Paris is always a good idea

Bonjour,

It’s me Lex with some info on Europe’s #1 travel destination: Paris, France! As a first-time visitor, Paris certainly met and even surpassed most of my expectations. The city is truly as elegant, quaint, and poised as it is portrayed in the movies. My only complaint is that I couldn’t stay longer!

Day 1

My trip to Paris was a bit different because I had a special travel buddy… my mom! After spending two days together in Sevilla, we left for a weekend trip to Paris. Our flight left at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and we arrived in Paris around 8:00 a.m., leaving us the entire day to explore the city. We started with a light breakfast at a grab-n-go French bakery. We both ordered “pain aux raisins,” a popular French honey and raisin croissant. (I liked it so much, I ordered it three more times throughout the course of the weekend). After breakfast, we made our way to the Louvre Royal Palace and Museum. The Louvre is the world’s largest museum, housing over 35,000 works of art, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. Not only is the art extremely beautiful and impressive, but so is the overall architecture and design of the museum itself. The entrance to the museum is a huge glass pyramid, and the inside is elaborately decorated from floor to ceiling. It’s absolutely ginormous- if you opt for the audio tour it would take almost 4 hours! My mom and I opted for the solo tour instead and were still overwhelmed and impressed by the huge selection of art in the museum. I was particularly struck by the collection of French art and sculpture. Surprisingly the only work of art that didn’t entirely blow me away was the Mona Lisa- it’s actually quite small in person. Nonetheless a trip to the Louvre is a definite must if you are ever in Paris. Entry is €12 for adults but free for EU students showing their visa…  Travel Tip: A valid visa will get you into every Paris museum and monument for free!

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After touring the Louvre we walked along the Seine River, taking in the sights. We stopped for pictures and a quick break (Paris requires a lot of walking!) at the Pont de Artes- a bridge made famous for the millions of signed “love locks” attached to it.

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We then ventured to the Latin Quartier for lunch at a quaint French restaurant. We both ordered French onion soup that left our taste buds tingling, which is quite a surprise because neither of us really like onions. The combination of broth, bread, cooked onions, and melted cheese made it so flavorful. Our next stop was Notre Dame, but a huge queue discouraged us from entering. Although we didn’t go inside, its beauty was clearly evident from the outside.

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IMG_1640Paris’s lack of public bathrooms caused us to stop for a quick pee break and dessert on our way to the Eiffel Tower. In order to use a restroom in Paris you need to buy something, although we didn’t complain too much after ordering and devouring a warm “Apple Tatin” pastry.  We then continued on our way to the Eiffel Tower, passing by the Hotel des Invalides and the Champ de Mars.  The tower is visible from many parts of the city because of its height, but you can’t really appreciate its beauty until you are standing right beside of it. It’s huge, and even more of a spectacle when lit up at night! It was almost hard to take my eyes off of it.

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We stopped for a nicer dinner at the popular French restaurant Café Constant. We ordered red wine, beef stew, and duck confit. It was the first time either of us had tasted duck, and we were extremely impressed- it was so tender!

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Day 2

We began our day with French croissants and coffee- as true Parisians would. Before making our way to the Arc de Triomphe, we stopped at Laduree, a famous French macaroon bakery. The store is a classy array of color with a wide selection of macaroons. We bought an assortment of 8 for the road.

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DCIM100GOPROAfterwards, we continued along the Avenue Des Champs Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe- a famous monument honoring those who fought and died in the French Revolution and Napoleanic War. We climbed the arc for an incredible panoramic view of the entire city. The view was really interesting because it put us at the intersection of the city’s main streets all leading in different directions. It was well worth the 30 minute wait!

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After descending the Triomphe, we stopped at a trendy supermarket to buy ingredients for a picnic lunch underneath the Eiffel Tower. We bought a cheese platter, crackers, French bordeaux wine, blackberries, and a baguette to accompany our Laduree macaroons. It was a great day for a picnic with sun and 65° weather.


