Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Retiro Valentines

Some people don't like Valentines day b/c it's commercial, or b/c it reminds them they're single, but as I was telling Amanda Panda, I think it's nice b/c it reminds me that I have a lot of amazing people in my life who I love like crazy (I know, I'm very sentimental haha). So we're in Spain, far away from a lot of the people we love and getting closer to some new loves, so what to do for Dia de San Valentin!? My hermana Amanda is pretty much the next Martha Stewart, so we decide to be tooootally cute and have a picnic in Retiro Park! The night before Vday, my hermanas and I made peanutbutter & jelly sandwitches in the shape of hearts, chocolate covered strawberries, heart cookies, raspberry jam cookies like the ones from our fave bakery (but even better), and bought pink wine and 2 euro champagne.
It was pretty cold on Vday and we were scared no one would come but we actually got a pretty good turnout! One guy even came (Anooper's a trooper)! We had so much fun, definitely a successful party.
After the picnic, we fed the scraps from our heart-shaped pb&js to the ducks in the romantical can you get!?

We also wanted to do something for our amazing familia, so we made them a card that Maria Rosa loved sooooo much she's framing it and keeping it forever hehe =)
Sending besos, abrazos, y todo mi amor de Espana!!

Let Rick Steves be your guide: Roma

Vera and I decided to go on a Roman adventure, so we packed our bags (lightly of course), hopped on a plane (we somehow ended up with priority boarding although we didn't pay for it...) and a few hours later found ourselves in a new airport (and then bus stop, and then train station, and then cab)! We learned early on that Roman cab drivers loooove to scam naive tourists. We had just arrived and needed to get from the train station Termini to our hostel. We asked a cab driver if it was close enough to walk and he told us absolutely not, that the walk would be long and dangerous. Soooo we hop in the cab and after a long ride that cost close to 20 euro!! we get to our hostel, relieved that we hadn't decided to walk that long distance at night. We found out the next morning that the hostel is a 5 minute walk from the train station...the cab driver just drove us around in circles!! Oh well, lesson learned.
Our hostel was called The Yellow and it was great! Really clean and modern, with its own bar and wireless internet! For some reason none of my ATM cards would work in Italy and I wasn't thinking and didn't bring much cash, so I ended up borrowing from Vera and making an IOV (I owe Vera) sheet where I kept a tab going the whole trip...pretty entertaining, thanks for saving me V!
Lead the way Rick!
We were hungry and got a recommendation from someone working at the hostel for a good, close place to get dinner. Well it wasn't close (and we were walking), and the restaurant he suggested wasn't even there! It was some different restaurant, but we had a fine dinner there, and a table of Italian men sent over a glass of Proseco (my favorite Italian sparkling wine) to each of us awww. We were both pretty tired our first night, but the next morning we got started on a very full day with Rick Steve's "The Best of Europe" book in hand. First we went to the Coloseum. We decided to do a guided tour, but the woman was boring and impossible to understand, so we decided to just stick with Rick from then on. It was cool to imagine gladiators and wild animals fighting to the death there! And as a USC Trojan, it was nice to get back to my roots lol- Fight On!! Right by the Coloseum was the Roman Forum, Rome's birthplace and civic center. Rome is such a historically rich city, and looking at the Forum you can literally see the layers. It was incredible.
Fightin' on in the Coloseum!!
Roman Forum
From the forum, we took a very entertaining cab ride to the Pantheon. We get in the cab and our driver asks us our names and tells us his name is Marco. The he keeps saying Marco! Maya! Vera! along with all these Italian words we don't understand. Finally he starts saying, Marco! Maya! Vera! Triangulo? and we eventually realize that he's asking us to have a threesome with him. We made it very clear that this was not an option, and got out of that cab as quickly as possible hahaha. Italian men are VERY aggressive, much more so than Spain...but they're also cuter =) We got lunch (not at Rick Steve's recommended restaurant b/c it didn't look great), checked out the Pantheon, looked in some shops, and got gelato!
Nutella anyone?
Then we headed back to the hostel to rest a little before going back out, b/c of course we wanted to take Rick Steve's recommened night walk! As suggested, we ate dinner in a cute restaurant in Campo de' Fiori, then embarked on our nocturnal adventure. It was cold out and two waiters told us our destinations were too far away to walk, but Vera and I had our hearts set on a night walk across Rome and nothing was going to stop us!
