Explore España: Frigiliana

I often find myself looking through lists of the most stunning and must-see villages in Andalucía and Frigiliana almost never fails to make an appearance. Luckily, I live only half an hour away. So one Friday, the boyfriend and I spontaneously decided to take a day trip and see for ourselves what the fuss was all about.

There are no direct buses from Málaga centre to Frigiliana so we had to take the bus to Nerja first and take another one. The bus service (and I think there’s only one) that got us from Nerja to Frigiliana was not yet registered in Google Maps so we checked this site for the schedule. When I got on the bus and saw it was filled with “silver travellers”, I knew that that was gonna be my kind of trip.

Before anything else, let me properly introduce this charming Andalusian village by sharing a little bit of its history.

HISTORY

  • It is believed that the name Frigiliana was given during the Roman settlement, named after the historical character called Frexinius.
  • The Arabs arrived and built their fortress as part of the Islamic conquest of Spain. To this day, some of the most authentic manifestations of traditional Arab architecture in Spain can be seen in Frigiliana’s Barrio Morisco (Moorish quarter) or Barrio Alto.
  • The Christian army of the Catholic Monarchs won the battle at the Rock of Frigiliana against the Arabs. A series of ceramic tile art spread throughout the village depicts this battle in a romance narrative form.

It’s always a delight to walk down narrow streets of cobblestone, makes me feel like I’m in a Simon and Garfunkel song.

We let ourselves get lost in this maze of whitewashed houses. Each corner, each turn, opens up another astonishing view.

I’ve been into pastel colours lately and seeing these doors made me puke rainbows.

Every house is artfully adorned with pots and all sorts of plants and flowers.

THINGS TO DO

  1. Wander the narrow, winding streets of Frigiliana without any plan whatsoever.
  2. Take in the views while enjoying Mediterranean food with a “twist” in The Garden Restaurant.
  3. Take in a little bit of history and follow the twelve mosaic ceramic tile trail in the old quarter, mentioned in the history part of this post. Most of the streets are steep so it can be a great leg workout too!
  4. In case you need an excuse to day-drink wine, you can “immerse yourself in the culture” and try their speciality – vino dulce (sweet wine).
  5. Unearth unique souvenirs from small local shops and take home a piece of Frigiliana with you.

A one-day quickie to Frigiliana is good enough, speaking for myself. It’s the perfect day trip that doesn’t require meticulous planning. There’s little to do but ramble around, take in the admirable sights and stop for the occasional sweet wine or tapas.

How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part III

On our third day, we finally had time to get some breakfast before we began wandering the city. We booked another one of Sandemans‘ walking tours. But this time it wasn’t free and it was a trip to a concentration camp. It was quite an odd thing to be visiting during the holidays but it had to be done.

DAY 3 | Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen concentration camp is actually in the outskirts of Berlin so we had to buy ABC train tickets (it’s cheaper if you buy as a group of up to 5 people). Our tour guide, George, hopped on the train with us and instructed us on which station to get off. Half an hour later, we arrived in the town centre of Oranienburg. A bus took us to the camp and then we started the 6-hour tour.

Oranienburg, the neighbourhood just outside the Sachsenhausen

Camp’s layout

George giving us an overview of the camp

Tower A which houses the SS camp administration

ARBEIT MACHT FREI, meaning Work sets you free, was the slogan of the Nazi’s concentration camps. Prisoners were led to believe that if they worked hard enough, they could eventually be freed. Subtext: Work yourself to death.

Prisoners were not allowed to step on the neutral zone. One time, a guard threw the hat of a prisoner to that zone and ordered him to go pick it up. Sophie’s choice: Step on the neutral zone to do it and get shot or not obey orders and get shot for not wearing complete uniform.

Some of them had to test newly-manufactured shoes, running and marching all day on this rocky track. Sometimes even while carrying 20 kilograms of sand.

Homosexuals, and even those only suspected to be, were also persecuted. They were further tortured to reveal the names of other homosexuals.

The original barracks were torn down but they recreated two.

This is where they had to wash themselves in the morning. Sometimes even up to 400 men squeezed in.

They slept in overcrowded rooms of three-tiered bunk beds.

Many prisoners died from medical experiments conducted in the camp. Of those who survived, many would have serious health problems or deformities.

When the Soviets arrived, this monument was erected to honor the Soviet prisoners of war.

If there’s a Tower A, there’s a Station Z, cynically named to represent the prisoners’ final station. It was both a crematorium and an extermination site. All we can see now are just ruins but you can still see the remains of the furnaces used to cremate the bodies.

I’ve always had a weird fascination about this part of world history. It affects me so much that I even have had recurring dreams about being chased by the Nazi and hiding from them. And this part of our Berlin visit was a very sobering experience. This camp surely is a stark reminder of what can happen when inhumanity gets out of hand.

