Saturday, January 10, 2015

Eastern Europe - a place I have to visit more often!

At this point, I've been lucky enough to see a lot of both Western and Central Europe. And I've even visited a bit of Eastern Europe by going to places like Prague and Budapest. However, I recently got to spend some in what felt like real Eastern Europe - and I can't wait to go back!


My most recent literacy coaching conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria in November. (To be honest, a place I hadn't even thought about visiting!) The whole trip was wonderfully organized by the teachers from my cohort who work there, and happen to be Bulgarian.This meant we definitely got to enjoy a bit of the local experience!


I was really surprised by just how good the food is there. Bulgaria borders Greece and Turkey, which means the food has quite a Mediterranean influence. We enjoyed delicious tomato/onion/olive salads, cheeses, and grilled meats. The wine was also excellent. And everything was so inexpensive!


The weather wasn't the best while we were there, cloudy and rainy most of our visit. The grayness of both the weather and many of the buildings was exactly what I expected in a country where Communism ended just over 20 years ago. There were definitely a number of gorgeous monuments as well.


After this trip, I was especially excited for my trip to Romania with Tessa and Tanya just a few weeks later. We had decided to go there for a long weekend mainly because it was somewhere we hadn't been, sounded interesting, and flights only cost 80€. We had an amazing time!

Again, everything there was SO inexpensive - our hotel, meals, drinks. Bucharest also seems to be a place where tourism is just starting to take off, which meant customer service was excellent and most of our interactions were with locals. 

It was cold and cloudy most of our time there as well, which was perfect for drinking mulled wine in the Christmas markets. Again, this weather, combined with the many abandoned buildings and rough look of the people, was exactly what I expected. 

the inside of an old theatre - beautiful!

interesting facades


a splash of color

candy cane anyone?

it's been awhile since one of our family photos!
i love everything about this picture

Needless to say, these two recent trips have confirmed that this is a part of the world I want to visit more. A bit off the beaten path, cheap, and full of things to discover. Next stop - Macedonia?

The Holidays in Thailand

Since moving abroad, I've had the chance to celebrate the holidays in a variety of places: Sevilla, Milan, Denver, Barcelona, London, and Morocco. This year took me to my farthest destination yet - Thailand!

Only in the past year or so has traveling to Asia really started to interest me. After hearing many stories from friends about the food, the beaches, and the inexpensiveness, Thailand began to sound more and more appealing. And as soon as I found out it was at the top of Dani's travel list, we started to seriously consider going. A little research and a few conversations later, tickets were booked!

We decided to spend all of my winter break there, giving us just over two full weeks there together. Dani opted to stay an additional 10 days (he's enjoying Chiang Mai as I type this :). We wanted to see quite a bit and I definitely wanted some time on the beach. Our final itinerary included nights in:
  • Bangkok
  • Ayutthaya
  • Ko Tao
  • Ko Phi Phi
  • Ko Lanta 
What an adventure we had! It was so fun to explore a country that is so different than anywhere I've been before, yet also so full of similarities.There's SO much I could share about these two weeks - we learned a lot and had such a great time. And in person, I would love to! Here are just a couple of highlights for those I might not see in the immediate future:

Bangkok
Although crazy and full of people, we really enjoyed our time here, albeit short. The temples were stunning and full of great photo angles. We both wish we had more time to explore this city!

some of my favorites at the Grand Palace

Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho

Buddha, after Buddha, after Buddha

Taking almost every mode of transportation possible - 
plane, train, ferry, catamaran, bus, car, moto, tuk tuk

  
The food! I loved that fresh fruit and fruit shakes could be found everywhere! My favorite dishes included: pad thai, green curry, tom yum soup, stir fried chicken with cashew nuts, banana pancakes, papaya salad, and mango sticky rice - yum!

fresh pomegranate juice
tom yum soup

pad thai with chicken

green curry

stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

Ko Lanta - recommended by both Tessa and Hayley, this island was definitely our favorite. Long white beaches, Thai massage stands every 100 meters (each cost about 6€), Bob's Bar, sunshine every day - it was wonderful!

the view every evening

lush jungles and the sea

elephants!

gorgeous sunsets

Bob!
I have no doubt I'll be returning to Thailand in the future - I feel like this was just the beginning of my Asian adventures. I can't wait to go back!

