Friday, August 28, 2015

We go to Vigo!

After our late arrival to Madrid, we spent two more days in the city. We both still have friends living there so we use our visits to meet up with them. It's always nice to have friends in places where you used to live. You can laugh about shared memories and all the new places that have popped up since you moved away. Spain was at the end of the hottest summer on record, with temperatures well into the high 90s and low 100s. The days we were there were very warm, but thankfully not as bad as earlier that month. Nothing that can't be cured by a Tinto de Verano (red wine and fanta mix) in Retiro Park. The name in English means "Summer Wine" and is enjoyed over ice.

We took the train to Galicia to J's hometown. We had a week-long visit to catch up with his family and friends. August is the vacation month in Spain and the atmosphere was pretty relaxed. We had open-air barbeques and days at the beach.

Every time we visit Galicia, we usually take a day or two to see some new city or sight in his region. We've been to Santiago de Compostela, the city famous for the St. James Cathedral and pilgrimage trail, 'El Camino de Santiago'. We've visited the furthest western point of Europe at Cape Finisterre, soaked in thermal baths, participated in a medivial festival, and stopped in a number of other cities along the coast. The closest major city to where my husband's family lives is Vigo. There's an airport there, with regional connections and a few international destinations. Too bad no flights from Manchester or Atlanta. There are also reknowned beaches in Vigo. The beaches in Vigo are always packed; finding a place to park is a real art.

Also, Vigo is a pretty cool town, as I just discovered. Besides flying into the airport and visiting the beaches, we'd never gone together into the city center. I guess it's like growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, you don't go into the city every day. We normally hang out in my husband's town, but I enjoyed seeing the busier Vigo. It had a mix of modern metropolitican avenues with an old, historic part of town.

The old town connects to the city's port and has lots of fresh seafood. There's a famous street for eating oysters that were just caught from the sea. The day we went to Vigo, there was a large BMX competition going on near the port. From Vigo, you can also visit the Las Islas Cies, a protected Nature Reserve with National Park status. There is a limit to how many people can visit the island each day and the only way to overnight is camping; there are no hotels. I'm voting for this to be the sight we see on our next visit!

(Shameless plug for my husband's home region.) For more information about seeing Vigo, visit their website at:

Upcoming travel tales: Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest

Friday, August 14, 2015

Return to Madrid

We ended our summer in the US, and then we embarked on a quick trip to Spain to see J's family.

One of the best things about visiting J's family in northern Spain is that we have to pass through Madrid on the way. Have is more like we luckily get to stay in Madrid before we take the train to Galicia.

Just thinking about flying to Madrid makes my heart beat faster; in a good way. Madrid is my favorite city in the world. I spent two wonderful years living in Spain's capital, meeting all sorts of characters, traveling the continent on budget airlines, improving my Castellano (Spain's Spanish), studying a Master degree, drinking sangria..... and oh yeah, meeting my future husband.

Needless to say, the city holds countless memories for me. Each street reminds me of some earlier adventure.

It's so nice to touch down in Madrid because I know how to arrive anywhere in the city. The metro works like a dream and almost any hotel is reachable within short walking distance from a stop. 

I was anxious to get our journey on the way. However, our 9:00 PM flight from Manchester was delayed. 2 hours. Sigh. To make matters worse, the "very crowded" Ryanair flight forced us to check our carry-on bags under the plane. Upon boarding, I couldn't help but notice all the open overhead storage bins. After landing in Madrid at 2 AM, we had to wait around in baggage claim because the Ryanair luggage handlers were on strike. Just the Ryanair luggage handlers.

Our only bit of luck was catching the 24 hour airport shuttle to the city right before it left the airport. As it was the middle of the night, there was no traffic and within minutes we were unloading at Cibeles Plaza. The usual crowd of rowdy night-goers were out. I smiled. We were back.

We instinctively started making our way on foot to our hotel in Puerta del Sol. We tossed down our luggage and walked right back out into Sol. If you've got to arrive at 3 AM in any city of the world, it might as well be Madrid. We walked around the streets adjoining Sol, declining offers for free entrance to the bars and discos. It just felt so nice to be outside in the warm air and people-watch. 

Climbing the stairs to our hotel, I saw a sign for an English teaching company located on the bottom floor. Tempting...

