Tuesday, July 28, 2015

7 Reasons I Adore Copenhagen


I fell hard for Denmark. Though I only spent four short days in Copenhagen, it was enough to make me completely infatuated with the Danish capital. While my time spent exploring the city was nothing short of magical, I've had trouble processing exactly how I feel about my trip.

Leaving Copenhagen tugged on my heart, as if I were forced to end a short-lived romance. It's a city that I could easily see myself living in (that is, if they had better weather all year long), and a place that I'm undoubtedly eager to revisit someday. In an attempt to put my love affair with the Danish capital into words, here are 7 reasons I adore Copenhagen:

1. The Colors



Danes are supposedly the happiest people in the world, and with stunning streetscapes and bright colors like these, I really can't blame them. The pops of color amongst its streets make exploring Copenhagen an enchanting experience. Though I was lucky enough to visit when the weather was superb, I can only imagine how the vibrant color schemes enhance a gloomy day. 


2. The Markets


In the aftermath of the new Nordic food revolution, Copenhagen's market scene has become a defining element of Danish gastronomy. From the slick and shiny Torvehallerne Market to the wonderland of food trucks at Papirøen, the diversity of dishes to be found is unparalleled.

At Torvehallerne Market, a foodie mecca akin to Madrid's Mercado de San Miguel or San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace, I indulged on a variety of delicacies every day. From gluten-free paninis at Vita Boost generously stuffed with avocado, spinach and hummus, to truffle fries and prosciutto & pear salads at Un Mercato, the feast of available treats at Torvehallerne is never-ending.

At the former cellulose processing plant of Papirøen (also known as Paper Island), you can find an entire warehouse filled with a glorious array of food trucks. With a plethora of options to choose from, I settled on Belgian fries doubled fried in duck fat from the Copper and Wheat stand, as well as an organic, gluten-free egg wrap filled with braised pork, fresh vegetables and herbs, and a creamy yogurt tahini dressing from Brass


Papirøen: street food at its best

3. Boats, Boats, Boats!



Since the city is comprised of several different islands, it's no surprise that Copenhagen is a nautical paradise. Some of the city's most striking boats can be found along Nyhavn, Copenhagen's most colorful canal. The old wooden sailboats parked against a backdrop of vibrant buildings make for a decidedly picturesque scene.

Much like Amsterdam, Copenhagen boasts a series of sparkling canals. Some of Copenhagen's best views can be seen from these waterways, so I highly recommend taking one of the city's many boat tours, weather permitting. Getting out on the water is a Danish right of passage, and cruising the canals turned out to be one of my favorite activities while visiting. 

4. The Architecture



At every corner I turned, the streetscapes of Copenhagen blew me away. I wanted to photograph it all! (And believe me, I tried.) The myriad of old buildings in the city center are positively darling. I can't count how many "dream homes" I stumbled upon while wandering through Copenhagen.

Because the Danes are at the front lines of urban design, their cutting-edge modern architecture is nothing less than awe-inspiring. But don't forget about the breathtaking castles and lavish palaces dotted across the city! 


5. Danish Efficiency


Not only is Denmark considered the happiest country in the world, but in true Scandinavian fashion, they're also one of the most efficient. Between food and renewable energy, Denmark is one of the world's leaders in sustainability.

With its state-funded education (that's right, universities are completely free!) and one full year of paid maternity leave, high taxes are a sacrifice that most Danes are willing to make. Not to mention, Denmark has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Basically, Denmark is good at everything it does except weather. But even that doesn't seem to get the Danes down!

6. Bikes Everywhere


About 50% of Copenhagen's city dwellers commute by bike. Tying back to efficiency, not only does this mean less traffic and reduced fossil fuel usage, but all of that exercise also means plenty of endorphins. No wonder the Danes are so happy! (That is, unless you get in a biker's way. There is nothing pleasant about getting yelled at by a speeding Dane on a bike, lesson learned!) 

