Switzerland

We found an abandoned bathtub on the trail and thought it would be a good idea to use it as a sled.

This weekend, a few of my best pals and I traveled to Switzerland! After weeks of planning the trip, we realized a few days prior to our departure that the weather was supposed to be bad while we were there. Much to our surprise, the weather was great and it made for a lovely trip!

We first arrived in Geneva on Thursday. While Caroline and Mia headed straight to Interlaken, Zoë and I decided to stay one night in Geneva to explore the city a little bit. After we arrived, we dropped our bags off at our Airbnb before heading out to a traditional Swiss fondue dinner. Our Airbnb host recommend a nice restaurant away from the city center, so we thought that we would give it a shot. People always say that Switzerland is one of the most expensive European cities to visit and I would have to agree! We spent around $30 per person on a giant pot of cheese and some bread. But hey, it was a nice experience. At that point, it was already nearly 10PM. We grabbed some drinks in the bar district and headed back to the Airbnb.

Geneva has colorful flowers like these all over the place! I could not get enough!

The next morning, we went out for a day of exploring. It became pretty apparent by the mid-afternoon that Geneva is a city that you can visit in one day. It is a beautiful city with an incredible lake right in the center. We saw all the main “spots,” including the United Nations Office and the Red Cross Museum. After a long day of exploring, we hopped on a train to Interlaken. The train ride itself was absolutely incredible. We passed by some of Switzerland’s many huuuuuge lakes and straight through the Alps.  Definitely the prettiest train ride I’ve ever been on.

Once Zoë and I arrived in Interlaken, we found our hostel and plotted the rest of the day. One of my friends, Mia, had been in Interlaken the previous night and had just returned from a long hike. We decided to all relax by hopping in the hostel’s hot tub before running to the supermarket to grab something for dinner.

Saturday morning, we woke up early to depart on our first adventure in Interlaken. Some of the friends that we had made in the hot tub the night before decided to join us as well. We decided to take a ski lift to the top of a mountain and hike our way down. We had the best time frolicking through the snow and enjoying all of the beautiful scenery. We had many snowball fights and made tons of snow angels. We were all acting as if we had never seen snow before (hey, it’s been a while!). It took us about three hours and several “wipe outs” to make it back to the bottom of the mountain. The weather was incredible and although there was snow all over the place, we kept quite warm. We finished the night by cooking some frozen pizza at the hostel to avoid dropping another $30 on dinner. Our hostel was amazingly home-y and it made it so easy to make friends. We met people from all over the United States as well as Europe. It is so cool to interact with other travelers and I love that hostels really give you that opportunity.

Zoë, Mia, and I at St. Beatus Caves. Some of my favorite Sevilla girlies!! I am so thankful to have met these ladies.

On Sunday, the weather was kind of bad. We went to St. Beatus Caves, which is a popular cave system with lit pathways. It was super cool and a great “rainy day activity,” as the caves are “inside….” More or less. After that, we went back to the hostel and played fooseball, ping pong, and pool with our new friends. We had such a blast meeting new people all weekend! I think that our new friends were such a big part of what made this weekend so special.

On Monday morning, we traveled back to Sevilla. I am tired, sore after all the hiking (!!!!), and forever thankful to get to experience Switzerland! This weekend was definitely one of my favorites – we had just the best time being silly and meeting new people – I would not trade it for the world!

Lisbon, Portugal

Thanks for showing this Okie a good time, Portugal!

This weekend, I went to Lisbon for the weekend. My group left super early Friday morning and took a six-hour bus ride to Portugal. We stopped in Évora, which is a town with preserved medieval walls and many other monuments. While we were only in Évora for a few short hours, we got to see the Capela dos Ossos, or the Chapel of Bones. The Chapel gets its name because the inside is “decorated” with human bones and skulls. I don’t have any pictures of this because….seems weird. But picture the Catacombs of Paris but much smaller and less…underground. In the same building, there was also a beautiful Cathedral. It had some of the most colorful stained glass that projected bright colors onto the wood floor. It almost made it look like there were some kind of disco lights on in the Cathedral. I’m a big fan.

