Poland: A Beautiful Country With a Harsh Past

Poland had forever been one of those places that I’ve learned about in school. I had studied the nazi takeover and the concentration camps since I was in middle school. We even went on a class field trip to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. When I made the decision to come to Spain I started to look at what countries I would be interested in visiting. Although everything I had studied in school pointed to a deteriorated country I still had the urge to see it for myself.

My roommate Kyra and I decided to spend 3 nights in Poland. Our original plan had changed a few times (thanks Ryanair for an earlier flight!) We ended up settling on spending the first day in Krakow, second day touring the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and finishing our trip in Warsaw.

Krakow:

Probably one of the most impressive European cities I have seen thus far. What I didn’t expect was the incredible amount of influence of American and British brands. I think there was a Costa Coffee/KFC or McDonalds on just about every block! We only had about an hour in Warsaw before catching our train to Krakow so we did get to try the polish McDonalds. Now Im convinced it’s better just about EVERYWHERE but the US.

One we arrived in Krakow we checked into our adorable hostel and were lucky enough to have our own room! Something you really appreciate as a twenty-something  traveler. We asked the receptionist for some dinner recommendations and she sent us to a local polish eatery called Polakowski. Now currently the Zloty is 3.34 to the USD so our dinner costed around 50 zloty. Little did we know this was ONLY $12 total for the two of us in USD for an incredible meal. After we wandered around the Rynek Glowny square we stumbled upon a small bar called “Ukracpra Pub”. Some stairs headed into an underground bar with a big sign that said “KARAOKE” It seemed to be filled with half locals and half traveling brits. Confident singers would step up and could sing in either Polish or English. We had a few drinks ranging from beer to various cocktails, all which maybe costed us $14 for 6 drinks….. I love Poland prices. After getting our nice buzz we decided to head back for a long day ahead.

Our second night in Krakow (after returning from Auschwitz) we went a very popular polish restaurant to get our fix of perogis and apple pie. Mind you all the food you see was a total of $28 (for the two of us so $16 a person) 10/10 WOULD GO HERE AGAIN, everyone go try it it’s called Czarna Kaczka or “The Black Duck”. GO GO GO

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

In September of 1939 Nazi-Germany invaded Poland in the midst of WW2. Over 6 million Polish people perished during the occupation, many who were Jewish. During this occupation millions of Jews from all over Europe were being sent into ghettos, unable to communicate with the outside world. The Nazi’s shortly realized that they could no longer hold the Jews in ghettos due to their inability to “hold their own keep”. This is when “The Final Solution” was then talked about to put an end to all European Jews. Auschwitz Concentration Camp was the largest camp holding over 1.5 million men, women and children. Some of the most famous writers to come from the holocaust were trapped behind the doors of Auschwitz. Anne Frank, Primo Levi and Ellie Wiesel were just a few that I studied extensively in school. Absolutely no amount of studying or reading about the holocaust prepares you when you walk under the infamous sign that reads “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” which translates to “work sets you free.” A significant portion of Birkenau II had been destroyed due to nazi cover up but much of Auschwitz 1 remained. It’s hard to write down exactly what emotions I felt while walking through the camps. The part that got to me the most was how cold it was inside the blocks. How scary it must have been at night without a single light outside. How we were able to walk in and walk out with no problem, but that wasn’t the case for so many people who didn’t deserve to be victim to such a terribly inhumane action. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around how so many people could inflict pain simply by listening and following the ideals of one awful human being.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

-Ellie Wiesel 

Warsaw: 

We booked ourselves on a train back to Warsaw to arrive around 1:30 pm giving us plenty of time to explore the city before our early morning flight. On the train reservation we made there was a note that said our tickets did not come with guaranteed seats. Little did we know that there was no cafe car on the train so these “seats” were basically in the corridor between the reserved seats and the exit of the train. It made for an interesting 3 hour ride. Once finally exiting the train we were right in the middle of a very modern looking Warsaw. It was filled with skyscrapers, malls and boujie restaurants. We had about a 45 minute walk from there to our hostel but a viscous craving for sushi stopped us about midway. We went to this sushi restaurant found on Trip Advisor and although it was a bit pricer than other Polish food it certainly satisfied our craving. After, we continued through Warsaw Old Town which is still filled with Christmas decor and markets. Once arriving to our hostel we needed a quick nap before heading back on the town. We wandered through Warsaw Old Town which is astronomically different than the city center. We stopped to try some mulled wine and I even got a paczki which I found out later is commonly served on Fat Thursday. To continue with our fantastic eats in Poland we ate dinner at a commonly known Polish restaurant called Zapiecek. We both tried traditional kielbasa with onions and sauerkraut. Determined to stay out considering it was only 8 pm we were in search for a local pub. What we found though, was Warsaw Old Town is not the area known for its nightlife. A few beers later and knowledge of an early morning flight had us in bed earlier than I’d like to admit.