Madrid by night.
My Madrid!
3AM arrival to Madrid? No problem!
Puerta del Sol!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Recap

It's now been several weeks since my last post. The reason for this is that I was back in Atlanta visiting family!

Thanks to the wonderful vacation time of university professors, we spent three glorious weeks basking in the blazing southern sun and humidity. As anyone who has ever lived in England knows, even the summers here are chilly. For once I didn't complain as I walked through the sticky heat of Georgia. The moisture in the air was almost tangible, but I'll take it!

To soak in as much Vitamin D as possible, we went to Panama City Beach. Plus, we wanted to show my Spanish husband the "Redneck Riviera" as my father so jokingly commented about one hundred times. This would be his first trip to the Gulf of Mexico and I had a feeling the crystal blue water was sure to impress. We were blessed with all sunny days at the beach. With temperatures reaching into the 90s, I occasionally checked the weather back in England. Mid 60s. Bless them.

While we were at home, we celebrated the engagement of my brother and his fiancée! Yes, that's right, my younger brother is getting married. And the proposal happened during our trip to Munich. I was about to write about that post next, but we went home and I slacked on my updates. Long story short, he proposed in the English Garden in Munich while they were out on a morning walk. The next thing they did was attend Mass in Kirche St. Peter, or St. Peter's Church for us non-German speakers. Following their service, we met up with them in the Marienplatz to celebrate. I came prepared with "Happy Engagement" banners I had brought just for the occasion. As we were taking pictures, the Glockenspiel began to chime. Perfect timing. 

We spent the rest of the day happily exploring the city, visiting the Residenz (palace of the Bavarian kings), eating gingerbread hearts at the Summer Festival on the Oktoberfest grounds, Skyping families from a rooftop university bar, and toasting a celebratory dinner. 

The Residenz
Following the audio guides at the Residenz.
Summer Festival
Don't be fooled these beautiful cookies will knock your teeth out.

Our final day together in Munich was the day excursion to Neuschwanstein Castle, the beloved fairy-tale build of King Ludwig II. A trip to this castle, which claims to have been the inspiration for Disney's iconic castle, is worthwhile when visiting Bavaria. It's a long walk to the top of the mountain to reach the castle, but it's worth it for the tour and views over the valley. Once within the castle, it is easy to see way Ludwig chose to build where he did. 

Siblings that travel and eat Bretzel together, stay together.
It was great to celebrate their engagement with them when it happened, and great to celebrate at the party when we came home. It was an opportunity to see and catch up with family and friends all at once. When living abroad, you often miss family gatherings like birthdays, weddings, and Thanksgivings, so everytime you can attend an event while you are home, you appreciate it even more.

We also celebrated the 4th of July while in the U.S. This was my husband's (I'll refer to him as 'J') first Independence Day. It also happened to be my first 4th in my hometown of Marietta, or at least the first time since I was old enough to start having memories. Growing up, my family spent all of our Independence Days at the beach at my grandparents' house. Once I become a college student, I spent all my summers working summer jobs in other cities or studying abroad. I have also missed several 4ths while living in Spain. So this 4th we didn't travel, we just went to our local town square, watched live bands perform, had drinks in a parking lot in lawn chairs, and saw the fireworks. Very American-style.

All in all, our three week vacation (or holidays as the Brits call them) went by too fast. I remember booking the tickets and thinking three weeks was an exorbitant amount of time for a trip. (See, that's my American mentality kicking in.) Thankfully, my European husband convinced me otherwise and I was glad to have the extra time to see friends and catch up on everybody's lives. We're currently back in the U.K. for a few days before heading to Spain to see J's family. The adventure continues!

Crystal blue water of the Gulf.

Summer holidays!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Munich Day One

My brother and his girlfriend had travelled from Atlanta to Charlotte, Charlotte to Frankfurt, and finally Frankfurt to Munich. We met the weary couple at the train station when they arrived to Munich on Saturday. Despite the fact that they had been traveling all the day and night before, we took off right away exploring the city. (Americans have to take advantage of our precious vacation days- when we go somewhere, we want to see it all!) Our first stop: the English Garden, which was very close to where they were staying. We stopped at the Beer Garden for some quality German food. This was something I remembered from my previous trips to Munich; the feeling of being constantly full. Bavarian cuisine is very hearty: potatoes, ham legs, sausages, schnitzel, cheese pasta, and plenty of pretzels and bread. It seems no matter how little you actually consume of German food, you still have the uncomfortable feeling of being stuffed. In the Beer Garden, we tried the ham hock, potato salad, several varieties of sausages, and sauerkraut. My brother and his girlfriend are beer drinkers, so they began their trip right with a pint each. My Munich friend was impressed with them. Beer is not my preferred drink, but I do like the Radlers. Radler is a beer and lemonade mix that is much lighter than beer.

