Brussels, Bruges, & Ghent, Belgium: Days 4-10

BRUSSELS
DAY 4: DECEMBER 22, 2014 CONTINUED

We arrived in Brussels that night and were relieved that, contrary to what our research said, Belgium used the Euro. It’s exhausting constantly switching currencies! We took the train to the center of the city but we got a little lost once we left the train station and tried to find our Airbnb, so we had to ask some people on the street for help.

Once we finally found our way, we ended up in the very center of the city where there were Christmas lights everywhere and a lot of people out and about. The buildings were gorgeous- typical European-looking. There were waffles, fries, and chocolates in all the windows. I was so happy to be in Belgium!! I had just put it on my travel-list about a year ago so I was thrilled that it fit so well into our trip.

Our Airbnb was so central- about 10 minutes walking from Grand Place. This was my first experience with Airbnb and I LOVED it. It was about the same price as a hostel but instead we were given an entire apartment in the center of the city all to ourselves! Our host, Frosina, couldn’t meet us to give us the keys and show us the apartment, so instead her two friends greeted us. The building was so old and the elevator was a little terrorfying but also fascinating. It reminded me of a Tower of Terror-type elevator. Our apartment was on the top floor and it was so spacious. A nice big bathroom, kitchen, and each of us got our own place to sleep: I was on the separate mattress, Ange on the couch, and Lindsey on the bed.

Our own apartment in the center of Brussels!

Our own apartment in the center of Brussels!

Tower of Terror Elevator

Tower of Terror Elevator

After settling in, Lindsey decided she was going to stay in to try to Skype her mom for her birthday while Ange and I went out for dinner and “one drink.” We went to a kebab shop and then to an Irish pub across the street for a drink. The pub closed really early and we realized we weren’t ready to go back quite yet. On our way to our apartment earlier, we remembered that we passed by an Irish pub that said there would be a DJ this night so we decided to go check it out. Suddenly that one drink we went out for turned into a fun and crazy night of dancing that didn’t end until we stumbled into bed at 6:30 in the morning. We definitely welcomed in our time in Belgium with a bang. We were just so excited to actually be able to afford going out for food and drinks after not being to spend money in Switzerland!

DAY 5: DECEMBER 23, 2014
We had originally planned to leave the apartment at 10:30 to make the 11 AM walking tour. Lindsey woke up at the time we talked about, showered, got ready, and waited for us to wake up. Since Ange and I weren’t expecting to have the type of night that we had, we slept way past then, thus missing our tour and making Lindsey wake up early and get ready for nothing- whoops! So we decided to do the tour at 2 pm instead.

Before the tour, Lindsey and I went and got burgers for lunch at an American-western themed restaurant while Ange slept some more. Then we met our walking tour at Grand Place. The tour took us around to a lot of the major attractions in Brussels which was good since our time there was limited. We saw the Manneken Pis statue which is said to be one of the most overrated tourist attractions. It is a statue of a little boy taking a piss into a basin and has become one of Belgium’s national symbols.

Mannekin Pis in all his glory.

Manneken Pis in all his glory.

Our tour ended in a park across from the royal palace, so we walked over to take pictures in front of it. While Ange was taking Lindsey’s picture, I was holding Lindsey’s water bottle. I thought I was being clever by throwing it up in the air and catching it, but it ended up falling a lot faster than I had anticipated and it ended up clobbering me in the face and busting the top of my lip to the point where my lip swelled up and there was blood all over my teeth. That may not have been a smart move on my part, but at least I didn’t lose a tooth- that water bottle was vicious!

Pre-Lip Busting in front of the Royal Palace.

Pre-Lip Busting in front of the Royal Palace.

After that whole mess, we walked back to the Bourse building which was right down the street from our apartment. We stopped at a popular place to get a cone of fries, or “frites.” They were good, but not the best I’ve ever had. Then we walked around the Christmas market for a bit, picked up salads at a supermarket for dinner, and then called it a night.

Frites

Frites

 

DAY 6: DECEMBER 24, 2014
Merry Christmas Eve! Though maybe it wasn’t so merry…

I woke up in the middle of the night feeling extremely nauseous which worried me because it was our last day in Brussels and there was still more that we wanted to see and do. Fortunately I was able to go back to sleep, but it wasn’t easy. We all woke up several hours later to get ready for our day but I was even more nauseous than before and I could hardly stand. I thought that I would feel better later on so I told Lindsey and Ange to go ahead and I would meet up with them later after spending the morning resting in the apartment.

The nausea never went away. Turned out I had a stomach bug- yay! I spent the whole day rotating between the couch, my bed, and the bathroom to vomit (sorry for the over-share). I’m so glad we had an apartment all to ourselves because being that sick in a hostel would have been ROUGH.

Lindsey and Ange came back to the apartment around 6 and let’s just say things were a little chaotic. They went to the Delirium Café which I was bummed about because that was the number one thing I wanted to do in Brussels. It’s a small café that holds a world record of having over 2,500 beers on its menu. There was no way I could have downed any beer though, so I’m glad Lindsey and Ange were able to go for me.

A few hours later, after we all rested up a little more, though I still felt pretty sick, I mustered up some energy to go out to see the light show in Grand Place. I’m so glad I did! It was so incredibly magical. For 15 minutes, eerie but beautiful music floated through the arena of Grand Place and different colored lights danced upon the historical buildings in time with the music. For me it was such a special moment because it was Christmas Eve and I had spent the entire day with my head in the toilet inside a stuffy apartment. This was the first time I had stepped outside and the air was so crisp and chilly that it was refreshing and this show was remarkable- with everyone in the middle of Grand Place standing in complete silence just in awe of this sight. It was truly a magical moment of our trip.

After the show, Angela unfortunately started to get hit with the same bug as me so she went back to the apartment. Poor girl. Lindsey was feeling great so I accompanied her to go get some food. There weren’t many things open since it was late on Christmas Eve but we found a nice, family-owned Italian restaurant. This was my and Lindsey’s second Christmas Eve dinner together. We have such fond memories of last year’s dinner together in Vienna that I was bummed I felt so sick and couldn’t have a similar experience. Instead I got a cup of minestrone soup that I could barely swallow two bites of. I ended up getting sick again that night anyways so it’s not like those couple of bites mattered haha.

BRUGES
DAY 7: DECEMBER 25, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS! I woke up feeling much better, just still a little weak and nauseous, but luckily it must have been a 24-hour bug. Poor Angela still felt sick, but not as much as the night before.

We left our Airbnb apartment (without even seeing our host the entire time we were there) and walked to Grand Place so that I could take some daytime pictures. There happened to be a large group of people dressed in Santa costumes and one jolly guy jumped in my picture!

Santa decided to make an appearance on Christmas day!

Santa decided to make an appearance on Christmas day!

Christmas Day in Grand Place.

Christmas Day in Grand Place.

Then we walked up to the train station, got some Starbucks for breakfast (so American), and hopped on our train headed to the quaint little town of Bruges. The train ride was so easy and we arrived to Bruges a quick hour later. From there, it was about a 15 minute walk to our hostel and since we couldn’t check in until 3 pm, we walked around the city for a bit. There was a Christmas market close to our hostel so we stopped there for lunch, or rather Lindsey and Angela did. I still couldn’t stomach much and nothing sounded appetizing.

Once we could finally check in, we walked back to the hostel and got settled into our very strangely-arranged room. Our room was made for 11 people. Against the wall were 8 “cubbies” (or coffins?). Above these beds were 3 more beds. It was so strange! We felt like we were in a morgue and you could pull out our bodies. Since it was Christmas, the 3 of us skyped with our families for a couple of hours. It was so nice being able to do this since I didn’t get to talk to my family on Christmas last year. It was timed perfectly that I was catching them just as they were opening presents, so it was like I was there!

Our hostel cubbies.

Our hostel cubbies.

Ange still wasn’t feeling well, so Lindsey and I went out to get ourselves some Christmas dinner. We ended up at yet another Italian restaurant where we both ordered pasta dishes. Mine was the epitome of bland- plain spaghetti with tomato sauce, because I felt like I could still barely eat after that bug. But since it was Christmas, Lindsey talked me into ordering a bottle of sparkling red wine– BAD IDEA. Luckily nothing happened, but my body was definitely not ready for wine and it definitely slowed down my road to recovery.


DAY 8: DECEMBER 26, 2014
We woke up at about 9:30 to go into town to get breakfast. I had read great things about The Gingerbread Café on Tripadvisor but sadly it was closed! So instead we went nextdoor to The Humpty Dumpty Café which was still tasty and was where I finally got a Belgian waffle! Apparently Belgians like to eat their waffles plain with just a bit of powdered sugar and that it’s a popular foreigner thing to do to load it up with other toppings. That didn’t stop me from getting my nutella & strawberry waffle!

