Captivating Kotor

If you’ve read any of those lists circulating lately about the Top 10 destinations you MUST get to this year, then you’ve most certainly heard of Kotor – only you may have no real idea as to where it is, because I surely did not prior to the summer. In continuing along my Balkans Bouncing, Kotor came as one of the most beautiful and invigorating suggestions, and I’m so happy that I went.

Kotor is an exquisite and still fairly untouched-by-tourists seaside town on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro; nestled between Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina to the west and Albania to the south. Only a hop and an offered day-trip away from Dubrovnik, Kotor is virtually the opposite in terms of what you get. Where Dubrovnik is crazy expensive and crawling with tourists from all over the globe (mostly Game of Thrones fans), Kotor is still mellow and just beginning to get traction from commercial cruise liners. I’ll say it now though, it’s only a matter of time until that bay is jam-packed with Titanics. Once people hear about it the treasure chest will come flying open. So, get there now!

Initially, Kotor was ‘planned’ as a one night stay, which quickly turned into 4 nights worth. During my time there I found out I wasn’t alone in this scenario – which could be attributed to the adorably pushy front desk boy with the big brown eyes telling you to stay so you can check out an abandoned building together, or the straight up relaxation, views, and slow change of pace that are so very welcome when your back is killing from backpacks and cramped bus seats.

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So, if you’re in the market for a treat to your eyes, a little burn for your thighs, and some relaxing vibes, then Kotor is just for you!

EYES

Every angle of Kotor is unbelievable, so your eyes are bound to be in constant wonder. Whether it’s from admiring the walled city from the outside, wandering amidst the old city walls, or climbing up to the top of the UNESCO protected Kotor Fortress, you will not be disappointed. I spent a lot of my time just wandering around all the little Medieval alleyways reminding myself to keep looking up.

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City guard shark

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I also ventured outside the old town to walk along the Adriatic and try my hardest to tackle at least one abandoned building break-in, which unfortunately to my dismay was an unsuccessful feat. There’s just something about a place left in mysterious disarray that really gets me excited, and well, in Kotor there happens to be the old Hotel Fjord. Sometime in the mid-90s the owner had money problems, forcing the prime property to never see the check-in of one single visitor. When I went to try and jump a fence, I soon noticed that there was absolutely no way in, and later found out that along with the surrounding fence, the authorities had set up cameras to prevent squatters from stealing old mattresses. Why that matters is beyond me, but I was quite displeased.

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The closest I got was to the trash-laden pool at the sea’s edge, where people basked just a stone’s throw away.

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THIGHS

Perhaps the biggest must-do in Kotor is the hike to the top of the fortress. While I am by no means an avid hiker, I do enjoy the view from the top, and the feeling of worked out thighs. Typically the hike is supposed to take a couple hours to ascend, and significantly less to get back down, however, my Kotor friend and I took a leisurely five hours to reach the view point – which was worth every single second!

Instead of entering through the designated entrance within the city walls, Michaela had been tipped off my the cute front desk boy that there’s a quicker (and free) way to start the climb from just outside the walls. So we took his tip and got on our way.

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The hike up was excruciatingly hot and picturesque, causing us to stop and disrobe or pose for photos with our magnificent backdrop around nearly every turn. When we got about half way up there was an abandoned church just nestled into the mountainside. The inside was all eroded with time, with colors from old frescos faintly decorating the walls and ceiling.

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It was around here that we reached a fork in the road. To the right was the entrance to the city wall path, and to the left was a suspicious sign saying cold drinks and fresh goat cheese. Initially we thought ‘nahh’ we don’t want to get killed on the side of a massive mountain, but then turned around because why not. And it was the sweetest detour we could have made!

We arrived at the home tucked high on the mountainside where a family has lived for 40 years making their own cheese, selling refreshments on the fortress path to sweltering hikers, and whose children ‘commute’ down the mountain to school everyday. We relaxed, watched the women care for their goats, ate delicious goat cheese from said goats, and enjoyed some of the most spectacular views my eyes have ever been privy to.

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After almost getting stampeded by a gaggle of wild goats and a brief photoshoot, we made it inside the walls and successfully mounted the mountain. Feast your eyes on that Pterodactyl call!

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VIBES

When you’re done feeling the burn, it’s time to max, relax, and chillax; and there’s no better place to do just that if you’re bouncing through the Balkans. While the sea is overrun with cruisers on their daily stop-off, the shore also has this gorgeous Mediterranean vibe that just can’t be messed with. Not to mention, if you’re a beach goer used to riding and diving in waves, and dodging from impending shark attacks, you will not get that here, or really anywhere in these parts. The serene waters are perfect for playing, swimming, wading, and always people watching – which this group of 60s-ish men playing a game of dive & catch really brought home for me.

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When you’ve surely worked up an appetite there is no shortage of fresh fish restaurants littering the old town. After my time in Bosnia and Serbia I seriously meated myself out, arriving in Croatia and Montenegro on a purely fish kick which did not disappoint. I treated myself to a couple fresh fish feasts at one of the oldest fish restaurants in Old Town Kotor, Scala Santa, which also happened to be just across from my amazing hostel. I left with a very happy tummy each night.

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When I wasn’t busy eating or basking, I was wandering (of course). A couple times I happily stumbled on some pop up antique collections, one which was so crazy to me. This guy was selling hundreds or thousands of year old coins and weapons that his father had found in the surrounding areas. It was mind-boggling to me since I have only seen such artifacts in museums; but here I was able to hold them and really examine them with an up close eye. Definitely my kind of enjoyment!

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Kotor is on all those lists for a very good reason, as it’s a little gem craving to be visited. It’s got the perfect temperament for romantic getaway or solo jaunt and anything in between.

Have you visited Kotor or anywhere else in Montenegro? What were your thoughts? Have I persuaded you to add this magical place to your travel bucket list? I hope so! 