DAY 4 | “Museum-hopping”

We didn’t have a solid plan for Day 4 since the rest of my friends wanted to go to Potsdam to meet a friend. The boyfriend and I decided to go museum-hopping but realized that it was a Monday so most of them were closed except Pergamon Museum and Topography of Terror.

Nice stroll on our way to museum island

Waiting in line for the tickets was a bummer. It took us nearly two hours to get inside and the cold wind outside made it worse. Of course you can save yourself some hassle and buy the tickets in advance but I guess we didn’t think it through enough. Regular ticket price is 12€ and half for students and senior citizens. The audio guide is free and you can choose from English, Spanish German and French. There were lockers available to leave your stuff since coats and bags were not allowed.

It was the boyfriend who insisted on going to this museum because he wanted to see the Ishtar gate and other old world antiquities. I for one went with low expectations. I thought it would be your usual history museum with dusty artefacts but Pergamon did not disappoint. They had collections of huge statues of Assyrian kings and lions, facades and doors of the Babylonian empire and even Islamic carpets and ceramics.

We were going to see the East Side Gallery, a section of the remains of the Berlin wall with a lot of graffiti art but it was already dark outside at 5 PM. We google mapped our way to Topography of Terror, a museum where the Gestapo and SS headquarters used to stand. Entrance to the museum is free for all and I highly recommend it to folks who are interested in this part of Germany’s history. This museum aims to educate people about how life was under the Nazi regime. It paints a comprehensive picture of Hitler and the Nazi’s rise and fall. On the other side, it also highlights their inhumane treatment towards the Jews and other persecuted members of society. It’s reading-intensive but also with lots of exclusive photos of different aspects of life during this era. Most of them were heart-wrenching and distressing.

Berlin has been utterly wonderful and history-wise, one of my favourites. This city played a big role on shaping world history and evidence can be seen anywhere you look. It has a very intriguing and dark past and has always been on the frontline – from the First and Second world war all the way through the Cold War and as a 20th century war history enthusiast, it has a special place in my heart. The way the Germans confront their past is just admirable – they built memorials and museums to remind their fellows Germans and everybody else in the world of the mistakes so as not to repeat them.

How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part II

We got a fairly good first night‘s sleep in our hostel even though it wasn’t the most comfortable bed I’ve slept in. We put on our full winter battle gear and away we went to wander the streets of Berlin.

DAY 2 | Walking Tour & Reichstag Building

My friend booked us a free walking tour with Sandemans New Berlin for our second day in Berlin. I highly recommend taking 2.5 hours off your trip to get to know the city, learn its history and understand why is it how it is now.

Our meeting place was the Brandenburg Gate, the last surviving one in Berlin. This famous landmark actually has a very interesting history.

The Quadriga, the sculpture at the top, was once seized by Napoleon and taken to Paris as a trophy. It was later returned after his defeat and was redesigned with an Iron Cross. In the 1930s, it was used as one of Nazi Party‘s symbols. Now, it is a symbol of freedom, solidarity, and union of two separated parts of Berlin.

We were divided into groups of around 30 and we went with the Aussie tour guide, Lucy. She fell in love with Berlin and decided to move there and now works as a full-time tour guide. That’s her feet by the way, one foot on East Berlin and one on West Berlin. #twoplacesatonce

We visited the parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker used to be. It was actually surreal to be standing where one of the world’s most evil regime used to operate. But life goes on. Now there are lots of apartments built around the area. They closed the bunker off though due to the possibility of attracting Neo-Nazis.

During the 15-minute break, we went to a nearby food stand where we met currywurst, this modest dish of sliced sausage bathed in a rich curry-ketchup sauce.

My favourite spot in our walking tour might be the Holocaust Memorial. I think it’s a beautifully-designed, thought-provoking exhibit in memory of the murdered jews under Hitler’s regime. There were no information or signage around it. It was all left to interpretation. I wanted to stay longer and experience this concrete maze but we were only given 10 minutes.

Lucy told us both incredible and depressing Berlin Wall stories while we stood in front of it. She told us about how people tried to climb over the wall and how some people, who surely knew their Greek mythology, managed to cross the borders by hiding in a hollow cow.

The tour lasted about two and a half hours. It was free and the guides let us tip how much we thought it was worth. Well, she did a ruddy good job of keeping us entertained and making sure nobody got left out. (I don’t know if she was just fake-counting, though).

Souvenir shopping while waiting for Reichstag Building 4 PM appointment.

Posing hard for those new profile pictures.

And we just couldn’t get enough of currywursts.

The Reichstag is home to the Bundestag, or the German Parliament. It was great that the Reichstag dome is open for public but they do have airport-level kind of security. This seemingly old facade is actually very modern and even quite futuristic inside. The reference to the landmarks outside the building would have been best seen on a daytime visit.