Poland was like nothing I had ever expected. It was such an unfamiliar territory to me and something that was always portrayed so poorly that I almost got on that plane with a touch of fear. Little did I know that the book I chose to read on the flight would convey my emotions perfectly…

“That was the irony of travel. The bigger the distance between you and the familiar grew, the smaller and safer and friendlier the world felt.” 
-Kim Dinan 

Reverse Culture Shock

After completing my first three months in Spain I had a trip set up to visit family in the USA over Christmas vacation. I’ve been back for about 2 weeks now and have one more week to go before I endure the oh so joyous 24+ hour trip back to the island. I wasn’t really sure what to expect coming home as the last time I spent this long away from the states was almost 8 years ago. Although much time has passed since then, the emotions I felt coming home then and now still seem to be the same. The difference is, this time I’m not quite sure what to call my “home”. It has been an enjoyable time spending the holidays with my family thus far, but I have experienced quite a bit of reverse culture shock. This has come with a whole mixture of emotions. I can describe these emotions into a few different stages, many that are quite similar to that of culture shock when I first moved to Spain.

  1. The Sleepy Stage

With the combination of traveling for over 24 hours and a 9 hour time difference the first stage of reverse culture shock is definitely tiredness and confusion. I wasn’t able to stay up past 9 pm for the first week of being home and I woke up every morning at 2 or 3 am. Most mornings I was able to force myself back asleep at least until 5 or 6 am but then I was wide awake ready for the day. The other tough thing to get used to is hunger. I was hungry at the most strange times and never felt hungry enough to eat when my family took me out to dinner. (In Spanish time I would be sleeping)

2. The Honeymoon Stage

The honeymoon stage is one we experience while doing many things in our lives. Ever started a new job? new school? had a new relationship? Yup, it’s the beginning of anything we start where everything seems new and exciting. For me it was things like hot sauce, speaking english, driving and playing with my dog that played a huge roll in my honeymoon stage. The honeymoon phase lets us rediscover things that we love about our culture (or a new culture if you have moved abroad). Everything seems great and fun until…

3. The “Who am I” Stage

You’ve gone halfway around the world, speaking a new language, meeting new friends and traveling to beautiful places around Europe. Now you find yourself back in an all too familiar routine. The excitement of everything has faded and you might even start to find annoyances with things that once brought you joy. You’ve grown so much as a person and learned how to adapt to new experiences but you don’t quite know how to take that new personality and mold it back into your old culture.

4. The Nostalgia Stage

This part is a little bit easier to endure over winter break because you know at the end you get to go back and do it all over again. It isn’t as easy when you decide to come back home for good. You start to dream back to all the things you loved about your host country. The cheap wine? late outings? overly attractive police officers? There must be a pre-requisite for European police officers to be ridiculously good-looking because I’ve never wanted to be arrested “just cause” before in my life. This is also when things about your home country bother you the most. I’ve also felt INSANELY sedentary. I used to clock in around 20,000 steps a day in Spain just from having to walk everywhere, in the US I can hardly reach 10,000 some days.

5. The Acceptance Stage

Another stage very similar to that of when I moved to Spain. When experiencing something new it is so easy to compare it to what we used to have. What is always important to realize is that not one culture is better or worse than the other. Every culture is different and that’s what makes our world so beautiful to live in. It is crucial  to understand that EVERYONE has a different view of just about everything from one another and that’s what gives us diversity. If we all had the same culture and same views there would never be a point in traveling. The acceptance stage helps you view everything in a new perspective. All those small annoyances you once had don’t really seem all that bad after all. Sure, it takes loads of time to adjust even when you move to a new city/state/country/continent but the best thing to remember is that you’ll get there. …and now I just can’t wait to get back to exploring in Spain.

You just have to keep on keepin’ on. Stay curious and wander often.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar

Germania

Seven long and crazy years ago I was an exchange student in the small town of Cosenza, Italy with AFS Intercultural Programs. I was only 16 when I embarked on this journey where the only word I could understand was “ciao”. After about a month in, I started to have some troubles with my first host family. Still to this day I am not sure why but it was enough to make me want to pack and go back to California. Luckily, one of the program coordinators was able to take me in and house me for the remainder of my stay. I did and still do owe everything to her for allowing me to continue an incredible experience.

Now lets skip to the present. Ever since I knew I was coming to Spain I had begun to plan a trip to visit my Italian family. However they had moved from Cosenza, Italy to Stuttgart, Germany. So with a push of a button I had my tickets purchased and was on a plane to my first trip in Germany!

Stuttgart is a very wealthy city and exactly what I had expected when I thought of Germany. It reminded me the most of the USA from other countries I had been to before.  The cars and streets were bigger but primarily because there are two major automobile headquarters in Stuttgart, Mercedes and Porsche. While driving around town I noticed that almost every other car was one of those brands with a few VW’s mixed in.

