Sunday, April 24, 2011

Paris - photos

Me at breakfast at Paul Bakery...pain du chocolate & espresso.

The Louvre

Cheese plate and french.

Me at the Eiffel Tower!!

View from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Light show on the Eiffel Tower.

Gate of Versailles


Hall of Mirrors

Marie Antoinette's room


Gardens at Le Petit Trianon

Flower beds at Versailles

Arc de Triumph.

Notre Dame at sunset.

The best crepe ever!

Gargoyles at Notre Dame

Me at Sacre Cour

Me at Rose Bakery


Our first half hour in Paris (after getting to our hostel) was my favorite part of the trip.  Once again, we had to take a train from the airport to the center of Paris however when we got to our hostel we were too early and had to leave our bags in the office and come back and check in later.  Since it was only 9:45 AM, breakfast was first on the list of things to do.  Less than a block away we found a café/bakery that was absolutely perfect.  I ordered a pain du chocolate (a chocolate croissant) and espresso and for those 20 or so minutes sitting outside and enjoying this petit-dejeuner in Paris, I could not have been happier.

Just like the last two cities, we started off our Parisian experience with a New Europe walking tour.  On the tour we walked along the Seine River, saw Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, the Louvre, the Opera House where the Phantom of the Opera takes place, the beginning of the Champs-Elysees with the Arc du Triumph in the distance, and of course the Eiffel Tower.  After the tour we walked to the New Europe base camp – a quaint little café/restaurant that had 9-euro specials on a plate of traditional food (such as a cheese plate, a quiche, or a croque monsieur) and a drink.

Afterward we headed over to the Eiffel Tower (which we had only seen from a distance) and had a photo shoot with it before going all the way to the top!  We climbed the stairs to the second level and then took the elevator the rest of the way up.  We came back down in time to watch the sunset from the second level and were back on the ground in time to see the sparkling light show.  Up until Paris, every city I’ve been in has seemed large on the map but in reality has been quite easy to walk around.  We completely underestimated the distance from the Eiffel Tower back to our hostel and when we finally got back all we wanted was some ice cream.  Lucky for us, right across the street from our hostel was a shop with the best gelato I have ever tasted!!

The next day four of us got up early (ate breakfast at the same café, of course) and headed off to see the palace of Versailles.  After a 30-45 minute train ride we arrived in the small town of Versailles and on our walk to the palace we stopped and picked up some picnic supplies for later.  I did not enjoy the palace as much as I thought I would.  It was very impressive, but full to the brim with tour groups and it was impossible to move around and enjoy the rooms…I’m very glad it was free for students.  The grounds and gardens where we picniced, however, were one of my favorite places we saw on the entire trip, especially Marie Antoinette’s gardens at the Petit Trianon.

Upon arriving back to Paris, we went and saw the Arc du Triumph and walked part way down the Champs-Elysees but we were so tired from the day before and walking around Versailles that we went back to our hostel to rest before dinner.  After getting some dönner kebabs and falafel we took our dinner on a boat tour of Paris on the Seine River at sunset.  In addition to all of the monuments and famous buildings we saw there were tons of people sitting along the river enjoying the nice weather and a glass of wine.

On our way home from the boat ride I was still hungry and hadn’t had a crepe yet since being in Paris so we sat down at a creperie…which turned out to be not such a good idea since I was the only one who wanted one.  After I ordered a crepe and the rest of the girls just got drinks, the waitress was a little upset and said that it is not normal for four people to sit down and order just one crepe (even though we weren’t sharing)…oops.  But it probably was the most delicious crepe I have ever tasted, complete with bananas, raspberry sorbet, chocolate ice cream, walnuts, and whipped cream!

Our last day in Paris started off with a trip to Notre Dame followed by hiking up Montmartre to Sacre Cour.  One of the girls in our group had been to Paris a few years ago and made the walk sound like a very strenuous experience….but it was probably the easiest hike of the trip.  After walking through the church we wondered around the artists’ district in Montmartre (where painters like Van Gogh, Picasso, etc. lived and worked) and ended up as the one and only Moulin Rouge!