Although we finished touring the Reichstag at around 6 PM, it already seemed really late and the grandma inside of me wanted to go back to the hostel to take off my shoes and connect to the interwebs. It was a 20-minute walk to go back and my legs and feet were already having their lowest moment. When we finally got to the hostel and actually got to eat something, I regained the energy to reflect on how interesting Berlin’s history is and how I was weirdly excited to go to a concentration camp the following day until exhaustion set in and then I went out like a light.

How I Spent Christmas In Berlin : Part I

My 2015 travel bucket list included “spend Christmas in Germany or Austria” and hell yes I just ticked it off. We flew to Berlin from Málaga on Christmas day, just after having a legit Spanish nochebuena the night before. We, auxiliares, get a the same vacation as the students and teachers so we had to take advantage of this two-week break to travel at least to two countries in Europe.

It was a trip of many firsts: first time to spend Christmas without my family, first time to go to another European country besides Spain, first time to go on a trip with my friends and my boyfriend, the list could go on. It goes without saying that this was one of my most unforgettable trips so far. But it wouldn’t have gone as smoothly and as fun if it weren’t for the pre-trip planning.

PRE-TRIP CHECKLIST

  1. Picking a destination – I mostly googled “Best European Countries To Visit on Christmas” and about 90% of the blogs I’ve seen had Germany and Austria in it. We wanted to go to Paris too so we decided to celebrate the New Year there because wouldn’t it be just darn fancy.
  2. Google Flights/Skyscanner – We scoured dozens of sites to get a sweet deal and I find these two the ones with the cheapest flights. Like seasoned travellers, we bought our flights almost 3 months ahead and in total, the multi-city flights only cost us 200 euros each. There are lots of low-budget airlines here in Europe, each country has at least one or two – Ryanair, Vueling, Iberia, Airberlin, easyJet, etc.
  3. City Research – We looked for must-sees, must-tries, all the must-dos. I even read the alternative or those off-the-beaten track lists of activities. Of course everything couldn’t fit into our itinerary so we just chose the ones everybody was game for.
  4. Booking accommodation – I’m an AirBnb and Booking.com patroness because they’ve mostly got the best deals for hostels and apartments. We booked a 6-person dormroom in One80 Hostels in Berlin and an apartment in Paris.
  5. Itinerary – My friend made our itinerary, booked the free tours and saved us a ton of hassle. All I had to do was save the places in GoogleMaps for future reference.
  6. Finishing touches – Brushed up on my French, checked the weather forecasts and bought a coat, gloves and thermal underwear.

DAY 1 | Arrival, Check-in & Christmas markets

We had an hour layover in Stuttgart from Málaga and we arrived in Berlin at about 5 PM in the afternoon. It was dark already because apparently, sun sets at 4PM in winter. Flying from one Schengen country to another doesn’t require immigration controls and passport checks so it was really hassle-free. I miss getting my passport stamped though.

Public transportation in Berlin is very chill. There are no ticket barriers in almost everything – trams, trains and buses. Passengers are expected to be honest enough to buy the appropriate ticket required and to always remember to do so. A 60€ fine should be paid on the spot if a Kontrolleur randomly checks and catches you without a ticket.

We took the TXL JetExpressBus bus from the Tegel airport to Alexanderplatz, where our hostel was. A single trip ticket costs 2,70 €. While we were buying tickets from the machine, a guy approached us and gave us 2 of his day tickets that he was not gonna use anymore. I suppose he’s just sincerely nice or he did out of pity because we looked clueless on which ticket to buy.

From the Alexanderplatz bus stop, our hostel One80 Hostels was just a few minutes’ walk away. We booked it through booking.com and we paid cash upon checking in. It was around 80€ each for four nights. We were five and we shared a 6-person room with 3 bunk beds, lockers and a shared bathroom with all of the guests on our floor. It’s not my first time to stay in a hostel but it was my first time to stay in a hostel with no private bathroom. I thought I was gonna go through the whole trip without doing a number 2 but there were a few ladies staying on our floor and the bathroom was clean enough. I had to take a bath in the communal showers and it was scary at first but it wasn’t that bad. Just try to beat the rush hour and bring a waterproof pouch for your toiletries and extra self-esteem.

We left our things in our hostel room and went to the Christmas markets Germany is famous for. There was one conveniently located in Alexanderplatz.

We tried those long and juicy bratwursts *wink*.

And glühwein, a traditional German warm wine perfect for the cold weather.

And classic brezels. I missed Auntie Anne’s.

More eye candy food stalls inside cute Bavarian-style wooden mini-houses.

I wanted to go ice skating but not everybody was up for it. We just watched people who suck at skating fall on their asses.

