Sunday, July 19, 2015

Farewell to Spain

This is it, all; my last post about Spain. A little late coming, I know. But now I’m getting ready to move on to other fun things so stay tuned!
After my great Italy excursion, I headed back to Spain; but to Barcelona rather than Valencia. I attended a swing dance festival called Barswingona. It was great fun and I lucked out and had a great host located right on Las Ramblas (a cool street of vendors). No need to talk about the fact that prior to arriving back in Spain I had no host at all... so believe me when I say I felt very blessed.

I spent some quality alone time wandering Barcelona around the hours of dancing. I walked along the beach on a beautiful sunny day and then went up to Parque Güell, Gaudí’s park that overlooks all of Barcelona. It was beautiful up there and I really enjoyed one of the performing groups.

The following day I walked around the area I was staying in and found adorable boutiques and vintagey shops. My last day in Barcelona I attended the Palo Alto market which is also super cute and full of trendy crafts, clothes, and food. I got some excellent craft inspirations (to be executed later) during my Barcelona outings.

I spent a few days back in Valencia catching up before I headed out to Lagos, Portugal with some American friends in my program. Lagos itself was stunning with all of its cliffs and grottos. I wish I had gotten to spend more time in the quaint town but I spent most of my time on the water. My favorite part of this trip was ocean kayaking! 

We also did a sangria cruise and went to see the “end of the world”. In the olden days they didn’t know that anything else existed. It was beautiful (and also very windy) to see the sunset go down over that horizon. That was how I said goodbye to Portugal for the time being.

The following week was the start of my finals week but that didn’t stop me from going on an excursion to the mountains around Valencia. We stayed in the little village of Montanejos and had forest adventures shooting paintballs, doing ziplines, slacklines, and climbing trees. We hiked up the mountains and to a hot spring. My highlight of this trip was white water rafting and jumping off some cliffs into the water. The water was freezing and we were in full wetsuits but it was a really great experience. At the end, the teams of boats all tried to tip each other and I got a bit of a fat lip but it was all in good fun.

I rounded out my school days in Valencia hosting a make your own pizza party for my American friends and climbing the Miguelito bell tower that overlooks all of Valencia.

As you can imagine, finals were far from my mind. Saying goodbye to my American friends was pretty sad but fortunately I had a nice transition period between Spain and the US because my parents came to visit me and as they say “to pack me up and take me home”. I did need the extra suitcase space due to my clothes and souvenir purchases. In my defense, they were made over the span of four months.
I got to show my parents and our family friends my city. I showed them the central historic district, the river, some of my favorite shopping, and I took them to the paella farm that opened my trip which was a beautifully symbolic meal. 

My last night in Valencia was a social dance night and music jam at the dance school. I got to take my family to see the school and show them the Spanish swing dancing scene. My friends there gave me one last jam circle and a big group hug and it was really touching. I hope to visit them in the future.
The five of us left Valencia and went to Palma de Mallorca which was beautiful, beachy, and relaxing. We were bums the whole time we were there, enjoying tapas on our cute AirBnB patio, napping, and looking for sea glass on the beach. I have never seen sea glass in such quantities. I liked imagining that the glass there was from Valencia which is highly possible since they’re right across the sea from each other.

My final Spanish destination was Madrid. On January 8, 2015 I flew into Madrid and now, in May I was leaving the same way. Those four months flew by so we had to live up our last few days. We had drinks on a rooftop bar and strolled the huge central park (Parque del Buen Retiro).

