Featured Posts Slider

Image Slider

Deciding What to Do This Summer

April 11, 2017
What to do, what to do? This summer is rapidly approaching. As I have mentioned before on here, last summer was NOT the best for me. However, it's true that (thankfully!) I am in a much, much better place now. Seeing as how things have slowly started turning around for me, I am able to do a bit of traveling and wanted to head back to the States for a month and a half. Since my back is still healing from a surgery I had, I was planning on just paying a lot for a Business Class ticket. By "a lot", I meant I was willing to fork over almost $3,000 for a roundtrip ticket. That's about how much tickets were when I first looked months ago. Unfortunately, when I looked recently and was ready to purchase my ticket, most tickets were around $5,000! After a lot of searching, I found some for cheaper, but not by much. The price of the tickets is making me rethink my decision to go home.

Here are my options, but I can't say that I particularly like any of them.

Option 1: Pay almost $5,000 for a Business Class ticket and go home to the States.

Pros:
* I haven't been home in almost two years. 
* It would be nice to see my parents after such a traumatic event in my life. (Read this post if you are curious.)
* I could stock up on clothes and toiletries that I cannot get in China. I really need shoes and pants since I can't find any that fit me here!
* There is just something comforting about being home.
* I'd be able to visit some of my close friends in Cleveland and Columbus.

Cons:
* That is almost two months wages for me.
* It will mess up my debt repayment plan from my surgery.
* It's only to go home for a month and a half, and I don't have too many friends in the town where my parents live. Therefore, if I wanted to see many of my relatives and close friends, I'd have to fly out to see them and that would cost even more money.
* My best friend is marrying his partner in October, and I'd like to be able to go, but there's no way I could afford to go to the States twice in such a short time period buying a Business Class ticket. (Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, I don't know how I'm going to be able to make this one work period.)
* Well, this is truly awful to admit, but I have to say that I do hold it against certain people for not coming to help me when I couldn't take care of myself for months. Some of my very close friends from home didn't even message me. A small and horrible part of me thinks, "Why should I go through all the trouble and expense of going home to see people when they left me to the wolves?" I try to dismiss that negativity by thinking that people didn't know how bad it really was for me. Of course I do not feel this way about everyone at home, but just feel that some people could have been more caring and empathetic. On the bright side of this, I did have good support here and my dad helped me out financially. Still, there is that part of me that is hesitant to go back.   
* I'm scared to buy all those expensive flights since I wasted thousands of dollars on airline tickets and then couldn't use them because of my surgery. I even had travel insurance, but my friend Scott called and wrote so many people over it and we never heard anything back. I just couldn't be bothered to fight it because I was stuck in the hospital for so long.

Option 2: Stay in Shanghai for the summer.

Pros:
* I would save SO much money because I wouldn't be buying any airfare at all. In addition, my school will let me stay in my apartment for free if I want.
* I could pay off a large chunk of what I owe my dad for this surgery.
* It's peaceful here in the summer, the air is typically better, and I could try to meet other expats in Shanghai.
* It could be a really relaxing time for me.

Cons:
* Staying in Shanghai this summer reminds me too much of last summer when I was alone and helpless.
* All of my friends would be going home.
* I'm scared it would "catch up to me" later, like I'd be fine in the early fall and by the time late fall hits, I'd really be missing my friends and family from home.

Option 3: Buy an economy ticket and fly home.

Pros:
* I'd get to go home and do it at a much cheaper cost.
* This would ideally be the solution to my problem if I could handle it.
* I asked about long-haul international flights in my spinal fusion support group, and many people are saying they did it, but that they were just uncomfortable. If they can do it, maybe I could do it, too?

Cons:
* What if I can't take the pain halfway through the flight and I'm stuck in economy? That freaks me out! Flights from Shanghai to Chicago are about 14 hours.
* My back is still healing, and what if I mess something up? I've been okay for awhile, and I'd hate to regress with something I could have avoided.

Option 4: Travel in Europe instead.

Pros:
*Business Class flights to Rome are about $2,100 right now.
* I'd be flying Business Class, so I wouldn't be harming my back AND I'd get to travel in Europe.
* There is still a lot of traveling I'd like to do in Europe. I was thinking of maybe going back to Italy, to Croatia, and then to parts of Northern Europe.
* I have some contacts in Europe that I could meet up with. I can speak some Italian, so I'd feel more relaxed in Italy and that's where I'd probably spend the majority of my time.

