Thursday, August 28, 2014

Neuschwanstein: A Bavarian Fairytale


I'd been dreaming of coming to this castle for 16 years. When I was 7 years old, my dad went on a business trip to Munich and brought me back a giant poster of Neuschwanstein Castle covered in snow. As he told me stories of his visit to the castle - which is most famous for being the inspiration behind Disney's Cinderella castle - I imagined myself as a princess frolicking through the snow towards my enchanted fortress. That poster has been hanging in our bonus room ever since.

 photo fussen1_zpsab904d81.png

The man who commissioned this castle, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was a bit of a character. Okay, well, maybe more than just "a bit". Some people still ascertain that he was a nut job. Who can know for sure? 

Back in the late 1800s, King Ludwig II spent all of his royal funds pursuing extravagant architectural and artistic endeavors. During his reign, he built three over-the-top castles: Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee. He also had a fervent obsession with the works of Richard Wagner. Inside Neuschwanstein Castle, you can find many vibrant frescos depicting scenes from Wagner's operas. 

Although he was well-loved by his Bavarian constituents, his lavish spending sent him into serious debt. His cabinet wanted to get rid of him, so they concocted accounts that portrayed Ludwig as mentally ill and therefore unable to rule. Although the king tried to argue against these accusations, he was quickly taken out of power. He mysteriously died the next day.



Despite King Ludwig II's soap opera story and dramatic demise, his whimsical ambitions made Neuschwanstein that much more unique. This fortress was the most breathtaking castle I've ever seen, and I don't think any other castle can quite compare. I suppose these were Ludwig's precise intentions. Little did he know!


Getting to Neuschwanstein Castle from Munich:

- Buy a Bayern ticket at the nearest U-Bahn (subway) station. The Bayern ticket is valid for one day and costs 26€ for 2 adults. (You can use this ticket to get to the main train station, and also to take the bus to the castle and back.)
- Take the U-Bahn to the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station)
- Take the train to Füssen (But be sure to ask the information desk which train to Füssen your Bayern ticket will cover. We tried to take the 8:53 train, but apparently our ticket wasn't valid for that particular train. The 9:53 train, however, is covered.)
- Enjoy the scenic train ride, which takes about 2 hours
- Follow the tourists and take bus 73 in the direction of Steingaden/Garmisch-Partenkirchen or bus 78 in the direction of Schwangau to the stop Hohenschwangau/Alpseestraße
- The buses will drop you off below the ticket office

Planning Your Visit:

- Pick up your tickets at the ticket booth no later than one hour before your tour
- Take the shuttle bus to Mary's Bridge (Marienbrücke) to see the views before hiking down to the castle. The shuttle bus picks you up in front of Hotel Lisl above the ticket office and costs 1.80€ for a one-way ride. The downhill hike is about 10 minutes long.
- Take the Neuschwanstein castle tour, which lasts for approximately 30 minutes
- Pack a lunch or snacks and have a picnic by the castle
- Take a horse-drawn carriage ride from the castle back down to the parking lot (3€) or take a scenic hike down (go back up to Marienbrücke and follow signs down to Pöllat Gorge)
- Take bus 73 or 78 back to Füssen
- Take the train back to Munich

Be sure to buy your castle tickets at least 2 days before your visit. 
I recommend buying them at least a week in advance here.
You can click here for more information on getting to the castle. 

*We wanted to allow ample time for exploring and taking photos, so we scheduled our tour for 2:25, took the 8:53 train to Füssen, and picked up our tickets at the ticket booth before 1:25. We could have taken the 9:53 train and been okay on time - and that train would have also been covered by our Bayern ticket. We got back to Munich just in time for dinner. Although it was a long day, we were glad we took our time so we didn't have to rush through the sights.

What is your favorite castle in Europe?

Treasure Tromp

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Paradise in Oía, Santorini

SantoriniStaircase5x7

I don't even know where to begin when describing the beauty of Oía, Santorini. 

I mean, do I have to?

Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante

This town is hands-down the prettiest place I've ever been to, so nothing I write will do it justice. This dreamy village practically resembles heaven with its whitewashed houses carved into the volcanic hillside, breathtaking sunsets, and sublime views of the island's caldera. 

Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante

The calming sea of white is juxtaposed by cascades of magenta bougainvillea, aquamarine infinity pools, and cerulean church domes. Boutique hotels and quaint shops line the narrow cobblestone pathways, while the azure Aegean Sea sparkles in the sunlight. 

Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante

This blissful Greek utopia almost feels too good to be true. Suffice it to say, I'll be dreaming of coming back to Oía for a long, long time.

Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante


MY OÍA PICKS:

Favorite Restaurants:
Roka and Floga

Where to Stay:
Oia's Sunset Apartments

Must-Try Dishes:
Dolmades, Baked Eggplant and Fava

Favorite Activity:
Wine Tasting with Santorini Food and Wine Tours

Where to Treat Yo'self:
Canaves Oia Hotel & Suites

Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante
Paradise in Oía, Santorini | Adelante


Is Santorini on your bucket list?
If you've already visited, 
what was the most memorable part?


Friday, August 22, 2014

Snapshots of Fira


While traveling through Greece, it was the island of Santorini that absolutely captured my heart. Though we spent most of our time exploring the village of Oía, we spent our nights in Fira because accommodations were a bit more affordable there. 

We stayed at the lovely Anatoli Hotel, where we were surrounded by picturesque Greek churches and sublime ocean views. When we weren't swimming or tanning by the pool, we ventured through the alleys that winded up towards the center of town. Although I wasn't a huge fan of downtown Fira, wandering through these hidden pathways gave Fira its charm.

Truth be told, I'd give just about anything to be back in Fira laying out by the pool, eating gyros and admiring all of the unexpected pops of color. Santorini embodies paradise in almost every imaginable way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Liebster Love

I'm honored to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by Kirstie from Venga, Vale, Vamos and Betty from The Pumpkin's Head!
"Liebster", which means "dear" or "loved" in German, is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. Once you get the Liebster Award, you have to pass it on to other blogs that you admire!


The Rules:

- Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you
- Answer their 10 questions for you
- Nominate 5-10 blogs that you think deserve the award
- Create a set of 10 new questions for them to answer
- Notify your nominees!


Questions from Kirstie:

1. If you were limited to only visiting home plus one other destination for the rest of your life, what destination would you choose?
My instinct is to say Madrid, but since Madrid is technically one of my homes, my answer would have to be Paris. Paris was the first city I ever fell in love with, and to this day it remains my favorite city in the world. I'll always keep coming back.

2. What languages do you speak? Have you found them to be useful while traveling?
I speak Spanish and a little bit of French, and I'm currently attempting to learn German. (Ich will ein Glas Rotwein bitte!) Speaking Spanish has allowed me to experience the cultures of Spain and South America in a much deeper way, and knowing bits and pieces of French and German has made my travels through France, Germany and Austria so much easier.

3. What's the best deal you've ever found while traveling?
A RyanAir flight from Madrid to Budapest for 40€!

A roundtrip ticket for only 80€? Yes please.

4. What's one travel destination everyone seems to love but you just don't understand?
Call me crazy, but I really don't like New York City. The hustle and bustle stresses me out, the people are rude (at least to my West Coast standards), and everything about the city seems oppressive to me. Surely I'm generalizing, but I get the impression that not a lot of people take time to slow down and enjoy life.

5. What travel goals would you like to accomplish in the next five years?
I'd really like to go to southeast Asia, become conversationally fluent in third language, and take a vacation entirely devoted to relaxing on a beach.

6. Who is the most interesting person you met while traveling?
Once I met a homeless poet named Johnny. He proposed to me. I said yes.

7. If you could do any job in any part of the world, regardless of visa restrictions, language barriers, etc., what would you do?
I would be a professional macaron taster at Ladurée in Paris. I don't know if that position actually exists, but it's my dream job.