We essentially shopped, ate, and drank our way around Spain’s capital. We ate and drank really well. And that’s how I ended my wonderful study abroad time. That’s also a pretty good summary of my trip in general. I ate, I drank, and I saw beautiful things. I could not have asked for a better experience. Coming home felt weird but perfectly comfortable at the same time. It’s been nice to be home but now with a month left until I go back to Pitt, I’m itching for my next adventure. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fallas 2015

Fallas is, as I have previously mentioned, a festival celebrated only in Valencia. It is in honor of Saint Joseph. Each neighborhood spends all year fundraising and creating a falla sculpture so there are hundreds in the city. They range in size (the biggest being stories tall) and they are made of paper mache, cardboard, wood, textiles etc. Each one shows satirical social commentary on something that they believe to be wrong, corrupt, or unnecessary with the world today. The fallas are built with gas running through them so that at the end of the week they light on fire and are burnt to the ground during La Cremà. This symbolizes "out with the old, in with the new" and in many senses is Valencia’s New Year. Everyone works really hard for an entire year and in one night they have a great purge.
So that’s the symbolism. Otherwise, they use this week as a huge celebration. All day and all night there are fireworks and firecrackers, light shows, concerts, parties, paella, food, parades, and dancing. The men, women, and children wear traditional fallero costumes and there is an annual “Miss Fallas” essentially who opens the celebration and is the face of Fallas. In one of the main plazas they erect the frame to a large Virgen falla and each neighborhood in their beautiful garb brings her flower offerings which they use to decorate the frame until it is fully filled in and surrounded by beautiful blooms. 
I had the great pleasure of experiencing it all firsthand but also getting to share it with a very special visitor from the US. It is so difficult to explain what Fallas is let alone it’s cultural impact so here are some pictures to try and do it justice.
Loading in a falla
A piece of a fallas beautifully painted with the Valencian flag
Children's falla

Me with my favorite falla

Dancing falleras
Parade over the flower bridge

Offering parade

Decorating the frame of the Virgen falla
The completed virgen falla
Plaza de la Virgen
The main fallera lighting the falla at La Cremà

Friday, May 15, 2015


I am so sorry to have taken such a long hiatus from writing about my travels. The end of my time abroad snuck up on me very quickly, but it’s better late than never, right? I had a crazy long break from my classes (18 days in total) and used it to hop between three countries at the end of March/beginning of April.

Unfortunately, I ventured off to Italy on my own. My roommate had missed our flight. But, I put myself out there and met some American girls at the hostel I was staying at. I also thriftily sold my roommates bunk bed. Does that make me a bad person? Who knows. With my new found friends I biked across the small town to the plaza that is home to the leaning tower, the cathedral, and baptistery.

Pisa, in my opinion was a pretty sleepy town. However, the leaning tower is completely worth seeing. It really does lean as much as it looks like it does.

Check out that picture of me holding the tower up. I’m pretty buff.

The next stop on my solo trip was Florence. Of course the second I stepped off the train it started to rain. I made my way to my new hostel and set off to find food. I had the most amazing spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever had.

I spent that afternoon browsing the fancy shops and that evening I went up to the best view point in the city, Piazza Michelangelo. The views really were amazing.

Back at the hostel I made another great friend also doing a solo trip. Things seemed to be working out for me. My second day in Florence I checked out some of the main tourist attractions: the Mercado Centrale, the San Lorenzo church, the rows and rows of street vendors, the Cathedral, and the Piazza Vecchio. Markets in Europe are really great. I found some inexpensive lunch there and tried truffles and truffle oil for the first time. I understand why it’s so expensive. And their food in general is just exquisite.

The Cathedral is spectacular from the outside. It is unlike any other cathedral I’ve ever seen (and at this point I’ve seen my fair share of them). The inside was interesting including a 24 hour clock based on the sun but the inside alone didn’t wow me.

The Palacio Vecchio was one of my favorite places in the city. It looks so medieval and it made me wonder what could possibly have gone on in the deepest parts of it. It is now used as a government building. The plaza around it was bustling but it was sunny (not to mention there was supposed to be free wifi there) so I camped out to pass some time and to stare some more at the palace.

At this point I picked up my roommate who had found another flight to Italy. As I took her around what I knew of the city, we found not one, but TWO open houses. One was at a designer clothing store and the other at an art gallery. We crashed them both and got free prosecco (bubbly Italian wine), hor d'oeuvres, and dessert. When in Florence, right?

