Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's travelling, really?

So, i started this blog as a travel blog. And I was feeling that I shouldn't write in it when I'm at home, because that would violate some sort of internal agreement, which is that this is for traveling. But I've been thinking recently. Thinking about how this isn't really home for me. This is home. It's always been my home. But as a recent college graduate living with my parents, I need to separate this place from the security I've had these past 21 years. If I'm going to move on, which seems to be a problem right now, I need to stop thinking of this as my home. I'm simply traveling again. I hope I do find a home, and this will probably be my base for a while, but it's time for me to start base jumping. I can leap out, and leave my knicknacks and all this stuff I have accumulated which really means nothing behind. And leap.
Which reminds me of my current song obsession. It reminds me of leaping because it was featured in a recent TV show in a skydiving sequence. It's time to get busy actively searching out what I want to do. No more listlessly thinking I could be a photographer or jewelry maker while in actuality simply watching every video in the entirety of hulu and DVR. Time to travel

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


So...there's lots about the past 4 days in Grindelwald I haven't mentioned. And among the trips to the Junfraujoch, the rodelbahn, and endless verses of "The Hills Are Alive" running through my head, there were some amazing sights and hikes. New acquaintances, and delicious breakfasts. And an upgrade to the best suite in the hotel. But with only a hardline connection and mom trying to Six Sigma her life before her subscription expires (plus her new facebook connections) it's hard to find the time and the internet.
Anyways, we arrived in Paris after a 2 hour flight from Zurich and a two hour wait in the AirFrance baggage claim. Maybe not two hours, but since it's Bastille Day, a national holiday, the stewardess informed us baggage claim..."could take a while". On the plus side, the dreary rain as we touched down started clearing up almost immediately upon arrival. We told the guy sitting next to us on the plane (a sweet French man who recommended an ice cream shop, and a spot to watch the fireworks tonight) that we had brought the sunshine and it would clear up soon, and it certainly did. Now the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Hopefully by tonight everything will be dry and we can have a great celebratory Bastille Day! Anyways, we're both starving, and the only things I've seen yet are shots of monuments from our taxi. You know you picked a good hotel when you have to drive by all the great sights to get there - The Champs Elysee & Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries, and the Place de Concourd where the Bastille Day celebration is all set up. We're in the 6th Arrondesment, right between St. Germain and the Seine. So of course dinner tonight needs to be at - Le Deux Magots, mom's favorite restaurant in the city, and right down the street from our hotel. We're staying at a sweet little hotel - De I'Academie Saint Germain, and although it looks worn and is small, it's a beautifully decorated place. With antique fixtures, beautiful vanity and desks, and a surprisingly big bathroom, which is a BIG plus.

Friday, July 9, 2010


We left Montreux yesterday afternoon and headed to Grindelwald with a small lunch. It's only right to have sausage, cheese, and fresh bread on the train rides in Switzerland, and in typical McLean style, a nice bottle of wine. The train system in Switzerland is amazing. Trains arrive and leave exactly on time which means that when planning our trip, the ticket machine automatically sets us up for 6 minutes transfer times, and we will definitely make it because there are no delays. Along the trip we had gorgeous views of Swiss lakes, chateaus with flowery backyards, and of course, the Eiger. The snow-capped Eiger is an impressive view, and with its looming peaks, it's definitely calling us to Grindelwald.
The hotel Sunstar Grindelwald upgraded us to the Eiger Suite, which means we have an amazing view of the mountains and the entire countryside. Our room is very spacious, and I slept with the windows open and a view of the Alps last night. While the wine here seems to be less than spectacular, the food is amazing. For starter we had nettle cream soup, and a salad with dried vegetable slices and flowers on top. For entree we had truffle risotto with ham and crostini. It was delicious, especially the flower salad.
This morning, the food was just as delicious, with multiple buffet options. In typical Swiss style, they had muesli and yogurt with extras like apricot and fresh plum-like fruits. There was also fresh watermelon (this seems to be everywhere, is there a watermelon farm in Europe I don't know about?) and an entire array of homemade jams; my favorite was cherry with eucalyptus - surprisingly different and almost minty tasting. There was also apricot juice, and an open bottle of champagne. No time this morning to try out apricot-mimosas, but maybe tomorrow! The plan is hiking this afternoon, and then an exploration of the spa area downstairs. They have an outdoor Finnish sauna, and a naked co-ed roman therme, which is a little strange of a concept to me. I'll have to feel that one out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain WON!

