Gracias a mi abuela

When I first thought about what I’d say about my trip to Miami, I thought I’d write about eating Cuban food, speaking Spanish with a thick American accent and a shy, embarrassed smile, and feeling at home despite the fact that it seemed as if I were in an entirely different world – even though I hadn’t stepped foot out of the country. And while these feelings ring true, I’ve decided to spare the intricate details of my trip, and only provide you with the core of what Miami – and the memory of my grandmother who recently passed away after 86 rich years of life – means to me. Below is the English translation of the eulogy my sister and I presented at her funeral mass (which doesn’t translate exactly, but I have done my best. For the original Spanish version, scroll below:

English translation:

Excuse me for my imperfect Spanish and my strong American accent – Spanish is not my native language. And although it is not my language, I chose to speak in Spanish today because it is the language of my grandmother, and it is not possible to think nor to speak about my grandmother with the same sentiment in English. And so, I continue. For this day, my sister and I have prepared some thoughts for you about our grandmother.

When I was a very little girl, I used to visit an exotic island, and on these trips, there existed many distinct things. There were plantains in the patio y stained glass windows in the house and rice with chicken in the kitchen. There was foreign art on the walls and coffee every hour of the day in our hands and shoes – many shoes – in the closet. More than the beauty of the beach and the sea and the rainforest, I remember these aspects – the memories of my grandmother.

I remember her voice. The voice of a woman who used to sing in a language more beautiful than my own. I remember the moments in the bathtub when I was a little girl and she would sing to me and I would not understand the words, but I’d understand the sentiment – a feeling of happiness, of love, and of pride.

When I think of my grandmother, I think of this pride. She had pride for every person in her life. For me, for my sister, for my mom, for my aunt and uncle, for my cousin, for my grandfather, and for many more. She had pride for her culture – for being Cuban. And at the same time, she had pride for her adopted country – pride for being Puerto Rican and also American. It is ironic – the pride that she had for all when she is the person who deserve such pride.

When I think of my grandmother, I reflect on the intense pride that I have for her. I think of the woman that left her homeland for an unknown world, for a foreign country and for the possibility of a better future for her descendants. It is because of her, her bravery, that I live a free life. Because of her, I go to college and I have a bright future in a country in which it is possible to be successful as both a woman and as a Cuban American. Because of her, I live the American dream.

My grandmother was many people: a grandmother, a mother, a wife, an aunt, a daughter, a granddaughter. She had a life before me and her life will continue after me. The life of my grandmother is an inspiration for all. There are many sad emotions today, but there are also happy feelings regarding the precious memories and the celebration of the spectacular life of my grandmother. I have confidence that she is watching us from heaven today with a smile on her face and an “oh, how pretty” for the people who she lived her life for.

Thank you to all and thank you to my grandmother above.

The Original/el original:

Perdóname por mi español imperfecto y me acento americano fuerte – el español no es mi lengua nativa. Y aunque no es mi lengua, elegí hablar en español hoy porque es la lengua de mi abuela, mi “mom” y no es posible pensar ni hablar de mi abuela con el mismo sentimiento en inglés. Así que, continuo. Por este día, mi hermana y yo tenemos algunos pensamientos sobre nuestra “mom.”

Cuando era niña muy pequeña, visitaba una isla exótica, y en esos viajes, existían muchas cosas indistintas. Era plátanos en el patio y vitrales en la casa y arroz con pollo en la cocina. Había artes extraños en las paredes y café en todas las horas en nuestras manos y zapatos – muchos zapatos – en el clóset. Más que la belleza de la playa y el mar y la selva, recuerdo esos aspectos, los recuerdos de mi abuela.

Recuerdo su voz. La voz de una mujer que cantaba en una lengua más bonita que mi propia. Recuerdo los momentos en la ducha cuando era niña pequeña y ella me cantaba y yo no entendía las palabras, pero entendía el sentimiento – un sentimiento de feliz, de amor, y de orgullo.

Cuando pienso en mi abuela, pienso en ese orgullo. Ella tenía orgullo por todas las personas de su vida. Por mí, por mi hermana, por mi mamá, por mis tíos, por mi primo, por mi abuelo, y por muchos más. Ella tenía orgullo por su cultura – por ser cubana. Y al mismo tiempo, ella tenía orgullo por su país adoptado – orgullo por ser puertorriqueña y también americana. Es irónico – el orgullo que ella tenía por los otros cuando ella es la persona que merece el orgullo.

Cuando pienso en mi abuela, reflejo en el orgullo intenso que tengo para ella. Pienso en una mujer que se marchó de su casa para un mundo no conocido, para un país extraño y para la posibilidad de un futuro mejor para sus descendientes. Es por ella, por su valentía, que vivo una vida libre. Por ella, estudio en la universidad y tengo un futuro brillante en un país en que es posible tener éxito como una mujer y una americana-cubana. Por ella, vivo el sueño americano.

Mi abuela era muchas personas: una abuela, una madre, una esposa, una tía, una hija, una nieta. Ella tenía una vida antes de mí y su vida continuará después de mí. La vida de nuestra abuela es una inspiración para todos. Hay muchas emociones tristes hoy, pero también hay sentimientos felices en los recuerdos preciosos y la celebración de la vida espectacular de mi abuela. Tengo confidencia que ella mira del cielo a nosotros hoy con una sonrisa y un “hay que linda” para las personas para que vivía su vida.

Gracias a todos y gracias a mi abuela arriba.

xoxo,
jmd

Advertisements

San Francisco Part 2

And here’s days 2 and 3… (be sure to check out San Francisco Part 1 first!)

