It’s those unexpected life adventures that you will never forget. Soaking in everything around you, taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that this is real.
“Not until we are lost do we being to understand ourselves.”
Henry David Thoreau
Another early morning plane ride to a dream destination. All three alarms went off at four in the morning where we then stumbled out of bed and proceeded to grab our bags and head downstairs, looking similar to zombies. Our fifteen minute Uber ride to the airport was not long enough as we all attempted to take a quick power nap before the long day began. To be honest, it’s hard to remember what exactly happened between getting to the Brussels airport and then entering our Airbnb in Spain, most likely due to sleep depravation and exhaustion, plus, you know the drill. Get to the airport, go through security, find our gate, wait, get on the plane, power nap again, land, get off the plane, and then struggle to figure out public transportation to the Airbnb, the usual.
Continuing on with our day, we finally made it to our new home for the week. Penthouse? I think so! Faeln and Sarah always do an incredible job at finding cute and affordable Airbnbs. Just take a look for yourself! We had the most adorable blue door which opened up to a small room where you could put your shoes and coats. Continuing in, you turn left to a long hallway which the owner made into two living room spaces with white furniture accented with yellow and orange pillows while the rugs were vibrant with all different colors. Walking to the back of the apartment, you’d find the kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. We wandered around the unfamiliar space where something caught my eye. I lifted the screen covering a window to see an ocean of red roof houses and a view that I could look at for hours. The view plus the sunsets here are jaw dropping, but I’ll get to that later.
We laid our heads down, closed our eyes, and didn’t wake up for three hours. The nap was well worth it though. Having more energy now, we unpacked, grabbed our purses and set out to explore Madrid for the first time. I find it incredible how everything seemed so unfamiliar, the fact that we had to use maps at first, and felt so lost. But within a matter of days, we were Madrid pro’s.
The city was more gorgeous than I imaged. We walked down roads surrounded by tall, colorful buildings, people walking everywhere, the sound of music bursting from second floor apartments, the smell of warm Spain food in the air, and this overwhelming feeling that we belonged. It was at this moment that I knew the week to come would be one of the best I’d ever experience.
It then hit all three of us that we hadn’t eaten since last nights dinner. As it was approaching six, we decided to find somewhere to sit down and eat. We wandered around for quite a while, having Sarah translate menus for us and attempting to scout some places with vegan food. We entered the town square where there were small, outdoor restaurants on every corner. We soon noticed that every restaurant had the same food, so we picked the one with the cutest waiter and enjoyed the night. Since we were in Spain, it only felt right to get Paella (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections).
Now in a food coma, we decided to grab some groceries for breakfast and head back to our apartment for a good nights rest.
What’s better than a walk in the park? A walk in the famous El Retiro Park! A twenty-minute walk from our apartment to this gorgeous garden was needed after days in London’s chilly city. The sun was out, people were walking their dogs, eating ice cream, tanning, carrying their babies, and seizing this beautiful day. The city felt so friendly and happy. It’s hard to describe this feeling, but life seemed to be perfect for this moment, as if there wasn’t a care in the world by us, or anyone around us.
We continued our walk through the park where we turned a corner to what seemed like a Disney movie as Fae put it. There was a small pond ahead, people rowing boats, and live music. The trees were a golden orange as the light hit them. We all stood there basking in the sun, taking in everything at this moment, and attempting to grasp the concept that this was real life.
El Retiro Park
We raced to through the park and to the docks to purchase an hour in a boat. We all took turns rowing, and of course, taking lots of photos. There were so many people on the pond, grandparents, adults, teenagers, babies, with wide smiles and happy hearts. This is a day, a moment, that I will keep with me forever. If you’re ever in the area, I highly suggest going to the Estanque Grande del Retiro, renting a boat, and rowing the day away.
