How I Became a Language Assistant in Spain

It was 2018. I was a few months away from graduating from Durham University with my languages degree, and I had to decide what to do next. Since I was six years old, I’d wanted to be a teacher. I always assumed I would go straight into studying for a PGCE, then on to a standard teaching job. However, for some reason, I didn’t feel ready for that. I wanted to do something else instead of plain old teaching straight away. This is how I fell into being a language assistant in Spain. But I had to make a decision about my future first.

Being a language student, my possible plans mainly involved travelling. I drew up a list of five options, including: 

  1. Becoming a language assistant through the British Council.
  2. Doing a masters in translation, potentially abroad.
  3. “Bits and Pieces” — volunteering at a local Steiner school, volunteering abroad with refugees, and working with a mountain activity company in Italy. 
  4. “Another year abroad” — two six-month placements abroad in countries where they spoke a language I’d studied or wanted to learn.
  5. Another degree! I studied two languages and two sciences at A-Level. I felt tempted to go abroad (double benefit of practising my languages and cheaper fees!) and study something related to Biology, Chemistry, or Linguistics.

What to Choose

As I can see looking back on this list, I obviously didn’t feel ready to start a standard full-time job! In the end, I chose the first option. Apparently, I’m drawn to teaching so much that even when I don’t want to teach yet, I end up being a teaching assistant! I think I chose this option because it was the easiest to organise. Plus, I’d be paid rather than paying for it. It also seemed relevant to my career path, so I guess it was easier to justify and to feel confident enough that it was a good decision!

There’s a lot of pressure to go straight into a full-time job after graduating. But I would strongly recommend going abroad first if it is something you’re considering. There will be plenty of time for a standard job during the rest of your life, and you will get so much out of living abroad! 

Graduating from Durham University

The British Council

Many English speakers from all over the world decide to spend a year (or more) abroad helping teach English through the language assistant programme. It is a great way to immerse yourself in another country’s culture and language while working part-time to cover costs. As a native speaker, it’s also easy to find private lessons on the side to earn a bit more money.

Depending on where you’re from, there are different ways to get a placement. However, for those of us coming from the UK, we usually apply through the British Council. This involves a fairly long but simple application form. Along with this form, you will also need a reference, and, for some countries, a video interview (but not Spain, where I ended up applying). The British Council currently organises placements in 15 countries around the world, from South America to Asia. 

Where to Go

I decided that I wanted to stay in Europe to be closer to my friends in England. However, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Spain or Italy (having studied both languages). Much as I love Italy, in the end, I chose to be a language assistant in Spain. This is because there were many more placements available there, and I would be able to practise not only Spanish, but also Catalan. Through the British Council you can also put preferences of the region of Spain you would like to be in, whether you want to be in a city or a small pueblo, and what age you would like to teach. They say they take this into account, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get your first choices. 

Leaving home ready to start a new life in Spain

Application Sent

So, I sent off my application form in December, my reference was sent off by February, and then I just had to wait. In April, I heard back from the British Council that my application to become a teaching assistant in Spain had been successful. Now they would pass my application onto the Ministry of Education in Spain. Both of those agencies would work together to assign me to a specific region. In May, I found out I’d got my first choice region and would be heading to the Comunitat Valenciana in October. All that was left was to wait for the ministerio to allocate me a school.

Spain is notorious for taking a while to tell you where exactly you have been placed. They are working on this, but some people only found out which locality they would be in a few weeks before starting teaching! Luckily, I found out at the beginning of July. I was originally placed in the city of Alicante, but realising that they don’t speak much Valencià (the Valencian dialect of Catalan) in the city, I was lucky to be able to swap schools with my friend. She had also applied for the programme and was keen to be in Alicante. You’re not officially allowed to swap, but sometimes it’s possible! So, my confirmed destination was Castelló de la Plana.

Castelló de la Plana

I had never heard of Castelló when they assigned me to a school there. But it turns out that Carme, my Catalan teacher’s friend, was from there. I got in contact with her to find out what it was like. She put me in touch with a student who had been there on Erasmus. They convinced me that it would be better for my Valencià than Alicante and that it wasn’t too small, so I decided to go for it. Looking back, I had no idea what it would really be like, but I figured eight months wasn’t too much of a commitment. 

Moving Abroad to be a Language Assistant in Spain

As a previous language student, the whole experience wasn’t as daunting as it might have been for some people. I’d done placements and Erasmus abroad before as part of my degree, including in Spain. I spoke the language fairly well. I also knew Carme, and she helped with logistical things like the strange workings of the RENFE train websites (yes, plural: there are different web pages and places to search for different kinds of trains, even between the same two stations!). I’d found a flat online but only rented it from the start of October. Fortunately, I was able to stay with her parents for a week first. Her dad helped me carry my big suitcases up the three flights of stairs when I finally moved into my flat.

Before flying over there, my dad helped me sort out as much of the paperwork as he could from the UK. I carefully read the auxiliar guide and country notes I’d been sent by the British Council. Nonetheless, I don’t think you can ever be that prepared to move to a place you’ve never been before. I guess that’s all part of the adventure. So, I set off with an open mind and as much patience as I could muster for the inevitable challenges. I had a better time than I’d ever imagined. 

And that’s how I became a language assistant in Spain. 

by Kira Browne

How Athletics Turned Me Onto Travel

Paula winning first place in her athletics competition, the European Junior Cup in Punta Umbria SpainAs a kid full of energy, born in Athens, Greece, I have always been encouraged to train at athletics, study hard, and dream big. At 12, I became a student at a school for young athletes. I chose archery. The Robin Hood tournament for kids brought me my first medal and recognition, after surpassing my peers in shooting balloons and apples in the final. 

Step by step, focusing on training more and more, I made it onto the national team. To become one of the top athletes in the country is already a success. However, to win one of three spots on a team that would represent the country in athletics at an international tournament is a long process. It’s a great challenge for any young athlete who just started competing. Prior to every tournament, our archery association would schedule a tournament. There, the best three athletes from different age categories would be selected. It’s been years, but to this day I still remember the excitement and happiness I felt when my coach informed me that I was going to represent our country at my first international tournament, the European Youth Championships in Algarve, Portugal. If only I knew then that this tournament would completely change my life. 

How Athletics Changed My Life

The first time I competed abroad, I was 15. Together, with my teammates and coaches, we spent a week at the Olympic center for athletes to practice and get ready for the competition. Olympic centers are usually located in small towns where athletes could focus on their training without any distractions. Our center was surrounded by woods and it was a big complex of buildings with swimming pools, stadiums, arenas, and gyms. It had anything and everything athletes needed. Hundreds of athletes from different disciplines would train in this center to prepare for their tournaments. 

Paula at the archery training camp at the Olympic Center, famous for athletics training

The moment we arrived we felt an incredible atmosphere right away. As a young team, we got an opportunity to meet Olympic medalists and famous athletes. This feeling lifted me up, inspired me, and motivated me to train hard. In doing so, I hoped to bring glory to myself and my country. Being part of this unique community of elite athletes, people I had watched growing up, my idols, is where suddenly a dream became more real. As a young team of archers, we created a special bond throughout that week. Together, we took off to Portugal in high spirits with big goals to bring the gold home. 

Arriving as a National Team Member

It was the first time I would travel as a national team member and what an experience it was. Although it was a long day spent at airports, we had nothing but fun and lots of laughs throughout the whole trip because of the great bonds we had. It was the moment when we checked in at our hotel when we realized we were surrounded by hundreds of athletes from all over Europe ready to compete with us in Portugal. It doesn’t happen often that most athletes would stay at one hotel. This was a rare opportunity to see each other quite often and get to know each other better. The athletics tournament would last for a week, starting from official training to qualifications, individual and team eliminations, and all the way to medal matches. 

We usually spent half of the day at the archery field and the rest of the day we enjoyed the time exploring the beautiful Algarve. This lovely town where we stayed was wonderfully picturesque. The first day we arrived in Algarve it was already late, but our coaches decided it would be nice to take a walk after a long day spent at the airports and in the air. 