The first night we went to a town called Ludwigsburg to see a small Christmas Market. Just about every city in Europe seems to have their own kind of Christmas Market and Germany has some of the best! We walked around the market and saw everything! There were all sorts of gifts, many delicious beverages and foods and loads of people. I’m not much of a muelled wine person or Gluwein as they call it but we did have our fair share of hot chocolate. We also got to try some fried potatoes with a sort of sour-y yogurt sauce and a kind of german sauce that was 1/2 a meter long! It was VERY cold though this evening as we had come from Palma which was about 65 degrees and going to a 30 degree Germany.

The next day we took our time waking up and enjoying any time in the warm home that we could! Anna and Giuseppe made a fantastic breakfast for us with avocado toast, eggs and all sorts of fruits and cereal! We then got bundled up again to head out into the downtown Stuttgart and another Christmas Market. This one was quite a bit bigger than the last. We went to one booth and made our own candles which was pretty fun even if we were the only ones over 10! We also got to try some local egg pasta and potato patties (unsure of the name in German) which filled us up quite well! Germans do seem to love their cheese and potatoes. We walked around quite a bit and got to see the main square of Stuttgart.

After the markets Anna and Giuseppe took us to a nearby park with a tower that you could climb to see lots of Stuttgart. Boy was it beautiful with the light dusting of snow! After freezing our toes off we went back to their house and Anna prepared us a wonderful Italian style pizza… mamma mia!

On our last day in Stuttgart we woke up to…. SNOW! Which of course is always more fun to watch from inside than it is to be stuck in it outside… So we waited a little bit to head out and watched a few Christmas movies enjoying the view.

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After the snowing had subsided a bit we went to another town called Kornwestheim where there was a medieval Christmas market. This was a pretty cool market in which everything was themed! All the store owners were dressed up and you felt transported to the 10th century! We found some great food as well including a bread that was served on a stick, more hot chocolate and this pastry that was filled with cheese and some pancetta! The names are beyond me because German isn’t the easiest language to read… but good nonetheless!

Germany is definitely a country I would like to visit again, I felt like one of the Germans since they were all so tall! It was great to finally see Anna after so many years, it still feels like just yesterday! Words cannot describe how happy I am to have finally visited.

 

auf wiedersehen!

I see London I see France… in Less Than 48 Hours

After returning from Morocco an impulsive London trip was booked. London is one of those places that so many dream about, especially during the Christmastime. Ever seen Love Actually? Well this impulsive trip was going to be quite short since we booked our flight arriving into London Gatwick at 10:30pm Friday night and leaving Sunday morning at 8 am. Anthony Bourdain step aside because these girls know how to do a layover trip!

Anywho, Friday night we arrived and had a series of travel issues. We touched down early into London around 10 pm. After I turned my phone off of airplane mode I saw an email from our hostel stating that we would need to be there by 12 in order to check in. After researching where it was in relation to us (yes I swear I did this before too) I saw that it was about an hour and fifty minutes by train… While we were searching for other possibilities near the center  we attempted to figure out how to even arrive into the center. For those who don’t know, Gatwick is London’s second largest airport behind Heathrow and it is MASSIVE. It’s funny how we had an easier time getting around with the Paris metro without even knowing the language.

When we finally figured out our stay for the night and located the correct train to get to the center it was about 1 am by the time we got into London Victoria. A quick 15 minute walk to the hotel and our night just about ended as soon as we got there.

The next day we woke up ready to explore the city! After another delicious meal of eggs benedict (are you starting to see a theme with our breakfast preferences?) We were about 25-30 minutes walking from Buckingham Palace which was just about 20-25 minutes away from many other London sights. It was pretty crazy to see Buckingham Palace in person after hearing about it so many times before! After walking through all the gardens and viewing all the intricate details of the gates we proceeded to go towards Big Ben. On our way we happened upon Trafalgar Square which had many street performers and little shops all around.

While we continued onto Big Ben we saw that there were many scaffoldings on the building with did not allow you to see the clock during the daytime. I was unaware at the time that it was under construction! Even so, we got a good glimpse of it while walking back at night time.

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(Big Ben in the distance with scaffoldings)

We had contemplated going on the London Eye much of the day but it carried a larger price tag than we were hoping to pay £26! After going back and fourth on it we eventually caved in. Although some locals told us it was a “tourist trap” I was pretty happy with my purchase, we got some INCREDIBLE views of London from the top.

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Many of the famed Christmas light streets were too far away from where we were, determined to find some Christmas themed lights we headed over to Harrods. Harrods is a large department store with many stores like Gucci and Tiffany & CO located inside. It had a beautiful Christmas tree and many strung lights around the store and the adjacent street! We even picked up some Macarons from a local bakery and ate those in about 3 seconds.

Fairly close to Harrods was Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. The park was filled with everything Christmas from food, decorations, drinks and rides. It reminded me of the Tustin Tiller Days I used to go to as a kid. We drank copious amounts of apple cider in the brisk 32 degree weather while trying not to freeze. I even found a place that was serving swedish meatballs! Take that Ikea!

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As our trip was coming to a close I felt sad that it wasn’t long enough. It was also such a pleasure to speak English to all the locals. It can be tough sometimes living in Spain because even when you have a general idea of the language, you might not be well versed enough to have a few laughs with your cashier at check out. This was something I definitely missed and truly enjoyed while in London!