7. Hygge



Hygge is a Danish concept that roughly translates to coziness or snugnessThe Danes define it as "creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people". For example, think of curling up by a fireplace and reading a good book, or sharing a good meal with close friends and family over the holidays.

Though Copenhagen is a fairly large city, so many parts of it exude this cozy, familiar charm. Given the warm and fuzzy feelings I had while in Copenhagen, I'm fairly certain that I was feeling uninhibited hygge.



Have you ever been to Copenhagen?
If so, what impressed you the most?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Expat Problems: Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

The clock struck 4:30 as I found myself ordering a handful of appetizers to share, essentially tapa-ing at a time when I'd normally be finishing up lunch. I took a sip of my glass of wine, which cost about the same amount as a decent bottle back in Madrid. The waitress checked in on us what seemed like every ten minutes, constantly offering us everything from extra snacks to more ice water. "What is this?" I wondered to myself silently. "I'm fine. Just leave me alone!" Then the check arrived with our second round of appetizers, and I just about lost it.

Nothing says reverse culture shock quite like happy hour.

When I come back to visit the States every summer, I'm brutally reminded of the differences between my two worlds. As I bounce between Madrid and Seattle, sometimes I can't help but feel as if I'm living a double life. While there are certain things that I adore about America - like air conditioning, one-stop shopping and oaky Chardonnay - there are too many things that I automatically balk at.

I try to catch myself, constantly reminding myself not to act like a haughty, I-think-I'm-superior-because-I-live-in-Europe expat, because nobody likes that girl. (And just because I live in a foreign country doesn't mean that I'm better than anyone else.) So I suck it up and make small talk with the barista, internally cringe when I have to tip 20%, and smile and nod when someone asks to meet for lunch at 11:30 am.

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My reaction to American customer service norms (and eating octopus in Galicia).

Disoriented dining

Gone are the days of wanting to eat dinner at 6 o'clock, pining for free refills of ice water and appreciating quality customer service. No, no. I've become Spain-ified.

When I first studied abroad in Spain, I abhorred the meal schedule, the slow service, and the aloof waiters whose attention you could never seem to grab. And what was all about that sobremesa business? Sitting around the table, just talking for hours after a meal? Who's got time for that?

And then Madrid happened. The tables have turned, and I now live for the 9 pm dinners and the delightfully cheap wine. Bringing the check with the food is an unforgivable offense, and I find myself unreasonably put off when friends aren't in the mood to sobremesa. Like, c'mon guys, where's the fire?

You can only imagine how well this goes over in the world of American dining.

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Cheap wine and phenomenal rooftop views are just a few of the things that Spain does right.

Nobody cares that you live abroad

I love my friends in Seattle. They're my rocks, the friends that I see being my bridesmaids one day, and the people I hope to grow old with. But sometimes I don't know what to talk about when I come home, because you can only start so many sentences with "In Spain..." without sounding like a total dick.

But my whole life is there. I live there, my job is there, my hobbies are there, everyone I've dated in the last two years is from there... how could I not talk about Madrid? Some friends and family members ask me about life in Spain, but surprisingly, most don't.

In the past two weeks, the person who has asked me the most questions about my life in Madrid was my eye doctor. I'm not offended, but it still makes me uncomfortable. I can't help but wonder if people would be more interested if I had moved someplace more relatable, like LA or Chicago.

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How some of my friends from home feel about my stories from abroad.

It's a great big world out there

Every time I come home, I'm always amazed by how big everything is. Two weeks ago I spent an entire day just wandering around Whole Foods and Target, admiring all of the things. And speaking of Target, I forgot how good it felt to get everything you need in one store. What a concept!

Even more shocking? Stores that stay open after lunch. The ability to run errands at 2 pm is actually blowing my mind. I might just go celebrate with a green smoothie tomorrow after lunch because I can.

That said, nothing gives me anxiety quite like driving, and in Seattle I find myself growing more and more resentful that I can't just hop on the metro and visit my friends via public transport. Seriously, America? It's 2015. The lack of efficient transportation here is not just inconvenient, it's also embarrassing.

