Mallorca: a comedy

This past weekend I went to Mallorca.  One of the Spanish Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean sea.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My life, or at least my travels, could be the inspiration for a comedy tv show, where my character will be played by Sofia Vergara. This weekend just reassured me the show would be a hit!  Here would be some of the sketches of the show.

Plane ride.
I understand the consequences of using budget airlines with delays and baggage sizes but I struggle to understand the audience. Everyone, whether you use budget airlines or more luxury airlines should have a certain knowledge of airplane etiquette. I got on board and then a group of 13-14 year olds got on with their coach/teacher. It was a 8:00am flight and I hoped to get a little nap-haha so hopeful. The kids were split up in front and behind me. And much to my surprise one of them brought a ping pong ball and decided to bounce it on the tray table for the entire 1 hour flight. You would think their supervisor would have said something. Deep Spanish sigh and American eye roll.

Weather.
I booked this trip to Mallorca for 2 reasons. 1. I wanted to go to the Balearic Islands. 2. I wanted to get some sun and enjoy the warm weather. Closer and closer to the trip the forecast got worse and worse. Comical to the point that Friday and Saturday were the only days in the forecast with rain. The islands get sunny weather 363 days a year. How was it possible that both days I was traveling it would be rainy?? In the end Friday was constant rain. I actually haven’t seen so much rain in Spain. It was a constant downpour for the entire day, from 10:00am when I arrived until I went to bed at 11:30pmSaturday I woke up to sunny skies  and spent the whole day at the beach.

Ensaimada.
My teacher friends told me I had to try this traditional pastry from Mallorca. I was excited because it didn’t have almonds! I barely eat any baked deserts from Spain because everything has almonds in it and I’m allergic.  So I went to the specific bakery they recommended and asked for this pastry with cream. The baker replied, “no cream today”. Then I asked for my second choice whipped cream. Same response, “no whipped cream”. I did an exaggerated Spanish sigh and settled for a plain pastry. Dude, take some milk and whip me up some cream!! It’s not that hard. Mama Ana did it for me last week when I wanted strawberries with whipped cream. 🙂

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Umbrella.
So there’s not a whole lot to do in the rain, but shop to escape the terrible weather. I walked into Zara and placed my umbrella by the door next to the pile of other wet umbrellas. One purchase later I return to the door to grab my umbrella. Not there. I go to the other door to double check.  Nope. Still not there. I was livid. Therefore in the umbrella karma world, I stole someone else’s umbrella. My deep apologies to the owner of a small pink travel umbrella. But there’s no way I was going to leave that store without an umbrella.

Just a snapshot of a weekend in my life. Needless to say I’m always laughing

Here are some sunny pics from Saturday.

Belgium: Beer, Chocolate, Waffles

Story time Sunday.

Once upon a time, I told one of my teacher friends, Marga, that I was travelling to Belgium during a 4-day holiday weekend. I told her that she and her husband, Pepe, should come with April and I to eat Belgium waffles, chocolate and drink Belgium beer.

One random Friday night, I get a string of text messages saying tickets were bought and hotels reserved! We also planned to rent a car so it would be easier to move around and see all the cute little Belgium cities. Let the Spanish-American Belgium road trip begin!! Don’t worry Mom—I didn’t drive, I was the DJ, as every trip needs a good mixtape.

With various flights and arrival times, I was the first to get a taste of Brussels…literally. I ate a cone of fries, fried two times: once in oil and then in fat. (Nope, not joking) I met up with my tour guide from Rome that I met last year. We caught up, reminisced, and shared a few Belgium beers. Then April arrived, we ate dinner and met Marga and Pepe to make breakfast plans for the following day.