Cons:
* Well, the flight is way cheaper, but I'd need to pay for accommodation within Europe for a month and a half. Also, I'd have to buy my meals. That can get costly.
* I'd be traveling by myself for at least part of the time. I realized before my big injury that I prefer a travel buddy, but I realized after my surgery that traveling with someone puts me much more at ease. If I'm alone, I'm constantly worrying about falling or getting hurt and not being able to help myself. Part of this stems from the fact that when my back first gave out, I was traveling in another city in China and was alone for my first few days in the hospital.
* I still wouldn't be able to see my closest friends and family members.

As you can see, I have a lot to think about! What would you do in this situation? I'm going to keep searching for cheaper fares and try different dates/city combinations. However, I do need to make a decision fairly soon. Eek! I just hope it's the right one.

How to Have the BEST Time in Macau

April 10, 2017
Last week we had three days off in a row for the Qingming Festival. In case you're not familiar, this holiday is Tomb Sweeping Day. During this time, Chinese people go to the cemetery to honor their dead relatives. Since we didn't have to work for three days, I thought it would be a nice time to get out of Shanghai for a bit and explore Macau. I had a really, really good time, even better than anticipated! Below you'll find my suggestions for your future trip to Macau.


Step One: Find yourself a fun-loving travel buddy with similar interests to go with you. When I brought up wanting to go to Macau, my friend Chris said that he'd like to go, too.  We had traveled together before when we went to Xi'an, so I knew that the two of us would travel well together again. Chris said he wanted to do some sightseeing but nothing too intense, and he mentioned that he didn't want to rush around. That is exactly what I wanted to hear because I'm not even physically capable of running now due to my bad back. Chris was a good partner in crime for our little excursion--we laughed a lot and wanted to do the same type of things.


Step Two: Maximize your travel time. We booked our flight to Macau right after we finished working on Saturday, had all of Sunday and Monday to explore Macau, and then flew out on Tuesday night since we had to work on Wednesday. It was a rough working day the next day, but I'm glad we didn't fly out early or else we would've had to cut something from our trip. Macau can be "done" in a weekend, but spending more time there was the right call for us since we used our evenings to swim in the pool and relax instead of sightsee.

Step Three: Get a good deal on a fancy hotel. Chris got us a discounted rate at the Altira through the Genius Program at Booking.com. The hotel was undergoing some construction, so Chris said we got some money off for that, too.

We LOVED the Altira. Our room had a waterfront view of the city, a massive bathtub, and there was even a tv in the mirror of our bathroom! The staff treated us like royalty. Just to give an example, one staff member ran ahead of us to press the elevator button so we wouldn't have to and then bowed at us as we were leaving. Everyone we came in contact with really seemed like they wanted to help us. We got some tea as a welcome drink, the soft drinks and beer from the mini fridge were complimentary, and every day we got some sort of little gift on our bed such as cooling foot gel or moisturizer for our face.




The best part of the Altira was the pool area! First of all, I love a good infinity pool, and that was just the kind of pool they had there. Plus, it's an indoor pool with a panoramic view and they play underwater music! It even made it onto the Forbes Traveler list of the top 10 pools in the world. There was no hot tub in the pool area, but both the male and female locker rooms had a hot tub inside.

On the last day, the other guests that were swimming left, and we had the whole pool to ourselves for a bit. I can't say I hated that!


Step Four: Visit the Portuguese area by Largo do Senado to take in some of Macau's most famous sights. From Senado Square, it's just a short walk to the ruins of St. Paul, Monte Fort, St. Dominic's Church, and the Macau Museum.

Tip: Link arms with your travel buddy here or just be super careful not to get separated. The walk up to the ruins of St. Paul was one of THE most crowded areas I have ever been in in my entire life. Chris and I got split up in less than a minute, but luckily he was able to spot me later because I'm so tall. If we actually got separated, that would have been rather annoying since I didn't have service on my cell phone.





Step Five: Walk the Cotai Strip. I would say to try to walk it one time during the day and one time at night to get the full experience. We made it to City of Dreams, the Venetian, the Galaxy Mega Resort,  and the Parisian.

We people watched, shopped, listened to a performer sing at the Venetian, saw a bunch of what Chris described as "Carnival people" at the Parisian (they were on stilts!), had coffee, ate macarons, and admired the various lobbies at the hotels.

Tip: Don't miss the Crystal Lobby or Diamond Lobby at the Galaxy. The best is when the robots go through the Crystal Lobby!

Tip: There is a free bus that does a loop and makes stops at several of the hotels if you don't feel like walking!