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Four Sistas Morocc’d A Shmata, A Kasbah, & A Camel

I’m pretty well traveled, so I’m well-versed in the ‘feeling foreign’ feeling. However, the out-of-place feels that overcame me upon arrival at Marrakech Menara airport were unlike any I’ve ever been privy to. For the first time I felt completely out of my element and all my senses were in overdrive. I was quite the jumble of ‘OMG I can’t believe I’m in Africa!’ mixed with ‘OY, don’t say OY. Don’t say anything to upset the immigrations man’. It was weird, but all 4 of the Traveling Yarmulkas felt it one and the same.

We arrived around 11pm in Marrakech, and were fetched from the airport by the shuttle service for Riad Jona. My first thought being ‘Thank God we are being shuttled!’ I read all over the internet that taxi and bus services from the airport are extremely scarce, so a shuttle service is quite necessary. I remember us all being extremely polite and quiet while in the van. I think we were scared to talk. Imagine that! 2 Schaeffs and 2 Diamonds SCARED TO TALK. That never happens! As we were leaving the airport parking lot, our driver stopped to shoot the shit with the parking man, they laughed, the ticket man passed our driver his water bottle to take a swig of, they laughed some more, and we were finally off. Germ and joke swapping on lock here.

My eyes were glued to the scenery on our dark drive in. At first glance, Marrakech looked like a combination of up scale manicured tree-lined streets mixed with an old time world I’ve only seen in Disney movies. One in particular. Then we stopped, got out in the middle of a run down street and were escorted through what seemed like a maze of tunnels until we arrived at Riad Jona. I could not stop turning around to make sure we were all there. Excited and anxious nerves unlike any other were ever-present.

Well, as soon as we stepped through the doors of our Riad every ounce of nerve dissipated. It was like we walked into heaven. We were greeted by the lovely staff with the most DELICIOUS mint tea my lips have ever tasted, and were introduced to the hospitality that is Morocco.

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And so begins our whirlwind time in our gateway to Africa. Though we were not pleased to only have 4.5 days in this glorious country, and made a few very saddening sacrifices, we made the very most of our time. And, well, I’m here to tell you how you can get the best, and richest experience of two of its main cities and the Sahara Desert in just 4 days.

My biggest piece of advice for such a whirlwind trip is to…

Do Yourself A Favor And Snag Yourself An Escort.

This is a hard thing for me to say, being someone who loves to wander and explore and stop and document the life around me on only my watch. BUT, and that’s a big but, I can wholeheartedly say that having guides with us gave us a different glimpse into Moroccan life. One that we would not have seen (or ate our way through) had we been without. This was one of Cori’s must-haves, and I admit at first I was against it, but quite happy she stuck to her guns and sista and I tagged along. We had full days in both Marrakech and Fez, and in each we hired a tour guide to wisk us around.

Abdul from Marrakech Guided Tours fetched us from our Riad early on our first morning and we were ready to hit the pavement, err, the cobbled together streets of Marrakech. He was so soft spoken, calm, and pleasant right from the get-go.  He knew that we probably had things we really wanted to see, so we discussed the day’s sight line-up and we were off. One area I was really interested in was the Jewish Quarter, or the Mellah. I was unsure about bringing this up until he began talking about the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Jews in the country. With that, I asked him about seeing it, and he more than incorporated it into our itinerary. He actually went on to tell us how it’s one of the most interesting areas in Marrakech, having a long and rich history, and spent a good amount of time walking us through.

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A synagogue in the Mellah that is entirely run by Muslims.

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A wide-eyed wander through the bustling alleys of the Mellah.

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One of my personal favorite parts of the tour with Abdul was when we got hungry. We had worked up quite the appetite by the time it came time for us to get a nosh in. Between mosque and palace hopping, and gawking at the most exquisite tiling I’ve ever seen, my hangry face was showing herself. Yes, irritable Danielle was out loud-n-proud. She turned around though when Abdul took us to a spot that was swarming with locals. They always say, if you want to eat well, eat where the locals eat.

We walked into a little hole in the wall with a man in the doorway serving up piping plates of stuff we weren’t in any way sure of. I’ll admit, I think we were all a little bit weary, seeing old men sitting on buckets with chicken bones on the bare table, scooping slops of food with their hands, and communal water cups. But hey, I’ve eaten Pho out of a bucket on the street in Ho Chi Minh, so I was ready.

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We ate chicken Rfissa with lentils, chickpeas with greens, Auburgine fritters, fresh bread, and drank water out of the smelliest communal table mugs. Amazing.

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The aftermath. Satisfaction.

The traditional fare is always one of the first things I research when planning a trip to a new country, and I sure came with a long list of cuisine to indulge in. To me, food is the best way to really immerse yourself in a country and its traditions. In a place like Morocco it’s a bit hard to know what you’re eating, especially in an instance like this, when food is just being slopped. I am so thankful for having a local like Abdul to tell us exactly what we were eating, as well as translation services while on our own to help decipher the ingredients of an entirely foreign language.

After stuffing our faces, scouring the picturesque back streets of Marrakech, and getting lost in the souks, Abdul took us to one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. The Majorelle Gardens, once maintained by Yves Saint Laurent, are adorned up and down, left and right in my favorite shade of blue. None other than Majorelle Blue. These botanical gardens are the perfect place to sit and relax, people watch and just enjoy the peacefulness that that shade of blue radiates.

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Finally, we had to book our tickets out of Marrakech and up to Fez for after our return from the Sahara. Sista and I had done research on overnight trains, but apparently Morocco doesn’t keep their internet information up-to-date and we hit a dead end as there were in fact no overnight trains. Thanks to Abdul, our problem solver who swept us off to the CTM bus station to rejigger our overnight plans. He went above and beyond and was our voice in a pinch. From start to finish, Abdul was wonderful and an excellent find from hospitality to wealth of knowledge.

The Sahara Trek That Could Have Been Three Days, But Was Only Two.

The details of the length of our Sahara trek will come later so as not to ruffle up my feathers, but it could have been longer given the days of our stay, but that’s neither here nor there, now is it? Regardless, our trip through the Atlas Mountains was stunning and wonderful and surprising.

