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38 posts categorized "*Traveling around Spain"

A Day in Toledo, Spain

 

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If you’re wondering which cities are a MUST-SEE day trip in Spain, wonder no more, you HAVE to spend a day in historical and breathtaking Toledo. We spent the entire day here for only 40€! The city is packed with delicious restaurants with 3-course meals for only 10€, tasty Marzipan and other
DSC00583homemade edible treasures. The narrow streets hold pathways begging to be explored and photographed. Stores overflow with archaic swords, armor, gold and metal knick-knacks and pretty fabrics to wear.

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We travelled there with a super organized and fun travel company by the name of City Life. They coordinated our transportation, activities and showed us the best spots for photos for only 22€! The bus ride was about an hour there from Madrid's Moncloa stop. We even went zip lining across a river for only 8€; and it came with a sick professional photo! You can also book your travel through Renfe, download the super handy FREE mobile app we used to book cheap train tickets called "Go Euro!" (We used this to book our trip to Segovia, Spain roundtrip only 13€!)

DSC00599Every building was deeply detailed, adeptly chiseled to engrave belief and faith into art and to allow the ancient stories to unfold. The deeply rooted history of the people and cultures of Muslim, Judaism and Christianity come together to create a city filled with incredible architecture and traditions outlasting centuries. 

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At the city plaza, you'll find Western influence, such as a McDonalds (let's face it, McDonalds is everywhere), but the city has managed to hold on to its archaic and beautiful treasures. It's so romantic to walk around with your significant other, we even walked into a wedding celebration! Though it's perfect to explore with friends and family too. You don't have to travel far for picturesque sights. 

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The food was incredible, along with the service! As I mentioned, it was only 10€! We started with a drink, then you choose a first dish, a second dish and then a dessert. I asked for a glass of wine because it seemed the fanciest, and they gave me my own bottle of wine! My first dish was my first taste of paella, a traditional must-try Spanish dish. My second dish was a steak and french fries (patatas fritas) and I ended it with a tasty tiramisu cake. Perfecto!

You must see Toledo for yourself!

xx,

Kamalía

 

 

A Festival-Filled Long Weekend

Hypothetical question: what would you do if someone were to tell you that you’re about to have a five day weekend?

That was a question I got to ask myself in reality when the bilingual coordinator at my school handed me my class schedule and holiday calendar and I realized that I had five days off the following weekend.

My mind began racing with the possibilities of places I could visit - beaches, mountains, even other countries. After a couple hours of research, I ultimately decided to capitalize on one of the best parts of living in a country like Spain - festivals!

I was lucky enough to be able to make it to the last day of Semana Cervantina in Alcalá de Henares as well as the last day of Festival Pilar in Zaragoza.

First up:

Semana Cervantina

Alcalá de Henares is a quaint little town that lies about forty minutes to the north-east of Madrid (cercanías lines C-2 and C-7). It is the birthplace of famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, whose house is still intact and can be toured for free!

Cervantes is best known for his work Don Quijote de la Mancha. For those that haven’t heard of it, here is my very humble and very simplified summary: a man who has a bit of an obsession with books about knights and chivalry wakes up one morning and declares himself a knight named Don Quijote. Don Quijote then convinces a farmer named Sancho to be his squire, and the pair set off on a string of haphazard adventures, including fighting “giants” (read: windmills) and rescuing “damsels” (read: loose women).

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Naturally, Spain loves a good Don Quijote reference, and Alcalá de Henares is the motherland of paying homage to this fictional character and his creator. As a literature nerd who has taken an entire class on the novel, I was perhaps a little too excited to attend an entire festival dedicated to Cervantes.

And let me tell you, Semana Cervantina did not disappoint. Mere minutes after leaving the train station I stumbled upon the “Mercado Cervantino” in Plaza de Cervantes, where artisan stalls lined the streets selling trinkets, clothing, jewelry, pastries, and locally produced cheese and jamón. Medieval style flags were strung up in the air above the streets, which were bustling with people, many of whom wore medieval costumes. Children ran about and squealed with delight as the carnival rides spun them around and around. The atmosphere positively buzzed with energy and spirit.

