Saturday, December 31, 2011


One of the most overwhelming places on Earth-- Schiphol-- the Amsterdam airport. Maybe overwhelming isn't the right word-- it's just like an amusement park more than an airport. And I have never seen so many duty-free stores in one place before. Desperately needing some face moisturizer, I went into a shop and tried to buy the cheapest one I could find. The lady wouldn't let me buy it without my boarding pass. I explained to her that my boarding pass was long gone and that I was just arriving there. She explained the Dutch tax rule to me-- No one can buy un-taxed items if they are arriving there-- just leaving. First sign of being overcharged in Holland.

I stepped out into the bitterly freezing air and stood in the cab line. I turned around to look at this place-- it was like a huge mall-- with flashing lights and Holiday garb everywhere. 

I made it into the cab and got to talking to the taxi driver. Amsterdam is another place where everyone speaks English-- they learn it in grade school, so pretty much everyone has it down. My driver even taught me a few words and phrases-- Absolutely cleared from my memory right now. Dutch is so over my head. It is so completely different from anything I have ever heard in my life-- it sounds like gibberish. But I love listening to it-- I'd really like to try to learn it one day. 

I looked at the meter-- it was already at 25 Euros... "Oh shit," I thought. "Um," I said to the driver, "How much is this going to be exactly?" 

"Oh, about 50 Euros or so."

Holy crap. The most I had paid for a cab on my trip was about 20 Euros. This was not good news. Second sign of Holland ripping me off.

Anyways, once I got over the absurdity, my friend I met back in Florence came to meet me at a metro stop. Dave is an Australian who just re-located to Amsterdam a few weeks ago. It was nice to have a friend to stay with there, instead of staying in, yet again another hostel. That night, we went out and he showed me the infamous Red Light District. There are prostitutes in the windows and "Grow-kits" in shop windows. I had always heard about the "Coffee Shops," but I guess I didn't really believe they existed until I was actually sitting in one. There is literally about three on every block. Needless to say, everyone I met there was very laid back...

He has a full-time job, so during the day I bundled up as much as possible and wandered the streets. It was dark while I was there. I didn't see the sun once. But I liked that, in a strange way. Amsterdam has a mysterious, dark beauty about it-- at least in the winter time. I visited the Anne Frank house-- where Frank and her family went into hiding before being caught and taken to the concentration camps. I spent about three hours there and read about everything I could read in that museum. It was eye-opening to be standing in the same house where those innocent people were hiding from the Nazis. 

My stay there was brief, but I'm glad I chose it to wind down my trip. I flew back to Milan (where I flew in to begin the adventure), spent a night there, and got on the plane to head back to America. 

It was over, and I really couldn't believe it. 


I am not one of those obsessive runner people, I swear. However, I do admit the sole initial reason I decided to visit Lisbon is.. well.. because.. of.. running. One of the things I really wanted to do on my journey was to find a half marathon to run in. So, Lisbon's race worked out with my trip's timing perfectly, and it was at the end. It was what had kept me motivated to keep running, no matter how much my body really did not want to since I had abused it with foreign food and alcohol for a few months. I would say I was decently prepared for it, considering I was living a nomadic lifestyle-- hostel to hostel-- surrounded by endless temptations to ... well... not, take care of my body.

In my opinion , I was really lucky to have been healthy during my entire trip thus far. I mean, I had eaten horse and lamb, for God's sake-- two things my body is completely not used to. I had drank nearly everyday (in moderation, but every single day, give or take a  few). It's just how Europeans live- and I was not going to pass that up. I was about due for an immune system- shutdown. 

The day before the race, I think my body was just pissed at me and I felt really nauseous-- I had no appetite and nothing appealed to me in the least bit-- That is incredibly strange for me. I am usually hungry most of the time and usually know exactly what I am craving-- There's not much I won't eat. 
So, not surprisingly, my race in Lisbon was without-a-doubt- the worst race I have ever ran. I literally felt like I was going to throw up the entire time and I honestly do not know how I ran 13.1 miles he way I felt-- But I did- and I am so happy for that. That's all that mattered to me... just finish the damn race! I told myself. Yes, it was really cool running in a foreign city and hearing about 8 different languages running-- that was one positive. 

