Fairy tale Florence

Ahhhh, Florence. My love affair with this city probably began after reading the book and watching its movie rendition, A Room With A View by E.M. Forster. Since this novel was crucial to my awakening to the beauty that is the city of Florence, and because this book is just a literary masterpiece, I am going to give a summary of it. By the way, *SPOILER ALERT* !!!

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The story takes place in England and Italy during the restrained Edwardian era. The reader follows young Lucy Honeychurch as she travels for the first time to Italy with her annoyingly uptight proper older cousin, Charlotte. Themes are foreshadowed and all is set into motion as the novel opens up with Lucy and Charlotte complaining at dinner about their rooms at the hotel they are staying at in Florence. Although they were promised views of the Arno River, they received rooms with a view of the courtyard. When a friendly older gentleman, Mr. Emerson, offers for him and his son George to switch rooms with the ladies, Charlotte, without consulting Lucy, immediately refuses. Their offer seems impolite and highly unconventional to Charlotte, and she warns Lucy against people like the Emersons who would put a lady under such an “obligation.” Lucy then runs into another guest at the hotel, a clergyman from her hometown in England, Mr. Beebe, who urges Charlotte to accept the rooms. He assures Charlotte that Mr. Emerson only meant to be kind. Although the other guests look down on the Emersons for being an eccentric pair, Lucy likes them and continues to run into them throughout her stay in Florence.

Later on in the week, Lucy sets off alone but comes face-to-face with a murder in the midst of an Italian plaza. George luckily catches her when she faints. Afterwards, the two share an intimate conversation. Lucy, confused by her strong feelings for George and bound by the constraints of proper English society, decides to avoid George.

However, that plan is quickly deemed futile, as the next day a group of Englishmen, including Charlotte, Lucy, the Emersons, Mr. Beebe, and Miss Eleanor Lavish, a novelist who befriends Charlotte, all set out for a ride and picnic in the countryside. Lucy, after being dismissed by her cousin, attempts to find Mr. Beebe. In broken Italian, she asks the driver where he is, and the driver accidentally leads her to George, who is standing in a gloriously beautiful field of flowers. George, overcome with his feelings for Lucy and the beauty that surrounds him, kisses her, just as Charlotte rushes into the picture to stop the two lovebirds.

The next day, Charlotte and Lucy leave for Rome without saying goodbye to George.

Back at home in England with Lucy’s mother, younger brother Freddy and Mr. Beebe, we are introduced to Lucy’s new beau, Cecil Vyse, an arrogant and self-righteous jerk who admires her for her beauty and talent at the piano, but does not appear to have any understanding of the concept of love. However, after countless proposals (third time’s the charm, Cecil), Lucy accepts Cecil’s marriage proposal.

Just in the nick of time to change her mind, the Emersons arrive as tenants in a local cottage. Freddy and George become immediate bros, thereby introducing George back into Lucy’s life. Later, Freddy invites George to play tennis with him and Lucy at the Honeychurch house. Lucy is mortified since Cecil will also be attending. Throughout the tennis game, Cecil is a total bore as usual and reads aloud to the party from a silly romance novel. That is, until Lucy and George recognize a tender kiss in a certain field of wildflowers in Florence hits a little too close to home. The book is written by Miss Eleanor Lavish, prompting Lucy to realize her “dear cousin” Charlotte told Miss Lavish about the kiss. In the garden on their way inside, George kisses Lucy again.

Furiously, Lucy forces Charlotte to be in the room with her as she tells George to leave and never come back. George protests, telling Lucy that Cecil only wants her as an object and “wasn’t the sort who could know anyone intimately.” Whereas George, on the other hand, would grant Lucy the independence she desires and love her for the passionate little thing she is. Lucy remains firm, not realizing how much George’s speech has affected her until later that day when Cecil rudely declines to play tennis yet again, and Lucy breaks off her engagement with him, repeating George’s own words at him.

Lucy is a mess. (She loves George but can’t bear to admit it!). Instead, she abruptly makes plans to go to Greece in an attempt to run away. But just before her flight, she accidentally runs into Mr. Emerson, who is unaware of her recent breakup with Cecil. Lucy cannot lie to the old man, who makes her admit out loud her feelings for George. Lucy responds, “Well, what did you all think?” (Adorable, I know).

At long last, Lucy and George elope together and are seen smooching in a hotel room in Florence, complete with a tremendous view of the Duomo.

And speaking of the famous Duomo…

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Our first day in Florence was grey and cold, but the Duomo was beautiful nonetheless

We made it! You’ll remember I, along with my comrades Athena and Madison, just spent almost 2 days in Venice. But come early Wednesday morning, we were on the road again (on train tracks, rather) headed south for Florence, our second-to-last leg of the trip and our longest stay in any city. We deliberately left waayy too early in the morning in order to maximize our time in the city considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Florence, the capital of the region of Tuscany, boasts one of the most iconic and mysterious buildings of all-time, Brunelleschi’s Duomo. To this day, engineers are left guessing how exactly he built the world’s largest masonry dome.

Follow this link if you want to see a great video my Art History professor showed us in class about Brunelleschi’s dome: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IOPlGPQPuM

Of course, Il Duomo was our first stop!

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The Duomo was even bigger than I imagined. The city seemed to revolve around it, restaurants and shops directed their gaze towards it, and people, such as myself, walked around and around it, marveling at its size and glory.

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Tell me, where do people even come up with the designs for these buildings? Be it Gothic, Renaissance, or Rococo, this intricacy and attention to detail astound me every time. Also, unrelated, I wasn’t too sure about the color palette here, having never seen light pink and green like this on a building, but hey, you do you, Florence.

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Street artists selling their craft had set up camp all around the Duomo, and on our last day Madison, Athena and I bought enough artwork to feast our eyes for a while until we can come back.

Next was lunch. After scouring the area surrounding the Duomo and the overflowing outdoor market next door, we passed by a restaurant whose menu was all in Italian. This was a good sign, we thought. Even better, when we walked in we heard more Italian than our native English. Sure enough, what ensued probably deserves a spot in my top 15 Best Meals of All-Time. Madison dug into the most succulent, tender lamb while I split open butternut squash ravioli bathed in a delicate yet rich sage butter sauce. (Cue the drooling). Tragically, I did not take any photos because I was too enamored with my dish. I know, I know, it breaks my heart too.

We kept exploring after lunch, trying to get our bearings of the city. Walking through the cobblestone streets of Florence was like walking through one of those pop-up fairy tale books you used to read as a child. The history and the art literally enfold you.

Speaking of which…

Example #1 of a bajillion of the fairy tale that is Florence!! I entitle this, “El arte existe porque la vida no es suficiente,” which would translate by my estimation as, “Art exists because life just ain’t enough.”