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But the best had yet to come. Just as I was getting ready to head back to Madrid, I heard music coming from down the street and noticed a herd of people gathering. I approached the melodious sounds and pushed through the crowd of people until I came face to face with Don Quijote himself - shield and spear in hand - riding his white steed, and Sancho Panza - flask in hand - riding his donkey. The characters were parading the streets, accompanied by musicians and two men holding a live snake and eagle. I nearly burst out laughing at the sight and couldn’t help but admire their level of dedication.

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All in all, an amazing day! Stay tuned for a follow-up post about the Pilar Festival in Zaragoza!

Becoming Fluent in Spanish

Hey friends!

It has literally been 167 days, 10 hours, 37 minutes and 11 seconds since my last blog post; but I promise to post weekly! I'm aiming for every Saturday or Sunday. 

I've been living in Madrid, Spain for EXACTLY 2 months now and I'm in love with this country, the language of Spanish, the food, the sights, the sounds, the metro, and I'm still exploring and learning new things every single day. I'm writing today about the journey to becoming fluent in Spanish. A little about me, I studied Spanish for a semester in 6th grade, 2 years in high school and then completed Spanish 201 and 202 at the university level about 8 years ago. 

I've been told by multiple sources that it takes about 6 months of living in Spain to obtain fluency. I have 4 months left! Of course, you can't really put a timetable, but I find it interesting and I accept this challenge. I enrolled in the 4-week immersion program because in the program we take 4 weeks of classes through the prestigious Tandem language school. My Spanish grammar and verbal skills have definitely increased, but what is most important is my confidence speaking as well.

There are multiple ways to learn Spanish when you get here, through multiple avenues and companies.

I have two lists below that will mention paid and free options, respectively:

1.) Enroll at Tandem, or another language school (pricing depends)

2.) Take private classes through a Spanish instructor through an embassy or school (pricing depends)

3.) Rosetta Stone Spanish (pricing depends, may be deals, you can buy online or at a bookstore; this is a language-learning software that you can download on your phone or PC/Mac; I love it, but I prefer interacting with people)

4.) Read books in Spanish! We learned a lot of English from books, try purchasing or borrowing a book at your level in Spanish. Look up the words you don't know, pay attention to the order of words and the grammar. I'm currently reading El Principito by Antonie de Saint-Exupéry. You can find books in local papelerias, street shops, and stores like FNAC, Casa del Libro and the huge mall Corte Ingles. 

For free/gratis:

1.) Intercambios! Intercambio is basically a term for language exchange between you and a partner. For example, my intercambio partner is a Madrileña who is fluent in Spanish and wants to learn English. We were assigned through TANDEM, however you can easily find intercambios anywhere! Programs like City Life offer bar/restaurant events on Facebook where you can meet up with other people/students/teachers/auxiliares looking to become fluent in languages like German, French, Spanish and English! My intercambio and communicate through the app WhatsApp and take turns picking a quiet bar or cafe to meet up and speak Spanish and English.

We meet at a designated time, and for 45 minutes we speak about anything and everything in English and then we switch to Spanish and speak for another 45 minutes. It depends how long you want to hang out, but this was the perfect time for us. I've heard of 1 hour in each language and 30 minutes in each language from other auxiliares. We correct each other's grammar where necessary, talk about cultural differences, different phrases, teach each other new words and all while eating dinner or drinking wine!

2.) Duo-Lingo this is a fun free app great for learning Spanish and also has a lot of other language options like Portuguese, German, French and Italian! It's great for building vocabulary and also engages you to speak, read and type.

3.) Practice! When you go into restaurants, malls, bookstores, convenient stores, ANYWHERE, use as much Spanish as you know! Speak to friends or family members who are fluent, the more you speak, the better you will get!

4.) Spanish flatmates. Room with Spanish people, talk to them in Spanish, and listening also goes a long way! I personally have not had Spanish flatmates, but my friends who do find this an essential experience for speaking. Living with a host mom certainly forced me to learn fast!