In Stevens Point, WI, there is a delicious café (I might be little biased since I work there, but it really is amazing) called Café 27, and it is based of a café called Rose Bakery in Paris.  Knowing how good Café 27 is, I had to try the original version in Paris and lucky for me it is located very close to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge.  Walking into Rose Bakery was almost like being back at Café 27.  The salads were very similar and the pastries looked and smelled just as delicious!  I ordered an eggplant and squash quiche with a small portion of carrot & seed salad and garbanzo, squash, & arugula salad and I for dessert I decided (with much difficulty) to try the apple & berry crumble.  Everything was delicious and it was the perfect way to end an amazing week of traveling around Europe before heading back to Sevilla!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Prague - photos

Czech Crown

Old Town Square at night

Astronomical clock

Bohemian Bagels....guacamole chicken and a delicious salad!!

Kafka statue in the Jewish Quarter

The castle in Prague

Charles Bridge.

John Lennon Wall

Making trdelnik

Easter market



Once again we arrived late at night to our second city, Prague.  This time it was only 11 at night rather than 1 AM but it is a lot more difficult to navigate around a new, foreign city at night; however, I’m convinced that many of the low fares airlines that operate in Europe can keep their prices so low by flying either late at night or early in the morning.  But before getting to our hostel we had to take a bus and then the metro to get from the airport to downtown Prague and in order to do this we had to exchange our Euros for Czech crowns (exchange rate: 1 euro = about 24 crowns, 1 USD = 16.5 crowns).  Walking through the center of Prague at night to get to our hostel was like being in a medieval fairytale with the old buildings, towers, cobblestone, and a fair set up in the central square.  At the Old Prague Hostel a guy named Matt from the one and only Wisconsin greeted us at the reception desk.  He was very friendly and helpful and this was by far the nicest (and at the same time, the cheapest) hostel I’ve stayed at.  Towels, hair dryers, a kitchen, and breakfast were all included, the walls were colorfully painted and decorated, and it almost felt like a well-kept college dorm with all of the friendly people wondering around.

Our New Europe walking tour started out with a brief history of the Czech Republic, which pretty much consisted of one invasion after another and separated by brief periods of self-government.  Our first stop on the tour was the astronomical clock in Old Town Square and continued on to see Wenceslas Square, Powder Tower, stopped for lunch at Bohemia Bagel before moving on to the Jewish Quarter and ended at the river near Charles Bridge.

We continued on our own across Charles Bridge, which was full of artists and musicians, to the castle.  The hike up to the castle was full of shops that usually specified in one type of souvenir like marionettes, painted eggs, Russian dolls, glass art, etc.  Half way up the hill we stopped at a trdelnik bakery, and even though we never really figured out the pronunciation (it sounds something like ‘turtleneck’) this is probably one of my favorite treats ever!  A trdelnik is sweat bread dough wrapped around a metal rod (about 3 inches in diameter), spun over coals until cooked then removed and rolled in a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and almond slivers…with the option of coating the inside with nutella.  It was the perfect motivation to keep climbing!  After walking around the courtyards of the castle and cathedral we went back down towards the river to see the John Lennon Wall.  Many years ago someone selected this concrete wall as the perfect spot to write a John Lennon quote in graffiti and ever since then it has been a constantly changing billboard for colorful anti-war and world peace messages. 

The next day we ventured back over to Wenceslas Square and the Jewish Quarter to visit the Jewish Museum in Prague.  In the first portion of the Pinkas Synagogue, all of the walls have been white washed and the name of every person from Prague and the surrounding area who died in the concentration camps is written on them along with their date of birth and death if known.  The second part of the synagogue was dedicated to pictures drawn by Jewish children in the transitional camp of Terezin.  These children, most of them younger than 15 years old, were encouraged by a teacher (who later buried the pictures in a suitcase) to draw about their family, their hopes and dreams, their homes, etc.  It was a very chilling experience walking into a room and seeing the walls covered in these names and knowing that this was only one small area of Europe affected by the Holocaust and that there were many, many more innocent people who died too.