IMG_1698After our picnic, we took the metro to the Catacombs of Paris, but a two hour wait kept us from going inside. That’s an unfortunate thing about cities filled with tourists- long lines!  Pooped from a long day of sightseeing, we decided to metro back to our hotel and take a quick rest before dinner that night. Per recommendation of our hotel concierge, we went to Au Petit Riche.  We started with escargot (snails) as an appetizer. To my absolute dismay, I loved it; my mom, not so much. The snails were marinated in a delicious garlic, butter, and pesto sauce.
IMG_1700Next we ordered the house special- salmon served with a side of ratatouille. The salmon was good, but the ratatouille absolutely stole the show. I had dreamed of trying the vegetable delicacy ever since I saw the Disney movie, “Ratatouille.” It was definitely the best thing I ate in Paris, but that also may have been because I was a little vegetable-deprived in Spain. We ended our night with dessert cocktails at Harry’s New York Bar. Although it seemed a bit like a tourist trap (our drinks were €14 each), the ambiance was nice and the cocktails were tasty.


 

There’s something special to be said about Paris… maybe it’s the city’s charming flower-covered terraces, the historical museums/sites, the incredible food, the French culture, or just the general ambiance. Paris is a dream, and I’m so glad I got to experience it with my mom. I will most definitely return in the future. After all, Audrey Hepburn once told us “Paris is always a good idea.”

Au revoir,

Lex

 

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An Open Love Letter to Italy

Dear Italy,

I love you. I really do. Your rich culture, deep history, and beauty inspire me. Your landscapes are straight from a dream. And your food… I’m not sure there are enough adjectives to describe how wonderful your food is. Something about you just makes people feel good. Perhaps the only unfortunate thing about you, is that you did my bikini bod no favors…. I forgive you though. It has been a week since our last encounter and I am already counting the days until we are reunited. Miss you!!

Con affetto,

Lex

Day 1: Florence, Italy

IMG_3058Carrie and I arrived in Florence Wednesday afternoon around 1:00 p.m. We met up with two friends and had a quick lunch at Market Centrale. The market had a very cool atmosphere and offered a hodgepodge of many Italian foods. I ordered bruschetta with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and pesto. After lunch, we took a casual stroll past the Duomo (we wouldn’t tour the cathedral until the next day) and the famous Ponte Veccio bridge. We stopped for our first gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita- a local favorite. I ordered a “cookie” and “frutti de bosco” mixed cone and it was probably the best gelato I had the entire trip. After gelato, we spent some time at Piazza Michelangelo- a beautiful hilltop plaza that overlooks the entire city. On our walk back the city center we caught the sunset in it’s prime and snapped a few pictures. That night we had dinner at Dantes (a traditional italian restaurant) and I ordered spaghetti carbonara that had me leaving full and happy!

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Day 2: Florence, Italy

Today Carrie and I did our own solo touring. We bought 15€ passes that got us into the Duomo (dome) of the Florence Cathedral and into the Bell Tower. I would recommend purchasing the passes in advance to avoid lines… Carrie and I didn’t buy the passes in advance, and had to wait in line for 45 minutes to get into the Duomo. At least we had a nice view of the outside of the Basilica while we waited..? The exterior of the Basilica is absolutely beautiful! Its a gothic style building covered with marble panels in various shades of pink and green. The inside of the Basilica doesn’t disappoint either. The ceiling of Duomo is covered in an elaborate painting depicting heaven and hell. We walked through the Basilica before making our way to the top of the Duomo for a view of the city. The view was pretty incredible but we concluded that the view from the Bell Tower was better because it allows you to see all of Florence including the Duomo.

IMG_3111After touring we grabbed a quick lunch at a trip advisor and local approved panini restaurant, Da Vinitierri.I ordered a spicy salami panini with fresh cheese and arugula that was absolutely mouthwatering. There are rumors that the owner bakes his bread fresh daily, and after eating my panini I concur that the bread was indeed very fresh. After lunch, we took on the leather market. Italy, and Florence specifically, is famous for it’s quality leather. The market is similar to Moroccan markets in that bargaining is very common. I did my fair share of bargaining and ended up with a genuine black leather purse for only €20!  That night we had dinner at Santo Torreto and I ordered pasta… again (surprise surprise). This time it was gnocchi covered in a creamy pesto and aoili sauce. It was love on a plate.

Day 3: Cinque Terre, Italy

“And on the third day God made Cinque Terre…” Just kidding but you catch my drift. Cinque Terre is almost too beautiful. It’s a mountainous portion of coast along the Italian Riviera that consists of five villages- Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Although all villages are easily connected by train, the coastal hiking trail that covers all five villages is a more popular and scenic option.

