Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)

27 February 2010

A little peek at Paris

A Paris blog will be coming soon!

In the meantime, I thought this video deserved a post of its own. We came out of the Louvre and spotted the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance. Absolutely gorgeous!

Warning: the middle is pretty shaky... I guess I couldn't contain my excitement!

26 February 2010

A weekend in Granada

This is a little late, but better late than never!

For Valentine's Day, Sora and I hopped on another bus to the south of Spain. This time we were headed to Granada. Unfortunately, we were met with some crazy bad weather: cold, rain, and snow. But we made the best of it :)
The foggy view from the Alhambra grounds.

The main event in Granada is the Alhambra, a Moorish palace. The Alhambra only allows 7,800 visitors a day, and only sells 1,800 on the stop. Since Sora and I were last minute visitors to Granada, we woke up early to ensure we were one of the 1,800.

The palace is set up on a hill, so the surrounding views overlooked the valley and city.

The palace walls were COVERED in very intricate carvings.

The Generalife Gardens.

Overlooking Granada from the Generalife gardens.

A little peak of the hills.

In order to warm up, Sora and I stopped at a Moroccan tea house. After we had rested our feet and warmed our bodies, we took to the streets with a Rick Steves walking tour. The highlight was a little network of back streets selling Moroccan goods. It was a little burst of color in an otherwise gray day!

Piles and piles of great "stuff"!

Loved the Morrocan lamps.

For the evening, we headed up the hill across the river from the Alhambra to see it lit up. We looked from the San Nicolas Viewpoint, made famous by a visit from the Clinton family in 1997. (Ironically, we were there the same weekend Bill Clinton had his heart problems...)

Hehe Happy Valentine's Day, Sora!

More fog.

The view from San Nicolas was great! The lit up Alhambra with the pretty city background was beautiful.

Even with our great pictures, the crummy weather blocked a very important element of the Granada landscape: the mountains! We had told someone about our great pictures, and she said: "oh, and the mountains too are so beautiful!" WHAT?? We had no idea there were mountains surrounding us until the bus ride home!

Postcard perfect!

16 February 2010

Knits by Esperanza

Baby bonnet, with a bow.

My lovely senora, Esperanza (don't worry, I will post picture of her soon!) is a master knitter. When I came back from class tonight, the dining room was full of another batch of her baby knits. She sells the actual clothes to other grandmas and etc., and the patterns to knitting books. One of the first days I was here, she showed me a knitting book, and her designs and clothes were 90% of the book!

Look at that ruffle!

She does have two grandchildren, but at 4 and 8 years old, they have outgrown the tiny little knits she makes. I am positive they were the best dressed on the block when they were little though!

Boy sweater

Girl sweater, with booties. She said the booties take her only a day!


The whole "school" thing is really cramping my style right now. Midterms are conveniently smack dab in the middle of 2 long weekends, internship interviews, and application deadlines. Not to mention I am behind on weekend blog posts and picture uploading.

But alas, I will keep calm and carry on.

To leave on a bright note, this weekend I am headed to Paris!

Oui, oui!

12 February 2010

Weekend Plans: Granada

Hello all! Sora and I are headed down south again... to Granada! We will be stalking the bus station tomorrow to ensure tickets, so cross your fingers it all works out! Expect some scoop when I return :)

06 February 2010

"Hiking" in "Spain"

Left: My view last Saturday. Right: My view this Saturday.

Let me explain...

This past Saturday, I went hiking with a group of SLU friends. Being the overpacker and hiking novice that I am, I wore a sweatshirt and a fleece, and brought a light jacket. The Madrid weather was in the 50s, but I am glad I was over-prepared...

...Because we hiked in the snow! It was definitely not very "Spanish"!

Our "hiking trail" was a little lodge, sledding hill, and haven for hardcore mountainmen. We traveled on two different trains from Madrid to way up in the mountain range of Los Cotos, between Madrid and Segovia. We were very surprised when we saw snow outside of the window on the other side of a tunnel!

