11 December 2009

madrid: siestas, fiestas, tapas y sol!

if edinburgh was the most magical city in the world, then madrid would have to be the most lively and enjoyable city i have ever had the pleasure of visiting. for those of you who do not know, i was planning all along to study abroad in spain, in barcelona in particular, to better my spanish and enjoy the sunshine. but when i began looking into spanish culture, i wasn't sure if i was ready for the complete spanish social life (my spanish friends say they don't even start going out at night until 2 am !). besides the craziness of the nightlife, visiting spain was definitely a dream come true, and it was certainly everything i had hoped it to be. and coming from rainy dublin, the first sight of sunshine shocked us all ! i had forgotten what it felt like to really feel the sun !
we arrived incredibly early and headed straight to the famous chocolateria san gines for some churros con chocolate. it is perhaps the most famous chocolateria in spain and it is open twenty four hours a day so that when the crazies come back from their parties at 5 am, they have a place to enjoy the famous treat !
i realized that every blog post i have made has something to do with mass amounts of chocolate... i am telling you it is just so much better over here ! ha wow we are really obsessed with food huh mom?! ha. in any case, we spent that afternoon roaming madrid and taking in the sun and the sights. we visited the plaza de espana where they had an open market and a monument for miguel cervantes and his famous character don quixote de la mancha !
jardines de sebatini (gardens of sebatini) next to the palace
the railway station had a botanical garden inside with turtles (tortugas ! )
in spanish tradition, everything shuts down in the middle of the day for 'siesta' or just a big long nap. so in the spirit of the spanish culture (and the fact that we woke up at 3am that morning to catch our flight..) we decided to take in the culture and sleep the rest of the afternoon. when we had to get up, my friend ben protested yelling 'siesta forever !' which naturally became a catch phrase for the entirety of the trip. after our much needed siesta, we headed to the parque del retiro which is this huge park with a cafe and a lake where you can rent paddle boats ! we didnt get to rent the boats, unfortunately, but we had a nice walk through what seemed to be the most beautiful park i had ever visited ! it was absolutely perfect and the trees were still covered in their fall colors of reds and oranges. after sunset in the park we roamed the busy and chaotic streets of madrid (after a meal of tapas of course !) it was such a different city by night. during the day, it is a relatively relaxed city, despite the three million inhabitants of course. what was so interesting was there were little plazas and pockets of quiet areas everywhere you walked, so you never felt overwhelmed by the mass amounts of people. and it is mostly a walking city, so everyone is roaming the streets and enjoying the sun. but the city comes alive after about 9pm and there are mass amounts of people everywhere eating, drinking, dancing and enjoying themselves.living in san francisco, i am definitely used to strange people and crazy street performers all over the city. however, madrid took it to the next level ! in the plaza mayor (one of the more famous and touristy areas of madrid) there are the most unique street performers i have ever seen ! dead beetlejuice looking characters in coffins that scare you as you walk by, men dressed as colorful goats (?!) and people in inaccurately proportioned mickey and minnie mouse costumes all over the place ! dylan and ben joined one of the more mild street performances as jedi masters. the next day, my friend kate and i decided to split from the group and enjoy the city on our own terms. group travel is near impossible, and when i got back from thailand i swore i would never do it again. however, this semester has tested my patience and i have had some great times in kilkenney and galway with a nice group of people. however, when you have 9 different agendas from 9 very very different people, splitting up worked out perfectly. kate and i followed our noses (literally) to this huge bakery for some ham and cheese croissants and the best neopolitan chocolate i have ever eaten (basically a chocolate croissant). we then headed to the palacio real (the palace) which was fantastic !!! we couldn't take photos inside but here are some photos of the exterior. we also found that madrilenos (people from madrid) have no idea how to take photos ! kate and i probably asked at least ten people 'puedes tomar un foto por favor?' and they would take a photo of just us, without a decent background or anything. so basically, our photos look like we could be anywhere... but i swear we were in madrid ! for example:
take two was a bit better, but still pretty bad !
we then met up with our other friend kate (kb) and decided to skip siesta and spend the day a little off of the map, both intentionally and unintentionally ha. but we wandered through neighborhoods with tapas bars lining the streets, and they were absolutely filled with people drinking at 4pm ! granted it was a saturday afternoon, but we thought wow these people really do enjoy themselves. we also got a taste of spanish ham that this guy was cutting at the window of the restaurant as he saw us staring at it from the street. absolutely delicious ! that night, there was talk of a traditional spanish evening: tapas for dinner around 9pm, pubs, clubs and head back to the hostel in the wee hours of the morning. ha i knew that was not going to happen (especially for me !) but we headed out for an amazing tapas dinner for starters. kate and i split a spanish ham tapa and then one with hot brie on toast with raspberry jelly. it was probably the best thing i have ever eaten !!! we loved it so much, that julia and i ordered another ha. ben toasted the night: to siestas, tapas and madrid ! very appropriate =) we then headed out for a relatively mellow night to eat more tapas and enjoy each others company. we (of course) ended up at another tapas bar, so naturally we had to get some more ! okay we are all obsessed with food... but we definitely had a wonderful evening out in madrid and got to bed at a reasonable hour. not quite up to par with the madrilenos, but i was obviously fine with that =)we all bought what we call 'yves (pronounced eve) scarves' this weekend as well (see photo below). we call them yves scarves because my friend yves from france always wore michelle's scarf that she got in barcelona last year. he looks so adorable in it, that we all had to buy our own yves scarf ! although michelle makes us call them 'michelle and yves scarves' considering it was her scarf to begin with =) but here are two of my favorites (rico and yves) in their matching yves scarves !i spent the next morning on my own at the museo del prado. the prado is one of the largest and most prestigious art museums in the world, so naturally i was overwhelmed just in the corridor alone. it holds the works of many italian, dutch and french artists but i came to see the spanish art of velazquez, goya, and el greco. it was then another afternoon of pastries and siestas to warm up for another fantastic meal of tapas ! i will not go into too much detail about how delicious patatas bravas or a spanish tortilla is (aka spanish omelette). you will have to travel to spain to taste for yourself ! but kb and i did stop off for what was called the 'giant puff pastry', or at least that is how we translated it. all we wanted were these cream puffs that kept passing us by. insead we got .... see below...
the largest pastry there ever was.
on our last day, our plane did not leave madrid until 9pm, so we had another whole day of exploration, relaxation, and enjoyment in madrid. ben, kb and i went on the great pastry hunt in search for the perfect pastries. we ended up ordering multiple cups of cola cao (spanish version of nestle hot chocolate, only a million times better). we even bought a HUGE canister to bring home to dublin (which is now almost gone i must add...). we spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the city shopping, eating, and siteseeing. we went to the templo de debod, an egyptian temple rebuilt in spain, had a spanish tortilla at the perfect outdoor cafe and enjoyed the sunshine for the fourth day in a row !
i LOVE the spanish architecture... everywhere you go these little balconies lined the upper portions of the buildings. adorable.
our last day was the only day that we had to complain about the siesta, not only because we did not get to take one because of our check out, but because we traveled around looking for spanish cheese and this adorable old postcard shop, but everything was closed ! look how cute this shop window looks !! i thought you would love it mom =) we will have to go back, just not during the middle of the afternoon ! before we knew it, our true spanish vacation had to come to an end. though we were incredibly sad to leave the sunshine behind us and head back to dublin. madrid was by far one of the more uniquely beautiful, strangely entertaining, and surprisingly relaxing cities i have spent time in. i loved speaking spanish all the time too ! i must say that there is no doubt in my mind that i will be back in madrid someday. and hopefully very very soon.
i see my path but i don't know where it leads.
not knowing where i'm going is what inspires me to travel it
[rosalia de castro]