After our visit to Évora, we continued on the bus to Lisbon. Once we arrived, we had a guided walking tour of the city. Lisbon is a beautiful city with pastel-colored buildings and buildings covered in decorative tile. We also walked near the river; Lisbon lies on the River Tagus, which honestly is so large, it looks like the ocean. I was shocked to find out that it was only a river. After the walking tour, we decided to find a good place for dinner. We went to a little restaurant at the top of a huge hill. Portugal is known for their dried and salted cod. Before it is prepared, it is soaked in water overnight to soften it. For dinner, I had Bacalhau à Brás, which is a traditional dish that is basically a mix of scrambled eggs, potatoes, the salted cod, and olives. It was interesting – I’d give it a 7/10.

Tram 28 and me. Just as this picture was taken, it started driving off. Luckily, I was at the back!

Saturday morning, we gave ourselves the privilege of sleeping in. After that, we headed to the city to see if we could catch Tram 28. Lisbon is full of archaic-looking tram lines. Tram 28 is the most “famous” of these lines and provides a good tour of the city. We rode Tram 28 for about forty-five minutes then hopped off to grab some lunch. We found a huge market with different food stalls with all kinds of food. I went for a stall offering Portuguese cuisine and got some more of the traditional salted cod. My friend, Mia, got pumpkin risotto from the same restaurant and we shared. After lunch, I headed to the Museu Coleção Berardo, a modern art museum and the most visited museum in Portugal! To be honest, it was a little underwhelming for me, but that’s besides the point. The outside of the museum was incredible and it offered some good views as well. After the museum, we went back to the hotel for a *too* long nap. We went out for dinner around 10:30 PM (waaaay too late by Portugal standards), so out pickings were slim. We ended up at a classy burger joint and, honestly, I was kind of glad. I don’t think I’ve had a burger since being here (okay..except for one or two Micky D’s stops while in airports, etc) and WOW was this a good one!

One of *many* peacocks and a beautiful view of the river.

Saturday morning, we had another walking tour that included the Castelo de S. Jorge, which is the *casual* local castle of Lisbon. My favorite part of the tour were all the peacocks that were around the fortress of the castle. They were so incredibly beautiful – I’ve never seen one up close before! After the tour, we made a stop for one last pastel de nata (Portuguese cream tart) before we headed back to Sevilla. I think I had five pasteles de nata over the course of the weekend, and this one was definitely my favorite!

Overall, Lisbon was great! I came home with a bunch of memories and even a *small* vocabulary of Portuguese! I can say “milk,” “thank you,” “good day,” “coffee,” and….that’s it! All the essentials, right?

Italy

Venice, Italy.

This past Thursday, four of my friends and I left for one of our more intensive trips. My friend Zoë’s mom has a friend (Brenda) who lives in Vicenza, Italy, which is about an hour train ride outside of Venice. We decided a while back to go stay with her and hit a few cities while we were at it!

Gondola ride in Venice, Italy. What a dream come true! I was kind of sad our gondolier was not wearing the little traditional hat, though – others were!

We flew into Venice on late on Thursday and stayed in a lovely little bed and breakfast that Brenda had set up for us. It was the most precious place and had an absolutely wonderful breakfast. Breakfast is hardly a thing in Spain, so anytime I get more than a banana, it’s kind of a big deal! After gorging ourselves on breakfast, we met Brenda at the train station. From there, we went to Venice by train. We had the most lovely day just exploring and walking around the city. It is beautiful and canals are just insane. It is crazy to think that everything that comes in or out of the city does so through those tiny canals! The highlight of the day was definitely our gondola ride. That is something that I have always dreamed of doing! We ate lunch in a little cafe by the canal; I had pesto pasta. It was delicious – I had forgotten how much I enjoyed real Italian food! That night, we went back to Brenda’s house in Vicenza and ate some delicious Indian food. It was the first truly spicy thing I’ve had to eat in 2+ months!

On Saturday, we slept in a little but were *again* treated to the most lovely breakfast by our hosts. They made us cinnamon roll french toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, and all the works. Again, finding breakfast is a big deal because we never get it in Spain. It’s funny because I don’t really like breakfast foods when I am in the states, but here it’s almost something that I crave (???). After breakfast, we decided to head to Verona. We had originally intended to go to Florence for the day (about three hours away by train), but that would involve an early manning, a late night, and lots of running around. Even then, we would hardly be able to do the city justice. We decided to stick a little closer to Vicenza and check our Verona instead.

