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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

French Fries,Waffles and Beer

24 May

Northern Europe must be my kind of place because so far the people there are serious about their french fries! I was already impressed after the cones and plates of fries piled high topped with ketchup and mayonnaise. (I was also surprised that I liked mayonnaise on my fries.) So, that was the first thing Beau and I tried when we got to Bruges, Belgium. The mayonnaise was just O.K. so we were a little let down. That didn’t stop us to getting fries a second time, and that’s when we found “samurai” sauce (aka super spicy mayo-based dip). It was AMAZING! And it is the reason why we ate two large servings of french fries with samurai sauce both days we were there. (We split them…so that’s just one a person…definitely less unhealthy than two each.)

Day two, serving number three.

 Belgium is known for a few other foods, which we also tried. The chocolate was super rich and you can find every type and flavor under the sun in any of the 100 chocolate shops within a five-mile radius of the center. The waffles were to die for! I’ve had waffles with nutella (in Florence) and it was good, but the waffles in Bruges blew them out of the water! They were so delicious that we turned around and bought another one from the same shop as soon as we finished eating the first one. (Luckily, there was a different attendant at the window, haha.)

As good as all the food was, I can’t forget to talk about the beer. We visited a brewery the first day we were there where I found my new favorite beer, Brugse Zot. The brewery, De Halve Maan- I definitely suggest going, you get a beer with your tour!, seemed small but went on forever. It was cool to learn some of the history and see how beer is made, but the best part was definitely trying the beer. We tried a few more Belgium beers throughout the weekend and found another really good one, Leffe. These are probably the only two not light beers I actually like.

Hops home-grown in Bruges

 

Real beer that actually tastes good!

 We didn’t just eat and drink while we were in Bruges. My favorite thing we did was ride bikes through the countryside. Not only did it burn off the extra calories from all the french fries, waffles and beer (hopefully!), it was beautiful! The sky, windmills and fields looked like postcards! We biked through two tiny towns outside of Bruges until our butts were sore, had a picnic lunch and found a windmill that was still used to grind wheat into flower. All for only the 6 euros it cost to rent a bike for the day!

This windmill is open to the public so we got to climb around inside and see how flour is made!

 

We biked through towns, fields and tree-lined trails

 

So pretty it almost doesn't look real.

 We opted to go to Bruges rather than the bigger city of Brussels thanks to my trusty Rick Steve’s guide book, and I’m so glad we took his advice!

XO

Alicante

17 May

FINALLY sand, sun and bikinis! Laura and I had wanted to spend most of our vacation on the beach and while it was just a little too windy and cold in Valencia and not possible in Florence, we got a full day on the beach in Alicante! It was just like summer and convinced me that I should probably live by the beach one day.

Yay!

 Chillin’ on the beach was the perfect way to end a week of traveling, especially considering our nearly empty wallets! (The beach is free, as well as the lounge chairs and umbrellas on it.) The town itself had ruins of a castle perched on a cliff above the city and a few cute shops and cafes in the old center, but not too much else. If you’re just looking for a weekend to have fun and relax on a beautiful beach, Alicante is a great choice.

View of the Mediterranean Sea from the top of the castle.

 We couch surfed in Alicante, as we did in Valencia, and had a great host (Thanks, Roberto!). His place was across the street from the water and he was extremely hospitable. (Coffee on the terrace looking at the water after waking up at noon? Yes please!) We had good experiences everywhere we surfed, so I definitely recommend it for anyone else with a nearly empty wallet, haha.

Apparently there is a huge party in Alicante in June for a week straight, if anyone is interested… 🙂

XO

Back to the Land that I LOVE

7 May

Yes, Italy! Laura and I’s next stop during Semana Santa was Florence. It’s the fourth city I’ve visited in Italy only a month after my trip with Beau. My general rule while here has been to try not to repeat countries and cities since there is so much still to see, but I can’t stay away from Italy. Going to Florence only reaffirmed that I am in love with everything about that country and absolutely MUST retire there one day…maybe with my own bed & breakfast.

Every city in Italy has had a homey and laid-back feeling with a hint of complete awesomeness in the air while also still staying true to itself and standing apart from all of the others. Venice was romantic, Cinque Terre was beautiful like I’ve never seen before and Rome was enormously impressive, Florence was artsy. From the sculptures in Piazza Signoria and the Dumo to the panoramic views from Piazzale Michelangelo, the entire city is a piece of art.

One of the statues in front of Palazzo Vecchio, the old palace.

 

The Dumo and baptismal chamber in front.

 

Night view of the city from across the Arno River at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo.