Do I even MISS the US?

Since it’s been an adequate amount of time that I have been outside of the US I figured it is always fun to reflect on things I miss and don’t miss, enjoy!

Things I miss about the US

1.My dog/friends/family (of course)

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2. Dryers 

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3.Driving– Alright, mainly because I bought a lovely new car before I even applied to this program and sometimes I wish I could have brought it over with me!

4.Access to every version of baking goods (learned that this Thanksgiving while trying to hunt down ingredients)

5.Having a 40 hour week week (I KNOW) this one sounds crazy, but there’s something about working 12 hours a week with a private lesson here and there that can start to make you feel a little lazy and quite useless. Then again, maybe that’s the American in me?

6. Smiling Spanish people don’t smile at you, not in a rude way but they value a smile to be more personal. I just like smiling at people though and after you’ve lived in smile-friendly Eugene it’s hard not to.

7. Medicine Getting over the counter drugs is quite different in Spain that it is in the US. In the US you walk into any grocery store and can buy dayquil, allergy medicine, sleep aids in almost 100 different brands each. In Spain, you ask a pharmacist for almost anything and they give you one MAYBE two options. Then again, maybe that’s why the US has a drug problem??

Typical Looking Spanish Pharmacy

Things I do NOT miss about the US

1.Donald Trump 

2. Expensive wine I could have 17 euros in my account and STILL have enough to buy a round trip ticket to Barcelona, two bottles of wine and go out with my roomates for tapas with the money left over.

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3. Lack of public transportation (I know this is only true for some places)

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4. Expensive flights– okay let me break this down for you. So in order to travel from SoCal to Eugene for school I would usually spend around $200 dollars for a 2 hour flight. We’re currently looking up ideas for traveling over spring break and I can go from Palma -> Milan -> Athens -> Sofia -> Amsterdam -> Palma for ONLY 154. CRAZY RIGHT

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5.Tipping people- The way Spanish people view jobs is quite different from the US. Bus driver? Waitress? Store clerk? There all decently paid jobs and no one cares even if you’re working while living at home till you hit 30. If you’re in the US and go on a date with a store clerk living with his parents you look for the nearest exit.

6.The fast-paced lifestyle- Which might seem like an interesting one after stating that I miss my 40 hour work week. Spaniards know how to take vacations and know how to relax after a long week or a long day. In Spanish culture many times the friends and families will override the workplace. Even with an early morning I see many Spanish people out on weekdays enjoying tapas with friends.

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Well there ya have it! Every so often I miss something rather materialistic or silly like today when we returned from London all we wanted was some campbells canned soup!

It’s the little things. 🙂

A Week in My Spanish Life

Well I’m nearing the end of my second month in the program and BOY how fast time flies. It feels like just yesterday that I was spending hours on google maps trying to understand where I would be moving to in a few months. Still can’t believe it sometimes that I’m actually living in a Spanish paradise.

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Now let’s take a look at a week in my life, shall we? 

Monday: While working in hospitality and retail before Monday’s really didn’t give me the blues because many times, they were my Friday! Well here in Spain, my Monday’s are the LONGEST day of the week…

9:50 am- First class of the day, with primary kids in the 6th grade

BREAK- 10:45-12:15

12:15 pm- Second class of the day, with primary kids in the 1st grade

1-3 pm- LUNCHTIME: This school is a little different than some others in Palma, since it is a private school the day finishes at 5 but kids get a 2 hour lunch break giving them time to go home and eat or eat at the school and play.

3 pm- Third class of the day, with primary kids in the 3rd grade

4 pm- Last class of today, with primary kids in the 5th grade

5- 6:30 pm- Private Lesson with a girl and her brother

8 pm- Spanish class (which I have yet to attend but I will be this week)

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Monday is my absolute least favorite day because I spend 7 hours at the school while only working 4, the classes itself though are pretty fun.

Tuesday: On Tuesday and Wednesday I spend my time in the beautiful town of Pollenca, it is about an hour bus ride from Palma which isn’t so bad considering all the wonderful views!

7:30 am- Bus departs for Pollenca

8:30 am– First class, with primary kids in the 1st grade

9:30 am- Second class, with primary kids in the 2nd grade

10:45 am- Third class, with primary kids in the 3rd grade

1:10 pm- Bus departs back towards Palma

4:45 pm– Private lesson with 2 VERY energetic 3 year-olds

Wednesday: 

8:40 am- Bus departs for Pollenca

9:50 am- First class, with ESO kids in the 1st year (equivalent to our middle school)

10:45 am- Second class, with ESO kids in the 2nd year

1:10 pm- Bus departs back towards Palma

8 pm- Spanish Class!

Thursday: Back at the Palma school!

9:50 am- First class, with primary kids in the 1st year

11:15 am- Second class, with primary kids in the 2nd year

5:30 pm- Private Lesson with a very intelligent 11 year old!

