On Falling in Love (With London)

After spending two weeks out in the wild nature of Ireland, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to return to a busy metropolis such as London. The day before my overnight ferry I walked around Dublin with a friend, and the drizzle, traffic and noises aggravated me after the peaceful island quiet. And I was headed to an even bigger, busier city across the channel? How could this possibly go well? I wondered. But London is a must-see and I had to pass through anyways on my overland way to Germany, so onward ho.

I was lucky enough to have a family contact in London, who not only offered me a place to sleep and a key to her place, but who is just as obsessed with delicious noms as I am. Suffice it to say we got along quite well, if for no other reason than we both love stuffing our faces and talking about travel. Her intimate knowledge of London’s food scene and kindness set me up on the perfect foot to dive into London, despite my hesitations about being in such a big city.

This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.
This is what London angels leave you while they go to work.

And then the food, oh the food! One of the best things about big cities is the array of cuisines available in one place, and London surely didn’t disappoint. We ate Asian noodles and Spanish tortillas and Indian daal and sandwiches from Pret A Manger, a French health-food chain. I spent no more than three and a half days in London, but food-wise, it was well spent. Afternoon Tea and strawberry cake and other sweets here and there didn’t do much for my waistline, either, but I don’t regret one delicious bite. Mmm, allow me to wipe the drool off of my face as I continue.

On second thought, I'm not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons...
On second thought, I’m not sure if I actually fell in love with London or just with clotted cream and macaroons…

The tourist sites were beautiful, as well. Huge churches, beautiful parks and elaborate costumes on the Queen’s guards were all sights to see. But of all the things to look at in London, there is one moment I remember clearly; it took my breath away. I was walking down the street and as I turned right onto Westminster Bridge, I was suddenly faced with the entirety of the House of Parliament across the river and Big Ben standing tall. To see such a gigantic, beautiful building come out of nowhere stunned me. Sometime while walking across that bridge is when I really fell in love with London and all of its charm. The Tower of London, while expensive, was worth the cost only because of the Beefeater tour, though the building itself is also lovely. Old buildings, tall as can be, lurked in corners at nearly every turn, somehow hidden by the city around it from other angles, much to my delight as I rounded corners throughout the city.

I'm just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.
I’m just a huge, gorgeous building chilling on the riverside. No big deal.

But one of the things that struck me most about London was how easy it was to travel. I’m not just talking about the language, though not having to navigate and read things in a foreign language was nice. I’m referencing the bus system, which was both efficient and not overly expensive. The Oyster cards that made everything easier and cheaper. The way the city was laid out, with multiple bridges to choose from when crossing the river, meaning no backtracking was necessary to get where I wanted to go. More than anything, though, were the beautiful maps everywhere. I even stopped carrying my own city map with me, which if you know me, is unheard of. (I always get lost.) I simply didn’t need it. Every few blocks stood a post with two maps: one close up and one farther away, so you knew not only exactly where you were and which direction you were facing, but what important landmarks were nearby and how to get there. I never worried about being lost, because if I needed to double check my location, I just checked one of the signposts within a few blocks of wherever I was and all was resolved.

It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities.
It should be illegal not to have helpful maps everywhere in big cities. Seriously.

Genius, really. Maps. Useful public maps. Can every city get on board with this, now? (I’m looking at you Valencia, Spain!)

Between the relaxed feeling I had walking all over the city, the happy state my tummy was perpetually in, the lovely company I enjoyed while in London and the ancient beauty lurking in corners, I found London a hard city not to fall in love with. London is easy. London is beautiful. London is fun. Tell me, how could I not want to stay forever?

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Have you ever been to London? What did you think? Has anything ever caused you to fall in love with a city within days of arriving?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

Photoessay: Animals of the Aran Islands

One of my favorite things about visiting the Aran Islands in Ireland and staying for two weeks on Inishmoor, the largest island, was 100 million percent the animals all around me. I love animals, just because, and since I’ve had my fancy-schmancy DSLR camera I’ve also had a blast photographing animals as well. They’re a challenge. And they’re kinda cute, too. The perfect combination.

I’ve also never seen so many different colored cows on one tiny island in my entire life. It was pure aesthetic bliss, they contrasted so strongly with the bright green landscape and grey rock walls all around them. Perfection. Aside from just the cows, I saw horses, chickens, cats, dogs, donkeys, mules, horses… when it comes to farm animals, you name it and it was there. And taking pictures of it was so awesome, I had to make a photoessay. And then captions of what these animals were thinking at the time. I’m a little strange and I know it, it’s fine, continue on now!

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“I’ve never had my photograph taken while I’m eating, this is new.”

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“I think someone might be there but whatever, I’m too cool to care.”

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“WHO ARE YOU?” Cow behind him: “WHO IS SHE?”

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“If you don’t finish this picture in the next ten seconds, I’m moving.”

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“Love me. Pet me. Where is the food?”

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“What, you think you’re the first person to take pictures of me? Hah! I’m hot shit. Everyone does it.”

