Wanderlust: Spain

I’m not entirely sure why I chose Spain as the first European country I visited, but that’s where my parents and I went in the summer of 2015. It was more of a whim really, or maybe my brain though it’d be best to start somewhere where at least I speak the language (other than English, of course).

Seville Aqueduct System
Segovia aqueduct system

This trip was a truly spectacular adventure, as for the first time, instead of depending on friends or family to help us out, we traversed the land all on our own, renting a car and everything. In Madrid, we used public transportation to get around the city, visiting museums, gardens, and castles. We got to spend one day hitting up Barrio de las Letras, which is a neighborhood where famous writers of the past, like Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega, resided when they lived. The storyteller in me couldn’t resist the call of those narrow alleys and old apartments, seeing how my ancestors once lived.

Night 2 in Madrid was spent being sent to a speak easy performance of a flamenco show. We didn’t know it was a speak easy/secret until we got there. We’d been sent tickets by a local restaurant owner who’d taken a liking to us as we patroned his place the first 2 nights in the country because it was right around the corner from our hotel. Going up to the hidden vendor inside the venue to be shown a secret entrance made me feel like I’d gone back in time to the prohibition era. The show was spectacular, as we all sat together in the dark, the only light coming from the halo around the dancer.

On day 3 we packed up our suitcases and took our rental out to the Spain highways, where we couldn’t quite read all the signs and made a bit of an error getting off our exit. Thankfully traffic in the area was nothing like it is here in Miami, and my dad had the chance to hit reverse and go the right way.

The next stop was Segovia, where we marveled at the aqueducts the people living there had made so long ago still holding up. We didn’t do anything to touristy here, as it was a pause on our way to visit an old friend of my dad’s who lived in Jaen. But that didn’t stop us from taking in the scenery and just walking the city’s streets, playing the part of the local even though we were foreigners.

We then doubled back to Toledo, where my alma mater followed me, as there were knights galore. Suits of armor decorated almost every establishment we entered. My favorite though was the cobbled streets and box alleys. Everything about Spain’s architecture and infrastructure was narrow and confined, but we never felt imprisoned (though we did nearly crash with a local driver later on). My dad and I took a ghost tour of the streets of Toledo, hearing the legends and lore that are the lifeblood of any town.

I can’t even count how many times we got lost on our adventures in Spain, but each wrong turn took us to new wonders. We found an old monastery up a hill that looked like we’d drop over the edge at any moment before finally leveling out. I picked grapes from the building’s vines, hoping no one was around to see my minor sin of theft.

Stolen grapes

In need of a place to stay the night during one of our lost moments, we found a beautiful hideaway, called La Casa de los Siete Cielos (The House of 7 Skies). Set inside a mountain cavern system and with a rooftop pool and garden, we truly couldn’t have asked for a better place to get lost.

In our search for the famous windmills of Campo de Criptana we accidentally wandered into La Mancha instead, a land best known from Cervante’s work of Don Quixote. We visited the Don’s windmills and then wound our way through the tiny streets of the town below to spend the night among the author’s people. Winding down on our last days, we found a museum dedicated to Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s love interest in the story.

Truth be told, it’s hard to remember every single thing that happened, because Spain was not a followed itinerary adventure. It was truly a trip filled with unexpected findings and wandering an unknown land, discovering it without constraints.

Where have you all traveled unplanned? Let me know in the comments!

Wanderlust: Washington, D.C., Summer

My first time in Washington, D.C. was in the summer. I can’t quite remember what year it was. Possibly 2012, just before I graduated from UCF. Regardless, my best friend joined me on another adventure to go to an audition, and my cousin graciously hosted us for 48 hours. I was up and awake for 23 of those.

Upon arriving at the airport, the first thing Cat and I did was get lost and come out of the wrong exit, sending my cousin’s husband on the hunt to find us for pickup. Once we were finally found though, I enjoyed the scenic drive to their apartment. I immediately noticed the separate bike paths that followed the same path as the roads for the cars, and thought, “That’s so smart! Why can’t Florida do that?”

Of course, being in such a historic city, we couldn’t just sit back and relax that first night. My cousin took us to Arlington Cemetery, where we went on a sweaty, 2-hour walk the night before I had to be up early for my audition. No regrets though, because seeing those graves of so many fallen soldiers and the results of war was a sobering experience. I still can’t imagine what it’s like to have such convictions, that you’d be willing to die for something you believe in. That’s not necessarily everyone’s mindset who goes to war, but there’s enough belief in some to make that kind of choice. I saw so many gravestones demarking the ground where kids my own age now lay buried beneath, while I walked the path to see where their beliefs brought them.

The next day started for me at 3 in the morning, as my cousin and best friend escorted me to the venue for my audition. Cat, being truly the most ride or die friend that any girl could ask for, went on the hunt for an open breakfast spot and found me a delicious chocolate almond croissant before leaving me to wait all day for 5 minutes of time with an audition judge.

Once I left the venue, I called up Cat to find out where she was so I could meet her. As always, it’s not a trip without getting lost at least once. I hopped on the right metro rail, but going in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I realized my mistake only one stop into the ride, so I immediatley hopped off, walked to the other side of the platform and got on the right train going in the right direction.

I met up with Cat just in time to go to the Library of Congress, because of course the history buff and writing nerd would want to see a bunch of old books. I got to see the Gutenberg Bible display that made my writer heart swell three sizes. We also saw some art pieces depicting the arrival of the British to the Americas in a much different light than a series I’d seen in Ecuador. It’s amazing how perspective can change the same story into two totally different tales.

The real drama started as we left the Library of Congress. Just as Cat and I were leaving by the gift shop exit, I noticed a police officer walking in talking into his walkie and heard something about a code block. We were barely through the door when others ahead of us started running, being urged by another police officer just outside the exit, who kept motioning for us to hurry up. I’m not a fast runner to begin with, but add the heeled boots I was wearing the full backpack on my back, and it was all just very stressful trying to oblige the police officer and run out of harm’s way. Getting down the slope to the curb and far enough away from the commotion seemed to take an eternity, but finally, we found a place called We the Pizza and stopped to stress eat some lunch. That was where I discovered Red’s Apple Ale and found my lifelong drink of choice. Also, the barbecue chicken pizza with shoestring onions was dope.

After that, we met up with my cousin at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where we saw terrifying prehistoric creatures. Seriously, how did human beings ever come to be when those monstrosities once existed? Once we’d had our fill of existential dread and scary (thankfully now-dead animals), we took a ride on the metro where a group of girls really wanted to let everyone know where they were going. We headed to Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner, as when Cat and I kept looking up food to have in D.C., this place showed up on every list. We took it to go though, as I was so tired that by the time Daniel came around with the car to pick us up, I was falling asleep standing up and wobbling like a Mortal Kombat character who was about to get K.O’d. I barely remember getting back to my cousin’s apartment and eating my chili. I just know that right before I hit the guest bed and knocked out, my phone’s clock read 2:00, and my first thought was, “Dear God, I’ve been awake a whole day.”

The next day, my cousin and her husband took us to brunch in Alexandria at a place called Bilbo Baggins, which of course was Hobbit-themed. I had the richest french toast ever in my life, and no other french toast has ever compared since. Made from two thick slices of raisin bread and stuffed with a decadent cream cheese, that french toast was absolute heaven. I can’t wait to go back someday and have it again.