Monday, January 26, 2015

Three Reasons Why I Love Seville, Spain

I've done quite a bit of traveling in my 26 years of life. Not as much compared to others but a lot. Since I've traveled a bit, I have come across cities that I absolutely love and dream of going back to again. The city I have chosen to write about its no different. I'm currently teaching English in Northern Spain for one school year but there is a city in this country -and a time in my life- that I will never forget. A city that I love to come back to visit again and again. One that I still dream of visiting countless times as I haven't seen everything there is to see it in it. That city is Sevillaaaaaaaaa....

Orange trees near the Alcazar de Sevilla in winter

Now, without further ado, the three reasons why I love Seville are:

1. The Passion

Intense flamenco performance at night at La Carboneria

One of the things that I love about the entire region of Andalusia is the passion. Nothing is done half-heartedly by the people that call that region home. They feel emotions very strongly and are not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves. In fact, they wear them proud just as proudly as they wave their green and white striped flags on Dia de Andalucia on March 1st every year. I was not a very open book when I first visited Seville in 2010 but this city flipped me open and exposed my soul to todo el mundo at times and changed the way I expressed my own emotions, not once but countless times. 

One day in the first few weeks I was studying there, I passed a man on a street who had tears streaming down his face. It looked like he had just lost his best friend or said goodbye to the love of his life. I will never know the answer and neither will you as I didn't approach him and ask what was the matter. I think it's better to leave it up to our imaginations and wonder what would make a grown man cry and show his tears  without shame. I'll always think of that man as very brave but he (and other sevillanos) might not view himself that way.

Nevertheless, the Sevillians' passion and love for life can best be seen in their dance and festivals. The flamenco is a powerful and fiery dance that exposes the very soul of everyone who performs it. If you are in Seville even for just one night, I would definitely recommend that you go to a flamenco show and witness this passion on the stage. If you're a passionate person too, it will move you. If not, you may just enjoy a good performance and the skills of the dancer and guitarist. They train very hard and practice for hours and hours a day so that their audience -and themselves- will not be disappointed come show time.

So much emotion and intense passion on one single man's face!

Feria de Abril (in mid-April but sometimes early May) is another time that Seville shines and the passionate nature of the people are most dazzling. The party lasts all day and all night and the city comes even more alive than usual. Horse riders and their ladies dressed in traditional dress will show off their skills during the day while flamenco dancers of all ages will amaze their audiences with their pasos de flamenco and sevillianas in their gorgeous casetas by night.


Seville is a very lively and passionate city all year round but especially in the spring and summer when the temperatures really heat things up!

2. The History: the way the sights speak to you without words

Hand painted ceramic flower pots scattered around the gardens of the Alcazar

Andalusia: The smell of orange blossoms wafting into your nose from the street, the delicious Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine you can find in a tapas bar, the ultra-smooth sounds of the Spanish guitar played by musicians on the back streets and the sight of the captivating Moorish architecture and tile work all around you. These are some of the things that people first think of when they think of the South of Spain. These same things come to my mind as well but there is so much more to Seville than the tapas, orange tress and flamenco, though all three are rich in culture and history.

The major sights you can see in Seville are numerous: Catedral de Sevilla, los Reales Alcazares, Plaza de Espana, la Torre de Oro, las Setas, Plaza de Toros, Archivo de Indias and the list goes on. You can go into these places of interest and join a tour group or buy an audio guide but I like to observe the sights as they are and Seville lets you do that. Of course, it's always fun to hear the interesting facts and tidbits from a guide or a local person but you don't necessarily have to in order to enjoy the city. The sights themselves are enormous and have such a powerful presence. In my opinion, it's truly as if the history of Seville speaks to you as you walk down the street or stroll in the open plaza near the Cathedral, the Alcazar and main avenues.

One of the tiny narrow streets in the Barrio de Santa Cruz

Sevilla's Cathedral: the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe!

Las Setas: adding a modern flare to an already classy city

Seville is a city that beckons you to learn and discover all that you can about it, whether you are physically in the city or not. It will also, if you let it, take a hold of your heart and mind and keep you dreaming of coming back. The tiny streets and tapas bars in Barrio de Santa Curuz awaken the adventurer in you. The guitar or accordion players on Avenida de la Constitución play songs that serenade your soul. The Plaza de España dazzles your mind and senses in all its grandeur and the thousands of intricate hand-painted tiles seen around the palace.