Step Six: Book a ticket for the House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams. I've only been to Vegas once and did see two shows, but I have to say that House of Dancing Water was on par with the shows I saw in Vegas! There was always something going on. Your eyes would be drawn to one area, and then other acrobats would come flying down from another spot. The motorcycle stunt scene will make you cringe in the best way possible.

Tip: Book ahead for this show. We didn't book until the night before and there were very few options left for seating. We were lucky there were even any seats available at all. We paid $580 Macanese Patacas each for our tickets (about $73 USD) and had to sit in the front where we got splashed with water from time to time. We were a bit nervous when we walked in because there were towels for us on our seats, so we thought we were going to get soaked, but hardly any water got on us and we were three rows from the front.



Step Seven: Eat at the Hard Rock Cafe. Twice. Stop reading now if you only want to try the local food. ;) We wanted to go because we live in Asia and were craving food from home. The reason why I said to eat there twice is because we were given a coupon for a free appetizer for the next day as long as we filled out a survey on our first visit. For our appetizer, we split the nachos which could have basically been a meal in itself. Also, they had cream soda (not commonly found in Asia) and free refills on soft drinks (again, not common in Asia).


Step Eight: Try your hand at gambling. We are both not big gamblers, so we stuck to the slot machines. Yes, I know, they have the worst odds and we lost, but we still had fun in the casino! I want to learn how to play blackjack well enough so that I'm confident to play at a table sometime in the future.

Tip: If you plan on gambling in Macau, know that you need to gamble with Hong Kong Dollars and not with Macanese patacas, at least that was the case at the Venetian where we gambled. You may want to bring some Hong Kong Dollars with you, or you can wait in line and exchange your money in the casino.


Step Nine: Don't miss the Taipa Village area. We went there on our last day and had an enjoyable time. Even though this area is still bustling and has its fair share of tourists, it is considered a more authentic part of Macau. There are plenty of bakeries, shops, and cafes to choose from, as well as places that sold Macau's famous beef jerky. The Taipa Houses Museum, featuring five pastel Portuguese style colonial houses, is there too. Near the Taipa Houses Museum, there is an artificial lake and a park where we strolled around for a bit.





Step Ten: Enjoy some egg tarts at Lord Stow's Bakery. We tried some at the Rua do Cunha location, but there are also other locations, such as the one inside the Venetian. I've had egg tarts in Shanghai, but I do have to say the ones from Lord Stow's Bakery were served warm and had a richer taste. The top was caramelized, but the inside was still creamy.


Macau exceeded my expectations, and I would 100% go back! The glamour and glitz mixed with the Portuguese and Chinese cultural attractions were a good combination.

What about Macau appeals to you?

Remembering my Grandma

March 22, 2017
This past summer was one of the lowest points in my life. In a nutshell, I was alone in Shanghai with no friends or family members helping me. (I'm not trying to make it seem like my friends didn't help me--they did so much and more! It's just that we are on a 10 month contract, so they were all going home to see their families.) There was a dangerous wound in my back from my surgery that wouldn't heal. I could barely walk and I was in pain. Then my grandma died. It gutted me that I couldn't make it to her funeral, especially because she was always there for me for every major life event. I know that I was her favorite, and I put off writing this post because of the guilt I feel about not being there for her in the end. I know that there was nothing I could have done differently. I was on orders from my surgeon not to fly. Looking back, there was just no way I could've done it. Still, I really wish things could have been different.

Her presence forever shaped my life. She was a blast! As my mom's cousin wrote, "Gabby was known as the most fun out of the six girls in her family. When she came for my wedding, I have a photo that was given to me of her jumping on the hotel bed. That must have been a fun time. She was so beautiful and lit up any room she entered. She's passed that vivacious spark onto her daughter and granddaughters, too." You couldn't say she wasn't vibrant--she was often the life of the party. She had expensive taste, some fancy outfits, and took good care of herself until Parkinson's took away everything from her. (Sadly, I do not have any digital pre-Parkinson photos of her. She was diagnosed before digital cameras were really a thing, and all of my printed photos of her are back in Ohio.)



Death cannot undo memories, though. And thankfully I have a lot of happy ones with her.

I remember....

* How she would always save me the last bite of her ice cream cone. You know the pointy part filled with chocolate?

* That she took painting classes as a hobby during her retirement. She got pretty good and was naturally artistic. Her artwork was always on display in our house growing up, and she eventually sold some of her work in art shows. She even painted a picture of me before! I remember she gave my sisters and I painting lessons one time in her house.

