Sunday, September 22, 2013

Round 2: Madrid!

So here I am, 3 months after my last post, newly settled in Madrid after being in the city less than a week. I spent the summer in the US visiting friends and family. We had Grandpa's memorial service at my mom's house. I went to California, Florida, Missouri, Michigan... I even went on a cruise with 40 extended family members to Central America. I partied hard at Dragon*Con. I stayed busy, that's for sure. I think it's important when you're far away to make the effort whenever possible to see the people you love. Not everyone can just hop over the ocean to see you for a week.
Cosplaying as Rosalind Lutece from Bioshock Infinite this year at D*Con
Now I'm in Madrid. I can't believe I live here. It really hasn't sunk in yet. I see things on the news about Real Madrid players or the Prince of Asturias or some other famous person walking around such and such area in Madrid, and I think...wait, that's where I live! Walking around, seeing the Palacio Real, the museums, the boulevards, all the nightlife, it's all surreal. I still feel like a tourist passing through.
I live near this!
I'm so lucky to have received a placement here to work. This year I'll be working in an elementary school, so a big change from last year, one I'm actually looking forward to actually. High school was pretty hard to teach, and I honestly wouldn't mind hanging out with students who still are awed by authority and who still think singing in class is fun. I went to the school last week to meet the other teachers and the other assistant teachers like myself. There are 2 other girls working in the same school as me which I think will be a nice change from last year as well.

So, I arrived in Madrid Tuesday morning and hit the ground running, well as best as I could with all my bags on my back (lots of the metro stops don't have!). I stayed at a hostel in the center for three nights, each day scheduling at least one apartment viewing and spending the rest of my day reading through listings. There were loads of other people in the hostel doing the same, and I definitely bonded with some people going through the same difficult process.

After seeing 5 apartments in 3 days, I decided to call it quits. I chose an apartment with 2 really cool roommates, a great price, a double bed, with good metro access to both the center and to work. No, I'm not in the dead center of the city, but I actually prefer that. As cool as the center of Madrid is, it's really loud and crazy, and I can't take that all the time. So, I chose an area that's really green and residential.
My roommates threw me a nice bienvenidos fiesta the night I moved in, so I got to meet a lot of their friends. All really nice. They're teaching me how to dance salsa, bachata, and merengue better than I could have ever hoped. It's a good time.

Hanging out with friends! My summer residence right behind me... kidding.
And the best part? I still have one more week of vacation before starting school!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Flash Ending

Oh, hi! So, my time in Valladolid has ended. It came so quickly in a rush of fun and unfortunate events. To briefly recap, my mom came to visit me and got to see my life here in Valladolid, including where I work. I went to Porto, Portugal a month ago. The weather was incredible: the first truly good weather of 2013 for me. I got to wear shorts! Success. I also got to practice my Portuguese. It is so much more fun to speak than Spanish. Sorry!

View from our AirBnB apartment. Not too shabby. ;)

I then had a weird health issue pop up out of nowhere. Something neurological and thankfully not serious. Unfortunately it took a week of my time spent under hospital arrest to find that out. So, the year really ended in an abrupt, anti-climactic fashion. I was working, working, working, absent for a stressful week, and two days of work later, BAM, finished!

Goodbye Mojados!
Lacking closure, I immediately departed for Sicily with Matt. We had been reading up on the island thanks to some really helpful Lonely Planet PDFs (a dream on my iphone), and to help set the mood we watched the second and third installations of the Godfather series. I was definitely excited to go, especially after getting a taste of sunny, beachy, summer weather in Portugal.

That's what I'm talkin' about. In Mondello outside of Palermo.
Sicily is incredible. After a week there I felt like I could've easily stayed two more; I mean there's so much to see. We narrowed down our itinerary to three cities: Palermo, Agrigento, Syracuse, back to Palermo to flight back home.

Being in Sicily definitely made me appreciate Spain more. It felt like some strange mix between Brazil's infrastructure and general cleanliness and Spain's wealth of culture and history. Needless to say, I got used to almost being run over my cars and scooters several times a day, and now my jaywalking skills are quite impressive.