An Oceanside Athletics Competition

It turned out that our hotel was located only a few minutes from the ocean. When we went, it was a magical starry night. The sky was so clear it looked as if it was right above our heads. Both the place and view felt surreal. Left speechless, we knew the coming week would be one of the best of our lives. Hugging each other from all the excitement, we knew that some unforgettable memories would be made that we would cherish forever. 

At the archery field, every one of us was focused and committed to getting the best results. Although we competed individually, each one of us helped each other and supported one another in order to do our best. Before and during the competition we tried to stay concentrated and calm. It’s a lot of pressure to perform well knowing you’re surrounded by the top athletes in Europe sharing the same goals and desires to win a medal. 

The Opening Ceremony

The first moment I saw all of the participating athletes together was the Opening Ceremony at the stadium. Hundreds of athletes together with coaches, all the volunteers, and the event staff made a huge impression on me. It made me realize that I was part of an incredible event. Seeing all the smiley faces, excited to compete with the unique energy and atmosphere, was exhilarating. This feeling was obvious to each one of the athletes. Although most of the athletes representing different nationalities had never met each other before, everyone was friendly and open to having a conversation whenever the opportunity came. 

We often met in the hotel’s restaurant, at the pool in our hotel, in the lobby, or in places where we could relax a bit after a stressful day competing. During that time we were not athletes but teenagers. We felt happy and excited to meet people from so many different countries. Some of them had never traveled before, nor met a foreigner before. Despite different nationalities, cultures, religions, and languages, after some time we all started talking to each other. We started sharing our stories and eventually made some friendships. 

Going Beyond Athletics

At the end of the day, we were a bunch of kids with the same dreams and goals. As athletes, we would compete against each other. However, out of the field, we enjoyed our time exploring the town together, swimming in the ocean, and experiencing some funny situations. 

The second night after we arrived all the coaches had a meeting. Almost everyone gathered at the hotel’s swimming pool while they met. In the beginning, we only hung out with our teams, but after some time we started talking to each other. We eventually ended up throwing each other into the pool. The casual gathering ended up being a blast. We swam together, played, and got to know each other better. In the end, the security guard informed us we were too loud and the “party’s over”, sending us all to our rooms. 

Paula and some friends at an archery competition.

Hotel Shenanigans

If that wasn’t enough, on our way back we found a lot of feathers in the corridor. While some of us were playing at the pool, a few other teams started a pillow fight, leaving traces throughout the corridors. Eventually, the official coach meeting was interrupted by the hotel staff informing coaches that the athletes were having too much fun during their free time. Although it wasn’t anything serious it also doesn’t happen often. The information caught our coaches off guard, making them laugh. They had to remind us we should find different opportunities to have fun together. 

In the future, these memories and stories were brought up multiple times making us all laugh once again. My first European Championships would not only bring me and my team our first gold medal but also some great friends I still stay in touch with after many years. One of my best friends was an archer representing the Netherlands; our friendship started in Portugal. Since then we motivated and inspired each other to train even harder in order to compete internationally and see each other again. We were lucky to meet again at the tournaments in the States, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Georgia. After we both retired, we continued to travel together.

How Athletics Inspired Me to Travel

The reason why I decided to write about this particular tournament is that my adventure with sports and traveling started in Portugal. Since that competition, I have competed at the World and European Championships as well as the European and World Cups. I traveled the world chasing my dream, having the best time in my life. I visited Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Ukraine, Croatia, Italy, Morocco, Armenia, Georgia, China, the USA, and many more. As an athlete, I won five medals at the World Championships, four at the European Championships, and multiple medals at several European Cups. Most of all, I won a chance to travel the world while doing what I love. I made unforgettable memories with some wonderful people. 

by Paula Wyczechowska

How to Cope With Where You Are Not

“The grass is always greener on the other side” is a proverb I have always firmly disagreed with. It gives the misguided impression that fulfillment in life is inherently tied to your physical location. If you are not fulfilled, it’s because of where you are (or where you’re not). It suggests that you could be living somewhere else that’s better than where you’re currently living. It leaves you with a feeling of helplessness and scrambling to figure out coping mechanisms.

In the several stages of my life during which I was living somewhere that I didn’t want to be, when I knew the place I would have rather been in, this proverb haunted me and fueled my various episodes of depression. In this article, I will share some of the lessons I learned, mistakes I made, and adjustments I implemented which all aided in coping with the challenges of being where I was whilst knowing I’d rather be elsewhere.

Some Context

I am from Los Angeles, CA, and I first moved away from home at age 18 to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. At the end of my first year there, I studied for a semester abroad at the Berklee Valencia campus in Spain. By the end of my second week there, I had discovered that Spain was where I belonged. It is simply the perfect place for me to be. 

The knowledge of these truths was also the cause of several depressive episodes in my life, ​​despite all the clarity and gratitude which it gave me. Whether it was because of visa issues or other logistics, the simple fact of not being in Spain was a tough pill for me to swallow. It was like I was a small child who had been given the sweetest candy they had ever tried every day for four months and then told they could not have it anymore.

Expat at Heart

Besides my love for Spain, I have never felt a connection to LA or the US. I’m only the third generation in my family to have been born in the US. I have always carried a strong sense of criticism towards my environment from as young as I can remember. Whether it be towards the underfunded public school system in LA, the frustration of spending what felt like half my childhood sitting in traffic, or the laundry list of large-scale societal issues such as gun violence and income inequality plaguing the country as a whole.

My dad and older brother are both political science majors. There was always an emphasis on what was happening in the world in family conversations as I grew up. These conversations combined with my empathetic nature led me to feel very dissatisfied with “my” country. In the aftermath of my mom’s traumatic brain injury and severe depression when I was 16, you could say that dissatisfaction hit its maximum.

The First Arrival

I had already suffered from depression earlier in my life (before attending Berklee). The first “grass is always greener on the other side” depression hit me the moment I walked onto the street from Arrivals at the Los Angeles International Airport. This was my first return from Spain in 2017. 

The sound of constant cars honking, the smell of trash and smog, and the greyness of the concrete jungle which is LAX, all made me want to turn around and get on the first plane back to Spain. It wasn’t only the literal sensory overload/reverse culture shock that affected me. The weight of personal, emotional baggage which being in LA and the US brought to the surface hit me like a tidal wave. My parents brought me to their house and I sat on their couch crying hysterically for more than two hours until I fell asleep from exhaustion and jet lag.

The First Lessons of Coping

The intensity of the depression was unlike anything I had ever felt. It became my mission to return to Spain by any means possible. Studying abroad a second time at Berklee Valencia was a possibility. However, it meant I had to work twice as hard to complete all the courses for my major. Unfortunately, the school only offered them in Boston in a year less than it typically required. This was the first lesson. If you want something, especially something which is difficult to obtain, it requires some serious hard work and dedication. However, the learning of this lesson was only the first of several hurdles to be cleared. 

My unwavering focus on getting back to Spain, combined with my work ethic, was by no means a cure to my depression nor even a passing coping mechanism. If anything, it only fueled the fire. The “grass is always greener on the other side” has the often overlooked, terrible side effect of “the grass is always worse where you are.” This meant I had to learn how to cope with being where I was not.

While I was completing my major courses, waking up every day at 7 am and working nonstop until 1 am, I did my best to appreciate Boston for what it was. I thought I had understood then how to fully live in the moment, be grateful for what I had, and make the most of every situation. In reality, there was still a huge part of me whose voice kept telling me, “But this isn’t Spain. This isn’t good enough.” 

The Next Lessons of Coping

I nearly worked myself to the point of mental breakdown. Nonetheless, I made it back to Berklee Valencia in Spring 2019 for my final semester of university. I had (thought that I had) made it. I had another wonderful four months, just like I had experienced the first time I studied abroad. My Spanish had improved to a fluent level, so it was even more fulfilling than the first time.

I was also in a relationship with a woman who I deeply loved. We shared a mutual desire to spend the rest of our lives together. However, due to mutually undesirable circumstances, the relationship ended two weeks before my flight to Boston (the city we met) for my graduation from Berklee. 