We booked a 2 day, 1 night trek roundtrip via Marrakech with Authentic Tours Marrakech. Our tour guide, Moha as we so lovingly came to call him, picked us up at 7:30am for our journey into the Sahara. Moha and I talked a lot while the sleeping beauties slept in the back seat for much of the early ride. We both had an Asian connection, he having lived in Japan for 10 years, and me in Korea for 3. And let me tell you, when you find another non-Asian Asian, you bond before you can say kimchi. So there was that.

The days of driving were long but so gorgeous. Winding through the Atlas Mountains we saw a side of Morocco we had no idea existed. Around one windy road the mountains looked like they were oil painted sand, and then around the bend were the most lush green mountains for miles. I had no idea Morocco bore such greenery!

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We arrived in Zagora, where a Berber man quickly adorned us with shmatas to cover our precious keppies. Then came camel time. At this point we were still a bit confused because we were expecting the dunes you only dream about, but we saw some rocky grassy patches with dunes in the distance. But, mount Alibaba, MohammedAli, Abu, and JackBlack we did and off into the setting sun we rode.

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We arrived at our camp for the night and were quite confused at first. We lounged until sunset was coming and then made the hilarious trek up the dune just behind our camp. But not without several questions. Do we keep our shoes on? Are there scorpions in this sand? Will somebody be waiting to take us on over yonder to where the real dunes are? All very important questions. We went with climbing sans shoes, and up we went to enjoy a sunset and yoga poses atop a Saharan dune, because that’s what you do in the middle of the desert with a pretty colored sky.

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Left my Koko mark in the sand.

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Because…. #sistas

After dismounting the dune we headed back to our camp, where the Berbers played music, drank mint tea under the tent, and got us hungry for our tagine filled dinner. I was also provided the perfect setting to channel my inner Princess Jasmine.

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When in an Arab desert.

The next morning we were back on our camel friends and off to drive through the Atlas Mountains again. Moha was a dear and saved the best for last. For our whole drive he was talking about kasbahs and harems, but we were still unsure about what a kasbah was, except for our only point of reference – rocking a kasbah. Turns out, a kasbah is a giant fortified city signifying wealth, and once housed many families within its walls. Aït Benhaddou serves as the biggest kasbah and still plays home to 4 families, one of which we got to visit with and lay our eyes on his wife’s beautiful handmade rugs. Not to mention, the kasbah has been the setting for many a Hollywood flick and television show, including Gladiator and that monster that I’m afraid I don’t watch, Game of Thrones.

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Yes, two sista klutzes forded the river without falling in.

We returned back to Marrakech around 8 or 9pm that night, where our Riad was nice enough to let us hang out until our bus left at 1:30am. We gave ourselves a good face wash and costume change and then relaxed with the staff in between being antisocial while connected to our beloved wifi. 

Fez Smells Like A Pungent Combination Of Donkey, Leather, & Saffron

After arriving in Fez at around 9am, we were tasked with finding a red taxi to take us to our Riad. The red taxis in Morocco are petit, and therefore only hold 3 people, so we had to split up for the ride over. Thankfully Moha had caught us at the bus station before leaving Marrakech and so nicely wrote the address to our Riad in Arabic for us. It came in tremendous handy after feeling a bit disoriented in a new city.

When we got to Riad Fez Kattani it was honestly the most magical room I’ve ever stayed in. We had a two bedroom suite again, but this time we had the entire floor to ourselves. We had a little living area with a couch, a central tea table area and our bedrooms off of it. We definitely felt like princesses now!

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Once settled, we had arranged for our tour guide to pick us up from the Riad at 1pm. Raschid came to fetch us and off we went through the bustling labyrinth that is the Medina of Fez. But you see, we soon found out that this bustling would be short lived. For we had arrived on a Friday, and Friday is the Muslim holy day of rest. That meant everyone was leaving the Mosque after prayer. Within about an hour of being escorted through the maze, Fez was DEAD. There was no one around. No one.

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Which brings me back to the Sahara trek. If you happen to find yourself in a tight schedule bind like us and Friday is one of your city days, opt for a longer trek. We could have done a 3 day / 2 night trek, traveled from Marrakech to Fez, and seen our luscious dunes. But, c’est la vie. 

With a dead Fez on our hands, Raschid did his best to educate us on what we were able to see. Even amidst the quiet, I knew Fez was so beautiful in this down and dirty medieval sort of way. Instead of continuing on for the day, he dropped us off at our Riad, and instead we woke up bright and early the next day for the tour we had hoped for!

Saturday was a whole new Fez. It was smelly, had donkeys around every corner, and was alive with people going to market. Through the narrow roads, all our senses were percolating. From the beautifully tiled structures to the chicken fat laying on the side of the road, from the freshly picked mint to the stench of soaking animal skin in the 14th century Chouara Tannery, the juxtapositions were unfathomable. Fez felt like we had hopped into a time machine.

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An entry to University of al-Qarawiyyin, the oldest university in the world, circa 859 AD.

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Medrasa al-Attarine

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Chouara Tannery circa the 14th century. Remember, sheep is cheap when you make your next animal hide purchase.

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And finally, perhaps all of our favorite part of Fez was a trip to the compound where all of the pottery that is bought and sold is handmade, hand chiseled, and hand painted. We learned that all the tiles used in restorations or for sale in the country are completely chiseled by men who spend their day with a hammer and stencils in their lap. We learned how the clay is made and stored, how the dyes for the paint change, and how no two pieces are the same. Sista even got to try her hands on the pottery wheel and made half a baby tagine! Needless to say, we were all in heaven and did all our shopping straight from the source.

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My sister, the potter, using two fingers to widen. Teacher’s orders.

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With a slammed morning behind us, we headed back to the Riad to fetch our bags. We made our way through the souk, which was an entirely different type of souk than that of Marrakech. People in Fez use the souk for everyday life things. It’s where you go to buy your wedding gown, your meat for tonight’s meal, your bath oils and your handmade rugs, and to maybe see the head of a beheaded camel. It’s not so much a place to find your chachkies to take home like the souks in Marrakech.

