2013: The Forgotten Year

Ahhh New Years Eve. The day when we reflect on the year gone by and look to the next with hopes of losing ten pounds, getting that promotion, buying a new car, and spending more time with friends. Sure, you hoped for those same things last year but hey, this is a NEW year and this time you are serious. But I digress…

In all honesty, I haven’t the faintest idea of what I “resolved” to achieve in 2013. Clearly, it was not blogging. This might be the worst kept blog in history considering I have not written in over a year. As you can see from the above, I’ve been forced to deem 2013 “The Forgotten Year” based on the fact that it is anything but documented. So before it slips away at the stroke of midnight, let’s reflect, shall we?

I’m most happy about…

  • Holding not one but TWO jobs throughout the entire year that have opened great doors when it comes to traveling, eating, writing, leading and learning.
  • Achieving a new PR for a half marathon in March here in Miami (1:54:53)!
  • Becoming the mother of a hedgehog named Watson. While it’s nice having a pet around, please consult me if you are thinking of owning a hedgehog and don’t trust those pictures of hedgehogs dressed in cute outfits.
  • Ending a year of long distance (the worst) with the boyfriend when he decided to return last July to get his MBA at University of Miami.
  • Seeing some great concerts including Luke Bryan, Shaggy (yes, Mr. Boombastic himself), The Henningsens (on a private yacht), and finally The Book of Mormon on tour and Avenue Q Off-Broadway.
  • Being back again in Coral Gables, affording me the ability to cheer on my Hurricanes at Sunlife Stadium throughout the season, although the best game by far was against University of Florida when all my old college amigos returned for a reunion unlike any other.

I traveled to…

  • Nashville for a best friend’s birthday
  • Bogota, Colombia once again to celebrate Valentine’s Day with mi amor
  • Jamaica three times for a TV shoot, press trip AND much needed vacation
  • Saint Lucia for a culinary press trip
  • The Bahamas to work at the aforementioned Shaggy concert
  • Turks & Caicos for a TV shoot
  • New York for both my birthday and a work event
  • Orlando to go to Disneyworld with my grandma and extended family (no drinking around the world this time!)
  • Denver for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas (my family must really love me)
  • Key West for a couples retreat with the roomie and our boyfriends
  • Chicago for the first time to celebrate Independence Day with the fam

Of course, you can bet that I enjoyed some amazing meals around Miami and beyond. Special shout outs to My Ceviche, Eating House, Swine, Khong River House, Bread + Butter, Bulla, PB Steak, Bombay Darbar and Miami Culinary Tours (in Little Havana, South Beach AND Wynwood) for appeasing my appetite time and time again. I also tried new and exciting foods throughout the Caribbean and developed a liking for ackee and saltfish, fresh coconut water, conch fritters, and patties, all of which I plan to share more about in the coming year.

I hope you will eagerly join me in my pursuit to blog more as I share my  adventures around Miami and beyond (think Jamaica, Colombia, maybe even Cuba).

Cheers!

Another Continent Down: Visiting Bogotá, Colombia

With my Europe days behind me, I seldom entertain the notion of blogging about my mundane life so managed to go two months without writing. What does that mean? I must continue traveling so that I have stories to share. Since writing last, I stopped in Colorado for enough time to get my life together and then turned right back around to make the move to Miami. I found a new apartment with an old roommate, and dived back into the the media world where I am still trying to find my place. While I slowly settled into things, my boyfriend Gabe did the same. Unfortunately, he has set up shop in his home country, Colombia, in the capital of Bogotá. On the plus side, it is not too far from Miami and rather cheap to fly there (thanks Spirit!). So when I got a couple days off this past week for the Jewish holiday, I decided to visit him and cross South America off my continent checklist!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon and we walked around an old shopping plaza. I got lucky because I unknowingly came on El Día de Amor y Amistad, a Valentine-esque holiday that they take very seriously. This means rose petals and heart-shaped balloons scattered all around, live music serenading and people simply love-stricken strolling about. We had dinner at Andrés Carne de Res, a magnificent four-story restaurant that comes alive as a club at night. It has the largest menu I think I have ever seen (no exaggeration) and was a great way to jumpstart the evening that later involved lots of salsa dancing fueled by aguardiente, their notorious anise-flavored liqueur.