After graduation, I immediately turned around and ended up in Madrid for a summer internship working with a Spanish composer. I was in an extremely emotionally fragile state. It felt like I was barely clinging to relative stability based upon the pure knowledge that I was in Spain. That fragility shattered when the internship ended, and with it, my visa.

In August 2019, I found myself hysterically crying on the same couch in my parents’ home which I had been hysterically crying on just two years before. Only this time, there was no option of studying abroad again. I had graduated. This depression lasted a solid two months, during which I was practically incapable of doing anything. I wasn’t coping with my reality at all.

The Power of a Present Mind

Sometimes, with depression, especially when it’s severe, there’s not really much to actively be done to reverse it. The healing process can, at times, be extremely slow and gradual, which was my case that summer. Once the initial shock of returning to the US wore off, I finally learned how to live in the moment and feel grateful. 

I started working at a nonprofit for music education. I moved into an apartment with former classmates from Berklee. Finally, I discovered a social life in LA that was enough for me to feel satisfied with my life. The voice in the back of my head saying, “But this isn’t Spain. This isn’t good enough” was drowned out by my actively present mind. The voice was still there and still motivated me to work towards my goal of moving to Spain. However, it no longer had the power to control my mood.

Eli living in Valencia in spring of 2019.

Key Takeaways

The lesson of taming my internal voice has been the most consequential of my life. I realized that ignoring the voice was not an option. I simultaneously loved Spain and disliked the US so strongly that it was simply impossible to ignore. Listening to it actively also was not an option as a true coping mechanism.

In the year which I spent completing my major courses in Boston, the word “Spain” went through my conscious mind at least once a day. It prevented me from enjoying Boston as much as I could have. It was only upon returning to LA in August 2019 and experiencing the worst depression I had ever had that I learned how to balance that voice. 

Finding Balance

Balancing that voice meant many things to me. Above all, it meant using only the required amount of effort needed to get me back to Spain. If there were programs to be researched, people to be contacted, or any other practical tasks that would benefit my potential return to Spain, I would use my energy for those.

As soon as my mind started to wander into “My life isn’t as good in LA as it used to be in Spain” land, I would actively do something to make myself more present. It didn’t matter whether that meant going for a drive, calling a friend, or playing a video game. This coping strategy was so much better than the unending dissatisfaction I felt before.

Anything that it took to change my mind from a state of “the grass is always greener on the other side” to “let’s enjoy the grass that I’m standing on” was sufficient. Even if, deep down, I knew that the grass I was standing on wasn’t the grass I most enjoyed standing on, the most important lesson of my journey (so far) has been that the grass is never greener on the other side. It is simply different. The color of the grass is all based on how I choose to look at it. That’s a coping technique I can live with.

by Eli Slavkin

My Solo Trip to Comuna 13, Colombia

Leesa in Medellin in 2015A solo trip to Comuna 13, solo travel in general, is not only a way of traveling — it’s a mindset. In an earlier article, I spoke about What I Know Now after solo traveling. Since my first international flight abroad to Medellin in 2015, my mindset has evolved and grown. It’s taken me almost two years to write about this trip back to Medellin since my initial summer abroad where I studied and did an internship. I made friends, worked really hard to complete the research I needed for my master’s degree, and went home to graduate. Although I did get a chance to travel and explore (some) while I was there, the majority of my summer was spent working and completing class assignments.

Fast forward to November 2019 — I fly back to Medellin after living a year abroad in Madrid and working in the US. It’s my first return since that initial summer solo trip. I worked a lot when I got back to the US. I traveled back to Medellin that November because I missed being abroad. As I was no longer employed, and I wanted to explore. My soul was on the rebound and needed a good awakening, and it got it. Solo travel to Comuna 13 — and the locals I met on this trip made me feel even more empowered to connect with the world around me. 

My Solo Trip to Comuna 13

Here are three examples from my previous What I Know Now coupled with my solo trip to Comuna 13.  I merely scratched the surface on my trip to Comuna 13 and highly recommend anyone traveling to Medellin, Colombia to visit this bright and colorful neighborhood. It’s also on the rebound. I look forward to going back and exploring more because there is so much to see. It’s best to hear the history straight from a local rather than from me. However, I can touch on preparation and getting there (pre-COVID) from the perspective of someone who lived there. 

Backstory on Comuna 13: I lived in Medellin to study and work, so I have locals who were able to give me guidance and referrals on which companies to use. I had not been back to Medellin since the summer of 2015 when I had been working and completing an internship. Comuna 13 was around but it was not an area that I knew about at the time. In the fall of 2019, I was in Medellin, looking at perhaps moving back for a teaching role. A friend told me to check it out amongst other places. Here are three of five things from the WIKN I mentioned above that I used specifically while on my trip to Comuna 13:

Be Flexible

While traveling, it’s important to remember things are going to change. Embrace it and enjoy it. I hadn’t been back to Medellin and I could feel the growth. My first international solo trip abroad was to Colombia, and I wound up living there! It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. It felt scary and unsettling because I was leaving my comfort zone and heading to someone else’s. Keeping a go-with-the-flow mindset and knowing that things are going to get mixed up will alleviate stress and anxiety while traveling. Embrace the mix-up and enjoy the ride. 

Say what? Enjoy the ride? I can’t say more about transport to and from locations, especially those that you know are going to be hard to find. When it was time for me to get to Comuna 13, I wanted to try something new. Uber had recently launched in the country and I am a fan of this app. I could write an article about my Uber encounters — this is how much I enjoy using it. So, instead of taking the metro to the location where I would find my Zippy Tour 13 guide, I took an Uber.

This Uber ride is a post within itself. I smile thinking about the driver/attorney who began her first day of driving the day I stepped into her car. She was no longer practicing law and I happened to be her first client! I was so glad I ordered the Uber early — let’s just say that. She and I made it to the San Javier metro stop and I had one minute to find the blue umbrella for the Zippy Tour. I ran quickly across the street and checked in. I made it!

Plan But Don’t Over-Plan (Go With the Flow)

I usually tend to over-plan — I am the traveler who has an itinerary with a backup in case that one does not work out. However, for this trip, since it was more of a business trip, I used my go with the flow mentality when planning. My day was full and the extracurricular activities weren’t at the top of my list for this trip. I didn’t plan on which ones I would do while visiting Colombia and this turned out to be one of the best decisions I made.

I went to the university to find out about the job, met some friends, and they made several recommendations about where to go. This method has proved to be a great one. Over-planning can sometimes backfire. When on a trip, the plan might not work out and you spend time thinking about that disappointment rather than living in the moment. Enjoy the moment!

Make New Friends

When I arrived, I was placed in one of the three groups. Each group for Zippy Tours is led by a local who knows the area. My guide, Stiven, was born in Comuna 13. He talked to us about the community, the graffiti walls, plus the escalators that you can find online everywhere. The escalators remind me of a reference to the stairway to heaven song. You see art and brightness in this community and then escalators… It’s interesting. 

What you can’t find online or anywhere else are the lives of the locals who live there. Stiven spoke to us about his childhood and growing up with invisible lines that he could not cross. Crossing these lines was forbidden. His story should be told by him but it did affect me, because how could it not? 

Stiven was born in 1998 and grew up during Medellin’s dangerous and violent period. This is a tour that should be seen and heard from him. However, having connected with the locals before doing this tour, made me appreciate Stiven’s courage and childhood all the more. We all have a story. Even so, some have invisible lines drawn from trauma from a young age and turn that into a blessing and awakening for others.

For me, Stiven’s life and landscape not only touched my heart but encouraged me to come home and look into programs in the US for higher education Ed.D degrees in social disparity and conflict. I ended up applying for a degree (which unfortunately turned out to be the wrong fit). In hindsight, lines get blurred and I might look into this field once again. Stiven’s story still remains in my mind and heart. 