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Whilst meandering, we stumbled across a ton of people waiting in line for something. As we got nearer to the front of the line, we realized it was a sandwich shop, the All’antico Vinaio. Or I should say rather, the most legit sandwich shop we had ever seen in our lives! Bottles of wine lined the walls, sitting in the windowsill, all different varieties of meat begged to be chosen, while tantalizing cheeses and spreads called to you from inside. As the cherry on top, all the sandwich makers were hot Italian men- score! Since we had just eaten, we promised to come back before we left, if not just for the sandwich but for the men making them as well 😉

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The next day, we made our way to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David. We waited in line for probably an hour and a half, but nothing was going to stop me from seeing one of the most revolutionary pieces of art.

You see, many Florentine sculptors had come before Michelangelo and offered their own rendition of David slaying Goliath. Why did they repeat this particular subject matter, you may ask? Well, during this time period Italy was not a unified state as it is today, but actually a whole bunch of warring states constantly competing for power. Florence, thanks to the prominent Medici family, was one of the more influential city-states. They saw themselves as the underdog, much like David in the biblical story, so naturally he became their mascot.

Here, in chronological order, you have Verrocchio’s David in the top right corner, then Donatello’s, and then my personal favorite, Bernini’s David.

The transition over time of artists’ portrayal of David is so cool. First, Verrocchio depicts David as this baby-faced, smiling idiot prepubescent little boy. Goliath’s head rests at his feet, indicating that the battle is over and David has triumphed. Similarly, Donatello has sculpted Goliath’s head resting at David’s feet. Yet he renders David’s body as a curved line and profound contrapposto, taking cues from Classical Greek sculpture. He appears older than Verrochio’s David, but still has that feminine softness to him. Is it just me, or does anyone else agree he sort of resembles the Venus de Milo?

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Still, both Verrocchio and Donatello choose to represent David after the battle, having already defeated Goliath. In this respect, Bernini takes his David in a completely different direction. His David is set in action; the spectator watches David in the motion of throwing his sling towards Goliath. David breaks free from the constrained pose of his former cousins.

Even still, Michelangelo takes this concept even further. Davis is not depicted as the triumphant victor but as any human being, scared and vulnerable. Michelangelo gives us insight into David’s psyche, an unprecedented feat.

Now, I had seen some pictures beforehand of the Galleria and David, but nothing could have prepared me for his majesty. He was ENORMOUS, and the way the he was situated, with an oculus above bathing him in a golden aura, and the mini-dome thing in the background, only exaggerated his presence. He was a king, and we mere mortals merely gazed upon him.

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After basking in the glory of Michelangelo’s David, we decided to bask in another type of glory, that of the impressive view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. But first, to get there, we had *got* to walk through the famous Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in Florence, thereby appropriately named so.

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looking on the Arno and Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio is filled with old antique and jewelry shops, ranging from the oober expensive to the just plain outrageous. Appropriately, the gelato also fits into this category, with flavors swirling towards the ceiling of their case. Apparently, though, real gelato is anything BUT mountains of gob rising to great heights. You can spot the authentic gelato if it is smooth and flat, the same level or lower than its container. It doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing as the towering flavors in the more touristy shops, but there you have it!

We crossed the Ponte Vecchio and continued our way towards the most elevated part of  the city, stopping for photo-opp moments along the way.

After what felt like an hour trekking up the nearly 90 angle ascent, we were rewarded with the most spectacular view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale is located in the hills of Florence, quite a steep incline as I mentioned before. There were many tourists sitting on the stairs of the plaza for the sunset, so I would recommend getting a little early to stake out a spot and bringing some fuel, perhaps a famous sandwich? 😀

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view of Florence from the Piazzale Michelangelo, in the hills of the city
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cheesin’ with my girls!

If you haven’t already guessed the theme of this city and this post, I’ll give you another hint by saying that watching the sun go down over the Arno river, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo and the countless other red-tiled roofs of Florence was simply magical.

What else was magical our second day in Florence? Walking down from the plaza, getting dulce de leche gelato and taking it to the river to people-watch while an old Italian gentleman strums the strings of your heart when you ask him to play “La vie in rose” with his violin. If that’s not romance, I don’t know what is!

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view of the Galeria degli Uffizi

For dinner that night, Madison, Athena and I took advantage of one of the restaurants offering a happy hour buffet. Some restaurants in Italy have deals like this during the hours of our happy hour, 5-7 or so. A ton of food is set out, you can have as much as you want, and drinks are cheaper. It’s like an homage to America and our affinity for all things jumbo-sized and all-you-can-eat.

 

 

Our last day, we first tried to go to the Uffizi Gallery, but the line was a horrendous complicated mess, and we hadn’t reserved tickets online nor prepaid a million dollars to skip the line, so we would have had to wait hours to get inside. There was still too much to do in the city of Florence, so we headed instead towards the huge outdoor market we had passed every day. Along the way, we passed by the Piazza della Repubblica, where all these wonderful old equestrian statues announced their ancient political prowess. I don’t think they were the original versions, but they were still cool!

And onto the market. Known as the Mercato Centrale, it is made up of two markets, an inner section selling all food items, like pasta in the shape of things you wouldn’t necessarily want pasta to be shaped like… and the larger market outdoor, selling clothes, souveniers and all. Things. Leather. Leather is actually one of the things that Italy is accurately known for producing really good quality, unlike wine and olive oil. Spain is actually the biggest exporter in the world of olive oil and wine, spread it around!!!!!!!

Anyway.

Leather abounded in this market, in the form of purses, wallets, billfolds, backpacks, belts, shoes, notebooks, and jackets. Whew, is that all? There were silk scarves, pottery, and countless other souvenirs. It was the perfect place to go for bringing gifts back for the family. Unfortunately for my bank account, I have the bad habit of buying just as many things for myself as for my family and friends. In fact, while bargaining for a scarf for my Mimi, I ended up buying a scarf for myself. But they are handmaid and made out of silk and cashmere! And look how pretty it is:

 

After shopping in San Lorenzo, we hit the Basilica of Santa Croce.

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HA. Sorry, but this pathetic attempt at Gothic architecture by the Italians gets me every time. Now, this church is beautiful in its own way, but everyone knows the French do Gothic better! You see, the whole entire point of the Gothic was verticality. The higher the ceilings, the closer to God, you know?! Check out Amiens cathedral in Amiens, France, the epitome of the Gothic’s obsession with height:

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interior of Amiens

This nave reaches an unbelievable 370 feet, a number totally unprecedented before Gothic times.

But those Italians, they didn’t really care about any of this stuff. They tried their darndest to make the exterior of their churches look similar to those in France, but as for the interior, they just couldn’t seem to shake themselves from their old-fashioned basilica plan churches that had worked for them for centuries. Hell, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

 

Lastly, our final item on our Florence agenda was the all-important sandwich shop we had passed by on our first day.

Apparently, it was also the last item on every one else’s agenda. The line was around the corner!