Friday, Saturday and Sunday are my days off every week which is pretty weird to have weekends off! The weather has been extremely nice for November so far with most days getting a bit about 65 which allows for outdoor activities! The nights can still get cold though, especially with the humidity!

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

My desire to visit Morocco came after talking to many previous auxiliares about their experiences in the African country. However, with that desire did come a bit of fear. It wasn’t exactly the type of fear that I feel about flying or losing family members but more a fear of the unknown. I had never stepped foot on Africa, or any country similar to Morocco. Outside of the US I had only ever been to Canada, Mexico (on a cruise) and Italy. I just really didn’t know what to expect of Morocco… and now that I’m back, I’m ready to push myself even further out of my comfort zone.

A few of my friends and myself signed up with a program called Discover Excursions which I would highly recommend if it is your first time to Morocco. Everything was pre-paid for except for drinks and any souvenirs you would buy which made it easy to save our money while we were there. The trip began on Friday in Sevilla which is an absolutely GORGEOUS city in Spain, 10/10 would go there again.

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We departed from Sevilla to Tarifa which is actually the southernmost point in continental Europe. Once we arrived in Tarifa we took a ferry to cross over the Strait of Gibraltar into a coastal town known as Tanger. Then after arriving in Tanger, we still had another hour and a half bus ride into Tetouan. Considering we all took flights at 6 in the morning into Sevilla and didn’t arrive until 11 pm Spanish time we were more than ready to arrive at our hotel. We were greeted by some traditional Moroccan mint tea and a meal of couscous and chicken with chickpeas. After stuffing our faces we were eager to get to sleep. Everything instantly got better when we opened our hotel room to find a California king sized bed after having slept in a twin for the past two months. Needless to say I slept like a baby.

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The next day, breakfast which included various cheeses, meats, breads and sauces was served at 8 am. Then we needed to board a bus to head to the “Blue City” known as Chefchaouen. After a long bus ride up the mountainside we could begin to see all the shades of blue in the distance. Chefchaouen is known as an older city located within a medina. It was built entirely in the mountain side but once you get closer to the top you get some pretty gorgeous views of Moroccan countryside. The first part of our excursion in the blue city was a walking tour led by one of the locals of Chefchaouen. As we walked through the city we were told about the history of the town and influence that Spain had on their culture. Many of the locals would great us with “Welcome to Morocco” or simply a kind “hello”. We finished our walking tour at a the restaurant “Aladdin” which had traditional Moroccan food in an enchanting atmosphere.

 

We were then sent off for 3 hours of barganing. Those who are unfarmiliar with the bargaining expericence it is definitely something you should do at least once in your lifetime. In Morocco there are many little shops with handmade goods and local products. You have to have a set price in your head of what you´re willing to pay for a certain product and try to work with the shopkeeper to negociate the price. For example, you would want to pay about 7 euros for a pashmina. The shopkeeper would start at 15-20 euros so you would need to negociate your way down to 7. I was able to bargain my way into quite a few different items!

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After our shopping experience we went back to the hotel to have a dinner with rice and some moroccan chicken. We were then serenaded later that night by some local muscians while enjoying Spanish sangria.

With some much needed rest we were ready for our adventures in Tangier! Tangier is a costal city in Morocco which over a million habitants. It has influence from Spain and France which you can see in the architecture and many signs that show Arabic, Spanish, French and English! French is compulsory in the Moroccan school system so many menus and shops had French as well as the Arabic. Our day started at the Caves of Hercules after a driving tour of the city. After the caves, we headed into the city of Tangier accomodated by a local tour guide who knew about 5 different languages fluently! We were able to see how different this city was from the small town of Chefchaouen. Our tour ended at a pharmacy which was rather different from what we thought of a pharmacy. This store had all sorts of oils and lotions that would help everything from a headache and nausea to split ends!

The pharmacist showed us all the different lotions and potions and what they were good for. I ended up buying WAY more than I needed including argan oil and cactus cream but hey, it was so worth it!

After the pharmacy we had our final lunch with the group at a cute little restaurant in Tangier. This lunch included chicken skewers (yeah more chicken) and french fries. I can´t say I was thourougly impressed with the food. I think between the cost of the trip and all of the travel I´m sure there wasn’t tons of options left for food. We then headed back to the port and were bid adieu by some kind locals. After a ferry ride, bus ride, night in a hostel, flight and one final bus ride we were back in our lovely flat in Palma. Boy does traveling take quite a lot out of you!

 

Excuse my French, but I’m in France

After a grueling two weeks of working less than 12 hours the Spaniards had a holiday to gift us 5 days off. October 12th was known as “Día de la Hispanidad” or Hispanic Day which inadvertently gives you October 13th off as well! Two of my room mates and myself went straight to our computers after receiving our academic calendars and were  scouring the internet for the best airline deals we decided on Paris, France!

Paris is one of those places that you dream about. It’s presented in so many TV shows, films and romance novels. It is known as the city of love, and it definitely lived up to that name.