Leesa taking a selfie overlooking the vista of Comuna 13

Wrap Up

Solo travel to Comuna 13 opened my mind and heart to a population that was negatively impacted way beyond their control. My experience and interaction with this community positively transformed and shaped my views about Medellin even more. Had I not been flexible, able to jump in an Uber ride to get there, and use a local guide (now friend), this experience might have been different — maybe even boring (oh!). I encourage travelers from around the world to embrace solo travel at least once in their lifetime. Women should see this as a strength and embrace the world around them. You might just meet your next best friend that can transform your life. 

Stay tuned for more articles on Medellin, Colombia. 

Ciao for now. 

by Leesa Truesdell

Top 10 Things to Do in Krakow, Poland

The Norwegian fjords, the Swiss Alps, the Greek islands, and Italian architecture are some of the famous European landmarks recognized around the world. But what about Poland? What’s the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about Poland? 

When I introduce myself as a Pole, especially outside Europe, I often see the confusion on people’s faces. I’ve met a dozen people who have never heard of Poland or were unable to find my home country on a map. So, it’s no surprise that Poland is not on the top of the list for globetrotters. I’d like to do my part to change that a bit.

Introducing Poland

Before I virtually take you around my favorite Polish city and share things to do in Krakow, I’d like to dispel some common misconceptions about my homeland. Poland is not an ice-locked country with never-ending snowfall. No polar bears are roaming the streets, and Poles do not speak Russian. 

Poland is not a tiny country tucked away somewhere in a corner of eastern Europe. In reality, Poland enjoys an average summer temperature of 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (68 to 77 F) and -3 to 3 degrees Celsius (27 to 37 F) during winter. It’s the 9th largest country in Europe by land size and population. Picture a country with as many people as California squeezed into the land about the size of New Mexico. Lastly, Poles speak Polish which is distinct from Russian. 

The number of visitors to Poland dramatically increased after it joined the EU in 2004. The opening of borders and expansion of tourist infrastructure from EU funds are only some reasons why over 18 million tourists visit Poland annually. But the main reason is its beauty. From amber beaches of the Baltic Sea fringed with white sandy dunes and beautiful cliff shores to the clear, calm waters of the Masurian Lake District to the snow-capped peaks of the Tatra Mountains, Poland has something for everybody. All of my friends who traveled to Poland with me were amazed by its rich history, friendly people, and mouth-watering local cuisine. The Poland they found was far more interesting and complex than what they imagined.

Welcome to Krakow 

The recipe for the perfect city to visit probably involves some combination of fascinating history, great architecture, rich cultural life, fine dining, and a vibrant nightlife — this is Krakow. It is the historical capital of Poland, full of legends, beautiful architectural monuments, and art. If you ever visit the city, give yourself extra time to discover some of its most iconic specialties. Poland proudly boasts many regional cuisines which I plan to introduce in future articles. For now, here are my top 10 things to do in Krakow:

The Old Town 

Any list of must-see places in Krakow starts with the Old Town, Stare Miasto. The oldest and the most famous part of the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List over 40 years ago. This part of Krakow never sleeps. There’s always something happening 24 hours a day through activities that vary by season. In the summer months, social life revolves around the restaurants and cafes located in the main square, Rynek Główny, and nearby streets. Things get a bit quieter during cold and snowy winters when locals and tourists enjoy mulled wine in old Krakow cellars.  

If the Old Town is the center of Krakow, the Market Square is certainly its beating heart. It is the largest square in Poland and, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in Europe. The square is always noisy and loud. You can expect to hear street musicians entertaining crowds, horse-drawn carriages clattering on cobblestone streets, and the sound of the bugle from the tower of St. Mary’s Basilica at the top of the hour. It’s far from serene and that’s part of its charm. For those looking for tranquility, side streets off the Market Square offer an escape from the hustle-and-bustle. For me, this place is what Krakow is all about. I could spend hours in the square watching kids chasing soap bubbles, people feeding pigeons, admiring street artists, or simply enjoying Polish specialties served by many restaurants surrounding the square. 

The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) 

Right in the middle of Market Square is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice in Polish), one of the most important historical buildings in the city. It’s considered the world’s oldest shopping mall. Sukiennice includes two rows of stalls selling leather goods, folk-inspired artifacts, hats, lace, jewelry, woodcraft, and souvenirs. A decade ago, a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow opened in its basement. The museum is a real treasure and worth a quick visit for those interested in Krakow’s past.

St. Mary’s Basilica 

The basilica is the most prominent landmark of Old Town and one of the most famous churches in the country. It is full of priceless objects, including brilliant stained-glass windows and a magnificent altar.  Two towers top the basilica, the taller of which served as a watchtower during medieval times. A guard manned the tower day and night. He would blow on his bugle to warn citizens of fires, invaders, and other dangers. Even today, a “guard” blows his bugle from the watchtower, though it is done to mark the top of the hour, and it is decidedly more mellow. The bugle call has become the musical symbol of Krakow, and crowds gather to hear it. This watchtower offers a gorgeous, panoramic view of Krakow for those willing to climb its 300 steps. 

Town Hall Tower 

Also known as the Krakow Leaning Tower, the Town Hall Tower is the only remaining part of Krakow’s old town hall built in the 1300s. The tower displays black and white photographs of Krakow, medieval costumes, and a nice view of the city. Near the top, there is an old clock mechanism that visitors have a chance to see from inside. There is also a small café and theatre located in the basement. 

Schindler’s Factory

Made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory attracts record numbers of tourists from Poland and around the world. This museum not only exhibits the life and work of Oskar Schindler but also illustrates both the tragic and uplifting life in Krakow during World War II. In my opinion, Schindler’s Factory is one of the best museums in Poland and one not to be missed during a visit to Krakow. I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance. 


Planty is the garden that surrounds the Old Town. It is one of the largest parks in the country, with a circumference of over four km. Originally the park was planted with mainly chestnut trees, but nowadays, it’s a home for a variety of the trees like lindens, maples, and spruces. It is the Central Park of Krakow (albeit smaller in scale) where we can find joggers, walkers, and cyclists.  With plenty of areas for rest, the park is the perfect place to relax for locals and tourists alike. 


Florianska has always been one of the most important streets in the city. It’s been the center of artistic life for many famous Polish writers, painters, and performers. On both sides of the street, there are beautiful, historic tenement houses, including the oldest hotel in the city from the 1800s and a pharmacy museum that showcases exhibits from over 1,000 pharmacies from all over the country. Today, the street is a major tourist attraction. There are many shops, restaurants, cafes, and similar establishments, but their exterior building has been carefully preserved to maintain their original beauty.  

Wawel Castle 

The Wawel Royal Castle on Wawel Hill is one of Poland’s greatest places of historical and cultural importance. For centuries, it was the home of kings and the place where Polish history was made. 

It has become one of the most important museums in the country, and, in 1978, it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List along with Old Town. The complex has beautiful gardens, courtyards, a chapel, a treasury, stately rooms, city views, and, of course, the Wawel Castle itself. Make sure to plan your visit and be sure to pick up self-guide headsets. Allow yourself half a day to discover this magical place. 


Kazimierz is the former Jewish district situated a stone’s throw from the Old Town. After the Jewish population resettled here in the 15th century, it quickly became an important center of Jewish culture in Poland and the world. Many outstanding scientists, writers, and politicians were born in this area. Before WWII, approximately 60,000 Jews were living in Krakow, but tragically most did not survive the war.

Today, Kazimierz is one of the main attractions of Krakow, buzzing with cultural and artistic life. It tends to attract those who want to feel Krakow’s bohemian spirit. Endless cafes with unique character and artistic flair, as well as many well-known art studios and galleries, fill the district. You can expect to see a mix of historical monuments and synagogues (including the Old Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue in Poland from the 1400s) along with highly-rated restaurants and food trucks. 

Vistula District  

The Vistula River (Wisla in Polish) is the longest river in Poland. It traverses through four countries (Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland) and cuts through Krakow and Warsaw before flowing into the Baltic Sea in Gdansk. The Vistula riverbank in Krakow is among the most relaxing places in the city, along with Planty. It’s where locals sunbathe, picnic, and go for a leisurely walk or bike ride. There are a wide variety of churches, new developments, industrial parks, and bridges along the Vistula. Visitors can walk along the riverbank or enjoy the view from one of the restaurant ships that dot the river.