Amazing Italian dinner
The destinations of our night walk
First we went to the Trevi Fountain which was sooooo pretty! Did I mention earlier that I LOVE fountains?? After taking lots of pics (and trying to figure out the night modes on our cameras), and throwing a coin over our heads into the fountain (apparently this means you'll come back again someday-I hope so!), we continued to the famous Spanish Steps. But whatever was famous about them seemed to be under construction, so we went home.
Trevi Fountain
Travel buddies!
We woke up at 7:30 the next morning to get an early start on the day. No, I am not kidding I ACTUALLY woke up that early without being forced haha. We stopped at a Cafe that Vera had discovered the day before to get breakfast, and somehow ended up spending 37 euro! I guess we each got tea, oj, and 2 pastries, and then each didn't like one of the pastries and got new ones, but still, that's expensive!!
At least it was good... =)
We took a metro to the Vatican City...I can't put into words how absolutely stunning it was, all I can say is that the Pope is one lucky guy! Saint Peter's Basilica is hands down the most incredible church I have ever seen. I was pretty much in awe the entire time.
Don't mess with St. Peter
St. Peter's Square
Ceremony inside the Basilica
Then we went to the Vatican museum to see Michaelangelo's depiction of God creating Adam in the Sistine Chapel. I studied this painting in class and was soooo excited to see it! We literally walked among a very big crowd for at least a half an hour up and down steps following signs to the Sistine Chapel...we were starting to think it's just a hoax and everyone just pretends it exists! But we got there, and I finally got to see the painting (it covers the entire ceiling of the chapel) in its original form! I think I'm in love with Adam hehe, no wonder Eve tried to tempt him ;) Photos weren't allowed in the Sistine, but I just haaaad to get one so I was sneaky and did it.
God's Creation of Adam
After a delicious lunch (food in Italy definitely rivals Spain) we took the metro to go check out the Borghese Gallery. It turned out you had to have a reservation so we couldn't go in, but along the way, we found some swings and swang, and then walked through a really beautiful, peaceful park, it was great!
Broccoli trees!
That night, we decided to go on a pub crawl that our hostel was putting on...big mistake. A lot of the people staying at our hostel were really weird. This guy from Canada, who was actually staying in our same room ughhh, was really creepy and obnoxious and drunk. I was joking with Vera that it was a pretty busted group overall...a few minutes later I was talking to this Austrailian guy who actually seemed at least somewhat sane, when all of a sudden he starts laughing and a retainer falls out of his mouth...WITH ONE OF HIS TEETH ON IT! So much for that ahahaha...Rome nightlife isn't great, everywhere we went was overcrowded and under-fun, but that's not why we went so it was ok.
We flew back to Madrid the next morning, and unlike Barcelona, this trip home was seamless. I had SUCH an amazing time in Rome. It was definitely one of the most culturally fascinating experiences I've ever had. I really can't believe how much we did in three days! Team Maya/ Vera/Rick Steves (no Marco, please) rocks!!


I went to Barcelona with a big group of friends and had a great time!! I made the mistake of getting an hour of sleep the night before leaving, but that didn't stop me from doing a lot of exploring the first day. After checking into our cute little hostel called Sant Jordi, we went of in search of some of Gauidi's famous architectural creations around the city. Two highlights were La Sagrada Famila and Parc Guell. Gaudi's designs are incredible; I can't imagine dreaming them up, nonetheless creating them.
La Sagrada Familia
Parc Guell

After a Gaudi-filled day and lots of walking around, we went back to the hostel for a nap. Then we went out to a great sushi restaurant (one thing I REALLY miss about LA), and headed out for the night with some of my friend Anoop's friends who are studying in Barcelona. First we went to a bar called Pepermints which had huuuuge drinks. It was really crowded with American college students and I sort of felt like I was in a frat house, blah. Just when I was starting to doubt Anoop's friends' tourguide skills, they took us to this great club called Pacha. We had a blast on the dance floor, and I discovered that I actually DO like dancing to euro club music (although hip-hop is still number one in my book)!! Dinner!!
Giant drinks!