First off, the important stuff - Spain won the semi-finals against Germany! All bets were against them, but I guess Paul the Psychic Octopus was right again! He apparently has a perfect record. Does this news make it to the states, or is it a Europe thing? It's all over the TVs here, strangely enough. The great thing about being in Europe during the world cup - when someone wins, the streets fill with cars racing by, flying flags out the windows, screaming and honking car horns to share their mirth. They really do know how to celebrate here, wholeheartedly and sharing it with everyone around. Except the large population of Germany supporters in Montreux. There were large quiet areas along the waterfront, disappointed fans one can assume.

The spa at the palace here is pretty typical - whirlpool, sauna, steam room. But the real treat is the outdoor grassy area. Meant for tanning and lounging about, when the tents of Jazz Festival aren't there, you would have only a wrought iron fence and five feet separating loungers from the icy blue waters.
We went to see Regina Spektor tonight, at the jazz fest. She was the opener and I was psyched to see her in concert. Unfortunately, she must have just found out someone passed away, because she kept thanking the audience for helping her with his passing, and cried throughout. At one point she said how much he was looking forward to playing the festival, and broke down. It was heart wrenching, but sad as a performance.
Between sets, I wandered down to the waterfront where a long line of tents offers food, jewelry, dancing, and gorgeous views of the watery sunset from simple wooden tables. I watched the match for a few minutes, but the night was so inviting, we had to head down the tents and explore the wares. After a delicious chai tea and a beautiful 620CHF carnelian necklace I have to avoid we headed back for some more music. Ben Harper & Relentless 7 - the main group - was very fun. He had some nice upbeat songs, and a beautiful voice for the slower songs. In all, it was a great performance, and I walked out of it with some fun purple jazz festival sunglasses.
Even then, hours after the end of the match, Spain supporters were still beeping down the street, and men at the outside restaurant of our hotel were still openly celebrating with food and drink. This is Spain's first time in the final. ever. Which is both surprising and exciting. I can't wait for the final. I will definitely be wearing my jersey. Even the man who sold it to me said it was a good idea to get it before they played Germany because they would be eliminated. Anyone know any good sports bars in the Swiss Alps?

Montreux. AKA Heaven.

Just arrived in Montreux after a morning traveling. We are staying in the Montreux Palace and although my room was supposed to be on the less expensive mountain side, we were both upgraded and I now have a panoramic view of Lake Geneva (Lake LĂ©man to the French) and one of the iconic yellow awnings the hotel sports. This is a very nice hotel. By far the nicest we've stayed in so far, easily evidenced by the sweeping view of the lake and the picturesque French Alps. Not to mention the welcome apricots and chocolates waiting in the room. And a true bellhop, which is something many hotels lack these days. All in all, it's a good day, relaxing here in paradise. Sunny skies, icy blue water in a color that is only really made by glaciers melting, and foggy French mountains in the distance. The Swiss really can do everything well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Valencia and Barcelona

