Oh The Places You’ll Go

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Dr. Seuss

IMG_E0999

So here it is, the blog post that I’ve long dreaded to write. The blog post that would mean I had returned from Spain and left my year long adventure behind me. I spent 9 months living in the beautiful island of Mallorca and traveling all over Europe. I met friends that quickly turned into family and I fully embraced myself in a culture different to my own.

A year ago, to this exact day I received my placement in the Balearic Islands. I knew very little about these islands but after immense research I fell in love. I started prepping everything possible for my new experience but with all my excitement I felt a tingling sense of anxiety.

As many of you know I struggled immensely in the beginning of 2017. A broken heart, a broken wrist, a car accident and a stolen wallet all led for a recipe of depression and a lack of will to enjoy life. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore and the pain of all these events kept me up at night almost the entire month of March. It wasn’t until I was online and saw a “TEFL” advertisement pop up on my computer that I started thinking. Why did I feel so empty? I knew I wasn’t a sad person but I was constantly irritable, avoiding friends and family and wanting to sit at home and watch TV every moment I clocked out of work.

The first step was hard. “Get a TEFL” I thought, am I really ready to go abroad with this mindset? Even as sad as I felt my gut told me, be like nike and JUST DO IT. I applied with International TEFL Academy and started looking into countries. I was asking around trying to find anyone else who had done something similar until I hear about the Auxiliares de Conversacion program in Spain. It was April 12th, application was due April 18th. Alright, sure. I ran around and got all the necessary documents and turned them in.

I read more about the program and the ability to live abroad on a visa seemed to be a difficult thing to do with other countries so this seemed like a good choice. Slowly I got admitted, accepted, placed in the islands and finally placed at my schools. Although I was still petrified at the thought of going abroad something just felt so completely right to me. My heart went from feeling so empty to having a glimpse of excitement and happiness return.

With every annoying process (other aux’s I’m sure you know what I mean) my mood kept changing. I was no longer fixating on the problems I had before but now my sole focus was to get myself abroad and save money to do so. I picked up shifts, I avoided eating out, I tried everything I could to spare a dime. I purchased my ticket for September 25th.

I didn’t know what to expect, I’ve been abroad before (and at 16) but I had a host family, orientations and assistance from regional directors if any issues arose. This time I was going in blind, completely alone with only an apartment secured from some other auxilaires I met on facebook.

I’d rewrite exactly how great the year was but luckily that’s what all my other blog posts are for. Now I want to focus on the return. After the travels with my dad we returned to Palma for 2 days before my final goodbyes. I met up with some friends to see Steve Aoki and enjoy time with them.

When it finally came time to board my flight to New York I started to feel the whole year come in the form of tears cascading down my face. The year wasn’t just a way for me to go and travel Europe, the year was for me to reinvent myself. All the travels only helped me really understand who I really was and helped me get back to the person I knew I could be. All the friends I met gave me insight into their lives and helped me learn so much throughout the year. The late night talks, the trips to Magaluf, the brunches/lunches/dinners, the movie nights that turned into mornings and the tears that turned into laughter. I can’t put into words how much each of you affected my life and how grateful I am to finally feel like the person I knew I was. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, the most confident, the most able to stand up for myself and what I believe in, the one willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs one and most importantly completely and totally in love with myself.

Now I’ve returned home and the reverse culture shock sure has set in. I’m waking up at 6:30, saying Hola to uber drivers and giving .25 cent coins thinking their .50 cent coins to confused cashiers. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To say I would love to go back is an understatement but I realized it wasn’t Spain that changed me, it was all the incredible people I met.

I’ve now got a life ahead of me and many options of where I’d like to go. Will it be working in Dallas? Crossing the country and moving to Florida? Trying to go abroad again in Asia? Saving up and paying off all my debts while living at home? I’ve got no idea what lies ahead, but the journey… is always worth it.

“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

-Anthony Bourdain 

Letters to my friends:

 Kim: We met by complete chance but I’m beginning to think that it was meant to be. You taught me to not care what anyone else thinks and to simply live my life without worries. You were my travel buddy and always willing to do anything at a moments notice. You helped me learn that it’s okay if people don’t like me or disagree with me because I have so many other people that do love me. You encouraged me to put myself out there and forget about my past. You opened up to me even when I know it’s a difficult thing for you to do. You helped me trust again and taught me that NO MAN but a good man deserves to have me. You’re going to do incredible things in Miami, I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished and I know our paths will cross again.

