Things I Have Learned Since Moving to New York City

I have reached the six-month mark of living in the Big Apple, so I feel like I have earned the right to give out some advice or at least observations about my time here so far. There is plenty more to learn, I have no doubt…

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1. You cannot jump the turnstile in the subway. You will get tapped on the shoulder by a grumpy policeman who got put on subway duty and you will receive a $100 “non-criminal” ticket, no matter how many times you explain that none of the machines were accepting your Metrocard (“Please swipe again, please swipe again”) and the train was arriving so you just hopped over the turnstile, and even people now are having trouble getting it to accept their cards! Look! Please, Officer, just give me a warning. I’m not from here, I don’t know how this works. He don’t even curr.

2. Your laundry man will call you out. I’m still getting my life together after losing my purse; I have my replacement credit and debit cards, I’ve ordered this cute vintage wallet from Etsy, and I’m working on getting my driver’s license (which requires enough steps that deserve its own blog post). After I got back to NYC, I dropped my laundry off and went to pick it up a couple of days later. I was using this little jewelry box, like the small ones that a necklace or bracelet comes in, to store my cards and cash, etc., in lieu of a wallet. The Asian man at the counter watched me open my little box and get out my money to pay for my stack of perfectly clean, perfectly folded clothes. “YO MONEY IN BOX!” he told me. Yes. Thank you, sir.

3. You will want a dog. It seems strange that so many people should have dogs in a place with far more available cement than grass, but there are soooo maaaaany cuuuuuute puuuupieeeeees here. Puppies and grown-up dogs alike, just trotting around behind their owners, French bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers (sigh), labs, terriers, Maltese, sometimes without leashes, just so faithful that they will stay right with their owners on their entire walk. I have learned the fine art of “swipe-bys,” where I casually pet a dog that I do not know and does not know me as I walk past him or her. It’s never casual because I’m always smiling like a goon and whenever I get to actually spend more than a few seconds petting a pup–I feel like my heart is going to burst. Can I just get some furry love up in this teeny tiny apartment?!

4. You should not wear perfume or cologne if you use public transportation. Can everyone please just heed this request? Wait until you get to work or school or wherever you’re going before you douse yourself in Britney’s Midnight Fantasy and choke everyone else on the 6 train. It’s impossible to escape and honestly, the subway can be nauseating enough without overpowering smells, no matter how expensive they are.

5. Your winter wonderland will become a nightmare within 20 minutes. 9 AM: Yay! Snowflakes! Pretty! Happy! Winter! 9:20 AM: This is disgusting, why aren’t people shoveling their sidewalks, ugh my socks are wet, that was at least a foot of melted snow I just submerged my foot in, pretty sure this is black ice, oh my gosh, I’m going to be half an hour late to work because I cannot walk faster than a turtle on crutches on these sidewalks. Also, big puffy coats are. A. Necessity.

6. You need to know what side of the street your cab should drop you off on. I have taken very few cabs in my time here because my rent costs 8 gazillion dollars and I do not have time for such frivolous expenses, but when I have the driver is always like, “Left or right side?” and I’m like, “Uhhh you’re the cab driver, why are you asking me?” Not only was I born with no sense of direction, but this is why I got in the cab, so I wouldn’t have to think about my transportation for once. So any time I take a cab now I put the address in Google maps and keep an eye on it so I know what to tell the cabbie when he asks. Or I can really impress him by telling him before he asks, to which he responds, “Uh, this is a two-way street, you want me to cross traffic to the left side?” JUST KIDDING.

7. A “drip” is another word for coffee. I worked in a coffee shop for the first six months I lived here (literally, I just started my new job last week) and the first time someone ordered a “small drip” from me I had to ask three times what on earth they said before they were like “SMALL COFFEE.” And then, I feel sure, proceeded to curse all of the New York noobs who don’t know anything about anything.

8. You avoid Times Square at all costs. I can’t even say that I’ve been there all that many times since I’ve moved here, but it’s somewhere that you simply don’t go unless someone is visiting you and you’re being touristy with them. There are SOMANYPEOPLEEVERYWHERE and you can hardly move and everyone is wearing cameras that they don’t know how to operate around their necks and they’re all pointing at things and walking so slowly and being all-around stressful to my general health and well-being. Once, my roommate Amelia and I were in that area and we both had to pee so badly that we went into the McDonald’s in Times Square and waited in line for at least 20 minutes to use the bathroom. From that moment on I swore off Times Square unless absolutely necessary.

9. You really do see famous people. It’s pretty crazy. I think the first famous person I saw was Heather Graham, filming a movie like three blocks from where I live in the East Village. They had the whole street blocked off and everything. Once I was working at the Bean on Broadway, which is near Alec Baldwin’s apartment, and he rushed past the glass windows of the Bean (with coffee from somewhere else in hand), looking very disgruntled. Later that day all of the videos of him being accosted/accosting reporters and gawkers came out, so it all makes sense now. Then once Zach Braff and his (super sweet, super adorable, from Nashville) girlfriend came to the Bean and got two medium vanilla lattes and they were so normal and nice. That was neat. A couple of days ago I was walking down First Avenue and there were some mobile trailers parked on the side of the street, and one of the labels said “Jude.” This set guy, with a walkie-talkie in hand, burst out of one of the trailers and yelled, “THE MOOOVIE BUSINESS!” It was weird and awesome. My greatest hope is to run into Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer at the same time.

10. You have to keep your pack-rat tendencies in check. Not to say that I’m a pack-rat…but I am. I am very sentimental so I keep stupid things that other people would wrinkle their nose at. What do you mean, it’s weird to keep this napkin that my kindergarten crush used in the cafeteria after a delicious meal of vegetable soup and grilled cheese?! I’m not that extreme, but I do have a lot of crap in my room at home. My closet there can attest to this. Here, in my railroad apartment, I have to seriously consider how much I want something and how much space it’s going to take up in my teensy little room that is basically just my bed and a bookshelf, although I do have a decent-sized closet. Guess I will have to do with only four pairs of brown boots instead of five….

11. The best of everything is here. Which is a great thing when you’re craving authentic sushi or some dope homemade ice cream (what up, Davie’s Ice Cream?), but can be disheartening when you’re chasing after your dream job while hundreds of other talented, qualified people are in NYC chasing their dream job, which might also be your dream job. There is more competition, but more opportunity. And definitely the best food. Except for queso. There’s no queso. (I accept snail mail at all times, southern friends.)

12. This is a great place to be. Yes, people are rude, it can be as cold as Christmas at the North Pole, and it’s easy to feel lonely even surrounded by so many people, but I love this city. There is opportunity around every corner if you’re willing to hunt it down, there are incredible things happening all day every day, amazing music, interesting exhibits, wonderful churches, delicious food from all over the world (I cannot emphasize that pro enough), so many friends I’ve made since I’ve been here, and so many friends I have yet to meet. Living in New York City is a roller coaster. But I’m really glad I bought my ticket and waited in line.

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Logroño, or Lots of Potatoes and Pups

We have arrived at Monday afternoon, where Tommy and I caught a bus from Madrid to Logroño (at the bus station where I would later spend about five hours of my life in panic). The bus ride was beautiful and featured all sorts of mountains and various terrains of Spain. It’s a very diverse country as far as landscapes. We arrived in Tommy’s town and gathered some clothes to head to Teresa and Angél’s. This couple is the parents of three kiddos, two of whom Tommy tutors twice a week. Samuel is the oldest and craziest, Carmen is the middle child and so sweet, and Alicia is the tiny little nugget who steals your heart the second you see her wild curls. They invited us to stay with them while I was in town and Tommy took them up on the offer because, among other reasons like that they are amazingly nice, they have heat and a fire stove that would keep me warm, like Tommy’s apartment might not be able to. (Europe hates being comfortable indoors, I don’t get it….) We had a wonderfully relaxing night talking with Tommy’s parents, my parents and Tommy’s sister Laura via the interwebs. We got to catch everyone up on our adventures to that point which was great. Then we stayed up until about 3 AM watching new episodes of Sherlock, which was great on so many levels because we watched seasons 1 and 2 together last winter in Lexington, and then got to be together for the two of three new episodes of season 3. Episode 2 was amazing by the way, absolutely hysterical. (I love drunk Sherlock and Watson.)

The next morning (late morning), we ran to the very outskirts of the town and hiked a mountain Tommy has visited several times on his runs. He refused to let me turn around until we got to the very top, where breathtaking views of the city, surrounded by hills and mountains and wintry vineyard bushes, greeted us. It was gorgeous. We headed back town and made two stops for coffee and pastries to fuel our jog/walk back to Teresa’s. (A side note: Spanish pastries have the perfect amount of sweet. Try them.) Once we got there, even though I was worn out from our adventure, I spent about half an hour playing with the family’s beautiful golden retriever, Suri. She is enormous and really light blonde and a giant ball of playfulness and full of desire to be pet. We had a blast together and I actually succeeded in wearing her out, which I think rarely happens. That night we went out to dinner at a place called Umm (seriously), owned and operated by one of Angél’s friends. There was onomatopoeia (what even is English? That spelling is ridiculous) featured on the drink coasters and napkins which we really liked. We had a drink with vermouth, soda and fresh lemon which was amazing and I’m trying to bring back to America. Our sandwiches were delicious and we discussed the NBA and college basketball in America with our friendly, Spanish bartender who was very curious. That night we got to FaceTime Billy, Jess, Bryn and Leighton (the bouncing queen) which was awesome.

