I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but I definitely believe that neglecting my blog is a very rude thing for me to do. Therefore, I’m not going to try and do a big update to maintain continuity and make life make sense…. instead, I’m going to get back down to the true nature of the “Wass Around The World” travel blog concept and write a little blurb about all of my travels and adventures during the months of 2010. The ones I remember. And the biggest challenge is including JUST ONE PHOTO for each one… this is gonna be hard. (Okay, maybe if it was epic, I can include more… please?)
JANUARY: Madrid Blizzard
So it’s not so much a travel, but how excited was I when Madrid was blanketed in a snowstorm the first week of January?! The city looked BEAUTIFUL!
January: Salamanca, Spain
Something about this post just didn’t feel right. I had almost finished listing all of the destinations, when suddenly, I realized that I almost left this little gem out completely!! Salamanca is a beautiful university town about 2.5 hours west of Madrid (obviously all of these distances are approximate) in Castilla y Leon. The university here is incredibly, they have a massive enclosed Plaza Mayor in the same style as Madrid’s, and the buildings are beautiful. We also visited the Museo de Art Nouveau and Art Deco, that has some incredible stained glass windows and a kind of bizarre collection of dolls that frankly freaked me out.
Okay, so it wasn’t quite the month of massive world traveling, but we did get to simulate it thanks to FITUR (Fería Internacional de Turismo) held annually in Madrid. Hundreds of countries have a featured pavilion, divided by continent… many of them, especially the Latin American countries, really went all out with cooking demonstrations, free drinks, food (Bolivian empanadas absolutely rocked my world!!) and even local dance and music acts. An absolutely AMAZING event that made my inner adventurous spirit tingle with delight! And to top it off, the individual Autonomous Communities of Spain each have a massive display… wine tasting, celebrity impersonators (Mr. Bean was in England’s pavilion!) and enough free stuff and brochures to warrant bringing a suitcase or two to carry it all, or just to practice traveling for real.
February: Jerez/Cádiz, Spain
February is the month of Carnaval, and there’s hardly a better place in Spain to celebrate it than Cádiz (though if we could have made it to the Canary Islands, I hear the parties there are also wild). Jocey, Perla and I decided to make a weekend trip out of it, so we hopped the 8 hour overnight bus to Jerez, a city in the south of Spain known for its sherry, enriched wines, jumping/dancing horses and flamenco culture. We visited the factory that produces Tio Pepe sherry (Gonzalo Byass), sampled all kinds of “olorosos” and “vino fino” and “vino dulce”, and spent a day in Cádiz, dressing up to celebrate Carnaval along with the rest of the crazies walking around and singing in the street. In Cádiz, we ate some delicious fried seafood by the beach, and in Jerez, which was much quieter and smaller but still gorgeous, we found a bar with delicious Andalucian tapas and glasses of sherry for 1 euro, saw the Alcazar (old fort) and even found a Sunday morning flea market that sold all kinds of odds and ends. The hospitality in the south os Spain is hard to beat, and though their accents are so thick I could hardly understand some, this was really an amazing Carnaval experience.
March: Cuenca, Spain + Tara Visit!
A visit from my lovely seester, en route to Japan, brought a fun group adventure to Cuenca, a city about 2 hours east of Madrid, in the community of Castilla-La Mancha. It features a gorgeous cathedral (the first in the gothic style built in Spain) and is well-known for its “casas colgadas” (hanging houses, that look like they’re basically going to fall off the side of a cliff).
March: Semana Santa (Italy & Czech Republic)
The end of March brought Semana Santa, a.k.a. Holy Week, when Spanish children and workers alike get about a week of vacation for the Easter holidays… and the rest of us go travel all over the place. Rolando and I took a multi-destination trip…
1. Duino/Trieste, Italy
After a flight to Milan and a 5 hour train ride we arrived in beautiful Trieste, Italy, to eventually stay for two days in Duino. It’s a small city that houses a castle that was, at one point, visited by Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote the Duino Elegies during his stay there (one of Rolo’s favorite books). A quaint little town on the Adriatic sea, it provided a tranquil and beautiful first stop on our vacation. Trieste, only about 20 minutes away by bus, was a breathtakingly gorgeous city with delicious food and incredible Roman ruins. We spent some time wandering though the city’s snaking alleyways, up to the Trieste cathedral, which has some incredible views of the city and the sea.
