I <3 Amsterdam.

Holland/The Netherlands was immediately lovable to me. I got a sense of kindness and curiosity from the locals I met in a gas station, on the bus, walking on the street… friends told me good things about Amsterdam and it sure didn’t disappoint!

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Tip number one: grab a giant bar of Tony’s chocolate. This company has humanity on the mind (plus it tastes like heaven). Albert Heijn supermarket is a good spot to pick up these sweets and other groceries but note they are cash (Euros) or EU debit card only.

My visit being in January meant that riding bikes didn’t happen (though plenty of braver, tougher people than us were rolling around despite the frigid temperatures). I also didn’t book anything in advance (the Van Gough museum and Anne Frank House notably) so those are still on the to do list.

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The Anne Frank House can be found near “the nine streets” it is really something to just take in the area today and imagine the atmosphere when she was writing. I hear 80% of tickets are reserved 2 months in advance and 20% are made available same day (a local advised us to visit around 6:30pm for shorter lines).

My time in Amsterdam was successful thanks to some amazing tips from friends (thanks Vernon + Atreya) and residents (thanks girl seated beside me in BlaBlaCar from Cologne, Germany who knew the hip spots!). I did a free walking tour (I love these on day one!) the “alternative” option meant we learned about drug decriminalization, squatting and daily life in the Jordaan neighborhood (an area I quite admire). Next time I visit I’ll ride a bike through these streets. Grab some apple cake/pie from Winkel 43.

If you’re looking to get off the beaten path check out the Noord part of the city. You can take a free ferry over from Centraal Station. I loved Pllek. Plenty of cool street art and container houses to be found here. For city views you can visit AMSTERDAM Tower.  (For free city views head back across the water to the rooftop of the NEMO Science Museum).

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Find food from around the globe at Foodhallen. It’s busy and loud but the atmosphere is cool. If you happen to be visiting on a Sunday head to Volkshotel for a rooftop hot tub experience.

I’d like to live in Amsterdam…

 

Where to Spend a Weekend in the Spanish Pyrenees

I moved to Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain this year and want to share my favorite weekend escape: the Spanish Pyrenees

You’ll want a car (rent from the Zaragoza airport or train station) to fully enjoy the area but it is possible to get to Jaca by train or bus.

I’ll start with my favorite: Broto

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This village is an easy escape from the city (just about an hour North of Huesca) and sits near Ordesa y Monte de Perdido National Park. (I actually haven’t even ventured into the park yet – the hiking trails are abundant around the village and neighboring Torla so I have yet to expand into the NP territory)

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Torla with Ordesa y Monte Perdido NP behind

Why Broto? Torla is its slightly more popular neighbor, the gateway to the national park aka the first stop for tourists. So in my typical fashion I look for the next closest spot and there Broto is found.

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I fell in love with Casa Rural El Portón de Murillo. This rural guesthouse is set on top of the town and staying in the penthouse suite was absolutely breathtaking. I’d stay in any of the rooms here though, truly an at-home experience I highly recommend.

img_0118 3Another good option (if you aren’t staying for more than one night/the above option minimum) is Hotel Latre.

There’s a great pizza place called Pizzería la Tea and a Spanish spot, Restaurante Arazasara R.

Be sure to check out the Cascada de Sorrosal (waterfall)

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There are many hiking trails accessible from town so you can leave your car at the parking lot for the falls then head in any direction until you find a path (or consult a map  or/and a local). Note that you will likely run into many cows!

For a new view drive 10 mins North and park at the tourist center in Torla. I didn’t care for the town much (too touristy for me) but there are dozens of hiking options both from town (just cross the bridge) or just along the road en route to O y MP NP! I recommend you pack a picnic and climb to the tip top of one of those mountains for stellar views.

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Broto feels like a dream escape for me and I hope you enjoy it to the fullest.

For an alternate expedition you can explore the city of Jaca and find many more great hikes around Villanúa and Canfranc-Estación.