It was a great first night in Berlin, all of us soaking up the festive atmosphere as you can see in our sincerely candid photo below.

Explore España: Sevilla

I’m almost 4 months into living in Spain, almost half of the contract period I have with the Auxiliares de Conversación program. I have to decide this early on if I will renew for another year or enjoy the final half of my European adventure. In the midst of my family pressuring me to come back home and being poor as hell here, I’m leaning towards staying for another year (at least). There’s just so much more places I want to visit and my weekends and holidays in the coming four months won’t be enough. I won’t be able to visit all the countries here in Europe, obviously, since I’m an underpaid foreign member of the society but there’s no excuse not to try to visit the cities here in Spain. I’m starting a series of posts about the Spanish ciudades and pueblos I’ve seen and yet to see. I want to spread my love for Spain by sharing photos and insights, and hopefully it gets contagious.

December last year, we visited Sevilla, the capital of Andalucía and maybe one of the most stunning places I’ve seen my whole life. Remember that Star Wars: Attack of the Clones scene in Planet Naboo? It was filmed here in Plaza de España. I’ve heard Game of Thrones also shot scenes in Real Alcázar de Sevilla. But before anything else, let me properly introduce Europe’s “frying pan” with a little bit of its history:

HISTORY

  • The city was first settled by the Tartessian tribe and then it was conquered by the Romans. It was then called “Hispalis“. Some Roman remnants still exist today like aqueducts, the columns of Alameda de Hércules and the walls built during Julius Caesar’s rule.
  • The Moors conquered the city in the 8th century and it was renamed “Isbilya“. Islam became the dominant religion and the city became the capital for the kings of the Umayyad Caliphate. Many structures still stand today like Patio del Yeso in the Alcázar, the city walls, and the main section of the Giralda.
  • Castilian King Ferdinand III began the quest of Andalucía and they were able to oust the Moors in 1248. The Moors’ Palace became the Castilian royal residence. Synagogues were turned into chapels.
  • During the Golden Age, all goods arriving in Spain from the newly discovered lands of the New World had to first enter Sevilla’s port.

PLACES OF INTEREST

REAL ALCÁZAR DE SEVILLA

Originally a Moorish fortress and today still used as a royal palace. Very different from the palaces you will see in Europe but somehow similar to Granada’s La Alhambra. I suddenly developed a thing for Moorish architecture. The palace is room after room of lavish decors, intricate relief details and gorgeous Islamic designs and patterns. I could easily spend a whole day here.

TORRE DEL ORO (Golden Tower)

This dodecagonal tower is one of the most emblematic landmarks of Sevilla. Originally built as a military watchtower to defend the port from potential attacks and to control traffic in the Guadalquivir River. Now, it houses a museum but it has been used in the past both as a chapel and as a prison.

CATEDRAL DE SEVILLA and GIRALDA

During the Moorish period, La Giralda was once a minaret of the mosque that was replaced by the Sevilla Cathedral and became its bell tower. I have yet to see the interior of the cathedral but outside it looks ginormous. I was fascinated by its interesting architecture – mosque turned cathedral, that’s really something.

PLAZA DE ESPAÑA

Easily my best spot in Sevilla. I was surprised to know that it was built only in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition World Fair. For a relatively modern building, it’s quite full of period charm. The plaza is very busy with tourists taking photos and riding the horse carriages and river boats but the plaza is huge. You can recreate the Star Wars or Lawrence of Arabia scenes or take a picture with the tiled backdrops of Spain’s provinces in the Alcoves of the Provinces.

PARQUE DE MARÍA LUISA (María Luisa Park)

Huge green space in Sevilla just beside Plaza de España. Some spots in this parks look like impressionist paintings.

GETTING AROUND

  • Walking – Almost every tourist spot in the city center are best reached on foot. We only had two days to explore the city and we were able see most of the places in our list, if not all, by walking. On our first day, we walked from Palacio de San Telmo to Real Alcázar to Torre del Oro. We also walked along the Guadalquivir River, crossed the Puente de Isabel II and wandered a bit in Triana. And on our second day, we walked from Plaza de España to María Luisa Park. For me, it’s the best way to explore the city. You get to see the street life and meet some street musicians and artists but you might want to download Google Maps for better navigation and also, be wary of dog and horse poop.
  • Tranvía/Buses – If walking doesn’t sound appealing to you, good news is they’ve got trams and buses. A single trip costs 1,30 Euro. I haven’t tried the tram personally so you may wanna check this site for more info.
  • Metro – The metro has only one line and we’ve used it only to get to the center. We stayed in the house of my boyfriend’s uncle and it was in the outskirts. They could’ve just gave us a ride to the center but there’s a huge parking problem so they prefer to leave the car near a metro station and get to the center by the train. For more info about Sevilla’s metro, click here.

