Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tourist in My Own City: Palau de Les Arts

While browsing events in Valencia on Facebook, I came across an article for free tickets to the opening symphony of the season. Classical music and free things are two of my favorite things! I was also extra excited because it meant I could finally go in one of the buildings in La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias.

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The tickets were given out Friday at 10:30am outside the Palau de Les Arts. When I arrived at 10 I was surprised at how many people showed up! Luckily, they weren’t all given away by the time I got to the front of the line.

We arrived early to explore the building. It had some beautiful views of the gardens and some really cool architecture. The performances spaces include individual spots for concerts, opera, theater and dance.


The symphony took place in one of the smaller venues on the upper levels. A really cool courtyard with gardens was right outside the door.

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The music itself was really beautiful, everyone sounded really good and they had a nice selection of pieces. The one thing that I thought was a little too much was when the maestro came out of back stage to bow 5 times! He wasn’t even anyone famous. I guess he just needed a little ego boost.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Piso hunting 101: Finding your apartment/flat in Spain

Finding a place to live is stressful in your own country. But, throw in a foreign language and customs and the whole experience becomes incredibly stressful. Hopefully this guide will make it a little easier for you once you arrive to Spain.

Before I came for my first year I did some research online. In college we learned that the work for apartment is apartamento. Searching for that online led to nothing! I was really frustrated until I went back to the ever-helpful Facebook groups and found that people in Spain use the word piso. So, start your search with that word and save yourself a headache!


This is a super important part to finding your apartment. Finding a good, safe location can be difficult if you don’t know anyone in the city you are moving to. Ask your bilingual coordinator when they get in touch with you where he/she and the other teachers live or where the young people live in the city. This can give you a good starting point. Also, if you can track down language assistants who have lived in the city before ask them for their recommendations. Often times, they will know someone who has a room available!

When deciding on a location make sure you visit the area during the day and at night. See how close it is to transportation (city busses/metro and train/bus station) because that will make your commute to work/travel from your city easier. Chances are you wont have a car, so make sure there is a supermarket within close walking distance. Cafes, bars, pharmacies, gyms and other stores are nice to have close by too. But, the most important thing is to make sure you feel safe in your neighborhood!


This can be tricky in Spain as you will most likely be renting a room in a shared apartment. The thing I will say right away about roommates is don’t live with the landlord. I have heard many horror stories from people who have lived with them. They can be controlling and even limit your time in the shared areas (can you imagine not being able to go to the kitchen when you want??)

Your best bet is to find an apartment with students. They are usually around the same age and then you have immediate people to hang out with! If they live there before you move in, spend some time talking to them to see if you have things in common. (Do they smoke? Party all night? Have pets? What are they studying?) If you don’t see a connection happening then maybe think about other places. 8 months is a long time to spend with people you don’t like. If you move in before others, make sure you are there when they come to see the apartment so you can talk to them and get to know them.

Kind of like the location, it depends on what you are looking for with roommates. The one nugget of advice I can give is LIVE WITH SPANIARDS! You will inevitably speak a lot of English when you are here so this might be one of your only times to practice your language!


I don’t have too much to say here. But there are some things you should make sure of when looking at your apartment (I wish I knew these before my 2nd year!) How much natural light is there? My second year I “lovingly” nicknamed my apartment la cueva (cave) because it had one window to the street and basically no natural night came in. TERRIBLE. It is more important than you think to have natural light in your apartment, especially in Sunny Spain!

The other thing is to try to see how much noise you can hear from the other apartments in the building. Generally in the older parts of the city the walls are thinner and you can hear more. My first year (and currently) I can hear nothing and it is wonderful! However, last year it was like everyone lived in the same apartment. To the point, that when the person in the apartment next to mine plugged in something into the wall it sounded like it was in my room! I felt like if they hit hard enough their hand would come through the wall!

Where to look

There are many websites for finding apartments in Spain. They are good to help give you an idea, but don’t agree to anything until you see it in person!

Piso Compartido is a site to find a room in a shared flat, or if you end up having to find roommates you can list the room there. This is what I have used before and it is a nice easy site with lots of traffic.

Loquo is like craigslist. Lots of options, but you need to specify which city you are in.

Idealista is another site that many people have had success with.

Easy Piso with this one you can change your search language to English.

Another good option is looking on your city’s university website. Many times they have a list of rooms available for students. Not all have this option, but its good to check!

