May Day in Munich

You could definitely tell something was up when drinks were served. Granted, this was the first time that I’ve flown on Lufthansa. But when drinks were passed out and a large bottle  handedProcessed with VSCOcam to those who requested beer, it was more than just good German hospitality.

After arriving in Munich, we walked through the open terrace on the way to the underground. The sound of German folk music signaled that there was some sort of celebration before we saw people dressed in traditional garb! It seems that we came at the perfect time.

We arrived during May Day celebrations (1 May). What lucked to get a 7-hour layover in Munich, Germany! With that kind of time, it’s hard to miss a chance to check out a new city. To make the opportunity even more perfect, Munich Airport has a brochure complete with suggestions on where to go and what to do for people who have a long layover.IMG_7814

With all the merriment, a rainy day in Bavaria couldn’t get me down. We got a partner day ticket (unlimited for one day for 2 people) to take the S-Bahn to and from the city center for 22.30€. It took a half hour or so to get to the center, but it was fun to watch the passing countryside and small towns along the way.

One of the train stops on the way to city center

One of the train stops on the way to city center

With only a handful of hours, we explored one part of the city – Marienplatz, which seemed to be the epicenter of most tourist sights. Sure enough, it was the place to be. In the plaza, there was a crowd of folks who braved the rain, surrounding a platform where bands were performing. To the side, another booth was selling beer to passersby.

The Rathhaus in Marienplatz has a famous glockenspiel that would play a couple of times in the day. Since there was still another hour or so before the next show, there was time to visit nearby St. Peter’s Church for a bird’s-eye view of the city. The staircase to the vantage point was narrow, but well worth the leg burn.

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view of Marienplatz and Rathaus with its famous glockenspiel from the top of St. Peter’s Church

rooftops near Marienplatz

rooftops near Marienplatz

After taking tons of pictures of how gorgeous the city looked from above, it was time to watch the old glockenspiel do its thing. We headed back to the plaza, this time in the pouring rain, and bought a cup of beer to keep us warm.

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Glockenspiel at the Rathaus

The show at the was interesting, but we watched only about 5 minutes. Blame it on short attention spans. Instead, we went to the next must-see listed, the Frauenkirche. It’s a gothic cathedral that is known to have the “Devil’s footstep” inside. During World War II, the inside was destroyed, but you couldn’t tell from seeing it now. Honestly, we were more distracted by the area right in front of the cathedra. We don’t know it’s purpose, but most of our time was spent walking through and taking pictures there.

There were many other sites we discovered while wondering the area around Marienplatz.

Finally after all the walking, we were getting pretty hungry. Since this was the location of the world famous Hofbräuhaus, we tried to get some grub there first.

Hofbräuhaus

However, though the hall itself was larger than Hogwarts and boasted at least 3 floors, there was no room for 2 hungry/wet humans. At least we can say that we’ve been there. Just the experience of being in a very large room filled with loud raucous joyousness all around was memorable. Instead, we went in search of  a restaurant where one finds just the right amount of cheer to hear yourself think.

At the end, we ate at Augustiner am Dom. The restaurant’s layout was fascinating since it was several floors (5 maybe). Though, in areas where space is a hard to come by, it makes sense that even restaurants are built up instead of spread out.

With all that walking, we were very pleased to have some have some comfort food warming our stomachs. After the meal, we headed back to the airport, happy at a half-day layover well spent in this lovely German city.

Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia (2014)

Plaza de la Virgen

The biggest celebration in Valencia called Las Fallas has just ended yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out there. Instead, here is one of my favorite shots of Valencia at night. This view is from the tower in the Cathedral and shows a lit up Plaza de la Virgen. This area is where they make an offering to the Patron Saint of Valencia.

Sidewalks aren’t just for pedestrians

To pedestrians, the sidewalk is a safe little bubble, especially when exploring the charming little streets of Madrid. Maybe you pass an occasion skateboarder or roller skater. But there is something else lurking near by that may catch you by surprise.

Watch out for mopeds on the sidewalk!

I live right by a busy eatery that makes plenty of deliveries. More than once, I’d turn my head and find myself face to face to a moped driver just a few feet away! What is especially amusing to watch is when a moped hits a one-way street coming in the wrong direction. The driver will climb onto sidewalk and go the other way. Guess it’s more efficient than going around the block.

So, walkers, beware! Whether innocuously stepping out from your apartment building or navigating through a busy sidewalk on your way for a cup of coffee, keep your eyes peeled for mopeds! 🙂

Madrid quirks that I wish I knew before coming

Countdown: 17 days until the arrival of my first official visitor to my Madrid apartment. I am excited to welcome my sister for 2 whole weeks! The best part is that I have extra motivation to clean and make this humble pre-furnished, one-bedroom look like a cosy home.

