My Shocking Revelation

I’m about to say something that may be controversial. It could be shocking. Are you ready?

The Charles Bridge at night

I didn’t love Prague. 

Enjoying a Prague Thanksgiving (yes, we did find pumpkin pie)

I’m not even sure if I really liked Prague. Maybe it was a classic case of overhype–almost everyone I talked to before going raved about the city and insisted it was their favorite. Maybe it was the weather–the whole time I was there it was cloudy and below freezing, limiting the amount of time I could spend just walking around (my favorite way to discover a city). Maybe it was because a big part of me was really homesick since I was missing Thanksgiving. Maybe it was because it just wasn’t Spain.

Whatever the case, I was less than impressed. Even my pictures from Prague were disappointing (possibly because I wasn’t even allowed to take pictures in a lot of the places we toured).

It’s hard for me to come to terms with not liking everywhere I venture in the world, but I supposed it’s bound to happen as I expand my travel horizons. As my parents said, “Well, that’s just another place you can cross off the list.” The world is big and there are a lot of other places for me to fall in love with.

My friend Rain and I trying to metamorph.

Not that going was a total bust. Copenhagen weather now feels nearly tropical compared to the winter chill in Prague. I ate some delicious cheap baked goods and drank some good cheap beer. And I got a picture posing like a cockroach (or trying to) in front of Franz Kafka’s statue. That was most definitely a success.

Happy Hygge Holiday!

The word “hygge” is one that I have heard discusses since I arrived in Copenhagen. It’s one of those words that has no direct translation–it’s more of a concept than a word–and is supposedly a uniquely Danish thing. The adjective form, hyggeligt, literally means cozy. Hygge is much more complex but is very often associated with an extended gathering of friends or family, usually in the home, complete with plenty of delicious food, drinks, and candles all around. There is definitely a sense of coziness to it, but it is also about warmth, comfort, togetherness, and feeling content.

In other words, it is all the things I love about Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it is all about gathering with loved ones around a huge table full of food and just spending hours eating, talking, and enjoying being together. It’s about finding a cozy haven from the cold for a day with some great company, usually complete with candles or even a fire in the fireplace. If you ask me, it’s proof that hygge is alive and well outside of Denamark too. They may have a word devoted to it, but the States has an entire holiday.

I hope everybody back home has a fantastic Thanksgiving. I’m really bummed to be missing it, so enjoy it a little extra Thanksgiving hygge  for me! I love and miss you all. 

Image source: Courant.com TVEYE

Camina de Esta Manera

For those of you who have stuck with me through my week of Spain posts, I have one more for you! Don’t worry, this one is all pictures of the street art I saw in Granada. Enjoy!

p.s. If you are interested in reading more, one of my partners in crime (or travel) just posted his perspective on our Spanish adventure. Check out Eric’s blog here!

7:30 AM: Our first graffiti sighting in Granada.

It's always a party in Granada.

It's always a party in Granada.

Translation: Friends for life

This one's a little harder to spot...

Some mischievous art hiding behind the fence.

Performance art! Thanks Chris...

Now we get a little more political. Translation: Houses without people, people without a house! A street that talks.

I'm having a bit more trouble with this translation. Anyone have any ideas? I think "poyas" is some kind of Spanish slang...

Translation: TV is house arrest and a <something> routine.

Viva el arte de calle en Granada!

The Top 5 Things I Did in Seville

So funny story. After our time in Madrid, Eric and I were supposed to head to Barcelona to wrap up our trip. But it had been overcast and drizzly in Madrid and looking at the weather forecast they were calling for rain in Barcelona as well. While Eric may have more than his share of sunshine in Cairo, it’s severely lacking in Copenhagen and I really wanted to soak up some rays before returning. So we looked at the weather around Spain and noticed that it looked especially nice in Valencia and Seville. One coin flip later and we were booking bus tickets to Seville.

Best coin flip of my life. Read on to see all the things I enjoyed doing so much in Sevilla!

