Hermanas in Suiza – Sisters in Switzerland

Recently I coordinated a four-day trip to visit one of my dearest friends, Morgan in Suiza. Morgan and I met in 2011 on Rose Court and have been very close ever since. We even traveled to Paris together in the summer of 2013. She is now in her second year of a four-year program at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), a renowned international hotel management program in Lausanne, Switzerland. The last time we saw each othDSCN0806er was more than one year ago so when we found out I’d be in Europe this semester, seeing each other was a must.

I landed in Geneva and took the train to Lausanne. It was my first time traveling alone this semester and not speaking a lick of French, I was a tad nervous about navigating. From the Lausanne train station I cabbed to EHL. I told the cabbie the name of the school and showed him the address and then we proceeded to go through an odd exchange of him asking “Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne?” “Oui,” I responded. “Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne?” “Oui!” This went on about three times. Confused and unsure if I was headed to the right place, I crossed my fingers and anxiously awaited my reunion with Momo.

DSCN0799My phone didn’t work in Switzerland so I had no easy way to contact Morgan, though I did use Wi-Fi at the train station to let her know when I was hopped in the cab and just hoped for the best. I had a hunch that finding her wouldn’t be an issue despite being phone-less since sometimes we have the kind of telepathy twins have. I was right. Just as I was getting my luggage out of the trunk, she was walking out of the school doors to greet me. We then squealed and hugged in the sweetest reunion Switzerland has ever seen.

Morgan was actually in class when I arrived, so I tiptoed behind her to the back of the classroom and joined her till class ended. While she learned advanced Excel functions, I worked on my own political science paper. When class let out, she showed me around her incredible school. It’s a very international place and she’s one of DSCN0797only a handful of Americans. All students have to wear formal business attire every day! We took advantage of the gourmet options EHL offers and dined on a waffle, Oreo milkshake and a welcome glass of wine. Morgan introduced me to her friends, classmates and her boyfriend, Georg.

We then went to her charming apartment where I met her roommates. That evening we made pasta for dinner and spent the rest of the night giggling, cuddling and catching up. But of course it was not ordinary pasta, Morgan roasted some peppers and garlic and sprinkled freshly grated Parmesan atop the noodles. Something she “just whipped up…”. Lucky me!

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Morgan’s plans for Day Two included a culinary tour of Lausanne. We had a gourmet lunch at her school’s fine dining restaurant, BDS. It consisted of several courses of incredibly tiny portions, but was still so filling. I don’t know if I’ve ever dined in such a posh environment. Perhaps the Swiss are psychic because when we headed to the exit, two staffers were waiting with our coats ready to help bundle us up. How they knew we were ready to leave and how they knew those were our coats, I’ll never know.

From BDS we headed to downtown Lausanne where we walked arm in arm through the city. It’s quaint and cobblestoned and felt French to me. We did some window-shopping and she showed me some of the famous sights. Strolling through the town together reminded me of when we were in Paris.

IMG_5535That evening we joined Morgan’s roommate, Sophie, her visiting boyfriend Chris, Georg and some of their friends from school for a delicious dinner of tapas. The restaurant, Eat Me, was opened by an EHL alum. Look at that…I leave Spain and still find tapas! After dinner we walked around and admired the city at night.

For our third day, we made tentative plans to go to Geneva, but the $54 round-trip train ticket was far less appealing when it was pouring rain. (Switzerland is not cheap. Two chicken breasts at the grocery store cost around 19 CHF or $19!) Morgan, who iIMG_5511nterned in Geneva the semester before, said much of Geneva is closed on the weekends so while we could have walked around, there would not have been a ton to do and it would have been quite wet.

Heading into this trip, I knew it would be different. I was not going in with the intention of seeing every sight, going to every monument or exploring every museum. I was going to see one of my best friends and experience her life there. So instead of going to Geneva, we had a restful day in her apartment, watched the rain fall and enjoyed each other’s company. Being with each other made us each almost forget that we were thousands of miles from our homes and families. Being with each other made us feel like we were home.

By the end of my stay I learned how being in apartment with students interested in high-quality hospitality has its perks. If the “thrown together” roasted pepper pasta was any indicatiIMG_5525on, I should have known how our homemade burgers for dinner would turn out. Did you know you have to add eggs and breadcrumbs to ground beef to prepare the patties? I didn’t! I worked as a sous chef in the kitchen to help make seasoned patties, toasted buns, carmelized onions, bacon, guacamole and French fries. Wow!