Part of the group: Nathan, Laura, Zach, Elizabeth, Adam

(maybe Nathan wasn't so game...?)

Fellow mountaineers, appropriately wearing hats, gloves, and coats.

We came to hike, and hiking is what we set out to do... we were not about to let our trainfare go to waste! We found the information center, grabbed some maps, and head out on the trail. A sign, warning those with a lack of experience and proper equipment to NOT CONTINUE, waved farewell to us as we started up the hill. With our tennies, sweatshirts, and bewildered faces, we definitely stuck out as American students!

I think they should have just put "Yes, you guys..."

Winter scene.

Visibility was low, but the scenery we could see was gorgeous! I felt I was really connecting to home... I was in a snowy paradise while my people in the States were getting snow too!

Sora and Zach, frozen solid.

We thought these treetops looked like crosses, so perhaps we were in
a graveyard for American students who never made it?

Nathan is sad because he thinks he might be next.

Walking off a cliff? On flat ground? We never really knew for certain!

The bad thing about the snow and low visibility is we never knew what was surrounding us! It gave the whole hike an adventurous and eerie feel... like we were walking into the unknown...

Intense hikers: with poles, strappy backpacks, and spiky shoes!

We were frequently passed by skiers swoosh, swoosh, swooshing down the hill.

Myself, Laura, Susan, Elizabeth, and Sora

Frozen hair!

We got a little turned around on our trail, and had to backtrack. At this point, Nathan, Laura, and I were a bit frozen and decided to head back to lodge. The rest of the group ventured on, and discovered a cliff. Of course, I was told I missed the best part and that it was very cool.

But while they were facing the treacherous winds on the cliff, I was sipping on a cup of hot chocolate in the lodge :)

Warming up by the fire.

Extreme pictures... I am sure they will be adding ours up soon.

They make one tasty and hot cup of hot chocolate!

On the train rides back, still thawing and worn out, we all agreed it was an excellent adventure. Sora said they met other SLU students who had gone hiking... but theirs was on normal terrain with regular temperatures. She said they were very jealous of our awesome pictures and daring tales!

Madrid on a Friday

We LOVE gelato :)

Sora and I decided to take advantage of our home field advantage this weekend, and explore the city! We set off early afternoon, and decided to walk to our destinations instead of taking the Metro... a good way to save money and see the city above ground!

Our first spot was the Plaza de Espana. The Plaza is a very busy area, and has a pretty square in the middle of the traffic. We posed with the statues honoring Miguel de Cervantes, the author of ¨Don Quixote¨.

PETA must hate Spain, because Spainards love their fur.

With Sora, pointing onward on our journey.

Wedding pictures!

The area around Palacio Real.

Our next stop was Palacio Real, ¨Royal Palace.¨ This 2,000 room palace was built in the 18th century for King Philip V. Philip V was very influenced by the French, and wanted his own Spanish Versailles.

One word to describe the palace: ornate. Brilliant and enormous chandeliers hung in every room (with the gala dining room having 15!), and the tapestries and gold decor screamed royalty. I especially appreciated the fleur-de-lis symbol displayed everywhere. (Shout out to Kappa!)

Palacio Real.

We explored the palace with another guided tour by Rick Steves, who once again pulled through with random facts about the palace. He directed our attention to a fleur-de-lis shaped chandelier (I am ordering one for the Kappa house as we speak) and to the inches higher seats in the dining hall reserved specifically for the royalty.

Another pharmacy travel buddy!

After Palacio Real, we swung by its neighbor, the Catedral of Almudena. It was very unlike the previous cathdrals we have seen: colorful! The interior was in the Neo-Gothic style, and very contemporary. The main attraction of the cathedral is the tomb of Madrid´s patron saint, Isidro. Crazy thing: forty years after he had died, his coffin was opened and his body was found perfectly preserved. The pope thought this was pretty awesome, and canonized him.

