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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32 Times Of Treinta y Uno

When I look back on year thirty-one, it looks like a very weird year. Nothing immediately crazy stands out to me until I actually look at it with a closer eye. Then I realize that this year was very much defined by leaps of faith, incredible travels, and was actually quite the successful year, with some (big) emotional bumps along the way.

Thirty-one started off with a romantical getaway to Brussels with Lambchops, complete with decadent Belgian chocolate aplenty and terrorist scares following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Spring time saw the Sistahood of the Traveling Yarmulkes of Diamonds and Schaeffs pop off to my fourth continent for a Moroccan getaway filled with camels and schmatas. My first full summer in years was spent exploring Greece and its downward spiral via shiny red vespa, and bouncing through the culturally rich Balkans. And now, thirty-one has come to end on a high note with a purposeful trip to New York which included passage of all Teaching Certification exams; and thank God because my entire life revolved around them for 3 months (hence the lack of bloggery).

That was a lot of happenings, and what better way to sum up the year than by highlighting year treinta y uno with thirty-two times my life saw a filter or two through the Instagram lens.

So, without further adieu…

1. Birthday & Balls In Brussels With A Babe

Lambchops and I booked a very last-minute (per the usual) jaunt to Brussels for my birthday weekend, where we drank delicious beer, ate the most decadent Belgian chocolate, visited European Parliament for my Mr. Politician man, and played with these giant silver balls at Atomium, a structure that is entirely retro inside and was originally designed for the 1958 Brussels World Fair. It was bomb, and we had lots of silly fun trying to get the perfect photo cupping these balls.

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2. Dining Amidst Hemingway

I only had one spot in mind as to where I wanted to spend the night of the oldest I’d ever been, and that was at the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guiness Book of Records certificate that sits in the front window of Botin. Justin wore a vest and tie and his horrible shoes, we tried their Cochinillo, and we paid a visit to the table in the corner where one Ernest Hemingway used to sit and drink himself away before writing about how Madrid is the most difficult city to fall in love with. I agree with his drunk musings.

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3. Hello Year Of The Goat!

I really miss celebrating Lunar New Year in a place where it’s celebrated, but thankfully Spain has Chinos by the bushel and two of the few friends I made in Madrid are an Asian and a pseudo Asian like I. So we went out to indulge our noodle and MSG dreams, and it was divine. Except for the tofu. It could have used some more spice.

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4. Wore The Gaudiest Thing I Own

Never one to shy away from a good prop, I wore the gaudiest thing I own to take in some Gaudi on a weekend pop off to Barcelona with Jen. I realized that all I remembered about Barcelona from my 2006 trip with MayMay was Giuseppe, a nap that lasted forever, and Paella followed by some sort of free shot. So we wandered, admired all the stunning Gaudi, found his first commission off the beaten path, ate the best Patatas Bravas ever, and once again ate Paella to remember. I can also now say I have truly (soberly) visited Barcelona.

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5. This Man

The seasons changed and Justin and I took in a few Tinto de Veranos terrace-side this fine gentleman. Truly a treat to the eyes and worthy of remembrance.

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6. Sistahood Of The Traveling Yarmulkes

This was a trip we first only joked about, and then when everyone got on board it was pretty fabulous. Four crazy sistas who have been bickering and loving each other since the Willow Elementary days found ourselves exploring Madrid and then the most culturally shocking country I’ve ever visited – Morocco. What started out as a holiday where we were keeping our JAPpiness under lock and key, turned into an education about a place where so many religions co-exist peacefully. Morocco was colorful and vibrant and accepting, and perhaps one of the most visually intriguing places I’ve ever visited.

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7. Semana Santa’s Own Ku Klux Klan

Semana Santa is Easter, or Holy Week in Spain, and I had no idea that these costumes were traditional to the holiday until the sistas and I stumbled upon them late one night. It was one of the most unsettling visions to walk in to, and we were all a bit disgusted but couldn’t stop staring. However, after some brief research, the Nazarenos actually have no correlation with the Ku Klux Klan, known to wear the same costume in white. In fact, this tradition pre-dates the KKK. Essentially the origins of why they wear these costumes is still a mystery, however their faces are covered as they are in mourning and in repentance for the sins of the past year. Can’t say I’m a fan, but I still find this cultural aspect utterly fascinating.

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8. In A Boat With A Dream Boat

My dreamboat came for another visit to España, we went to Retiro Park, and he refused to let me do the rowing. How romantic.

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9. Fucking Four Names! 

