Sickness, Sangria and making efforts (Madrid, Spain)

Sometimes things don’t go as planned…I feel like I say that so often it’s becoming ironic.

Only two short weeks after returning home from Panama, my suitcase was already ready to be packed and boarded onto a plane. This time a little closer to home, though. More precisely; Madrid, Spain.

IMG_20170310_161330.jpg

The trip had been planned for a long time as a birthday present from me to my partner. I was fully aware that he couldn’t take any additional days off from work, which gave us only a day and a half to explore the city.

Little did I know that I’d end up traveling to Madrid while being extremely ill for the second week in a row. And little did I know how many times a day it’s physically possible to run to the toilet, almost faint and still force yourself to function – without collapsing. The human body is a machine when the human mind is stubborn as eff. I’ll tell you that!

Our flight was supposed to depart at eight thirty PM.  We were supposed to get there around ten PM, which would give us enough time to find a good restaurant, enjoy some tapas over a few glasses of red wine and celebrate the rest of the evening with some invented-for-tourists-and-not-really-authentic sangria. Because that’s basically what sangria is, most places.

Instead, our flight was delayed and we arrived in Madrid around eleven PM. We were supposed to take a taxi to the city center, but the line to get a cab was the longest line I’d ever seen. Ever. After running back and forth like headless chicken, feeling clueless and yelling at each other for not coming up with a solution, the solution came to us like a miracle sent from the man above: A bus. Why hadn’t we even thought of that before?

By the time we made it to the hotel, it was already ten minutes to midnight. The hotel (Petit Palace Posada del Peine) was modern, the staff was friendly and our room had everything I’d expect from a 4-star hotel. It was nice, clean and my only complaint would be that our air conditioning didn’t work. My partner found that to be a lot more awful than I did, though. His idea of a good night sleep would probably be to place a mattress inside of a human-sized fridge, if he could.

Midnight. In my opinion, that’s way too late to be going out for dinner. I suggested just going to bed and pretend not to be hungry. My partner thought that was the worst idea ever…so we asked the hotel receptionist if she knew any restaurants nearby that would still be open. Most of them were; for one more hour. Turns out, Spanish people eat late.  Very late. They’re basically owls.

As we sat down to order a large tapas platter, my nausea started to kick in. I absolutely love tapas and wouldn’t mind eating tapas three times a day, every day until death do us part (that’s an exaggeration) but as I had been sick ever since I made it back from Panama, just the smell of food made me feel ill. Just like my high school crush, it was something I wanted but couldn’t have, and when I got it, I didn’t want it anymore.

Croquetas, Pimientos de Padron, deli meats, manchego cheese, Spanish style meatballs and sausages, enormous olives and delicious, warm bread. I wanted to eat it all, but my body didn’t quite agree with me. However, chugging sangria was a-okay!

The next day, I was feeling just as ill as the day before… Just like I’d expected. The breakfast buffet looked great and my partner was having a blast, eating all sorts of deliciousness, while I could barely even force myself to eat some fruit and drink some green tea. Maybe it would be a good idea to stop by a pharmacy and by some sort of a miracle cure. Popeye’s spinach, for example?

IMG_20170309_111346.jpg

Before searching for a pharmacy, we decided to stick to our original plan and follow Lonely Planet’s architectural route to see some of the main highlights without making a bunch of detours. We saw the Plaza de la Villa, which used to be the permanent seat of Madrid’s government from the Middle Ages until recent years, when the city council relocated to Plaza de la Cibeles (which was also part of our route). We wanted to take a short break at Plaza de Espana, and watched street artists making huge soap bubbles and kids chasing them. The bubbles, not the artists. Our break lasted a bit longer than planned, as we ended up becoming so mesmerized by bubbles that we ended up trying to photograph them  – which turned out to be way harder than expected.

IMG_20170418_134008.jpg

Moving on to Gran Via, the upscale shopping haven for locals and visiting shopaholics. The street is known as the Spanish Broadway, with all your favorite musicals featured in Spanish. I seriously wanted to buy tickets to see Mamma Mia, as we walked past the poster. I already know the songs and the story by heart anyway (in English), so who cares if I don’t understand any Spanish? My boyfriend was not impressed.