Day 1: Thursday 12 October 

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We arrived on Thursday at 8:30 am into Beauvais Airport. Little did we know that because of our cheap Ryan Air tickets this airport was about an hour and fifteen minutes away from Paris. Luckily, there was an option for airport transfer to the city for about 14 Euros! When we arrived at St. Christophers Inn Canal hostel we had about an hour and a half till check-in time. It was a cute hostel with a built in bar/restaurant and seemed to be where many other twenty-somethings congregated. Considering our already early morning we planned to take it easy by visiting the Louvre, Catacombs and The Eiffel Tower. We arrived to the Louvre fairly late (around 5/5:30 pm) which apparently means they don’t sell tickets anymore to view the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately we were never able to get back to see the Mona Lisa but watching around The Louvre was still exciting! We decided then to opt out of the metro and walk to the Catacombs and then onto The Eiffel Tower to get a feel for Paris. *Side note: THEY ARE NOT THAT CLOSE about 2.7 miles, I thought I would need feet replacements! The Eiffel Tower is everything you can think of. It also lights up every hour after 9 pm for about 5 minutes and that is quite a site to see. We decided to be smart on the way back and take the metro since we were rather famished and just needed to grub. After we got back, we walked around a bit and happened upon a pizzera called “Pizzeria Cordial”. We got 2 medium sized pizzas for about 10 euros and boy were they good!

Day 2: Friday 13 October 

Luckily my room mates are just as impulse as me. We happened upon a flyer for Disneyland Paris and after looking online saw it was only $57 so of course we bought tickets right away. I’ve been fortunate enough to live 15 minutes away from Disneyland in California for a majority of my life. The opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris was finally a dream-turned reality. Disneyland very closely resembled the one in Anaheim but in many ways it would give you little reminders that you were in France. The language of course was the biggest difference but many of the rides varied greatly! For example, at Disneyland Anaheim the Indiana Jones ride was an adventure through the movie in a moving Jeep. In Disneyland France it was a small-scale rollercoaster with a 360 loop, and no reference to Indiana Jones. The food was also a huge difference. It was not only cheaper but better! No chicken nuggets and fries at every stand. We were able to get a full meal for about 12 euros which helped fill us up for a majority of the day. We continued to go on rides and walk around until 8 pm when the fireworks show started. The fireworks show, which included both fireworks and Disney movies both old and new being streamed on the castle. The language would switch from English to French and the fireworks went to the songs! It was definitely a highlight from the day.

Day 3: Saturday 14 October 

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Saturday stared off with one of the BEST EGG BENEDICTS I’VE EVER HAD. Thank you Emily Giglio for the incredible recommendation. It was a small hole in the wall type restaurant called Eggs & Co. and it was FABULOUS. I could probably write a whole other blog post on our meal but I’ll stop here. Next we visited a French bakery called Laduree which also had some of the best macarons I’ve had. (French bakeries in the US got NOTHIN on Paris… obviously). Our tummies were full and we began to proceed over to Notre Dame. The line was insane so we mainly enjoyed from the outside. Next up was the Luxembourg Gardens which had a whole array of people sitting outside due to the beautiful weather. Tiredness then began kicking in as it’s not as easy to sleep with 9 other people in a room. We headed back to the hostel and decided to have some quick R&R before heading to an ice bar that we discovered online. I had always wanted to go to an ice bar.

Day 4: Sunday 15 October 

After having spent my life savings the previous 3 days we decided to make Sunday our “bargain” day. We were determined to do anything we could for free (minus eating of course). We started the day out by getting some great crepes near the Arc de Triomphe. I’m pretty sure nutella is a food group in Europe and it’s definitely become one of mine. We went over to the Arc de Triomphe and with our student visas (I know I’m a teacher not a student, it’s a funny thing here) and got in for free! Looking back, I wish we tried more places to get into with our student visas since the requirement was a visa for at least 3 months. We climbed all 260 steps to get a beautiful view of Paris from the top.  After getting our workout in for the next week we headed over to the Parc du Champ de Mars which gave us an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower during the day! Since we were determined to get to the Sacre Coeur before sundown we only had a few minutes to spend in the park. We headed over on foot to the Sacre Coeur which is similar to scaling a large mountain… just kidding, but it felt like we were always walking at a ninety degree angle. We missed the sunset because of some confusion with a festival that was currently happening around the Basilica. I’m not sure what kind of street fair it was but boy it was packed with people. We then decided to end our night at the Moulin Rouge, but of course by just looking at the outside. As we walked towards Moulin Rouge we stopped to satisfy our sushi craving which was actually pretty darn good! (Can’t remember the name). As we began to get closer to the Moulin Rouge an array of cat-callers started to make themselves known. Although it was good to see the lit up signs at night, I could do without the constant “hey sexy, ooh baby…” you know the type of cat-calling that makes you want to shower for a week. Although our trip to Paris wasn’t over until our flight left the next day at 5 we were rather tired and knew it was best to relax until our return back to Mallorca.

