Semana Santa & My Family’s Visit

A couple weeks ago was my Semana Santa trip around Europe with my parents and my brother!  Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a pretty big deal in Spain (especially in Andalucía).  I remember being a little angry with myself when I studied abroad because Sevilla has one of the biggest (if not the biggest) Semana Santa celebrations in all of Spain.  But I’m not TOO bitter because I did miss it for my incredible trip to Greece, so it was a fair trade-off.  With this Semana Santa, I went traveling again because we had a 10-day break off of work!

The week before Semana Santa was “Cultural Week” at my school which meant it was one big party.  All of my kids were so excited because it’s something they look forward to every year.  Basically all of the ESO (high school) classes put together their own skits, complete with costumes, props, and sets, that correlates with the chosen theme of the school.  This year’s theme was Spain in the 1980’s.  I basically didn’t work for the entire week because the students spent all day Monday and Tuesday preparing because Wednesday and Thursday were the big days.  During these two days, all of the students in the school got dressed up and all of the hallways were elaborately decorated.  Then the primary students went upstairs to watch the secondary students perform their skits.  It was such a fun week and a great start to our vacations!

Although I would have loved to see my students’ performances, I decided not to go in to work on Thursday because I was too busy preparing for something even better…my parents’ arrival to Madrid!!  Back in September when I hugged them goodbye at the airport, their April visit felt so far away.  But then, with every Skype talk, we began to cross off months from our countdown until those months turned into just a matter of weeks.  Before we knew it, I was there at the Madrid Barajas airport welcoming them off their flight from Rome!  It’s amazing how fast 7 months went by!  And thank God for Skype.  It really makes living overseas so much easier.

My Mom and I in Plaza Mayor during dinner.

My Mom and I in Plaza Mayor during dinner.

I spent the first couple days of Semana Santa showing them around Madrid.  We had a nice dinner inside the Plaza Mayor, got drinks on top of Círculo de Bellas Artes at sunset, toured around the Royal Palace, took them to the popular restaurant El Tigre (which they loved!), as well as my favorite ice cream place.  I also showed them where I work and my apartment of course.  Saturday morning we took a half-day trip to Segovia.  It was nice being able to show them a Spanish city that isn’t as big or bustling as Madrid.

In front of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia.

In front of the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia.

In front of Madrid's Royal Palace with my Dad.

In front of Madrid’s Royal Palace with my Dad.

Our time together in Madrid came to an end way too soon.  There was still so much more on my list that I wanted to show them!  But Sunday morning came (5:30 AM to be exact) and it was time to head to the airport for our European excursion!  In a matter of a week (yes, it was really fast-paced), we went to Salzburg, Austria; Munich, Germany; and took a road trip around Ireland.  Here you can read more about our trip:

Salzburg, Austria
Munich, Germany
Ireland:  Cork, Galway, & Dublin

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Roadtrippin’ Through Ireland

We left Munich early on Thursday in order to get to Dublin at a reasonable hour.  After we landed, we immediately rented a car and drove to Cork.  We were given a brand new Audi!  So clearly we were cruising around Ireland in style.  Being in a car where my dad had to drive on the left side of the road the whole time was terrifying at first but we eventually got used to it.

Our sweet ride.

Our sweet ride.

We arrived to Cork that evening and we walked around a little bit.  It wasn’t my favorite place in Ireland because it felt like a very industrial town.  However, I can’t really speak for it because we were only there for about 12 hours.  Also, things were dying down a little early because the next day was Good Friday and therefore all of the pubs shut down at midnight.

Cork

Cork

The next day was a little difficult finding a place to have breakfast since it was Good Friday.  Fortunately we found a hotel that was serving breakfast and we all ordered a delicious full Irish breakfast that included eggs, sausages, ham, black pudding, and mushrooms.  After that we drove to the Blarney Castle.  It was exciting seeing our first Irish castle!  The gardens that surrounded the castle were beautiful.  That’s when I first realized that people weren’t kidding about Ireland being the Emerald Isle!  Everything was so green.  We also climbed the 100 steps to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone!  I felt like I needed to sanitize my lips after that…

In front of the Blarney Castle.