I think it’s safe to say that everyone from our first year in Korea assumed Thomas Sean Dominic Kelly (otherwise known as 4names) fell off the face of the earth. Well, newsflash, he didn’t and he’s still alive and popped over to Spain to pay me a little visit. We did a couple Asian things, like got bubble tea and posed in front of this Korean restaurant, and then we went and drank many a glass of Vermouth and caught up about life since everyone thought he died. It was a great blast from the past.

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10. Shika Shocka Hip Hopping

Two years ago Shika volunteered in the Philippines, met Dustin, came to visit him in Koko, we hit it off over fluffy whipped creamy waffles, fresh lobster, Mickey Mouse ears, and fancy bows. Since then we have become great continent hopping friends from Seoul to NYC to Madrid and back again. During her quick trip to Madrid we people watched in front of the royal palace, caught up about our boys, and enjoyed the most deliciously ginormous tomato dinner. Everything about her visit was a little bit o’ heaven.

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11. An Afternoon At The Bull Fight 

I still do not condone this bullfighting business, however, it also sits as one of my favorite, most Spanish experiences since arriving in the country. Before attending I was told things like “It’s an art”, “It’s so beautiful” and was eerily perturbed by that phraseology to describe something so barbaric. Then I went, met an avid bullfight goer, and witnessed the artistry first hand. It’s backwards, but it’s a huge part of Spanish culture, so to me it’s worth the experience. And boy was it. I wrote about it here if you want more of the bloody details.

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12. Chef #dadbodenlacocina 

Justin is quite the wizard in the kitchen, and I dearly miss having someone cook for me since he selfishly chose to depart España. Well, this night he cooked a massive Paella feast for me and his favorite Frenchies. It was a very tasty evening.

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13. First Father’s Day In Four Years

2015 was the first Father’s Day I’ve actually been present for in four years. I arrived back state side the day before, and the next day we all took him to the cafe at Paradise Cove for lunch and a dip in the great big Pacific. He was so happy and I was so happy to be home to celebrate and take this photo in the most appropriate place we ever could have.

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14. Our Jeanelly Became A Novak!

The first of our Fab 4 got hitched on the beach in Malibu to the amazing Alex, and it was the island party I couldn’t wait to get to! There was so much wind, so much dancing, so much wine, and so many lovers all in one place. Not to mention, I also had my first plus one to a wedding and came in tow with my handsome Greek man who got his first taste of America.

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15. A Grand Tour Of Los Angeles As Promised 

In 1999 two little teeny boppers promised the cute boy working at the front desk of our London hotel that we’d give him a Grand Tour (capital G and T) of Los Angeles if he ever found himself there. Well, this summer he did and the Sistas Schaeff took him on that Grand Tour. Even though he didn’t want to take us up on our long overdue offer of a trip to the happiest place on Earth, we found the next best thing. Our feet and Walt’s star will have to suffice until next time when he decides he’s only as old as he thinks he is.

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16. Googling Away In Silicon Valley

Lambchops and I paid a long overdue visit to my favorite Baller in the world and his brand new bride, Michelle. We barbequed, swam, imbibed, and stayed up late gossiping like the good ol’ days, then woke up bright and early for a grand tour (there’s a trend here) of Google, which was awesome! Later that night we also got the royal treatment at Facebook when Lambros’ Godfather showed us around. I’d say this guy’s trip to America was a great giant success.

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17. Countin’ It With This Gem

The guy who has always been so damn close to my heart, Mr. Yoga Master, Mr. Crystal Celebrity on Instagram, and I had a divine lunch at Veggie Grill where he gifted me this pretty Amythyst. When we first saw each other in the parking lot I don’t think I let go of him for like 5 minutes. I was SO happy! When we sat down we realized it had been about 5 years since we last saw each other, and it was like no time had passed at all. My Adam Reff is still one of the most lovely and amazing people and it was the best catch-up date I’ve had in a long long time.

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18. Grouchy Gavin

I love Kendra and Justin’s little grouch! This time around he didn’t take too fondly to me, but that’s ok. I understand what ‘Terrible 2s’ means and there’s always next time Gavy boy! Auntie D still loves you and your adorable little face tremendously!

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19. The Golden Gate Bridge of Greece 

When we were driving through the Zagori of Epirus in the northwest part of Greece, Lambchops told me we were going to see a bridge just as famous as the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the bridge of Kokkorou was unbelievable, dates back to 1750, is one of the most famous bridges in the country, and this photo looks like I’m at the center of the earth!