*Riding in her Cadillac and admiring her fancy jewelry. She always had on several very nice rings and she would always let my sisters and I try them on. She especially liked emeralds.

* She always liked to try her luck with lottery tickets. She loyally bought a lottery ticket every night and would talk about her big plans for what she would do with the cash one day if she ever won. She would give her grandchildren "scratchies" (scratch-off lottery tickets) so that we could try our luck, too. One time I even went to the casino with her!

* My grandma was raised in Massachusetts and often had coffee syrup from MA in her home. I remember she would make us coffee milk and coffee milkshakes practically every time we would visit. My sister told me she remembered that when I was younger my grandma had the flu, and I returned the favor by making her a coffee drink to get better. She really liked that although I'm sure it did nothing for her health.

* We helped her pick out her dog, a Scottish terrier. We even got to help her name it--Shelley.

* She would speak in French to us. She was French and grew up going to an all-French speaking school. It was because of her that I became interested in learning French myself. I even majored in it in college!

* She got a rose tattoo when I was a teenager. When I told my friends that, they thought I had the coolest grandma ever. (Much to my mom's dismay! "Lisa, don't go getting any ideas!")

* When I was a child, she would make up stories about a girl named Julie who was based on me. Julie grew up to be a successful vet (what I wanted to be-ha!). This wasn't just a couple of times. She told me stories about Julie for years.

* It was a tradition for her to make crepes when we would visit her. No crepes have ever tasted as good as her crepes!

* A few summers we stayed with her for a week. She took us horseback riding through Gettysburg and even rode the horse herself!

* I was always in trouble with my parents, but I was never in trouble with her.

* She let my sister Denise and I come grocery shopping with her and let us pick out anything we wanted. Her only rule was, "Just don't waste it!" We bought so many pears because we were trying to be healthy, but we realized after trying them that we didn't like pears. Denise and I didn't want to disappoint her by breaking her only rule, so we took turns sneaking them into the trash can! We didn't confess until years later.

* When I was really young, we would meet her at Friendly's and go there together on a regular basis. I couldn't pass by a Friendly's and not think of her.

* She gave me a topaz jewelry set, including earrings, a necklace, and a ring. They used to belong to her, and I didn't want to take them.  She insisted saying, "That way when I'm gone, you'll have something to remember me by." I so wish I had them with me in Shanghai, but I didn't bring anything valuable here.

* When I was a child, we lived about three and a half hours away, so we would mail each other letters. She always, always wrote me back.

* She would make us snowmen by putting toothpicks into oranges. She put a marshmallow on top for the head and used gumdrops to make the arms.

* We went to Hersey Park with her, and she asked me if the pirate ship was a scary ride. I told her no, so she rode it with us, and screamed bloody murder the whole time. Afterwards, she told me that it was most DEFINITELY scary. Whoops...sorry, Grandma!

* She took us through Lancaster County. We went on a train ride, tried Amish food, and went into souvenir shops. Those lazy summer days were some of my best childhood memories.

* She showed up to both my high school and college graduations. Besides my immediate family, it was only my grandma and grandpa that came. That meant a lot to me!

* We would make each other laugh so hard that one time I actually made her pee her pants.

* She made Denise glamorous by reshaping her eyebrows. Of course, I asked her to help me out, too.

* She always had a collection. At one point she was collecting these troll ceramics. My mom told her they were heinous, and out of loyalty to my grandma, I said that I liked them. I think I even convinced myself that I did. Looking back, my mom was totally right. They were ugly as sin, ha ha.

* When I visited her after being abroad for three and a half years, she told me that she had a shrine to me in her house. She was joking, but there was an element of truth to it! She had this beautiful glass table that opened up, and inside she had placed every postcard I had ever mailed her from Europe and Asia alongside souvenirs I had sent her from my travels.

When I was a child, my grandma was that fun person I always looked forward to seeing. Looking back now as an adult, I can see she really did go out of her way to make me feel loved and taken care of. I better understand and more fully appreciate the lengths she went to for her grandchildren.  She was very special to me and will not be forgotten.


What are some of your best memories with your grandparents?

Tuesday Tidbits

March 21, 2017
This post is a bunch of random thoughts with a few favorites thrown in. :)

I'll start with a favorite. 

