Monday, June 29, 2015

Week 4: Four Things I Learned This Week in Spain

This week has been incredibly fun and busy, and I think my decision to explore more of Madrid has paid off. I revisited the Reina Sofía, which is quickly becoming my favorite spot in the city, but also tried new restaurants and visited new neighborhoods. Here's what I learned this week:
{escaping the heat in Palacio de Cristal}
1. What 106 degrees really means. Temperatures this high mean feeling groggy, sleepy, and lethargic, which totally justifies the remedy of endless ice cream, cold drinks, and hours spent in the pool. Right?
{matcha ice cream with white chocolate chips at my new favorite place}
{Me and my friend Corrine in Puerta de Sol}
2. It's a small world, which means you may be lucky enough to spend a day in Madrid with someone you go to school with. As some of my au pair friends start leaving (I've already had to say three goodbyes), this is something to keep in mind. You never know who you might get to see again! :)

{photoception in Palacio de Cristal}

3. You can wholly and unironically be proud to be American. There are a lot of things that will distinguish you as an American abroad (including baseball caps, sneakers, the accent, talking too loudly on the metro, and saying you want a burger) but my personal favorite is that everyone in your country now legally has the right to get married. While there is more progress to be made, this is huge and it's definitely about time. I haven't felt homesick yet, but on Friday I really wished I was home visiting the White House and Supreme Court with all my friends in Washington, D.C.
{new piece at the Reina Sofía}
4. Horchata is delicious. As part of the #treatyoself lifestyle, I walked into La Mallorquina, an amazing bakery located in Sol, and bought myself a napolitano and horchata. While I have a serious sweet tooth, this was definitely too much sugar for even me. I'd never get the two together again, but I'm definitely going to enjoy horchata more often while I'm here in Spain. 
{napolitano de chocolate & horchata}
You may not hear from me for a while since I'm headed to Italy TOMORROW! My mom and brother are visiting me in Madrid and after a day in the city, we head off on a two-week trip to Venice, Florence, Rome, and then Barcelona. Can't wait to share the details with you all! Until then, enjoy a few more pictures from this week:
{view of Gran Vía}
{museum exploring}
{a #nofilter sunset from Templo de Debod}
{exhibition on gentrification in New York & D.C.}
~ V

Read also: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Come with me to Oviedo

{view from Santa María del Naranco}
When I first decided I was going to Spain, I knew I wanted to visit Oviedo. I've seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona way too many times to not make a trip to the city Juan Antonio invites Vicky and Cristina to promptly after first meeting them. Likewise, "Oviedo" by Blind Pilot is one of my favorite songs, and I listened to it on repeat the entire weekend. Of the three cities Mette and I visited, Oviedo was possibly the one I was most excited to see. 
We started our trip to Oviedo by catching a bus from León after a ridiculously good breakfast of café con leche and a red velvet muffin at the Tea Te Café. The drive between the cities was incredibly beautiful; the land is very mountainous so for an hour and half, we saw all these mountains surrounded by lakes and quaint little houses on hills.
{view from the bus}
After arriving in Oviedo, we checked into our hotel and began our walk around the city. After a couple hours of exploring the center, we took a bus about three kilometers away to see two historical monuments: San Miguel del Lillo and Santa María del Naranco, which Juan Antonio and Vicky visit in the film. On our tour between the first and second churches, it began pouring and Mette and I got absolutely soaked. It was significantly colder that weekend, especially in the north, and Carlos, a kind man from Barcelona who was also on our tour group, offered us a ride back to the city.
{looking derpy outside Santa María del Naranco}

{San Miguel de Lillo}
{Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias}
{pouring cider}
{dinner: patatas tres salsas y sidre}
Mette and I changed into warm and dry clothing back at our hotel, and headed off to dinner. Mette's host mom had told us to try the cider in Oviedo, so we headed to a sidrería for dinner. Overall, Oviedo was probably my least favorite of the three cities we visited, since it didn't have all the charm of León or a location by the sea like Gijón, but I'm still very glad we went. Here are some more photos from our trip:
{Catedral de San Salvador}
{fountain across Catedral de San Salvador}
{Catedral de San Salvador}
{inside Santa María del Naranco}
{fountain in the city center}
{walking across town}
~ V

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Week 3: Six Things I Learned This Week in Spain

Now that I've been in Spain for three weeks, a bit of the novelty has worn off. While I'm still just as amazed by all the beautiful architecture, sunsets over the mountains and Madrid skyline, and deep history behind so much of what I've seen and done, I'm starting to get tired of the routine I've made for myself. I spend about three hours commuting to the city center and back every day, and even though I try to do three new things each day, I still end up in the same parts of the city. I've done nearly everything on Trip Advisor, and this coming week, I'm going to make a bigger effort to go beyond the tourist attractions and see more of what makes Madrid amazing. Here's what I learned this week:

1. Sunburn is real. For about two weeks, my skin has been unusually dry. I tried drinking more water and applying lotion more regularly but nothing worked. It took the skin on my arm to begin peeling for me to finally realize that my skin isn't just dry, it's sunburnt. While most people are used to this, since I'd never had sunburn before (ever), I didn't recognize what the hell my skin was doing. In the three weeks I've been here, I've definitely gotten a shade or two darker but it's hilarious to see that after years of spending summers at the beach or in India, all it took was wandering in Madrid to make my skin burn.
{Templo de Debod}
2. I need to stop spending so much money on food. Inspired by Chelsea Fagan's TFD, I've been keeping track of all I've been spending in the Notes app on my phone and one day, I decided to log it all into a spreadsheet (it's amazing what you can do when school and internships don't take up all your time). I included columns for item purchased, where it was bought, the cost, and what category it falls into: food, clothing, or travel. When I finished logging everything in, I noticed that while I've spent more money overall on travel, most items I purchased were food. It's one thing to grab a sandwich for lunch, but logging in my purchases made me realize how much I could cut back on unnecessary purchases like bubble tea, coffee, and pastries. (I say this now, but I know that when I walk into Sol tomorrow I'll be telling myself that life is too short to not splurge on a napolitano de chocolate.)
{Plaza de España}
3. Speaking of which, you can get Tex-Mex in Spain. I went to Toledo on Sunday with some friends and we stopped at a Tako-Away for lunch. The restaurant is a chain that I've seen elsewhere in Madrid so it's not anywhere close to authentic, but it's definitely a healthier alternative to Taco Bell. I absolutely love Tex-Mex and was surprised to see it available outside of the US.
4. I also need to stop traveling every weekend. Last weekend I went to León, Oviedo, and Gijón, and this weekend I went to Segovia and Toledo. Five cities in two weekends is not cheap you guys. The money spent on bus fares, food, water, and souvenirs add up and unless you're on a day trip, you have to factor in hostels as well. I'm going to spend this next weekend in Madrid and finally explore el Rastro.
{view of Cathedral de la Almudena from el Palacio Real}
5. The Royal Palace is amazing. My friend Carly and I went inside el Palacio Real this week and it did not disappoint. My visit to Versailles last summer was a bit overwhelming; I was tired after a commute out of Paris, stressed about fitting everything into our last day in France, it was rainy outside, and every room was crowded with visitors. In comparison, going inside el Palacio Real was amazing. There were fewer people, but everything was just as beautiful. The only downside was that we weren't allowed to take pictures for the majority of the tour. If you're in Madrid, I definitely recommend a visit to the Palace.
{Carly and me outside el Palacio Real}
6. Being an au pair allows you to meet the coolest people. Madrid has so many au pairs, especially over the summer, and it is so incredibly easy to make new friends. Before coming here, I was unnecessarily worried about meeting people and having friends to travel and explore with, but after three short weeks I have friends who I see fairly regularly and yet I still meet new people all the time. Just this week, I met a fellow American from Chicago and we had a great conversation about American politics, the endless differences between here and home, and more. Likewise, the people I've met from all around the world are great as well; it's amazing to be reminded how easy it is to connect with people whose lives and backgrounds are different from yours, and I know that if it weren't for this au pair experience, I never would have met them.
Since I'll be in Madrid next weekend I'd love some recommendations! Is there anything you think I should do or see? Let me know in the comments below.
~ V
Read also: Week 1, Week 2

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Day in León

{view on our way to the Catedral}
This past weekend, my friend Mette and I planned a spontaneous trip to the north of Spain. And by spontaneous, I mean that we decided which cities to visit on Thursday afternoon, bought the tickets and booked the hostels around 10 PM, and by 5:45 AM the next morning, I was headed towards the bus station. We planned our trip around three cities—León, Oviedo, and Gijón—with a day in each.
{Catedral Santa María} 
León was incredibly beautiful and charming. I have a soft spot for small cities; since they're so easy to navigate, you can travel on foot and save the cost of transportation and in doing so, you also get to know the area better anyway. Since everything about this trip was so last minute, I finished packing and planning around 1 AM and was able to get a whole four hours of sleep before getting ready for the day, but as usual, a combination of caffeine and excitement got me through most of the day.
{Mette and me being touristy}
{Plaza Mayor}
After arriving in León around 12:45 PM, Mette and I headed straight to our hostel to drop off our bags and start exploring. Thanks to some kind American tourists I met at the bus station, we were well-equipped with a decent map of the city, and we started our tour by heading towards Catedral Santa María de Regla. Along the way, we also saw Casa de los Botines, which is a Modernist building designed by Gaudí. Casa de los Botines is definitely different than many of Gaudí's other works (la Sagrada Familia, Parque Güell, etc.) and if it weren't for a small plaque explaining Gaudí was the architect, I wouldn't have believed it. 
{Casa de los Botines}
Soon enough, we reached the Catedral, which was so beautiful. We only looked at it from the outside though, and perused through an open market in the area. We grabbed some quick bites here and at one point, we decided to stop in a bar, where we each got a beer and split some delicious patatas bravisimas, which were essentially fried potatoes dripping in oil and seasoned with garlic.
Throughout the rest of the day, we also managed to visit the Museo de León, Basilica de San Isidoro, and Plaza Mayor. Unfortunately, I was running on very little sleep and was also tired from the long bus ride, so we headed returned to our hostel a mere four hours after we had initially checked in, completely exhausted. I passed out nearly instantly, managing to only take out my contacts before passing out, still in the same jeans from the day. 
{Plaza Mayor}
After breakfast the next day, we grabbed our bags and headed back to the bus station for our ride to Oviedo. Here are the rest of our pictures from León:
~ V