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20. Met Some Real Life Hitchhikers

When I was waiting in line to buy my train ticket from Thessaloniki to Sofia I cut in front of two Frenchie guys who ended up being my favorite travel companions. Turns out Alexis and Konstantin had hitchhiked all over Europe from Paris but couldn’t for the life of them get someone to hitch them out of Thessaloniki, so fate had it that we were to be train buddies to our next destination. They also happened to be the first hitchhikers I ever met (hello, we don’t do that in America) and helped me concoct the perfect travel itinerary. The day they left Sofia they pulled out all their signs and I was in awe with how much work actually goes into being a professional hitchhiker. Two thumbs up!!

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21. Bosnia And Its Baklava

Perhaps my favorite destination on my Balkans Bouncing tour was Bosnia; Sarajevo in particular. I didn’t know nearly anything about the city prior to visiting, and actually still thought they were in a war that happened 20 years ago. In contrast to the war, Sarajevo and Bosnia is one of the most exquisite, interesting, and culturally diverse places I’ve ever visited, and the Baklava there is to die for. Everyday in Sarajevo I went to this specific cafe called The Baklava Shop and sat on the ornate turkish ottomans and sipped my Bosnian coffee while people watching. It was the perfect midday pick-me-up and I sorely miss the tradition.

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22. The Bridge That Fairytales Are Made Of

Mostar came to me as a suggestion by those hitchhiking Frenchies I mentioned above. I spent a day in Mostar and absolutely adored it. From the cobble stoned streets, the greasy Cevapcicci, the medieval architecture, the insane war-torn history, watching daredevils jump from Stari Most, and climbing up the most claustrophobic minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque to get this photo. Mostar is definitely a place that must be put on the map of must-see destinations. In fact, make that the whole of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

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23. Mounting Montenegro

I am not a hiker, in fact, I only do it to say I’ve done it or because there’s a view I absolutely can’t miss. I don’t like that #FOMO crap. And well, the hike up to the fortress in Kotor, Montenegro was definitely worthy of the hike. I even personalized it by wearing pink shorts, gold espadrilles, and silver purse. I’m never one to skimp on glitz, even while I’m sweating. My newly acquired friend and I took the long route (~5 hours worth), on our way stopped for some fresh goat cheese and Coca Cola at a home on the side of the mountain, and then admired the breathtaking fjord from high above. All of those Top 10 Places to Visit in 2016 lists put Kotor on the map and I’m just glad I got to see it before even more cruise ships begin to venture there. Truly stunning.

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24. Scared Shitless In Skopje

Skopje, Macedonia was a very bizarre city. Perhaps the most bizarre I’ve visited. There are sculptures and buildings that look like they’re hundreds of years old but were built in the 2000s, it houses Shutka, home of the highest concentration of Gypsies in the world, and has the massive Millennium Cross (bigger than Jesus in Rio) high on the mountain top, which is where I stand perched here. I met a couple Turkish guys on the double decker bus up to the base of the mountain, and well, they were a couple of monkeys who wanted to get up on this gazebo. So you see, once again, #FOMO kicked in and I didn’t want any of that. To actually take this picture was a task, as it took me a solid 20 minutes to hoist my very scared tuchous up there, a couple skinned hands, and then after that was done, even longer to get me down. See what happens when #FOMO fuels you? You land on top of the world (sometimes).

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25. Shuffled Through Shutka 

Did you read what I wrote above about Shutka? Or this post I wrote about it a few months back? I heard about this place in passing yet again from those Frenchie hitchhikers. Shutka is just full of juxtapositions, slums, and nothing I’ve ever seen before. Those white bouquets I want to believe are leftover decoration from wedding season, which I’m really sad I didn’t get to see. I heard Gypsy weddings are a treat for the senses. Regardless, Shutka was an experience and I got scolded later for accepting an offer into a Gypsy home. Who said curiosity killed the cat?

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26. Exquisite Egremni 

For my last weekend in Greece, Lambchops took us to Lefkada, an island that can be reached by car from the mainland via an underground tunnel. Our destination was Egremni Beach with water so fluorescent you can’t believe it’s not highlighting words in your textbook. Not-so-fun-fact other than the moody afternoon we shared here, is that we were probably some of the last people to get to enjoy its luscious seashore. About a month later Lefkada suffered a major earthquake causing the mountain leading down to the water to completely collapse leaving a shoreless sea. Travesty.

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27. LALA En España

Even though Joshua Becker was in my country of residence on a feat of love, I’m glad I was squeezed into the equation as we had a lifetime of things to catch up on. We drank lots, saw royal things, ate the best Paella in Madrid, and visited the center of this here country. All roads lead to Madrid, and I love having any chance of home visit me!

