A Tour of Taxco, Mexico: Part Six

Tyler blackMy time in Mexico City was slowly coming to an end. It was nothing short of fantastic. To read more about my trip, make sure you check out part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five.

I had just one last excursion left before heading home. This time, I was visiting Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico. I felt pretty excited about this tour because I couldn’t wait to see small-town life within Mexico. Operated by Olympus Tours, I highly recommend the excursion. The tour not only operated smoothly but was full of fantastic knowledge and interesting facts that kept me intrigued throughout the day.

The tour guide picked me up in a small van right at my hostel, Casa Pepe. Interestingly enough, I was the only English speaker in the van, as the other four tourists were from Colombia. Since I speak Spanish, I told our guide that he could stick to Spanish the whole trip so he wouldn’t have to translate back and forth between languages. He seemed relieved, but not before telling me in English that the sunburn on my face looked pretty bad and how much of a typical “gringo” I was. Okay, he didn’t say that exactly but that’s what it felt like! Luckily, the other travelers couldn’t understand him so I wasn’t as embarrassed.

Cuernavaca, Mexico

We set off south of Mexico City passing over mountains before arriving in Cuernavaca an hour later. I won’t lie, I was kind of disappointed right off the bat. We stopped in a small courtyard surrounded by three churches, each built during a different part of Mexico’s history. I do love old churches and cathedrals. That was one of my favorite parts of living in Europe. But I found myself rather bored here. We ended up not seeing anything else in Cuernavaca. After an hour of walking around the courtyard, we hopped on the bus and left. Thankfully, the tour got a whole lot better.

The square in Taxco, Mexico

Taxco, Mexico

After another hour-long car ride, we came up on Taxco, Mexico. Built on the side of a mountain, the town looked absolutely stunning from a distance. I felt really excited to try and make my way to the top to enjoy the views. The van let us off in the center of town and our guide walked us around a bit explaining the history of Taxco. Unfortunately, I was too busy taking pictures and didn’t listen to a single word he had to say. I can really be the worst tourist sometimes.

After showing us some points of interest that we could explore later, our guide took us to a jewelry store specializing in silver. Apparently, the areas surrounding Taxco, Mexico are filled with deposits of silver. The Aztecs used this area to make jewelry and decorations for their gods. To this day, Taxco silver is one of the most sought after metals. I bought a few souvenirs for my family because, well, when would I get this chance again?

A statue of text reading "mexico"

A Few Hours Left

Shortly after, I went to grab lunch with two of the people in our group at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the city. I found it incredibly challenging to converse and eat without constantly taking pictures of the view. The pair — a woman and her father — wanted to do a little bit of exploring in Mexico. I told them how much I’d love to visit Colombia and they gave a lot of great recommendations. It was also great to be able to converse in Spanish again and get some practice in. 

With only a few hours left in Taxco, I decided to walk throughout as much of the town as possible. This was quite the feat considering the town was built on the side of a mountain. My legs were on fire (probably still feeling the effects of hiking a volcano a few days earlier). Nonetheless, it was an amazing experience strolling through small streets and alleys, seeing everyone go about their normal routines. I stopped in some more shops to buy some souvenirs. My aimless wandering even led me to a great view of the Taxco, Mexico cathedral with the valley behind it in the distance. Visiting this town definitely made up for the rather slow beginning of the tour. I highly recommend taking a tour of Taxco. Words cannot accurately describe its beauty.

Time to Go Home

I filled the next morning trying to stuff everything back into my suitcase. I definitely bought way too many souvenirs on this trip, but it was worth it. Although my flight was at 1:00pm, I called an Uber around 10:00am. I figured there would be a lot of traffic on the way to the airport. And boy, was I right. What should have been a 35-minute car ride took a little more than an hour. Luckily my Uber driver was a very friendly man with a lot to talk about, so it helped ease my nerves a little bit.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about departing and not just ending this series on a good note. I’m here to tell you my little goof. If you remember from part one, I was given a slip of paper upon arriving in Mexico with all my passport information. It was almost like a tourist visa. I mistakenly threw it away. The lady behind the check-in desk refused to take my bags without that slip of paper. She told me I had to go to the immigration office to file a new one. Panic was setting in.