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“I’m a seal and I don’t give a fuck.”

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“Thanks for not making me get up for that shot.”

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“You should see me when I’m showered, you know. I’m gorgeous.”

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“Come any closer to me and I’ll… move away.”

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“Indeed, I’m a horse with a mustache. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

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“Take one step closer to my baby and I’ll ram you with my head, ya jerk.”

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“My house. My car. And you’re one step away from trespassing.”

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“Humans. So predictable.”

And the grand finale….

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Which animal is your favorite? Are you also obsessed with photographing animals or other weird things?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

The Ridiculous Story of My Buzzcut

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you may have noticed a little change to my look in the last month. And by little, I mean drastic, and by change, I am referring to my haircut. Normally I wouldn’t talk about something as simple as a haircut, but this haircut happens to come with a hilarious story. A story that’s begging to be told.

I (quite ineffectively) let the secret out first on Instagram, when I had less than five followers:

But, Why?

Sometime in Madrid, I woke up wishing I had no hair. I’ve always had a little desire in the back of my head, a voice that said “Someday, I’m going to chop all of my hair off.” And I woke up in Madrid realizing that the day had finally come, and if I really wanted to cut off all of my hair, this trip was the time to do it. Instead of simply a someday desire, I now had a full-fledged drive. Suddenly my hair wasn’t just there, it was annoying. It was a burden. I woke up thinking get it off my head.

But I’m on a budget, and I couldn’t justify paying $20 for someone to run buzz clippers over my scalp, when I could probably find someone who owned hair clippers and do it myself. My flight out of Madrid came and I found myself in Dublin for a week, as annoyed with having hair on my head as ever. The week passed quickly, and finally I made my way west to the Aran Islands to work at a hostel for two weeks. I made friends. And I knew the time had finally come, when someone knew someone who had hair clippers and agreed to let me use them.

The Story

I’m not sure why the whole thing got so hyped up, but my boss at the hostel started telling everyone that I was going to shave my head, and I gained an audience of people from all over the world, asking when I was going to cut my hair. One of my friends made a Facebook event, and we decided to do the deed at night, in the Irish pub next door, because the bartender on Mondays wouldn’t care about some random girl getting her hair shaved off while she was working. One of my friends decided to conduct interviews and make a mini documentary, just for fun. (She’s into film making.) Some of the guests at the hostel decided to come along for the show. That night, some 15 people walked into the bar to see me cut off my hair.

Apparently, it was a big deal.

“No, don’t do it! You’re beautiful!”

“But… why?”

“Don’t do it. No, don’t do it. Don’t cut your hair, it looks good already!”

It seemed like everyone had an opinion about me getting a haircut. Even the guy renting bikes out to tourists. Especially my two brothers, who’d been both angry and annoyed that I would change my hairstyle. I was a little baffled, considering that it’s just hair and it’s also my hair, but my support in the endeavor was small. Me being me, I didn’t really care what anyone thought the best length of my hair was. I wasn’t trying to be beautiful, I wasn’t trying to look good. I just really didn’t want hair anymore.

Some people didn't react so well to the news...
Some people didn’t react so well to the news… but they got over it.

So sitting on a stool in the middle of an island Irish pub, I let a random French guy use his knife to cut off a big chunk of my hair and then hold it up to his face like a mustache.

 

The first cut.
The first cut.

Everyone took turns with the machine. Some people were rough, almost pulling the hair out of my scalp, other people could have been scratching my head for all I noticed. Piece by piece, big chunks of brown hair fell onto the pub floor as the local Irish people looked around in curiosity at the strange party. I sipped a Guinness while my hairdresser became someone else, having to be careful to avoid getting pieces of hair in my drink. I wasn’t completely successful with that, unfortunately, but there’s only so much one can do when you mix haircuts and the bar, eh?

Eventually everyone had their turn and my patchily buzz-cutted head was turned over to a different French guy. He told me that he cuts his friends’ hair when they ask him to, which officially qualified him as a professional among the other slightly tipsy guests at the pub. Taking off the plastic guard for the clippers, he sculpted my fuzz-head into an actual style, short on the neck and near the ears. It didn’t look half-bad for a haircut a bunch of slightly drunk people gave me in the middle of an Irish pub. Several people commented that I looked like Sinead O’Connor and that short hair looked really good on me; these were unsurprisingly often the same people who said “Noooooo!!! Don’t!!!” just a few days and hours earlier. The filming came to an end with a few final interviews and we enjoyed a little encore: one German guy ended the night with a ridiculous haircut and eventually had to shave his entire head to the scalp just to look normal again.

(That’s what happens when you mix alcohol and hair clippers in Ireland.)

And best of all, I finally did what I always wanted to do. I cut all of my hair off. I even have a ridiculous, ridiculous story to go with it.

How Does It Feel?

At first it felt weird. I didn’t recognize my reflection in the mirror. At times I still run my hand over my hair and wonder where it all went. Before bed, I kept trying to pull out an imaginary ponytail and finding nothing there to take out. I suddenly had nothing to do in the shower, anymore, since washing took so little time. A few people looked at me strange, but for a little while I did look like a dandelion running around in clothing.