Castro

The next morning, we arose bright and early for another exciting day in San Francisco. After walking about 30 minutes to the Castro district, we had breakfast at the highly recommended café, the Mill, which specializes in toast. Before you question this seemingly bland choice, understand that the Mill’s toast is a dense piece of bread filled with every seed, grain, and nut you can imagine. With an interesting array of toppings, The Mill’s delectable morning toast will leave you questioning how Wonder Bread is even legal.

IMG_8930

IMG_8813

With happy toast-filled bellies, we then hopped over to Alamo Square Park to take in the fabulous view of the iconic Painted Ladies against the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline. Amidst the photo snapping and dog petting crowd, I daydreamed of the Tanner family and the days watching Full House with my dad and sister before bedtime. I was both confused and appalled to hear that Knut and his older brother, Ole, had recently admired a photo of this exact view, wondering where it could be from. Looks like Mr. European isn’t so worldly, huh?

IMG_8820

The Castro district is what I think of when I picture San Francisco. With pride flags hanging from every light pole and acai bowls marked on each café menu, this neighborhood oozes with a culture unlike anywhere else in the country. Although the Golden Gate Bridge was my favorite part of our trip, Castro comes as a close second (and Knut’s first).

Ferry Building /Embarcadero/Fisherman’s Wharf

If you do any research before heading to San Francisco, you’ll immediately see that everything warns you to stay away from the touristy Ferry Building/ Embarcadero/ Fisherman’s Wharf area. Despite this advice, I knew that I had to stop by these places in order to get the full San Francisco experience. While I did enjoy the Ferry Building, the rest is another story. The combination of unexpected hot weather (I checked beforehand and it said the high was 65, apparently Mother Nature didn’t feel like following that and so my turtle-necked self was sweating through a 77-degree day) and an empty stomach left me not-so-grateful for my decision to brace the crowd-filled chaos that is this area of the city.

As I mentioned, the Ferry Building was awesome. Situated along the bay with outdoor restaurants and an indoor food marketplace, it’s the perfect place to head to on any afternoon. However, it’s best on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday between 10:00am and 2:00pm when you’re able to browse the tents of the outdoor farmer’s market, which displays some of the best fruits, cheeses, and hummus selections that I’ve ever tasted (free samples ROCK!). The indoor marketplace is a charming space with various restaurants, bars, bakeries, and mini-markets, which is right up my alley. It reminds me much of the Ponce City Market that I so loved in Atlanta.

IMG_8825

IMG_8824

As for the Embarcadero, which is a sidewalk that runs along the bay from the Ferry Building and beyond the Fisherman’s Wharf, it offers a great place to stroll with a view of the bay – yet you’ll be amongst thousands of tourists. I love cities, but I’m not so keen on being shoulder-to-shoulder with people in the heat when I am starving. Therefore, seeing Boudin Bakery in the distance felt like a blessing sent straight down from heaven. After grabbing a sandwich on San Francisco’s famous fresh sourdough, I was ready to accompany Knut for his very much anticipated stop at In-N-Out. After getting some much-needed fuel, we neared Fisherman’s Wharf before deciding the funnel cake and carnival game filled boardwalk was not something we needed to involve ourselves in (although, it did look like fun – just something you could find at pretty much any beach town, and therefore not worth the stop during our short trip).

Ghirardelli Square & Oktoberfest

After lunch, we continued walking along the bay to Ghiradelli Square. As we hit this famous spot in the afternoon, the fog from the bay was rolling in and starting to cover the bridge. This offered a new, yet equally intriguing, perspective of the Golden Gate. Sitting on the grassy hill in front of the Ghirardelli factory, we soaked in some sun before heading up to get some chocolate. Lucky for us, Ghirardelli has just come out with a new pumpkin spice flavor, so they were giving away free samples. Unfortunately, my excitement for pumpkin-flavored everything inhibited my reading skills and I failed to see that it was milk chocolate. Ever since I was a kid, I have been that weird person who despises milk chocolate (but I’ll eat everything dark chocolate), so after one bite my chocolatey pumpkin dream bubble had burst.

IMG_8744

IMG_8746

As we walked through the festive square filled with pumpkins and other fall décor, we stumbled upon SF Brewing Co’s Oktoberfest. Naturally, we went in and ordered a beer (for Knut) and hard cider (for me). Sitting amongst a crowd of jolly folk, I almost felt like I was back in Munich…except not. Regardless, it was quite the festive experience and let us take a break from sightseeing to just sit back and relax. But we didn’t sit for too long because we had a sunset to catch!

IMG_8844

IMG_8845

Land’s End

In my family, the sunset is the most important part of the day. Well, maybe the morning coffee is most important – but the sunset is a close second. My dad has always planned our nights around the sunset be it at home in Maryland, or on vacation anywhere from Ocean City to Florida to California to the Caribbean. If we’re in a place with water, you can bet that we are chasing the sunset. Apparently five years of exposure to the DeTar family has not been enough to inform Knut of this DeTar family idiosyncrasy, but luckily, he enjoys a good sunset almost as much as we do. When I suggested we head to what some say is the best sunset spot in San Francisco, he was all for it. Due to both timing and our tired feet, we elected to take a Lyft up the mountain, leaving about ten minutes of walking through a pedestrian path before reaching the edge of the Land’s End cliff where the bright orange sun was preparing to dip into the deep blue San Francisco bay. Although we both agreed it would’ve been more fun had we come earlier with a blanket and a bottle of wine, we thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the northern California coast.

