Santorini

Santorini could not have been more opposite from Athens. Unlike Greece's urban capital, the island feels like a small village. Also in contrast to Athen's authentic charm, Santorini is a tourist getaway with seemingly few locals.

My stay in Santorini was easily one of the most luxurious portions of the whole semester. Without having booked a hotel in Santorini when starting our spring break, my friends and I found a last-minute Airbnb just a few days before our arrival. We didn't look too closely at the listing, but it was categorized as a cave, and that alone sounded interesting enough. Turns out the cave was more like a round-shaped house overlooking the water, with a sizable porch and huge jacuzzi. If that wasn't nice enough, our host left us plush bathrobes, slippers, and local wine and cake for our first breakfast:)

When we weren't lounging around and enjoying the incredible views, we explored the quiet streets, ate delicious food, and stumbled upon an amazing, world-renowned bookstore called Atlantis Books. The island's beauty, tranquility, and luxury made it all feel like a dream!

Finding Family in Greece

This has to be one of my craziest experiences from the semester!

My great grandfather immigrated to America from Greece, and since then I have kept little ties to my Greek family except for my last name. While in Athens, I decided to try to connect with any remaining family members. I had no concrete places to go to except for the return address on a letter sent from a distant relative in 2000. My friends thought I was insane (for good reason) but decided to go along with me on the journey.

My first day there, we went to the address in the letter and found that no family lives there anymore. We then spent the day talking to neighbors through Google Translate, struggling to communicate on the phone, mixing up addresses, and traveling across the city multiple times. Finally we found Alex Mourikis, the great nephew of my great grandfather.

Alex graciously welcomed me and my friends into his home, told me about our family history, and treated me like his own. Meeting him meant a lot to me, and even through his very broken English, it was clear that it meant a lot to him too. Thank you Alex for your warmth, and thank you Leah, Ruby, and Jesse for helping me create a happy ending to this unlikely story.

Athens

Here goes another very late post about my travels!

For the second portion of my spring break, I traveled to Greece. First stop: Athens! Out of all of the places I visited these past months, Athens stands out to me as the most authentic. I was surprised by how few tourists I saw and how few locals spoke English. I really felt like I was moving alongside people's daily lives. Athens was also the slowest-paced European city that I visited. This was probably a combination of the Mediterranean lifestyle and the economic crisis, which I definitely sensed while there.

Of course, I also visited tourist destinations like the amazing Acropolis! The Acropolis is an ancient Greek citadel located on top of a hill that overlooks the city. It includes the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena, and other historically important buildings. Although the buildings are now partially in ruins, the extent to which they have been preserved is incredible and still portrays the grandeur of the architecture. 

Another personal favorite was the Agora, the center of Ancient Greek commerce and political and intellectual life. The ruins are sprawled throughout a grassy area, which I enjoyed strolling through while imaging the ancient people selling artisan products, and visiting libraries and court houses. This strong sense of walking through history was one of my favorite aspects of Athens. However, aside from the ancient ruins, the city was more contemporary than I expected, and this relationship between old and new was what I most fascinating of all.

J'adore Paris

On our way to Greece for spring break, we decided to stop in Paris for a couple days! I'm really glad we did because it was one of my favorite cities I've visited all semester. I'm a complete sucker for the charming cafés, beautiful architecture, amazing street style, and delicious food. Although our time was short, some of my favorite experiences included:

  • Visiting Musée d'Orsay
  • Eating late night crepes
  • Walking along the Seine
  • Walking through the Jardin des Tuileries
  • Enjoying a traditional French breakfast
  • Stumbling upon a small pottery studio

Until next time!

Marrakesh

Recently I went to Marrakesh, Morocco. I've been dreaming of visiting Morocco since I started thinking about studying abroad in Spain. My initial intrigue came from an interest in mosaics and Islamic art, as well as Islamic culture. When I finally had the opportunity to travel to the country, it was difficult to decide where to go. I'd read about the art and architecture in Fez, seen photos of buildings painted 100 different shades of blue in Chefchaouen, and heard stories about the lively markets of Marrakesh. After considering time and cost, the winner was…Marrakesh!

The city of Marrakesh has an old city, located in its geographical center, surrounded by a newer city. We stayed in the old city, which placed us close to the traditional markets and other attractions. Upon arrival, one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it is to walk comfortably in the streets. Almost everyone in Marrakesh rides a motorcycle and weaves through the narrow streets at full speed. Every time I crossed the street, I felt like I was risking my life!

