One Year Later: Operation Andalucia


“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” -Susan Sontag

A year ago yesterday, I returned from the best four months of my life in Madrid. I can’t believe that experience is already a year in the past, but I still think about it, talk about it, and miss it everyday. Pictures are posted all over my room, I continue to hang out with the friends I made there, and the knowledge I gained has changed my outlook on life and the world forever.

I realized yesterday I had never posted about my last weekend trip of the semester, so I decided to make a belated video slideshow to celebrate the one-year anniversary. It details my Madrid program trip to Andalucía, a region in Southern Spain, during Thanksgiving weekend 2011. We visited the cities of Córdoba, Granada, and Sevilla in four days. Enjoy!

But wait, there’s another motive behind this post besides to finally conclude the documentation of my adventures abroad and the reasoning behind the quote at the top. I will be traveling to ISRAEL in just TWO weeks!!! Thirteenth country, fourth continent I will have been to. It is a birthright trip specifically for communications students, so I plan to revive this blog once again to document my experience. I am extremely excited, as I’m sure you can imagine, and I can’t wait to share!


La Reina de la cocina



“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” -George Bernard Shaw


As a little kid, I used to say I ate to live, not lived to eat. I obviously didn’t understand the definition of life.


Oh so much has changed since the days when I ate nothing but chicken fingers, cheese sandwiches on white bread, and ice cream. I’m now lactose-intolerant and can no longer stomach fried foods. Consequently, I am a much more adventurous and healthy eater. One of my favorite parts about studying abroad was trying all the amazing different foods as you probably have noticed because I always include photos of my meals on here.  Well get ready to be overloaded with food pics because this post is dedicated entirely to la comida española.


Every morsel of food shown in the photos of this post was made by “La Reina de la cocina,” the Queen of the kitchen, Carmen. I was blessed to have been assigned to live with the best cook in all of Spain. I know you think I’m exaggerating, but really, every night I came home to what tasted like the best meal of my life and then the next night I would sit down at the dinner table and think the same thing again. My food experience in Spain was what it was because of this amazing woman. We used to say her food tasted so good because it was made with love.


We’ll begin with a basic. Above is la tortilla española. You can find this at just about any restaurant in Spain. It is a common rookie mistake to look at a menu and order a tortilla thinking you’re going to get a flat round piece of wheat or corn flour like those in Mexico. As you can see, the only trait these two tortillas share is their shape. A traditional tortilla española is made from eggs, slivered potatoes, and finely chopped onions. It is like a cross between an omelette and a quiche and I miss it very very much. Tortilla was my go-to food at any Spanish cafetería, but no matter how many I tried, none could compare to my host mom’s.


While we’re on the topic of eggs, let’s discuss el plato cubano, the Cuban Plate. Two eggs over easy, rice, tomato sauce (sometimes containing meat like in this picture), and a slightly caramelized banana. This may sound like a ridiculous combination, but whoever came up with it is truly a genius. The components work as well together as peanut butter and jelly. This is an easy meal to put together if you have some leftover tomato sauce and want to try something different and delicious!


Paella is probably the most well known Spanish food and it holds a special place in my heart. Whether it’s made with seafood, chicken and chorizo, vegetables, I love it. It has to be made right though, so the saffron rice is cooked to the point when it has the perfect balance of softness and crunchiness. I would do crazy things for an authentic deep dish of paella right now.


If only Carmen didn’t hate airplanes…


Spanish food is made to be eaten, not looked at; so even though this chicken may not be very aesthetically appealing, I promise the moment it touches your taste buds you will reconsider. This is el pollo con la salsa de miel, chicken with honey sauce aka the most delicious chicken ever. This one’s a plate licker people.