Another positive was the fact that Sarah (my Aussie friend!) was waiting for me at the finish line. We ended up being in Lisbon also at the same time!! So, once I got to feeling better, we explored the city and tried some of the delicious Portuguese soups and other dishes. I would have liked to have spent more time there (I was only there 3 nights), because it is truly a beautiful city. The word that comes to my mind in describing its architecture is "Pristine" and very royal-looking, without Rome's overwhelmingness. And there was an old-fashioned, wooden trolley car that is not only for tourists running through the city! 

There was a metro system there, but it's quite possible to walk most of Lisbon, if you're willing to hike up and down the steep hills of the city. I was expecting Portuguese to be similar to Spanish, and at first, it seems like it a bit-- but in actuality, it's not at all. Thankfully, most people in Lisbon speak near-perfect English, and they are all very welcoming to foreigners. I had several people tell me, "Welcome to our country!!" with loads of enthusiasm. I liked that-- Instead of being bothered by visitors, they were proud they even wanted to be there. A Humble bunch- the Portuguese. This is also where I saw the most attractive men on my trip... So, that's where they are all hiding-- in Portugal. 

The Lisbon night-life was nearly on par with Madrid- just on a smaller scale. There were lots of little bars and awesome bands playing into the wee hours of the morning. And I did love my hostel--the last one on my journey. It was a really old building that had been renovated very well and there was an awesome vibe going on in that place. Except, the rooms were named, and my room was called "Blow." That weirded me out a bit. 

One of the best parts of my Lisbon visit was Anarita, Philip's friend, who is a Lisbon local. We met up and she we walked me around all the parts of the city where tourists just don't know how to go to. She showed me her very first apartment, told me stories of her life as a dancer, told me about life in Lisbon, walked me to a beautiful point where you can see the entire city, and took me to an adorable cafe for coffee and some sweets-- what Portugal is famous for. So, that was very special for me-- I love meeting the locals and knowing what it is really like. 

So, my last stop was Amsterdam, a place I have always wanted to visit. Thank God flights in Europe are cheap! 

And we're off...


The beautiful Spanish city of Segovia has become one of my favorite places in the world. I visited with one of my cousins when we were studying Spanish in Madrid one summer. Ever since I experienced this charming, fairytale esque place, I always wanted to come back. My mom had the fabulous idea for she and I to take a side-trip out of Madrid for a couple of nights. Enclosed by rolling mountains with bustling streets lined with cobblestone and historic architecture, Segovia is seemingly perfect.

By bus from Madrid, it took us about an hour to reach Segovia. We checked into our hotel, La Infanta Isabel (the very first one on my journey), which was actually the same hotel my cousin and I stayed in about 7 years ago. It is adorable- located right on the Plaza Mayor- and painted a creamy yellow color. It was so nice to be in an actual hotel- with the sheets already on the bed!

However, the temperature did drop about 10 or 15 degrees from Madrid, since we were higher up and tucked away in the mountains. Nevertheless, the sun will still going strong and we considered ourselves lucky, considering it was nearly December!

Our first night there, we learned (and I re-learned) that Segovia is incredibly expensive. The thing is, I feel like this place has an excuse to be expensive. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to go there. It is somewhat touristy, however it has kept it’s original appeal, quite literally.

The Segovian Aqueduct is the symbol of Segovia, not to mention the best-preserved ancient monument in Spain. Its original construction dates back to the 1st Century A.D., but it was rebuilt in the 15th Century. It’s about 3,000 feet long and 900 feet tall (in certain places). To this day, it still transports water to another region.

So, besides admiring the astounding aqueduct, my mom and I explored the city. We poked in and out of the little shops, and bought some Christmas presents. We indulged ourselves in some delicious Spanish bean soup, which is famous there. For dinner, we just hopped from tapas bar to tapas bar, having little tastes and bigger sips of red wine, making sure we weren’t being completely financially ridiculous.

We spent the rest of our time visiting the cathedral and the palace, both located in the heart of historic Segovia. They were both stunning—it was hard for me to believe such grand buildings exist in such a small town.

Although I love Segovia, I found myself strangely missing the chaos of the city life in Madrid I had gotten used to over the subsequent few weeks. But, it was a nice calming time-out for both my mom and I.

It’s back to Madrid then headed to Lisbon!



