The shopping trail

Since I came back from Madrid, I’ve been sharing my life in Rotterdam with my international friends. This time I want to share my Christmas shopping adventures with all of you through my blog.

For the holidays, I went Christmas shopping in Madrid. I picked stores from different corners in Rotterdam, to find the most exclusive gifts. Mind you that I’ve never visited these places before, at least not by bike. Exploring cities can really only be done through one way, no matter how great my navigation skills: not finding what you are looking for, finding something else instead.

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elle aime 

Google Maps made me zigzag through a lot of tiny streets in the north of Rotterdam, until I found this gem of a street, Zwanenhals, literally translated ‘Swans neck’. A little note in the window read: “Closed. Maybe visit HOND at this and this address?” The instructions were clear and I entered a sweet pop-up with a dog, which is what hond means in Dutch. A lot of trouble to pet a dog? Perhaps, but I got my gift and set out to explore more. 

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Along an abandoned train rail I found Station Bergweg. Follow the train rail as shops underneath have started to pop up. imag1739

Years ago, still in high school, I was working on a project about street art. This wall changes from time to time and I love the way it looks right now.

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When I first went here, the spaces were open from one side to the other, the floor laid bare in concrete and it was clearly temporary. Now, the place is in excellent shape, with cafés and an Interior Design  shop.

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Discovering the road to elle aime which was closed, led me on a trail of finding other shops. Who knows what I’ll discover when I set out to explore West and Kop van Zuid?

New adventure

A city of trendy ecological diners, of innovative museums and of multicultural supermarkets. A street of vintage shops and of nightclubs. A city that is as diverse as I have ever seen. It is the city of Rotterdam.

For half a year, I have lived in Madrid and now it is time for my next adventure. It is not far from family and from friends, in fact, my roots are in this city and yet I do not even know how to pronounce the names of the neighbourhoods. So I have set out to explore this city that generations of my family have lived in and now… so will I.

Rotterdam is great for those interested in culture. You might have heard of Boijmans van Beuningen and perhaps visited Kunsthal next door. Just a few minutes away is Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art… and this is where I am doing my internship at PR & Communication.

This internship has already given me a few oppurtunities that I otherwise would not have had, like visiting the VIP Preview of the Unseen Photo Fair at Amsterdam and (briefly) meeting the director of Museum Voorlinden, which is a new museum in the Netherlands that has just opened.

The week before, I attended the opening of the Fall exhibitions (on the left) and Kunstavond, an art evening that takes place every Friday where all the art institutions around that street are open for free from 6 to 9 pm (on the right).

So far, you can imagine, it has been the adventure I have been hoping for. Still, there is so much more to discover and I will make sure to tell you all about it in my next blog posts.

 

Last trip: Barcelona

Perhaps if it was not for Marija, I would not have visited Barcelona. Man, I would have missed out on one of my most cherished memories of my exchange. I had already visited Barcelona years ago, so I thought it would be better to travel around the rest of Spain. Which, as you have seen, I did. However, Marija moved to Barcelona and I know she is very fond of it. So, when we took a cab back home after a few drinks on her last evening in Madrid, she told me I could come visit her and I said I would. So I did.

During my travels in Spain, I have travelled alone, with friends and with organizations, but never have I visited someone living in another city than Madrid. While this was my last trip, it was simultaneously a first: my first time visiting someone living in another Spanish city. Not just some city, but Barcelona.

This visit was completely different from the one years ago. Last time I went to Casa Mila, Casa Battlo, the Picasso museum, Park Güell and had dinner at Plaça Reial. This left me with four days of seeing another side of Barcelona.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I had to go to Marija’s work to pick up the keys to the apartment. It was a thrill to see this working and living side to Barcelona. It hit me that I have friends all over the world (not just Spain) and that during my travels I can see a totally different side of the places I visit. Of course, I still hit some of the tourist highlights, such as Plaça d’Espanya.

During the night, we went to Parc de la Ciutadella and talked until we saw someone close the gates. We ran and he opened it up again for us. Meanwhile, another person begged him to open the gate and let him in. I suppose he was going over to the group of friends on the bench a little down the path and you can easily sneak out through the gate (Marija told me from experience).

