Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vienna

Many years ago my dad told me that Vienna is his favorite city in Europe, and from that day on Vienna has been on my bucket list. I wasn't quite sure what was there, but I knew that I wanted to go. When planning my spring break trip with my mom, Vienna was an easy choice mostly because of its proximity to Prague. I honestly thought Prague would steal the show, but surprisingly it was Vienna that truly captured my heart.

Colorful tulips at the Naschmarkt
We found gluten free chocolate cake!

While Prague was undoubtedly fairytale-esque, Vienna was full of charm and sophistication that seemed a bit more genuine. Unlike Prague, its magic wasn't exploited by the tourism industry to attract more visitors. Although there are still plenty of sights to see, Vienna's character remains untouched.

Pretty cocktails at the Palmenhaus

One of my favorite parts about Vienna was its café culture. The city is abounding with elegant cafés, adorned with crystal chandeliers and waiters in tuxedos. While many regulars visit these cafés to order an espresso or traditional mélange and read the Sunday paper, many visitors are enticed by the mouthwatering variety of cakes and pastries. Of these, the most notorious are Hotel Sacher's Sachertorte, a decadent chocolate cake with apricot jam, and classic Viennese apfelstrudel.

Exquisite details inside the Opera House
Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral

Vienna embraces a fervent obsession with music, for many famous composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Strauss have called this city home. In order to bring music to the masses, the Opera House broadcasts its performances on a large screen outside facing the street. While there are plenty of classical concerts worth attending, you can also find many talented musicians performing on the streets or in the plazas. Needless to say, the city's passion for music is delightfully contagious. 


Vienna exudes class and sophistication. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of culture that this majestic city has to offer. This former Habsburg capital offers a plethora of first-class museums, lavish royal palaces, exquisite shopping, and not to mention the world's finest opera. Vienna is polished and refined, but not pretentious. In many ways, I see Vienna like I see Paris: enchanting, addicting, and brimming with unparalleled beauty. I could keep coming back here for the rest of my life.


My Vienna Picks:
Best People-Watching: Schönbrunn Palace Gardens
Favorite Tours: Vienna State Opera & Hofburg Palace Imperial Apartments
Best Views: The Sky Bar at Steffl
Favorite Restaurant: Palmenhaus
Must-Try Dishes: Apfelstrudel, Wiener Schnitzel and Sachertorte

Monday, May 26, 2014

Prague's Old Town Square


Although I was hoping to first experience Prague's Old Town Square a là Mandy Moore in "Chasing Liberty", being there in reality was still just as magical as any movie scene. The sounds and smells of the Easter market combined with the breathtaking architecture made for a delightful sensory overload. Amongst the candy colored buildings and horse-drawn carriages were vendors selling kitschy Easter decorations, aromatic grilled meats and traditional Czech pastries called Trdelník or Trdlo roasting over an open fire.

While I'm not usually one for crowds, I was instantly enamored by the elegant chaos of Prague's Old Town Square. We lucked out by coming the week before Easter so we could enjoy a festive addition to the lively square, and I'm glad I got to experience it in April rather than in the height of tourist season. Seeing as how magical this plaza was during Easter, I'd love to come back in the winter to see the picturesque Christmas markets.

For the best views of Old Town Square, soar up the Astronomical Clock or grab a drink & appetizers at Hotel U Prince's rooftop terrace.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Celebrating Madrid's San Isidro Festival

We stepped off the metro into the scorching heat, unsure of where to go. We found ourselves in an unknown neighborhood in an unfamiliar part of town, spontaneously searching for the elusive festival of Madrid’s patron saint: San Isidro. There were crowds in every which direction. “Which way should we head?” Daniel and I asked each other. We followed the path with the heaviest traffic, apprehensive of our new surroundings.


We turned down an unassuming street, lured by the thumping of music and flurry of balloon vendors being chased by exuberant children. We spotted the entrance to the park, Pradera de San Isidro, colorfully adorned with unlit twinkle light signs and bottlenecked crowds. Upon entering the park, we were immediately overcome with the intoxicating scents of grilled meat and cotton candy wafting through the air, along with the sweet smells of anis-flavored donuts called rosquillas.