IMG_2451

       Sarah: My spiritual mentor, you understood me when I started rambling on about buddha or other weird things. We always got so deep in conversation that the time just completely flew by. You related to me when I wanted to talk about music festivals and EDM. We stayed up late talking about life and other matters and I knew no matter what you wouldn’t judge me. You were always so willing to help calm me down when I got anxious (even with silly things like a bug bite). You have a spirit to go and continue teaching english and although I’ve never seen you teach I can tell you’re going to impact so many people’s lives. Your charisma and love to help others will always take you so far in life and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. (I don’t know how we don’t have a photo of just to two of us but us playing with this dog summarizes our relationship)

IMG_E8872

       Madison: You are one of the most wholesome humans I’ve ever met. You seek out the best in everyone and you always want to make sure that people feel included and loved. Your zest for life will take you around the world and will always keep you humble. Your ability to just live in the moment taught me that I just need to slow down, and that it’s okay to just focus on the here and now. You also taught me to love, because your ability to care for others showed me that we can still be kind to those who might not deserve it. I know whatever you do next in life you will do it with a pure heart. I hope that somehow, someday we will be able to start our Thailand adventures. But like a 14 year old writing in a yearbook “don’t ever change”.

IMG_2470

       Kevin: My first friend from the program I’m surprised with all the people I encountered on facebook our friendship actually stuck. Your extremely positive view on life and yourself made me realize that confidence looks great on everyone. You were an ear when I needed to vent. You kept me sane with your copious amounts of back rubs and time spent just watching movies or getting down on the dance floor. You complimented me when I wasn’t feeling great and always had nothing but supporting things to say. Whether you become a substitute teacher or a ski instructor in the mountains of Colorado, you’re gonna do great.

IMG_0594

… because of all of you my heart is full again.

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill
(Just because you didn’t get a shout out does not mean you didn’t impact my life. I can only cry through writing so many of these)

 

Portugal: Porto

With just a quick hour and a half flight Portugal is extremely accessible from almost any part in Spain. Although locals say that Portugal resembles nothing to Spain I found the two quite comparable.

We set off on our journey arriving late at night on Saturday. The airport is about an hour from the city by metro and our hostel just 15 minutes from the metro. Upon arriving at our hostel I soon realized this was by far the best hostel I have stayed at in Europe. It had everything a hostel should, a rooftop terrace, a free breakfast, comfy beds, attentive staff and was even centrally located! I would highly recommend Tattva Design Hostel!

After a GREAT sleep in the hostel bed (honestly every hostel should have a full curtain over the bed and a comforter instead of blankets) we went to the free breakfast. When Kim and I travel, we have the ability to plan absolutely nothing so our first activity was to go find wine and sit in a park in a hammock. Knowing that we would soon be embarking on an expensive trip to Iceland we tried to do Portugal under 100 euros. After purchasing some local wine, cheese and cold cuts we walked to the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal. It was a beautiful park with lots of locals sitting around and enjoying the not-too-hot day.

IMG_0848

After having a little too much Portuguese wine we decided it was time to go eat. WORD TO THE WISE* (places in Europe are very commonly closed on Sunday) so it was a little difficult to find authentic Portuguese food the first night. We settled on some pasta instead. Then we went back to the hostel to engage with other tourists traveling in Porto.

The best way to travel is to allow yourself to get completely lost in a place and see what cool things you happen to come upon. In our case, without even realizing we saw the Clerigos Church, the six bridges of Porto, the Duoro River, Cais de Riberia and many local restaurants specializing in Porto wine.

The most difficult thing about Porto was you felt like you were still in Spain. We were advised though that locals are very proud of their Portuguese language so it not usually appropriate to speak in Spanish. Everyone we encountered though was extremely friendly and always happy to help out tourists.

The second day we explored the river and ate some more local cheese and walked around the various little streets. We watched a great performer play on a violin and ate gelato. It was a beautiful 75 degree day so we tried to enjoy the sun as much as we could. We decided into doing a boat cruise through the river to allow us to see what Porto is famous four, their 6 bridges.

Later in the evening we stumbled upon a cute little restaurant in a side street. Our goal was to find some sort of seafood considering we were in a town near the beach. After looking at a few places we found a nice little restaurant (I swear I need to get better at remembering names) and had some great shrimp and a sort of cod/potato/ cheese dish.

Now let me tell you, Porto is essentially built into a mountain because every time you’re walking around you are walking at a 90 degree angle. My apple watch though was quite happy with our step count! I would recommend Porto to any traveler that’s looking to sit back, relax and just enjoy their time walking around!