Some yummy lookin’ pizza in Verona! Of course, I had to stop for a slice!

“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny. Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Sound familiar? Yes, Verona is the setting of Romeo and Juliet! The city was beautiful and we had a lovely afternoon exploring. We popped in lots of shops and, of course, saw Juliet’s balcony. We found a “International Food Festival” online and decided to stop in to find some dinner. We ended up stopping at every stand and trying a bunch of different foods. Some interesting highlights were the caciocavallo spread on bread as well as the three different cannolis. We also had a calzone, a burger, some curry, these little meat skewers, etc. After that, we headed back to Vicenza for the night. Brenda had bought us some Oreos, which were definitely a treat! They have access to the army base commissary which has many American foods, so they found us some treats that are harder to find in Spain (yay!).

Can you tell by my face in this photo how I felt about the birds in Milan?

Flights out of Milan were much cheaper than those our of Venice, so three of us decided to take the opportunity to spend Sunday in Milan as well. We got up at 6:30 and made our way to the train station for a three hour ride. As soon as we got there, we hit the town! We first went to the Starbucks Reserve for some coffee and breakfast. This Starbucks is incredibly opulent and impressive. You should Google it, it is definitely a sight to see! We then did some shopping (as is customary in the “Fashion Capital of the World”), saw the Duomo, and played with the birds outside of the cathedral. My friends are really into getting the birds to jump on them (as our most tourists, haha) but I can’t stand them! I’m not the biggest bird fan, I must say! After a lovely day exploring Milan, we headed to the airport and returned to Sevilla.

Overall, this weekend was absolutely lovely. I especially enjoyed getting to know our hosts for the weekend, Brenda and Craig. The US Army has taken them all over the world. They have lived in Vicenza for almost four years and they love hosting guests. Brenda keeps count on how many people come stay in their house – I was #115! They are truly the most incredible hosts ever and I cannot thank them enough or begin to repay them for the hospitality that they displayed for our group this weekend. I went to Vicenza thinking we would have a free place to stay, but they offered us so much more than that! I hope to run into them in the future.

Uncertainty

Although I consider myself a generally flexible person, I do not like uncertainty. In fact, when there is uncertainty in my life, I tend to obsess over it. However, my life was thrown into a cloud of uncertainty when I began my semester abroad.

Even after seven years of studying the Spanish language, I can only completely understand someone speaking to me about 80% of the time. Even when I feel as though I can properly translate the sentence, I doubt myself and even question the cultural differences that may be in play during the exchange. When I speak to others, even when I am sure I am saying the correct thing, I worry that I may mistake a word or conjugate incorrectly. I am never completely confident or certain in my speaking abilities.

The uncertainty that I have faced everyday has made me uncomfortable, but it has also challenged me to become comfortable with the unknown. This is because, frankly, I have no choice. I could ask “Que?” after every time someone speaks to me to ensure that I had heard them correctly the first time, but that would get old very quickly. I could quickly Google Translate everything I want to say before I say it, but that would not help me improve my Spanish. For now, I am “winging it” and choosing to live with uncertainty, to a certain extent.

Barcelona, Spain

“Dancing through the streets in Barcelona” – Barcelona, Ed Sheeran

We started off the weekend on Friday with an early flight in. Once we got there, we took the metro to city center and headed straight to Park Güell. We had a lovely time at the park and we even met some girls from Boston traveling for their spring break. We went with them to a lovely tapas restaurant and had a great meal. After that, we separated and headed to our hostel to check in.

The view of the sunset at the lookout. Not the best lighting, but you get the idea!

In the evening, we went to Parc del Guinardó which has a fabulous lookout over Barcelona. We didn’t realize, however, that it was such a hike to the top! Either way, the  view of the city and the sunset from the top was totally worth it. We took a few bottles of wine to the top (as does everyone), then had to be super careful coming down once the sun had gone down and we had had a few glasses of wine (yikes). Since we had lunch rather late and were not hungry for dinner, I had a yummy hot dog from a small place we passed on the street.

On Saturday, we got up and immediately headed to La Sagrada Familia. I had been there several years ago, but it is much more magnificent than I remember. It’s funny how memories can fade as time goes by. Or maybe I just have a greater appreciation for these things than I did when I was fourteen. I was totally astonished and loved every minute that we were in the basilica.