The next day was more relaxing. We walked along Las Ramblas, checking out the entertaining street performers, and stopped in an amazing organic market where I got some delicious strawberry-pineapple fruit juice =) We stopped in this fairy-themed bar to get some was decorated as a sparkling fairy woodland and I loved it soooo much that I went back again the next day! There is this statue of Columbus at the end of Las Ramblas with these great lion statues around it and we took fun pics on them. I love lions rawwwwr! Then we wandered through the gothic neighborhood and checked out a stunning cathedral. When we got out of the cathedral, there was a breakdancing performace going on in the plaza, very fun!
Fairy performers bibbity bobbity boo!
I love lion =)

That night, we went to this fun shots bar called Chupitos. The shots were low in alcohol and high in yummy! Some faves were the boyscout (they light the bar on fire and you roast a marshmallow to eat with the shot), something with whipped cream and m&ms, and one with a lolipop! The monica lewinsky was NOT one of my favorites...but it was funny. Don't ever get it... After Chupitos, Vera and I went to check out a club called Razzmatazz that was supposed to be really popular, but it was kinda like a warehouse and had bad music so we left pretty fast.
Our bartender at Chupitos...we got pretty close by the end of the night
Toastin' lollies!!
Last day in Barcelona...Vera, Anoop and I had such a great day. We wandered along Las Ramblas and stopped in lots of little cafes (because it was raining, but more importantly b/c we wanted chocolate, gelato, etc...). We went to the Picasso museum which was so cool! I've always had a certain impression of his art, but after seeing a lot of his earlier works I appreciate him so much more. After the musem, we went to this great restaurant, and I have to tell you what I got because it was just that good: Brie cheese that came with these amazing breadlike crackers and jam and blackberries and blueberries. I was in heaven =)

Seeing that everything was so great the entire time we were in Barcelona, something had to go wrong eventually...and it definitely did at the airport. Anoop got into Barcelona with only a copy of his passport, but we were flying back on a different airline and they wouldn't let him fly back!! They said he had to take a bus (7 hours) and we were all really nervous to just leave him there (especially b/c his cell phone had died). He made it back ok though so yay! Dealing with the people at this airline (air europa sucks, don't fly it) made me realize that some people in Spain really don't like Americans. We were being totally polite and they were SO RUDE. The man "helping" me made me check my carry-on bag, saying it was too big, when it was obviously the right size grrrrr. So we finally get on our plane and think we're in the clear...not so much. The flight home was the most terrifying flight I've ever been on! Luckily it was pretty short, but over and hour of horrible turbulance is NOT FUN...I was literally shaking for like an hour afterwards.
Despite the last few problemas, Barcelona was soooo much fun! It was my first real trip since coming here, and I was really happy with the balance of sight-seeing and going out. Definitely a success, hopefully more great travels to come!

I really liked Toledo/I'm never going back again

On our first excursion with the BU program, we went to Toledo. Driving up the winding road to the town, the view was incredible and I was very excited for what Toledo had in store! Unfortunately, it wasn't much. Don't get me wrong...Toledo is a cute little town with some great Cathedrals and Synagogues. There are countless bakeries selling marzipan (Toledo's specialty) and sword shops everywhere (their other specialty). The problem was that we were in Toledo for 6 hours, and you really only need 2. So the moral of the story is: I really liked Toledo, and I'm never going back again haha. Oh and a sidenote about this trip....I tripped! I was walking downhill on this cobblestone street and somehow lost my footing and started falling forward and then I would catch myself and trip again and just kept FLYING down the hill, until I slammed right into a very shocked Amanda. I know it's silly (I tripped, big deal) but it was soooo scary and Vera, who was standing behind me when she saw it happen "literally thought I was going to die." Just one more reason I'm not going back to Toledo hahaha....

