Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Quick Post: San Jose and San Francisco

For my birthday, my parents sent me out to California to visit Krista! I had loved visiting California a few years earlier for a trip to San Diego, and loved it again this time around. We hung around San Jose, Krista's home city for a while, then headed up to San Francisco for the night with her little dog Gypsy to see the sights.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Spain is My Soul Sister

Barcelona rekindled my love affair with Spain. 

I adore Italy with all of my heart, but Spain speaks to my soul. Somehow (you know, with all that studying/partying/traveling downtime) I never made it to Barcelona while studying abroad but after my visit with Holly I am just head-over-heels for the beautiful, colorful, sun-shining city. Prepare for a gagillion pictures, I couldn't choose my favorites. 

Flower market on Las Ramblas
Outside Boqueria Market

Inside of Boqueria Market

I did my best with booking our rooms, despite trying to stay within a budget and making plans pretty last-minute. 

I’m going to go ahead and give myself a high five because all of our hotels were in the perfect location! In Barcelona, we were just off Ramblas, which put us on one of the main streets of the city. Walking for ten minutes in any direction brought us to the port, Place de Catalunya, or through Barrio Gotico to the Cathedral. It was perfect! The Boqueria Market was right down the street from us and I do love a good market! A man selling fish at the market told me that while it is a destination frequented by tourists, the winding maze of food stands really is where many locals do their grocery shopping. 

If you, like me, have never taken a tourist bus, I’d highly recommend it, even just once. 

Holly and I saw them around Rome but decided to wait until Barcelona. Yes, it was more expensive than a metro ticket, and yes sometimes the route took much longer, but there’s something about sitting in the front seat, top deck of one of those busses that’s pretty fun! We enjoyed hearing the history of some of the places we were visiting, and it gave us a nice overview of the city as a whole. It might not be something I’d do in every city, but definitely worth the cost of a two-day pass! We took the Bus Turistico route, and mostly stuck to the blue route, which covered a few of the main Gaudi destinations.

Comparing the facade of, from left to right, Barcelona Cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, and the Church of Santa Maria del Mar.

I’m so obsessed with Gaudi now. 

We spent time at Casa Batlló, Park Güell, and the Sagrada Familia, and each was incredible. Casa Batlló looked like Floop’s house from Spy Kids, and it blew my mind to think that it was really someone’s home. The shingles on the roof looks like the scales of a multicolored dragon, and I had read that it is meant to be the dragon that was slayed by Saint George. I thought it was such a cool story to begin with, but apparently Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia and that makes it even more interesting!

Park Güell was built to be a garden community and was originally meant to have 60 homes. After walking through the beautiful gardens, the organically inspired arches and pathways, and appreciating the breathtaking views I have absolutely no idea why the idea was unpopular and eventually abandoned.

Finally, La Sagrada Familia, one of the most awe-inspiring places I’ve ever seen. 

First of all, it is ginormous; the sheer size is enough to make it impressive, but it’s so much more than that. The inside is like a colorful forest, with the columns as trees reaching up to the roof. The stained glass windows were more abstract than I’ve seen in any other cathedrals, and filled the space with rainbow light. For such a colorful and creatively designed space it is surprisingly relaxing and serene, truly a place of worship and reflection. Something I found especially pleasing was the fact that it is still being built. You hear of beautiful monuments or cathedrals being built over generations, but we’re a part of a generation building this one. The cathedral is entirely funded by donations, and tickets bought to enter go towards the building project. Feels good to contribute!

Another, possibly less exciting, major highlight of Barcelona was coffee. 

I’ve mentioned my tiny coffee pot in previous posts, but I don’t know if I’ve expressed how much I miss a huge, steaming mug of coffee in the morning, or, more importantly, iced coffee. Yes, Italian coffee has a wonderful taste, but it’s more the atmosphere of savoring a cup of coffee that I miss. Italy doesn’t have Starbucks, but Barcelona does! Needless to say, I was highly caffeinated for pretty much all of our trip to Spain and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Iced caramel macchiato fo lyfe.

This little cutiepie lobster
When Holly and I would split up for an afternoon, I liked exploring different areas of the city and loved going into the beautiful cathedrals. Barcelona Cathedral and the Church of Santa Maria del Mar are both worth visiting! It was incredible to see how much they varied through the years, especially compared with the the Sagrada Familia. The port area was also beautiful to walk through. On one walk, I found a tiny antiques market, and walked down the Passeig de Colom to the surrealist Cara de Barcelona. It was a nice afternoon and gave me a to-do list for my next trip to Barcelona: visit the aquarium, the Picasso Museum, the Maritime Museum, and travel up the port cable car. Next time…

Cara del Barcelona, by Roy Lichtenstein

When I’m home, I’m going to be honest, I’m not really into sports. 

