Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Hello everyone!  Two weekends ago I took my first venture outside of Spain to the lovely city of Amsterdam.  We took our travel packs to school with us on Thursday and after work we ran to the bus stop to catch a bus to Madrid.  After an hour long metro ride from the bus station to the airport, we finally boarded our flight to Amsterdam at 5:30pm.  In true American fashion, I knew next to nothing about The Netherlands or Amsterdam other than what I had seen on International House Hunters and what I had heard from a couple well traveled stoners in college.  "Dude, smoking pot is totally legal in Amsterdam, brahhh", etc...
However, once I stepped outside of the airport and saw the city, I knew immediately that it is a shame that people only associate Amsterdam with drugs and prostitution.  The main streets were lined with sparkling Christmas lights, there was a crisp winter bite in the air, cyclists whizzed around every corner and occasionally the scent of some whacky tobaccy wafted past you on the street.  If I closed my eyes I could almost pretend that I never left Hippie Hill in Boone!!  I love Spain, but it was sooo nice to be in a country with other rubios where I don't stick out like a sore thumb because of my light coloring.  And did I mention that everyone in Holland speaks perfect English?!  I was nervous about traveling to a country where I don't speak the language at all.  But apparently the bilingual program in Holland is on steroids because these people don't even have an accent when they speak English.  We got lost on our way to the hostel and it was great to stop and ask someone directions on the street and afterwards not have to say, "Well, I THINK this is what they said, but I can't be sure." (Story of my Spanish life).

Our hostel was nestled in the back streets of the city and we had to cross over several beautiful canals to get there.  With fog settled over the canals, bicycles parked haphazardly everywhere, twinkling Christmas lights and sounds of revelry floating onto the street, it was hard not to fall in love with the city.

Once we arrived at the hostel, we found out that it was actually a Christian hostel.  We thought it was a little strange at first because online it said nothing about being specifically Christian but then it made sense why the girls rooms and boys rooms were on different floors.  It turned out to be great because it was quiet, clean and our group had the room to ourselves.  In the morning we got free Dutch pancakes at the hostel.  A great way to start the day!  There was a flyer posted downstairs that said you could apply to work at the hostel for up to a month and recieve free meals and housing if you wanted to live in Amsterdam for a little while longer.  A tempting offer!

After breakfast, we made our way to the Anne Frank house.  This is the actual house in which Anne Frank hid for several years and penned her famous diary.  The line was about 40 minutes long, but it was definitely worth it.  When I was in middle school I was weirdly obsessed with all things relating to WWII and the holocaust.  I just thought it was so interesting and terribly mindblowing.  If you have any interest at all in history then I highly recommend this tourist stop.  You get to walk through the house and the secret annex.  There is audio and video throughout explaining the plight of the Frank family and you really are able to feel a fraction of the fear and anxiety they must have gone through.  It is a really sobering experience, but it is also a testament to the triumph of the human spirit.  You see firsthand the conditions under which this little girl had to live but then you read her diary which is filled with humor, matter of factness and hope for the future.  Very powerful stuff.

After the Anne Frank house we met up with the rest of our group.  It included 3 Spanish girls and one Japanese girl.  With most of the group having English as their second language, communication was sometimes pretty interesting.  We ate lunch at an Asian restaurant and I got a curry dish.  The whole meal I had a huge smile on my face because I have missed curry SO MUCH.  Not even curry, but anything spicy.  Spanish peeps don't cook with anything spicy and to taste something with a kick was awesome!

After lunch we made our way to the Red Light District.  Now that I have said all that about Amsterdam being a great city apart from the vices that occur there, it certainly would not be the same city without this legal debauchery.  The Red Light District is unlike anything I have ever seen.  It is like some sinful fairy tale.  It gives off a fluorescent red glow, there are pastry shops with dutch waffles and donuts too decadent to actually eat, "coffee shops" on every corner and store windows with women selling, well, themselves!  The store windows are actually doors and a man can just walk up, negotiate a price and then the woman closes the curtain. There are tours of the Red Light District available led by former prostitutes and the proceeds go to helping the women find new work. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to take one.  Maybe next time.  Only in Amsterdam!

