Saturday, May 30, 2009

All Good Things Must Come to an End

As the semester is finally wrapping up, I’m becoming more and more nostalgic about my time in Sevilla and how it’s changed me. No, I don’t have a posse of Spanish friends that call me to go out and no, I still don’t speak Spanish well enough to fool any native speaker. But I have a Spanish family that treats me like one of their own and that has included me in on so many things that I never would’ve experienced as a tourist or a student living in an apartment. Just last night my senora was helping her friend out at a week-long feria (little community fair) and invited me to go along where we saw performances from some of the kids in the community (a little strange—scantily clad 12 year-old girls dancing in front of a cross as well as Spanish hip hop performances…?) and got free food from my senora who was working as a waitress to make extra money.  There’s a little bread shop (panaderia) on the first floor of the house and the lady calls me “la rubita” (the little blonde) that comes to pick up bread once or twice a week. I have a frequent breakfaster card at the nearby tapas bar and Coop’s former senora invited me to coffee on Monday (should be very interesting). These are the things that make me feel like more than just another American in Spain.

To explain…Spain, out of all the countries in the E.U, has the lowest approval rating of the U.S and to be fair, I can understand some of their reasoning. Study abroad students frequently come to Spain just to party. Really it’s just a bad combination in that the classes aren’t demanding and the majority of the students can’t drink in the U.S so they go absolutely wild in Spain. They break stuff, get sick at bars and generally do very little to improve the reputation of Americans as respectable people interested in Spanish culture. Of course, Spaniards are still getting over Bush (Spain’s leaders involved them in the Iraq war with a very high disapproval from its citizens) and love Obama (they sell little brown cookies in Cadiz that they call Obama cookies and they sell like hot cakes) so things are changing. Also, Americans support their economy more than any other country so they should show a little bit of appreciation. But overall, I just wish that there was something that could be done to improve the status of Americans in Spain. I guess I’m just hoping that I was working against the stereotype instead of enforcing it.

Either way though, it’s going to be hard to leave despite how much I want to see my family and friends. I’m almost positive I’m going to cry when leave because it’s like I’ve created my own little niche here and now I have to leave it behind. It’s totally different from leaving the U.S because I knew I was coming back. I’ll never be here again to discuss how worthless men are with my 60-year old senora or to hang out with all of my friends at the river near the Torre de Oro. It makes it even harder that the weather is absolutely perfect here and that classes have ended so my responsibilities include eating, sleeping, walking around the city and perhaps studying here and there for my final exams.

Lastly, I’m slightly nervous about readjusting to life back home. It’s going to be so weird to see my friends from back home who I haven’t seen for six months. They’ve probably changed and so have I. I have to catch up on the last six months of their lives. For that matter, I have to catch up on the last six months of American culture. I hope I still remember how to drive a car when I get back. Three days after I get back I start summer school at UNC. School in Spain is completely different from UNC. I hope that I haven’t become too laid-back to hack it for a 9:00 journalism class that lasts for three and half hours. Even going out will be different. In Spain, I eat at around ten and don’t even meet up with people until 11:30. Then we go hang out for a couple hours and then go to a club or bar until on average, three or four in the morning. This is very normal Spanish culture---little kids are out playing on playgrounds until 12:30 at night. I’m going to think its lame when everything closes at 3.

So I started off my semester discussing everything I missed from the U.S and now I’m ending discussing everything I’m going to miss from Spain. It’s all come full circle and I CANT BELIEVE I’VE SPENT FIVE MONTHS HERE AND I ONLY HAVE 14 DAYS LEFT. 


So after much ethical pondering, I decided despite the fact that I'm in disagreement with "los toros" or bullfights, I needed to go to a bullfight to truly experience the culture. It was either going to the soccer game or going to the bullfight and I could not be happier about my decision. It was awesome.

When we first got there, there are tons of vendors outside, mostly selling cold water and padded seats (never a good sign) but we bypassed all of them to try and find our seats. Of course being students we bought the cheaper tickets so everyone just kept pointing to keep going, keep going....I was completely okay with this because I didn't know how close I wanted to be to the blood and gore. However, once we came out, our seats were SO CLOSE. Tickets are sold based on whether you are in the shade or not, as well as if it's a professional or amateur bullfight. We were in the sun at a amateur fight so we only paid about 13 euros but we were amazingly close. Then I started to flip out a little realizing I'm about to watch a living animal be killed in a public place as my two friends, Ricky and Olivia, continue to discuss how excited they are to see the blood and guts and hope that one of the fighters gets mauled by the bull (I think they were kidding...?)