Now? I picture myself with short hair. I’m excited to try new short-haired styles when it grows out a little more. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with my short-haired-styles thus far (see above re: dandelions) but I am glad that I cut it. I’m confident that it’ll settle in, and I’ve now let a friend of mine (who actually cuts hair) style it into something that’ll grow out well. Based on my shower times and how little my hair gets in my mouth, which is never, I’m not sure if long hair is in my immediate future again.

I’m not “pretty” like I used to be. But that was never the goal. I just wanted to follow through on something I’ve always wanted to do someday, and took the plunge to make it happen, awkward growth stages and all. And for that, I’m happy.

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Note: The video my friend filmed is still being edited, and it’ll take quite some time. When it’s done I’ll definitely share!

Have you ever had your hair buzzed off by half drunk people in an Irish pub too? Do you think I’m crazy? (It’s okay if you do!) Do I look like a dandelion or a more like cotton ball head in that one picture? When are you cutting your hair?

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, on Twitter & Instagram or you can subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

The Aran Islands: One Day Isn’t Enough

In March, I flew from Spain to Ireland with two main goals in mind: experience St. Paddy’s Day in Dublin and settle down for some peace and quiet. Through one of the work-for-accommodation websites, I found a promising job: working in a hostel on the Aran Islands. Set up for two weeks, I arrived to peaceful Inishmore, the largest of the three islands, and picked out my bunk bed for the next two weeks.

Wikipedia’s beautiful map of the Aran Islands.

Now, most people who visit the Aran Islands arrive on the early ferry around 10 am to the island and leave again at 5 pm. When the boat lands on shore, groups of young people pour out onto the dock and most head directly to the bike rental place next door. For two hours the roads are filled with tourists, all heading the same direction, towards the old stone fort of Dun Aengus. And by the end of the day they’re gone. They’ve “done” the Aran Islands. Saw what needed to be seen. Time to move on.

Having been there for two weeks and not even setting foot the other two islands, I find it truly hard to believe one day could be enough.

Why?

A million reasons. Two million reasons! Soooo many reasons.

Six Other Forts

Dun Aengus is a really cool fort. It’s big, it’s set on a breathtaking part of the coast and it’s SUPER old, as in before-Jesus old, and some of that stuff (like the outer defensive rocks) is still standing. But did you know that the Aran Islands actually contain seven forts overall? They are less popular and don’t have visitors centers and tourist infrastructure set up already, so when you head there it’s like your own private hike and treasure hunt. Four are on the main island of Inishmore, two on Inishmaan and one on the smallest island, Inisheer. While the forts are all similar in construction (round and made out of rocks), they’re in a few pretty cool locations. In my opinion, the landscape around them is the biggest reason for you to go take a look, in particular the cliffs near the Black Fort. Breathtaking, people.

Watching the sunset from the Black Fort.
Watching the sunset from the Black Fort.

Crazy Beautiful Cliffs

Speaking of landscape, let’s talk about cliffs on the Aran Islands. Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, the striking ocean cliffs on the islands are all free to look at and without barriers (aside from those that are part of Dun Aengus), so you can really feel the reality that if you just walked three more steps, you would be dead. (Please, no one do that.) There is no feeling in the world that can compare to being surrounded by silence and listening to the ocean beat against the huge stone walls while you look down from above. You could spend several hours working your way down the coastline, contemplating your own life, and not tire of the landscape.

Nature's orchestra. #Ireland #AranIslands

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The Seals

The Aran Islands have seals! And they aren’t always out to play. You have to be lucky to see them lying out on the rocks, sunning themselves, and if you’re only around for the day, then you’re likely to miss them. Heck, I have friends that tried three times to see the seals and still weren’t lucky.

Nightlife With The Locals

I can’t really guarantee that locals will talk to you (unless you’re an attractive female, then I just can’t guarantee that you’ll like it). But if you’re in the right place at the right time, AKA in the right Irish pub with the right drunk people, then you’ll have nothing but a blast. There is no culture like the Irish pub culture, and the Aran Islands are one of the most authentically local places to do it. Maybe you’ll end up with some new Irish phrases under your belt, as nearly everyone speaks Gaelic.

I didn't have any photos of locals from my stay, so this picture of some German dudes will have to suffice.
I didn’t have any photos of locals from my stay, so this blurry picture of some German dudes will have to suffice. The one guy had been to the Aran Islands three times already, so that totally counts. Right?

It’ll Probably Rain

Okay, so this is a bit of a downer, but let’s face reality: you’re in Ireland. It’s probably going to rain several times while you’re there. And if you plan out your trip to the Aran Islands and it rotates upon a single day when you can explore, you could be rained out and be one sad puppy. It’s best to plan for a few days and then an afternoon of rain (or two) won’t ruin anything.