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The next morning was marked by a farewell breakfast and then Georg and Morgan took me to the train station. It was sad to leave Momo, but was happy with all the time we spent together. I’m so proud of her for following her dreams in such a major way. It was great to catch up and experience her life in Switzerland. Thankfully she’ll be back in LA this summer and we can spend even more time together!

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Tres Ciudades, Un Fin de Semana – Three Cities, One Weekend

This week’s events took place during midterm week (hence why this post is so delayed). A few friends and I hunkered down in our nearby study center for most of the week to prepare. At home we would have likely gathered in a friend’s apartment or in Theta, but in Spain an at-home setting like that is not an option. In Spain, it is fairly raro to invite someone, even a friend, into your home. Whether it comes to arranging a study group or just wanting to hang out, such gatherings take place in common spaces. Thanks to our hard work and diligence, we did well on the tests and were able to enjoy our weekend excursions.

1st century CE Roman aqueduct - Segovia 3/13/15Three (out of four) midterms in one week?! What were you thinking, USC? But how quickly our frustrations dissolved once USC took us on another great tour of Spain to see Segovia, Salamanca and Ávila. This weekend was originally just scheduled as a day-trip to Segovia, but an extension was offered. How could I turn down the chance to see more of Spain? (Read: Yes! Two free nights in a 4-star hotel!)

Our first stop was Segovia where we Alcázar de Segovia - 3/13/15saw the Roman aqueduct (above) that was built in 1 C.E. ¡Qué antiguo! From the aqueduct we toured the city and saw colorful buildings and cathedrals with patterned walls. The stucco of the building in Segovia was often detailed with geometric patterns. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We then made our way to El Alcazar (right), a castle built most likely built around the 12th century. This castle, rumored to have inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle, looked like it fell from the pages of a fairytale.

Emily, Alayna, Reed, Olivia and me outside of the Royal Palace - Segovia 3/13/15It was then on to La Granja. King Philip V of Spain designed it after his grandfather, Louis XIV’s, Versailles – hence this palace’s apodo, The Spanish Versailles. This palace was constructed on the cusp of the French Rococo and had definite French elements in its colorful interior decor and swirling fountains and gardens.

It was from Segovia that some of the group departed and the rest of us headed to Salamanca. We checked into our hotel and completed a brief evening walking tour of the city. I was enchanted by Salamanca’s plaza mayor. The plaza, like Salamanca, was smaller that others that I’d seen, but the buildings were warmly lit and it wasPlaza Mayor, Salamanca - 3/13/15 buzzing with people. It is my favorite plaza mayor so far. We enjoyed dinner at Meson Cervantes, which overlooked Plaza Mayor.

Day Two began with a hotel breakfast followed by a visit to Salamanca’s cathedral(s). Some say there are two cathedrals, others one. That is because a new cathedral was built adjacent to an old one with the intention of razing the old one. That was a common practice, but the old one was never knocked down. Now the two are connected. We also walked through original campus of La Universidad de Salamanca, the oldest university in Spain.

Amazing food spread at Hacienda Zorita - Salamanca 3/14/15

Amazing food spread at Hacienda Zorita - Salamanca 3/14/15

From there we hopped in the bus and drove to Hacienda Zorita. This place was espectacular! We enjoyed a stellar lunch with the most delicious and gourmet tapas and small plates. We then explored the grounds, which are home to a hotel, spa and winery.Austin and me at El Rio Tormes, Salamanca - 3/14/15

My friend Austin and I took a picture in front of El Río Tormes. This river is mentioned in the classic Spanish picaresco novel, Lazarillo de Tormes (which we’ve each read 247 veces). Austin and I have had several Spanish classes together so seeing this river in real life was a big deal for two Spanish majors.

La Bodega/Wine Cellar at Hacienda Zorita - Salamanca 3/14/15

We then headed to the Hacienda’s bodega where we completed a wine, cheese and olive oil tasting. As most of you know, I am not a wino, or any sort of alcohol-o for that matter, but I did enjoy my first wine tasting experience. We sampled two glasses of vino tinto and one vino blanco. The white wine we had won the title of best white wine in the world of 2011.

Haven’t been wine tasting? Here’s what you do:

  • Use the illuminated tables to examine the clarity and brilliance of the pour, then stick your nose far into the glass to smell it. You should note hints of this and elements of that.

  • Swirl it in your glass – and the next part gets a bit tricky, but – take a tiny sip, hold it in your mouth and take in a breath of air. Then swallow. Then sip and swallow again.