They do not waste any time getting it all started. We hear a gunshot and out of a side door comes an enormous bull. This was so sad to me because he didn't know what he was doing there or why all these men are trying to provoke him. Every single time he falls right into the trap though. :( But not without a fight! In a bullfight, there are 3 matadors who perform twice. Therefore, six bulls in total are killed. The matadors go in order from worst to best and the bigger and more aggressive bulls are left for the better matadors. When the bull first comes out, there are several men who are trying to provoke him and run out with a pink cape, wave it around and then run for their life for safety behind a little barrack. The entrance to the barracks are very small and I really thought several times that they wouldn't make it. One man had to forget about the barracks and just jumped into the crowd.

After these men are out with the bull for a couple of minutes, a blind folded and metal armored horse is led into the ring by a picador. When the bull gets close to the horse, the picador stabs the bull to get him to lower his head, making him more tired and an easier target for the final round with the matador. This is by far the worst part. The bull frequently goes straight for the horse and it was very hard for me to believe that the horse didn't get hurt. There was one time when the horse had just barely made it into the ring and the bull headed straight for him, knocking him off his feet. However, the horse is fully armored and the blood that I saw on the horse's armor was actually from the bull. But needless to say, it seems a little unfair for the horse to have to go into all of it blindfolded.

Then came the most dangerous part. Bullfighters get all of the credit but before he comes out, there are three men who risk their lives putting colorful daggers into the bulls neck. THEY HAVE NO PROTECTION. THEY HAVE NO CAPE. The bull charges right at them and they have to put these daggers into his neck. When I think about being next to a huge bull, I remember how scared I was of the monkeys in Gibraltar. These guys are fighting a bull who wants to kill them in the middle of a crowd of hundreds. That is brave.

And finally, the bullfighter. The techniques and footwork they use really makes it a dance between the bull and the matador. He doesn't hurt the bull until the last moment and until then, he impresses everyone by getting as close to the bull as possible and turning with the bull just close enough that he's not stabbed by the bull's horns. And then finally the killing of the bull. You know its coming because he goes to the side of the ring to get his "sword." At this point, the bull is tired. Sometimes one of the bulls would trip but mostly you could tell by how slow they were going. The matador pull the sword back like you would a bow and arrow and then when the bull charges, stab it right between shoulders. They have to get it all the way in or the bull suffers. The second matador was amazing at it. The bull was dead within two minutes. The third matador, who was supposed to be the best, was the worst. With both bulls he had to restab him, another man had to jab him behind the neck after he fell down and the bull still didn't die for another ten minutes. That was pretty horrible because you don't want the bull to suffer.

As far as the blood and guts, the bull is black but you can still see a good amount on this back from the "colorful daggers" that are jabbing into him. And once the bull dies, a clean up crew comes up to shovel up any blood mixed with dirt. However, on the whole, it is a very artistic show. It's not an event I would like to see on a regular basis (some people go every week; its like the steeplechase for Spaniards every week) but I was very glad I went. Bullfights are not for the faint-hearted. If Andrea went, she would've left, been crying or throwing up. Scarred, for sure.

The argument for "los toros" is that it's historical, the bulls live a great life until they're killed, if bull fighting was abolished then the bulls wouldn't really have an option of a life in the wild and in the end, the entire bull is used for their meat, etc. On the other hand, the bulls are tortured and it makes the Spaniards seem very barbaric. My main problem was there are these perfectly healthy and strong bulls running into the ring and then 15 minutes later, they're dead and being carted out. Seems a little disrespectful to nature and the order of balance between man and animal. But then again, I'm not a vegetarian.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Amsterdam, of course, is infamous for its Red Light District and open policies on certain narcotics. And yes it was very strange to see police officers walk by with people smoking and even stranger to see girls who looked like they could´ve gone to UNC with me as prostitutes (It may be awkward to say but they weren´t the nasty unattractive women that I expected them to be. When Coop and I came upon the first ¨window¨ I literally thought I was seeing a lingerie mannequin.) But what I was getting at: Amsterdam is so much more than drugs and prostitution. As many say, it is the Venice of the North. Everyone there is so happy and willing to help you, the city is absolutely beautiful with its canals and architecture and there´s a lot of things to do. Coop and I went to the Heineken museum, took a canal tour, went to the Van Gogh museum and generally enjoyed the happy ambience of the city. One warning, however. Predicted forecast: light rain every day you will be there. Unfortunately, I was not aware of this and went from beautiful sunny Rome to Amsterdam where it is quite chilly and I had to wear Coop´s brown sweater and look like a hobo the whole time.

