26 and A Weekend on the Rhine

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So, I turned 26 last week.  I guess time just really flies as you get older because it feels like I just turned 22 last year.

Fun fact:  I am exactly 15 days older than my husband, which means I get to tout my extra wisdom for a couple of weeks every year.  It also means that we normally try to do something extra fun together to celebrate.

This year, we decided to spend the weekend in Switzerland and France because who doesn’t love croissants and chocolate!  I also scored a sweet birthday discount from Pegasus and I never turn down a cheap flight.

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It just so happened that last Friday was a holiday in Turkey, so we had an extra day to explore!  We landed in Basel, Switzerland Friday morning and hit the streets right away. Even though the forecast had shown three days of rain, we completely lucked out and had nothing but dry, sunny weather!  We had the best time walking through the city and admiring the architecture.

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Now that I’m 26, my sense of humor is vastly more sophisticated.

We also couldn’t help but notice all of the playful sculptures and parks all over the city. We may or may not have spent a lot of time on playground equipment.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without sampling tons of Swiss chocolate, but I ate it all before the thought of taking a photo of it even crossed my mind.  Just take my word for it…or go check it out for yourself!

The next morning, we got up bright and early to catch the train to Colmar, France -an adorable little village that has been on my radar for a few years.  I also had the good fortune of experiencing my first “cougar” moment, when my husband was able to buy a youth ticket and I had to pay full price for the regular “adult” ticket.  I guess this makes up for taunting him with all of my brand new freedoms on both my 18th and 21st birthdays.

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Although it’s only 45 minutes away from the Swiss border, Colmar is distinctly French. My heart leapt at the sight of all the colorful buildings and pâtisseries and at the sound of French being spoken all around me.  Though I studied French through part of high school and all of university, I’ve rarely had the chance to use it since graduating and moving to Turkey.  It made me so happy to jump back into that world.

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Seriously though, how stunning is this place!?  Each twist and turn of an alley led to even more beautiful, colorful houses.  I was in heaven, eating my weight in croissants and sipping on Alsatian wine.  I loved each and every second of our time there and felt so sad when it was time to leave.  I have such great love for all things Francophone and it is still a dream of mine to live in France someday.

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Lovely little nod to Magritte

Even though we only had three days, it was a pretty damn incredible three days.  26 is feeling alright so far!

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Pretty please take me back?

Back in Barcelona

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I was excited to re-visit Barcelona after almost a decade, especially because it would be the first time I ever returned to an international destination (unless you count Turkey, of course).  I was also a little nervous.  I fell in love with the city immediately the first time; I loved it even more than I loved Paris, which is really saying something coming from a former French major.  I wondered how different it would be, and even though I couldn’t possibly expect it to be the same, I hoped I would love it just as much.

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The moment I stepped off the bus and into the city, I wondered what I had even been worried about.  Even though we were exhausted and it was late, the second I set eyes on the beautiful Casa Batlló all lit up under the night sky, I felt elated to be back.  We struck gold with our accommodation, scoring an incredible apartment with a balcony in the city center with one of the kindest hosts I have ever met.  It was after midnight when we arrived, but she waited up for us, ready with maps and all the advice we could possibly need to explore the city.  I couldn’t recommend the place enough!

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When we woke up from a good night’s sleep ready to explore, we headed first to the famous Sagrada Familia.  I was curious to see how much it had changed since I had seen it last and was amazed to see how big the crowds were and how much had been added to it!  I really do wonder if it will ever be finished.

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We continued on to the other Gaudi essentials in our area and then headed to the Gothic neighborhood, which was something I hadn’t done on my first trip.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day and there were tons of people and street performers in every alley!  There were also a lot of delicious restaurants and we definitely overindulged on chorizo.

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We slowly made our way to the marina, where my husband – who is something of a nap enthusiast- took a nice siesta in the sunshine.

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Before the sun set, we made it over to Park Guell, another of Gaudi’s masterpieces.  We got some really great views of the city up on the trail.

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After a long and tiring day of trekking all over Barcelona, we ended our day perfectly with an enormous pan of paella!

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I was so not ready to leave Barcelona, or Spain in general, and I remember snapping this sappy last photo from our balcony window!  Barcelona, you still have my heart.

La Alhambra

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What a beautiful, magical place this is…certainly fit for royalty.  A feast for the senses, to be sure, with lavender-scented air, sunshine, a light breeze, and some of the most stunning architecture known to humanity.

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It is impossible to fully capture the beauty of this place, with its intricately carved pillars, arches, tiles, and ceilings…but seeing it in person was the real treasure anyway.

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I dare you not to pretend you’re on Game of Thrones when you see these chairs.