In the Red Light District!

The next day we walked around a really beautiful park called Vondelpark. Not too much to say about that but here is a picture of Annie in it.

Later we found a lovely Christmas market filled with foot long bratwurst, freshly fried dutch donuts, ice skating and other cute things.

Can you spot America in this picture?

Amsterdam is so far north that it gets dark at like 4pm during the winter.  I thought Amsterdam was an amazing city and I loved the things that I saw, but I think it would definitely be worth it to go back during the spring.  They are famous for their tulips and flowers as was apparent with the huge flower market that was still going strong despite it being late November.  One thing that I was not able to do because it was so cold and got dark so early was go on a canal cruise.  Oh well, guess I'll just have to go back and do that another time!  Amsterdam is called the Venice of the north and not to take a canal cruise if the weather is nice would be a sin!  Just look at these beautiful canals!

Here are some other pictures taken during our stay!

Every culture has their version of fried dough.  America has Krispy Kreme, Spain has churros...and Amsterdam has DUTCH DONUTS.  I must say, these Dutch know how to fry some delicious dough!

AMERICA STREET! Multiple McDonalds and Burger Kings.  Except this stingy McDonalds charged 50 cents for a packet of ketchup! Unacceptable! America would never stand for this.  I think they would probably start an occupy McDonalds movement!

Booths and booths of tulip bulbs at the flower market!

Got this delicious berry smoothie at an outdoor market.  Apparently it made my hands grow freakishly large!

A cool American girl eating some Cool American flavored Doritos! Haha in The Netherlands this is what they call Cool Ranch.

I sought out all foods that were non Spanish..this led us to an Italian-ish restaurant.

Standing in the main plaza with the Homomonument in the background. (lolz commence middle school giggles...)

According to our friendly neighborhood Dutch family, The Wilsons, Sinterklaas is usually wearing more clothes.

There is also a Vincent Van Gough museum here which I didn't have enough time to see.  Needless to say, I have to go back.  It is kind of a "Lost" situation.  WE HAVE TO GO BACK!!!!!!!!  Who's comin' with me?!!?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Well hello there.  Sorry for not blogging in a while.  I assure you that my life has been as equally/more boring than your life and who wants to read about that?  However, now that the Spanish government has finally graced me with a paycheck I can afford to travel again!  Woo!! As our main objective is still to never spend a weekend in Arevalo, we found ourselves pulling out the old map of Spain to find a good place to visit on Saturday.  It seemed that Toledo would be close enough for a day trip and, after investigating the public transportation situation, it seemed pretty feasible.  So, Saturday morning we caught the 9am bus to Madrid, took the metro to another bus station, hopped on another bus and, voila, we were in Toledo 3 hours later.  My life=The Public Transportation Situation.

A little background about Toledo:  This city is old (shocker).  But seriously, it has been populated since The Bronze Age.  I don’t even know when that was but I’m going to assume it was a pretty long while ago.  There are ruins of an old Roman circus ring, a really old wall surrounding the city and lots of other cool old things.  It used to be the capital of Spain and it is famous because Christians, Jews and Muslims all lived there together in peace.  Toledo is a real life example of those co-exist bumper stickers (but way cooler).  So there is a cathedral, mosque and synagogue.  My favorite part about Toledo being so old is that the streets were formed before people realized city grids were a useful thing when building a city.  My Frommer´s guide book compares the streets of Toledo to the warren of a rabbit.  It is frustrating if you are trying to find something but pretty great if you are just trying to get lost and explore the little, less touristy streets of the city.

When I was in the 10th grade I took AP Art History with Gloria Jackson (the best class of my life) and one of my favorite paintings in the textbook was “Vista de Toledo” painted by El Greco circa 1600.  The painting is now located at The Met in New York (go figure) but I was so excited to actually be able to see my own vista de Toledo.  Surprisingly, the view has not really changed a whole lot since El Greco’s time.

"Vista de Toledo" by El Greco in 1600

Modern day Toledo..pretty similar, right??