So when we first arrive we´re walking down the street trying to find our HOSTELBOAT and I look like an idiot in a summer dress. The wind is blowing and I´m preoccupied with keeping my dress from flying up, Coop´s finger is bleeding from something breaking on his suitcase and we don´t know exactly where we´re going. Well we arrive at a beautiful hostelboat docked permanently near the train station in a large canal and it´s perfect. Best place we stayed. The bunk beds we slept in were in a room literally the size of a half bathroom but that was okay because we didn´t spend any time there. However there was a great place to hang out on top of the boat and a dining room for breakfast. I know I talk a lot about food but breakfast there was amazing. They had unlimited breakfast with anything you want which was very different from the Spanish breakfast of coffee and toast (which I actually will miss).

We headed out immediately after getting there to look for a jacket for me. Coop´s sweater sufficed. The first day we just wandered around the canals getting oriented to the city and went to bed pretty early. The next day we went to the Heineken museum which was a very good experience despite their propaganda on how its the best beer ever bla bla bla. I´m not a Heineken fan but it was interesting on how they brewed it, riding their ¨brew me¨ ride and seeing all the ads from the past years. I also managed to convince Coop to record a video in a booth they had set up to send back to the parents. Very entertaining. After Heineken we went to eat at Febo´s, a very cheap fast food place unique to Amsterdam and then went to the park. The rain and cold kept us on our toes most of the trip but I think we managed to make the best of it. After going back, took a short nap and went to the Van Gogh museum. I´m so done with art at this point but Coop really wanted to go. Turns out it was a special event Friday night and we ended up with all the sophisticated socialites of Amsterdam enjoying a live band, a special exhibit on night and day artwork and seeing a very abstract performance on who knows what. Luckily I took a video. See here.

So I loved Amsterdam with all of my heart but it all had to come to an end. Woke up really early Sunday to send Coop back to the States. Took him to the airport and it was just too much thinking about three weeks without him and him getting to see all the people and things I miss and me being left here in Europe. Now that I think about it, I prob. have the better deal but it was very heartbreaking on the moment because I really just wanted to go as his carry-on. So in the end, yes I cried which I think surprised both of us because I´m usually not a crier. Went back on the train to spend a half day in Amsterdam solo. It was raining and I had to go to the public library there to study since I had an exam the next day. Really ended up sending emails to people saying I missed on my plane back, found my window seat, sat next to a very large man who made me claustrophobic and smelt a little strange and endured for three hours. Got back, studied nonstop, got up for my 9 oclock class and took my exam at 10.


Monday, May 25, 2009


To start off, we spent the least amount of time in Venice so I can’t really give a lengthy description on the history or the sights. We spent most of our time taking in the scenic waterways and trying to figure out where we were. Venice is impossible to navigate, with or without a good map. And to answer the question I know everyone will ask—No, we did not ride a gondola. But Coop did buy me flowers so it was still a romantic day and a half.

Venice is beautiful, extremely clean and everything you imagine it to be when you hear it’s a city on the water because it really is. We stayed on the mainland to save money but once you start walking over the first bridge into the heart of Venice, it’s nothing but a labyrinth of bridges, canals and walkways along the water. Venice definitely isn’t a hotspot for young people or for going out. During the day in St. Mark’s Square, the main plaza, it was filled with school groups and old people. There was virtually no one close to our age. At night in St. Mark’s Square, there was no one, which was really a shame because there are at least three or four groups of live musicians playing classical music every night.

One interesting thing that we had read about in our travel packet was that people bring their liter bottles to restaurants and wine shops to be filled up with wine. Sure enough the last day we were in Venice, lost as usual, we saw a sign that said something similar to fill your bottle with wine in Spanish so we peeked inside and there was a little old lady with a big plastic bottle that looked like it had previously held oil or some cooking ingredient and had been washed out. She handed it over to the owner like it was the most natural thing and he just fills it up with the house wine. It was just the strangest thing to watch as she handed over some loose change for this huge bottle of wine and walked off.