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28. Scary Or Stunning?

Thank God my roomie likes to celebrar and decided to have a Halloween party at our casa. They looked more beautiful than death and I finally got to put my ‘when in Spain’ Picasso costume into action. We also have enough face paint left over if you’d like your face painted too.

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29. My Life From October To December 

You may have noticed an absence on here for 3 months, and well, that’s because this is what my life looked like. And it all paid off as I am now a fully certified teacher in Elementary Education and ESOL. Now to find a job.

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30. Met Gorgeous Georgie Boy! 

Kayla gave me the news of their new addition on my last birthday, to which I responded with a hearty “I beg your pardon, what?” Well, the adorable little man came this summer and was a huge reason I had to take my tests in New York in December, aside from it’s closer and cheaper to fly to NYC than LA. I had to meet this little slobbery boozy dinosaur, and it’s official, I’m in love!

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31. Shoving Kimchi In Sammy’s Face 

That’s what he gets for never visiting me in Koko. It’s actually quite shocking that he never did, but oh well, because we found ourselves in NYC’s Koreatown, and my little piece of heaven. We were walking down the main street for a little while looking for a place up to my hardcore Korean taste but everything looked super catery to tourists or white people which is a no-go for me. Sammy, being the social butterfly that he is, asked a gang of Korean guys where we should go, and at first they suggested a very white looking place. When he told them I lived in Korea they gave us the good stuff. So, here we are eating BBQ and devouring kimchi and makkoli at Jongro BBQ (which also happens to be my favorite part of Seoul). Happy tummy and fresh breath with one of my favorito homies.

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32. Goodbye Chipless Passport

This is sort of funny, but it was very annoying at the time. You see, my passport expires/d on March 6, 2016 so I made the earliest appointment for renewal at the consulate in Madrid for January 7th. I made it back to America, but when I went to fly back to Madrid I was flagged and denied entry because my passport lacked 3 full months of validity on it. Whoops. Turns out Spain continues to pick and choose what they want to wave their finger at, and passport validity is one of them. Since my just shy of 3 months validity wouldn’t fly (literally), I had to run all over NYC at 12:30am looking for an open Kinkos and a CVS to take my new flawless passport photo (I had to have it retaken due to the definitely drugged up guy who took my first and rejected one) in order to make it and apply for an emergency passport the next morning to fly the following night instead. I succeeded and have since put a note in my calendar for 9.5 years from now to renew my passport at least 6 months prior to the expiration date. On a positive note, when the nice man working at the passport center announced my name he said “Wow!! We were just talking about how flawless your photo is! It’s the best passport photo we’ve ever seen!” The next 10 years of my life thanks you kind sir.

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And there it is! That’s a wrap on 31! I guess now that I look back it was a pretty solid year. Now here’s to 32, which is looking to me like a big fat year of transition, and another big move. L’chaim and here’s to you 32!

 

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. 

Berlin: Wars & Sausages & Fur Hats, Oh My!

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East Side Gallery-ing

Up until December I wasn’t too fond of Germany. My only experiences with it were ones of feeling super Jewy when I visited Munich back in 2006 on MayMay & SchaeffSchaeff’s Eurotrip. I thought Munich was so pretty, so clean, and that the people were almost too nice. I felt like it was a completely sterile place, and maybe that was because they were trying to cover up a horrible past. Or perhaps I was projecting. Who knows, but I’m not the only one to have these thoughts. I’ve heard the same from non-superjews alike.

I still hold these feelings towards Munich, however, my feels towards Germany changed after visiting Berlin over Christmas. Since then I have found myself telling people that Berlin is my new favorite city in Europe, and perhaps the world. I am obsessed with Berlin, and I only scraped the WWII and Cold War surface. I have never really been one for wanting to return to a city if I’ve already been there, I’d just rather visit somewhere new. But, that is totally not the case with Berlin. I NEED to go back. And I must return with sista so we can get our WWII Jew on.

Berlin has the history, it has the art, it has the architecture, and it has the sausages. All things that make Danielle a very happy camper.

Quite a chunk of my time in Berlin was spent doing walking tours. I usually like having the freedom to wander off down who knows where, but after taking a look at the walking tours offered by New Berlin walking tours, I decided that many of the things I wanted to see were best seen when you get the full story behind them. I could show up at the Reichstag building and look at it, but not get the full story of how Hitler came to power here, or search and search for Hitler’s bunker, only to find out that it is located in the middle of an apartment complex. Or I could walk along the Berlin Wall memorial and not know that the circular placards on the sidewalk were for those who successfully escaped over the wall. The tours were so well led, and so fascinating. I feel like I left Berlin with a whole new stash of knowledge.

