Tuesday, June 16, 2015

La Rioja: 70 cent vino

Our weekend in La Rioja was unreal. It was completely perfect. Laura, May, Alex and I planned a trip away on a whim because we have been hearing how beautiful and impressive La Rioja is but we really couldn't have imagined it until we saw it. We stayed at a really cute AirBnb in Logrono on Calle Laurel and booked three wine tours before arriving. 

Friday night started with tapas hopping on Calle Laurel. Some of the most popular tapas restaurants are Champi, Tios Agus, Zorropito and El Jubera. If you have never eaten spanish food before I would recommend trying pulpo, champinons, croquettes, tortilla de patata and whatever else you think looks appetizing! All of the tapas are sitting on the bar so you can browse and ask questions before eating.  

Saturday, we had booked an morning tour at Marques del Riscal vineyards. Designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, it's absolutely stunning and a bit shocking to see because the sleek, modern design contrasts with the charming village setting of Elciego. On our tour we made some new best friends from Boston and went on to have lunch with them in Laguardia. Laguardia is adorable and worth a day trip or even an entire weekend if you have time. Another vineyard I would suggest making a reservation with is Ysios.

Logrono is the largest town in the La Rioja region and it was a great springboard for our weekend. While I would suggest visiting Laguardia and Haro, you can also go to several amazing bodegas in Logrono, including Bodega Olarra and Franco Espanola  This is such a beautiful part of Spain and it's really overlooked and underrated! I would love to go back one day. 

A Book for the Brokenhearted

In early May, my friend Laura started telling me about a book I needed to read. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed covers some of the most painful and sad aspects of life, but in a really poignant and moving way.

I cried more than I laughed and I prefer books that make me laugh more than cry, but it came at the perfect time. Sometimes life is super messy. But, I have realized that for every thing that is confusing, hurtful or heartbreaking, probably five different things also happen that make me smile and surprise me. Those are pretty good odds and I'll take them happily.

I heard once that if everyone threw their problems into the center of the room, we'd all be fighting to grab ours back. Personally, I'd try to grab like, Giselle's problems, or Beyonce's problems, but whatever. The point is to remember that everyone has their own crap that blindsides and annoys and hurts them, too. Thankfully, no one is in this crazy thing called life alone :)

The quotes I saved in my phone:
You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

Accept that this experience taught you something you didn't want to know. Accept that it's going to take a long time for you to get that monster out of your chest. Accept that someday what pains you no will surely pain you less.

You're looking for the explanation, the loophole, the bright twist in the dark tale that reverses its course. Anyone would be. It's the reason I've had to narrate my own stories of injustice about seven thousand times, as if by raging about it once more will change and by the end I won't still be the woman hanging on the end of the line.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Porto, Portugal

Porto (aka Oporto) is a total dreamboat. It's one of the most charming European cities I've visited. I loved all of the gorgeous blue and white tile! We arrived by train via Lisbon and checked into our cute little boutique hostel. Definitely recommend as it was wayyyyy nicer than my hotel in Paris, for example. Accomodations in Portugal are a steal and a half.

Our Porto highlights were the hole-in-the-wall restaurant down the street (Restaurante Migalha**) where we ate twice (happily)! Salmon, fresh vegetables, rice, wine and dessert for five euros. I repeat, five euros. And the little old owner was so funny and did lots of dramatic hand gestures and nodding and smiling to us once he realized we didn't speak Portuguese.

You must also walk along the Cais de Gaia riverfront and then across the Dom Luis bridge to all of the port cellars! We took a tour at Sandeman's and then did a tasting at Kopke**. The tasting was fenommmmennnnnaaaaaal. I mostly say that because it came with chocolate.

We took a great city walking tour and saw all of the most famous and historical sights. I have no idea what any of them were... I can't remember. I know one was the Harry Potter inspired library (Lello Bookstore**). Another was a beautiful, famous old cafe (Majestic Cafe aka sixth most beautiful in the world**). And a train station (Sao Bento Station, which was designed in 1916 under the influence of the French Beaux-Arts style**). We also tried to tour the Stock Exchange Palace, which is famous for it's 19th century neoclassical style, but they didn't have any reservations available the day we went. Sidenote: book your tour in advance. 

We spent an afternoon visiting Foz Do Duoro beaches and gosh are they ugly! So industrial. I would skip this unless you are just dying for some beachtime. Ugh, some locals gave us this windy little street with the best, most authentic Portuguese food, but I can't find where I wrote it down. Seriously, I'm terrible at this sometimes.

