A Travellerspoint blog

Sevilla y Cádiz

So this past weekend my program went to Sevilla! Sevilla is the capital of picturesque Andalucia in southern Spain, and has a reputation of being exactly what you might picture a Spanish city to look like. Food, drink, tapas, and just about everything is a lot cheaper in the south, and the people of Sevilla take their Spanish traditions (like midday siestas) a lot more serious than northerners…and they are known to be a lot more family oriented, lax, living a ‘work to live’ lifestyle. So needless to say, I went in with some pretty high expectations! And I’d say overall the city lived up to them pretty well---it maintains a perfect balance between being a quaint town and a bustling city--with a narrow street, small European city kind of feel!

Friday we toured the Cathedral, Giralda, and Reales Alcázares. The Cathedral was really something---it’s the third biggest in all of Europe, after St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London! One thing I loved is that, typical of Sevilla, there is a courtyard filled with orange trees in the center of the Cathedral. The pictures don’t do any justice for the amazing Royal Chapel, entirely plated in gold, and the beautiful superhigh ceilings. I actually learned a ton on this tour because the Cathedral was built in the 15th century, on the foundations of a Visigode church, so our tour guide dug into the history a lot. The Cathedral also is the official site of the Tomb of Christopher Colombus as well as his son so we saw both of those. Pretty cool! The Giralda Minaret is connected to the Cathedral and it is a symbol of Sevilla. It has a super high belfry tower which we climbed 35 floors to catch some amazing views of all of Sevilla!

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Reales Alcázares is a super old fortified palace that is now used as a residence for the Royal family. I thought it was pretty cool to learn that the main level of the palace is open to tourists until the Royal family calls and says they are coming to Sevilla, at which point Alcázar is cleared of tourists and the gates are shut. The many rooms, patios, halls, and gardens all have such different styles and still consists of a lot of original 13th and 15th century architecture. We walked through the royal gardens a bit before getting shooed away by the guards, but they were just incredible—orange trees, vines, fountains resembling mini volcanoes, interesting trees. It also helped that the weather was perfect!!

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Friday night I got some tapas and delicious helado (ice cream/gelato). Empanadillas con carne y salsa soya, aged manchego cheese, olives, wine, dulce de leche banana helado….YUM! And the tapas (and wine) are super cheap as well!!
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Saturday we had a day trip to Cádiz, an Atlantic beach and port city about 2 hours from Sevilla. We took a bus tour and walked all around the small city with our local tour guide, who also brought us to the Cathedral of Cádiz..yet another beautiful Cathedral! With beautiful 70o weather it was the perfect day to stroll around, stop for some lunch at an outdoor café, and hit the beach for a bit! Buenísimo!

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Saturday night….TAPAS HEAVEN! A group of my friends went to a delicious tapas restaurant and we ordered a great spread of tapas…Chicken breast in a creamy almond sauce, fried zucchini, traditional patatas bravas, sliced tenderloin in a Roquefort sauce, spinach croquettes…and with some red wine in an oversized glass, it was the perfect thing!

Sunday was my favorite day of all…..BIKE TOUR! It was so perfect because I felt like I finally got a real taste of Sevilla and many snapshots of everyday life there! We went all over: through the site of the 1992 World Expo, along the Guadalquivir river that runs through the city from the north to the south, through the typical Santa Cruz neighborhood, the Plaza de España, and, my favorite, through the Maria Luisa Park. This park was so awesome—sunny day, grass, palm trees, orange trees, tons of people strolling, chilling, hanging out..it was sooooo great!!
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So it was just a fantastic weekend, yet again, of my European travels! (However I am still glad to call Barcelona home!!!) And today Katie and Andy get here for the week! So great! What a month!!!

Besos!

Posted by Micheline 03:08 Comments (2)

Amsterdam & Brussels

Waffles, beer, and chocolate: life of a rockstar

Well this weekend was quite the experience!