IMG_20170418_134102.jpg

We walked past the Musee du Prado and Caixa Forum, but didn’t visit the museums. I’m absolutely certain I would have loved them both…if only I had been feeling better. We had already made it towards the end of the route and I was feeling exhausted from trying to stay strong all day.

IMG_20170418_135140.jpg

So we took another break, and went to the nearest pharmacy and bought me some medicine. It tasted disgusting. I ended up re-naming the medicine Fernando, as I could never remember what it was called and only knew it started with an F. Fernando became my best friend that day. Despite how disgusting he was.

Last stop, Antigua Estacion de Atocha, the old Atocha train station – and quite impressive one, too!

For the evening, we’d signed up to join a food tour with Walks of Spain to learn more about the local cuisine, local restaurants and their history. We followed Andrés (along with a group of Americans and some Portuguese tourists) to some amazing little eateries that we’d probably just pass by, hadn’t it been for him. And boy would we have missed out, if we did!

The first restaurant he took us to, was a 19th century tavern where both local and international celebrities have sipped on the famous aperitif of the city – vermut de grifo – and enjoyed the taste of the true Spanish tortillas. After getting us all a bit tipsy on vermouth, he took us to his favorite ham bar to taste the finest of Spanish deli meats and his favorite local wines. Moving on to a new restaurant, paella was the next dish to be served. Along with that, the wine tasting continued and yet another dish was served. Obviously, a meal is not complete without dessert – and a wine tasting is not complete without cheese. Surprisingly enough, thanks to Fernando, I managed to taste absolutely everything – even the cheese and the dessert  – without feeling sick!

I had a fantastic time at the food tour. It was by far the highlight of the day.

The next day, we got up early to check out the El Rastro flea market, which turned out to be extremely crowded. It seemed like every person who was visiting or lived in Madrid had decided to go to the market at the same time. Everybody. Instead of sleeping, eating, going to church, whatever else it is people normally do on a Sunday morning. We escaped the crowd to visit yet another crowded place: Mercado de San Miguel. I wondered, was noon too early for a cocktail? Nah, it’s always eight o’clock somewhere.

IMG_20170313_203333.jpg

We finished our Madrid adventures with one last tapas platter and one last Sangria pitcher, before visiting Plaza Mayor one last time, and returning to our hotel to pick up our stuff. Did I feel happy about how this trip turned out?

IMG_20170305_165943

I didn’t take half as many photos as I would have wanted to, and I kind of feel like I owe it to Madrid to go back, take better photos, revisit everything, eat everything and make it the greatest trip of my life. I feel like I owe it to my partner too, as I was probably the worst travel companion ever and his birthday present didn’t turn out quite the way neither of us had expected.

The moral of the story is; if there’s one thing that’s more important than creating memories, visiting places and learning new things – it’s having the health to do it all.

IMG_20170303_141352IMG_20170418_134700 (1)IMG_20170418_135024IMG_20170418_135257IMG_20170418_135447IMG_20170418_135629IMG_20170418_135759IMG_20170418_134156IMG_20170418_134312IMG_20170418_134418IMG_20170418_134505IMG_20170418_134556

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Travel Highlights of 2016

2017 is already here and my New Year’s resolutions have been made – along with an even larger bucket list than ever before. Seems like the more I travel, the hungrier I get for more. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I once knew about the great world out there and all the people living in it. While 2016 was the year I traveled only within the borders of my continent, Europe, 2017 will take me to at least two others – and who knows where else destiny decides to take me this year?

2016 was a year filled with great highs as well as some lows. Unstable economy, feeling lonely as an expatriate in a foreign country, death in the family, losing touch with friends, pitching article after article to magazines with little result, getting criticized for putting so much time and effort into my blog when I “should be spending my time doing something more useful” – these events have caused a lot of stress, sadness and feeling of hopelessness for me. Traveling – and the love and support from my partner – gave me the strength I needed to be able to look back on 2016 as a great year instead of feeling like a complete failure.