I spoke my broken Spanish to the friendly doorman and he led me up to the 6th floor of my cousin’s apartment building. As soon as I walked in, I went, “Oh, Thank you God.” This place was beautiful--- tastefully decorated furniture, huge windows, a stainless steel kitchen… I could go on and on. Not to mention it was spotless.

As much as I loved hostel hopping and life on the farm, it was just nice to be somewhere quiet and—well—classy. My cousin, Philip, and his lover, Miguel, had this whole floor to themselves—like a penthouse. Since they both were still working when I arrived, I relished in a couple hours of silence and solidarity. I even did some yoga in the living room—I couldn’t remember the last time I had been that alone. I felt so lucky to be a guest in their place—I had my own bathroom too! Amazing, I hadn’t had that in months. Oh, the little luxuries in life we take for granted sometimes.

Once Philip came back, he made me a drink and we sat and talked forever—It had been nearly two years since I’d seen him last so there was a lot of life to catch up on. He’s an English teacher and tutor in Madrid—He and Miguel (A true Spaniard) met at a place called the Black and White club about 20 years ago—ever since, Philip has never returned to the states to live. I don’t really blame him.

Madrid is a fabulous city--- I liken it to a Spanish New York—There is an endless amount of things to do. Whether you are into the culinary scene, the entertainment scene, the shopping scene, the history scene, etc… You will find something here to capture your interest.

Since I was really burnt out on museums and playing Tourist at this point in my trip, I lived more like a local during my stay in Madrid. The first thing I did was go grocery shopping and start cooking for myself. I had never felt so happy to be in a grocery store before. I was actually beginning to crave healthy eating more and the (another one) luxury having a kitchen to cook in! And Madrid was also a wonderful place for me to run—I didn’t make it to every one but there are many parks for fitness fanatics to spend their early mornings, lunch breaks, or evenings in. My favorite was called Retiro—mainly because it was filled to the brim with beautiful trees, both dirt and cement paths, quaint cafes, playgrounds and a lot more. It seems like everyone in Madrid ran there—something that always keeps motivated is a fellow runner. Plus, I could take the metro near Philip’s place directly into Retiro- it was awesome.

The metro in Madrid was top-notch, and so easy to figure out. I barely even had to glance at a map. There are metro stops on every other corner; they’re clean, and incredibly convenient. The one downfall was the Americans’ (including myself) obsession—Starbucks. I was really disappointed to see it sitting proudly in several different parts of Madrid. It was my first time seeing it on my trip—they won’t even let it come to Italy. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend the money on Starbucks, which is only mediocre compared to Spanish coffee. It really is just so much better and it’s usually only one Euro. That is ONE DOLLAR AND 50 CENTS!!

Anyways, my first weekend there was a little bit out of control. Granted, I was celebrating my 23rd birthday with Sarah (my friend from Australia who I met in Florence), and she was ALSO celebrating her birthday. So, we had endless reasons to live it up as much as we possibly could—and we did it. The first night of our celebrations ended at 8 am. I literally was on a metro at 7:30 in the morning… living life like the true Spaniard party animal. I really don’t know how those people do it! But it sure is fun to do every once and a while. Sarah and I spent our weekend dancing (in a ridiculously expensive club), indulging in too much alcohol and delicious Spanish cuisine.  By the end of that weekend, my body hated me and my mind was floating somewhere else, but it was definitely an unforgettable birthday!

After that, I took it easier… which is nearly impossible when you are living with Philip. He is in his 50s, but his energy is like that of someone who is my age—no older than 25. He is so much fun to be with—he never fails to make me laugh. He took me to the best bars, the best tapas bars, and when my mom came to visit, he took us to a Flamenco show! It was amazing…. I could have watched it all night long. I still can’t fathom moving my feet the way those dancers did.

It was SO refreshing to see my mother—she flew in on Thanksgiving day, which was fabulous because I wasn’t quite sure what it would be like spending my favorite holiday somewhere that no one even really knows what it is—let alone celebrate it! So, we spent it like Spaniards and ate some raciones (which are dishes in between tapas and entrees) and drank lots of red wine.

Madrid is where I really learned about after-dinner liquors, one of Philip’s favorite things. Averna was my favorite—it’s hearty semi-sweet delicious liquor… It’ll put you right onto sleep, that’s for sure.