There was no other explanation for such insane popularity but that this little sandwich shop we randomly bumped into our first day in Florence was ACTUALLY (drum roll, please)… the MOST FAMOUS SANDWICH SHOP IN ALL OF FLORENCE!!!!!!!!!

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True story, folks.

I mean, look how BIG it is!!!!!!

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Seriously. It’s like the size of my head!!!

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And as you can clearly see from my face of pure unadulterated joy, that sandwich was HEAVEN. I started telling the guy at the counter what kind of bread and meat I wanted, along with the other condiments, but he stopped me and told me no, no, no, that was all wrong. This type of cheese wouldn’t go well with that, etc, etc. So he said, “I make it for you.” Boy, did he ever. I couldn’t even tell what he put on my sandwich, but the combination of flavors was so on-point it brought tears to my eyes. The bitter olive tapenade blended perfectly with the salty meat, and the bread was so big and crunchy on the outside but gloriously soft once you bit into it further. Athena, Madison and I enjoyed our sandwiches whilst perching on the wall of the Arno river. Once again, it was magical.

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And that brings us to the end of story time, boys and girls! Get it? Cuz Florence is a fairy tale and all!

Just one more trip in Italy before going back to Madrid. Rome is next!

Venice, The Bridge of the Sea

There is an ancient ceremony in Venice that occurs every year on Ascension Day where the dodge throws a consecrated ring into the sea, thereby symbolically marrying Venice to the Sea. This story reminds me of the magic that is Venice, the way you can get lost so easily stumbling through tunnel and nook and cranny, all without ever losing sight of the most beautiful and pristine water.

I almost didn’t even go to Venice, can you believe that, based on all the crap I heard from other people, such as: “I skipped Venice when I went to Italy,” “it’s dirty,” “it’s expensive,” blah, blah, blah.

Well, let me tell all y’all something. I LOVE VENICE. I love Venice so much!!!!!!!!! It was my absolute favorite city in Italy and one of my favorite cities I’ve ever been to. It was BREATHTAKING. I had never seen anything like it. It’s a city built on CANALS, people! How freaking cool is that?! Everyone told me Florence would be my favorite city in Italy, and, yes, Florence was amazing and I probably had an overall better experience there, but Venice completely impressed me. Was it expensive? Hell yes. Was it worth it? Every. Single. Upcharge.

Monday Athena and I spent practically our whole day traveling. We had to get up at the crack of dawn (like 9am) in order to catch our train from Monterrosso to Milan, then from Milan to Venice. From a rainy, dreary day in Monterrosso I was even more awestruck when we got out of the station and took in our first views of the city of bridges.

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No joke, this is the first thing you see when you come out of the train station

Being an Art History major and approached with this incredible domed building the second I got out of the Venice train station was like my wet dream.

And the views just kept getting better, as Athena and I made the mile or so trek to our hostel. We had thought, “oh, a mile is nothing! We do this in our sleep in Madrid!” Except we didn’t factor in that 1) we’d be walking with our suitcases, 2) in a foreign city 3) in a foreign city with twists and turns all over the place. All part of the charm, though?

As I said though, I fell more and more in love with each step…

After a treacherous battle with numerous flights of cemented stairs and no hand rails, Athena and I made it to our hostel!

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very Venetian, I’ll say

We wanted to wait until Madison arrived to eat dinner, which was only an hour or so later. Once she arrived, we walked down one of the bigger “roads” (OH MY GOSH I JUST REALIZED THERE WERE NO CARS WHAT HOW COOL IS THAT?!), searching for a place to eat that was neither too expensive nor unauthentic. Thaaat gave us some trouble.

After walking back and down the same stretch about 2 or 3 times, we finally ended up at a place that served a good menu del día type deal that we were used to getting in Madrid.

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seafood pasta

We all got varying types of pasta. Me, with the seafood, Athena with lasagna, and Madison with squid ink pasta that turned her teeth black, hahaahaha.

I tried my darndest to get a picture of Madison looking like she had just eaten tar, but she was too quick 😦 😀

An interesting side note we learned about Venice, and actually all of Italy, is that not all Italian food is good everywhere you go in Italy. As this map points out, the typical Italian dishes we are all fond of have their own specific region where one should seek them out.

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As you can see, Naples (where pizza was invented) is the best place to eat pizza, authentic bolognese sauce is best in Bologna, and the island of Sicily is all about seafood. You’ll also notice that the orange area where Venice is located does not include pizza. This is because it is in fact ILLEGAL to use a wood-burning oven in Venice like those that are required to make Naples’s famous pizza. These ovens are considered a fire hazard, which is pretty darn legitimate if you think about it, because how are fire trucks going to even get anywhere in this city if there’s a fire? I’m telling y’all, it’s like a maze in there.

So, if you go to Venice, don’t get pizza! Unless, of course, it’s only 2 euro and you’re starving. (I’ll get to that later).

After dinner us 3 ladies mosied around a little bit more and then went back to our hotel so we could be well-rested for our packed day of sight-seeing tomorrow! On the list were:

  • shopping
  • St Mark’s Basilica and Square
  • Doge’s Palce
  • a canal tour

 

The next morning, we were determined to not pay for any service fees by simply standing and eating our breakfast instead of sitting down. We all ordered cappuccinos and pastries and then kept walking towards our first stop of the day, St. Mark’s Square and Basilica.

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St. Mark’s Basilica

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Madison, Me, and Athena

The interior of St. Mark’s Basilica was a perfect match for its opulent exterior. Completely covered in gold mosaic, it was like walking into the Californian gold rush.

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St. Mark’s Tower

From St. Mark’s plaza, it was just a short walk to Doge’s palace on the water where Madison and I decided to have some fun…

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panorama of Doge’s Palace
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beautiful view of St. George’s from Doge’s Palace

 

And from Doge’s Palace, it was just another brief camino to the Bridge of Sighs..

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And from the beautiful bridge of Sighs, we continued on a boat tour along the canals. A ferry boat was a much more affordable option than the famous gondola ride.

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The ferry boat only cost about 7 euro and we were able to see all the sites on the main canal. The weather was perfect, sunny but cool enough that a light jacket or sweater were necessary. However, it was quite cold on the boat what with the wind constantly blowing in our faces, so I was pretty happy to be back on land and taking in the sights on foot.

I loved all these little religious nooks and crannies I found in the walls of the streets of Venice…

We set out in search for lunch.

And found it, in one of the many take out pizza stores. Remember when I said brick ovens were outlawed in Venice due to fire hazard? And what I said about it being cheap. And we were pretty near death with hunger. But… that pizza was crappy. It was big, though, and that… just made it a bigger slice of crap. Oh, well.

I know it sounds like all we did was eat, which was admittedly a huge part of our trip, but for a couple of hours we walked around more and shopped. Madison bought a leather purse and I bought a pair of colorful glass earrings, two things which Venice is well known for producing.