My last day in Florence we saw the David statue. He really is huge. And beautiful. He is definitely worth seeing.

Along with our new friend from the hostel, we found an amazing gelato place off a crooked back street, tucked away, that was recommended to her by someone who had done their own study abroad in Florence. It was the best gelato I had in Italy. I got strawberry and pistachio. It was so pretty and delicious.

I couldn’t have left Tuscany without shopping some leather goods and I definitely did some damage to my wallet. But I came home with some great souvenirs and some presents for myself. The three of us girls (whom one store owner dubbed Charlie’s Angels or angeles de Charlie) went up to the Piazza Michelangelo once again to watch the sunset and drink limoncello, and we ended the night with pizza. The tables at the pizza place we ate at were communal and a man from Spain sat by us and told us that this restaurant had been recommended to him for their oven baked pizza. Twice in one day we ended up at places that came highly recommended. I gave myself a pat on the back. At the hostel that night I skyped my family. My brothers were at home. They are a bunch of goofballs but it was so nice to talk to all of them.

I had done enough research on Venice to know what I was getting myself into, but walking out of the train station and being on the water, it was much more than I had expected. The weaving winding streets and little bridges are just magical. Seriously, Venice is a fairy tale.

First up on the agenda was to find food. Second, to get lost in the little back streets. My roommate and I shared the meal of the day at this cute restaurant complete with checkered tablecloths tucked away in a courtyard. Isn’t it gorgeous? How can food even be this pretty? And delicious?


Dinner that night was also wonderful. Wine, bread, meat, cheese, and chocolate from the grocery down the way. So simple and yet I could eat it forever.

We took a night time stroll this time to the back of the island. We found the cutest bookshop, Acqua Alta (high water) bookstore. Since all of Venice floods, the books are kept in tubs and boats.

We also found live music in Piazza San Marco and it was much calmer at night than during the day. Then we had a spritz aperol to end the night (a typical Italian drink, kind of orangey). Day 2 in Venice meant checking the “touristy things” off the list. We were in line for the San Marco Basilica before it even opened and got in and out very quickly. This was not my favorite church I’d seen either. The outside was covered in scaffolding and I found the inside to be very dark. It was wall to wall gold though. We crossed to the other side of the Grand Canal and went to a point where you could see three different parts of the island(s). Check out the row team behind me. I thought they were hilarious.

To get back across the Grand Canal we took a traghetto. It’s the same boat as a gondola but it costs only two euro and is considered public transportation. So, yes, I did ride a gondola sort of.

Next thing on our list was the Campanile (or bell tower). It was interesting to see the whole island but other than the Grand Canal you can’t see the winding water. While we were inside the bell tower the bell rang, a first in my life.

Next up was the Rialto district including the famous bridge (though I’m not sure why it’s so famous) and the fish market

We got to the market right as it was closing and stumbled instead upon a little shop that had fish pedicures. This one of the coolest things that we did. It tickles a lot at first but after you get used to the little fishies, it feels like bubbles. Afterwards my feet were smoother, but more importantly, it was really fun.

Our last day in Venice we went out to the islands of Murano, famous for its glass, and Burano a quaint, colorful fisherman’s town. In Murano we mostly perused all of the glass. I splurged and bought myself a wine stopper with a fishbowl on it that was too cute not to bring home. Burano was so bright and cheery. It was really wonderful. And then I had more gelato so that made it even better.

We ended our day in Venice by taking a sunset ride down the Grand Canal (on public transportation of course)

At daybreak the following day we left Venice, made a quick pit stop in Verona (home of Romeo and Juliet), then took off for Spain. This is Juliet's balcony, my letter to Juliet, and me touching her boob. It's for luck with love!

Italy was wonderful and beautiful and I only saw some of the cities in the north. I will definitely be going back to see Rome (which I avoided because it was holy week and easter) and the south.