A beautiful field in Taxco, Mexico

Customs Snafu

I raced downstairs to the office. Of course, there was a line to talk with the agent. He explained that I needed to print out my arrival and departure flight information. So, I had to run across the hallway to pay a guy to print the documents out for me. After finally filling out all the proper paperwork, I then had to pay a hefty amount of pesos for them to authorize me a new tourist visa. And of course, they only took cash. I made sure to spend all my cash before leaving. So, I had to race to the ATM just outside the office. And that’s when my bank decided to decline my withdrawals. I was starting to imagine what my new life in Mexico would look like. At least I spoke the language.

A town square

Lesson Learned

Luckily, my bank sent me a text asking if it was actually me trying to take out money. Once I got that authorized, I was finally able to pay for my replacement tourist visa. My heart rate was through the roof. But, problem solved! I wasn’t going to be stuck in a foreign country. Moral of the story: DON’T THROW AWAY ANY DOCUMENTS YOU GET FROM CUSTOMS.

Thank you for taking the time to read this series on Mexico City. I hope you enjoyed reading about my trip and hopefully, it has inspired you to visit. Mexico City blew all my expectations out of the water. It’s a beautiful city filled with wonderful people and an amazing culture. It’s quite a shame that Mexico City, and the country in general, is viewed so poorly in our media. I’m so glad I decided to see it firsthand and witness just how wrong everything is portrayed. I encourage you to do the same.

Dancing in the Forum

If you haven’t read my last post about my Italian pasta class and visiting the Roman Coliseum, check it out!

Our guide led us down several ancient stone steps into a patch of grass that glowed in the bright Italian summer sun. All around us were ruins in various states of completeness at the Roman Forum. Some stones barely stuck out above the grass line while others almost resembled buildings. As we walked around, the guide pointed out where old buildings used to stand and their importance to Rome’s history and culture. The 10th grade online Latin classes were finally paying off. 

Big door

A Great Accident at the Roman Forum

Forum ruins

He told us that earth had covered the ruins for centuries right where we were standing. Nobody knew for centuries that they had been walking right on top of one of the most treasured historical sites the world knows to this day. Someone discovered the ruins during some kind of routine construction project, if I’m remembering correctly. 

Roman Art

After listening to the guide’s explanation of the Forum, and feeling quite insignificant in the timeline of human history, we began exploring on our own. Dounia and I decided to check out a nearby site that was on the river: Castel Sant’Angelo. This mausoleum/citadel was one of the coolest places we visited during the entire trip. The entrance rests at the base of the giant cylinder, with the guided path slowly taking visitors up the steps to the citadel’s gorgeous view of Rome. The stunning history and ancient walls make this an unforgettable stop, with tales of dungeons, battles, and crazy Roman tales.

Rome Castel SantAngelo

battles around the forum

Armor

Gelato and People-Watching in Rome

After we finished touring the citadel, we ran into some members of our group. We decided to walk along the shade in a quieter section, certainly appreciating the slowdown from our busy itinerary. I picked up some cute Rome-themed magnets from a local vendor before we grabbed some gelato. Grabbing a spot along the wall that rested above the river, we spent the afternoon people-watching until it was time to go back to the hotel. That night was opera night. 

River

Putting on the best thing I packed for the whole trip, the whole group met in the lobby. After a short bus ride, we finally arrived at an elegant-looking restaurant. The host escorted us to a table with a great view of the stage. One of the performers even invited me up in front of the whole audience to dance as one of his co-performers sang. It was such a fun night filled with friends, laughter, and song. 

Join me next time as I talk about our trip to the Vatican!

Cassidy Kearney at the Forum

by Cassidy Kearney

 

Touring Rome Like a Roman

Check out my last article about our big day in Venice!

Trevi Fountain

In the late afternoon Italian sun, we arrived at our monastery-turned-luxe-hotel somewhere in the suburbs of Rome. With some time to kill, Dounia and I walked to a nearby park that reminded me of NYC’s Central Park. After walking through an unquestionably picturesque field of flowers, across a local creek, and to a small pond filled with turtles, we decided to head back for the walking tour.

