La Venencia: Sherry, Hemingway, 1930s Spain

As I’m a tremendous fan of fun facts, a fun fact about Madrid is that it’s got the most bars per capita when weighed against any other European country. Another fun fact is that the Korean peninsula drinks more alcohol per capita than any other country in the world. It’s a shame I’m not even close to being an alcoholic.

A third fun fact is that I love historical places and artifacts. I’ve always felt that way, from the time I leaned over the velvet rope in 8th grade to sneakily touch the Liberty Bell during a school trip to Washington DC and Philadelphia. The idea of touching something that really historic people touched, or for the sake of Madrid, sitting where Ernest Hemingway once imbibed while getting the scoop on the war makes the history lover in me really excited.

That being said, I’m guilty of feeling quite sedentary and saying I want to explore Spain more than I actually get around to exploring it. It’s one of those things I can’t stand about my Spanish self, but so it is. However, this attitude has a tendency to shift whenever a visitor comes knocking on my door from afar. Luckily it happens sorta kinda often. I can go on and on about how Spain and I just never hit it off, but I do love to show it off to my visitors. Plus, there’s still so much I need to see, of which I have a growing list that I need to get around to checking off during these last few months.

One of those places on my list of must-visits was La Venencia, an unassuming bar established over 70 years ago, circa the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The fun facts keep coming – it also happened to be a local hangout of Don Ernesto, as Hemingway was referred by the Spanish. La Venencia is like a little time capsule, and with one foot in the door, you are immediately transported to a time of bygones, of Republican soldiers sipping the one drink the pub sells – sherry, while divulging information to Mr. Hemingway.

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During Veny’s visit I dragged her to the bar at the top of my list, and I got a bit day lit while drinking both glasses of sherry that I ordered for the two of us. Knowing nothing about sherry (or jerez), I ordered one of each – a manzanilla and a palo cortado, served with a tapa of deliciously herbed green olives, and a side of dialogue with the others in the bar after asking the bartender “cual es la mas mejor?” Yes, I asked which is the more best, yes my Spanish sucks, and yes I got people talking with me – intrigued why two clueless girls stumbled into a sherry bar.

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Our tab was written on the wooden bar with chalk just before sneaking this picture, disobeying the ‘no photos’ rule which has been long standing since wartime when Republican soldiers didn’t want their photos taken, for fear of being outed by fascist spies. After having a good laugh at my poor Español, the guy standing next to us asked how I found out about this place, wanted to know which sherry I preferred (the manzanilla was fruitier, while the palo cortado grew a little hair on the chest – I enjoyed both as time went on), and told me he has been a long time regular and believes La Venencia to be the most authentic bar in the city.

As if the ambience of the wooden bar, wooden tables, barrels of fermenting sherry, antique cash register, and decades old posters weren’t enough, a couple guys sitting behind us had a bottle of the manzanilla and a plate of machego that they offered us a taste of – unaware that I had ordered a glass already. I loved feeling like a visitor being urged to experience the bar’s offerings to the fullest. On the opposite end of the bar, as we veered our sights to the right, just to the left of the entrance, sat three older gentlemen looking as if they’d been posted there since the ’30s and hadn’t moved since. I sometimes have a bit of a staring problem, and think one may have noticed our gawking which I don’t think he enjoyed, but I was enthralled.

If you’re in Madrid and fancy a bit of history, are looking to try something a little bit different, something a lotta bit Spanish, and stumble into one of Hemingway’s many stumbling-grounds, I urge you to pop into La Venencia.

La Venencia – Calle de Echegaray 7, Madrid, Spain

Have you ever visited La Venencia? Have you ever visited an age-old watering hole that granted you a different side of the city you were in? Let me know in the comments!

 

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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! 