Our view of “Monumento a Alfonso XII”
After our time at the park, we walked back towards the Prado where we stopped to grab a bite at “Cafeteria Los Jeronimos” (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). At lunch, we listened to all the different languages and ascents. I’m getting used to this, hearing all these different forms of communication that I had never experienced before in California. There’s something special about this. About realizing how many different languages, types of people, other cultures there are out in the world. I long to learn about all of them, even if this means traveling more, which is absolutely no problem for me.
Airbnb Sunset View
Remember that sunset with the view I was talking about earlier? Well there it is right above you. When I first laid eyes on it, I was speechless. If you don’t already know, I have a fascinations with sunsets. There’s no way to describe this obsession I have, however, Alicia Cook in her book Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately states what I can’t say.
“I find comfort
in the colors of a sunset.
I find a special magic
in the fact
it never photographs
as beautifully as my eyes
can witness it firsthand.
I find a certain peace
in the conclusion of
another day lived.
And I find hope
in the precarious promise
Enough of that emotional stuff and onto the rest of the Madrid stories! We searched for some vegan restaurants for dinner and found the perfect one. A short walk away, we sat down at La Encomidena (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). Side note, something that I learned very quickly was that the Spanish eat meals a lot later than I’m used to. So, we ate around six and found there to only be a couple other people eating as well, mostly Americans.
After, we rushed to watch some flamenco at one of Madrid’s best live flamenco shows. It was incredible to see and hear so many talented people from singers, to dancers, to a combination of the two. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them and felt a little sad after the hour and the performance ended. This was something I could watch for hours and hours and probably one of my favorite memories from Spain.
The website can be found here https://cardamomo.com/en/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8NTvztrA1wIVIgvTCh1d-wx8EAAYASAAEgJDhfD_BwE
Shopping day! We walked from our apartment to a part of Madrid that we had never been to before. All three of us expected a giant mall, but soon found out there was a street filled with small boutiques instead. This was fine with me, I actually prefer smaller boutiques as I become easily overwhelmed by large stores.
I spotted a sign that said “Donuts” and had to run over to see if vegan options were available. To my surprise, there were! This small little donut and coffee shop was called “The Urban Bites” (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). Fueled by two small vegan donuts, I was ready to take on the rest of the day.
The Streets of Madrid
We walked up and down the street, buying things like shoes and red leather jackets. It was another warm day filled with bustling streets and happy faces.
A long day of walking called for a delicious lunch. A small outdoor restaurant called “GramaBar” was where we ended up eating (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). The black bean arepa was warm and satisfying, perfect for when the day began getting chillier.
Our walk home was absolutely stunning. The cotton candy sky, pink and purple streams across the blue backdrop lit up the night and then slowly faded into darkness, indicating that it was time to eat dinner.
Wanting something not too expensive but also yummy, we found and headed to “Walk to Wok” (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). We ate, laughed, and shared memories from the past twenty-four hours, the perfecting ending to day three in Madrid.
Tourist day as I called it. As seen on Snapchat, today was filled with tourist activities, the “To See” places when searching Madrid on Google, and more good food.
Our first stop included seeing the “Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree”. This sculpture represents the coat of arms of Madrid and can be found in the east side of Puerta Del Sol. The statue’s artist was Antonio Navarro Santafe. The piece was inaugurated in 1967, making this year its fifty year reunion! Want to know what’s funny about this, well we had passed the statue probably ten times already and had no idea that it was significant let alone a “To See” thing in Madrid. But we finally saw it and had to take a photo for proof!
Number two on our tourist spot was the Royal Palace of Madrid. We stared at the building for a few minutes, took a selfie, and continued on. We found a beautiful lookout point (as seen in the far right photo below) that included the palace and the green garden next to it. All three of us ran around the garden like children, admiring the statues and the detail that went into this area.
Campo del Moro Gardens
And we’re off again! We stumbled upon what we learned was Monumento A Cervantes in the Plaza de Espana as seen below. A little bit of history on this includes: the monument was built between 1925 and 1930 but not finished until 1957, sculptor was Lorenzo Coullaut Valera and the two architects include Rafaela Martinez Zapartero and Pedro Muguruza, the tower includes Cervantes overlooking Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. 1 Although we didn’t know this information at the time, we still took in the art before us, captured a selfie, and then headed on our way.