Waffels. Of course. All day, any day, every day. After breakfast we got into our rental car and were off to Ghent! FYI Dad, I haven’t read the Treaty of Ghent yet, but it’s on my reading list. After arriving to Ghent and finally finding a ‘very big parking’ thanks to an unhelpful Belgium, we walked around the town a bit. It was very windy, due to the “mar del norte” North Sea so we warmed up with some coffee from Rosario. Then we got back in the car and headed to Bruges. We only took a small detour (got semi-lost) to see how the real Belgium live.

After some more karaoke to some American rock bands that I’ve never heard, but Pepe requested, we arrived to Bruges. Finding their hotel was an obstacle to say the least. I give mega-credit to Pepe for driving and navigating us through winding, tiny European roads. Suddenly we pass a hotel, and Marga says in Spanish, “Ohh that’s where we were going to stay” Hmm…then Pepe teaches us a few Spanish curse words when he told us how he accidentally booked that hotel for the previous night when we were staying in Brussels.  But no fear, they found another place to stay.  Then we learned the most important phrase of the weekend, “No puedo con la vida” It’s similar to “I can’t handle it!” But funnier in Spanish, and little did we know that would be the catchphrase for the weekend.

We drop off bags at respective hotels and hostels then go find some lunch/dinner. This was a really great weekend of getting to know each other and working on my Spanish. Marga knows the English basics and Pepe knows a lot of English but he made us do the work. Haha I actually appreciated it because I don’t really get to speak a ton of Spanish during the week. I teach English all day at school and then after school, I teach English. So it was a lot of fun to get to know them better. They’re hilarious by the way…and they better visit me in Chicago so everyone can meet them.

After a few card games and only one spilled coffee, we called it an early night to get some rest. Although April and I hung out at the hostel bar a little later and just played some card games. This simple moment is something I will remember forever—two good friends enjoying each others company, drinking good, cheap beer, and playing cards. What else could you need in life?

Sunday morning we got on the road again to Antwerpen, Belgium. This city came recommended by the rental car company and is one of the largest port cities in the world. We had fun walking around, taking goofy pictures, and enjoying each other’s company. All the cities we visited in Belgium were taken out of a fairytale, architecture and charisma, everything. Still no sight of Prince Charming, much to the dismay of my 13 year old students. Every week they ask me if I have a boyfriend..nope nothing has changed since the last week when you asked.

We get back in the car and drive to Brussels for the last night. We park and I check into the hotel no problem. I look back and the receptionist is having trouble finding Pepe’s reservation. I go see if they need some help and we realize the reservation is for the same date but next month! “No podemos con la vida” We find a room in a hotel down the street and decide we all need some beer. We walk around a bit and then find a hole in the wall brewery to sample some Belgium beers. More card games at the table but no spilled beer this time! Dinner was delicious and the entire menu was in French so we kinda figured out what we were ordering but I just pointed to the table next to me and said that. It was some sort of meat with sauce and it was delicious. We said goodnight and “hasta luego” to April because she had an early flight. P.S. we might be planning a future Spanish-American Portuguese road trip in the future J

Monday morning, Pepe, Marga and I went on a tour of the city. Our guide had the most powerful voice I’ve ever heard. Marga and I found inspiration for our classes! We lucked out again with good weather. A little chilly but no rain! Actually it started raining as soon as the tour ended. We walked back into town, got some fat fried fries and went to the airport.

The plane ride deserves it’s own post to give it justice and to allow me to be super exaggerating and sarcastic.

Overall, this was one of my favorite weekend trips here in Europe. Good company, good food, in Europe…seriously what more could I need? My favorite part was getting to know Marga and Pepe better. They are both hilarious and make a great couple! I’ve been so blessed to know great people in my little town that really care about me. Besos

Paris part deux

I went to Paris last year but this is one city where you need more than a few days to see everything. Also last year we were always in a hurry to get to the next spot while it was raining. This trip had a few sights on the to-do list but the goal was to do everything at a slower and more Parisian pace. We had sunny skies and 50-60 degree temps so we took advantage of the perfect tourist weather to enjoy each moment of the louvre’ly city.