**Updated to include information that may or may not be useful to you.
****JUST found my notes from Porto. All I wrote down was, "Reminder: have blue and white Portuguese tile in your future house." Oops...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Lisbon, Portugal

 I was so happy for Blair to come visit me in April! We met post-college at a Mardi Gras Ball in Louisiana through ex-boyfriends and have been friends for almost seven years now. She wins the award for being the most relaxed visitor ever. We had so much fun in Madrid and then loved spending a week in Portugal visiting Lisbon and Porto.

Everyone has been raving about Lisbon since I moved to Madrid so I of course added it to the bucket list. Blair had never been either so it was perfect. She was such a trooper about my teacher's budget and for that I am really grateful. We bought flights a few months ahead for around 40 euros each way.

In Lisbon, we stayed in a private room at Living Lounge Hostel. Portugal has a lot of design/boutique hostels so our room was actually pretty nice and cute. And we ate dinner one night there and both agreed it was the most amazing meal of the trip (and one of the cheapest). If you can stay there, I would honestly eat every single meal there. Tons of fresh seafood dishes, delicious Portuguese wine, homemade desserts, etc. Nothing not to like!

Lisbon is a really, really pretty city and we had lots of sunshine for walking around and exploring the neighborhoods. One thing I found interesting about Lisbon is that 300 years ago there was an earthquake. And still today certain neighborhoods are abandoned and run down because people are afraid of the earthquake.... 300 years later. Like, move on people. It's kind of weird because the port area should be busy and beautiful, but instead it is kind of run down and eery.

That being said, the areas we loved were Belem, where we did a walking tour after we tried the famous pastries and coffee from Pasteis de Belem. We also really liked the Barrio Alto neighborhood and walked to the prettiest vantage point called Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara for a sunset that was jaw-dropping. An easy walk from the vantage point is a famous wine cellar (Solar do Vinho do Porto) where we stopped for a glass of port. Finally, we took a day to visit Cascais beach, the most western point in Europe (it was gorgeous, but freezing) and Sintra to see the royal Portuguese summer castles. Beeeaaaaaautiful!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Amsterdam: Leef en laat leven (live and let live)

 Amsterdam is a place I have dreamed of going for several years now! I knew I would be disappointed if I left Europe without going to see the beautiful canals, Anne Frank house and famous windmills so I booked my flight in early January with my friend, Mary. Because we chose to go during the famous tulip festival, prices were exorbitant. Like cringe-worthy, but merece la pena people! 

On Friday, we walked the canals and ate at The Pantry, which came highly-recommended from my friend, Aubrey! One misconception I had about Amsterdam was that it was built around one canal whereas it's actually a horseshoe-shaped grid (more or less) composed of lots of canals (over 100 km worth) and the city is within them.

Later that day, we went to the Dutch Resistance Museum, which I found fascinating. It really made me love the spirit of the Dutch people. I hadn’t realized how resistant they had been to the Nazi’s or how protective they were of their Jewish friends and neighbors. They were pretty feisty during WW2 and I liked it. 

Saturday morning we woke up eaaaarly and went to Anne Frank’shouse thinking we would beat the crowd. Ha. Ha. Ha. Upon opening at 9 am, there was already a two-hour line for waiting. It was also freezing cold and I was dressed for summer. So, after purchasing a coffee, a Bike Amsterdam sweatshirt and gloves that read “Holland” with embroidered flowers I finally felt like I wasn’t going to turn into an icicle. Sidenote: the gloves are super cute and I love them. 

Anne Frank’s house was really sad for me to see. I just wanted to cry the whole time for her sweet father who did so much to protect his family and in the end, lost everything. I just can’t imagine the pain or heartbreak or disappointment. Honestly, I can’t even imagine hiding indoors for so long either. It’s really emotional to go through the house and learn more about their stories, struggles and small celebrations during their time and I highly recommend seeing it. Completely worth the two-hour wait and 45 euros worth of new winter clothes.

What else? We walked through the famous flower market, Vondelpark and the Red Light District, which was strange but NBD in my opinion. We ate waffles, of course. Sadly, I didn’t get to go to any of the famous art museums (Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum), which is a bummer because I was really looking forward to two of them in particular. I needed another day! However, I’m not complaining because it was such a wonderful trip and I’m so thankful for the things I did get to see and do. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gracias, InterNations!