The next day, I visited the Sagrada Família . Last time, there was a queue all around the basilica and I could not go in. This time, I bought tickets online and avoided the queue. I went through a lot of effort to print the tickets (read: someone let me pay 1 euro and the bookshop had a lot of rather ‘typical’ books). Just to let you know: it suffices to show the tickets on your mobile screen.

During the night, me and Marija went to Búnquers del Carmel, which are old ruins of bunkers with a magnificent view of the city. Before, it was a unregulated place. You had to climb your way up there. Now, there were some fences and there was a festival with great music and people dancing. Though a little more organized, it was still a very free and local place, where people brought their own drinks and food and were people living in Barcelona. It was one of the most striking places in my Erasmus experience.

New day, new plans. We went to Barceloneta beach, but did not swim there, as supposedly it is rather dirty (it is an artifical beach and therefore the ground water streams underneath it and takes all the dirty chemicals from the city with it, if I understood correctly). I believe swimming there once will not harm you, but I can understand that people that live there prefer another beach. Still, we saw the sculptures, the people having fun and all in all it was a nice morning.

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Palm trees!

Then, we met up with a friend of Marija at La Rambla. Normally, they would not go there as it is hard to walk through this street with the slowly-paced tourists. I mean, slow people are always inconvenient when you are in a hurry. Now, we were not in a hurry and instead we went to a food festival. There were tapas for four euros from the biggest chefs in Spain and it was amazing.

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Foie gras and caramalized salmon and more nice flavours

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Temple d’August, which took us a lot of effort and multiple days to find
(Old Roman pillars that Franco didn’t care about and built an apartment around)

For dinner, we went to Flex and Kale, a vegan restaurant. If you are a vegan, you will love it. If you are up to new tastes, you will love it. But to us, they were a little rude… Still, I had a really great time and Marija’s friend was wonderful. She is a very warm and good person. I keep meeting great people on Erasmus. Perhaps it is because if you are willing to go on exchange, you are willing to make your dreams come true. Like Marija living in Barcelona or her friend having a company at such a young age. (And my dreams? I am working on it).

In Barcelona, I also found… a HEMA. I was exhilarated. I said before it would be the only thing I would really miss. It is cheap, it is cute and it is of rather good quality. And for me it is the essence of a Dutch shop. We had bought face masks there some days before and this evening it would be used for a girl’s night, complete with popcorn and a very VERY bad film. Sorry about that, Marija.

As I told you before, we went to Platja de Castelldefels. It was rather quiet and clean beach. However, there were strikes so when the train finally came, it was completely packed. We went to get dinner and they were so sweet as to let us reenter the station for free.

During the night, we went to Gràcia. It is a neighbourhood where mostly Catalan people live (and perhaps some exchange students). I saw the cutest shop here. There is a square called Plaça del Sol where people drink and play guitar and at midnight, the police politely asks everyone to leave. I was able to see this and it went all so very smoothly.

I came to Barcelona with almost no expectations and when I left, I had gained one of the richest memories of my time as an exchange student. Barcelona has so much wonders to give, from the main tourist places I visited last time, to the less popular tourist places to the most unknown places that are just as stunning and perhaps even more so. I am really grateful that I had Marija to show me around the city and she did a great job at it, too. I still eat hummus and avocado (which we had for breakfast everytime) to soften the blow a little bit.

P.S. Also a big thanks to Cris and Izzy, who made a very useful to-do list of Barcelona.

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Last friend over

DSC03989Parque de Atracciones

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Edited by Izzy
Toledo

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Segway with Segway Trip Tours

My friend Froukje challenged me to go on a segway tour. I admit, I was skeptical. And anxious about my clumsiness. However, the guided tour we took to Casa de Campo had the best guide ever with very clear instructions and a keen eye to our needs. He adapted the tour to us and we were even shown a little place that usually wasn’t included in the tour, but as we adapted to the segways really quickly we were very lucky to see it.