IMG_8851

IMG_8849

The Lyft ride back to the city was a bit of a long one, but once again delightful. We chose Lyft Line once again (where you share the car with strangers) and ended up hopping in with what we would consider to be a stereotypical San Francisco couple (although San Francisco is so diverse that there are probably many different stereotypes). Recent graduates of Berkley, our fellow passengers were also at Land’s End to see the sunset and quickly began telling us about their startup-driven lives in San Francisco. As someone who worked at a startup two years ago and has more recently become absolutely obsessed with startup-culture (you can find me listening to girlboss radio or the How I Built This podcast most mornings and reading various non-fiction books about female entrepreneurs each night), I was fascinated with their exciting careers. Although I simply could not see myself living in San Francisco, there’s something about startups that inspire a passion in me that is indescribable. Here’s to hoping the startup scene continues to expand further east.

The rest of the night was spent walking around SoMa and grabbing tacos at Tropisueño, the Mexican restaurant I mentioned that is also on Yerba Buena Lane. Once again, we were too tired for even a drink after dinner, so we headed home for more Humans of New York and much needed sleep. After over ten miles of walking, we were quite literally exhausted.

Twin Peaks

Our final morning was spent enjoying another San Francisco classic: Blue Bottle Coffee. After getting some of the freshest coffee in the city and munching on an almond butter and raspberry jam slice of toast, Knut and I set out on our final outdoorsy adventure. We took the metro to the base of the peaks, then continued on to what was a surprisingly tiring remainder of the climb. After huffing and puffing our way up to the top, we took in the most spectacular view of the city. If you’re ever in San Francisco for more than two days, I highly advise venturing out to this beautiful spot. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, start from the bottom!

IMG_8863

IMG_8870

Mission

After soaking in San Francisco from afar, we made our way back to the city for a nice Sunday stroll in the Mission district’s Dolores Park. Filled with families, dogs, and palm trees, Dolores park is one of the city’s most relaxing spaces. As we watched a little girl and her puppy fight over a soccer ball with the warm California sun beating down on us, the reality that vacation was just about over started to set in. Before I could get too carried away in my thoughts, my stomach brought me back to reality. Lucky for us, we were steps away from Valencia street, which is home to many of Mission’s best restaurants. We went with Souvla, a simple Greek restaurant with the heartiest of salads and pita pockets that offered us the perfect outdoor seats facing the busy street.

IMG_8873

The rest of the day was spent wandering through the streets of SoMa and the Financial District, as well as stopping by the Ferry Building once again. We didn’t have time to leave the city, but we had also already hit every spot on our list. Sometimes, when you travel, you’re so eager to check everything off that you loose the opportunity to really absorb the city. This extended weekend in San Francisco gave us the opportunity to both see everything we wanted to see, but also take time to stop and “smell the roses” in between snapping photos and slurping down over-priced coffees. We were able to embrace the true spirit of travel and get to know the ins and outs of a new city. As we met interesting people, saw beautiful sights, and ate delectable food, we were able to enjoy the lessons that travel can teach, while having fun along the way – there’s truly no classroom quite like the world! And as much fun as we had, I was ready to head home to the normalcy of my life by the end. I boarded my red eye flight on Sunday night dreaming about my tidy apartment and the comfort of Nashville. However, I wasn’t home for long. By 5:00pm on Thursday, I was back at the Nashville airport and off on my next adventure. Check back on Tuesday to hear more about last weekend’s trip!

xoxo,
jmd

San Francisco City Guide:

Sights/Neighborhoods

SoMa – shopping
Marina – shopping/food

Chinatown – sightseeing
Lombard Street – sightseeing
Painted Ladies (Castro) – sightseeing
Castro – sightseeing

Golden Gate – sightseeing/outdoorsy activities
Land’s End – sightseeing/outdoorsy activities
Twin Peaks – sightseeing/outdoorsy activities

Breakfast

The Mill
Blue Bottle Coffee

Lunch

Blue Barn Café
Boudin Bakery
Souvla
In-N-Out (for the classic tourist side of you)

Dinner

Delarosa
Tropisueño

San Francisco Part I

There’s truly nothing like a seven-hour delay to kick off a much-anticipated vacation. Worse, when that delay occurs during your already two-hour long layover. I recently saw a commercial for Delta that showed a woman rising early for a flight with a tagline along the lines of, “Because the people who are going to change the world are the ones who are excited to get out into it.” While I jumped out of bed 4:00am, excited for my 8 hours of travel to San Francisco, the charm was fading by 3:00pm when my flight was delayed for yet a third time that day. And as I sat alone in the Houston airport wallowing in the despair that was my Fall Break cut short, I now realize that there were greater things at play. Because my flight wasn’t delayed due to United Airlines pulling another media-tracked stunt, but rather the poor air quality in northern California due to the unbelievable misfortune that thousands of Californians were facing. Just a few days later, one of my good friends posted a photo of what had once been her grandparents’ house, now reduced to a pile of ashes. And so to my annoyed self in the airport last Wednesday, I say suck it up. There are worse things in life than spending nine hours in the Houston airport. And you better get used to it – because you’ve just signed up for two years of weekly flights across the country (more on that later).

While you may appreciate my not-so-millennial harshness to myself (maybe the working world is making me wiser?), you probably clicked on this link to hear about my adventures. And so, I will give the people what they want (by the people I mean you, mom and dad, thanks for reading my blog when no one else does!). Due to the fact that I was in San Francisco for three full days and covered over 30 miles in walking (thanks to my fabulous Apple Watch for tracking) and many more in Lyft/metro, I have divided my trip into two posts. I’ll post part 2 on Thursday!