The traditional markets, also called souks, were never-ending labyrinths of small vendors selling Moroccan textiles, pottery, lamps, spices, and more. These were great places to get a sense of the local design and culture, although with the recent influx of tourists, many of the products have become commercialized.

Although I loved the energy of old city, one of the highlights was taking a day trip away from the crowded streets to nearby valleys. My two friends and I took a private tour that included driving through the valleys, visiting a local market, riding camels, stopping at an Argan Oil cooperative, and eating lunch at a traditional Berber house overlooking the Atlas Mountains. The views throughout the day were breathtaking.

Another one of my favorite activities was visiting the Bahia Palace. Here I got more than my fix of Moroccan mosaics and geometric design. Each surface had a unique tile pattern with  gorgeous color combinations of mostly blues, greens, and golds.

Aside from visiting specific attractions, I enjoyed eating vegetable tagine and drinking mint tea, walking through the less touristy Jewish Quarter, and exploring the new city. Next time, I visit Morocco, I think I'd like to go to the desert for a completely different experience :)

Hola Madrid

Apologies for the recent hiatus. I've been having too much fun traveling and spending time outdoors that I haven't gotten a chance to write. Here's the first in a series of travel posts!

Everyone told me that Barcelona doesn't truly feel Spanish. However, I didn't fully understand what that meant until I went to Madrid for a weekend. 

The first thing I noticed about Madrid was the light. Stepping out of my hostel the first morning, I saw the atmosphere change completely. The light on the buildings was extremely pure, almost piercing. Without the softer, diffused light that characterizes seaside towns, I knew we were no longer in Barcelona. Madrid has some of the bluest skies I have ever seen. I don't think there was a single cloud the whole time I was there!

In general, this purity seemed to characterize Madrid. The city was extremely clean, regal, and dignified—a true capitol. If Madrid and Barcelona were a Spanish family, then Madrid would be the sophisticated aunt and Barcelona, the rebellious little sister. I saw people walking down the streets of Madrid in fur coats. In Barcelona, it's all about the ripped jeans and the sneakers. 

Even though Madrid is a diverse, metropolitan city, it felt overwhelmingly Spanish. Even at tourist attractions like Museo del Prado, I hardly noticed people speaking any language other languages. I had the same experience when walking through the streets. This was a shock coming from Barcelona, where I'm just as likely to hear Catalan, French, English, and Arabic.

Still, my favorite activity was probably one of the most touristy. My friends and I visited El Retiro Park, a beautiful green space with a pond in the center, and rented a rowboat. The ride was extremely peaceful and a nice break from our constant walking. I also loved biking through Madrid's largest Park, Casa de Campo. Aside from the parks, my favorite experiences included seeing Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia Museum, eating at local Markets, and just exploring by foot.

Prior to coming to Madrid, let alone Spain, I didn't have clear mental concept of Spanish culture. However, when visiting Madrid, something clicked in my brain, as if saying, "Yes, this feels like Spain." If Barcelona is the odd city out, then does the rest of Spain have a similar feeling to Madrid? In the coming month, I will be traveling to Southern Spain. Let's see how it compares!

Let's Catch Up

Oops! I've been so busy the past couple weeks with friends visiting, trips, and activities that I haven't had time to share what I've been up to. Here's a recap of some recent highlights :)

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
This palace was originally built for the 1929 World Fair and later converted into an art museum. A beautiful and grand piece of architecture, the museum sits on top of a hill overlooking the entire city. The collection is extensive, spanning from Romanesque to WWII art. Although each exhibit has extraordinary pieces, my favorite section was by far the Romanesque art. It's full of biblical paintings and preserved frescos, like the one pictured above. I was particularly drawn to the rich color palettes and graphic stylization that characterizes much of pre-Rennaissance art.

 

LLUM BCN
As part of a celebration of Sant Eulalia, Barcelona’s patron saint, different local art and design groups created light installations throughout the city. My favorite and the most elaborate was a three-dimensional light show projected onto a large building. The show, which was about ten minutes long and took viewers on a mathematical journey that developed from from points to lines to planes to volumes to complex geometry. The visuals pulsed to the rhythm of atmospheric music. It was so captivating that I actually went two nights in a row!