Hi Ladurée. Hire me.

8. How long is the longest trip you've ever taken?
In October 2012 I spent a little over two weeks in South America with my mom and stepdad. We traveled through Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. I wish we could have stayed longer, because there are still so many places in South America that I want to explore!

9. What is the coolest hostel or hotel you've stayed in?
Definitely La Aldea de la Selva in Puerto Iguazú, Argentina! We had our own bungalow in the middle of the jungle, and I felt like I was staying in an enchanted treehouse. Sipping caipirinhas in the pool didn't suck either.
Jungle paradise in Argentina

10. What's your favorite part of having a travel blog?
Connecting with other travel bloggers! I've made so many new friends through the travel blogging community, and getting together with fellow foodies/adventure junkies/wanderlust victims always results in a good time. I love hearing everyone's stories and having conversations with people who understand the insatiable thirst for travel and adventure.

11. Are there any blogs that really inspire you?
My favorite blog is Cupcakes & Cashmere, because I secretly aspire to be a modern Martha Stewart just like Emily. Some other favorites that never fail to inspire me are True Colours, Curiosity Travels and Guten Blog Ya'll.


Questions from Betty:

1. What places are you dying to see within the next five years?
Istanbul, Copenhagen, Croatia, Thailand, Bali, Israel, the south of France, almost everywhere in Italy... the list goes on (and on, and on, and on...)

2. If you could live in another country/city that you haven't before, where would it be?
When I'm ready to come back to America for good, I want to live in southern California. I need to live somewhere with at least 300 days of sunshine per year, and I'd love to live in a state where I'm not socially ostracized for my NFL preferences. (Go Niners!)

3. When did you first catch the wonderful illness that is wanderlust?
I began obsessively dreaming about traveling the world when I was about 8 or 9 years old. When I studied abroad in Spain in 2010 and began traveling through Europe, my wanderlust started to peak. From there it's grown exponentially, and I'm afraid there's no turning back now.

Studying abroad in Cádiz sparked my wanderlust.

4. What's the one thing you cannot travel without?
My Canon Rebel T2i and Sigma f/1.4 30mm lens (along with spare memory cards and batteries!)

5. What's the scariest thing that's ever happened to you while traveling?
Getting stranded in Africa and sleeping outside of a bus station. Fun times!

6. What are your preferred lodgings: hotel, hostel, or vacation rental?
I'm a sucker for nice hotels. I wish I were one of those travelers who could say, "I only stay at Airbnb's because I want a more authentic experience", but let's be real: homegirl wants 500 thread count sheets and complimentary continental breakfasts.

7. Have you been somewhere that turned out to be completely different to what you imagined?
I was honestly surprised by how much I loved London. I thought it would feel just like any other big city, but I was truly charmed by its personality. One week definitely wasn't enough to fully experience it, so I can't wait to return someday.

I truly didn't expect to fall in love with London.

8. What's the best airline you've ever flown with so far, and why?
RyanAir! HAH, just kidding. Probably British Airways - because the first and only time I've flown with them, I used my miles to fly business class. It was a hard transition going back to coach after having a bed, gourmet meals and free champagne!

9. What was the best night out you've ever had while traveling?
I'm not a big partier when I travel, mostly because getting up early and sight-seeing all day really takes it out of me. But living in Spain, there are too many "best night out's" to count! Get me to a rooftop bar with some vino tinto and a good group of friends, and I'm set.

10. What quote best surmises your attitude towards travel?



My Nominees:

Liebster rules vary online, but most specify that you must nominate blogs with less than 500 or 200 followers. I'm nominating six blogs that I love reading who (to the best of my knowledge) haven't posted about the Liebster Award yet!