Yesterday we left Valencia for Barcelona. The morning was spent visiting the Cathedral of Valencia, where a cup claiming to be the Holy Grail resides. The significance of this cup is that the Catholic church actually recognizes its existence, and it has been used as the official cup of numerous popes, as well as being used in many ceremonies by many more. This one is so special mainly because of its extensive history which has been well documented. This grail can be tracked back to the right times in the right places, and when it changed hands, it has been recorded (as opposed to a hostile takeover of treasuries which probably would not record items very extensively). The church also has a beautiful cupula which was covered with a false facade for centuries until recently a beautiful painting of angels playing various instruments was discovered underneath a false ceiling, and the restoration of these paintings leaves a breathless blue sky with spectacularly garbed angels with different musical specialties (including a portable organ).
After the cathedral (which incidentally is called such for the cathedra - the chair or throne of a bishop which is often located behind the main altar), we had a quick lunch of paella, duck, and fresh fruit. The paella was traditional Paella Valenciana, which includes rabbit and chicken. I hate to admit this because it spells the end of Thumper from Bambi, but rabbit is delicious. Much tastier than chicken. And it's not even a close comparison. I guess that could be a good things since I imagine rabbit is pretty sustainable (high reproduction rate and all), but it's harder when you imagine how cute rabbits are, and then you see a face on your plate instead of just bones and meat. Well we are a society of disconnection from our food. And I guess if I want to continue to eat rabbit, I should learn to deal with the cute little face popping up in the back of my mind if I bite into a leg of bunny.
The trip from Valencia to Barcelona was rather short, and after checking into our hotel in the early evening, we went up to the rooftop bar for a bite to eat. The food was fantastic - barbecued lamb skewers (I'm on a roll with the cute animals) with vegetables, and the best mojito of my life. The bartender up there really knew how to muddle, and there had to be an entire mint plant in my glass, as well as most of a lime. It was perfectly balanced, and you can never go wrong with a little more mint in a mojito.
We called it a night relatively early (about midnight) so that we could get a full day exploring Barcelona in the morning. We started with Park Guell, which is an amazing experience. The way Antonio Gaudi designed things is unlike any traditional designer I've seen before. Art Nouveau was just becoming popular when he studied architecture, but I can't imagine any of his ideas came from school. He must have been born with the shapes of his designs in his head. Bursting forth like Athena from Zeus. And each of his works, though surely from the same visionary, is surely distinguishable for particular style or colors.
After a quick trip to the beautiful and fruitful Barcelona market, we stopped by the Casa Ballo, a house designed by Gaudi for a wealthy textile industrialist, is crazy. He used techniques never before conceived of, but which were used in the Rationalist architecture movement 30 years later. He used a color gradiation in the light tunnel to keep the level of light throughout constant. He created air flow and filtration through slats in the walls, and he used a type of arch which minimizes the material needed to build it, but still maintains its strength. The walls of Gaudi buildings are almost always curved, with nary a straight line or corner in sight. Apparently his inspiration comes from nature - and in this house the ocean - and it shows. The blues, purples, lilacs, and ceruleans of glass windows around the building change with time of day and the light streaming through, creating a whimsical underwater paradise. And the curved ceiling and walls contribute to the ethereal quality.
Of course, a visit to Barcelona and a tour of Gaudi would not be complete without a trip to the Sagrada Familia. We were told it wasn't worth the long lines and steep entry price to go inside the cathedral - especially since it's still under construction (apparently it's normal for them to take at least 100 years for completion) - but we did walk around the perimeter, and the outside at least is in the same whimsical, unique vein.
We then headed back to the hotel for a late dinner, and having been inspired by the delicious lamb the night before, we ordered 3 barbecue skewers. This time, although the flavoring was spot on, dad and I got very fatty and chewy pieces of lamb. It was difficult and disgusting to eat, and impossible to cut through. Dad went up and told our waiter that the lamb was so bad, he couldn't even cut through it. The waiter nodded understanding - even with his limited understanding of English - and said he would bring out two more. About 5 minuted later we got 2 more...knives! He thought that the problem was the knife, so he had brought us two more serrated butter knives instead of replacement dinners, which my father had been trying to obliquely request. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until after the grill had closed, and we inspected the two silverware pieces the water had brought us, cleanly wrapped in a napkin - two knifes. While we were disappointed in the dinner, he clearly tried to understand our request, but simply came up with the wrong response. Haha. So off to bed, rising early tomorrow for the flight to GENEVA.

Oh, and I finally got my jersey for La Furia Roja, and I decided on David Villa, because number 7 is always lucky, plus he's been doing pretty well! I guess I have to wear it tomorrow, since there's a distinct possibility Germany will trounce Spain. Is it bad I hope Spain wins mainly because that means I get to wear my jersey again? I guess there are worse reasons.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What's that?

I just remembered it's the 4th of July. Being abroad, it's so easy to forget about even important holidays that aren't celebrated outside of the US. Strange to know I almost completely forgot while all of my American friends back home are certainly celebrating full time.