Cows Galore

I’m kind of a cow freak, and I know it, so the Aran Islands were a little slice of paradise. Cows are everywhere, of all different colors, of all different ages, and you can often get pretty close to some of them and really gaze into their big ol’ eyes and then take pictures. Some of them have adorable tufts of hair on top of their head. Some of them might be walking down the street with you. Lots of them have babies. If you like cows, you’ll love the Aran Islands, and I haven’t even touched upon the chickens, goats, horses, ponies, donkeys and other assorted animal life all around you. And let’s face it: one day with cows everywhere is just several days too few!

Cow butt! Happy day!
Cow butt! Happy day!

Hidden Old Ruins

In addition to the super old forts, there are also several church ruins that you can find scattered across the island, along with graveyards and a few informative signs posted if you’re lucky. The tourist office can tell you where to find them, or you could just take your bike. head out and see what you run into. I personally have a fixation with graveyards and love looking at all of the different headstones used around the world, and stumbled upon the ruins of a 6th century monastery while I was walking around one. Pretty cool.

Peace and Quiet

Why do you go to Ireland? For nature. (Okay, and Guinness.) Why do we seek out nature? Because it gives us a little respite from the busy world around us. If you want to find that on the Aran Islands, especially during the busy summertime, you need to stay over for a few days and use those early morning times (before the first ferry arrives full of people) to take a walk and breath in the fresh air. When you’re busy doing your day trip from fort to old church to lunch and back in time for the ferry, you’re not able to sit back and really relax, listen to the ocean and enjoy everything the Aran Islands has to offer.

No, I didn't make this picture up. This is real.
No, I didn’t make this picture up. This is real.

What do you think, have you ever been to the Aran Islands? How long would you stay?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Reading Roundup: The Harry Potter Series

After February and March slipped away with no books read, and I wrote the most pathetic reading roundup of my blogging career, I got to work. And somehow in the back of my head I knew that as soon as I got my little reading paws on the entire Harry Potter Series, it was going to go the same way as The Wheel of Time Series: light speed. I was right.

I had a four hour ferry ride and a (torturous) ten hour bus ride in the middle of the night on my way to London, England. On a ferry across the English channel is where Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone began. Highly appropriate.

Somehow over the next 11 days, between sightseeing throughout London and Paris and my homecoming of sorts (now that my parents live there) to Germany, I fit in a disgusting amount of reading. My previous excuses of not having enough time in Spain? Self delusion. I just wasn’t picking the right books. Although realizing that I indeed don’t get motion sickness when I read in the car was another wonderful revelation. The hours between London and Paris have never passed so quickly… of course I’ve never driven that route in my entire life, so of course it’s never passed so quickly, but what I’m trying to say is that Harry Potter sucked me in.

And yes, believe it: I’ve never read Harry Potter before this. I know that blows your mind, but just let it sink in and then continue on. Really, people like me exist! I can say that I watched all of the movies, though maybe not in order and definitely not on time. But I’m officially in the Harry Potter club now! (Someone send me my “Potter Stinks” badge, when you have the time.)

Let’s look at the numbers:

Seven books

Eleven days

4,224 pages

Four countries
(Ireland, England, France, Germany)

384 pages per day

One ferry

One bus

One fever

Two cars

A lot of people asking “You’re quiet, are you okay?”
“Yeah! I’m just reading.”

Platform 9¾ in London. I was too busy eating delicious things to go visit in person while I was there, but that’s okay: that’s what someone else’s photos are for!

And what was the verdict? Well, the books were great. They were a little easier to read than I’d have liked, but they are seven children’s novels so I really have no room to complain. They’re written that way on purpose. The story line is of course fantastic, the characters lovable (Luna, dawww!) and the ending quite perfectly executed. I don’t think I’ll be doing any yearly rereads like some other Potter fans do, but I also didn’t grow up with the books so they don’t have any nostalgic significance to me. (The Wheel of Time Series on the other hand…) Still, a quick but great read as far as series go.

Best of all, though, is that Harry Potter brought me to the reading train platform and I jumped right on board. And it feels good.

Have you ever read the Harry Potter series? What’s your reading record for the seven books? Have recommendations for more book series?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Spain

Spain, Spain, Spain. I had a really hard time narrowing down what photos to put into the post for two reasons: there was a LOT of delicious food to choose between and I also abuse my camera and take way too many photos of my meals. (This second issue has recently been given an outlet; I finally caved and made an Instagram account so I can bombard everyone with pictures of my food, woohoo!) But after much deliberation, I’ve narrowed the list down to the best of the best, the most delicious of the delicious; I’ve carved it down to eleven photos. I could go no lower! Don’t ask such a thing of me. This edition of yummy noms from Spain is a little special, since it features two things that are totally not Spanish. But they were drool-licious, so they qualify in my book, which happens to be the book that counts on my blog. Muahaha.

Tapas Platter

Let’s start with the real Spanish stuff: this platter of mixed tapas. Going clockwise and starting at 1 o’clock, we’ve got sliced sausage, mixed olives, cheese, thinly sliced ham, toast with tomato smeared on top (how Spanish!) and lastly Spanish tortilla with a fork stuck in for good measure. These are the classic tapas that come with your drink, though usually just a small plate with one of the below.