In front of the Blarney Castle.

Before, during, and after kissing the Blarney Stone!

Before, during, and after kissing the Blarney Stone!

Lounging in the lush grass outside of Blarney Castle.

Lounging in the lush grass outside of Blarney Castle.

Afterwards we drove to the Cliffs of Moher which were absolutely beautiful!  The man who we paid to park told us that we were very lucky because we had great weather:  sunny and warm!  Normally it’s dreary and probably rainy (which I’m sure is an obvious assumption since it’s Ireland and all).  It was so sunny that I even got sunburnt!  I know I shouldn’t admit that since I’m probably the only person in history to get burnt in Ireland.  That’s how white I am I suppose.  But anyways, I think the Cliffs of Moher are definitely worth a visit if you ever go to Ireland.  I hear it’s very cheap, fast, and easy to get there by bus from Dublin so it would make for a nice day trip.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Next we drove to Galway which was apparently where the whole Irish population was hiding for Good Friday.  Driving through the streets of downtown we saw that it was very bustling and lively.  Apparently there was a food festival happening all weekend.  Also, since the weather was so nice, everyone was out and about walking along the gorgeous bay area.  Sadly since it was Good Friday all the pubs were closed but we were able to find a restaurant that was serving alcohol (since we can’t go a day without it, right?  Haha just kidding).  I would love to go back to Galway on a day that is NOT Good Friday because it looks like such a fun, cute little city!

The beautiful view near our hotel.

The beautiful view near our hotel in Galway.

We were sad to leave Galway the next morning because it was so beautiful and relaxing and we had an awesome apartment that overlooked the water.  But we were also excited to head to Dublin!  So next came the last stretch of our roadtrip through Ireland.  After a couple of hours we arrived to Dublin and got settled into our other really nice hotel called the Ariel House, located in the sophisticated suburb of Ballsbridge.  The best part about staying there was that we met the nicest receptionist named Cecelia.  We told her that we were going to the Guinness Factory and she offered to drive us which was very sweet of her.  Not only that, but during the car ride we found out that she was actually a Guinness embassador and had an ID that allowed her to park, take us inside, skip the massive line (note: don’t go to the Guinness factory on a Saturday), AND get a decent discount!  It was absolutely amazing especially since our time in Dublin was so limited.  She saved us so much time, it was awesome!

We had a lot of fun touring the factory.  It was funny that I had just been there the month before for St. Patrick’s Day and I enjoyed it just as much the second time.  It was cool to see that it was just as lively (if not more!) as it was on St. Paddy’s!  On the second floor in the large room there was live music playing and even Irish dancing.  When we first walked in, the band was playing Galway Girl!! (Refer to my post about St. Paddy’s Day weekend to understand my love for that song).  I was a happy girl.  We also went up to the Gravity Bar which was cool because my friends and I didn’t get to do that when we were there in March because when we got up there it was closing.  The Gravity Bar was sooo crowded but it was nice to get the 360 view of Dublin while sipping on some freshly poured Guinness.  That evening we enjoyed some of the pub scene in the Temple Bar area.  Again, it was cool to see that Dublin was just as lively as it was during St. Patrick’s Day.  It shows just how much spirit exists in that country!

Overlooking Dublin from the Gravity Bar.

Overlooking Dublin from the Gravity Bar.

The next morning, Easter, my family left for the airport to catch their flight back to Philly.  It was very sad to see them go since I got so used to spending time with them again.  But this time I knew I’d be seeing them in 2 months (rather than 7) when we said goodbye which made it OK considering how fast the months seem to pass these days.  I spent the rest of the morning sleeping a little more before checking out of the hotel, then I walked to my friend Liz’s house (who I stayed with the last time I was in Dublin since she is living there doing her Master’s).  Her friends welcomed me to their Easter dinner which was very nice of them.  The next day Liz and I got lunch and walked around Dublin a little bit more before I caught the bus to the airport to head back to Madrid.