Carmen served the chicken with los guisantes, peas. I have (or should I say had) never been much of a pea fan. Sure, I eat them when they’re put in front of me, but never before in my life had I eaten an entire bowl, asked for more, and then craved them on a weekly basis. The peas are cooked with olive oil, finely chopped onion, and el jamón serrano, Spanish serrano ham. Spain has a national obsession with ham. I’m pretty sure you can’t walk into a grocery store and find rows of ham legs hanging from the ceiling anywhere else but España. Spanish ham is nothing like American ham. If anything, it’s closest to prosciutto, but in my biased opinion it’s even better. It goes great on sandwiches, with peas, and even with melon (jamón y melón is a popular appetizer. It’s an interesting way to do sweet and salty).

I was always a plain pasta kind of girl. The pasta sauce above was my introduction to eating tomato sauce. The orange specks are actually carrots and the sauce is more oil based than tomato based.


In Spain, meals are typically three separate courses. The first course consists of vegetables, the second is some form of protein, and the third is dessert. A fresh loaf of bread is always served on the side. It was strange to Carmen that my roommate and I preferred to eat our vegetables at the same time as the meat. The above picture shows a variation of las judias verdes, a typical green bean dish. They are the best cooked green beans I’ve ever had.


When there weren’t cooked vegetables, and even sometimes when there were, Carmen would prepare me a small salad. Above is a huge salad she made when my roommate’s parents visited. Perfect with Spain’s famous olive oil.


This made for an interesting appetizer one day. I’m pretty sure it’s eggplant, even though it’s light colored, with chicken in tomato sauce on top.


Here are some examples of main courses. This was some kind of meat stew.


Pork with a tasty sauce.


Traditionally, Spain follows the Mediterranean diet, which consists of lots of olive oil, vegetables, and seafood. If you need to know anything about my eating habits, it’s that I could happily eat seafood every day of my life. Lobster has been my favorite food since I was two-years-old, no lie.

El pescado con la salsa verde, fish with green sauce, is one of my favorite fish dishes of all time. Once again, please don’t judge it by how it looks. My parents can affirm how delectable it is because I had my host mom make it for them when they came for a visit.


This is another combination of ingredients that you think wouldn’t work well, but do: rice, shrimp, hard boiled egg, ham, pepper, and apple.


Las lentejas, lentils, are a popular winter Spanish food. I had never really eaten lentils before, but I liked them in this soup.


Carmen loved making fresh vegetable soups and I loved eating them. This particular crema de verduras paired well with the sprinkled goat cheese on top.


This is traditional sopa castellano, Castilian soup. It had a unique flavor that’s difficult to describe. I especially loved the pieces of soaked bread and egg that were in it.


When it came time for our last meal in Spain, I knew exactly what I wanted to request: los garbanzos fritos, fried chickpeas. Carmen would take cooked chickpeas and heat them in a skillet with olive oil, onion, garlic, and el chorizo, Spanish sausage. I’ve always been a fan of hummus, but this dish takes chickpeas to a whole different level.


As for dessert, nearly every night until it went out of season, I would eat el melón. It came to the point when my host mom would say to me, “Amy, eres melón” “Amy you’re melon.” It’s different from any melon I’ve ever had in the U.S. Its formal name is piel de sapo, which literally means toad skin, but everyone in Spain just calls it melon. It’s sweet, juicy, and refreshing for those warm Madrid days.


A special treat was el bizcocho, cake. She made all kinds of varieties: fruity, chocolatey, lemony. This cake is famous among the women that work in the SU Madrid office.


 There you have a brief summary of my meals at Carmen’s throughout the semester. She’s the reason why I returned home weighing a bit more than when I had left, but I will never regret a single calorie.

Toledo…six months later



 “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” -Anais Nin


Ok, ok. I know it has been forever and you thought I gave up on this blog and would never finish writing about the trips from the rest of my semester.


Well, you were wrong.


The truth is I have been in denial about being back in the United States and finishing this blog is proof that my semester abroad is over.


So I decided to take it slow and spread out my last few posts.


Now the issue is remembering everything, but the copious number of photographs I took has definitely come in handy for this!