For dinner both nights in Prague we decided to hit up the Easter market celebration going on in Old Town Square.  Some traditional food there included kielbasa sausage, smoked cheese that had been grilled, corn on the cob, and apple cider, Pilsner beer, or mulled (hot) wine to drink.  There were also many trdelnik stands and a stand with chocolate dipped fruit and glazed nuts.  Our last night in Prague, we went to bed early in order to get up at 3 AM to catch a 6 AM flight to Paris and still be able to function in the city of love.

Amsterdam - photos

The 'I amsterdam' statue in the Museumplein park.

Before the Puritans came to the US, they first went to Amsterdam and this is the church where they worshiped.

The most famous coffee shop in Amsterdam where a scene from Oceans 12 was filmed.

The Anne Frank House.

A canal in Amsterdam.

Flower stands were everywhere!

Tons and tons of bikes!


14/4 to 16/4

Way back in early February, seven of us got together to plan a trip during the beginning of Semana Santa since we wouldn’t have any class that week.  We decided on visiting Amsterdam, Prague, and Paris, and while we had some stressful moments with trying to arrange hostels, last Thursday (April 14) we left Sevilla for a weeklong adventure.

After two flights and a six-hour layover in Barcelona, we finally arrived in Amsterdam a little before midnight.  Like the majority of European cities, Amsterdam’s airport is outside of the city and we had to take a train from the airport to the center of town.  We missed the first train due to a platform mix up and by the time we got to the Central Station in the city of Amsterdam and took a night bus to the area where are hostel was, it was already one in the morning.  As we were trying to figure out where we were exactly and how to get to our hostel a girl on her bike (who also spoke perfect English) stopped to help us.  When we finally arrived at Hostel Annemarie we were so tired and ready to pass out, however the man at the reception desk thought it would be funny to pretend that they had already given away our room since we arrived too late even though I had called earlier that week to confirm that our late arrival would still be ok.  It wasn’t a very funny joke.

The next morning I was so excited when I saw the breakfast at the hostel…whole wheat bread and peanut butter (and not just the regular Skippy or Jiff, but the delicious all natural stuff), two things that are extremely rare in Spain!   The first thing we did in Amsterdam (and each city we visited) was take a ‘free’ walking tour.  There is a company/organization called New Europe that provides walking tours on a tips only basis in many of Europe’s major cities.  Our tour guides in every city were very knowledgeable and presented the history of each city/country in a fun and entertaining manner.  During the walking tour we saw the Red Light District, Amsterdam’s Chinatown, the Jewish Quarter, the original building of the Dutch East India Trading Company, the Royal Palace, and much more.  We learned a lot about Amsterdam’s position on social issues (such as the legality of prostitution and marijuana or their strong resistance to Hitler) and in the words of our tour guide, the citizens of Amsterdam don’t care what you do to yourself, just how you treat others.

I’m sure the first thing most people (at least college students) think of when they think of Amsterdam is that pot and prostitution are legal.  On our tour we learned that the legalization of marijuana is a bit fuzzy.  Stores are not allowed to advertise themselves as marijuana distributers so they are called coffee shops (if you just want coffee, go to a café) and no one really knows where all the pot comes from since the selling of marijuana to the coffee shops is technically illegal – but no one really seems to worry about it.  In fact, only 9% of Amsterdam actually smoke marijuana on a regular basis, but this 1.4 billion euro industry is kept alive by the tourists (mostly American) who come to enjoy this drug.  On our tour we also stopped by the most famous coffee shop in Amsterdam (De Dampkring) where a scene from the movie Oceans 12 was filmed in which George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s characters were speaking in code with their contact and Matt Damon’s character was completely lost in the conversation.  As for the prostitution in Amsterdam, the legality of it has had a positive affect for the prostitutes who are now protected by law; pimps are also now illegal and can no longer force the women onto drugs, more work, etc.  There is a church in the middle of the Red Light District as well that served as a convenient place for the sailors to go and confess their sins (for a price) before setting sail incase they should die at sea.