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Efficient public transportation: just another example of how America should copy Spain.

The silver lining

In just over a month I'll be back on a flight to Madrid, where I can enjoy all of the late dinners and metro rides I want. Reverse culture shock aside, I still have four weeks to make the most out of the things I truly love about America and enjoy every minute spent with the people I love here. That's why I came home in the first place.

Sure, maybe I don't completely fit in anymore, but Seattle will always have a big piece of my heart. Little things about the USA may bug me and seem ridiculously strange, but I'm lucky enough to visit as often as I do - and I need to remind myself of that.

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As much as the little things bother me, I still really love this place.


Fellow expats, do you ever feel reverse culture shock?
How do you deal with coming home?


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

48 Hours in Madrid

48 Hours in Madrid - an expat's guide to the best sights, restaurants & rooftop bars


Though Barcelona often seems to outshine the capital with its flashy sights and attractions, no trip to Spain is complete without visiting the vibrant city of Madrid. Contributing its own unique flavor to the cultural amalgam of modern day Spain, Madrid’s colorful personality abounds with picturesque sights, captivating history and exceptional gastronomy.

Located in the heart of Spain, Madrid not only gives easy access to Seville, Granada, Barcelona and other Spanish cities well worth visiting, but it's also the perfect stepping stone for a more extensive Eurotrip. With countless things to do and see in the inviting Spanish capital, here's how to spend 48 hours in Madrid:

DAY ONE:

Morning

Buenos días! Start your first morning in the bustling Puerta del Sol, the heart of the city and the geographic center of Spain. Here you can find Madrid's most famous bakery, La Mallorquina. Edge your way through the crowd of Spanish abuelas picking up their favorite sweets and treat yourself to a savory chocolate napolitana from this timeless pastry shop.

Take in the energy of Puerta del Sol, admiring the impressive facades and giant Tío Pepe billboard watching over the city. Cross the street towards the old post office to find the Km 0 plaque, the origin of all major freeways in Spain.

Next, head towards Plaza Mayor. While nowadays Plaza Mayor is often swarming with tourists, this lively square still retains some of its old world charm. This historic epicenter with an enthralling (and sometimes bloody) past is now brimming with bursts of color, boisterous street performers and curious people-watchers. While the overpriced restaurants are to be avoided at all costs, the beauty of Plaza Mayor is nevertheless undeniable.


Plaza Mayor

Venture towards the Royal Palace, passing by Plaza de la Villa and stopping inside the Almudena Cathedral. The bright pops of color and dazzling geometric shapes on the cathedral's ceiling provide for a delightful contrast from most other churches in Spain. 

Right next door to the Almudena Cathedral you will find the Royal Palace, which boasts an ornate and decadent interior that could almost rival Versailles. Built in 1736 by the Bourbons, Madrid's Palacio Real is the oldest functioning palace in the world. Take a short tour of this regal estate to fully appreciate its grandeur.

Madrid's Palacio Real

Afternoon

Next, make your way to Mercado de San Miguel for a delectable feast of tapas. Admire the market's elegant architecture as you wander through the many stalls of traditional Spanish treats. Indulge on delicacies such as jamón ibérico de bellota, Campo Real olives, an assortment of savory Spanish cheeses, Marcona almonds and fresh seafood, and wash it down with a glass of wine or a caña (a small beer).

Jamón ibérico at Mercado de San Miguel

After that, head to Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid's answer to Central Park. As you stroll around this picturesque park, explore the Palacio de Cristal, take a ride on a paddle boat in the park’s small manmade lake, or grab a spot at one of the outdoor cafés to people watch as you enjoy a tinto de verano (a mix of red wine and lemon Fanta, which is what the locals drink in lieu of sangria).

Evening

There's nothing more madrileño than a good rooftop bar. Just before sunset, head to La Azotea at the Círculo de Bellas Artes for some of the most sublime views of the city. Admire the breathtaking scenery as you sip a refreshing libation, or simply take in the spectacular views. Stick around after sunset to see the city sparkle at night.