Ireland was incredible!  I’m so lucky I got the chance to go twice within a one-month period.  Our trip was a bit of a whirlwind but we conquered so much and since Ireland is so small, we really got to see a lot of the countryside by driving around.  It was also so nice experiencing it with my brother and parents because we had always talked about taking a trip there together but I never thought it would actually happen, especially since my brother and I are getting older.  But I’m so happy we were able to do it!  Overall, Ireland is truly a wonderful country and I’m already thinking about my third trip there!

I love Ireland!

I love Ireland!

Munich, Germany: “Prost!”

After our great couple of days in Salzburg, it was time to catch a train back to Munich and actually see the city.  My brother, Derek, was also flying in from the US that day to meet us.  It was really funny, we actually bumped into him on the streets in Munich because we all walked in the wrong direction to our hotel after getting off the metro.

Munich's Rathaus (city hall).

Munich’s Rathaus (city hall).

We didn’t really do or see too much in Munich since we didn’t give ourselves much time there, but we did as much as we could and got a pretty good feel for the city.  We walked around the old town area, saw the Rathaus (city hall), watched some surfing in the English Gardens (Yes, there is a place where you can surf!), and saw the anti-climatic Glockenspiel show on the front of the Rathaus.  It’s a big tourist attraction but it just reminded me of the show on the Astronomical Clock in Prague which is also very anti-climatic.

Watching some surfers in the English Gardens.

Watching some surfers in the English Gardens.

The Glockenspiel.

The Glockenspiel.

The two days we spent in Munich were FREEZING.  Maybe I’m just being a baby and have gotten too used to Madrid’s consistently 70-degree and sunny weather, but I don’t think that’s the reason because even the German’s thought it was cold!  At least they thought it was too cold to sit outside at the beer gardens.  We were disappointed because we were really looking forward to experiencing the beer gardens but each and every one of them were closed!  What sucked even more was that apparently Munich had beautiful weather just before we arrived and the beer gardens were open!  Just our luck.

Since all of the outdoor beer gardens were closed, we spent our time in the famous indoor brewery and restaurant: the Hofbräuhaus!  The Hofbräuhaus is one of Munich’s oldest breweries and it was my favorite part about Munich!  It was so fun and lively with the Oompah band playing music to get the crowd in the German spirit.  We got our liter beers that we of course had to cheers with in German by saying “Prost!” and we got the giant soft pretzels I’ve been waiting for!  When I was in Berlin and Hamburg over winter break, the only thing I wanted was one of these soft pretzels but I didn’t realize it was a Southern Germany thing.  Lucky for me, they were everywhere in Munich!

The Hofbräuhaus!

The Hofbräuhaus!

The Oompah Band!

The Oompah Band!

Got my giant soft pretzel and beer!

Got my giant soft pretzel and beer!

My brother and I enjoying our last night in Munich.

My brother and I enjoying our last night in Munich.

Overall, I did really enjoy Munich, especially the Hofbräuhaus.  However, I was bummed it was so cold and all of the beer gardens were closed.  I would love to go back in the summertime (maybe even during Oktoberfest) to see the city truly come alive.

Salzburg, Austria: Where the Hills Are Alive

My parents and I kicked off our Spring break trip with a very early wake-up call… at 5:30 AM.  We then took a taxi from their hotel to the airport and arrived in Munich later that morning.  Our original travel plans were to stay 4 nights in Munich and 3 nights in Ireland.  But, when I realized Munich was only an hour and a half away from Salzburg, Austria, AKA the home of The Sound of Music Tour, I knew that we had to go.  So upon arrival to the Munich airport, we hopped right on a train to Salzburg.  The train ride was really cool because we met a singer from Vienna who has been trying to break into the American music business but was telling us how difficult it has been.  But we later found out that he’s pretty popular throughout the rest of the world and even does world tours.  I feel like we should have asked for his autograph! He was such a nice guy.