*Form Shampoo and Conditioner- I was recently given this as a gift and decided to try it out. I have naturally wavy hair that can get frizzy, but when I use this shampoo and conditioner, that all goes away! I got three compliments on my hair in the past two weeks, and I never get compliments on my hair because of the frizz. Just to be sure, I went back to using my regular shampoo and my hair was back to normal. This is a Japanese brand, but I hope I'm able to find it in Shanghai! If not, I'll have to use it very sparingly! Have you heard of this brand before? It also says Pola near the bottom of both bottles. I'm not really sure what that means or if that is also part of the brand name? I searched and couldn't find too much information on it!


Now for a product that is a not-so-favorite. 

*Tangled Hot Oil Treatment- I love Lush. I really do. BUT what on earth is up with this hair mask? One of my British friends brought it back for me as a treat when she went home to the UK. She has good taste, and combine that with the fact that the product is from Lush, and well, I thought it'd be great. The one plus is that it did smell fantastic when I was heating it up. It doesn't come with instructions, so I had to look up how to make it. I was a little annoyed by the prep work since so many hair masks come ready-to-apply, but I figured if my hair was going to benefit from the mask, then fine. I applied the mask. The texture was so weird. It was melted, but as I was lifting the liquid from the container to my hair, it almost completely solidified. I only had enough to apply to the ends of my hair. After taking a shower, I ran a brush through my hair and was horrified to see it was a chunky and ironically very tangled mess. I was pulling out clumps of the residue as well as pieces of my hair, and it didn't thoroughly come out of my hair until a few washes later. I don't know if I did something wrong or not, but I still have another one, and I'm tempted to just throw it in the garbage. I looked up reviews on Sephora, and it seemed like people either gave this product 4-5 stars or 1 star because they had the same type of problem that I did. 


* Last weekend, I spent about 10 hours with my friend Lauren. We had the ultimate girls' day out! We started off by getting coffee and a breakfast pastry. Then we went and got our nails done. Well, I got a pedicure since I'm trying to leave my nails alone for awhile to strengthen them. After that, we both got a 1/2 hour foot massage. Then we went to have lunch at the ever-tasty Chicken and Egg. With lunch, we split a bottle of wine and then decided to go to Marks and Spencers. We're both kind of distraught because all of the Shanghai Marks and Spencers are closing. They'll be closed by the end of the month. I looked forward to taking trips out there because their cafe had the best carrot cake I've found in Shanghai! We'd always start at the cafe, then we'd shop, and then we'd usually go back upstairs and stock up on imported treats like wine and soup. I'm especially sad because I can basically only shop in about three stores here and Marks and Spencer was one of them. We decided to go there one last time and take advantage of the wine being 50% off. Then we went to H & M and I left with a burgundy dress, a long coral t-shirt, and a floral sweatshirt. We didn't want our day to end there, so we stopped for some cider at Tap House. Then we went to our friend Becca's house, ate cheesecake, chatted, and watched reruns of Sex and the City. It was the perfect day!!

* I was browsing one of the travel groups I'm in and someone posted about a restaurant called Conflict Kitchen in Pittsburgh. Conflict Kitchen prepares and serves food from countries that are in conflict with the USA, such as North Korea, Afghanistan, and Cuba, to name a few. I'd be so interested in going there if I ever make it back to Pittsburgh any time soon. The purpose of the restaurant is to use food to spark discussions about countries and cultures that the general public has very little knowledge about. 

* I finally made my decision about where I want to live next year. After going back and forth a million times, I decided to move off-campus. While I will miss the very short commute of walking 5 minutes to school, at times I feel like I'm living in a college dorm and I can't take that feeling! I was finally swayed because my co-worker told me that moving into the off campus apartments was the best move she ever made and that she feels like an adult again. She told me that even though she lives in a building full of our co-workers that she has only ever run into people four or five times in years. I pretty much run into 4-5 people each time I run an errand. It will be nice to have more privacy off campus, not to mention the rooms are bigger. The best part for me is that there will be an elevator, so it will make it much easier to carry groceries to my room. (Not being lazy--I am very restricted in what I'm allowed to carry because of my spinal fusion.) We can also get food delivered right to our doors instead of having to walk to the gate, so that's a plus, too! I'm actually looking forward to moving now. 

* When I signed onto Navient to view my student loans, I had a rude awakening. My payments have all significantly increased, and I'm passed the three year mark of being on IBR. That means my subsidized student loans will start to accrue interest instead of just my unsubsidized ones. Ugh. I am going to have to change my budgeting plan because of this.  

* There are these juice cleanses that a lot of people at my school do. I haven't done one yet, but I'm thinking of trying it out. They have a pollution detox one, a slimming one, and and energy detox one that I'm looking at. What if I need all three? Ha ha.