A Return to Sevilla

It's hard to believe it's been almost five years since I left Sevilla (and six since I left the US!)! I'd been thinking about going back for a visit pretty much since the day I left. I had impressed Tessa with my stories of Feria and we'd searched for tickets every year. However, they were always crazy expensive and the timing just didn't work out.

So although it was much later than expected, when I finally got the chance to return to Sevilla in November, I couldn't have been more thrilled! The annual MAIS conference was being held there, which made the trip work-focused, but still a chance to be back in the city that made me fall in love with Spain.

Seeing familiar sights like La Giralda, orange trees, and Real Alcazar instantly brought me back to my first few weeks in Sevilla. Wandering the streets of Barrio Santa Cruz, having a caña on Alameda de Hercules, and seeing my old gym (Gimnasio Sevilla Gym Gimnasio!) brought back a flood of memories. I was reminded of how much I learned about myself that year, what an amazing friend I found in Anna, and how I realized living abroad really was the life for me.

La Giralda (y más!)


Wandering Barrio Santa Cruz
Real Alcazar
Sevilla Gym

It quickly became clear that a weekend in Sevilla wasn't nearly enough, especially when the majority of it was spent in a conference. And what became even clearer was that I have to visit again. I look forward to sharing the city with Dani or meeting Anna there for a reunion in the near future. Without a doubt, a part of my heart will always be in Sevilla . . .


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer, summer, summertime

I feel like every year I'm reminded of just how amazing summer vacation is - it truly is one of the greatest benefits of being a teacher. All of a sudden, I'm rested, exercising everyday, crossing things off my to do list (that have been there for months!), and finally relaxing with afternoon siestas, on the couch with a good book, or a day at the beach. It's so wonderful!

I have about two and half weeks in Barcelona of true summer vacation and it already seems to be flying by. It's hard to believe that in just over a week I'll be heading back to the USA! This trip is full of exciting things - the most exciting being that Dani (my Spanish novio) is coming with me AND Mike and Sarah are getting married! I'll be in the states for almost a month, which is longer than I've ever been back for before. Seeing as this is Dani's first trip to the states, I wanted him to see as much as possible and that is definitely what we'll be doing! During this time, we'll be visiting:

San Francisco
Yosemite National Park
Lake Tahoe
Las Vegas
Utah (Zion National Park? Bryce Canyon?)
Denver/Beaver Creek
Indianapolis
New York City

It's going to be quite the trip! I have to admit, I think it will be fun to be a "tourist" in the USA again. We are visiting a number of places I've never been and driving through the west, which should be a lot of fun. I've never shown the US to someone who's never been there and can't wait to see what Dani thinks of it all. How will the reality compare to TV, movies, and music?! I can't wait to find out!

Needless to say, although I've only had a week of it so far, summer is as amazing as ever - and I expect that it's just going to get better. :)


4 Years Later and Still in Love . . .

It's hard to believe that I've been living in Barcelona for almost four years now! How quickly time passes. As one of the new teacher coordinators again this year, I've had the chance to spend some time with a few new teachers as they've arrived in Barcelona this summer. Being in this role gives me the chance to show off the city a little, as well as answer as many questions as I can about transitioning to life here.

So far, I've been able to take people around my current neighborhood, Poble Sec, as well as visit my old barrios - Born and Gotico. I love the moment when I hear people new to Barcelona say things like, "I love this place!" or "I'm so happy I moved here!" or "This city is amazing!" And I love that even after four years, I still feel that exact same way!