 

Cable Car Ride
What better way to see Barcelona than from above? I recently hopped on the port cable car, which travels from the beach to a mountain called Montjuic. As the last ride of the day, the sun was low in the sky and cast a warm glow over the entire city. It was fun to see the relationship between the various neighborhoods and their connection to the water. After getting off the cable car, I enjoyed a nice, long walk back to my apartment. Winding down the mountain, I got to enjoy many more panoramic views of Barcelona.

 

Palo Alto Market
There’s no reason to feel homesick when I can walk to Palo Alto in 30 minutes! The Palo Alto village in Barcelona is located in the Poblenou neighborhood and is named after my hometown in California. The area is a haven for artists, architects, and other creatives. Every month or so, there is a large market full of delicious artisan foods, trendy arts and crafts, and lively music performances. The crowd is full of chic foodies and really did feel like Palo Alto, California's European counterpart! 

 

Park Güell
Park Güell is one of the must-see Gaudí masterpieces in Barcelona. It's a large park that includes gardens and architectural elements. Gaudí's architecture here is imaginative and organic, reflecting the flowing curves of the natural surroundings. The location also includes an amazing view of the city, and one of my favorite aspects of the visit was looking out beyond the buildings and towards the water. Although the monumental section of the park is very touristy, I found Park Güell overall very peaceful and a great place for an afternoon stroll.

 

Picasso Museum
I absolutely loved this museum! Not only am I a fan of Picasso's work, but I also think the museum is an excellent example of exhibition and environmental design. The museum is entirely in chronological order, showing a clear evolution of Picasso's work form realism to cubism. Seeing Picasso's work change overtime is fascinating and gave me a much greater appreciation for him as an artist. I also loved the physical space of the museum. Most of the rooms are simple and modest, with a few that are more ornate, adding to the great pacing of the museum. I also really appreciated the framing of the art, which I think is an art in itself that is often overlooked!

 

Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Barcelona's contemporary art museum was designed by American architect Richard Meier, who unlike many other designers believes that form should not derive from function. As a result the space is full of abstract, decorative forms, and a large winding ramp. I enjoyed the space; however, the museum felt strangely empty. There were only a few exhibits, and it all ended up feeling more like a spectacle than a functional museum. I'm curious as to why there weren't more exhibits because Barcelona has such a thriving art and design community.

Sunday Salsa

One off the bucket list! Today I salsa danced (or attempted to) at my favorite park, Parc de la Ciutadella. Every few Sundays, locals join in the park gazebo for an afternoon of dancing. The man I'm with in the video was nice enough to teach me some moves, which were a lot harder than I expected given my dance background. Part of the struggle was that he hardly spoke any English, which, of course, turned into a great opportunity to practice my Spanish. The other struggle was that even though female dance partners are supposed to follow their male counterpart, I always try to lead :)

I love living in a culture that appreciates dance as much as I do. There were people of all generations dancing together, and it seemed as natural for them as walking. Dance is such a great way to connect with people, create a sense of community, and celebrate culture. I felt more connected to the local people today than I typically do just walking on the street. Hopefully with some practice, I can start to dance like them too. 

Foguerons de Sa Pobla

Last night, I went to my first festival! The Foguerons de Sa Pobla tradition is a bonfire festival that celebrates Majorcan culture. This year marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Ramon Llull, a prominent Majorcan philosopher, logician, and writer. In honor of Llull, the festival featured music, poetry, and an exhibition profiling him.

Although the festival was spread around the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona, my friends and I stayed in one square where we witnessed a bonfire, firecrackers, a human pyramid, live music, and traditional dancing. The firecrackers (pictured above) were some of the most exciting part of the night, especially because the first explosions were a complete shock!

Going to events like this makes me want to know more about Spanish culture and what makes each region unique. So far, the appreciation for history and tradition is one of my favorite things about Spain. 

Garage Door Graffiti

It's siesta time! In Spain, people traditionally take a mid-afternoon nap called a siesta. This means many of the local shops close for a few hours before reopening for dinner. Although this lull can be frustrating if you're trying to go shopping or grab a bite, it's a great time to go for a walk. One of my favorite things about siesta is seeing the colorful garage doors that cover the storefronts. Almost all of the coverings have some form of graffiti that gives the stores an identity aside from their formal branding. I love the bright colors, character, and stylization of the art! 

As I was walking around the local neighborhoods today, I decided to document the graffiti I stumbled upon. Here's a taste of what I saw. 

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