Wednesday I went to school with Tommy and helped him teach his classes. And by helped I mean sat there and smiled and agreed with things Tommy said. It was still fun to see where Tommy teaches and know more about his days in Logroño. I got to meet Juanma and Pilar, Tommy’s “teacher parents,” another sweet (extremely intelligent) couple who has taken Tommy under their wings. That night we went to Tommy’s good friend Carlo’s for dinner, where we had tamales, yuca, peppers and lots of good wine. We tried to stay up and watch the UK game but by halftime we were losing and also falling asleep all over the place (it was like 2 AM our time) so we headed back to Tommy’s apartment for the night.

Thursday was our day of exploration and it was so lovely. The day started, as all days should, with bread and cookies from a local bakery and cafe con leche at the cafe across from Tommy’s school with Juanma. We wandered around the city and Tommy pointed out all sorts of significant spots to me. The Camino Trail, which many young travelers aspire to complete all around Spain, goes through Logroño, so there were tons of Camino Trail signs and symbols. The city itself is simply beautiful, and much more city-like than I expected it to be, with big city blocks and chain shops. It still had a very small-town feel though with plenty of local bakeries, cafes, restaurants, clothing shops, and more. We walked by one shop when Tommy said all suspiciously, “Let’s go in here….” It was a jewelry shop that Tommy told me he wanted to get me something from. What a sweetie. I picked out a peridot-colored (my birthstone) bracelet that has a little silver grape on the clasp to represent the delicious wines in La Rioja, the region that Logroño is part of. There was plenty of beautiful jewelry, from earrings to bracelets to necklaces, but I was definitely drawn to this piece. It was perfect. We stopped in Tommy’s favorite fresh food market, which was basically an enormous room of colorful fruits and veggies and animal parts. Yum. We got a snack in Logroño’s tapas area, which was an adorable trail of tiny, windy, cobblestone streets, sprinkled with dozens of little bars and restaurants in a small amount of space. I loved the area. We headed to the river next and walked along it which some lovely views of the area, including traveling across a bridge that was littered with locks of love like the bridge in Paris. I coincidentally told Tommy about this bridge quite a long while ago, and we walked past this lock that Tommy was inspecting rather intently. Turns out he had already placed “our” lock on the bridge before I came and was just waiting to show it to me. I melted. So thoughtful. I went with Thom to one of his tutoring sessions with an adorable father-son duo and enjoyed that so much. They also gave me a bottle of Rioja wine–how nice are these people?! I also got to write things on the whiteboard which I greatly enjoy. We met up with Thom’s friend Roel, who is also in the program and is from Chicago, and went out for a night of shopping and tapas. Ironically, both boys got clothes and I got nothing besides a WHOLE BUNCH of delicious tapas and wine at four or five spots. My favorite was definitely the Rioja potatoes which are like fried potato cubicles with some sort of delicious sauce all over them. So good. We finished the night with a beer at Él Dorado and chats about teaching English and other groundbreaking philosophies.

Friday meant school again, and this time I got to help Tommy in his teachings. Most of the class discussion was about holiday break, what the kids got for Christmas, and where they went on vacation. So we split the classrooms into boys and girls, took each gender respectively, and helped them come up with a dream vacation in English. My groups went to LA to a Lakers game and the moon where Santa Claus aliens gave us cookies. Quite an adventure. Tommy’s last class just wanted to hear Tommy tell stories about being in college, which was hilarious. They had quite a few funny stories up their sleeves as well and several of them were quite good in English. We had a huge lunch at a nice restaurant (big, late lunches and smaller, late dinners are common in Spain) including Rioja potato soup plus two or three more courses. I was sooo ridiculously full afterward. (Another note: wine is common at every meal besides breakfast, and sometimes even then. Sometimes when Thom and I would go to get coffee or a pastry people would be having a beer or glass of wine at 10 AM. I say this because we had delicious wine with our late lunch.) That evening we went back to Teresa’s and hung out with the family.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early (even though it was super foggy and dark at like 7:30 AM) and we biked to the bottom of another hill, stashed our bikes, and hiked the rest of the way to the top for a view of the sunrise. Unfortunately it was so ridiculously foggy that we could hardly see 50 yards in front of us, but it was beautiful in its own way, especially with all of the bare vineyard bushes around us. We made our way back to the town center and went shopping with Angél for meats, veggies and other necessities for our afternoon meal. Tommy and I (mostly Tommy) made amazingly delicious burgers topped with carmalized onions, lettuce, tomato and a great sauce, along with baked macaroni and cheese and twice baked potatoes stuffed with bacon and cheese. It was so good and the family loved our American meal! As the sun was going down, we took Suri for a walk (where I pretended we had our own dog) and played fetch with her in a big field. She is just the sweetest little pup and I loved hanging with her so much. We even got a beautiful view of the sunset to make up for our missing of the sunrise. We set up the UK basketball game once we got back, enjoyed some local pizza, and watched with Angél, who used to play basketball professionally. It was a lovely day.

Teresa stayed up to give Tommy and me a ride to the bus station after midnight because she is also a human angel. I can’t express how sweet and generous this family was to us, and they continue to show Tommy so much love. There she gave me a sweet “hasta luego” and Thom walked me to the bus where we said our goodbyes, for now. I had no idea what lay ahead in the next 24 hours (refer to my post Spanish Misadventure) but I knew without a doubt what an incredible trip Thom and I had together and that these adventures and special moments would continue to get us through our time apart. Adios for now, España.

Madrid & Morocco, or I Can’t Control Myself at a Keyboard

Now we can, in good conscience, return to the beginning of this story. My adventure began on a Sunday afternoon (after working a 6 AM shift at The Bean) where I hailed a cab to JFK. I learned my lesson on trying to take luggage on the subway. Such a bad way to try and prove you can do anything on your own (a la Liz Lemon). My takeoff went much more normally and smoothly than my (theoretical) flight home from Spain, aside from having to wait a bit on the plane before we started taxying (is that a word?) because there were so many delays due to weather. I left NYC around 8 pm Eastern time and landed in Spain 7 AM Spain time. I essentially lost six hours of my night although I got a bit of sleep on the plane. So it’s no surprise that I felt like a complete zombie after gathering my luggage and parking it on a bench near the baggage claim. For a while I was eagerly staring at the door, waiting for Tommy to walk though, but eventually I resorted to leaning over my luggage and nabbing a few minutes of dozing. I was sitting up when I saw him, thankfully, and literally felt like an electric current went through me. I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing him, actually hugging him, actually talking to him not via some form of phone or computer. It was even better than I ever thought seeing him after 3.5 months would be!

Sorry for all the mushiness, but that’s just part of the story. We got on the Spanish Metro from the airport (let’s consider this, NYC!) and I had fun figuring out all of the lines we needed to take to get to our final destination (our Couchsurfing location). Being familiar with reading NYC subway maps definitely helped but the Madrid metro was very simple comparatively. We arrived at Puerta Del Sol, the “Times Square of Madrid” if you will, and wandered around looking for a cafe with Wifi so we could get the exact address of our spot and get some foods in my belly. I tried Spanish tortilla for the first time, an egg omelette basically, and we had some really simple but delicious soup and bread. I’m sure we did some long-term damage to our suitcases with how far we walked pulling them, but we arrived to our Couchsurfing spot with everything intact. Mitch, our host, was from London and had the BEST British accent. Just the classic kind where you keep asking them questions so you can continue listening to them say, completely legitimately, “wicked” and “fair enough.”

We took a hardcore nap before emerging to explore the city and headed to the Museo Nacional del Prado. We approached the area to find an enormous line wrapping around the building and we could not figure out why. Tommy, who went to the museum on his last trip to Madrid, said the line wasn’t where he entered, so we walked all the way around before deciding that really was the actual line. Once we got to the building in the very quick-moving line, we discovered it was a time period where the museum was completely free, so it was worth the wait! According to some Spaniards, this museum is the bee’s knees and is far superior to even the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Having been to all three of these now, I must say I disagree, although it was a lovely visit with Tommy. There was an amazing temporary exhibit of a series of all of these super dark, almost demented paintings that I loved. We saw the famous Las Meninas, which apparently has a zillion layers/meanings to it if you study it for long enough, and some of Greco’s work, which is very popular and famous in Spain. Late dinner (aka normal Spanish dinner) was delicious pizza at a joint Tommy had researched and found in advance. The employees there were welcoming and friendly. Next we had a glass of Rioja wine at a bar that was giving off very mixed vibes (between a techno club and a casual post-work spot) but we enjoyed it. We finished up the night when we found a spot with beer on tap (not as common as you might think what with all of the delicious wine everywhere) and continued to enjoy each other’s company over a cold brew.