Old Town Salzburg

Old Town Salzburg

We spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the city.  Lucky for us since we only had a short time there, Salzburg is a very tiny and walkable city.  That night we had the most delicious Austrian meal.  I got the Easter Ham special with white asparagus and potatoes.  Then for dessert we got apple strudel and a dessert that Patricio, the singer we met on the train, recommended that we try.  This dessert said on the menu that it was meant for two people so we thought we’d be OK.  When my mom and I returned from the bathroom, a young server was walking away laughing with a giant empty platter in his hand and everyone sitting around us was laughing.  When we looked at our table we realized why.  There were HUGE mounds of this dessert on three different plates!  Meant for two people?  Yeah right!  More like eight.  Needless to say, we didn’t leave that dinner feeling hungry.

My Dad with 1/3 of our massive dessert.

My Dad with 1/3 of our massive dessert.

The next morning was the moment I’ve been waiting for for months:  The Sound of Music Tour!!  We went with Gray Line Tours and for four hours we were driven around Salzburg as well as a nearby town to see the sights that were filmed for the movie.  I have been watching The Sound of Music since I was young so I was in heaven actually seeing all of these places in person.  I didn’t expect to be with such a small group.  It was just the three of us, another couple from the U.S., a couple from Australia, and our tour guide.  But this made the tour more personal and since we were in a van instead of a bus we could go to more places and get closer to things.

The tour included the Maribel Gardens where Do Re Mi was filmed, the house that was used for filming, the outside of the monastery, and the lake where Maria and the children fell into.  Then we started to drive into THE HILLS.  Yes, the hills that are alive with the sound of music!  All I wanted to do was get out of the car and go running through the hills singing but our tour guide started to play the soundtrack to the movie instead which was a good alternative.  The ride was gorgeous driving through the Austrian countryside.  We went to a small town outside of Salzburg that a few shots from the movie were filmed.  We saw the trees that the children were hanging from and the lake where they all rode their bikes next to during Do Re Mi.  We also saw the church and the inside where Maria and the Captain get married.

Mirabell Gardens

Mirabell Gardens

Mirabell Gardens

Mirabell Gardens

The house!

The house!

The lake where Maria and the children were in a boat and fell into the water.

The lake where Maria and the children were in a boat and fell into the water.

The trees the children were hanging from.  They appeared a little difficult to climb.

The trees the children were hanging from. They appeared a little difficult to climb.

The church that the Captain and Maria got married in in the movie.

The church that the Captain and Maria got married in in the movie.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

But the moment I had been waiting for in the tour was seeing the gazebo where 16 Going On 17 was filmed!  Unfortunately, a few years ago some idiot 70-something-year-old woman thought it was a good idea to pretend to be Liesl and dance from bench to bench.  She ended up falling and suing and now no one is allowed inside.  So I figured dancing outside the gazebo was the closest I’d get to my Liesl and Rolfe reenactment.

THE GAZEBO!

THE GAZEBO!

After the tour, we walked around the city some more and then toured the house where Mozart was born.  That night we went to a really great dinner & show event.  We ate in a restaurant that has been around since the 800’s and even where Mozart used to eat!  We were served typical dishes from Mozart’s time period and listened to an opera-type performance accompanied by a string quintet.  It was a very enjoyable night and a great ending to our time in Salzburg.  The next morning we caught our train back to Munich to meet my brother and spend a couple days there.

Dinner and a show!

Dinner and a show!