Another oddity was that in this tiny little Venetian town, there were countless illegal “street vendors.” Between the men selling the purses and the men practically throwing flowers at us, we had quite a time trying to avoid them. However, even stranger than the persistent nature of the sellers were the signs trying to persuade you not to buy fake name brand bags. They were really intense—“Do you really think you can cross the borders with counterfeit products?” “The material of these products could contain dangerous or harmful substances.” I’m pretty sure that these were put up by the shop owners but I’m not positive. Venetian laws are pretty strict on everything. You can’t picnic anywhere, you can’t sit anywhere not specifically designated for sitting, you have to be properly dresses at all times (no shirtless men or bathing suits, I guess) and you can’t use any bikes, skateboards or pretty much any type of transportation other than public water transit.

Well Venice was awesome but we’re already off to our last destination: Amsterdam. We’re staying on a boat—I can’t wait!


Coop and I have spent the last three and a half days in Rome and it was fantastic! Our trip started off a little shaky…Coop is not a morning person and was fuming at me for booking a flight at 7:00 in the morning (therefore having to get up at around 4:45 to catch the 5:15 bus…) and expecting him to respond to me when I was bubbling over all the details of our trip. After five hours of airports and collecting luggage, we took a train into the city—apparently not that close to our hostel or anything else for that matter. So after standing around trying to figure out what to do in a little train station for about 20 minutes, we decide to just get back on a train and see where it takes us since we were obviously in the middle of nowhere. And since the first ticket didn’t get us where we wanted to be, we thought we shouldn’t have to pay for another one…..about that….As soon as we get on the train and it starts pulling away, we see a man checking train tickets (the first one we’ve seen on any metro or train) and a man being hauled away by several men wearing military uniforms—not police—legit army men wearing berets and armed weapons. Luckily we were able to get off at the next stop before they got to us and found a metro taking us relatively close to our hostel.

Let me just mention that in the process of lugging all of his stuff from the past six months from the airport to the hostel, Coop got just a little frustrated. One fond memory of mine was watching him kick his bag on the corner of a busy street and then breaking the handle. Nice…

So we FINALLY arrive at our hostel, Salvador B& B, to be welcomed by a very stereotypical Italian man—overweight, dressed in a white tee and “low riding” blue jeans with a faint whiff of B.O—but extremely nice. He spoke no English. Yessss. So instead of trying to get along with hand motions, etc. he actually calls his friend who speaks little English and hands me the phone to talk to him. In bits and pieces, I collect that a) a man is coming for us in little time b) we’re not staying at that hostel and c) this man really doesn’t speak English. So Coop and I are sitting in a little hallways listening to 80s hits off his radio as he continually urges us to use the bathroom---FOR FREE!

About five minutes later, another man shows up to take us to wherever. As far as we knew, he could’ve been an ax murderer taking us down some alley. Luckily his only issue was that he also spoke no English and he smelt of B.O (and not so faintly). So we really have no idea what’s going on except that we’re following a smelly man down the alleys of Rome. He was carrying my bags so I really had no problem with it. Coop, being the strong man he is, got to carry his broken bag down the exact same roads we’d walked from the Metro to get to the first place.

In the end, we got an upgrade from our first place to a different B&B because the place we had paid for had been overbooked. The location was perfect. We were right next to the Vatican and the metro stop was one street over. The last night, the man who worked there—Gerardo—showed us the pope’s apartment building from his balcony.

So after a stressful morning, Coop and I made ourselves feel better the best way we could---with food. Rome is full of good deals on pizza and pasta. We picked a place where we got a drink, salad, a whole pizza and gelato for 10 euros. The pizza in Italy has less cheese and is pretty thin-crusted but on the whole, is very similar to pizza back home. The two pasta dishes I tried in the time we were in Rome didn’t impress me but we didn’t exactly go to the most refined places so feel free to disagree.

Top Sights of Rome and the Vatican City!!!


Absolutely breathtaking! It was my favorite thing in Rome. (Note: If anyone is wondering, Coop’s favorite part of Rome was watching funny cat and dog videos on the metro. Very refined taste.) Anyhow, it was huge and we learned a lot about all of the gladiators and the games that were held by the Roman emperors. They had some really spectacular presentations. Apparently, when a whale was beached in the south of Italy, the Romans decided to make a life-size whale and put it on stage and then have 50 live bears run out of it into the arena.

Trevi Fountain

We went there twice, fighting off the hoards of Indian men who were forcing roses onto us by saying how sweet I was and telling me they wanted to give me free roses and then sneaking behind my back and asking Coop for money. Tricksy….In the end, I got a total of zero roses. Coop’s excuse was if you buy one from one, you have to buy one from all. He wanted to help them out but he realized he couldn’t help out everyone. That’s okay. I gladly settled for gelato.

