Monthly Archives: November 2009

Tis the Season!

So I think it can be said that Christmas is officially upon us. Being in Madrid, it was hard once the Christmas decorations started to be put up because I felt like something was missing… That something was Thanksgiving! Since they do not have the holiday to mark what I consider to be the official beginning of the Christmas season, they kind of haphazardly start decorating window fronts, changing shopping bag designs, and selling Christmas treats. But I knew that I had to hold off on jamming out to Christmas carols until the end of Thanksgiving.

The day started out just like any other normal Thanksgiving… With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! Sure it does not rival watching it on the big screen and we did not get to actually begin watching it until 4PM, but I got to see Dora and Snoopy in all their glory and that is all that matters!

After “slaving” away in the kitchen we ended up with this spread. In the mix is roasted chicken, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread, olives, corn, and gravy! We had some friends come over to hang out before they had a dinner at 9PM hosted by the university but it was me, Kelly, and Taylor who took to conquering all this food… and conquering it we did!

The meal was followed by a cookie dough and ice cream dessert combo and many hours of Glee! What a wonderful day…

As I mentioned earlier, my best friend Kelly came and visited from Vienna for the weekend and we had a wonderful time and I loved being able to show her around! After she tagged along for a field trip with my school at a local TV station, we paraded around the city with our other friend Colin who came up to Toledo for the day! We immersed ourselves in Spanish culture with calamari sandwiches, sangria, Retiro, and then Christmas lights!

Kelly and me in front of the big tree in Sol!

Now they first put up this tree about three weeks ago and finally on Friday night lit it up (talk about anticipation!) After, me and all my friends walked around the city to see all the other lights that were finally turned on! In one plaza, they put up another big tree, ice skating rink, store, and there were carolers!

The Madrid group taking in the X-mas spirit!

I am so happy the Christmas season has finally kicked off and cannot wait to go to Vienna next weekend and see all the markets (and Kelly, of course!) They put up a really big Christmas market in Plaza Mayor that I am eager to go check out… Two papers stand in between me and it though and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up motivation!

Hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings!

 

 

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First Thanksgiving Feast!

It’s that time of year again…the time of my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving! Now, when I initially got to Spain I was stuck in the mindset of recreating the perfect Thanksgiving complete with turkey, football and pumpkin pie; however, as the holiday approached, I started to think about what truly makes Thanksgiving, “Thanksgiving.” I realized quickly that it is not the food (although it is always amazing), but rather, the environment and company that make this holiday so special. There is no way I could ever recreate the same ambiance with my family in Spain so why force it? Instead, I have decided to settle for what I got and my friends and me are trying our hardest to celebrate it our own way. This leads to tonight- my first Thanksgiving feast in Madrid!

My sorority sister Kristin invited me to a dinner with her and her friends tonight who were celebrating Turkey Day two nights early since most were going out of town for the weekend. I put together an appetizer of brie, apples, and grapes for all to share and it was surprisingly well received! With this whole lack of a kitchen thing going on, I don’t have much to offer, but I am glad when I can make do!

Did my best to plate it prettily!

 

After our appetizers that included my dish, shrimp wrapped in bacon (SO GOOD, who knew?!), more bread and cheese, and patatas fritas (potato chips- we are still in Spain after all) we went on to the main dishes…

Corn, peas, mash potatoes, salad, chicken, stuffing, and mac n' cheese!

 

All of it was amazing and even though we settled for roasted chicken instead of turkey, it felt like a real Thanksgiving meal and I loved the company.

After, we had an amazing dessert from a local bakery that was absolutely to die for.

SOOO tasty!

 

Long story short, although I am definitely missing my family and friends from home like never before, I am glad that I have times like these to keep me sane and remind me how lucky I am to be where I am with the people I have met!

Kelly comes tomorrow and I am going out of my MIND excited. I am sure there will be many more stories to come, especially when we celebrate Thanksgiving on the actual day! For now, this food coma will hold me over do just fine!

 

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The City of Gaudi

I finally made it to Barcelona this past weekend to see what it has to offer. We left really late on Friday night so did not sightsee until we woke up on Saturday morning.