La Plaza de España as seen just before sunset.

Hand-painted tiles as seen on the Puente de Aragón (Plaza de España)

There is nothing small about this city and I love that.

3. The Diversity: discovering the differences and similarities of the culture

So many cultures have existed in Seville that you would think that the local culture would become distorted but it has not been. In fact, the local culture and its people are even more strongly represented today as they have had to fight to preserve their local culture and customs to survive over many centuries by its Jewish, Muslim and Christian invaders.

While the local culture and its people may come off a bit strong to some visitors, to others it will be a breath of fresh air. Seville will rip you out of your comfort zone and provide you with the opportunity to experience the many cultures that have called the city their home. It will also afford you the chance to examine and share you own culture and personality. It might even change you if you let it.

I love that there are so many things to discover in this city and so many local experiences to be had. Some of my favorites are: watching a tile maker paint freshly made tiles (azulejos) in his shop, strolling alongside the mighty Rio Guadalquivir and then stopping for a tinto de verano or cerveza and last but not least, finding a tapas bar or restaurant in the Jewish quarter that has seating so outdoors, you're practically eating in the street! (And it's an amazing dining experience, by the way.)

Sunset over the Rio Guadalquivir facing Triana

I could write pages and pages of tips, things to do and places to see in this vibrant capital of Andalucia but I won't. I will leave you with a saying I once heard about this magical city. I feel it describes the experience one can have there perfectly.

It goes like this:

"Tú podrás irte de Sevilla pero Sevilla nunca se irá de ti" - Un sevillano
 ["You may leave Seville but Seville will never leave you."] -A Sevillian
Two Americans (me, center) and un sevillano (right).

If you have a chance to visit this charming and enchanting city in Southern Spain, go. And go back as many times as you can. Seville allows you to write and re-write your story each time you visit and entices you to discover its treasured sights and delicious tapas again and again. You'll always uncover something new about the city and perhaps make a new discovery about yourself.

See you for the third time during Semana Santa, my dear Sevilla!

This post was written as an entry to the "A Tale of Three Cities" contest sponsored by Accor Hotels. Click here for more details and to see the prizes and voting periods. Good luck to all of the other participants. Happy traveling!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

5 Mistakes NOT to Make in Galicia (Spain)

Mandatory first-day-of-school pic at my colegio in Elviña (A Coruña)  

I have been in the very green and rainy northwestern region of Galicia for almost 4 months now. This is my first time here but my third time in Spain (as I may have mentioned before) so while being in Spain is not new to me, being in Galicia is. It's unlike any other region of Spain that I have ever been in to date and day by day I'm discovering more and more little aspects of the culture, languages and people that are quickly capturing my heart. However, when you arrive to a new country or new city, you're bound to make a few mistakes on your own and I am no exception! Scroll through this post to learn the top 5 mistakes I have made and strive to not make them yourself should you visit or move here. Or do if you want to have similar adventures and have some stories in which you can laugh at yourself later on down the road, then by all means don't take my advice, haha!

The top 5 mistakes NOT to make in Galicia are (in my opinion):

1. DON'T leave your umbrella in a a public paragüero (umbrella stand or holder) that's near a door!

The only thing I have left to show for from my first umbrella: the cover

    Chances are, if it's a super cute or colorful umbrella, and it's in the holder with all the rest, it will get stolen. When it starts to rain and someone else forgot their own umbrella and needs to dash on home, they'll scoop yours right up and use it without a second thought. Having a good working umbrella is an essential part of daily life here. That is what happened to me when I accidentally left my super cute purple colored umbrella with silver hearts and a silver curved handle in the public umbrella stand at the library that's right near the door. I have a slight vendetta against the person who took mine (which I highly suspect was a teenage girl or someone else who wanted it cause it was so cute - tear-). It was a rainy night and I spent the evening at the library working on a translation project and when I left for the night, I saw that all the umbrellas in the holder were gone - including mine. I still have the cover and hope that one of these days I will find it and get it back! I did buy another umbrella to replace the one that was stolen from me but I left that at my friend's France! I just have bad luck with umbrellas these days. :(

Moral of the story: Buy a good sturdy umbrella (and rain boots) as soon as you arrive and keep an extremely close eye on them. You will need them both when the winter rain comes to stay!

