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The End

10 Jul

June FLEW by! I kind of knew it would. My work schedule changed to half days, my tutoring classes were ending one by one and, after teetering between staying part of the summer to work at a camp or going home to search for a job in PR, I finally bought my ticket home. It’s hard to believe it’s over and while I know I’ve been here awhile and have felt that way at times, it seems like I just got here.

The elementary-age Marisa would’ve told you that she was going to travel the world (and got to college UNC-Chapel Hill). The college-age Marisa was telling people that she was going overseas for a year after graduation (even though she didn’t have a way to do so until the end of her senior year). Turns out I was right. Even though I was pulled in two directions—staring a job and in NYC vs. working abroad—I am happy with my choice. I have gotten to go to places I’ve always dreamed of visiting, made some amazing friends, learn more of a foreign language and grow up a little.

Personal reflection aside, June has been a good month. I didn’t do any more traveling except for a half day trip to EL Palacio del Pardo. El Pardo is just outside of Madrid and is still a fully functioning palace. Franco made it his personal residence while he ruled out of fear of possible assassination if he lived in the Royal Palace in Madrid. Now kings, queens and presidents stay there when they visit. The tour guide told us that recent U.S. presidents have had to rent out entire hotels in the city rather than stay at El Pardo because they travel with between 500 and 800 people! Somehow that didn’t surprise me very much. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but my favorite part was the 6-foot tall French chandeliers that hung in almost every room of the palace.

El Pardo, there must be a fire place in almost every room!

Other than that and job searching, my last month in Madrid was filled with hanging out, drinks and tapas, despiertas (goodbye parties) and a little rebajas (sales!) shopping. Now that summer is starting, there are tons of fairs around the city and people are making regular weekend trips to all the beautiful beaches around Spain. It might be kind of nice to be here for the summer, but I am excited to go home and to have air conditioning! Farewell, Madrid!

XO

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The past month

29 Jun

So….it’s been awhile, huh? I kind of dropped the ball this past month, but with good reason. My boyfriend was here just about the entire month of May, so I traveled and hung out with him rather than blogging as often. Since he left, my to do list has looked something like this:

  1. Search for jobs.
  2. Apply for jobs.
  3. Find a job.
  4. Do whatever it is I do here while searching and applying for jobs.

So far, I have only completed numbers one, two and four. (Know anyone hiring?!) I have faith that number three is just around the corner, though. (And if not, I can always come back to Spain next year.)

Apart from the hours of job searching, which hasn’t really been too bad, I’ve been savoring my last month abroad.  I took my two last trips to Paris and Gran Canaria, Canary Islands while Beau was here. It was my second time visiting Paris (I’ve been before with my mom), but the city is so big and the Eiffel Tower is so awesome that it doesn’t matter how many times anyone goes. We could have gone to several of the one hundred museums, but instead we took the advice of our friends and Rick Steve and walked the city…literally almost the entire thing! Haha.

The Eiffel Tower all lit up!

Our favorite thing during our short weekend in Paris was sitting on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, drinking wine (if you forget your own bottle or run out, guys are there to sell you more!), hanging out and watching the tower’s light show. We did climb (by stairs, there are 669 of them!) to the second level the first night we were there to check out the view of the city and Seine River at night. We also managed to visit the Notre Damme, Arc of  Triumph, the palace courtyard and the Louvre gardens during our two-day walk-a-thon.

Beautiful stained-glass windows of the Notre Damme.

 

The entrance to the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa.

 

Courtyard of columns in front of the Royal Palace and gardens.

 The week after Paris, we went to the Canary Islands. Our weekend in Las Palmas was definitely more of a vacation (relaxed) than a trip (site-see frienze). The beach near our hostel was beautiful, the weather was perfect and the ocean was freezing. Gran Canaria didn’t look as much like the islands in the Caribbean as I expected. There are tons of mountains and cliffs and some of the beaches are more rocky or even have black sand! We spent one day seeing some of the city and another on the beach. We attempted one planned activity, but it failed, haha. I guess it was just meant for us to relax! (Which was fine with us after our trip to Paris :))

Paradise!

XO

Valencia

30 Apr

Okay, so the entire east coast of Spain is totally different from the middle and southern half of the country. I mentioned that in my Barcelona post and it’s definitely true after visiting Valencia and Alicante during Semana Santa (aka Easter Break). Valencia was Laura and I’s first stop…CORRECTION: technically it was our second stop. We accidentally bought tickets to “Valencia Don Juan”, a pueblo in Leon…to the north of Madrid…land-locked. (Who knew there were two Valencias and that Alsa buses don’t go to the Valencia on the Mediterranean coast? Not us!) We noticed this after the confusion of finding our bus, getting on and passing El Escorial, which is north of Madrid, as well. Luckily our bus driver was extremely nice and called his pal to pick us up in the middle of nowhere and take us back to Madrid.

"Where are we?!"