DO’S IN PARIS:

  • Go to Eggs & Co.
  • Visit Disneyland Paris
  • Combine walking & the metro to see the city
  • Watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle

DONT’S IN PARIS:

  • Pay to go in certain museums if you are a student, check first if it’s free
  • Worry when you’re stared at for wearing a dress in 78 degree weather. Yeah I know, people had SCARFS on.
  • Eat dinner/lunch/brunch in a touristy area. Ask your hostel or friends for ideas. The restaurants were not only pricey but not very good.
  • Go too late to museums. Even if they say there open they might not allow entry if tickets are not previously bought.

We No Speak Americano

What I observed in my first week in Spain

**Obviously these are just MY thoughts & observations, this no way means that everything I wrote is 100% true about the Spanish lifestyle.

  • Drinking is acceptable anytime, anyplace. And no, this isn’t the drinking we participate in America where the goal is being belligerent. You spend so much time talking to the people you’re with that you end up nursing a beer or glass of wine for quite some time.
  • LOTS of people have dogs in Spain, but they aren’t too keen on you trying to reach out and pet their pup. (Unfortunately for me this is something I need to remind myself of each and every day since i miss my puppers). **Side note I was told by one of my flat mates that you can pet other people’s pets so maybe I’m just acting too intensely… LOL
  • People stare at me a lot. It’s not like a uh huh honey type of stare but more like why do you have blue hair and a nose piercing stare and are taller than the average spaniard and wearing yoga pants all the time with flip flops kind of stare. I remember this stare in Italy. I was seemingly the only blonde in the town so I was very obviously a foreigner. I don’t really even register the staring anymore, you just kind of get used to it and proceed walking.
  • Spaniards don’t smile at you on the street or say “I’m sorry” after bumping into you. I’ve gotten pretty used to this too in the first week but It will forsure feel weird returning to the states and forgetting about that cultural norm.
  • SIESTA’S ARE STILL REAL YALL, and pretty fabulous. After a rigorous day of working 9-1 I get to go home and take a nap. I wasn’t even a regular napper in the states unless I was REAALLY tired… but now it’s just kind of the culture so I’ll participate if I must. 😉
  • Lunch is late, dinner is later. I think because the siesta usually falls mid-day and then Spaniards get back up and running again for a few hours before calling it a day and eating delicious food.
  • Many times when I would tell someone I was in Palma to teach english they would ask me how to say certain things or if they were saying things correctly. This was always fun! I met so many people who genuinely wanted to practice their English with me.
  • Public transportation and your feets are the primary method of traveling. People do have cars but you can get almost anywhere across the entire island on a train, metro, bus or by foot!
  • Friends and family beat out responsibilities a majority of the time. I love that. I loved my job in the states but it was difficult at times working late hours. You can get the feeling here that Spaniards will do anything they can to see their friends or family during the day no matter what work they had. I felt like so many times I said “I’m sorry I can’t, I have to work” but haven’t said that yet!
  • I feel less anxious here, and I think it’s due to the pace of life in Spain. It’s pretty nice for a change to focus on more important things like friendships and being active over working!
  • I’ve RARELY seen someone walking around Palma with a coffee cup in their hand or food. I think because when people grab something to eat/drink they want to genuinely enjoy it. Whether it’s while sitting with friends or people watching sitting down was way more the norm than rushing to work with goodies.

 

OTHER THINGS ABOUT MY FIRST WEEK:

  • So I have two schools I teach at, both for 6 hours a week. One is in Palma which is the main city here in Mallorca and the other is in Pollenca, about 45 minutes by bus.
  • *JEALOUSY WARNING* I have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off every week. (Which doesn’t even begin to include all the holidays Mallorca takes).  Everyday I work for 3 hours with varying hours! Really doesn’t make me miss the crazy schedule of hospitality! AND IT LEAVES SO MUCH ROOM FOR ACTIVITIES!
  • There is always someone looking to take private English lessons. This is a way to gain extra income during my program to help pay for things like rent and travel! I haven’t quite set it up yet but hopefully that will come soon.
  • I am more or less an assistant teacher. I am in the classroom to provide fluent English assistance to the teacher and give any information about the American culture I know.

Adios for now!

Living Like a Local, While Looking Like a Tourist.

After a cab ride from hell to the JFK airport we were finally boarded on the flight to Barcelona. Considering my unsettling flight anxiety I was both excited and terrified to spent 8 hours 35,000 feet above the ground. We spent quite some time taxing on the runway making me hope the plane could just drive us to Spain (yes my anxiety is THAT bad). Before I knew it though we were finally on our descent into the Barcelona El Prats airport. The jitters set in and the sadness seemed to leave my body somewhere over the Atlantic. I finally felt ready for my new adventure with my head peering out the window searching for the morning sunrise to glisten upon my first sight of Spain. Then after a few moments I looked out my small window to see what I had dreamed about for so many years, Europe. As the altitude slowly decreased and the captain notified the flight staff to returned to their seats emotion swelled completely over my eyes. After spending about a month traveling around visiting friends and family and only having slept in my bed for 3 days in the span of 3 1/2 weeks it felt real. I was home.