My mom and I explored together--- on Sunday, we went to the Rastro—the huge weekly flea market that has really anything you could imagine---clothes, jewelry, shoes, lingerie, purses, home accessories, etc. It truly is cheap—I bought a poncho for about 6 euros—that’s not even 10 dollars. Can’t beat it. But you really have to choose wisely there and come early on in the day. Otherwise, you’ll end up being smashed between a mob of locals and tourists all trying to walk in different directions.

We really got used to eating like Spaniards… I got to thinking about it and it’s whole lot healthier than the way we eat in the States (this is probably part of the reason why Americans are fat and I maybe saw one fat person the entire time I was there). They eat a small to moderate- sized breakfast, a very substantial lunch (followed by Siesta!!—the nap) and a very small dinner or a couple of tapas later on at night—I’m talking 10-11 p.m.

The Saturday my mom was visiting, Philip and Miguel drove us to two lovely mountain villages north of Madrid. The first one was called Granja, a quiet and charming city where the Spanish court’s “Summer Palace” is located. It was probably the most beautiful palace I have ever seen in my life—and I didn’t even go inside. The gardens were enough to take my breath away, equipped with several bronze statues and fountains, seemingly never-ending gravel pathways, secret gardens and even a labyrinth—a maze we --almost-- but made sure we did not to get lost in!

We had a glass of wine and a little tapas at a bar in Granja and made our way up to a little medieval village called Pedraza, to have lunch. We had reservations for 3:15 – and man, did we eat. My mom and I always let Philip and Miguel take control on the food thing. We enjoyed delicious warm bread straight out of the oven, white asparagus, famous bean soup, red wine and lamb—which was hard for me at first.

Since I just crossed over from a vegetarian to an occasional meat-eater, lamb was hard for me to think about eating. And the presentation in Europe is so much different—in a raw, straight-off-the-hunting-grounds kind of way. But, once I took a bit, I got it. I understood why the lamb was so famous there and I wanted to keep eating it, and I did. Of course, my favorite part was the skin, which is the most fattening and delicious part of the animal. Sorry, little lamb L

My time in Madrid was amazing and it is the place where I could see myself moving to one day for a period of time—who knows. Nevertheless, I know I will be back.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hort de Gloria.

So, I always thought in the back of my mind that I would one day go and live on an organic farm. But I never knew it would be this soon. Thanks to another American girl I met on a train in Italy, I found out about WWOOF-- "Willing Workers On Organic Farms"-- this amazing organization that provides people with information on different farms in any country they desire.

Since I knew I'd be in Spain shortly, I registered online with WWOOF Espana, and really thought it was way too late in the game to make it on to a farm (I was hoping to get there 2 weeks after I was registered). However, one out of about 20 farms wrote back and said I am more than welcome and I can stay for whatever length of time I desire. It was with a family business called "Aqua Ventura" that is based in an old farmhouse called Hort de Gloria. It's basically a small rustic hotel in the middle of the mountains-- people come and go on outdoor excursions during the day- hiking, climbing, kayaking, etc.

This place was naturally beautiful. It was basically a paradise. Chickens roamed freely-- there were countless dogs and cats just living the life. It is truly secluded-- surrounded by rolling mountains. When I was there, it was mid-November, and every morning seemed to become richer in color- rusted oranges, golden yellows, bright reds-- Autumn bursting through the foliage.

Aqua Ventura is run by a middle-aged couple-- the woman is Spanish and the man is South African. They have two pre-adolescent kids. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them. Everyday, the guests expect breakfast, boxed lunches, and an elaborate dinner. Not to mention running a farm in itself is a lot of work. So, "WWOOFers" are always helping out, day and night, with anything they can to keep things running smoothly.

Our main duty, besides cooking and cleaning, was to pick olives in order to make olive oil. The farm had ton of olive trees, ripe and ready to be tackled. Most mornings would be very early- before sunset- and we'd be ready for bed by 10 p.m. I shared a tiny cabin with 4 other volunteers-- I was the only American, which I really loved. There was a Russian girl, a German girl, and a Swedish girl, who had literally biked by herself all the way from Sweden. Then, there were the Italian guys, who came together, and have the same name-- Francesco. These guys were the happiest people I have ever met-- constantly singing and playing the guitar, harmonica and tambourine. Although they did get on our nerves a little bit, I will never forget them. They were true spirit-lifters.