Belgian waffle decked out to the max!

Belgian waffle decked out to the max!

After our breakfast, we had some time to spare before our walking tour. Angela shopped around the Christmas market in the main square a bit while Lindsey and I ran back to the hostel. On our way we got a little distracted by a stand at another market that was selling watches. They were having a great after-Christmas sale and I found myself a nice watch for 15 Euros! I used to wear a watch every single day until my old watch fell down the elevator shaft in my host apartment on my very first day in Sevilla four years ago and I just never found another to replace it, so I was very happy to find a new one! Lindsey also fell in love with a watch. She excitedly told the saleswoman that she’d take it, so after the woman adjusted it to Lindsey’s size, she told Lindsey that it was 79 Euros, not 30 like we thought it was! Our mouths dropped open and Lindsey couldn’t take that watch off fast enough. We basically ran away and avoided that stand at all costs for the rest of our time in Bruges haha.

Due to our watch distraction, we ended up being late for our walking tour but fortunately we passed by them on our way to meet them so we joined ourselves onto the end of the group. The tour itself wasn’t very informative and our tour guide started out funny but the more time we spent with him the more we realized what a sarcastic jackass he was (Lindsey’s words haha). The highlights of the tour were definitely seeing the city, which is very small and walkable, as well as being given many different coupons to places like a chocolate shop, a restaurant, and a waffle truck.

In the Market Square- the center of Bruges.

In the Market Place- the center of Bruges.

After the tour, Angela, Zach (a fellow American that we met on the tour), and I went ice skating in the ice skating rink that was set up in the main marketplace. I have hated ice skating my entire life- it just brings back terrible memories of birthday parties in elementary school where I spent the whole time either falling down or clinging to the wall. But last year in Berlin, Lindsey convinced me to go ice skating in Alexanderplatz and after starting out slow, I realized it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was and I ended up loving it! So I jumped at the chance to ice skate in Bruges. One of my favorite things about Europe at Christmastime is that you can ice skate in so many gorgeous, historical, surreal places. I was having so much fun that the others had to tear me off of the ice.

Good luck getting this girl off the ice!

Good luck getting this girl off the ice!

After ice skating, we put some of the coupons we got from the tour to some good use. We went back to the chocolate shop where we got a discount on a variety box of chocolates. This was in addition to the variety bag of chocolates I got the day before in Bruges. Apparently our chocolate overdose in Switzerland didn’t put me off to the stuff for the rest of the trip. I have to say, though, Swiss chocolate is way better than Belgian.

After the chocolate shop, we went to the restaurant that we had a coupon for. Ange and I shared the traditional Flemish beef stew and the mussels and fries. Mussels and fries were also on the list for must-eat Belgian food and they were delicious. The Flemish stew was even more delicious!

That night at our hostel, Lindsey and I signed up for a Belgian beer tasting that was led by the same tour guide from earlier. For 11 Euros we tried 5 different types of Belgian beer, in addition to a free beer from our hostel bar after the tastings. It ended up being a rip-off because the prices of the beers in our hostel were really cheap so for 11 euros we could have gotten several full beers. Oh well. Yet again, my body was telling me that it was not ready to drink alcohol yet (my nausea literally lasted the entire time we were in Belgium.  It sucked). That night it also started to snow so I made my dear southern Californian friend, Lindsey, run outside with me to dance in it. Apparently a year and a half in Spain has really thinned my blood and I was just as much of a wimp outside in that snow as Lindsey was! We didn’t last long and ran back inside, frozen.

Tasting a variety of Belgian beers!

Tasting a variety of Belgian beers!

DAY 9: DECEMBER 27, 2014
Ange and I really wanted to see the other Belgian city, Ghent, so we got up early in order to make a half-day out of it, just to see the city. Lindsey wanted to see more of Bruges so she and Zach stayed back to sight-see some more.

Ange and I met my friend that I met in the hostel during my month of living in the hostel in Madrid, Chanel, who is from Bruges and studies in Ghent. We unfortunately didn’t get to hangout while I was in Belgium, but she happened to be going to Ghent from Bruges the same morning Ange and I were so we decided to catch the same train so that we could at least catch up a little on the easy 30-minute train ride. We parted ways once we arrived to Ghent since she was meeting up with a friend.

The walk from the train station to the center of Ghent was definitely a lengthy one. The outskirts that we were walking through didn’t look like anything special which disappointed us a little bit. But once we got to the center of the city we were far from disappointed. It was gorgeous!! We walked around the Christmas market, bought Dutch stroopwafels (which quickly became my weakness- so good!), and walked down to the waterfront for a gorgeous panoramic view.

Ghent's waterfront.

Ghent’s waterfront.

Of course we chose the worst day weather-wise to go. It was FREEZING. To hide from the cold, we hopped onto a canal cruise boat almost immediately, just for some warmth and protection from the rain that turned to snow. The boat tour didn’t stay warm for long though as some inconsiderate family in the front opened their windows for pictures. Where were these people from that they were immune to the bitter cold? Antarctica?!

After the canal cruise, we were forced back into the sub-arctic temperatures so we decided it was time to head back to Bruges. But of course the snow and wind started to pick up and our bodies quickly became icicles. We ducked into a McDonald’s, which was apparently where everyone in Ghent was hiding that day since it was like a ghost town otherwise, to warm up a bit and find someone to ask for directions on how to get back to the train station.

What seemed like a never-ending trek back to the train station finally concluded and we were safe and sound (and dry) back in Bruges around 4. Of course the weather was fine, just cold, back in Bruges! We met Lindsey back at the hostel and sat in the lobby to try to get feeling back into our bodies again. I thought we had time to see the one thing left in Bruges that I still wanted to see which was the Michelangelo statue “Madonna and Child” that my mom saw on a documentary and told me to see. I checked my phone to see what time the Church of our Lady, which housed the statue, closed and it said it was closing in 7 minutes! So I jumped up, shouted at Lindsey and Ange to get up, and we sprinted to the church! Thank God it was just around the corner and we made it with just a couple minutes to spare!

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child in the Church of our Lady in Bruges.

Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in the Church of our Lady in Bruges.

Side note that was really funny: the whole trip my camera was acting up and making these loud, motor sounds. I’ve never heard a camera make this sound before, so I really need to get it fixed, especially since it draws so much attention. Well, as we were looking peacefully at the statue in the church, a man came up with his camera to take a picture and his camera started making the same sound! I started cracking up so I turned my camera on too, knowing that it would make the same sound. The man didn’t acknowledge the fact that the only sounds in that church were our cameras making beautiful harmonies together, but now I know that I have found my camera’s soul mate.

After the cathedral, we walked around the city, checked out the Beguine Convent (called the Beguinage which was founded in 1245 and is now a monastery), and saw some of the famous Bruges swans. For dinner, I ordered a veggie quiche that was supposed to have spinach and eggplant. But the quiche that I received only had mushrooms…a LOT of mushrooms. I didn’t say anything because it was still good, but I was annoyed that the sign lied to me. I must have had a lot of built-up frustration about the whole thing because when we left and stood outside the restaurant, I saw the vegetable quiche in the window and started yelling “they LIED to me! My vegetable quiche was supposed to have spinach and eggplant in it, but it only had MUSHROOMS!” Since I was very oblivious, Lindsey needed to bring to my attention that the large window in front of me was wide open and the workers could hear my every word. I was so embarrassed that I ran away but as I was running, one of the women called Zach back in and I panicked thinking it was about what I said. It turned out it had nothing to do with that and I was just being a paranoid wimp.  But now I know to keep my mouth shut until I’m certain I’m out of earshot!

Goodnight, Bruges!

Goodnight, Bruges!


CONCLUSION

Overall, I loved every city we saw in Belgium. It’s a gorgeous country that often floats under the radar on many people’s travel lists, but in my opinion it encompasses all of the best things that Europe has to offer: interesting history, beautiful architecture, delicious food, kind people, and culture. I also find it fascinating how linguistically diverse it is. There are three official languages: French, Dutch, and German, let alone everyone speaks English.

Belgium is a country that I would love to return to in the future for many reasons, but mostly because 1. My time in Brussels got interrupted by the stomach bug so I need to return, if not only to go to Delirium! And 2. The weather in Ghent was AWFUL. But that’s not to discourage anyone from visiting Belgium in the winter. In fact, I highly recommend going around Christmastime as it was a perfect location for our Christmas celebrations (I just wish our health allowed us to enjoy it more). The light show in the Grand Place in Brussels was just plain magical and the gorgeous canals, small cobble-stone streets, and abundant numbers of horse-drawn carriages in the quaint city of Bruges set up the perfect Christmas-y atmosphere. So basically, if you’re given the opportunity to go to Belgium- go!

