morning after going over my final draft, a familiar wave of relief flood over me. Despite the roadblocks I hit starting day one with this story, I had pulled it together, and it’s now ready to be published. I spoke to a number of great people for this piece and wish I could have elaborated more on what they and others had to say on this topic, but perhaps that’s for a future endeavor.

I still have an entire third story to report and write by the end of the week, but I can’t help but take a moment to revel in this sense of relief. I did so over a short lunch featuring arguably the best sandwich in Madrid.

Now, it’s time to hit the ground running on story number 3. Stay tuned for pictures of me attempting to keep up with Hayley on adventurous tourist activities like rollerblading and rock climbing…

jewish quarter and girl power: a weekend update

Saturday we visited Toledo, a small town just south of Madrid. It was once the Jewish capital of Spain so naturally I latched on to the tour guide and asked him questions for my story and own curiosity. Turns out, barely any Jews live there today. 10 men are needed in a community in order to open a synagogue, and not even that many are there. Even the existing synagogue, apparently one of the oldest still standing in Europe, is now a museum that’s a dependent of the Catholic church. The cobblestone streets, however, are filled with tiles that serve as little reminders of the once thriving Jewish community.

IMG_0636 IMG_0637

Though the lack of any remaining Jewish community in Toledo put a slight damper on my afternoon, it quickly picked back up during lunch and wandering the rest of the city with these ladies: (and others, of course, not pictured)


Alex and I stumbled upon a very narrow, empty, absolutely silent cobblestone street. We realized we hadn’t heard silence (?) in just about forever and reveled in it. Then we ruined the peaceful moment with a selfie.


Above the Tagus river with 10s #23 and Choloe


Toledo’s newest girl band

Saturday evening/night was spent in the eerily dark apartment writing my story. Don’t wanna talk about it.

Sunday made up for it though, with a full day at the pool. The casa de campo public park featured a huge pool filled with little kids, making out couples, and elderly men alike. The grass lawn was completely covered with towels and people… 10 of us girls sat together in a spot that should have comfortably fit 3.

And it was the the best.

I could go on about how much we all bonded over warm sangria and takis and were definitely those obnoxious Americans that couldn’t be missed and how it might be really hard to say goodbye to this city and these girls, but, it’s late, so I’ll save that for another post.

clock is ticking

I guess I got lucky with my first story because all of the reporting pieces more or less fell into place in a timely manner and nearly everyone I wanted to speak to was on board- or at least responded to my inquiries.

This time around is very different.

It’s been one of those days and after dozens of unanswered e-mails and phone calls and a few fruitless field trips, I feel like I’ve hit a wall. Tomorrow morning I’m headed to a location that was recommended to me by the men who didn’t let me into the synagogue this evening- I’m determined to get someone to talk to me there.

In the mean time, the fact that these two happy travelers will be joining me in Spain in exactly two weeks is putting a smile on my face:


I took this picture of Sam and Lily, my brother and sister, three summers ago in an outdoor market in Tel Aviv. It was completely unposed- just really hot out and the shuk was getting smelly by the late afternoon. I can’t wait to drag them around many more markets in the blistering heat here in Spain. 

A blog post dedicated to Toni

It has (almost) officially been a week since we left Barcelona, meaning since we left our dear host mother Antonia.


Host mothers are really nothing to get competitive about, but I’m pretty confident Chloe and I got quite lucky with Toni.

Toni is everything you would expect a Spanish host mother should be- charming, sweet and loving, and adorably quirky. All while feeding us WAAY too much food (luckily having a Jewish mother prepared me for this) and remaining completely cool when we left in our party clothes at midnight. She even sympathized with us over all of our school work, staying up until the wee hours of the morning studying for her English class next to us at the dining room table. (We later discovered that she was indeed playing Solitaire on her computer instead of studying for her exams like she told us, which explains her lack of English after 5 months of daily class) She also kindly reminded us all the time that we can shower every day, worried that we were concerned about her water bill after a conversation about expensive utilities in Spain. (Toni- we are just lazy)

She made us promise that we would let her know when we arrived safely in Madrid (which we did) and also when we make it back to Boston. She replied yesterday with a sweet e-mail and lots of smileys.

Toni, if you’re reading this, thank you for the loving pep talks, (some of which I understood) daily laughs, strong coffee, and making Barcelona feel like home.