Thursday night I jet off to Amsterdam with six other girls (six girls = too many!), psyched up for our long weekend in Amsterdam and Brussels! So we get to Amsterdam, and find our hostel….and well, look at the picture! Haha it was great, exactly what you might expect a youth hostel in Amsterdam to look like—super steep narrow stairs, crazy/borderline creepy spray paintings on the walls, bunk beds, dirty communal toilet with no soap, haha AND us six girls were sharing a shower and sink area with the room next door, which happened to be occupied by giant scary men! Haha welllll we all managed to make it the three nights we spent there without showering once, but it was a good place to sleep and the beds were super warm and super comfy!

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So Friday we did a walking tour through the city---> so great! Amsterdam is just fantastic, with the most beautiful buildings, cool houses with tons of personality, quaint little cobblestone streets, TONS of crazy bikers, and some interesting history too! And the canals!!! They weave through everything! It just amazed me how easy it was to walk around the city despite all the canals…because there were bridges everywhere! We went all around… through the red light district…saw some of the more famous coffeeshops…and just got a feel for the city while learning all sorts of fun facts!

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Of course we worked up an appetite during the tour, so after we went to get some lunch at ‘Sara’s Pancakes’! Yummmm. Here’s a pic of my friend Olivia and I with our traditional Dutch mini pancakes (I forget the Dutch word for them!)…soo delicious!

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The Anne Frank House was the perfect spot to hit while it rained…It was really cool to see, and chilling to walk through the Secret Annex and see/read/watch some of the displays.

On Saturday we rented bikes!!!! This was the best thing ever! Being on a bike in Amsterdam is like a power trip; pedestrians AND cars yield to bikes! So we hit some more sites (Like the ‘I amsterdam’ sign) via bike, grabbed some lunch, and also dropped by a cool bohemianish street market! Also, the people in Amsterdam were noticeable more friendly than in other cities. Everyone was just so approachable and eager to help and strike up a conversation! Love that! So all in all, Amsterdam was clearly great, and I liked it so much more than I expected to! It would definitely be a fun place to live for a little!
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Sunday morning we were up bright and early on a train to Brussels! And Brussels was like a day and a half of waffles, chocolate, and beer----> a.k.a. best day and a half ever! There weren’t many tourist spots that we had to make our rounds to, so we just strolled to the Grand Place, and walked all around the city, seeing different sites as we continued along. Grand Place had some super big, beautiful, gaudy buildings, and also some cute taverns, cafés, and chocolate shops scattered throughout as well! We got our first meal here at a cute café. WAFFLES. Heaven on earth. I got a waffle with chocolate, whipped cream, and strawberries. Seriously, it was unlike any waffle I’ve ever tried and it was just amazing! One difference I noticed was that they make their waffles with dough, rather than batter like we do in the US. So it was almost like a fried dough waffle. Covered in sugar. Right down my alley!

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I got an interesting feel for the buildings in Brussels. Like some of them were typical European, quaint, cute streets, fun buildings. And then the important ones (We saw the Royal Palace, Parliament, Cathedral, and some others)were just SO BIG and kind of ornate and intense. They were definitely beautiful, but they almost stood out from the other buildings too much for my liking. We hit up acool market in Brussels as well with all sorts of independent vendors and artists and jewelers. Very cool!

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…….oh, the Mannekin Pis! This statue of the little boy peeing is so famous and I was just dying to see it, and it was hysterical, but such a letdown! Haha I can’t figure out why this thing is famous! It’s like the size of a cabbage patch doll and it’s just on a street corner-not even in the center of a square or anything! How comical!
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With a good portion of the afternoon left, we decided to break up our walks with pit stops in Belgian cafes and taverns for some Belgian beer! This was so fun because I am definitely starting to enjoy some good beers so it was great to try some new ones! My Belgian friend in Barcelona told me that Patatas Frittes (French fries) are best in Belgium so I had to try some with my first Belgian beer of the day at our first stop at a delicious Fritteria! The fries were great (I got them with curry ketchup!) and I got a Hoegaarden—also great! Others throughout the weekend included Leffe, Affligem, Duvel, Kriek Mystic (a cherry beer that tasted like a melted cherry popsicle mixed with champagne and a splash of beer!) I actually liked them all! But I think my favorites were Hoegaarden and Affligem.
And the delicious chocolate shops! Each one was like a mini piece of heaven because almost all of them gave out free samples! Some had people making truffles in the windows, others had chocolate fountains! Kind of like Willy Wonka Land! I clearly went crazy, and I think I stopped in like thirty + chocolate shops, not exaggerating! And I got some to bring back to the states—haha hopefully I won’t eat it before then!!
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Lastly, before heading to the airport, I got a waffle from a street vendor! It was also amazing! There are waffle trucks all over the place as well! So funny!
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So the story’s not over!! We got to the airport, and after three hours of waiting, our flight was cancelled because of snow in the Barcelona area!! So we got a flight for the next morning, and spent the night in a nearby hotel, that just happened to serve a delicious dinner and a mean hot chocolate haha! BUT our morning flight was cancelled too! So we spent the whole day stranded in the hotel lobby at a hotel where only one staff member spoke English! Imagine what this must have been like with six girls who have already had too much of each other! Tense! But really none of us could complain because we were stuck in Belgium! How bad can that be!? We finally made it back home at 1am Tuesday night!