 I love Florence for more than just its art and beauty. The center of the city is compact, so it’s completely walkable and doesn’t take more than 20 minutes to get anywhere on foot. This convenience made it easy to really get to know the city and eat the best paninis (mmmm fresh cheese and yummy truffle sauce) and gelato (sheep cheese is the BEST flavor in the world). We walked though all the markets, which smelled of genuine leather, and shopping streets filled almost exclusively with high-end stores. Next time I am in Florence, I will have a bigger shopping budget!!

My favorite two things were definitely seeing The David and going to a wine tasting. The David absolutely is as amazing as everyone claims it is. The larger-than-life sculpture is so detailed, I honestly thought his skin was glowing in the light. It really puts all other sculptures to shame.

The Accademia's main attraction.

 

Bravo Michelangelo!

 I had never been to a wine tasting before, but this one will surely be one of the best I ever go to. Our host, Pinot (as in Pinot Grigio? LOL), really knew his stuff. He told us all about Tuscan wines, three of which we got to sample…if “sample” means two or three glasses of each, haha. We also tried extra virgin olive oil and 10-years-aged balsamic vinaigrette that was to die for! (And cost 35 euro!) We ate and drank all we wanted, then I bottle one bottle of each wine we tried.

Florence was an especially great trip because we stayed with Laura’s friend, Maddie, who was a great host and tour guide! The people were so nice there, as they have been everywhere in Italy and which always makes a place more memorable. I  Italia!

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

Roma

14 Apr

Rome is GINORMOUS!! While it is a big city, I am not just referring to its population. I mean that literally every object is huge. The individual bricks, the individual buildings, the cherubs and gargoyles on the roofs and walls of buildings, the columns, the fountains, the monuments, the mountains of gelato…everything is larger than life. It’s an amazing city and there’s no other place like it! It was almost surreal to walk around the Colosseum and the Pantheon and the streets that used to belong to the biggest empire in the world. All of the places I’ve learned about in history class or seen in movies and on T.V. were right in front of me, and they were even cooler in real life.

The enormous Colosseum.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica looking up toward the more than 14 story ceiling. The letters on the gold are as tall as an average person. The statues are 3 times the size of a grown man.

The Pantheon columns are the largest, intact ancient columns in the world. Beau is 6'3" and see how small he looks!

Everyone knows the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, but Beau an I basically saw it in only one day! Obviously we missed out on some of the places we wanted to go and things we wanted to do, but we hit the must-sees. We got in late one night in the midst of a monsoon, so after a little exploring, dinner, and gelato (of course!) we called it a night. The next day was perfect weather for our sight-seeing blitz. We saw the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museum, the Spanish Steps, Capitol Hill, the Arc of Constantine, Trevi fountain and the Pantheon. Whew!

Capitol Hill

The Roman Forum

My most favorite place in Rome was the Trevi fountain. It’s so big and so beautiful that it’s captivating. I could have sat there and looked at it, listening to the sound of rushing water all day long. We hung around it awhile while we ate gelato…I couldn’t have been happier!

Trevi fountain

 Of course the Colosseum and Vatican City, which includes St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, were cool and interesting. The Colosseum was very different on the inside than I expected. I thought it would be pretty well-preserved, but once you step inside to where the stadium seating and gladiator arena used to be, you realize that you really are walking around an ancient ruin. We over heard a tour guide say that the arena of the Colosseum is ranked as on of the top single sites in the world where the most deaths have taken place.

Inside of the Colosseum

It’s amazing to me that Vatican City is considered a small, independent country with its own postal service, guards and radio station! The little country is completely surrounded by walls. When we walked through one of the entrances, I stood in awe. I found myself in the middle of a huge, circular plaza surrounded by columns with an enormous domed building at one end and cyprus trees on a hill in the background. I wasn’t sure where I was, so Beau had to inform me we were at St. Peter’s Basilica, a church that can seat 50,000 to 60,0000 people on the inside!

St. Peter's Basilica

After the basilica, we rushed to get in line for the Vatican museum before the last entry time. I’ve never seen so many marble statues and frescos in my life! (The Vatican museum houses 4 miles worth of art!) Of course, we saw the Sistine Chapel. While it was amazing, I was much more impressed by Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, which took up an entire wall at one end of the room. After seeing some many impressive painted ceilings, I think the Sistine Chapel lacked luster to me. Of course, it could’ve been that the chapel was smaller and darker than expected (unlike the open and airy cathedral of El Escorial with its beautifully painted ceilings).

There’s more to say, but I was trying to keep this short and sweet. I’ll end with saying that Rome is a city you can certainly visit several times without doing and seeing the same things. I definitely look forward to a chance to visit again! I LOVE Italy 🙂

XO