Falling In Love With Sarajevo

Up until this past August, Sarajevo was a city that sat in my mind as a scary place. Aside from the obvious places that ring scary in the mind of most people, Sarajevo was in the company of Copenhagen; a place that I still need to get my tuchous to. That sounds absurd, right? Well, why? You ask? Because of a couple books I read when I was a wee lass – Zlata’s Diary and Number the Stars. Both stories take place during wartime in the two cities, and well, my 5th grade brain maintained those images 20 years later. The power of a child’s mind!

I still remember laying on Lambchops’ couch asking if Sarajevo is safe to go to; and now when I look back I think that was such a stupid question. Honest, but stupid. For one, that war ended 20 years ago, and the city has truly risen above the siege they were under for 4 years between 1992 and 1996. It is one of the most beautiful, welcoming, and peaceful cities I’ve visited. And well, now I’m here to put Sarajevo on the map, as it so quickly burrowed its way into my heart.

I was in Sarajevo for 4 days, and honestly I could have stayed longer enjoying Baklava and Bosnian coffee on the daily. Since I didn’t stay longer, and I’d like to relive my glorious memories, I’m going to share some of the highlights that made the city so unique and memorable for me, so maybe you too can plan your own getaway to the Eastern European Unknown.

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The line joining the Eastern Old Town with the Western new Sarajevo.

SEE

For starters, the first activity I did after arriving was attend a walking tour. I’m a big advocate of these since I like to learn about the city and then dive in on my own with some background. This wasn’t like just any other walking tour I’ve been on in other cities. It was super captivating to me as it was led by a guy named Neno of Sarajevo Walking Tours. Neno was around my age, so he was 8 or 9 when the war broke out, and he lived in a shelter inside a building for the 4 years Sarajevo was under siege. Listening to his own accounts of what happened and how life was during that time was so fascinating, and made the tour that much more enriching. Not to mention, he was so cute and I had a mini crush on him (and got a little excited when I kept running into him throughout the rest of the day). But seriously, go on his tour if you find yourself there. So much knowledge and a little piece of eye-candy. Win win!

Sights Not To Be Missed: The Sarajevo Roses around the city to commemorate the lives lost in blast zones, Pijaca Markale market where the biggest bombing of the siege took place, the Latin Bridge where the events leading up to WWI were set in motion with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the Vijecnica old City Hall building, boasting exquisite Austro-Hungarian architecture, the Eternal flame dedicated to the victims of WWII, the memorials to the slaughtered children of the siege and Srebrenica Massacre, and then drop your coins into the tomb of the Seven Brothers which holds a wealth of superstitions and luck to the people of Sarajevo.

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These Sarajevo Roses are scattered all throughout the city and commemorate places where at least 3 people died from shrapnel blasts.

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Pijaca Markale, where the largest attack on civilians occurred. All names of those lost are on a plaque on the back wall.

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Beautiful Vijecnica was severely destroyed during the war, and was once a library and the City Hall. 

VISIT

The Tunnel of Hope (Tunel Spasa) was Sarajevo’s lifeline to its own Bosnian territory while the Serbians held them under siege. It took 4 months of around the clock work in 1993 for it to be built, beginning from both sides and meeting in the middle, and remained protected during its duration as it was strategically built under the city’s airport being protected by the United Nations. The home where one end of the tunnel began has since been turned into a museum dedicated to the struggle and salvation that the people of Sarajevo fought through, and houses a portion of the tunnel used to flee their death camp of a city to the span of mountains not under Serbian control. For the duration of the war, approximately 400,000 lives were saved and countless supplies were brought into the city. Visitors are welcome to visit the home, view the shrapnel battered walls, and walk through the remaining 25m of the 1km tunnel.

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Tip: You can definitely reach the tunnel on your own via tram and bus combination, however I would suggest booking a guide through your hotel/hostel/travel agency in town who can take you out there, as it’s a bit of a trek outside the main city. My guide wasn’t the best, but I found him to be quite interesting as a person, as his family fled Sarajevo just before the siege, he grew up in Dubai, moved to Mexico, and then back to Sarajevo. His take on being Bosnian was very multifaceted and he lacked connection with his city, country, people, and language, having been absent during those years. He also looked like sista’s boyfriend, so I liked the guy quite a bit.