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Totally normal.

Totally normal.

And that concludes our whirlwind tour of Morocco. It was a jam packed 4.5 days, but we definitely made the most of it. The major attractions of note that we wanted to include in our stay were an additional day in the Sahara to include the dunes at Erg Chebbi, and perhaps the most heartbreaking to Sista and me, a trip to Chefchaouen. The blue city has been on our brains ever since she discovered it a couple months before our trip. But, thanks to Ryanair and shortening our time it was unfeasible.

Morocco has since etched its way into my heart. As the first Arab country I’ve visited, I was so overwhelmed with happiness to know that different faiths coexist in complete harmony and respect for each other. The people we met had such a warmth about them, and the hospitality is in a league all its own. Morocco, I will be in you again soon.

And that’s that! Have you been to Morocco? Did you discover any off-the-beaten-path gems you’d care to share? Since I’ll be returning, what new cities should I add to my must-see list? Please do let me know in the comments below. 





Where Have I Been You Ask?

Oh, hello there! It’s been a while, I’m quite aware. I hope you’ve been well since I last wrote to you many moons ago. In all honesty, I’ve sat down to pen some posts, and then got distracted by life. I’m also beginning to think Spain just doesn’t provide much stimulation to my senses quite like Korea did. I don’t feel that much I’ve done here lends itself to a story that I’m excited about. And well, perhaps that’s to thank for the lack of postings. But, on the other hand, I literally have no time for me in this country. Between school, private classes, Spanish classes, sporadic weekend travels, visitors, and getting my teaching license, I’ve been more exhausted here than anywhere else. I don’t know how I feel about it, but it’s overwhelming.

So that’s that, and I’d like to fill you in on the probably not-so-exciting-haps since I last posted here so you’re not completely out of my loop.

Goodbye Seoul Tapper, Hello Tapperilla

Did you notice the domain for my little home on the internet? Yep, I finally made the purchase of my little home, and seoultapperilla.com is all mine. It came to be quite randomly, actually. I was up really late one night (per the usual) and had been researching domain purchasing, and at that wee hour I just decided to do it. It had been long enough that I was still non-committal, so I decided it was time to be a woman and commit. So yes, come here or go there, and you’ll still end up here. YAY!

I’m Gettin’ Edumacated

Maybe you glossed over it in the above, or maybe you already know because I’ve been at it since December, but I finally bit the bullet and decided to get my teaching license! This has been something I’ve been sitting on for quite a while, since before my 3rd year in Korea to be exact, and well, I want to be a legit teacher and have my own classroom and plan my own lessons sort of like I did in Korea, but more. Spain has provided a bit of a stifling experience since coming here to ‘teach’, so now is the time to use it for what it is and work towards something more. It’s all online, and my job here in Spain is acting as my practicum. I will finish at the end of October, when I will then need to complete a series of tests, and pending my passing, I’ll be a real teacher – FINALLY. A real teacher in that absurd state of Florida, or wherever the wind blows me. I’ll be in the market for International schools, of which I’ve got a location brewing, and we’ll see what happens once I complete those tests and map out my remaining time in España.

Get Outa Town!

In the past couple months I’ve been on an ‘I must get out of Madrid’ kick. This city is exhausting. In March Jen and I popped off to El Escorial just outside Madrid, and then mid-month we had a long weekend where we hit up Barcelona for some Gaudi (in my gaudy), and Zaragoza in Aragón for some delicious tapa hopping and Medieval castle time. It was a completely last minute trip after rain rerouted our journey to Gibraltar, but with some quick research on the fly, we devoured our way through both cities.

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Barcelona was made for us.

In Barcelona we ate the best paella I’ve probably ever had. At least since my first trip to Barcelona back in 2006. It’s damn hard to find a solid paella in this country! While in search of Gaudi’s first commission, we also stumbled on a hidden gem in Bar Tomás, which serves up the greasiest plate of Patatas Bravas con Ali Oli. We had two plates and probably left with a few clogged arteries. But it was worth it.

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Goodbye arteries.

Added To My Chain of Visitors, & Conquered Another Continent

It’s no secret that people love to come visit my homes-away-from-home, and in the last month I added 3 new ones, plus a second offender. Over Semana Santa (Easter week), sista and the Diamond sistas came for a visit. The Traveling Yarmulkas ate too much Tortilla Española in Madrid, wandered through the medieval Alcazár of Segovia that inspired Walt Disney’s castle, and jumped continents to AFRICA. We all got far too excited when our 8 feet landed in Marrakech. I don’t know why, but that continent seems like a tremendous deal. We explored Morocco in the quickest way possible as we rode some camels, slept in the Sahara, ate tagine up the ying yang, rocked a Kasbah and a shmata, and acquired a stalker. It was a fabulous whirlwind of sista time!

Shmata rocking through the Atlas Mountains

Shmata rocking through the Atlas Mountains.

I also had that second offender in a Lambchop, who was my chariot for a weekend. I got rowed around by a dreamboat through the Retiro Lake, and then we rented a beautiful little Fiat that he whizzed us around Spain in. I finally got to see Toledo, Spain’s once-upon-a-time capital, and we returned to Segovia’s Alcazár. Since I had promised him in a letter written at 15 that my family would take him to Disneyland, what better alternative than Disney’s inspiration? We took the scenic routes, and my, how Spain’s beauty opens up when you’re not traveling via public transport. The view and the company was absolutely divine.

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Castle with a view.

To Infinity & Beyond

As for the future, 7 months in Spain have come and gone, and my first contract is nearing its close at the end of June. Come end of the month, I will be popping back stateside with a chop on my arm, a coast of California to road trip, a wedding to attend, too many beautiful faces to see, and a couple tests to be taken. After jamming all that into the mix, a summer of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants in Greece awaits me. And, well, then it’s back to Madrid in October for my second contract, and who knows…

Of course, these are just snippets of what I’ve been up to, but I have full intentions of logging all of the stories behind the haps. Perhaps I left something out, I very well may have. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Will you be in Greece this summer? Holler at me! And of course, if you’re not already, you can get the day-to-day scoop over on Instagram where I actually keep track of my life in real time. 