We walked the length of the park until we got to the man-made surfing waves. This part of the river that runs through the English Garden was constructed to provide a few waves for surfing. Surfers stand on the sides of the river and take turns surfing one by one on the waves. My friend says there are surfers using this river all year round, even in the winter months.

From the English Garden, we walked to the city's main square, Marienplatz. Marienplatz is an iconic symbol of Munich, home to the famous Glockenspiel clock that performs a musical routine daily from the top of the city hall. We'd have to leave the performance for the next day.

The classic Hofbrauhaus was where we had dinner. This massive beer hall is a must-see stop while in Munich. We squeezed our way into a half empty table. The common seating is something you see in restaurants and beer gardens in Germany, making the most use of space for large crowds. As always, the Hofbrauhaus was full of life, the air heavy with heat and beer aroma. All around our table I could hear English being spoken. It seems every traveller comes here to meet locals or other travellers. We even met a couple of other Americans at our table.

As if that wasn't enough for their first day in Europe, we went to a party at a friend's apartment. He was a friend of our German guide (aka my former roommate) and was having people over at his house. He is Spanish, and therefore, all his group of Spanish friends were getting together at his place before going out. Upon walking through the door of his apartment, I was instantly transported back to Madrid: the bottles of beer strewn about, the cigarette smoke, the loud conversations, and the impressively Spanish way of squeezing as many individuals as possible into one single space. Surprisingly, my brother and his girlfriend met a German guy at this party who had studied a year at The University of Florida. Under normal circumstances this conversation might be prohibited as my brother and his girlfriend both attended Louisiana State University. However, given the fact that we were at a Spanish party in Munich and someone had studied at a fellow SEC school, it was allowed. They tried their best the rest of the night to convince this guy to do another year in the US, but this time at LSU. And so ended their first night of their trip, the girlfriend's first night in Europe. I don't think they were disappointed.

English Garden
First German meal in the English Garden Beer Garden. Prost!

Surfing in the English Garden.
Glockenspiel figures on the town hall.
Siblings in Europe.

Hofbrauhaus for beers and dinner.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Munich: ABBA and my TV break

At the end of April, my husband and I escaped the dreary British days for a spring trip to Germany and Switzerland. My brother and his girlfriend had planned a trip to Munich and invited us to meet up with them there. A good friend of mine, and also previous roommate from Madrid, is from Munich so we'd have our very own tour guide.

We took the short flight from Manchester to Munich and met up with my friend at the Central Train Station. She lives just south of the city, with direct connections on the S-Bahn (above ground train). The night we arrived happened to be a local festival in her neighborhood. An ABBA cover band was performing under a large tented pavilion. There were rows of picnic style tables filled with large steins of beer. Some people were wearing the traditional Bavarian outfits. I was impressed by the energy of the party; people were dancing and singing along on the tops of the tables. My friend assured me this was normal, and if I thought this was a fun party, just wait until I see the Oktoberfest. I have been now to Munich three times: twice when I lived in Madrid and this last visit. I had gone before to visit my friend in Munich during December to see the famous Christmas markets. I also visited her in the summer several years back when I was traveling through Europe on the Eurorail with my other roommate from Madrid. I suppose my next trip to Munich should be for Oktoberfest. Now that I live in Europe, I have no excuse.

When the ABBA band was taking a break, a local camera crew approached my friend and asked her if we wanted to be featured on their newscast about the party. When she told them I was American, they asked to do a quick interview in English. With cameras rolling, they asked me what I thought about this Bavarian celebration. The host also gave me a hard time for not drinking beer, insisting that I switch my Aperol drink with his stein. To see my interview online, follow the link and click on minute 3:43:

Following my interview and the conclusion of the concert, my friend took us outside to show us a real Bavarian tradition. She lead us to a long maypole laid on its side. Basically, each town in Bavaria has its own blue and white striped maypole. Groups of young people sign up to guard their town's maypole. They have to fill all 24 hours with security as roving gangs (of youngsters) from other towns will try to steal your maypole. If you successfully guard your maypole from intruders, you can put up your pole on May 1 (May Day/Pentecost). As we went in for a closer look, she warned us not to stand too near the pole. The 'guardians' may become suspicious and try to chase us away from the pole. Everyone around us seemed too busy having their post-concert drinks so we daringly got close enough to touch the maypole. Hashtag rebels.