You can explore Krakow in multiple ways. Guided tour options include walking, biking, golf carts, and even Segway tours. Traveling couples may opt for romantic boat tours. It’s a city for those interested in history and art as well as culinary and alcoholic adventures. Krakow caters to students, families, and seniors by offering a variety of activities like vodka tasting, traditional Polish dumpling cooking classes, food tours, pub crawls, and museum tours. It’s worth mentioning that visiting Poland won’t break the bank, and your dollars (or pounds or euros as the case may be) will go farther than many other European countries. You will be able to eat, see, and enjoy so much more compared to better-known tourist hotspots. 

Hopefully, I have piqued your interest to discover what is in my mind about the most beautiful city in Poland. I personally can’t wait to be back there again. Stand by for my gastronomic guide to Poland for all you foodies out there.

by Anna Lech

Moving to Spain, an LGBTQ+-Friendly Destination

Where I’m from, most people do not move out of state, let alone abroad. In my family of working-class New Englanders, women definitely do not. I’m from a small town in Maine, and moving to the “big city” of Portland (60,000 people) is usually journey’s end. Despite its size, Portland is very much a LGBTQ+-friendly destination.

By 24, I had achieved the dream of moving to Portland. I was working at an inbound call center, which is as horrible as it sounds. While I was assisting customers with car rentals in Europe, I was daydreaming of the life I had always wanted: to travel and live abroad. In the rare moments between phone calls, I spent my time scrolling through photos of faraway destinations. Lake Como, the Alhambra, and Gaudí’s Parque Güell were waiting for me, and I knew that I had to start making moves fast. If I didn’t, I could see how easily I could wake up one day and be 50 years old and still living in my familiar bubble. I decided that I would move abroad by 30.

The problem was that I had no clue how to do it. Scrolling Facebook one day, I saw posts from a college classmate who had moved to Madrid through the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP). Organized by the Spanish Ministry of Education, the program contracts native speakers to teach English in public schools in Spain. I had no teaching experience, no child care experience, and had never even been to Europe. Thanks to a semester in Havana, I already spoke Spanish well, though, so I decided to go for it. The prospect of living in southern Europe conjured romantic images of enjoying tapas on cafe terraces, and the program’s offer of free health insurance didn’t hurt either.

Spanish Selection

I had carefully prepared my application documents for months so that I would be sitting at my computer, ready to submit them right when the application opened at midnight on January 9th, 2018. The application allows you to list your top three preferences for which region you would like to work in, and preferences are met on a first-come-first-serve basis. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. When I ended up applying two weeks late, my application number indicated that there were already over two thousand applicants ahead of me, many of them dreaming of living in Madrid just like I was. I hoped that I would at least get one of my backups: Cataluña or the Basque Country.

After applying, there was the long, anxious wait to find out what region I would be assigned. Eager for my dream of moving to Spain to become a concrete plan, I obsessively refreshed my email every day. As a bisexual woman who was struggling to come out of the closet, I hoped to live in a major city like Madrid or Barcelona. There, I knew that I could connect with other folks from the LGBTQ+ community. I had already researched neighborhoods like Chueca in Madrid and envisioned myself living in such an LGBTQ+-friendly destination where the metro was even painted rainbow colors. I also wanted to live in a major city where it might be easier to access EMDR therapy, a specific type of treatment that helped with my complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).


Finally, on May 24th, I saw the email in my inbox. I was sitting at my desk at my customer service job, palms sweating, and I clicked on the email. I read that I had been assigned…Valencia? I honestly had never even heard of it before. I was disappointed but promised myself that I would be open-minded. After some Googling, I felt reassured that living on the Mediterranean in the land of paella and oranges would not be so bad. I also still had hopes that I would be placed in Valencia city, which is the third-largest city in Spain.

Moving Abroad

I had to wait even longer to be notified of the exact location of the school where I would be working. On July 2nd, I received an email with the address of my school in Crevillent, a town of 28,000 people located half an hour inland from Alicante. It was not the metropolis that I had been hoping for, but I was determined to be optimistic. With that one email, after months of waiting, my dream had suddenly become a stark reality. Now, everything was up to me. I had two and a half months to get my student visa. I also had to quit my job, empty my apartment, and set up a new life in Spain.

Fortunately, the visa process fell together fairly easily. Emptying my apartment, however, proved to be more complicated. I had no idea how permanent my move was going to be. Would I like living in Spain? Would I enjoy teaching? Should I get rid of all of my possessions, or should I store them in case I regret the move and want to come back? Should I leave my life in a way that I could easily pick up where I left off? Or should I tie off loose ends so that I was free to roam wherever the future might lead me?

Big Steps

In the end, I decided to free myself. I sold or donated all of my possessions (except for a small box of sentimental items that a friend kindly stored for me). When I headed to the airport, I brought all that I owned: two suitcases and a backpack. After a tearful goodbye, I watched my best friend drive away.

Suddenly, the overwhelming wave of reality hit me. It was just me and my dreams, standing there in the doorway of the airport, and I was absolutely terrified. I had never had any role models in my life to advise me as a woman solo moving abroad. No woman in my family had lived the independent life that I had always longed for. I desperately wanted to call my friend and beg him to come back. I wanted to explain that I had made a terrible mistake and must have temporarily lost my mind.

Inspiring Individuals

Yet, while I didn’t have any personal role models, over the months since applying to the program, I found inspiration in the stories of others. At first, I sought out online expat networks in search of logistical advice. But over time, I realized that they offered something much more important: emotional support. From blogs to Facebook groups to YouTube videos, expats’ vulnerable testimonials were what gave me the courage to imagine forging a new path for myself. Finally, the moment had come to create my own story—I just had to take that first step into the unknown.

Looking Back

This week, I am celebrating my three-year anniversary of moving to Spain. Embarking on this journey is the biggest risk that I have ever taken. It is also hands down the best decision that I have ever made. Living abroad has nurtured my personal and professional growth in ways that I never could have imagined. I have become more flexible, patient, and confident. Problems that would have overwhelmed me in the past now do not seem so daunting.

In part, I have gained these skills due to the unpredictable nature of NALCAP. I have been fortunate to work in two wonderful schools in small Valencian towns where the staff and students embraced me with open arms. My first year, the English teachers at the school accompanied me during every class and had concrete lesson plans that they wanted me to follow. My second year, I began working at a school in another town, Alginet, and I was responsible for planning and teaching every class on my own. (Per the program guidelines, there was always a teacher in the room during each class, but the teacher did not speak English.) While there are guidelines for the position, in reality, it is up to each school to decide what an auxiliar’s responsibilities are, and this inconsistency can cause confusion but also encourages problem-solving skills.


Another unpredictable aspect of NALCAP is the yearly stress of waiting to receive the location of your next school. After completing my first year teaching in Crevillent, I requested to be moved closer to Valencia city. I was fortunate that I was moved to Alginet, a town 45-minutes from Valencia city. However, the Ministry of Education could have assigned me anywhere in the region of Valencia. It is often up to chance. After living in Valencia for two years, I had to face the unfortunate fact that NALCAP has a three-year limit on living in the Valencian region.

I was forced to apply to move to a different region. Again, I was in the situation of anxiously waiting to hear where I would be living and hoping that I would receive one of my preferences. I was lucky to be granted my first choice of Andalucía. In August, I was notified that I will be living in a small coastal town in Almería province. This left me one month to figure out how to move to this unknown place without a car. Solving these types of problems is now my normal rhythm of life.