 Anyway, Valencia is probably one of the coolest cities I’ve been to. I mean, which other city has turned a drained river bed into a park? Or built a giant ship-wrecked pirate as a playground? Or where museums look like the set of Star Wars? Or where paella for 10 or more people is served in pans as big as a table for four? All of this was in Valencia plus a beautiful beach, big boardwalks and the typical old city center and cathedral. The air was definitely fresher in Valencia and it made me miss the water a lot!

I REALLY wanted to play on this!A bridge and aquarium are straight ahead and the science museum is on the left...all museums look like this, right?This isn't even the biggest pan of paella we saw!

 

All museums look like this, right?

 

This isn't even the biggest pan of paella we saw!

 Our favorite thing about Valencia, though, were the random Spanish friends we made. (More often than not these were friendly old men. Haha)! We chatted with one nice old man while waiting for an hour on the bus and flirted a little another with our waiter that agreed to serve us the paella we wanted despite our many dietary restrictions (I’m vegetarian, Laura is allergic to shell-fish). Our new BEST friend was our bus driver. He only was our driver once, but we must have made an impression because when he saw us walking the next day he stopped his bus, honked and waved. (P.S. He looked like Jake Gyllenhaal!) I love vacationing in cities with nice, laid back people!

XO

SanSe

26 Apr
 I remember saying that El Escorial was the best girls’ trip ever, but I think my weekend in San Sebastian topped it. (O.K., bothwere awesome, so I guess El Escorial was the best day trip and San Sebastian was the best weekend trip.) San Sebastian is on the north coast of Spain and the beach is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen! It looks like a horseshoe made up of the two mountains on each end of an arch-shaped strip of sand and one more island mountain in the middle. We took a bright red cable car up to the top of one mountain got breathtaking views…and ice cream.
 
(From Left) Laura, Amy, Paige and myself in front of the beach.
From one of the mountains at the end of the beach.

Speaking of food, the cuisine in San Sebastian actually is the best in Spain. A friend of mine told me some of the best chefs work in northern, coastal cities because of the tourism and French influence. I didn’t fact check this, but I believe her because everything we ate was delicious! The food in Spain has just been O.K. I haven’t been blown away by much except for good paella, brava sauce and aioli sauce. SanSe is apparently famous for its pinchos, aka small servings of gourmet food, which were piled on every other bar’s counter. I loved anything and everything with mushroom sauce!

The old part of the city was great for bar-and-pincho hopping, which phased into just drinking at a pirate bar that was blaring hard rock music while playing Taylor Swift on CMT with Captain Hook’s look-alike as the bar tender and John Travolta’s look-alike as our new friend…??…whatever Spain. LOL! After that bar we went to a couple of clubs, neither of which charged a cover. (Thank you, SanSe!) Regardless of where we went, there were people all over the streets, lots of bars, the usual lack of an open container law, and everything was walkable.

Why not?

In addition to a beautiful beach and entertaining night life, the shopping was comparable to that of Amsterdam, which has had the best shopping of anywhere I’ve been so far! There are a lot of boutiques and shops in the old city of SanSe that are different from the usual Zara and H&M. (Not that I’m hating on either of those stores at all!) Basically, I highly suggest San Sebastian to anyone looking for an awesome vacation!

Last minute shopping. Not even the little bit of rain we got could put a damper on our trip!

XO

Barcelona

31 Mar

In two words, Barcelona was…just okay. Don´t get me wrong, it’s an amazing city! It just didn’t blow me away, and I think that is what I was expecting. I have heard that Barcelona is the place to be, even over Madrid, and that its proud natives weren’t all that friendly. I found both of those claims to be false.

I didn’t expect Barcelona to be as big as it was, not that I had any basis for that assumption.  The city isn’t just big, though, it’s sprawling! Everything is kind of spread out, which made it a little bit inconvenient to see all of the things we wanted to see (not that the weather was on our side in that case either). As a whole, the city is way more modern than the other places I’ve visited in Spain. The Gaudí houses are awesome!! As is a lot of the other architecture in Barcelona. It’s definitely different from the traditional Spanish buildings and charming, old city centers everywhere else I’ve been so far.

Casa Mila, probably the most famous Gaudi house. So cool!

In front of another Gaudi building.

The Gaudí houses are built right into the city and some are even used for businesses and apartments. Walking down the Block of Discord is definitely a lot to take in. The big sidewalks and artistic details are beautiful! The allies off of Las Ramblas, one of the main streets in the center, had quite plazas, hidden restaurants and a great open-air market and north of Plaza Catalunya had great shopping, but I think my favorite area of the city was the older, medieval part. I guess I love old architecture because it is so different from what you see in the United States.

In front of Plaza de Cataluyna.

The people in Barcelona proved the rumors I had heard wrong. (Maybe the rumors come from the rivalry between Madrid and Barca? Ha.) I thought everyone was nice and helpful and as far as I could tell, everyone spoke to me in Spanish not Catalan. It probably helped that we stayed with the aunt and uncle of Beau´s friend who couldn´t have been more hospitable to us!