- Food, Love & Life
- The Wanderlustress
- The One with Wanderlust
- Seoul Tapper
- La Vida Laura
- Route Words


My Questions:

1. If teleportation were suddenly discovered, where would be the first place you'd go?
2. Out of all the places you've traveled to, which country had the best cuisine? Which had the worst?
3. If you could live in one city anywhere in the world for the rest of your life, where would you live?
4. Is there a city or country that some people are crazy about, but you're not interested in visiting?
5. Do you have a go-to playlist for long-haul flights? If so, what does it include?
6. What are three things that you can't travel without?
7. What's your biggest pet peeve on airplanes?
8. What foreign language do you wish you could speak?
9. What is your favorite movie about travel?
10. What's one destination that you are dying to get back to?


Thanks again for sharing the Liebster love, Betty and Kirstie!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Teaching English in Spain

How to teach English in Spain, and what to do once you arrive | adelanteblog.com

Over the past year, I've had many friends, acquaintances and strangers ask me about how to teach English in Spain and what they need to do once they arrive. Instead of copying and pasting the same email I send to everyone, I figured it would be more efficient to answer all of these questions in one comprehensive post. Teaching abroad is an experience I'd recommend to just about anyone, so why not spread the word?

Truth be told, teaching English in Spain was never in my "plan". It wasn't until about 4 months after graduation that I realized I wasn't ready to go to grad school, thus inciting the "what in the world am I doing with my life" panic that commonly afflicts recent post-grads. 

That month, I traveled to South America and had a life-changing conversation with a stranger on an airplane. I was sitting next to a man who worked for National Geographic, and as we got to talking, I admitted to him that I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do career-wise, but I knew that I wanted to travel, speak Spanish, and live a life of adventure. He then suggested that I move to Spain and teach English as a second language. At first I shrugged the idea off, mostly because the idea of teaching terrified me, but not long afterwards I had a change of heart. From there, it all just kind of fell into place. 

If you're a fellow victim of wanderlust with an inherent distain for 9-5 office jobs and a desire to experience the Spanish culture, then maybe teaching English in Spain is the right decision for you.

Here's what you should know about teaching English in Spain and what to do once you get there:

Teaching Programs:

I teach English in Madrid through the Spanish Ministry of Education's Auxiliares de Conversación program, also known as the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program. In Madrid, I work 16 hours per week and earn a monthly grant of 1000€/month. In other regions of Spain, you work 12 hours per week and earn 700€/month. (This is mostly due to the higher cost of living in Madrid.)

While I highly recommend the Auxiliares program, some other options include BEDA, CIEE, MEDDEAS, UCETAM and TEFL. A while back I did a collaboration with a few other bloggers about different ways to teach English in Spain, and you can read about our experiences with our respective programs here:


The application for Auxiliares de Conversación opens in early January. Assignments are placed on a first come first serve basis, so if you want your first pick of locations, be sure to apply as soon as the application opens.

Requirements:

Before packing my bags to teach English in Spain, I had zero experience or qualifications. All the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program requires is that:

- You're a citizen of the US or Canada
- English is your first language
- You're a university graduate by the time you arrive in Spain
- You're in good physical and psychological condition
- You have a clean background check

You aren't required to know Spanish, but it's certainly recommended. There is no age limit, except in Madrid where you must be between the ages of 21 and 35. Learn more about how to apply here.

These requirements may be different if you're applying from the UK, Ireland, Australia or New Zealand.

Responsibilities:

Through the Auxiliares program, Americans and other native English speakers are placed in public schools to work as language assistants. ("Language assistant" is a fancy way of saying "teaching assistant", with an emphasis on facilitating English conversation). We're not supposed to run the classrooms persay, but responsibilities can differ from school to school.

This past year I worked in a public elementary school about an hour outside the center of Madrid, where I taught an adorable group of third and fourth graders. I loved my students (and my fantastic coworkers) so much that I'm coming back to the same colegio for a second year. I really, really lucked out with my school, but sometimes other Auxiliares aren't as fortunate.