Moving Abroad and Finding the Right LGBTQ+-Friendly Destination

I often think back to that crucial moment when I was standing in the doorway of Logan Airport. There were a million reasons to not walk through that door. I had so many fears: Would I be able to find mental health care? Would I make friends? Would it end up being an LGBTQ+-friendly destination where I could be myself? My journey living abroad has been an unexpected road with its share of ups and downs. Along the way, I have faced some very difficult moments. Yet, honestly, I have never once regretted my decision to take that step forward. In the most difficult moments, my consolation has always been remembering that this is not a life that was given to me, but rather one that I have built. And it all started with taking the incredible (yet terrifying) risk of building a life that I love.

by Susanna Rajala

Reflections on Moving to Europe

One of my favourite things to do while browsing Facebook is answering the weekly question in the Girl Gone International Facebook groups. However, I didn’t answer the question last week, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The question read When you are asked, “Why did you leave your country of birth?”, what is your reply? The question wasn’t difficult, but every time I tried to write an answer, I wasn’t sure what to say. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question. However, as I try to settle into my new home in my second European country, I’ve been thinking a lot about it. This, inevitably, leads me to think about how moving to Europe 11 years ago completely changed my life.

A True Canadian  

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I got the travel bug young. My mom always said she knew that I would be a traveller and live abroad. She also knew that I’d go as far away from home as possible. It’s not that I don’t love Canada — I do! I’m very patriotic: I always wear red and white on Canada day, eat poutine whenever I can, put maple syrup on everything, and say sorry for the smallest of things.  However, despite all of this, I never felt truly connected to Canada. I also knew that I didn’t want to spend my life in my tiny hometown.

Excitement Abound 

The first time I stepped off a plane in Berlin, I felt a rush. The atmosphere was so different from where I grew up. I could feel the history everywhere, and the architecture surrounding me was so old and beautiful. At that moment, something clicked in me, and I knew I needed to move to Europe after university. That opportunity came to me in the form of a Teach English Abroad program in Madrid.


Arriving in Madrid was thrilling! The rush of traffic, the sights and sounds of Huertas and Puerta del Sol, seeing whole ham legs hanging from the ceilings in bars, eating mounds of free tapas with each beer, partying until 6 am, and staying up to watch the sunrise all felt like a natural fit for me. As the months passed, I experienced more of Madrid, improved my Spanish, and observed the Spanish way of life. All of these experiences helped to build and cement my love for my new home.

Home Is Who You’re With 

I was lucky to make some really great friends early on. Most of them were other Canadians and Americans who felt the same as I did — like they didn’t belong in their home country. Although some of these friends have since left, I still have a tight circle of people who have made lives for themselves in Madrid. 

Meeting my now-husband is probably what solidified my reasons for staying in Spain. With his help, I was able to get real working papers and transition into a full-time teaching job at a private school in Spain. I’ve met some amazing friends there (both Spanish and expat) and made a name for myself at the school. I’ve also been lucky enough to take advantage of cheap flights and travel to other amazing European cities. This has allowed me to try their food, learn their history, and experience their way of life.

New Beginnings in Strasbourg, France

My most recent European adventure has taken me to Strasbourg, France, for a two-year sabbatical while my husband fulfills one of his professional goals. Although I’m in a different time in my life than I was 11 years ago when I moved to Madrid (I now have a four-month-old baby girl), I still feel the same excitement I felt when I first stepped foot in Europe so many years ago. I’m excited to re-learn French (or at least try!). I’m also excited to see the beautiful Alsatian towns with their traditional timbered houses. I want to explore as much as I can on this sabbatical. I want to see the Black Forest and nearby mountain ranges. I’m looking forward to experiencing all that France has to offer while I’m here! 

Moving to Europe Was the Right Choice for Me

So I guess to answer the question, “Why did you leave your country of birth?” I would have to say that Canada just didn’t (and still doesn’t) give me the rush and excitement I’m looking for in my life. Europe, whether it be Spain or France, just feels right to me. I’ve checked off so many places on my travel list, learned so much about myself over the past 11 years, and made a life for myself here that I wouldn’t change for the world. Sure, I miss my family in Canada, but I’m happy here, and I know that moving to Europe was the right choice to make all those years ago.

by Kristen Gammage

Three Day Trips Near Madrid You (Probably) Haven’t Heard Of

Travel Off the Beaten Path

Spain is a popular tourist destination, with Madrid being one of the most visited cities in the country. For those looking to escape the city for the day, there are many popular day trips near Madrid, including places such as El Escorial, Aranjuez, or Álcala de Henares.

These destinations are loved by tourists not just from Spain, but from all over the world. However, if you’re interested in immersing yourself in Spanish culture, you might want to avoid the tourist traps. You may ask yourself, “Where do the locals go?”

Here are three hidden gems near Madrid that you might want to consider for your next trip to Spain. All of them are a quick trip from the city, so you won’t need to book another hotel or worry about bringing your luggage with you!


Just an hour and a half away from Madrid by train, Sigüenza almost appears to be frozen in time. The small town, located in the Castilla-La Mancha province, dates back centuries. In fact, its castle was raised in the 12th century and remains incredibly well preserved today. You can visit the castle and many medieval houses, churches, and fortifications, all of which are rich with Spanish history and culture. Siguënza is also home to El Museo Diocesano de Arte Antiguo, an art and archeological museum named one of the oldest in Spain.

If you get tired and need a rest, the central plaza near the cathedral is a fantastic spot to stop and enjoy tapas. There are several restaurants located around the plaza and on the side streets leading away from it. If you’re visiting between 2-4 pm, the plaza will likely be alive with locals having lunch out with friends and family.

Although Renfe trains run to Sigüenza, you might be interested in the Medieval Train, a touristic option that runs both a train and tour service. For 35€ (16€ for children), the service will bring you to the town and take you on a fully guided tour of the historical sights. The train trip itself provides medieval music to set the atmosphere and little goodies. Once you arrive, there is also a theatrical performance and free time for lunch and shopping.

Tip: Make sure to check the dates that the train is running, as COVID-19 has affected service.

Manzanares El Real

Located an hour outside of Madrid at the base of the Guadarrama Mountains sits Manzanares El Real. This charming town is set against a stunning background. On one side is the Santillana Reservoir from which the Manzanares River runs. On the other side are the Guadarrama Mountains, an integral part of both regional and national parks, and La Pedriza, part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. During your visit, you might see some of the many animals the area is home to, such as storks, eagles, and possibly even an Ibex goat.

An Archaeologist’s Dream

Manzanares El Real is a fascinating destination, not only because of its natural beauty but also because of its long and rich history. Its castle played a crucial role in the Reconquista of Spain when the Spanish retook control from the Umayyad Caliphate. You can visit the castle ruins and many other historic sites, including the New Castle of the Mendoza Family, which remains in amazing condition and has been converted into a museum.

Apart from its monuments, Manzanares El Real is also part of the many routes of the Camino de Santiago. You can walk part of the Camino from the town, which takes you alongside the mountains. Eventually, you end up at a beautiful hermitage overlooking the surrounding area.

Finally, Manzanares El Real is also home to Bronze Age archeological dig sites in La Pedriza. Nearby is also the famous dig site La Cabilda, located in Hoyo de Manzanares, which sometimes allows volunteers to participate in the excavations.

Visiting Manzanares El Real is easy. Simply take the 724 bus from Plaza Castilla for roughly 4€. The bus drops you off in the center plaza, where you can grab a drink or tapas before looking around. But be careful, there’s so much to see and enjoy, you may want to spend more than one day there!


The adorable town of Brihuega is located about an hour and a half away from the capital, making it one of the top day trips near Madrid. Famous for its lavender fields and local lavender products, you can visit the town by bus or train. That said, you’ll need a car to see the fields up close.

Once you arrive in Brihuega, it will be immediately obvious what the town is famous for. There is lavender everywhere! From shops selling lavender-based goods to house decorations, the entire town is sprinkled with purple. This gives the town a charming and picturesque vibe and provides the perfect backdrop for photos.

Lavender and History

Brihuega isn’t all about lavender, though. Like many Spanish towns, it also has both historical and cultural significance. You may want to stop by the old city walls, 13th-century church, or bullfighting ring. Don’t forget to pop into the tourism office in the center for a free map!