Another shot of modern day Toledo

Other than the McDonald’s occupying a large portion of real estate in the main plaza, Toledo has remained relatively timeless.

Don’t you judge me.  Do you know how hard it is for a girl to get a fountain Coca-Cola in this country!?!?!
The main plaza (Plaza Zocodover)

When we first got to the city, we spent the first hour or two trying to find the tourism office and La Casa de El Greco.  Once we found the tourism office and got a map, we still couldn’t find El Greco’s house so we just gave up and enjoyed the things we discovered while looking for it.  There was a random car show in a plaza, lots of little shops with beautiful hand made gold jewelry, a lovely French Gothic cathedral and a cafe with sweeping views of the countryside.  Every city that we go to I beg Annie to let me ride the trolley.  I have a weird obsession with trolleys.  Our feet were super tired from walking on cobblestones all day so she finally relented and we took a trolley ride around the city.  I’m not sure which was best: the amazing views that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise or the overenthusiastic group of Asian tourists sitting beside us.  Both were pretty great.  Annie became a trolley believer after that awesome tour!

Another plaza with a random car show

The French Gothic cathedral. So pretty!

Pretty place for a picture.

In front of the best trolley ever! Two thumbs up!

Walking through the narrow side streets.

After the tour we got a coffee at the cafe overlooking the countryside and just generally pondered the greatness of our lives.  We were so busy pondering that we accidentally missed Spanish eating time.  There is a period of time between 2-4:30 for eating a huge lunch and if you miss that time then you are just out of luck.  We tried to find food around 6pm (silly Americanas) and the waiters at every restaurant looked at us like crazy people for trying to eat.  Apparently you are only allowed to drink things at that time.  Crestfallen but secretly excited, we made our way back to the plaza and got ourselves some good old McDonalds.  Never have I been so happy to see those golden arches.  McDonalds knows something that those restaurants do not...and that is the fact that people are hungry all the time--not just from the hours of 2-4 and 9-11.  Pretty sure that the beef in McDonalds hamburgers in Spain comes from grass fed cows (what a concept!) and they are actually pretty delicious.  After our shamefully American dinner, we decided to get some traditional Toledan desserts.  Mazapan shops are all over the city with pastries that literally look too good to eat.  Somehow we managed to eat them, though.

We finally found a museum with some El Greco paintings that was free to enter.  Holler!  The main attraction is La Asuncion which is considered one of his greatest masterpieces.  The rest of the museum was a hodgepodge collection of paintings and statues taken from monasteries around the country and was honestly pretty creepy.  My personal fave is still “Vista de Toledo” but seeing his other works was neat nonetheless.

 Some apostles

El Greco's masterpiece.

Not too sure about this one, El Greco

With our bellies full and our legs aching from a great day of walking around, we headed back toward the bus station to start our 3 hour journey home.  We got back Arevalo a little after midnight and slept late on Sunday but it was worth it.  Toledo is an enchanting little city and I definitely recommend it to anyone who cares.

I have one more down weekend until I will be traveling my fanny off.  The last weekend in November I am going to Amsterdam.  The next weekend I will be going to Florence, Italy.  The weekend after that I am going to Geneva, Switzerland.  Then, Rob is coming to see me for 2 weeks.  Our first weekend we are going to northern Spain (Oviedo, Cangas de Onis and Arenas de Cabrales) and then for Christmas we are spending 5 days in Cordoba with day trips to Ronda, Sevilla and Granada.  After he leaves I am flying to Lisbon, Portugal to meet up with my girlfriends from America and then we are flying to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve. (AGHHH!!!)  I am sooo excited and you better be prepared for some epic blogging once I get back.

Eat some delicious Thanksgiving food for me.  But don’t tell me about it because I’ll get way too depressed.

Adios, y’all!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cantabria, My True Love

This weekend I fell in love with the northern coast of Spain.  Nobody really ever mentions the northern coast, but it is the loveliest place I've ever been.  Imagine Appalachia in springtime on the coast of a beautiful sea.  But you won't have to imagine because I am about to show you all the pictures you ever wanted to see!  (Maybe more!)