While preparing for her visit, I began to wonder about what sort of things she may want or need to know in order to have a comfortable visit. There are the usual tips such as knowing how to say a few things in Spanish (hola, gracias, quiero un vino tinto, por favor etc.) or trying Spanish delicacies like tortillas and paella. But you can find those tips on any Madrid article on the web. So, I am listing a few things that I wish others had warned me about before I came to this lovely city. Over the last few months, there were several more that I thought of. However, for the sake of brevity and my aging memory, I will give you five:

1)  Lights automatically shut-off almost anywhere.

light

Electricity is an expensive commodity. To be more budget-conscious and eco-friendly, most public places – restaurant bathrooms, apartment lobbies and hallways – will have a switch to turn on the light. However, after a minute or so, it shuts off. Some lights may automatically turn on with motion-sensor. But the automatic shut-off is the thing to be watch out. It is NOT FUN if you are fumbling for keys to your apartment door and suddenly, you are in complete darkness. It is even worse if you are in a bathroom and the same thing happens. Personally, I try to immediately locate the light source upon entering the room and (in case it’s a motion-sensor) it helps to flail your arms so that the sensor knows you are there! It may seem silly, but this technique has helped me more than once.

2) If you can’t figure out how to open/close the door – it might be a sliding door.

Speaking of important bathroom info… before my move to Madrid, encounters with sliding doors were limited to ones that lead to a balcony or patio. Here in Madrid, where space can be at a premium, many cafes, bars and restaurants ditch the typical push and pull for its sliding relative. This tip may seem like a “no, duh”, but, I’ve had enough encounters where I stood like a dummy in front of one until some kind-hearted camarera took pity and enlightened me.

3) Don’t step on the dog poo!

pooMadrid is a city of dog-lovers, or so it seems to me. I see many adorable barking creatures coming out of apartment buildings, being walked around the block or tied on a bike rack in front of a store awaiting its human. Therefore, when wandering the lovely neighborhood barrios, it is likely that you will find these ubiquitous staples. Sometimes they are in an easy-to-spot pile. Other times, it looks like they were stepped on and stamped down a line on the sidewalks. Whatever it’s form, it would be wise to keep your eyes on the pavement to ensure that your next step remains pleasant and clean. (Can’t help much with the smell though.) Thankfully for most sightseers, it’s rarely seen in the crowded tourist areas. But, better safe than sorry.

4) Pedestrians make their own rules as they go.

Growing up near New York City has taught me certain rules to follow as a pedestrian: a) Walk fast. b) Follow the flow of the traffic by staying on the right side and don’t stop (unless absolutely impossible). c) Don’t make eye contact. However, these rules don’t exactly work on the streets of Madrid. If you try to walk straight and fast, you will likely run over grandma en route to buy bread or the dad picking up the kids from school. Instead you have to either a) slow your roll – you don’t have anywhere to be right? (Even if you do, it’s okay to be a few minutes late.) or b) learn to slalom – swerve around slow-moving pedestrians and ones that decide to abruptly stop to look inside a store. Do this as safely as possible on the narrow sidewalk without pushing those in the opposite direction onto incoming traffic. It doesn’t matter which side of the sidewalk you decide to walk on… really. As long as you don’t run into people, you’re fine. And, if a friendly passerby may want to say “hola”, it should be safe enough to make eye contact, share a quick smile and say “hola” as you walk past.

5) Doorknobs are perfectly acceptable in the middle of the door.

doorTo be honest, this isn’t a very useful tip. I wanted to add it to this because it’s something that fascinates and perplexes me. Hey, I like symmetry as much as the next gal! However, doorknobs that are dead center do not provide much leverage to open a door. You have to push a little more than if it were on the side furthest from the hinge. But, anyway. It is what it is.

Does anyone else have other tips or quirks to share with Madrid first-timers?

A Madrileño Dining Experience

Madrileños are masters in the art of relaxation. These past few weeks, lunch and dinners out are never less than a 2 hour affair. It begins with a drink, typically my new obsession – tinto de verano con casera. Then, I while away the time chatting and casually perusing the menu. It is usually another 30 minutes before a meal is ordered, probably around the same time I order another beverage. In places that serve in the authentic tapas-style, you get a plate of food with each drink order. So, you wait to eat until another plate arrives with your next drink order. It’s all very relaxed and casual. In comparison to my usual hyper and hurried self, it was a refreshing change.

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As pleasant as it sounds, this “relaxed” atmosphere comes at a price. The camareros are all very relaxed as well. Depending on your hunger levels or schedule, this price can be steep. There were many times when I am sitting with my first drink empty (ice melted and consumed as water) and basket of “patatas chips” crumbs, and the camarero comes out to clean the table to my left then returns directly inside without a glance my way. Coming from the US where service staff work on tips, I’m accustomed to either over-zealous attention or being pushed out and replaced by another paying customer. But that’s not how it’s done in Madrid. You linger as long as you like with your first round of drink and you are likely not to be bothered unless you catch the attention of the wait staff.

Pidgeon eats crumbs from vacated table after the patrons went inside for the bill.