Monumento A Cervantes
For lunch we ended up back in the same plaza that we pass everyday. Here we found a chain restaurant called Cafe & Tapas (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). Warning! We were charged an extra 20% for eating in the outdoor patio that technically looked like it was inside. All three of us quickly realized that this was probably happening at every restaurant we went to and didn’t even notice! So when eating in Spain, be aware that eating outside will cost you extra.
Museo Nacional del Prado
Stop three included the famous Prado Museum or Museo Nacional del Prado as they call it. The museum is free for students with a valid ID and student ID so take advantage of this! When inside, we saw pieces from Car Guo-Qiang in a special exhibit. Three stories of rooms filled with paintings, sculptures, and more. It was overwhelming, actually. You would turn a corner and have three different directions you could go.
One well known piece that you have probably heard of it Velazquez’s Las Meninas. A couple fun facts include: the King and Queen are included, Velazquez makes a cameo of his own, only one person in the painting remains unidentified, there is a mystery behind this painting, Las Meninas gives its audience access to the king’s point of view, it’s enormous, it’s name was changed at some point, and more. More information on this famous piece can be found here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/68209/14-things-know-about-velazquezs-las-meninas
Post museum called for some SORBET! We felt like little kids, ordering our ice cream in a cone, eyes lighting up with glee and then licking it all, and of course, spilling on ourselves. I’m thankful for friends who I can act like a child around, who love me for myself and all my imperfections, and take silly photos eating sorbet with. Thank you Fae and Sarah for your friendship.
Sarah, left // Fae, right
Tonight we met up with my friend, Miguel, who was a foreign exchange student at my high school in California. I hadn’t seen him since either my freshman year or sophomore year of high school! Although we were never that close, we met up and could not stop talking about the good old days, our current lives, and our futures. Miguel suggested we meet at Azotea Del Circulo which had amazing views of the city. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the glistening lights and the view of Madrid. After hanging out for an hour, Miguel guided us to grab a quick bite where we continued to catch up on life and talk until the cafe closed. Thank you Miguel for being our guide and coming all the way into the city to meet up and hangout! I appreciate you!
If you’re ever in the Madrid area, but sure to check out Azotea!
The website for the rooftop bar can be found here: http://www.azoteadelcirculo.com
A day filled with walking, vegan food and new friends. We began our morning, or afternoon since we slept in, by journeying to a vegan restaurant. On the way, we got sidetracked by a cute garden with a hidden shop inside. Here I bought my dad one of the best souvenirs yet, although I can’t put what it exactly was on here because I know my dad is probably reading this right now, but trust me, it’s a good one!
lil garden with a shop inside
We continued on, following side streets and tripping over our own feet because our eyes were glued to the architecture, the appealing colors, and the sights of the city. In a few short minutes, we arrived at our destination, Viva Chapata (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). The three vegan burgers and fries fueled us and set us on our walk back.
This city is filled with beauty. As you can see from the photos above taken on Faeln’s camera, the apartments are covered in yellow and pink paint, making a statement to the world as if they were saying, “Here I am!” My whole camera roll is now filled with photos of buildings, the sky, and food. But hey, I have no problem with that!
Our next mission of the day was finding Sarah the best chocolate churros in all of Madrid. We found the world renown “Chocolateria San Gines” located near Plaza Mayor. (For more information on this meal, check out the blog post “Madrid, Spain” in the TRAVELS -> STUDY ABROAD -> FOREIGN EATS sections). Although they weren’t vegan, we still supported Sarah and made her eat all six churros!
That night, we met up with Miguel at his house where he had invited other friends from his university over. We got to meet so many that night that I hope to stay in contact with. Among this group were a few American boys. We bonded over talking about the differences between America and Spain. It was the perfect way to end our last day in Spain.
