Cauliflower Burgers Anyone?

Happy October 1st to everyone. One of my favorite seasons is upon us. The end of September was very eventful for me. I began my internship with Mad4Madrid which is a site dedicated to all things Madrid. I am learning so much about the ins and outs of running a successful blog and site. Also, through them I have already done some amazing things.

I did my first menu tasting event for Hard Rock Café. Can I say what an amazing experience! I visited a Hard Rock Café location about 11 years ago when I was visiting Australia and from what I can remember I had a great time but I have never been back until this menu tasting. And boy let me tell you, I might have to start making Hard Rock Café a stop on any trip I do. Yes, it was that good. The food was absolutely amazing and can you believe my two favorite meals of the day were vegetarian. The cauliflower burger was my absolute favorite (hence the title).

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Yall, this is the Cauliflower Burger. It was the bomb.com

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This salad was also pretty darn good. The meat on it is tuna.

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The new cocktail they are adding. A gin based drink. 

In my time here I never thought about taking a paella class. I do love the dish but it never crossed my mind that it might be a simple dish to make. For those of you who don’t know, paella is a typical Spanish dish that originated in Valencia, Spain. The main ingredient is rice and you can either have meat, seafood or both added.

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This is what paella looks like. 

I was able to participate in Ruta de La Paella’s master class with a Valencian chef Ramon Pallmo. I was shocked how easy it was to make. It’s a one-pot dish literally.

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The chefs and I. 

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My partner for the day.

Housing update:

I finally found a room and was able to move in right away. I actually love the room and location. Its not city center like I first wanted but everything is literally a 30 minute metro ride or less. And I am also next to a huge park, Casa de Campo. Fun fact about Casa de Campo apparently its about 10x bigger than Central Park in New York.

How was your September? Have any questions or suggestions? Let me know them by leaving a message in the comment box.

Travical Summer 2017

I made it to 12 countries this summer! I know, it sounds crazy and unbelievable to my ears as well. July and August were busy months for me. In July I solo traveled to Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. August I took the Golden Girls (My mom and aunt) to The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, The Vatican, and Madrid. This summer brought my total count to 31 countries visited.

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In the native shoe in Amsterdam. 

Man sometimes I wonder how I planned everything. Central America was easy because it was just me and solo traveling is the easiest way to travel. Traveling with the Golden Girls now that was a different story. Don’t get me wrong I had a great experience but it was challenging sometimes. From trying to decide which countries to go visit, how long to stay, where to stay, what to do, what’s the budget for each country, how are we traveling (student budget or nay), modes of transportation; these are questions you have to ask when traveling with a group.

Coordinating with a group can be difficult but I find that the best way to plan is for one person to take the lead. What does taking the lead mean, being responsible for researching everything, from the best routes to hotels to transportation etc. Another way to go about being the lead is to delegate different tasks for each person in the group to do, collect the information found and compile one document. As in any occasion working in a group you must always be prepared for one or two slackers.

Working with the Golden Girls was fairly easy because they pretty much left everything to me. From choosing which countries to visit to where to stay to basically anything you can think of. So for me it worked out great. Well except that one time I spent 3 hours planning tickets and hotels for a set itinerary to only have to do it all over again because one of the Golden Girls remembered that she always wanted to go to the Holy Lands. Mind you we had finalized the list of countries a few days ago but hey I made it happen.

The itinerary was 3 days in Amsterdam, 3 days in Vienna, 3 days in Budapest, 7 days in Jerusalem, 4 days in Athens, 3 days in Sofia, 2 days in Rome, and 5 days in Madrid. Honestly, I still can’t believe that we pulled off that itinerary in 30 days.