We awoke New Year’s Eve day and set out to explore the area we were staying in. Tommy got us a ton of fresh fruit from a local shop and we walked all around the city, I got my first cafe con leche, and we went in and out of shops as well as spending time in Plaza Mayor, a big courtyard area with all sorts of festive (mostly New Year’s hats which are apparently a thing, and some expired nativity sets, which are a BIG deal in Spain) vendors and street performers and giant bubble machines. Next stop was the Almudena Cathedral, where we spent some time inside just relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the building. The royal palace, Palacio Real, was our final touristy spot for the day which was beautiful and reminiscent of Buckingham Palace.

After a much-needed siesta (my sleep schedule never quite caught up the entire trip), we got dressed and bejeweled and make-uped (okay the last two were just me) and had a little photo session in our fancy attire. We were just so excited to be together on such a happy evening! Tommy chose a Japanese-French fusion place called L’Artisan Furansu that had a set menu with accompanying wines for each course. Our reservation was for like 8:30 and we were still awkwardly early because people in Spain are so slow and don’t start their evenings until my normal bedtime. But armed with my siesta, we had an incredibly delicious meal and I was ready for the night. (Tommy’s professional recollection of our meal for all you foodies out there: seafood purée, oysters, salmon tartare, cream of chicken and duck with shiitake duxelle, a sardine tempura with basil and umeboshi-fruit flavoring–literally don’t know half of the things I’m typing right now–fish with cranberry arugula risotto, beef tenderloin with mashed taters and créme bruleé for dessert. I can confirm that it was wonderful.) Even with our “early” reservations, we nearly missed midnight in Puerta del Sol, where the streets were filled with people celebrating. The Spanish tradition is to eat 12 grapes counting down from 12 seconds to midnight, although we are not sure how this is supposed to work practically as I don’t know of many people who can fit 12 grapes in their mouth at once AND kiss their date at midnight. Thanks to one Jess Manning’s suggestion, we soaked our grapes in wine for the day and had a special little treat at/around midnight. We didn’t do the timing exactly right, and plus they were green grapes with seeds and I didn’t want all of mine so Tommy picked up my slack 🙂 There was no formal countdown to midnight, we simply just caught onto when everyone else started yelling. It was kind of strange in that way but I also liked it. We were like, “Is it happening?? I think it’s happening! Oh! It’s midnight!”

We wandered through Puerta del Sol amid the celebrations for a bit and decided to journey onward to find our next spot for a drink. Strangely enough we couldn’t find absolutely anywhere to go for probably an hour and a half. We had a great time just walking around and being with each other, but we were so confused. Where were all of the bars? On New Year’s Eve?! We finally stumbled on an area with some options. First we went to this somewhat ghetto restaurant that reminded me of a Tex Mex place in America and had a terrible beer, followed by a drink in a relatively normal but crowded bar, and another in a more empty but quite lovely, dark-wooded bar. We started making our way back to Mitch’s and decided to make one last stop at a bar called Olivia’s. We split a drink here, got right next to the DJ stand, and danced like morons. It was a blast and we even specifically said how much we liked that bar and wanted to go back. Next morning we told Mitch this and he informed us it was a lesbian bar. Whoops….

The next morning was a bit slow as we got ourselves together to make it through the winding subway again to the airport. I reunited with good ole’ Ryan Air and “landed on time” in Tangier that afternoon. Even stepping off the plane, we could tell it was a different world. Giant Arabic letters covered the exterior of the airport. Our initial reactions were very seven-year-old in Disney World-esque, like OMG we’re heeeeere!!! In AFRICA! But then we really had no idea what to do so we consulted Tommy’s guidebook and decided to take a “tan taxi” as opposed to a “petite taxi,” which is blue with a yellow stripe down the side. The tan cabs are for longer rides, and we asked our driver to drop us right in the Grand Soco of Tangier, which is the town center. Exit two Americans, both with a rolley suitcase, clearly lost and confused. We had read about how “insistent,” shall we say, Moroccans can be when it comes to getting you to eat at their restaurant, “helping” you find where you’re going (and then demanding money for it), etc. etc. Clearly we were bombarded with requests and honestly it was a little scary. We didn’t speak Arabic or French, the two languages most everyone speaks, and we really didn’t know what our next move was. We needed to get in touch with our Couchsurfing host, so we looked for a place with Wifi. We chose a cafe like any other and ended up having an amazing, three-course late lunch, including olives (ew), bread (yay), soup, salad, beef and potato (!!!) tagine (the native Moroccan dish; it is usually a combination of meat and veggies and what makes it tagine is the dish it is cooked in), cous cous with chicken and chocolate crepes for dessert. Along with Moroccan tea, which is extremely sugary hot tea with tons of mint in it. I’m convinced that Kentucky should adopt this tea, what with our love of sweet tea and mint juleps. We got connected to the internet and Simo, our Couchsurfing host, told us to go to Banco Populare, which essentially means Bank of the People and he would meet us there before he had to leave for work.

We grabbed a petite taxi and the young driver spoke Spanish; Tommy told him our destination and he dropped us off right outside Banco Populare, but we couldn’t seem to orient ourselves based on the directions we were given. A man approached us, speaking pretty decent English, and asked if we needed help. We probably eyed him suspiciously because he said, “I don’t want money, just want to help.” So we told him where we needed to go and his first reaction was that we were a zillion miles from where we needed to be. At this point I was getting panicky because our Couchsurfing host needed to get to work and he was waiting for us. This gentleman, apparently a professor in Tangier, proceeded to give us extremely long-winded instructions on how to get to our destination, that there was more than one Banco Populare and we were at the wrong one, closely followed by how he cheated on his wife but he didn’t mean it and she should forgive him and you should always give people second chances. It was bizarre and frankly, I don’t care what language you’re speaking, you know that’s not an appropriate topic to bring up to complete strangers, especially when you know they’re in a hurry. Tommy (no offense dear) is terrible at saying goodbye/leaving so I cut Helpful Sir off and said we had to go. He still kept trying to talk but we got away and into another cab. By the time we finally conveyed to the driver where we needed to go and actually arrived, it was at least a half hour past our appointed meeting time. We stood on the curb with our suitcases outside the correct Banco Populare, fairly certain we were going to have to entertain ourselves for seven hours until Simo got off work at midnight and could let us into his apartment. Surely he had already gone to work. We had just agreed to try and find a cafe to spend the evening in when someone came up to Tommy and shook his hand. SIMO! He had waited for us!!! Like, what? So freaking nice. If you guys have never used Couchsurfing, you’re missing out. I’ve only ever had amazing hosts who go above and beyond to make your stay special. No one is going to be offering their place for free on Couchsurfing unless they’re a genuinely nice person, which Simo was. He literally dedicated his entire weekend to making sure we had a great trip. So he got us into his apartment, left for work (late, because of us), and Tommy and I settled in to watch the season premiere of Sherlock (SO GOOD OMG this show deserves its own blog post. Or show.). We had a relaxing night staying in and preparing for the adventures of tomorrow.

Day two in Tangier began with Tommy and I sleeping a bit later than we wanted to, and then not having a clue where Simo was. Tommy saw someone in the kitchen but it must have been one of his roommates, so we waited and waited around until we just decided we had to leave and try to explore on our own. Of course, after doubting our gracious host, we walk into the living room with a table set full of pastries, boiled eggs, coffee and bread fully prepared by Simo. A traditional, enormous, carb-y Moroccan breakfast. Yum. Traveling with Simo was like another universe since he could easily communicate with the cab drivers, not to mention he knew his way around and how much things should cost. A note about money: one dirham (Moroccan money) is equal to a little more than eight dollars. Things were incredibly inexpensive. So we took a cab to the Cave of Hercules, which was right on the African coastline. It was incredibly beautiful and only my photos will do even partial justice to the scene. Blue waters, natural rocks and CATS EVERYWHERE. Fish was being cooked in little restaurants all over the coast, and thus cats were waiting for fish to be dropped and/or given to them there. I certainly did not have my magical charm with them that I normally do with cats, but I still took about 100 pictures of them. We went inside the cave, which opens up to the water itself and is very beautiful. There were vendors selling trinkets all throughout the cave. We ate lunch at Simo’s go-to spot, complete with Moroccan tea, sardines, and fish-potato-carrot tagine. So tasty. And we maybe might have fed the cats a little bit–they ate entire fish bones!

We told Simo we wanted to ride camels while in Morocco, and he was casually just like, “Okay, this way.” And we literally walked down the road maybe half a mile to find a dozen camels chilling. We started petting on them and the camel man told us to choose our camels and we got on them. It was hilarious. Tommy and I were seriously cracking up, in the craziest way, just like LOL U GUYZ I’M ON A CAMEL OMG HAHAHAHAHA, I can’t really explain what came over us. Hysteria, perhaps. Our escort man led us around the edge of the beach and I have to say riding a camel was similar in feeling to riding a horse. Good thing we’re from Kentucky! It was so cool and the camels were so nice (no spitting) and they even smiled in some pictures for us. Definitely a bucket list item checked off. We walked along the windy beach and watched someone windsurf for a bit before heading back to Simo’s as he had to go to work. Tommy and I went out for dinner at a highly-spoken-of (via the interwebs, at least) Italian restaurant. It was very good, and I suppose worth all of the cab confusion, although Simo gave us an Arabic note with his address which we could just show the cab driver and he would know exactly where to take us (what did it say?!). By this point we felt more accustomed to how things worked in Morocco, but it was certainly a shock, as far as infrastructure of the city. Many dirt roads, cabbies driving like absolute maniacs (I put my hands over my eyes many times), and just an all-around general feeling of free-for-all. Many new apartments and buildings were under construction, but just as many were crumbling to the ground. Being in a third-world country was an eye opener, and I honestly noticed it more when we got back to Spain and everything seemed so neat and tidy.