Because…

I welcomed 2016 by watching the beautiful fireworks display in Warsaw, Poland with my family and my partner. We visited the Christmas market in the Old Town and danced the night away at the New Year’s gala in our hotel.

warsawmarket

I visited London, England for the first time in many years, and had a great time catching up with a friend who moved to London for work. We went salsa dancing, salsa eating (nachos) and visited all the touristic sites together.

bigben

A romantic weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark was the Christmas present from me to my significant other. We stuffed our faces with Danish pastries, laughed our asses off while the fish tickled our toes at a duo fish spa, visited the castles and the little mermaid and enjoyed the snow – although I would have been happier if my partner hadn’t kept throwing snowballs at me.

copenhagen1

I visited Belgium for the first time…and second…and third. My partner and I embarked on plenty of amazing road trips this year and visiting certain destinations in Belgium was part of those trips. Romantic Bruges, charming Antwerp and multicultural Brussels. I’ve fallen in love with Belgium – and Belgian beer!

img_20161107_203238

And then there was the trip to Luxembourg in May. The surprise birthday present from my partner. We visited Luxembourg city, two castles elsewhere in the country and saw Hans Zimmer live in the amazing concert venue Rockhal. Probably the best birthday I’ve ever had.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Late June and early July was spent traveling by train with my mother. From Oslo, Norway to Karlstad, Sweden – then back to Norway to visit Sandefjord and Kristiansand, before returning to Stavanger to spend a couple of days relaxing at home before returning to France. Photo below was taken while visiting Tungenes Fyr (lighthouse).

img_20161204_134036

The weekend of Bastille Day (14th of July) was spent visiting Saint Malo, Mont Saint-Michel, Dinan and Rennes in France. My partner and I watched the fireworks in Saint Malo, drank cider and ate delicious crêpes (the local Bretagne/Brittany specialty). Calories and carbs taste better in France than anywhere else.

Processed with VSCO

One of my biggest highlights of the year was to volunteer in Moldova. I got to know so many lovely people – volunteers and locals – and my host family was the nicest I could  ever have asked for. I also got to taste some amazing wine from the Purcari Winery while I was there. I’ve been spreading the word about how great Moldovan wine is, ever since.

 

Another great highlight was the writing retreat in Barcelona, Spain with Pink Pangea where I got to know like-minded travel writers – all women – explored the city of Barcelona and did a lot of soul searching as well. We laughed, shed some tears, plenty of hugs and shared our most personal stories – travel related and non-travel related. It was therapeutic and inspired me to not just become a better writer but a better person as well.

IMG_20160811_235501

In September my partner and I embarked on yet another road trip to a different part of France. This time to the southwest. We explored some spectacular caverns, enjoyed the local wines and visited idyllic and picturesque little towns. I have never taken as beautiful photos as I did in the southwest of France. No wonder so many people dream about this country, and so many writers find inspiration here.

IMG_20160927_120514.jpg

We didn’t spend longer than twenty-four hours at home before we were back on the road again. Well, towards the airport this time to catch a flight to Athens, Greece. The week in Athens was filled with food, historical ruins, food, more history and even more food. Greek cuisine is simply just too good!

img_20161011_212110

Winter Beer Day, Christmas markets and celebrating my parents wedding anniversary and my stepfather’s birthday was how we spent our long weekend in Hamburg, Germany…And taking pictures from the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. What a windy affair that was.

img_20170104_112745

img_20170104_112614

And then there was December and all those Christmas markets. Paris (France), London (England), Reims (Champagne, France), Cologne (Germany) and Oslo (Norway). I didn’t get a white Christmas this year either, but I got so much more. So much more that mattered a lot more to me than snowflakes. Spending time at these markets with the people I care about, laughing, smiling and cheering while tasting local specialties – now that sure got me into the Christmas spirit! Photo below is from Oslo, Norway.