The German girl and I became really close-- she had quite the story to tell. I have never met anyone like her. She is a polygamist, who has about four or five different boyfriends. I knew she wasn't lying, because she had a "Skype date" with a different one every night. She is 29 and told me she just knows herself-- she knows she will never be able to commit to just one person, and she does not see why she can't love several people at once. She hopes to live in a commune one day with likeminded people-- basically people, I think, who are just okay with sleeping with everyone else. I was incredibly intrigued by her, but I still couldn't wrap my head around the whole idea.

When we weren't working, we went hiking together.  I was running, writing, doing yoga, playing with the dogs or just hanging out. We spent a lot of time singing and dancing together, and just enjoying life at the beautiful farm.

I decided to stay a week since my trip was already flying by and I had a lot left to see. Plus, my cousin was awaiting my arrival in Madrid!!


Monday, December 19, 2011


Leaving Italy was bittersweet. I had grown attached to the Italian culture. But, my mother is half Spanish; making me a quarter, so going to Spain was comforting. It is the only place I had ever been in Europe before my adventure and I was excited to be going back. Barcelona was one Spanish city I had never seen before and always wanted to go, so I decided to start there.

I would give the hostel in Barcelona a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10. It was just too impersonal and very institutional. But there was quite a mixed bag staying in my room- a girl from Sicily, two girls from China, a Canadian couple, and a guy from Korea. And, there was a bar and Sangria was the perfect way for me to get in the Spanish mindset. I had two friends living in Barcelona at the time—one girl I went to school with was earning her English teaching certification and a guy I knew from Atlanta is working there as a sports journalist. Anyways, I couldn’t get in touch with either of them, so my first night there was somewhat of a disappointment—I ended up being bombarded by a British soccer team in town for some game. I am embarrassed to say I ended up at the Hard Rock CafĂ© with a group of sloppy, seemingly unintelligent athletes. Way to go, Caroline.

However, I believe I made up for it in the next week I spent in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I spent most of my time there with my two friends- drinking Sangria, bar-hopping, eating tapas, admiring the famous Antoni Gaudi’s architecture, touring the Gothic churches and truly beginning the life as a crazy Spanish person.

Maybe “crazy” isn’t the politically correct term, but Spaniards certainly know how to party and know how to do it well. They put Italians to shame when it comes to staying out all hours of the night and into the early mornings. Time slips away in Spain—seriously, one second it is midnight and the next thing you know its 4 a.m. and you would have never guessed it.

It took me a while to get used to the language change. It's strange switching from Italian to Spanish, because they sound very similar but are really incredibly different. Before my trip, my Spanish foundation was fairly strong, considering I studied it for years in school, and my Italian basically non-existant. But, since I had spent so much time in Italy, I was just getting good, and BAM- back to Spanish. I found myself digging deep back into my mind where I had stuffed my old Spanish grammar and vocab. in order to learn another language. After a few days and a bunch of mistakes, I started to get the hang of it again.

People really appreciate it when you at least try to speak the language. My pet peeve is when people do not even make an attempt at speaking the language, while thinking that speaking English slowly is going to make it any more understandable!! Drives me insane.

I was happy about was a change in food. I loved the pastas, pizzas and every other carb. Italy is famous for, but my body was over it. Italians know how to do it right, but after a while the three or four course meals get real old. In Spain, tapas (miniature appetizers) are genius, in my opinion. I could live off them- and I basically did when I was there. Granted, many of them don’t contain the healthiest ingredients you could imagine—one of my favorites is croquets: basically fried ham and cheese or sometimes they come with vegetables or seafood inside. They are absolutely delicious, and in moderation—like anything else- they won’t kill you. The chorizo—the Spanish sausage—was another favorite of mine. And the Spanish tortilla—an omelet-type tapa made with eggs and potato is a classic.

Another thing that is ridiculously unhealthy but very traditionally Spanish: Churros. They are basically strips of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. And, if you really want to go the extra mile (which I do), you can dip them in hot liquid chocolate. Mmmmm, Devilishly scrumptious.

And a famous park—Parc Guell—is one of the more touristy places in the city, full of scarf and jewelry vendors, and street musicians trying to make a buck. Nonetheless, it is probably close to the prettiest spot in Barcelona. There are beautiful birds flying around, several of Gaudi’s structures (including his own house) and views of the coastal Spanish city that took my breath away. It makes sense why people from all over the world visit it everyday.

Next stop—The farm.

Hasta Luego!