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Sicily, Italy

Two friends and I did a long weekend in Sicily (Sicilia “Seesheelia”) and it exceeded expectations! This part of Italy is definitely worth going (or returning) to.

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Myself, Amrai and Arta

Two options for flights: Palermo or Catania. We went for the latter.

My experience was in the Southeastern part of the Island.

We rented a car from the airport in Catania (booking in advanced is recommended since there happened to be a shortage due to a Spanish holiday weekend). We drove about an hour to a small town called Licata and our Boutique Hotel, Villa Giuliana.

To be honest we didn’t spend much time in the city besides a fantastic dinner outing at Ristorante la Madia. HIGHLY recommended but $$$$. Italy is the place to enjoy fine dining in my opinion. W had an unforgettable multi-course meal:

Having a car was key. Our first day trip destination: Scala dei Turchi (Stairs of the Turks)

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We explored the geological awes then sunbathed for an afternoon.

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Here I am sitting on a giant source of natural (mineral) sunscreen! Zinc is what the beaches of my dreams are made of! A local showed me how to make a mud paste from this limestone which worked as a water-resistant sunscreen.

The drive was really nice along the coast and on the way back we went for a walk around Agrigento and antipasto + wine then a patio pasta dinner at a random restaurant hidden away in the narrow alleyways of the oldest part of town. We ran out of time for the Valley of the Temples but it looks quite interesting..

On day two we decided to drive the other direction. I had Caffè Sicilia in Noto (known for their ricotta gelato and more) fixed in my mind…BUT we got very lost on the many country roads and ended up in Syracuse instead.

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This was a rather happy accident because the city was fun to walk around and we went for a bottle of wine by the beach at sunset. Make sure you try arancini: a fried rice ball + the local cheap beer, Peroni. We loved ArancinaGlutenFree.

 

A few lovely days in Heaven aka Switzerland

I love love love LOVE Switzerland. Part of that has to be the company of my amazing friend and host Arta (who I met at a hostel in Costa Rica and instantly knew I loved), but it is a place that makes me feel happy in just about every moment. Starting with the basics- the air and the water are unbelievably pure. I honestly miss breathing there.IMG_3952

There are public water fountains all around Zürich. Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle when you go (or just buy something in a glass bottle once you get there then reuse it) because the free, unlimited Evian-esque refreshment can’t be missed.

Another thing that cannot be missed is the chocolate. We literally went directly to the store and bought all of the kinds following my arrival at the airport. My top grocery store picks: Ragusa (dark chocolate), Branche Classic and Torino (both milk and dark). My mouth is watering as I write this. I’m not ashamed that the grocery store was also my last stop and I filled my tiny carry on bag with as much chocolate as I could carry home. For finer flavors head to Läderach (their white chocolate with berries is one of the best things I have ever tasted. Ever.) My number one tip is to indulge– you CAN take it with you.

For couple of days in Zürich

On the first day wander around the old town, getting a little lost on purpose. Maybe try fondue? (It’s not for me but when in Switzerland…)

I loved seeing the Christmas Market in late November. If you do visit during the colder months please don’t miss hot spiced wine on sale at cute little kiosks. To drink something bubbly while seated on a fur-covered outdoor patio would also be ideal.

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I keep to a relatively low budget (#teacherlife) so I opted for a few grocery store takeaway meals (not bad veggie quiche) from Co-op or made some pasta where I was staying. Grabbing a coffee while you’re out and about (and carrying a few chocolate bars in your bag) during the day is survivable for a few days 😉

A wonderful (and low budget) activity in Zurich is a hike to a lookout in Uetliberg. IMG_8143 2It takes about 20 minutes from the main station to Uetliberg on the S10 train. I like to get off one stop before Uetliberg and walk up more of the mountain. The panoramic view from the top is incredible and there is a hotel with a nice restaurant and patio. They have a very nice pumpkin soup which I pair with bread and wine. There are many little trails around the top so leave time to wander around for  a few hours up there!