These are several tapas. All on one plate.
Perfect in its simplicity. (Barcelona)

Something kind of crazy happened the day I ordered this platter. For the first time in my life, I kind of liked an olive. But only the green ones, sicko, not the disgusting black ones!

Rabbit (Conejo)

I ordered something random off of the menu of the day, and I was pleasantly surprised with a kind of meat that I’d never eaten before! The taste was great, but the effort required to find all of the meat on the bone was even greater. Maybe someone else can de-bone my rabbit next time and just feed it to me?

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The only hopping this guy did after landing on my plate was through different parts of my intestines. (Barcelona)

Crème Catalane

My sweet tooth is a little bit, sometimes quite a bit, out of control. So when this dish came out, created likely by piling different states of sugar together and making it hot, I was especially pleased. Om nom, nothing like creamy sugary-ness covered in a hard crust of more sugar! This is apparently also a regional dish, which means maybe I need to live in this region forever.

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To my dentist: I’M SORRY. (Barcelona)

Migas

The second best part of these Spanish migas was getting to watch the chef put this together, the best part was devouring it. I don’t know if any dish could get more unhealthy, seeing as this is basically just starch fried in the leftover fat and grease of different kinds of meat, but that didn’t stop me from embracing the incredible meal with a mouth wide open. The variety of foods that you could pair with your grease-soaked starch just made it even better.

Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almer'ia)
Best. Meal. Ever. Maybe. (Almería)

From the left, oranges covered in sugar (dessert), an olive oil and green onion liquid (for pairing with migas), fried chorizo/sausage, in the middle are actual pieces of pure fat grilled in grease, far right is grilled pork and the bowl in front is the migas themselves, or starch fried in grease, to perfection.

Razor Clams (Navajas a la Plancha)

Sally sells seashells on the seashore. JUST KIDDING, I eat seafood, and everywhere, not just on the seashore. Like these incredible razor clams, lathered in butter, and eaten in a bar in Granada. (Grandma, close your ears!) They were incredibly phallic. The clam part looks like a penis. But don’t let that freak you out, because the taste is, I assure you, not like a penis. On the contrary, it’s pure seafood-y gold. And that’s all I can say, because how am I supposed to describe the taste of clam? In the warped words of Michael Jackson, just eat it.

Don't look too closely, now. (Granada)
Don’t look too closely, now. (Granada)

Sea Urchin Roe (Gónadas de los Erizos)

Not only am I already a baby killer, but I’ve officially also eaten the gonads of sea urchins too. It’s like I have it out for them or something. This food definitely goes on the list of some of the strangest things I’ve eaten, though, and I’m surprised by two things: one, that this wasn’t eaten in Korea, where all strange things are eaten and two, that I didn’t hate it, once I pulled out all the crunchy shell bits that fell inside. I would recommend you ask for a small portion and then share with a friend.

Don't these look appetizing? (Cádiz)
Not exactly what you’d expect gonads to look like, eh? Or maybe exactly what you’d expect… (Cádiz)

“Black Paella” or Arrós Negre

Some Spanish people might string me up for calling this black paella, even though it’s prepared in the same way, contains more or less the same ingredients and tastes pretty dang delicious, just like paella. But the big difference is that squid ink is added to the Arrós Negre, which brings out the seafood flavors better. Now I can’t be sure that I had real, authentic delicious paella in Spain, but I do know that this dish (and its seafood paella friend, in the background) were miles better than the disaster “paella” encountered in Granada. And I was hungry. So it was nom-tastic.

Give me more. (Cádiz)
Give me more. (Cádiz)

Egyptian Moussaka (Messa’aa)

Oh irony. Except when you’re couchsurfing, the strangest situations arise and you end up at a group dinner with people from Romania, England, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, the USA (me!) and Taiwan, eating a traditional Egyptian dish alongside typical Spanish food. This was my first ever taste of Egyptian food, and it really makes me want to hop continents and spend some time with someone’s Egyptian grandma who’s handy in the kitchen. I want to learn their ways. Onion, garlic, various vegetables and cheese are a beautiful, beautiful combination.

Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)
Oh dear, I want to eat this all over again and then another ten times. (Madrid)

Paraguayan Cuisine

Walking into a random hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Madrid can only mean one thing: random food. This restaurant was literally packed with immigrants from Paraguay having a little taste of home, and we ordered pretty much a giant sampler of everything. The verdict? Kind of like Argentine food, but different. And also yum. But let’s be honest, fried pockets of meat are always my friend.

Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.
Also featured: grilled kabobs of beef marinated in something delicious.

Calamari Sandwich

Yes, I did eat some famous Madrid-ian/Spanish food while in Madrid too, I swear. Well, thanks to Olivia of Halfway Somewhere, at least, who herded me to this shop as soon as we’d met up. If you like calamari, then imagine calamari in your hand, with bread. Best with a bit of lemon, though most locals add ketchup and mayonnaise, which, if you know me, was absolutely not an option. And then the day after meeting Olivia, I went right back to the same place and ate another sandwich; no regrets were had by me nor my stomach. (I can’t speak for my waistline, though.)

Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)
Seafood wins my heart, everytime. Fried seafood? Forget about it. (Madrid)

Churros con Chocolate

Fried things with chocolate can pretty much never go wrong. After eating these, I realized Taco Bell did churros so right (cinnamon is delish), yet so, so wrong. They were perfect. My fingers shined with pride and grease afterwards, and the “napkins” reminiscent of Buenos Aires did nothing to clean them. I solved that problem by licking every bit of my fingers clean.

CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS, OH MY GOSHHHH. (Madrid)
CHOCOLATE AND FRIED THINGS. No elaboration needed. (Madrid)

Really, after this roundup, all I can say is that Spain was straight up nom-licious.

Have you ever been to Spain and eaten delicious food? What was your favorite? Did Taco Bell do it right or wrong?

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Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Spain

When I visited Germany for two weeks last summer, I was extremely lucky with the weather. Blue skies hung above me for nearly the entire trip and I even put together a photoessay of all the sky shots I captured throughout my time there. As I left South Korea, as well, I went through my photographs and found a ton of beautiful sunsets and was quite grateful for the fair weather I was able to enjoy, as well as the beautiful scenery that went with it. Along those same lines, my month in Spain was graced with clear skies and some gorgeous sunsets, some of the best I’ve seen in my (admittedly short) life.

From Barcelona to the Southern coast, from Cádiz to the urban metropolis of Madrid, the beautiful sunsets followed me and forced me to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounded me.

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Port of Barcelona, Spain
Also see: Featured Photograph: Sunset of Barcelona’s Waters
Alicante, Spain
Cala de la Palmera, Alicante, Spain
Also see: Photoessay: Quiescence in Alicante, Spain
Agua Dulce, Spain
Agua Dulce, Spain
Also see: Semi-Domestic Bliss in Almería, Spain
Mojacár, Spain
Mojácar, Spain
The same sunset, with purple-tinted sunglasses held in front of my camera as I took the photograph.
The same sunset, with purple-tinted sunglasses held in front of my camera as I took the photograph.
Cádiz, Spain
Cádiz, Spain
Also see: Photoessay: Cádiz and Carneval
Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain

Have you ever been gifted with spectacular weather or sunsets while traveling? Do you need more reasons to visit Spain, now? Which sunset is your favorite?

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A Tale of Three Cities (In One Week)

While I’m not a homebody, per say (I do write a travel blog), I will always enjoy a good day spent in the sun, eating crackers and reading a book. That is to say, doing absolutely nothing is one of my favorite things in the world. And if I get to do that while people watching a foreign culture, well, that’s even better. So when I say that I visited three different cities in Spain in the span of a week, it’s not only with great joy, but also fatigue.

map southern spain

This tale begins in a fourth city, a city of friendship and relaxation and wonderful memories and even a gorgeous a morning run: Almería. My friend Liz and I decided to take advantage of her early weekend and took a Wednesday night ride to Granada, Spain.

Granada, Spain

The city of white houses on a hill, the largest Muslim fortress in Southern Spain, hippies galore and a kind of horrible first experience with paella drew me in with a strange variety of experiences. Our first night was spent on a friend’s guest bed a bit outside the city center; we visited her favorite local restaurant and became acquainted with her very adorable but feisty kitten. We ate big tapas. We met her Spanish friends.

Fast forward 24 hours and Liz and I had moved to a hostel and were laughing raucously in a seafood tapas bar, having met up with two other friends who’d come to see the city with us. Liz and I had already visited the famous Alhambra, hiked up to a beautiful overlook of the city, pretended the paella wasn’t “that bad” and wandered through tiny shops filled with strange smells, bright colors and people with dreads of all styles. (Did you know there are different styles of dreads? It’s true. Granada will prove that to you!) One tapas bar led to another, which led to a nightclub, which quickly led to the next morning greeting us with sunshine and a rushed check out of the hostel. It was already our last half-day in Granada.

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Inside the iconic Alhambra.

That Friday afternoon, Liz and I boarded a bus to Cádiz and I endured what I’m sure is the greatest torture known to modern mankind: being stuck on a 5 hour bus ride and having to pee. For nearly two hours, I endured what is probably the CIA’s secret training weapon. With each apartment building we passed, I could think of nothing else but how many unused toilets must be in each building. Just a little longer, Sally, just a little longer. You’re tough, you can do it. Sprinting to Sevilla’s bus station loo (the mid point of the long journey) will always be one of my great accomplishments. I did it. I didn’t pee my pants on a bus in Spain.

Cádiz, Spain

We arrived in Cádiz at night and dragging our bags to Liz’s friends place, exhausted, we walked into what could only be described as a frat party sans fraternity brothers. Americans teaching English in Spain had converged on Cádiz for Carneval and as I met each person, decked out in tutus, wigs, light-up glasses and glitter, I struggled to figure out what they actually looked like. Exhausted, Liz and I joined into the beer pong and conversation but let the rowdy crowd leave us behind as they headed out into what were likely packed streets, full of celebration and similarly tutu-clad Spaniards. Conversely, Liz and I changed into pajamas, brushed our teeth and hit the sack.