Lesson learned: Read between the lines. For starters, we flew on Ryanair into the Girona airport. When booking the flight, we did not realize that this airport was 90 minutes away from the actual city of Barcelona and that once we landed we had to take a bus (tacking on an extra 21 Euro) to get to the city and then take the metro to get to our hostel. Once you add in that extra fee, you find that it is probably the same price to take another airline to the actual airport in Barcelona, making the trip a lot shorter and a lot more convenient. This similar theme came up again when checking into our hostel. Although it was a great location and cheaper than the other hostels in the area, they don’t let you in on the fact that there is an extra charge if you want a sheet/blanket/towel. So again, once you add in that charge, the other hostels that most likely included these already would probably be nicer and the same price! No matter now, we made it through, but now I know to be more vigilant when booking such items!

But moving on to the actual weekend. We woke up on Saturday and started off walking down the main avenue of the city, Las Ramblas. As you walk down, they have stands selling lots of flowers and souvenirs, but also birds, reptiles, hamsters and the cutest bunnies!

It took all I had to resist.

 

My favorite thing we visited was definitely La Boqueria, a food market that is open everyday and absolute heaven. Christine and me could not resist the fresh squeezed juice that each stand offered, it was soooo good!

I got Mango Pineapple Orange!

These food markets are definitely going to be something I miss when I am stuck going into Publix where everything is already processed. It is just crazy seeing so much fresh fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, and cheese all under one roof. And the amount of people there is insane. My friends enjoyed crepes and I picked up some amazing dried mango and strawberries that were to die for. We went in the morning as it was an easy stop off Las Ramblas, but ended up going back for lunch and it too was amazing.

I want to go back.

 

 

We continued our walk down until we got to the port and beach. It was stunning and made me wonder what it would be like to live here in the summer. I definitely think I could do it.

The group on the beach!

 

We then went to Park Guell a large park full of Gaudi architecture and sculptures.

Christine and me at the entrance of the park!

After, we went to La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral started by Gaudi that I have studied since middle school, and it was breathtaking to see it in real life. What makes it so special is that fact that it is still not complete, even though they have been working on it since 1883 it is still not expected to be done for another quarter-century.

So amazing

 

Later, we went to the Magic Fountains for a show. It was absolutely stunning and unlike anything that I have ever seen before. For about 20 minutes, these fountains change colors and shapes to recognizable classical music. I felt like I was on a Disney ride the entire time.

After we grabbed dinner and managed to make it out for a very little bit. One of the places we went to was called Dow Jones. They had screens around the bar with the prices of the drinks. As the popularity of a drink went up or down, so did the price. It was unique and made for a fun game but what was most exciting was when the stock market crashed, and people rushed to the bar to get the lowest prices.

The screen showing the prices

 

To say that we fit in well more than a days worth of sightseeing is an understatement and probably a mistake seeing that by the end of the day we were exhausted. Not to mention, the next day we woke up and were unsure of what to do.

We went and saw two of Gaudi’s famous houses- Casa Batillo and Casa Mira and then went to Barcelona’s Cathedral.

Casa Batillo at night because it looked cooler then

We walked in on a mass that was interesting to see since I have not yet experienced a Spanish mass. Some churches close to the public during mass but this did not which I think made for a bit of distraction. Instead of it being quiet, you have tourists wandering around and snapping pictures. To me, it seems like it would ruin the ambiance, but so it goes.

 

After the mass starting around noon, people gathered in the plaza in front of the church for a dance. This happens every Sunday and Saturday evening and it was quite a sight!

Nothing like a good dance after mass...

The dance is called sardana and can go on for up to two hours! They say that they let tourists participate, but after watching one Asian lady try to break in, I can attest that they are a little picky about who can join in their festivities. I felt bad for the woman but will admit it was a bit funny watching her go around the circle and trying to join hands with the Catalonians.