1. Eating, drinking, and drinking some more

(Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

No, I was not an alcoholic in Seville. But we did enjoy  plenty of Sangria: a pitcher during our first lunch, a pitcher after dinner to enjoy the lovely evening, a pitcher by the water on our last day. The delicious drink was almost always accompanied by some equally tasty food. The best food memory from the trip was the night Eric and I decided to try our hand at making paella at the hostel. While we were cooking one of the adorable women who ran the hostel came in and started making Spanish tortilla and some sort of spinach and cheese dish. Then a couple girls from the UK who were staying there came in and mixed up a couple (more) pitchers of sangria. In the end, we all gathered around the table on the outdoor terrace and shared our culinary concoctions. The food was good (really really good), but the company was better.

2. Seeing the sights (and soaking up some rays)

We really knew nothing about Seville before we arrived, but we quickly realized that there are a lot of cool things to see in Seville! And most of them–blessedly–allow you to be outside in the sun. While this might be awful in the middle of a hot Sevillan summer (when it’s the hottest city in Europe), I was loving it in Novemeber. Over the next few days we went back and visited:

The Seville Cathedral: the massive mosque turned cathedral in the center of town, which includes a very tall minaret turned bell tower that has a great view of the city (more on that later).

Alcázar: the moorish fort turned royal palace which is architecturally similar to the Alhambra but quite possibly has even more extensive and beautiful gardens (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

The Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (The Bullfighting Ring): Though we did not actually get to see a bullfight (I'm not sure I really would have wanted to), the ring was pretty beautiful, especially on such a sunny day. Hint: Click on the photo to make it bigger and you can see the ring in Eric's glasses!

The Waterfront: Although it's a beautiful view on it's own, the waterfront is especially good for people watching and enjoying a little sangria and cheese! (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

Oh, and then there was the Plaza de España. But more on that later…

3. Enjoying the view (and soaking up more sun)

As I mentioned above, the view from the Cathedral tower was pretty incredible...

But we were also lucky enough to have a rooftop terrace at our hostel (which was in a 500 year old jewish mansion, by the way) with a view that was not too shabby. One of my favorite afternoons we just sat up there in the sun with the towers of Seville surrounding us, enjoying an afternoon snack of Iberican ham and manchego cheese, while Eric attempted to teach me to play chess. Not a bad life, eh? Watching the sunset from up there wasn’t too shabby either.

Sunset from the roof (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

4. Plaza de España, Plaza de España, Plaza de España (sun, sun, sun)

I probably could have spent my entire time in Seville just hanging around this sunny plaza. We first came as part of the walking tour and then returned on our last day and spent almost the entire afternoon there just lounging around on the stairs and listening to some street performers play flamenco. I could talk more about it, but I think I’ll just show you pictures…

Approaching the Plaza

Beautiful bridges and tile work

Enjoying some flamenco music (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

Just hanging out on the tiled balconies. Pretty standard.

5. Watching flamenco

On our last night we went pretty classy and made reservations at this restaurant that had a free flamenco show. It was the perfect way to wrap up our Spanish vacation: several hour long dinner, paella, Sangria, flamenco. I was enjoying myself too much to document the show there at all, but if you aren’t familiar with flamenco you should definitely check out the video below of a street performer in Granada!

In case you couldn’t figure this out, the trip was all around fantastic. Thank you for bearing with my long posts–there was just so much I wanted to share! And with another trip in my near future and the Christmas season already here in Copenhagen, there will be many more things to share during my final month abroad.

The Top 5 Things I Did in Madrid

After returning from Granada, Eric joined Chris and I for five fabulous days in Madrid. Here are my favorite things that we did!

1. Eating ham & tortilla

Thumbs up for bocadillos! (Photo cred: Eric Fleddermann)

Because Eric has been studying in a Muslim country and has therefore been suffering from lack of pork-products (specifically bacon), I took him to the Museo del Jamón for his first meal. It seems to be some sort of chain restaurant in Madrid, but they have walls covered in ham legs and a euro menu of bocadillos (simple Spanish sandwiches consisting of one topping on a baguette) so we ended up frequenting it during our time in Madrid.