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If you want to visit, you have to be diligent and plan ahead.  The tickets often sell out weeks in advance, especially during peak season.  They also do not issue tickets anywhere but at the palace, so you have to be prepared to wait at least an hour just to retrieve your reserved tickets…and then you have to be sure you can make your appointment to the Nasrid Palaces (the most beautiful part by far) because you will not be allowed to enter at any other time.

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In spite of the logistic difficulties, it is more than worth it to see this small slice of heaven. Don’t forget to enjoy a cold Spanish beer in the courtyard after your tour and let it all sink in.

Sunny Sevilla

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Perfect weather, fabulous food, and outstanding aesthetic that is typical of Spain were waiting for us when we arrived by bus in the early afternoon.  Right away we opened our city maps and started exploring.

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First on our list was the beautiful and enormous Seville Cathedral (the 3rd largest church in the world!).  The highlight was definitely climbing the bell tower to take in the panoramic views of the city below.  Fun fact:  the giant bell tower was once a minaret.

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Our next plan was to see the Alcazar, but unfortunately they were all booked up for both of the days we would be there.  We didn’t want to waste time on mourning, so we set our sights on exploring the rest of the city, including the cool and quirky Metropol Parasol.

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On day two, we spent most of the day at Plaza de Espana, which was  incredible!  We rented a rowboat for a better view and afterward, we rented a tandem bike and rode through the whole park.  Talk about a magical afternoon!

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We walked back towards the cathedral for a good dinner (pork covered in pork with a side of garlic and more pork…) and a pitcher of sangria.  We especially enjoyed watching all of the street performers, among which included some snazzy flamenco dancers.

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We only had two days, but it felt like we were able to do so much and easily could have stayed longer and found more to do.  It was an amazing leg of our journey and definitely a must if you’re visiting Southern Spain.

On the Streets of Andalucia

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I fell in love with Spain when I first visited in 2009 on my very first trip abroad.  The people were friendly and laid back, the food was delicious, and the architecture was out of this world.  I knew next to nothing about travel at that time, but even then, I knew that Spain would be a place to go back to.

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My husband – who is a bit of an architecture and street photography junkie – suggested it as a Spring Break destination and it just felt right.  I was stoked to see an old favorite place with more experienced eyes, as well as explore some new parts of the country.

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On my first trip, I only made it to Barcelona and Madrid; this time, I had my heart set on the sunny south.  I wanted to see the enchanting remnants of Moorish architecture and wander the streets in search of new tapas.

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From Granada to Sevilla and back again, every twist and turn looked like something straight out of a storybook.  If you find yourself on the streets of Andalucia (and you certainly should), don’t be afraid to get lost.  That’s half of the magic.

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A Trusty Travel Companion

dsc_0176I’ll never forget my first trip abroad.  I had just turned 18, and although I had wanted to get out and see the world my entire life, I really had no clue what to expect.  I packed a huge suitcase full of ridiculous outfits that were hardly suitable for any of our plans and two travel journals (in which to chronicle my adventures in broken French and Spanish).  To be honest, I didn’t love that trip.  I was culture shocked by the overly forward French men, didn’t love the people in my group, and realized very quickly that carefully structured group tours  were not my jam.  Still, I learned a lot of unexpected lessons on that trip and my thirst for travel remained intact.

Fast forward to now, and I am still learning and growing with each trip we take.  One thing that has definitely improved is my packing skills.  I still would not consider myself an expert, but I’ve gotten better and better at knowing what to take along and what to leave behind.  This year especially, I’ve stumbled onto one handy little item that has been a life saver on multiple trips now:  the blanket scarf.

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These babies go for 10 lira (roughly $2.50) on the streets of Istanbul and are worth every penny (kuruş?).  I initially bought one because I was freezing one afternoon in Kadıköy and they looked really warm (which they are).  However, I’ve discovered that these bargain accessories are so much more than what meets the eye.

First of all, they’re great for plane rides.  We’ve been on many red eye flights, most of which have not provided blankets…and even when they do, they usually pale in comparison to my blanket scarves.  They are generally pretty water-resistant, so they have been great as makeshift towels or covers to protect things from getting wet in the rain.  I even used one to protect my 3rd degree sunburn from the heat in the Maldives.  Rain, shine,  or snow, these cheap rectangles of fabric have become my best friends.

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What strange things do you swear by on your travels?  I’d love to hear.

2016

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January

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February

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March

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April

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May

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June

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July

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August

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September

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October

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November

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December

What an incredible year I’ve had!  Looking back at each month made me realize how unbelievable it’s all been.  It also made me realize how quickly time is going by.  How has it already been another year?  How?

Here’s to hoping for an amazing 2017 for us all!