We had an early Friday flight to take advantage of a full day. We arrived and by the time we got to the hotel and regrouped, it was lunch time. We found a charming cafe with window seats on the Seine. The food, views, and weather were in-Seine (pronounced insane). We walked to Musee d’Orsay because it was number 1 on our to-do list. We plugged our headphones in and listened to Rick Steves audio guide. To be honest, I got the insane-inSeine pun from him. Thanks Rick! I’ll probably be doing a future post of classic portraits in the near future.

After feeling a little sleepy and having sore feet, we recharged with some coffee and crepes. Then we kept walking past the Louvre and towards the Arc de Triumph. We took advantage of the wonderful walking all weekend and didn’t even step on the metro once. We used the excuse of walking over 20 miles during the weekend to treat ourself to as many crepes as we wanted. My favorite is butter and sugar. After classic tourist photos at sunset, we walked in the direction of the Eiffel tour to see it all lit up. I think it could be considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. It is just a magical sight to see it sparkle in the navy blue skies, it gives me goosebumps each time. After about 100 different pictures of the Eiffel Tower, we walked back to our hotel and found a little cafe to eat dinner.

Day 2 had two different purposes: shopping and cathedrals. I hadn’t seen Notre Dame yet or Sainte Chapelle and it was on the list. I also had some money that was burning a hole in my pocket and what better place to shop than Paris?! After what could be the world’s best croissant for breakfast, we passed a few shops on our way to the cathedrals. We stopped in and didn’t leave empty handed. As my mother jokes, I could find sales in any country. She’s correct! Before we knew it, it was already 1:00pm and we haven’t eaten lunch or seen either of the cathedrals. Oops! We ate lunch outside with coats off and sunglasses on. We both decided we are tired of winter weather and can’t wait for European spring/summer.

After a quick pit stop at the hotel to drop off the goods and put on some new purchases, we were finally on our way to see the cathedrals. We first went to Sainte Chapelle which is a chapel completely covered in stained glass. With the afternoon sun coming in through the windows, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Then we headed over to see Quasimodo at Notre Dame. Spoiler alert: the gargoyles don’t actually talk or move. Inside the cathedral, they had a lot of pictures or designs of construction and how long it all took. I couldn’t even imagine being the architect to a project where I would never see the final product.

After another crepe pit stop (running count: 3), it was nearing sunset so we walked towards the Eiffel Tower to see it light up again. If I was in Paris for an extended period of time, I would go see the Eiffel Tower every night. It’s probably one of my top 5 favorite sights. We found a nearby cafe for dinner, split a bottle of wine and toasted to a successful Parisian weekend.

I really believe Paris is a city you could come back to again and again and still find new something to see. Eiffel (pronounce: I fell) in louvre (pronounce: love) with Paris and I know you will too.

Prague

Another Czech off the bucket list: Prague.

PSA: I will be trying to include as many Prague/Czech Republic puns as possible in this post.

This was a very quick but necessary weekend trip to a dream destination of mine.  I’d love to go back in the future and hope for better weather to see more of Prague’s beauty.

Let’s start with the plane ride.  Remember the 8th ring of Dante’s hell that was our Berlin plane ride? This was the 9th level.  We flew Czech Air and I will double czech before ever booking with them again.  The take off was more shaky and had more ups and down than a roller coaster.  3 long hours later, we arrived in Prague.  There was applause because we made it in one piece.  I’m usually not a fan of clapping when landing, but it was a true miracle that we still had all the tires on the plane and the wings were still attached to the plane.

After getting all settled at our super cool hostel, we headed out to dinner and get a quick view of the city.  It was cold and foggy, so we couldn’t see much, but the forecast called for a sunny Saturday morning-we were happy.  We called it an early night to rest up for a full day of tourism.

