Sunday, August 10, 2014

Packing for a long trip: what I packed versus what I actually wore

So this is pretty sad. As I was packing today, my last day in Madrid, I decided to take a photo of all of the clothes that I packed and then take a photo of the clothes that I actually wore. The difference is horrible! 

Take a look at what I packed:

I packed the following:
- 2 sweatshirts
- 4 cardigans
- 1 blazer jacket
- 7 dresses
- 1 skirt 
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 3 pairs of pants (not jeans)
- 3 pairs of capri pants
- 10 t-shirts
- 16 tank tops
- 2 belts
- a raincoat
- 4 scarves
- 1 bathing suit
- exercise clothes: sports bra, tank top, running pants
- shoes: 1 pair of flats, wedges, sandals, casual brown shoes, sneakers, comfy walking shoes, high heels
- underwear, bras, socks

Below is what I actually wore:
 I actually wore:
- the black sweatshirt (once)
- the blue cardigan
- 4 dresses
- 1 skirt
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs of jeans
- 3 pairs of capri pants
- 5 t-shirts
- 5 tank tops
- underwear/bras
- shoes: the sandals
- bathing suit

So as I sit in my room, sobbing over the fact that I can't close my suitcase and that I have no idea how I'm going to fit the remaining breakables and camera and laptop in my backpack...keep the above information in mind. You will probably never wear as much as you plan on wearing. 

Also, I bought lots of things here in Spain, so it would have been really nice to have all of that extra space in my luggage to bring things home. 

Hopefully I learn how to pack in time for the next adventure!

Friday, August 8, 2014


Another essential Spanish dish, especially on 95 degree days, is gazpacho - a cold, vegetable soup. It is delicious and very simple to make. My roommate, Rebeca, walked me through the process. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos during, but here's the recipe! 

Recipe for Spanish gazpacho:

- half of a large cucumber, peeled
- two cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped up
- 4-5 big tomatoes, peeled
- about half of a red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
- about one cup of water
- couple squirts of vinegar (red wine vinegar was really good)
- 3-5 tablespoons olive oil
- salt to taste

1) Boil water. Place tomatoes in a bowl, with crosses cut into the bottoms. Pour the bowling water on top and let them sit for a few minutes. Then, peel the tomatoes, starting at the crosses that you cut on the bottom.

2) Add all of the ingredients above to a large bowl. 

3) Take a hand blender (I'm sure you can do this in a real blender if you wanted to), and mix everything together until it is well-blended. If it is too thick, add more water. If it is too bland, add more salt or vinegar, etc. 

4) Voila! You have some delicious gazpacho. If you are planning to eat it right away, you can add some ice cubes. If not, you can stick it in the fridge and enjoy it chilled later :) 

Una receta para tortilla de patatas

Tortilla de patatas has to be the staple Spanish food. It is everywhere. It is essentially a potato omelette, but sometimes has onions, peppers, ham and more. I've never attempted to make one, but I plan to do it as soon as I get back to the US! While I was in the tiny mountain town of Peguerinos with my roommates, my roommate's mother taught me how to make tortilla de patatas. Here is an outline with photos below!

So I didn't take photos of the first step, but you skin maybe 4-6 large potatoes and slice them into slices as seen below. You want the slices to be thinAdd some salt to the bowl of potatoes and mix it up. 

Then, you put the slices of potato into a large frying pan and add lots of olive oil - you want to fill the pan about halfway to the top. Leave the potatoes cooking, without a lid, over strong heat for a long time, around 30-45 minutesYou want the potatoes to be so soft that they fall apart if you poke them. 

In the meantime, you want to crack the eggs. She used 7 eggs for this tortilla. 

Then scramble the eggs and add some salt

Continue to check the potatoes. By now they should be pretty soft! 

Take spoonfuls of potatoes out of the frying pan and add them to the bowl of eggs. Be sure to drain all of the oil (that's why she used this special spoon).  

Once all of the potatoes are in the bowl of eggs, mix them together. 

Either grab a new frying pan and add a little oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan), or use the old pan and drain most of the oilAdd the entire potato and egg mixture. 

The trickiest part was too fast to get a photo. You need to keep wiggling the eggs/potatoes in the pan so that they don't stick to the bottom. After about 2-3 minutes, you need to take a large lid or plate and put it on top of the tortilla and flip the tortilla. 

Put it back on the flame and continue to wiggle it so it doesn't stick to the bottom. You can pat it down with the spoon and form the edges if you want. 

You can flip it one more time if you want (using the lid/plate).  After about 2-3 more minutes, it's done!

Voila - the perfect, homemade tortilla de patatas. 

What do the Madrilenos wear?