SoMa

As a fitness and food connoisseur, a trip to the trendy metropolis of San Francisco was the perfect adventure to fuel my Soul Cycle-and-avocado toast-filled dreams. However, I did let Knut pick the city for this trip; it just worked out that I really wanted to visit San Francisco, as well. Knut’s flight wasn’t due until around midnight, so once I finally landed in San Francisco around 7:00pm, I was on my own. My first stops in the trendy SoMa neighborhhod were inspired by the foodstagrammers that I so religiously follow (shoutout to you, @shutthekaleup). After grabbing a delectable salad at sweetgreen, I ventured to Pressed Juicery where I got a strawberry “pressed freeze” aka a smoothie frozen to ice cream consistency topped with warm cacao drizzle, creamy almond butter, and the richest of chocolate chips. In true California fashion, it was gluten and dairy free and it tasted like MAGIC (because let’s be honest how does gluten/dairy free taste good without some wizardry). After enjoying the most basic of foods I could have possible found in the city, I headed back to our adorable boutique hotel (we were ballin’ on a budget, and surprisingly a boutique hotel via Hotwire.com – which made me very nervous to use as I paid for a hotel without knowing which I’d get – was better priced than Airbnb). As a 5:30am CST riser and a 10:00pm CST sleeper, 8:30pm on the West Coast was feeling quite like my bed time. Plus, I had a 7:00am Soul Cycle class to get to in the morning…

IMG_8809

Before you question my rationale in paying $34 for a workout class, I must say that I got the class for the first timer reduced price of $20. Yes, that’s still outrageously expensive for one workout, but when in Rome, right? As much as I don’t want to admit it, Soul Cycle truly lived up to my dreams. With the lights turned off, an instructor providing constant inspirational words, and everyone riding in the dark as we pulsed our legs and rode to the beat, I felt like I was on top of the world. As Chris dismissed us from class with the idea that “you can do anything. It takes a special type of person to get up and go to a 7:00am workout”, I was ready for my first day of sightseeing in San Francisco.

Chinatown

After a later-than-expected start to the morning (in classic Jordan fashion, I created a schedule for the trip with roughly every hour planned out. I did not account for my Soul Cycle class, therefore we left Hotel G at 9:00am instead of 8:00am), we quickly grabbed a Starbucks coffee and breakfast and made our way to Chinatown. Before going to San Francisco, I had heard that Chinatown felt just like China (to be honest, I am not so sure that the people who told me that have ever been to China. But neither have I, so I suppose I can’t confirm or deny). It’s amazing how just steps from the Starbucks-filled streets of Union Square lives a community bursting with warm colors and the exotic culture of another world. From the bright red window displays to the lanterns hanging in the streets, I no longer felt like I was in the U.S. Although this is true of many U.S. cities, San Francisco definitely feels like a genuine melting pot of cultures. Taking advantage of Lyft Line (sharing Lyft with other passengers), Knut and I had the pleasure of meeting so many interesting people from various countries with captivating stories.

IMG_8734

Lombard Street

As we made our way through Chinatown, we found the reds fading to gray as we walked through the upscale Russian Hill neighborhood. Soon enough, we were dragging our feet up the Hollywood-esque Lombard street. Although I was not outrageously impressed with this overly-hyped tourist destination, the spectacular view from the top of Lombard street cannot be denied. After snapping a quick photo (superb quality thanks to the death of my iPhone 6 and the birth of my iPhone 8 Plus), we summoned our good friend Google Maps and set foot for the Marina district.

IMG_8735 (1)

IMG_8741

IMG_8736

Marina

If I were to live in San Francisco, the Marina district is probably where I’d go for a relaxing afternoon. Chestnut Street’s small-town feel amidst a big city is quite exactly my happy place. As we strolled down the street, popping into boutiques and trendy food spots along the way, I felt like I was back at home walking through the streets of downtown Annapolis or Nashville’s midtown. We scored the perfect outdoor patio table at Blue Barn Café and relished in people watching as we devoured our lunches under the clear blue San Francisco sky.

The Golden Gate Bridge

After a much-needed walking break, we filled up our water bottles and set out for the most anticipated part of our trip: the Golden Gate Bridge. Perhaps my favorite thing about cities is the ability to walk just about everywhere. As someone who absolutely despises being in the car (and sitting in traffic even more), I delight in the freedom to take myself wherever I may desire. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts about living in Europe last fall. With every city we visited, we were able to accrue tens of thousands of steps on our fitness tracker’s activity logs, permitting us to really see each city and the hidden cultural intricacies that cannot be perceived from the limited view of a backseat window.

IMG_8790

IMG_8765

As we neared increasingly closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, I savored the sight of its warm red pigment against the cool blue of the bay. Enjoying the waterside breeze as we strolled down the edge of Crissy Field, I enjoyed simply observing the view and chatting with my favorite travel buddy. One of my favorite things about traveling with Knut is that we make such a perfect travel match (and match in general, I hope!). While I prefer to plan out every minute, he’s a fan of going with the flow and seeing where the road will take us. Although this can be stressful for me as we sprint through European train stations barely making it on, it also pushes me to travel more genuinely. For this trip, we loosely followed my plan in order to ensure we weren’t missing any of the stops we wanted to see, but we also took his approach in wandering and letting the streets guide us. We may have come face-to-face with a few more seedy streets than I would have liked, but that’s what travel is about: enjoying the beauty and embracing the ugly. Fortunately, the Golden Gate Bridge proved to be an absolute beauty.

IMG_8802 (1)

IMG_8799

Yerba Buena Lane

After making our way back to Chestnut Street for an afternoon snack, then taking a Lyft back to the hotel for a quick recharge (after all of the fuss about Uber in the media, combined with listening to the story of Lyft’s inception on the podcast How I Built This, I am starting to become more loyal to Lyft than Uber), we made our way to the Yerba Buena Lane for dinner. We chose Delarosa – one of what seems like thousands of Italian restaurants in San Francisco – where we winded down the night with truffle-infused brussel sprouts and a wood-fired pizza. We enjoyed this spot so much that we actually returned the next night and dined at a different restaurant, Tropisueño, where Knut learned what an enchilada is and I indulged in perhaps my favorite food – tacos.