Between the energy and constant activity of the city, to the ease of driving an hour or two and being on gorgeous beaches, Barcelona continues to provide endless things to do. There is just so much to see and experience all the time - I love it!

One of the most consistently asked questions among international teachers is, "So how much longer do you plan to stay in . . .?" For me, until I begin to fall out of love with Barcelona or begin to desire something different, I can't really imagine leaving this incredible city. For now, my heart definitely belongs to Barcelona.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

so many places in so little time

As always, when in the midst of the school year, my blogging takes a bit of a hiatus; and now that I'm on vacation, I have plenty of time to share some updates :)

I've been thinking about this post for since April, a month where every weekend landed me in a different country for a wide variety of reasons! Although I know that this type of travel is possible in the USA, it never happened to me quite like it does here. It's just so easy to get everywhere and I feel like there are more "reasons" to visit places than ever before.

During Semana Santa, I had my third literacy coaching cohort meeting. This time it was in Budapest - a city I was thrilled to visit again! In the hopes of also seeing someplace new during this week, I opted to head to Vienna and check out this Imperial city first. Although I enjoyed Vienna, I didn't find it to be the most exciting of places. (I think the very cold and miserable weather may have contributed to this!) However, it is a gorgeous place!

A beautiful Russian church
    
"Live" music was everywhere!

Beautiful corners and cafes




  





After a few days in Vienna, I headed to Budpaest via train. Again, I fell in love with this city! I definitely think it's one of my favorites in Europe. The mix of history, culture, and edginess give it such an interesting vibe. The fact that it's so inexpensive helps, too! Although the majority of my time was spent in an (excellent!) conference, I was still able to see the city.

Another visit to the baths - so wonderful!

Truly one of the most amazing sights there is!    

































After a week visiting a bit of eastern Europe, my third April weekend took me to Paris - for the first time! I'd been dying to visit Paris since moving to Spain, but just hadn't made it there yet. When I heard that Justin Timberlake would be playing there, I knew it was the perfect excuse to go. The city and the performance didn't disappoint!

I have to say, Paris was even more incredible than I expected. Just having a chance to see a place that is so often featured in books and movies in person was amazing. I truly loved everything about it - the Eiffel Tower, the parks, the French cafes. Wow.

Even more amazing in person!

Yum . . .

Arc de Triumf

And Justin Timberlake put on the best show that I have ever been to! Almost 2.5 hours and every song I could have hoped to hear. I've been his fan for a long time, but officially fell in love with him during this concert. (Sorry about the video quality - dancing and filming aren't the best combination!)

video 

  video


After three amazing weekends outside of Spain, my last one led me up the Costa Brava - the stunning coastline north of Barcelona. With stops in Roses, Cap de Creus, and Tossa del Mar, I was again amazed by just how beautiful the country I live in is! It's hard to believe that in just an hour or two, I can be in place that looks like it was taken from the Caribbean.


I am reminded again and again how lucky I am to live where I live and have the opportunities to explore so much, so easily. What a great month this was!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Creating Memories

 


Last weekend I went to Venice with Anne, Tanya, Tessa, and Lauren. This was a trip we had talked about going on for well over a year. With Lauren now in Madrid, we decided we had to make this reunion happen - and I'm so glad we did!

In just about 48 hours, we explored a stunning city, ate great food, enjoyed lots of spritzs and red wine, told stories, and had so, so many laughs. I left feeling full, sore from laughing, and SO grateful for having these ladies in my life.

Without a doubt, I think it's trips like these that bring people closer. The moments you experience together, the stories you share, and the laughs you have really create memories that last. I know there are moments from this trip that will continue to make us laugh for a very, very long time.

I think the older you get, the more difficult it can be to create new, strong friendships. I've known these ladies for almost four years now and I really think it's time, shared experiences, and some important commonalities among us that have made our frienship that much stronger.

I can't wait to see where our next adventure will be!