Bright and early the next morning, Tommy and I took a cab to the train station to head to Fez, another major city in Morocco. We were a bit more prepared this time, having been in Morocco for a whole 36 hours, so when we got off the train we took a cab to the main area and found a cafe with a gorgeous terrace and a beautiful view of the area (and a little kitty). After enjoying the sunshine–the weather was warmer here than in Tangier–and the views, we entered the Medina, which is basically an open-air maze filled with shops on top of shops on top of food vendors. It even seemed like quite a few of the shops were closed up (or not rented out) and we were still overwhelmed. I got a real leather purse and backpack and Thom got a nice leather duffel bag, aka we smelled like cow butts carrying it around all day. But it was REAL leather, all three of those handmade bags, for like 100 bucks. Wild. There were also lots of kittahs about, searching for food and sleeping and being cute and stuff. I shared my delicious vendor lunch of chicken-something in a pita pocket with a furry little guy. We both liked it a lot. Once we wound our way through the Medina, we hiked (a very loose term, more like walking slightly uphill) to Borj Nord, where we had an absolutely incredible view of the entire city with golden evening light hitting the old fortress that is still there. It was lovely. Before sunset, we made it to Volubilis, a set of Roman ruins (I almost said “old Roman ruines,” as though that’s not implied) that were beautiful both on their own and in the glowing sun. I also tried to play with some sheep and goats but they weren’t very interested. I had some flashbacks of all of the baby lambs I tried to steal in the Lake District in spring of 2010… and/or Amsterdam (looking at you to understand this, Molly and Sarah).

We went back through the Medina, which I was quite hesitant to do. I felt more uncomfortable in Fez than Tangier in the whole being a woman/having light hair/having blue eyes/not covering those things up department and by the time the sun went down I was considering putting a scarf on my own head like all of the stylish Moroccan ladies (that is said in all honesty, they look great and have cool styles with their headdresses). But I was with Tommy and everything was totally fine and PLUS we got to eat a hand-fried-in-front-of-us dog nut (donut for all normal people) and it was delicious. We had accomplished what we wanted to in Fez–now we had to wait until 1:40 in the morning to catch the train back to Tangier, because that’s what you do when you are trying to cut corners and save money. You give up a night of sleep/sanity to not have to pay for a place to stay. So we went back to the main area once we got out of the Medina (and Tommy bought some cashmere scarves for supa cheap; also I don’t know how to spell cashmere, thanks for pointing out how classy I am, spellcheck) and talked to a friendly guy outside of a big building, which was called the Something Palace, that seemed to have many businesses in it. Kind of like a mall, you could say, except third-world style. We asked if he knew of anywhere with Wifi and he said we could go up to the highest terrace with the best view and have Wifi in his restaurant. He was very kind and spoke English, so we took his word and went upstairs. We had Moroccan tea until the cold got the better of me and we asked to move inside. It was only like 7:30 so we felt as though we should get some food if we were to stick around, even though we weren’t starving. We passed literally at least seven floors of dining areas on our way up, one of which I assumed we would go to, but instead our sweet little waitress showed us into this SECRET hole-in-the-wall (not a phrase in this case) room that was clearly part of this legit once-palace. The room was over-the-top decorated with chandeliers, squishy chairs and couches, table clothes, flowers, candles, a LIVE two-man Moroccan band, the whole bit. We sat down and Tommy said, “I don’t know what we just got ourselves into.” I was feeling a bit anxious about the whole deal at first because I didn’t want us to spend money on something we didn’t need, but Tommy talked me down and told me we were on vacation and it was his treat. We decided to order one of the smaller pre-fixe meals and good freaking thing because the “first course” came out as about 10 plates of various veggies in all sorts of shapes and forms. I can’t even begin to name them all. Tommy should probably write separate posts for all of the food…. Our main course was a tagine with little meatballs and it was sooo good. I love tagine and I’m going to have to find a Moroccan restaurant in NYC to satisfy my cravings. Our dessert was an enormous bowl of fruit, way more than one person could eat in any sitting (even Tommy) PLUS these sweet little donut nibblet things (Tommy is cringing at my descriptions I bet), so we took some of all of it with us for the train ride. The music was incredible and such an awesome background for a lovely, unexpected dinner.

We stretched our evening there to about three hours and burned our candle to a nub before taking a cab to the train station, where we discovered our train was delayed by 20 minutes, which doesn’t seem like long until it’s the middle of the night and you don’t know how you’re still awake. Luckily, a very adorable and playful kittah was there to entertain us for a good portion of the time. I am entertained by a cat’s mere presence, but this guy was chasing things around and jumping and running all over the place. (How many times can I mention cats in one blog post? Probs a lot when it’s over 4,000 words SORRY.) Unfortunately for us, after much confusion that I won’t bore you with, we found out that we had to switch trains at the second stop in order to get back to Tangier. So we sat down on the train around 2 AM, and I told Tommy we’d stay awake together so we wouldn’t miss the stop. He agreed and was asleep about 10 seconds later. I told him I would just stay awake until the first stop and then I would wake him up to switch, and I tried SO hard to keep my eyes open but I’m pretty sure I was extremely unsuccessful. Somehow we managed to get off at the right place and get on the right train (which I wasn’t fully convinced it was until we actually got back to Tangier), where we shared a carriage (Harry Potter style, minus chocolate frogs and magic) with two VERY LOUD Moroccan girls who had a LOT to talk about at 3 in the morning. Earbuds went in and I had one of the worst “nights of sleep” between being frozen and the compartment door sliding open and closed. But we made it back in time for a sunrise cab ride back to Simo’s where we took about a five-hour morning nap.

Simo got us out of bed around noon and we gathered our strength for a last day of exploration in Morocco. We went through the Medina of Tangier, which is similar to Fez’s but different in the sense that it was more open with more of a city feel in the streets. There were more commercial shops, certainly. We went to a museum that I can’t really describe because the closest thing to a language I could understand on the signs was French, so I mostly just looked at really old things and tried to appreciate them. The museum was set up in a palace courtyard type of place so that you went in and out of rooms all around the main area. Similar to the Roman Baths, actually. There was a gorgeous garden with a giant orange tree that I loved. I’m sure it is magnificent in the summertime when everything is in bloom. We went through “old” Tangier, where American writers like Jack Kerouac, Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, lived. It was a beautiful, colorful area. We checked out the coastline from another area, where Simo said if it had been a clearer day, we could have seen the coast of Spain. We also met a crazy dude who spoke great English and told us he saw Bob Marley perform in American in 1979. He was hilarious.

Simo took us toward the port where ships land in Tangier, then past that point where fisherman were loading their catches for the day and icing down their fishies. CATS EVERYWHERE HERE. He told us we were going to eat at one of his favorite spots, which turned out to basically be an alleyway between two buildings with an awning over it, mere feet from the water’s edge where all of the fishing boats were docked. Kitties roamed about, hid under tables, looked for scraps. There was no ordering involved, we just sat down and were each brought a giant plate of fried and boiled fish, including THE best shrimp I have ever had, covered in herbs and spices and so fresh. All of the fish had clearly been caught about half an hour earlier and it was all just so so good. I even picked the bones out in order to eat it. Thom doubts Bourdain could have found a spot so local 🙂 That night was Simo’s birthday celebration–turning 23 at midnight! So we went to another beach area with lots of discotecas, reserved a spot for later that night, and took a walk along the boardwalk of the beach. We went home and freshened up before leaving around 11:30 for the bday celebration at H20, da club. Simo’s friends were there and it was a little weird since we could hardly talk to any of them but it also gave Tommy and me a chance to be anti-social and hang out. We had group salad, pizza and cake before dancing the night away, quite literally. Until about 4 AM. Who knew Moroccans stayed up so late?! Being a Muslim country, they drink almost nothing, just go on pure energy and excitement. Although we were tired at first, it turned out to be a great night of dancing ridiculously to ridiculous techo music AND the night wasn’t over until I got the DJ to play Teach Me How to Dougie and, oh. I taught them.

On our last morning in Tangier, we woke up to a bunch of family members of Simo’s roommate in the apartment, bustling about, making breakfast and all sorts of domestic things. They were all incredibly friendly and seemed excited to practice their English and talk to Americans. We didn’t have long before we had to eat a few pastries and head to the airport. This time, our Ryan Air flight featured not one, but two screaming babies! Earbuds again 🙂 We landed in Madrid and wound our way back to Mitch’s for the night. Tommy was holding out on me to see the new Hobbit (Desolation of SMAUUUUG) so we went to dinner at a delicious Indian place Mitch recommended to us and then to the movies like a normal American couple or something. You all know my loyalties lie with HP but the movie was so good, in great part thanks to Sherlock and Watson.