5.) Watch films/shows in Spanish!  Re-binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix in Spanish! (yes it works in Spain!) Watch disney movies in Spanish, or any movie you can in Spanish. This will help with pronunciation, listening skills in general, and also written Spanish if you're watching shows captioned in Spanish. You'll notice that Netflix Spain captions are specific to Spain Spanish. For example, the vosotros form and "Vale!" is used! :)

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6.) Listen to Music in Spanish. You probably already listen to music in Spanish or have heard it or maybe you LOVE it! Try listening to more Spanish music and listen to words and sentences in the songs, try to understand what the words and phrases mean. Maybe translate them in your free time (not on google!) 

I will keep adding to this list the more I explore and learn. 

Hasta luego! 

xx, xx

Kamalía

Trying New Things

Back in the States I would always tell myself I should try new things; learn to play the guitar, practice a new language, draw more. These are things I am passionate about but between work, school, and that Los Angeles commute I never seemed to find the time to do them.

Here in Madrid things are much more simple, I have found out that I actually have time to enjoy life. I started drawing again, I ran in Retiro, and I am practicing German (ironic because I am in a Spanish speaking country). I have also begun to travel a bit which brings me to the point of this post. When I travel, I enjoy taking pictures and videos of my experiences like any other person. My problem is that I capture these memories and they end up locked up in my hard-drive never to be seen again. So what I decided to do this time is to create montage video of these memories. Adobe Premiere is a video editing program that like many other things I have wanted to try but never had the time to do it. 

So here is my first attempt with this program. Hope you enjoy it.


 And if you are in Madrid do not be afraid to try new this, even if its sitting on a bench people watch. 
The simplest things can bring much joy.

My escape to Salamanca...

As much as I enjoy the excitement and life that exists in a big city - I have come to appreciate the fact that some people are made to live in a big city and others of us are just not programmed that way.  Madrid has a population of over 3.16 million people... that's a lot of people!  After going through orientation, dealing with paperwork and legal documents and requirements, finding somewhere to live, meeting with people from the school and just dealing with all the various forms of transportation, I was much in need of a reprieve from city life.

I knew that I wanted to get away for a few days, but I wasn't really ready to jump a flight and fly to another country for that time (besides the cost of flights were more than I was willing to pay at that point), so I decided that the best thing would be to visit somewhere in Spain.  And what better place to visit then the city I first came to know and love - Salamanca!  So, I found an inexpensive (but well-rated) bed and breakfast near the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, I booked a round-trip bus ticket and I packed my bags (as I was packing up the hotel room the day we had to leave).  I even convinced another auxiliar to join me for the adventure (or at least part of it)!  

If you haven't been to Salamanca and you're looking for somewhere nice to go - with stuff to do, places to see, beautiful gardens to visit, shops to browse, and great food - then you should definitely take the time to check it out!  (And if you have been to Salamanca, then you know what I'm talking about and you should probably go back to visit again.)  Salamanca is a great weekend trip whether it is just a 2 day get-away or a long-weekend.  For me, Salamanca serves as a nice balance of things to do with not as many people or stress that can take over when you're in the center of Madrid.  

I wanted to include some pictures of things to check out, places to go, and even the bed and breakfast that we stayed at.  All I can say is the chance to walk the streets of a city that brought me so much peace and adventure as a college student (eek, 9 years ago!) was worth every Euro that I spent (which was less than 215 Euros for the room that I got for 4 days/3 nights, the bus tickets, food and even a shopping trip to buy some shoes and such)!  

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The Plaza Mayor - a great place to grab a glass of wine or some gelato in the evening and just relax.

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The bed and breakfast we stayed at (located on Calle Jesús - only ~3 blocks away from the Plaza Mayor).

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The common area in the bed and breakfast - there was an outside patio, a kitchen area, sitting rooms, games to play, and more.  It was beautiful and is a place I will certainly try to go back to if I'm ever staying in Salamanca again!