~A few pictures from a few cities~

To research prices I used different search engines to get the best deal. The ones I most frequent was Kayak, Google Flights, Expedia, and One Travel, Hotels.com, AirBnB, and Booking. Travel Hack 1: make sure you look the airlines baggage rules when determining what flight is cheapest. For example, if Airline A is $150 for a flight but charges a $40 for 1 checked bag and Airline B is $170 with no charges for 1 checked bag then by going with Airline B will save you $20. Travel Hack 2: make sure you check if the airline requires you to check in or pay for checked baggage online to avoid astronomical fees. For example, if Airline A charges $15 for pre-checked luggage done online vs. $40 to check in luggage at the airport, which is a savings of $25.

Overall, an amazing experience and worth all the airport hours I accumulated. Any questions on how you can book your own travical experience write a comment below.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The truth about Guatemala. Before starting this adventure I did some research on what to expect in Guatemala as well as some things to do and what do I find, a bunch of posts about how amazing Guatemala is. How people went for a week and ended up spending a month. Hmmmmm, let me honestly break down what Guatemala truly is.

For starters $1 = 7.14 Quetzals (Q)

Food

I was shocked when I first got to Guatemala about how things where so expensive. My first meal in Guatemala was believe it or not chicken wings (4 of them cut in half) and you wouldn’t believe the price, 40Q, which is about $5.75. Mind you these wings didn’t come with fries, shucks it barely came with ketchup. An order of French fries was 20Q.

Now, of course the street food was super cheap but I didn’t like the taste. Guatemala has a heavy corn influence so all their tortillas and all of their street food was of corn base. Mind you, I love love love corn on the cob and lose corn but I can’t get down with corn tortillas. 5 tacquitos was 15Q or if you are good at battering (not beating up the old lady but talking the price down) you can get it down to 10Q. A big piece of tamale with chicken in it was 10Q. If you like corn tortillas then the street food is for you. Therefore, you can eat for cheap with the street foods but if you are like me, your base is 35Q and upwards. In San Pedro I didn’t really find any street food but I did find a local restaurant that charged 35Q for tortillas, ‘soup’, and rice.

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Local dish call Pepin

Now the bread is a different story. The bakeries in Guatemala are delicious and super cheap. My favorite from the bakery was ‘the stones’. Stones are a very dense bread/muffin/loaf made with banana and chocolate chips throughout. One stone was 2-2.50Q. A big slice of ‘pizza’ which is really a big piece of bread with sauce and veggies was 3Q. So you definitely can eat for cheap by getting meals from the bakery but that would be a whole lot of bread. Then again, all the walking and hiking you do in Guatemala you wouldn’t have to worry about putting any weight.

In terms of food, my budget was about 50Q a day. I would have one good meal and then food from the bakery. One downside I found was that most hostels in Guatemala had no kitchens so I wasn’t able to cut down cost by cooking my own meals.

Excursions

 Hiking is the main thing to do in Guatemala. If you are not into nature, walking, or getting bite up then Guatemala might not be for you. But if you are into that then there is an excursion and a difficulty level for everyone.

Antigua

There are two main volcanoes you can climb Pacaya(easy) and Acatenango(hard) for hiking.

Acatenango, I would never be doing that lol because just to get up the volcano is 6+ hours depending on your level. Plus when you get to the top you can climb for another 3 hours to get to the top of Fuego(an active volcano). Acatenango is a 2 day excursion. You spend the night on top of the Acatenango and you best believe it is freezing up there once the sun goes down. You must make sure pack a wool hat, warm clothes, wool socks, and a blanket. Also if you are a light sleeper between the howling monkeys and snoring hikers don’t expect to sleep that night. But according to fellow travelers I met along the way said that the hike was worth it and beautiful. Chile, its just not for me.

Pacaya, now this is the hike I did. Super easy, well as easy as its going to get cause you know your girl was huffing and puffing while climbing. To climb up the volcano takes 45+ mins depending on how slow you walk. On the plus side the whole time climbing you are followed by locals offering ‘taxis’ in case you want to stop climbing. Now I use the word taxi very loosely because it’s really just a horse, yup you read right a horse. Once on the top, if it is a clear day you can see the other volcanoes in the horizon. You also get to roast marshmallows in lava (if there is) or in a steam hole. I paid 80Q for transport and a guide.