Sevilla, like most of its tourist sites, is ginormous and two-day trip isn’t enough to see everything but it’s enough to make you say that you would want to come back soon and explore more.

Travel Diary: Berlin & Paris

While I’m still finding the time and inspiration to blog about my recent travels, I put together this short travel diary of sorts from our 9-day Berlin & Paris trip this Christmas vacation. Our budget was really tight but we managed to pull off a trip to two of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. We joined free walking tours, got into museums for free and took advantage of their efficient public transport. We slept cheap in a hostel and an AirBnb and we didn’t feel that we missed out on anything.

It was an unforgettable way to end 2015 and start a new year. Travelling with my boyfriend and my friends made it even more special. I had fun filming them as we explored these two cities, tried the local eats and just goof around and embarrass ourselves. So here it is:

Life in Spain (in a nutshell): 3-month Update

It has been 3 months since I left home and moved to Andalucía, Spain. The first few days were easy peasy. I was exploring the land of siestas and churros all bright eyed and bushy tailed because it hadn’t sunk in yet. A few misfortunes and breakdowns later, here we are.

UNO. Everyday I’m surrounded by cute little Spanish kids greeting me with their innocent smiles and enthusiastic waves. I could get used to this working environment.

DOS. I decided to live in a pueblo (small village) near the beach. The pueblo claims to have the mejor clima de Europa or best climate in Europe, which I’m starting to believe. It’s December now but temperature doesn’t go lower than 10 degrees.

TRES. I’m renting a 2-bedroom flat with my Spanish boyfriend. According to math, that makes me just 50% responsible for burning the whole place down.

CUATRO. No more mommy to do all the housework for me. Good thing the boyps does his fair share, some days even more than mine.

CINCO. I earn half of what I used to in my previous job in the Philippines and the cost of living is possibly 2x higher. I’m poor in Spain, but damn it, I’m in Spain.

SEIS. My Andalusian accent game is getting stronger. I’m starting to drop the final consonants. Still having a hard time understanding the hardcore Andalusians though.

SIETE. So many travel opportunities! I have 3-day weekends, sometimes even more when there are holidays. And did I tell you that Spaniards love holidays? So far, I’ve been to Barcelona, Málaga and its pueblos, Sevilla, Granada and Huelva. This Christmas break, we’re going to Paris and Berlin!

OCHO. I miss food back home! I get to cook sinigang, adobo, afritada and the like (thanks to that Asian food store in Fuengirola) but I miss my favourite fast food and restaurants. I’ve been craving for Tantanmen ramen and Jollibee spaghetti for three months now.

NUEVE. I miss my mom and my nephews. A tiny part of me feels downhearted that I won’t be home for Christmas. So I will be surrounding myself with Christmas lights, fireworks and thousands of Germans.

DIEZ. Everything about living far away from home can be quite overwhelming and scary as hell but I’m definitely happy. NO REGRETS! I’m trusting in uncertainty.

I think Kimmy Schmidt sums up my sort of unbreakable spirit at this point. Bye Felicia!

Netflix / Via feynificent.tumblr.com

UPDATE: LIFE IN SPAIN IN A NUTSHELL (6-MONTH UPDATE)

HOLA BARCELONA Things I Did and Things I Wish I Had Done Differently (Part 2)

One of the most distinct features of Barcelona is its magnificently over-the-top architecture. And when you think of Barcelona architecture, which name pops to your head? Antoni Gaudí, of course. Sure, the city is not just Gaudí but the Art Nouveau approach of his works, in my opinion, gave Barcelona its unique beauty.

We visited Parc Güell the day before, so we planned to see some of his other works for Day 3. First stop: Casa Milà or more popularly known as La Pedrera. I would have loved to go inside but I had to remind myself that I would be working in Spain for half of the salary I used to earn in the Philippines. So I just ogled at the building from outside.

Next stop: Casa Batlló, another quirkily stunning masterpiece of Gaudí. It’s just a 6-minute walk from La Pedrera and you wouldn’t need Google Maps to find where it is, just follow the groups of people with cameras and selfie sticks. Again, we didn’t go inside and I didn’t even bother to ask the entrance fee. Discussing art and architecture outside as if we knew what we’re talking about was free, so that’s what we did.

From Casa Batlló, we went to our next stop: La Sagrada Familia, the iconic basilica that was once described as “too many cooks in the kitchen”. It kinda makes sense and still, there were cranes that ruined the whole image but when I saw it as I exited the metro station, it took my breath away. Seriously. Probably because I didn’t expect to see it that up close right away.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

I wish I had the budget to actually enter the buildings. The ticket to Sagrada Familia alone without any guide costs 15 euros per person. I’m sure it’s worth it but at that time, I had to go full-on frugal.