Ohhhhhh the life of a euro traveler! Next up…Sevilla TOMORROW!

Posted by Micheline 04:22 Comments (2)

When in Rome.....

Mangia!

Overall--->Rome was SO GREAT! I don’t think the weekend could have worked out any better!

Intro---->So this trip to Rome was with half of my program and half the staff, so like 70ish students and 3 staff members. We went Friday to Sunday night, and had a few planned activities and tours, but mostly free time. I was pleasantly surprised by how walkable everything was; there are tons of tiny little streets and cute alleys, but with a map at hand, the city was extremely navigable-I think more so than Barcelona! And I saw so so so many historical/beautiful sites in such little time!

So for the highlights/ a little play-by-play………..

Friday-->Our plane was a few hours late because of the strikes in Paris, so we had a rough start…dropped our stuff at the hotel, had 20minutes to find lunch, then we had our bus tour! Since we were late, the bus tour ended up being after it was already dark out! Shucks! After, I walked to the Trevi Fountain with a few friends, and of course threw a coin over my left shoulder for good luck!
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And then….dinner! We found a cute little restaurant with candlelit tables outside and had a nice long dinner for our first real meal in Rome! First course…gnocchi pomodoro! Second course….Pizza Margherita! With a few glasses of Merlot…perfecto! I kept it pretty simple for this meal, but can you really go wrong with a nice plate of gnocchi and classic margherita pizza in Italy? No! It was great!323654_1010..06123_n.jpg

Saturday was the most beautiful day I have seen in Europe. It was sunny, warm, a little breezy! Our adorable tour guide took the group to the Colliseum, where we got to skip all of the lines and have a tour with walkie talkies so we could stroll at our own pace but still hear everything! The Colliseum was enormous, and so cool, I learned tons!
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The tour continued to the Forum, the ruins of the old city center of Rome. I don’t really know what to say about this besides that it was really interesting to see and to get an idea of all the history we were surrounded by! And it was beautiful!DSCN0701.jpgDSCN0705.jpgDSCN0706.jpg
Since we had the rest of the day for ourselves, Kristina and I made a master route around the entire city, and did EVERYTHING!!! We strolled to the Pantheon, and sat in the piazza right outside it, where we enjoyed our first gelato in Italy ever! I got a mix of pistachio and caramel crema! Yum!DSCN0719.jpg And here is a pic of the inside of the pantheon...DSCN0717.jpg

From there we went to Piazza Navona, where we wandered up and down the rows and rows of artists selling beautiful acrylic and watercolor paintings! Precious! Then…lunch! Instead of another sit down meal, Kristina and I shared a big spinach-fresh mozzarella Panini, with a cup of red wine to go! So we meandered onto our next sites with a Panini in one hand, plastic cup of wine in the other! Grazie! Non che male!!DSCN0723.jpg

The Spanish Steps and the Trinitá dei Monti came next…..Great views of Rome, and the Trinitá dei Monti was just beautiful, and one of the more peaceful touristy churches. And I lit a candle there! We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting some other important stops, including a nice big park! Our feet were dirty and tired after all of our walking on Saturday, but we still had lots to cover on Sunday!DSCN0724.jpg