The next morning we took off for Logroño, which is where my next blog post will begin. I commend you if you actually read this entire thing and you aren’t directly related to me. I am detail-oriented so thanks for sticking with me!

Spanish Misadventure, or Next Time You’re on an Overnight Bus, Glue Your Purse to Your Body

Rarely would it be appropriate for me to post about the very END of my (incredible) trip overseas before posting about the actual trip, but this is a special case. I thought I’d share all of the details in one place so A) I can reflect on how lucky I was even after being so terribly unlucky and B) be able to tell the story to all of my friends and fam in one fell swoop. (As I was typing that I got curious about that phrase, did some Googling and discovered that the first time it was in print was in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in 1605.) I guess C) is to share useless but interesting facts with my audience.

We’ll start with the beginning of the end, when I hugged Tommy one last time while unable to keep myself from crying, and stepped onto a bus at 1:30 AM. It was basically a Lifetime movie because I was on the very back row of the bus and turned around and waved goodbye to him until we drove out of sight. We had such a wonderful time together and it was so hard to deal with it ending. So I cried a little bit, slept a little bit, used my purse as a pillow, cried a little more, slept some more, then woke up absolutely freezing, covered my face in my scarf, more people got on the bus and I had to sit all the way up and endure the lonely five-hour bus ride from Logroño to Madrid.

As soon as the bus stopped in front of the airport, I was up and gathering my things, more than ready to be in a heated building. I put on my backpack, got my two suitcases from underneath the bus and made my way toward the check-in area in the airport–up two escalators and a short walk straight ahead. The American Airlines check-in wasn’t even open yet, so I parked it and pulled out the food that Tommy’s Spanish mom (the mom of a family he tutors for) had given me for the trip. I took one bite of a breakfast cookie when I realized. My purse wasn’t with me. In a matter of seconds, the gravity of this unfolded on me. My phone, my money, my credit cards…my passport. I couldn’t go home.

I bolted up and ran to the two young men opening the American Airlines check-in area. I asked if they spoke English and barged on even when I got an iffy response. I told them I  realized I left something on the bus and could I leave my luggage here? No, he told me while shaking his head emphatically. Of course not, I thought. You can’t just leave unattended luggage in an airport. So with my backpack (from Morocco, which I got for a very good deal), 50 pound suitcase and carry-on, I sprinted through the airport to try to find my bus again. I pressed 0 on the elevator. I got off. It was the wrong floor. Back on. Pressed 1. Ran out to the bus area. Nothing. It was gone. Back inside. To an unsuspecting barista in the airport: “Hablas Ingles?!” His head shook. “Information,” he said, pointing.

At this point I was in an absolute panic. Unable to catch my breath, no doubt assisted by lugging all of my belongings through the airport, but my anxiety was taking over. I tried to explain what happened to the lady at the information desk. It was 6:15 AM and she had no empathy for me. And/or her English was terrible. (It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.) “I cannot help you,” she said. “The bus ticket office opens at 9 AM.” My flight was at 10:35. There was no way I could wait. “What am I supposed to do until then?!” I asked her in what was probably a very high-pitched, dry-mouthed voice. Either she got annoyed with me or suddenly became a human, because she called someone and discovered for me there was only one overnight bus from Logroño to Madrid, so if I could just find it, maybe I could find my purse.

With this scrap of information I ran back to the bus parking area and jumped on a random airport bus. “Please,” I begged them. “Hablas Ingles?” The bus driver and the two passengers in the front shook their heads sadly. “My passport, I lost it,” I said. Maybe they would recognize those words? A young man stepped forward and said calmly in English, “Tell me what happened, I can translate.” I explained the situation, he relayed the information to the otherwise Spanish-speaking bus, and the bus driver made a call for me. The next bus from the company I rode with, Alsa, would be arriving at 6:40, he told me. The people on this bus gave me my first sense of calm since the awful realization I didn’t have my purse, containing my most important belongings. “The hope is there if you can talk to the bus driver,” the young man told me. “If not, you are in Madrid, there is an American Embassy and they will help you.” I thanked them in English and Spanish and waited for 6:40 bus to arrive.

The bus came on time and after difficult communication between the bus driver and me (with a third-party bell boy who spoke very fragile English), the bus driver motioned me to get on the bus with him. I had no one else to trust and no other options. I rode the bus for about 15 minutes to what turned out to be the final stop for all Alsa buses. My bus was here somewhere. The bus driver took me under his wing and even though we couldn’t speak at all, he spoke to other drivers, the ticket office, and the bus cleaners in an effort to find my “bolsita.” I got on the bus that was supposedly the one I rode that night/morning and had no luck finding it. I wanted to search every single bus in that parking garage (there were dozens) but I didn’t know how to communicate that or how sure they were that it was the right bus. Had someone stolen my purse while I slept? It wasn’t on my person during the bus ride. Did someone who cleaned the bus take it for the little cash that was in it? For the iPhone? Maybe the Chapstick really pushed it over the edge.

I had been certain that if I could just get back to the bus, my purse would be there. Now what was I supposed to do? I waited inside by the ticket office while the kind, initial bus driver talked to other employees and checked again for me. He came and returned several times, until one time he didn’t come back. I’m sure he had to leave on another trip, or probably he got off work and wanted to sleep and I can’t really blame him. But I had no one else on my side and I was clueless. One of the bus cleaners who I talked to when I first arrived (and I use the term “talked” very loosely) came and found me. He relayed to me that his best friend had cleaned my bus and there was no purse to be found. He offered his phone for me to call someone, but I couldn’t call Tommy or anyone else I knew because none of them had international phone plans. Then he (Roberto) had the idea that I should call his wife at like 7 AM and have her find Tommy on Facebook and message him for me. She spoke much better English than him, but it was still very difficult to get the details right in searching for Tommy’s name. After four or five phone calls and about 30 minutes, she found me first, then Tommy via my friends. She sent him a message telling him what happened (or so I assume, I haven’t actually read it) and included Roberto’s phone number.

I didn’t know what Tommy could do for me even if I could talk to him. I considered just getting a bus ticket back to Logroño and showing up at Tommy’s door. At least I would get to see him again! Then I realized I didn’t have money anyway. I decided I should probably get out of the way of other customers, so I dragged my suitcases to a bench across from the ticket office, and of course the entire handle broke off my bigger suitcase. I literally didn’t even think twice about it. It was like, “Oh sure, of course. That’s what happens next.” There was a couple sitting on the next bench down and they seemed young and hip, so I took a chance and asked in my poor Spanish if they had a phone with Internet that I could borrow. “Of course!” she replied. ENGLISH! What a relief. I told her what had happened and she and her husband helped me get on Facebook on their phone so I could message Tommy myself. I sent him about 20 messages in a row, hoping to wake him up via notifications. The couple was from Mexico but had lived in Pittsburgh for about 8 years and spoke perfect English. That was a gem to find in the midst of conversations I could understand almost nothing of. After not getting a reply from Tommy, I asked if they would watch my things while I went to the restroom since I had to pee when I first arrived at the airport and this was like three hours later. When I came back, the husband told me to take a cab to the American Embassy and handed me 30 euros. No joke. I tried to refused him which was ridiculous–I was literally stranded in a foreign city with no money. Of course they insisted and said one day when I had the opportunity, I could help someone else. Up to this point I had held it together, but the wife gave me a hug and told me it would all be okay and I broke down again. They had to catch their bus, but they added me on Facebook and even later checked in on me. So sweet.

Roberto, who had simply given me his phone, came back to check on my every 20 minutes or so for the next hour. He bought me a coffee and a weird Spanish pastry and I was sick with worry but I ate it because it was just so kind of him. We sat with his female coworker and when he told her what happened she couldn’t believe it. Then she offered her iPhone 5 to me and asked if I needed it. Um yes, you angel! So they continued cleaning buses and checking on me while I sat inside and tried to “Find My iPhone” on her phone, downloaded Viber to try to call Tommy, tried to contact him on What’s App and continued to send him Facebook messages. As soon as he woke up he messaged me back and, using the phone number Roberto’s wife had sent him, he called me on Roberto’s phone. I could hear Tommy and the family he tutors for making phone calls all over the place for me. They called American Airlines, the bus station, and most majestically, their friend Paco who lives in Madrid with his family. I was absolutely sobbing in the middle of this bus station on the phone with Tommy, all of my strength depleted, feeling scared and alone and worried I wouldn’t make it back to America anytime soon. In the midst of everything, he kept telling me to stay calm and that everything would be okay. It was the first time I had been without him my entire trip, and to deal with such a situation–all in Spanish–without him was terrifying. He let my dad know what was going on and Sloan immediately canceled my credit cards and Paige got in touch with Apple to see if they could find my iPhone even though it was on Airplane mode.

Tommy told me Paco would be coming to pick me up at the bus station. This might sound strange now, but at the time I didn’t question it. A friend of the family’s that Tommy tutors for–I trusted him immediately. Around 10 o’clock, Paco arrived at the bus station and, after confirming I was Katie, gave me a big hug and sat me down. “It’s going to be okay,” he said. “We will get you home.” I started crying again and, like a gentleman, he let me get it all out. We checked again with the Alsa bus people, and no purse had been found. So I had to erase that option from my mind. My purse was gone and I needed to start rebuilding. “You will come home with me and stay with my family and everything will be okay,” Paco told me. I tried to express my thanks to him and he told me he simply hoped if this ever happened to one of his daughters, someone would do the same for them. He lived in America for some years so his English was very good which was a huge comfort.