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Starvation in Switzerland: Days 1-5

DAY 1: DECEMBER 19, 2014
Lindsey and Angela arrived to my apartment to sleep over from their cities in the south of Spain the night before so that we could catch our morning flight out of Madrid on this day. We already got a late start that morning, but of course the metro line we needed was closed off and there were cops everywhere surrounding the entrance. To this day I still don’t know what happened, but we spent a half hour trying to walk to different metro stops/try to flag down a cab. Neither proved possible. So we did a loop back to the metro stop next to my apartment and we finally figured out that just the one line was closed, so we re-routed and made it to the airport with just enough time to check-in and board our flight.

It was amazing flying over the Alps! Switzerland was never on my list of places to see, but it was at the top for Lindsey and Angela and man, am I glad they got me to go! Everywhere was just stunning. When we landed in Geneva and got off the plane, the temperatures were NOT what we were expecting for Switzerland in December. It was sunny and in the 50s! It got cold later during our time there but it was nothing unbearable.

I loved Switzerland with the exception of the RIDICULOUS prices. Literally everything was triple the price. We had our first meal at McDonald’s at the mall across the street from our hotel (we don’t scream American, do we?) and a meal there was easily 13 euros!! But we surprisingly did the best job at managing our money in Switzerland. We bought fruit, bread, and granola bars at the grocery store to hold us over for breakfasts and snacks. We also just didn’t really eat that much in general while in Switzerland. We pretty much starved our whole time there, but it saved us loads of money! Also, for being so expensive, Geneva offered some opportunities to save money such as free public transportation which came in handy because our hotel was located about 15 minutes by bus outside the city. Which, speaking of, we stayed in a HOTEL. Hostels were way too expensive in the center of Geneva so instead Lindsey found the Ibis Hotel for much cheaper which was amazing. Since living in Europe, I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve stayed at a hotel was with my parents (it’s just not in a young travellers budget). So the fact that this hotel was such a steal was amazing and we were definitely spoiled at the beginning of our trip!

After checking into our room, we headed over to the mall where we exchanged our money, did some shopping at H&M (we complain about being poor in Switzerland and yet we still had enough to shop.  Go figure.), did a little grocery shopping, and walked around the center of Geneva that night. While we were at the mall, I dropped the back of my earring and looked like a crazy person bending over trying to look for it. Suddenly a nice older woman started to join me to look! She asked what I was looking for and I showed her the back of my other earring. Then ANOTHER woman started to join, as well as Lindsey and Angela. Suddenly we had a full search party for the back of my earring! After looking for a while, another woman came out of nowhere, found it right away, and handed it to Lindsey. I couldn’t get over how many people were willing to stop and help find the silly back to my earring. It was such a great first impression of the Swiss people!

DAY 2: DECEMBER 20, 2014
The night before while we were in central Geneva, we bought a (very expensive- but it was Switzerland, so what else is new?) 2-day train pass that ended up being so worth it because there really wasn’t much to see or do in Geneva itself. The Swiss countryside and small towns is where it’s at, and those little trips are what made Switzerland such a great stopping point on our trip.

The first day trip we took was to Montreux- a gorgeous little town located on the other side of Lake Geneva. The sights were UNREAL. This is where I fell in love with Switzerland. We chose Montreux because it was said to have a spectacular Christmas market which did not disappoint! We did a little shopping around the market and walked to the Château de Chillon which was about a 45-minute walk from the town. On the way, Angela pointed out that our surroundings resembled those of the famous “it wasn’t over, it still isn’t over!” scene from The Notebook. So, being big fans, we obviously had to recreate this scene. After doing a few different casting takes, we decided Angela was better suited to play Allie and I was better suited for Noah, meanwhile Lindsey made a fabulous (and patient) videographer/director. Our laughing got the best of us and it took many takes to finally get a video we liked.

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva

Château de Chillon

Château de Chillon

We finally made it to the Château only to find out the entrance fee was way out of our budget so instead we just walked around the area and the [free] views in itself were worth the long walk. On our way to the Château, Ange and I realized that we messed up the lines in our Notebook reenactment (only slightly). Since the imperfection was eating away at us, we decided to stop at the same dock on the way back to re-record. We were working against daylight but that didn’t stop Ange and I from not being able to hold it together, thus taking even longer to get the perfect video. In the end we finally did it! Take a look at our masterpiece:

If you’d like to compare our performance to the real thing:

That night we walked around the Christmas market some more, drank mulled wine, did some shopping, and FINALLY ate. The only thing we ate that day was a piece of fruit and a granola bar in the morning (thanks, Switzerland, for making your outrageous prices starve us). Our stomachs were growling all day but the food at the Christmas market might have been worth the wait!

Christmas market in Montreux

Christmas market in Montreux

 

DAY 3: DECEMBER 21, 2014
We got another early start for our second day trip. We caught the train to Gruyere which gave us amazing views of the Swiss countryside. Our first stop was the Gruyere cheese factory where we took an audio tour through the cheese-making process. We were given three cheese samples, each were SUPER strong and had matured for different periods of time: 6, 8, and 10 months.

Cheeeeese!

Cheeeeese!

We had some time to kill before our train to the Cailler chocolate factory so we hiked up the hill to the cute medieval town of Gruyere. We LOVED it and wished we could have stayed longer to explore. There was a fountain in the center surrounded by the cute buildings that it reminded me of the scene in Beauty and the Beast where Belle is singing and reading to a herd of sheep. So I asked Ange if I could borrow her Hunger Games book (in Spanish) and I tried to re-create that scene.  Lindsey and Ange thought I was strange for keeping my mouth open in the picture, but I was pretending to sing like Belle!

Adorable Gruyeres

Adorable Gruyeres

This resembles Beauty and the Beast, right?

This resembles Beauty and the Beast, right?

Yeah, it totally does.

Yeah, it totally does.  Don’t lie.

Afterwards we caught the train to the Cailler chocolate factory which was A. Maz. Ing. We got there right as the English tour was about to start so we paid the 8 euros and got right in. The tour was awesome- it was like a walking ride in Disney World! We were told that we were given unlimited free samples at the end of the tour, so during the part where we watched how the chocolates were wrapped, there was a bowl of chocolates that we could eat. We thought that these were the free samples so we took probably more than we should have thinking that was it- but boyyyyy were we wrong.

The ACTUAL room of unlimited free samples.  Heaven...  Or was it?

The ACTUAL room of unlimited free samples. Heaven… Or was it?

At the actual end of the tour, we entered a room with a wrap around table with trays of about 18 different chocolates. We didn’t dive in slowly. We lingered at the tables and maybe 2 or 3 different tour groups passed by us, finishing their free samples while we were being gluttons and eating probably a whole box of chocolates each. Towards the end of the table we began to really slow down. Ange, who is lactose-intolerant, started to feel the nauseating effects first. Then Lindsey and I also began to drop. Suddenly the unlimited free chocolates didn’t seem like such a good idea and we started to feel SO sick. We limped out of that room holding onto our stomachs and we were emptied out into their chocolate-world of a gift shop. We couldn’t even bear the sight of all of that chocolate. We sat in the attached café for a little while as we grabbed our bearings and then headed for the train back to Geneva. Though it made us feel like utter crap, the Cailler chocolate was incredible- especially the caramel filled chocolate cups!  My biggest advice is to just pace yourself- something we definitely did NOT do.

We were all smiles for our first couple of chocolates!

We were all smiles for our first couple of chocolates!

...And then it hit us like a ton of bricks.

…And then it hit us like a ton of bricks.

 

DAY 4: DECEMBER 22, 2014

Our flight to Brussels wasn’t until later that evening, so we had most of our last day in Switzerland to explore Geneva since we didn’t really see much of actual Geneva, which was okay because there really wasn’t that much to see.

We walked around the English Gardens, saw the fountain (Jet d’Eau), the flower clocks (L’horloge fleurie), St. Pierre’s Cathedral, and the UN office. While walking around the city, we were those obnoxious American girls walking around with Lindsey’s phone playing Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” and Hairspray’s “Good Morning Baltimore” and having a huge sing-a-long while doing so.  For lunch, we used our last day to splurge on eating out because Lindsey and I needed to have fondue before leaving Switzerland. We found a place that only listed fondue for one person, so Lindsey had a minor freak-out that Ange and I still endlessly tease her about because she was scared that the waiter wouldn’t let us share the fondue and ultimately we wouldn’t have our Swiss fondue. All turned out well and we shared some delicious fondue, while Ange ate soup that was essentially broth with a poached egg in it.