The next morning we woke up and headed to El Museo del Oro, or Gold Museum. This showcased Colombia’s rich gold history with plenty of glass cases full of the stuff. After that, we headed up into the valley to a lush area known as La Calera to have lunch at El Tambor

You wait in line and write down your order on a paper, within minutes your meat is chopped and plate put together. We had beef, blood sausage, chorizo, potatoes, yucca, a corn arepa and chicharones alongside their sauces. We sipped on refajo- a mixture of Aguila, Colombian beer, and Colombiana, a popular fruity cream soda drink out of a bucket!

We ate this…

and this…

washed down with this!

Afterwards, we grabbed desserts (that were consumed post food coma) from La Cabaña Alpina. After trying a few different things, I found I really enjoyed arequipe on practically anything, it is very similar to dulce de leche but “better” according to Gabe, but he might be a little biased. Later on, we caught the majority of the Steelers game and prayed we would get somewhat hungry before having dinner at Colombia’s popular chain Crepes and Waffles, with one of Gabe’s old friends.

Monday he had to work so I relied on Mike from Bogotá Bike Tours to show me around. It is ranked as the number one tour in Bogotá on Tripadvisor, and for good reason! I was joined by four other visitors- a man from Atlanta, two British girls and a Slovakian- making for one eclectic group. We rode around for five hours, following Mike’s lead that took us from the old city center of La Candelaria to the city’s second largest fruit market Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao, and even through the Red Light District or as they call it, “tolerance zone of high impact activity.” We also went to a coffee factory where I learned that the majority of the notorious Colombian coffee is exported, while the coffee I drank in the sidewalk cafes are imported cheap kinds. Moral of that story is do not go to Colombia expecting to drink the good stuff. Instead, head to your local American coffee shop that carries the Colombian variety.

Another interesting spot was the central cemetery. There was a good amount of people strolling through on a Monday afternoon with flowers in hand to scatter around various grave sites,  not just those of their loved ones. Some residents believe some statues hold certain powers so ask them for favors and leave gifts and flowers.

One grave site of a former astrologer is thought to bring people money if you rub a bill against it. Supposedly, its powers are enhanced if you smoke pot there too, so you can imagine there were some young kids doing that, as well.

I left the following afternoon on an easy three and a half hour flight to Fort Lauderdale. It is crazy how in only a few hours you can be transported to some place so different from where you were before. I have a feeling this short trip was not my last to South America. I strongly desire to visit Taylor in Buenos Aires, and am already being convinced to go to Barranquilla, Colombia for their infamous Carnaval celebration in February. If all my dreams play out, this will not be my last entry.

It’s Never Really Goodbye

My last days in Spain centered about the visit of my grandparents and relatives from Germany, the EuroCopa and, of course, the always dreadful packing. In between doing the standard touristy things (checking out the Prado, eating at Mercado San Miguel, taking a daytrip to Segovia), I was also trying to jam the past nine months of my life into three suitcases and a couple handbags. It was a tad crazy to say the least.

Thanks to the cleaning expertise of my grandma, we were able to do some scrubbing on Saturday and by the afternoon closed the door to my Spanish apartment forever. I spent my last night eating tapas with my visitors and avoiding the Gay Pride festivities for the sanity of my grandpa who saw a few too many men in high heels than he could handle.

My grandparents had never been to Paris before so wanted to make a pit stop there en route to Germany. I’ll never refuse a trip to Paris (even if only for a day and a half), and they invited Gabe to come along which was the cherry on top.

After the rapid-fire sightseeing in Paris, we bid Gabe adieu and jumped on the train to Germany. While there I got to see the town my grandpa grew up in, eat plenty of German food and talk with family. After all this though, I can say I feel a bit relieved to be on the plane and know that I am going home for good and will soon be unpacking my suitcases on American soil once and for all… Well, for now.

