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Ten Commandments of Airplane Etiquette

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
These days, I feel like I spend most of my time either racing through airports or flying on airplanes. With the amount of traveling that I do, I inevitably encounter some unpleasant situations along the way. On planes, I usually try to drown out the chaos with my headphones and a decent playlist, but sometimes the insanity simply cannot be ignored. Traveling by plane has taught me the value of common sense, and what a rare commodity it truly is. So without further ado, I give you my

1. Thou shalt stick to thine own seat assignment.

I'm pretty OCD when it comes to selecting seats. I usually only sit in even numbered aisles, and I get pretty anxious if I don't sit in a window seat. I normally choose my seats months in advance, and nowadays I usually have to pay extra for them. So when I'm on a transatlantic flight and I've paid more money for a window seat with extra leg room, please don't ask me to switch seats with you when you're frantically trying to get your family of 10 to sit together. Plan ahead, people. 

2. Thou shalt respect personal space.

It only takes one transatlantic flight with a stranger trying to cuddle with you to make you never want to fly again. See that armrest? Let's think of it as an invisible line between us. Please, do not cross it.

3. Thou shalt wear deodorant.

I shouldn't have to explain this one further, but it's appalling how many people clearly need to be reminded of it. The same goes for avoiding overwhelmingly strong perfume. We're all trapped in this small steel tube together, so let's try our best to be respectful and smell nice.

4. Thou shalt be a responsible parent.

I'm okay with crying babies (I mean, they can't help it), but when a parent does nothing to stop their child from persistently punching and kicking the seat in front of them (when they're clearly old enough to know better), I just about lose it. Oh, I didn't know I was signing up for a free back massage when I sat in front of your savage offspring! This is an airplane, not a daycare. Either control your child or buy me a drink, you choose.

5. That shalt not recline thy seat until after dinner.

There is nothing more uncomfortable than trying to eat your less-than-mediocre airplane food while awkwardly cramped in your seat, because Joe Bro in front of you decided to recline his seat immediately after take off. Considering most in-flight meals are served fairly soon after departure, is it really too much to wait until after we don't have to use our tray tables anymore?

6. Thou shalt not abuse free drinks in first class.

Just because you're flying first class to Vegas doesn't mean you can act like Ke$ha. Maybe the entire cabin doesn't want to hear your life story when you're one mimosa away from a blackout.

7. Thou shalt respect thy tall brethren.

If you're pretty short and the guy sitting directly behind you looks like he's over 6'1, is it really necessary to keep your seat reclined through the entire 8 hour flight? When my towering peers help me lift my heavy carry-on bag into the overhead bin, I try to return the favor and not squish them for 6+ consecutive hours.

8. Thou shalt not affront thy flight attendant.

You've gotta hand it to them, these people deal with the craziest of the crazies. I asked my flight attendant friend Shalei what bothers her the most about passengers' behavior, and she said,
"TRASH: Give it all to me when I ask and stop hiding it in the seat back pockets or under the seat. This is not your house. And please don't blame us for all of the flying delays. We are not the weather gods and if you want to fly on a broken plane then buy your own."

9. Thou shalt not yell on thy phone whilst on the runway.

That's cool that you don't mind 160 strangers listening in on your personal conversation, but let's try to use our inside voices. Or better yet, save the conversation for later.

10. Thou shalt use thine overhead space wisely.

If I'm not mistaken, the rule is "one carry-on in the overhead bin per passenger", not "one carry-on, one purse, an extra-large puffy coat and three Duty Free shopping bags". I don't understand why this is such a difficult concept for some people to grasp. Finding overhead space would be so much less dramatic if we all followed the rules.

What would you add to this list? 
Do you have any airplane horror stories?

Springtime in Madrid

Monday, April 28, 2014
Due to all of my recent travels, I feel like I haven't been giving Madrid enough love on my blog lately. With a new season comes plenty of new things to do, so I've been taking advantage of the gorgeous spring weather and trying new things. Here's what I've been up to while at home in Madrid:

Having Picnics on My Balcony

After Christmas I moved into a bigger room in my same apartment, and I can honestly say that having two balconies is worth every extra Euro. One of them faces my favorite plaza and two stunning churches, making it the perfect spot for mini picnics. I died and went to foodie heaven while feasting upon this platter of buttery jamón ibérico de bellota, creamy Spanish cheese, savory chips freshly made by my favorite potato chip factory in Huertas, and my favorite bottle of Rioja wine. 