Lake Geneva and Jet d'Eau

Lake Geneva and Jet d’Eau

L'horloge fleurie

L’horloge fleurie

The UN Office

The UN Office

Fondue for two!

Fondue for two!

We were able to see everything we wanted in Geneva with just enough time to head back to the hotel, grab our bags, and head off to the airport. So long Switzerland, hello Belgium!!

CONCLUSION
Switzerland was never on my travel list. I’m not sure why, but it just never interested me. But I can honestly say I fell in love with it and I’m so glad that Lindsey and Ange both wanted to go there on this trip otherwise I might have gone my whole life not knowing what I was missing. Geneva honestly didn’t have much to offer in my opinion, but the scenery of the surrounding villages and the chocolate alone are enough to bring me back. And come on, where else would a pack of strangers in a mall help me look for the lost back to my earring?! I can only hope that I become rich when I’m older so that I can afford another vacation back to Switzerland and maybe buy one of those beautiful Swiss watches (a girl can dream).

With a New Year Comes New Beginnings

Oh hey there friends!  It’s been a while.  I’ve been back in Spain for almost three months already which is quite the crazy thought.  As most of you know, my first 10 months in Madrid just weren’t enough for me so I decided to renew my contract with my teaching program, BEDA, for another school year and I can assertively say that this was absolutely the right choice for me.  So here’s a little update on what’s been going on on this side of the world!


MY RETURN TO MADRID

After a relaxing summer at home spending time with friends and family, working, and indulging in everything American that I had missed over the previous year, I boarded my flight back to Madrid on the 4th of September.  Saying goodbye will never be easy, but the difference between this year and last year was like night and day.  Last year I was feeling every emotion in the book:  excited, sad, scared, anxious.  You name it, I felt it.  This year, though sad to be leaving home again, I couldn’t have felt more relaxed.  I was flying back to somewhere familiar instead of into the complete unknown.  After landing, I was able to navigate Madrid’s confusing airport like a pro unlike the year before when I felt so overwhelmed and lost.  I was surrounded by people speaking Spanish again and instead of becoming so nervous that I could’ve vomited, it actually felt completely natural.  Taking note of all of these differences between this year and last year put my mind at ease and reassured me that this was going to be a good year.

My first couple of days back in the city were a little strange.  Since I decided not to renew my contract with my old apartment and the majority of my friends decided not to return for another year, it was weird walking around the city without having a real home to go back to or my old friends to meet up with.  Those things aside, I was ecstatic to be back in Madrid and excited to see what this new year had in store for me.

Walking around Madrid on my first day back.

Walking around Madrid on my first day back.


SEPTEMBER

The whole month of September was easily one of the craziest months of my life.  I had booked my first five days in the same hostel that I stayed in last year while I searched for an apartment.  Well, somehow those five days extended into a full month.  The apartment hunt proved to be much more difficult this year.  Last year I found my place after looking at three apartments in two days.  This year, I had to look at nine places over the course of a week to find the one I liked.  I was all set to move in on September 16th but it ended up falling through because the landlord was really strict and refused to let me move in without having a work contract (even though I had every other possible form of documentation that proved I could pay my rent every month).  After a few moments of panic, I took a deep breath and continued on with my apartment hunt.  I ended up contacting the woman who was renting out the apartment that I liked second best to see if the room was still available.  It was!  Woohoo for not being homeless anymore!

The only problem was that I couldn’t move in until October 1st- hence the whole living in a hostel for a month thing.  Judging by people’s reactions when I told them how long I had been living in the hostel and sleeping in the same room as 11 other girls, it sounds like it would be a nightmare but I actually really enjoyed it!  Yes, towards the end it was frustrating living out of a suitcase and not having any space to call my own, but I got to meet a bunch of different people from around the world and there was rarely a dull moment.   It was actually a little sad leaving, but I was definitely ready to have my own room.

MY APARTMENT
As I mentioned before, my apartment now was my second choice but that doesn’t mean that I’m not really happy with it!  It’s a great apartment in my ideal location.  The only reason I didn’t choose this place originally was because I loved the two roommates that I would have had in the other apartment.  They were two Spanish girls who were the same age as me and we hit it off so well the day I met them that they texted me that night saying how much they wanted me to live with them.  I hate that landlord for screwing it all up.  But it might be a blessing in disguise because that apartment was reallyyy small and if the landlord was that strict from the start, I can’t imagine how the rest of the year would have panned out.  So like I said, what matters is that I’m happy with the apartment I’m in now!  Though my room is still small, it’s still about double the size of what that other one would have been.  And I have the best of both worlds with the two roommates I have now.  I live with an awesome girl from Long Island, Meagan, who is also here teaching English, and then we live with a Spanish woman, Vanessa, which is good because we still get to speak Spanish in the home.  So all in all, I’m pretty content 🙂

My new street.

My new street.

My room.

My room.

WORK
This year at work has been amazing so far.  I’m at the same school as last year which is honestly probably the only reason I renewed with my program instead of switching to a different one.  BEDA is a great program and I’ve been very happy with my experience in it, but the other more popular program through the Spanish government pays more, makes you work less, and guarantees you a three-day weekend.  So although it’s hard not to be jealous of my friends in the government program whenever I hear what their schedules are, I just tell myself that if I wasn’t in BEDA I wouldn’t have my incredible school, and that in itself is worth the extra work and smaller paychecks.

Day trip to Segovia last May with my co-workers.

Day trip to Segovia last May with my co-workers.

With this being my second year at my school, the atmosphere has been awesome.  I went into this year already knowing my students, the other teachers, and what is expected of me.  Already knowing my kids has been my favorite part.  Last year it took me forever to just learn their names because I had about 400 students and each one I only saw for 50 minutes every other week.  This year I already knew their names and personalities so in general they give me much more respect and are more excited to talk to me than they were last year.  In fact, the group of 15-year-old boys that were BEYOND disrespectful to me last year have actually been the sweetest kids to me this year and they’re much more cooperative (oh the wonders of sending the bad kids to the principal and calling home to Mom and Dad).  The downside of getting to know my kids so well, though, is that leaving them in June will be so difficult.  One of my students told me the other day, “next year you’re going to teach my sister!”  and I had to tell her that I won’t be here next year–to which her response was a sad puppy face– which completely broke my heart!

In addition to the students I had last year, I also have seven new classes of students.  Instead of teaching other professors after school (which were included in my hours last year), they decided to give me 5th grade classes instead.  I got so used to teaching my older kids that teaching the younger ones has been interesting.  They’re definitely crazier but I’ve enjoyed working with them because it’s not like my 10th graders are bombarding me with hugs whenever I see them haha so it’s been nice getting such a variety in the different age groups.

In front of my school.

In front of my school.

Returning for a second year has also been great because I already had private lessons lined up in the evenings, so I didn’t have to go looking for them.  Tuesday evenings I give lessons to a mother of two of my students for an hour and a half.  Wednesdays I continue lessons with the group of kids I had last year.  For an hour I give lessons to four girls in 4th grade then for another hour I give lessons to four boys who are in the same class as the girls at their school.  Thursdays I continue with the same private lesson that I had last year.  I give an hour lesson to my student in 7th grade and then another hour to her brother in 2nd grade.   So even though it’d be nice to have my evenings free, these private lessons end up paying for my rent and groceries for the entire month so there’s no way I can say no to that!

TRAVEL PLANS
This year has been a lot different when it comes to traveling.  At this point in time last year, I had already traveled to five different places.  This year I haven’t even stepped outside the center of Madrid except for a couple shopping excursions in the suburbs.  I traveled so much last year that it’s been great using this time to just enjoy living in Madrid.

I've loved being able to explore more of Madrid on the weekends this year.

I’ve loved being able to explore more of Madrid on the weekends this year.

But travel plans are on the horizon!  Three weeks from today I’ll be departing on my winter break extravaganza!  I guess I should use this time to break the bad news:  I won’t be going home for Christmas after all.  I know that I said I would go home this year no matter what because two Christmas’ away from home would be too hard, but when I returned to Spain in September I could instantly feel how much more comfortable I was here.  Also, since the whole month of September was an absolute mess and it took me so long to get settled, I realized Christmas was quickly approaching and I wasn’t at all ready to go home again just yet.  And I just couldn’t justify spending all that money on a flight home for such a short amount of time when the whole point of working so hard to save money was to put it towards traveling.