Sistine Chapel

All I can say is a wild goose chase. You walk forever in huge crowds thinking its coming right up and then you’re led down another long hallway of art. And another. And another. The Sistine Chapel was so different than I thought it would be, as well. I thought the painting of man and God touching fingers would be a little bigger but its dwarfed by the surrounding paintings. I liked the full wall portrait of The Final Judgment. Very impressive, yet forboding.

Little known fact: There are several museums in the Vatican museums including an Egyptian museum that has sarcophaguses with mummy bodies that you can actually see.


Spanish Steps

In an attempt to not be lame and turn in early, Coop and I decided to venture out to the Spanish steps and Trevi Fountain at around 11 o’clock on Sunday evening. We got gelato and aimlessly wandered the lit streets of Rome. Coop had already been pretty tired before going out so we were hoping just for an evening stroll to the Spanish steps and then to take the metro back. Problem 1: Neither one of us has a great sense of direction and we can’t find the Spanish steps. I’m set on finding them because my dad has raved about how cool they are at night because everyone hangs out there chatting into the wee hours of the morning. Well, we finally get there and the only people there are again the Indians with the roses and a couple very awkwardly making out. Problem 2: The metro has closed. We walked into the Metro station, not knowing it was closed, and stepped into the twilight zone. If anyone has seen the Stephen King movie, “The Lindoliers,” it was just like that. While walking up seemingly never-ending moving sidewalks, we see no one. When we finally see three people, they just stare at us in absolute silence. When we see the metal gates barring off the metro, we decide to walk to the other exit of the metro. The other side leads into a completely desolate mall and a parking lot. The exit to the mall is barred so we head out into the parking lot. The lot is halfway full of cars but there’s no one there except the silent security guard that walks past us looking at us as thought we shouldn’t be there. The only way out of the parking lot is if we walk out the curving entrance for the cars which I don’t want to do because if a car comes in while we’re walking out, we’d definitely be hit. We head back to the mall, starting to panic. We spot the security guard and I ask him how to get out. He responds, eerily of course, “Where do you want to go?” I just ask for the closest exit and he takes us to an exit out of the side of the mall. So we’ve finally escaped the metro station. We exit to the middle of a park. Keep in mind it’s 1:30 in the morning and we don’t know where we are. All we see are buses and cars occasionally passing by. To keep the story short, we made it home without being robbed or stabbed at around 2:30 and agreed that sleeping in was a good idea.


We became friends with the man who worked at the B&B we stayed at when we went across the street to try limoncello. Apparently, he works there too. We had a good time talking to him and he actually even bought Coop a beer (someone from the hostel had stolen his out of the refrigerator and Gerardo wanted to replace it). He pointed out the building that the Pope lives in from his balcony and showed us all the publicity websites for his many ventures—the B&B, a party boat and the snack bar across the street.

Well the next day we had to go to Ciampino airport, which is located about 45 minutes outside of Rome. Somehow we always fly into the farthest airport from the city. Gerardo offers to drive us and I’m thanking him thinking he’s being so nice to take his new friends to the airport. Mid-thanks he lets us know how much he’s charging us. I felt so betrayed that our friend was making money off of us. We still accepted but needless to say, Coop and I were both hurt.

Rome, on the whole, however, was great and I’m definitely glad that we got to spend nearly three and a half days there. There’s a lot to do: great sightseeing, great people-watching and very friendly people in general.

Monday, May 4, 2009



Feria literally means fair and for a week in Sevilla, a fair is set up complete with rides and casetas (private and public tents for eating, drinking and dancing). At first I was disappointed that I would only get to see Feria for two days since I didn’t get back to Sevilla until Saturday and the festival goes from Sunday to Sunday. However, its just like the fair in N.C. It can be exhausting. So after I wake up around 1:30 on Saturday and lounge around for a couple of hours—I’m so lazy here—I meet up with Coop and Andrea to the “fairgrounds.” The whole city transforms for this fair. Despite the fact that horses are prancing and using the bathroom all over the streets, the women and the men dress up—the women wear flamenco dresses and the men wear “church attire.” The horses wear ornate tassels and bells and cart people who want to show off their feriawear around the casetas. Speaking of casetas, there are rows of tents everywhere—mostly private—for people to relax and catch up with family and friends. If you live in Sevilla, you’re invited to casetas belonging to either your family, your company, your neighborhood or your friends. If you don’t live in Sevilla, you generally have to go the public casetas, which obviously are not as good because they’re filled with foreigners who don’t know Sevillana dances or traditions. Either way though, it’s a good chance to sit down and escape the Sevillana sun (it’s one of the warmest cities in Europe); unlike the fair in Raleigh, they don’t really jack up prices that much. And the foods are similarly fatty and fried. Instead of funnel cake, they have churros and chocolate. I’m still a big fan of the fried dough and confectionary sugar combo but it’s a tough competition.