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IMG_3150I decided to take a solo weekend trip to this travel oasis because it was only a short train ride away from Florence. That’s another beauty of Italy- how well connected it is by train! My hostel was in Manarola, but I narrowly missed check in time (check in was from 11-1 and 3-8, I arrived at 1:20) and I decided to go straight to Monterosso al Mare, the rumored best beach village, to spend some time in the sun.  I bought a pizza and a small bottle of wine at the Rick Steves approved Pizzeria “La Smorfia,” to take with me to the beach. It was a blissful afternoon to say the least. That night I returned to Manarola and went to Da Billy Trattoria, as suggested by the Hostel concierge. Guess what I ordered… more pasta!! Except this time I ordered a delicious spaghetti frutti di mare.

Day 4: Cinque Terre, Italy

On Saturday I woke up at 9:00 a.m. with the intention of hiking the entire seven mile coastal trail. But before I began, I decided to check out the event booking agency Arbaspaa, to see about local wine tasting opportunities. I scheduled a wine tasting for 6:00 p.m. with the local winery Enoteca Internazionale. After scheduling the wine tasting I took a short train ride to Riomaggiore to start my hike. Riomaggiore is the smallest of the towns but is no less beautiful. This part of the hike was the hardest however because the normal trail was closed due to landslides. The detour was essentially all uphill climbing. It made for a pretty cool view though…

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Riomaggiore

The next stop on the hike was Manarola. Manarola is easily the prettiest town in my opinion. But it’s also the most photographed of all the villages so some must agree with me. I had already spent a lot of time in Manarola the previous night though so I walked through the village pretty quickly and began my trek to the next town- Corniglia.

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Manarola

The walk from Manarola to Corniglia was no less scenic and it was relatively easy. Corniglia as a village however, was my least favorite. Not to say the village wasn’t beautiful, it was just the only village not on the coast.

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Corniglia

The hike from Corniglia to Vernazza was my favorite although it was the longest- 2 miles. It consisted of several stair-step climbs but the views were stunning. Vernazza is also one of the most beautiful villages. Its oceanfront and extremely colorful. I stopped for some foccaccia bread in Vernazza before beginning the last part of the hike from Vernazza to Monterosso al mare.

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Vernazza

The hike from Vernazza to Monterosso was a bit more challenging because it required descending a lot of steep stairs and narrow passageways. However, the panoramic view of Monterosso’s two beaches near the end of the hike was well worth the exercise.

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Montorosso al mare

When the hike was over I awarded myself with the wine tasting at Enoteca Internazionale. Luckily the tasting was in Monterosso, where I had ended my hike. The tasting included three different local wines. Two white wines and a spicy dessert wine to finish. I was also served a plate of cheese to compliment the white wines and brown sugar cookies to compliment the dessert wine. I was pretty impressed with all three wines and my experience overall at Enoteca Internazionale. I would definitely recommend the wine tasting if you have spare time in Cinque Terre!

Day 5: Desenzano del garda, Italy

On Sunday I took a quick detour to Desenzano del Garda, Italy to visit my Dad’s girlfriend. Desenzano is an eastern Italy town on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda. Our hotel overlooked the lake and the Swiss Alps! We spent the day walking around the town and doing some casual shopping before stopping for a wine and cheese lunch/dinner. We also grabbed gelato after our meal, naturally. Although my time here was short, I really enjoyed it. One cool thing about Desenzano is that it is off the beaten path and not so saturated with travelers. It was interesting to see more of the true Italian culture and everyday lifestyle.

Day 6: Rome, Italy

IMG_3237The next day I took an early morning train from Desenzano to Rome.  Originally Carrie and I had planned to avoid hotel costs and spend the night out because our flight was at 6:30 am the next day and the airport was a 45 minute drive from the city center. However, we quickly realized that it would be better to have a place to stay that night one we arrived to Rome pretty exhausted from all the weekend travel. We booked a IMG_3244room through HotelTonight, a useful site that finds cheap, last minute deals on hotel rooms.  Upon arrival, we dropped off our luggage in the hotel room and set out to tour Rome… in a day. It seemed like an impossible feat but surprisingly we made it to many of the city’s iconic sites. We started with a tour of the colosseum and surrounding Roman ruins. I have to admit, the Colosseum was a bit underwhelming in person but when you consider it’s IMG_3256history and the architectural genius of the time period, it’s actually pretty impressive. After touring the Colosseum we took the metro to the Vatican City and toured Saint Peter’s Basilica. No exaggeration, this was the most beautiful church I have ever seen. It was elaborately decorated from floor to ceiling. Aside from its sheer beauty, it was incredible to think about it’s historical importance. It truly left me speechless and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to visit. Next we took the metro back to city center and ate dinner at a popular pizzeria near the Spanish Steps.  We finished the day with a walk to the Trevi Fountain to see it in all its nighttime glory. We had no shame in throwing in a few coins in ourselves and taking our own touristy pictures.