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For dinner, Madison, Athena and I ate at one of these restaurants like in this picture above. We sat outside by a canal and dined on the most basic *yet excellent* Italian fare you can get: pasta, bread and wine.

YUM. (Not pictured, but definitely consumed later: gelato).

The next morning, we had to get up early again and catch a train for Florence. One of the funniest moments throughout the entire trip happened that morning as we were walking down the stairs. Madison was talking when all of a sudden, she fell down the stairs. HA! It was way funnier in person, I promise.

My time in Venice was NOT enough. I only spent barely two days there, but I immediately fell in love with the city. It was completely unlike any other city I had ever been to, all the little cobblestone streets, the canals, the water, the shopping… Another city like Venice doesn’t exist. I mean, buildings built on water. I’ll say it one last time, how cool is that?!?

❤ VENEZIA TI AMO. I’ll come back for you on my honeymoon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ❤

Livin’ the Dolce Vita in Italy: Milan & Cinque Terre

My first breath of Italy consisted of Milan, one of the few and fine fashion capitols in the world, and Cinque Terre, the opposite of all that, a tranquil collection of five miniature towns on the northwestern coast of Italy.

From there, my friend Athena and I met up with our third galfriend Madison in Venice for two days. Next was the fairytale that is Florence for three days, our longest stay, and from there we broke apart. Madison and I said goodbye to Athena as we headed off for Rome, and Athena, who had already been to Rome with her parents, hopped on the train to Naples, Italy’s most ghetto city. Haha, she had some funnies stories about that.

Since I saw so much of Italy, I decided to break up my trip into a couple of posts, 1 for each city, approximately. So, let #springbreak2016 begin!

 

~ Milan & Cinque Terre ~

After Thursday classes ended, Athena and I caught a late plane ride to Milan, arriving at around 11pm that night. We headed straight to our hostel, with a few detours thrown in for added measure. As in, we got lost, although our hostel was located a mere one mile away from the train station. Oh, the joys of traveling!

The next day Athena was really really sick, but we couldn’t not do anything, so I forced her to come with me to Milan’s crowning jewel, Il Duomo.

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Which was STUNNING, if you can’t already see for yourself! It was so cool, we came out underground from the Metro stop and BAM! there it was, right in front of your face. In fact, it was pretty funny to have such an old building from another era right in the middle of Milan’s like, financial district. (I don’t actually know if it’s in the middle of Milan’s financial district, but it sure did feel like it, what with all the shops surrounding the plaza and everyone in suits.)

And to all those people that say all churches look alike, you are just wrong! Look at this bad boy! He was unlike anything I had ever seen before… so ornate-y, so marble-y, so loverly.

Of course, I had to go up to the roof. I would have liked to do an entire tour of the inside, the tower, and the roof, but alas, I am a poor college student. And Italy will rob you, my friends. Service charge just for sitting down?! Fine, be that way.

Athena was too sick to go up with me, but I went by myself. The view was INCREDIBLE.

From the walk up, I took this shot, (see below), which has become my favorite from the Milan portion of my trip. I love all the architectural intricacies, the little openings, the geometric shapes, the nuggets of sculpture… Absolutely stunning.

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You could see the skyline from the top of the Duomo, as well as the mountains in the background.

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view of the city from the top

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After my roof tour, I returned to the plaza in front of the church and tried to find Athena, but couldn’t. I panicked for about 20 or 30 minutes before heading back to the hostel because it was the only place I could think of where there would be wifi so I could contact her. (Not having a phone plan in Europe, I was constantly looking for wifi, or “wee-fee,” as the Europeans say.)  Once at the hostel I called Athena. It turned out that she had been in the plaza the whole time! She came back to the hostel and told me she was thinking about cancelling her whole trip and flying back to Madrid because she felt so terrible. I was terrified. It would be a couple of days until Madison would meet up with us in Venice, and I had never traveled on my own in a different country before. Additionally, although I felt bad Athena felt sick enough to want to cancel her whole trip, I couldn’t help thinking it would be such a waste of money and time spent planning! I also knew that at our next destination, Cinque Terre, she would be able to rest and hopefully get better since there wasn’t much sight-seeing to do over there.

I managed to “convince” Athena to stay, although really what I said is that I would understand either way what she did. But I don’t think she really wanted to leave, either. So the next day we followed the plan and took the train to our next destination, Cinque Terre, specifically, Cinque Terre’s biggest town, Monterrosso.

From Milan to Cinque Terre was about a 6 hour train ride. It was nighttime when we arrived and met the woman whose BnB we were staying in, Rosie. She was a sweetheart, and our little place was adorable. A slight infraction could have been that she thought we were young lesbian lovers on our honeymoon, but whatever. We went with it!

Athena being sick and me loving to sleep meant we woke up the next morning (and really every day) at maybe 1. Naturally, our mission was to see the town and eat, precisely in that order so we could work up an appetite!

However, meandering through the town took all of 15 minutes, since Monterrosso, albeit the largest of the 5 towns in Cinque Terre, was TINY. The main street was basically the railroad that divided the houses, restaurants and shops from the beach. Facing the water, to the left was a hiking trail leading to the other towns, while the right side, a 10 minute walk, contained more of the neighborhood.

Luckily, we unknowingly stumbled upon a race going on in Monterrosso and a festival complete with the most amaaazing vendors selling everything from homemade candles, chocolate, and pig… All of which were fun to see and gave us more to do!

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them Italians don’t play around with their prosciutto

The market backed up right onto the beach, so we headed down there next.

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SO MUCH BEAUTY. The day before had been very rainy, so Athena and I were loving all this glorious sunshine.

At this point Lexlex was starving, so we dined al fresco at one of the very few restaurants in Monterrosso (as I mentioned before, the town is really, really small. And it’s the largest one!).

I ordered the salmon ravioli with a lemon butter sauce. It was DIVINE.

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After our combination breakfastlunch, we explored more around the town, climbing up and down and through the neighborhoods.

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a modern take on Caspar David Friedrich’s, Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog

^^That look familiar to anyone? It did to me!! Just because I’m a total Art History nerd and all, I’ve included a photo of the painting that this statute immediately reminded me of.

We passed a lemon orchard whilst adventuring…

plus this adorable sign warning passerbys of their dog…

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Athena and I took selfies…

And basked in the absolute perfectness of the weather- sunny but #fresh

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on our walk to the other part of Monterrosso

Seeing the other side of the town pretty much concludes mine and Athena’s first day in Monterrosso. Because of the race going on, we had to postpone our hike to the village of Vernazza until tomorrow.

The next day, Athena and I were finally able to hike to the next town over. On the way over, we passed by this fellow statue, who immediately reminded me of a famous Romanticist painting I had studied and connected with:

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this look familiar to anyone??

I couldn’t help thinking how much this shot looked like a modern take on Caspar David Friedrich’s A Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog:

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pretty sublime, huh? #arthistoryjokes

Not realizing it was like a 2 mile hike, though, we got started a bit too late in the day and arrived in Vernazza as the sun was setting. cinque13

This would have been fine, if it hadn’t been for our impending doom aka a big storm a-brewin’.