2. DON'T take a long time to see the sights in your newly adopted region or city!

The Atlantic coast and the grounds across the Torre de Hercules in October

With the Torre de Hercules on a cloudy day

Plaza de Maria Pita - where I finally felt like I was in Spain again!

Castillo de San Antón on a gorgeous day one Saturday
Lighthouse in the middle of the Castillo de San Antón with beautiful flowers.
Sailboats passing by the Castillo as seen from the top floor

The Torre as seen from distance on the huge walkway leading up to it
Playa de Riazor  - one of my favorite views here!
While there is still so much in Galicia I have not seen (Not to mention Northern Spain as a whole), I still haven't seen everything there is to see in here in Coruña. I don't live near the city center and my school is located way south of it so transportation and time are the biggest challenges I face. In fact, it took me almost a month to see the Castillo de San Antón and even visit the MUNCYT (Museo Nacional de Ciencias y Technologia) which is only a short 20 minute walk from my flat. I was always passing these places to go somewhere else so making time to go there and explore them took me well, some time, haha.

In the beginning of my time here I was also in the middle of trying to find a place to live and jet lag was sucking the life and energy out of me at the same time. There are many things you have to keep in mind when setting up in a new city or country but seeing the sights in your new home should be at the top of your list. If you don't get to see them within the first few days or week of arriving, chances are you'll develop a routine that you won't deviate from a lot and then not be able to have time to go. However, if you're the adventurous type and can keep the 'carpe diem' mindset, you'll make sure you see all the sights and eventually be able to show them to visitors to your city, if you have some.

Side note: One of the downsides about living in Coruña is that the well-known historical sights are spread out in an already large city (in terms of land mass). The public transportation is good here but the buses stop running fairly early for a Spanish city which can make getting back from a trip to la cuidad vieja a little difficult if you don't plan your time well.

3. NOT becoming a regular at a bar, cafe or restaurant

A cup of tea with an actual lump of sugar at my favorite tapas bar
When I first arrived in Coruña, I stayed in an AirBnb that was close to where my colegio was located due to its neighborhood and affordability. While it didn't have the WiFi the host had promised it had, there was a bar with free WiFi just around the corner named TreBoBar where I sort of became a regular the first weekend I was here. I even had a slight problem one evening and the owner of the bar helped me out because he recognized me. However, since that weekend, there hasn't been a cafe or restaurant that I frequent every day or week.

On the other hand, there is a fantastic Mexican place in my neighborhood that I go to fairly regularly and a tapas bar that serves cheap but fantastic local food but that's about it. I try my best to cook most of my meals at home in order to save money for future trips so I don't eat out much. The past few weeks I have been thinking about choosing one place to be my regular hangout. Maybe I'd even get the chance to create "a usual" and get to know the people who also frequent the cafe or bar. I don't necessarily recommend becoming a regular at a cafe or bar just to make friends with the other "regulars" but I think doing so would be an interesting cultural experience. You never know what kinds of people you'll meet and chances are there is an older man or woman (an abuelo or abuela as they're affectionately called) who may have some incredible stories or insights to share with you. Never know until you try!

This "mistake" also might depend on your personality, though. I'm an introvert and need my alone time to think and process what goes on around me but I don't mind the company of others when I'm trying to write or work. If you are more extroverted, you may want to do something like this immediately so that you can get your energy from being around other people. There are benefits for each personality type.

4. DON'T miss out on local/regional festivals and cultural events

Pulpo a la gallega (pulpo a feira) at a pulpeira in Santiago

Pretty self-explanatory. It took me a month to try the famous octopus dish here and I didn't even try it in A Coruña! I spent Halloween in Santiago and ended up going to a well-known pulpeira there and feasted on a half ration of pulpo marinated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt and paprika. It wasn't as if I wasn't going to try it - because you have to- it was just a matter of did I want to shell out the extra money before we saw our first paycheck from the Xunta. Coincidentally, on the day we got paid, I tried it and was very impressed with the taste and texture of the octopus and plan to have it once in awhile. I don't have the urge to eat it everyday but I do want to take advantage of having it once a month while I'm still here. 

I did miss out on going to a couple festivals in the beginning of my time here, one of them being a seafood festival (Festival do Marisco) in O Grove near Vigo but I plan to go to as many as possible including the festivals and cultural events that Coruña will have in the coming months. I'm paying more attention to the local posters and event calendars that I see here and will do my best to go check them out -especially the events related to the Galician language (like poetry readings!)