IMG_20161228_132446.jpg

Now, excuse me while I pack my bags to go to Marrakech, Morocco tomorrow. 2017 started in Trondheim, Norway and after a few days of rest in France I am now ready for new adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona: Lost in Wonderland

There I was. Barcelona.

La Rambla was as busy as it was rumored to be. Tourists, souvenir sellers, taxis, locals. So much noise. So much life. I watched and listened with curiosity.

I love Spain. The Spanish language is beautiful, the people are friendly – and who doesn’t like sunshine, tapas and sangria? But there’s more to Barcelona than just that. And my trip to this gorgeous city was unlike any experience I’ve ever had.

Park Güell and its colorful mosaic. One of my definite highlights. This is one of the major works by architect Gaudi, the man behind the beautiful basilica Sagrada Familia and many other fantastic buildings in the city of Barcelona. He put his magic touch on the city back then, so that you and I can admire these fairytalesque buildings today.

Speaking of fairy tales. I came to Barcelona first and foremost for a writing retreat hosted by Pink Pangea. But the retreat became more of a soul-searching experience than anything else. I met these wonderful women of all ages. We laughed together, we cried together, we shared. Oh, how we shared. By sharing my deepest thoughts and most personal stories, not only did I reach out to these women, but I reached inside of my heart and opened it for the world to see.

I had the time of my life with these women. We got lost multiple times, though. We visited the crowded Mercado de la Boqueria. We photographed, tasted dried fruits and caramelized nuts and we got separated from the crowd. Me and a fellow blogger from the retreat. It was easy to lose track in Barcelona. Track of time. Track of people. Track of sanity. We went to the beach right before midnight. Into the water. Wet dress. Sand everywhere. Smiling from ear to ear. Like children. And again, during a walking tour, we got separated from the crowd and ended up walking elsewhere and had a lot of fun doing it. Like children.

One day I got up early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise and enjoy the streets during the silent hours. The only people who were out at the time, were the street sweepers and the people who hadn’t made it back to the hotel after the night before. It was a different Barcelona. The city I had learned to know would wake up in a couple of hours.

I loved the silence of that morning. Back home, silence is a sign of boredom. I crave the energy and the childish spontaneity I had back in Barcelona. Gaudi’s world. Wonderland, where me and my fellow writers were all Alice.

IMG_20160813_183210

Park Güell

IMG_20160814_193528

The things you discover when getting lost

IMG_20160814_233244

The market

IMG_20160814_233506

IMG_20160814_233835

IMG_20160814_234115

Some of the works of Gaudi

IMG_20160814_235527

IMG_20160814_235653

One of his most famous buildings: Sagrada Familia

IMG_20160814_235806

The morning I got up earlier than everyone else

IMG_20160814_235928

IMG_20160812_232900

Tapa. Pimientos del Padron.

IMG_20160815_000146

 

 

Powerful Flamenco in Barcelona

Flamenco. Sizzling hot moves, passionate and emotional music, cheerful clapping and gorgeous outfits. This Spanish art form is an experience unlike any other. 

Strong vocals. Male and female. Powerful facial expressions. I didn’t understand the Spanish lyrics but I felt the passion, the pain, the sensuality, all at once. The guitarist played mesmerizing melodies in harmony with the vocals. All the musicians had wonderful stage presence. It was a joy to watch!

The dancers were absolutely fabulous. Tapping. Clapping. Expressions. Gorgeous frilly dresses. They took us on an emotional journey and left us stunned after an intense performance. I wanted to see more. Hear more.

I gave them a big applause, complimented them on a fantastic performance and finished my sangria, before making my way out after a spectacular show.

The venue was small, which made the atmosphere seem more authentic and personal.

IMG_20160814_234645

IMG_20160814_234510

IMG_20160814_235341

IMG_20160814_234842

IMG_20160814_234329

If you’re planning to visit Barcelona, I highly recommend this Flamenco show at City Hall!

location: Barcelona, in a venue called City Hall (address: Rambla de Catalunya 2) 

when: Thursday to Sunday at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm – length of performance: 55 minutes

website: www.flamencobarcelona.com

(although tickets were complimentary, all opinions in this review remain my own)