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My friend visited Madrid for five days, which gave us a lot of time to explore and for me to do new things… In here, but I suppose everywhere, there are always new experiences waiting to be discovered. I went to the attraction park.I used to go to an attraction park every year but these new attractions were thrilling again. Like going straight up and launch down, but then upside down. Or have a real life ‘Walking Dead Experience’. Or visit Toledo a second time and see the synagogue, the Roman baths and the bridge. To walk on top of old city walls that were askew, crumbling and without fences… To visit a ruin of a building with amazing graffiti and the river going underneath it. It has been such an adventure with my friend, whenever we strayed off the known ways and delved into the unknown (but luckily, not the river). As my final days are slowly approaching, I’m really happy I got to spend some of them in this way with my friend and also share these happy moments together with my other Erasmus friends. You can’t imagine how much more we did, which I didn’t get to photograph. But I will never forget those memories …

and I bet nobody that ever visited Madrid did will either.

P.S. Next week I’m visiting Barcelona, so you know to tune in for my next blog post!

Second Parents’ Visit

My parents came to visit me for a second time, providing me with the luxury of seeing them every two months, instead of having to wait for six whole months. Also, I had the chance to show them more of the city this time. This resulted in my parents being the only ones who visited me TWICE.

First, we went to Malasaña. Last time, most of the shops were closed (oops!). This time, I looked up when the stores were on siësta and we went on Saturday so the neighbourhood was buzzing! We had breakfast at Ojala! and I introduced them to the tostada con tomate.
Then, we explored almost every shop until it was time for lunch. My mom is a vegetarian and Malasaña is the perfect spot for vegetarian (and even vegan) food! So we ended up at Sanissimo! and the quality exceeded way beyond my expectations. Across is the Veggie Room, which also specializes in generally healthy food, where I found a great sugarfree chocolate bar without any weird replacers or a higher amount of fat. Then my dad went on for a walk based on a route from the app Ingress, while my mom and I went on to look for shoes. I definitely trashed my old ones with all the walking around I’ve been doing here so I replaced my baby blue ones with these old pink ones!

Then we went to Real Jardín Botanico and it was mesmerizing. They had a patch of all kind of flowers, one entirely dedicated to roses and I took a picture with a kiwi tree. It was really fun to guess what was what and to try to guess the Spanish names for them (my dad is also a fanatic Duolingo user). The garden also surprised me in a timeline of plants, where you walk among the most primitive to the most evolved plants. We also came across this guy whose face has been completely eroded. My dad is also a fan of bonsai trees and they had so many! There were also themed greenhouses. I think this garden is especially nice during summertime, because of all the nice shadows. Or perhaps also in spring, because now most of the flowers were withered.

In the evening, we went to a very traditional Spanish tapas bar González in Las Letras and the quality was great, as well as the wine and the service. Then we went on to watch the Champions League game between two teams in Madrid… We were so lucky to be here that particular evening! To celebrate, we had churros.

Sunday arrived way too fast. We had breakfast with pastries from the bakery downstairs and caught up on the latest Game of Thrones episode that we wanted to watch together. Priorities, right? We spent most of the day strolling through the Prado and even though this was my fourth time, I still discovered new paintings and rooms. We had dinner at 100 Montaditos, the cheap student place that I thought they should see once with some nice vegetarian options. We walked through the food market San Miguel towards Las Cabaleras, a flamenco restaurant. Such a restaurant specialised in this dance is called a tablao. From what I’ve gathered, the tablaos are fairly touristic but flamenco in itself isn’t. I’ve met numerous locals listening to flamenco, or dancing or playing it. The dancing performance is a real spectacle and it calls for a deep admiration for the performers.

Monday morning I sent my parents of to Lago, the lake, where they could have lunch and enjoy the Spanish weather (which is particularly cold for this time of the year, around 21 degrees), while I was off to take an exam.

Mom, dad, I had a great time and we’ll see each other in a few weeks!

P.S. The same evening my parents left, another friend came over. So keep an eye out for the next blog! 

Another trip: Valencia

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Valencia is on the east coast of Spain, south of Barcelona. As a Dutchie and Georgie as an Australian girl, we are used to beaches and we had to visit Valencia’s beach. It was a well-needed break before exams started coming up. Basically, CityLife was sold out and spontaneously we bought tickets as late as Friday to go on Sunday.