Me and my juice.

After La Sagrada Familia, we made our way to Las Ramblas. Of course, we had to stop at La Boqueria for a snack. I remember this as my favorite part of my previous trip to Barcelona, and I think it was nearly my favorite part of this trip as well. The endless lines of vendors and yummy foods to try are just indescribable. I was pretty full from lunch (we had burgers, yum), so I only had a juice (mango and coconut), which was delicious.

In the market, there are a ton of little tapas bars. At one tapas bar, there was a raw, straight-out-of-the-ocean-lookin’ octopus sitting on the counter, less than half a foot from where customers were eating. I thought this was kind of funny. I stood there admiring the situation when a chef walked over to the octopus and cut off one of its tentacles with a giant knife. The customers eating at the counter didn’t even flinch; I’m not even sure they were aware of the situation. It was kind of cool to see for me, though! Wish I had snapped a picture of the octopus on the counter – hopefully you can imagine!

There were a couple factors that made this weekend so great. I realized just how much I love all of the amigas that I have met here. Also, our hostel was absolutely incredible. There were many opportunities to meet other travelers and the employees were all very knowledgable and helpful. Overall, Barcelona yielded a fantastic weekend of little sleep, lots of walking (nearly fifteen miles on Saturday alone), and many memories.

A Weekend in Sevilla

Me outside of the Alcázar in Jerez.

This weekend, I decided to stay in Sevilla and catch a breather from weekend traveling. Although I was not initially thrilled about it (I thought that I spent enough time here during the week), I could not be more thankful for my decision to stay here. 

After class on Thursday, my friend Caroline and I decided to catch dinner and a movie. We ended up leaving too late to grab a “real” dinner, so we stopped for pizza by-the-slice at a place we’ve been eyeing by the Cathedral. It was delicious and we ate it while walking to the movie theatre. We decided to see Green Book (in English) and I loved it! It was definitely one of the best movies that I have seen in a long time. Of course, we had to get popcorn, Coke Zeros, and some M&Ms, but everything was still remarkably cheap. I think I spent around $8 for my ticket, candy, and a HUGE soda.

Time spent by the river is always time well spent.

On Friday, I had lunch with my host mother then left to go to the river. We grabbed a few bottles of wine, a blanket, our “homework,” and went to sit out in the park. The river is always very crowded on the weekends and afternoons. It is a very popular pastime for people in Sevilla, with good reason. Everyone always has a bottle in their hands and music playing while enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the sun. We stayed out until dinner, then headed home to eat with our host families. After dinner, a few of my friends and I headed to Las Bolas (our new favorite gelato spot) for dessert. 

Pepper, sardine, tomato, artichoke.

Saturday was an adventure for sure. My friend Kaylee and I decided to go to a nearby town, Jerez, to visit a bodega. We left around 10AM in a BlaBla Car, which is basically an Uber for long distance traveling. There were 5 other people in the car, which was a little over an hour long. We talked for the whole ride in Spanish, which was kind of fun. When we arrived in Jerez, we visited the local Cathedral and Alcazar (things you must do in any Spanish town). We then went to a nice tapas restaurant for a late lunch. Kaylee and I shared about seven different items, but this was probably the most interesting. A little skewer with artichoke, tomato, sardines, and a pepper. I’m not quite sure that was what we were expecting, but it was good!

After lunch, we went to the winery. We went to the González Byass bodega, which is the producer of a variety of sherry brands. Their most popular brand is Tio Pepe, which is sold in countries across the world. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the day, but it did not disappoint. The winery was absolutely beautiful. We got to see where the wine is stored and learn about the process of making fortified wine which is something I was definitely not familiar with. This bodega is “famous” and has lots of really cool visitors including Pablo Picasso and Steven Spielberg. Every time someone famous visits the bodega, they sign a barrel of wine. There is a whole room filled with signed barrels.

Is this not just the cutest thing?