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super foggy at about 10am

San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

Here, you have kayaking, zip lining, and hiking. For hiking, you can climb San Pedro Volcano(hard) or Indian Nose Mountain(easy). Of course, I didn’t climb San Pedro but based on my research it is a 4+ hour hike up. Indian Nose was super easy to climb and by far the prettiest. It is a 30+ mins hike up the mountain with views of farms, cornfields, forest, and the city. The views were beautiful and picturesque. You can go for a sunrise tour, which I would recommend. Simply gorgeous. Depending on how many is in your group depicts the price. If it is just 1 person it is 150Q for transport and guide. The more people you have the more the price drops. Luckily for me I met a group of fellow travelers and joined in with them. One of the guys stays with a host family every time he visits Guatemala so the son was our tour guide and driver. Therefore the trip was based on donation.

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more views

You can go zip lining as well in Santa Clara. In the park there are only two lines, one regular the other you have the option of riding superman style. It is 20Q to enter the park and 80Q zip line. In the park there are other activities you can do like free falling. Parque Ecologico Chuiraxamolo is the name of the park. For the money you spend it is worth visiting the park. What you would pay for one excursion in Costa Rica you can do about 3-4 at the park in Guatemala.

Flores

I am not sure if visiting Tikal is an excursion but there isn’t much else to do there. Well actually, I was approached by a local to take a 40min boat ride to the other side of the lake where there is clear water to do some snorkeling. There is also kayaking and other water activities to do at the lake. But anyways back to Tikal, the price to enter the park is 150Q and 250Q for sunset or sunrise. I was able to get transport to Tikal cause of course it was an hour and a half away from Flores for 50Q. There is no need to pay for a guide because it is quite easy to get around the park but if you are bad at directions or reading a map pay for the guide.

Transport

There are two ways to travel around Guatemala, by chicken buses or by shuttles (whether it you spring for private/nice shuttles or regular ones).

Chicken Buses

 For me I didn’t feel secure enough in my Spanish to ride the chicken buses. It is the cheapest way to travel but also the most dangerous. The chicken buses get stopped and robbed often enough. As a solo female traveler I chose to not chance it. Now if I wasn’t traveling alone I would have chanced riding the chicken bus.

Shuttles

When booking shuttles don’t be afraid to shop around and haggle the price down. The cost to go to Volcano Pacaya for me was 80Q but some people in my shuttle only paid 60Q. My shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin to Flores and back to Guatamala City was 650Q. Of course by chicken bus can be much cheaper. For example some fellow travelers I met only paid 25Q each to go from Antigua to Pacaya by chicken bus but then again they were two males (big/fit ones at that).

So it is possible to travel cheaply around Guatemala but safety must come first.

Conclusion

Guatemala is a beautiful country full of adventure and things to do but it is not as cheap as other travelers make it out to be. In my opinion, Nicaragua is by far the cheapest of the countries in Central America (maybe certain parts of Mexico as well). It is definitely a must see country and if you are into nature and hiking then you definitely should check out Guatemala.

Semuc Champey, my favorite experience of the trip

Margaritas anyone?

I stayed in Madrid this weekend and boy was I happy I did so.  I had an amazing time all weekend. It was a beautiful weekend, sunny and warm. Perfect sundress weather.

One of my friends celebrated her birthday that weekend and decided that she wanted to get together on Friday night for skating and dancing. Mind you I didn´t really want to go skating especially from 7pm.  I pulled up at the skating rink on spanish time lol and arrived at 11pm.  The actual location of the skating rink was on top of the Charmintin train station.  It is like a different world up there, a club, bowling ally, and the skating rink are all up there. The name of the rink is called Rolling Dance and Burger. The next step was to go dancing at this place called Opium. Hmmmm….. What a total bust. First of all, the amount of older people in this place is crazy.  It´s almost like they cater to the older and distinguished crowd (and that´s putting it nicely lol).