Old palace in shambles. Sketchy? Beautiful? Both?
I ate pasta, pizza, and gelato everyday. I had a cappuccino whenever I could stand drinking something hot in intense summer weather. I ate granites (like the best sorbet + slushie in the world) in as many flavors as I could manage: my favorites now being limone (lemon) and mandorla (almond).

Frida Pizza in Palermo rocked my world!
Had to inhale this right before the ballet. No problem.

Sweet ricotta inside! Delicious.
I saw the ballet Giselle in Palermo's Teatro Massimo (where the climax of the Godfather 3 occurs). I saw Greek ruins 2500 years old and even got to climb on some of them!
Teatro Massimo. Much prettier auditorium than in Vienna!
I did not get sunburned thanks to my OCD sunscreen usage...Nor robbed or run over. I didn't miss a single bus trip. I did get frustrated though, a lot! Thanks Matt for keeping things in perspective for me.

Anyway, Palermo was a crazy experience of a city. It was run down and dirty, far more than Porto, but it was still really charming and beautiful. We spent three nights there and even made it to a nearby beach Mondello for one afternoon. We also witnessed no less than three one day!!

Palermo's Cathedral
We went to Agrigento next (about a 2 hour and change bus ride) where we spent just one night and hurriedly saw the Valley of the Temples in intense heat. I had a great time regardless! Agrigento has a cute, refreshingly calm (after Palermo!) historic downtown. We stayed in the nicest bed and breakfast of the trip (hostels being a rarity in Sicily) Camere de Sud where we had freshly baked croissants in our flavor of choice for breakfast. Chocolate, almond, pistachio...oh, just a few things.

Temple of Concord, 5th century BC
Syracuse was my favorite stop of the trip. It was harder to get to from Agrigento than we had planned (no direct buses, had to stop in Catania), but it worked out really well! We were there 2 nights and got to see Ortygia, where we stayed, and the Archaeological park and museum. Ortygia is magical: cute shops, great architecture, right on the water, ruins of a temple to Apollo a block from where we stayed...

Went swimming here one morning

I can't wait to go back! Oh, and did I mention that I'll be working in Madrid starting in September? Big city life here I come! Until then I'll be bouncing around the US to spend some time with friends and family. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Budapes(h)t and Wien part 2

As I mentioned before, getting to Vienna was easier than I could have ever hoped for. The bus station was just a few stops down the metro line, and the bus even had wifi. I didn't really take advantage of the technology though, choosing instead to PASS OUT for three hours straight. Sleeping is one thing I do quite well.

It was lightly snowing and loads colder than I had thought so I headed straight for the hostel upon arriving. I stayed at my MOjO vie for three nights, and it was seriously the nicest hostel I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. I mean, look!

Awesomely decorated
Anyway, I head out as soon as I got my bearings and some idea of a plan for the next few days. Vienna has a nice layout. Most things worth seeing are within a nice ring so once you're in the center of the city getting around is pretty easy.

The Opera was amazing. I stood in line a couple of hours before Fidelio started one evening, and after paying just 3 euro I was in! If you're interested in doing this, check out the blog Likely Impossibilities. Amazing resource! Anyway, most tourists left after 30-40 minutes of the show, so I had a lot of room up in the gallerie, as well as a screen with subtitles (in English!) in sight. It was an incredible show, and I cried. Don't miss it.

Asked someone to take my photo, hooray!
Waiting to get into the galerie
Other favorites were the museums, especially those with a sizable Klimt collection. I went to the Upper Belvedere, home to The Kiss and Judith among other works, and the Leopold in the MuseumsQuartier, which is famous for having "the largest Schiele collection in the world." Both great museums!

My snowiest day, at the Belvedere

I also made my way out to Schönbrunn on my one and only sunny day. The palace was nice, but I honestly liked Versailles and the Palacio Real in Madrid much better. The gardens and the Gloriette were really pretty though, even in the snow and general dead of winter.


Coffee and strudel break at the Gloriette

I also went to the Naschmarkt for lunch, a street market stretching for several blocks with fresh food and loads of restaurants. I picked a general Asian place that was pretty packed and had the best bento box in recent memory.

8 euro for all this. Yum!