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The New/Old Cathedral in Salamanca (the two are connected)... You can visit the Cathedrals while you're in the city as well as a couple other convents and monasteries.  The architecture throughout the city center of Salamanca is pretty breathtaking - making it well worth a walk through, even if you have no idea where you're going.

One of my favorite spots in all of Salamanca - the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea. It is a gorgeous garden, located in an unsuspecting corner of the city. It is filled with flowers, a fountain, and a ledge that overlooks the city. If you are interested in Spanish literature you may also find it intriguing as it connects to the play "Celestina."IMG_0106
The entrance to the garden...
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The fountain in the garden, with Alysia sitting on the bench in the background.
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Some of the flowers blooming in the garden... (it's crazy to think that this is how it looks at the end of September!)
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The well in the center of the garden, with some of the bushes and trees and more all aligning the walkways... Pictures cannot do this place justice - trust me, you should just go check it out yourself.
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While you are wandering around, make sure to stop at the University and look for the "rana" (frog) to make sure you will succeed in your studies!  I know that I stopped by with hopes that it applies for those teaching the class as well as those who are taking the course!  :)

I'll write again soon but, until then, ¡muchos abrazos!

-Stephanie
(John 14:27)

Aranjuez

The other day I went to visit Aranjuez (the town I'll be teaching in) to have a look around and become familiar with the area. After just ten minutes of exploring, I stumbled across this gorgeous view of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez and was rendered speechless...needless to say, I think I'm going to like it here :)

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Bliss

It's hard to keep track with what I confess, what I admit, the secrets I tell, and the stories I share with the people I meet and the readers I write for. 

So here it is, another one.

When I was a sophomore in College, I ate lunch with a boy I had a small crush on. I decided a few bites into my salad I was going to tell him. He rejected me, naturally. I don't look back on that moment in shame or embarrassment because I set the tone for the remaining duration of our lunch-date. 

We talked about our aspirations, and I told him I wanted to change the world. His response? "You will." Him as a person has long left my life, but those two words still follow me around, floating from one section of my brain to another. It's been the backbone behind many of my decisions.

I didn't know how to do it. Did I become an astronaut? I def didn't want to be President. I picked the pathways that made me happy. I went to South Africa, I went to Spain. With these decisions I slowly realized I didn't need to be an astronaut or the President. I changed the world one person at a time. It was the small things, like explaining the difference between "hit" and "heat," or writing down instructions to a healthy recipe. Things add up. It might seem insignificant, but that word clarification taught a child a new sentence. The recipe changed a families entire diet. My presence in their lives, and theirs in mine, is all it took. 

I know I've been scared to leave, to change the direction of my life. But right now I am sitting in a coffee shop in my small-town, USA, 4,000 miles away from the closest place I really consider home, and I recognize I will still be able to change the world whether I am there or here. I'm excited to see how I do it. 

So Madrid. I love you. I always will. To the students, the teachers, the citizens, the sexy football players. I have to say goodbye right now. Keep a look out for me. 

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

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Eating My Way Across Europe

Why travel if you don't get to experience the food, right?! When visiting a new city or country, many adventurers want to consume the local and authentic cuisine. For those of you looking for recommendations, I've composed a list of places I've eaten, what type of food they serve, and for some, if they have free WiFi available.

Southwestern Europe

  • Valencia, Valenciana, Spain
    • I didn't get to try any special restaurants while I was there because we made sandwiches and spent the majority of the time on the beach, but you can't go wrong with paella. It's native to Valencia!
  • Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain
    • Mercado de San Augustin   
  • Granada, Andalucia, Spain
    • Note: the bars/ restaurants in Granada serve free tapas when you order drinks!
    • Kasbah: Spanish-Moroccan restaurant in Albayzin (where there were many other Moroccan restaurants to choose from, too!)
  • Segovia, Castilla y Leon, Spain
    • If you're willing to take a little risk, try cochinillo, it's a slow roasted suckling pig native to Segovia
  • Lisbon, Portugal
    • Time Out Market: great variety, try some seafood plates
    • Pharmacia: lunch (I'd recommend just going for drinks, though)
    • Taberna Portuguesa: Portuguese plates to share
    • Pasteis de Belem: famous pastry shop