IMG_3737Arta and I took a day  trip up to the top of the Matterhorn Glacier in the Alps. We didn’t go to bed early the night before trying to catch the first (6am) train and we did miss it. After eating a pretzel for breakfast + coffee from a vending machine, we were on our way. The journey is long. I recommend booking train tickets as far in advanced as possible because they only get more expensive. If you are staying for a few days look into rail passes. We journeyed to the ski town of Zermatt then rode several gondolas up to the top of the world. It was a complete blizzard for a while so we had a soup and waited it out… and finally the glacier was revealed. The intensity of the conditions up there, the beauty and scale of the natural features.. I can feel the energy of that experience even now as I write about it.

In warmer months I recommend a trip across Lake Zürich by ferry.IMG_5945

An easy route is to train from Zürich to Rapperswil then have a lunch, walk around (see the castle etc.) before ferrying back into Zurich via the lake. I had a lovely meal at Kaffee Klatsch in Rapperswil.IMG_0110

I hope to return to Switzerland again and again. It is a place that instantly felt good and is home to some very dear friends as well. Happy travels – enjoy Suiza!

Greece: Athens + Islands

I just returned home to Murcia (Spain) after an amazing trip to Greece with two fantastic women: Amy and Lucia. We were also joined by Annie. Coming off of time with ladies who support one another and enjoy each day fiercely, I’m feeling quite lucky. I’ve made a new commitment to center future travel more around who I’m with than where I’m going. I believe this will lend more community to my life. I feel deeply that it is the interaction we have with others, the love we share, which fulfills. Here is some information about our time in Athens, Mykonos, Delos and Santorini. I hope it will inspire other groups of friends to take a journey with their people and I hope these beautiful destinations will be enjoyed as much by all of you readers as they were by me.

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Traveling with my girls Amy (center) and Lucia makes me happy!

First stop: Athens.

I recommend taking an Uber from the Athens airport into the city center. We found many great Airbnbs available. Avoid staying in the Omonia neighborhood. I’ve heard mixed things about safety in Athens. We were cautious but felt safe during the day in the tourist center. We headed home before midnight (when the train shuts down).

I got a lot of AMAZING info from my friend Brittany who’s lived in Athens. Thanks girl!

We had one full day in Athens and one half day. We started day one with a free walking tour: https://www.athensfreewalkingtour.com/en/ which we really enjoyed!! Our tour guide was knowledgable and made the history of the city come to life. He recommended a great Lunch at Vegan Nation afterwards. Then we walked through the romantic Plaka neighborhood en route to the side entrance (shorter line) of the Acropolis. After an unforgettable morning, we headed for afternoon cocktails at A for Athens – a fantastic rooftop bar with an incredible view of the Acropolis and ruins below! The rest of the evening included greek salad, tzatziki, muscat and the most delicious baklava. Greek food is so good!!!

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Getting to see the Acropolis in real life is overwhelming. SO MUCH HISTORY HERE!!!

Day two focused on the National Archeological Museum (free for students!). My history books came to life in this place. I recommend a full day with a break for greek coffees and spanakopita in their garden cafe halfway. This, for me, was a must in Athens (like the Acropolis).

We took a very nice high-speed Hellenic Seaways ferry to Mykonos and happened to come across Sakis Gyros upon arrival. This place became a (cheap!) staple- we enjoyed one vegetarian pita per day (or try the chicken souvlaki pita if you’re not veg) on the rooftop patio of our Airbnb. We had a lot of rooftop meals because food is pricey in the touristy Mykonos town and our view was incredible. Try to find the AB grocery store (it’s next to bus station and doesn’t appear to be on Google Maps) for decent (but still price inflated) grocery items.

For (stupidly expensive!!!) cocktails, two recommendations: Passo Doble for the good drinks (I loved the passionfruit mojito) and Bar 180° for an unbeatable sunset view (order the “porn star”)- it’s well worth the uphill trek (don’t wear heels).