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Vernazza all lit up
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us clearly failing to recognize the brooding clouds in the background

Athena and I did the most walking around that we could, but Vernazza was even smaller than Monterrosso! It was beautiful and quaint, but we didn’t see any dinner restaurant that really spoke to us. Instead, we decided to head back to Monterrosso even though the sky had turned really dark.

The forecast was not lost on our fellow Italians, though, for as we started to make our way back to the trail, we kept getting stopped by an Italian here, and Italian there, all trying to tell us something. We couldn’t understand what they were saying, so we kept walking. That is, until one Italian woman who spoke enough English translated for her countrymen, warning us that it was too late and potentially dangerous because of the rain to walk back to Monterrosso. She suggested we take the train that runs between all the towns.

Well, for some reason Athena and I (or mainly me) didn’t think that was such a great idea. C’mon now, I was trying to work off all that pasta we’d been eating! So we kept walking uphill to the trail for about 10 minutes. Then, finally, Athena asked me very quietly, “Do you think we should take the train back?” Choosing life instead of being homeless in the mountains of Italy for a night, we walked back down the hill and up the main street to the baby train station.

The next problem that we encountered, though, once we got to the platform was that we couldn’t figure out how to buy our tickets! I honestly can’t remember what the deal was, if the machine was broken or if we just weren’t doing something right, but we got on the next train to Monterrosso anyway, figuring nobody would check our tickets anyway.

Ha! Well, an Italian conductor person DID come, and he was not too happy that we hadn’t pre-bought our tickets. I think he had seen a lot of this before from American tourists, but we were able to buy them from him and be on our merry way.

Once we got back to Monterrosso, we ended up at the same restaurant we first went to, completing a nice full circle of our trip. We sat in the basement with a huge table of robust Italian men who, upon noticing our American-ness, wanted to take a picture with us. Athena said no, but I indulged one of the grandfathers and sat on his lap for a selfie. Ahh, good times, good times.

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my bolognese pasta ❤

After dinner, Athena and I watched American movies in Italian and went to bed early since our train left at the crack of dawn the next morning. Side note: let me tell ya something, there’s nothing like watching TV in a different country to learn that language!

Since there really wasn’t much to do in Cinque Terre, other than some hiking and a lot of eating, I wouldn’t recommend staying for too long, unless you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to do much. For me, Cinque Terre was a very chill, relaxing start to a week that would progressively get more and more hectic, as we headed to Venice, Florence and then Rome.

Next stop: Venice!

 

 

Hallo, Deutschland! An Unexpected Trip to The Fatherland

A little background before I begin this entry: long story short, my entire family is German. My mom’s side, my dad’s side… everyone. My dad’s last name is Hofmann, which is pretty darn Germany-sounding. Meanwhile, my mom’s last name is actually a little TOWN in Germany.

My paternal grandmother, Margaret Hofmann, came to Texas from Dresden, Germany when she was still a young woman. She had been through some pretty rough stuff over there, air raids and the whole shebang. When she came to Texas, she met my granddaddy and they had 5 kids together. My dad is the youngest of the five. Grandma Hofmann devoted her life to being an advocate of peace. She was a Quaker and a city council member perhaps best known for her campaign to save the trees. She was fondly known as, “Austin’s Tree Lady.”

And so now that you know all of this, you can see why when my dad came to Madrid to visit me for two days before heading to Berlin, Germany for a conference, I jumped in on the opportunity to invite myself.

Early Tuesday morning, I was watching the sunset peek through the clouds on the way to the Fatherland:

Some first impressions in the taxi ride on our way to the hotel:

 

So, rapid-fire first impression of Germany was… slightly ghetto? Am I allowed to say that about my own roots? Ha.

Speaking of roots, after dropping our bags off, we went straight to my Grandma’s childhood home. We didn’t know who was living there, but my dad’s a charmer and we came with a mission. We knocked on the door, chatted with the woman (well, my dad did, since my extent of knowledge of the German language goes as far as, “hello,” and “goodbye”), and, when she closed the door, we quickly and stealthily emptied Grandma’s ashes in the yard.

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Enter a caption

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It was really neat to hear my dad speak German and visit my Grandma’s home because I felt more connected to my heritage than I ever have. I think had I grown up learning German and being bilingual, I would feel much more German. This is something my friends here in Spain and I have talked about; we all feel very strongly about raising our kids bilingual. I wish it were more of a thing in the United States to learn more than one language.

Next, being my dad and me, we set out in search for a place to eat (we have very big appetites). My dad was adamant that we eat the authentic cuisine. Boy, did we ever.

My next impression of Germany was, “no wonder these people are tough- all they eat is meat & potatoes!” Definitely a plus.

We walked along Unter den Linden, basically the Champs-Élysées of Berlin, complete with shopping stores and characters such as this fella:

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We kept walking straight ahead until we came to one of Berlin’s main attractions, in fact probably the emblem of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate. It’s like Germany’s Eiffel Tower. Wow, enough with the Paris references; they’ll read your Paris post soon enough! 😀

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You might be able to tell here, but at this point the cold was starting to get to me. Granted, it was January, but madre mía, I was reaaaally feeling it.

We made our way through the bridge and onto the Reichtstag Building, Germany’s Parliament. It was a beautiful building, and I wish we could have gone inside, especially to walk around the dome, because that would have been super cool. Next time!

 

It was late afternoon at this point, and my dad had to go to a conference/dinner thing that evening, so we headed back to the hotel. On our way, we were met with more greatness, that which was the GRAFFITI.

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Freakin’ hilarious!
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This stuff is genius, y’all!

Back in the warmth of the hotel, I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, sobbing profusely, and went to bed early so I could be ready for my free walking tour early in the morning.

 

My dad had to spend the next day, Wednesday, locked inside doing conference-y things while I got to go out exploring! I met up with Sandeman’s Free Walking Tours at the Brandenburg Gate, and this time the weather was much more cooperative, so I got a better better picture of the gate.

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No matter which city you’re in, I would definitely recommend Sandemans Free Walking Tours; they were friendly, efficient, and knew their stuff. I was even able to do a tour in Spanish, so I got to practice my Spanish while in Germany!

Our first stop on the tour was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or the Holocaust Memorial. It is a plaza filled with cement blocks of all different sizes. When asked about the significance of no two blocks being alike, the designer, Peter Eisenman, said it was open to interpretation.

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Our tour guide had us meet him on the other side of the space so that we got a chance to walk through the monument on our own. It was pretty neat even after only walking through it for 10 minutes, so I think had I stayed longer, I might have encountered some profound thoughts about humanity.

Next, we headed towards Checkpoint Charlie. On our way, we stopped at the site of Hitler’s Bunker. I thought it was so interesting that the government has specifically not made any museum or anything to mark the spot. Although, once our tour guide explained to us why, it made a lot of sense: the German government wants to ensure there is no place for any worshipers of Hitler to gather.