As much as I loved the Spanish ham and chorizo, my favorite was a bocadillo with Spanish tortilla on it. Unlike the flatbread Latin American tortilla, Spanish tortilla is a meal in itself. It’s an egg-based dish and is kind of like the birth-child of an omelet and a quiche with a lot of potatoes and onions thrown in. It’s hearty yet tender, and especially delicious when paired with some flakey bread. I’m getting hungry just writing about it…

2. The Almudena Cathedral

I’ve seen so many churches during my time in Europe that I probably wouldn’t have gone in this one if Eric hadn’t wanted to check it out, and boy am I glad he did. The Almudena Cathedral, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Madrid, is the most eclectic cathedral I’ve ever been to. It was kind of like a contemporary art museum inside–traditional religious works were up next to very modern stained glass and sculptures, the ceiling was covered in the vibrant patchwork of geometric shapes, and the prayer room was decorated with floor to ceiling sparkling mosaic depictions of religious scenes. Rather than feeling religiously imposing and gaudy, it was more interesting and inviting. I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in Madrid.

3. Spending time in public places

The popular bubble man street performer in Plaza Mayor

Because people in Madrid socialize in the streets rather than in the home, the city is full of excellent public places to spend time in. Plenty of my time in Madrid was spent doing just that: sitting in a park or a plaza, catching up with my good friends from back home, and watching Spanish life pass by. There are also plenty of street performers around for added entertainment. One morning in Retiro park we were even lucky enough to get an hour-long sax performance from across the lake!

Another great space to check out if you’re going to Madrid is the Atocha train station. Not only is it pretty amazing architecturally, there’s a giant palm tree forest inside that’s pretty cool to walk around. When we were there, there was an exhibit of photographs related to the Russian railroad. Random, yes, but also interesting.

4. Hitting the museums

Madrid is also full of museums. We went to the two main attractions: the Prado and the Reina Sofia. The Prado is more traditional and renaissance art, which isn’t my favorite. The most interesting thing there was Goya’s black paintings, which were the pieces he originally did on the walls of his home while he was going crazy and nearing death. They’re pretty gruesome but very interesting.

The Reina Sofia is full of contemporary art and much more down my alley. This included several works by the crazy Dalí and Picasso’s Guernica. As part of the Guernica exhibit, the museum also has a bunch of his sketches and studies done in preparation for painting this major work. I love seeing the process of great artists almost as much as I like seeing the final product, so I thought this was a very well done exhibit.

A quick tip if you’re planning on visiting museums in Madrid: if you plan it right, you really shouldn’t have to pay admission. If you’re a student you can get in free to almost all of the museums with your ID, but for the rest of you most of the museums have free hours or days. Check the schedules before you go and plan accordingly to save a lot of euros!

5. Enjoying the nightlife

Madrid has an incredibly varied and lively nightlife that is known for starting late and ending later. We really enjoyed a spectrum–from our first crazy night at the seven story club El Kapital to dancing at a jazz/funk bar to a quiet night sipping wine at a cafe until they closed at 2–and I had a great time every night. Whatever your nightlife style, Madrid probably has it and it’s bound to be a good time.

Up next? Our spontaneous trip to Sevilla!

The Top 5 Things I Did in Granada

After a very brief stop-over in Madrid where I was lucky enough to have dinner (aka Spanish language bootcamp) with Chris’ spanish Señora, Chris and I hopped on an overnight bus to Granada. Here are my top five favorite things from our visit to the southern city!

1. Walking around

Our bus was supposed to get into Granada at 6:30 am, but because of an unexpected daylight savings time, we arrived at 5:30 am. Since our hostel wasn’t open yet, we had some time for some early morning exploring. Our hostel was situated in El Albayzín, the older Moorish part of the city that still has the narrow streets that wind and crawl every which way up the mountain. And although this escapade would be followed by much more walking around during the normal daytime hours, it was pretty cool to poke around while the city was waking up.

2. Tapa hoppa

Granada is the city in Spain where the whole “get free tapas with your drinks” culture started, and therefore it is the only city where it still holds strong despite economic unfeasibility. In most other cities in Spain you might get some olives or chips with your drink, a small tapenade if you’re really lucky. In Granada, you get a small meal. In order to fully enjoy this dying cultural gem, most of our meals involved three to four hours of us going to a bar, getting a drink and seeing what food came with it, then “hopping” to the next bar for the next course.