I was so flattered (and surprised) when InterNations asked if they could feature my blog and asked me about life in Madrid. In all of my internships and jobs, one of my favorite things has been interviewing people and writing their stories so it was kind of fun to be on the other side of the equation. Anddddd I'm super nostalgic so I welcomed the opportunity to reminisce over my two years in Spain :)

For all of you expats and travel lovers, they have a wealth of resources and events available. If you are an expat in Madrid, click here to get connected. Before I moved to Spain, I loved browsing blogs and web sites about life abroad and this is a great place to get started. Disfrutalo mucho!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Madrid, etc.
My name is Elizabeth and I’m from small-town in Texas. After receiving a BA in English Literature from UT Austin, I worked in Dallas for five years doing technical writing, marketing and public relations before deciding to sell my car and donate my furniture to move to Spain! I came to Madrid in September 2013 to teach English in a primary school and I have really loved the experience.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging when I was working for Southwest Airlines and flying for free. It seemed like a fun way to record all my travels and it made sense to continue once I moved to Madrid and started traveling around Europe.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I love this post because it shows how cute my students are! It is also is a post where I am really honest and a little bit vulnerable, which is hard for me to do honestly.
Our weekend in Sevilla for Feria de Abril was one of the MOST Spanish weekends of my time here. It was so amazing and so weird.
I also wrote a post about our apartment hunting experience when we first moved. Makes me laugh and cringe. It was so awkward and stressful, but funny.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Madrid differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Culture shock hit the first week in our apartment. It was so hot in Madrid that September and we had to sleep with our windows open because we didn’t have air conditioning and I just remember being so annoyed that I could hear and smell every single thing my neighbors were doing from screaming at the tv watching futbol to cooking bacon.
Most of my other big adjustments were chores, such as learning how to mop, hand washing my dishes and hanging my clothes out our apartment window to dry. I was thrown for a loop when a storm hit and knocked all my clothes off the line down to no-man’s land and Victor (our doorman who is also a bullfighter) had to climb through the shoe store to get my stuff back and it was all muddy and ruined. You really don’t understand how much Americans love and value convenience until you live somewhere else.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Madrid? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I had no idea what to expect! I am really happy with how everything has turned out. I wouldn’t change much, if anything, really.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Most of my funniest moments have been on dates with Spanish guys and things being misinterpreted between us. One of my favorites was a guy telling me at the end of our dinner that there was certainly a chemist between us (instead of chemistry). It was really cute!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Madrid?
  • Always say yes! To the 60 euro RyanAir flight to the beach. To the date. To the birthday party. You never know who you’ll meet or what could happen! One of my favorite weekend trips was planned over wine at 4 pm on a Friday. We left an hour later. 
  • Get Google Talk through your gmail account. This is amazing. For .01 cents per minute you can talk internationally through the microphone on your computer. I used it to for an interview the other day with no problem. The glitch with FaceTime or Viber is that the other party has to have wifi, whereas with Google Talk you can call them whenever and it can also be used to call corporations (ie: ATT, British Airways, Citibank, etc). 
  • Don't take things too seriously. Life abroad is weird and can be really frustrating at times, so try to smile and have a positive attitude. If it is annoying, it will probably make you laugh later. The best advice I could give is to just be open to what happens and go with the flow. Everything here is extremely inefficient compared to the US and you have to have a sense of humor about life or you’ll go loco. This is not a country suited for Type-A personalities…
How is the expat community in Madrid? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I’ve been extremely lucky in finding amazing friends from all over (USA, South America, Spain, the UK, etc.) It’s important to put yourself out there and be willing to meet new people even if you are shy or uncomfortable at first. Expats are always organizing events to practice Spanish, go hiking, running, volunteer and there are countless ways to get involved and meet other people who are new and looking for friends. My Spanish friends have also been so welcoming and amazing and I can’t wait for them to come visit me in the US next year.

How would you summarize your expat life in Madrid in a single, catchy sentence?
Hm, this is difficult, but I like, “Dale la vuelta a la tortilla!” It means to make a big change or turn your life around, which sums up moving abroad.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Keunkenhof: Dutch Tulip Time

 We booked our Amsterdam trip for the final weekend of the famous tulip festival, which lasts from mid-March to mid-May. Keunkenhof is one of the most famous tulip gardens with over 7,000,000 perfect bulbs. I mean, the tulips were actually a lot like the Dutch people: beautiful, lush and vibrant. What is in the water up there? I didn't see a single wilting or limp looking flower. It was incredible.

We roamed around the gardens for hours and stopped for a symphony concert. It was a pretty cute day overall and I highly recommend visiting Holland in the spring. Everyone should add it to their bucket list!You can easily take public transportation from the middle of Amsterdam or book a private walking or bike tour. There are lots of different options for different prices depending on your budget.