Sunday we went to the Vatican….QUITE a day!!! We got there at 9am (a little delayed) and waited in line for a little over 2 hours to get into the Vatican Museum because it was free that day so everybody goes!! By the time we got into the museum, we had just over a half hour to make it through the 55 [crowded!] rooms of the museum, see the Sistine Chapel, and make our way to St. Peter’s Square where the Pope was blessing the crowd and giving a speech at noon!!! SO.. we just about jogged through the museum, still managing to snap all of the necessary pics while we weaved through the slowly moving museum-goers! The Sistine Chapel was very beautiful though; the whole museum/building was just so detailed and gold and grandious, and gaudy! After the Sistine Chapel, we got to the museum entrance, and then realized we had to backtrack through half of the museum to catch the shortcut to St. Peter’s Square! We At this point we had exactly 8 minutes left until the Pope was giving the blessing! AHH! So…we ran! Back through the Sistine Chapel, and finally we got to the square literally JUST IN TIME!! Couldn’t have been more perfect! So we saw him speak, got our rosary beads blessed, and then saw the AMAZING St. Peter’s Basilica, and St Peter’s tomb. Those two gave me chills! Some artwork and ceilings--->DSCN0752.jpgDSCN0760.jpg....the Pope Speaking!!!--->DSCN0768.jpg....St. Peter's Basilica during the day and night--->DSCN0774.jpg3DSCN0645.jpg...and St. Peter's Basilica on the inside-->DSCN0778.jpg

After more gelato, we explored the Vatican side of the Tiber River, and went for a late lloonngg relaxed lunch at a Restaurant in Trastevere that had been recommended to us, called La Scala. It was just the perfect way to end the weekend. The restaurant was quiet, dimly lit, with very few tourists, and the perfect ambience for a long meal! After some rustic, tough on the outside- perfectly soft on the inside bread, I had the most delicious pasta meal. I tend to be pretty picky with my pasta since I’m pretty spoiled at home with papas homemade pasta and mom’s sauce, but this won my approval! Tagliotelli pasta (kind of like thin fettuccini) with an impressively light cheese (maybe cheese and white wine?) sauce, grated parm, cherry tomatoes, black pepper, and zucchini flowers. So good! For dessert, Kristina and I split amazing homemade tiramisu and sipped foamy cappuccinos! And then the waitress surprised us with her favorite dessert wine on the house! What a perfect ending to a fabulous weekend!

Next up…..Amsterdam and Brussels this weekend! What a life!

Posted by Micheline 05:29 Comments (1)

A week of intercambios!

No pictures today....but I figured I would give a quick update on what I've been up to before I jet off to Rome for the weekend!!!

The past week I have been meeting tons of Spanish people--> so exciting! It has really been great!

The first few are intercambios (language partners). We first contacted each other through e-mail (based on a list arranged by Spanish universities and my study abroad program) and arranged to meet on our own to practice English and Spanish. So......

Saturday was Vanessa. I think she is my favorite! She is 29, loves to run, read, and do outdoorsy things, likes tea, and she was just so sweet! We ended up strolling around Barcelona for 4 hours, talking in Castellano (spanish) for 2 hours and English for 2 hours. It was great- she gave me the inside scoop on all sorts of things from slang to the local hangouts and great places to run! And we are meeting again tonight to go to her favorite tea cafe!

Sunday was a group hangout with Natalia, Carlos, y Veia. This was also great because we are all around the same age, and want to do all sorts of things together...they aren't very comfortable with their English, so we spoke in Castellano the whole time-awesome practice.

Monday was Dolores. We met at a cafe for a quick coffee, and she brought me beautiful postcards that her friend painted of some different Barcelona sites--> so great!! She is in her forties, and has an 18 year old daughter. She spoke in English, and I spoke in Spanish. She also put me in touch with her daughter, so we have also been in contact about meeting up!

And lastly, Tuesday night we had a Language Exchange Party hosted by a Spanish University and my study abroad program. It was so great because I met a ton of Spanish students as well as Erasmus students from all over Europe. We mostly spoke in English because many of them don't know Spanish, but there were some reall cool students and we are definitely going to get together again!