The day after Christmas, Jen and I went our separate ways for the day after a snowy morning stroll through Tiergarten park. She went to a photography museum while I went on a Third Reich walking tour to get my daily fix of Hitler knowledge.

The tours all meet in front of the Starbuck’s in Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Tor. With a student ID (thank you España) tours cost 10 euro (12 euro full rate). My tour guide was an Irish guy named Mark, and he was excellent. Now, to highlight some of my favorite sites seen on this walking tour, because quite frankly, it’s a lot of historical stuff, and you probably learned all about it in your high school history classes. But, to be there was quite something else.

1. Hitler’s Former Bunker

I was really excited for this, though I thought we were actually going to get to go into his bunker. Unbeknownst to me, the actual bunker itself has since been destroyed, so as not to serve as a mecca for neo-Nazis. However, the location of the place where Hitler made the most brilliant decision of his stupid life now lies underneath a very industrial set of apartment and parking complexes at Wilhelmstrasse 77. Even if nothing was underneath my feet, it felt good to stand above the place where that horrible excuse for a human being spent the final days of his life.

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 2. The Reichstag Building (Renamed The Bundestag) 

This is the German Parliament building, and where Hitler rose to power in 1933 after being appointed Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg. This building suffered a fire in 1933, which is still unsolved to this day, and is also home to the memorial to the 96 Murdered Members of the Reichstag who voted against the Nazi party and were inevitably sent to their deaths – many at Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. The building also stood as a huge target when the Cold War began, physically lying in West Berlin, yet still close to East Berlin.

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Sachsenhausen was the first camp established in Germany, and was where many political prisoners were sent to die.

3. The New Synagogue In Oranienburg

Kristallnacht (‘the night of broken glass’) happened on November 9, 1939. It was a night when all Jewish establishments were torched and destroyed. One of the few temples to survive the horrible night was the New Synagogue, located on Oranienburgstrasse. The story goes that during the night, the inside of the temple was in the midst of being destroyed and burned. In the morning, a police officer arrived on the scene declaring that this temple is a protected historical landmark, and any destruction to it is illegal. With that, the temple was salvaged, and good thing it was, because it is majestic and beautiful, even in the moonlight.

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4. The Holocaust Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe

I’ve seen so many Holocaust memorials, and I really look forward to them. The memorial in Berlin is one of the more interesting ones that I’ve seen, mostly because it’s so industrial and a bit cold. Though, maybe that was the aim they were going for. It is essentially a sea of cement blocks of varying heights. You have the freedom to walk through it, and watch the blocks get smaller to taller as you move through the wavy alleys. If anything, it makes for a cool photo shoot.

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5. Stumbling Stones For The Taken

Throughout the Jewish quarter of Oranienburg, there lie small golden squares on the sidewalk. They lie anywhere; in front of apartment buildings, in front of restaurants, anywhere. They are an everyday reminder and remembrance to the Jews who were taken from their homes and the dates they were taken. They lie in front of wherever they lived, and I found this to be an incredibly thoughtful and jarring everyday reminder of the lives lost.

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It’s no surprise that war history fascinates me, and Berlin has no shortages of that. The next walking tour that Jen and I went on was about the Cold War. Though the Cold War wasn’t so much a war as an occupation and divide, it still falls in the war history category. Before visiting Berlin I was pretty unknowledgeable about the Berlin Wall and East and West Germany. Really all I knew was that there was this massive wall put up, and that my mom had ‘accidentally’ hopped off a train in East Germany and got right back on after being bombarded by sights of soldiers with rifles in the station. Other than that I was pretty clueless. However, after a visit and some dropped knowledge, and staying in an Airbnb apartment just on the Eastern side of the wall, I can say there is no way to describe the feelings you get while being in a city once divided and with such a recent tragic history. With everyday reminders everywhere, it’s intriguing and mind blowing, and exuded some of the same vibes Cambodia gave me.

1. Berlin Wall Memorial And Staying In The Former East

When Jen and I were walking to our Airbnb, we had no idea we were walking along the Berlin Wall Memorial. We just thought it was a bunch of reminders like we had already seen dispersed around the city. We later learned that we were in fact staying in an apartment just beyond the Eastern border, and that the memorial was in fact THE memorial, and a chance to walk amongst the Death Strip of the wall. The girl, Katherina, that we were staying with was the same age as me, and was born and grew up for the first 6 or so years of her life in East Germany. This information alone blew my mind. Sure she was probably too young to remember anything insane, but still. One of the things she told us about were typical East German names, and how you could pick out an East German based on their name. Fascinating. Living history.