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The view from Bar 180

For a little touristy excursion, take a day trip to Delos. The ferry costs 20 euros round trip. Head down around 9am and you’ll be back around 2/2:30. Pack a picnic! You can hike to the highest point of the island for a phenomenal view (and a momentary escape from other tourists if you’re fast)!

Next up, Santorini

In Santorini  we stayed in Finikia in a very cool cave house (pictured below and again, an affordable Airbnb) which is walking distance from Oía (pronounced ía).

We loved the food and house white at Lefkes & visited a nearby winery Domaine Sigalas – walk in, try the vinosanto.

If you’re in Oía please go for dinner at Fino. Fantastic. This is where we celebrated my birthday. Marykei bar is the only bar in Oía but it’s lovable. They serve ice cream during the day and cocktails at night. Smart. A few other good places to eat in Oía: Kyprida, Melitini and Sunset Cafe (we tried the first and were told the last two were good though we opted to cook at home a bit to save money)

A highlight of our experience was the scenic Oía-Thira 10k hike. We took our time, stopping for a picnic halfway. In Fira (Thira) we were able to grab groceries at the supermarket then we took a bus back to Finikia.

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We loved visiting the town of Pyrgos for a day! It was orthodox Easter Eve and the city streets and rooftops are lined with candles- truly a sight to remember.

Other things to do on the island of Santorini: Many people enjoy renting four wheelers to get around but the bus is also cheap & easy (this was our option). We visited the black sand beach briefly. There’s also a red (rust) colored beach and white (beige)- many colors due to volcanoes!

We loved traveling in the off-season/shoulder-season (late March/early April) because prices and crowds were LOT lower. Still, I’ll note that this trip was quite a bit more expensive than I’d imagined- we all double our daily budget. FYI.

Bon voyage!

A (new) local’s guide to Murcia, Spain

FOOD

The photo on the left is my first meal in Murcia! El Rincon de Las Anas is still one of my very favorite places to eat. This is a prawn surrounding a scallop on a bed of lettuce with sprouts and salsa and chili pepper on top. Four euros and phenomenal. Paired with a local white wine from Jumilla.

IMG_7261La Tapa (you MUST try their croquettes w goat cheese, rosemary and honey- photo above) It’s in my favorite plaza. The photo above on the right is of their mushroom gazpacho. It’s got foam on top and it’s only 3 euros- what?!

I walked by El Jardín de los Dragones one afternoon and happened to be so hungry that I ran right in. I’m sure glad I did! This is now one of my favorites! I go for tapas + beers or a menú del día (multi course lunch). P.s. it’s vegan!

Urban Burrito Bar = saving Murcia from an American-Mexican food shortage. I’m so glad this place exists! It’s a staple for me now. They have a good vegan chili as well. I’m a regular.

Mano a mano has fantastic pizza. I love to take a slice to go and eat on a bench in the sunshine while people watching.

Llallao – frozen yogurt with dark chocolate coating YES PLEASE. It’s a chain but it’s originally from Murcia.

DRINKS

Coffee spots: Cafe Lab, El Gallinero & Socolá are all amazing.

Please note that I don’t go out at night much. But when I do, I…

Grab cocktails (gin and tonics are most popular- try Seville’s strawberry variety: Puerto de Indias) at El Perro Azul on the patio. Late night stop: Revolver for giant glasses of beer & live music. Bizzart is  my favorite spot for dancing.

TO SEE 

IMG_7320The Casino + CathedralSanta Clara Monastery (Museum)

IMG_0049Fuensanta cathedral on the side of a Mountain with nice views and little trails around

Street art at Plaza Academia General del Aire

Day Trips from Murcia

IMG_8335Cartagena day trip to see Roman theater + veg lunch spot: Chef Momo

The town of Bullas has a waterfall and swimming hole called El Salto de Usero. It’s a great place to go on a hot day! You can get there by bus from Murcia.