Our walking tour ended at the Anne Frank House and there was no question about seeing the museum, it was a must.  Even though I had read her diary in middle school, reading quotes from it while being in the rooms that her and her family occupied was a very powerful experience.  There were also video interviews playing with people who knew Anne Frank and a very touching one with her father, the only family member who survived the Holocaust.  At the end of the museum there was an interactive exhibit that asked social issue questions (such as having a cross/crucifixion in a public school classroom or allowing people to wear Nazi paraphernalia) and you could punch in yes or no. 

The food selection in Amsterdam was a hodgepodge of everything from Indian and Thai to Mexican and Argentinean.  However, the most popular options were croquets and French fries with mayo.  Canals and its citizens’ love for bikes also characterize Amsterdam.  Almost every person in Amsterdam has a bike and every fence, tree, or any immovable object has a bike locked to it.  Many of the bikes also end up in the canals and about 20,000 of them are removed from the canals annually.  Before leaving town the next day we visited the Van Gogh Museum, which also had a temporary Picasso exhibit and talked a lot about the Montmartre neighborhood in Paris which made us even more excited for our third city.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More randoms

I apologize for being rushed in writing this…however, it is 9:30 at night and I leave tomorrow for a week long trip to Amsterdam, Prague, and Paris and I still have a lot to do (but I wanted to get in another post before leaving).

Every day it is getting hotter and hotter in Sevilla and I am more and more thankful for the orange trees that line every street here!  Not only for their aromatic flowers whose smell fill the air, but their shade is a Godsend on these scorching April days…I can even imagine how people survive here in June, July, and August!

While flamenco is the stereotypical soundtrack to Sevilla and all of Andalucia, I have noticed that the American top 40 songs are much more present in daily life here.  I hadn’t listened to the radio here (except for during a couple taxi rides) until I took the 6-hour bus ride to Madrid last weekend.  The entire ride consisted of top 40 songs with an occasional Spanish-pop number.  I was even more surprised this past week when I heard two Lady Antebellum songs in a café!

Considering that there is only one more week of classes before exams (but two weeks of vacation), I felt it was a little late to be getting back our midterm grades.  But yesterday one of my professors started off the class period by giving us our grades…orally. Yep, he read aloud every single persons grade in the class and told us that in Spain, your grades are very public information and posted in the hallways.  Fortunately, since it was an open note exam, everyone did well and there was no reason to be embarrassed about any of the grades.

Well, I’m off for a European adventure with 6 other girls in the morning and will return next Thursday in time to see the final days of the Semana Santa celebration here in Sevilla!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Some randoms from Sevilla:


Today I experienced another “only in Spain” moment.  After visiting the Alcázar (royal palace) with our History of Three Cultures (Arabs, Christians, & Jews) class, our professor took us to a restaurant/bar and treated us to drinks, jamón iberico, and paella.  While walking into the restaurant we were all a little confused at what was going on since he hadn’t mentioned getting food afterwards.  We sat and discussed some more of the history for a while but the conversation quickly switched over to more casual topics like soccer.

Last week when my roommate Tayler and I got to the university we were confused to find a giant inflatable can of Cruzcampo (a Spanish beer) in front of the building.  There were also inflated arches over the sidewalk that goes around the building and people lined up in running gear that appeared to be registering for something.  We asked around and found out that every year there is a race for the students that is one lap around the university building (no one could give me an exact distance but I would estimate its around 800 meters or 0.5 miles).  I was so disappointed I had not known about it sooner…I definitely would have missed class to participate but I had already run that morning and I didn’t have time to go back and get my running shoes.

With the weather in Sevilla improving daily, the number of tourists is also increasing.  The streets are more crowded already and the double-decker tour buses are actually starting to fill up…I can’t imagine what Semana Santa and Feria will be like if it is already this busy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Extremadura - Guadalupe

2/4/11 to 3/4/11

When we arrived in Guadalupe our bus was already at our hotel with our luggage.  The hotel we stayed at was a ‘lodge’ connected to a monastery that was built in the 14th century.  The building was a labyrinth of hallways and courtyards and all of our rooms had spectacular views of the town, countryside, or cathedral.  The dinner in the hotel, however, was not up to par with our surroundings.  We knew that we shouldn’t complain about included meals from API, but up until now everything had always been delicious.  While the food wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t anything special from the region, dessert consisted of canned fruit cocktail in a fancy dish, and the service was definitely lacking.