So instead, I’m using those two and a half weeks as another opportunity to cross off more cities from my bucket list!  I’ll be traveling with my friend Lindsey again this year, as well as with her friend Angela.  Starting on December 19th, we’ll be flying out to Geneva, Switzerland.  After that, we’ll fly to Brussels, Belgium.  On Christmas day, we’ll wake up in Brussels and hop on a train to the quaint Belgian town called Bruges.  A few days later we’ll be taking a train to Amsterdam where we’ll be taking part in their epic New Year’s Eve celebrations.  In the afternoon on New Year’s Day we’ll be flying to our final destination:  Copenhagen, Denmark.  Then on January 5th we’ll return to Madrid which will give us a couple days to relax and enjoy Los Reyes (Spain’s Christmas) before work starts again.  I am SO excited for this trip.  I didn’t think anything could top the trip Lindsey and I took last year over the holidays, but I’m happy to say I think this trip will give that one a run for its money 😉

Last year's epic winter break trip.

Last year’s epic winter break trip.

Besides my winter break trip, I don’t have any others booked at the moment, but that will definitely change!  There is still so much more to see in Spain and in Europe that I have to take full advantage of this year.

So that’s pretty much the end of the updates from the past few months!  Hope I didn’t bore you too much, but I know some of you have been asking for a blog update.  I’m happy to report that the start of this year has been great and that I completely stand by my decision to come back for a second year 110%.  The first 10 months went by way too fast for my liking and I knew that I just wasn’t done with living in Spain and Europe.  Staying another year has allowed me to grow a deeper connection with my job and this country and I know (or hope) that I’ll leave this year feeling as though I won’t have any unfinished business.  I miss and love all of you at home and I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I spent my second expat Thanksgiving with a couple of friends, patatas bravas, and a bottle of vino tinto.  Tomorrow we’re going to have a more traditional Thanksgiving meal- pumpkin pie and all!  As always, I am so thankful for my friends & family and for this incredible adventure that I have had the opportunity to experience.  Now cue that Christmas music because the most wonderful time of the year is finally here again!! 🙂

The Christmas season has arrived to Madrid!

The Christmas season has arrived to Madrid!

My Summer at Home

After this blog post I will finally be able to write about my past month and a half back in Madrid!  But first, I need to talk about the rest of my first year and my summer at home.

After Semana Santa (Easter break), the year started to fly.  I was having a lot of mixed feelings during this time.  My mind was on serious countdown-mode for my flight home on June 18 but at the same time I wanted each day to crawl because almost all of my friends weren’t returning for a second year so even though I wouldn’t have been saying goodbye to Spain, I would have to say goodbye to my friends.  It was definitely a tearful goodbye with them but I know that won’t be my last time seeing them.  I spent the rest of my last month taking care of a bunch of NIE renewal paperwork in order to stay in Spain another year as well as checking off some last minute things from my Madrid bucket list such as rowing the rowboats in Retiro Park.

Rowing boats in Retiro!

Rowing boats in Retiro!

Before I knew it, it was June 18 and it was time to board my flight back to the United States.  Saying I was excited would be an understatement.  I was more than ready to go home to see my family and friends and to just relax for the summer.  Ten months straight was the longest time I had ever gone without being home so I was ready to take a break from the crazy expat life and just fall back into my old routines of sleeping, working, going to the gym, and going out with friends.

I had a great plane-ride home.  The plane was practically empty and I had the whole row to myself to just stretch out and relax.  I was able to watch the two movies I had been dying to watch all year:  The Wolf of Wall Street and Frozen.  Unfortunately (and this is the only circumstance in which this situation would be considered unfortunate), my flight was way ahead of schedule and we landed right when I only had 10 minutes left of Frozen!!  I was annoyed.  But thankfully I got to see it again over the summer, otherwise I may have had a panic attack not knowing what happened in those last 10 minutes.

It was also SO nice having a direct flight from Madrid to Philly.  There’s something to be said for getting from point A to point B without any stops.  It was crazy being completely surrounded by Americans though.  While traveling, you just grow accustomed to everyone speaking foreign languages around you, but it was nice being able to eavesdrop again!  And of course I got lost in the Philly airport trying to find my parents.  I swear, I can navigate practically any airport and yet for some reason I always lose my way in the Philly airport.  But I finally found my parents and I was so happy to see them.

When we arrived back to my house I just wanted to hug everything:  my car, my bed, my movie collection, the rest of my closet, etc.  Part of the reason I love traveling so much is that finally going home is one of the best feelings in the world.  If I had never left, I never would experience that feeling.  It’s that warm feeling of comfort, familiarity, safety, and love.  And although I will continue to travel my heart out (hopefully for the rest of my life), nothing can beat going home after spending almost a year away.

Some of the very first things I did was I had a cheesesteak dinner with my family, visited my old job, and went to Wawa for a hoagie.  I hit the road in my car pretty soon after coming home and for about the first five minutes it felt weird, but after that I got the hang of it again- just like riding a bike I guess.  I also celebrated my homecoming with a bunch of my friends over my first weekend at home.  In fact, this is how absolutely incredible my friends are:  they threw me a surprise welcome home party!  It was very unexpected (since I didn’t want to make a big spectacle of my coming and going) but it was such a nice surprise and it was great being able to see a lot of my friends in one place just a few days after arriving home!

First Philly cheesesteak in 10 months.  Nom nom nom.

First Philly cheesesteak in 10 months. Nom nom nom.

Aaaand first Wawa in 10 months.  Nuff said.

Aaaand first Wawa in 10 months. Nuff said.

For the most part, I had a very mildly-paced summer.  I was lucky enough to be given my old waitressing job at Bertucci’s back so I was able to work almost immediately after coming home up until I had to leave again.  It was great being able to save up some money for this year since we all know I spent a really good chunk of my savings last year.  I was actually happy to serve tables again because I missed having a more active and social job that allows me to work night shifts (more of my time of day).  Teaching kids, let alone the super early hours, wore me out so it was nice to have a break from it all.

I would say the big event of my summer was the marriage between two of my dearest friends, Matt and Kirstin.  They honored me by asking me to be a bridesmaid in their wedding and for their entire year and a half engagement I just couldn’t wait for July 25, 2014 to roll around!  Sadly, timing was not on my side and I decided to move to Spain during a good portion of their engagement so I ended up missing little planning details and the bridal shower.  But luckily I got home just in time to be part of the bachelorette party, rehearsal dinner, and of course the big day!  It was literally the most perfect wedding.  The ceremony was beautiful and the reception itself was a blast.  Everybody definitely came ready to dance!  Overall it was just the most gorgeous wedding and I couldn’t be happier for Matt and Kirstin.

"Wait 'til you see your bride!"  We sent this to Matt before the ceremony.

“Wait ’til you see your bride!” We sent this to Matt before the ceremony.

A huge congratulations to these two!!

A huge congratulations to these two!!

The other highlight of my summer was seeing One Direction in concert YET AGAIN (hahaha I’m seriously such a fangirl).  It wasn’t until long after I bought my tickets to their show in London in June that I found out they would be in Philadelphia in August when I would be home.   Everyone was asking me if I was planning to see them again in Philly and I said no because I needed to save my money (and also how would I be portrayed if I were to see One Direction twice in one summer?  …I got over that thought fast).  Well, that all changed two weeks before the concert when I was hanging out with my friends Katie and Victoria and we essentially decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get floor seats together.  Tickets for 5th row floor seats surprisingly weren’t even that expensive but even if they were, they would have been worth every single penny.  Walking to our seats for the first time easily goes down in history as one of my favorite moments of all time.  We must have passed by three or four security guards who needed to check our tickets so that we could pass through to the next section.  And we just kept going!  You could say we were freaking out a little bit (and only a little….obviously).  Once we made it to our amazing seats, we were definitely freaking out (I just can’t lie anymore).

Outside the Linc!

Outside the Linc!

The weather was beautiful up until 5 Seconds of Summer finished their set.  Victoria had to go to the bathroom and even though I didn’t have to go, I accompanied her while Katie “held down the fort.”  The second Victoria and I got under the roof and in line for the bathroom, everyone around us started to gasp while looking outside.  It was literally torrential down pouring!  And poor Katie was out in the middle of it!  And Victoria and I, being the GREAT friends that we are, turned our phones off airplane mode not to check to make sure Katie was ok, but to beg her to save the beautiful sign that Victoria had made for the concert that said “Niall makes me smile.”  We finally found Katie and she was just as we suspected- totally drenched.  Just like the majority of the crowd haha.  The storm amazingly stopped just in time for One Direction to come on which made a lot of extremely upset girls happy again.  Words can’t describe how magical the concert was.  Our seats were so close that I saw Liam’s chevron tattoo on his arm IN PERSON.  That moment just can’t be topped.  I’m actually very surprised I’m not entirely deaf right now because the level of fangirl screams around us were nothing like you’ve ever heard before.  Thank god we could still hear the music.  But the boys rocked that concert and they made us go through some serious One Depression after it ended.

