The Albaycín

As seen from the Alhambra

Seen from the Eastern route to the Alhambra

I only ended up staying in the Albaycín as an accident of hostel availability, and I was certainly grumpy as I arrived in Granada, sick and in need of a shower, only to realize that I had to walk 45 minutes from the bus station straight up a hill, and then through a labyrinth of tiny, identical Medieval streets to find my hostel. I don’t wish those climbing conditions on anyone, but staying in this neighborhood is my best and strongest memory from a month in Spain. Continue reading

Valencia and Las Falles, but Mostly Xátiva

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Everyone who’s heard of it insists that, if given the opportunity, you MUST experience Valencia’s Las Fallas festival, a crazy Spanish competition of hand-made paper monuments that results in large public burnings and incomprehensibly loud explosions. Apparently it’s crazy – something you have to see.

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The Great Mosque of Cordoba

(Or, “Would You Mind Taking My Photo?”)

IMG_2647 The Great Mosque of Cordoba/La Catedral de Córdoba is what drew me to Southern Spain, as opposed to any other warm European place. It was the focal point of the trip, the only thing I saw that I really knew anything about, and definitely one of the most impressive and enjoyable attractions I visited. Continue reading

Strange Economies

I sit in Granada’s Plaza Nuevo, trying to outlast a bad breakfast decision, just watching. It’s probably one o’clock, and things haven’t quite gotten started yet. The cafe tables are set out, but only a few are filled. There’s a lot of foot traffic, but I mostly see tourists. Any locals passing through likely fade into the scenery.

I sit on a bench towards the edge of plaza, partially shaded by a tree, intentionally facing nothing and no one in particular. Looking unfriendly and disinterested is a defense mechanism. Near me but at the center of the square, some people drag a few cafe chairs into an open space and a set up a small square platform. There are four of them, one dressed in a ruffled shirt with a tight vest, black pants, and dance shoes. He begins stomping on the platform while the others clap and bang. Once they have the attention of tourists in passing, they begin their music and dancing show.

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Park Güell and Travel Expectations


In planning for my arrival in Barcelona, I mostly consulted travel blogs, National Geographic, and travel articles from major newspapers. All sources agree: Antoni Gaudí’s work – art and architecture – is the thing to see in Barcelona. It’s bright! And based on nature! And invokes interesting geometric forms! So, I read a lot about him and the various sites around town, putting together a walking route that would take me to each location.

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Blogging On The Go

So… someone managed to leave her laptop with Munich’s airport security. (I’m going to blame the excessive vehemence with which not one, not two, but three agents were going through and asking me about my stuff both before and after scanning it. The guys at Terminal D put Atlanta to shame.) I’m really banking on that being the worst mistake I make.

Consequently, I’ll be roughing it technology-wise for the next month, but that’s kind of in the spirit of the trip: backpacking between unknown Couchsurfing hosts, booking last-minute train reservations, and relying on the comfort of cafés and public spaces when I need to take a mid-day break (and write blog posts on my phone!). On the upside, that’s several pounds fewer on my back, and the good people of MUC will release my computer back to me for the low, low price of 27€!

So basically, things might get messy. I can only use photos take with my phone, and they won’t be edited. I can’t preview posts, and I have no idea what the formatting will look like. I’m just pushing forward and hoping for the best!

Der Ring

On the West side of the Alter Botanischer Garten, is the Kunstplattform, or art platform. Previously a revolving gallery space, since 1996 it has held only this red circular sculpture: Der Ring, by Mauro Staccioli.

On it’s own, it struck me as just another piece of weird, modern art — a predictable fixture in an urban environment — but Staccioli has rust-colored, geometric installations all over the world. Those located in natural surroundings are striking, as they seem curiously out of place in a Cadillac Ranch sort of way. When viewed together the sculptures quite cool.

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Sandstorms and Car Art

A major perk of washing the dishes, cooking, or cleaning is staring out the window, watching the activity on the street below or in the apartments across the way. In fact, I’d say that’s where the majority of my attention is directed when I’m in the kitchen.

The scene is generally uneventful – the old lady watering her window plants, the young parents taking care of the baby, and the guy who is always sitting in a corner chair with a clipboard  engaged in conversation (my bet is that he runs a counseling office). There are some occasional surprises — like a Wii Sports party or an entire class of ten-year-olds walking down the street — and Daniel especially enjoys watching the church-goers on Sunday mornings as the families walk together in their nice clothes.

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2013, A Year in Munich

The past year has been an incredible adventure. Daniel and I moved to Munich on January 8, 2013, but that day feels like a world ago because so much has happened since then. Moving to a new continent has definitely presented its challenges, but I wanted to revisit some of our triumphs and seized opportunities, large and small.

Finding a Home

After five weeks, contacting 130 landlords/agents, applying for the 7 apartments we were able to view, being rejected for every imaginable reason, and getting an extension of our corporate housing arrangement, Daniel and I finally found a place to live. At that point, I’d have settled for any form of reasonable shelter somewhere near Munich, but we were incredibly fortunate to land a great apartment in a fantastic neighborhood in the city center.

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Christmas in Bavaria

Eight Ph.D. applications submitted, and now I’m ready for the holidays… on January 1.

I’ve definitely been staying busy with my applications, German class, visitors, holiday events, and Daniel being home during a two-week vacation, but this has been an amazing Christmas season. Southern Germany is known for its Christmas markets (Munich has six!), and Daniel wanted to see as many as possible.


The markets generally open a month before Christmas and last until the day before Christmas Eve. Each stand is a formidable wooden structure that is built just for the one-month selling period. In theory there are inspectors walking around to ensure that the items for sale are all hand-made or at least not factory-made, but I’m not confident that all the snow globes I saw came from the Black Forest. Although the markets draw a huge tourist crowd, the locals are also out in large numbers to meet friends after work, drink mulled wine, and enjoy the atmosphere. The fact that the temperature hovers around freezing is irrelevant.

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Sehr Praktisch!

I got what is perhaps the highest form of German praise this week: “Sehr praktisch!” (Very practical!)

I had ordered a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, somewhere between 7 and 9 kilos, but I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never bought or prepared a turkey before, so I wasn’t sure how much I should order per person, or what size that weight would yield. I went to Viktualienmarkt to pick up the bird, but I needed to see it first so that I could buy a brining container to carry it home in. I offended the employee in the hardware store by mentioning that my paint bucket needs involved a turkey, and he sent me away to the kitchen department. I managed to find a heavy-duty mop bucket that seemed like it might work.

As I went back to the poultry stand to get my turkey, I was just praying it would fit. There was another woman at the stand when I arrived. The owner handed me my bird, and it slid right in. Perfectly. Small victories go a long way when planning complex events in a foreign country (you’d likely be shocked to learn, if you live in America, how difficult it is to find a proper pumpkin here in November), but the cherry on top was the other customer’s response: “Sehr praktisch!”

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Christmastime is Almost Here

The temperature has plummeted and the people on the streets are doing the wintertime shuffle, hurrying by with their heads down and hands shoved as deeply as possible into their pockets. The thick cloud cover has descended, though it seems it’s never too far off. It’s funny to think that the Englischer Garten  looked like a fall magazine cover only two weeks ago, but a lot can change in two weeks.

I recently started an intensive German class to prepare for grad school applications. This was a sudden decision, and spending three hours in class every day means that some of my other projects have taken a back seat and my days feel significantly different.

Planning for holidays in a foreign country should be interesting. Daniel and I are hosting a Thanksgiving at our place where we’ll be making our first turkey.

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