 

 

 

Island Hopping: From The Balearics to The Canaries

We hadn’t even been back in Palma for 2 weeks before we were packing up to head out on another adventure. This time though, to a place a little bit warmer than the alps of Switzerland. The beautiful Canary Islands! Specifically the island of Gran Canaria.

This was one of the longer trips to take since the Canaries are a little over 3 hours from Barcelona by plane. One wouldn’t even think of them as Spanish islands since they are 62 miles from Morocco at the closest point. I didn’t know what to really expect or how different they might be from Mallorca but I sure was excited to sit (and eventually burn) in that 70 degree sunshine.

While flying over, I kept peering through the window on our three hour journey to see various little islands that seemed too small to be inhabited. Then as the sun began to set a larger island appeared. From above, Gran Canaria looked like the middle was strictly filled with mountains and all the population lived along the coast.

IMG_7113

We stayed at a nice hostel in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. Lucky for us our 8 bed room only had one other person in it during the stay. First time I’ve stayed in a hostel and actually gotten good sleep! Our plans were simple, two days of beach and relaxation and one to either hike or explore another part of the island.

After a well needed rest we ventured for the beach of and some breakfast at a cute little cafe called “The Couple”. It filled us up perfectly to then spend the rest of the day lounging. We were at a beach called “Playa de Las Canteras”. The weather was perfect once the clouds cleared and the beaches were filled with tourists and locals. It was significantly cleaner than Palma beach… probably because the weather was nicer so more people are drawn to the beach. We spent the entire day there and our poor skin paid for it. A sunburn from my head to my waist made me realize I wasn’t as invincible as I thought to the sunny rays. After resting a bit and getting ready to hit the town we soon realized we were one of very few out and about. Maybe we didn’t know where the “hot” spots were or maybe it was just too early but Las Palmas resembled a ghost town. Our second failed attempt at going out at night landed us right back in the hostel, ready for another day of relaxation.

Rather similar to the first day, we started our day again at “The Couple”, even after living abroad for a few months I still can’t give up my stereotypical American breakfast. Unfortunately this day wasn’t as beautiful as the first and clouds blocked the sun intermittently throughout the day. Even with the few moments of cold breezes it was still a beautiful day at the beach. Forgetting how much the sun can take energy from you we went back to the hostel early and with the help of Glovo, didn’t have to leave until the next morning.

IMG_5763

The last day, having spent quite a long time sitting and relaxing we decided to rent a car and drive the island. Our goal was to go all around the coast and into the mountains to a popular hiking spot called “Roque Nublo”. We started at the Las Palmas Airport and made our way to Maspalomas, a widely recommended spot. Little did we know there were the Maspalomas Dunes, which made us feel as if we made a quick journey to Egypt. The beach though, was too far to walk to through all the sand but hey we got some great pics!

Next up was a town called Puerto Rico and no, I’m not talking about the country. It was even more touristy than Las Palmas with populated beaches, hotels on cliffs overlooking the ocean and a large shopping center that resembled Coney Island. We made a quick trip to Subway and an even shorter trip to the ocean.

After, we started to make our way up and BOY was it an interesting drive to get to the top of the mountains. This was my first time driving in Europe and there were no markings on the roads to differentiate between cars coming and going. Add in some expert cyclists to the mix and you’ve knocked quite a few years off of my life due to all the anxiety. The roads were windy but the view was stunning. As we climbed our way up the mountain the temperature began to drop. In Puerto Rico it was around 22 celsius (about 71 degrees) and by the time we got to the top of Roque Nublo it was a mere 7 celsius (44 degrees)! The sunshine turned into dark clouds and heavy fog making my heart race even faster than those cyclists on the road.

We finally began to make our way back down to the coast into a town called Agaete. It’s crazy to think we saw a majority of the island in our 7 hours on the road. We took our final pictures knowing that we had a flight to catch.

The Canaries resembled parts of Mallorca but had it’s own style and unique way of life. It felt quite a bit more touristy than Palma but then again tourist season hasn’t started here yet. Now that I’ve visited one, I surely added the others to my bucket list! Hopefully next time though I won’t forget the sunscreen!

IMG_2451

 

In just a few more days we will begin our spring break travels. To Milan, Athens, Sofia and Amsterdam we go! Until next time.

 

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.

IMG_7711

(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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

IMG_7871

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)

IMG_6582

2. Dryers 

IMG_7694

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.

IMG_7696

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

IMG_4346

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

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 5.50.41 PM

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.

IMG_7297

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. 🙂