The weekend of Carneval was a blur of activity, and I don’t mean because of alcohol, though that is certainly true of others I may or may not have seen stumbling around the streets. A morning run preceded hours of sightseeing with Liz and suddenly it was time to dress up and get ready to go out. Saturday night was already knocking on our door, and thankfully I’d purchased a 3 Euro golden, glittery mask to complete my all black ensemble. Or shall I say… the all black outfit that I wear in normal life, too. What can I say. I don’t like dressing up.

duckface carneval

Singing in the street. Tutus. Masks. Rum and cokes poured from our friend’s curbside “bar”, or plastic bag full of beverages. A concert. Long lines for the port-a-potty bathrooms. Glitter. New friends that turned out to be a mere 18 years old. Hunger. Liters of beer. A filafel with sauce, when I’d asked for no sauce. Dancing. Singing. Dancing. A shot of whisky I passed off to a stranger, because there’s no way I’m going to drink that. The sheer amount of people still on the street in the wee morning hours. An eventual return to the apartment where I collapsed on chair cushions placed onto the ground. (I was one of the lucky ones. Nearly twenty people in one apartment doesn’t go so well for everyone.)

The next day, Liz and I took a relaxing beach-side walk and caffeinated ourselves. Back at the apartment, she packed her bags for the inevitable return to work in Almería. I photographed the area a little more, pushed my way into the parade crowd and snapped a few more shots. Later, when Liz left for her ride home, I felt a little pang of sadness as one of the only friends I’d spent 7 non-stop days with, without beginning to hate her, diverged paths from me and I was once again “solo” traveling. I stayed another night in Cádiz, rectifying my previous horrible paella experience and enjoying a quieter apartment (and a real bed) with more friends I’d stolen from Liz. The next morning I woke up earlier than everyone else and enjoyed a private dance party / karaoke session in the kitchen with my coffee, cleaning dishes from the night before.

Seville, Spain

The bus pulled into Seville around six, what would have been dinner time in most of the world, but not in Spain. Finding my way over cobblestone streets to the hostel, I passed the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. I didn’t know that yet. I buzzed into the hostel, surprisingly not getting myself lost along the way, and was welcomed by British accents and one of the friendliest atmospheres I’ve ever experienced from any pay-for-accommodation set up. I replenished myself (both with water and internet access) and headed into the streets to wander a bit before grabbing dinner with friends I’d met just a few days earlier at Carneval. For the first time in ages, I was able to talk politics, international policy and other intellectual riff-raff that I just don’t have the Spanish vocabulary for. That, and most of my friends don’t have the patience for such nerdery, either.

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The Seville Cathedral before I headed inside.

Monday morning I started out on an ambitious foot, after breakfast I ventured into the Seville Cathedral and spent some time wandering the massive halls of the world’s third largest church. Somewhere between the first and fifth side room, it hit me. I literally don’t care. The massive and overwhelming structure had achieved its goal of overwhelming me; though I was overwhelmed not with a reverence for god, but with how much money was wrung out of common people and poured into a big bunch of carved rocks. Money which could have been diverted to easing social ills of the time, would have been used to feed hungry mouths otherwise, and which was extorted in the name of forgiveness from god or pious duty. Then I was overwhelmed with tourism and the meaninglessness of paying 9 Euros to walk through an old building. A steady parade of people, paying their dues to enter and stare and take photographs as proof. I was here. What’s the point of all this travel, I suddenly wondered, if I just look at a bunch of things all day?

I took that thought with me as I sat by the river for the remainder of the day with my Kindle and a bottle of water.

Returning to the hostel that evening and hanging out with the owners and other folks staying there, I was reminded of at least one reason travel is well worth it: the people. I ate dinner in that night, the hostel cooked for everyone and we sat family-style on the roof, introducing ourselves at first and later laughing heartily. The world’s largest Gothic cathedral stood lit up in the distance.

Much thanks to La Banda Rooftop Hostel for helping me and my electronics recharge in Seville. Even though you didn’t know it.

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Photoessay: Carneval and Cádiz

Cádiz, a small city on the southwest coast of Spain, is seemingly quiet. The waves are a surreal pale green, the sand white and clean and the boardwalk was surprisingly empty as I went for an “early” morning run at 9 am. It was a Saturday morning in late February, and the peace of Cádiz was in full effect, but within hours the streets would take on a very different feel. Carneval is a celebration that occurs just before Lent all over the world, mostly in countries that had a strong Catholic influence in the past. People dress up in costumes, eat, drink, sing, march in parades and generally just indulge in all of those things you’re supposed to give up for Lent. Cádiz is the epicenter of Spain’s festivities; before the actual festivities dancers and groups spend weeks practicing and preparing for the grand celebration.