3. The Alhambra

This palace/fortress on the mountain is the main destination in Granada and completely worth the visit. Chris and I devoted an entire day to exploring all of the nooks and crannies of this massive site and I’m so glad we did. The Islamic architecture was stunning, the extensive gardens were just beautiful, and the views out onto Granada through every window were almost unbeatable (keep reading for the caveat). It’s a little expensive, but if you make it to Granada make sure you include The Alhambra in your visit.

One of the many water-filled courtyards of the palace

The whole palace was covered with beautiful Arabic script and colorful geometric patterns

A beautiful view out some beautiful windows

4. Cave houses

Another one of the better known attributes of El Albayzín are the cave houses. These are houses that are actually built into the site of the mountain like caves. Closer to the base of the mountain these are pretty standard houses, complete with plumbing and electricity. But as you hike higher up you encounter a more hippie community of people living a more rugged lifestyle. These cave houses still have walls and doors, yards and fences, but they don’t have paved roads or modern utilities. Currently these houses are protected as a UNESCO world heritage site, but some developers are hoping to get that removed and turn the area into a resort. While I would hate to see such a unique community taken over by tourism, after seeing the view I understand why…

Nicer cave houses on the bottom of the image, the real cave houses scattered across the top of the mountain

A closer look at one of the cave houses

An unconventional front porch

5. Enjoying the view that never got old

Of all the amazing things we saw, the view over Granada that could be seen as you climbed up the mountain was by far my favorite. We spent a lot of time just chilling in a park or on a wall enjoying this vista.

Alhambra on the left, Granada on the right

Although I just as soon could have never leaved this spot, I’m glad I did because I had exciting adventures in Madrid and Sevilla ahead of me!

Spain: The Gist of It

Since I returned on Saturday from my two week vacation in Spain, I’ve been mulling over how I can possibly give justice to such a fabulous and extended trip on my blog. Part of me selfishly didn’t even want to blog about it–I just wanted to keep my relaxing vacation to myself.

Don’t worry, I’ve gotten over that and figured out how to tackle the challenge. Over the next three posts I’ll tell you all about my adventures in Granada, Madrid, and Sevilla. Maybe I’ll even get a post up later today (although I’m still struggling to get out of vacation mode).

Until then, and for those of  you who were rejoicing at the idea of not having to read long-ish posts about my travels, I present the reader’s digest version to what I did in España:

Eat

We ate a lot. And drank (hey, I was on vacation). Spanish food is delicious and the wine is cheap and not too shabby. Some of the culinary highlights were definitely the abudance of pork products (Chorizo, Iberian ham, bacon since I was with Eric), Spanish tortilla (different than the tex-mex tortilla you are probably thinking of), Paella (we even made some ourselves!), manchego cheese, espresso, and Sangria. And in Spain it’s so easy to drag a meal out over the course of several hours that a lot of my trip really was about devoted to the art of Spanish eating.

Walk

The best way to discover cities in Europe (or anywhere for that matter) is generally just to get up off your butts and walk around them. So that’s what we did. Outside of fabulous free walking tours through our hostels, we spent plenty of time just walking around on our own, stopping when we wanted to, picking places to return to later, getting lost, etc. I’ve spent so much time traveling Europe with big school groups who are dictating where I go when, that it was so nice to just be exploring a city with one or two close friends who are just as flexible about plans as me. Plus, as an added bonus, all the walking was a nice way to offset at least some of the eating.

Siesta

And to offset all the walking we got into total Spanish mode and siestaed on the regular. We siestaed in parks and plazas across Spain. We siestaed on the couches at the hostel. Sometimes, we even siestaed in actual beds (crazy, right?). Although it took me a few days to get into the groove, by the end of the trip even I–the perpetual insomniac who couldn’t nap to save her life–was mourning the end of my siesta days.

I was definitely sad to say goodbye to my fantastic travel partners and leave sunny Spain, returning to Denmark where the sun starts setting at 3:30 PM and loads of schoolwork loom in my near future. Luckily, I will have the great memories, the hilarious pictures, and the chorizo I smuggled back with me to help get me through these dreary winter weeks to come.

Erin and Eric post-Spain

More España to come soon… hasta luego!