Bottom line: If there's a cultural event or festival that you want to check out, go to it! Even if you have to go alone. It's better to go alone than to never have gone at all. You never know when you'll have the opportunity to experience something so unique ever again!

5. DON'T always plan to shop at well-known stores, shop local

Torta de Santiago around Todos los Santos (in October/November)
Almost all bigger cities in Spain have the most popular chains scattered around: Zara, MaryPaz, H&M, Mango, Bershka, Burger King, McDonald's, Telepizza, Domino's, Mercadona, etc. And while most of them provide good service and fast, affordable food or products, you might not get the best quality or service had you visited a local shop. I actually haven't frequented the big chain stores here and have shopped at local stores almost since day one.  I wanted to include this on the list as it's something I believe is very important and can influence your time here in Galicia but also in every region of Spain.

One of the major benefits of going to a local shop instead of a big chain store is that your purchase supports the local business and the community itself. You're helping one more store owner stay in business and continue their family's legacy. You're helping them be able to put food on the table for their family, buy basic necessities and gifts and perhaps helping them to be able to retire one day. Not to mention you get to feel like you live in your city and are not just visiting. Even though you may not be setting down roots and planning to live here forever, you did volunteer months of your life to teach your native language and get to know the country and continent around you. Might as well visit as many local shops as possible and feel like you live there too, right?

I haven't actually made this mistake but I'm sure a lot of other people that have come to live here have. I do need to get myself to a local market and get the full living local experience but they're always closed by the time I pass by. I was also extremely spoiled while living in Sevilla as I was within walking distance of the Mercado de Triana. Nothing can quite compare to a huge local market experience but you have to give other markets a try. They're an adventure for sure! And fruterias (froiterias) as well - never know what you're going to find in there!

BONUS: 6.  NOT learning any of the Galician (galego) language 

Famous phrase about the Camino that's engraved into the street in Santiago

The Biblia Galega that I purchased with my first paycheck from the Xunta back in November!

It goes well with the bilingual (English-Spanish) Bible I already owned, doesn't it?

While galego is more widely spoken in cities in the interior of the region like Santiago de Compostela and Ourense (perhaps Pontevedra), you will still hear it spoken on the streets of Coruña. You will most likely only hear it spoken by older people but there are places where young and old alike speak it (Santiago for example that practically functions solely in galego, haha). You will use and hear more Spanish than any other language in the region but knowing even just a few phrases or words in the Galician language will not only impress the people around you but it will help you understand the culture. There are some words that are unique to galego that don't have an exact translation to another language but are fascinating to learn. A lot of words in the language are directly tied to the culture so when you learn the word, you learn more about the culture and how to understand the people around you and how they live.

Now, I'm a bit more ambitious than most having already studied Portuguese for the past year and a half. I first wanted to learn it as I heard that it was influenced by Portuguese. (And it is similar but not all at the same time.) But, I would recommend that anyone who's going to be living in or visiting Galicia for a spell at least learn a few words and phrases. Before I came to Galicia, a friend of mine in the States from Ourense told me that while it's not mandatory to learn galego, the people here would appreciate me more if I did. And I, in turn, would understand the culture and the people better and in a deeper way. I am die hard language lover so it didn't really take long to convince me to do this. You may not feel the same way and that's okay!

You can certainly get around and function just fine without it (and you won't need it when you visit other parts of Spain) but you may miss out on getting to know and understand the local culture. I often tell people that I am pro-local culture and being here in a country I know well makes no difference. I'm learning new things about the Galician language and culture everyday and it's very fascinating to me. And it gives me more motivation to keep reading my Biblia Galega and thumbing through the kids' books at my school's library whenever I get a chance.

And all of the official announcements and paperwork at my school are always written in galego instead of castellano. It's not common for a school in Coruña to do that I've heard but I like it! I learn a new word everyday. :)

Viva Galiza!


Have you visited Galicia before and made your own mistakes? If so, what would be your top 5 mistakes? Do you make the same mistakes over and over again when you travel? Why? Tell me below in the comments!