The rides are also very similar. Feria has a “superraton” (the crazy mouse), a haunted house, a pirate ship and a Ferris wheel. However, the safety measures are a bit lacking. On the pirate ship, we saw riders simply put into a metal cage. No seat belt, no harness, no nothing. On a circular “spaceship,” there were kids just jumping in the middle on a gym mat while the carnie bounced the machine around. My personal favorite was El Tren de La Bruja, meaning the train of the witch. Kids and adults alike board a kiddie train and while they ride around on a circular track (pretty boring in my opinion), a very intimidating clown-like man hits them with a broom. He physically hits them with the broom and they not only pay to be hit by a broom, but they’re thrilled by it and try to grab the broom. Luckily, I caught most of these phenomenon on video.

After the train, we headed back for dinner and decided to come back that night. The night was very similar to the day except fewer kids and we went with more people. Oh and I dressed up in a flamenco dress. I must say it was a pretty bold move to wear the dress as none of my American friends dressed up but I loved wearing it and having my senora help me get my outfit together. It’s like prom but better because its cultural and you get to go to the fair. However, as my dress was not very conducive to riding the rides, I mostly watched but was nevertheless, very entertained by the people watching. Coop in particular was mesmerized by a little gypsy boy who seriously looked just like a little man. But then he got jipped by a gypsy at the bathrooms who told him he had to pay a euro to use it and then continued to curse the gypsies.

Paris and Berlin!

Paris & Berlin

Arrived in Paris and the first thing that surprised us really was seeing houses! There’s really only apartment complexes in Spain (or at least in urban Spain) so when we saw houses from the airport to the city center, that was a big surprise. Another surprise was realizing how little I speak of other languages besides English and Spanish. I didn’t even know thank you, goodbye or please. Luckily, everyone at our hotel spoke English as well as most people we encountered there. Speaking of the hotel, one of my favorite parts of the trip was breakfast. We had an included breakfast with our stay and it was dreamlike. Surrounded by little French couples and families, our waiter asked for our preference: cafĂ© au lait o chocolate. Then he would scurry off into the little kitchen to prepare our individual breakfast tray of one croissant and one French loaf each, as well as an array of jams and honeys. It worked as the best alarm clock for Coop and I—as soon as we got up, we got ready as soon as possible to go get breakfast.

As far as the main sites go, Paris is not overrated in the least. We purchased the Paris Museum Pass and really got our money out of it. We saw Versailles (palace outside of Paris), Orsay Museum (art with great Impressionist collection), Louvre (Mona Lisa), Saint Chapelle (church), Notre Dame, Conciergie (prison where Marie Antoinette was held), Napoleon’s Tomb, Arc de Triumf (arch at the end of the Champs de Elysees where you can see the whole city) and L’Orangerie (Monet art collection). I wish I could say I have a refined taste but I really don’t care to see any art for a while.

Personally, I think the best sites don’t require an entry fee. I have definitely learned that you can get burnt out on sightseeing if you’re not careful. Walking along the Seine River is relaxing and beautiful and gives great views of the city. Sitting and drinking coffee in one of the cafes is part of the culture. One of the best things Coop and I did was go to Pere LaChase (sp?) cemetery. Among the various creative minds buried there is Jim Morrison. The graves, or rather tombs, are actually very elaborate and strolling around the cemetery wasn’t morbid like I thought it would be when Coop suggested going. Also, Coop and I bought coffees in the Tuilleries Gardens outside the Louvre and sat in reclining chairs near a pond.
And, of course, the Eiffel Tower. I really thought that I would be disappointed because everyone talks about the Eiffel Tower and how great it is and usually when things are talked up too much, they never can live up to your expectations. The Eiffel Tower is breathtaking from faraway and up-close. I learned two things while I was climbing the tower. One, the Eiffel Tower sparkles at night for ten minutes every hour. Two, I have a fear of heights. We hadn’t even made it to the first viewpoint (there’s three) before I started to feel like I was going to pass out. However, in my defense, I’m usually never scared of heights and you can really imagine yourself falling when all you can see supporting you are the beams underneath you and you can feel the tower swaying in the wind. We made it to the second viewpoint before I had to call it quits. According to Rick Steves, it’s the best area for sights of the city in the first place.