I really enjoyed Salzburg.  To me, it was the quintessential Austrian city.  It had basically everything I think of when I think of Austria:  clean streets, old houses and pastel buildings, lakes, the Alps, Mozart, classical music, and just overall sophistication.  We only spent two days there but I think that is the perfect amount of time to see everything.  It’s definitely a city worth visiting and if you’re at all a Sound of Music fan then it’s an absolute must!

A view point just outside the city.  Stunning.

A view point just outside of Salzburg. Stunning.

St. Patrick’s Day: Dublin, Ireland Style!

St. Patrick’s Day:  one of my favorite holidays.  Growing up as someone with Irish ancestry and coming from a town with a recognizably large Irish population, it’s only natural that I would love this holiday.  I normally enjoy spending St. Paddy’s at home because the Philly area really knows how to celebrate it, but since I am away from home this year, I figured spending this holiday in Dublin was a pretty good alternative (to say the least).  And let’s be real, when else in my lifetime will I be able to celebrate St. Paddy’s in IRELAND?!

Irish mayhem on the streets in the Temple Bar area!

Irish mayhem on the streets in the Temple Bar area!

To be honest, I was a little reluctant to agree to this trip (for some reason which is beyond me).  My friend Maury had made plans to go very early on and in November she told my friends Brittani, Kristen, and I to come along.  I wasn’t sure because I already had plans to travel to Ireland with my parents in April and I didn’t see any sense going twice within a one-month period.  Also, it required taking off a day of work.  But the only thing Maury had to do was say, “When else in your life can you celebrate St. Paddy’s in Dublin?!”  That was the deciding factor for me since I tend to live a “You Only Live Once” type of lifestyle (as corny and overused as that phrase is).  After that, we all booked our plane tickets and it actually turned out that I was given off work on St. Paddy’s so it all worked out perfectly!

SO happy we came to Dublin for St. Paddy's!!  Hanging out at the Temple Bar!

SO happy we came to Dublin for St. Paddy’s!! Hanging out at the Temple Bar!

This trip was one of my favorites so far this year for many reasons.  For starters, I have always loved being part-Irish and Ireland has always been a top place that I’ve wanted to travel to.  When we stepped out of the airport, I couldn’t believe that I was actually in Ireland!!  The airport was decorated with Irish-themed balloons, everyone was dressed in green walking the streets, and even the buildings in the city (such as Trinity College) were lit up in green lights.  I was in St. Paddy’s Day heaven!  It was also very exciting being in my first English speaking country in 6 and a half months!  As much as I love experiencing different cultures and languages, it’s always nice being surrounded by something familiar.  Not only that, but English/American products were everywhere too.  Again, I was in HEAVEN.  I made sure to load up on a few Cadbury Eggs before coming back to Spain 🙂

Balloons in the airport.

Balloons in the airport.

Trinity College lit up in green.

Trinity College lit up in green.

Our departure flight from Madrid was delayed and we ended up landing in Dublin pretty late (maybe around midnight).  Not only that, but it was also a PAIN to try to get into the center.  The airport buses were hardly running and the line for a taxi was huge.  After walking back and forth trying to figure out what would be the best option, we settled on taking a taxi.  By the time we got to our hostel we went straight to bed because we needed to get up early the next day to check out because we could only reserve one night at that hostel by the time we booked it.  We also wanted to start our day and take full advantage of our time there.

Saturday was such a fun day.  Maury, Brittani, and I started early and went to our first Irish pub in the Temple Bar area.  Afterwards we went shopping for festive St. Paddy’s Day accessories and even got Shamrock Shakes from McDonald’s!  I freaked out when we passed the sign advertising them because I had no idea they would be sold over here in Europe!  Shamrock Shakes are always an exciting part of the St. Patrick’s season back home so I was ecstatic when I got one in Ireland.  After that, we hit up another pub which was a ton of fun.  We ordered our first Guinness’!  Many people don’t like the taste of Guinness but I really don’t mind it.  It wasn’t the first one I’ve ever had, but it definitely tastes better in Ireland.  I ordered them all weekend because they were always the cheapest drink option in all of the pubs.