I can’t sing enough praise about Italy, its wonderful culture, beautiful landscapes, and incredible food. Each part of my trip was equally enjoyable and allowed me to see many different sides of the country. Florence was very comparable to Sevilla in size and layout- so of course I loved it. Cinque Terre showed me some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Desenzano allowed me to see a less touristy side of Italy. And Rome.. well Rome is Rome. It certainly lives up to the hype. I know that I will most certainly return to Italy in the future and I pray that it’s someday soon.

Arrivederci!

Lex

 

A Weekend in London

Hola a todos,

After plans fell through to visit Valencia, Spain one weekend I was left wondering what to do. I considered Croatia, Germany, Switzerland and other eastern European countries that I had not yet visited, but unfortunately flights were ridiculously expensive. Feeling a bit discouraged I decided to check skyscanner.com one last time to see if any cheap flights had become available for the weekend. It was fate when I encountered a relatively cheap direct flight from Seville to London, UK! Conveniently, I also had a friend studying abroad in London who offered an air mattress and to be a personal tour guide (Thanks Kerry!!). No doubt, London was calling.

Day 1:

I will admit, my trip to London consisted more of relaxing, and catching up with friends than it did formal touring. However, Kerry showed me all of the city’s hotspots and most  iconic buildings/monuments (we just didn’t pay to go in them). We toured the city on foot mostly, starting with the London Eye then working our way around the outsides of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and surrounding Parliament buildings, Buckingham Palace, and Trafalgar Square. For lunch we stopped at a casual pub and got our fill of fish and chips- a London food favorite.

 

(Left to right: London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Parliament Building, Buckingham Palace)

In the afternoon we took the tube (London’s subway system) to Camden, which is a hipster-like borough in northern London that’s famous for it’s eclectic market. It’s also home to Cereal Killer Café- a café specializing in cereal concoctions that has become a bit of a social media sensation thanks to foody instagrammers. (Their creations are pretty photogenic). I ordered a peanut butter hot chocolate that was an absolute chocolate overload, but no regrets here. It was indeed tasty and “Instagrammable.”


Day 2:

We had a late start on Saturday but began our day with a nice brunch at The Breakfast Club, a popular and trendy brunch destination. From there, we made our way to a more modern part of the city and “toured” Picadilly Circus and Regent Street. And by toured i mean shopped. Both are very nice areas for shopping and eating. Here, you’ll find stores all the way from Burberry and Louis Vuitton to H&M.

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That night we went to the UNC Honors College Dorm to watch UNC play Notre Dame in the final four game. As you probably already know, we won this game… but the next wasn’t so fortunate. I’d rather not talk about it though… still a touchy subject.


Day 3:

It was on this day that we treated ourselves. Specifically, we treated ourselves to the Bloomsbury afternoon tea at the Charlotte Street Hotel. It was a classy affair that included an assortment of fancy teas, finger sandwiches, chestnut macaroons, scones, and various tarts and pastries. It was all so delicious! The price was a bit steep at £30 but it was worth every penny. After all, you can’t go to London and not do tea. 

 

After tea, I took it upon myself to do some solo exploring of the city. I started in Hyde Park- the largest park in the city that connects to the Kensington Palace (Will and Kate’s home). It was a sunny day, which is a rarity for London, so I was pretty lucky. After walking through the park I made my way to Harrod’s- the iconic seven story department store of London. It is basically Nordstrom X1000 and a bit more expensive. I decided not to break the bank and only walked out with a £10 bag of Harrod’s tea.


I really enjoyed London. Even though I didn’t make it inside every major building and museum, I really felt like I gained a big appreciation for the city. London is HUGE. After all, it’s the largest city in the world. In the US it’s most comparable to New York not just because of its size but also because it’s home to a mix of many different people and lifestyles. I really appreciated that. I originally didn’t plan on coming to London during my time in Europe this semester, but I am so glad I did. It turned out to be one of my favorite places thus far and I know that I will surely return one day!