The American Embassy is closed on Sundays, so our first stop was the police station near his house on the outskirts of Madrid. After waiting for about an hour in a police station that doesn’t resemble any sort of depiction of a police station on American movies or television; no ringing phones, no paperwork being filed, no Hank Schraders (RIP) wandering around–granted, it was Sunday. But crime never sleeps or whatever. Anyway, we waited to be let into a small office with a lady who took our story (and by our I mean Paco’s because it was entirely in Spanish) and sent us home with a printed police report. Next stop was Paco’s home filled with his precious (also English-speaking!) wife, three lovely daughters, his sweet son and his super chill Schnauzer named Grey (“like Grey’s Anatomy!”). I had an amazing meal with a wild, child-filled lunch table rapidly conversing in Spanish and I was so exhausted I couldn’t even begin to grasp what they might have been talking about. I simply shoved rice noodles with veggies, baked fish and ICE CREAM (*hand clapping emoji*) in my mouth. I probably looked like a giant slob but I was so hungry and so tired. I excused myself and showered in an attempt to get rid of all the crying and negativity. I had my own room and bathroom in their basement and complete access to their computer to talk to my family and Tommy. I spent the afternoon and evening looking up and being sent information about what I needed for a temporary passport, finding flight information, and skyping with my family and Tommy. I went to bed at about 8 that night. Not ashamed. What a long day.

The next morning Paco awoke me (“Katty! Time to get up!”) and I had the best breakfast of toast and butter with strawberry jam. (Tommy says I’m Spanish at heart because all they eat is bread and meat.) The family gave me a coffee mug that said “Vamos España!” in an effort to encourage me and raise my spirits. Adorable. Paco took me to the American Embassy where, a mere 2.5 hours later, I walked out with my temporary passport (which Paco paid for because I had no money and he is a human angel). The employees were all kind and sympathetic to my struggle. There were other Americans there in the same situation too, which of course isn’t good news for anyone, but it made me feel like less of an idiot. Paco, who does life coaching as part of his job, and I had good conversation about how this was a “situation,” not a problem, and I couldn’t live in the past and I had to move forward. We referenced the coffee mug a lot and I loved it. I will definitely be sending them 1 or 700 coffee mugs in gratitude.

We made it back to his house and spent a frustrating 45 minutes on the phone with American Airlines (getting hung up on a total of three times) and finally booked a ticket back to the US at 4 PM that afternoon. It wasn’t cheap, folks, but my family was there to support me and I can’t thank them enough. Ironically, I needed to be at the airport in about 25 minutes and it takes about 30 minutes from Paco’s house, so after waiting around for two days, I had to rush around and get all packed up and out the door as quickly as possible. Paco rushed upstairs and after a few minutes, he returned with a baggy of food for my journey. (Like, what?! So nice. Not to mention he lent me 200 euros so I could get back to my apartment in NYC. Casual.) He FLEW to the airport in his manual car (like all cars are in Europe) and we rushed around to get me checked in and to security, but not before sending a video to Tommy (and the wonderful family who made it all possible) of me about to go find my gate and get on my plane back to America. He stayed and waved until I walked out of sight. I found my gate, ate a Paco sandwich (ham and mayo on white bread) and a Paco tangerine. I had a nine hour flight back to JFK, on which I watched The Place Beyond the Pines (terribly depressing, but a really good movie and also Ryan Gosling, everybody) and Enough Said (which was just a really sad movie with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and I really just wanted her to be Elaine). My cab driver from the airport was super friendly and I told him all about what happened and he was full of all sorts of hilarious advice. He told me Tommy shouldn’t ever tell me he likes it in Spain and that he should like me more. Lolz. I am almost back to a normal sleeping pattern, I have a new phone, and life is going to be alright.

Moral of the story: aside from getting mugged along with it (I just typed Muggled on accident, HP4LYFE), the worst thing that could happen to a traveler happened to me but I was shown SO much kindness from so many strangers, some with whom I could hardly communicate at all. I have been overwhelmed with support and help from my family, Tommy and some random kind souls in Spain. I am convinced that the family Tommy tutors for and Paco’s family are the two nicest households in Spain. I could have been some strange American stuck in Madrid but instead people took me in, hugged me, told me everything would be okay, and made sure everything WAS okay. What an experience.

Next time I will be gluing my purse to my body 🙂

university tour

Tommy and I had a wonderful adventure to the northeast last week. We dubbed it our “University Tour,” and sadly, visits to these universities were not for actual consideration, but just for fun. And fun it was!

We began our adventure Sunday evening when Tommy got off work. We left Lexington and drove all the way to Princeton, NJ in time to see the sun rise on Princeton’s breathtaking campus. I was absolutely blown away by the architecture we saw. It was so varied–from Roman styles to Middle Eastern archways to Celtic castle-like buildings. The dorms were more like castles, and one of the most interesting things we noticed was that hardly any students locked their bikes to anything. Some of the bikes had locks, yes, but they weren’t being used. A testament to the level of trust on that campus, I suppose. We grabbed coffee and bagles at a nearby coffee shop, and Tommy excitedly discovered the Frist Center, which is used for outside shots of the hospital where House, M.D. works on the television show. We saw Princeton Tiger statues that were donated by the class of EIGHTEEN 79. It blew my mind that this establishment excited so many years ago. That’s pretty old for American history.

Terhune Orchard was our next stop in Princeton, and it was a blast. There were farm cats EVERYWHERE (read: Katie in pure bliss) and adorable dogs named Apples & Peaches. We discovered a chicken coop-type thing (chickens are loud and annoying, who knew?), a pretty lake and sheep who actually seemed quite sad in the eyes. Or maybe just dumb. Poor guys. We went into the Farm Store (where the cats also hung out and I was totally okay with it) and Tommy bought a sundry of veggies that we later munched on, and I had a delicious, warm apple-cinnamon donut. Yum.

By the time we left Princeton, we were becoming delirious due to lack of sleep. We started our journey to Providence, RI, and I was hating every second of driving. Then, we unknowingly approached New York City and I was forced to become super alert because traffic was nuts. I will never ever have a vehicle if I live in NYC. We saw the city from across a body of water, but I could hardly enjoy my glances at it because there were so many cars in such a small space with a million signs pointing you in even more directions. I was so happy to make it through that area and stop to let Tommy drive.

Within minutes of being in Providence–still in the car–Tommy and I both fell in love with the city. It has a welcoming, homey, artsy feel. We parked and made a few stops at America’s FIRST Baptist Church (when I say first, that is what I mean) and at the best lookout point to see the city. There was a giant statue of Roger Williams (founder of the church) and so many things were named after him. The area is very artsy due to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) which seemed like a really neat place. There were students carrying around giant pieces of artwork everywhere. We had a delicious dinner at a tiny Ethiopian restaurant. It was both of our first experiences with that culture of food, and I can say one thing: you will get messy. Wickenden Pub was across the street, so we got a beer there (in their awesome mugs) and played a game of darts. I lost, which was not surprising, considering the last time I played darts was in my granny and granddad’s basement with my cousins, and the dart board was magnetic. Our final stop for our looong day was at our Couch Surfing residence with a really nice couple who live a few minutes from Providence. We had hot tea and good conversation with them for an hour or so before we called it quits. I don’t think I moved during my sleep that night I was so tired.

Tuesday morning began by have a delicious breakfast at a German cafe (I highly recommend the salmon), and exploring Brown and attending a class called “Erotic Desire in the Premodern Mediterranean.” Who knew that was even a thing. It was very similar to my history classes, where the class discussed primary documents there were to have read before class. The professor was Greek and his accent was fantastic. And since he knew the language, he was able to point out interesting facts about things like character names in the documents. We explored the surrounding area and grabbed burritos from a local college-y spot before our campus tour. We learned that the main entrance gates to Brown open only twice a year; once at the beginning of the year, when freshman walk through them, and at the end of the year when seniors exit through them. It is bad luck to pass through them more than once! The campus is situated in the downtown area, and is pretty compact. Some of the buildings are simply old homes that have been converted into things like the History Department. My favorite thing about Brown was their academic view. Undergraduates need 30 credits to graduate, and each course is worth one credit. Meaning you never have to take more than four courses (and sometimes less) in a semester. You are not required to take general education courses, and you simply choose a “concentration” (to us: major) after your sophomore year. Basically you take the classes you are most interested in. I am a huge fan of this because I find general education requirements to be bizarre and old fashioned. Laissez-faire education all the way.

Our final stop in Providence was at a Midas to get Tommy’s oil changed. The guys who worked there were super nice and super northern. Their accents kept us entertained while we waited. We arrived in Boston, MA that evening and got dinner at a Brazilian restaurant (my first experience). It was a delicious seafood medley with rice and fish sauce. It was so good. We had planned to check out nightlife in the area but I was overcome with a bout of hives. (I have been on five medicines for about a month now that have worked for the most part. They will flare up randomly and rarely, and this was one of those times. But thank God for the relief they have provided.) We spent the night at our Airbnb spot (where there was a cat!) and got out pretty early the next morning to head to Cambridge.