Goodbye Madrid. With little sleep, we headed out to the airport and back to London. I’m going to miss this city, the architecture, the warm weather, and the friendly people. I will be back soon though no doubt!
On the plane I began reading the book Words from a Wanderer. This chapter stood out to me and I would like to share it with you. It reads, “Love yourself first. Buy yourself flowers. Tell yourself how beautiful you are. Don’t expect anyone to love you more than you do. When you meet a partner, you shouldn’t have expectations of flattery. The beautiful words and things will be microscopic when you’re already showering yourself with them. Expectations can taint love when you’re seeking to fill a void.”
These words are so true. It is so important to love yourself before you try finding love. This experience of traveling the world and finding out who I truly am is well needed right now. I am glad to learn these lessons so young and work on myself. I encourage you to learn to love yourself first and discover the true you.
Madrid will always have a piece of my heart. In honor of visiting this beautiful city, I wrote a short poem expressing my gratitude for the hospitality that it showed to me. You can find this under the SELF-LOVE section of my blog or at the link https://exploringtheworld.me/2017/10/27/dear-madrid/
Until next time Madrid…
Nov 3rd-5th // Paris, France
A place of romance, beautiful views, history, friendly residence, & delicious food
We set out this morning for a long, productive day. The first step was to get from Roehampton University to the EuroStar. This included a quick bus ride and then a train ride. Once we got to the entrance of the EuroStar, we had to go through security before we could begin boarding. This process was quicker than imagined, which is pretty rare in London. We then ran to our seats and made ourselves comfortable for the two and a half hour train ride. This includes going UNDER the ocean?! Hard concept to grasp? Just look at the map on the right. You hardly notice that you’re traveling underwater, the only indication is the black walls surrounding you for what seemed like thirty minutes. We finally arrived in Paris and attempted to make our way to our beautiful Airbnb. This processes included taking a few trains where we then got off, walked outside of the station, and looked up to see a massive tower.
It’s hard to truly understand what sometime looks like until you stand in front of it. You see the Eiffel Tower in photos and get a gist of what it looks like, but I believe that you don’t truly understand the power and history behind the figure until you are there in its presence. After a couple of minutes of staring, no words having to be said, we made our way to our Airbnb. There’s no way to describe the view of our Airbnb so I’m just going to include photos below for you to see…
Unbelievable? I know. We got so lucky with booking this Airbnb as it happened to be free the ONE weekend we were in Paris and it wasn’t too costly! We spent hours on the window seal just staring at the tower, admiring its beautiful, and taking in the moment. I still sit here in my London room with warmth in my heart and an obsession with the view from this Airbnb. If you’re ever in Paris and want a good place to stay with a view, hit me up!
After Facetiming friends and family to show them our view, we decided a late lunch was necessary. We found a small vegan restaurant nearby that we walked to since it happened to be a gorgeous day despite what the weather app predicted. For more information on this meal and the restaurant, see my blog post “Brasserie Lola” in the Travel –> Study Abroad –> Foreign Eats section of my blog. After, we proceeded to walk around, grab some Starbucks mugs, and pick up a few souvenirs. By the time we got back to the Airbnb, or what we called home for the weekend, the Eiffel Tower was glistening, indicating the city of Paris that it was now night. Fae and I sat and stared, tears filling my eyes at the fact that I was currently sitting in Paris, looking at the Eiffel Tower from my bedroom, beside my best friend, listening to Bob Dylan. It was one of those moments that feels like a dream, that life is too good to be true. I was woken up from my daydream, I mean reality? to a text message from a friend indicating where to meet before dinner. “Meet next to the Eiffel Tower?” the message stated. Unreal. Fae and I quickly changed, finding it hard to take our eyes off the massive structure outside our window and headed out for a night in Paris. It was right before stepping outside the door that we noticed the tower begin to sparkle. Not just sparkle, but take on a dancing pattern of lights going crazy on the tower. I’ve attached a video below so you can experience what we were seeing. (We soon learned that this occurs every hour on the hour and lasts about fifteen minutes until one o’ clock at night)
We decided to explore the city a little before going to dinner. We ended up walking
to Arc de Triomphe without even knowing it! We sat on a bench as orange leaves fell from the tree next to us. We watched the roundabout in astonishment at the fact that it was chaos, but controlled chaos. Cars raced in all directions without hitting each other and getting to their destination exit. After, we walked back a different route where we ended up at sitting at the edge of a river, people watched, enjoyed the live music, and soaked in the moment. We then met Sarah, Avery, and Yvette for a delicious dinner in the city. We shared laughs, caught up on our trips so far, and enjoyed this moment, five girls grabbing a meal in the beautiful city of Paris.