I then dragged Knut to Pressed Juicery to try my not-so-ice cream dessert, and then we made our way back to Hotel G for an early night. Before turning out the lights, we continued watching a mini-series that we had started a few weeks ago in Nashville: Humans of New York. Once just a man and his camera, Humans of New York is now a world-renowned Facebook page, Instagram profile, and New York Times bestselling book. Taking his static images to the next level, Humans of New York: The Series currently includes 9 episodes featuring raw human emotions that I’ve yet to see another photographer/videographer capture so candidly. If you’re looking for something quick and contemplative, Humans of New York is a must-see.

With that, I completed the first part of my San Francisco trip. In just 24 hours and over 15 miles of walking (2 the first night, 13 the second day), I experienced such an amazing mix of sights, food, and people. Check back in on Thursday for part 2 of my incredible Fall Break getaway!

xoxo,
jmd

Double Dutching

Last week, I embarked on my 5th trip across the pond and landed in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the 5th time (so maybe this is quintuple dutching, not double dutching). Although visiting Knut is no easy task, the travel process has definitely gotten easier as I have gotten more used to it. I have finally figured out the key to falling asleep on the plane (purposeful pre-trip sleep deprivation) and to getting a decent meal on that long flight (packing lunch/dinner at home and rejecting the plane food). Although this trip did include a fun weekend in France, I spent the majority of my time in the Netherlands. Each time I visit Knut in Rotterdam, we do much of the same everyday activities, but we have recently been making an effort to do something different. Since this visit took place in spring – also know as the prime time for Dutch tulip season – we took a day trip to Keukenhof, the famous Dutch tulip garden.

Keukenhof

For those visiting the Netherlands during springtime, I would definitely consider stopping by this sea of colorful flowers. However, if you’re looking for an eventful activity, this probably isn’t the place. Visiting Keukenhof consists of walking through a slow, relaxing environment. We essentially spent our afternoon there chatting, while also stopping to snap a few photos. I wouldn’t say it was anything extraordinary, but I’m really happy that we made the trip out there because tulips are such a typical part of the Netherlands and I was finally able to see what all the hype is about.

IMG_7515IMG_7479IMG_7753

Delft

After Knut spent the morning working and I went on my classic run around Kralingse Plas, we took another day trip to Delft. Delft is the home city to that classic Dutch blue and white painted pottery, Delftware. In Delft, we grabbed lunch and then enjoyed walking through the narrow, quiet streets. Although much smaller than the Dutch capital, Delft has its own quaint cobblestone streets and charming canals. We didn’t do anything particularly exciting in Delft, but it was nice to see another city in the Netherlands. One of my favorite parts about travel is wandering through streets with no agenda, and Delft gave us the opportunity to do just that. We were a little lost and not rushed in the slightest, giving us the chance to just talk and explore with no clear objective in sight. As this trip took place between final exams and the upcoming start of my summer internship, it was the perfect escape from time and schedules.

IMG_7801

Amsterdam

Knut studies in Rotterdam, however Amsterdam is just a quick 1-hour train ride away. Therefore, we’ve always made a day trip (or two) to the Dutch capital when I visit. For some reason, each time I visit Amsterdam, I like it even more. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I now have other European cities to compare it to or just that the city is growing on me, but it has really become one of my favorite cities in the world. I absolutely love the Dutch bike culture, which is blindingly apparent in Amsterdam with potentially more bikes than people in sight at any moment. Furthermore, the cobblestone streets and canal houses make some of the most picturesque city streets that I have ever seen. In fact, the city looks more like an oversized town because there aren’t skyscrapers taking over the sky nor cars polluting the streets. As a total foodie, I also appreciate the unique, trendy restaurants and cafes that have popped up in the city. Knut and I had lunch at the now Facebook-famous The Avocado Show, where every dish includes the trendy green super food. Knut got The Bun Burger, which is exactly what it sounds like: a burger in which the bun is a full avocado. I opted for something a bit more typical, getting the CAT Sandwich, which is a pieced of toast topped with sliced Chicken (C), Avocado (A), and Truffle (T). As I have seen The Avocado Show appear in countless social media posts, I was debatably more excited for the restaurant than actually visiting the city. That being said, wandering through Amsterdam was absolutely perfect as it was sunny and uncharacteristically 81 degrees.

IMG_7749IMG_7732

We finished the day by meeting up with some of Knut’s friends who were barbequing and swimming at Kralingse Plas (along with what seemed like every other person in Rotterdam), and then inviting everyone over to Knut’s apartment to hangout on his rooftop porch.

Rotterdam

Thus far, I have talked about doing something in just about every place we went except for the place that Knut lives: Rotterdam. Although it may not sound like it, we did spend the majority of the time in Rotterdam, it was just mostly spent on eating meals, running around the lake, and doing work, therefore most of our time in Rotterdam is not as exciting to read about as our day trips. However, we did spend the last day of my visit doing some fun Rotterdam things.

You may have heard about the High Line in New York City, which Knut and I visited in July of 2015. It’s essentially an old above ground railroad track that has been converted into an elevated linear park. I had once read in an airplane magazine that Rotterdam also had one, but none of Knut’s friends seemed to know about it. Despite the “warning signs”, we set out to explore Hofbogen (Rotterdam’s version of the High Line). Unfortunately, there was not much to see. Between the peeling yellow paint of the walkway and the short distance of the path, it was not exactly something that I would recommend seeing. That being said, we did pass some cool street art and I was able to check out an area that I had been interested in seeing for over a year. Luckily, I had a back-up plan and we hopped on the train toward Fenix Food District.