I'm becoming a jet setter!

When studying in Europe, it only makes sense to TRAVEL in Europe. Here is a list of where I've been and where I'll be, in case you want to keep tabs on me, or better yet...come along!!

1/5: Toledo
2/1-2/3: Barcelona
2/7-2/10: Rome
2/15-2/16: Sevilla
3/7-3/10: Amsterdam (or should I say, AmsterDAMN!)
3/14-3/28: Southern Spain & Morocco (With my familia can't waiiiit)
4/10-4/14: Paris (15 Euro babyyyy)
4/25: Segovia
Still to book (hopefully): Lisbon & Prague
Yayyyy for traveling adventures woohoooo! Although on my trips so far, I've noticed that I get kinda homesick for Madrid (as much as I've loved everywhere I've been, traveling makes me realize how lucky I am to be studying here).

These are a few of my favorite things...

Sorry I'm SO BAD about updating my blog! I'll try to be better =) I've been in Madrid now for about a month and half and time has really flown by. I'm having an incredible time here, so this post is 100% dedicated to this amazing city (traveling posts soon to come!). There is soooo much to Madrid that it would take a lifetime to really experience everything it has to offer, but here are some of my favorite discoveries:
1. Fountains! There are fountains allll over the place here and I love them. They really add something to the beauty of the city. I walk to class from my house every day and pass the cutest little park with a fountain in the middle. It's always a fun scene in the park, old women walking their tiny dogs, old men sitting on a bench reading the paper, young couples, teenagers doing some "shady deals," as my teacher Selma would say (story about her to come later). I love my walk to school because I get to pass this wonderful park, and because Amanda and I stop and buy bananas at the fruit stand on the way to class! How cute is that? Haha. Speaking of fruit stands...

2. The amazing fruit stand with the cheap strawberries and the amaaaazing family Amanda and I have decided we want to marry into. We went to buy some strawberries for our Valentines party (that post is also coming...) and this sweet man and his wife are running the stand with their two sons who are around our age. They picked out the most beauuutiful strawberries they had for us, and then wrapped them in paper to create a bouquet of strawberries! Their sons kept speaking to us in Englsih (they were obviously hinting that they wanted to be our intercambios) and Amanda and I have decided that we should marry them, move to Madrid, and live happily ever after eating all the fruit our hearts could desire.

3. Art. Madrid has some GREAT museums. I'm taking a class where we visit the Prado and look at the works we're studying. The Prado definitely has some classics, but it's not really my favorite style of art. The Reina Sophia is more modern...I loved the Dali and Picasso exhibits. But my favorite art museum so far has definitely been the Thyssen. I went the other day with my friend Steph and we saw so much great art! Some of my favorites were the Avant-Garde and Surrealist paintings. We saw some incredible Impressionist pieces by Van Gogh and Monet...we were actually really good at picking out painting by famous artists. One of us would be like "ooooh I love that one" and then it would turn out to be Van Gogh or something. One of my favorite paintings of the day (which also turned out to be pretty well known) is called "Orquidea y Colibri Cerca de una Cascada" (Orchid and Hummingbird near a Waterfall) by Martin Johnson Heade...definitely bought a magnet and poster of it in the gift shop hehe =)
4. Cafes!!! I love love love going to a cute cafe to hang out with a friend, do homework, or just people watch. I admit, I do go to the Starbucks right by my house sometimes (there are Starbucks all over Madrid, and sometimes you just need it what can I say), but there are really great unique cafes everywhere. I've been going with my hermanas to a place down the street called Cafe Commercial to do homework, write postcards, etc. They have this delicious tea called "te rojo con vanilla" that I love, and the waiter who is usually there kinda of looks like McDreamy from Grey's so that doesn't hurt either haha.
5. Palacio of the many reasons I wish I was a princess haha. The palace is gorgeous, with an incredible view overlooking Madrid. There's really not that much to say about it, it kinda just takes your breath away!