We only spent one night here, due to an early morning flight to Prague the following day, but had a really nice visit to il Duomo, the 4th largest cathedral in the world and a stunning example of Gothic architecture. The city was definitely not my favorite, but again, the food in Italy can’t be beat, and we had a great dinner and gelati and then it was time to head off to the Czech Republic!
3. Prague, Czech Republic
This was one of the destinations that I’ve been dying to visit for years, and it definitely did not disappoint. This is the farthest east in Europe I had ever been, and much of its art and architecture remained unharmed during the wars that ravaged Europe. I loved walking around Old Town Square, the Prague Castle, and a visit to the Kafka Museum was super interesting. We accidentally went into the Natural Museum thinking that we were going to learn all about the history of Prague. Instead, we found ourselves strolling through exhibits with thousands of specimens of taxidermied mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles. Though initially I was freaked out, it turns out we saw some pretty interesting and unique animals that we never would have seen anywhere else in the world (see photo below) And the best part? THEY HAD BAGELS! Prague had this old-world feel to it, while a bit more touristy than I’d like, definitely met and exceeded all of my expectations and I’d love to go back and visit again.
April: Chinchón, Spain
For Rolando’s birthday, we took a quick trip out to a city about 45 minutes away from Madrid, Chinchón. Known for its round Plaza Mayor where they used to hold bullfights, and its production of Anisette (a liquor that frankly I do not like one bit as I hate black licorice), we had a great time, a great meal and a very interesting stop at a bakery that specializes in personalized breads. Want to declare your undying love to someone in a loaf? They can make it happen!
A trip to one of my favorite cities in Spain was planned to see V.I.T.R.I.O.L., a performance piece that my friend Miguel had written the texts for. All was going well until my appendix decided it wanted to emancipate itself, leading to an emergency room visit, a 4 day hospital stay and a 3 week recovery.
April: JESKA FUN 2010
Okay, this doesn’t technically count as a trip for me since I could hardly move very far out of my bed (she arrived the day that I returned from Barcelona, post-op)… but that doesn’t mean we didn’t cause as much trouble as possibly while she was here!!
May: Manzanares el Real, Madrid, Spain
This city, in the mountains of Madrid, is home to a very well preserved castle (that I had actually visited in 2007 while studying abroad), and in May, a pretty fun Medieval Fair.
June: Torremolinos (Malaga), Spain
The first weekend in June was a “puente”, or long weekend, and I joined 6 of my closest girlfriends in Madrid for a getaway in Malaga, on the southeastern coast of Spain. We went to a smaller city called Torremolinos, where we rented an apartment on the beach for the weekend, and spent it lounging on the beach, cooking, painting our nails and having a really great time.
June: Alicante, Spain
The last weekend in June, I headed south to Alicante, my current favorite beach in Madrid, to celebrate “Las Hogueras de San Juan” (Bonfires of St. John). They build giant “Ninots”, or wooden statues that are beautifully crafted, that normally represent an event or a famous person, and normally are making fun of it. There is a huge firework at midnight (la Palmera), and then they start burning down all of the ninots. This is similar to Las Fallas, an event held in Valencia in March, but this time the firefighters, who were there to keep the bonfires in check, turned their hoses on the crowd and we left soaking wet. The weekend was beautiful, relaxing, and a sad good-bye to some friends who were returning for good back to America.
July: Navamorcuende, Spain
For two weeks at the end of June I headed to a small pueblo of Talavera de la Reina (near Toledo, Spain) to work with 6-14 year olds at a bilingual summer camp. We swam, we hiked, we played games, we learned a little English, I saw some goats and some amazing sunsets and apart from the table falling on my foot and almost breaking it, the stomach virus plague that sickened 1/4 of the kids in the second week, the spider that tried to attack me falling from the ceiling onto my shoulder, and a few other late night shenanigans… it was a great time!
July: Spain wins the World Cup 2010!
Madrid was insane. Got back from camp just in time to see an entire country united by a soccer team. It was a beautiful thing and a very uplifting experience to walk down the main streets of the center of Madrid and see thousands of people yelling, singing, crying, laughing, celebrating and jumping into fountains. Waka waka indeed.
August: Barcelona, Granada and Madrid, Spain with the Baumans
My family made a visit to the Iberian peninsula and we had an absolute blast traveling around three beautiful cities in Spain. From topless swimming in Barcelona, flamenco dancing in Granada and exploring the Palace (the real one and the hotel) in Madrid, we really had a wonderful time.
August: Dallas, TX
A quick trip to Texas allowed me to spend some QT with a one Ms. Lauren Wise, a great friend from middle school who is currently flying the friendly skies as a stewardess.
