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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!