Before arriving in Spain, I thought a lot about the clothing and what I should pack. I wanted to try and "blend in" as a native madrileno and wear the clothes that they wear. I did some research on the internet and read the following: Spaniards never wear shorts, they don't wear bright colors, and they always wear black. Well, hmmn. I was going to be in Madrid during the two hottest months of the year - July and August - when the average temperature is around 95 degrees. No shorts? That couldn't be. I packed three pairs of shorts, a few dresses, one skirt, some jeans, and some other pants (linen, cloth, etc).  

So I arrived in this beautiful city, and the first thing that I noticed was that ... all of the girls were wearing shorts! Drat - I wish I had brought more! The girls who weren't wearing shorts were wearing dresses or long skirts. A few girls were wearing pants. As the temperature dropped later in the evening (as in, dropped from 95 degrees to 75/80 degrees), a lot of girls would wear pants. Usually when going out at night, girls wore jeans and a blouse or a dress. Oh, and there were lots of bright colors - maybe not the neon pinks and yellows that have become popular in the US over time, but they definitely don't wear just black.

Like all cosmopolitan areas, some of the people were very fashionable. In the hip neighborhood of Malasana, there was lots of great street fashion. Lots of boys wore their jeans/pants rolled up a little bit with boat shoes and a button-down shirt (hello, Brooklyn, anyone?). Lots of girls wore one piece shirt/pants combos (I have no idea what those are called), or dresses with crazy cut-out designs).  

Anyways, the lesson learned? Madrilenos look like everyone else in the world. I should have just planned on wearing what I normally wear when it's 95 degrees outside! On Sunday when I pack my suitcase, I will show you everything I packed compared to what I actually wore (hint: I may have only worn 1/2 of what I brought, ugh.)

Check out some of the fashion in these photos below: 

Don't go to Spain in August!

So the rest of the world has a lot more vacation time than Americans. In Spain, most people have the entire month of August off from work. They also have about a week for Semana Santa (Easter) and more time for Christmas and the New Year. They also have lots of one day holidays. Aside from holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, how much time off do Americans get? I don't think it even comes close (except for teachers...but we're unique!). 

So what does this mean for tourists? It means that lots of smaller "mom and pop" stores shut down for the entire month of August. Some larger stores even shut down. This can be frustrating for someone who wants to buy presents or eat at their favorite pizzeria. For example, I love eating at this pizzeria called Pizzateca near my apartment. I went to buy a slice of delicious, heavenly pizza the other day - and it was closed with a sign that read, "Closed until the 15th of August." That is actually not too bad - only half of the month.

With my remaining days dwindling in Madrid, I made a mini Bucket List of things that I still had to accomplish. I needed to try a pastry from the famous La Mallorquina pastry shop in the middle of Puerta del Sol - the main plaza in Madrid. I woke up early today, all excited to try some madrileno pastries and a coffee, and I ran to the store. However, the gates were closed and there was a sign that read, "closed for vacations - reopening on September 1st." Once AGAIN - closed!

One more quick story: Madrid is famous for its Violeta caramel candies. They're delicious, unique to Madrid, and something that madrilenos give to other madrilenos for gifts. I, of course, wanted to bring some home to my family and friends. I walked by the tiny shop every single day and thought, 'Well, no rush! I have 7 weeks here.' I walked there the other day to finally purchase some Violetas and it was entirely shut down - until September 5th. I couldn't believe it!

Don't get me wrong - many shops stay open, specifically for tourists, but a lot do shut down for August. Oh yeah - the famous croquette place was also closed before I got to try it! What a shame. 

Anyways, keep this in mind if you plan on coming to Spain in the summer! (Oh, also in August it's about 95 degrees every joke!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Martes de moda!

Alas, the last martes de moda.

Nombre: Helene
Origen: Strasbourg, Francia
Ubicacion: enfrente del Museo del Prado

Monday, August 4, 2014

Using my Verizon iPhone 5 in Spain

So, you may be wondering how I've been using my Verizon iPhone while in Spain - well, I was wondering that too before I left and was freaking out about it a lot! I wanted to use my iPhone in Spain to stay in contact with my family, navigate my way around Madrid, and use the internet when I needed to. Of course I can use the wifi in my apartment and various cafes, but I wanted to use the data as well. After talking to a friend who recently traveled to Spain and used his Verizon iPhone 5, I learned what to do and did just that. It may have been the easiest thing ever!

Here's what I did:

So I keep saying "Verizon" iPhone 5 (purchased in July of 2013) because apparently Verizon used to be the only cell phone company that "locked" their iPhones. A "locked" Verizon iPhone means that you can only use it with Verizon service and cannot pop in a different SIM card to access other company's service. However, after Verizon merged with another company, part of the plan was that the new iPhones had to be unlocked. I also just read an article on Google that said that a new law was put into place where it is now illegal for any cell phone company to sell locked phones. 

