Monday, October 10, 2011

ABCs of Traveling.

A B C D E F G H.....I can't count the number of times I've sung the ABCs over the last year (ok, nor the last week.) I play ABC bingo several times a day. Hangman is always a hit, "Please, guess a letter." Here is my own version of the ABCs which is much more fun than any ABC game in the classroom. This version allows me to relive my favorite memories and share them with you.
A: Age you went on your first international trip: If Epcot in Disneyworld doesn't count, then my first international experience was when I was 10 (or so) I went to Michigan to visit some family (I know that is not international...) and we went on a day trip to Canada. While it's still in North America, it's still a foreign country with Canadian pennies and the coolest McDonald's I can remember.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: The best beer I've EVER had was in Amsterdam, Holland. It was OLM brand & it was PINK. It was a cherry beer I think... as it was not normal. I've yet to find it again...but the search continues!
Yummmmy! Amsterdam, September 2009, with my friend Missy Brown!
C: Cuisine (favorite): Seriously, there aren't many things I don't like. For this reason, I have favorites in all the places I've visited... In Spain, paella and tortilla. In Morocco, couscous. In Bulgaria, shopska salad.

Just the right mix of cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers! (goes perfect with Fanta!)
D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Like food, I have so many favorite places. I have been to many places with different people (friends, family, study abroad groups, long weekend trips, several week trips...) and each trip had its good points and bad points. Rila Monastery in Rila, Bulgaria, is my favorite site in Bulgaria - just look at it! As for least favorite, when in Navalmoral de la Mata, Spain, stay away from pig ears. That would be my least favorite thing about Navalmoral/Extremadura/Spain. "Yuck! Cartilage!" - Maria Green
Rila, Bulgaria. One of the prettiest places I've ever stepped foot.
Just looking at our expressions tells you you're not missing too much. With Rachel, the new American in Navalmoral.
E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Pueblo Parties in Extremadura: In Winter, Los Escobazos is celebrated in Jarandilla de la Vera - they light branches on fire and hit people with them. We are taught to NOT play with fire in the USA, and here in Jrandilla, they are taught TO play with fire and hit everyone around them. But, don't worry, most people (I say most, because I had none) wear protective overalls. (Warning: if you are the only native English speaker in town/ a teacher, beware, you will be a main target overalls or no overalls.) >>In the fall, they celebrate El Cristo with bulls in the Plaza Mayor - basically, it's a week long festival to drink all day and night - which I joined in on for a weekend. :)
Fuegoooo!!!! Plaza Mayor, Jarandilla de la Vera, November 2010.
Toros in Jarandilla, October 2011. This is the same Plaza Mayor as above, but this time it was full of make-shift seating and bulls were running around chasing people. These crazy people would run behind these gates for protection. It was such a site to see!
F: Favorite mode of transportation: Not my legs, which I use most of all. I like elevators - and I use them whenever possible. As for getting around from city to city, Spain has wonderful trains (with movies!) - but I usually take the bus because it's cheaper! I love you, Avanzabus, but I wish you gave free drink tokens like Alsa bus.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: When I leave one country and arrive in another, it's exhilarating! When I rely on myself, and I succeed (overcoming language/cultural barriers), that is the greatest feeling.
H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: You'd think it'd be the Sahara Desert, but it's not; at night, I was always freezing! Navalmoral de la Mata in the summertime is a killer with no air-condition. Southern Spain, in general, was an, Spain is my answer!
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: I'm really picky to impress with service; there was only one time I remember saying to a waitress that she was great - and I can't remember where that was! It was definitely in the United States, as Spain has NO customer service whatsoever. And, don't get me started about Bulgaria - I got accused for eating someone's food when the waitress made a mistake. I continued eating and gave her dirty looks. European countries need to adapt "tips" to their services - it makes people try harder and care about the customer.
J: Journey that took the longest: Getting home this past summer. I was in Italy visiting my friend Gina... I had to fly back to Spain then to London...Chicago...STL. I had one day in STL before I got in a car for 9 hours with my parents and drove to Michigan for my cousin Michelle's wedding. I had no idea what day it was nor what time zone I was in. A second close call would be the 4 trips I made to Chicago to get my visa for Spain...6 hours each way by train and we went and returned in the same day. That's what I call a long day.
K: Keepsake from your travels: FANTA. I love trying the different flavors of Fanta in the countries I visit. (Did you know there are over 90 different flavors throughout the world??!) My favorite so far has been grapefruit Fanta in Holland. Also, I like to buy something typical from each country I visit. Every country is different, so all of my souvenirs are unique too. One of my favorite keepsakes is my traditional slippers from Bulgaria! They remind me of Bulgaria, yet they are useful every day! 
Albert-Cuyp Market, Amsterdam, Holland, where I fell in love with Pomelo Fanta.
L: Let-down sight, why and where: Before I went to main land Greece, I always imagined Greece with blue doors, white towns and donkeys! But, this vision is the Greek Islands - so, if you imagine Greece as I did, don't go to the main land, it's not what you are envisioning.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: Summer 2008 in Salamanca, Spain. Before this study abroad experience, I'd always traveled for vacation. But, finally traveling and living in a foreign country was a dream come true... I learned so much about daily life (ok, in Salamanca, I learned about student life in Spain) and I wasn't a tourist. Salamanca changed the way I lived life and viewed life. 
Novios espanoles. Sombras para siempre. 2008.
Spain's best Plaza Mayor - Salamanca.
N: Nicest hostel you’ve stayed in: The best hostel I've stayed in was Hostel L'Imbarcadero in Venice, Italy. It was right off the Grand Canal near the train station. Mimo, the Hostel manager, gave us a private tour of Venice by night and we partied in a disco/pizzeria! 
O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Taking pictures of my feet. I think it shows "Whitney was here." My new favorite place to take pictures of my feet is on top of sewer drains - sounds weird, but they are unique to each city, as they have the city name on them. You can't take a picture of "Navalmoral de la Mata" in "Jarandilla de la Vera".