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Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous checkpoint between East and West Berlin

I think perhaps what has stuck out to me, three months later, are all the stories I read about and watched at the Checkpoint Charlie museum. Families were torn apart, so people dug holes, climbed into trunks of cars, even FLEW across, all to get to the West. It truly moved me to learn about what people had to go through.

 

By this point, I was realizing the pleasant sun earlier that morning had lured me into a false sense of security that it wasn’t actually that cold. Well, lies! Lies I tell you! We had only about 45 minutes left in the tour when I knew I just couldn’t take it any longer. Spotting a chocolate store, I seized my chance and ducked inside, undetected.

Ohhhh my gosh, it was chocolate galore! It was perfection and exactly what I needed. Y’all, it was SO cold. I honestly thought I was dying. I bought a box of chocolates for my host family back in Spain, and a mini-tiramisu for myself as compensation for my suffering. Haha.

Then a quick lunch to gather my strength before bracing the cold yet again.

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Fresh pesto pasta made on the spot

The next item on my to do list was the famous and beautiful plaza Gendarmenmarkt. It was lovely.

The building in the picture on the right has a twin facing him, so if you cut the plaza in half, it would be symmetrical.

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here I am, happy yet hypothermic (it’s not, but that should be a word)

From Gendarmenmarkt, it was just a short walk to the Berliner Dom, Berlin’s cathedral.

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Pause. Even I can’t believe how much I did in just one day. 😮 !!!!!!

Resume. The cathedral was one of my favorite sites in Berlin. It was HUGE and breathtaking. I loved the green domes because they stood out so much and are so unique from any other cathedral I’ve ever seen.

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Utterly beautiful.
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Random structure in front of the cathedral which I’m sure is significant in some way, but whose meaning is lost on me

 

Berliner Dom is conveniently located on Museum Island, a complex of five internationally recognized museums. Like the obsessed freak I am, I chose the Pergamon Museum so I could gush at all the Islamic art.

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One of the 5 museums facing the lawn in front of the Berliner Dom

 

I nearly flipped when I entered the exhibit because right in front of my eyes was the ISHTAR GATE, only one of the most important pieces of Islamic art. It was the eighth gate to the inner city of ancient Babylon.

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Oh, but that wasn’t all the richness the Pergamon Museum had to offer. Oh, no. Beauties such as these ensued…

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I really enjoyed this museum, although it was quite small. Apparently, they were renovating a large work of art, which would have added to the collection had it been available.

Finally, dinnertime. I was pooped. I met up with my dad at the hotel so we could go to dinner from there together. We set out again in search for authenticity! Yet again, we were not at all disappointed.

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My stupidly delicious peppered steak with the most caramelized onions you will ever encounter, and sauteed potatoes. Honestly some of the best food I have ever had.
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Daddy’s pork schnitzel and potatoes. Looks simple, but don’t be fooled. The tenderest meat you ever did taste. Sweet Jesus take the wheel.

After dinner, I think I just passed out. Which wouldn’t surprise me, after that kind of food^^.

 

My last day in Germany was rainy and I was nervous about my flight (like I always am, damn stressful airports), so I just got some breakfast and people-watched before heading to the airport.

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The pastries in Germany were HUGE! They are not messing around. This was like two times the size of my palm, and it was utterly scrumptious. Happy Lexster.

 

So, to recap. Really, there was nothing I didn’t really like about Germany, save for the brutal cold. Public transportation was somewhat confusing, like any every other city in Europe besides Madrid, people were super nice, the food was delicious, and the cultural experience spectacular. I have to say that what sets Germany apart and why I will remember my visit there forever is simply that I finally got to see my heritage. It’s pretty incredible to see how Germany has made such a comeback. Even after being devastated in two world wars, now they’re basically running the European Union and playing a significant role in the international arena. They’re not even a big country, but they’re one of our biggest trade partners. I gotta say, it feels pretty damn good to be a German (said to the tune of, “Damn it feels good to be a Gangsta”).

Tschüss, Deutschland, ich leibe dich!

A Week in the Life of Yours Truly

I wanted to highlight some of my favorite things from last semester before this new semester starts, since I know there will be plenty more adventures to come.

As any college student, my daily life revolves around school. On Mondays and Tuesdays I had to get up at the crack of dawn (6:30am) to make it to my 8:30am class. I had class until 5pm those days. Every Wednesday, I had one class at campus and then I headed straight to the Museo del Prado for my tutoría (sort of like a group field trip). Thursday I  only had one class and Fridays, by the grace of god, I mostly had off.

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view of the side of the Museo del Prado from the Paseo del Prado, one of the oldest boulevards that houses the trifecta of Madrid’s museums: the Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofia
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what is Spain without Goya? Here feat. El 2 y el 3 de Mayo de 1808, the day the Spanish led a resistance against Napoleon’s army

However, in Spain, I spend less time studying and attending class than I do in the States, for one simple reason: I hate my classes. I’m sorry, I feel a little bad saying that, but they are an insult to my intelligence. They are purely memorization, zero discussion, zero critical thinking. My Reunidas classes, the ones I have with other American students, are better than the ones I take with Spanish students. But still. They are a far cry from the type of intellectual stimulation I received in middle and high school and at Tulane. The only silver lining I have been able to find with this system is that at least I am more grateful now for the type of education that inspires actual thinking. I will never skip another class at Tulane, that’s for sure.

ANYWAY. All this extra free time I have is also great for exploring, which is what I do every weekend that I am not traveling. Being an Art History major, I of course love art museums. And because I’m human, I love to eat. I am convinced the best way to understand a culture is to eat your way through it.

Speaking of cooking, one of my favorite things I did this semester was taking a cooking class with my good friend, Madison. We signed up with Disfruta Madrid Más, which you might remember was the group I went to Portugal and Barcelona with. Because it is essentially a program for international students studying abroad in Spain, and since English is the most commonly known language between everyone, all of those trips were conducted in English. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the cooking class was done entirely in Spanish.

 

For starters, we made Salmorejo, the lesser-known cousin of Gazpacho. Both are cold, and the tomato is the hero in both. However, Salmorejo uses the tomato almost exclusively, while Gazpacho adds pepper and cucumber for a little sumthin’ extra. Salmorejo is also thicker, thanks to the generous amount of crumbled bread that goes inside (as you can see in the picture on the left).

 

 

Salmorejo is the *classic* Spanish dish. By that I mean it uses only four ingredients (tomato, garlic, olive oil, and salt), yet it is the quality of these ingredients that makes it so dang good.

In reality, the classic Spanish dish is Tortilla Española, although they just call it tortilla over here. Similar to gazpacho, tortilla doesn’t have a long list of ingredients. Eggs, potatoes (sometimes onion) and a crap ton of olive oil are all you need. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of that; I ate it too fast.