IMG_7752

IMG_7517

Home cooked meal

The Fenix Food District was something I found on Rotterdam’s tourism website and proved to be quite cool. It’s an old warehouse converted into an indoor area with different cafes, a brewery, a cheese shop, a bookshop, and other unique stores. After getting coffee and cookies at Jordy’s Bakery, we headed to the outdoor patio and enjoyed our afternoon snack amongst a crowd of Rotterdam professionals who were winding down with a beer after work.

IMG_7750IMG_7748

Although it may sound strange, the 20-hour trip involved in visiting Knut has become quite normal for me. I don’t love sitting in airports and on airplanes for so long, but as I said in my last post, I am so thankful for the opportunity this relationship has given me to see the world. This upcoming semester, Knut will be studying abroad at the University of Michigan; therefore my European travels will be slowing down. With one year left before I start living in the “real world”, I am hoping to make the most of student life and see more U.S. cities. As much as I love seeing different countries and cultures, I recognize that the U.S. is one of the most diverse nations in the world and has so many interesting places to offer and people to see. Some top cities on my list include Charleston, San Francisco, and Chicago. Let me know if you have any tips about what to do in those cities, or tips on other U.S. cities to see! For now, I’ve got less than 2 weeks left until I leave for Atlanta, so I will be spending my time laying by the pool, catching up with high school friends, and reading as many books as humanly possible before I get busy with work.

xoxo,

jmd

nothing but nice

As this trip marks my fifth visit to Rotterdam, I’m really starting to feel quite familiar with the city. I have a favorite place, which doubles as my running route, Kralingse Plas (the lake next to Knut’s apartment), I have friends to chat with when we attend RSM (Rotterdam School of Management) house parties, and I have my own “OV” – the Dutch public transport card. Rotterdam has definitely grown on me in the past 2 years, and although it’s not as exciting as Amsterdam, it definitely has a charm that is unmatched to the Dutch capital. During this trip, I’ve been able to enjoy some of my favorite parts about visiting Knut at school, which include running around Kralingse Plas, enjoying the annual home cooked meal curated by Melvin, Thomas, and Joep (during each of my visits, these three boys have made the point to cook an increasingly more elaborate dinner for Knut and me), and attending a typical RSM house party (where I’m able to chat with Knut’s friends). Experiencing the social life of a European school – especially one with an international program – lends such an interesting perspective about how other university students across the world have fun. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s always so refreshing to hang out with a group that includes such a blend of cultures as his primary group of friends come from the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Spain, Hungary, Poland, and South Korea.

As for what I’ve been up to, whenever I visit Knut in May, we tend to take a quick “holiday” to a Mediterranean destination. Last year, we chose the Amalfi Coast, and this year we chose the French Riviera (partly based on its attractiveness and partly based on the cheap airfare from Amsterdam to Nice. Speaking of airfare, that’s such an important travel tip. Airfare tends to make up the bulk of travel expenses, so if you’re not dead set on a specific city, searching around isn’t a bad idea – that way you can splurge on important things, like endless gelato.)

IMG_7592

Castle Hill // Nice, France

We took an evening flight, so our first “day” in Nice was quite quick. We landed, checked into our fabulous Airbnb in Old Town, and set out for dinner in our neighborhood. Old Town, or Vieille Ville, is the most charming part of Nice with colorful buildings and local sandwich and gelato shops on every corner. It breathes an Italian air, making it feel much more like Naples than Paris (in my opinion).

IMG_7547

Old Town Market // Nice, France

The next morning, we woke up and Knut ran to the store and made omelettes for us in our Airbnb while I snuck in a quick Kayla workout in the tiny living room. You might think it’s strange that I’d think to workout on vacation, but I genuinely enjoy it. I definitely inherited my dad’s love of fitness, and I was happy to fit in a quick strength workout before setting out on a day of walking around Nice. Plus, there’s something about keeping to my routine while I travel that eases any travel jitters. Finishing my workout with a homemade omelette made me feel like we were a true French couple gearing up for a typical Sunday morning in Nice.

After grabbing a coffee to-go, we made our way to the Old Town food and flower market. Here, we walked through the promenade and enjoyed the colorful background of fruits and flowers. We continued to wander through the streets during the morning, and then climbed the endless stairs to Castle Hill where we took in some breathtaking views of the Mediterranean city. Post climbing, we grabbed a sandwich and salad to-go and headed to the beach to get some sun. After realizing that our afternoon boat tour was canceled, we spent the rest of the day exploring the city. We grabbed an afternoon coffee and then went back to the apartment to get ready for our evening. Our Airbnb hosts kindly left us a bottle of rosé (don’t worry, the drinking age is 18 here), so we went down to the beach and had a pre-dinner drink. We then proceeded to have dinner at Olive&Artichaut, where I reserved us a table weeks ago, and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal. After dinner, we treated ourselves to gelato from the famous Fenocchio and then headed home.

IMG_7602

IMG_7694

IMG_7612

IMG_7620

As Nice is small enough to explore in a day, we spent our second full day in the French Riviera visiting Monaco. To be honest, I liked Nice much better than this boujee city. Monaco was just as obnoxiously wealthy as I had heard with expensive cars zooming by and castle-like mansions around every bend. The city is preparing for the Grand Prix, so the construction around the winding roads was a bit of a bummer. We spent our day walking through Monte Carlo and seeing all of the typical sights, as well as enjoying a great lunch along Larvotto Beach. Later, we took the train back to Nice, repeated our wine on the beach pre-dinner hour, and then headed to another neighborhood in Nice for a fantastic last dinner. La Femme du Boulanger (“the baker’s wife”) specializes in fancy bruschetta dishes that include produce chosen daily from the Old Town market. Our meals were exceptionally fresh and the chocolate mousse that we topped it off with was delectable. It was both of our favorite nights by far.