What Have I Been Up To?

This weekend marks 2 months of living in España, and let me tell ya, my day-to-day life here is pretty damn busy. I don’t know what I was really expecting to expect from life in Madrid or working as an Auxiliar, but I will say that for the amount of work I do, I run around and am drastically busier than I ever felt the past three years.  It’s becoming quite clear that even though Spain is all about the siesta, the vino, and the “no pasa nada”, it’s also a place about the hustle. Since we are paid mere pennies by the Comunidad de Madrid and are allowed to legally tutor, I’ve been trying to pick up private lessons left and right. So far I’ve picked up 2, one with an adorable pudgy 3rd grader, and another with a 7th grade boy twice a week, who also happens to go to the middle school that I was originally assigned to.  The pay is crap compared to Korea, like literal crap, but like I said, it’s all bout dat hustle!

As if the errrday hustle of regular life here hasn’t been enough, I’ve also enrolled myself in a 9 month online course en route to getting my teacher’s license so that I will in fact be a certified teacher….in the state of Florida. But more importantly, the world of the International school is about to be at my fingertips. After much deliberation, and pretty much two years of sitting on my thumb deciding if I want to do the course or not, I’ve pulled the trigger. I’ve come to the realization that after 4 years living abroad teaching, I really enjoy it, and most importantly, love the amount of traveling I get to do. So, it’s about time to bulk up my resume with legit certifications. I’m a little annoyed with myself for waiting until I got to Spain to do this, seeing as I was actually making good money in Korea, but then I give myself a lil pep talk that Spain would have never been an experience in my repertoire had I done it then. So, even if I may be broke again after this course, it’s only for a brief nano. Then it’s 3 month vacas and $$$. Eye on the prize. Eye on the prize.

And I'd have never taken this selfie with my first real Dali.

And selfie eye on my first Dali.

In other news, while I still don’t really talk with my roomies (which I’m awkwardly okay with), I really love my apartment. Even though the heat hasn’t been turned on yet, or that my landlords are a little bit too “ruley” as of late, I can’t really complain. I’m in the heart of Madrid, in Malasaña, where life is crackin all around me. I’ve got an exquisitely azulejo tiled bedroom floor, a balcony that opens up to the noisy but fabulous street below, and closes me into a cave come nightfall. My roommates are super clean, and there is NEVER a dirty plate left in the sink. I can hang. Perhaps my one complaint in living with 3 males that I don’t know is that I feel the need to scurry from bathroom to bedroom when I choose to be a girly girl and give myself a beautifying mask. Oh, and the no visitors past 11pm rule. Excuse me but dinner isn’t even until 11pm here, and more importantly, I AM A GROWN ASS WOMAN. But…

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Despite my extreme distaste for being told how to run my boudoir, I have finally gotten around to decking the walls with homey things. I’ve become obsessed with the podcast Serial, and while I listen (read: finished) I’ve been hanging and decorating. It’s proved successful, and my room finally feels like a little slice of home. All my jewels are displayed, and all the faces and places that I love and miss are all ova da plizace.

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Yes, I’m aware there is a massive disaster hanging above my head.

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And when I haven’t been domesticating or tutoring, I’ve enrolled myself in clases de Español twice a week! If you consulted with me about 12-15 years ago, you would very well know that I was not particularly fond of my clases de Español with Señor Sanchez and I-totally-forget-my-other-teacher’s name. I actually hated them, like I’m sure most other high schoolers could attest to. At that point you’re just sitting there thinking WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW THIS? But now, a shocker to myself, those 2.5 hours per week have easily become some of my favorite hours. While I don’t think my speaking has progressed exponentially in everyday life, my listening has really grown. I do always surprise myself though when I remember lots of vocab from way back when. The classes are super small, the teacher is so sweet, I love the other people in my class, and it feels so good to use my brain for harboring knew knowledge. Especially that can be used on the reg.

I've also found one of my favorite Korean snacks in European form.

Behold, one of my favorite Korean snacks in European form. This was a Happy “Peppero Day”.

I’ve also made some efforts to break up the week with friends and food and film. Wednesdays have been dubbed Cinetaco Wednesdays with Jen and Kristia, as that is discounted movie night in Madrid, which we have been following up with either 1 euro tacos, or in recent weeks, trying out the Korean spot I had a hankering for. The tacos are bomb, the Korean was aight, but totally satisfied the craving. And to conclude my work week, Thursdays have been spent with my new very Larry-esq homie, Justin, grabbing 5 euro all you can eat Italian food and vino at Aío, perfectly situated right down the street from me. I’ve also acquired a little wine glass collection from Aío because my klepto sometimes gets the best of me when I really enjoy some glassware. Don’t worry, I’ve only done it enough for a pair.

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The kimchi was lacking, but Gayagum Gallery Restaurante totally satisfied.

And finally, when I’m not domesticating, or tutoring, or teaching, or learning, I’m enjoying being lazy. That’s right. Laying in bed in my cave until noon. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really feel bad about it when I do. In Korea, even though I did it OFTEN, I always felt kind of bad about laying in bed until who knows when because I felt I should get my butt outside. Perhaps because the city is constantly moving and Koreans act as if the night before never happened. Madrid is always moving too, but in a more leisurely fashion. That, and people are out until all hours of the morning and definitely remembering it when they lay in bed all day the next day.

I’ve also given Tinder España a go, but that’s for its own amusing write up.

Until next time, enjoy looking at this picture of an extremely moist piece of double down dark chocolate cake from Federal Cafe in Malasaña. It was no Dark Baby, but oh my!

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Basquing In Basque Country

Before taking my first weekend jaunt out of Madrid, I didn’t know all too much about San Sebastián and Bilbao, aside from having previously had an intern when I was working at JLE who came from Bilbao. She spoke like, hello and goodbye in English, and even then I could barely understand her. She spoke with a strange accent and was a low talker, and it was beyond me why we took her on. Maybe because we were intern short-handed and we needed someone to fetch Simon his café or hold down the office when I had to relieve myself for 1 minute. Whatever the reason, that is all I knew of Bilbao. Oh, and that it was supposed to be gorgeous. Which you will see in this tale that that is indeed a true fact of life.