We walked from Sagrada Familia to Arco de Triunfo for about 20 minutes. Just behind it was the Parc de la Ciutadella. Too bad there was an event that day and I think the park was closed.

The walkathon continued as we found our way to Barri Gotic, a lovely old neighborhood 15 minutes away from Arco de Triunfo. We let ourselves get lost in its delightful maze of narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways. We also stumbled upon a nice little restaurant that served delicious paella.

We were having a nice time wandering around the quarter when suddenly I noticed some people running towards us, coughing and telling us to run in the opposite direction. Of course, we did as told but we weren’t spared. We started coughing our lungs out too, like a burning type of cough. Apparently, a pipe had been broken and released some kind of gas. I still wonder what it was exactly. It was still early to go home but I got a bit paranoid and didn’t want to go back. We weren’t able to see more of Barri Gotic.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

That gas thing was a total bummer. I wish I had seen more of that part of Barcelona. Everywhere I looked was a picturesque scenery. I could spend a whole day checking out quaint shops and cafés, gawking at gorgeous old-Europe architecture and posing hard for an instagram photo.

Day 4, I couldn’t leave Barcelona without visiting the museum of my spirit animal, one of the most eccentric men in the art world, Salvador Dalí. Dalí Theatre and Museum is not actually in Barcelona, it’s in Figueres, his hometown in the province of Cataluña. It’s actually quite far, about 2 hours away from the center via Renfe train, which, by the way, isn’t cheap (16 euros one way).

We bought our tickets at the train station but we had to wait an hour before the train arrived so we decided to amble a bit around Barcelona. We got a teeny bit lost on our way back to the station and missed the train, HAHA so we had to wait another hour.

Finally, we arrived at around 5 in the afternoon. We walked some 20 minutes from the Figures train station to the museum. The town was really different from Barcelona, very peaceful and lots of old people in the streets.

We got our pre-booked tickets (12 euros each) at the entrance of one of the weirdest and most amazing museums ever.

Dalí is awesome. He’s my kind of people. And I loved this museum. I even bought a book and some postcards from the museum gift shop, which I usually don’t do.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

Good thing that we didn’t plan more activities in our itinerary for our last day because the trip to Figueres is a whole day thing. I wish we had not missed that train though. I took a nap at the floor of the train station like a hobo.

To say I had a lot of fun on this trip would be an understatement. It was a dream come true and too good to be true. I wish I had done a lot of things differently but I’ve got no regrets because surely I will come back soon.

HOLA BARCELONA Things I Did and Things I Wish I Had Done Differently (Part 1)

I feel so bad that I have been inactive for a month as I settled into my new life here in Spain. Settling in seems to be a never-ending process and I easily get overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. The weather’s perfect, public transportation’s really efficient and the people are friendly but slipping into periods of self-doubt is inevitable.

I decided to take a 5-day vacation in Barcelona before I got to the hard part of getting acclimated to my new city in Andalucía. This was a smart move for me since I didn’t want to overthink about moving to another country. When I got on the plane, I was thinking to myself, it would be just another short travel adventure. 9 hours of plane travel, one layover and another 6 hours of plane travel later… I finally got to the land of siestas, bullfighting and 10 PM dinners.

I wanted a cliché first breakfast so my Spaniard lover, David and I looked for a churrería around Plaça de Catalunya but settled for a café nearby that sold churros con chocolate because I was exhausted lugging around a suitcase and carrying a heavy backpack after a long-haul flight. It was a nice and surprisingly calm start to a new adventure then we had to go back to the metro station and find our way to the AirBnB flat that we rented.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

I wish we had taken the Aerobus shuttle from the airport. Sure, we saved some euros but if you’re travelling with more than one suitcase and you don’t want to sweat like a pig carrying them up the stairs from one metro line to another, don’t cheap out and just take the Aerobus.

I wish we had more energy to find a legit churrería. Barcelona is loaded with them but take time to research which ones are the best and worth your money. I usually check TripAdvisor for the best restaurants and tips from travellers.

We booked this AirBnB flat near Parc Güell for 4 nights for 67 € per night. It’s a clean and modern flat with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room and a terrace. It was also convenient getting around by bus because just outside the apartment is a stop for V17 and 92 buses.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

I wish we had booked a flat near the centre. This flat was nearly perfect except that it wasn’t convenient getting around by walking. We didn’t know that this area stands on the top of the hill and was made of steep streets.

After an obligatory afternoon siesta, we headed to Las Ramblas, a very touristy calle in Barcelona. Lots of things going on- you have your al fresco cafés and restaurants, street painters, street musicians and living statues.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

We should have visited the Erotica Museum since it was just near Las Ramblas but it was already late and seeing plaster casts of butts and genitalia wasn’t our priority for that day.