Hello, Rome

We took a bus into the city center, where Nikos began the traditional introductory walking tour. He pointed out major sites and gave tips on how to get around. He led us through narrow alleys filled with restaurant tables and souvenir tables. We visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and even the Piazza Navona! They all seemed jammed packed with sweaty tourists just like me, desperate for a picture. After splitting up for dinner, we made our own ways back to the hotel for yet another early morning.

 

Pantheon
Pantheon

 

We woke up bright and early for a continental breakfast, one of my favorite parts of my days abroad (no joke, I have paragraphs upon paragraphs dedicated to the breakfast quality of each place we stayed). After breakfast, we followed Nikos to a traditional market square where we met an Australian woman and another tour group. We had all signed up for a pasta-making excursion. We were led through a winding apartment building. After so, so, so many stairs, we emerged onto a covered rooftop terrace with an undeniably great view of Rome’s skyline and a few chefs.

A Lesson in Italian Cuisine

After a lesson in the many distinct variations of olive oil (one that leaves me an olive oil prude to this day), we sipped on some white wine and began working on our pasta. We mixed the egg and flour together to create our pasta dough. With a dash of olive oil, we began kneading. I had used too little flour initially and wound up getting dough all over my hands – a trend that continues to this day in all my bread-making endeavors. Nobody heard my cries for flour until a chef spotted me and teased me.

handmade pasta

After rolling them into balls, we wrapped them in saran wrap and allowed them to cool. We watched the chefs make traditional marinara sauce in the meantime. Once we received our dough once more, we flattened it out and put them through the pasta maker to make fettuccine. After boiling everyone’s pasta, voila! Lunch was served!

Newsflash: Italy Is Just As Hot As Florida

After lunch, we made our way to the Roman Colosseum. We had to hurry, because we planned to meet the rest of our group there. The pasta excursion had taken longer than expected. We finally arrived out of breath and dripping with sweat. One of the most unexpected things about Europe was that its heat index matched Florida’s. I had always assumed the entirety of Europe was this pristine 70°F garden.

Colosseum
Colosseum

 

After meeting the group, we waited in one of the Colosseum’s many tunnels, which funneled a very welcome breeze. We met up with a tour guide, who began to talk about the undeniably rich history of this infamous arena. He explained that the reason why the Rome Colosseum was pock-marked was because over the centuries, people had come to steal the valuable metals that were encased in the stone. He also explained that the Colosseum was made of travertine that had been stacked onto itself, held together only by gravity. This explained why the bottom of the Colosseum looked like a maze of ruins: they had been a series of tunnels underneath the floor of the arena to get from side to side.

After noticing a few sun burns (i.e., me), our guide let us put some sunscreen on before we headed to the Rome Forum, which I’ll talk about in my next post!

Roman Colosseum
Roman Colosseum’s Tunnels.

 

Colosseum tour

 

 

The First Night in Venice After a Pit Stop in Verona

If you haven’t read my last article about our trip up the Swiss Alps, check it out!

After a stunning day on the mountain, we returned to our fancy hotel for a night of each other’s company. We broke out spare wine we had collected in the previous cities. We spent a good half hour looking for a wine opener while trying alternative bottle-opening techniques. The next morning, the hotel provided us with a gourmet breakfast (twelve different types of bread, six kinds of cheese, fresh fruit preserves, and more!) before we headed out at 8:30 AM. 

verona italy

An Afternoon in Verona

Everyone had forgotten that there was a planned stop in Verona before we finally landed in Venice. For me, it was a welcome pit stop as the very first Italian city on our tour. Italy was warm and gorgeous, and the architecture felt rich and ancient. Nikos took us on a quick tour of Verona, showing us several points of interest. We started with the Portoni della Bra, a large clock nestled in the gates of the old medieval walls of the city. This served as our landmark and meeting point later on.

portoni della bra clock verona

Nikos led us down cobblestone alleyways and Via Mazzini as he guided us past fancy restaurants, boutiques, and brand-name clothing lines I’d never heard of. We passed a giant coliseum that had red curtains hanging in the archways, suggesting its history of entertainment was far from over. We stumbled into the courtyard where Romeo and Juliet supposedly fell in love, and saw Juliet’s balcony. Nikos bought everybody gelato as a treat before we visited Statue Dante and broke up for the afternoon.

