Photoessay: Ugly Beautiful Zagreb

I’m back home now and beginning the immense project of processing my photographs from a long five months of travel through Europe. I visited what felt like city after city, and while many were somewhat like the others, blending into the background of extended travel, Zagreb, Croatia is one city that really stood out to me. I liked the contrasts of Upper and Lower Zagreb; the lower area felt like the metropolis you’d expect from Croatia’s capital, while the upper town stretched over hills and held beautiful green space. In fifteen minutes you could walk from a busy downtown to what felt like a secluded residential street and just as easily make your way back to the buzzing hum below.

When asked to describe the architecture of Zagreb to a friend shortly after leaving, I said this: It’s the weirdest mix of ugly and beautiful I’d ever seen in one place. And I like it. While I didn’t walk away with many photographs (just enough!), I did pick up some lovely memories of a city I’d be delighted to revisit.

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Have you ever been to Zagreb, Croatia and what did you think? Would you like to go? How ’bout that retro passenger van? (I want one!)

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

iPhone Photoessay: Giovanni’s Mother’s Cooking

Somehow, someway, I ended up on the fourth floor of an old European apartment, walls clad with twenty-year-old wallpaper and the living room desk covered in small, framed family photographs. An older Italian lady stood in the kitchen, preparing pasta for me and my Couchsurfing host. I was at Giovanni’s mother’s home, in Rome, Italy, and she was cooking us lunch.

I guess I’m the kind of girl you can bring home to your momma. Even if your momma doesn’t speak English and we’ve known each other for two days, and we’re just friends. Now that I think about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve been invited along with the parents.

I’m not complaining… certainly not on a full stomach.

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Om nom nom?

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Photoessay: A Day in Bray

I haven’t written about it yet, but I didn’t really enjoy Dublin, Ireland very much. So one beautiful day I decided that instead of commuting north into the downtown again, I’d instead head south and see what the ocean side had to offer. After all, people don’t travel to Ireland to see Trinity College once and then head home. They come for the green. So 13 miles down the coast from Dublin, I traveled, looking for some green.

My oh my, what I found exceeded my expectations. Not so much the green, but the way the green contrasted with everything around it. It seemed almost neon. And the small mountain the lay south of Bray bordered right up against the ocean, and included what I later learned was the most expensive-to-maintain stretch of railroad tracks in Ireland and is still used to this day. The views are probably incredible on that train, judging from my own incredible views a few feet above.

Near that railroad track, winding its own way around the mountain, is a six kilometer stretch of trail that reaches the next nearest town, Greystones. The stretch of trail overlooks the ocean for its entirety and I felt jealous of the joggers and runners I saw along the way; they would be able to complete and see the entire stretch today, while I could only walk part before it was time to go home.

In the end, it was a wonderful day in Bray.

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Have you ever visited Bray or rode down this stretch of the railway? What did you think? Would you ever run this trail?

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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?

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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?

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

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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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!)

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Photoessay: Quiescence in Alicante, Spain

Alicante is without a doubt a typical tourist town. The bus terminal is nicely laid out and has cubbies for locking away your things for the day, the local bus system is easy to navigate, suitcases were a common sight and I heard almost as much German and British English as I did Spanish. But there is usually tourism for a reason, namely beautiful beaches, and Alicante did not disappoint. Particularly so after an especially challenging 24 hours up the coast in Valencia, a city who’s street map could easily be converted into a book of mazes, placed next to the Sudoku puzzles in the bookstore. Gorgeous, clean, easy to navigate, but a little touristy? I was happy for the trade off.

I didn’t do much more than relax and walk the beaches, either, and I’m sure my photographs show that. Enjoy a little look into the tourist town that helped me reclaim my sanity, something I desperately need to complete the next four or so months living out of a carry on suitcase.

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Have you ever really enjoyed a place that wasn’t especially authentic? What do you think of Alicante, Spain? How’d you like that fancy vocabulary word in the title?

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

Photoessay: Picture Perfect Pittsburgh

One of my goals while at home this past month was to really soak up Pittsburgh and everything it has to offer. Couple that with my budding passion for photography, and it was only a matter of time until I picked up my camera and tried to capture what I see as an iconic city. First as a steel and industrial city, and more recently as a revived and historical city, yet ripe with everything hipster and grassroot-y. Over the past week, the weather has finally cleared up enough to snap some shots and I have to say, I love some of the photographs I’ve taken of Pittsburgh. I feel as though I’ve done a pretty decent job of capturing what it is that I adore about this town.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to meet Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: home of obsessive sports fans, a lot of movie sets and almost Hilary Duff but in the end, not.

One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills.

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See the river up there? It was completely frozen over, from shore to shore. Talk about cold weather!

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Next up, the photos with a flare of drama. AKA, me playing around with my camera settings and not being consistent. Whoopsies.

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Not pictured: incredible ethnic restaurants galore, the man hollering at my sweet leather Converse while I walk down the street, honking river geese, river geese poop (watch your step on those river trails!), awesome biking culture and the sweet Pittsburghese accent that many Yinzers (Pittsburgh natives) wear with pride.

Oh and the negative a million degree weather isn’t pictured well, either. But that’s made better by all the hipster coffee shops and their in-house-roasted beans that I transform into delicious, aromatic medicine that warms me up once I head back inside.

No, it’s not so bad, after all. Despite the weather, it’s good to be home.squiggle3

Like what you see? You can find more pictures of frozen Pittsburgh on Laura of Eclectic Travel Girl’s blog, some very similar, probably because we were walking together while we took them…

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