In mid-November, I went on a day trip with school to Toledo, which is less than an hour by train from Madrid.  Above is the historical entrance to the city.


Toledo is unique because it was a place where people from all faiths lived together in harmony before the Spanish Reconquista.


One of the teachers from SU Abroad gave us an in-depth tour and brought us around to various religious and historical landmarks.


First stop, a mosque.


In Islam, people and animals cannot be used for decoration, so mosques are adorned with geometric patterns.


The mosque was eventually turned into a chapel when the Christians conquered the city.


We continued winding our way through this beautiful city as we stopped at its various religious icons.


The Cathedral of Toledo.


This is my friend Megan discovering new camera angles.


The inside was exquisite.








We were given some time to get lunch and explore.  My host mom had told me that Toledo is famous for its marzipan, which I had never tried before.


Let’s just say, it was love at first bite.


El Greco, meaning “The Greek” in Spanish because he was originally from Greece, was a famous artist who lived in Toledo.

Entierro del Conde de Orgaz

We had the opportunity to see the above painting, “The Burial of Count Orgaz.”


Our last religious landmark for the day was a synagogue.


I loved the intricate patterns on this wall.


Right across from the synagogue was this incredible view.  Imagine living in one of those houses on the edge?

I seriously love Spain.


On our way back to the train station, we stopped by the most popular sweet shop in Toledo. Yes, that building is made of marzipan.


Marzipan is made from almonds, eggs, and sugar.  It is malleable and can be molded into shapes like the strawberries above!


I had a successful day in yet another beautiful Spanish city.


The following night, I went to see Breaking Dawn at an original version theater (the movie is played in its original language with Spanish subtitles) in Madrid with a couple other Twilight lovers.  The movie was awesome, but we had an unexpected intermission that makes for an interesting story.  If you know anything about Twilight, you know that it involves vampires and, therefore, blood.  During the climax of the movie, which was a fairly bloody scene, nearly everyone in the theater stood up and started yelling “médico, médico…” meaning doctor.  My friends and I just looked at each other unsure of what to do because even though I know enough Spanish to communicate my point, everyone else in the theater would be able to do a much better job.  I hated feeling helpless, but eventually someone went over to assist the person, who we couldn’t see from our seats, and the theater paused the movie. We weren’t sure if someone threw up, had a seizure, or fainted, but when we saw a man stand up and walk out looking rather woozy and embarrassed, we realized it had been the latter.  The theater rewound the movie and thankfully nobody else had any problems with the “gory” final scene.

“I just burped pesto and it tasted so good”



“Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.” -Hypatia


I’ll explain the title later, but let’s just say the last day of the Italy weekend getaway strictly involved two things, sightseeing and eating way too much food. Wake up call came early because we had tickets to visit Vatican City.


We went to the Vatican museum before proceeding to St. Peter’s Basilica.  There are a bunch of different exhibits and they have no free maps, so we felt a little lost at first.


We found some nice statues…


like this one that actually has eyes. It was freaky.


We wandered through lots of hallways decked out with art


and eventually ended up at our destination


the Sistine Chapel!


I’m not going to lie, I couldn’t believe that the above portion was only a very small part of the ceiling.


I’m pretty sure I wasn’t actually supposed to be taking pictures, but the place was so crowded it was impossible for the guards to prevent it.  I don’t even have a flash on my camera though, so I know it’s not ruining anything.


Next stop, St. Peter’s Basilica.


Hey, where’s Edward Cullen? Sorry, I had to. I’m a Twilight lover.


The line was pretty long, but soon enough we were inside.


Where St. Peter was buried.


Just some light shining into the exquisite building.


Although we were starving, we took a bus to the Pantheon before finding somewhere to eat.


I thought the ceiling was cooler looking than the rest of the inside.


Pretty piazza near the Pantheon.


We stumbled across this cute little restaurant and it was exactly what we were looking for.