IMG_7670

Monaco

IMG_7640

Larvotto Beach, Monaco

IMG_7656

Today, our last day, we took things a bit slower. After waking up and checking out of our Airbnb, we headed to the beach for a day in the sun. We picked up a sandwich and salad to-go for lunch again and enjoyed them on the beach before making our way back to the port for our boat tour (this time not canceled).

IMG_7702

The hour-long boat tour gave us a nice view of the city from the sea and was a perfect end to our trip. We finished the day with a classic afternoon coffee and then made our way to the airport.

As I’m writing this from Knut’s Rotterdam apartment with tanned skin and a slightly sunburnt scalp, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and tell these stories. Although I’m only seeing small slices of the world and I know I’m no expert in other countries or cultures, I think there’s a lot to learn through visiting different places. Over the past 2 years, travel has gone from something that I yearned for to something that I actually practice. My parents have supported my trips (especially when I studied abroad), but I’ve also saved up (and spent) much of my own money in order to see Knut as often as I do. My point is that whatever you’re hoping to do, do it! I never thought I’d be someone who visits Amsterdam (an 18 hour trip) more than New York City (a mere 5 hour drive from my house), but alas here I am. Catch me next week for my adventures in the Netherlands featuring Rotterdam, Keukenhof, Delft, and Amsterdam. Bonjour!

xoxo,
jmd

cheers!

And so my sixteenth year of school is over. To think that I’ve spent the majority of my life in school and now only have one year left is quite insane. I’m starting to become a real human and it’s both exciting and scary. Although I’ve officially put dorm room living and shower shoe wearing behind me, I’ve still got one summer left as a “kid” before entering the big, bad real world. Or maybe I’ve already entered it? But not really. I can’t even legally drink or rent a car in the U.S., so I still feel young. But I also own a business wardrobe and I signed the lease to an apartment, and that’s some real big girl stuff. This is such a weird age. Anyway, I don’t really want to think about this too much.

Back to summer. It’s summer!! The first days of summer break have forever been such an exciting time. That freeing feeling of tossing out folders, 5 star notebooks, and dull pencils with the worn away erasers could never get old. Whether it’s 2nd grade end-of-year ice cream parties or junior year in college late night dorm room chats, that last day of school brings that distinct sense of relief mixed with energy. As discussions of summer camps while licking popsicles have turned into conversations about internships while sipping on sangria (although not for me, the seemingly sole 20-year-old junior in college), that summer sensation remains the same.

Throughout childhood, summer always brought the opportunity to stock up on new books, perfect my underwater handstand, and make new friends while braiding hair within the musty cabins of my beloved Camp Wright. This summer, I’ll still engage in my bookworm tendencies (I’m currently tearing through the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series), but I’ve also committed myself to brushing up on the Spanish that I haven’t practiced since December and I’ve planned a move back to Atlanta for a new internship that will undoubtedly bring lasting personal and professional growth and relationships. The setting and the events of summer have changed, but the sentiment remains the same. Summer exudes a sense of possibility as it urges us to relax, but also to explore, learn, and grow.

This summer will bring some of the most memorable times of my life. It will be a mixture of “firsts” and “lasts” as I enter my final year as a student, so there’s all the more reason to make my last summer before I’m a full-grown adult human worthwhile. Here’s to a summer filled with a trip to Europe (which begins today as I am writing from the international wing of the Newark airport), the beginning of a potential career path, my 21st birthday, new friends, and so much more. Cheers to summer vacation!

xoxo,
jmd

hasta la vista

*Written on December 23*

And so, here we are. 122 days later, and I am back in the U.S. I’m currently sitting in the Newark International Airport for the next five hours, which gives me the perfect opportunity to sit down and think about these past four months.

On August 23rd, I took the first of what adds up to 30 flights this semester. I set off for the first of 9 countries that I’d travel to and the first of 12 trips I’d be lucky enough to go on. I left my little town with the dream of seeing the world and I did just that. Today, December 23rd, I have landed in the US with a bittersweet feeling that naturally comes with returning home and leaving a beloved place.

This semester, I have learned so much about my country, Spain, travel, and myself. I have seen the U.S. through the eyes of many different cultures and I have viewed those same nations through my own American perspective. I have become vastly more independent and I have discovered small aspects of myself that I didn’t realize before. Some people return from abroad claiming they feel like a new person and that they realized something life changing about themselves when removed from their comfortable environments for a few months. Personally, I don’t think I’ve gathered any drastic insights about myself, but I certainly think living in a new country for four months has taught me a few lessons and has left a few lasting marks on my personality and character.

img_3304

Oslo, Norway // August 2016

IMG_3351

Rotterdam, the Netherlands // August 2016

What I learned about my country

Beginning with what I have learned about the US, I think the most important lesson comes in the realization that there is a world outside of the United States that functions differently from the U.S., but just fine. After living outside of the U.S. for four months, I have realized that I can survive just fine without 24/7 air conditioning, a drying machine, American brands, and all of the other things I am accustomed to in the U.S. In fact, I now see how wasteful Americans – including myself – can be. Will I start turning off the air conditioning when I leave the house and start recycling every piece of plastic, paper, and glass? Probably not. But I do think living outside of the U.S. has given me a new appreciation for the environment and I hope to develop increasingly more environmentally conscious habits as I continue living in the U.S. and potentially even abroad in the future.