Wine Tasting with Madrid Uncorked

Madrid Uncorked holds monthly wine tastings, each focusing on a different theme. So far I've been to "Off-road: Spanish wine regions you've (probably) never heard of" and "Smack-down: Rioja vs. Ribera del Duero", both of which were informative and delicious!  Their tastings bring out a diverse group of both locals and expats alike, and the laid-back atmosphere makes trying new Spanish wines relaxing and enjoyable.

You can sign up for tastings with Madrid Uncorked here.

Hiking with Hiking Madrid
Last month my friend Jen invited me on a hike from Colmenar de Oreja to Chinchón with Hiking Madrid, and despite being embarrassingly out of shape, I jumped at the opportunity to surround myself with nature once again. We went on a beautiful sunny day, and 12 kilometers later I was reminded once again of how much I truly love hiking. (You can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest, but you can't take the PNW out of the girl!) I'm looking forward to getting some fresh country air on more hikes this spring!

If you're interested in going on an adventure with Hiking Madrid, email to get on their mailing list.

Playing Tour Guide

Before traveling to Prague and Vienna together for spring break, my momma came and spent one week with me in Madrid! I had such a blast showing her around the city and taking her to all of my favorite spots. We hit all of my go-to bars and restaurants, while also discovering some new places along the way. With her in town, I finally had an excuse to go to the oldest restaurant in the world, which gave us an impressionable taste of old world Madrid. I even took her to work with me one day, and she got to meet all of my darling monsters students and see how wild yet lovable they really are. I felt so proud showing off my city, and having my mom around to witness it all made my life here seem that much more real. While I miss my mom like crazy now that she's gone, I'm also thankful to call this place home. 

Enjoying Sunny Rooftop Bars

I've always had an obsession with rooftop bars, but sadly they are far and few between in Seattle. Hence, my love for Madrid has grown even further upon discovering the plethora of rooftop bars that exist here! Although at times unpredictable, the weather here is infinitely better than Washington's - so I try to take advantage of the sunshine by enjoying my vino with a view.

Making Big Decisions

I have some exciting news: I'm officially staying in Madrid for another year! 
I'll continue working as an assistant English teacher and exploring Spain one bite at a time. This year my travel plans have focused on seeing more of Europe (which have thus far included London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Budapest, northern France, Prague and Vienna - with Munich and Greece up next!), but next year I plan on exploring more of Spain. Although I'm a bit anxious to see what the future holds, I couldn't be more excited to stay here and soak in all of what Madrid has to offer. 
Cheers to another year of España!

Je Suis Une Flâneuse

Friday, April 25, 2014
As I was exploring Northern France, my friend Patty taught me the most delightful word in French, flâner - which means to roam, stroll or wander about aimlessly.

Valenciennes, France

Upon further research I discovered that flâner directly translated means "to stroll, saunter or lounge" in a relative context of idleness or laziness. However, Baudelaire defined flâner as something more poetic, in which the word implies that strolling through a city is the best way to understand and experience it.

This word really stuck with me, because it describes my ideal way of traveling: getting to know a new place by exploring it without a specific destination in mind. Aimlessly wandering through a city is my favorite thing to do while traveling, because it allows you to truly discover the personality of the place you're visiting. You experience it in a completely different way than you otherwise would as a hurried tourist, hastily bouncing from one attraction to the next.

My favorite place to flâner will always be Paris

In the 19th century, the flâneur was a literary archetype often found on the streets of Paris. Such men of leisure were initially looked down upon as idlers, but soon their persona became associated with curiosity, investigation and urban exploration. The notion of flânerie was accompanied by the idea of experiencing a city through detached observation.

In "The Painter of Modern Life", Charles Baudelaire describes the art of the flâneur as such,

"The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. 
His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. 
For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy 
to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement,
in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. 
To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; 
to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world
impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define."

If I had to choose one word to describe myself here in Europe, it would be flâneuse. My goal as a traveler is to discover the heart and soul of the places I visit. Whether it be at home in Madrid or while traveling to a new city, for me this is attained through people watching, photography, journaling, and simply wandering through the city. Even my growing passion for photography can be explained by the ways of the flâneur. Balzac described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the eye", while Susan Sontag exclaims,

"The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque'."