Tourist day as I called it. I was determined to visit all the “must see” spots of Paris. We started at one side of the city and walked all the way back to our home. First on our list was Place de la Concorde where we took two quick trains to get there. After, we got delicious salads and lemonades at a restaurant nearby, see my post “Le Paradis Du Fruit” in the Travel –> Study Abroad –> Foreign Eats section of my blog for more details. Fae and I enjoyed the cold air outside and the fact that we were experiencing a real autumn so no public transportation was needed today, only our feet and a map.
Next on the list was Notre Dame Cathedral. On this walk, we experienced live musicians, a man blowing gigantic bubbles, and cheap thrift stores. We got to the cathedral, took an abundance of photos and then set out for our next location, the Louvre.
We continued walking the same road that we stared on until we came across three giant glass pyramids. A pretty good indication
that we had reached our destination. We took photos in front then proceed to join the line of people into the museum. A fun-fact for those of you that are students, if you show them your student ID and some proof of identification, you get into the museum for FREE! I have heard rumors that you have to pay more to see the Mona Lisa, and let me tell you that this rumor is FALSE! Follow the signs inside, or the group of people running, and you will find the Mona Lisa in the back of the museum. There is a rope in front of here and a few guard that ensure her safety. You may have to wait a couple of minutes and use some force to get to the front and snap a quick photo.
There is a bullet proof glass in front of her so your photos may have a glare, but you must have some evidence that you were there correct? This was another one of those experiences where I had to step back and remind myself that this was real and that I wasn’t in a dream. Yes, I did run back and forth and yes, her eyes did follow me. Just tourist things right?
The rest of museum is huge and very easy to get lost in, just a warning, this did happen. Actually, it’s the largest museum in the world! Being said, you could spend hours, days, even months in this museum! Fun-fact time!! “If you ever had 100 days spare, you could probably squeeze in every piece of art, but you could only spend 30 seconds on each piece – and that’s if you were there all day, every day.”1 There are 380,00 pieces in total! Another fun fact is that the Louvre wasn’t originally a museum but rather a fortress and then a royal palace. Also, Napoleon was the first to ever hang the Mona Lisa in his private bedroom. Fun-fact number three is the fact that the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911 and then returned two years later. For the final fun fact, there is said to be a Louvre Ghost that dates back to 1190 and thought to be haunted by a mummy called Belphegor.
In need of some coffee, we set out by foot to find a cute little coffee shop. While walking, we discovered a beautiful area that we found out was called Place de la Concorde pictured below. Although we never ended up finding a cafe, we enjoyed our sunset walk while following the Eiffel Tower back home.
Exhausted and just wanting to pick up a cheap dinner, we spotted a Subway and you get we got a foot long, apple juice, and a bag of chips?! Throwback to childhood. We sat in our bed, glancing at the Eiffel Tower a few times while watching Modern Family and eating our vegan dinners. The perfect ending to the perfect day.
Saying goodbye is always the hardest part. Thank you Paris for inviting us into your city and showing us so much hospitality. You were more than I ever imagined you to be. You have so much history and beauty within your city that it’s hard to comprehend the fact that people live in you year round. I look forward to the day where I get to visit you again, which will hopefully be soon.