The eating frenzy began with this beautiful appetizer that consisted of a tomato stuffed with goat cheese over pesto.  This is what prompted my friend Sarah to say, “I just burped pesto and it tasted so good” about an hour after the meal.  You can go ahead and judge, but Italian food really is that delicious.


For the main course, penne with spicy tomato sauce and seasoned sauteed spinach.


As for dessert, I stopped in every gelato shop I could find to see if they had the dairy-free dark chocolate flavor I had eaten in Venice and Florence.  After being told no at least three times, I discovered the best gelateria in all of Italy.  It had hundreds of flavors including EIGHT SOY FLAVORS!


It was a tough decision, but I went with chocolate, hazelnut, and pistachio.


Two of my friends and I were walking to a park when we saw this going on. We just so happened to be in the capital of Italy the day Berlusconi resigned! Talk about perfect timing.


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the park we had tried to find the day before. We met the rest of the group back at the hostel a couple hours later, grabbed our backpacks, and were off to dinner even though we weren’t even that hungry yet. A few of our friends back in Madrid recommended a restaurant called Andrea, which they went to both nights they were in Rome and befriended the owner. I liked how the place had their own wine labels.


This was the spiciest dipping oil I’ve ever experienced.


I ordered a salad, homemade gnocchi, and my friend and I split the chicken below.


Needless to say, after the gnocchi, I couldn’t fit much of this chicken into my stomach.


After dinner, we boarded a bus to the Rome airport.  We arrived at 10:30 p.m. and our flight wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. The airport shut down the departure waiting area at midnight, so we had to spend the wee hours of the morning on the freezing cold floor of the arrival area where there were about four seats for the one hundred people waiting. I woke up the next day with a cold of course.  Even though the Rome airport experience put a small damper on the trip, we successfully completed our mission to see three cities in four days. Ciao bella!

When in Rome on 11/11/11



“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” –Benjamin Disraeli


So I do realize that it has been almost a month since I was in Italy and I also realize this proves just how lazy I’ve been since I got home from Europe.  It’s hard to motivate myself to do things when I have all the time in the world and know I don’t have anything coming up in the future that will be worthy of a travel blog, so instead of rushing to finish my posts all at once, I’m going to spread them out a bit.  I just hope I can remember everything!


If you can remember this far back, the last place I wrote about was Florence.  I spent the last two days of the Italy weekend in one of the most historical places I’ve ever been, Rome!


We took a non-stop train into the city in the morning, checked into the hostel, and headed straight for some ruins.


Our stomachs got the best of us, so we stopped for lunch at a cute little cafeteria. I ordered this delicious idon’tevenknowwhattocallit filled with broccoli and ham.


On our way to the Colloseum, we stumbled across some ruins that we later learned are The Forum.


The white parts of the map were Rome’s territory at the empire’s peak #winning.


We bought our tickets online so we bypassed the swerving queue and went right up to the ticket window.


It was surreal to believe I was actually inside such a famous piece of history!  Here’s some interesting snapshots from the visit:




Archaeologists still dig up more and more pieces of history.


Our tickets qualified us for a walk through the Palatino and the Roman Forum as well.


By the time we finished everything, I was so ready for a nap and my feet were throbbing. Three days of nonstop walking and standing on uneven pavement really doesn’t do the body any good.


We passed by this carrot sculptor before we sat down to rest for a few minutes and decide our next move.


We took Rome’s scary metro to the northern part of the city in search of a park.  By the time we got onto a train (at least two passed by that were full) and unearthed at the other side, it was already getting dark.  We voted to skip the park and wander the side streets in search of an off the beaten path, authentic locale for dinner.


We found Le Segrete, or The Secret. Perfect.


My fettuccine with mushrooms was perfect as well.


My feet finally got the rest they so desperately needed to climb the Spanish Steps.


The view from the top was well worth the walk.


But apparently we broke the rules of the Spanish Steps when we sang as we were walking down…


It is forbidden to shout, squall, and sing.  How does one squall?