I miss calling this place "home".
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where? If you count my passport stamps, it appears as if I've never been anywhere. When traveling from one EU country to the next, you don't get stamps. It's like traveling from Missouri to Kansas - you just cross the border and you're there. For that reason, I've got countless stamps in and out of Spain and the USA. I also have stamps from Bulgaria, England, Morocco, Holland, and Italy for a total of 28 stamps.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: A Urinal Museum in Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain. It hosts a collection of 1,300 pee-pots from 27 countries. Seriously strange, but very interesting to see, as most of these potties were really crafty - some were even for special birthdays. Could you imagine, getting a new toilet, engraved with "Happy 14th!" WOW.
R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Sleeping and riding camels in the Sahara Desert. Enough said.
It's a nice day to ride a camel, Morocco.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Once in a lifetime experiences. For example, I went to Tenerife, Canary Islands. We visited El Teide, Spain's largest peak, which is actually a volcano. It was about 25 euro ($34) to go to the top on the Teleferico (tram), but I figured I'd never be back to see El Teide, so I paid and went to see the top. I later learned that the Teleferico is usually closed due to dangerous winds. So, it was my lucky day that it was open. I'm happy to know that I've gone up to the top of El Teide because I splurged a little bit.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done: I've done the touristy "hop-on hop-off" red bus tour in many cities. It's very cost efficient and a good use of transport around big cities. It takes you to the main sites but if you want to walk around and explore the nearby areas, you can, because you have no time limit to get off and explore. Thank you, trusty red bus.
U: Unforgettable travel memory: Attending the MTV European Music Awards in Madrid in November 2010. We only wanted to go to the free concerts (David Bisbal, Fangoria, El Efecto Mariposa, Linkin Park, 30 Seconds to Mars, Katy Perry) at Puerta Alcala, but ended up getting free entrances to the last 20 minutes of the actual show! We arrived just in time to see Lady Gaga accept an award from the Jackass Crew and see Bon Jovi perform. We also saw Katy Perry about two feet in front of us as she was exiting an elevator and we walked on the red carpet! What an unforgettable night! (We got home around 4am and went to work the next day!) The end.
Johnny Knoxville crowd surfing at Puerta Alcala, Madrid.
V: Visas, how many and for where? I have 2, both from Spain. One from studying abroad in 2009 and the other one being a teaching assistant in Extremadura. I'm still trying to get my residency renewed for this year in Valladolid - which is a big pain. I think it would have been less hassle going back to the USA and getting a whole new visa.
W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? The BEST sangria I've ever had was at Outback Steakhouse at the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Hands down. But, while traveling - I would have to say Luz, a delicious white wine that I often drank at Boulevard Cafe in Navalmoral de la Mata, with my friend Edna.
X: eXcellent view and from where?: I like the view of Prague from Prague Castle. You can see countless steeples! I went on a trip with my grandparents and mom; we had a fantastic time!
Beautiful Prague, September 2009. Czech it out!
Y: Years spent traveling?: I've had Europe at my fingertips on and off since 2008.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: Every day I have a Spanish student who asks me, "Who is your favorite team?" And, they assume I understand they want me to pick Madrid or Barcelona. Having lived in Castilla y Leon and Extremadura, two regions near Madrid, I usually say "Barcelona!!!" And they get upset. So, all of Spain is a zealous sports fan, and they have good reason to be...European Cup Champions, World Cup Champions, Rafael Nadal with tennis... the list continues. 
I hope you've enjoyed my ABCs. I hope next time you'll sing with me. Come join me in my experiences!