  • Pro Tip: nod in agreement with whatever the sommelier says. Give off the occasional “Mmm yes, of course” even when she says there are elements of yogurt in the wine. Sure…

Wall at Ávila - 3/15/15

The next morning, exhausted, we dragged our feet to the weekend’s third destination: Ávila. In Ávila we saw the famous muralla. This medieval wall is the only wall in Spain that is still complete. Many medieval cities built walls around the city as a means of protection, but knocked them down to expand. In Ávila’s case, instead of knocking down it down, they built outside the wall. Then and now, the city inside and outside the wall is equally as important.

For lunch we went to Restaurante Alcaravea. Our program director said this restaurant had the best steak in Spain. The steak was tender and flavorful and oh so filling! I don’t know if I’ve ever had steak as a lunch entrée. In Spain, lunch is typically the heaviest and largest meal of the day. Yes. Yes it is.

Soon enough I was back in Madrid. My Sunday afternoon was free of any responsibility so I took the time to reflect on my great Spanish weekend and watch Amigos. What a whirlwind three days! Thanks, USC!

Mis Vacaciones en Madrid – My Vacation in Madrid

For the past four weeks my routine has been: be in Madrid Monday through Thursday, head to a different destination on Friday through Sunday. I’ve enjoyed my recent jet-setter life, but it is tiring. This past week and weekend I stayed in Madrid the whole time and it was marvelous. With everything I did, I fell in love with the city all over again. To make this week even better, primavera made an early arrival. The tiempo soared into the 70s, which means I donned nearly every short sleeved shirt in my armario. (Why hello, arms! You need a tan!)

The week began with a sweet treat on lunes. Reed, Emily and I went to Sol where we sampled the “best napolitana in Madrid” at La Mallorquina. I’ve had my fair share of chocolate pastries and I have to say, this was up there!

For weeks I’ve been telling myself to make better use of my Tuesdays and Thursdays as I only have class at 7:00 pm those days. This week I did just that. I visited two museums on martes. The morning was spent at the Prado exploring the new Goya exhibition and the afternoon was at Museo Arqueológico Nacional with the program.

On the agenda for miércoles was a picnic in Retiro in between classes. Sofia, Reed, Emily and I went to the gourmet market by school to purchase crackers, chorizo, manchego cheese and the cheapest botella de vino available.

We took our goods to Retiro and settled into a sunny spot in a concealed corner of the monument behind the pond. (Public consumption is not exactly legal, but not uncommon either – hence why we were hidden). We dined, chatted and saw happy people row by in the paddle boats. The sun was so bright that I think I got a sunburn! To round out the afternoon, Emily and I popped by one of the cafes in the park and indulged in an overpriced cono de helado. (Photo courtesy Emily and her trendy Euro jeans.)
Another highlight this week? Taking new DSC_0051LinkedIn pictures with Madi and Emily in Retiro on jueves…because why not! Thank you to my other pal Madi and her amazing photography skills! Please feel free to connect with us, endorse us, hire us, etc…
USC must have known I was trying to do a lot in Madrid this week because they treated us to a flamenco show at Cardamomo. I have never seen live flamenco IMG_5390before and was blown away by how quickly the dancers moved their feet! Flamenco is powerful, emotional and energized, but not delicate. The dancers’ faces contorted into almost frowns as the passion flowed through their bodies. We were told that one of the dancers in the show, Paloma, is the best flamenco dancer in Madrid.
To really have an authentic staycation in Madrid, I made my first trip to Kapital, a seven-story discoteca. I have to say I was underwhelmed, but that is probably because it was relatively empty. Thursday nights at Kapi just aren’t like Thursday nights at USC (not that I really go out there either…). I might return. I think it can redeem itself.
IMG_5402Viernes rolled around and I could not believe I’d enjoyed an entire week of sunshine. Friends and I explored Parque de la Montaña where we admired the view and the Templo de Debod. We later reunited for gelato from Amorino and a stroll through Plaza Mayor.
OK, so not the entire week was spent in Madrid. On sábado I joined my IR professor and some classmates on a day trip to her hometown of Alcalá de Henares. The small city located just 30 kilometers from Madrid is also the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. Between DSCN0628munching on breakfast, tapas and candied almonds prepared by cloistered nuns, we toured Spain’s second oldest university and Cervantes’s house.
Fun Fact: Alcalá de Henares is known as La Ciudad de las Tres “Cs” for its many cloistros (cloisters), cárceles (jails that are no longer in use) and cigüeñas (storks). Alcalá has giant storks who make giant nidos on top of buildings. The nests are so large that it makes sense that people say babies come from storks. I could fit in those nests!
Domingo arrived signaling the end of my vacationIMG_5414 in Madrid.This week I felt lucky to rediscover some of my favorite lugares and find new ones, too. That evening I captured this gorgeous atardecer just around the corner from my apartment. What a perfect end to a perfect week.