The face I likely made when I was told to hire low talker.

The face I likely made when I was told to hire low talker.

Mama Schaeff visited me for a week before Kristia and I decided to last minute crash Jen and her friend Jules’ trip to Basque Country. Mama left on Thursday afternoon, and that night after my clase de Español, we caught a 12:30am bus headed north to San Sebastián. It was a 6 hour bus ride, which I konked out on most of thanks to the scrumptious neck pillow Jerry gifted me earlier this year.  That means we arrived in the wee hours when the sun was still deciding if it wanted to rise or not.

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I was quite the physically and mentally exhausted camper, and Kristia was ready to run laps and shit along the river.

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Get out of my face!

I had plans to take a nap on one of the benches like a bum, but that didn’t pan out because eventually I woke up and we found a cozy café to get some coffee pumping through our systems, listen to the supafab throwback soundtrack being bumped, and of course, begin the pinxto (Basque version of tapas) inhalement. You’ll notice the jamon in this photo. Well, I decided that I’d bend my pork consumption rules to try it since it’s all the rage. And yea, it’s pretty bomb, and tastes kind of like my other pork allowance, salami.

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If there is one food staple in this country it’s the tomate, and that makes Dani very very happy.

When we (read I) were finally alive, we walked through the gorgeous streets to find our hostels in the old town. Though like me before her, Kristia was content with making a local bench her home for a few moments.

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After some showers and siestas, we regrouped and met up to satisfy our palates and fill our starving bellies. San Sebastián is known for its pinxtos (pronounced like pinchos), and the bars have gorgeous spreads for the choosing. A rule of thumb when pinxto hopping is to have no more than 2, maybe 3, at each bar, so we really tried to stick to this rule. But, we were totally spoiled by the first establishment we walked into. Ganbara had this ridiculous pinxto made up of goat cheese, sun dried tomato, walnuts and some sort of balsamic heavenly reduction. It was exquisite and we kept returning to the scene of the slaughtering. I don’t even know how many we each had. And we washed these down with a fabulously delicious Vermouth, which has since become my go-to Spanish beverage.

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I also found out I have a new obsession with mushrooms, but only the way this place prepares them. My name is Danielle and my favorite pinxto was a tower of shrooms.

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After deciding that we needed to be rolled out of there, we headed to Playa de la Concha and took in the views. The views of Jesus flipping us off from high above on the mountain top, the view of the people basquing (topless) on the pier, and the freakin gorgeous ocean. Twas divine.

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Token pensive emo shot of me in a mood.

We were going to hike up to Jesus, or take the funicular trolley up to the castle on the other side of the beach to see the view of all the beaches and lagoon from high above, but as it got darker and we got wanderier (that’s a word now), we decided to play an exhilarating game of catch the 1.50euro teeny tiny water bottle instead.

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And took an illegal spin on an artsy merry-go-round before getting scolded off. Note to the wise, you must purchase a ticket. Whoops.

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Some of my faves.

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The next day was spent devouring more, but before heading off to Bilbao, we hijacked some bikes, strolled through the gorgeous streets a little while longer, inhaled some more café (or straight up sugar in Jules’ Cuban case) and bought last minute souvenirs (read: Danielle finally bought herself a legit European beret).  We of course took one last goat cheese heaven pintxo to the face.

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Aside from heading to the airport and flying far far away, my absolute fave mode of transport is via train, and by train we were off to Bilbao, where I could be reminded of my long-lost intern whatshername. Train tickets were around 6 euros and took 1.5 hours to get there. Apparently many locals prefer to take a bus between the cities because the train makes so many stops, but we ended up enjoying the train regardless of the numerous stops.

We got in pretty late and made the amateur mistake of walking through San Francisco, AKA the immigrant area, AKA I have never felt more white and prim and proper and scared in my life. We were all on serious guard of our belongings and each other, and it took us forever to find our hostels and Airbnbs.

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A moody sky foreshadowed the scary walk.

The next day we got up bright and early and hit the gorgeous alleys of Bilbao. I was told it was stunning, and it indeed was. The cobblestone streets, the towering Cathedral, the quaint alleyways, and the rolling river through the center set a beautiful scene. We all ended up separating for most of our wander through Bilbao, which was nice and we all got to see whatever we wanted. I found my way into a little flea type market where I took two circles around because I LOVE SAMPLES.

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Olives, and pickles, and cheese! OH MY!

The last part of our jaunt was a far too speedy trip to the Guggenheim of Bilbao. This is a wild museum, and it took Kristia and I a year to get there because I couldn’t resist doing the Freddie (Troop Beverly Hills for the uncultured) riverside. 

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The museum was designed by Frank Gehry, and holy crap, it is a masterpiece in and of itself. You could be totally satisfied by just gawking at it if you don’t go inside, though the museum is bomb and has so many amazing artists within its walls, so you should venture in.  There’s an entire Pop Art exhibit that made me danisqueal.

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It was like looking at the future. Obsessed.

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Another one of those Roppongi Spiders by Louise Bourgeois.

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Way more than puppy love.

Then the rain came and that meant it was time for Kristia and I to bounce because we had to work on Monday. We hitched our bus (booked through ALSA bus), and took a ridiculously long 6 hour bus ride back to Madrid. But it was worth it. The north is exquisite and tasty and a place I will definitely be returning to! 

Well there you go! Have you been to Basque Country? What was your favorite thing about it? Did you have a favorite pintxo bar? Did you too find yourself wrongfully in the wrong part of Bilbao town? Let me know about it in the comments! 

 

 

It’s Hard Not To Compare

It’s been about a month and a half since I peninsula hopped. I know I haven’t written too much about it so far, and I’m not sure why that is, but it may be because I don’t feel like I’ve settled just yet. My heart is still wheeling for Korea, and I’d say all around I don’t have the feels I initially got when I began life in Koko.