Something else I have learned is that although the U.S. can seem uninteresting compared to other countries, that’s just because it’s where I live. Life in Barcelona is exciting, but the day-to-day activities are honestly not any different from what they would be if I lived in any major U.S. city. Where we live never seems as interesting as other places because it’s what we are accustomed to. Due to my extremely obvious American accent, I was asked many times where I am from and just about every time I received responses such as “Wow, that’s so cool! I have always wanted to go to the U.S.” After traveling for 4 months and being exposed to so many different cultures, I have really come to appreciate the U.S. and everything that seemed so “boring” a few months ago.

img_4008

Munich, Germany // September 2016

img_3803

Barcelona, Spain // September 2016

What I learned about Spain

Before moving to Barcelona, I honestly didn’t realize that Spain’s different regions were as different as the North, South, East, and West regions of the U.S. In fact, they are arguably even more different because different languages are spoken in the different regions. I was expecting to hear Castilian Spanish – what we think of as Spanish – everywhere I went, but Catalan is by far the dominant language in Catalonia’s capital city of Barcelona. Additionally, Catalonia isn’t nearly as conservative and traditional as the other parts of Spain, which I really didn’t know until living in Spain with a Catalan roommate. It was such an amazing life experience to live in another country and really become a part of the city by living in an apartment with a Catalan roommate, learning through Spain’s public university system, and experiencing the night life and cuisine while speaking another language.

img_4343

Mallorca, Spain // September 2016

img_4771-1

Figueres, Spain // October 2016

What I learned about travel

I have always loved airports and that feeling of endless possibility that comes with being in a building in which there’s the opportunity to reach every corner of the world. However, I have never travelled as much as I have in the past 4 months. After hopping across Europe just about every weekend, I have found a greater appreciation for travel and for the purpose of it. I am thrilled that I was able to go on 12 trips to 9 different countries in the past 4 months. I saw so many cities and made memories that I am sure to never forget. However, what I really noticed is that the cities are different in their historical buildings and significances, but the itineraries we follow when exploring these new places are largely the same. We take pictures with iconic sights, observe exquisite architecture, and enjoy delicious local cuisine. Some cities I’ll go back to, others I don’t know that I’ll ever see again. But honestly, in most cases, it’s not the city that matters. What really matters when I travel is whom I am with. I was lucky enough to be with some of my absolute best friends as we travelled all throughout Europe. In 10, 20, and 30 years, it’s going to be so great to be able to look back on this time of my life and be able to share it with friends that I know I’ll still have for decades to come.

Travel is exciting, but if you make it about checking destinations off a list, the magic can be lost. There were many cities I didn’t get enough time in, but at least I have the memories with my friends to keep those cities clear in my memory forever. What’s even better is if you get the chance to meet locals and actually experience the city in an authentic way. Last weekend, I returned to Knut’s home in Norway, and once again it was one of the best trips. I attended a 3.5 hour rendition of Singing in the Rain in Norwegian with his family, and although I understood very few words, I felt like I was really getting to see a genuine part of Norwegian culture that I never would have had I gone to Oslo without a Norwegian. Although seeing Oslo was not new to me, I enjoyed that trip more than some of the trips to new cities because I got such an authentic cultural experience.

Finally, I learned that travel isn’t always pretty. I have had trains cancelled, too many flights delayed to count, and many other travel complications. What it’s taught me is that there are situations that are completely out of my control and that panicking is the least helpful way to cope. Does this mean I don’t panic? Not exactly. But I am more aware of the fact that things won’t always go as planned and that it all works out in the end. I have also learned to really appreciate being home in the comfort of my own bed much more.

img_4559-1

Lisbon, Portugal // October 2016

img_4853

Rotterdam, the Netherlands // October 2016

img_4947

Barcelona, Spain // October 2016

img_5200

Seville, Spain // November 2016

What I learned about myself

As I said previously, I haven’t experienced any great revelations about myself in the past few months, but I have been able to see my own strengths and weaknesses a bit more clearly. I have learned that I am a lot more independent than I thought I was, and I’m also largely low maintenance when it comes to travel. However, the Spanish culture has really exposed my perfectionist attitude. In Spain, life moves at half the pace I am used to and I am told “traquilo” (calm down) about 100 times per day (along with most of the other American students). The lack of urgency for most things really does drive me crazy. However, I notice that that’s not exactly a good thing. Throughout my time in Spain, I have come to appreciate the Spanish way of relaxing and spending time with people over books/working. Although I don’t think I could adopt such a lax lifestyle, I really value it.

Finally, taking five courses in Spanish and spending an entire semester learning in a different language, I have really seen myself stretch my comprehension skills much further than I ever thought that I could. I remember the first day of my 20th century Spanish literature class when I felt like I did not understand a word. Four months later, I was reading a 300+ page books in Spanish and writing four page essays in class. I eventually realized that I’d never succeed if I dwelled on every complicated conjugation and every individual word, so I tried to just sit back and understand what I could. Learning in Spanish and successfully completing the semester was one of the most valuable parts of my experience because I was able to see my confidence and my execution of the Spanish language grow in such a short amount of time. Although my speaking still isn’t great, my understanding, reading, and writing have definitely advanced significantly. Leaving Barcelona, I really feel as if I can now communicate with an entirely additional population of people thanks to just about mastering a second language.

img_5303

Prague, Czech Republic // November 2016

img_5471

Budapest, Hungary // November 2016

img_6057

London, England // December 2016

img_6173

Paris, France // December 2016

img_6245

Tranby, Norway // December 2016

Ultimately, this past semester has been everything I expected and more. I was able to live and learn in a new culture, travel the world, and make so many incredible friends. To anyone contemplating studying abroad, my advice is to do it. This is truly the only time in your life that you’ll have the chance to travel the world without the pressure of real-life responsibilities weighing you down. Thank you to every person who made this experience so wonderful, especially my parents who made it possible. There is nothing else you could’ve given me that compares to the thrilling adventure of these past four months. Here’s to the end of one of the best chapters of my life. Although this one was great, I’m sure there are so many more great ones to come. As Carla told us the night before we left, home isn’t just where you’re from, but also every place you’ve loved and been loved by. I know I loved Barcelona and I sure feel like it loved me.

Hasta la vista,

♡jmd