FLOOOOOR SEATS!!

FLOOOOOR SEATS!!

Oh hey there Harry! :)

Oh hey there HARRY! 🙂

Some other highlights from my summer included:
1.  Getting together with my friends over 4th of July weekend.
2.  Spending my 24th birthday with friends and family.
3.  Taking a roadtrip with my parents for the weekend to visit my sister in New Jersey, and my Grandmom and Great Aunt in upstate New York.
4.   Going to NYC for a day trip to visit my Dad’s cousin who has taken an active role in my experience in Spain because she also shares the same passion ever since she studied in Madrid back in the day.  She took me to brunch at a Spanish restaurant (where we had Cava- yum!) and then we went shopping at Zara.  It was a great Spanish day in New York!
5.  Spending an afternoon wine tasting with some of my oldest and closest friends.

Birthday with friends :)

Birthday with friends 🙂

Visiting my Grandmom in New York.

Visiting my Grandmom in New York.

A Spanish brunch (with Cava!) in NYC.

A Spanish brunch (with Cava!) in NYC.

Wine tasting with my girls!

Wine tasting with my girls!

All in all, I think that it was important that I went home because it really opened my eyes.  They say that when you go home after being abroad, you’re never the same person you were before.  This was definitely true in my case.  I think during my year, there were times when I was feeling homesick and I was feeling nostalgic for the life I had at home before I left.  So during those times, I think I was looking forward to going home for the summer to just spend a couple months re-living the life I had before.  And I did do that.  However, it definitely wasn’t the same.  In general, everything else felt the same, but it was noticeable that I had been gone for 10 months.  Everyone asked me how it felt to be home and honestly to me it felt like I had never left.  It was just so easy falling back into my usual life at home.  But the more I talked with people I knew, the more obvious it became to me that I had missed a huge chunk of time and I had to spend those two months playing catchup.  Not only that, but it was evident that I was also different.  I had just spent 10 months indulging in new experiences and ultimately I had changed in what I hope was for the better.  I’ve never been good with change, but I think my time abroad finally helped me accept that change really is the one thing you can count on happening.  Home will always be home and I will always belong there but it made me realize that going back to Madrid for another year was absolutely the right decision.  I had grown up a lot during my time in Spain and it almost felt like I was reversing by going back to live with my parents in my hometown and going back to work at the job I had for the previous 5 years.  I know how blessed I am to have that life at home, but I realized that living abroad was actually benefiting me in more ways than I thought and that if I wanted to keep progressing and maturing, I needed to go back.

Leaving

Overall I had a wonderful summer at home.  It was so great seeing my friends and family that I had missed so dearly during my 10 months abroad.  It was also nice being able to rest, save money, and eat American food.  But towards the end of my summer, I was definitely getting the itch to come back to Madrid.  I was getting the urge to get back to traveling and also I had missed the big city life.  Madrid is a great city to live in in your 20s- there is always something to do and always people to meet.  It was definitely sad having to say goodbye to my home again on September 4, but when has saying goodbye to the place that has been your home for the past 24 years not been sad?  Fortunately this time, instead of being scared out of my mind, it felt completely natural boarding a flight back to Madrid and I was so excited to begin my second year in this incredible city!

London’s Got That 1(D) Thing

I have been a blogging failure these past few months. My summer at home has gone by in the blink of an eye and I’ve already been back in Madrid for almost a month! But I can’t start my next chapter in Spain without completing my last one: my final trip of the year to London! After I post about London and my summer at home, I’ll finally be able to update you all on the beginning of my second year in Spain thus far.

Strangely enough, my last trip of the last school year was actually the first one I planned. It was planned back in last September! I should begin this story by stating that anyone who knows me knows about my undying love for the British-Irish boy band One Direction. It has been an ongoing love for the past few years and my level of a fangirl seems to grow as time passes by. Yes, I know that I’m a 24-year-old girl in love with a group of 21-year-old guys that are usually aimed towards screaming 13-year-old girls but that’s besides the point. I was very bummed to discover they somehow sneaked their way through Philly in 2013 on their last tour without me even knowing! So when I found out they were going on tour again I knew I had to see them. Not only that, but they happened to be doing the European leg of their tour during the spring- when I just so happened to be in Europe myself! Total fate.

Kristen and I fangirling in Claire's at Madrid's mall in September.  Need I say more?

Kristen and I fangirling in Claire’s at Madrid’s mall in September. Need I say more?

Unfortunately Madrid’s date was in July and I was planning to fly back to the U.S. in June. But then I saw that they were scheduled to perform at Wembley Stadium in London over the first weekend in June. I loved London the first time I visited and I knew that I wanted to go back at some point during the year. So what better excuse is there to go back to London than to go to a One Direction concert?! Not only that, but 4 out of the 5 guys in the band are from England so how EPIC to see them perform on their home turf?! Things didn’t seem like they were going to work out, though, because the shows were sold out and the tickets on websites like Stubhub were way too expensive. But then a ray of light came shining through my computer screen! I discovered that they were going to add another show that Friday night at Wembley due to their popularity and the tickets were going to go on sale just a few days after I looked! My friend Kristen, who I had met a few weeks prior to planning this trip that was 9 months down the road, agreed to get the tickets with me because she was also a fan of 1D. So we decided to dive in and buy the tickets and suddenly we had an amazing trip to London to look forward to over the course of those 9 months!

All the build-up to this trip did not fail us. It was the best last trip of the school year I could have asked for. Kristen and I boarded our flight to London Gatwick airport that Thursday afternoon after work and we spent our first night in London walking around and hanging out at our awesome hostel! We stayed at The Steam Engine which was just a 10-15 minute walk past the river from Parliament. It was a really cool hostel because it was essentially just an English pub with a few rooms upstairs. The limited number of rooms didn’t keep them from packing us in like sardines. The room we were in was probably the size of my room in the US (pretty small), but they managed to squeeze 12 beds in there! It was my first time staying in a triple bunk bed but it surprisingly wasn’t bad at all. Everyone was very quiet and respectful. Besides, we hungout downstairs at the pub for a bit and sipped on some ciders instead of being in the room anyways.

Our Hostel

Our Hostel

The next day was so much fun! We spent the morning walking around the city passing by a lot of the attractions like Parliament & Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street, Kensington Gardens, the Peter Pan statue, and of course taking pictures in the red telephone booths! One of the highlights from that day for me was our afternoon tea near Baywater. We had made reservations at this adorable place called LA Suite West and since we got so lucky with the weather that weekend, we were able to sit outside in their outdoor garden terrace. I forget how much we paid exactly (maybe around 18 pounds), but we received plenty of food and tea. We were given 3 courses: 5 different types of finger sandwiches, scones with coconut cream and strawberries, and pastries. Yum!

Hanging out in the red telephone booths.

Hanging out in the red telephone booths.

In front of Buckingham Palace.

In front of Buckingham Palace.

Flying off to Never Never Land with Peter Pan.

Flying off to Never Never Land with Peter Pan.

Yummy finger sandwiches and tea.

Yummy finger sandwiches and tea.

By the time we finished our tea it was just about time to head back to our hostel to get ready for our concert!!! After stopping at a convenience store for a quick bite to eat, we hopped on the tube and headed out to Wembley Stadium. When we reached a certain point on the line, we really started to see all of the other 1D fans (AKA little girls with their moms which was strange because we were expecting to see mostly teenagers).

When we arrived at our stop, I was overwhelmed with excitement when I saw the massive Wembley Stadium with my five favorite boys’ faces on the jumbo screen looking down on everyone as we walked in. We found our seats which were pretty much the definition of nosebleeds but it’s ok because we were there, in London, at Wembley Stadium, waiting for One Direction to come on. 5 Seconds of Summer was the opening band. At the time I only knew a couple of their songs but it was really cool to see them live. And then- the moment we had all been waiting for- the lights dimmed, the crowd started cheering, and then Harry Styles’ angelic voice filled the stadium with the first line of Midnight Memories.

Wembley.

Wembley.

Yep.  The face paint actually happened.

Yep. The face paint actually happened.

Love.

Love.

I won’t bore you all with all of the details, but basically it was a magical night seeing my boys live for the first time, let alone in their freaking home country! Not only that, but I was wondering why they seemed so shocked the entire night. They have been touring for a while now so I thought they would be used to performing. It turned out, that was their first time ever performing at Wembley and they were so stunned to be performing in a stadium that massive- let alone selling out there for 3 straight nights! And since they were just normal boys a few years ago, I can see how surreal that must have felt. They each took turns saying “Good Evening, Wembley!” so that they could each have a chance at saying it which was cute haha.