 

The prevalence of Catalan was not as severe as I thought it might be, and I found that I could get along just fine speaking Castellano and English. In fact, I think most people talked to me in English even when I would try to speak Castellano because they are so accustomed to tourists. My friend who is currently studying in Barcelona said this too, as she is frustrated with not being able to improve her Spanish. So overall, while I did like Barcelona, I am happy to be living in Madrid!

After a long trip home, I am back in the city and cannot believe that it is the last week of November. While the thought of not being home for Thanksgiving truly saddens me, I am lucky that Kelly is coming to visit for the weekend and so I will get a little taste of home!

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Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

So once the temperatures started dropping (although we still have gorgeous weather here!) I started to notice shacks being set up around the city to sell “castañas asadas,” or chestnuts! I never have had them before, only sang of them time and time again. When my mom was here, it made her happy to see them being sold and said that they used to eat them growing up during the holiday season.

I walk by such a cart frequently and have always been tempted to try them (just because it seems like the thing to do) but always was scared because I did not know if you just get them and eat them right away, or how exactly it all works out. But yesterday I barely got over my hesitation (I walked back and forth three times and then, waited to watch someone else make a purchase) and finally decided 2 Euro was worth the sacrifice (even if I did not know how to eat them once they were bought).

So I handed over my money to the cute old man selling them, he made a sly comment about how he saw me looking earlier and I went on my merry way back to my apartment warm chestnuts in hand! Thankfully, at first sight I realized that they are quite self-explanatory when it comes to consumption and you just need to peel the last remnants of the shell off and pop them in your mouth!

They were warm, sweet, and oh so tasty! And I found out later, they are good for you too!

 

My chestnuts in a a nice paper cone!

 

 

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Grand Voyage to Ikea.

La Mallorquina is a Madrid staple located in the heart of Sol. It serves the best chocolate napolitana’s in the country and is always bustling with people. When I heard that my British friend James had never tried one of these amazing pastries, I immediately forced him to go with me after our class last Tuesday. More than pleased with his purchase (it is literally the best way to spend 1 Euro in Madrid) he decided that, in return,  he would take me to Ikea the next week for lunch. Yes, that Ikea.

I have always heard of Ikea but never been to an actual store since they are not around in Miami or Colorado. I was actually talking about the store earlier this month with my friend from Duke who was appalled that I had never had their meatballs.

So me and James made a trek to the nearest Ikea that took a little over an hour to get to after we left class today. The mall it is located in was well worth the trip, less alone the chance to experience my very first Ikea store. It was pretty much located in the middle of no where in what looks like to be a developing area. But the mall, called La Gavia, was amazing and had just about every single store imaginable and felt both clean and modern. We only spent time in the Ikea store but whenever I get the shopping bug, I am definitely going back here!

I was starving by the time we got there, so we bought a very cheap but delicious lunch that was accompanied with Lingonberry juice which is apparently a Swedish specialty. Although Ikea is apparently famous for it’s meatballs (I learned that it serves 40,319,365 individual meatballs a year!), I was not intrigued and instead got some sort of salmon wrap and a drink for only 2.50! What a deal.

James referred to Ikea as “Sweden’s best import” and informed me that his entire house, as well as every other house located in England, is outfitted in items solely from Ikea. I loved wandering the store and could not help but wish that I had an Ikea near me to outfit my future room and home!

I am now proud to say that I have experienced Ikea and now have a catalog placed by my bedside, just like James said everyone in Britain does!

 

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Taste, or rather, Smell of Home

Walking into my apartment last Thursday, I was elated by the fact my last class was cancelled and I had plenty of time to get ready for my flight to Paris. However, my mood was immediately soured when I opened the door to my room and smelt something a bit funky. Like a hound dog, I began crawling on the ground, following my nose to the source of the smell. When I got to where it was the strongest, there was nothing around besides a hardwood floor and my closet. I started sniffing the bottoms of my shoes, thinking maybe I stepped in dog poop that lingered on some soles. But there was no trace of anything anywhere. I was certain the smell was not in my head.

I came to the conclusion that one of the two cats that reside in our humble abode must have pooped in my room, all for the housekeeper to clean it up before I noticed, but not good enough to eradicate the smell. With this in mind, I began to pack because I had a flight to catch in a few hours.