For more pictures and cultural facts on one of Spain's most unique Northern regions, follow me on Instagram.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Places I Visited in 2014 (Photo Post)

2014 was full of lots of changes and travel for me. I have never done so much traveling (or moving) before in any other year of my life. 2015 will be fairly similar minus a move almost halfway across the country! (cue the laugh track, haha)

Check out where I went and what I saw in this photo post below! More details on each trip to come.

1. Los Angeles area and San Diego, California

Stopping to take a photo on a drive through the mountains near Beaumont, CA

My brother and I flew from different parts of the US to visit our grandmother in Southern California in March 2014. She was incredibly generous and paid for our plane tickets out there and we were able to spend a whole week with her! And we squeezed in a day trip to one of my favorite cities in the entire US - San Diego! Gorgeous weather, great beaches and even better food!

Perfect day at Pacific Beach  in San Diego, CA

2. St Augustine, Florida

Outside of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida

On top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse after having climbed all 219 steps to get there!

After months and months of contemplating and praying over a decision to move, in late March 2014, I moved from Jacksonville, Florida (where I went to college and lived two, almost three years after graduation) back home with my parents in Dayton, Ohio. Just like moving to Jacksonville in 2007 was life-changing, moving out nearly 7 years later, also changed my life. It wasn't easy to leave but it  was -and still is- the best decision for me. Still miss all my friends who were like family there! :)

3. John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Moving home back to my parents' house in Ohio afforded me the opportunity to explore more of my own state and do things I hadn't wanted or been able to do. One of those things was to visit a few parks like John Byran State Park, use the many bike trails around the Dayton area and go canoeing on the Little Miami River in Oregoina, Ohio with new friends. I was not only able to do new  things in an old place but I was also able to meet new people from all over the world in just 6 short months. I also miss all of my friends and family who are back home and reading this! I think about you all often and with a smile on my face. :)

4. Chicago, Illinois

I had to go to Chicago (which is just a short 6 hour and $20 Megabus ride away from Cincinnati, Ohio) in order to apply for my visa to teach in Spain but I ended up going three times in a span of three months, haha! The first trip (June 2014) was to see a friend who's lived there for a little while now, the second one (August 2014) was to apply for the visa at the Spanish Consulate and the third one (September 2014) was an unsuccessful attempt to help my friend apply to teach English in France at the French Consulate (conveniently located right across from Spain's! haha) I got to drive almost all the way to Chicago one way before I kissed cars and US interstates goodbye for 9 months so that was much needed! Each trip was its own adventure and I went alone two out of three times and ended up liking that city after all. ;-)

5. Omaha and Bloomfield, Nebraska

Standing next to the Nebraska sign just a few feet away from South Dakota
Taken on the way to the best small town in the world: Bloomfield, NE
My family took our almost annual vacation out to see my dad's parents in the great state of Nebraska. I have visited this state and their town which boasts of being the "Busiest Community in Northeast Nebraska" almost every year of my life. I do love to travel to other places in the US and world but there is nothing like going to my second home (of many) and settling in with familiar surroundings and faces and slowing my life down. I love living in cities and absorbing some of their energy but a little dose of uncomplicated small town living is good for the soul. My grandparents have done their fair share of traveling but they have spent most of their lives in their beautiful state and I love visiting them there. Not everyone's grandparents live out in the country but mine do and I love that they love the slower pace of life out there. And that many of our many talks and story times throughout the years have revolved around tea and cookies. Nothing beats a visit out there once a summer.

6. Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa

On the drive out to Des Moines, IA (caution you might fall asleep!)

Not much difference between IA and NE except for more turbines in IA and more hills in NE
My brother and I spent a couple days with our cousin Laura in Sioux City, IA where we went to the city's local museum (more on that in another post haha) and then drove out together to see our younger cousin Emily in Des Moines, IA where she lives and works as a general manager at Scratch Cupcakery. I had not lived before I tried one of their cupcakes just FYI but I'm so glad we visited and got to see Emily in her element! And it was neat to check out a part of Iowa that we usually just drive by and don't stop to do much in it. I can't say I love the drive out there but the people who live in that state are near and dear to my I put up with the boring drive! :-P

7. New York City, NY
I spent just a few short hours in NYC and rode the subway (and then the AirTrain) to JFK International Airport to catch my flight to Madrid via Frankfurt, Germany. I rode a low cost bus all night just to get there but I was woken up to this amazing view of Manhattan and was able to have lunch with a friend in Chinatown before battling with my luggage once again and heading to the airport to embark on my new adventure. New York is my favorite city in the world and I was a little sad to spend so little time there but any amount of time spent in NYC is always awesome. I'll just have to come back for a longer visit one year and hopefully in the summertime!

