BB Monthly Recap: January and February 2017

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve written a monthly recap. For posterity’s sake, I’ve decided to make this a January and February recap. It just doesn’t feel right to leave out the first month of the new year.

Things have been a little quiet on the blog as of late, but I’m vowing to change that in March. I’m challenging myself to post every Wednesday. Hold me to it!

Destinations Visited

  • St. Joseph, Michigan
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Cuenca, Spain
  • Cercedilla, Spain
In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
Cuenca was my first trip of 2017!

Highlights

Celebrating my birthday in Michigan. As noted in my December recap, I spent the holidays at my parents’ house in Michigan. I was still there for my birthday, which is January 3. I turned 25 years old! For the blog, I considered doing one of those “25 things I’ve learned in 25 years” posts, but to be honest, those are kind of silly. Like, way silly. I’m 25, not 75, so I’m not going to pretend like I know anything about anything. I digress. It was so nice to ring in a quarter century (ew, gross) surrounded with people I love.

My weekend getaway to Cuenca. Finally finally finally, I recapped a trip! In January, I went to Cuenca for the weekend. You can read about my time there here.

Teaching English online. I’m declaring 2017 the year of the side hustle. I’m trying to make a buck, folks! In preparation for next year (more on that later) and to supplement lots of travel this year (more on that later), I’ve picked up a second job. In addition to teaching as an auxiliar de conversación, I’m also teaching English online to Chinese kids. I applied to VIPKID in December and started giving classes earlier this month. So far, so good! I plan on writing more about my experience with the company sometime soon.

My parents coming to Madrid. Recently, I read The Last Girls by Lee Smith. Overall, it was meh. But, one line stuck with me. One of the characters is talking about her children and says, “If our children actually knew how much we love them, they’d simply be immobilized by the force of it.” Since moving to Madrid, I’ve often thought about my parents’ love for me. It can’t be easy to have your child living across an ocean. If they ever let on to how hard it is and asked me to move home, I wouldn’t fault them. I might even do it. However, they never have. Their support for my life abroad has been unconditional. Their visit in mid-February, during which much wine was drunk and many laughs were had, left me with an incredibly grateful heart.

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
It was chilly, but I still enjoyed walking around Cuenca all weekend!

Challenges

Weather. I hate to be one of those people that’s like “omg the weather totally affects my mood,” but omg the weather totally affects my mood. The weather in Madrid was kind of shitty for a few weeks, and it was making me kind of shitty. I’ve become so accustomed to the sunshine here that I thought I was going to lose my mind after just a couple cloudy/rainy weeks. Thankfully, the sun is back. Actually, it seems like it might already be spring in Madrid.

Next year. Would you absolutely hate me if I said I love a challenge? Well, I do. In my book, “problems” like what to do and where to go next year are good ones to have. I’ve started making decisions and preparations regarding life after Spain, and while it’s challenging, it’s also extremely exciting. I couldn’t be more excited for the future!

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
One of several travel quotes I’ve been reflecting on as I make decisions for the future. Image Credit: Joseph Jayanth

What I Read, Watched and Heard

Read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It was my book club’s January pick, and when I told my dad I had to read it, he bought me a copy for Christmas. I hadn’t heard anything about it, but apparently, it was one of the best books of 2016. After reading it, I can see why. It was like nothing I’d ever read before. Emotional. Powerful. If you like good books, read this one.

Watched: Vikings (every damn episode).  I hardcore binged on this show, and I’m not ashamed in the least. The first three seasons are on Netflix, and the fourth season finished airing in February. For all my fellow Game of Thrones fans getting the between season shakes, you should check out Vikings. 

Heard: “East Coast Hiding” by Dounia. I’ve had this song on repeat since January. Cool vibes. I’m obsessed. Listen for yourself here.

In my Januray and February recap, I detail the highlights and challenges of life abroad!
In January, my book club met to discuss Homegoing.

Coming Up in March 2017

March looks to be a busy month. This weekend, I have friends coming to visit, and they’ll be here until next Saturday. I can’t wait to show them around Madrid! On March 18, I’m flying to Tenerife for four days–also with friends. I’ve wanted to visit the Canary Islands for quite awhile. I’m excited for some tropical weather and to see Spain’s highest peak: Mt. Teide. If you’ve been to Tenerife, please pass along your recommendations!

 

What have you got coming up in March? Any travel plans?

Weekend Escape: What to Do in Cuenca

Incredible views, delicious food and, of course, hanging houses: Cuenca proved an ideal weekend getaway from Madrid. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time now, and I’m so glad I finally got around to it! If you need a break from the city, here are my recommendations for what to do in Cuenca.