Hasta la vista,

Lex

Semana Santa & Feria

Hola a todos,

Among one of the many benefits of studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain during the spring semester is the opportunity to participate in two of the city’s major holidays: Semana Santa and Feria.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a Spanish celebration of the week preceding Easter. The religious holiday commemorates the Passion of Christ, beginning with Palm Sunday, or Domingo de Ramos, and ending on Easter Sunday, or La Pascua. Lucky for me, It’s most seriously celebrated in the region of Andalusia, Spain.

How is it celebrated? First you should understand religious brotherhoods, or Hermandades. Hermandades are primarily based on tradition and composed of various Catholic families; however, membership is open to any Catholic. There are over 60 hermandades in Sevilla alone. During Semana Santa these brotherhoods perform penance processions throughout the streets of Sevilla.

What does it look like?  

This specific procession was carried out by the hermandad “La Virgen de la O.”

During processions, each brotherhood carries its own unique paso, or religious float, that depicts a gospel scene related to the Passion of Christ or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. The top three images show La O’s paso depicting the Virgin Mary. The pasos are absolutely beautiful- adorned from top to bottom with candles, flowers and gold or silver platings. The bottom left images show hermanos of La O  wearing traditional nazarenos, or penitential robes. The processions are also usually accompanied by marching bands that perform compositions devoted to their respective brotherhoods and pasos (As pictured in the bottom right image).

Here’s a quick video clip of La O’s procession:
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Feria

What is it? Feria de Abril, or The April Fair, is exactly what it sounds like… except a bit more cultural. Yes, there are fairgrounds with countless food stands and overpriced amusement park rides, but there’s more to Feria than it’s fair-like attractions… It’s a cultural tradition in which Sevillians pride themselves on.

The fair takes place two weeks after Semana Santa and lasts for six days. It officially commences on Monday at midnight with the alumbrao- the lighting of the giant entryway to the fairgrounds. When the portada is fully illuminated the festivities begin!

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What do you do? The fairgrounds are separated into two main parts: 1. “La Calle del Infierno” which is the area used for the theme park and food stands. 2. “El Real de Feria” which consists of 24 blocks lined with over 1,000 casetas— private tent pavilions belonging to eminent local families, businesses, political parties, and various organizations. Casetas are where the culture comes to life. Each one is it’s own party- equipped with a bar, kitchen and some form of entertainment (usually Sevillana music and dancing). Sevillians spend night and day socializing, dancing, eating and drinking rebujitos (traditional Feria beverage). Most casetas are open from early afternoon to early morning!

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Here’s a short video clip of a traditional Sevillana dance:
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What to wear?  Sevillanos are decked out in traditional dress. For women this means traje de gitano- traditional flamenco dresses complete with coordinating accessories (flowers, tasseled shawls, combs, and earrings). For men it means a nice suit unless you are on horseback… then you wear the traditional traje corto-  fitted pants, a short-cut jacket, and a wide-brimmed hat.

Luckily, my madre Rosa makes and sells her own tasseled shawls, or montones. She let my roommate Carrie and I borrow some of her extras and we accessorized with earrings and flowers in our hair. Not completely in traditional flamenco dress, but hey, we tried!

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I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have seen and participated in both of these events! They allowed me to experience beautiful aspects of the sevillano culture which furthered my appreciation for it. I am truly in love with this city!

Hasta la próxima,

Lex

 

Dobrý den, pivo prosím

Hi all,

Welcome back to my to my blog! Some time has passed since my last post but I was lucky enough to spend the majority of March traveling. Fortunately, one of those visits included Prague, Czech Republic. Prague’s beauty coupled with it’s rich history absolutely intrigued me!

A little lesson in geography and history: The Czech Republic lies in central Europe surrounded by Germany to the west, Austria to the south, and Poland to the northeast. Prague is the country’s capital and largest city. It’s more than 600 years old (established in the 14th century), but it’s beauty and old architecture remain as Prague is one of the most well-preserved cities in all of Europe. It’s hard to imagine how it remained in tact during WWII considering its location… Lucky for Prague, it was Hitler’s absolute favorite city. In fact, he loved it so much that he wanted to make it the capital of his Aryan empire. He even wanted to preserve the city’s Jewish quarter, in memory of all the lives he took (how nice!) So yes, Prague’s history is quite twisted but interesting nonetheless.