Another funny this about this bodega is that there is a famous picture of a mouse drinking wine in the cellar. Apparently, at some point, one of the employees in the winery would give the cellar mice wine and bread to keep them from chewing on the bottoms of the wooden barrels. The employee even built a little latter so that the mouse could drink from the wine glass. They still have it sitting out, although I’m not sure that mice still use it, haha. Of course, no visit to a bodega is complete without tasting the wines. We tasted four different brands produced at the Bodega, and I was surprised that I actually enjoyed them all. 

Sunday will just be a chill day by the river. I have three midterms this week, so I have to start thinking about those at some point!

Shoutout

I would like to give a quick shoutout to Auntie Meg for being the most active (only? haha) reader of this blog AND sending me Extra Toasty Cheez-Its after I made a post about how I was craving some. Much love!!

Cologne, Germany

Einhorn spotting by the Rhine!

Carnival in Cologne did not disappoint! In summary, it was full of parades, Kölsch (local beer), and costumes. I spent the entire weekend dressed up as an einhorn (unicorn)

I was lucky enough to randomly make some local friends in the train station and be invited to their private celebrations, which was a very unique experience. They taught me some of the typical Carnival traditions and introduced me to Kölsch, the local beer, which is lovely and much more mild than Sevilla’s Cruzcampo. I also enjoyed some currywurst, pretzels, bratwurst, and some really yummy breakfast places.

Overall, a good weekend was had! I was really hoping to get to visit EL-DE Haus, the former headquarters of the Gestapo, but they were closed due to the celebrations. No worries – I guess I’ll just have to go back someday!

Brussels, Belgium

Waffles at The Atomium with Zoë.

This weekend, my friends and I went on our first weekend trip outside of Spain and it was our best trip thus far! We flew into a town outside Brussels, Charleroi, as it was much cheaper than flying into Brussels. We got in around midnight and out Airbnb host agreed to pick us up from the airport. After an hour-long struggle to get out of the airport (very confusing signage with no English translations!!), we finally found him. He drove us very quickly and slightly recklessly to his house where we would stay for the night. He also drove us to the train station the next morning, just as quickly and just as recklessly. It was an experience to say the least. 

We hopped on a train and made it to Brussels in no time. Our first task was to figure out where our Airbnb was. The owner was out of town, so they had left the key at a local eatery. We went to the restaurant and they gave us the key in a golden envelope. It was kind of like getting the next clue in a scavenger hunt or something. We joked that we were “in a video game” or “on a mission” for the rest of the trip. 

This lunch was a little fancier than we are used to, haha.

After situating our stuff in our Airbnb, we decided to go back to the restaurant where we retrieved the key for lunch. It was a cute little place with about three menu items in addition to a “plate of the day.” I had the fish of the day, and it was delicious. It was a welcome deviation from the traditional Spanish food that I have grown accustomed to eating.

After lunch, we headed towards the city center. We stopped at several small thrift shops as well as the Manekken Pis. After arriving, we discovered that the main attractions in Brussels are the abundant chocolate, waffle, and fry shops. We hopped around and tried a bunch of different chocolates. I also had my first real Belgian waffle (it was incredible). After the waffle, we decided that we better try some fries as well. We got “Andalouse” sauce. I have no idea why it is called that – I’m pretty sure it would have been too spicy for anyone in Andalucía. 

After our fries, we went to a bar called Delirium. Delirium is a “village,” or a multi-building, multi-level bar. We tried several beers before heading to dinner at a traditional Belgian restaurant. We shared mussels as an appetizer and I had seafood pasta as my entree. It was lovely! After dinner, we returned to Delirium to try some more beers. Anyone starting to see a trend? We even came out with a few favorites!

My savory leek waffle (WOW!!)

The following day, we slept in a little before going to brunch at a restaurant called Peck 47. I had a savory leek waffle for breakfast, and it was delicious. After lunch, we decided to take the metro to the Atomium, which is about forty-five minutes away from the city center. Naturally, I had to get another waffle while we were there (I think I had five over the course of the weekend). The rest of the day was pretty chill. We shopped around, sampled some chocolates, got more fries, and tried a Belgian beer flight at another bar. We also had dinner at a lovely little Italian place. 

Overall, Brussels was filled with fries, waffles, beer, and chocolate (I case you hadn’t noticed). I really enjoyed this weekend and being able to get out of the traditional Spanish cuisine and customs. I hope to return to Brussels and the nearby city, Bruges, to explore more very soon!