In my third grade class, I co-taught science and English. With my fourth graders, I mostly took small groups of students outside the classroom to help them prepare for their end-of-the-year oral exam. I also helped out during arts & crafts time, taught my students several Beatles songs, and made a lot of PowerPoint presentations about Halloween, Thanksgiving and other American traditions. I was not required to write any lesson plans, but I spent about 1-2 hours a week preparing various activities for class.

Arts & crafts is both the most stressful and most entertaining part of my day

Getting Your Visa:

One of the best parts about teaching English in Spain is that it gives you a legal means to live there. The Spanish Ministry of Education grants me a student visa, which I obtained through the process detailed here. Make sure you allow plenty of time for this process!

Once you arrive in Spain, you have 90 days until your visa expires. During this time, you must apply for your NIE and TIE (your temporary resident ID number and card). At your Auxiliares de Conversación orientation, they'll give you some more details on how to do this, but try to jump on it as soon as you can. Expect this process to go slowly, because Spanish bureaucracy is a real pain in the ass dependably inefficient. Your temporary resident ID card will expire at the end of the school year.

Finding Housing: 

Housing is not provided by the program, so it's your responsibility to find an apartment. Finding a good apartment in Spain isn't impossible, but it can at times feel daunting (especially with a language barrier). Don't let that discourage you!

I found my apartment on easypiso.com, but most people have good luck on idealista.com and the Auxiliares de Conversación Facebook pages. It's important to look for a place that's furnished, has WIFI and heating. I also wanted a piso that had an oven, a hot water heater and a balcony. When planning your budget, remember to factor in gastos (utilities), which often aren't included in the rent.

Have realistic expectations. You won't find your dream apartment in Spain. I absolutely love my piso, but there were several things that I had to sacrifice. I don't have a living room, a dryer or a double bed, the kitchen is painfully tiny, and my rent is rather high. But on the flipside, I live in a trendy neighborhood that's centrally located, I have a view from my balcony that's been featured on postcards, my landlord is kind and helpful, a housekeeper comes once a week to clean the common areas, and my apartment was recently renovated.

Do not put money down for an apartment before seeing it in person, because more often than not, the pictures online look nothing like the apartment does in reality.

Consider what sacrifices you're willing to make. I was happy to pay a little extra rent for this view!

Opening a Bank Account: 

To get paid, you must have a Spanish bank account. My school deposits my grant on the first of every month, but be forewarned: other regions in Spain have had issues paying their Auxiliares on time. (Thankfully, this isn't a problem in Madrid.)

When it comes to Spanish banks, I've had really good luck with La Caixa, but my friends have had great experiences with BBVA and Sabadell. I've only heard terrible things about Santander, so I'd recommend staying away from them. I only needed my passport to open an account at La Caixa, while other banks may require your NIE/TIE.

Finding La Caixa branches in Madrid is like finding Starbucks back home in Seattle (in other words, they're everywhere), which makes life pretty easy. Don't choose a small regional bank, because they have fewer branches in other parts of Spain/Europe (which can be rather inconvenient if you plan on traveling extensively).

More Tips:

Using your phone in Spain: 

The easiest thing to do is bring a smartphone from home, unlock it, and buy a new SIM card in Spain. Movistar, Vodafone and Orange are all good places to do this. You can pay as you go, or you can sign a contract for a year. Most people use WhatsApp instead of texting in Spain, so make sure to have internet access on your phone.

Teaching private classes: 

Teaching private classes on the side is the easiest way to earn some extra cash for traveling, or maybe just for your weekly tapas + tinto de verano  fund. In Madrid, most Auxiliares charge 15-20 euros per hour for private lessons, depending on what age you're teaching and how qualified you are. You can find private classes through the Auxiliares de Conversación en Madrid Facebook page or through tusclasesparticulares.com

Moving to Spain with a food allergy: 

Spain is surprisingly accommodating to various food allergies. I have Celiac Disease, but avoiding gluten in Spain hasn't been a problem thanks to their general knowledge of what "celiaca" means and the abundance of eggs and potatoes in Spanish cuisine. It's also relatively easy to avoid dairy, seeing as olive oil is almost always used instead of butter. However, vegetarians, vegans and those who keep Kosher may find avoiding meat to be a bit more difficult.