I really liked Vienna, but I think overall I prefer Budapest. I felt really overwhelmed in Vienna with just three days. There are so many museums!! It was also pretty expensive, especially after having just been in Budapest. But the food and the coffee house culture were amazing.

Favorite food.
 Unfortunately as I was packing up at 5am to return to Budapest, I found out my grandpa had passed away. It was really hard and shocking to hear the news on the road like that, especially alone, but honestly there's never a good time to hear that kind of thing. I know he hated his condition towards the end, how he wasn't as mobile and strong as he was just a year before, so I think it's for the best.

Cheers to you grandpa. I love you!

Last time I talked to him, on his 89th birthday!

Laughing about something or other! This past Christmas.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thoughts on Solo Travel

My recent trip to Budapest and Vienna was the longest trip I've taken on my own. I was just gone for a week, but I really learned a lot about solo travel.

It's amazing to think how nervous I was before leaving! I traveled on my own in Brazil before, so this trip wasn't an entirely new experience. I can't really explain my anxiety. It disappeared as soon as I got going though. Starting is always the hardest part.

I wanted to make a list of pros and cons about traveling alone, and then you can tell me if you agree!

Things I like about solo travel:

1. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. Want to sleep past noon? Done. Want to get up at 5am to stand in line for some palace? Great! Want to stop for a coffee every other hour? Perfect. It's your decision, as you are your only company.

I had lots of coffee and pastries...

2. You're forced to think more. When traveling with others, sometimes people just go along with what others want to do. No planning required. You just join another group and follow their lead. When alone, however, you have to do all the leg work involved in planning a trip (ie tons): accomodation, transportation, budgeting, things to do/see... you name it. And, since you're the one doing all this work, you learn a lot more about where you're going!

3. You make friends. When most people picture a person traveling alone, they really focus on that second word: ALONE. Honestly, you're alone as much as you want to be. On my trip, I was pretty much on my own during the day as I had a lot of specific museums and things I wanted to check out. At night though, I met a ton of people thanks to a couple of great hostels (check out The Loft and Bubble in Budapest and my MOJOvie in Vienna), so I always had something to do if I felt like being social. When people travel together, normally they're content with the company they already have. There's no real "need" to reach out to others. But, when alone, I found myself talking to anyone who would halfway look at me.

Things I don't like about solo travel:

1. There's no one there to tell you when to stop. So, sure, you can do whatever you want. It's your time and your vacation. No need to compromise with a second party. Because of this, strangely enough, I found myself pushing myself to the limits of what I could do each day. Walking for miles upon miles, seeing tons of museums, just really trying to do as much as possible. And while I did see a ton of things, towards the end of my trip I got really exhausted. I think if I travel longer term in the future I'm going to have to settle into a calmer pace so I don't burn out.

2. Going out can be awkward. So what happens when the sun goes down and you haven't met anybody? I have no idea! One night after going to the opera in Vienna, I really felt like going out to get a drink. Except I had no one to go with. I went up to several neat looking bars, peered in the window, and ended up walking away sheepishly. At least I got a lot of sleep that night.

One of the nights I did go out I was the first to arrive home, quite early, at 4:30am...

3. The transience of it all.  As amazing as it is meeting new people everyday, it's pretty tiring. There are always people coming and going. While the constant flow of people provides great insight into the larger world around you (always good), it's still easy to think, "if I died over here in this dark alleyway, no one within 200 miles would give a damn." Some nights I met 10 new people. I stopped trying to remember names after a point unless I made some personal connection. It's just too hard! So, by the end, I really started to miss genuine friendships and my family. While being a stranger can be liberating, in the end, I'd prefer the company of those who really love me.

4. Having to ask to have your picture taken. It gets old. And I suck at those handheld self-portraits (see below). Believe me I tried.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Budapes(h)t and Wien part 1

This past week I went on my longest solo trip to date. I was gone a week and went to see Budapest and Vienna. It was amazing. Hands down. And since I have so many cool photos and things to say about the trip I'm going to divide up the entries. Easier that way.

To start, I took a bus from Valladolid to Madrid at 4am on Saturday March 30th to catch my RyanAir flight at 9:30. Despite the bus breaking down, I got there with time to spare! Small miracles. I arrived in Budapest and made my way using public transportation to my hostel. It took about an hour to get from the airport to the city since I had to first take a bus and then the metro. I had written out all the directions beforehand though, so I arrived at The Loft hostel without any problems.