The memorial has former Stasi spy tunnels, images of people who’s homes literally straddled the border when the wall went up and were forced into life or death situations, homage to those who lost their lives trying to escape over the wall, homage to those who successfully escaped over the wall, and a chance to walk in the Death Strip – the space between the Berlin Wall and the smaller wall, where escapees were caught and usually killed.

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Standing on the Eastern Side of the wall.

 2. Staying At A Former Ghost Station Metro Stop

Our metro stop in Berlin was Nordbahnhof. When we first got off at the exit there were so many information placards up on the walls of the station. I was immediately intrigued and read every one. After reading them I still didn’t make the connection that the stop we were in fact staying at was once a former Ghost Station; a station in the East that was blocked off to trains that had to travel through in order to get to the West. It never occurred to me that the metros were effected. I had never thought about all the logistics that go into dividing a CITY.

After getting this bit of knowledge dropped on me, I immediately thought of the story my mom had told me about her time in Berlin. I never really understood the history behind her story until that moment, and of course – MIND BLOWN. My mom was traveling Berlin in the summer of 1974, and when she hopped off the train in East Berlin, she was faced with so many guards and their rifles that it freaked her out and she got right back on the train. I’m still unsure of how she was able to hop off the train in the Eastern side, BUT, it all made sense when our tour guide said that all ghost stations used to be guarded by soldiers. When trains would pass through these stations, they’d slow down, but not completely stop. Travelers would be able to see into the desolate stations, but only the view of guards making sure no one escaped through the stations to the west. I immediately could not wait to tell Mama Schaeff the story behind her hop-off-hop-right-back-on story in Berlin. The only logical thing that I can think of as to how she hopped off, is that maybe ghost stations were still glitchy that early in the game, OR, just that this is Mama Schaeff and that would only happen to her. I’d like to believe the latter, since I am my mother’s daughter.

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3. Checkpoint Charlie And Exiting The American Sector

After WWII Berlin was divided into 4 parts: The French, British, and American in the West, and the Russian in the East. Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous crossing point between the East and the West. Now it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but has a museum (oddly selling American keychains), and apparently a place for you to get a stamp in your passport, should you chose to do that.

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Since no more Korean peace sign, this is what I now do with my arms.

 5. The Cute Berliner Amplemann 

First, how many of you knew that the little guy who tells you when you can and can’t cross the street is called an Amplemann? Because I did NOT! Well, that is what he’s called, and when Berlin was divided into East and West, the East adopted their own special Amplemann, which is so cute and different from any I’ve ever seen. After the reunification, they decided to keep the Eastern Amplemann as a ‘souvenir’ of the East, and now you can see them and their little hats scattered throughout the East and the West.

ample men from the east, that have since become a symbol of berlin. love them.

 6. The East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery, otherwise known as the longest strip still remaining of the Berlin Wall, was turned into an art gallery for street artists in 1990 after the fall of the wall. We went on Christmas night, and it was absolutely freezing. I’m proud of us for braving the cold for as long as we did, though I wish we had gotten to see more of this spectacular gallery of street art. It’s painted with controversial works, works of love and abolishing divides, and everything in between. I especially love how something that tore so many families apart was turned into something unifying and so beautiful. It’s spectacular and was one of my favorite sites in Berlin.

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Other notable things I loved about Berlin were:

1. This Russian Spy Hat I Purchased, Juxtaposed With This Speckled Metro Seat

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 2. Sausages & Pretzels All Day Errday

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3. Christmas Spent In True Christmas Market Fashion, Complete With Warm Glühwein 

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Gendarmenmarkt was our favorite Christmas market!

 4. The Vibrant Metros & Tiles Circa The 1930s

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5. The Majestic Brandenburg Gate, & This Selfie With A Creeper

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 6. The Very Multi-fashioned Berliner Bear, Errwhere

Here's a personal fave, the Athens Berliner Bear ;)

Here’s a personal fave, the Greek Olympian Berliner Bear 😉

7. The Best Russian I’ve Ever Stuffed My Face With, Thanks To Random YouTube Girl

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Pasternak served up the best Beef Stroganof, Potato pancakes, Pierogi, and not pictured, Borscht, that I’ve ever had.