But here is a picture from the internet just so you can see that you’ve proooobably had it before:

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Next up was the main course, Paella. Another quintessential Spanish dish. Paella is king in Valencia, near the beach, where the traditional one is made with rabbit and beans.

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Seafood Paella with mussels, calamari, and shrimp

Last but not least we baked Tarta de Santiago (tarta means cake). It’s an almond cake that sees its greatest day the 25th of July for the festival of Santiago.

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Tarta de Santiago. Santiago is the capital of Galicia, in the north of Spain. And look at that sweet little design!

It’s funny, it took me a while to figure out (like just now) that all the dishes we made represent a different region in Spain. The Salmorejo is Andalusía’s (the south’s) specialty, meanwhile tortilla is popular all over the country, paella is from the coast, particularly Valencia, and the Tarta de Santiago is from Galicia.

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Another one of my favorite events this last semester was going with my program to a flamenco show, where I was actually able to take pictures this time (!!!!!). So far, I have seen flamenco three times, and it never gets old for me. This time, we went to this place called Sala BarCo:

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Micayla and I, plus a half-hidden and pensive Jesse in the background

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Lastly, one of my favorite museums in Madrid has to be Museo Sorolla. The museum is actually Joaquín Sorolla’s old house, and they have done a great job at preserving it the way it would have been found during his lifetime. The gardens are beautiful, and the rooms inside are a gorgeous coral color which brings the paintings to life.

Joaquín Sorolla, born 1863 until 1923 was a Spanish Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Luminist (that’s not a word, but I just made it one) painter. He painted softer themes like portraits and landscapes as well as works of deeper historical and social importance.

Most of all, Sorolla stands out for his devotion of the affects of light on any given surface.

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cool Latin tilework outside in the garden
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The Horse’s Bath, 1909

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The White Boat, 1905

And my ultimate favorite, so much so that I bought a mini-one for myself:

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Madre, 1909

I love this painting because it reminds me of my mom and myself. When I was little, I always used to sleep in her bed with her.

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So there you have it, folks! Some of my favorite parts about last semester included going to the Prado every Wednesday, learning how to cook the most quintessential Spanish dishes, attending flamenco shows, and visiting Museo Sorolla. Of course, this was only a glimpse of what I did with my time, but there will be more to come.

 

Morocco: the gateway to Europe & Africa

Ah, Morocco, land of spices, mint tea, color, and ubiquitous cats; here you find a fusion of Berber, Arabic, French, and Spanish influences which results in something uniquely Moroccan.

I went to Morocco to visit maybe my oldest friend, Lily. And I mean old in the sense that we have been friends since 6th grade, since we started a new school together. A week before school started, we did a volleyball camp together and I will never forget how the first day at lunch she came and sat by me instead of all the “popular” girls. From then on, we were best buddies. 🙂

For the month of January, Lily received a grant from her university to research gay culture in Morocco. A pretty interesting topic, I’d say, since Morocco is a Muslim country and therefore homosexuality is illegal. However, lucky for me she was there researching, because I was able to stay in her hip apartment, complete with two rooftop terraces.

Lily’s apartment was in the Medina of Fez. Medina refers to “the old walled part of a North African town.” Indeed, the Medina in Fez is where the French literally used to close and lock the Moroccan people inside so that they could be safe on the outside in the ville nouvelle, French for new part. Today, the wall still exists and those with more money typically live outside in the old French neighborhoods, which have been renovated, amplified and include more modern appliances.

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The main square in the Medina. During the day, vendors sell everything you could imagine. At night, there are snake charmers and groups of people singing.

I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon around lunchtime, so I got to partake in a traditional Moroccan dish: fish tagine. Tagine refers to the actual pottery used to cook the food inside, as well as the dish itself. The vegetables and meat are slow-cooked inside the tagine until everything is all soft and tender and lovely. A little anecdote about my first lunch with Moroccans: they kept feeding me, constantly putting more food on my plate, yet they were all waiting for me, the guest, to finish so they could get on with their lives.

After lunch, Lily escorted me to the gardens of Fez. Along the way, I encountered the most beautiful doors in every nook and cranny. My last calendar, A Doorway Every Day, couldn’t have prepared me for their beauty.

Just a short walk away from Lily’s apartment we came to the Medina Gardens of Fez.

As we walked around, Lily told me some rules about being in Morocco: One, don’t mention anything about God, lest I say something opinionated and offensive. And two, don’t say anything bad about their King because they love him. Although I wouldn’t want to anyways, since he’s the most progressive leader out of all the Arab countries. Apparently, his wife is also very educated and importantly, unveiled.

After walking around through the gardens and the markets, we were tired and ready for some refreshments. We stopped at a restaurant and ordered ~avocado milkshakes~ and ~Moroccan mint tea~ (which, by the way, is basically just sugar) while enjoying this amaaaaazing view:

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~terrace living~

Hands down, my absolute favorite thing about Morocco was relaxing on all the terraces, the slow pace of life, just wasting away in Margaritaville. Every night, Lily, her girlfriend, and all her girlfriend’s guyfriends and I would just chill out on the terrace, listening to a mix of American, Arabic, and Spanish music. Truly, así es la vida, c’est la vie…

 

The next day, Wednesday, Lily took me to the famous “cross cultural” restaurant that is Café Clock. If you go to Morocco, get yourself to this place. It’s touristy, but the food is divine.

While Lily had pancakes with caramel sauce, I got a Banana milkshake and Berber eggs. They were eggs with a tomato sauce cooked in a tagine, plus a bunch of slices of bread. Pause. Let me tell you a little something: bread is so underrated in the States. The majority of what I ate in Morocco was bread and oranges. (Holy crap the oranges are incredible). Due to the French influence, Morocco has amazing bread and pastries. We Americans should take a leaf out of the French cookbook.

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the sweet urhcin Lily and I enjoying an incredible breakfast at Café Clock, on ANOTHER terrace

Not only was the food amazing, as I think I have mentioned several times now, but right beside us was a mosque:

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After we finished eating, we visited the Bou Inania Madrasa. Madrasa is “a college for Islamic instruction.” Back in the day, families would send their most promising young boys to study the Quran. Lily and I went upstairs to see the little rooms they used to live in. I was in absolute HEAVEN just gazing at all the architecture. What’s amazing about Islamic architecture is that Islam prohibits images, so architects and artists had to get creative with designs, which they definitely did. The attention to detail given to each square inch is something that will never cease to inspire me.

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panorama of the interior of the Madrasa

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Lily being a cool kid
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Lily told me to “smile naturally” and I was like, what does that mean?!

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Thursday, Lily and I slept until like 2 in the afternoon, so we didn’t have too much time to do things outside before the sunset. But we did walk up to the top of Fez to see some great views of the city:

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Lily and I weren’t sure what exactly this monument was, perhaps part of another old wall, but it was too cool. It reminds me of ancient Roman ruins.