Freetime While Touring Verona

After a long wait in a bathroom line, I found that most of the group had left. Only Emily, Alyson (and one other person, but their name escaped me when I wrote my journal entry at the time), remained. We meandered through the market before we wandered into Via Mazzini to explore. I looked at the marble ground that lined the street with horror. I could only imagine how slippery in the rain it must be (I have a high propensity to slip and fall in public). Luckily I had an inkling of which alleys to take to get back to the Portoni della Bra, and we popped out in front of the coliseum. Considering its age, it was really in fantastic shape. 

coliseum flavian amphitheatre

Emily offered to take pictures of me in front of it, which is exactly when I realized that most of the pictures I’d been taking the entire trip lacked an important element: people. Anybody can Google a picture of Europe and see the same images I had been frantically running around taking. But what makes pictures special after a trip is the fact that you’re in them, or that people you care about are in them. I felt silly that I hadn’t realized that until halfway done with our trip. 

Panic at the Alleyways of Venice

the mainland of veniceWe all eventually made it back to the Portoni della Bra, with an exception to Dounia and Georgina, who got lost trying to make it back. Nikos left the group to find them and guide them back, which made us 30 minutes late leaving Verona. This mattered because Nikos had made a dinner reservation for everyone at 7:00 PM in Venice. 

Once we finally arrived at Mestre (the mainland of Venice), we dropped our luggage off at our hotel. We immediately left to hop onto a bus that would drive us over the bridge that connected Mestre to Venice. I felt thrilled to be in Venice. In the setting sun, it was everything I wanted it to be. In fact, I was so excited about visiting Venice that I didn’t realize that Nikos — our faithful guide — was lost! 

I had been so caught up in racing around the window displays and photographing public squares that it was only once it was finally dark did I realize that we were seriously turned around. Nikos kept ducking into stores and restaurants to ask for directions. We didn’t show up to the restaurant until 9:00 PM, two hours late. While I’m sure he felt bad about getting lost, I had a great time taking the scenic route! Besides that, finding your way in Venice is incredibly challenging. The alleyways are so narrow and winding that keeping track of where you are or where you’re going is impossible, especially as someone who doesn’t know the area well.

Summer Heat Affects All Cultures

After a great dinner of pizza and pasta, we left to take the bus back to Mestre. Apparently, however, we had arrived during the driver’s break! We wound up waiting on the bus for over twenty minutes. We piled into the bus, packed like sardines amongst tourists and locals alike, sweating in the Italian summer heat. Nikos refused to take off his jacket for fear of “being stinky.” I tried opening the bus window, and when I couldn’t get it because of the angle, the passenger sitting next to it helped slide it down. The entire front of the bus cheered as the cool outside air swam in.

venice italy

Finally the bus driver arrived and we took off. The bus lurched back and forth and we all quickly realized the bus malfunctioned! The tension while the bus driver restarted the bus was palpable. When the engine roared to life and we were finally on our way, the entire bus cheered again. 

Join me next time as I talk about our next day in Venice, my favorite city of the trip!

shopping in venice

Things to Do in Edinburgh: Scotland and Northern Ireland

As summer came to an end, I started to set my sights on New Year’s activities. Many of my friends were eying Colombia. That immediately caught my attention because I wanted to explore more of South America after my trip to Peru. Plus, they had family and accommodations there so it would take some serious pressure off finding trustworthy and affordable hostels/hotels/Airbnbs. Unfortunately, the day we went to buy plane tickets, the price was well over a grand. This was way over my “broke, post-college” budget. So, I looked over towards my old stomping grounds: Europe.

I found a very affordable flight on Norwegian Airlines to Edinburgh flying out of Stewart International in New York. Although this airport was two hours away from me, and not one I would ever choose to go to, the cheap flight was all the convincing I needed. So on a late Friday night in December, me and three pals (Donald, Johnny, and Andres) set out on our New Year’s trip to the U.K.

The trip almost ended as quickly as it began. I was busy stuffing my face in the airport and didn’t hear the final boarding call. Donald called me to say that everyone had boarded and that they’d been calling our names. What I heard was, “They just started boarding,” so as I lollygagged back to the gate with a full stomach, Donald was frantically motioning to me to hurry up.  Luckily, the travel gods were on my side and I made the flight.