The views from Círculo de Bellas Artes

For dinner, make your way to La Latina for some tapas at Juana la Loca, home to the city’s best slice of tortilla de patatas – a traditional omelet made with thinly sliced potatoes and onions. Be sure to also try their mouthwatering huevos rotos – fried eggs atop French fries and sprinkled with thin slices of jamón ibérico.

Seeing as Spaniards are notorious night owls, you'll notice the streets here are still buzzing after dark. You can join the native party animals and stay out until the sun rises, or save the fiesta for Day Two after you've conquered the rest of the city.


DAY TWO:

Morning

Though breakfast may not be the biggest meal of the day here in Spain, your tastebuds will surely delight in starting your morning with a creamy café con leche and pan con tomate (toast with freshly grated tomato and olive oil) from Toma Café in Madrid's hipster neighborhood of Malasaña. Home to the best coffee in the city, this charming café is worth getting off the beaten path for. After fueling up, explore the trendy boutiques and cozy vintage shops of Malasaña before making your way towards Plaza de España.

Neighborhood charm in Malasaña

Wander through Plaza de España as you head to the Royal Palace, stopping in the Jardines de Sabatini. Tucked just behind the Palacio Real, these gardens are the most luxurious place to admire the palace's regal facade. Next, venture to Plaza de Oriente for more impressive gardens, statues and peaceful surroundings.

Afternoon

Around noon or one o'clock, especially on a Sunday, you can find many locals partaking in la hora de vermut, or "the hour of vermouth" over pre-lunch appetizers. As the capital's chosen aperitif, this sweet drink has become thoroughly engrained into madrileño culture. Grab your pre-lunch vermouth at Taberna Real, which used to be a residence for people who worked at the Royal Palace.

After whetting your appetite with this smooth aperitif, sate your hunger with an afternoon of tapas crawling in La Latina. Tapas crawling, or going from bar to bar in search of the best small dishes to share with friends, is one of Spain's most revered traditions. Take a stroll down Calle de la Cava Baja, a charming medieval street overflowing with tapas bars and taverns from end to end. Be sure to stop by Taberna La Concha and Taberna Los Huevos de Lucio, among many others.

Treat yourself to a tasty slice of tortilla de patatas

Following lunch, copy the locals and take a midday siesta, or power through your food coma and continue conquering the capital.

If you're an art lover, you can't miss Madrid's array of world class museums. Check out the Museo del Prado for classic Spanish masterpieces by Goya and Velázquez, or the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for top notch modern art such as Picasso's Guernica. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum showcases a wide variety of artists and artistic styles, while the up-and-coming Caixa Forum offers bold temporary exhibits and modern art collections.

Not a huge fan of museums? Pop over to Gran Vía, often referred to as the "Spanish Broadway". This sprawling street is home to many upscale hotels, nightclubs, theaters and most importantly, some of the city's best shopping. Amongst the most famous Spanish stores such as Zara and MANGO, this congested avenue flaunts eye-catching examples of early twentieth-century architecture.

Evening

Considering Madrid is one of Europe's sunniest capitals, madrileños love an excuse to get out in the fresh air and enjoy their libations with a view. Follow the locals' lead and discover the many lively rooftop bars that Madrid has to offer. For some of the best views, try Gymage in Malasaña, Hotel Roommate Óscar in Chueca, Ático de las Letras right off Gran Vía, or The Hat near Plaza Mayor.

Rooftop views from The Hat

Before preparing yourself for a night on the town, treat yourself to dinner at one of the city's trendiest tapas bars, Lateral. Offering several locations scattered throughout the capital, Lateral boasts a delectably modern take on gourmet tapas. If you're in the mood for something different, check out some of the other best places to eat in Madrid.

Late Night

Did you know that Madrid has the highest number of bars per square meter in Europe? With so many vibrant options, it’s no surprise that the nightlife here is unparalleled. Spaniards tend to stay out until sunrise, so be sure to caffeinate accordingly!