Western Europe

  • Tralee, Ireland
    • Ballyseede Castle: eat either at the bar or in the dining room
  • Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
    • The Elephant House: known as the one of the spots where JK Rowling wrote "Harry Potter," I'd recommend going here only for a cup of coffee and the experience
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • Coffee & Coconuts: brunch, WiFi
    • Pancakes Amsterdam Westermarket: traditional Dutch pancakes, WiFi
    • Bartack: great food but on the outskirts of the city
    • Bird Thai Cuisine: in the Red Light District, WiFi

Central Europe

  • Radda in Chianti
    • Pizza Pie
    • Le Forchette del Chianti: absolutely amazing Italian food! It's a little pricey, though, so bring a full wallet (along with an empty stomach)
  • Florence
    • Acqua al 2
  • Siena
    • Morbidi
  • Prague, Czech Republic
    • The Globe Bookstore & Cafe: breakfast
    • Aromi: Italian cuisine
    • Lokal: Czech food, mess hall style
    • Sudicka/ Name Problema: Croatian cuisine
    • Hergetora Cihelna
    • If you're visiting Prague during the Christmas market season, you must absolutely grab food from the stands! Try a little bit of everything and wash it down with mulled win!
  • Hungary, Budapest
    • Circusz: brunch
    • Vintage Garden: brunch 
    • Mazel Tov: Israeli/ Middle Eastern cuisine
    • Trattoria Pomo d'Oro: Italian cuisine
    • Doblo: wine bar (Hungarian wine is actually quite popular, and good!)
    • Great Market Hall: go for lunch or just a hold-you-over snack
  • Berlin, Germany
    • Distrikt Coffee: brunch, WiFi
    • Le Bon: brunch, WiFi, cash only
    • Chipps: brunch
    • Cafe Bondi: breakfast, cash only
    • Baraka: Moroccan/ Egyptian cuisine
    • Cocolo Ramen: authentic Ramen
    • Madami: Vietnamese cuisine
    • Katz Orange: more expensive but delicious
    • Shiso Burger: Asian-style burgers, cards for orders over 20 EUR

Feel free to leave comments with other suggestions! Hope you enjoy this food as much as I did!

Semana Santa

If you want a truly Spanish experience, I highly recommend heading to Andalucia for Semana Santa! As teachers, we are given about a week and a half off, which is plenty of time to travel around and explore all the sights! Last time that I lived in Spain (Huelva), I used the long break to visit my cousins who lived in Moldova, a decision I don't regret since they moved back to the U.S. soon afterwards. However, having lived in Andalucia and missed this enormous celebration, I always had a desire to go back and experience what I missed out on. Fast forward a few years, I 'm now living in Madrid and voila! I have the chance to actually go experience it.

For my trip, I took the train from Cordoba to Sevilla and then took a bus from Sevilla to Huelva to visit some old friends and enjoy the beach. Each city had some amazing processions and beautiful sights to enjoy. Cordoba was perhaps my favorite for viewing the processions as it was easily to find them just by listening for the sound of the marching bands in the streets and was also less crowded than Sevilla, however, Sevilla did have more to offer.

Semana Santa is the week before Easter (the dates of which change depending on when the first full moon of spring is, so it can be either at the end of March or towards the beginning of April). Many people also have the Friday before that week and the Monday after off as well. In Spain, Semana Santa is traditionally celebrated with religious processions filling the streets. This is most popular in Andalucia where the processions can start at 5:00 in the afternoon and easily last until 2:00 in the morning. Several of the larger churches near the city centers will sponsor a procession, which will typically leave from their church and finish at the city's cathedral. Each procession is made up of penitents (people dressed up in long robes and tall hoods), a float of Jesus, which is followed by a float of Mary, one or two marching bands playing somber music, and sometimes women dressed in traditional black veils and black dresses to mourn. The floats are carried by many people underneath. All of this adds up to quite a scene flowing through the streets of Andalusian cities! 