Day One – A Walk Around Town

Cobble stone walk waysWe landed in Edinburgh around 7:00 a.m. local time after a rather bumpy landing. I slept the whole five-and-a-half-hour flight so I was ready to go. We slowly made our way through passport control, watching a woman vomit as she entered the airport and get whisked away to some back room. So naturally, the trip was off to an exciting start! We got our passports stamped, collected our bags, and looked for a way into town.

We ended up taking the bus for less than £5 straight to the city center. The line was called Airlink 100. After a thirty-minute ride, we were dropped off only a block away from our hostel: Edinburgh Backpackers Hostel. I highly recommend staying here if you’re in the area, especially if you’re looking for things to do in Edinburgh. Not only does it draw a very fun crowd, but it’s also located close to all the meetup spots for tours and such. We were upgraded to a private four bedroom suite on the top floor; I had booked a fourteen-bed dorm so this had come as a great surprise. The travel gods were still on my side! But (there’s always a but) there was no elevator. So we would later have to lug everything up a billion flights of stairs.

Hitting the Streets

Since check-in wasn’t for a few hours, we popped in next door for some much-needed breakfast after we had dropped our bags off at the hostel. We then headed to the meeting point for our first tour of the trip. This was a free walking tour by Sandemans. Our guide took us down the Royal Mile, along the outskirts of Edinburgh Castle, through the Grassmarket, and ended in Greyfriars Kirkyard, a large graveyard with a very dark history. Along the way, we passed by bagpipers entertaining crowds on the street. We also passed through some of the city’s many famous closes (alleys). Our guide shared many of Edinburgh’s ancient secrets. Overall, it was an exciting tour and allowed us to get our bearings of the city for the remainder of the trip. It was a great way to figure out some things to do in Edinburgh as well.

graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh
Graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland.


After the tour, we headed back to the hostel to check in and regroup. Since we had hit the ground running, we decided to take a little rest and check out the common room where we met a handful of other travelers and played pool for a bit. We had a pub crawl hosted by Sandemans coming up soon after that, so we decided to head out to eat. There was a restaurant around the corner that had been highly recommended to us called The Albanach. The restaurant was known for its traditional Scottish food and bustling atmosphere. I had a delicious beer called Punk IPA by BrewDog and a meat pie which was less of a pie and more of beef stew with flakey bread on the side. Now that our stomachs were full of grub, it was time to experience Edinburgh’s nightlife.

 historic Scotland city

Edinburgh Pub Crawl

We met our guide and the rest of the group at The Globe Bar before setting out on a fun-filled evening. The crawl took us to five other pubs, but two pubs in particular stood out. One of the pubs, Revolution, specialized in Vodka-flavored shots; from berry all the way to popcorn. They were like Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavored Beans from Harry Potter. Another pub was an old church turned into a Frankenstein-themed establishment (ironic, huh?). At midnight, an animatronic corpse lowered from the ceiling, looked around, and returned back to the ceiling. Then Thriller played. It was weird. Also, I don’t think I heard a song post-2001 the entire night. I’m not complaining. Just an observation. Nonetheless, Edinburgh’s pubs should definitely be on any traveler’s list of things to do in Edinburgh.

Day Two – Storming the Castle in Edinburgh

Outskirts of Edinburgh castle
Outskirts of Edinburgh castle

It was very difficult to get up the next morning. We might have gotten a bit too carried away on the first night. However, we still had places to be and new things to see. So, as self-appointed leader of the group, I rallied the troops and got us all out the door in time for our tour to Edinburgh Castle. Our guide was an eccentric one who kept us all entertained for the whole two hour tour.

We stepped foot inside the castle walls and stood amongst many of Scotland’s intense battles throughout it’s long, long history. I was in history-nerd awe. Furthermore, the castle, which sat high above Edinburgh, offered some incredible views of the city. With views of its harbor all the way to the city center, I had taken enough Instagram pics to last me a year. After the tour, we checked out the castle’s churches, soldier’s quarters, and the dungeon. The castle was by far one of my favorite things to do in Edinburgh.

The Inevitable Crash

After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed back to the hostel to get some desperately needed sleep. Before snoozing, we tried to book tickets for the New Year’s street party that we had heard so much about since arriving. Unfortunately, it was all sold out! Now what were we going to do!? Disgruntled, we all got some shut-eye before making a decision.

