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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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two months of travels

The past two months of my life have been a cycle of packing and unpacking my suitcase, being home just enough between trips to work a bit and do laundry. Poor me, I know. At the end of March I had a 17-day Easter break, was back for a few weeks to catch my breath, and then my parents came to visit. Over the span of 7 weeks, I traveled to Germany (twice), the Czech Republic, Austria, Portugal, southern Spain. and all around the Basque Country of both Spain and France. It was exhausting, enriching and enlightening.

I started out my 17-day Easter break travels in Berlin (more like BRRRR-lin) where temps were at century record lows and winter was still in full swing. The ground was completely covered in snow and ice, which I found out the hard way upon having a full-sprawl wipe-out my first day there. I guess after two years away from the snowy Midwest winters I have lost all my winter-coping skills. Anyway, I had a lot of fun with new friends and old, drank a lot of good hefeweizen and ate plenty of good food. Berlin is such an international hub and also very modern and hip, so you can find just about any kind of food you’re in the mood for. I opted for mostly Mexican food because it’s my favorite and, contrary to popular belief, Spain is quite lacking in that department. I’ve been deprived. Anyway, I made sure to try Berlin’s best currywurst a couple times too:

currywurst? More like curryBEST!

currywurst? More like curryBEST!

After Berlin was a short trip to Prague. The temps were equally bitter, but nothing can get in the way of Prague’s beauty. With it’s colorful buildings lined with gold, spires and more spires and a huge castle overlooking the city from across the river, it takes you in immediately. It’s like everyone says–you just have to see it.

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Approaching Prague’s main square

After a few days to warm up, re-pack and re-charge back in Bilbao, I headed to Europe’s westernmost city: Lisbon, Portugal. WOW. Maybe it was just the contrast effect from the huge temperature upgrade from my previous trip, but Lisbon just seemed so warm, so alive and colorful. It’s a beautiful, friendly city with tons of character. I can see why so many travel bloggers rave about it. I don’t fall in love with every place I go to the point of saying “I could live here,” but I did feel that way about Lisbon.

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We took the highly-recommended day trip out of Lisbon to the magical wonderland called Sintra. Yes, it’s recommended by every travel book and site you’ll ever see about Lisbon, but it is NOT overrated and is absolutely a must-do if you’re in the area.  A short train ride zips you out to this fairy-tale village, literally filled with castles and gardens. If you do only one thing there, catch a bus from the center of town up to the Pena Palace and spend the day exploring the castle grounds and enjoying the view.

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checking out the view of Lisbon from atop the Pena Palace

After Lisbon, it was southward to the beach town of Lagos, where the views are breathtaking and the fiesta is fantástico. Check out this video I made of a day spent mountain biking and hiking around and outside of the city:

From Lagos we headed back over the border back into Spain and visited Sevilla where my friend Allison is now living and teaching English. It was my third time in Sevilla, but staying with a friend who was very familiar with the city was great to experience the city in a non-touristy way, checking out some really alternative, local hangouts and getting in on lots of live music.

I spent the middle of April  back in Bilbao working and regrouping a bit, and then my fantastic parents arrived! We had the most wonderful 11 days together. Within their first day here, we checked out a Galician seafood festival, had lunch at one of Bilbao’s most legendary restaurants, shopped, met with some of my private lesson students for coffee, checked out some Bilbao Athletic Club fútbol action and went pintxo-hopping. I repeat: that was all within their FIRST DAY here. They are troopers. The next day, we rented a car and embarked upon a Basque Country road trip. We started with lunch in beautiful Biarrtiz, France, stopped for dessert (Grand Marnier crepes!) in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, then back to the Spanish side of the border to spend the night in San Sebastian. As a nice capstone for our road trip, we spent the afternoon hiking out one of my favorite places on earth: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. It was my mom’s second time doing the hike, and my SIXTH!

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lunch and laughter in Biarritz

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe...just can't get enough

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe…just can’t get enough

After our road trip, we spent a couple more days here in Bilbao and my parents even came to work with me one day. They met all of my students and it was such a cool experience for all involved. The next day, we jetted off to Munich, the land of our not-so-distant ancestors. I love Germany. This was my third trip there, and it just keeps getting better. I definitely feel a connection to the place.