What we did: Prague is divided into 10 districts and various quarters. My roommate Carrie and I spent most of our time in the city center- Old Town Square. The square includes a large plaza surrounded by two beautiful churches, various old-style buildings, a historical town hall which houses the 3rd oldest astronomical clock in the world, and a somewhat misplaced Andy Warhol (modern pop art artist) museum. We were also lucky enough to visit during Prague’s Easter market, which takes place annually in the square. The market had a renaissance feel mixed with various Czech foods and intricate Easter trinkets and memorabilia.


During our solo touring, we also visited the John Lennon Wall. The history of the wall is quite unique- during the 80’s the wall was used as a form of artistic expression against the communist regime. Today, the wall has the same purpose of artistic expression and is covered with various phrases and paintings.

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IMG_2427Aside from solo touring, we also participated in more formal tours led by trained guides. One was of the city in general that covered Old Town Square, New Town, and the Jewish Quarters. This tour was history heavy and I learned a lot. The second tour was of the famous Prague Castle- the largest castle complex in the world! The complex houses a beautiful Cathedral, several legislative buildings, and is also home to the Czech president Miloš Zeman, who I learned isn’t widely liked by Czech residents on account of his frequent public drunkenness. The tour also covered the iconic Charles Bridge. I would definitely recommend going on one or both of these free walking tours because they teach you a lot and give you greater understanding and appreciation for your surroundings.

Because we were to be in Prague for five days, we also decided to take a day trip to Karlovy Vary, a small spa town about two hours outside of Prague. The town is so beautiful and colorful! I would venture so far as to say that there isn’t an ugly building in sight. It’s historically famous for its hot springs and spa treatments. Hot spring mineral water flows freely from several fountains throughout the town and the water is said to have ~healing effects~ capable of curing various diseases and improving overall health. We acted as typical tourists, bought porcelain mugs (sold at many street carts), and tried the healing water for ourselves. It was a bit salty, and I saw no immediate effects on my health but I’ll keep you posted if anything changes!

A lesson in Czech gastronomy: Beer, stew, beer, potatoes, beer, and more beer. Czech people LOVE their beer. That brings me to the title of this post- “Dobrý den, pivo prosím” which literally translates to “Hello, beer please” (An important phrase I learned during the city walking tour). Beer is almost a religion in Prague. It’s cheaper than water! So it’s no surprise that the Czech Republic is the #1 consumer of beer in the world with 160 liters consumed per person per year. I have to admit, I was a fan of the beer I tried while in Prague- the signature Pilsner Urquell.

I really enjoyed my time in Prague and am thankful for the opportunity to visit. Western and eastern Europe have many differences and I’m glad that Prague was my first real taste of eastern Europe. Someday when I am older, wiser, and richer (Prague is quite expensive to get to) I hope to return!

Until next time,

Lex

Oh oh oh, Morocco

Hola a todos,

After a fairly calm and relaxing month in Sevilla, I was ready to head south to a new country (and an entirely new continent) to experience the wonders of Morocco. Despite receiving warnings from program directors about “the dangers of Morocco,” I decided to take my chances and experience the country for myself. After it was all said and done, I’m glad I did.

Day 1: Getting There

I traveled with Discover Excursions, a program that organizes cheap weekend getaways throughout Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. Now, for those of us who are a bit geographically challenged like myself, Morocco is in northwest Africa separated from Spain by the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the short distance between the two countries, bad weather turned a 7 hour trip into a 16 hour trip.

This was the intended trip itinerary: 3:30pm board busses for Tarifa, Spain. 8:00pm ferry leaves from Tarifa port to Tangier, Morocco. 9:30pm arrive in Tangier, Morocco. 10:00pm dinner at La Paloma Hotel. 

This is what actually happened: We boarded the busses for Tarifa, Spain at 3:30pm. The Tarifa port closed due to unsafe sailing conditions so we had to leave from the port of Algeciras, Spain (which almost doubled the ferry time). But to top it off, we had a 4 hour layover in the port station before we could even board the ferry. So that brought us to 1:00am when we finally boarded the ferry from the port of Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. We arrived in Tangier, Morocco at 5:00am and finally arrived at our hotel in Tetuan at 6:30am.

Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience. At least the beds were comfy??