Back in Valencia

Certainly 5 pm is rather late to leave the hotel, but it IS a Sunday, and I think we should get a break for that. One thing about being in Europe is that the World Cup is EXTREMELY important here. They have entire papers dedicated just to futbol (soccer). Spain is playing Germany on the 7th, and although Germany trumped Argentina 4-0 (which is sad for Messi and the Argentenian coach), and Spain only won 1-0 against Paraguay in an unimpressive game, they might have a chance since Germany's Muller is suspended from the match for getting a yellow card against Argentina. And if we'd left the hotel at 10 am I wouldn't know any of this. I'm still searching around for my jersey, but since we didn't really explore too much, I'm still holding out hope that the right one is out there for me. I just have to buy it before Spain and Germany play, because it would be silly to get a jersey after that team loses, right?
We headed over to the Cathedral of Valencia only to find out that the HOLY GRAIL - that's right, the only grail recognized by the Catholic church and one that has been used by various popes as their official chalice, and that can trace its roots back to the right place at the right time - the holy grail was closed for the night and we had to come back tomorrow morning. We did still manage to climb the Miguelete, the tower attached to the Cathedral which has a gorgeous, expansive view of the entire city. And then we spent 2 hours looking for dinner. In the end, La Vita e Bella turned out to be more than an Italian restaurant with chocolate crepes as well as delicious and traditional caprese salad.
We did explore Plaza de la Reina, Plaza de la Virgen, and Caballeros, but we didn't yet make it over to Facultats where i studied and lived. Tomorrow should be a fun day of old areas I know well, the Ciudad de Artes y Sciencias, which is fun, different architecture, and shopping at this little store mom and I fell in love with from the closed shop window and vowed to visit tomorrow.

Granada Day 2 and Valencia

Yesterday morning was a late start, and after a fresh breakfast at our hotel, we set off for the Cathedral of Granada. The streets in Granada are tiny, and just getting to and from the hotel was insane. The width of the roads are about two inches bigger than the car, and the roads themselves are cobblestone. Oh, and our hotel was right next to a monastery. Crazy, right? This turned into a day long shopping excursion, where we picked up a few cute things and I fell in love with a floor length yellow and black gown. 75% off and totally NOT my size. Of course I would want to buy a ballgown on vacation. haha. From the 2009 Collection, ID 100042 or number 11/34
After a delicious lunch at a restaurant called Centro de Granade and our first bottle of Tempranillo wine (which was nice) we finally made it to the cathedral, and it is very beautiful. Backed right up to apartment buildings and shops just like any Spanish monument - they use their space well over here. Apparently Ferninand and Isabela are buried in Granada, because they had a little door where you could peek in at their tomb. There was also a sword of the king and a scepter and crown from the queen.
We spent a good part of the day en route from Granada to Valencia, but there were nice views of the ocean along the way, and longs of orange groves, which is a welcome break from the olive fields of the Madrid-Granada drive. On our way, we saw fireworks, along the highway, which I assume is for the goal that Spain made at the 81st minute. There were people celebrating in the streets when we arrived in Valencia, and I think I just might have to buy a Spain jersey.
The hotel Vinicci Lys in Valencia is gorgeous. While the Hotel Santa Isabel la Real in Granada was quaint and homey, this hotel is gorgeous in a more modern way. The location is perfect, less than a block for the Ayuntamiento, and the view out my balcony is of the gorgeously worked facades of buildings across from me. While we didn't arrive until about 11, we took a stroll around the city about midnight. I was skeptical we would find anywhere for dinner other than the Wok to Walk just down the street. Somehow we stumbled upon this gem. The Ginger Loft had amazing food, and the owners were both very nice. One of them had a passion for gin, and shared with us his favorite brands and the ONLY tonic water he uses. Fever Tree, according to our gin guide last night, went to Peru where the original chinchona trees were, and saved the last grove of these quinine-rich trees. According to the laudation on their website, they've been very well received. I will say it made an excellent gin and tonic. Which may have something to do with the wall of gin the restaurant displayed. We finished our delicious dinner around 3 am, when kids were heading home drunkenly from bars. It was delicious and undoubtedly the latest dinner I have ever had.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Took off yesterday morning for Granada. A 5 hour drive which we made in 4. And then we had to drive around the entire city to get to the parking lot a block before the hotel we already passed. It adventure. And very strange. But the hotel is gorgeous and there is an amazing view of the Alhambra and the snow capped Sierra Nevada from mom and dad's room. Strange that there's still snow in such amazingly hot temperature.
We were completely late for our appointment to the Nasrid Palaces at the Alhambra, but somehow we got in anyways. It is a beautiful and well vegetated palace. Hedges and roses and orange trees everywhere. And the intricate carvings all over the walls are breathtaking and completely overwhelming. The geometry and interlocking shapes of the tiling and ceilings are just as crazy and imaginative.
After exploring the grounds thoroughly, we had a nice bottle of wine, an assorted cheese plate, and a divine creation of eggplant. It was slices of perfectly ripe and firm aubergine, lightly fried with a honey sesame dip. Such strange flavors but absolutely delicious. And the restaurant was right next to the Alhambra with one wall that opened onto old tiled ruins. The juxtaposition of the old ruins and the new, terraced dark wooded restaurant was startling. And a constant reminder of the history all around.
We walked over to a restaurant on the other side of the valley/river, which turned out to be a trek. 26 minutes is a shorter walk on flat surfaces than it seems when you're climbing steep cobblestone steps. But the view of the Alhambra lit up at nighttime is spectacular, and worth the trek. But with all the twisty and unmarked streets, I don't know how people navigated this city before GPS!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Exploring Spain