* My current obsession is Argan oil and Argan oil products! In Morocco, we went to a women's co-op where we got to buy pure Argan oil. I brought back a bottle and have been using it as a facial moisturizer as well as in my hair since the hair mask from Lush was a bust, ha ha. I also bought an Argan white clay mask that smells amazing and really helps my combination skin to be more balanced. I'm using a body wash made with Argan oil, too! It's from the brand Melvita, a French brand. In the winter, I can get very dry skin, but ever since I started to use this body wash it hasn't been as dry. All hail the powers of Argan oil. 



* I got my first pair of Tieks. I wanted to LOVE them, but I kind of have a love-hate with them. I chose them because I loved the color and style of the shoe and read that they were a comfy flat. I wore them for one full day at work and my feet were sore and bleeding on top. I decided to not wear them again for awhile and break them in by only wearing them for half-days. I wore them three more times and only for 1/2 days, and then I noticed that they were peeling! At $175 a pair, they aren't cheap, so I was pretty upset that they were peeling in 3 different places after such a short period of time. I was really surprised by this because when searching for reviews, I couldn't seem to find any negative ones! I contacted the company explaining that I had only worn them 4 times and they were not looking too great. Here's the response I got:





I felt really bothered by that response because the representative who wrote me basically acted like it's totally normal for them to look like that after 4 times wearing them, didn't offer me any kind of alternative, and then she changed the focus of the e-mail about how she is concerned that my feet hurt. Do you trust that e-mail? I definitely didn't do anything crazy in them and don't remember a time where anything out of the ordinary happened to cause that scuffing. I monitor my walking carefully and STARE at the ground obsessively because I don't want to fall and mess up my spinal fusion. Since I'm stuck with these shoes, I decided to wear them to work again and the good news is that they didn't hurt nearly as bad as they did the first time. They are feeling a lot better now, but I don't think I can ever buy another pair if it is normal for them to look like that--I've had better luck with $20 shoes from Target. 

Since I won't be doing a lot of traveling this summer and just want to go home, I'm thinking of where I should go for the October holiday we have next year. Unfortunately, I don't think I have a travel buddy this time around, and because of my back, I'd feel way more comfortable booking a tour instead of traveling alone. I'm thinking of either going to Myanmar or Bhutan for a week. For Bhutan, you have to go on a tour anyway, but it's really pricey. I'm leaning more toward Myanmar, but I'll have to do more research. I definitely want to stay within Asia since it's only a week and anything else will be out of my price range.  

Am I being too harsh with my opinion on Tieks? What are some comfortable high-quality shoes that you swear by? Have you been to Myanmar? Do you love Argan oil, too? 

Staying in Sevilla, Spain

March 20, 2017

Over our last break from teaching, I had the opportunity to visit Sevilla, Spain for a bit. To say that I loved it there would be an understatement. I feel like it is a very livable city and even started to look up international schools just to see what the job situation is like. Of course, that's wishful thinking on my part, as I just signed a contract to stay at my school for another year. I would not rule it out for the future, though. In many ways, Sevilla reminded me Manfredonia, the small Italian town I nannied in. In both places, siestas are a big part of every day life, Sundays are reserved as family time and all of the shops are closed, dinners are typically later, the weather is subtropical, the currency is the same, the food is so fresh, and the people were generally warm and friendly. Even the set up of the apartment I stayed in was similar to my past home in Italy. I do miss Manfredonia and would like to visit again, but if I were somehow be able to live in Italy, Manfredonia would not be my first choice. With about 60,000 people, it was a little too small for me. Sevilla is a much larger city, has many attractions, and I feel like it has just enough going on where I would neither feel bored or overwhelmed. If only...

Anyway, for our stay Rachael and I decided that we wanted somewhere cozy and comfy, so we searched on Air Bnb. We were surprised at just how affordable some of the options were. As a whole, I found Sevilla to have a lower cost of living than what I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. It probably helped a bit that I went during the off-season, too.