Day 2: Chefchaouen, Morocco

We left the hotel around 9am to depart for Chefchaouen, Morocco aka “The Blue City.” Chefchaouen is a small medina in Morocco’s Rif mountains. I’m sure I’m not the first to say it lives up to its name. It’s filled with narrow pathways and detailed doors coated in various shades of blue. Some doors were grommeted with brass fixtures and handles- each with its own stylistic flare. It’s no surprise that Chefchaouen is one of the most visited places in Morocco- it’s beautiful!  See for yourself:

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IMG_1661After visiting the main sites, we stopped for lunch in Aladdin- a mediterranean style
restaurant. We were first served hot glasses of Moroccan mint tea. I would consider myself to be a bit of a tea connoisseur, but I had never tasted a tea so flavorful! We were then served an extremely fresh vegetable salad- a delicacy I have missed since coming to Spain. This was followed by yellow rice topped with fall-off-the-bone chicken and fries.

The Bargain Game: Bargaining is a cultural custom in Morocco. Of course the vendors want the highest payment while the buyers want the lowest price. I had my first bargaining experience in a leather purse shop in the Chefchaouen market. I found a perfect handmade leather bag that I decided I had to have. My exchange went something like this:

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Chefchaouen Market

Me: “Cuanto cuesta?” (Spanish is more commonly spoken in Morocco than English)

Vendor: “380 douhams” (380 douhams=38€)

Me: “No. Voy a pagar 15€” (Obviously this was an unreasonable offer but go big or go home).

Vendor: “Este es un bolso original, hecho por mano. 30€.

Me: “Solo tengo 20€.” (A lie) “Voy a visitar otras tiendas y si no encuentra nada, volveré.

Vendor: “Cuál es su oferta final?

Me: “20€.”

Vendor: **Puts purse in bag and hands it to me**
Moral of the story, patience is a virtue and a little stubbornness doesn’t hurt. Vendors really want sales and are willing to negotiate for fair prices. After all, tourism is the city’s main income. While in the market I also bought Moroccan-made party pants (8€), pigment-matching Chapstick (.50€) and a henna tattoo (5€).

Day 2: Asilah & Tangier, Morocco 

We began our day in Asilah, Morocco. Asilah is a much smaller medina than Chefchaouen. What sets it apart however, is its beachside location and beautiful views. After taking in these views we were able to do more bargaining in the marketplace. I bought a cloth canvas painting depicting the city of Chefchaouan (5€), and a handmade necklace (6€).

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After touring Asilah, we boarded the busses for Tangier. Finally the moment we were all anticipating… camel rides!!! Although the experience was a bit underwhelming (the rides were short, the camels were a bit grumpy, and the trainers were rough), it was still an interesting experience that not a lot of people can say they’ve had.

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We made our way back to Spain after the camel rides. Thankfully, the trip home was smooth-sailing.

My trip to Morocco was a cultural learning experience and certainly something I will never forget. Contrary to popular western belief, Africa is not solely made up of indigenous African tribes. Northern Africa is a major part of the Islamic world and is mainly comprised of Berbers and Arabs who are predominately muslim. It was interesting to see and experience their culture firsthand. It’s obvious that Morocco is a developing nation that lacks many basic resources, but something so beautiful was how happy and genuine the Moroccan people were in spite of their situation. It was incredibly admirable and eye opening.

Hasta la próxima, 

Lex

Belgium: Brussels & Bruges

Hola a todos,

Last weekend I took a break from la vida española and had the opportunity to tour Belgium, a land of many delicacies. My roommate Carrie and I caught an 8:00 p.m. flight from Seville (SVQ) to Brussels, Belgium (CRL). Our madre, Rosa, packed us a delicious salchicha bocadillo, complete with essential Spanish sides like olives, cheese, breadsticks, and fruits. It was really helpful considering we wouldn’t arrive to our hostel in Brussels until about 11:00 p.m. that night. We took a group taxi from the airport to our hostel for around 23€, which turned out to be a steal because it was almost a 45 minute drive from the airport. Our hostel, the Meininger Hotel, was extremely nice! It was fairly new and close to the city’s center. After check in, Carrie and I immediately went to bed, tired from travel and excited for the next day.


This is Brussels, Belgium:


IMG_0908Now, a few things about Brussels: Brussels has a city feel complete with unique and somewhat random architectural structures and monuments (yes, I’m referring to the peeing boy-one of the most revered statues in all of Belgium). The climate is comparable to London’s with mostly gray skies and chilly winter temperatures. Brussels is slam-packed with character from both tourists and natives who all contribute their own unique flares. An interesting fact: Brussels smells SO good. Around every corner and alleyway you’ll catch wafts of fresh waffles being made. (I’ll save the food talk for later though, because there is ALOT to say about Belgian food).