We were Prague Super-Tourists.  3 different tours in one day.  We started out with a walking tour of the city, then a Prague Castle tour, and ended the day with a beer tour.  We had the cutest and best tour guide for the first two tours-Andrea was a real Czechoslovakian, equal parts of her family are from Czech Republic and Slovakia! How cool!! It was so interesting to hear her stories about communist life and changing times.  April and I lucked out with sunny skies to start the day with the walking tour, but by the end, the clouds rolled in and our feet were cold.  After lunch we took the second tour to the Prague Castle.  This was interesting because I was expecting a castle, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  It’s like a little village of different buildings, cathedrals, and museums. I suggest czeching out the history on your own time because like the views we saw, I’m still a little foggy on the history.  Everything is very intertwined with the Hapsburg Dynasty that I learned about in Vienna.  I have some good reading material for the future.

After a long day out in the cold, we headed inside 3 different bars to try 3 different beers.  We had a really fun group of 10 people and 1 loser tour guide.  Our 3 hour tour turned into all night out at a nightclub with bottle service.  When in Prague!!  It was the most random group of study abroad girls, German-Americans, and a Romanian, but it was a night I’ll remember forever!

Two days wasn’t nearly enough time in the city and I’d love to do another combo-trip with Vienna and Budapest in the future.

 

Toulouse, France

If you asked me two months ago where Toulouse was, I’d probably respond “Hmm central Europe?”  FYI it’s in the south of France, right above the Spanish border.  But April and I found roundtrip plane tickets for 26€ so we decided to stop on over.  Why not?!  Actually a lot of the teachers from school raved about it, so I was pretty excited for my first weekend trip of 2017.

I arrived early Friday morning and April had to work a half day so I told her I’d get the lay of the land before she arrived.  Not much land to see, to be honest.  I headed to the center and saw the main plaza, then walked to the river.  I stopped in some cathedrals, very pretty.  Now looking at the pictures, I don’t remember how to distinguish them.  (That happens to me a lot and to write my post I have to google the church to match the name to the pictures)

I kept walking walking walking until lunchtime.  I had a warm ham and cheese sandwich on half a loaf of bread.  Oh I forgot to mention I ate half a baguette for breakfast.  This was not the trip to work on the 2017 less carbs new years resolution.  🙂

I felt like after 7 miles of walking and 6 hours, I had seen everything Toulouse had to offer. I headed to the hotel to rest and wait for April.  Oh and then I booked us a car pool to Andorra for the following day to go skiing.  See next post for my review of the Pyrenees and how I will never go skiing again.

Skiing in the Pyrenees

So there’s no spoiler alert at the end, this was my first time skiing in the Pyrenees and definitely my last time skiing in the Pyrenees.

Toulouse was a little boring so we found a blabla car to take us to Andorra.  Blabla car is an application where you look for rides, like electronic carpooling.  We found a way there and back to Toulouse so I ran to the nearest sporting good store to grab some heavier gloves and waterproof pants.  I had enough long sleeve tops to layer under my non-ski jacket that would just have to do.

We take a nice little 2 hour car ride out of France and up the mountains in Andorra.  Andorra is actually a tiny little country independent of Spain and France but if you blinked you would miss it on a map.

After getting our rental gear, we headed up the lift to start with an easy one.  April is a professional skier and has been skiing in Colorado since she was 4 years old.  I’ve gone a handful of times in Wisconsin and had my 8 year old cousin teach me how to pizza and french fry.  It was all going really well, a few green runs, a couple blue, and even a blue slope that turned into a red.  I was unstoppable!  We stopped for a drink to warm up before heading up another lift.  We made our way up the mountain and the only options to go back down were black slope or black slope.  NO.  April tells me to make curves to slow down more.  I pause at the top of what looks like ‘the mountain of death’ for probably 20 minutes trying to convince myself to go down.  I start flying down and crash cleanly.  Stand back up and start going down again.  I don’t really remember what happened after because I’m sure my conscious has blocked this terrible memory from my mind.  I fall down and both my skis pop off.  I start rolling down the hill and am quite confident death is near.  I’m body surfing down this giant mountain, snow in my face, down my shirt, everything for what I think is about 100 meters.  By the grace of God, I stop rolling down the mountain.  A nice couple brings me my skis and I just smirk because there is no way in hell, I’m putting those things back on my feet.  I say “gracias” and start carefully walking down this monster mountain.  What feels like days later, I arrive at the bottom of the hill and meet up with April.  We have some much needed hot chocolate to warm up.