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The Jewish Cemetery of Sarajevo was fascinating, and also happens to be the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe just behind Prague. I went here on my extended private tour after visiting the Tunnel of Hope with a gaggle of wonderful Polish ladies. The cemetery has tombstones primarily of Spanish Jews who were expelled from Spain in the late 1400s early 1500s and resettled in Sarajevo. They look like they’re made of slabs of rock, or the original iMac computer, with the details painted on them and it’s a bit unreal to go here and walk through. They’re in a complete disarrayed mish-mosh of no order. I love visiting cemeteries, so visually it was quite surreal to see tombs so old and so worn from time and shrapnel. It was really beautiful in a creepy way. You also have a great view of the city below and a clear view of the Holiday Inn hotel where journalists stayed during the war.

Fun Fact: Snipers during the war used to perch out here to stake their claims on ‘Sniper Alley’ from above.

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Some other Jewy places that I visited worthy of note were the Ashkenazi Synagogue which is the only one in Bosnia, as only about 600-900 Jews remain, and the Jewish Museum, which is housed in the oldest synagogue in Bosnia & Herzegovina, dating back to 1581. I also checked out an exhibit about the Srebrenica Massacre that happened in the town of Srebrenica in July of 1995. Approximately 9,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys were murdered in territory that was said to be protected by the United Nations, but the siege proved otherwise – hence coining the term ‘United Nothing’. This exhibit was incredibly moving and I can’t even believe that people are capable of such horrible atrocious crimes against humanity.

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Sights Not To Be Missed: I also suggest visiting Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque located in the center of the Old Town. It was my first time stepping into a mosque, and you must have your legs covered and throw a shmata on your head before entering. It’s also really interesting to watch all the men and women gather on the hour to pray. Of course you’ll also want to get a view of this stunning city from high above, and the place to go is the Yellow Fortress, nestled high on the mountaintop. From here you can see the hundreds of white spiked cemeteries littering the city and everything that was once on lockdown from the eyes who were locking it down. It’s especially beautiful at sunset.

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Call to prayer on the hour, every hour. Men are on the right, women on the left.

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THE spot to spend sunset in Sarajevo. If you go be sure to hike up through the cemetery and not via the steep road I cluelessly took, unless you want an adventure.

EAT

Eating ranks top of my list (this list is obviously in no particular order) when visiting some place new. To me it’s the perfect way to get in touch with a country, city, village, group of people. I always make a list of foods I’ve got to eat while in a new place, and Sarajevo was no different. While most food in Bosnia probably caused me a lot of premature heart cloggage, it was so damn delicious – especially, ESPECIALLY the baklava.

One of my daily rituals while in this quaint city was an afternoon pick-me-up on the Turkish ottoman’s of The Baklava Shop in the Old Town. I’d order a few pistascio, nutella, or whatever other flavor I was feeling, and a Bosnian coffee (which is literally the same as Greek, Turkish, and Serbian coffee). It comes served on a copper tray with a small coffee cup, kettle called a džezva, glass of cold water, and 2 sugar cubes. This combination made for the best afternoon recharge sesh while doing one of my favorite things – people watching.

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If you’re a fan of flaky savory pastries, then you must get yourself some Burek. A popular dish in those countries under former Ottoman rule, these Burek are filo dough pastries stuffed with anything from spinach, to potato, to meat, slathered with or without some sort of sour cream sauce, and consumed breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I was a fan of grabbing a small one for the road each morning, and guilty of even indulging later in the day, like I did here with the sweetest Polish girls I met in my hostel. They were (literally) to die for, and this spot was poppin’. Oh, and this plate cost like 50 cents.