Learning Spanish: 

Knowing the local language is invaluable, not only for your job but also for your life as an expat. If your Spanish skills need some brushing up, sign up for a Spanish class or attend weekly intercambios. Intercambios are gatherings where you practice speaking Spanish and English with a native Spanish speaker. It's a great way to improve your Spanish, meet new friends, and get connected with your new community. You can find countless intercambio opportunities at conversationexchange.com or through the Facebook group New in Madrid - Intercambio de Idiomas.

Travel flexibility:

Auxiliares only work four days a week. I work Monday through Thursday, which means I have three day weekends every week. This makes it incredibly convenient to travel on the weekends, especially with the availability of cheap RyanAir flights! This past year I took weekend trips to Sevilla, Amsterdam, Budapest, northern France, Munich and northern Spain. I saved my bigger trips (Prague + Vienna and Greece) for spring break and summer vacation.


But of course, the best part about teaching English in Spain is experiencing Spain. The Spanish culture is inviting and delightful, and being able to live abroad and experience the heart and soul of this country has changed who I am & what I value. Living and working abroad is an invaluable experience, and I can say without a doubt that this past year has been the most fun year of my life.

If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to contact me! Or, check out the other helpful resources listed below. Buena suerte!



Other helpful resources & blogs:

North American Language and Culture Assistants


Update as of Autumn 2015:

I spent two years teaching English in Madrid through the Spanish Ministry of Education's Auxiliar de Conversación program. The ministry has a rule that you can only stay in the same region for two years, so you must switch regions after your second year if you wish to continue with the program. Because I had my heart set on staying in Madrid, I am currently spending my third year in Spain teaching English through the BEDA program.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Sunset Dinner at Canaves Oia Hotel

"Fine dining" takes on a whole new meaning to me after having dinner at the luxurious Canaves Oia Hotel in Santorini. Between the breathtaking views of the island's majestic caldera, the attentive service and the divine gourmet dishes, I think it's fair to say that this was one of the most memorable meals of my life.


Serving modern Mediterranean cuisine with a Santorini-inspired twist, the dishes prepared by chef Andreas Evagelatos define gourmet gastronomy. We started off the evening with a variety of dips, including fresh Greek olive oil and herbs, eggplant and olives. (They also thoughtfully supplied me with gluten free bread so I could enjoy it all.) We then indulged on the grilled vegetables with goat cheese and the rocket salad with watermelon and tofu. Our hors d'oevres were light and refreshing, scrumptiously foreshadowing what was to come.

Grilled vegetables with goat cheese
Rocket salad with watermelon and tofu

For our main courses, I feasted upon the pork tenderloin in a savory honey mustard sauce with potatoes, while Jen enjoyed the lamb chops with an herb crust and oven potatoes. Naturally, all of this was accompanied by a fine bottle of Greek wine. We finished off the meal with an exquisite crème brûlée to share. Needless to say, we were in foodie heaven. Without a doubt, the chef's culinary creations were perfectly executed.

    Pork tenderloin in a honey mustard sauce  |  Herb crusted lamb chops with oven potatoes

The friendly staff made a genuine effort to ensure that we had a memorable dining experience, which impressed me just as much as the sublime views of the sunset and the caldera. Not to mention, the hotel itself is a dream come true. Canaves Oia quite literally embodies paradise. Bougainvillea drifts down trellises towards the glistening pool, a sea of white envelops the quiet suites, and picture-perfect panoramas can be admired from any angle. Mark my words, I'll be coming back and staying there one day. Until then, I'll be fantasizing about the decadent meal we enjoyed at our sunset dinner in Oia.


Markos from Canaves Oia Hotel & Suites graciously invited us to dinner, but all opinions expressed are my own. You can find out more about Canaves Oia Hotel and their fine dining experiences here.