Colorful dome and ceiling of the cathedral.

Next up: Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is a big square of cobblestoned free space. Restaurants and cafes line the square, with the most popular tables being those in the sun!

Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor was ¨bumping¨, as Sora would say, and there were quite a few crazy characters. There seemed to be a Disney theme among the street performers... but they didn´t quite capture enough Disney magic to be convincing...

My spidey senses are telling me someone has had one too many churros...

The final attraction we passed on the way home was Puerta del Sol, the bustling center of Spain (with a marker to prove it!). Sol is the definitition of busy, with more street performers, gawking tourists, and punky tweens.

Sora and I, at the distinct Sol Metro station.

How do you know for sure when you are at Sol? When you see the Tio Pepe sign, a major landmark of Sol. Tio Pepe is a brand of sherry, and the only billboard allowed in Sol.

My favorite part of Sol is the statue of a bear pawing a berry bush, the symbol of Madrid. The tree is of ¨madroños¨, a berry used to make a traditional madroño liqueur.

Yes, we definitely took a picture of myself as a tree, and Sora pawing...

Many hours and miles later, we were on the fast track back to our casas and hot dinners. It was a successful day exploring Madrid!

We had a lot of company on our walk home!

01 February 2010

A weekend in Sevilla

A post about Sevilla MUST start out with a picture of oranges, the mascot of Sevilla. The streets were lined with brightly colored orange trees!

For the first weekend trip, Sora and I traveled to southern Spain, to Seville ("Sevilla"), a city in the Andalusia region. The weather was absolutely perfect, in the 60s with not a cloud in the sky almost all weekend.

Common phrases throughout the weekend:
"I love these orange trees!" "Why aren't we studying abroad here?" "Soooo pretty!"

Now for the grand tour of the weekend:

Sora and I, with our chariot in the background

The seats reclined!

We traveled to Sevilla by bus, leaving Madrid at midnight on Thursday and arriving at 6 am on Friday. The bus was actually better than we both had expected, but we weren't quite able to sleep soundly.

The Sevilla Catedral, and ready carriages, in the morning.

We found our hostel, napped for a half hour on hostel beanbags (probably looking like homeless people), and started our day! Sora is a master planner, so we knew what we had to cover and by what timeline. With her planning and my Rick Steve's book, we were ready to take on Sevilla!

The Cathedral in the light!

One of the major advantages of our hostel (besides an included breakfast) was its location. We were mere minutes from Alcazar and the cathedral. We also had a very diverse room: represented nationalities included American, Korean, Spanish, Danish, and Australian!

On Paseo de Cristobal Colon, looking at the river.

Rio Guadalquivir runs through Sevilla, and we spent quite a bit of time walking along the edge of the water.

We took a tour of the bullring and bullfighting museum at the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. It was really interesting (and bilingual!) and gave us a good look into bullfighting, a sport that we both found out we knew very little about. Sora: "but they don't really kill the bulls, right?"... our guide: "they HAVE to kill a bull!)

The ring seats about 14,000 spectators. The bull fighting season starts around Easter time, and lasts until October.

Our guide described the matadors as quasi "rock stars", and said that the best fighters can earn up 140,000 Euros per fight!

A major highlight was a visit to Reales Alcazares, commonly known as the Alcazar (or "Alcatraz" to me when I just couldn't get the name right). Alcazar is a royal residence built in the fourteenth century, and is a great example of Moorish architecture: beautiful arches and colorful tiles, known as "azulejos".

The gardens of Alcazar

The gardens were so incredible! The amount of tiles, stone work, winding vines, and palm trees that dotted the estate was astounding!

Sora, peeking out in the garden.

Perfect shrubbery.

In addition to terraces, fountains, and pavilions, the gardens also had a very Harry Potter-esque maze. We gamely entered, but the maze was a bit harder than we expected. We were flirting with the closing time, and thoughts of being locked in (and trapped in a maze!) was not the restful night we were hoping for.