¡Salud!

Many tourists and study abroad students flock to Kapital, Madrid’s famous seven story night club with a different floor for every musical genre. If you're looking for something more posh, head to Barrio Salamanca for more upscale clubs such as Gabana. If nightclubs aren’t your thing, forgo the discotecas and check out the bars on Calle Pez in hipster Malasaña.

Once the sun rises, you’ll surely be craving an early morning snack. Feast upon the city’s best churros con chocolate at Chocolatería de San Gines, one of Madrid’s most iconic eateries. Conveniently open all night long, San Gines is the perfect spot to refuel or simply soak up the night's gin and tonics.


After two days of getting to know Madrid's dynamic personality, hopefully you've fallen in love with the city and tasted an authentic flavor of Spain.

If you're lucky enough to have more than just 48 hours in Spain's capital, be sure to check out some of the best day trips from Madrid.



Have you ever been to Madrid?
What would you add to this itinerary?


Friday, July 17, 2015

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

Pretty pastel buildings line cobblestone streets as cascades of bougainvillea adorn colonial churches. Tropical birds sing in the island breeze, while the scent of spicy mojo picón wafts through bustling restaurants during lunch hour. In one direction lies the Atlantic, and in the other lies a lush volcanic landscape begging to be explored. A juxtaposition of pristine and well-worn, of old world charm and modern Spanish flair, the inviting old town of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria offers a glimpse into the beating heart of the Canary Islands.

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

After exploring Puerto de la Cruz and Costa Adeje in Tenerife, we hopped a ferry to our next and last stop in the Canary Islands: Vegueta, the charming old town of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Compared to Tenerife, the old town of Las Palmas was not swarming with hordes of tourists (and subsequent tourist traps). We were therefore able to discover a more authentic side to the Canaries, and dare I say, an even more delicious side.

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

With its vibrant colors and eye-catching colonial architecture, we quickly fell for Las Palmas. Using our adorable Airbnb as a home base, we leisurely wandered through Vegueta by day, and ate our weight in papas arrugadas drenched in mojo picón by night. Here we found a mecca of eateries on Calle Mendizábal, Vegueta's main foodie drag, including La Champiñoneria and La Hierba Luisa.

Though we made sure to pop into the Columbus Museum and the Santa Ana Cathedral, our sightseeing mostly consisted of aimless walks through the colorful streets, admiring the architecture and snapping photos of every darling detail.

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

Wanting to discover more of the island's volcanic landscape, we ventured to La Caldera de Bandama for what promised to be a beautiful hike. We hiked down to the bottom of the volcanic crater, enamored by the lush vegetation and breathtaking views. The steep climb back up nearly killed me, but I was rewarded at the top with a picnic and sublime views of the crater. 

Though growing up in the Pacific Northwest has spoiled me with countless gorgeous hikes, Gran Canaria's Caldera de Bandama was easily one of the most memorable hikes I've ever done.

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

That evening, we quickly consumed all of the the calories we had burnt off at La Caldera de Bandama with a feast of tapas and volcanic red wine at Mercado del Puerto. Although this modern market lies on the opposite side of town as Vegueta, it's well worth the trek. Its polished stalls offer a plethora of Canarian specialties, seafood dishes, traditional tapas and Spanish staples. 

Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante
Colonial Charm in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria | Adelante

While I wish it had been warm enough to venture to Gran Canaria's famed beaches and surreal sand dunes, I hope my newfound love for the Canary Islands will bring me back there again someday. Between the stunning landscapes, friendly locals and mouthwatering cuisine, I'll always have an excuse to return to Las Palmas.

My Las Palmas Picks:
Favorite Day Trip: Hiking in La Caldera de Bandama
Best Restaurants: La Champiñoneria, To Lo Dije Perez, La Hierba Luisa
Must Try Dishes: Papas arrugadas con mojo picón, grilled Canarian cheese
Favorite Activity: Exploring the old town of Vegueta
Best Museum: Casa de Colón