First stop: the Harvard Museum of Natural History and Peabody Museum. We could have spent much more time there than we did, what with all of the cool Native American artifacts, meteorites displayed, and glass flowers (which I’m still not sure were actually made out of glass–they looked far too real). We got a bit lost and ended up missing the first tour time, so we grabbed lunch at a tasty brickoven cafe in Harvard Square and caught the next tour. Luckily for us, it was pouring rain and the Harvard umbrella Tommy bought a couple of hours before the tour flipped inside out and broke halfway into the tour. So we were drenched by the end of it. Thus, Harvard didn’t get a fair shake because of the weather, but there were beautiful buildings and so much great history on campus. My favorite was the Three Lies Statue (check it out for yourself!). We found refuge in a tea shop, where we warmed up with hot drinks before leaving for our final stop of the tour, New Haven, CT.

I’ll go ahead and warn you that New Haven was our favorite stop, so excuse all of my praisings. We arrived at our Couch Surfing spot and met Jess, our host, who was super friendly. Even more friendly, however, was her fat, fluffy cat named Tubby. He would literally talk to you via meows and was so cuddly and friendly and fantastic. Even Tommy made buds with him (obviously I did too). Tommy made some pesto ravioli that he had brought from the co-op for us, and we caught the second half of the UK game online. We explored downtown, which was full of shops and restaurants and some place called “the study” that I REALLY wanted to go in. It was like a sophisticated coffee shop. We went to a bar called “BAR” (right?) and saw an awesome band from Brooklyn play. They had an edgy Beach Boys kind of style. In Lexington, there would definitely have been a cover charge for a show like that, but I suppose those kinds of things are more common in a place like New Haven. We ended the evening with a stop at the Cask Republic, a bar with a huge selection of beers on tap. The bartender was a climber and came to visit Red River Gorge often. He had also been to Lexington to visit the hospital, and I’m sure that’s a tale in itself. We had a great time chatting with him and testing weird beers we had never heard of until closing time.

Thursday morning we grabbed breakfast from a coffee shop/bookstore and visited the Yale Art Museum, where there was an exhibit on Edwardian lifestyle in England AND some Tudor paintings! Clearly it was worth the trip. We ventured “across the bridge” (what bridge, I do not know) to Little Italy and had the BEST PIZZA OF OUR LIVES. No competition. It was an authentic Italian place called Frank Pepe’s and if you ever go to New Haven and don’t go there we are no longer friends. It was absolutely perfect and delicious. We also had our first confrontation with an angry northerner, which was very exciting! He thought we were cutting line and was very anxious to be upset over something. Great timing. We got a few authentic Italian pastries from a shop next door–almond tarts are a GO, people–before meeting at the Undergraduate Admissions Office on Yale’s campus to begin our tour. It was by far the most formal tour, but also the best in my opinion. Our tour guide was only a freshman, but he was very energetic and knowledgable (he went to Yale, so duh).

Campus was gorgeous and reminded me of WKU in some ways. One of the coolest parts was what our tour guide described as a system of “houses like at Hogwarts.” There were twelve massive communities, each with a different name, where students lived and studied in their personal libraries and suites. As our guide described how he couldn’t imagine living in a “cell-sized” dorm room, Tommy and I looked at each other and said “we can” with the saddest feelings. Not that either of us would change where we went to college, but if I were 17 and touring schools, Yale would be a dream. All of the Ivy leagues have similar views on education and naturally offer interesting, unique courses. Our favorite spot was the Beinecke Rare Manuscript Library. The walls were made of marble thick enough to protect the books from harmful UV rays, but thin enough to let in a beautiful amber glow. The center of the building was made up of a glass box, if you will, filled with floors and floors of shelves and shelves of old books. It was one of the most gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. I could have stared all day. And Yale students get to waltz in at any time and use those books as resources. I won’t lie, I had my jelly pants on.

We left Yale wishing we could have stayed for another week (of four years of undergrad) and started our journey to Lexington. It was long and not fun, but we finally made it back in the middle of the night. It took a few days for our sleep schedules to work out again, but it was so worth it. What an adventure! Check out my pictures from the trip here and plan your own trip because it is so worth it.

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blog fail

You guys. I wrote my entire blog and it got deleted. I am so sorry, but I just can’t write it again. Here are the highlights:

• I love Lexington. So much fun exploring restaurants, shops, bars, and the area in general. I’ve gotten to spend lots of time with Becca and be surrounded by friends!
• I’m working at the undergraduate admissions office on UK’s campus. It’s a temporary job, but it pays well until I find something I like more. (And Tommy and I were able to go to the UK game against Tennessee when one of my coworkers was giving up his tickets!)
• Last week, I found out I didn’t get a Fulbright. So it’s onto the next! Applying to grad schools all over the US. We’ll see where I end up (hopefully somewhere)!
• Tommy is wonderful and we have so enjoyed being able to spend time together. We had a great New Year’s Eve with dinner at the Village Idiot downtown and a party at a friend’s house afterward. He has also taken good care of me because…
• I have been plagued with hives for about six weeks now. After a dermatologist visit and biopsy, we have determined they are indeed hives. After a trip to the ER, I have been on steroids for about three weeks now, which mostly suppresses them. I got blood work done last week to see if anything could be found there, so please keep your fingers crossed we can find out what is causing these things.
• My next blog will be much more detailed, and come much sooner. Writing isn’t easy, you know…that’s why I have to go to grad school for it! : )

ALSO, if you love cats or cute things or Art Feeds or me, you will watch this video and see how you can help Moe grant his birthday wish! http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=231908

christmas creations

Hello from the heart of the Big Blue Nation, Lexington, Ky.! I have settled in nicely in my new apartment and already have plenty of adventures to share. But before I bore you all with the journey that was me trying to body slam my apartment door open, to getting a biopsy today (don’t worry–as far as I know, I’m going to live to write my next blog post), I wanted to share some Christmas creations.

As you all know, I spent my fall “semester” (although I’m not sure I’m allowed to use that term anymore) doing a fantastic internship with Art Feeds. It was, however, unpaid, so I was living off my summer savings and anything anyone was willing to give me, whether it was a penny from the parking lot or my granny’s generous donations. I got crafty with my gifts this year in order to save some money, and here’s how!

Wine Glasses & Tea Cups

I found wine glasses and mugs at Joplin’s DAV for less than a buck each, washed them up and used some Martha Stewart Glitter and masking tape to paint these bad boys up. It took a few coats and a bit of patience in between, but they turned out well. I added a bottle of wine to each set of glasses, and a combination of tea bags with the mugs, and wah-lah! Happy little gift sets.

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Art You Eat Off

For those of you who know Tommy, you know how much he cares about the human body, what makes it tick, and cooking the most deliciously nutritious meals. I decided to throw my artistic spin on his interests and draw a “pretty” heart (anatomically correct, thanks to Google), on a ceramic plate. I used special paint pens from Michael’s that require a 30 minute stint in the oven before they’re ready to be used like any dishes you already own. I was excited with the outcome! And I’m looking forward to eating more of Proper Cookn’s meals from this guy. Check out Tommy’s awesome recipes here!

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Quotes

For several of my gifts, I pulled quotes that I felt fit each person individually and got artsy with it. All I needed was canvas, a $1 book from the DAV, ModPodge, paint, Sharpies, and a few decorative flowers from Michael’s scrapbook section. I ModPodged pages from an old book, and added the quote after it finished drying. This is one I did for my friend Nikki for her birthday; I made three others for Christmas gifts!

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Movie Tickets

My dad and I spent countless Saturday evenings watching Disney movies when I was a “little shaver,” as he likes to say, and one of our favorites was Monsters, Inc. When it was released in theaters this Christmas season, I knew it would be a great gift for the two of us–to spend time together in a meaningful way. So this was his Christmas gift: my voucher for two tickets to see one of our favorites!

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What up, wallet?

This doesn’t require any creative skill, just a little creative thinking! I bought a wallet for my ever-neutral-handbagged friend Danielle, and filled it up with a couple of gift cards she can make use of on her way to her new big girl job (read: coffee). It adds a bit of personal touch!

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Hanging Initials

This turned out to be one of my favorite projects ever. I created these for Tommy’s family, who has been so generous to me, to have memories all in one place in their homes. My supplies included letters from Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, wallet-sized photos (carefully selected thanks to Facebook creeping) I printed at Wal-Mart, ModPodge and a few drawn swirlies.

First, I painted the letters, then trimmed and laid out the photos on the letters to make sure everything important was included.

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Next, I ModPodged the pictures down, front and back. ModPodge is awesome because it dries clear!

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I then used regular scissors to cut off any bits of photo that were hanging over the edges of the letters, and added a bit of decoration with Sharpies.