Missing: Sora Lyu.
Will respond to Korean, Spanish, or English languages.
Last seen: rounding a bend in the Alcazar.

Peacocks were also running free on the grounds!

Our next big attraction was Sevilla's Cathedral and La Giralda, the bell tower. The cathedral is the largest Christian cathedral in Spain, and even has a Guiness Book of World Records certificate as evidence!

Sora and I passed up the audio tours in favor of a Rick Steves-guided tour in my book. His tour was very specific, showing us paintings of the patron saints of Sevilla (Santa Justa and Santa Rufina), and telling us how many pipes are in the choir's organ (7,000).

Spain's most valuable crown: the Corona de la Virgen de los Reyes, complete with 11,000 precious stones and the world's largest pearl (used as the body of the angel).

The tomb of Christopher Columbus

For some reason, Sora really wanted me to get a picture with Columbus's tomb. I asked why, and she said, "It is your ancestors!" I was pretty sure I am not Spanish (I can't even roll my rrr's), but she was talking more about America than me specifically. Leave it to the foreign girl to recognize and appreciate discoverer of MY country!

View of the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes from the top of La Giralda

We climbed to the top of La Giralda, the bell tower of the cathedral. It was ramped all the way up, and we climbed 34 levels! The view was great-- a 360 degree look of Sevilla. The tower has grown through the years, with its final upgrade in 1568. It is topped with a bronze weathervane ("giraldillo") of Faith.

A view from the top of La Giralda.

Horse drawn carriages were all the rage in Sevilla.

A wedding was taking place in the Cathedral, and we caught these distinguished ladies (and a few little boys!) waiting outside.

We walked along the river to Parque Maria Luisa. Inside the park is the massive and half domed Plaza de Espana. The Plaza was decorated with painted tiles of city and regional Spanish scenes. Unfortunately there was quite a bit of construction around, but we were still able to explore.

I love tile!

Creeping on another wedding... check out those outfits!

Sora and I took another tour by Rick--this time around the old Jewish neighborhood, the Barrio Santa Cruz. This area is home to narrow streets, overflowing flowered balconies, and wrought-iron doors and gates. We absolutely loved it!

On Calle Agua, Casa #2's patio.

At one of the many stops on Rick's tour.

One evening we went to a flamenco show! We were beyond excited, and both a little worried because there was no way it could live up to our expectations. But WOW it did! The bailador (male dancer) was completely amazing. His feet moved so fast that they were actually blurry. The woman was also very good, but had a tough act to follow. They briefly danced together, and let the audience snap pictures during the last few minutes of the show.

Sora and I sat in front of a couple from California who were stopping in Sevilla for a few days during a month long trip from Portugal to a friend's house in Grenada. Rough life!

The group consisted of the two dancers, a singer, and a guitarist.

The guitarist and the dancer, with their groupies.

After the show (during which Sora told me she "was in love" many times), Sora asked if the dancer would mind a picture with us. Not only did he pose for a few pictures (showing his moves, no less), but he repeatedly told Sora how beautiful she was, and kissed her on both cheeks. Sora was swooning and promising never to bathe again for the rest of the night!

We had SLU Madrid friends who were also in Sevilla (that is Rosa in the picture), and they also came to the flamenco show. Afterwards, we went to a tapas bar that our hostel had recommended for cheap and authentic Spanish tapas... very tasty!

For our final morning, Sunday, Sora and I checked out of our hostal and headed to the Basilica de la Macarena, located on Calle Macarena (the orgin of the band of "Macarena" fame!). We unintentionally arrived just in time for their Spanish mass, which was a pleasant surprise. After mass we were able to take a few pictures of the small but ornate and important Basilica. The Basilica is at the center of Sevilla's famous Easter and Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations.
Mary at the altar, complete with crystal teardrops.

Sora and I, outside of the Basilica.

And, after another 6 hour bus ride, we arrived back in Madrid by 9pm--completely exhausted and totally pleased with our weekend.