But running down the beach boardwalk at 9 am Saturday morning, aside from the occasional group of costumed teenagers still awake from the night before, you would never know. The peace, the ocean and the patter of my feet on pavement filled the air.

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Have you ever been to Carneval in Spain? To Cádiz? Would you like to wear one of those blue or green tutus, too? (Hands up, because I do!)

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or even subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

Semi-Domestic Bliss in Almería, Spain

I gave myself a month to see Southern Spain, but it wasn’t until I arrived and actually got my feet on the ground that I realized what a tall order “see lots of important things in Spain in one month” actually is. Each person I spoke to insisted on another city, another place, and another event that is, to them, a must-see and since I have an entire month, I must see it. Well, my entire month disappeared somewhere between five days in Barcelona (not enough), two nights in Valencia (enough), one night in Alicante (not enough), five nights in Almería (not enough) and several more cities that I’ve gotten to and plan to go to before March 12th flies me away to Ireland. Somehow what I thought would be a leisurely-paced trip through Spain has turned into a whirlwind tour of only a fraction of the important things this large, complex and gorgeous country has to offer. And while I love to add new cities to my brain’s conversation fodder, I have found myself completely exhausted. That’s why my five days in Almería, a small city on the southern coast of Spain weren’t spent only seeing a few of a multitude of sights nearby, they were spent pretending I was home, even if just for a little bit.

An old friend of mine, Liz, is teaching English in Almería and offered to put me up for as long as I’d like. I arrived thinking that I’d only stay two or three nights, but my friend’s gracious hospitality and equally as incredible Spanish friends reeled me in, and as Liz and I reconnected over cañas and tapas (translation: beer and food) in a small but busy restaurant, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be ready to go as soon as I’d planned.

While I can safely say that I’ve seen the Alcazaba, the second largest Muslim fortress in the province of Andalusia (the largest is Granada’s Alhambra), walked the white, shining streets of Mojácar for a panoramic view of the area, hopped tapas bars around the city, sampling Spanish food and even picked up a postcard along the way, my best memories are a little different, and a little more domestic.

Proof: I did the things you're supposed to do in Almería.
Proof: I did the things you’re supposed to do in Almería, like an obligatory beach picture.

I went running down the boardwalk; the ocean on my left and plenty of other people exercising all around me made me feel like I was part of the daily life, at least for a moment, and it was really just a moment. Within ten minutes I was back to walking, as it turns out you can’t run away from being super out of shape!

We went shopping for fresh produce at a local market and cooked a full dinner for us and friends. There’s something comfortable about shopping for ingredients and creating a meal out of them that I sometimes miss while on the road (even as good as those tapas bars are!). The busy market, the unbelievable amount of fresh vegetables we could pick up for under two euros, and the end result of tons of laughter and excellent food all while sitting on L’s living room couch were much needed after so much of the unfamiliar.

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Liz’s Spanish friends (or shall I say my new Spanish friends? I’m stealing them!) cooked us a homemade, authentic Almerian meal. We all sat together at an old kitchen table decked out with food galore, stuffing our faces and laughing, and enjoying migas. One of the friends is actually a chef, so even though it was a relaxed atmosphere, I essentially got to sit in on a cooking class as I watched him cook one side dish after another, all to be added to the migas (a kind of friend starch) when it was finished.

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Earlier that same day, we toured around an old farm house and then picked organic oranges from an orchard. The chef and his wife showed me the backyard full of olive trees, small plants and other odds and ends that little Spanish farm houses have (like oregano). Standing on the small roof and looking over the nearby landscape wasn’t just beautiful but intimate. Spain felt a little bit more like a place that I could imagine life in. A quick drive down the road and the group of us were in the midst of an orange orchard picking fruits to take back; my Spanish friends said that their parents who are now too old to keep up with the labor are constantly asking them to drive out and pick oranges for them. We were rewarded for our hard work (yeah right!) with way too many oranges for one person to even attempt to eat, alone.

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And, bonus, I watched a herd of goats block the road.

Later my friend and I left to shortly tour Granada before drinking ourselves into oblivion during Carneval in Cádiz (well, other people did that and I mostly just watched) (get excited for those blog posts!), but when I think about Almería, I’ll always think of it as the place where I was most able to immerse myself into Spanish culture and customs, and see a little bit more of what life is really like for those who live here. It was also the place where I was able to rest in between two exhausting bursts of sightseeing and travel. As for things to see, the city didn’t hold a candle to the big bad boys of Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, etc.) but that’s not why I adored being there; it was the laughter and friendship that I’ll always associate with this little town on the ocean. And all of the oranges I had to eat after picking them from the orchard. So. Many. Oranges.

But next time I go, I definitely wouldn’t put up my nose to doing a little more sightseeing, specifically those incredible beaches everyone has been talking about. Laying on the beach does count as sightseeing, right? Right.

Have you ever associated a pretty typical city with incredible memories? Have you ever had migas? Want to pay for me to visit these incredible beaches this July? (If so, let me know! I’ll send a postcard.)

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.