I can’t stop comparing things, which I know is totally normal given the whirlwind I bestowed upon myself, but I also feel like maybe it’s hindering my enjoyment of Spain. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself – because I am. It’s just taking a little longer to wrap my heart around the continent that was my favorite just 4 years ago, before Asia and the family I made there stole it.

I guess this is what homesickness feels like. Just whack when it’s for your 2nd home and not the 1st.

In an effort to make this more than a sap story, I have taken mental, and when applicable, pictoral notes, of those noticeable differences between the 2 peninsulas that have had the great pleasure of hosting my American ass.

Because comparing is inevitable, here we go.

1. Drunk Ajussi vs. Señors Who Siesta

It is by no means a rarity in Korea to find a ‘salary man’ in his glittery tie passed out in his own vomit whilst molesting the trash laden curb, or passed out in the fetal position in a corner, or basking in his glory on a subway bench at nearly any time of the day.

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Or in his case, traditional ajussi garb.

In Spain this is nonexistent. Instead, you’ll find a gentlemen fully dressed to the nines having his afternoon siesta in the middle of the hustle bustle of the city center on a park bench.

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2. Ajummas vs. Señoras In Pearls

Ajummas are a breed all their own. They don’t care what they throw on in the morning (unless it involves hiking a mountain), and I’m convinced do not own mirrors and/or have someone to veto the clashing patterns they’ve got draped. When they hit a certain age, the only hairdo is one of tightly coifed curls, and their elbows can kill.

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My eyes!

The señoras in pearls are women who have not given up on life, and will go down looking their best. Perfectly tailored dress sets, strings of pearls around their necks and dazzling their ears, and the best designed hand bags to boot! Please note that this element of putting oneself together translates to the señors as well.

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Arguing the proper marrying age of a young woman. I’m officially on the shelf in case you were curious.

3. Early Bird Special Plus Round 2, 3, Noraebang vs. Tapas Then Dinner Whenever

I had never eaten dinner as early as I did than while living in Korea. School would finish at 4:40pm and then the whole faculty was off to dinner together en masse. We’d sit down for Round 1 around 5pm and everyone was prepared to get smashed. After a couple hours and a couple drunk falls by the maintenance man, or principal, we’d move onto Round 2 at some hof. I usually tried to duck out around this time. But if I stuck around, that would ultimately lead to noraebanging the night away.

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Germ swapping builds a strong immune system, and is good for health.

The Spanish will eat tapas at the time when we Americans would typically eat dinner (or really anytime), around 7-8pm, and dinner no earlier than 9pm. That’s even pushing it. I have come home on multiple occasions to a roommate cooking dinner at 11pm. Don’t they know that shit sits in your stomach and makes you fat?! Both enjoy their food though, there is zero arguing of that.

Tiny bites of bomb.

Never thought I’d crave mushrooms as much as I do whilst looking at this photo.

4. Korean School vs. Out Of Control Spanish School

Of course, the reason I am allowed to legally live here, duh. I must admit, even though this is only my 2nd teaching gig and I was in Korea 3 years longer than I have been in Spain, no one has anything on Korean kids. Maybe I’m biased, but then so I am, but they just latched onto my heart so much quicker. Maybe it’s because I was so novel to them. Whatever it is, Korean kiddos, even at their worst, are FAR more obedient and attentive to authority figures than Spanish kiddos. And that’s just the kids.

The teachers do NOT know how to discipline the students here and spend the majority of class talking over the kids because they don’t quiet them down. I work in a bilingual school, so all subjects are taught in English. They’re little, so obviously they aren’t going to understand everything and every direction being thrown at them. Yet, I have co-teachers who bark at the kids and expect them to understand everything right away. I have never experienced such coldness from teachers to children, or kids so out of control off their rockers. It’s like a vicious circle of non-discipline, shouting, students running around throwing pencils in class, crawling on the floor, and of course nothing getting done. I teach only 16 hours a week, and am in the biggest hurry to get out of that school when I’m done. By this time in Korea I had already sold my heart over for a 2nd year, Spain on the other hand, I’m majorly leaning towards negatory.

I will say though that the differences in schools are very telling of the cultures and how completely opposite they are of one another. Koreans strive to be the top of the tops and get into the best university possible, while the ability to finish school at 16 years old in Spain is a welcomed one.  Not to mention, I can’t help but notice how impassioned Spaniards are. While I hate the shouting with a passion, emotions and creativity run wild in the Spanish classroom, something that is 110% lacking, in Korea. You win and you lose I suppose.

Since I'm not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here's a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child's photobooth ride.

Since I’m not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here’s a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child’s photobooth ride.

5. Table Staples

Seeing the staples on any given country’s table is so fascinating to me. I was thinking about this the other day, how I guess in America it would be salt & pepper, maybe some ketchup and mustard. In Korea you’ve got one of the millions of kimchis and gochujang on every single table you sit down at.  Which also makes my mouth water and my mind explode with the notion that I have not stuffed kimchi in my face in over a month. It’s tragic really.

Well in Spain you’ve got extra virgin olive oil and what I missed with tremendous abandon for 3 years, balsamic vinegar, on nearly every table. If not balsamic, you’ve at least got oil and some other kind of vinegar. But it is ever-present and they slather that shit on every piece of jamon or pan con tomate they devour.

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Since you know what oil & vinegar look like, this is a sampling of snack time my first day on the job. Chocolate cake with sprinkles for breakfast.

6. Cafés Of Every Theme vs. Cafeterias

I could step out of my apartment in Korea and find a million cafes in every direction I turned, and they’d be of any theme imaginable. It was perhaps one of my hands down favorite things about Korea and something that that country reigns supreme in. Café culture in Korea is TOP.OF.THE.POPS. While some of my best cups of coffee were definitely not had in Korea, the best slices of cake were. HELLO HACKNEY DARK BABY AND FRANK’S RAINBOW CREAM ROLL CAKE. And anything Earl Grey flavored, because they have it.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Café culture in Spain isn’t so prominent, and that’s probably because Spaniards are a little more adventurous in their outings with other individuals. While the coffee is a million eons beyond Korea, the experience is lightyears different, and not really my style. I LOVE sitting in a cafe with my computer typing away, and so far that experience has been pretty hard to replicate. Most caféterias are bar style and you order a cafe con leche from the bar and drink it standing up alongside others who are also at the bar. They’re also not a very grab-your-coffee-to-go type of people.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be up the street from me.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be just around the river bend from me.