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Actual photo of me rolling down the mountain

And now I have to figure out how to get on the other side of the mountain without actually having to ski down it.  Someone tells us to take a big chairlift that takes us over the mountain.  At this point, the sun is gone, it’s cloudy and I just want to be home.  Like home in Palatine, IL, USA.  We get off the chair lift and I grab my skis to walk down the mountain.  Several people come up to me telling me its easier to go down with skis, I respond saying that it’s not an option for me.  One stranger tells me to go up to another ski lift and beg the man to let me ride down.  That was the best thing I had heard all day.  I go up to the man who greets me in Spanish and I just erupt in spanish tears, “es que, no puedo bajar, porfa”.  He grabs my skis and sets me up to ride down the mountain.  Thank you kind sir.  (I don’t think you’ve actually lived abroad if you haven’t had an emotional breakdown in front of a complete stranger in a foreign language)

I meet April at the bottom and we both agree we need some sort of alcoholic beverage to finish off the day.  Two beers and some pizza later, I was laughing again.  Then we met Tao, our blabla carpool driver to take us back to Toulouse.  It was the funniest scene, there were two americans and two Chinese men driving through the mountains of Andorra listening to Phil Collins on the radio.

Now selling ski gloves and pants.  Barely used.  Best offer in the comments 🙂

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

A necessary day trip from Berlin, there is no excuse to skip this historical and eye opening tour.

April and I went with Sandemans New Europe Tours during a grey and gloomy day in Berlin, fitting to the site we were going to visit.  I think it’s very important that you go with a guided tour so they point out the most important information.  They said that if you read little blurb by pictures or objects, it would take 3 weeks to complete the camp.

I don’t have a whole lot of words to share, because I believe it’s better to go and experience it for yourself.  I also didn’t take a whole lot of pictures, because nothing in print could compare to the actual site.  I learned so much from this tour and our very knowledgable guide.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt that I occupy such a small place in the world as I did in that moment.

Here’s just some basic information about the camp.  It opened in 1936 and was a training center for the SS and prison for political prisoners.  It wasn’t originally designed as a extermination camp until 1943 when a gas chamber and ovens were introduced to deal with Red Army POWs.  More than 200,000 people were imprisoned during 1936-1945.

I don’t want to put a lot of my opinions out there other than this event in history is the worst thing I’ve ever learned about.  But one thing that I wanted to share from what I learned is the extent of public involvement.  I think when I was learning about WWII and the Holocaust in my history classes, I was always surprised that no one knew what was going on abroad.  And the truth of the matter is, that everyone did know and some were using it to their advantage.

Adidas and Puma (the shoe brands) were founded by German brothers, Adolf and Rudolph Dassler.  Both brothers were members of the Nazi Party, both worked for a family shoe store but split because of differences.  Rudolph was sent to Poland to fight and suspected that his brother turned him in.  And this is where the internet stories end, but there’s more.  Adolf Dassler sent new models of his shoes to Sachsenhausen to be tested by inmates.  Inmates were given new shoes with the condition that they had to run 26 miles daily on a half circle track.

Coca Cola (the drink) was the preferred beverage of the Nazi Party.  However the syrup to make Coca Cola was difficult to import due to a trade embargo between the US and Nazi Germany.  Coca Cola sent them a formula to make an orange variation of the drink because all the supplies to make the syrup could be found locally.  Want a Fanta? No thank you.

Again, the best way to learn is to visit.

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