That being said, the best way to find your apartment is to hit the road. There are many many papers on the street advertising rooms or whole apartments. Also, look up. If you find an area of the town you like there will be signs outside the windows of available apartments. This is the best way in my opinion.

Hopefully this guide will make your experience a little less stressful! Good luck and happy hunting!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Moros y Cristianos: Festival of History

A few weeks ago a friend of mine invited us to her hometown for the weekend to celebrate Moros y Cristianos. When I lived in Almeria I heard about this festival being celebrated in Mojacar, but I wasn’t able to go because of transportation. So, I was super excited to spend the weekend in Godella and participate in the festivities.
Moro flag
Cristiano flag

Now, for those of you who haven’t studied Spanish history as much as I have this festival might not have any significance to you. Worlds fastest overview: about 780 years of battle between the Moors and Christians. The first Moorish invasion was in 711 starting around Gibraltar and made its way northward. Many many battles and changes in power (between the Moors and Christians) happened along the way. The last of these battles was called the Granada War and took place between 1482 and 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs (King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile) were in power. Granada was the last place on the Iberian Peninsula to have Islamic rule. This period of time is known as La Reconquista (The Reconquest). If you ever visit Spain, especially Andalucia, you will notice A LOT of Islamic influence in the architecture, art and even some of the language.


The guy did stand up, I just didn't get it on camera :(
Anyway, back on track. This multi-day festival commemorates the history of The Reconquest. Parades are the most common sight with costumes, animals, music and dancing. In some of the bigger cities you can see elephants, horses and camels. We were very surprised when the small town of Godella had a camel in the parade!


The Christian King
After the Christians the Moors came

The Queen. Obviously exaggerated a bit...I don't think they had dragons then. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wanderlust lifestyle

Wanderlust. Defined as a strong desire to travel. I think that is an understatement for me, and for many travelers. I see it more as a need, like part of my life that I need to survive. I get bored if I stay in one place too long.

While browsing Facebook tonight I came across a post by Thought Catalog about the effects of wanderlust and it got me thinking about a wanderlust (wanderlustful?) lifestyle.

I think for me one of the effects of wanderlust that I have noticed the most is in my friendships. It is hard to keep up with friends from back home for many reasons. The time difference is obviously a big one, but also everyone is going through different experiences. I am traveling the world and my friends aren't. I feel like when I do talk to them and they want to hear what I've been up to like I am being pretentious and rubbing it in their faces that I am traveling and having all these great experiences. Being away from the US for 3 years has also meant that I have essentially lost some friends that I have had for a long time. It makes me sad of course, but that is what happens when there is so much distance between people.

On the other hand, it has lead me to some other great friendships. Even just staying in hostels you meet great people! Some you only spend the day with and after the trip never talk to again and some become lifelong friends. It’s great. Through my travels I have met people from all over the world and hearing their stories is just amazing.

Another thing is my work. I always wanted to be involved with theater one way or another for the rest of my life. But, theater work and international travel don’t usually go well together. I have had to give up the jobs I love for other work (don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy teaching!) just to be able to stay in my foreign country. A pretty decent trade off I think!

I think traveling also makes you jaded. I think that is what point number 1 is on the Thought Catalog post. This sounds terrible,I know, but when I was in the Sistine Chapel looking up at the ceiling that I had heard so much about, all I could think was “Ok, another painted ceiling.” Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful! But, I felt TERRIBLE thinking that though when people were so excited and moved just by looking at a world famous painting. I guess that is what wanderlust does to you! (maybe only me….)

Anyway, this is just some late night musings. I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts or other wanderlust effects! Leave me some comments. Winking smile

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Greatest Food in the World

How can I have a blog about being a foodie and not dedicate a post to the best cuisine in the world (Italian)? Like I mentioned in my Walnut Pesto post, Italian food has been a part of my life for a LONG time. So, when I go to Italy I take full advantage of eating as much as possible. Luckily, this time I didn’t actually gain any weight! lucky me! I chalk it up to being cheap and not taking the metro.

Click the picture to see more flags made from their country's traditional food!



America’s favorite Italian food. It is a lot different in Italy than it is in the US. The crust is a lot thinner and homemade (at least at every restaurant I have been to in Italy). The toppings are also a little more adventurous than in the US. In the US its taboo to eat an entire pizza, but this is the norm in Italy! Since the crust is so thin a whole plate size pizza makes a perfect meal. One of my favorite things about pizza in Italy is when you can find it cooked in a wood fire oven. The taste is unbeatable!