Amongst the throngs of festival-goers carrying enormous cups of tinto de verano were locals dressed in old-fashioned chulapos and chulapas, the traditional costumes of madrileños. Like a less flamboyant flamenco dress, chulapas are typically paired with an embroidered shall and a white head scarf with bright red flowers on top, while the men’s dapper chulapos entail houndstooth flat caps, waistcoats and jackets with a red carnation in the lapel. The locals effortlessly donned their vintage attire as they wandered past the myriad of food stalls lining the bustling pathway, occasionally purchasing a steaming plate of paella, a rich assortment of meats or a greasy scoop of huevos rotos to soak up the massive portions of sangria and Mahou beer being served.


Darling children dressed in picturesque chulapos stood entranced in front of the cotton candy machines, while boisterous vendors enticed us with chorizo, bocadillos and other beckoning treats. Although tempted by the mouthwatering Spanish versions of fair food, we continued strolling towards the church, where we happened upon a group of locals dancing the traditional chotis. In their customary dresses, the men and women glided across the pavement with grins on their faces. A few enthusiastic crowd members eventually made their way into the festivities, including a lively elderly woman who had probably drank one too many sangrias and was hell-bent on inching her way into the middle of the dance circle. Her husband chuckled along with us as she danced the chotis solo, unintentionally stealing the show from the dancers.


We wandered up the grassy hills, where every square inch of space was covered with picnics and botellóns. As we hiked up through the park, the paths were littered with vendors selling sangria, beer, mojitos and calimocho, a popular mixed drink made of wine and Coca Cola. The party was only just getting started. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a rickety Ferris wheel, and so we set off to explore the carnival. The repetitive rhythms of Reggaeton music echoed from rides filled with screaming children, and in a dreamlike trance we walked past the flashy rides towards the endless rows of game booths. We passed a booth packed with crowds playing Bingo, except the only prizes were giant legs of ham. Only in Spain...


At this point, I had difficulty comprehending just how sprawling this park was. The festivities were seemingly never-ending. We turned the corner to discover yet another long promenade alongside grassy knolls, besieged with food vendors and a large stage at the very end. My stomach was growling with hunger, but I couldn’t even begin to fathom the infinite number of options. Then just as fate would have it, Daniel and I passed a large pan of huevos rotos that we simply couldn’t resist. Although I typically can never resist huevos rotos – my all-time favorite Spanish dish comprised of fried eggs atop French fries and sprinkled with bits of jamón – this batch looked particularly enticing. We settled down with our drinks and began to feast upon what I now look back on as one of the most satisfying meals of my life.


Fueled by a mix of fair food and tinto de verano, we made our way through the park and back to the metro station, where we ventured to La Latina for some more savory Spanish treats. I dragged us to Taberna El Buo, where we relished a tortilla española with caramelized onions and goat cheese. My heart was just as happy as my stomach, for our escapades were turning into the perfect day.


Our goal was to head straight to Parque del Buen Retiro where the city was holding a fireworks show later that evening, but we got sidetracked by a concert in Plaza Mayor. As I swayed along to the music for a couple of songs, I couldn’t help but soak in my surroundings with awe and have a profound “Oh my God, I live in Spain” moment. The scenery was entirely magical. I could have stayed there for the rest of the evening, but we had a fireworks show to attend to that I simply refused to miss.


We arrived to Retiro with only a few minutes to spare. A single shot rang out in the dark, and we raced to get a good spot in front of the glistening pond and regal Monument to Alfonso XII, whimsically lit up and changing colors. Soon the majestic explosions began, bursting with bright hues and synched to the soundtrack of a dramatic orchestra. I couldn’t help but grin up at the sky as if I were a child again.