Things I will miss about Madrid:

1. Kissing on two cheeks You know that moment when you meet someone and don’t know whether to go in for the handshake, hug or cheek kiss? Well no need to worry about this in Spain- you always always kiss on two cheeks. You never have to worry about an awkward greeting situation again!

2. Football Or soccer for Americans. I am sure that I will fall right back into watching American football but over this past year I have come to rely on watching soccer games as a weekly activity. It’s the best way to relax with friends and get out without going too hard.

3. Wine It’s cheap and delicious. Spainiards combine it with Coke to make a calimoxo or lemon Fanta to make tinto de verano. The best.

4. Snacks with your drinks I remember coming home for winter break and longing for something to snack on while I sipped my drink. Whether it’s simply potato chips (ok, even those are better in Spain), or olives, it’s the smart and delicious.

5. Visitors Since I have mainly wrote on this blog about my trips, I rarely talked in depth about those that have made trips to me. Luckily, many of my friends decided to use me living in Spain as an excuse to travel to Europe and I do not blame them. First was Taylor. We ran a half-marathon together and toured Cadiz.

Then came Dylan. We got to go to a Real Madrid soccer game and check out Toledo.

Since there were a couple of us from UM in Madrid, we had a couple come together for a little Miami reunion.

Finally was Dani. We checked out a flamenco show, watched soccer games and walked a lot!

6. The metro Sure I kind of miss my car but never having to worry about filling up on gas, traffic or getting a speeding ticket while going anywhere is pretty great.

7. Mealtimes Something I once dreaded, I have come to appreciate. I understand the purpose of a big lunch (although I often don’t abide by it) and I love having a late dinner. It gives me time to do everything else I need to do and truly enjoy my last meal of the day before going to bed.

8. Picnics in the park Between Parque del Oeste to Parque Retiro, there are places to picnic close to wherever you might be. Pick up some cheese, bread, meat, wine and fruit from the grocery store (Simply is my favorite supermercado), and you have he perfect afternoon.

9. Malasaña This is a neighborhood in Madrid that is my absolute favorite. With kitschy restaurants, cute boutiques, sunny plazas, and fun bars, it stole my heart and was my go-to area when I had some free time on hand.

10. The people From my Spanish work colleagues to new friends both Spanish and American, I feel so lucky to have gotten close with so many different people in only nine months. This might be what I will miss the most.

After I left Madrid the first time in 2009, I did not think I would ever return. I thought the same thing when I left Miami last August but turns out, I will be moving back there again tomorrow! Long story short, if I have learned anything over this past year it is that it is never really goodbye.

Made it to Marrakech!

I have always had a strong desire to go to Morocco. After missing the chance the first time I lived in Spain, I told myself I could not leave again without visiting. With only a few weekends in Europe remainly, I grabbed a couple of tickets to Marrakech and me and Gabe were off last Friday afternoon.

Welcome to Marrakech!

Thankfully I have a couple of friends who just went and  gave me great tips regarding where to stay and what to do. One recommended theRiad Maison Belbaraka for lodging. Riads are old houses that have since been converted into places to stay, undoubtedly beating out any hostel or hotel. Ours conveniently provided transportation to and from the airport, a gorgeous room and an amazing dinner on their terrace the first night.

And I have to mention the breakfast every morning. Freshly baked breads, chocolate cake, cheese, fig and strawberry jam, honey and freshly squeezed orange juice to our hearts content.They also helped us arrange our excursion for Saturday. We headed to the High Atlas Mountains to see waterfalls, safely in the hands of a friendly Berber guide. We left in the morning and made many stops along the way including a Berber house where we were treated to bubbling mint tea, a very common drink here that is delicious and refreshing despite the fact it is boiling hot outside.Then, we pulled off onto the side of the road for a camel ride.Walked back and forth across a rather scary bridge (still not sure why).And eventually arrived in Siti Fatima, a Berber village at the foot of the mountain. We were passed off to a younger guide who led us into the mountains towards the waterfalls. Along the way we saw many restaurants and spaces for people to hangout mid-hike.