I woke up the group a few hours later to get ourselves ready for our Dark Side tour of Edinburgh. To my dismay, my rallying cry was not as strong the second time around. Nobody was ready to walk around again. I didn’t blame them. We would just have to try again at the end of our trip. Nonetheless, we still had reservations at 9:00 at a sports bar so I could see my Eagles play. The bar was actually full of Americans and football fans alike. I felt like I was back at home.

Day 2 was in the books and the trip had been a blast so far. Would we be able to attend Edinburgh’s famous New Year’s street party? Stay tuned for Part Two and find out!

Things to Do in Edinburgh

 

Touring the Palace of Versailles

Catch up on my last article, Dinner in a Basement and Exploring Montmartre, to stay updated!

We were huddled on the far end of a large underground platform. The train to the Palace of Versailles was late. I paced around in circles, bored out of my mind. There was no wi-fi on the platform, which meant I couldn’t use my phone. You can only talk to a group of people you don’t know for so long before running out of things to say. Nikos bought everyone a small cake from a nearby vending machine to lift our spirits.

Palace Versailles France Kings France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney landmark

The Journey to the Palace

The train pulled in, almost an hour late. Almost nobody got off. As we shuffled on, I realized how large this train was. It wasn’t the ordinary subway. There were two floors, with a staircase near the doors. A few of our group members found seats, but the train was too full; there were no more seats. I wound up standing near the staircase along with Dounia and Nikos for the full 30-minute train ride.

I was bouncing my knees trying to keep them from going stiff when we finally pulled into our stop. As we emerged from the train station, I could tell we were a long way from Paris. The clustered apartment buildings and car-lined streets had suddenly vanished, replaced with wide, fenced greenways and grand government-looking buildings. The wide sidewalks were accentuated with young trees, and the street was nearly void of cars. As we rounded a corner, we saw the gates to the palace in the distance.

The Gardens of Versailles

Past the gate, we walked down the long, gravel driveway to the entrance. It was swarmed with visitors waiting in line for tour guides. Nikos told everyone to wait nearby while he went to check in with our pre-scheduled tour. After about 15 minutes, he returned and told us we had about an hour until the tour started. He passed out tickets to the Gardens of Versailles, so we could explore while we waited. I was simply happy to get out of the surging mass of people.

Versailles palace garden Palace Versailles France travel abroad paris Cassidy Kearney

Although I had heard about the Gardens of Versailles before, I’d never really thought about them. I didn’t know any details about it, like how big it was, what was in it, and what made them so beautiful. I was extremely surprised as I walked towards the balcony to look across the largest piece of manicured landscape I’d ever seen. My jaw hung ajar and then slowly curled into a smile. This place was awesome! There was so much to explore, they were renting out golf carts to the tourists. I immediately was disappointed that we only had an hour to see as much of this gorgeous garden as we could. There were several gold-encrusted fountains, a large reflection pond, mazes, pathways, topiary gardens, and probably much more.

Unfortunately, it was still cloudy and rainy. Even though the sun wasn’t out, the gardens were magnificent. I can only imagine what it looks like in the sun, with the gold reflecting off the pools and the shade of the trees stretching across the paths. I feel like I had barely scratched the surface of the gardens when it was time to return to the palace for the tour.

Kings France paris

Crowded is an Understatement

When we met up near the tour’s entrance, we were each given a small listening device. This way, the tour guide could speak into a microphone and all of us could easily hear what she was saying. This was especially important, and I quickly realized why once we got inside.

I’ve never quite felt exactly like a sardine until the tour of the Palace of Versailles. Everyone shuffled inches at a time. Both of my shoulders were touching three or four different strangers while I tried my best to reach my group. There were people everywhere. I felt like I couldn’t quite get a clean breath of air because there were so many bodies in such a small area. The room we were in was lined with beautiful paintings and had a large mural on the ceiling, but I couldn’t really enjoy it because of all the people in that first room.

As we continued the tour, the people began to thin out and I started to relax. There was gold everywhere we looked, it seemed like. Red was everywhere. Red walls, red curtains, red blankets on the bed, a red and gold bedazzled throne. There was a wood floor throughout the entirety of the palace that we toured. The tour guide took us from room to room, explaining what each was and what they had been used for. Then, we went into the Hall of Mirrors.