Finally, as always, I have to give my review of the food. We ate a lot of paninis in the streets, we had Donor Kebap twice (not very good in Paris), we tried the one true Parisian cuisine item, French onion soup (tasted the same as Campbells to me) and also had CREPES. Crepes are the best thing to happen to me. Or the worst. Depends on how you look at it. A crepe, for those of you who aren’t sure, is a very thin pancake filled with your choice of sweet or salty foods. So it can be a dessert crepe or more of a snack crepe. When I ordered my first crepe of banana and nutella (chocolate) and took the first bite, I was immediately angry at myself for waiting until the last day to try them. They are absolutely delicious. So even if you’re not going to Paris and you haven’t had a crepe before, I highly recommend investigating where you can get one. I had one in Berlin as well and it was almost as good.


Berlin was my favorite and I’m not even sure why. There’s no Eiffel Tower, no spectacular art and no palaces. However, there is a certain relaxed and welcoming feeling there. The weather was beautiful; everyone we encountered seemed so happy and excited to be where they are.

The hostel we stayed at was incredible. There was a kitchen and a beautiful garden to eat in or stroll around in. There was a German beer happy hour from 8 to 10 every night (for Coop) and a coffee happy hour from 7 to 10 every morning (for me). The man at the front was so welcoming, telling us where everything was in the city, what was going on that weekend, etc. So we heard from him that there was going to be a free walking tour around the city so we jumped on that.

Our tour guide was a British guy who had been living in Berlin for five years giving tours around the city. They do a free tour (of course, accepting tips) in order to persuade you to go on their other non-free tours. I always like stuff like this because if you have a good product or service, you should be able to prove it and then gain people’s trust to come back. Anyhow, it was fabulous. We learned so much about the city while simultaneously being entertained by his humorous anecdotes in his British accent (that always seems to make things funnier).

A few interesting stories/facts we learned:

• Outside the city museum where Hitler used to give speeches, etc, a movie producer was trying to reproduce a Nazi rally. He hired extras, put up Nazi flags, everything. As soon as they got everything set up, a snowstorm blew in and they were only able to grab the movie production things and clear the extras. So after the snow calmed down, all people saw were Nazi flags all over their government buildings.
• Berlin Wall escape stories:
o One man zip lined his family to the other side by hiding his family in the bathroom at his work that was located next to the wall and then used his pants to zipline to the other side with his two kids hanging on to his legs. His wife used her skirt.
o One man borrowed a forklift and rammed through the first wall and then lifted up on the forklift on the other side.
o A young man’s girlfriend was on the East Berlin side and in order to get her to the West side, he told her to do some extreme dieting. Once she got to be little more than skin and bones, he took the stuffing out of his passenger seat chair and put her in it. They never found her.
o Similarly, another young man’s girlfriend was on the East Berlin side and he was trying to smuggle her past the borders. He dated a girl who lived on the West Berlin side that looked very similar to her for two years and then took her to the East Berlin side for a weekend trip. One day while they were at lunch, she went to the bathroom. When she came back, her passport and papers were missing. The man had switched her out for his true love and left her stranded. True documented story.
o One man catapulted himself to the other side.
o One of the biggest Catholic churches in Berlin has Coca-Cola endorsements posted outside. When parishioners complained, they replaced them with Mercedes Benz endorsements.
o The soldier posted outside Checkpoint Charlie isn’t real. He works for an exotic dancing company and is just there to make money off of taking pictures with him.
o It was a fad for a while to graffiti David Hasselhoff Save the World onto buildings.
o Berlin has numbered all of their trees.
o Hitler’s bunker and “suicide spot” is located outside a random apartment building in a parking lot. The German government didn’t want anyone to make a memorial or a display about it so no one really knows about it. We were there on the anniversary of Hitler’s death.
o Berlin created a memorial for the Jews that died in the Holocaust that are blocks of granite coated in a chemical that makes it easy to wipe off graffiti. The same company that produces this chemical produced the gases that killed the Jews. Therefore, they profited from the death of the Jews and are now profiting off their memorial.
o Gobles (sp?), the man who devised the plan to exterminate the Jews, had Jewish family.
We also met three people our age on the tour—Megan, Sam and Ross. Megan and Sam’s dad told them when they graduated that he wasn’t going to pay for college but would pay for them to travel until they didn’t want to or until they wanted to settle down. They’ve basically been travelling for the past three and a half years across Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia. Ross was a bartender from Washington state who was staying with a friend in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was interesting to meet people who were actively avoiding the 9-5.
The one night that Coop and I went out for a nice meal, we had one of the traditional German drinks—something Weiss. It’s flavored beer. Mine was cranberry and Coop was herbal or something. Coop ordered schnitzel (fried veal) and throughout the next couple of days, we had a couple of currywursts (hot dogs/sausages covered in curry and ketchup). I loved it. I loved Berlin and hope to go back one day to see more of Germany because they are really great people!
As far as traveling goes, however, I’ve learned several things.
-Don’t overdo the sightseeing. If you’re too worried about seeing everything, you won’t enjoy your time at the places you do get to see.
-Half the fun of traveling to other countries is getting to know the people and their culture. And their coffee.
-It’s worth it to pay the extra money to avoid long bus rides/to go the most direct route. The 7 hour bus ride from Sevilla to Madrid is pretty bad….