Performance of One Thing:


Performance of What Makes You Beautiful:

Sadly, like all concerts, this one had to come to an end. They finished off their set with Best Song Ever and a bajillion fireworks. After having to get over my sadness that the night I had been waiting for for 9 months was actually over, the entire stadium made a very peaceful exit. I’m not joking- this was the most behaved mob of people I have ever seen in my life! Everyone was so respectful and no one got rowdy. Everyone made a beeline to the tube but there were police directing people when to stop and when to go up the steps to the metro. It was insane that everyone was actually listening! A method like that would have never worked in the US.

After the concert we grabbed a drink at a pub with our 1D face paint on for the sole reason that we could. The next morning Kristen went to tour the Harry Potter Studios and since I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, I used that time to just walk around the city. I walked along the Thames River, Passed the Tower Bridge, did a little shopping, and walked by St. Paul’s Cathedral. I really wanted to go on the London Eye but the morning started off cloudy and rainy and I heard it’s not worth it to do it in weather like that. Of course it turned into a beautiful day later on but I ran out of time. Later on I met up with Kristen and we went to Abbey Road and re-enacted the front of the Beatles’ album cover and also saw their studios. It was very difficult to get our picture because there was so much traffic and people waiting for us to cross. If I drove in London, I would avoid that road at all costs since there are constantly tourists walking slowly across that road. That night we went to a couple of pubs in Camden and I got my fish and chips for dinner! So good.

Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge.

St. Paul's Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Parliament.

Parliament.

Crossing Abbey Road.

Crossing Abbey Road.

We used the next morning to just walk around London one last time before heading back to Madrid. We went to a market where we did a little bit of shopping and we had a great lunch. Afterwards, we walked over to the bus station that we came in from to catch our bus back to Gatwick Airport. We booked our tickets with National Express. When we got to the bus station we found that we had some time to kill so we went to a pub across the street for one last drink. When we realized we were cutting it close to when our bus was going to leave, we headed out to the station. When we got there we asked someone where our bus was and he told us it was actually at a different station a few minutes away! CRAP! We started freaking out and running. Kristen’s legs are a lot longer than mine so she was way ahead of me and I just followed behind her as she asked people where the station was. We finally found it but I had lost Kristen for a second. Suddenly I was in the waiting area and I saw Kristen through the glass doors standing in the parking lot. I panicked because I couldn’t find the way out! When I finally did I sprinted to where I saw her before but she was no longer there. I asked a woman working there where my bus was and she said it literally just pulled out. I looked behind me and there it was! Kristen was on the bus and she told me that the bus driver was a legitimate asshole and wouldn’t wait one minute for me NOR would he stop the bus when he saw that I was literally right there. I was in disbelief that that just happened. The woman directed me to the ticket office and said I might be able to get on the next bus. Thank god there was an opening on the next bus and for a fee I was able to switch my tickets. I got to the airport in just the nick of time and I made it back to Madrid safe and sound. It was definitely a sucky end to what was a great weekend, but it could have been so much worse even though being stuck in London might not have been the worst thing in the world!

So besides the end to our weekend, our highly anticipated end-of-the-year trip to London was incredible! I loved London the first time I visited and I knew that I wanted to go back this year. I have also had an ongoing love for One Direction for the past few years so it was very convenient that they were playing in London while I was in Europe. It seemed like a no-brainer to get tickets to the show and use it as an excuse to go back to London! I remember when I first flew to Madrid last September I had a layover at London Heathrow and there was One Direction paraphernalia literally everywhere! It was such a tease not being able to go into the city. Little did I know that 9 months later I would return.

All in all, I just love London. It’s always nice traveling to other cities, but it’s usually rare to find cities that you could actually see yourself living in for a few years. London seems like such a liveable city that I would definitely want to try to live there at some point in my life, or even just visit over and over again.

Until next time, London!

Until next time, London!

December-May Snapshot

Back when I made my first couple of general updates about my life over here in Spain I told myself that I would continue updating every few months (mostly just for myself because I’ll enjoy having this blog to look back on a few years down the road).  Well…that obviously didn’t happen.  Now I only have 20 days left of being here before I go home for the summer (insane!) so I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to give an update on what my life has been like since November.

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I think I should start by saying that I am still having the most incredible year and I am in disbelief that it is almost over.  As incredible as it is, I still feel the need to make it clear that it’s still life therefore it’s definitely not perfect.  There are really good days as well as some bad ones.  Some of these bad days, for example, were around the holiday season.  I like to refer to this time as the “winter blues” period of this year.  Don’t worry, I wasn’t depressed, it just wasn’t like I was frolicking through the streets of Madrid or anything (not like I normally frolic, but you get the point).  Thanksgiving was when my first real spurt of homesickness sprouted.  I had never been homesick before, including during my semester abroad, so when it hit it was an unfamiliar and terrible feeling, as I’m sure you can imagine.  It was hard skyping with my family as they were all getting ready to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner without me or hearing about all of the moments my friends were having that I was missing out on.  As much as I love living abroad, it’s definitely easy to feel like I am missing out on things at home.  It’s times like these that being able to be two places at once would be an excellent super power to have.  But I remind myself that this isn’t a permanent change, so I try to take advantage and just enjoy the limited amount of time that I have here.  All of that aside, I spent Thanksgiving surrounded by all of my American friends here at our extravagant pot-luck dinner which helped ease the sting of being away from home for all of us, and it was so nice sharing this holiday with a great group of new friends!

Our Spanish Friendsgiving!

Our Spanish Friendsgiving!

My friends were able to make it through our family-less Thanksgiving a little easier though because they knew that they would be traveling home just a few weeks later for Christmas.  I, however, made the choice before leaving for Spain that I would spend Christmas break traveling around Europe.  I won’t lie, I was definitely second-guessing that decision by the time the holidays came around but I had already made travel plans so there was no turning back.  As hard as it was being away from home during that time, I couldn’t have chosen a better way to spend my holidays.  My friend Lindsey, who instantly became one of my closest friends after we met studying abroad in Sevilla, and I planned the most epic trip around Central Europe.  Over the course of 17 days, we covered four countries and five cities:  Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and Hamburg.  We celebrated Christmas by eating Chinese food and seeing the Nutcracker at the Opera House in Vienna and New Years’ Eve avoiding getting hit by fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.  It was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I will remember for the rest of my life.  If you’d like to read more about our trip:  here’s a link.

Lindsey and I at the Christmas showing of The Nutcracker at the Vienna State Opera House.

Lindsey and I at the Christmas showing of The Nutcracker at the Vienna State Opera House.

Christmas was the hurtle to get over, but once we got past that, everything started to look up.  Since there wasn’t much to do in Madrid when it was cold, my friends and I booked weekend trips every other weekend from the end of January until Mid-March.  That definitely helped occupy us and got us through the monotonous winter.  It was perfect timing because by mid-March, Madrid started seeing some early spring weather and started to really come back to life.  The days were getting much longer, the temperatures were rising, outdoor cafés were filling up with people, and the “Almendros” or Almond trees were blooming and it was like springtime heaven.  It was impossible not to fall back in love with Madrid during this time.  For the most part, we have had summer-like weather, but every now and then we get the chilly and/or rainy days.  I guess the Spaniards weren’t kidding when they say, “Hasta el cuarenta de Mayo, no te quites el sayo.”  This basically means don’t put your jacket away until early June because the weather often changes.

You know Spring has arrived when the Almendros are in bloom!

You know spring has arrived when the Almendros are in bloom!

So I should probably talk about the whole reason I’m here: my job.  Work has been really good!  During that aformentioned “winter blues” period I was getting frustrated with my job, the early hours, lack of sleep, and my students who would just Not. Stop. Talking.  I woke up every morning dreading going to work (I feel like I just sound like every other American but really, I was sick of my job).  But things have been much, much better lately.  Over time, I finally got my rhythm at my school and in the classroom (since let’s remind ourselves that I had NO teaching training before this) and I got to know my students much better which has tremendously improved the vibes in the classroom.  There was a period of time when I was having serious problems of disrespect with a group of my 15-year-old boys but there’s nothing like a visit to the principal’s office, a letter home to their parents, and an assignment of translating a lengthy Spanish article into English to get them to act like angels around me.

Even though everything is much better than before, in no way is teaching my passion or the career that I want for the rest of my life.  But for now, it’s a great way for me to live in Spain.  A common question that I get from people is, “Do you feel like your teaching is making a difference?”  My answer to that used to be, “Not really.”  It’s sad, but true.  But recently, I have had other teachers that I work with and the parents of children whom I give private lessons to  tell me that they have all seen great improvement in their students’/children’s English.  I have also noticed a great difference in the other professors at my school whom I have been giving lessons to all year.  I remember  they used to look at me like I had five heads when I spoke during our first couple of months together.  They didn’t understand a word I said.  But now, 8 months later, we’re having hour-long conversations with one another!  The most rewarding thing about this year has been watching them improve right before my eyes.  So overall, it’s nice to know that my time here has been worthwhile and I’m making some sort of difference.