August: Puerto Rico
While home in the USA for the summer, I decided to drop down to San Sebastian, PR to visit Rolando… and while there, we did a literal tour of the island, eating at the chinchorros (little food huts by the beaches), swimming in the crystal clear Caribbean waters, and enjoying time at his parent’s beautiful house in “El Pepino” (San Sebastian).
September: New York, New York
Though I go here at least twice a year, I got to spend some time and a crazy night out with my cousins in the Big Apple, and visit my family on Long Island. Since I was there for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, I went to temple with them and we had a big delicious dinner. The next day, we did what any normal Jewish family should do when you are actually allowed to take another day off from work and call it a holiday… we went bowling. Duh. 🙂
October: Asturias (Oviedo, Cangas de Onis, Covadonga), Spain
The marketing campaign really is true… “todo el mundo lo dice” (everyone says it)… because everyone says that Asturias, in the north of Spain, is fabulous, the food is divine, that it’s green and beautiful, the people are friendly and the air is clear. During the last weekend of October, I took a mini-road trip with four friends in a rented car, and though it rained the entire time, that only helps the beautiful green grass and lush landscape develop. We ate chorizo and drank cider until we couldn’t take anymore.
We visited Oviedo, including visits to the city Cangas de Onis, which has a beautiful roman bridge, and the area of Covadonga, which included a rather terrifying bus ride winding through the mountains and an almost-visit to two lakes perched up in these same mountains. Pouring down rain for three days straight (only a few brief breaks in the clouds allowed us to enjoy sight seeing without umbrellas) prevented us from going any futher towards the lakes in Covadonga, but to be honest, just the bus ride was enough to see the amazingness that is this area.
November: Aachen, Germany (and Maastricht, Holland)
My life was made very sad over the summer when a great friend, Beth, moved from Alcalá de Henares to Germany with her husband Edu. But I hopped a plane with Jocey and three of Edu’s friends (Fernando, Jose and Ruben) to check out their newfound German lives and spend some quality time straddling the borders of Germany, Holland and Belgium, including popping over to Maastricht, Holland, “just for dinner”. We rented a van to drive from the airport, chaos ensued and we sang “Barbara Streisand” all the way home.
November: La Rioja Wine Tasting
Yet another girl’s weekend, this time a bit north of Madrid in the famous wine producing region of La Rioja, in the city of Logroño. We hopped on the “VinoBus”, a mini-bus that took us to three wineries in about 4.5 hours, where we sampled wine, learned about the history and production of the delicious Rioja wines, and ate some tapas.
December: Guadarrama, Spain
Okay, so it’s not that far away but I’m going to include it as a travel adventure… got a problem with that?!? We headed up to stay with David and Jess, who live in a chalet in Guadarrama. It was snowy and fabulous, but we drank wine and huddled around the fire when we weren’t busy visiting Valle de los Caídos (a controversial monument built by Spain’s former dictator, Franco, after the Spanish Civil War) or having lunch at a delicious restaurant called el Chivo Loco in Cercedilla, that had the best mushrooms I have ever eaten in my life!!!
December: St. Maarten / St. Martin
Most recent trip and a most incredible experience, because although I’m from Florida, I have never actually spent Christmas or New Year’s in a bikini soaking up the sun. This little island in the Caribbean is half French, half Dutch, and borders the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. We stayed at Dawn Beach, on the Dutch side on the Atlantic Ocean, and spent the days lounging around, playing card games in the cabana by the pool, visiting the capitals (Philipsburg on the Dutch side, Marigot on the French), and went to a small protected island called Ille Pinel that had a pretty incredible restaurant. One French restaurant, La Salle, was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever eaten at, and I have never heard anyone describe a menu so passionately as our waiter did. New Year’s was spent crashing a party that the hotel had organized and gambling a bit at the hotel casino (hey, I ended up winning about $150 from three card poker and roulette!)
I can only hope that 2011 will be as full of amazing adventures as this past year. I’m finishing writing this while at home in Oldsmar, Florida, USA, as I’m continuing my plan for world domination. I’m going to be updating this bad boy a lot more recently, though probably with topics far less interesting, since I currently have no immediate definite travel plans. But never fear, I’ll try and think of some ways to entertain you all or distract you from work.
Until next time, I’ll leave you with an exceedingly excellent photo to ponder from this past week… because after a whole year of excitement, sometimes in the end there’s just no place like home. Au revoir and Happy New Year!