Day 1: Brussels

IMG_0902Carrie and I woke up around 9:00 a.m. and went on a free walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was extremely animated and made our tour really enjoyable. We started in the Grand Place, which is basically a huge historical plaza surrounded on all sides by various intricately designed buildings. It was definitely my favorite part of the city. Next, we made our way through several side streets and came across the famous peeing IMG_0949boy, the legislative building, the Royal Palace, the park of Brussels, and the stock exchange. We ended our tour at a nice overlook where we were able to take some great pictures of the city. On our way back to the hostel we stopped at Le Lombard- a quaint pub with delicious white wine mussels and fries (Belgium is known and loved for this food combo). We were leaving Brussels that night to go to Bruges so we stopped for a few Belgian beers and chocolates to take with us on the train. We had round-trip student tickets for 12€ and arrived in Bruges around 9:00 p.m.


This is Bruges, Belgium:


Now, a few things about Bruges: Bruges is the definition of post-card perfect (as you can see). Tall, antique, and colorful houses line the cobblestone streets, and a river runs through the center of it all. Bruges offers the small town feel that Brussels can’t. It’s also the place that gifted me with the absolute BEST waffle, hotdog, fries, and beer that I have ever had. If it’s not yet obvious, Bruges was my favorite stop on our Belgian excursion.

Day 2: Bruges

IMG_1099It was on this day that I had my first true Belgian waffle experience at oyya waffles. No exaggeration, this was the best waffle I have ever had and probably ever will have, unless I return to Belgium. The waffle literally melted in my mouth. When we were on the Brussels city tour, our tour guide insisted that the waffles need no topping at all because any topping would mask the flavor (even syrup). He was right. We got them plain, and they were amazing. IMG_1015Next we embraced our inner tourists and walked around the center square and along the riverside. Again, Bruges is beautiful. We stopped for lunch at Chez Vincent (a fresh friterie), and I ordered a chicken kabob with fries and a side-salad. It didn’t disappoint. After lunch we made our way to a really cool bar”2be” that had a beer museum and an outdoorBush-Noel patio on the river. It was here that I experienced the best beer I have ever had, Bush de Noël. It’s a strong beer at 12% so it’s hard to believe that it tastes so good. It was described on the menu as having a “round taste” and as being a “beer lover’s liquid gold.” Truer words have never been said. After the bar, Carrie and I stopped for hotdogs and fries (another Belgian specialty) at a food stand in the city center. It IMG_0980turns out, that this hotdog was also probably the best hotdog I have ever had. I know, it’s hard to believe that a small town like Bruges, Belgium could be home to some of the best food in the world, but it’s true.


Day 3: Bruges

Today we rented bikes at De Kettering Bike Shop at 6€ for a day pass. We rode around the outskirts of the town for a while and caught glimpses of several fairytale-like windmills, and parts of Bruges’s countryside. The weather was perfect, 60° and sunny, so it was a great day for biking and exploring. In the afternoon we went on a brewery tour of “De Halve Man.” It actually was not as exciting as we had hoped because our tour guide was a bit uninterested, but it was all worth it in the end when were given a free home-brewed beer.  After the tour we went back to our hostel, Hostel Lybeer, to pack and leave for Brussels. We had to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight back to Seville from the Brussels airport. But before leaving Bruges, we didn’t hesitate to stop at oyya for another waffle, which was just as delicious as the first.


Day 4: Return to Sevilla, Spain

We boarded the train back to Brussels around 6:00 p.m. Upon re-check in at the Meininger Hostel in Brussels, we decided to pre-book a 4:30 a.m. taxi to the airport to arrive in ample time for our 6:30 a.m. flight. This brings me to TRAVEL TIP #1: Always verify the name of your airport. Unfortunately, Carrie and I failed to do this and were unaware that there were actually two airports in Brussels. However, to be fair the hostel concierges made no mention of a second airport when we pre-booked our taxi the night before. Nonetheless, a great trip turned expensive and hectic as soon as we arrived to the wrong Brussels airport and were told that our flight actually left from a second airport that was more than one hour away via taxi. I bet you can guess what happened-we missed our flight. Four train rides, two bus rides, a two hour flight, and 200 extra euros later, we made it back to Seville. To put it nicely, it was an expensive learning experience.


Despite all of this, I really enjoyed Belgium and the time I spent in both Brussels and Bruges. I will forever dream of the country’s mouth-watering waffles, fries, hotdogs, mussels, chocolate, and beer.

Hasta la próxima,

Lex