I enjoy hiking at El Valle. Just a short city bus ride from Murcia’s city center, there are many trail options, green mountains and fresh air.

On my to do list:

Mazarron beach and the pink salt lake: Las Salinas de Torrevieja (for this one I’ll need to rent a car)

How I moved to Spain | Spanish Language Assistant Program – Murcia

IMG_1078I live in Murcia, Spain and work as an English teaching assistant at three primary schools in the Murcia city area. I don’t have any teaching experience but I’m learning everyday as I teach English and Natural Science in years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.

I am an employee of the Ministry of Education (the Spanish Government). I am on a student visa which allows me to work here for the duration of the school year (beginning of October- end of May). I work 12 hours per week. I receive health insurance and a monthly salary of 700 euros. Before you gasp at that figure please take into account that the cost to rent a room is around 200 per month. This is a living wage. If this program sounds appealing to you please read on.

Here is a link to the main information page (U.S. edition):

https://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html

Program Requirements:  4-year undergraduate degree & native English speaker. No teaching experience/education required.

My advice for applicants:

  1. Apply for your Visa ASAP the process can take a very long time (months) especially if you don’t happen to live in a city with a Spanish Consulate 
  2. The application process can be tedious. There are confusing translations. Pay close attention to the help guide they provide and it will get you through.

Before you go:

Save 3 months income before coming ( around $2000) re: late paychecks + fall/holiday travel. You’ll need some seed money to make a deposit on your new place, furnish it (“furnished” places are pretty basic!) and feed and clothe yourself for a couple of months. Also there are many holidays in Spain! The fall is a great time to take advantage of your residence on the European continent and do some traveling!

In the Murcia region it took until the End of November to receive our first paycheck. We were paid in full of course and the checks have been more steady (monthly) since…

I booked my first week’s stay at The Cathedral Hostel (in a private room) in advanced. I ended up staying for two weeks but having a guaranteed roof over my head for those first few days was important. IMG_6480

I met two other girls in the same program via a Facebook page for Murcia area language assistants and we used a service called Opau to find our apartment. Honestly we didn’t love this company (they had a bad attitude and were hard to get ahold of) but they came through and found us a nice place and all of our forms with the landlord were done in their office- nice and official.

You’ll need to set up an account at a Bank upon arrival. Get a Spanish phone number first & don’t forget to bring your passport as ID.

NIE (Número de Identificación de Extranjero)

When you arrive you will need to apply for a resident card. You’ll use the NIE provided on your visa to do this.

You’ll need to go to the Extranjeria by bus.

-First visit: show them your visa they will give you paperwork and a date to come back with that work completed (you’ll also have your fingerprints taken by the police at this second appointment)

-The Empadronamiento is in the park behind El Corte Inglés (look for a yellow building) you need to bring a copy of your rental agreement and copies of owner’s and tenants’ passports (all tenants must be present). They will provide you with a form to pass on to the Extranjeria.

-There are photo booths around town where you can take passport photos.

-Go onto any bank with the tax form to pay it.

-Your card will be ready for pickup on a third trip to the extranjería a few weeks after the (second) fingerprints appointment.

GENERAL INFO

For WiFi we use VodafoneFor cell phone I use Orange.

Go grocery shopping at Mercadona and Gran Bi Bio (their organic version). El Corte Ingles has more brand variety in case you’re looking for something familiar

Go shopping at Zara, Mango & Bimba y Lola.

TO DO

I go to Quo gym (I like it!) bonus: they offer Pilates classes 🙂

weeknight activity in Murcia center: Indoor rock climbing (bouldering) at Montaña Magica

One of the best things to try in your first few weeks/months is an intercambio. Intercambios (language exchange meet ups- try Tap Room’s) allow you to meet people from all over the world and speak in many different languages.

I hope this information is of some help/interest to someone. Please, if you have any questions about Murcia or about the program or about my experience so far in my first year living abroad let me know.