Soccer (‘football’) isn’t a sport I can honestly say I pay much attention to. The world cup, however, is another story. Keeping up with how the world is doing, choosing favorite teams along the way, and being in a bar full of divided, cheering fans is so much fun! The World Cup final between Argentina and Germany took place while Holly and I were in Barcelona, and we spent some time that night seeking out the perfect atmosphere to spend the evening cheering along with… well… whoever, we really didn’t care. At first, we saw an Argentinian couple completely painted in blue and white and tried following them, assuming that whatever bar they ended up at would be a fun one. They were going to a friend’s house though, so we hopped in with a German group who looked like they were having a good time. Unfortunately, we mistakenly mentioned that we hadn’t picked a team and they did NOT want our company. Luckily we found a great bar, full of fans from all over the world. When we met a new group we didn’t make the same mistake and, noticing their colors, cheered along for Argentina with them. It’s so great meeting other travelers because you all have that one tremendous thing in common: an intense desire to see the world. Anyways, that night was one of our most fun in our summer adventure.

Notes for future Jesye: When I live in Barcelona, I’m going to church every week at the Sagrada Familia, doing my grocery shopping at Boqueria Market and having a picnic every weekend either at the port or in Park Güell.
Inside Church del Santa Maria del Mar
Inside Church del Santa Maria del Mar

Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral

Questions and Comments from Flight 2359

Maybe I'm becoming cynical, maybe I'm mean, and maybe I'm just incredibly jet-lagged. But yesterday on my flight to see Krista in San Jose, I found myself sitting next to an 18-year-old who I had absolutely no patience for. I had planned to spend the time finishing up a few blog posts, reading, and working on some teaching things for next year (you can find a few in my new teachers-pay-teachers store! I made my first sale!). Anyways, after a layover in Minneapolis and on my second flight of the day, I found myself with a finished book and a dead computer. How to occupy my time? Why, make a list of all the ridiculous questions, comments, and actions of the boy who'd sat next to me on the previous flight of course!

Anastasia just gets me.

image by 20somethingsproblems

*Quick note: many, maybe even most, of these are perfectly acceptable questions to ask while getting to know someone. But when rapid-fired over the course of two hours when it's not even 7 in the morning? No. Italics will represent actions.

*Other quick note: Yes, I do have boundary issues when it comes to flying. There is only so much space in those little seats and I get territorial. I also don't like strangers touching my face.

  • You wear contacts.
  • Is your hair red or brown?
  • Touches hair on right side of my head This part of your hair that has light on it is red, but over here without the light (touches other side) is just brown. 
  • What's your favorite subject?
  • What's the best part of college?
  • Why do we even have to buckle in on an airplane? If we crash it's not going to do anything.
  • If you could be in any movie what would it be? What about show?
  • Do you like trees?
  • Your nails and folder are pink. What other pink things do you have?
  • What are your dreams for the future?
  • If you could do anything today what would it be? (We're on a flight to California that I'm really excited about so I say go to California). What about world peace?!
  • Do you have to shave your legs everyday?
  • Where'd you get that scar?
  • Do you want a cookie? (Keeps putting cookie on my tray, I say no thank you, I don't want your cookie). Why won't you just eat the cookie!?
  • You'd rather read than talk?
  • You have humongous eyes. But not like an alien!
  • Leans directly into my seat to look out the window.
  • Are you wearing socks? Don't your feet get sweaty?
  • I'm sorry. I keep looking in your eyes. Some people don't like that.
  • I have a friend named Jesye and you both look the same. Except her hair is darker and she doesn't have freckles. Do you know her?
  • Are you a right brain or left brain person?
  • Can I watch you type?
  • What's in that desktop folder?
  • What does that mean? (Pointing at something I'm typing)
  • The face you just made just made my day. (I ask what face?) I don't remember.
  • Hopefully you look the same when you're 50.
  • Why are you a teacher?
  • Don't you think teachers should do a better job and actually make sure kids learn important things?
  • I can tell you're a teacher because you smile a lot.
  • Since you're short does your neck hurt when you fly? 
  • How to you sleep on a flight? Shows me different ways someone might sleep. Like this? Like this?
  • How many inches tall are you?
  • Do you like flying?
  • Boops me on the nose because that's apparently where most of my freckles are.
  • We're probably going to crash and die.
  • Are you a democrat or republican?
  • Who did you vote for in the last election?
  • Brushes hair off my face.
  • Why did you buy that ring?
  • What did you go to college for? (I say childhood/early childhood education and literacy) Am I literate? Was that not a literate thing to say?
  • Jesye. Jesye Jesye. I just like saying your name. 
I tried my absolute hardest to be friendly the whole time but oh my gosh, GRKJDPASOIJFPOQIEJPKEJD:QWKLJD:WQLKJ:KQLWJ!!!!
Me on the inside.
image by howdoiputthisgently?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's a Tough Life

In Morocco, I was so sick I felt like maybe I was going to die. 