The trip was just 22 euros by SmartInsiders. There was an optional programming, but we preferred to just go of on our own. We just took naps on the beach in between our refreshing dives. As it was the first nice day after a rainy week (much into contrast with the Netherlands, I believe, where newspapers bragged about how it was even warmer than in Spain), we completely forgot to bring sunscreen. I can’t recall any time I got sunburned… Except here in Spain (not too badly, though). The sunscreen season has begun.

We ordered paella Valenciana at the beach restaurant Cerveceria Freiduria San Patricio and it took around two hours for our order to get there. We tried to ask about it, but you know, we didn’t speak Spanish and they didn’t speak English so that didn’t work out too well. People next to us also took a long time to get the check… So maybe, maybe, stay clear of that place as I wouldn’t recommend it.

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As SmartInsiders had given us a map (thanks!), we found out where to take the tram and then continued to walk to the Plaza de la Reina, a beautiful scare with the cathedral where we met up with Georgie’s roommate and her friend from Valencia. It must be amazing to be an Erasmus student in Valencia, too!

We walked along this park surrounding Valencia that leads to the modern part of Valencia. It was supposed to take 45 minutes, but it took us over an hour and so we arrived a little bit too late for the bus (sorry!). Luckily, the bus was delayed…

The architecture in the old city is amazing and just as astonishing is the modern architecture. There is a HUGE museum of Arts and Sciences and an aquarium. I so recommend you to go there for a weekend. I might even come back for a weekend in the future. Spain just keeps amazing me…

My next blog will be about my parents’ second visit!

 

Events: Pinta Malasana + Documenta Madrid

Pinta Malasaña

Events are one of the most delightful experiences in my Erasmus adventure. The touristic hotspots will always be there, but events pop up once a year, or once in a lifetime, and I’m there to witness them in full glory. One of the events I visited is Pinta Malasaña, a street art festival. I’m really happy my friend Alba is as interested in art as I am and that she told me about this event! Some may know I did a high school essay on street art. I thought it was interesting that whole doors got painted in white for the artists to work on and that it was so very organised and legalised. As was expected, most of these amazing artworks were painted over by tags the next day. And I don’t know enough about the history of Malasaña, but I’ve heard it has been gentrified and well, if you paint over the tags, I can imagine your artwork is going to be painted over, too. However interesting this debate might be, the festival was enjoyable.

 

Alba also showed me Tabacalera, a kind of culture hotspot. A lot of street art was visible here and it was accompanied with a strong smell of pot. I know weed here is almost as common in the Netherlands, even though it’s legal (tolerated) in the Netherlands.

In the afternoon, I went back to the festival with Kübra, who vlogged about our afternoon.
We also went to Temple Debod to see the sunset, but it got cold so we went before the sky turned pink (my favourite part of the sunset).

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On the 24th of April, Kübra and me went to Retiro for a Big Picnic by MADlife Madrid.

On the 29th of April, Kübra and I went to the Documenta Madrid. It was another festival, this time about… you guessed it… documentaries. I take a class in documentaries, so my teacher told me about this. Also, Alba helped me to find out how to get tickets and where to go. It was at Matadero, a former slaughterhouse turned contemporary art centre. The architecture is amazing. Of course there was a Q&A with the filmmaker. The documentary we saw was ‘35 y soltera‘, or ’35 and single’. It was a lot of fun and very insightful.

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On Saturday, I tried to go to the Faro de Moncloa, a panoramic viewing point. There was a long queue so we couldn’t manage to get in before closing time. So get there somewhere in the middle of the day, not in the evening, to be sure to get in!

On Sunday, Oriha (a Japanese classmate) let me try her gâteau au chocolat after visiting Temple Debod at sunset, where I finally got to see the pink sky.

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I also went out to Mondo, which so far is my favourite due to the music, the friendly bartenders and the chill crowd. But I must say like 75% was probably high, so I’m still trying to find that perfect club before I leave.

P.S. I uploaded a video a week ago with some footage from my mobile phone. It might be a nice addition to the more static photographs and descriptions I give here!

Another friend over

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Ellen came to visit me! She was the first one to say she’d visit me- even before my parents said they would!

 

We went to some of the main highlights such as El Retiro, Plaza Mayor and Temple Debod. If you have someone visit Madrid… you can’t really let them miss out on that.