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Final products! For Billy (Tommy’s brother) and Jess’ daughter, Bryn:

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For Laura (Tommy’s sister) and her husband Nick:

IMG_3422For Tommy’s parents, Tom and Donna:

IMG_3423Baby Accessories

This one didn’t require any artistic ability, but I had to share! I’m so excited to be an aunt in less than three months now. I got these hair/head accessories for my soon-to-be-niece, Whitlee (obviously, I will be introducing her to cats very early on):

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With a little time and dedication I was able to create gifts I knew would be special to the recipients. One of my favorite things in the world is gift giving–I hope you’re inspired! More to come about my actual life and all of that business . . . soon : )

(partially) home for the holidays

Four months have flown by since I started this blog, and now it’s onto the next chapter!

My last few days in Joplin were as perfect as I could have asked for. Saying goodbye to my coworkers was definitely the hardest part, but I’m excited to see how our friendships develop long distance. (So far, they have included a lot of self-taken pictures of ugly faces, and it has been great.) I’ve already had a dream about one of my kindergarteners (who was telling me he was off to get his license–as a five-year-old) so I’m missing them too. The tragedy in Connecticut broke my heart like everyone else who heard about it. Then I thought, What if someone had come into my classroom with a gun? I couldn’t even fathom taking the lives of those innocent little children who are so full of life and creativity. I hope the families who are suffering loss can feel this country putting their arms around them.

As soon as I left Missouri and returned to Paducah, I took off to Lexington and Tommy and I went down to Gatlinburg, TN and met up with my family for the weekend. While the trip was somewhat stressful (our condo was preeeetty small), we still had fun doing all of the Gatlinburg things, including glow-in-the-dark putt-putt, visitng Ober and going down the Alpine Slide. I went there so many times in middle and high school that I don’t think I ever realized how strange of a place it is. Like Tommy said, someone is probably doing a social experiment and taking notes on our behavior. I wouldn’t be surprised.

During the traditional on-the-way-home Cracker Barrel meal, Tommy and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Asheville, NC and visit Tommy’s good friend Marian. We stopped there on our way to Hilton Head over the summer, but only for a couple of hours. We really got to explore this time, and I LOVED Asheville! It’s a wonderful combination of beautiful mountains, unique shops, and forward-thinking restaurants. Tommy loved all of the healthy food options. Our first night, we went to an Irish pub with live Irish music and I got shepherd’s pie–to die for. Probably as good as what I had in England! We checked out the Wedge, a neat brewery in what is known as Beer City USA. Tommy and I got to explore the shops downtown, get some delicious coffee, and have dinner at Honey Tupelo with Marian–the biscuits and honey were an A+. I also found my DREAM home that was completely abandoned and begging me to be a millionaire and restore it. It was all stone, very castle-like, and on the 17th hole of a golf course. It was gorgeous. Tuesday night we checked out some bluegrass music at the Bywater and watched Marian’s crazy pup, Luna, run all over the place. Great entertainment. I can’t wait for my next Asheville visit!

I came home for a few short days before hitting the road again to Bowling Green to see my longtime roommate from college, Danielle, graduate from nursing school. We had a great night of food, spirits and celebration before her graduation ceremony the next day. I was so proud to see her and (leetle) Lydia shake Dr. Ransdell’s hand! Next stop was Frankfort for the Manning Family Christmas Extravaganza, which was full of delicious food, an adorable little girl named Bryn, and so much laughter and fun. We stayed at Tommy’s parents’ Saturday evening through Sunday evening, and I had such a wonderful time with his family. They were all so generous to me, not only in words, but in their sweet gifts. I was overwhelmed with how kind everyone was to me. Of course I am repaying them all next time I see them with a craft I’m in the middle of cooking up! Gift giving is one of my favorite things in the world, so I’m excited for these!

Now I’m back in Paducah until next Thursday, when I’m starting a new adventure by moving to Lexington, Ky. I have several job prospects and my fingers are crossed for a good outcome very soon. It’s time for this girl to make and save some money, explore a new city, be surrounded by her friends, and work on her first real novel. That’s right–and I’m putting it in writing so you all can hold me accountable! I plan to have my first draft finished no later than the beginning of summer. I’m excited for the next chapter in my life, and all of the chapters I’ll be putting on paper about a fictional life very soon. Happy Christmas to you all!

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wrapping up

Less than three days left in Joplin. What?!

I know that at times I’ve felt like I’m never going to be near my friends and family again but now that I can count the hours I have left here, it seems like it all went by so quickly.

We’ve been busy busy busy with voting events for Art Feeds this week, and we still need your help! Winning $1 million would be a game changer for Art Feeds and help us reach 30,000 children, as well as expand to other communities in the US. Share our voting page with your grandmas, coworkers, and kitties: http://www.artfeeds.org/aga

Last week we had our last classroom lesson: Free to Create Day, where each student got their own set of water colors and could paint with those, free draw, or do finger weaving like we did a couple of weeks ago to create Storytelling Tents. (That lesson was crazy and fun too–the kids told their own stories and used props to create tales with the help of volunteers from Joplin Little Theater!) My favorite moment last week was when I was talking to whom I call The Lovely Boy, and you know who I’m talking about if you read my Art Feeds blog entitled “Lovely.” He is a curly-headed kindergartener who can hardly stop talking. He was using his water colors to create a rainbow, and as he was putting in the orange stripe, he said, “Look at this ooorange. Isn’t it beautiful?” A few minutes later as I walked around the classroom, he said to me, “Look at my aaaart project. Don’t you wanna make one of these babies?” I seriously cracked up and asked him to repeat himself because I thought I misheard him–but no. That’s what he said. Another special moment was when one of the kiddos was using water colors for the first time in his life, and as he painted he said, “Hey…this kinda feels like chocolate.” I don’t know what prompted him to think that, but I love the creativity that comes from their minds!

Brooke and I spent Wednesday evening at a church in town to rally votes, and a ton of the kids recognized us as “Miss Brooke!”, “Miss Katie!”, and “Art Feeds Lady!” It was a joy to see how excited they were to see us and give us bear hugs. Brooke and I also spent a few hours last week working on a window display at Instant Karma, a Joplin-original restaurant downtown. I got to write and doodle all over their chalkboard walls, which was a blast. I loved decorating it! Saturday night Meg, Brooke, Marissa, Rachel and I had dinner at the Magic Noodle, which was of course delicious. Then I went with the three girls to Target for dessert and we decided on red velvet pancakes–delicious. We hung out at Meg’s all night and had a blast. I think I laughed about 86% of the time.

As interns, we were asked to write a letter to future interns. I thought I would include mine because it sums up my feelings pretty well:

Dear Future Intern,

 I could tell you that I’m leaving my internship at Art Feeds with more patience, a bigger heart full of all the kids I’ve worked with, new knowledge about how a non-profit functions, and send you on your way. Although all of these things are true, it wouldn’t be right for me to imply this happened overnight or with ease. There was hard work involved.

But let me not underplay the massive amount of fun you are about to have this semester. You will hear the craziest things come out of kids’ mouths (example: “Look at this rainbow! Don’t you wanna make one of these babies?”); learn about art supplies you never knew existed (glue dots are real); and get to know some wonderful people who have amazing hearts for the work they do. You also may or may not do cartwheels down the side of a major roadway, fill up 200 balloons with helium in the back of a Dollar General, or pester people inside McAlister’s for grant votes in exchange for a free cookie. There is a good chance I have done all of these unforgettable things.

This semester also tested my patience. A class of 40 kids with 38 of them vying for your attention can be overwhelming. Realizing you don’t have enough paintbrushes in the classroom can cause you to panic. Helping people vote for Art Feeds to win lots of money for a week can be tiring. Spray painting hundreds of water bottles can make you a little dizzy.

But for as many moments that you feel frustrated or tired, there will be 100 times the moments of happiness and success during your time at Art Feeds. Hearing that little boy finally tell you what he’s painting after staying silent for weeks; seeing the smile of satisfaction when a child feels proud of her work; spotting kiddos around Joplin and hearing your name (or maybe just “Art Feeds Lady”) called with excitement. Every ounce of energy you put into working with the kids will be given back to you in some form or another. And even if you don’t see a child transform in the way you hoped, know that you are still impacting him or her with your work. They notice the love and attention you give them, even if they can’t show it.

I can’t say enough about the ladies of Art Feeds. Their naivety led them to start something wonderful, their generosity has kept it alive, and their compassion truly embodies this program. Learn all you can from them, watch lots of YouTube videos with them, and eat tons of sweets with them (trust me, this will happen). Cherish your time in Joplin because you will probably cry when you realize you have to say goodbye the staff and your kiddos.

With an open heart and an open mind, you will undoubtedly love your time at Art Feeds. You are lucky to have ended up in such a wonderful place. Get messy and have fun!

Love,
Katie

Also, here is a link to another blog I wrote for Art Feeds, an Educator Spotlight: http://artfeeds.org/2012/educator-spotlight-lauren-encourages-through-art-and-beyond/

Thank you all for your support along this journey and remember to vote! : )

Katie

big news!

A special update coming from Art Feeds headquarters in Joplin, MO…

Art Feeds is up for a grant from the American Giving Awards for up to $1 MILLION! What a game changer that would be for us. YOU can help us get there by voting on Facebook; you have from Nov. 27 to Dec. 4. I will be posting plenty of links to show you how to vote during that time, and I hope you will share with anyone and everyone–every vote can make a difference. Check out the video package put together by the American Giving Awards, and look for me in the background. I make a tiny appearance : )