I'm delighted to have finally discovered this word, for it explains so much about me. A wanderer, an observer, and an urban explorer; through and through, I'm a flâneuse at heart. 

Eating Gluten-Free in Prague

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Eating Gluten-Free in Prague

Czech food is a notorious foe to us gluten intolerant folk. Upon traveling to the land of beer, goulash and dumplings, I halfway expected to pick at lettuce and/or McDonalds fries all week long. So imagine my delight when I was researching Celiac-friendly options in Prague and finally came across a restaurant that supposedly served gluten-free versions of traditional Czech dishes. At first I thought it was too good to be true, but thankfully I was mistaken.

At Švejk Restaurant U Karla, you can find classic Czech dishes specially prepared gluten-free for a surprisingly decent price. My mom and I, both Celiacs, went there twice during our week in Prague. We feasted upon their gluten-free beef goulash with onions and homemade dumplings, pork sirloin in a sour cream sauce with homemade dumplings, roasted sausage with mustard and horseradish, pancakes with marmalade, fruit dumplings and apple strudel. They even serve a tasty gluten-free Czech beer called Celia. You can check out the rest of their extensive GF menu here.

Behold, good gluten-free beer actually exists!
Getting my goulash on.
These fluffy pancakes filled with apricot marmalade melted in my mouth.
Gooey dumplings filled with seasonal fruit & topped with cinnamon, sugar and cheese. Perfection.

Švejk Restaurant U Karla is conveniently located in Nové Město, or New Town, just a 15 minute walk from Old Town Square.

We also had luck finding GF meals at Hotel U Prince, one of the few restaurants in town that specifically labels meals on their menu as gluten-free. Both of their indoor and outdoor dining areas next to Old Town Square offer many gluten-free dishes, but their rooftop terrace has a different menu with fewer options. (Which is a shame, because the views are amazing. But I still recommend going up there for a drink and perhaps an appetizer.)

If you are traveling to Prague and have Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance, I highly recommend printing out a gluten-free restaurant card like this one to give to your waiters at restaurants. There aren't many eateries in Prague that have special gluten-free menus like Švejk Restaurant U Karla or Hotel U Prince, and not every waiter knows what gluten is. Using this card helped me enjoy dishes at other not-so-Celiac-friendly restaurants without getting sick.

Although I wasn't expecting to sample authentic Czech cuisine in Prague, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of it I got to enjoy. I think it's fair to say that I loved every single bite.

Do you have any food allergies? 
How do you survive them while traveling?


Monday, April 7, 2014

My first stop in northern France was Valenciennes, where my friend Patty lives. Getting there from Brussels was quite the trek, but as soon as I stepped off the train I was instantly enamored. Valenciennes is a charming small town, and everything about it is thoroughly darling. 

Patty guided me through the winding streets while I admired all of the rustic limestone buildings with picturesque shutters. I quickly became infatuated with how quintessentially French it all was.

I didn't expect to fall in love with northern France as much as I did, but I'm so glad I made a trip up there to experience it.


Thursday, April 3, 2014
What I love the most about northern France is that it's a hidden gem that has yet to be discovered by the rest of the world. Lille has all of the charm and beauty of Paris, minus the hordes of tourists. 

Only 10 minutes away from the Belgian border, Lille is adorned with an elegant mix of both French and Belgian architecture. Not to mention, northern France boasts the best of both French and Belgian cuisine. I shamelessly feasted upon French cheeses, wines and omelets as well as Belgian chocolates and frites all weekend long. Talk about the best of both worlds. Quand on est à Lille, on mange comme les lillois!

Despite their bad reputation, I've always found French people to be quite friendly - and the people of Lille are by far the most amicable. I love practicing my French whenever I can (although I'm still pretty terrible), but whenever I'm in Paris and I initiate a conversation in French, Parisians automatically respond to me in English. However, in Lille my broken French was met with a smile. They listened patiently and spoke to me slowly, further inspiring me to keep continue learning French.

We spent our time in Lille wandering through the quaint cobblestone streets, admiring all of the charming buildings, snacking on macarons, drinking café au lait while people watching, and eating a sublime mix of French and Belgian food. I loved that there wasn't an overwhelming list of sightseeing to-dos, and there wasn't a tourist in sight. I felt as if I could freely enjoy the culture of France without stressing about squeezing everything in. During a season of many hectic travels, Lille was truly a breath of fresh air.