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However, much of the fun of having a friend over is exploring the city WITH them as well! I went to Reina Sofia before, but I’m very VERY slow with museums, so I didn’t see a lot yet. As my fellow cultural studies student, she was just as enthusiastic about the museum as I was.

Another place I’d never visited before, was Cibeles. The mirador is 2 euros and the collections are free.

We also enjoyed the food and drinks. We ate at Lateral, my all-time favourite, but I also had breakfast at Ojala for the first time. I took her to LeFiebre as well and we enjoyed nargile (which is what we mistakenly call shisha) with my fellow Erasmus students.

I also had gambas for 5 euros at the food market in La Latina. Hmm! And we went to San Anton. And we found an American store. And we went out to Joy for the first time.

So, most of all, I really want to thank my friend for visiting me, it was incredibly nice to share Madrid with you!

P.S. I haven’t blogged in a long time and it was because I can’t upload the pictures from my camera. No worries, I will solve this problem soon enough and I have a few new blogs coming up.

Fourth trip: Toledo

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Remember the abono joven? The one where you can travel by bus, metro and train around Madrid for 20 euros per month? This little card will also get you for free to Toledo. You just have to take the bus at Intercambiador de Plaza Elíptica, which happens to be at my metro line. Easy does it!*

Two girls from my studies asked me to go with them, but they hopped on at Getafe. So I was meeting someone at Plaza Elíptica, but I had no idea what she looked like. I asked the wrong person the first time. I’m meeting new people all the time, so it’s nothing new to me.

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Me and the girl I just met waited in Toledo for three other girls to arrive. My classmates had a filming assignment and the waiter let us film. He even put a chair in the right position to film! For the first time, we left a little tip. Tips are included in the bill here, so usually you don’t leave a tip. At least, that’s what my Spanish friends told me.

Next, we went to Museo de Santa Cruz. It’s an old hospital, now used as an art museum. I had never seen a painting with a Veronica Cloth before and here there were several. A lot of the wooden panels were damaged, so you could see where they had attached them. On top of it all, they had works by El Greco. It was interesting to see the architecture of the building, it was the first time I visited an old hospital like this.

We came across a museum for black magic (Museo de la España Mágica). It’s an Islamic cave dating back to the tenth century. I said that we could throw a coin in the water to bring good luck. Later, I tried to look up where this tradition came from and I found that water used to be hard to come by, so people often treated wells as holy or magic places. Coins and clothes can carry diseases and it’s a way of cleansing them with the clean water. It would bring good luck and it’s only this tradition that’s left. I like how this piece of information explains why the Islamic cave was made into a museum for magic. If you go there, there are some more signs explaning this… But I won’t spoil what they were.

After this, I visited the church (Catedral de Santa María de Toledo). There was a room dedicated to all of the cardinals and the architecture was mesmerizing. Spain is so rich in its arts and architecture, it’s like heaven to me.

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Speaking about heaven, did you know the marzipan (marzapanes) in Toledo is made by nuns? Try to find a place where you can see them prepare it!

There were many more buildings to visit. None of us expected Toledo to be this big and I guess we’ll all have to go back again to visit the rest. For example, to see the Roman Baths, a Mosque or a Synagogue. Maybe you’ll read about this in a little while (;!

* Unfortunately, there are some requirements for the abono joven (something about being joven– young). Check it here.

Third trip: Aranjuez

It’s officially spring. Where do you go in spring? That’s right, to the most beautiful park you can find. Retiro might be a good choice, but I like exploring and so I went to Aranjuez.
This might be a meaningless name to you, but to me it’s the destination of the train that always leaves five minutes before my train. This means that I might have accidentally got into this train before, only to rush out when the doors were almost closing when I realized I was in the wrong train. Oops!

The name got me really curious and a quick Google search showed that it’s actually an amazing place. That’s why the train is always so packed. And the train to Parla is not (although I haven’t Googled it yet, so who knows…).

What’s so amazing about it? Well, they have a palace. And an amazing park. With a museum of royal rowing boats (Museo Faluas Reales), Casa del Labrador and more.

Besides, the train is free with the abono joven (public transport card for students)! It’s a great trip to follow up any expensive trips (say, Andalucía, for example).

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