Cathedral in Guadalupe

View from one of our hotel rooms.
Courtyard in the hotel.

City of Guadalupe.

We had heard from the API group at the other university in Sevilla who went on the same excursion the week before that there was a fun karaoke bar near the hotel, so after dinner we had to go investigate.  Unfortunately, the previous group had been in Guadalupe on a Friday night and we were there on Saturday and there was no karaoke on Saturdays.  But the night was not lost. Kepa and a few of his friends decided to join us at the bar and a couple of them along with a few Spanish girls from Guadalupe taught us some flamenco and salsa moves.  We also got Kepa out on the dance floor! The establishment was a mix of discoteca with lights and music but was also playing the Barcelona soccer game.  We were all shocked to see a family with kids who looked to be about 4 years old walk into the bar around 11:30.  I found it quite comical how the dad was getting his groove on and trying to persuade his kids to do the same while they just sat on the couches trying not to fall asleep.

Before leaving Guadalupe the next morning we took a tour of the monastery.  It initially belonged to the Jeronimo order of monks but is now a Franciscan monastery.  At the end of the tour we were taken to a room behind the altar of the church where the statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe is visible to the public.  The statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe is black and many people make pilgrimages to Guadalupe to see her.

La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Extremadura - Hiking from Cañamero to Guadalupe


On Saturday we got up bright and early to depart on our 16-kilometer (10 mile) hike.  From Trujillo we drove an hour to the small village of Cañamero where we bought our picnic and started our hike to the town of Guadalupe.  The weather was perfect for hiking, not too cold but slightly overcast and the terrain was gorgeous.  It felt like a completely different world from Sevilla and I felt like I wasn’t in Spain but rather Germany.  There were lots of hills and rocks but the hike overall wasn’t too challenging.  Kepa even brought his girlfriend, father, and some hiking buddies for us to practice Spanish with while walking.  I am honestly amazed by Kepa’s dad who is 81 years old and still climbing around with all of us (although he was a little slower) and was glad for his sake that the weather hadn’t been as hot as earlier this week.

We stopped and had our picnic lunch a little over half way through the hike before we descended down to Guadalupe. The last hour or so was even more spectacular than the first part, with a new and better view of the town nestled in the hills after every turn.  

View of Guadalupe during our descent.

Extremadura - Trujillo

1/4/11 to 2/4/11

As we drove into the town of Trujillo Friday afternoon, I could tell this would be an unforgettable city.  Situated on a giant granite boulder, the entire city is shadowed by a castle at the top.  Trujillo is the stereotypical, tiny Spanish town with winding streets, stone buildings, and terracotta roofs.  After checking into the hotel (a 16th century palace) we took a walking tour of Trujillo that included climbing up to the castle.  Trujillo is the home of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who conquered Peru, and we also stopped by his house. The view from the castle was absolutely breathtaking.  I have never been to Ireland but the countryside around Trujillo is just how I would imagine it with green fields and crumbling rock walls.

City of Trujllo from atop the castle.

View of the was a little windy.
Luckily for us there was also a Medieval Festival going on at the time and took over the entire main plaza.  Most of us opted to eat from the vendors in the plaza and I had a delicious kebab/gyro wrap and I could have spent hours pondering over the dessert vendor’s stalls trying to decide what to get.  Some of us also bought artisan cheese and dried fruit and nuts for our picnic the next day.

Main plaza in Trujillo, with the Medieval Festival.

Our group leader, Kepa, told us all about what he called “the best disco-bar in all of Spain” that had an amazing view of the castle from the third floor patio.  A small group of us decided to seek out the bar even though it was only 10:30 at night (early for Spaniards).  The first time we walked past it we didn’t recognize it as a bar and when we came back to it we almost thought it was closed…but it was just opening.  We were the first ones in the bar and the only ones for over an hour.  However, Kepa had been right about the view…it was spectacular!

View of the castle at night from the bar's patio.