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!

Image Credit: Jocey Kinghorn (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

How to get to Cuenca

My first trip of 2017 almost got off to a bad start. I nearly missed the bus! My morning was a little too tranquila, and I left the house 15 minutes later than I had planned. Fortunately, I made it just in time. In fact, I wasn’t even the last passenger to board the bus. That’s Spain for you!

Details: The bus leaves from Madrid’s Estación Sur and takes approximately two and a half hours. The price of a roundtrip ticket is 27,60 euros. For a faster but more costly option, you can take the high-speed AVE train from Madrid’s Atocha station. The journey takes 55 minutes and costs between 25 and 28 euros each way. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
The view from the Puente de San Pablo is incredible!

Where to stay in Cuenca

I left Madrid at noon and arrived in Cuenca around 2:30 p.m. From the bus station, it took me a little less than 15 minutes to walk to Hostal Canovas (Calle Fray Luis de León, 38). The woman working reception was very helpful and provided me with a map of the city.

Hostal Canovas is located very close to the old city center, and since Cuenca is small, you can walk everywhere. The double room with a private bathroom cost 50 euros for one night. The room was very clean and quiet. Overall, I thought Hostal Canovas was a great value. My only complaint is how hot the room was at night. If you’re visiting in winter, bring lightweight pajamas!

Cuenca as a day trip: You can definitely do Cuenca as a day trip from Madrid, especially if you take the high-speed AVE train. However, if you have some extra time, you should consider spending the night. This medieval city only gets more beautiful after the sun goes down. 

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I loved Cuenca’s colorful Plaza Mayor!

Where to eat in Cuenca

Saturday afternoon, I took advantage of the menú del día at Posada San Julián (Calle Torres, 11) and ate garbanzos with callos (tripe) and pork ribs for 11 euros. The ribs were super fatty, but I was starving and didn’t really care.

Saturday night, I made reservations for dinner at El Secreto (Calle Alfonso VIII, 81). I chose El Secreto from Trip Advisor’s list of top ten restaurants in Cuenca. The food was delicious (yum yum chuletillas de cordero), but as much as it pains me to say this, the service was terrible. Probably the worst I’ve had in Spain to date, which is saying a lot.

Sunday morning, I had breakfast at a cute cafe called La Blondie. I couldn’t find an address for it online, but it’s just around the corner for Hostal Canovas. My glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was garnished with a slice of orange. Way to go the extra mile, random cafe!

If you don’t want to wait: On Saturday and Sunday, restaurants are packed with families enjoying long leisurely meals. If at all possible, I suggest calling ahead and making a reservation. Some restaurants even allow you to do so online.     

Where to drink in Cuenca

After watching the sunset, I checked out a few bars around Plaza Mayor, including Las Huellas de los Elefantes (Calle Severo Cataline, 11). If you’re looking for a reasonably priced cocktail in Cuenca, check this place out!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
I preferred Cuenca’s street art over its Museum of Abstract Art.

What to do in Cuenca

When you visit Cuenca, you should pack some good walking shoes because exploring this city means climbing lots of hills. My favorite climb was up to the Puente de San Pablo. The view was incredible!

If you’re researching what to do in Cuenca, I’m sure you already know about Las Casas Colgantes (the Hanging Houses). The best place to see the houses, which are built right into the cliff, is the Puente de San Pablo. If you want to see inside one of the houses, visit the Museum of Abstract Art. Admission is free!

Here are some great tips and recommendations for what to do in Cuenca!
It was chilly, but I still enjoyed walking around Cuenca all weekend!

 

Have you ever visited Cuenca, Spain? What do you look for in a weekend getaway? Let me know in the comments below! 

From Michigan to Mongolia: Joining the Peace Corps

So, I know I’ve already talked a bit about my for travel resolutions for 2017, but another thing I hope to do more of in the new year is connecting with other travelers. I want to bring more voices to the Backpacking Brunette through guest posts!

It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce this blog’s first ever guest poster: Lindsey. Three years ago (holy shit has it really been that long?!), I met Lindsey when we were both working at our university’s student newspaper.

Recently, Lindsey accepted a position as a Peace Corps volunteer. How inspiring is that?! After studying abroad in the Netherlands, she decided to pursue a life of travel and adventure. I’m so excited to have her as today’s guest writer. For more from Lindsey, check out her blog.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.

Image Credit: Lindsey Rose (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)

A year ago today, I was packing two huge suitcases for a five-month study abroad trip to the Netherlands, which eventually turned into a seven-month trip around Europe.