Hostel building

The hostel was on the top floor of an old apartment building and, true to its name, featured lofted ceilings. It was a really unique, small place, with murals on all the walls and lots of personal interactions with the staff. I met a lot of people there, which was great for my plans to see Budapest's "ruin pubs" and general nightlife.

Did I mention I paid 12 euro a night?

I set off pretty soon after arriving to ambitiously walk the 2+ miles (didn't realize it was so far!) from my hostel up Andrassy Avenue to get to the Szeechenyi baths. On my way I stopped at the Terror House museum, a building where the Hungarian Nazi party and later Communist party imprisoned, tortured, and killed many people. Seeing that alone in the rain made for a pretty heavy experience, so finishing up my night relaxing in the baths was a perfect plan.

This pool had a whirlpool current in the middle which was really fun to get into, if hazardous for those around you. Sorry old man!

My next two days in Budapest consisted of sightseeing mostly on my own in the rain. My favorite things to see were the Parliament, Matthias Church, Vajdahunyad Castle, the sculptures of shoes along the Danube, and the new Helmut Newton exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum. On my one sunny day I went on a free walking tour that focused on Budapest's communist past. Really interesting!

Terrible handheld self portrait in front of the Parliament

I found lots of things to see rather haphazardly. While I was strolling around the Castle District waiting for the Matthias Church to open (see photo below), I stumbled across the labyrinth of Buda Castle. Knowing how much I love caves, of course I went in. It was really creepy and dark, and it turned out that Dracula had been imprisoned there for years! No wonder I found that place. Good to know that my old love for vampires still governs my subconscious...

Matthias Church is now my favorite church.

Memorial to those killed by the Arrow Cross
 I came back to Budapest after spending a few days in Vienna. When I bought tickets, it was cheaper to fly out of Budapest from Madrid. I paid 150 euro round trip! And getting there via bus was easy, quick (just 3 hours), and cheap (um, 15 euro round trip?). I spent the day seeing that Newton photography exhibit and strolling around the city looking for second hand shops.

Amazing exhibit featuring his private work, self published magazines, and editorial fashion work

I liked Budapest so much! It was mostly pretty cheap thanks to the Forint (300HUF about 1 euro), and I was told by the hostel owners to not pay more than 500HUF for a beer. The food was good, people were very nice, and I just loved the spirit of the city. It was kind of old and run down but at the same time incredibly beautiful. And with people creating innovative spaces out of once abandoned buildings, I thought the city had a lot to offer! I'd go back tomorrow if I could.

More to come about Vienna... in the mean time, have some more photos. :)

Fisherman's bastion and Matthias Church

Restaurant for dinner one night

Vajdahunyad Castle

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Finally, break!

Today is my first real day of our Holy Week (Semana Santa) break. We get about 11 days off, so Saturday I'm going to Budapest for a few days and then I'll go to Vienna probably via bus. I'm pretty excited! Yes, I'm traveling alone, but I think it will be nice. There are so many things I want to do and see that even if I don't meet anyone in hostels or along the way (highly doubtful) I'll be so busy I doubt I'll get lonely at any point. I'm going to try and go to the Opera in Vienna via the cheap "standing tickets" available hours before a show and see as many museums as my budget will allow!

View Larger Map
I've spent the last month budgeting for this trip. I think I did a pretty good job for only deciding where to go and buying tickets a month ago. My flight is roundtrip Madrid-Budapest, so I'll have to backtrack a bit from Vienna, but the plane tickets to and from Vienna were so expensive! I paid 150 euros for the roundtrip to and from Budapest. I'm staying in hostels the whole week, and the cheap prices in Budapest help make up for the pricey rates in Vienna: 12 euro a night in Hungary vs 26 in Austria!! I've also been trying to save money in general by not eating out so much or shopping. I think I did pretty well on that front.

Unfortunately, many of my private classes canceled on me this month so I lost a lot of money. This week I lost 80 euro due to class cancellations! I can only say I'm lucky that this isn't a normal occurrence. And thankfully I did add a few more hours of classes this month to make more money, so in the end it probably evened out.