Then we made it to one of the many waterfalls that was gorgeous.I must say that this was no easy, trail-blazed hike. Instead, we were scaling rocks and sliding down dusty hills. Word to the wise: Don’t wear Toms. Although I do think I was managing a bit better than those I saw in flip-flops.

Afterwards, we relaxed at a restaurant by the river where we had some traditional Moroccan food. On the way back to Marrakech, we had our driver drop us off at the Majorelle Gardens. It was not big but definitely pretty with more kinds of cactus than I have ever seen before.

We rested up a bit before heading back to the Djemaa El-Fna, the big plaza which comes alive at night with food stalls and plenty of people swearing that theirs is the absolute best. Well, we actually did find a pretty good one (which we picked based on all the locals eating at it) and walked away full on only 8 Euros for the both of us.

We also managed to do some haggling in the souks. I walked away with a pair of brown flats and a small purse which I talked down to half the price! If I did not have to worry about luggage space, I think I would have bought a lot more. From the lamps to bags to tagines, the amount of things for sale (and cheap) is absolutely mind-blowing. Regardless, I’m happy to say I made it out with a little bit!

Once we got back to our riad, we relaxed with a wine made in Morocco. But not just any wine- gray wine.

Although Muslims do not drink, I read that they have a rather good wine industry going on. This bottle definitely a unique flavor with a bit of citrusy tang to it. I would happily drink it again.

Sunday we woke up with not much planned but since we did not explore all of Marrakech yet, we took to the streets and checked out the Saadian tombs, spice market, El Bahia Palace and got a closer look at the Koutoubia mosque.

That night we headed to Cafe Arabe, a restaurant that kept seeming to pop up in every article I read about Marrakech. It is a three-story space with, again, a beautiful terrace, and also one of the few restaurants that serves alcohol, making it very popular with tourists. We found ourselves amongst many but that did not bother me. The food was pretty good and cheap considering all that we ate and the setting was perfect.

We had Monday morning and early afternoon to relax before flying back to Madrid. Overwhelmed with the crazy city by this point (and all out of Dirhams), we had some tea and pastries at our hostel and a quick walk around.

Overall, I am very happy I finally made it to Morocco and was even more thankful to have a French-speaking travel companion. While most locals are used to tourists and can speak almost every language, French is their second language (after Arab), so the fact that Gabe could fully communicate with just about everyone made it a lot easier. Lots of people said it would be dangerous, but I never felt threatened (especially when you see so many other tourists walking around). People sure are pushy when it comes to trying to get you to check out their souk and buy something, but once you learn to embrace (or just ignore) that, it is not bad. From the prayers five times a day that are heard all around the city (it’s broadcasted over huge speakers from the main mosque) to snake charmers and thousands of motorcycles buzzing around the streets, it is definitely unlike any place I have ever been but enlightening, nevertheless.

Plus, now I can say I have stepped foot in Africa!

Barcelona: Round Two

The last time I went to Barcelona I left a bit disenchanted. I did not feel any sort of spark or special connection with the city like a lot of my friends who constantly sing its praises. Regardless, when my boyfriend wanted to treat me to a celebratory hot air balloon ride there, I could not say no and we packed our bags and were off on Friday.

We got in early afternoon and I could not help but make our first stop La Boqueria, my absolute favorite market that I knew I needed to show him. We grabbed fresh juices while perusing all the stalls before settling down at a bar in the midst of it all for some arroz negro and the first patatas bravas of many this trip.Afterwards, it was prime beach weather so we took a stroll down to the water to check out the beach. It was packed but still a relaxing stop for some sun and sand.On our way back to our hostel, we wandered through Parc de la Ciutadella. It was a lot less touristy than Park Guell and had some interesting statues scattered throughout. I have never heard a lot about it but would happily return for a relaxing afternoon.  That night, we spent more time by the water at restaurant Bestial where I had a delicious seared tuna. We cashed in early because we had to be up at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday for our hot air balloon ride. We were picked up in the city center and driven about an hour to the town of Vic where our balloon was going to take off. Once everything was set up, we floated away with four other people plus our conductor for an hour.It was definitely scary at first but after the conductor told his about his years of experience, I could relax a bit. At the end, they treated us to champagne and grilled cheese sandwiches that they prepared using the fire from the hot air balloon. It was a bit of a surreal morning as I have wanted to go on a hot air balloon for the longest time. Now, I just want to fly around in one all over the world!