Of course, the crown jewel of Brihuega is its lavender fields. In the summer, the fields bloom with vibrant color and stretch as far as the eye can see. These fields are important to the bee population, but don’t worry–they’re more interested in the flowers than in you! There are convenient parking lots located near the fields for you to stop, get out, and walk around. You can roam and take pictures, but avoid taking lavender, as it’s the town’s main source of revenue.

Adventures Abound: Embark on These Day Trips Near Madrid

If you’re looking to experience something new, join the locals on vacation, or simply don’t have time to leave the Madrid area, consider embarking on these three amazing day trips near Madrid. There are so many incredible places in Spain to see, so don’t miss out.

by Sarah Perkins Guebert

21 Things to Do in Madrid Before You Leave

Madrid is a city filled with history, art, culture, parks, and great food. Collectively, our team has spent years in Madrid teaching, studying, and getting to know this wonderful metropolis. In this guide to Madrid, we collate our recommendations for bars, restaurants, and things to see and do in the Spanish capital. Whatever you choose, we know you’ll love Madrid! 

1. See How the Royals Live at Palacio Real de Madrid

Go inside and walk around; it’s HUGE! The Royal Palace of Madrid has over 1,000 rooms. With interior measurements of 134,999 square meters, it’s the largest palace in Europe. Photography is allowed outside the building and around the entrance, by the stairs, when you pass inside.

2. Get Your Five a Day at Honest Greens

Take a North American Business School alumnus, a Danish entrepreneur, and a French chef with Michelin kitchen experience and you get Honest Greens. Combine with locally sourced produce and a fast-food philosophy to create a growing number of relaxed eateries. A retro soundtrack plays as you order from the counter and sit down to wait for your seasonal selection delivered to an artfully designed stone table.

3. Visit North Africa Without Leaving Europe by Dropping by Templo de Debod

This is one of the only Egyptian architectural monuments outside of Egypt. Built in 150-250 BC, Templo de Debod was a chapel where many Egyptians honored the god Amun and the goddess Isis. Spain assisted the Egyptian government in building a dam that helped stop the destruction of famous sites. Egypt donated this temple as a thank you for their help. It’s best to see it at sunset!

4. Beat a Retreat From the Madrid Heat at Catedral de la Almudena

The Spanish capital’s cathedral maintains a cool interior. This beautiful venue hosted a fairytale wedding on 22nd May 2004 as King Felipe VI, then Spain’s Crown Prince, married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. There is no set entrance fee, but you are encouraged to dig deep in your pockets and make a voluntary donation to help pay for the cathedral’s upkeep. Many visitors like to light a candle for a loved one while there.

5. Join the Brunch Bunch at Café Federal

If you are a homesick American craving pancakes, head to the cozy Café Federal in Universidad barrio. This is a perfect post-breakfast, pre-lunch destination. You can even find plant-based options if you or your brunching companions are vegan.

6. Play Hide and Seek in Parque del Retiro

Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s Central Park. It is so large you could spend the whole day here and still have more to see! Challenge yourself to find the famous statue of the Fallen Angel, go to the lake where you can rent a rowboat, take advantage of “the bars” for outdoor workouts, and check out the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal).

7. Savor the Flavor of Spain at Francesca’s Clueca

Francesca’s Clueca is a great little restaurant in Ibiza with homemade Spanish omelets (tortilla de patata). They are thick and traditionally made with potatoes inside, although you order off a long list of specialized omelets. A personal favorite of ours is the toscana with sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and basil.

8. Pay Homage at Madrid’s White House, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

La Casa Blanca is a nickname for the stadium of Spain’s (and possibly the world’s) most famous soccer club: Real Madrid. On non-match days, you can take a stadium tour. The tour allows you to enter the changing rooms that were frequented by club legends like Alfredo Di Stéfano, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Raúl, and Sergio Ramos. When Real Madrid plays at home, you will obviously find it easier to buy tickets for a game against one of La Liga’s smaller teams rather than for, say, El Clásico versus fierce rivals Barcelona.

9. Learn About Spanish History at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reína Sofía

In January 1937, the exiled Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, was commissioned by the Spanish government to create an eye-catching mural. This would be displayed at Paris’ Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life). Upon learning about the 26th April bombing of Guernica, poet Juan Larrea traveled to Picasso’s home to encourage him to make the aerial attack the focus of the mural. Picasso was further inspired by reading George Steer’s on-the-ground account of the Nazi-led onslaught and produced Guernica. Picasso’s mural and several of Salvador Dalí’s works can be found on the second floor of this museum

10. Dunk the Original Donuts

Chocolateria San Ginés is the first place in Madrid that sold churros con chocolate, crunchy dough fried in olive oil, which you dip into lukewarm rather than hot chocolate. They have been serving them since 1894. Chocolateria San Ginés is open from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm every day of the week. Despite opening eight years later than San Ginés, 1902 claims to be the oldest churreria in Madrid. However, it has pioneered the first gluten-free churro and is located centrally, just around the corner from Plaza Mayor. 

11. Enjoy a Birds’-Eye-View of Madrid

Just 4€ buys you a ticket to the 100-meter-high Faro de Moncloa in the Princesa neighborhood. It’s open from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. On a cloud-free day, you can see for miles and miles (up to 100km away). For a nocturnal vista, Círculo de Bellas Artes is the best rooftop bar to visit. Without a doubt, arrive early to get the best seat. A line usually forms before opening.

12. Take Stock of the Markets in Madrid

Mercado de San Miguel is right around the corner from Plaza Mayor. We like to walk past the seafood vendors to see the giant fish they put out daily. Malasaña’s Mercado de San Ildefonso has three floors, three cocktail bars, and plenty of tapas options to help you keep your footing if you’re on a booze cruise. Mercado de la Paz is a historic market that opened in 1882 in Salamanca. This is a great place to stock up on nibbles such as cold cuts, cheese, and olives, along with seasonal fruits and veggies.

13. See Mona Lisa’s Double at the Museo Nacional del Prado

The Prado features Spain’s most famous works of art. Make sure you make it to the Prado Mona Lisa by the artist group, Leonardeschi. This is a painting with the same subject as Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. It has been on display since 1819. Pablo Picasso’s Las Meninas is another piece that you shouldn’t miss. The Prado is one of the largest museums in Europe. Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco are some of the other famous names to look out for here.

14. Bite into History at Restaurante Botín

Restaurante Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1725. This feat has earned the eatery a Guinness World Records entry. The interior has not changed here since its 18th-century origins and neither has the kitchen’s firewood oven. The house specialties are the suckling lambs and pigs imported from Segovia. Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene have used the Botín as a dramatic background in their novels.

15. Shop Until You Drop in Gran Vía, Madrid’s Oxford Street

All the main stores are located here. Along Gran Vía, you’ll stumble across Plaza de Callao. There is an El Corte Inglés store with a top floor full of restaurants. It’s worth a detour! Also, consider walking down Fuencarral, a shopping street closed off to cars that branches off Gran Vía.

16. Go Local at La Máquina Jorge Juan

When the DJ pumps up the volume at La Máquina Jorge Juan, you may think you’re dining in a club. This is a converted stately home in Salamanca, but it has the relaxed feeling of a local fave. To start, order their neat twist on patatas bravas, which are tempura potato sticks accompanied with a smoky, flavorsome salsa.

17. Get Your Bearings in the Heart of the City

At Puerta del Sol, you can find the city emblem, which is a statue of a Bear with a strawberry tree. Kilometer Zero is also located here, which is the exact center of Madrid. Without reservation, the best chocolate pastries in Madrid are located in nearby La Mallorquina. Order the napolitana de chocolate. Soooooo mouth-watering!

18. Take a Wander to the Wanda Metropolitano

This is the home of the Spanish capital’s second most popular soccer club, Atlético de Madrid. Just like their cross-city adversaries, Real Madrid, Wanda Metropolitano offers a stadium tour when the team isn’t playing at home. However, if you want a fuller flavor of Spanish soccer, try to visit on a matchday. The Atlético fans are passionate, proudly singing their club-related songs and shouting out chants.