Yesterday was a beautiful and amazing day for exploring the city. It was probably in the 90s with gorgeous sunshine, but the humidity was low and there were some nice breezes, so it felt amazing. After a quick snack down the street of cafe con leche, fresh squeezed zumo de naranja (orange juice - I miss not having fresh squeezed in random restaurants back in the states), and some tuna and red pepper on toast, we wandered around a bit from our hotel to the Plaza Espana, and on over to the Palacio Real. The Royal Palace is absolutely beautiful, and though you're not allowed to take pictures inside, Telefonica put together a virtual tour of the interior.
The cathedral next door is modern and has a beautiful cupula (dome). According to wiki "The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heterogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor." And it's really true. The colors inside the church are unlike any other I've ever seen, and so varied.
Next we slowly picked our way over to the Reina Sofia and Guernica, stopping on our way to explore the confusion and availablity of Corte Ingles (seriously, why have three separate stores on the same block?) and eventually dinner outside in the Plaza Mayor. We had two bottles of delicious Rioja wine, and the first paella of the trip!! Mom also got some Tortilla Espanola, and we got a few delicious salads. If you're even in the Plaza Mayor looking for dinner, Los Galayos is a delicious option.
I must say I love that Spain is open so late, since just under a week ago, I couldn't get dinner at 10:30 in the US. We ended up buying Chinese food to go and sitting outside, but it's nice to have the option of sitting at a restaurant that's happy to serve you until midnight.
This morning we're hopping in the car to head to Granada. Reservations at a beautiful hotel Santa Isabel la Real and at the Alhambra a 5 pm. I have high hopes for our first highway experience in Spain....

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting There

I had the most amazing flight of my life last night. I consider myself a pretty good sleeper. I can usually just curl up into a ball in the smallest of airplane seats. But the direct JFK to Madrid, Business Class has seats that go completely flat. I was dubious of the flatness, but it was actually horizontal all the way through. That combined with the four course delicious dinner, the free wine and champagne, and the individual side table and TV screen made it a thoroughly enjoyable flight. I woke this morning well rested and completely shocked by the luggage of the people disembarking. I don't know if anyone else has ever seen a Vintage Gucci man's briefcase, but it's a pretty impressive sight. When we got to the luggage carousel, I saw bag after bag of Louis Vuitton. I was having visions of all the ridiculously rich people on the flight, until I saw that about a dozen Vuitton bags were for this one old man. I have to say, he had some beautiful luggage, and it looked well loved and still in excellent condition.
Now the drive to the hotel was very interesting. Maybe mom's right that we should have taken a taxi and rented the car tomorrow when we are on our way to Granada, because the drive here was definitely harrowing. I'm glad we had her Blackberry GPS, because the streets are pretty confusing, even with directions. We managed to make it to the hotel, though, and the beautiful lobby was impressive.
Apparently "cot" is very similar to the Spanish word for "crib", because even though I specifically talked to someone about having an extra bed here in Madrid, we walked in the room to find.....a crib! Of course, that's super useful for an adult. And not in the least exasperating or hilarious.