We got back to the city around 11 already feeling like we had done a lot that day. Even so, Gabe indulged my desire to go see the artwork of one of my favorite artists, Joan Miró, at his museum on the hill of Montjuic. After a delicious lunch of montaditos at Quimet & Quimet, we were in need of a rest before meeting his sister and her boyfriend for dinner at La Paradeta.

I knew I wanted seafood this weekend and this was the prime spot. After waiting in line for almost an hour, we made our way to the front where there is a huge selection of fresh fish (the lobster was still moving). You pick what you want and how you want it, sit down, and wait for it to be prepared. Thankfully, I was with a local who had been there before so left him to order and it was perfect. We had fresh oysters, shrimp, grilled octopus, razor clams, mussels in amazing tomato sauce, and grilled lobster. You can imagine I was in heaven.The next morning we made our way to La Sagrada Familia to ensure they were making some progress on building it (they are), and then had a delicious lunch at Cervecería Catalana. We wandered around the city a little bit more before beginning our journey back to Madrid late that afternoon.

The takeaway? I certainly enjoyed my time in Barcelona more than before and I think the warm weather had something to do with it. I still do not think I would ever live there but for vacations (and hot air balloon rides), it fits the bill. This trip marked the beginning of the end of my time here in Spain. Thankfully, these next few weeks are sure to be filled with fun.

Alicante Left Me Sunburnt

I’ve been hooked on the new Jason Mraz album “Love is a Four Letter Word” for the past couple of weeks now. There is one song, Everything Is Sound, that has the lyric: You don’t need a vacation when there is nothing to escape from. For better or for worse, that’s how it felt when it came to my so-called vacation to Alicante, Spain. While I was longing for sand and sun more than a Chipotle burrito (and that’s pretty serious), I was not necessarily eager to escape from the stresses of work and the city simply because they rarely exist. However, at times like this, I constantly remind myself I am living the dream right now, life will never be this easy and I need to enjoy it while I can. So that is what led me here:

Hello Alicante!

I got a great deal on a flight thanks to the opening of Iberia Express. I spent Friday relaxing on the beach by myself, reading Spanish Cosmo and snacking on finds from a local market. That afternoon, I made my way up to an old castle that overlooked the city and had stunning views.

Like this.

That night, I was joined by Anna and her friend Chelsea who is visiting from the United States. We checked out some tapas bars in El Barrio and rested up for the next day. We resided at one of the best hostels I have ever experienced. It was in a great location and had an amazing rooftop terrace with excellent views of the city and castle. We never cooked in the large kitchen but I did make friends with an old German man who let me try his delicious dinners both nights since my reading time on the terrace happened to coincide perfectly with his dinnertime (funny how those things work out).

I could live on this rooftop.

Saturday we went a little further out of the city center to a beach called San Juan that was longer and a bit nicer. We all left burnt and very sandy, but relaxed nevertheless. That night we had pizza on the terrace before going to a couple tapas bars. I cashed in early because I had to leave for my flight at five in the morning! One of the “perks” of cheap flights is that they usually leave at awful times but c’est la vie.

Although it was only two days, it was perfect because I am not sure I could have handled another day in the sun. Unfortunately my body is no longer accustomed to a year round tan like it used to be living in Miami.