The weather has been slowly getting a little nicer in Barcelona, which makes the days SO enjoyable! I'm definitely becoming very familiar with the city, but still love exploring and going everywhere!

That's it for now....prepping for Rome! Getting excited!

Besitos,
micheline

Posted by Micheline 02:51 Comments (1)

Gaudí, Chai, y Español

Yesterday I visited Gaudí’s Casa Milá, also known as ‘La Pedrera.’ I don’t exactly consider myself to be an architecture junkie, but I just LOVE Gaudí’s architecture-the shapes, the weirdness of it, and the whole Modernisme style in general…very cool! And this was a great place to see it, explore it, and sink my teeth into it a bit! So today I have a little bit about that…….

La Pedrera

La Pedrera

Model of La Pedrera

Model of La Pedrera

Here’s a picture from the actual façade of the building (and also a model of the whole building to give you a fuller view)…it is just smack in the middle of a main street in Barcelona, Passeig de Grácia. Love how it’s just like another building on the block!

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Here is another one of Gaudí’s buildings (on the same street), Casa Battló. The model in the picture shows the original building from which Gaudí created this masterpiece! It is so beautiful and mosaic—and neat that he transformed this little square building into such a masterpiece!

The best part about this building was definitely the rooftop, a sculpture garden with all sorts of eerie, curvy structures, some of which resemble human faces! The views were also great!!! Here are some pics from the roof and the views it has to offer….

DSCN0607.jpgView of Passeig de Gracia from the Rooftop!

View of Passeig de Gracia from the Rooftop!

DSCN0615.jpgDSCN0616.jpgView of La Sagrada Familia from La Pedrera Rooftop!

View of La Sagrada Familia from La Pedrera Rooftop!

The building, built around 1910, was originally a ‘modern ’ apartment building, so part of it is set up as an old apartment building from the time of its creation. The pictures are kind of boring (just old fashioned looking rooms), but it was very cool to see! I’ll just show you one pic, because it is the sewing room and has an old Singer sewing machine in it (just like Nonna’s!!)…

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One of my program directors (a fellow tea drinker!) recommended this small chai café to me a few days ago, called ‘Caj Chai’. I had searched for it twice, and finally I found it yesterday—secret gem! I love love love loveee it! First of all, it is totally off the beaten path, like down an alley way, hole in the wall, so there are no tourists or passersby that just stop in. It has a fantastic, mellow ambience with comfy chairs and local artwork and a really nice barista. And more importantly, they have incredible homemade chai!!! Plus like a million other types of teas to choose from, from oolong to green to rooibus..everything. and a ton of international pastries that I can’t wait to try! Visitors: I am definitely taking you here!

A (kind of long)note on my progress with speaking Spanish….it is going well, but it has also been one of my only sources of frustration. Pretty much all American students speak in English, and I often resort to doing the same when I am around Americans (unless it’s Kristina because I know she understands Spanish). Especially out at night or while booking travel plans- it sometimes just seems out of place (ironically) or unrealistic to work out the words in Spanish when the phrase can easily be said in English. That being said…I have been brainstorming and testing a few ways to really get in quality practice and increase my exposure! When I am at home I spend most of my time reading my Spanish novel aloud (El Alchimista!!) or studying grammer and vocab. And I’ve begun to read a few articles a day in the Spanish newspaper (I just started yesterday!). Also, I made several ‘intercambio’ dates with Spanish students (to practice conversational Spanish/English and meet locals) for this weekend, so hopefully those will go really well! It has been at the top of my to-do list since before I left for Spain, so I’m really excited to follow through and give it a go! And one more thing, I have this idea to phase in ‘no English’ days, where I literally don’t speak a word of English. (I originally figured this would be a ‘no english’ semester!) Well today I wanted to give it a whirl-----> failure! Next time I will be more serious about it! Maybe this weekend! Anyway, if anyone has some suggestions, I am all ears!

Un Saludo,
Micheline

Posted by Micheline 01:55 Comments (2)

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