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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Spanish Road Trip: Christmas 2014

Synopsis: My parents are flying out a few days before Christmas so we can tour around Spain a bit and then head back to Pamplona for Christmas with my new Spanish family. I plan to do all the driving so my parents can enjoy the scenery and relax.

Road trip!

Day 1: I head out at 5 in the morning to Madrid, and it's actually nice since no one else is on the road. Super foggy and dark, though. As the sun finally comes up around 8:15, I can finally see the beautiful Spanish countryside in the Sierra Guadarrama, and the sunlight helps wake me up.

Meet my parents at the airport in Madrid and we sit and talk a bit over coffee and catch up. Hop in the car and while heading down to Granada, we stop at Toledo on the way. We park in a garage and my mother and I take the elevator while my dad walks up the stairs. I tell him if anyone talks to him in Spanish to say "no entiendo". He walks away practicing aloud "Nintendo". 

As soon as we are out the parking garage, we grab some food. We eat at Bű Terraza and it is delicious. Walk around the city a bit and it's very foggy, but still nice. Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo towers over the city, but again the fog makes it hard to see.

Drive on to Granada and I'm glad my parents are there to talk to because there is nothing between Toledo and Granada, except some beautiful mountains right before Granada. Walk around the city a bit and stop to eat at La Terraza, by the Granada Cathedral, and the food is decent, except the paella. Then we head to our hotel that we found, and decided on, while eating dinner.

Thoughts: So great to see my parents again. It's been a full year since we last hung out and we have so much to catch up on. My dad is funny at languages and when trying to imitate me saying "hasta luego" he says "yoyo". Turns out we got a pretty good hotel, Gran Luna De Granada (tripadvisor review), at 77€ for 3 people, plus cheap parking and breakfast and Wi-Fi included. My parents also gifted me an iPhone 6 for Christmas, that they let me open tonight. So happy! Today I drove 8 hours.

Picking my parents up at the Madrid airport

Monday, December 15, 2014

6 Ways This American Travels Without Spending A Lot of Money

Throwback to Czech Republic in 2010
I've been asked how I am able to travel so frequently. I do not make a lot of money, but I take at least 1 trip per month. I have had some trips that were outrageously expensive, and some that were so cheap it seems unreal. This post is about the latter, and what I do to make it happen.

Obviously, the cheaper trips I have taken have been to countries with lower costs of living, so that helps, but also having a frugal mindset discourages frivolous spending, without diminishing the fun of the trip. The main key is to make a travel budget. I decide how much money I am willing to spend while on vacation, and I stick to it. This is easier said than done, so here are some tricks on how I do it. Here are 6 ways this American travels without spending a lot of money.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Castillo de Javier and Monasterio de Leyre

Synopsis: Virginia and Leo recommend a day trip to Castillo de Javier and Monestario de Leyre. Arthuur and Rodrigo are at their grandparents' house so it's just Gonzalo with us.

We head first to Monastery De Leyre. Leo and I pay 2,75€ for the crypt, which takes like 28 seconds to see. But, Leo and I are goofing off and taking pics and having fun. We walk around the monastery grounds for free, so Virginia and Gonzalo join us. The monastery is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and mountains and a lake. We walk into the church part, and a mass is in progress. After seeing the whole monastery in about 45 minutes, we leave to go to Castillo de Javier.

First thing you see when walking to the castle from the parking lot is a spectacular view. It's like a miniature castle, maybe the smallest castle I've been to in Europe. It's 2,75€ to enter the castle, which is effectively a museum dedicated to San Francisco Javier. Upon entering are a series of dioramas depicting Saint Javier's life. He was a missionary to India, Japan and China, so there are also some Oriental artifacts inside. Apparently, he was the first missionary to Japan. We make our way up to the top of the castle and go outside, and we're greeted by biting cold wind despite beautiful sunny weather. After ascending to the top, you simply descend and walk out the castle, but not before stopping by the small jail by the entrance, that shows just how cruel prisoners were treated back in the day.

We arrived at noon and there was no line. We leave around 13h and there are twenty people in line. Head to the church next door with mass going on and notice the same architecture from monastery.

On the drive home I can see the signs for Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage some people taking in the warmer months, and it seems like it would be pretty cool. We stop in the city of Lombiers and eat at a cafe. We spend more time waiting for the waitress to bring us and then pick up the check, than we did waiting for the food. 

Approaching the city of Javier

The Monastery

Day trippers!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Road Trip from Belgium to Spain

Synopsis: I have found a way to immerse myself into the Spanish language and culture. I finally got an au pair visa (read about the chronicle here) and I'll teach some English and French to the Spaniards. I am taking my car with me, so that means a road trip is at hand! Will and I are going to take three days and enjoy some of the French countryside on the way there.

Where the map goes, we will follow

Trip Overview:
Day 1: Head out on the road with Will, the best driver this side of Peru, and myself, the best non contributor in the galaxy. I accidentally select "avoid tolls" on the GPS and we add two hours to our drive time and we are off in the farmlands of France.

Finally, we arrive in Lyon, right at rush hour. After driving around our hotel a few times, we find free street parking, then walk to our hotel. Since our hotel is on the main strip we walk around and hit Place Bellecour. Other than a giant ferris wheel, a statue, and a closed tourist info center, there isn't much there. We grab some food and then walk around the Traboules of Old Lyon, and walk forever uphill to the Basilica Fourvière. After all that walking, we are hungry again and end up at a Mexican restaurant. Afterward, we go to place Hotel De Ville, but it's dead so we head back to the hotel.

Thoughts: After watching Will drive for six hours, and then walking for several more hours around the city, I was exhausted. But not as exhausted as Will, who fell asleep as we walked into the hotel. Lyon is beautiful by night and quite spread out. We stopped at a hostel to ask about pub crawls and organized night tours and there doesn't seem to be either. Dommage.

On the open road

This is what it looks like when you are not on the toll road


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Au Pairin' with the TMax (The Spanish Visa Process)

How This American Became An Au Pair (The Spanish Visa Process)

The Who, What, Where, and When

I, "The TMax", have decided to become an au pair and I'll be moving to Pamplona, Spain, in the Navarra province by the end of the year.

The How (the long part)

BLUF: I spent almost 600€ and waited 2 months processing time for my visa.


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