We decided on staying at a place in San Lorenzo which is the "old town." Our host, Pilar, greeted us upon arrival and gave us the low down on her place. It was very clean and I felt 100% safe staying there. The wifi was fast (a treat for us since we live in China) and Pilar really wanted to make her guests feel at home. She provided us with her What's App ID so we could contact her if we had any questions. There were all kinds of provided toiletries, and she went the extra mile and gave us sparkling water, dark chocolate, apples, muffins, tea, milk, and coffee. Those snacks were SO useful because we weren't used to the eating schedule. Eight o'clock is a very early dinner in Sevilla, but so late for me! Another reason why I loved Pilar's place was because although the location was central, it wasn't RIGHT in the center by the cathedral. It took me about 20 minutes to walk there from her place. This allowed me to take in more of Sevilla, as I chose to take a different route toward the center each day. Besides discovering various streets and neighborhoods, we also opted to walk along the river. I really don't think I would have ventured out to this part of Sevilla if I had already been in directly in the city center. I guess what I'm trying to say is that at Pilar's place I felt like I got more of the local experience in a residential neighborhood, and I'm glad to have avoided staying in a super touristy area.




Attractions

I saw some of Sevilla's main attractions, but for part of my trip I just took it easy by taking long strolls around the city, trying out new restaurants, and just relaxing. All in all, I had an excellent time was quite enamored with the city.

* Shopping Street (near Calle Velazquez/Calle Tetuan area)- For our first full day in Sevilla, it was quite rainy, but Pilar placed two umbrellas right outside the door for us--so thoughtful! Rachael and I wanted to go out and do some sightseeing, but we decided to stop and do some shopping beforehand. We went into El Corte Ingles, a Spanish department store, first. There were so many different beauty counters on the first floor, and we felt like we were in heaven. Of course we splurged and got new lipsticks from Mac--I got a purple one called 4 Eva. We each bought palettes, too! I got Kat Von D's chrysalis eyeshadow palette, and Rachael got the new Too Faced Peaches one. Then came the clothes. We both left with several new outfits and felt amazing about our purchases because we live in China, so there are only a few stores with clothes that fit us. I loved just going into a department store, picking what I wanted, and then having everything look good to the point where I only buy items that look truly great on me. In China, sometimes I just buy it if it fits. The really nice cashier realized that we weren't Spanish and explained with a lot of motions that we could get a tourist discount if we signed up for a card on the first floor. It was so thoughtful of her to do that because we totally wouldn't have known, and she saved us some cash. We stopped for a drink and snack at the cafe in El Corte Ingles and then continued on our shopping excursion. We may or may not have made several more purchases at NYX, Parfois, and Mango. Of course we went in many more stores than that. Let's just say that we shopped so much that we spent almost the whole day out and didn't have any time to sightsee. Both of us were 100% okay with that since there were lots of stores that China doesn't have. Rachael informed me that the reason why there are no NYX stores in China is because NYX doesn't test on animals, and all makeup in China has to be tested on animals before it can be sold there. I really didn't know that and was sure to stock up on some NYX goodies. We ended our day of shopping with some gelato from La Abuela.

* Seville Cathedral- Of course this UNESCO world heritage site is a must-do in Sevilla. When we went, the line wasn't too long--we only waited about 10 minutes. The price of admission was 9 Euros. The cathedral is huge and you can seriously spend hours in there. One cool feature of the cathedral is the bell tower. When we were in Marrakech about ten days earlier, we were told that the minaret on the Koutoubia Mosque is practically identical to the bell tower in Sevilla. We saw both with our own eyes and are inclined to agree. It was neat that we were able to travel to Spain directly from Morocco and see the Moorish influence on the architecture!




* Triana for flamenco- I knew I wanted to see a flamenco dancing in Spain, but I didn't know where to go. I ended up opting to see a show at Orillas de Triana, and boy was that the right choice! I don't know about other spots in Sevilla, but although the room had other travelers, it didn't feel touristy or cheap. In fact, it felt quite intimate, and even on a Saturday night there was still just a small audience. I would still suggest to book ahead to play it safe though. There was a 5 Euro add-on charge for a drink and tapas, which was totally worth it. I had never really seen flamenco dancing before for an extended period of time, let alone in person. It was so, so incredible. Although I have no dancing talent whatsoever, I do appreciate the arts. This performance actually moved me to tears! There were different combinations of singing, guitar, and both a male and female dancer. If you want to see some passionate dancing and a stunning performance, I recommend this venue!


* Real Alcazar- I loved checking out this royal palace that has been compared to the Alhambra in Granada. The rooms were very grand, but the gardens had fewer tourists and were peaceful. Built mostly in the 1300's, this incredible palace is still in use today.



* Las Setas or Metropol Parasol- Las Setas means "mushrooms" in Spanish, which is an appropriate name for these mushroom-like structures made out of wood. For just 3 Euros, you can take an elevator to the top and take in some wonderful views of the city. If you show your ticket at the cafe, you can even get a free beverage. The locals have mixed opinions about Las Setas, but it's one of those wonderfully weird attractions I couldn't NOT see.