When I realized I would be in Rome for 11/11/11, I knew exactly where I would make the most epic wish ever because it happens to be the most epic fountain ever.


The Trevi Fountain!  Trust me, all of those movies do not do this place justice.  It is literally built into a building and the statues are larger than life.


Other people could sense the magical ambiance because we witnessed not one, but two marriage proposals!


We spent over an hour waiting at the fountain to throw our coins in at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11.


A few other people had the same idea, but I’m pretty sure all of them were also Americans.


I elected this fine euro coin to throw in when the clock struck 11.  Sorry, but I can’t tell you what I wished for!


Apologies and Excitement


“We travel to learn; and I have never been in any country where they did not do something better than we do it, think some thoughts better than we think, catch some inspiration from heights above our own.” -Maria Mitchell

I realize it has been a week and a half since my last post and I’m sorry!   Schoolwork has generally been second to traveling over here, but the “studying” part of study abroad has finally arrived.  I had three finals within the past three days and still have one more next Wednesday along with two papers due Monday.  Not to mention I will be back in the U.S. in less than a week, so I have a lot of packing to do and want to try to enjoy my final days here.  Moral of the story is I won’t have time to catch you up on the rest of Italy and my program trip last weekend to Andalucía until I’m back in the U.S. with no more tests or papers.  With how fast this semester is going, that’ll be here before we know it.

Picture 3

I do have a piece of semi-exciting news to share before I get back to a paper about Spanish theater (the class is the bane of my existence at the moment).  The Syracuse University Madrid program held two photography contests for students for the end of the semester and…

Picture 2I WON ONE OF THEM plus a 50 euro (70ish dollars) cash prize!  I submitted ten photos to both the seminar (meaning the photos had to be from our group trip prior to Madrid) and the program (meaning the photos had to be from activities involving SU Abroad) contests and I was lucky enough to win the latter!  Here are the winning photos:


Mini waterfall at Retiro Park


Catching bubbles


La Roselada


A letter from the Spanish Royal Family that’s as old as I am


El bosque del recuerdo


The youngest member of our political walking tour group


Plaza de España, Sevilla


Mural painting


Walking up the tower in Granada


Butterfly bushes

Picture 2

If you want to check out the photos I submitted for the seminar contest and those of the other participants, click here!




“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” -Eudora Welty


I woke up Thursday morning in Venice with plans to get some breakfast on the way to catch the train to Florence from a station that was five minutes from our hostel.  Right when my friend Hannah and I walked onto the street, another girl in my group called to tell us our train to Florence actually departed from a different station and we would have to take a train from the closest station to get there.  While Hannah gathered up our other friends who were still getting ready, I ran down the street to find breakfast.  I’ve only actually skipped breakfast once in my life when I was around 7-years-old and decided at that moment that I never would do so again.  Nobody would make me toast without butter or cheese, so I bought a banana and hoped I would find something more substantial at the train station.

I met up with my friends on the street and we ran to the station to take the train to the correct one.  We had a few minutes before the next train left, so I went into the café and bought a prosciutto sandwich.  Not exactly what I crave at 9 a.m., but at least it had protein and carbs to keep my satisfied for the three hour train ride to Florence.

We bought our tickets, validated them, and power walked to the platform.  All the while I thought Hannah and Eric were right behind us.  When we arrived at the platform, I realized this wasn’t so.  I called Hannah because we had only a few minutes before the train left and she said they had gotten left behind, but were on the way.  Jess, Kayla, and I boarded the train and stood at the door continuously pressing the button to keep it open, so they could jump right in.  The moment they got to the platform, the door closed and stopped responding to the button.  The train proceeded to pull away as we watched each other’s sad faces through the window.  I swear my life is a movie.

Thankfully, Hannah and Eric were able to catch another train a few minutes later and we all made it to the second station on time.  The ride to Florence consisted of some great napping to relax from the hectic morning.  Three hours later (if you were with me in Italy you would know I am saying this with a certain accent), we arrived in Firenze.  We went to the hostel and dropped off our belongings because we couldn’t check in for a half an hour.