Doing Damage in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is one of those cities I always knew I wanted to go to but without real reason. With time ticking away, I only have a few more weekends to squeeze in all the trips I want to do and made this one a priority. When a group of my friends mentioned they wanted to organize a visit, I made sure to jump on that ship quickly and before I knew it, we had flights and hostels booked for (yet another) long weekend in April. We spent four nights there and, while I could have spent more, it definitely wore this girl out.

Typical Amsterdam

I heard Indonesian food was a must-eat in Amsterdam (if someone could let me know why, I’d appreciate it). Indo-restaurant Kantjil & de Tijger was our first stop after our hostel for a late dinner. It could have been our ravenous hunger from the long trip, but the typical meal of rijsttaffel was amazing. You basically get a few bowls of rice and a bunch of little plates with different types of meat and veggies with delicious sauce ladled on top. We literally scraped every last plate clean.

Our fraternity-house-like hostel, The Bulldog, was conveniently situated in the midst of the Red Light District. I really did not know what to expect from this part of town, as everyone I talked to before the trip would try to change the subject as quickly as possible. Now I know why and will proceed to do the same… It’s definitely just something you need to see.

We were also around the corner from Dam Square

The next morning, we hopped on a  SANDEMANs NEW Europe tour. If you have never been on one of these, they are definitely worth checking out. It is basically a free tour led by really cool people working for your tips. They offer them in cities all over (including here in Madrid!) Plugs aside, we got lucky with our guide, a Dutch-Canadian girl who ended up becoming our best friend. After the three-hour walking tour all around the city, she hooked us up with a two-hour canal tour which she also came on (I think she was happy for the company). We were able to eat, drink, and blast music while navigating all the canals. We proceeded to go to a bar with her after too, leading her to declare this that it was the longest tour she ever gave. We decided to relieve her of her duties after that.

On the boat with our tour guide, Lee

The next day we began at the Anne Frank Museum, which was really great, especially since I am in the middle of reading the Diary of Anne Frank. After a quick stop through the Noordermarkt, a food and flea market, we had a delicious lunch in a hole-in-the-wall cafe where I got a slice of appeltaart!

All it needed was a scoop of ice cream

Next, we went to the Rijksmuseum and saw some masterpieces although the main building is under construction until next year. We ended up right in front of the infamous sign.

Should say "I amsterdam"

A favorite street food of Amsterdam is one of my favorite anytime foods: french fries. They serve them piping hot in paper cones and offer an array of sauces. Their specialty? Mayo. I was skeptical at first but it’s not the same white stuff we can find jarred stateside.

French fry heaven.

The next day we headed to The Hague, the capital of South Holland and a city that has a lot of political significance for the Netherlands. We had a leisurely lunch in a plaza, walked around the city, and saw the Peace Palace, the home of the International Court of Justice.

Peace Palace garden

Before heading back the hostel, we stopped for more waffles and pancakes at the fair in Dam Square. I could eat these all day every day.

Words cannot describe

The next 24 hours requires some back story. About two months ago when we first booked this trip, we were not quite sure why it was nearly impossible to find hostels. Turns out Monday was the biggest holiday of Amsterdam- Queensday, commemorating the birthday of the Queens mother (since the Queens birthday is on a cold day in January). It begins Sunday night, appropriately called Queensnight. We spent that night with a mixture of young kids from all over the world in the crowded streets of the city until the party continued the next day.

It all led to this...

And this.

Everyone wears orange all day, drinks, rides on boats, and sells an array of things in the street. It was such a cool and different celebration to witness. We walked around until we had to catch our airplane back (absolutely exhausted) to Madrid that night.

From a bike ride to the windmills and brewery tours, to more daytrips and city exploring, I could spend weeks in Amsterdam. I’m glad I got a glimpse of the city this past weekend though. It was definitely a relief being able to speak English to everyone and the Dutch people were remarkably kind.

Next weekend I will finally get some sun in the Spanish beach town of Alicante! Until then, I have Cinco de Mayo to celebrate and La Carrera de La Mujer to run on Sunday. It’s our equivalent of Race for the Cure and there are 22,000 women participating. Can’t wait!