* Plaza de España Built for the Ibero-American Expo of 1929, this sight is not to be missed. I wasn't expecting such an impressive structure. Although I had seen photos of the plaza beforehand, I did not know how massive and truly magnificent it would be in person. Rachael and I spent some time exploring the ceramic alcoves and watching other tourists row their boats through the canals. The building is still in use today, as it houses some government offices.




* Maria Luisa Park- If you're going to go to Plaza de España (which you most likely are), you might as well go explore Maria Luisa Park as well since the park area is right next to Plaza de España. It's a pleasant place to walk around in or take a carriage ride through. It's free and full of little fountains and gardens. We didn't spend a whole lot of time there, but I could see how it would be a nice place to frequent for the locals.


Food

When I mentioned how fresh the food in Sevilla was earlier, I wasn't kidding. Some restaurants had seafood that was just brought in, and the waiters told me that I could choose from what was delivered. Based on my choice, the chef would incorporate the ingredient I chose and tailor a dish to my tastes. Another reason why I loved the restaurant scene so much was because of all the different types of wine that were available! Every restaurant had a decent selection of wine, and often times the house red was just 3-4 Euros a glass. I may or may not have had a glass of wine with practically every meal. I would seriously go back to Sevilla just to try more restaurants.

Eslava- This was the first place Rachael and I tried for tapas. Located in San Lorenzo, it was a very short walk from our Air Bnb. We went at around 9, and since the weather was nice enough to sit outside, we went with it. We were lucky that we got there "early" because it started to get crowded later and all of the outdoor seating was taken up. We didn't know what we were doing really, so we just ordered about 6 tapas off of the menu and the house red to go with it. Every single dish we tried was amazing, especially the slow cooked egg on boletus cake. The service was really good, too. The waiters were so attentive that my wine glass was never empty. I looked up reviews of Eslava later and found that it is well-known throughout Sevilla for having high-quality and award-winning tapas. I really liked the atmosphere--it was laid back and not pretentious at all.  How lucky were we to just go there not knowing how exceptional the place really was?


La Azotea- Rachael and I tried to go here one evening for tapas, but it was packed, so we had to go somewhere else. I ended up going back during lunchtime and was really impressed! This restaurant has a lot of fresh seafood, but I was craving a salad. I saw that there was a twist on one of my favorite salads, caprese. The caprese salad at Azotea had basil gummies and was topped with sorbet. It was so fresh, light, and such a creative combination of ingredients! Also, the waiters were pretty cute and smiled at me a lot, which is always a plus.


La Galantina- I ended up here famished after walking for 40 minutes trying to find a paella restaurant that was recommended to me. It turned out that it was closed, and La Galantina had paella on the menu and seats available, so I chanced it because I was too hungry to go much further. Although the waitress did not speak any English, she was kind and efficient. The paella was simple, yet tasty. What I couldn't believe were the prices, though. The paella, a bottle of water, a glass of white wine, and bread basket cost less than nine Euros!


Alameda 5- This restaurant is located on the corner of the square called Alameda de Hercules. I wanted to have a snack, and the terrace looked inviting, so I went for it. Although the terrace was pretty full, most people were just having drinks. The ambiance was nice and relaxing, and my appetizer of nachos was pretty tasty.

Edicion Limitada- This was where Rachael and I had our last meal together in Spain before she had to go to San Francisco. At first we were nervous because there was only one other party inside eating, so we thought that might be an indication of the food. However, about 30 minutes after we were there, the place started filling up. There were many light options, and we stuck to mainly ordering vegetarian tapas like the Asian noodles and cheese plate.

La Cacharreria- I went here because this cafe was ranked highly on Trip Advisor for having good breakfast. The place is SUPER small, so there was a long wait when I arrived. That was on a Sunday, so I opted to try to go back on Monday hoping it would be less crowded. Even on Monday, there were only two seats available at the counter, but that was just fine. There was a selection of smoothies, toasts, and bagel sandwiches to choose from. While I was there, I met a lovely Irish woman who was spending her last day in Sevilla. She said she wanted to spend her day at her favorite places, and chose La Cacharreria as one of them, so I think that says something!


In case it's not clear, I'd go back to Sevilla in a heartbeat! There are so many other places I'd like to visit in Southern Spain, and Sevilla would make a nice base.

If you've gone to Spain, what places did you visit?