8. Madrid & A Coruña, Spain

"Spain is the destination that you carry inside." (taken in the Barajas Int'l Airport in Madrid)

First view of the Torre de Hercules that watches over me and my new home each night!

Spain and I said "hola" again as I flew from NYC > FRA > MAD and landed the morning of September 27th, 2014. I spent just a few short hours in Madrid and saw an old study abroad friend  Paige (she blogs at the Town Mouse) who helped me navigate the metro of Madrid with all my luggage a bit. I have to get back down  there to see the city and the surrounding small towns but it was a good entry into Spain before I headed North to Galicia and got settled in A Coruña, my home for the next 8-9 months.

9. Oporto, Portugal

Porto as seen from the Torre de Clerigos (tower)

The second weekend of November 2014 I embarked on my first solo "international" trip to Oporto, Portugal. I had already made plans about two months earlier to travel here to see a well-known fado singer Carminho's in concert but little did I know that this trip would change my view of Portugal and the Portuguese language entirely. After studying Portuguese for almost a year and a half, I finally got to go to Portugal for the fourth time but for the FIRST time in my life, I understood what the people around me were saying! And I forced myself to speak the language with as many locals as possible even though it came out broken or mixed with Spanish the majority of the time. Oporto itself was an enchanting city filled with great seafood, wine (oh, my the wine!!!!) and beautiful views like the one you see above. I plan to go back in the spring when the weather's a lot nicer. Let's see how much Portuguese I speak this next time! I'm still so pumped about the language and have even more of a motivation to keep learning and practicing it! Obrigada, Oporto! :-)

10. Finesterre, Spain
At the "end of the world" aka overlooking the Atlantic and Cantabrian Seas
At the end of November 2014, a proposed a day trip to Finisterre (Fisterra) to my new found friends and one Saturday morning, we all got up early and hopped on a bus that took us to a tiny town that afforded us luxurious views like the one above. We met a older Spanish man who was accustomed to helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) who offered to take us to the lighthouse the town was famous for and we had a blast with him. I've been meaning to write a separate post on this particular adventure so stay tuned for that!

11. Barcelona, Spain

The Sagrada Familia as seen from the back. SO impressive!
In the middle of December, just days before my 26th birthday, I flew over to Barcelona to see my sevillano friend Santi and see his documentary and see the city itself! I had been trying to go for so many years and while I didn't have the highest expectations for the city, I was pleasantly surprised by its people and the mini-culture there! I even got word of a secret Christmas tea time in the Gothic Quarter and attended it. I had a blast and needless to say I will be back, Barcelona!!! :)

12. Paris & Grenoble, France

First time I set eyes on the famous and known-around-the-world icon, le Tour Eiffel!
On December 18th, 2014, I flew into Paris ORY that morning and spent 5 jam-packed days in the City of Love. It was a birthday/Christmas present to myself as I would be away from my family during my birthday that week. I learned a lot about Parsians, French culture, the French language and even myself and my travel style during that trip. I would love to go to Paris another time when it's warmer but I will have to save up a ton more money in order to do that. It's beautiful but very expensive as they say! :-P More on the City of Lights and Parisians in future posts. 

The Lower Alps as seen from the Bastille in Grenoble, France 

And last but not least, on December 23rd, I headed to Grenoble (Greh-knob), France to see my friend Gwen (she blogs at Ad-French-Ures: Grenoble) and spend Christmas with her and her new friends and "family" there. I stayed until December 30th, 2014 and had a fantastic time exploring the city and navigating the French language a bit better with my amazing translator! ;-) It was definitely interesting to spend the holiday away from home but I felt right at home with Gwen and her friends from the start. I did miss speaking Spanish terribly and while using English to communicate was fine, I wanted to be able to communicate through cultures sometimes and English didn't always help. At any rate, I was so happy to be near the mountains, see snow, drink warm beverages, eat amazing Italian and French food (and comfort food at Christmas) and learn how people in another part of the world live and celebrate the holidays. More posts on all those things I listed soon!

That's my 2014 travel recap. Where did you go last year? Were we in any of the same places at the same time but missed each other? Tell me about it in the comments below!