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If you are interested in enjoying this uniquely Spanish tradition, here are some of my tips for Semana Santa:

1. Make sure you book in advance. Everyone in Spain travels during this week since they have a bit of time off. A lot of tourists also travel to Andalucia during this time for the Semana Santa experience.

2. Stay in Sevilla for at least the Thursday and Good Friday of Easter. Plan to stay up most of the night as you watch the processions continue on to dawn on these days. It's an incredible experience to hear the cries of the women following the processions and the bursts of mournful songs that come from people on the balconies. 

3. Sight see during the first part of the day and then plan to watch the processions in the late afternoon and evening. 

4. Pick up a processional schedule booklet from the local tourist information office as soon as you get into the city. This will give you all the times and locations of the processions throughout the week. 

5. Also pick up the schedule of tourist attractions as many are either closed or have reduced hours through Semana Santa.

5. When in doubt, always go to the cathedral. All of the processions will pass through the cathedral of each city, so if you can't figure out where all of the processions are, just plant yourself outside the cathedral to watch. 

6. Bring sunscreen!! It might be early spring time, but the sun is quite strong here in Spain and you can get a pretty bad burn just walking around the city. 

 7. Pack a small bag with water and snacks, especially if you plan on doing a bit of walking around or want to see several processions at once. It's easy to get dehydrated with all that sun and you won't want to ruin the processional experience by being hungry while watching. Just don't go over board or you might have trouble getting in to some of the castles and museums to visit.

8. Bring a light sweater or jacket. The temperature changes quite drastically in Spain with the sun, so you'll probably be a little chilly in the morning, evening, or sometimes in the shade too, even if it's quite warm in the middle of the day. 

9. Make sure you have a camera! This is something you'll definitely want to capture on film. 

10. Enjoy! =)

 

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Spring Break

Every person knows the most fun thing about being a teacher are the vacation weeks. I just had my first spring break. Unfortunately, it was an experience I never had in University due to extracurriculars. I'm not complaining, just saying.

I got back late last night after spending eight incredible days in the South of Portugal. I went to Lisboa, Cascais, Sintra, Lagos....I did it right.  

I noticed an immediate difference between Lagos and Lisboa. I am drawn to places that are not overcrowded with tourists. I can't imagine a place like Lagos not being well-known around the globe, but for spring break, it was relatively calm. Families and friends, including mine, gathered around the town square every evening with cones of gelato. Every girl fresh with that Sun-In + tanning oil combo. The classic babe. 

There is one thing that every beach hottie is required to do when traveling to Lagos. If you are young and if you are cool, then hit up Camilo Beach. Walk down the 247 stairs. Find this rock:

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Take a picture with this rock. Take a picture standing on the rock, touching the rock, and smelling the rock. All ages, people wait their turn to catch a photo with this rock.

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The rock is not famous or well know. It has no name. It's only important because it gets you a lot of likes on Instagram and a few more followers on Twitter.  

Lisboa is different. Stunning in it's own way, it's a young city. I would even go as far as saying it's more romantic than Paris.

Lisboa

In 1755, an 8.5 earthquake hit Lisboa, destroying most of the city. The people ran to the main plaza in the center of town in hysterics. The plaza was considered a form of comfort. Unfortunately, an hour after the earthquake hit, a tsunami crashed down over the city. The neighborhood of Alfama is the only neighborhood left with buildings and architecture since that awful year. 

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The story is sad story, my tuk tuk driver told me. A tuk tuk is a tourist form of a taxi that drives throughout the city and tells stories about ruins and sites. 

I've seen a lot of unique places in my lifetime, and Portugal is a country I plan on returning to. Saying I loved the culture, the people, the atmosphere- it's not enough. Portugal is indescribable. I believe it's an underrated country and I hope it becomes more popular with time. I believe it will. 

Remember!!! Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

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