I wish we had been able to hang out in Parc Güell longer…and in the daylight! The park is so far away from everything else! By the time we got there the sun had finished setting and you couldn´t see all the details that make the park so Gaudí. (You can make out even less in the pictures.) Also on my list was to see a burlesque show at La Molina, but that was more expensive than planned. Oh well, I guess that gives me a reason to go back! 🙂

Almost Moulin Rouge!

XO

Mallorca

26 Mar

In one word, Beau and I’s trip to Mallorca was relaxing. I’ve heard that Palma, Mallorca is a huge “spring beak” destination for Europeans, but since it’s still a little before season it was pretty calm while we were there. I hadn’t been to the beach for months before Cadiz and Mallorca, so needless to say I was excited to be on an island whether it was hot or not.

Sand, ocean, ridiculous sandcastle...I love the beach!

Mallorca is beautiful. We stayed a little outside of Palma, the main city on the island, and our hostel was about ten steps from the beach. Palma itself has most of the perks of a big Spanish city, like good shopping, bars, pedestrian walkways, amazing architecture, a huge cathedral and a McDonald’s, but it’s all on a smaller scale. We hung out in the city for a full day and let ourselves get lost on back streets and in different neighborhoods. While we were wondering we stumbled upon the cutest Sifoneria with local wine, some of the best I’ve ever tasted! The owner let us try several before we each picked a different red wine and had our own bottle poured for us out of barrels. Each bottle was less than 2 euro! (Gotta love that about Spain, haha!)

In front of the cathedral in Palma.

The Sifoneria. Notice the prices, they are per bottle!

We spent our second day in Mallorca on the other side of the island in Porto Cristo visiting Cuevas del Drach (caves of the dragon). It rained a little that day so it ended up being a positive to hang out underground, ha. The caves were incredible! And, as if it wasn’t cool enough to walk around a HUGE cave, Cuevas del Drach is home to one of the largest  underground lakes in the world and there was a classical music performance on rowboats lit up with white Christmas lights. Awesome.

In the cave (where we were not supposed to take pictures, haha.)

On a rowboat on underwater Lake Martel.

 My favorite things about Mallorca were the Sifoneria (seriously ask me where this place is if you like wine and are going to Palma!) and the people. Everyone was so nice! I would definitely go again!!

XO

Carnival!

8 Mar

Last weekend was the beginning of Carnival in Cadiz, which I hear is one of the largest in the world, and I was there! It was a quick trip but I got to check a lot of things off of my “Things To Do While In Spain” list.

#1- Botellon. This is the name for groups of people drinking in the streets. Younger people do it in Madrid, Sevilla and wherever all the time, but apparently the police are cracking down on it. (But judging by how blatant and often they are, probably not!) Saturday night is Cadiz was, simply put, one ENORMOUS, all day botellon, DJ included. Check!

Botellon/block party around 6pm...it got much more crowded later.

#2- Go camping. I have random and somewhat frequent desires to do outdoorsy things. Hiking is one of them, which I have done while and Spain, and camping is another. Like every other time I have gone camping, it was not all that rustic. We did squeeze five people in one tent (great for staying warm at night), and there was no grill or electricity, but there were bathrooms, showers and a cafe next door to the camp ground. Not to mention, the beach was right across the street! Check!

Our 'hotel room' for the weekend!

#3- Road trip. I knew I wouldn’t get to go on a road trip unless I found a Spaniard to drive. Luckily, my friend is dating a Spanish guy! The trip from Madrid to Cadiz was a typical 6.5 hour, picnic dinner, Cosmo-reading, play-trivia-on-an-iPhone road trip and it was so much fun! On the way back we made a couple of impromptu stops in Rota and Jerez. Rota is pretty beach resort town where we stopped for cones of fried seafood (YUM!). Jerez is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! Nothing was really open since it was Sunday afternoon, but I would definitely go back t visit the Alcazar, cathedral and Tio Pepe winery!

Outside of the Alcazar in Jerez.

Basilica in Jerez.

 #4- Go to a Carnival. There are several carnivals in Spain in the spring. I’ve asked a few Spaniards why they celebrate and no one had a definite answer, so I’ve concluded it’s like Halloween or St. Patrick’s day in the U.S. – just another excuse to party! Spaniards take their costumes seriously, too. There weren’t many sexy secretaries or naughty nurses (and the ones I did see were probably American girls), but there were a lot of cross-dressing men. Most people were either super creative or had bought full on, head-to-toe get-ups. Basically, Carnival in Cadiz is the equivalent to Halloween in the states if you multiplied Franklin Street by 100. Check!

Amy (left) as a white board and an octopus with bush...because why not?

Needless to say, it was a great trip! Besides the day drinking and block party (which definitely got more and more sloppy and dirty the later it got, LOL), the city of Cadiz is right on the coast with palm trees and old architecture. Breathtaking!

Part of a huge church in the center of the city.

Literally RIGHT on the coast!

XO