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Just enjoying this very Russian wallpaper, in my Russian hat, by candlelight.

8. Leaving Berlin, Via Train, In The Jewiest Way Possible

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Though proving for a most uncomfortable 6 hour journey, this is the best story I could have ever imagined for my German Jew departure.

Well, there you go! Even though my German journey came full circle to my Jewish heritage, Berlin has really barreled its way into my heart, and I’m not ashamed to say I’m obsessed with it. The city is thriving with delicious food, terrifying history, unbelievable sentimentality, insane street art, and what I’ve heard to be a poppin’ nightlife. I’ve put it on my horizon as a potential place to plant my feet for some time, and I just can’t wait to return. Have you been to Berlin? What are some places you’d recommend for a future visit? The more offbeat the better! 

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Co-Habitating With A Dictator

As many know, when I first landed in Madrid and was on the apartment hunt, it was exhausting and stressful and annoying all rolled into one pretty little ball of yuck. I saw so many dumps, was put on so many long lists of others in my same boat, and then after a little over 2 full weeks of searching, found a place. I sat and talked with the guy, who we will call The Dictator, for an entire hour and totally hit it off. The room was massive and complete with a balcony and azulejo tiled floor. I was obsessed, and an hour later told him I wanted to live there if he’d have me.

Oh he had me alright.

At first he was so nice, and even invited me to go watch a movie with his “cousin” and a friend. I had other plans, and frankly didn’t want to go, but still thought it was a nice gesture. This my friends is all building up the facade.

Then Mama Schaeff came to visit a couple weeks after I moved in, and naturally I was excited to have a visitor stay with me. The night before she arrived we actually had a roomie dinner because it was my Belgian roommate, Lorenzo’s, birthday, so he cooked for everyone. I casually told The Dictator that my mom was coming the next day and he put on this smile like “Oh that’s great!”

Dun dun dun!

During her whole stay she felt uncomfortable. The apartment is constantly kept dark, and she just didn’t feel a very welcoming atmosphere from the place. Which I don’t blame her. However, we were never home during her visit, except for during intermittent fights and to sleep. Then the morning that she left, I got a text message from The Dictator asking me when she was leaving and telling me that “it’s normal for visitors to only stay for a weekend”. Excuse me but no. Not when they are flying around the globe it’s not normal. This was the first WTF in a long list.

Dali is the opposite kind of weird.

Even Dali thinks this is weird.

Then my friend Kristia was over one Friday or Saturday night. We were hanging out in my room, talking and drinking some delicious vino because that’s what social people do. They talk and utilize spaces that are theirs. At 11pm on the dot I got a text message (note that it’s always via text), saying that my visitor had to leave now. Um, last I checked I am a grown ass woman, paying rent to live in my grown ass woman room, so as long as I’m not disrupting your life or your property I think I am allowed to have visitors. And also, last I checked I already have a father, and he wouldn’t even tell me to have my visitor leave. I wanted to stay and spite him, but I hadn’t reached the point of revenge seeking just yet. So we left.

This happened a couple more times, and each time pushed one more button towards hatred of The Dictator.

Along the way there were also little things. Like notes on the chalkboard in the kitchen saying not to open the kitchen window, or that the water and light bills were too high, which made absolutely zero sense to me, since we basically live in a dungeon where lights are forbidden. And as for the water bill, I obey the once a week laundry rule, doing mine about every 2 weeks. Meanwhile, I constantly see their fresh laundry hanging to dry almost everyday. To top it off, remember that “cousin” I mentioned up above? Well, The Dictator and his “cousin” share a bedroom, which was not disclosed to me upon renting, and frankly, it’s bizarre that two 40 year old male cousins would share a bedroom. I had a sneaking suspicion that the “cousin” was a cover for boyfriend, which has since been confirmed by a prior tenant.  That aside, I was told there were 4 tenants, which I soon realized was 5. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to have boyfriends or girlfriends spend the night, as was told (via text) to my Belgian roommate at 11pm one night while his girlfriend was over. Enter the double standard.

With the “no significant others” rule, and quickly becoming clearer, no visitors rule tucked in my back pocket, I alerted The Dictator the day before L was to arrive in Madrid. Shocked, but not quite shocked at all, I received several rude texts in a row saying that no visitors were allowed to stay over, and that my mom had previously stayed too long. EXCUUUUSE ME, but 1) who says that about someone’s visiting mother? And 2) when I first rented this apartment that was the first question I asked you and got a resounding “Of course visitors can stay! As long as they sleep in your room!” So sorry, but that is not flying.