We dodged the crowds and began the long walk home, past the glowing Metropolis building and up Gran Vía. The city lights sparkled against the deep navy sky, while the warm breeze made me feel undeniably present and alive. I was buzzing with an electric happiness, immensely satisfied with our day’s many successes. It was the perfect day through and through, proving itself to be one of my favorite memories in Madrid thus far.

Linking up today for Travel Tuesday!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Adelante!

While I've been casually yet noncommittally blogging for a few years now, one year ago today I created this space as a creative outlet and a way to document my upcoming adventures as an expat in Spain. While I never had big expectations for my blog, this little corner of the internet has blessed me in many surprising ways.


Through this blog I've been able to reinvigorate my passion for writing. I've harbored a love for writing my entire life, but I've always felt too nervous to share mine with the world. By challenging myself to write consistently on this blog, I've learned to be a bit more fearless. Spilling your words out onto paper (or in this case, a computer screen) inevitably lets out a more vulnerable side of who you are, and sometimes it's scary to show that side to an anonymous public. Letting go of that fear has been a profound growing experience for me, both as an aspiring writer and as a 20-something trying to navigate this chaotic world.


I'm also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the blogging community and connect with some truly incredible individuals. In fact, I've met several of my good friends here in Madrid through blogging, and it's partially their fault that I'm having so much fun here and have committed to staying a second year. Having blogger friends equals having fellow adventure buddies, which means that there's never a dull moment (or an empty stomach) when we're together.


While I would have never guessed what kind of doors this blog would open, I'm excited to see what opportunities another year will bring - whether that be more personal growth, new friendships or possible career opportunities. But as many of you may already know, the title of my blog Adelante means to go forward or ahead, so that's exactly what I plan on doing as I embark on another year of expat life in Madrid.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fairytale Prague


Being in Prague is like setting foot inside your favorite storybook. The clip-clopping of horse-drawn carriages, sherbet colored buildings, and red rooftops sprinkled with rusty turquoise domes and spires create a magical fairytale land that seems worlds away from reality.


Visiting Prague has been a dream of mine since I was in junior high, and for years it has been at the very top of my “Places I Want to Go” list. I don’t know why it took me so long to get there, but I’m so glad I waited until I did. Experiencing Prague with my mom, my favorite travel buddy and partner in crime, made the city that much more enchanting.


On our first day there, my mom and I headed up to the castle where we hurriedly rushed from sight to sight. I tried to push my way through the bumbling hordes of tourists so I could admire the sublime views, but I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people. The castle itself wasn’t as breathtaking as I expected, and I felt worried that this was what the rest of Prague would be like. Would I really feel disappointed after dreaming about this city for so many years?


We stuck around the Castle Quarter until just before dusk, and like a breath of fresh air, the masses finally emptied out. We leisurely explored the gardens, taking our time to contemplate the mesmerizing vistas and eventually saunter back down to Old Town. Upon returning, we were itching to finally see Old Town Square. As soon as we turned the corner and found ourselves facing the Astronomical Clock, we were immediately overcome with awe.

Nestled in between the picturesque pastel buildings was a sprawling Easter market, bustling with vendors selling hand-painted eggs, traditional Czech pastries, roasted sausages, wooden marionettes and mulled wine. The intoxicating scents mixed with the captivating sounds of traditional folk music pulsing through the entire square, beckoning us forth into a peregrine reverie.

For the rest of our time in Prague, we were filled with the same sense of wonder that first intoxicated us in Old Town Square. As we meandered through the city's many colorful Easter markets, crossed the venerable Charles Bridge and explored the remarkable Jewish quarter filled with intricate Art Nouveau architecture and breathtaking synagogues, we took in the entire city with awe. We marveled at the history and culture, and surrendered ourselves to the city's many sights, sounds and tastes.


My Prague Picks:
Best Hotel: Savic Hotel
Best People-Watching: Old Town Square
Favorite Museum: Museum of Communism
Best Views: Atop the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square
Favorite Restaurants: Švejk Restaurant U Karla and Il tří růží
Must-Try Dishes: Goulash, dumplings and beer


Linking up for Travel Tuesday today!