But I just could not get that smell out of my nose. Surely, there must be something more. That is when I looked under the bed and saw my rug pushed up against the wall. I pulled the rug away and with it came cat poop aplenty, rendering the smell even stronger. I went to my senora to inform her of the “accident,” and that is when she told me I trapped the cat in my room that morning and that is when the cat must have made it’s mark.

This reminded me of a similar time back at home when my beloved Rainbow left a similar surprise on my bed… Don’t you just love animals?

The culprit

The former criminal from Colorado, Rainbow... They're creepily similar, no?

Thankfully, upon my return from Paris, all was cleaned up with no remnants of the accident. Needless to say, now I do not take my eyes off these fellows whenever I see them lurking near my door.

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Falling for France.

Parlez vous francais? I don’t but now I sure wish that I did.

I just got back from a life changing vacation in Paris. Now I know what you are thinking, how can 48 hours in one city really change your life? But when you go on a trip just because it seems like the right thing to do and come back reconfiguring the direction you’re taking just to live in that city someday, I’d say that that’s pretty life altering.

Such is the case with Paris, France. I know the story goes that most people go for a visit and fall in love, but I just did not buy into it. The truth is, I was only there for two days and thus so may have been blinded to the downfalls of the city, but for now, that is ok by me.

We got there on Thursday night and had hopes of sitting on the lawn of the gardens in front of the Eiffel Tower whilst sipping wine and watching the light show. That is until the train we were on to get to the city from the airport stopped at one station a few stops away from our destination, and then started to head in a direct path back to the airport (after we had already been on the train for about 45 minutes). In the end, our traveling time from Madrid to Paris ended up spanning 6 hours instead of 3 and we had to make a change of plans.

After we checked in to our two star hotel (livin’ in the lap of luxury), we took to the streets of Rue Cler to find any sort of food. That’s when we realized we weren’t in Spain anymore where meals are taken at 10, and so at 11:30, most places had already been shut down for the night. We managed to find one place that seemed happy to take our money despite the fact most of the chairs were already placed on the table and there was no one else looking to get a meal at that time. Since it was almost midnight at this point, breakfast sounded wonderful (but let’s be serious, when does breakfast not sound wonderful) and I got a cheese omelet that was accompanied with a salad and French fries. We decided to try the Apple Tartin which is a French pastry but I can’t say that I was the biggest fan. That we save for the crepes…

We then went back to our hotel which was actually in a really nice area, only about a fifteen minute walk to the Eiffel Tower, and really quiet. The only problem was that we were paying for a room with two twin beds for two people… And there were five of us. However, we busted out some James Bond stealthiness and managed to get by both nights without suspicion.

The next day we woke up, put our best walking shoes on, and embarked for the day, ready to see as much of the city as possible. We first took a cruise down the Seine River that was a perfect way to get us situated and show us the major sights. I remember taking this exact cruise when I came in the 8th grade but I know I appreciated it much more this time around.

 

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Jessie, Alessandro, Taylor and me on the cruise!

 

Then, we walked to the Notre Dame, with a stop along the way for some refreshing glace at a famous Parisian ice cream shop.

 

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Taylor and Jessie taking it all in...

 

In the 8th grade I also elected to go shopping over the Lourve (priorities, people!) so thought that I better go this time around. It is also free after 6 on Fridays which is nice, but it also makes for a madhouse. The Lourve itself can be a landmark, less alone all the artistic masterpieces that reside inside. There is no way you could ever cover everything (and still be in a good mood by the end of it) and since it was late already, we decided to see what we wanted to see and peace. We first went to Napoleon’s Compartments, then to the Mona Lisa and Venus statue.

When I first walked up to the Mona Lisa, I laughed. Now, I do feel bad for laughing at one of the most famous paintings in the world, but really, it’s underwhelming.

 

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Presenting... The Mona LIsa.

 

After the museum, we walked up the Champs d’Elysses to the Arc du Triomphe, grabbing some crepes along the way. The city really lights up after dark (I guess that’s why they call it the City of Lights?) and I loved the feeling you get with everyone hustling and bustling about.