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Other Foods Not To Be Missed: I’m a freak for stuffed cabbage, grape leaves, and the ever-present Shopska salad that is everywhere throughout the Balkans. If you too are a fan of stuffed vegetables be sure to try Japrak (stuffed grape leaves), Sarma (stuffed cabbage) or Punjene paprike (stuffed pepper). You’ll also find the cheapest way to eat in these parts is to order a fat plate of Cevapcicci – or small greasy sausages – that are so delish, but for me definitely too much and sent me into a hardcore meat detox for the next 2 months.

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Sarma, Shopska, & the Sarajevo Film Festival that I missed by a day.

SHOP

I haven’t been to Istanbul, but from what I’ve heard and imagined, Old Town Sarajevo is a little Istanbul. At its heart is Baščaršija, the bazaar that is a labyrinth of shop after shop on little streets that always reveal something new. I went to the bazaar nearly everyday and always stumbled on something new, whether it was an alley of copper and silver coffee wares, vintage treasures, traditional trinkets, or a trove of hookah cafes.

If you know me at all, you also know I’m a huge flea marketer. I seek them out nearly everywhere I go, and have found some of my greatest finds from local people selling old trinkets from the past. I stumbled upon a fantastic vintage shop sort of near my hostel just off a main road, and it was like a treasure chest exploded. There were old photos and postcards from WWII, old passports, war memorabillia, and tons and tons of ornamental trinkets. I happened to pick up an amazing old džezva with a little cut on the lip, which makes me love it even more. There’s definitely a story there!

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Endless amounts of English books, bras, underwear, and any other chatchki you could want being sold daily on the bridge over the river.

COULDA WOULDA SHOULDA

One thing I unfortunately missed which I’m super unhappy about is the abandoned bobsleigh track from the 1984 Winter Olympics. It sits high in the Trebević mountains and photos of it look SO amazing and right up my alley. I guess I’ll have to go back!  I knew there was a reason I missed it!

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Photo via yomadic.com

One thing I’ve learned about myself when it comes to really falling in love with a place is that I am absolutely enthralled and drawn to cities once torn by war and have this grave history that you’re always walking through. Places where you can still see the traces of their past and know that there’s a story there. I’ve never visited a place like Sarajevo, where shrapnel scars litter the city, buildings still show the signs of war, but most importantly, how they have turned those scars into a way to remember, honor those who lost their lives, and I guess keep as a reminder so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Have you visited or lived in Sarajevo? Were there any other sites that you saw that struck a chord with you? What were your thoughts about the city? If you haven’t been, have I convinced you to go? I hope so!

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. 

Prague Is Bad To The Bone

This winter took me traveling around what I always called Eastern Europe, but which is more Central Europe. But that’s all technicalities as far as I’m concerned. You read previously about why I became obsessed with Berlin, and now I’m going to let you in on the next destination on my winter escape, Prague.

For forever and a day, Prague has been boasted about to me by everyone and their mother in waking life and on the interwebs. You’ve probably heard it too. No one can keep their trap shut about how Prague is the most enchanting city on the planet. And while it is enchanting and stunning and reminded me of Beauty and the Beast at every corner we turned, its people are horrendous, which somewhat overshadowed a bit of Prague’s wonderment. A bit like Paris, they’re damn lucky they’ve got such a visually pleasing city.

With that out of the way, I will get onto the good of Prague, and really one of the coolest things I’ve ever bore witness to.

Jen and I entered Prague on the floor of a train, and after that haggard train ride, had a little tricky situation getting into our Airbnb. Twas a bit of a tumultuous morning, but once settled we came to realize our host was excellent. Martina happened to work for Czech Tourism, so she was a whole wealth of knowledge when it came to must-eat foods to add to my ever growing list, and where to eat them. Based off her recommendations, the two of us ate like queens during our time in Prague.

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Kielbasa my damn Jewish face off.

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Memories of Koko as I greasily ascended up to the castle.

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A nightly tradition of parting the Red Sea. Here we have duck, bread dumplings, red cabbage, schinitzel, and mashed potaters. Oh, and Radler. Yummy!