We’ve started having get-togethers on our roof. See the pics and the roof. My favorite part of them are Keith’s 90s music playlist.

Coop and I have started our way to Paris. So I have learned my lesson hard. I thought we would save money by bussing it to Madrid and flying from a major airport. But after paying for a hotel and going out last night in Madrid, I think the plan was a bust. Oh well. We had a great time in Madrid last night.  So far, probably my favorite city in Spain.

So we head out on a 6 hour bus ride from Seville to Madrid. What I would like to consider some quality bonding time. Before the trip I see a Brady Bunchesque family and am praying they’re not sitting near us. They’re not but instead we have two Jamaican guys who are drunk sitting right behind us and who occasionally sit up and just hover over us. They were sharing some philosophical thoughts however. Such as, “Moneh mon. It jus papa, ya know.” We had the lunches our senoras packed for us and I brought the American 100 calorie pack snacks my mom brought me. I feel like such a soccer mom bringing snacks with me. That or a fat kid.

Anyhow, after eternity, we arrive in Madrid and make it to the hostel. I borrowed a rolly bag from my senora but because its canvas and it’s full, it drags on the ground. Coop has had the pleasure of lugging it around. Drop our stuff off and beeline to the calamari sandwich shop. Love the place—we get the same seats at the bar, the same bartender, same sandwiches, same beers. I’ve always wanted to be a regular at a place and walk in and say the regular. If I lived in Madrid, this could’ve been my place. So after that, we pretty much hit up all the good places we went to before in Madrid. The Bar Andaluz that has all the pictures of bullfighting and the Sevilla soccer teams (I struck up conversation with the bartender about how Real Betis is the better of the two) and then we went to get the amazing mushrooms at Meson Championes or Mushroom Bar with some red wine. If you go to Madrid, you should definitely go to the place. Whenever I’ve had a few drinks, I like to pretend I know the bartender and we talked about the signs on the wall that said “A pretty woman is dangerous. A ugly woman is dangerous but also disgraceful,” and “A good mother-in-law keeps her mouth shut and her purse open.” Personally, I don’t know why I laughed at these as they’re vaguely condescending to women. After we paid and were heading out the door, we kept looking back to say goodbye and Debbie Downer Coop suggested that probably after we’ve paid, they just don’t care about us. I think they were just busy.

We headed towards home but not before stopping at a Mexican bar to pay 3.75 euros for a Corona. But it’s okay because….they had swings for seats at the bar. To me, this was the coolest thing ever. Needless to say, Coop was embarrassed but either way, it was a good experience. I suggest the innovation to all restaurant entrepreneurs.
Decided to sleep in this morning. Prob a bad idea. I’m yelling at Coop because I’m freaking out that Ryanair, the cheapest airline that’s notorious for charging exorbitant amounts of money to people who bring bags weighing too much and he’s freaking out that we’re not going to leave the hotel on time. On top of this, the line to the two bathroom is 6 people long and we have to leave in 40 minutes. Everything works out fine after a) we repacked the bags to more evenly distribute the weight b) I washed my hair in the sink.

My favorite moment of the morning is Coop telling me I don’t even know what I’ve packed and pulling out a Burger King happy meal toy out of the backpack. No comment.
Off to Paris….CAN NOT WAIT.