I stuffed my brand new, matching suitcases to the very top with a bunch of crap I would eventually leave behind, and I spent my last week in the United States buying a bunch of “travel necessities” T.J. Maxx and Pinterest convinced me I needed. To say I overpacked would be an understatement.

But, I was a naive American who, at the time, did not realize that traveling was not about the brand new sweaters and luggage tags I had purchased. It was about the people I was about to meet and the new experiences I was about to embark on.

I still remember arriving at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport on January 13. I was terrified and excited. I  regretted not buying a Dutch dictionary.

As I said before, I left for the Netherlands for a “study abroad” trip, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t study much at all. Instead, I spent my time doing a workaway, traveling to nearby countries and enjoying my time in my new city with all of my new friends.

It was the best five months of my life.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey embracing the local fashions! Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

What would you do if you could not fail?

Sometime in April, about halfway through my seven-month trip, I attended a TED Talk type of event in Amsterdam called “How to travel the world without any money”. I didn’t think much of the even leading up to it, but after the presenter, Tomislav Perko, began sharing his story of how he travels the world—with you guessed it: almost no money!—I began to realize I was meant to be there.

One of the questions Tomislav asked the audience during his presentation was: “What would you do if you could not fail?”

I realized I had never been asked that before. Or perhaps I had and just never taken in seriously. Regardless, even days after the event, the question still stuck with me. I began to think about what I could do if I knew I could not fail and the options seemed endless.

I could drop out of school and do odd jobs to afford traveling for the rest of my life. I could go to school to become a pilot so I could see the world from above. I could sell all of my belongings and travel until I go completely broke.

And then I realized this: all of my hypothetical options involved traveling.

Instead of doing any of those things, I skipped my plane ride home at te end of my semester abroad. I purchased a one-way ticket to Malta for $25.

It was the most liberating thing I had ever done, and I spent the following seven weeks living on my friend’s couch on the most beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. I spent my summer days sipping Cisk on a rocky beach and my summer nights eating traditional Italian pizza with my friends.

The Backpacking Brunette welcomes Lindsey from Letters from Lindsey Rose. In the blog's first ever guest post, Lindsey wrote about her decision to join the Peace Corps.
Lindsey (far right) with friends in Malta. Image Credit: Lindsey Rose

Joining the Peace Corps

Of course, paradise had to come to an end. I needed to return to Michigan to finish out my degree. At the beginning of August, I flew home and began planning my future.

Even while I was catching up with family and friends, Tomislav’s question kept popping up in my mind.

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

I asked myself this question a million time and, eventually, had my answer: the Peace Corps.

I knew the Peace Corps is very competitive and not just an excuse to travel the world. It’s the real deal.

You commit to serving 27 months in a country you’ve possibly never heard of, and along the way, you are faced with situations that will challenge you. You will meet people who will change you. You will fully immerse yourself in a completely different culture from your own.

The more research I did the more I knew it was the perfect option for me.

I have about one year’s worth of experience tutoring international students at my university in the English language, so I looked into every single English teaching position available on the Peace Corps website. I read all of the position descriptions in great detail, and I found an open Secondary Education English teaching position in Mongolia.

After the first paragraph, I knew I was going there. I felt like it was meant to be.  It was the same feeling I had when I was sitting in the audience in Amsterdam listening to Tomislav Perko share his story.

I knew very little about Mongolia: the country, the culture or the people. The only real information I had ever learned about Mongolia was what I read on the Peace Corps website.

After finding the opening, I began researching information on Mongolia. In early September, I applied for the position.

After the most awkward Skype interview of my life and several weeks of waiting, I found out I got the job! Reading the congratulatory email from the Peace Corps brought tears of joys to my eyes. For the rest of my life, I’ll look back on that day and smile.

Fast forward to now, I am currently wondering how I will fit 27 months of stuff into two suitcases.

Feeling both terrified and excited, I recently purchased a Mongolian dictionary on Amazon.

Lindsey is a recent graduate from Ferris State University and a future Peace Corps Volunteer. Lindsey is the blogger behind lettersfromlindseyrose.com, where she writes about her experiences traveling on a tight budget, working in a hostel, and all of the high’s and low’s that go along with solo travel. When Lindsey isn’t writing for her blog, she is binge watching Stranger Things on Netflix or trying new recipes off of Pinterest.

If you have a story to share and would like to contribute a guest post to Backpacking Brunette, leave a comment below or contact me via email at ealexiswittman (at) gmail.com.