We ended up leaving and going to a club called Bougie. That place is extremely fun and reminds me of the American clubs. The club has two levels, the bottom level plays reggae, hip hop, reggaeton, and all around good dancing music. The top floor played a mixture as well but more rock and roll, bachata, and salsa. You know what floor I stayed on lol, you guessed it the bottom level.

Saturday was filled with new experiences as well. So in my little town, if I have online work to do I like to go to this little cafe/restaurant.  I order a burger and fries and when the lady brought my food my burger was pink. Only seared on each side to ensure no blood ran. UUUUMMMM No thank you. I sent it back and asked for them to fry it longer. They take like 8/10 minutes to bring my plate back (mind you only like 3 people in there and I was the only one ordering food.) When I get my plate back I take another bite and it was still pink, a little more cooked but still practically raw.  Y´all know I didn´t eat that right. On top of not being able to eat my burger, the lady seemed to be rushing me and saying that they were closing but come to find out they didn´t close. I like to think that she was saying that the kitchen was closing and I just didn´t understand her. Anyways, their lost. I went to the restaurant across the street and finished up my work.

I´m finally getting to the good part, the margaritas. OMG this restaurant is amazing and that´s saying a lot cause I normally do not like Mexican food. La Venganza de Malinche is the name of the place and is in the Gran Via area. The atmosphere in the place is really chill and relaxing. The food and the drinks are beyond amazing. This place is a little expensive compared to other places around Madrid. But if you are coming from the states its pretty normal pricing. A pitcher of margaritas is 25 euros and you can get at least 6 glasses out of it. Oh the food, boy oh boy its so much and you can´t possibly finish it all.  For 20 euros a person you get a four course meal to share and when I say it is massive, it definitely is.

Unfortunately, that night my phone was stolen. Like literally snatched from my hands. Yes, snatched out of my hand. The boy/man timed it well, literally right before the doors on the train closed he snatched it and ran out.

Sunday, I was a little bummed because of my phone but I decided to not let that one negative experience ruin my whole weekend.  I decided to go out with my friends and explore La Latina area. We ended going to Hotel Melia´s rooftop and it definitely wasn´t worth the 15 euro entry. Even if it was entry and a cocktail (which weren´t that great).  We ended the night going to this seafood restaurant and can I say delicious.

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Our plate of food. Definitely more than enough for 5 people.

Despite my phone being snatched, I had an amazing weekend.

The Beautiful City of Granada


I was able to bring in the month of May in Granada because it was Labor Day weekend and Madrid had an extra day of holiday on the first Tuesday of the month.  Granada is a beautiful city in the southern part of Spain.  My adventures began on Friday when I caught a 5 hour-long bus ride.  Why in the world would I do that, because it was significantly cheaper to take this mode of transportation!

Friday night was a buzz because I did a little celebrating before heading to Granada. Y’all I got my A1 certificate in Spanish.  I can officially talk in the past and present tense.  So before my bus left I went for tapas and drinks with my classmates at our favorite bar. Need I say more? Once I got to Granada, checked in, and planned out what I would do tohe next day I went straight to bed.

Enjoying  celebratory drinks and tapas.


Saturday was a new day and definitely an adventure.  The plan for that day was to go to Alhambra and then head over to the Sacromonte caves.  Hmmm, boy did that plan fail. Some how I missed the street I was suppose to turn off on for the Alhambra and ended up walking on Carrera del Darro. Of course I wasn’t disappointed because it was such a beautiful walk with a river and the view of a castle or so I thought.  A little back story, apparently if you want to visit Alhambra it is best to get tickets online and being that it was a holiday weekend no tickets were available until the following Wednesday (mind you I left Tuesday morning). The only way to possibly still get tickets is for an individual to wake up from 4am to line up outside the ticket office.  You should have seen my face when I heard that.  Please, nothing is ever that serious. Anyways, back to my adventure.  So I am walking down this beautiful street taking pictures, strolling, listening to the river, really just taking in the ambience.  I get to the top of a hill and stop to ask the receptionist in Casa del Chapiz how much longer until Alhambra cause on the map it looked like I had past it.  Chile, the lady told me how I past the street 20 mins ago and pointed to Alhambra and would you believe it was the pretty castle I was taking of pictures of.  Now just imagine if I had actually waited in line from 4am, for a place I didn’t even know what it looked like.