19. Restore Your Inner Equilibrium at Levél Veggie Bistro

Stylish Ibiza is the ideal location for this chilled eatery that showcases upcoming artists alongside signature dishes, such as raw plant-based lasagna with macadamia ricotta and Brazil-nut parmesan. The owners, Fabrizio and Julie, are the guardians of this tranquil spot with its colorful menu which panders to your taste buds. Julie even has a salad named after her with rocket, macadamia cheese, orange wedges, cardamom, and beetroot dressed in a vinaigrette with a base of organic doughnut peach.

20. Eat Out at an A-lister Hideout, El Paraguas

Central, but tucked-away, Salamanca is the barrio the celebs feel relaxed enough to eat out in. Join the likes of Real Madrid stars (we saw left-back Marcelo there on our last visit) and satisfy your hunger for modern riffs on Asturian classics at stylish El Paraguas. The amuse bouches provide a bite-sized intro and outro to your meal.

21. Sip on High-End Cocktails at Pictura

Los Jerónimos is where it’s at if you’re craving exclusivity. This upscale neighborhood is where you’ll find the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, one of Madrid’s most luxurious hotels. Their Pictura is a dress-to-impress cocktail bar with a complimentary nut tree and bijou tapas, such as mini Korean burgers. 

by Dreams Abroad

The Ideal Weekend in Metro Detroit

When people ask me where I’m from, I often pause. Not because I suddenly forgot where I live, but, more like, I don’t consider my place of residence as “where I grew up.” Or, it could be because whenever I say “Canton, Michigan” and the person knows just enough about the Metro Detroit area, they’ll respond, “Oh yeah! You live in Ikea Town, right?” You have to love living in the city with the only Ikea within a 200-mile radius. 

So, no — I would have to say, I don’t relate to the statement that I live in Ikea Town. I consider myself a casual nomad of Metro Detroit. I’m everywhere, but nowhere at the same time. The name Motor City seems highly appropriate to me since so much of my time is spent in a car to avoid staying in the same place for too long. But, I like to think that qualifies me to tell you what a perfect weekend would be in the Metro Detroit area. Of course, there are too many unique spots to list, but here are some of my ultimate favorites:


After a long week, the last thing I would want to do is drive 40 minutes and pop a tire on one of Michigan’s infamous potholes. Downtown Plymouth is about seven minutes from my house, and I treat it as my escape. I’m telling you it looks like Stars Hollow with a central park that is surrounded by quaint buildings. 

If You Need A 5 pm Pick-Me-Up, Visit The Plymouth Coffee Bean

Just like that one Avril Lavigne song, my relationship with coffee is complicated. Weeks will go by and suddenly I can’t function without a large black cold brew with three extra espresso shots. Other days, I can’t even look at a mug. There’s no in-between. 

One sure thing is my love for the Plymouth Coffee Bean. Locally known as “The Bean,” this spot is a staple for every Plymouth resident. They have live music, open mics, fresh crepes, and fantastic coffee. The coffee shop is a repurposed home from the 90s, so it guarantees you will feel right at home. The walls are plastered with local art and trust that you will find the weirdest mysteries inside. One time, I found a binder filled with the strangest confessions (I may or may not have left my own). This is the place that I dread leaving.

Forget AMC, Buy A $5 Ticket at Penn Theatre

The theater is entirely volunteer-run and was saved by the metro Detroit community many years ago when the city threatened to tear it down. The theater shows one film a week on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It’s tiny, so expect a couple of knee nudges when walking to your seat. The appeal doesn’t rely on aesthetics. Instead, it depends on the community’s spirit.

When you’re there you feel like you’re a part of old Hollywood in a sense — like you’ve traveled back in time — when going to the movie theater was an event. You’re not just watching a movie to watch a movie. You’re experiencing magic on a screen and sharing it with people who love the theater just as much as they love Meryl Streep’s acting. Make sure to get there early because there are no advance ticket sales, and the line becomes very long, very quickly.

The Dinner After The Movie

Even though DTP has many great restaurants, I gravitate to my town, Canton, to find the perfect place. Canton has a very diverse selection of authentic Indian, Japanese, Pakistani, and Mediterranean food. Some of my favorites include Authentikka, Levant Kitchen, Izakaya Sanpei, and Tandoori Corner. But, my absolute must-go is the Korean restaurant, Kimchi. My go-to order is the Tofu Bibimbap. This comfort dish is everything you could ask for on a rainy day. 


Saturdays are meant for excitement and you’ll definitely find it in Detroit. Take a drive (but not too far, or you’ll end up in Canada) and experience where Motown was created. 

Wake Up Early and Venture to the Eastern Market

On the voted #1 Detroit Riverwalk, the Eastern Market is a cornerstone of Detroit. With over 200 vendors, you won’t be disappointed. Detroit is supported solely by its people, and the Eastern Market is an excellent representation of that. If you’re looking to taste Detroit, this is a great place to start. Many vendors are Detroit residents and natives so you can find great local produce, baked goods, art, jewelry, bath products, and clothing. 

Saturday is the main event with the largest turnout. There are different markets offered on Tuesday and Sunday. Additionally, there are special Holiday-themed market days and Flower Day, the day after Mother’s Day, and features various florals.

Take A Page From John K. King Used and Rare Books

Who said a bookstore can’t be exciting? John King Rare Books is the largest bookstore in Michigan, and it does not disappoint. There are three stories of endless aisles with every book you can imagine. Here’s a sneak peek inside John King. From rare first editions to used classics, there will be something for everyone. This bookstore has put a dent in my bank account many times. Be aware that there is no AC in the building, so dress appropriately! I’ve made the mistake of wearing too many layers on a summer day, and I will never be doing that again.

End The Night At Cliff Bell’s

If you’re going to Detroit, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check out the music scene. Detroit is the birthplace of superstars Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and many more. There is a lot of pride in Detroit’s music scene. One place I will never shut up about is a “secret” music studio in Canton that had musicians like Michael Jackson and Madonna down the street from my house. It’s a no-brainer that you have to check out the local artists at Cliff Bell’s. This jazz club features a wide range of artists every week and is easily the busiest stage in Michigan. They also offer incredible drinks and food, but ultimately you’re there to experience the unforgettable sounds of jazz. 


Pack a day bag because we are risking a popped tire to plan a fun Sunday. From Canton, Dearborn can seem a little far (about 45 minutes drive), but in Michigan, that’s considered a short walk. 

Travel Back in Time and Visit Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village

After you purchase a few fruits and a million plants, pack your car tight and head over to Greenfield Village museum where you can, quite literally, travel back in time. This museum is easily my top favorite. Henry Ford was a collector, and historical buildings were one of the things he liked to collect. This outdoor museum features The Wright Bros house & shop, Thomas Edison’s lab, and even a Model T ride. All the employees are actors and educators there to help immerse you in the experience of being in the 1800s. I usually spend my time ordering high tea at the beautiful Cotswold Cottage. During Holidays, I will never miss Holiday Nights

The United States of Ikea

I know, I know — I seem hypocritical. But, it’s Ikea… you have to go. Canton is “Ikea Town” after all. Swedish meatballs, cheap furniture, and those flattering yellow polos, you can’t go wrong. After an exciting weekend and with a stressful week ahead, you need to find a neutral space. Ikea is that haven. I love to get lost in the maze of perfectly designed room displays after one too many Swedish desserts. You have to visit yourself to see why many people travel from all over the Midwest for our Ikea.

For me, writing this article is incredibly bittersweet. After living in Metro Detroit for over 20 years, I’m moving away for good. When I was in primary school, I would dream about leaving the town I couldn’t wait to leave. I didn’t appreciate the amazing wonders that lie at the end of every corner street. Instead, I shook my fist in the air and forgot to be conscious of every step in my favorite places. I didn’t anticipate these places to be referenced in the past tense rather than the present. By sharing my favorite spots, I hope that they can act as an ode or maybe an apology. I can confidently say that now, Metro Detroit is a place I love, a place that shaped me into the human I am today — and for that, I am forever grateful. Thank you, Michigan. I will miss you.

by Marie Cantor