Shamrock Shake!

Shamrock Shake!

My first Irish Guinness!

My first Irish Guinness!

For me, the best moment of the weekend happened in the pub where we had our first Guinness’.  In case you didn’t already know this about me, I have an unhealthy love for chick flicks.  Well, P.S. I Love You is one of my favorite chick flicks.  For those of you who have not seen it, it’s about an American girl (Hilary Swank) and her Irish husband (Gerard Butler) who had just recently passed away.  Throughout the movie, they show flashbacks from their 10-year relationship.  They originally met in Ireland when Hilary Swank was on a college trip.  My favorite scene from the movie is when they are both in a pub and Gerard Butler performs the song “Galway Girl.”  Anyways, naturally being a chick flick lover means that I want to recreate my life into a chick flick, which would explain why I freaked out when I was sitting in a pub, in Ireland, sipping on a Guinness, and suddenly I heard the musician start to play “Galway Girl” (just like in the movie!!).  After I shrieked, I ran downstairs with my camera in hand and watched the performance with a huge smile on my face the whole time.  Unfortunately the singer wasn’t anything like Gerard Butler and we didn’t fall madly in love afterwards, but that experience was definitely sufficient enough to fulfill my Ireland chickflick-esque dreams. Here’s the performance!:

The other really exciting part of this trip was that I was reunited with my friend from college, Liz!!  Liz is completing her masters in Dublin for the school year and was gracious enough to let me stay with her for the rest of my long weekend.  Getting to spend St. Paddy’s Day weekend in Dublin as well as getting to spend time with Liz was like getting two amazing things for the price of one!

Reunited with Liz!!

Reunited with Liz!!

On Sunday we went to the Guinness Storehouse which was awesome.  They had a special St. Patrick’s thing going on (which actually wasn’t too different from their normal events except that I bought a special Guinness St. Paddy’s shirt from the gift shop).  There were live performances going on in different rooms and of course the second I walked into the first room the band was playing “Galway Girl”!  FATE I TELL YA.  We also took the 10-minute Guinness Pint Pouring Class and we all got our special Guinness certificates afterwards.

At the Guinness Storehouse.

At the Guinness Storehouse.

Us with our perfectly poured pints and certificates :)

Us with our perfectly poured pints and certificates 🙂

Monday was actual St. Paddy’s Day which meant going to the center to see the parade down O’Connell Street.  The parade was just OK, nothing too spectacular, but it was still very nice.  And again, just the fact that it was St. Patrick’s Day and I was in Dublin witnessing their parade made it that much better.  Before the parade was over, my friends sadly had to leave to head back to Madrid because they were already missing a day of school to be in Dublin.  Lucky for me, my students were taking exams so I was given off a few days from work and therefore could stay a little longer.  After walking around the city for a bit after the parade, I met up with Liz and her friends and spent the rest of the day with them.

In the middle of the parade route!

In the middle of the parade route!

Part of the parade.

Part of the parade.

St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Dublin was just as amazing as it sounds.  So amazing that I’m a little sad that future St. Paddy’s Days just might not be able to compare.  It was a legitimate Irish explosion (which is to be expected since we were in, ya know, Ireland).  But apparently this mayhem is only a recent phenomena.  According to my cab driver one day, since Ireland is a very Catholic country, St. Patrick’s Day used to be very tranquil and solely a religious holiday.  Now, thanks to an influx of travelers and foreigners (probably 90% being Americans looking to party), it’s become very commercialized which my cab driver said was great for Ireland’s tourism.  Either way, I’m thrilled I got to spend this fun holiday in its home country.  I ended this great weekend with some Irish coffee and Bailey’s Cheesecake– Mmm!  A perfect ending to an incredible weekend 🙂

Ending a great weekend in Ireland with some Irish coffee!

Ending a great weekend in Ireland with some Irish coffee!