As for the sites, I could sit here and yammer on to you about the must-sees that Lonely Planet or Señor Rick Steves will tell you to see, but I like the out of the ordinary so I will spare telling you to go see things like…

The Astronomical Clock and Name Day Calendar

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This face isn’t unenthused over the spectacle, but rather of the Chinese tourist I thought to be in my shot.

Prague Castle and its insanely exquisite gothic architecture.

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St. Vitus Cathedral is in the center of Prague Castle. The view from the top of the mountain cannot be accurately depicted. Must be seen with your eyeballs.

The Charles Bridge with Prague Castle in the background.

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A wander over this bridge will lead you to Prague Castle. Fun Fact: We spent NYE at the ‘biggest club in Europe’ just next to the bridge.

Or Frank Gehry’s eyeball-tickling Dancing House.

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And of course, the Jewish Quarter of Josefov, formerly the Jewish Ghetto. This deserved much more time as it’s mystical and beautiful and boasts one of the largest Jewish museums.

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The Old New Synagogue, which I fancied to look like a menorah.

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Rabbi on a string.

While you should see all these because they’re spectacular, the highlight of Prague to me lies an hour’s train ride outside of the city in Kutna Hora. I first learned about The Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora from a group of girls I met in Berlin on a Third Reich tour. They told me if I did only one thing in Prague I HAD to go there. And I did!

The Sedlec Ossuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a Roman Catholic chapel decorated entirely of skull and cross bones. Yes, you read that correctly. The interior is the most beautiful display of bones you will ever see, and while it’s quite macabre, it’s exquisite at the same time. To think of living the remainder of eternity as the most bizarre artwork is quite a spectacular thing to imagine.

Above the chapel is the cemetery, that holds a special history. In the 1200s, an abbot of the monastery returned from the Holy Land with some holy earth to be sprinkled on the cemetery grounds. When word of this broke out, it became one of the most prized burial sites in Central Europe at the time. In the 1300s, after the Plague swept through Europe, the cemetery had to be enlarged to compensate for all the additional bodies to be buried there. Then, in the 1500s, after the chapel had been built in the center of the cemetery, bodies that were exhumed to make room for new ones were piled up in the cathedral. The bones were later organized in the 1800s into the masterpiece that it is today. It’s strange, and creepy, and extraordinary, and this kind of ish fascinates me!

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Craziest chandelier I ever did see!

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New meaning to human shield…

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The only kind of selfies I take.

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Hello sir.

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And one more for inappropriate measure.

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Crazy, right? If you are intrigued just as much as I, I suggest carving out a morning or afternoon to get your badonk out of Prague to see it. You can either do it on an organized tour or by yourself, which is what we did. Many of the tour companies don’t do it everyday, so you’re left to do it yourself. It’s open everyday except I think Christmas and New Years Day.

Getting to Kutna Hora on your own:  From Prague train station, purchase a roundtrip ticket to Kutna Hora Main for 183czk. From there, basically just follow the herd, but it’s about a 10 minute walk from the station to the Ossuary and quite self-explanatory once wandering. A suggestion is to check the train times back to Prague at the station before you head out to the chapel, because we ended up waiting 2 hours for the next one from the time we were done. When you purchase your entry tickets, you can buy for 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the UNESCO sites. We bought for 3 of them and decided we didn’t want to see the others after the 2nd one (which was a huge let down after the bone chapel). The final 2 are in the city center, so a train or bus ride away.

Well there you go! I hope you weren’t too creeped out and have now decided that you will hop on a plane just to go see this miraculous chapel! Have you been to the Bone Chapel before? Did you go to the other UNESCO sites? What did you think of them? Did I make a stupid decision to throw them to the wind? Were there any other off-the-beaten-path wonderments I should have seen while in Prague? Did you think the Czech people were as rude as I did? Let me know all of your whathaveyous in the comments! 

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