7. American English vs. British English

This is a bizarre as all hell thing people! It’s adorable slash makes me feel a little heeby jeeby inside. Hearing little Spanish babies speak in British accents might be one of the most precious things I have ever willfully exposed myself to, and hearing a 1st grader ask me everyday “Teacher, where’s my rubber?” will never cease to make me cackle with dirty abandon inside.

That aside, while my co-teachers encourage telling the students what we’d say in America, I find it to be hardly enforced. It’s merely brushed over, probably because it won’t be on the Cambridge Exams. Needless to say, I miss teaching American English, even if the kiddos thought every black person on the TV was Obama.

Well, there you’ve got it! Did you like that British English I just threw at you?! I thought you would. These are just a month’s worth of immediate observations that have tipped my senses. I hope I didn’t come off as so unbearably whiney about my new life in España, I’m trying here people! Now let me know about your experiences in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes. What things really shocked your pants off, or merely stood out to you?

 

España, I’m Comin’ For Ya!

The cat’s been let out of the bag, peeps! In a little over 4 months I will be calling Madrid, Spain my second home away from home! It took me a hearty nanosecond to get back to the thrill I had when I first clicked apply, but I have since found my way back and BOY, AM I FUCKING EXCITED!! Excuse the emphatic fuck, totally necessary.

This is coming as a bit of a shocker of shocks to at least a handful of you, I know, considering just as recently as Monday I was on the boat to make Shanghai my next hop. I talked to a recruiter in China, sat at my desk preparing a spreadsheet of countries I’d like to hit on a 4 or 5 month backpacking excursion, sent text messages attempting to recruit travel companions to India, and when that was a bust, because you know, people have jobs back home, psyched myself up to bite the bullet and hit India on my own to get down and dirty with myself. I began concocting this plan to travel through the end of the year, be back home for a few months to watch people tie their knots (and quite possibly go mentally insane), and then peace out after that.

That flipped almost instantly as soon as I got my 2nd acceptance from Spain.

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I applied to two programs that are specific in getting us North American’s legal working rights in the European Union. BEDA and the Ministry Auxiliares de Conversación program through the Spanish government allow Americans to work in Spain under a student visa for one academic year. This is huge because work visas for us are notoriously near impossible to come by in Europe, and well, my dream must be conquered!

I found out I had been placed with BEDA at the end of April, and decided to turn it down since the start date is 1 week after I finish my contract in Korea, the pay is super shitty, and that big of a move with zero time to decompress frankly stressed me the flying fuck out. The Ministry program in turn starts at the beginning of October and runs through June, meaning I’ll need to get myself to Madrid within the last two weeks of September to get settled and attend an orientation. The pay is still crap, albeit a teency bit higher than BEDA, but I will be working less hours than I would with BEDA, for a smidge more money, AND 4 day weeks! YAYAYUYUH! The program doesn’t provide housing, so I will be tasked with finding a little nook to call my own. That should be fun, considering the last time I was in Spain MayMay and I got horribly lost during our first hop on the metro, and my Spanish needs some severe help. Rosetta Stone I’m coming for you.

But we survived, and very much fell in love with Barcelona (and a boy named Giuseppe).

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I’m sure you’re curious about my sudden change of pace, right? Well, lately I had gotten the notion in my head that I’d be turning any offers from Spain down because I decided I fancied making a bit more money, something China would ensure, and up until recently, I thought I’d enjoy an extra cherry on top (read: man). Even though China still is a massive adventure I want to conquer, when this offer popped into my inbox, something snapped. I instantly remembered why I jumped through hoops in a flurry to make the application deadlines. I wasn’t basing my next move on the money, but on following my heart for the experience I’ve always dreamt of. Cue sappy music now and an ecstatic 4th grade (and 30 year old!) Danielle.

Not to mention, cobblestone streets, architecture adorned with character, paella, wine and delicious espresso need a fatass place in my life right about now.

I won’t lose my Asian touch though. That shit sticks with you like kimchi to your refrigerator and apartment and breath. Sorry Cori.

So now begins the annoying task of getting all my legal documents in a pretty little row. I feel pretty overwhelmed right now. It was a huge pain in the ass when I had to get everything for Korea, and now that I’m abroad I feel a little more flustered because there’s all that distance from America. I also have to get all these documents translated to Spanish to add another layer of fun. But it’s all in excited good flustering. Since all my classes were cancelled on Wednesday, literally all I did was scour blogs of people working in the program and it got me SO PUMPED!

To think, just a year ago I was on the phone with Papa Schaeff freaking out about staying a third year, and how my major goal to tackle in the next year was to really figure my shit out, because I was not going to stay in Korea for a 4th year. I’m quite proud of myself for sticking to it and putting myself en route to checking another huge experience off the ol’ bucket list.

Whether or not I will be home in between contracts is up in the air at the moment. I have plizans to hit up the motherland on a free flight that I get for being Bat Mitzvah’d and now in my 30th year (don’t ask), and pop on over to Greece to visit the man my family once asked to bring toilet paper up to our hotel room just because we wanted to see him (don’t ask again).

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So if I don’t see you in Korea before August, or home, I better be seeing you in Spain. I’m on a mission to get double the amount of visitors I had to Korea (and that’s a big number to top).

In other news, it looks like I’m gonna need to start brainstorming a new, broader name for the ol’ bloggy blog. I may just stick with Seoul Tapper because I am quite fond of it, but something all encompassing of the globe may be nice. If you have any ideas, please, help a sista out with your creative seeds.

Hasta luego purple people eaters!