He eventually bent, but for a hefty price of 20 euros/night per visitor. Preposterous. I came back to him with a counter offer based off what another friend’s landlord charges non-family member visitors. He told me to get a hotel for that price. I of course didn’t listen and L stayed over for the weekend, and I pushed him to not pay one cent out of principle.

During his entire stay we felt like we were being sneaky and tip-toeing around. Which forgive me if I’m wrong, but that is no way to live in your own home, except if you’re 16 years old and under your parent’s roof. Well, L left on a Monday morning, and on Wednesday late night Jeanette arrived, and without a mere peep to The Dictator. I thought I could be clever by sneaking her in late and he wouldn’t notice. But he would. More on that in a bit.

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Here I am tip toeing through an art installation.

On Thursday morning I got a text message from The Dictator saying “your friend is in the house”. No shit. He said (didn’t ask) you didn’t tell me this, and it’s not allowed. With every message he would send he would nip it abruptly, leaving it like that was the end of that and he has the final word. No no, sir. That is not how the world works. So I told him we are going out of town, so you won’t have to worry about losing your precious bathroom time, or whatever it is you’re so concerned with.

So we went out of town for 4 glorious days for the puente (long weekend). We got back late Monday night and Jeanette was leaving Wednesday morning. Well, Tuesday during my 2nd period class I clicked on my phone to check the time, and what do ya know? There was a string of nipped in the bud texts to me telling me “your friend is in the house” and that I’m not good to co-habitate with. Then the kicker……. I have 22 days and I’m out. I GOT KICKED OUT OF AN APARTMENT. It’s almost comical.

I didn’t respond to any of his nonsense, and then late that night, while Jeanette was using his precious shower water, he came and knocked on my door to just speak at me in Spanish and reiterate his text messages. I of course have a big mouth and I love to use it, and that I did by talking over him in English.  I told him that he’s a liar, and that I won’t listen to him because he went back on his word. I asked him how it affects HIM if MY visitor is in MY room, sleeping in MY bed, and occupying MY space? His response (in Spanish and ultimately in English when he realized I wasn’t going to shut up) “I need to use the bathroom!!!” Oh, you’re a big boy. You can hold your pee 2 minutes so my friend can shower. He also scolded me for turning on the lights so that we could see when we walk. Pardon me for wanting to use one of my vital senses in my own home. Not to mention, it’s also freezing because they don’t turn the heat on, so I sleep bundled up.

Flash forward to a couple days later as I’m perusing Idealista.com, the website used to look for apartments in Spain. I saw my room pop up and immediately posted it to our Auxiliares Facebook group to warn people not to rent from him. This proved to be the greatest way I could have ever used the fabulous internet to my advantage. Not 1 or 2, but 4 people chimed in who were previous tenants or had a friend who was, and EVERY SINGLE PERSON was either evicted after a couple months for having visitors, or had to get the cops involved because The Dictator tried to spin the situation. Nearly everyone was jipped out of their deposit, and everyone said this guy is a psycho. Oh, and remember how I said that I thought I was being clever sneaking Jeanette in late night? Well, one of the previous tenants alerted me that there is in fact a camera/motion sensor in the main hallway of the apartment. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a CAMERA IN MY APARTMENT. Specifically used to track comings and goings of visitors.

So naturally I went out to the hallway to look for it, and low and behold, high above there is a damn camera, and right when I get in shot a red light flashes. I also found some other suspicious wirings in the hallway, but I’m not sure what they are. Did a full sweep of my room and bathroom and kitchen, but thankfully haven’t found anything else. Needless to say, I feel extremely creeped out in my home now, and I’m pretty sure that is some illegal shit, especially if not disclosed prior to renting.

And there you have the apartment hunting and living nightmare that has landed in my lap wrapped in a pretty poopy brown bow. Many people who haven’t moved abroad don’t always take into account the real life things that go into the everyday, and finding a home is one of those huge things. It takes a lot of stepping out of yourself before getting to enjoy your new city, to get the answers you need when you speak a different language from someone. This has now happened in 2 instances, in Korea and now here. I have found out how easy it is to get taken advantage of as a foreigner in a situation like this. When it comes down to it, people basically suck and are money hungry and will exploit all they can to get what they want.

And you know what? THEY CAN SUCK IT.

Or sniff it.

Or sniff it.

Now you tell me! Have you ever had a horrendous living situation abroad? A psycho landlord? A person who literally chills you to the bone that you have to coexist with? Let me know all about it so we can bond over the nut jobs of the world.

 

 

 

 

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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