After getting off the plane my mom and I headed over to baggage claim, It slowly set in that I would need to begin to use the Spanish I learned in high school and college to get to my airbnb. Fun thing was, the Barcelona airport either has no WiFi or very poor reception so trying to navigate around without the internet seemed like a task a millennial was unable to accomplish.

With the help of some previously printed out directions and a very patient cab driver we made it to the airbnb! A nice Brazilian named Marcelo greeted us to the door and welcomed us immediately. Unfortunately the jet lag reared it’s ugly head and I needed a solid catnap before proceeding to explore Barcelona. Three hours later we were out the door!

I already have a bad reputation for not capturing a lot of photos while traveling but looking back I’m bummed I didn’t snap some of the restaurants we ate at. The first one we went to was a tapas style lunch and dinner restaurant. We started out with a large Sangria and some various little bites that Spain is so well known for. We were able to use our Spanish enough for him to bring us some free “cava” (Spanish champagne). After filling our tummies it was time to search for a sim card that would work with my cell phone for the course of my year. This didn’t come easy though. I was used to vodafone from when I studied abroad previously but considering our lack of GPS ability we relied on locals to search for the nearest one. You really don’t realize how important your electronics can be to you until you don’t have the ability to use them.

The day continued on now that we had GPS capability and whatsapp to contact our airbnb host in case anything went wrong. Since the jet lag still felt like a heavy weight the best way to make the use of our day was to simply wander. With the thanks of Marcelo we were made aware of the underground subway system that can take you almost anywhere in Barcelona. They have a nifty 10 ride card for 9,99 that would allow 2 people 5 different rides. We would just sit in the subway, point at some location and hope it was somewhere worth seeing (then again everywhere in Barcelona was worth seeing).

After some much needed rest it seemed like the jet lag was finally staring to wear off (it wasn’t) but today was the day to see much of what makes Barcelona famous. We took the subway over to see Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s famous architectural wonders. After what felt like 1,000 stairs to get up to the top I saw just what everyone was telling me about. One of the most beautiful views of the city is at the top of the park and you can see what feels like all of Barcelona. Next we rode the subway again to walk by La Sagrada Familia, another incredible piece by Gaudi, it is still unfinished with a expected completion date of 2030. While walking around we saw a few terrace cafes but only one made my tastebuds water. Strangely enough it was a pizzeria (I know it’s not Italy) but I had a hankering for some carbs with cheese on it.

The rest of the day was spent walking around Las Ramblas and looking at the mall and even doing a little shopping. With only the GPS on my phone and our four very capable legs we went anywhere the felt worth seeing. Stumbling upon an outdoor market, a cathedral and many street performers. Wandering around made me feel like I was 16 again, the small streets, the cars that look like they could be driven with remote controllers and music on almost any block. I looked back to the times this month that I spent crying, worried about everything to come and panicked I’d spend more time missing my family than enjoying my new adventure. It all changed when I arrived to Barcelona, the eagerness set in as I saw my roommates arrive in Palma one by one. I was excited to think of all the adventures we would have together and ready for all this year might bring. I’ll be spending the next two days in Madrid taking in all that beautiful city has to offer before I can settle in to what will be a very exciting year.

My take on Barcelona:

-Stay at an airbnb

-Try to speak any Spanish you know to your waiter, they always appreciated it even when it took a few moments to explain something.

-Use the transit system and buy the T-10 card, you could go visit ALL the known monuments with this.

-If you do use the metro, make sure to stay to the right side of the escalator so people can walk up it next to you. (YES there are stairs right next to the escalator but I was informed this is just a thing in Spain).

-Sangria is known as drink for 16 year-olds by many Spaniards (as i was informed) try going for a vino tinto/blanco/rosado or tinto de verano if you want to look like a local.. But hey, sangria is pretty good so no judgements here.

-Beer is also served as whatever is on draft, you order it by the size and not by the brand. Yes craft beer lovers they don’t have bottled iPA’s quite yet.

-Don’t set a plan and walk as much as possible. Yes Barcelona is a HUGE city but we happened upon all of our restaurants by just walking down a street and looking at various menus. Always ask for the Spanish menu.

-Sitting on the terrace is great, but many restaurants include a %15 surcharge for the added service.

-El Menu del dia is a great way to get lots of food, wine and bread for only about 10 euros. (Don’t try that at dinner though or it’ll be more expensive)

-“Lo Siento” is not used when you bump into someone. I was rarely even said “perdon” to, it only seemed to be used when trying to pass someone who maybe was distracted by their cell phone.

-Water is not readily available at restaurants and comes in bottled form. I already dearly miss my Oregon tap water, but bottled water is only about .75 euros so I tend to opt for that instead,

-If someone heard us speaking english before walking into a restaurant they would address the entire meal to us in English. I still tried using my Spanish regardless for good practice.

*Note- We went to Madrid as well but because of the shorter time we had with flights & trains going to/from cities I decided to focus on Barcelona