We were as hungry as a horse (get it?), so we decided to eat lunch while we waited to check in.  My friends wanted pizza and I wanted a salad, so I grabbed one from a restaurant on the other side of the plaza.  Lettuce, kiwi, pineapple, shrimp, and more for 5 euros.  It had great potential, but once I sat down with my friends and opened it up, I realized the lettuce was brown.  I decided to suck it up and eat around it…until I saw a little tiny bug on one of the pieces of shrimp.  I immediately marched back to the restaurant and had to convince the waitress that “No, it is not a part of the shrimp. It has legs.”  She handed me back my 5 euros, which I spent on an insect-free salad from a different restaurant.


We started off our sightseeing for the day with the Duomo.


There is historical significance behind this door that I am unsure of.


Beautiful cupola on the inside of the Duomo.


Kayla, Eric, and I decided to break off from the group to do our own extreme sightseeing.  No better way to get some energy for the  busy afternoon that lay ahead than a cup of dark chocolate gelato.

Before I get any further, I would like to give a quick shout out to my cousin Kristen down under.  Thank you so much for the Florence recommendations!  I never would have gone to the amazing church I am about to discuss if it hadn’t been for you :]  If only I had had more time in Florence to do every single thing you had told me about.  Miss you!


The Santa Croce Church, where some fairly famous people are buried…




Machiavelli’s tomb


Michaelangelo’s tomb


Galileo’s tomb


The Santa Croce Church had more to offer than the Duomo such as this quaint courtyard and of course the opportunity to “hang out ” with some of the corpses of some of the best Italian artists/physicists of all time.


We walked along the picture perfect river to Ponte Vecchio.


(From left to right) Myself, Eric, and Kayla in front of the famous bridge.


So. Many. Vespas.


More love locks. These are officially allll over Europe!


The Ponte Vecchio is the coolest looking bridge I think I’ve ever seen


and has the most spectacular view.


We crossed the bridge to go to the gardens at Palazzo Pitti, but they had closed at 3:30 despite that the hotel receptionist had told us everything in Florence closed at 6:30. We took a few pictures in front of the palace to try to make up for it.



With a few hours suddenly open in our schedule, we weren’t sure what to do with ourselves.  We had passed the Uffizi Museum on the way to the bridge and we were still close by, so we decided to give it a shot.


A tower next to the museum.


Entrance to the Uffizi.


Hallway because we couldn’t take photos of the paintings.  I probably wasn’t even supposed to take a photo of this…oops.  It was a nice museum, but having already been to so many European art museums in the past few months, I wasn’t as enthralled as I should have been.  You can only see so many paintings of religious scenes or royalty within a couple of months before your eyes glaze over.


We then walked across town to meet up with the rest of our friends in the leather market.  I was so tired and my feet hurt so badly that I refrained from buying anything.  If you know me, you know that’s a pretty big deal.  As a group, we went to the Accademia to see the David because our friends studying abroad in Florence told us it’s open for free after 7 p.m. on Thursdays…or so they thought.  We showed up and it was clearly closed.  The door is right below the flags in the above photo.


It was slightly disappointing to not be able to see the David, but my stomach had already been growling for an hour anyway.  We went to a restaurant called “Gusto Leo” that had been a recommendation from a girl that had thought the Accademia would be open.


However, this time she was spot on.  We walked in and were greeted with half-filled flutes of champagne.  The best had yet to come.


Potato pasta pillows with pollo in pesto perfection

My favorite meal of the trip.  The freshness of the basil and the homemade gnocchi made a world of a difference.


We rested for an hour in the hostel before meeting up with some friends at the Duomo to go to their favorite gelato place.  It was then time for a shower and bed because we had to wake up early to roam (hint, hint) to yet another city in the A.M.