It was the absolute worst. The most awful part was that we weren't staying still; between staying with different families and the constant bus rides and activities, I couldn't just lay in bed and sleep it off. Ugh. Poor Holly got sick for our trip to Nice. After WebMDing her symptoms, I spent another good hour looking up hospitals in the area and French phrases I might need to get her help for her deadly meningitis. We're pretty sure it was a migraine now.

This was the only accommodation we booked through Airbnb, which worked out well for the most part. For the sake of contrast later in this post, I'll give a few details about our little apartment: you walk into a tiny hallway with a bathroom to one side and a living room to your front. The living room is also the bedroom and kitchen, and the tiny love seat pulls out into a bed that literally fills the entire room. Like, you can open the mini fridge door, and that's the extent of the non-bed space. There was a second bed upstairs in a little loft. This was also the only time in our trip where we had separate beds, and thank goodness because I didn't want Holly's sicky germs! To get up to the loft, which consisted of a twin bed and space for me to sit my suitcase but not to stand, we pulled a ladder down from the ceiling from the hall. Only problem with the loft was that the bathroom door couldn't open if the loft stairs were down and you couldn't really get to the front door. The bathroom was very strange in that the shower was on a platform that just flooded out onto the floor. There was also no hot water. But it was very inexpensive and the perfect location, so absolutely fine by me!

View from Castle Hill
After feeling confident that she wasn't actually going to die, I set out to explore some of my favorite places in Nice and a few that I haven't seen before. We were staying on Place Garibaldi, which was just a few steps away from Old Town. Markets, cute little soap shops, etc. Again I need to chide myself on the fact that I didn't do my research... Grrr. While sitting down by Pebble Beach and looking through a tourist packet, I realized there was so much more to do and I didn't have time to do it all! Before returning home to check on Holly though, I did make the climb up to Castle Hill, an amazing lookout point and the area once occupied by the Celtic Ligurians. I could have spent the whole day up there!

On an island off the coast of Cannes

The absolute best part of our Nice trip was on our third afternoon. 

One of my student's family has a house in the hills in the area, and were so kind to invite us to spend the day with them on their boat. Now, before reading any further, make a mental image (haha teacher-talk) of the apartment we stayed in. Is it In your head? Good- please continue. Oh my gosh, it was unbelievable. The boat itself was unlike anything I've ever seen, let alone thought I'd be cruising along the French Riviera on. The first thing we saw (Holly was better at this point) was that the boat had a three person crew. They were all probably under 30, and though they did amazing, hard work, they also were a ton of fun and hung around with the family. My student (we'll call her Ginny for the sake of privacy- when we need nicknames for a game in class that's usually what she picks) took us on a tour of the boat and I think I just walked through with my mouth hanging open. There were four bedrooms downstairs, and the bathroom was better and probably bigger than the one in my apartment. On the ground floor there was a kitchen, living room, and a deck with a nice dining room table. You could walk down a narrow corridor on either side of the boat to the front and catch some rays. If you went upstairs, there was a grill, the navigation system, couches, and another big table. I have no words. Well, I guess I do because I just described it, but not really. It was incredible.

The church and abbey

Anyways, after our tour, the captain set sail for an island off of Cannes where we anchored for the day. 

Lunch was a three course meal and was maybe some of the best food I've ever eaten. After, we went over in the little dingy to explore Saint Honorat, a beautiful island full of monks and wineries and a castle. Remember how I said that Venice made me think of 'Man in the Iron Mask?' Well. As it turns out, the filming was done on the island opposite from us! So cool! It was just the most wonderful day. My little student is the one who made me all of those Harry Potter posters and is such a sweetie, and she couldn't come from a nicer family. The mother's sister, parents, brother-in-law, and niece were there along with Ginny, her brother, and parents so you'd think it would be crowded... But no. I think Holly might have been a little nervous because she didn't know any of them at all, but they're comfortable to be around, easy to make conversation with, and a ton of fun. It was such an awesome day!!

Our little island crew
The monastery looked like a castle! 

Last thoughts for the day: I will be conversational in Italian by this time next year. I felt so horrible and rude hardly being able to communicate with some of the family. Ginny's dad told me that he starts off every week with an hour of Spanish lessons and an hour of English lessons. That's the smartest way to make to set yourself off on the right note. I'm gonna do it! Only with Italian, not English because, you know... I already know it...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Exploring the World Marco Polo Style

The second stop on our summer adventure was Venice, a city I've been dying to see for a while now. It's a short train ride from Milan (though we traveled from Rome), and while it's incredible enough to spend a month visiting, it's also the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Holly and I fell completely, head-over-heels in love with Venice. 