I've posted this picture before but here is my school again.

I’ve posted this picture before but here is my school again.

One of my favorite moments this year that involved my students was when I got to introduce some of my favorites (I know I “shouldn’t” have favorites but hey, it happens) to my sister when she came to visit for the week.  I could tell they were a little shy to speak English but they spoke very well.  I loved it because they all had big grins on their faces and I could tell they were intrigued to meet one of my family members because I’m the only American they really know and talk to.  This was such a short moment in reality, but for me it was a big deal because it made me so happy to see my two worlds come together in front of my eyes.

Speaking of my sister’s visit, I am so lucky to have a family that will fly over here to visit me.  My parents came over just before my spring break in April and I got to show them around Madrid for a few days.  I loved playing tourguide and showing them my new city!  Seven months was the longest I have ever gone without seeing them so it was so nice being reunited.  After Madrid, we traveled to Salzburg, Austria where we did the Sound of Music Tour!  After that, we went to Munich, Germany where my brother flew in from Philly to meet us.  Our next stop was Ireland where we rented a car and drove all around the country hitting Cork, The Blarney Castle, The Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Dublin.  It was hard saying goodbye to them again but just a short couple of weeks later my sister and her friend, Carla, came to visit!  We met in Paris for the weekend and then they came back to Madrid with me for the rest of the week.  It was so great having my whole family over here with me.  I loved being able to show them what my life in Spain is like and they got to see first-hand why I love it so much.  If you’d like to read more about my trips with my family, here is a link to my trip with my parents & brother, and a link for my trip with my sister.

With my parents and brother at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

With my parents and brother at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

In Paris with my sister and Carla.

In Paris with my sister and Carla.

In most recent news, this past weekend in Madrid was one of the most (if not the most) exciting weekends here yet!  Saturday night was the Champions League final in Europe and for the first time in history, two teams from the same city were up against one another for the title.  This city happened to be Madrid!  The whole city was torn between Real Madrid fans and Atlético Madrid fans.  I honestly don’t follow football (neither American nor European), but I was cheering for Real Madrid.  I guess you could say I was one of those people who hopped on the bandwagon for the weekend, but after this experience I might just have to follow it a little closer.  This game was a big deal for both teams but especially Real Madrid because it would be the long-time coveted 10th time they would win this title, also known as “La Décima.”  My friend Erin who you could say is Real Madrid’s ultimate fan (to say the least haha) was able to score tickets to watch the game at  Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.  Since the game was played at the pre-determined location in Lisbon, both teams’ stadiums here in Madrid filled their seats that surrounded giant four-screen cubes in the middle of the fields.

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Parading around the field with the trophy.

Words can’t describe being in that stadium surrounded by ONLY Real Madrid fans during that game.  The game itself was so intense because for the first 93 minutes of the game, Atlético was unexpectedly winning 1-0.  I looked around the stadium and everyone just looked devastated; Many were praying into their Real Madrid scarves.  But suddenly Sergio Ramos scored a last-minute goal that sent the game into overtime and Real Madrid ended up making a huge comeback and won 4-1.  The whole stadium ERUPTED in cheers and even tears.  Then a giant trophy rose out from inside the cube and the whole crowd sang “We Are the Champions” in their Spanish accents haha.  Afterwards it was time to go celebrate at Cibeles!  This is a statue outside the city hall where everyone goes to celebrate a Real Madrid win.  There were sooo many people there but luckily we still had a view of the statue.  We stood there for four hours because we knew the team was flying in from Lisbon and was going to meet everyone at Cibeles for the tradition of wrapping the Real Madrid flag around the statue.  They didn’t arrive until 6 AM but there were still a good amount of fans there waiting for them, including us.  The celebrations continued the next night at the stadium again.  Once again Erin got us tickets which was awesome (thanks Erin!) and this time our seats were SO CLOSE to the field.  We had a great view of all of the players entering the field and when they walked around with the trophy.  There was also an impressive fireworks show.  As a whole, it was such an exciting and definitely memorable weekend.

Here’s a video of the ceremony the night after they won.  Sorry that I suck and I filmed it vertically.

So in case it isn’t obvious, I am very, very happy here.  So happy, in fact, that I’m just not ready to say goodbye to Spain quite yet.  So, back in February I made the decision to stay a second year definitive and I couldn’t be happier about this decision.  I could easily go into so much more detail about this, but I’ll quickly sum it up.  Basically, the way I look at it is that I’m blessed to be young, healthy, free, and have a job that allows me to live in and work in Spain.  It was my dream to come back to Spain to teach English since the day I left Sevilla three years ago and with the amount of time, energy, and money it took to get myself over here, I might as well stay and enjoy it a little longer!  I know it’s cheesy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you have dreams, make them happen now (or at least start working towards them).  Tomorrow is never guaranteed, let alone 30 years from now, and you can never be sure what may arise in the future.  I still intend to go to Grad School once I’m finally back in the States for good, but for now that life can wait.  Right now I’m just trying to do what makes me happiest and it’s turning out pretty well.  As for you all back home, I love and miss you and another year away will be very difficult but starting in a few weeks we have a solid two and a half months together and I can’t wait!!  I’ll be seeing you all soon 🙂

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Deciding to Stay Another Year

So, back in February I made the decision to stay in Spain for a second year definitive.  The way my program works is that you can renew as many years as you’d like, and it’s not uncommon for people to stay two years or even more.  I knew about this once I was accepted into my program and it was always in the back of my mind.  Last summer, I had a feeling I would stay more than one year but I knew I needed to wait until I got to Spain to see how I felt before making any decisions.  It didn’t take very long for Spain to win me over again.  By mid-October I was already starting to think about that second year- so early, I know!  But as the year progressed and we got closer to the deadline when I had to renew with my program, I couldn’t stop freaking out.  It was all I could think about and my mind flip-flopped back and forth literally 10 times a day.  I wish I was exaggerating.  Pro-con lists were made, long conversations with friends were had, and yet no decision was being made.  Until one day, I finally made a decision that I for once felt 100 percent sure about.  I was going to go back to the US.  Well, I think making this decision final is what put everything into perspective and made me realize that that’s actually not what I want at all.  So I changed my mind one last time and I haven’t looked back since.

Although I don’t need to justify my reasons for staying, I still feel some judgement and disapproval coming from some people, so I’ll try to give a quick layout of why I made this choice.  For starters, it goes back to why I came here in the first place:  I am young with absolutely nothing tying me down.  I am so blessed to be young, healthy, and free, so why wouldn’t I take full advantage of that?  Travel is so important to me and you really never know what can arise in the future, so it’s best to do as much as you can now.  With that said, there is still so much more I want to see and do in Spain and Europe.  I might as well do it now because I highly doubt a spontaneous weekend trip to Paris is in my future!  Another big reason is because my Spanish still has a LOT of room for improvement.  I hope after another year I will improve even more.  Also, if I become a Speech Therapist one day, bilingual (especially in Spanish) SLPs are highly coveted and are paid much more, so that’s definitely an incentive to stay as well.

But most importantly, all I’m doing is following my heart and doing what makes me the happiest.  It’s cheesy, but you really do only have one life to live, so why not live it exactly the way you want to?  In my heart I know that I would be devastated to leave Spain right now.  I put in so much time, effort, and money to get myself here in the first place, so I just want to enjoy it a little longer.  I’m doing what’s right for me at this point in time.  Grad school is still on the agenda for when I finally come home, but for now I am absolutely loving having a job that allows me to live and work in Spain.  That was my dream the day I left Sevilla and I am so thankful that it all worked out.

So next year I will be at my same school and I am so excited!  I love my students and I just can’t imagine saying goodbye to them just yet.  I think next year will be even better because I have this first year under my belt and I’m more experienced this time around.  I know all my kids and they all know me, so everything should run much smoother next year.  Since the school year is starting to wrap up, I’m starting to realize that these are the last classes I’ll have with my students for the year.  But since I’ll be back next year, it’s a great feeling being able to say, “Have a great summer, I’ll see you in September!”  instead of having to say final goodbyes.  God knows how difficult those final goodbyes will be when they actually do happen.

Obviously spending another year away from home, my family, and my friends will be difficult, but I fully intend on coming home for Christmas which should help split up the year and make it a little easier.  And before then, I have an amazing 2 and a half months at home to look forward to this summer and I cannot wait!! 🙂