We were supposed to go to La Boquería, a famous food market in Barcelona but jetlag and 2 hours of sleep is not a good combination so we went to Barcelona port and a nearby centro comercial and ordered familiar food in Cervecería La Sureña, famous for its cheap beer buckets and tapas.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

I wish we had gone to the La Boquería to discover more of Barcelona’s gastronomic culture.

Barcelona undoubtedly has some of the most beautiful parks and gardens so Day 2 was reserved for park-hopping. Our first destination was Tibidabo Amusement Park. It’s quite far from the city center but still accessible by public transportation. We had to take a bus, the metro, a cable car and then another bus. It’s up the Tibidabo Mountain so you can see almost quite the whole city from here. We went early in the morning so the rides weren’t opened yet. However, you may roam around the park or visit this beautiful church that can be seen from all over the city.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

I wish we had visited the park at sunset or at night. The sun was too bright and I wasn’t able to get a decent photo. Also, we should have gone to Bunkers del Carmel for a better view of the city as some people suggested.

Next stop was Parc del Laberint d’Horta, just the most amazingly beautiful park I’ve ever seen. This luscious green space is the perfect spot for a chill afternoon. We bought some bocadillos from the train station and had a picnic inside the park. There were not a lot of tourists so we enjoyed a very tranquil stroll along the mazes and gardens.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

Nothing. It was perfect.

We headed to the last park in our list: Parc Güell. Good thing we put it on the last part of the day because it was so pretty exhausting to get there. We didn’t know that there was a really steep hill to ascend. Sure there were outdoor escalators but not all the way. David was actually pushing me up so I could go on but still, I wish there was a more convenient way for lazy farts like me.

Surprisingly, I didn’t give up and got to the top. The view from up here was actually better than the one from Tibidabo.

It’s free to get to the main park but there was a section which wasn’t. We didn’t check the prices because we’re cheapskates and just explored the other parts of the park.

We got lured in by the music of street musicians and came across these stone pillars. Their music was pretty good, a bit twee, and they played songs of different languages.

THINGS I WISH I HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY:

The Greek Square or the mosaic terraces was something I wanted to see up close (for the love of Meteor Garden 2). I wish I at least asked how much was the entrance fee.

By Day 2, my feet were already sore due to massive amounts of walking, sightseeing and covering a lot of ground but so I was so happy that I was finally on the trip that once was only a dream.

8 Things I’m Looking Forward To About Moving To Spain

In just two weeks, I will leave the comforts of home and become a fish out of water. No more Mom’s cooking, my own bed and loo, hugs and kisses from my nephews. Leaving home is not easy but these are sacrifices which come with the choice of pursuing my dream. Preparing for my big move seems to be a daunting task – endless paperwork, managing finances, establishing new connections, the list could go on. Plus, the fact that I have a dramatic breakdown cry once or twice a week when I think about how much I’m gonna miss everybody and how selfish I am to leave them, that doesn’t make anything easier.

There’s definitely no turning back. In spite of how much of an emotional wreck I am right now, I can’t hide the fact that I’m so fucking excited to finally start this new phase in my life. I thought I’d list down a few things I’m looking forward to just to give myself that final nudge.

*Psyches herself up in the mirror*. “It’s winning time, you magnificent son of a bitch!”

1. SPANISH LANGUAGE AND CULTURE IMMERSION

It’s embarrassing to admit that after 4 years of studying Spanish as a major, I’m still not fluent. I remember a film professor in my university questioned the existence of the degree European Languages. According to him, a foreigner living in Spain can be fluent in the language in just 6 months while we study it for 4 years without the guarantee of being fluent in it in the end. In our defense, classroom language learning has its benefits. It provides structure and teaches the language’s backbone which is grammar. In class, we learned proper pronunciation, conjugations, the use of ser and estar, etc. Obviously, that’s not enough to be fluent in Spanish and there’s no better way to achieve it than to live in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country.

I’m setting myself to perfect español in 8 months. Not only that, I want to take it to a whole new level. I want to achieve a proper Andalusian accent. I know that it’s infamous for being incomprehensible but I personally dig it. Plus, once I get used to the accent, I feel like I would be able to understand any other Spanish accent in the world.

2. FREE TIME

In the Auxiliaries de Conversación program, we are only expected to work 12 teaching hours or just 4 days a week. We have to do a little bit of planning before or after that but we’re not really THE teachers, we’re just assistants so making lesson plans is not really part of the job. I will be working in a CEIP or primary school so classes end at 2 PM. After that, I’m free to do whatever I want – teach private lessons (to earn more euros), go out for some beers and tapas or take a siesta.

Another thing that Spain is obviously doing right is their holiday-filled calendars. It’s one holiday after another! This gig is perfect for people who want to go on a getaway every so often because we are entitled to the same holidays as the students. This means lots of opportunities to travel around Spain or even around Europe.