The hotel we booked was located perfectly, across the Grand Canal from the train station. It was super easy to find, but just a turn away the maze of tiny streets and canals that we couldn't get enough of. One of the first things we noticed was that there are truly no cars; everyone traveled by boat. The taxis, the police, the garbage and construction vehicles were all boats! We heard a siren at one point when we weren't next to the canal to see it go by, but assumed that even ambulances were boats. Craziness! 

I've said it before, but wandering is one of my absolute favorite things to do while traveling.

 Venice is truly a labyrinth, with a billion little streets, bridges, and dead ends to get lost in. *Side note: because my students all learned English as a second language, the translations were often more sophisticated than your average 9 year old's vocabulary. When telling me about their birthday parties at a laser tag facility they'd often discuss the 'labyrinth' that you navigate through as you play. Hehe cutie pies.* Venice, like Florence, is one of those cities where we'd be admiring the view only to look back and see that what was behind us was even more incredible. I'm not sure how to even begin describing it. The peacefully still canals, the waterlines creeping up the old buildings, the colorful flower boxes in each window, and the cobble stoned streets make Venice the perfect city to wander until you have absolutely no clue where you are.

The Bridge of Sighs

Interestingly, Holly and I didn't have any of the complaints many tourists have visiting Venice in peak tourist season. 

Maybe it could have something to do with growing up around lakes, but it didn't smell awful like I'd heard it would. The only place we felt was too crowded was right around San Marco's. Seeing the Bridge of Sighs was cool, and I'm again embarrassed about my lack of travel knowledge. I had thought the the 'sigh' part of the name came from travelers sighing in appreciation of the view from the bridge. That's partially true in that hundreds of years ago prisoners were moved between buildings on this bridge, and they would often sigh as they caught their last view of Venice through the windows before their incarceration. The area was beautiful, and I definitely will be doing some reading up on the history (I know, I know- I really need to do my reading before traveling), but we didn't stick around there long and instead kept to the relatively empty little alleyways. 

San Marco's Basilica
He had a friend paint this view for his

We took a ride on a gondola, and it was definitely worth the price. 

The view from the boat was beautiful, and our gondolier was full of interesting little details on each landmark we passed, as well as Venice in general. He was very proud of his boat, and seemed to be friends with everyone we rowed past. My teacher side is coming out again: one of the most exciting moment of the trip was when he nonchalantly pointed out Marco Polo's house from the water. We spent a long time learning about exploration this year, and Marco Polo was one of our biggest focuses I'm class... *insert high-pitched squeal of excitement here!!* The most amazing part was that it just blended in with the surrounding houses. If he was born in 1254, that makes his house at least 760 years old, but it didn't look out of place or any more like a historical landmark than the others. We also passed Casanova's house. Crazy. 

Clearly he's thrilled.

Marco Polo's house! Ermahgerd!

Maybe a little research will help with this, but Holly and I kept wondering about the doors that led directly to the water. Sure, then you could access your front door from your boat, but what about when the water rose another two feet as our gondolier said it would? Were they all boat garages? Some looked like dungeon gates like you'd see in "The Man in the Iron Mask" or "Ever After" or something. Hmmm something to ponder and perhaps Google...

Embarrassing, hilarious, & so much fun!
Unfortunately for us the forecast called for rain during our brief stay. However, luck was on our side and the storm lasted for about two hours in the evening, and we headed right back out afterwards. It was dark at that point, and the street lights shining on the wet cobblestones added a very ethereal feel to the already magical city. We did some more wandering, and when we heard some music playing across the Grand Canal went searching for its source. It turned out to belong to a group of locals who meet each week to learn new dances. One of the men asked us to join in, saying that they learn dances from all over the world and practice in public in order to meet new people. We learned an Israeli dance that looked simple but took me forever to get the hang of. After finally remembering which foot to cross over and when to take the small tippy toe steps, I was very proud of myself. That is I was until I looked up from the guy next to me's feet at the graceful girl to his left and realized I dance like a broken robot. A French three-step dance came on next and I'm pretty sure I was worse at that one. But no matter- it was such a fun, spontaneous experience and from now on I'll always seek out the music!

Next time (it's pretty cool to be able to say next time and feel confident that there will be a next time), I definitely want to go inside San Marco's, the Da Vinci museum, and take a trip over to the island of Murano for a glassblowing demonstration. As for souvenirs, Venice is full of carnavale masks and figurines made from both beautiful Murano and cheap imitation glass. I loved all of the ornate clocks we kept seeing and bought a lovely little sundial, as well as little glass candy pieces that now fill a dish on my coffee table. Something for the grandchildren to play with :) Holly and I are now on a train to Nice, which should be nice (haha I'm so funny). I'm looking forward to Old Town, rosé wine, and combing Pebble Beach for sea glass. 

Hey, it's me! In an apparently see-through shirt...