These are just a few of my favorite things about Madrid, and I have a lot more adventuring to do before I leave in May so I'm sure I'll fall in love with about a million more things in the city in the meantime...can't wait to share them with all of you wonderful people who are checkin in =)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The party don't stop til' 6 in the morning (literally)

I've always thought that as a college student living in the fun-filled city of Los Angeles, I knew the definition of what it meant to go out at night. Madrid has proved me wrong. The nightlife here is incredible and, I hate to say it, puts LA (and even Cabo over spring break) to shame. When Spaniards say they are "saliendo para la noche" (going out for the night), they really reeeaaallly mean it. The night usually starts around 10 with a leisurely dinner and maybe a pitcher or two of sangria. Around midnight, it's off to a bar to drink and socialize. Leave the bar by 1:15 am to catch the last metro of the night, and then it's off to the club...until 6 am...when the metro re-opens. I have been doing my best to keep up with these crazy Madrillenos so as not to miss out on all the good times to be had, and am starting to really love the early-morning ride home on the metro in the company of people leaving the clubs and others on their way to work...Here's a brief overview of some great nighttime hotspots:

Two Irish bars right next to each other on the same street. Kind of a sportsbar atmosphere... lots of Americans.. fun, causual place to hang out with friends and meet people.

The board game bar! Really laid-back, with a WALL of board games. We played bilingual Scrabble and Taboo in much fun!

Really cool bar designed like a cave. Specializes in very big, very yummy drinks! Kinda dark (it is a cave so that makes sense), with a dartboard and good music.
Great club designed like a palace! Different rooms play different music, and the design in beauuutiful. They do an international student night on Thursdays- you get a sticker saying what country you're from and get to meet students from all over the place! I decided to switch things up for the night and be from Switzerland, but I think it kind of confused people so I might stick to representing the U.S. from now on...
Right next to Palacio, another fun dance club. The first night we went, they were having some sponsored party for students so it was packed and so much fun...great music! But it hasn't been super interesting since so we'll see...

Go-Go dancer in the making?
The mother of all discos, this place is INCREDIBLE. The club has 7 floors, and plays different music on each one so you can switch it up depending on your mood. There is a movie room (no, I'm not kidding) if you need a break from all the dancing and lots of different bars. The top floor is a gorgeous lounge with couches, hookah, and lighting that makes everyone glow =) When the weather gets warmer, the roof is retractable...can't wait!

Vera and I with our Swedish friends we met in the bathroom of Kapital!

So that's the gist of Madrid's unbeatable's pretty much a dream-come-true for someone who loves to dance as much as I do! Oh speaking of are my takes on how it's done in Europe:
-European men actually LIKE to dance yay! But...
-They dance very differently than in the U.S. They're used to dancing to more techno-y music and I love hip-hop, so some compromise is definitely necessary to avoid some very awkward lack of coordination.
-The infamous Dane Cook line "I just wanna dance" doesn't translate as well in Spanish. Guys really just don't get it when you say "Solo quiero bailar"...they think it means you DO want to dance with them, which 87.92457% of the time is not the case.

I forgot to mention earlier that the night actually doesn't end when you leave the club at 6am, because after all that dancing, food sounds amazing. And by food I mean churros con chocolate. La Chocolateria is right around the corner from Joy...

In a cafe after leaving Kapital with our new friends Jesus and Angel

The moral of the story is that if I'm talking to you on Skype/AIM at 11pm U.S. time, it's 7am here and I just got home and should really be going to bed soon so I can wake up in time to have lunch with my Senora...I may have to move to Madrid b/c it's just too much fun, so I hope everyone's ready to come visit and pull a few all-nighters!! Hasta luego, un beso...