In my opinion,it is so much better in Italy than in the US because most places, apart from the tourist restaurants, make their own. It is delicious when you have homemade pasta! There are so many different shapes and sizes in Italy they would need their own blog! My favorites are the stuffed pasta. There are endless combinations from basic cheese and herbs to foie gras and seafood! So much fun! My most favorite stuffed pasta of all time is pumpkin or butternut squash with a sage butter sauce. Very simple and VERY delicious. Also, incredibly easy to make!





Ice cream’s more delicious sibling. Gelato is a lot creamier and softer than the traditional American ice cream. Its soft texture and higher serving temperature make it so you can taste the flavors more. This is an interesting article I found awhile ago that talks about the differences between ice cream and gelato. One tip I can give for people looking for good gelato in Italy: stay away from the shops with extreme colors of gelato. (For example, pistachio gelato should be a pale green, not a bright crayon color)Just don’t even try at those places, the faker the color the faker the flavor. There are tons of artisanal gelato shops and are definitely worth the walk down the side street! Trust me, I think I have eaten my weight in gelato after 3 trips to Italy!


This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the food I could talk about Leave me a comment if you have a delicious Italian food story!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Beautiful Torino

Venice was Mo’s choice for a day trip and Torino was mine. I had wanted to go to Torino since the 2006 Olympics.

A park right outside the train station


In my opinion, Torino is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. It has a ton of old buildings, really nice piazzas and a beautiful river.



We were only there for a few hours and by the end were both thinking of finding a hotel so we could spend more time there!

on the way to the river
On the way down to the river

at the church
At the entry way to the church on the other side of the river
Unfortunately, most things were closed so we just enjoyed spending our time relaxing and walking around. I also had a vegetarian fail (Yes, I am a foodie and a vegetarian), when I completely forgot that agnolotti, a typical pasta of Northern Italy, is always filled with meat. Luckily, I didn’t eat too much!


The cathedral in Torino houses the Shroud of Turin which is supposedly the cloth Christ was wrapped in when he was crucified. Only the Pope and one of the high-ups in the Torino Cathedral can decide when to bring the real cloth out. Visible in the church is a replica.


Torino also has the National Cinema Museum which includes a tower with beautiful views of the city. We weren’t able to go up, because the line was REALLY long. The only way up is by elevator. Has anyone ever been there who wants to share some photos??

Cinema Museum
Torino also houses some factories of really famous products. Tic-tacs, Nutella and Fiat are all made in Torino! It’s not clear whether these factories are open to the public, though.

He is always stopping to feed the birds
I love this birds face!

The Olympics must have taken place outside of Torino, because we could not find anything about how to visit the Olympic village.

So, if you end up going to Torino learn from my mistakes and do a little more research first! And most importantly, enjoy this beautiful city!! Torino in my mind is up there with Bologna in terms of beauty. I really enjoyed my day there.

Stress-Free Day in Stresa

Thanks to a blog post I found on hostelbooker’s Facebook page about traveling Northern Italy by train we decided to take another day trip to a town on the Lago Maggiore.


Sunset on the lake
This lake is huge and has a lot of towns around it, but after some research we decided on the town of Stresa which has about 5,000 habitants . This town really reminded me of my trip to Nerja, Spain. It was a really beautiful town with amazing views of the lake. It was VERY touristy though.


Unfortunately, when we arrived it had just finished raining and was still really cloudy. The main reason we wanted to go to Stresa was to ride the cable car up the nearby mountain. But, after a trip to the tourist office we were advised that it wasn't worth it since we wouldn't be able to see anything through the clouds.

Sunset 2

We spent the day wandering around and sitting by the lake. Towards the end of the day we decided that since we weren’t able to go up the mountain we would go on a boat ride to one of the nearby islands.
We ended up going to Isola Superiore passing the beautiful island called Isola Bella (literally meaning beautiful island) which holds a palace and gardens.

Isola Bella
Isola Bella

Isola Superiore was cute but small. Luckily, we only had about an hour to wander around before we went back to the train station. It took all of about 10 minutes to walk all the way around the island. It was full of hotels and restaurants that looked really nice and relaxing. If you are looking for a vacation full of peace and quiet this is your place!

Tiny streets