3. TRAVELS

Now that I’ve mentioned that we get a lot of free time, what better way to spend it than to travel! The TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero) or Foreigner’s Identity Card will allow us to travel from Spain to other EU countries that are members of the Schengen Area. As early as now, I already have upcoming trips for the school year, although most are still in the works. Before I head to my apartment in Málaga, I will be spending 5 days in Barcelona. I already paid my flights, booked an AirBnb flat and made an itinerary and now, I’m stuck between beyond excited and scared shitless!!! Catalans, please be nice to me :3

I had to pay for everything – my flight, visa application, apartment, etc. and we won’t get paid immediately. The earliest payday would be in November so I’m gonna be tapped out for two months. But that’s no reason not to explore new places, even just in my city at least. A day trip to nearby cities won’t hurt either. I’m sure I would be thrilled to visit Granada, Córdoba or Sevilla or even visit my amigas who were assigned in Huelva.

The week-long vacations will go to waste if I don’t visit another country. That’s why I made a travel bucket list in case I find a cheap flight that falls on a long school break. We’re already thinking of going to either Austria or Germany for Christmas and if I don’t have money issues by then, I would like to visit France as well. After the christmas break, I don’t have a concrete plan yet but I would love to visit Portugal, Italy, Morocco, Switzerland and Greece.

4. FOOD

Of course, sight-seeing, talking with the locals and learning history are important when you’re travelling but my favourite travel activity is trying local eats. A country’s cuisine leaves the strongest impression on me as the quickest way to my heart is through my stomach. That’s right, I’m a self-proclaimed foodie.

Spain is, without a doubt, one of the top foodie destinations. Five of the world’s 20 best restaurants are in Spain, including the number one, El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. That goes to show that the Spaniards take their food quite seriously. Haute as it may seem, it’s not completely alien to my taste buds since it has greatly influenced Filipino cuisine. Paella, caldereta, callos, embutido, relleno are just some of Filipino favourites either served in festivities or as classic comfort food. I love these dishes but the foodie inside me yearns for authenticity. Just thinking of tapas, churros con chocolate, Spanish paella and jamón makes me hungry. I need these in my life right now plus a giant glass of tinto de verano. I just do.

5. WEATHER

In the Philippines, we DO have four seasons: rainy, insanely rainy, hot and insanely hot. I’m sick of it. At least once in my life, I want to experience living in a country with the REAL four seasons. Lucky enough, I was placed in Torrox-costa Málaga, the village that claims to have the best climate in Europe. Being in the south of Spain, I won’t have to deal with death from hypothermia and no more typhoon-like rainy days and other natural disasters as I move far away from the tropics.

6. INDEPENDENCE

With independence comes increased responsibility. Being independent doesn’t only mean ice cream for breakfast, pants-optional all day and unlimited me-time. It also means no more mommy to cook my meals, do my laundry or help me pay my bills. It’s gonna be hard for sure, being the lazy fart that I am, but that will be the only way to be self-sufficient, to grow up, to get my shit together. From this experience, I look forward to coming out stronger on the other side.

Moving to Spain means building up a totally new life. I have to start fresh in a new city and make connections from the ground up. New surroundings, unfamiliar faces and different language and customs. Scary enough, right? But I have to get over that fear and I surely will. It’s not gonna happen overnight. It might take weeks, months, I don’t know. The important thing is to become resilient and open-minded to the changes to consequently learn to embrace them.

7. MEETING NEW PEOPLE

Here’s a confession: I’m a bonafide introvert. But hey, that doesn’t mean I don’t have friends or that I’m anti-social as we’re often misunderstood. The truth is, I’m proud to be one and I’ll always be one. But in an extrovert-dominated country that is Spain, I have to at least overcome being shy. The idea of meeting new people is appealing to me but can sometimes be terrifying. Putting myself out there doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m not one of those people who asks cashiers how they’re doing or just strikes up a conversation with a stranger at a bar. Though challenging, I’d like to see myself try and maybe make a fool of myself occasionally.

8. PARK LIFE

The introvert inside me just gets a real kick out of parks. Manila, in general, is not walkable and pedestrian-friendly. As much as I want to be twee and walk or ride a bike to work, that’s just not possible. I’ve been living in this city for 24 years and I’ve had enough. It has made me an exhausted, unfulfilled, and unhealthy person and I look forward to turning my life around once I move to Spain.

Walkability is the name of the game and Spain surely is killing it. With a glut of beautiful, peaceful parks and sensational architecture, I’m sure I would never get sick of walking along romantic cobblestone alleys and fancying myself as a character in a Belle and Sebastian song or in a Woody Allen film.

Bring it on, Spain. My body is ready. Now excuse me while I bawl my eyes out and say goodbye to my bedroom and everything in it.