A Look into the Past

The Hall of Mirrors was, by far, my favorite room in the castle. The ceiling housed another gorgeously done mural, with golden ornamentation along the molding of the ceiling and walls. On one side of the hall, there was a long row of windows that looked out into the gardens. On the other, there were massive mirrors. They were old and slightly translucent. They weren’t the quality of mirror you’d typically see today. There were flaws and spots were age had gotten to it. My face was a little distorted when I looked into it.

Palace of Versailles

I was almost confused about the quality, as I assumed that people would have figured out mirrors by then. This, as I found out, was a very wrong assumption. As we roamed around the hall, the tour guide told us that peasants would come to visit the palace simply to look into the mirrors for the first time in their lives. They’d never seen themselves before! I was looking into the exact same mirrors as someone from centuries before had, where they saw themselves for the first time ever. I thought that was one of the coolest things I’d seen within the palace.

A Stamp in Time While at the Palace of Versailles

What was so bizarre to me about the Palace of Versailles is that there were places that were dripping with wealth: gold encasements, draperies, ceiling murals, extensive artwork, expensive furniture, and more. Then, there were places that seemed like any other old building. What was strange about the palace is that it was divided into public and private faces. The public saw the lavishly decorated side of the palace, while the family lived on the side that was almost plain. The walls were white and undecorated. The rooms were largely empty. It seemed like any other old house, not the Palace of Versailles. Learning about the history of the building and the almost double-life the family lived was fascinating.

After we finished the tour, we explored the area a bit, hoping to catch a bite to eat before heading back to Paris. We wound up in a tiny restaurant off of an alleyway, where our group was ushered to take up the entirety of the upstairs dining area. After a wonderful home-cooked French dinner, we made our way to the train, which was (thank god!) empty. I settled into the chair and napped the rest of the train ride.

Be sure to check out my next installment of our trip up the Eiffel Tower and exploring the Louvre.

The Real Madrid: Meet Victoria

by Victoria Beckler

Exuberant. Buzzing. Magnificent. These are some of the words that came to my mind when I arrived in Madrid. Meet the real Madrid. I knew it was going to be great, but nothing can prepare you for the feeling you get when you know you have made the right choice. It can be overwhelming to be someplace so different from home, but I know this will be one of the best times of my life. I knew a fair bit about the city because my dad has visited Madrid frequently during the last ten years. Once I arrived, I completely understood his praise and then some. I fell in love with Madrid.

living abroad madrid spain ellen hietsch ally what i know now

First Days in the Real Madrid

On one of my first days here, I took a double-decker tour bus around the city to get my bearings. The city was alive and people! I had not researched Madrid much beforehand. It was a very beneficial tour because it helped me to decide on the places I wanted to visit and to establish my sense of direction. The real Madrid was meant to be taken in with sites, sounds, smells and tastes.

Combined with suggestions from friends and family, my list of planned adventures grew quickly. During my first weekend in Madrid, I walked over 30 miles exploring the various museums, parks, historical sites, and even saw an American film. Even after being here for over a month, I feel there is no shortage of exploration to be done.

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New Chapter in my Life Starting My Internship

Once it became time for my internship to begin, I could not have been more enthused to start this new chapter in my life. Before I came to Spain, I was interning in a criminal law firm near my college. Now I am interning in an international, civil law firm in another country! The firm for which I work primarily assists ex-patriots from the United Kingdom who have business affairs in Spain, therefore, the lawyers must speak English and Spanish and must be proficient in both legal systems. There was one aspect, however, that I hadn’t expected. I had anticipated my hours being quite short since I am an unpaid intern, maybe 10:00 to 15:00. To my surprise, the Spanish workday is quite long and, because we work lawyers hours, our’ are even longer than normal. My hours are 09:30 to 19:30 with an hour break for lunch.

Initially, of course, researching, translating, and understanding Spanish law for 9 hours a day was mentally and physically exhausting for me. I will be forever grateful for this experience, no matter what hurdles I must overcome. The work is interesting and I love my coworkers. I know I will learn a lot about the law and the Spanish language!