Anyways, it was really simple: as soon as I reached Madrid, I went to the two main cell phone stores in Puerta del Sol (where I happened to pop out) - Orange and Vodafone. First I went to Orange and they had various plans to choose from. My ultimate wish was to have lots of GBs of data so I could use the internet and apps like Whatsapp, as well as the capability to call and text Spanish phone numbers. Their only plan with reasonable GBs was 15 euros per month and offered 0 minutes of phone calls and 0 messaging. 

Not satisfied, I walked 20 feet down the plaza to Vodafone. Vodafone's biggest plan was 1.6 GB, 100 minutes of phone calls to Spanish numbers, and unlimited text messages to Spanish numbers for 20 euros a month. BINGO. It costed an additional 5 euros to purchase the SIM card. 

So the iPhone 5 has a micro SIM card (the smallest SIM card out there), so I needed to emphasize that I had an iPhone 5 and needed the micro SIM card. The woman brought me the SIM card and a tiny tool (like a paperclip) and I turned off my phone, and then popped out my original SIM card and placed it in a ziplock baggie that I had brought. When they say micro SIM card - they really mean it. The card is about the size of my pinky nail. 

Anyways, I popped in the new Spanish SIM card and powered my phone back up. When it turned on, it asked for a 4 digit PIN which the Vodafone woman had given me with the card. I typed in the PIN and voila - I had a fully functioning iPhone 5 in SpainIt was that simple.

So, did 1.6 GB last me a full month? I used my phone relentlessly throughout the day. Whenever I was out around town, especially at the beginning of my trip, I used Google Maps all of the time (I did leave room for wandering, too! Don't worry!). I also used Facebook and checked my email and surfed the net. I also used Instagram and various other apps. I would guess that I used about 2-3 hours of data per day. 

Did I make it the entire month? 

Yes I did :) 

On the last day of the month, I received a text saying that I had used 95% of my data for the month which was perfect because I had just refilled my plan with another 20 euros for the following 3 weeks. Since I was only staying 3 more weeks, I'm pretty sure I could have put less money on my plan, but whatever! In comparison to the US, it was still a pretty awesome deal!

Anyways, using my Verizon iPhone 5 in Spain was so much easier than I had anticipated. Keep in mind that my phone only works in Spain since I got a Spanish SIM card. If I had traveled to other countries outside of Spain, I would've needed to purchase their SIM cards. But of course my wifi would work wherever there is wifi!

Un dia en las montanas - Peguerino

Finally, my week of travels ended with a two day trip to the mountains, a little over an hour northeast of Madrid to a tiny, tiny town called Peguerino. What I mean by time: just over 300 inhabitants, and yes, at the very top of the mountain. 

I went with my two roommates to visit her parents as they vacationed in their summer house. As Madrid gets extremely hot in the summer (we're talking 90s almost every day), a vacation home where the weather is a little cooler is ideal. Although I only spent 24 hours there, I did some pretty neat things like hold an eagle, eat some incredible homemade Spanish food, and attempted to learn a card game with a Spanish deck of cards. It was a great 24 hours without my cell phone (not one ounce of cell phone service up there!). 

Also, you'll notice lots of stone houses! 

The neighbor had a Harris Hawk

My roommate's parents' beautiful house!


The center of town

The town hall (it takes a lot to govern 300 people!)

 The main plaza

Incredible mountain plants

The swimming pool!

Fresh tomatoes from the nearby garden (and also lettuce, corn, onions, diced little pickles, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, oregano, and ground pepper!)

Homemade paella with chicken, clams and shrimp

The view from the top

A different town (where we stopped for the view)

Me and my silly roommates! - Thanks for 24 hours of great homemade food and family card games!!

Un paseo por Almagro

My friend Emilia and her mother also brought me to the beautiful city of Almagro for a few hours one evening. Almagro, about a quick 30 minute drive from Valdepenas, is an important city for its role in Spanish theater (pardon the pun!). 

We were only there for a couple of hours, but we managed to visit the Corral de Comedias - one of the oldest comedy theaters in Spain that still functions as a theater! It was built toward the end of the 1500s and was reported to be the last open air theater in Spain (there's no roof).  We took a 20 minute audio tour, and then took a stroll through the rest of the city. Enjoy the photos below :)

The main plaza

Lots of baskets in this city

Inside the Corral de Comedias

A funny-looking dog!

Some figurines from the Semana Santa (Easter) processions

Such a beautiful little town!