04 December 2009

edinburgh: the most magical city in the world

it is difficult to write about how a city impacted your life in retrospect. actually, its hard to write how a city impacted your life at all. that feeling you get, the vibe that a city gives off is impossible to recreate in words, or in a blog post no less. it had been three years since i had traveled to edinburgh, scotland and i had forgotten how truly enchanting the city really is. though much of the city was either under construction or setting up for the christmas festival (i contemplated traveling back there just to witness their 'winter wonderland'), there was something about it that just made it special; unlike any other city i have been to before.
we had five full days in edinburgh so we rented an apartment with a view of edinburgh castle. it was such a perfect way to spend our time there, rather than dealing with hostels, no showers, and large rooms with strangers. what a wonderful way to start the day with a cup of tea just staring out the window ! here is michelle and jake with the castle behind them !
most of our time spent in edinburgh was roaming the city, ducking into cafes for hot chocolates, with a little bit of sightseeing in there too =) the architecture in the city is surreal: you truly think you are walking around in a fantasy world ! like i said words cannot express how magical the city really is, so i'll let the photos do most of the talking::
the city is full of the most adorable coffee shops. this is my friend julia in front of our first hot chocolate stop when we arrived in edinburgh at 9am. notice the shop window... adorable !
our first night we decided to head to the elephant house, the cafe where j.k. rowling supposedly wrote much of harry potter. i must admit that i am not a die hard fan, but the city itself screams 'harry potter' and most of the time i felt i was walking around in hogwarts ha =) we went on a free ghost tour that night as well... edinburgh is apparently the most haunted city in the world too !
this ghoulish guy randomly interrupted our tour to jump in our photo?! ha strange.
the next day was spent roaming around edinburgh castle, in and out of cashmere stores in new town and old town, and to a park with a fantastic view of the entire city. we were so confused when it was four o'clock and it was dark already !
i recognized the lion at the castle from my previous trip to edinburgh with heather and alex so i had to take the same photo three years later !
[below: heather, alex and myself at edinburgh castle in june 2006]
my favorite part of edinburgh was getting lost in the charm and beauty of the city itself. the cobble stone streets cover old town as the royal mile (or high street) is lined with shops and cafes that i would stumble in and out of all day long. im pretty sure that instead of a pub crawl, i completed a very thorough cafe crawl during my time there. my favorite was one that was slightly dark inside, but they had little white lights lining the windows with candles on the tables. the whole time i thought about how much mom would absolutely fall in love with edinburgh. the little shops were perfect and just reminded me of the artsy trinkets and cute stationery that my mom and i love so much. one shop near our apartment even had bubbles coming out of it ! [see below !] my words hardly give meaning to the magic that permeates through edinburgh. but by ending my second visit to edinburgh, i truly cannot wait to go back. though not the biggest city i have been to, not the most sophisticated or posh, not the city with the best food or the most pubs, i think it is safe to say that edinburgh is my favorite city in the world... at least for now =)
coming back to edinburgh is, to me,
like coming home.
[charles dickens]