Apparently I was at the entrance of Sacromonte without even knowing it.  I decided to explore the caves and I walked and walked and walked and of course there were no caves but the view, absolutely amazing.  Finally I stopped a local and asked him, ´´where are the caves?´´  He said, ´´how technically I am walking through the caves and how it was built up but in another 100 meters I would see the natural caves.´´  (now you know I agreed with him but I in my head I was thinking how far is a 100 meters.)  I thanked him and he continued to walk his big ole dog. I basically walked for about 3 hours in Sacromonte alone looking for the elusive caves.  But can I tell you, the views were absolutely stunning and there wasn´t a soul in site because it was a cloudy/rainy day.  I finally went up a road that led to Abadia del Sacromonte (of course it was a road I had passed hours before) and got to the top and saw this beautiful church and when I looked to the left, OH MY GOODNESS that view was spectacular.

 

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By far the best view of the whole city. This picture does not do it justice at all..

After spending about four hours in Sacromonte, I finally left and made my way back to the Alhambra. Of course, to actually get to Alambra requires going up yet another hill. Finally I make it to the entrance of Alambra and walk inside. Honestly, the architecture and the views is beautiful but doesnt blow me away. To be fair, after seeing the view of the city from Sacromonte nothing could compare after that. Also to be fair I could only see the free sections of Alambra but my hostel mate had a ticket and went inside and see showed me the pictures and it was ok to me. I say that because the Alambra has a very heavy moorish/arabic presence. The fact that I just came from Morocco and had my fill of moorish architecture I wasn´t sad that I didn´t get a chance to see inside the Alhambra.


I did some serious exploring my first full day here. Well really it was more getting lost and finding amazing views and I wouldn´t change it for the world.

Saturday night I meet a fellow solo traveler and we made plans to explore the city together Sunday. We both hadn´t explored the Albacin portion of the city so that was the plan for the day.  I got up pretty early because I had to check out of my hostel and check into another one so by 10am I had already moved and eaten breakfast.  My new friend hadn´t even gotten up as yet so I decided to explore a little while I waited for her. I was strolling around and stumbled upon the catedral. It didn´t look like much on the outside but I was pleasantly surprised when I entered. Inside was breathtaking, so grandiose and had a lot of much detail. We finally meet up at the catedral and had a leisurely walk throughout the Albacin.

Monday was suppose to be a chill day for me because I had already seen majority of the city but I still ended up walking quite a bit. I explored the jewish side of the city.

Granada has some of the most beautiful churches in the world.  The attention to detail on the inside of the churches is incredible.  Not to mention the fact that from the outside it looks like an ordinary building.

Are you wondering what the food is like here? Granada is known for giving their customers a free tapa with every order of drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks).  The tapas here are amazing, so flavorful and delicious.  I pretty much ate tapas the whole weekend. I tried Poes Bar because they had 4.9/5 stars for quality of tapas and drinks. Boy oh boy, they deserve 5 stars. You have 9 tapas to chose from 1 fish dish, 3 pork dishes, 3 chicken dishes, and 2 vegetarian dishes. I had 3 tapas and a drink for 6.5 euros. Throughout the weekend I stumbled on great restaurants and bars that served great tapas and was extremely cheap .

Overall, I had a great time and experience on my solo trip. I was in Granada for 4 full days and saw everything posible but you can spend a shorter time there and still be able to see everything. Honestly, 2 full days is sufficient if you are on a time table. Since I had a long holiday weekend, I decided to just visit Granada and not combine it with another city so I was able to liesurely see the city.