Later in our trip, we went to Konstanz, Germany for a finance conference my husband was attending. Indeed, we saw a maypole there too. I smiled as we passed, feeling a little more knowledgeable about this regional tradition.

Local Bavarian celebration.
Waterloo, the ABBA cover band.

English interview for Bavarian TV.

Munich city center's Maypole.
Close up of the Munich maypole.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Exploring England: York

Back in the day (way back, think 1400s), England found itself torn between two warring factions claiming rights to the throne: the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The conflict is known as the War of the Roses and lasted on and off from 1455 to 1485. I am certainly no expert on the subject, but I do know it played a significant role in the history of England. This political shakeup saw the following Kings reign during the period of the War of the Roses: Henry VI (Lancaster), Edward IV (York), Edward V (York), and Richard III (York). If you are really interested, you can research further because this history is full of changing alliances, family betrayals, fleeing to foreign countries, returns from abroad for revenge, bouts of insanity, impersonations: you know, the typical procedures of that time. The end of the conflict of the War of the Roses is generally considered when Henry Tudor (from the lineage of Lancaster) defeated Richard III and assumed the throne. He married Elizabeth of York (from the royal family of York), joining the two kingdoms. Henry Tudor is known as Henry VII, father of Henry VIII (the one we usually know because of his many wives and the creation of the Church of England). 

Relics from the time still remain in Lancaster, where you can find red roses over the city. The red rose is the symbol of the House of Lancaster and the white rose is the symbol of the House of York. Being a transplant Lancastrian, I didn’t want to like York on principle. (I am a sucker for a good rivalry.) 

But liked it I did. One of England’s most historic cities, York’s well preserved buildings and architecture give you the feeling that you are stepping back in time. York has impressive city walls from the medieval ages still intact. In fact, the history of York’s city walls goes even further back: the first walls were built by the Romans in the early ADs. You can climb the stairs to walk the circumference of the city along the top of the city walls. Everything within the walls represents the ‘old town’ part of York. From the walls, you can get a great view of the York Minster, the second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. I have seen many a church in Europe, and this is definitely one of the most impressive. We were lucky that the night we were spending in York was the day of the weekly Evensong Service. The Evensong Service allows guests and members to sit in the choir chamber of the cathedral. The choir leads you in music and song, and then there is a short homily. Another interesting thing was that a Spanish priest had been invited to give the homily at the Evensong. Afterward, my husband introduced himself to the priest and was satisfied that the priest could recognize his local Galician accent. (Spaniards are proud of their home regions.) 

York is also regarded as one of the most haunted cities in England. Being the good tourists that we are, we joined a walking ghost tour of the city. I’m not much for these kinds of things, but the tour was actually light-hearted, entertaining, and informative. Our guide was quite the character, making plenty of jokes along the way. In addition to hearing some spooky stories, he always gave us some background about the different buildings in the city. It was good fun.

Another famous product of York is chocolate, the city becoming an industrial chocolate producing hub in the 19th century. Some of the famous brands are Terry’s and Rowntree’s (now owned by Nestlé). We Americans know Terry’s as the maker of the Chocolate Oranges that we eat at Christmas, and the Nestlé factory in York pumps out millions of our beloved Kit Kats. There were plenty of chocolate shops around York that tempted me. While walking the narrow Shambles, York’s oldest street with a long history of markets, we stopped at Monk Bar Chocolatiers. They were selling milk and dark chocolate shots: liquid chocolate in chocolate cups. Amazing. This is not to be missed! 

We ended the day at the Museum Gardens, outside the Yorkshire Museum. There is a river that runs along the gardens with ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, built in 1088. Lots of young families were there enjoying the space. York is a great place to visit in northern England and full of history!

York Minster, just a little bit impressive.

York Minster for the Evensong Service.

Rambling around The Shambles.
The historic Shambles street is iconic for its buildings that lean in towards each other.
Chocolate shots at Monk Bar Chocolatiers.