But for the here and now, since most of my friends have already left town I'm busying myself watching Valladolid's Holy Week celebrations. Easter is a huge deal here, and all week there have been processions around town. These are basically somber parades with people dressed in robes with point hoods carrying a large, incredibly ornate "float" with Jesus or Mary on top.

Many of the processions have been canceled this week because it's been raining nonstop here. Today, Jueves Santo, is one of the busiest days of the week. In the newspaper there were about 9 processions listed, some starting after midnight! I went to one this morning that was really neat. There was even a choir that sang in various plazas along the procession route.

Singing to the Virgin
Waiting for a procession to start. Excuse the paleness.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Past Ten Days

After a rather dead month, mostly spent in bed napping or being somewhat sick, dad and Beckie came to visit. They just left yesterday after an ambitious 10 day trip across Spain. Matt and I met them in Barcelona a week ago. We had a stellar break thanks to Carnival. I'm talking a 5 day weekend! It was a great trip. I'd been there twice before, once with mom ages ago and a second time when I was studying in Valencia. I thought it was one of my favorite cities in Spain before, and this visit just confirmed that.

La Seu Cathedral

From the top of the Sagrada Familia

We went to a Barcelona game against Getafe. Shakira and her new baby were also in attendance, and Pique even dedicated a goal to them! Bah, cute. We also saw the Sagrada Familia, which after seven years looks a lot better! When I first went with mom the interior was hardly finished. I remember peeking through scaffolding to get a glimpse of the stained glass windows. Now, the inside is almost completely done. It looked really amazing.

Great seats!

To paraphrase Matt: why can't more of the world look like this?

We mostly just wandered around Barcelona. Matt and I were staying in an apartment in the Gothic area, so there was tons to see. El Born and La Ribera were just a few minutes walk away too. I found great shops in El Born that were way out of my price range, an incredible creperie with sangria made in house from cava (Spanish champagne) in the Gótic area, and some really neat bars. There were tons of people in costume at night due to Carnival, so it made Barcelona even more festive and quirky than I had remembered it.

Ham, goat cheese, arugula, and honey!

Stumbled across a Carnival parade in El Born

Matt and I flew back to Valladolid last Tuesday since we had to work the next day, and dad and Beckie rented a car and drove up to San Sebastian. It was a lovely short work week for me (just two days!), and then I was back to traveling. Dad arrived in Valladolid Thursday evening, just in time for the cheap tapas Thursday deals around town and a quick drink at one of my favorite bars. The next morning we headed out for Salamanca. The weather was perfect! We saw a ton of things, and thanks to one of the teachers I work with who lives there (talk about a commute) we had loads of recommendations. My favorite moments were climbing the Clerencía towers and eating at a take-away coffee place called Pan Cake. I had the most amazing chocolate volcano cake there for only 1.50 euro that blew my mind.

Plaza Mayor with Dad

Actually climbed up La Clerecía this time

So gorgeous

We saw more the next morning before driving to Segovia where we had a whirlwind couple of hours to see the Cathedral and more importantly the Alcazar. It's a really neat castle/palace dating back to the 12th century. Dad and I climbed to the top of the towers just in time to see the sun set on the town. It was an incredible view with all the buildings glowing a vibrant orange. Definitely worth the cramped, vertigo inducing climb up the spiral staircase.

Talk about good timing

Inlaid crossbow in the Alcazar

Then to Madrid! We arrived in Madrid late Saturday and went out for tapas. On Sunday I finally got to see the interior of the Royal Palace, and it was incredible. From seeing the world's only surviving Stradivarius quartet, to Charles V's sets of armor (spent waaaayyyy too much time in there), to the dead body (called a "relic") of a saint from centuries ago, it was one of the most awesome things I've seen in Spain. Not sure why it took me three + Madrid visits to get to it. I think I was distracted by all the art...can you blame me?

the Royal Palace rocked my world

I took a fast train home after the palace. It was hard saying goodbye to dad and Beckie, but we had such an awesome time! I can't think how it could have been better.

And this weekend I might be going to Portugal? How long can I keep this travel pace up? Let's find out!