Alessandro, Me, and Jessie in front of the Arc du Triomphe!

Then, we headed back to the Eiffel Tower for one of the light shows they do every hour on the hour. To say that we were exhausted after that is an understatement, and we all squeezed into our twin beds and went to bed!

 

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One of the hundreds of pictures I now have of the Eiffel Tower.

 

The next day, Taylor and Jessie had an early flight, and Alessandro was leaving on a train back to Switzerland, leaving me and Pat in France until our 7am flight on Sunday. Not going to lie, I was antsy with excitement and could not wait to spend another day in France. I woke up to a text message from my Dad telling me to go to Versailles if I can and it was nice outside. I looked out the window, and with blue skies aplenty, hopped on the metro for Versailles with my good friend Rick Steves in my bag to tell me what exactly to do in this city.

It seemed as if the palace was the most important sight so I went there with intentions to spend the three hours he deems necessary to take in it’s majesticness. But when I arrived, not only was it crowded, it cost 13.50 too much for my liking and instead of waiting in line to try to play the “18 and under card,” I took some pictures of the outside, and explored the gardens later on. I do not feel like I missed out on a thing.

 

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I just love this picture of the gates to Versailles

 

Instead, I took to the sidestreets and explored numerous shops, pastserries, and food stands to really soak up the feeling of the city. I absolutely loved everything about the feeling of Versailles and had the most wonderful meal at a small café near the main plaza. It was a salmon crepe and cidre that was made in France. Such a relaxing time to say the least.

 

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My favorite meal from France!

 

I headed back to Paris with hopes of making it to the Monmarttan which is the museum with all the Monet paintings (I LOVE Monet) but realized I would be rushing through by the time I got there, so instead, headed to the close Rodin Museum to see the Thinker and some of his other sculptures on display in a garden. Because it was windy outside, some of the gardens were closed, but that meant free entry, and after all, I really only had legitimate interest in seeing the Thinker, but the other sculptures were definitely interesting too.

 

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The Thinker

 

After, I wanted to go to the Sacre-Coeur church which apparently has beautiful views of the city but after exiting the metro, I realized that I was in a really cool neighborhood. It had a Soho-bohemian vibe with lots of cool boutiques, restaurants, and vintage stores that kept me entertained until I had to go meet up with Pat and his friend from home, Emily, for dinner!

She took us to this hole-in-the wall café where we had the BIGGEST salads that had lettuce, egg (they eat eggs with EVERYTHING), ham, potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, and I want to say that is it? It comes in a huge metal bowl that seems never ending, until you start to see the bottom of the bowl, and wonder how in the world that happened… We also had some sangria which was just as good as some that I have had in Spain. After, we could not resist dessert and I got the chocolate mousse that tasted just like brownie batter in mousse form. I was pretty sure there was no way I was going to make it out of the restaurant afterwards though due to a food coma. However, we rallied and headed for Emily’s friend’s apartment in another neighborhood. Eventually, Pat and me returned to the hotel to pick up our bags (which we just barely managed to claim due to the hotel closing up reception for the night) and caught a taxi to the airport. There, we “slept” from about 3:30-5:30 and were off in the air by 7am and I was back in my bed by 10am. Needless to say the time from about 3am-10am is a pretty big blur consisting of intermittent points of sleeping and being awake in the taxi, on the airport floor, on a chair at the check-in gate, on the plane, and on the metro home.

Funny schedule and not necessarily something I will ever want to repeat, but I am glad that I am safely typing this from my bed and not completely exhausted.

If you cannot tell, I am completely enamored by Paris and am dying to go back as soon as possible. I talked to my parents earlier today, telling them I want to switch out one of my classes next semester for French, they laughed, but I am not quite sure if they realize how serious I really am…

If anything, it will undoubtedly be added to my ever-expanding Bucket List that keeps growing by the day. For now, I shall finish my final imported French pastry and go to bed, dreaming of chocolate crepes and sidewalk cafes.

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