There is a P.E. teacher at our school who is so friendly and has invited us on trips with her.  She said, "Hey I'm going to Santander this weekend...you guys want to ride with me?"  And we said, "YES!"  And ain't that the way it should be?!  So we hitched a ride with her and she dropped us off in the tiny village of Santillana del Mar.  The Spanish call this the town of the "tres mentiras" (three lies) because there is no saint there, it is not "llana" (flat) and it is not near the "mar" (sea).  Despite these lies, it is such a lovely town.  Farm animals grazing on the verdant countryside and quaint shops lining the 15th century cobblestone streets.  The people of this town like their cheese stinky and their cider STRONG!  Cabrales cheese is particular to this area of Spain and let me tell you, that is some stanky cheese.  It puts blue cheese to shame.  Annie and I saw everyone drinking the local cider called "sidra" made in this area and wondered why the waiters poured so little in the glass.  However, after we tried the sidra ourselves we had no more questions.  WHEW!  That stuff will put hair on your chest!  It is made from fermented apples and they can't get enough of it in Santillana del Mar.  Here are some pictures from our stay there.  I was actually depressed the whole time because it was so beautiful and I knew I could never ever capture the beauty on my camera to share with you all.  But I tried:

Didn't actually go inside the Torture Museum but it makes for a good picture!

Random beautiful courtyard.

A pretty church with the bones of a saint inside.  Who'da thunk it?

Typical charming buildings in Santillana.

Omg I'm going to puke it's SO CUTE!

I hate horses in America but I love this Spanish horse.

Cantabrian countryside.

Hate olives in America but these Spanish olives are so yummy! Can't beat the wine here either!

From Santillana del Mar we went to Santander which actually is on the sea.  It is a popular place for Spaniards to spend their summers and a lot of Brits come over on an overnight ferry to get their tan on.  Santander has a free bike rental system which is the best.  You put a deposit on your credit card to rent one but if you return it at the end of the day, it is free!!  So Annie and I cycled around the sidewalks of Santander and explored all of the lovely beaches.  It was a sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky.  I seriously wish I could have hired a person to ride behind me blasting "Walking on Sunshine" on a boombox throughout my day.  It was perfect.  We hit the beaches and then stopped for a chorizo bocadillo.  After lunch we returned our bikes, got some ice cream and then went for a boat tour around the harbor.  Here are some pictures from our comically great day in Santander:

My free bicycle!

Love these little statue boys!  Also, they don't believe in guard rails in Santander.

There is another one of those statues on top of this huge sea rock.

Eating ice cream by the sea.  This is pure joy on my face.

Way too pretty to actually exist.

Just chilling on this beautiful sea rock.  No biggie.



I was too cold on the boat tour to take pictures so I will just leave that to your imagination.  The next day we went to Comillas which is a little village on the sea.  The way the mountains jut into the sea is spectacular.  Google image this town because my camera died before I could take pictures of the coastline.  Antoni Gaudi (a super famous Spanish modernista architect) built a super whimsical house in this town.  It is called "El Capricho" and we took a tour.  After our tour of his house we went to an old cemetery that overlooks the sea.  The view is breathtaking and I want to know what a girl's gotta do to get buried in an awesome place like that.  After touring the cemetery (kind of weird, right?) we went to a cafe that overlooks the beach and got "rabas".  Rabas, delicious fried calamari, is a common dish in this area of the country.  Here are some pictures from Comillas that I was able to get before my camera died:

The sun was directly in the background, but this is "El Capricho" built by Gaudi in the late 1800s.

Hanging out with good old Gaudi.

This is the cemetery with the beaaauuutiful views in the background.

So, that concludes my weekend in Cantabria.  I miss Appalachia this time of year the most but Cantabria filled that void a tiny bit.  You all need to go to these places immediately.  It is a thing you need to put on your bucket list.  Maybe you can skip the eating of the stinky cheese.  But the rest is a must!  Not sure where my next trip will take me but I'll be sure to fill you in on all the lovely details.

Adios, y'all!