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Munich’s main square: Marienplatz

During our time in Munich we also visited a place that has been on my bucket list since I was 16 or so: the site of the former Dachau concentration camp. It was a sobering experience to say the least. If you make it to Munich and want to do the Dachau tour, I highly recommend this company.

The chillingly ironic message on the gate into the Dachau camp: "Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will set you free)"

The chillingly ironic message on the gate into the Dachau camp: “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will set you free)”

We also took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria and took a countryside “Sound of Music” tour. As the reviews said it would be, it was pretty cheesy but a lot of fun, and a great way to see the countryside outside of Salzburg.

Mom and I outside the famous gazebo from the Sound of Music

Mom and I outside the famous gazebo from The Sound of Music

Salzburg city center

Salzburg city center

My parents and I then headed back to Bilbao for the remainder of their stay and thankfully had some brilliant sunshine (finally!) on their last day in the city.

A beautiful day in Castro, a small seaside village outside of Bilbao

A beautiful day in Castro, a small seaside village outside of Bilbao

The past few weeks that have followed all of these travels have been almost equally busy and fantastic, but those are stories for another day…

Hasta la próxima!

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Sevilla, ¡qué maravilla!

Happy Saturday! A bit delayed, but I’ve put together a little video of our trip to Sevilla last weekend. So sit back, relax, and be transported to this magical land of narrow streets lined with horse carriages, royal palaces with lush garden labyrinths, breathtaking architecture at every turn and, of course, flamenco:

 

Hasta la proxima vez….¡Olé!


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time flies when you’re not frozen

It’s December 6th??? Whaaat?! Each year, time seems to fly by even faster, and talking about this phenomenon makes me feel old. :-p In defense of my [relatively young] self, I will say that the difference between this year and all the others in my life is that it’s the first time I’ve been out of North Dakota for the start of winter. I’m quite thankful to be far from the frigid, subzero temperatures of my homeland, but being away from the progression of chilly to snowy to freezing and more snowy has really thrown off my sense of the passage of time this year. I haven’t had my usual “winter is here!” indicators, like wearing a heavy coat and mittens,  trudging through snow and scraping the ice off my window shield.

my parents' backyard in ND

It’s certainly the Christmas season here in Bilbao; the city is beautifully decorated (more on this coming soon in another post!), but it’s definitely not “winter” by my standards.

an oxymoron for me: palm tree and flowers in full bloom in the foreground, christmas lights in the background. Where am I??

Aside from actively trying to get myself in the Christmas spirit, I’ve just been in the usual grind (er…actually, what’s the opposite of a “grind”?) of the life of an auxiliar. We worked long, hard full 12-hour workweeks for the entire month of November, but this past week we’ve all gotten a big break–some for the whole week, and others of us for half the week because a couple of random Spanish holidays happen to fall on the first week of December: yesterday was Spanish Constitution Day, and Thursday is the Day of Immaculate Conception.

Due to our plethora of vacation days, everyone is taking pre-Christmas vacation vacations this week. That way we can be refreshed enough to power through to our two-week break coming up in just 17 days! Hah.

I’m taking advantage of this pre-Christmas vacay by heading tomorrow to the charming cultural capital of southern Spain: “Seville” for you americanos. Here, this gem of a city is called “Sevilla” (say-vee-uh)–usually heard easily rolled off the tongue in an affectionate manner, indicating the seemingly ubiquitous love for this place. A few friends and I selected this location based on the ridiculously low cost of flying there this week (50€ round trip!) and the fact that you just can’t go wrong with a trip to Seville. I’ve been there once before with my parents. We saw the main attractions and attended and absolutely breathtaking flamenco show. I’m excited for my second go-around: to be re-united with the sultry, laid-back land of Andalusia, and to dig deeper into the ample and varied goodness this city has to offer.

My dad and I in front of Spain's largest cathedral in sunny Seville in April of 2010

Flamenco is a must-see in Seville. Check out the feet:

To all of you back home, I send my love and warm, happy thoughts.

Mantengas abrigado!