For the most part, trying to be noticed by the camareros can be an amusing endeavor. Since I had no pressing appointments after lunch, it did not affect my schedule. Usually, lunch or dinner was a game of “catch the waiter”. When I want to order, I glance around to catch someone’s attention only to see him disappearing indoors. Sometimes, there’s someone waiting on the table beside me and I think I make eye contact, but when I look again, the server is gone. Other times, there is no one coming out to the terrace for long stretches of time. Although I could prepare my big voice and shout “Oiga!”, the relaxed atmosphere is contagious and I simply wait til the next opportunity. After all, there’s no reason to hurry.

There were two exceptions to this experience. The first was a late 4pm lunch at a café managed by immigrants from China. The waiter was still relaxed, but managed to be easily available when needed. We were one of 2 customers at the time. However, being the only customers does not guarantee more attention. The second time was at a busy tapas bar when I was with another girl. Two ladies sharing tapas seemed to catch more attention for than I’ve ever received from previous waiters. Seems there are perks that come with being a girl in this city.

Overall, I have grown more accustomed to this strange, slow and relaxed lifestyle. The only thing with which I have to learn patience is customer service in other businesses. When the apartment hunter takes an extra 2 days to respond to an inquiry or the airline counter can’t manage to rebook a connecting flight, that’s a whole other story!

Which pace would you prefer for your dining out service?

Surviving my new foreign city

Palacio RealToday is day 13 in Madrid.

What amazes me the most is the range of emotions that can be felt within a short time! So far, I’ve been excited, in awe, afraid, sad, confused and quite definitely lost. But this is not the first time that I have travelled to a foreign country, nor is it the first time that I’ve moved to a shiny new city!  The difference is that for the first time, I am somewhere that will be “home” and I do not speak the language fluently nor am I familiar with the culture. This place is unlike other temporary travels since I have to figure out how thrive and make a life for myself. No matter how adventurous your spirit, something like this inevitably make you pause.

As pathetic as it may sound, I admit that there were many days when I wanted to simply stay inside the aparthotel (apartment + hotel) to live in my safe little room bubble. This feeling was stronger especially on days when I was out without my handy interpreter (a.k.a. spouse) and not a single Spanish word sounded familiar to me!

However, I am in MADRID! Everyone has told me of how wonderful, fun and amazing it is here. And I am not about to spend three weeks frozen in defeat. So, I took some steps to get acquainted with my new city, which I will share below.

1. Walk around the neighborhood.

This was one of my favorite. It allowed me to become familiar with my surroundings and easily explore new sights, sounds and smells (which was not always pleasant). Also, I did not have to interact with anyone other than the occasional “¡Hola!” from a friendly passerby. Plus, it was a great source of exercise which made me feel very accomplished!

2. Make one simple goal to accomplish every day to bring a new experience.

Everyday, I planned one specific experience that I haven’t done yet. For example, I wanted to go shopping at H&M one day. Instead of walking to the shop in my neighborhood, I decided to visit the one at Gran Vía, a popular shopping area in Madrid similar to 5th Avenue in NYC. Since I knew what to expect, I was better able to prepare the Spanish words that I may need to accomplish my task.

Remember, however, to leave yourself open for unexpected, spontaneous things. Those occurrences can make your new life much more interesting!

3. Search for your comfort food.

The power of food is amazing. Not only is it fuel, but it can make you feel “at home” even when you are not quite there. As an immigrant who lived many years in the States, I’ve had my share of moments where I felt out of place. If I can find a nearby Filipino store and get a hold of my favorite snacks, I feel a sense of relief and contentment in an otherwise unfamiliar place. Sure, it doesn’t solve everything, but it helps!

Within the first week, I visited 2 Filipino stores to grab a can of coconut water and chat with the store workers. It was comforting to meet my other kababayan (even if their Spanish was better than their English and my skills are quite the opposite). Now I know exactly where to go the next time I am a little homesick.

4. Connect with other expats in your new city.

The internet makes this goal a lot easier. Just a few searches revealed several Facebook and Meetup groups in Madrid where I could find other expats. I knew they were around somewhere, and it was encouraging to easily find activities where I could meet with them.

To date, I have not met up with anyone yet. And I am also on a search for a church in Madrid, which will be another great way to connect. Sadly, I have not found a “Filipino” group yet. So I will content myself with going to the Filipino store for the moment.

5. Take language classes.

This is another of activity that I enjoy. It kills two birds with one stone. One, you learn the very important skill of knowing how to speak the local language. Two, you meet other people who are on the same boat as you. Additionally, since many Spanish language learners come from all over the world, you can meet with people from other countries! The last time that I took classes was four years ago in Peru. It was a great experience, during where I made new friends from Holland, England and other states in the US.

6. Be patient with yourself.

This is something that the perfectionist in me struggles with, but it is the most important part of adapting to new evirons. All things new will take time before they become comfortable and familiar. You can only take one step at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself because you can’t expect to know everything automatically! Plus, the fun is really in this process, so enjoy each moment, even when you feel completely lost.

So that is all that I have done so far. I’m sure there are other ways to feel more comfortable in a foreign new city. What other steps have you done?

 

Map of Wanderings

This feature was a fun discovery in Google Maps. I now have a rough list of places that I’ve seen around the world! There are still more to discover. And it’s exciting to cross things off my list one at a time.