While walking around the top of the mountain, we met these two adorable little boys, around 12 years old. They were very curious, asking us (well, Lily, since I speak neither Arabic nor French) questions about what we studied and such. At one funny point, one of the little boys asked Lily why she wasn’t Muslim if she spoke Arabic and lived in Morocco. Then he attempted to convert her by trying to get her to say the Shahada, the Proclomation of Faith. Ha! Curious little buggers.

By that point it was starting to get dark, and it wasn’t safe for Lily and I to be out by ourselves, so we headed back to the apartment.

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We were just in time on our walk to catch the sunset. When the sun sets in Morocco, the first mosque to see it begins singing in Arabic to tell the other mosques, until they all join in to signal the call to prayer. This happens five times a day: dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night, and each time is absolutely magical.

 

My last full day is Fez was Friday, the day where everyone eats couscous. After this was made known to me, it was imperative that I try it asap. Lily and I went to a restaurant and got vegetable couscous, only to be told later that Lily’s Moroccan mother-type had made couscous for us as well. But can you really have too much couscous?

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Mama Latifa’s chicken couscous

Saturday I had to leave Fez to return back to Madrid, only because I had to take a final the  upcoming week. I would have liked to visit Chefchaouen, the blue city, as well as Marrakesh and Casablanca. But no matter, they are only excuses to come back. 😀

 

I’d like to end this post by saying that apart from the terrace lifestyle, what I really loved about Morocco was the people. I remember walking down the narrow streets of the Medina and having little boys run past me and touch me, or little girls dart out of their houses to smile and giggle at me and Lily. Part of all that, of course, was that we were white and foreign. But I think it’s also true that Moroccans are naturally curious and friendly. Everyone I met was so incredibly hospitable: waiters, cab drivers, you name it. I asked one of the Moroccan guys I hung out with why this was, and he told me, “we want you have to the best first impression of our country.” Unlike the Spanish (ahem), Moroccans are delighted when you speak their language (Arabic, that is, not French) and are eager to help you learn. I can’t count how many times an older gentleman would tell me that if I stayed for one year, they would teach me Arabic in no time at all.

So, Morocco, shukran for all the memories. J’adore.

The G-rents in Españaaaa

Everyone thinks that their grandparents are the best. But mine actually are.

My Mimi is beautiful, both literally and figuratively. She still teaches piano and plays the organ for church every Sunday. My Opa reads books about politicians and then writes them letters in his spare time. They both love to garden. Well, these precious nuggets came to visit ME, their favorite granddaughter (their only, but who’s counting) all the way in Madrid. How cute is it that they still travel at 70 years old?!

They started their trip in Madrid, visiting with me for two days before heading off to Barcelona for another two days and then back to Madrid for one last night before flying back to Texas (<3).

When they arrived on Friday afternoon, of course the first thing we did was eat! I took them to one of my favorite restaurants in the ritzy neighborhood of Salamanca, Mallorca. Then I escorted them to Parque del Buen Retiro, which is just around the corner.

 

In Retiro, one of my favorite sites is the Cristal Palace, El Palacio Cristal. This time around, I was actually able to go inside! Although there were some somewhat disturbing decorations on display that I still haven’t been able to understand.

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And the question arises…

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Mimi & Opa didn’t seem too confused, just fascinated. Ha. Next, we enjoyed the Rose Garden since the nuggets love all kinds of flowers and both have a green thumb. We also walked past the Fallen Angel statue, the only known statue dedicated to Lucifer in Europe. On our way back to their hotel (they’d had a long day), Madrid welcomed them with a lovely sunset.

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Look at my little Opa with his adorable little beret. Oh my gosh.
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La Rosaleda
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Lucifer!
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La Puesta del Sol

The next day, Saturday, I accompanied The Nuggets to El Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid. I had never been to the palace, so I was really excited.

The Palace is situated on the western edge of Madrid, overlooking a huge park, Casa de Campo. In the early days of the city, the palace and Retiro were the limits of the city, but Madrid has grown so much that today the palace and Retiro are just the limits of the center of the city.

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strolling up to the palace, we were greeted by Felipe IV

Outside the palace in the Plaza de Oriente, Opa made a friend:

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Actually going into the complex left me speechless…

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Pictures are prohibited inside the palace, which is just as well since it was very gaudy for our taste. But we still enjoyed seeing the different designs of each room.

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Later that evening, we dined to the recommendation of my old librarian at a Galician restaurant in el Barrio de Las Letras, “the neighborhood of the letters” (roooough translation).

First, I love this neighborhood. During the Spanish Golden Age, many great writers lived in Las Letras, for example Miguel de Cervantes, Quevedo, and Lope de Vega. When you walk through the streets, you can see quotes from these authors’ works in gold lettering on the ground. Also, you can take a tour of Lope de Vega’s house, which I plan on doing very soon!

Second, the restaurant we ate at was called Maceiras. Like I said, its specialty is Galician food. Galicia is the autonomous community in the north of Spain, above Portugal and near England and Ireland. Because of it’s proximity to Ireland, Galicia has retained a lot of Celtic influence in its music, food and overall customs.

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Inside, we sat on wooden benches and listened to bagpipes or something similar. And because Mimi & Opa were paying (hehe, oops), I ordered a bottle of Riberio wine, which is only produced in Galicia. Apparently, the first Riberio vineyards were planted during the first centuries of the Roman empire.

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Galicia has its own language as well. I have no idea what this is saying.

Our food came with an enormous basket of bread… (because this is Spain, people)

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And then I ordered Pimientos de Padrón, another typical Galician dish since the peppers are cultivated there, and Pulpo de Gallego.

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Peppers soaked in oil and sprinkled with heavy salt on top, and tender octupus in oil with paprika and a beautifully cooked potato in the center. Jesus take the wheel.

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Oh, but it gets even better.

Next, we got rice with a variety of different seafood, including crab, shrimp, mussels, ect, ect…

*Drooling. Literally some of the best food I have ever had in my life.

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Micayla, me & Mimi outside of Maceiras

For Mimi & Opa’s last night, I took them to a flamenco show at Casa Patas, supposedly the best flamenco in Madrid. It is unknown exactly where flamenco originates, but undisputedly it has become synonymous with the south of Spain, Andalusia.

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At Casa Patas, the flamenco was unlike what I had seen before. The first show I saw involved two dancers, a man and a woman, who told a love story through movement and facial expression. This time, there were three dancers, two men and one woman, and they all did their own thing. There was no story to be told; one simply gazed at the unique styles each one possessed. One of the men was shorter, more attractive, and danced with a sense of bravado, while the other was taller and more graceful. And the woman was just gorgeous with her long swishy dress.

Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed of the actual show 😦 One of these days I’m just going to have to be sneaky!

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And so concludes my nuggets’s trip to Spain! More on my trip to Morocco and every day(ish) life in Madrid.