Paris at Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since we found a thirty euro roundtrip flight to Paris, which also means that it’s been nearly a year since I fell in love with the “city of light”.

I think I may be the only girl in the world who never had a strong desire to visit Paris. I thought it would be very overrated, too touristy, and really expensive. But I’m here to tell you that Paris wooed all of me and I would be more than willing to return tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

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We used Airbnb and had an experience as lovely as the city itself. Our host, Nina, prepared homemade croissants for us every morning, homemade pastries in the afternoon, and on our final night, a bottle of wine and a cheese platter awaited us. Not to mention the helpful advice, directions and recommendations she provided us!

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As it was the beginning of December, the “city of light” proved true to its nickname. Christmas was everywhere. Every street was adorned with lights. Every light pole with wreaths. Every shop with Christmas trees. Every plaza with markets.

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We wandered for hours each day, just taking in the views and the charm of the city.

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I have to admit, I never expected to explode with so much thrill when I met my girl, Eiffy, for the first time.

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It was kind of like a bucket list moment I never knew I had. I was falling in love with Paris hard and fast.

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We chose not to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, as we would have wasted the entire weekend waiting in line. Instead, we waited for about two hours to go to the top of Notre Dame. I have no idea what the view is like from the top of Eiffy, but if I’m going to seek out a great panoramic spot in Paris, I want the Eiffel Tower to be a part of the view!

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And as it turned out, the Notre Dame offered a stellar panoramic–Eiffy included. Added bonus: Gargoyles.

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In typical tourist fashion, we fastened an “Esperica” lock on the Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine River. I’m hoping it’s still hanging tight after the tragic love-lock bridge collapse! If you find yourself in Paris anytime soon, let me know if you see our lock. It’s the silver and red one.

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And how about the Louvre at nighttime? I can’t recommend it enough. We walked through the museum earlier in the day, smiled at Mona Lisa, and stared at some other, less-famous paintings, but none of that compared to the look of the museum in the evening.

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The only thing I wasn’t very keen on were our mealtime decisions. We seemed to continuously pick all the wrong places and that’s something I’d like to plan better for on future Paris excursions. However, there was one restaurant that ignited a fire in me, truly satisfied me, and maybe even caused a tear of joy. But this was only because we had been separated for three very long, hard months. Yes, Paris has a Chipotle! I got off the plane and practically ran there. Boy, was it expensive–we’re talking about 55 euros for two people–but it was worth every penny.

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So, after all of my doubts and concerns and eye rolls, Paris managed to knock the socks right off of me and I absolutely cannot wait to return. Thankfully, now I get it. I get why “Paris is always a good idea.”

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A tour of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords

I fall in love with places really easily. I can’t think of a destination I didn’t love (well, Brussels, but that was the strong beer and my weak toleration’s fault, not the city’s). However, there have only been two destinations that really struck me with something special. Something powerful. Something I can’t get out of my head… Like a really severe case of reverse homesickness.

When I visited Spain for the first time, I knew I had to find a way back, quick. And I did! Here I am working on my second year as a Madrileña. But I think Alaska hit me even harder than Spain did–something I never thought was possible.

Alaska has this unbelievable, indescribable authenticity. It’s still so wild, so beautiful and so untouched and I think that’s why I loved it so much. It had this way of knocking reality into me and knocking the breath right out of me… It reminded me of how precious our world is. How small we are. How much we have to lose.

One day, we spent eight hours sailing through the Kenai Fjords and this was easily the best day of my entire life. This national park, just outside of Seward, is so diverse and dynamic and it left me speechless, wishing I could spend the rest of my life exploring its every corner.


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The tour included breakfast and lunch, the friendliest crew around, and a sarcastic, worldly captain whom I adored.

It didn’t take long for us to encounter wildlife. Before we had even left the harbor, we spotted some shy sea otters floating around on their backs. I liked where this was going…

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We drifted past glacier after glacier and waterfall after waterfall while countless American Bald Eagles soared over head.

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Porpoises danced and dove in and out of the wake, as if they were racing the boat.

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I’ve always daydreamed about seeing puffins in the wild… And what a dream come true–we probably saw a thousand in just one day.

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Every now and then we would spot a feeding frenzy… and you know what that means. Whales.

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Witnessing animals in their wild, natural habitats is one of the most spectacular and majestic sights to see. It’s such a gift– something that warms me to my core. But you guys, seeing whales in their natural habitat… nothing in this world brings me more joy. I become this giddy, awestricken, starry-eyed version of myself… like a crazy whale fangirl or something.

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I was loving every second of this wild adventure, however the seas were a bit rough and handfuls of people were suddenly plagued by seasickness, some of my family included.

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“Everyone on our boat was seasick when we whale watched in Tenerife, but that never happens to me!” I arrogantly boasted. “I’m perfect!” (gag me!)

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Just as I had finished bragging about my flawless record, I started to feel a bit woozy. I booked it to the stern of the boat and emptied my stomach into the ocean. I was mortified. Especially since I was the only person who was actually so sick that she vomited. Nothing like a little karma to bring you back down to Earth. Thankfully, I made a quick recovery.

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Eventually, we pulled into a cove and found ourselves surrounded by glaciers on every side. The captain turned off the boat for about an hour and allowed us to simply admire the power and majesty of these fading landforms.

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We listened to the ice crack and crash into the ocean while hundreds of harbor seals played in the foreground.

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It was eerily silent and absolutely magical, as every passenger was wholly captivated by the scene around us. It was such a surreal experience, feeling so incredibly tiny, yet so connected to and aware of our Earth and its nature.

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Unfortunately, it was time to move on and make our way back towards the harbor. But one more species awaited us… Steller sea lions!

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I loved watching these lackadaisical creatures lounge around on the rocks, occasionally raising a flipper if another moved too close.

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Eight hours may seem like a long day on a boat, but I couldn’t get enough. Quite frankly, I was devastated when we finally docked back in the harbor.

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I expected this to be a nice, chilly day, with a dolphin here and a whale there, but I had no idea that such a magical experience awaited us. I had no idea the diversity that nature would show us–I mean, in eight hours we saw gray whales, puffins, eagles, porpoises, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, jelly fish, salmon, sea otters, and countless other species all in their natural environments. I had no idea how my perspective would be altered, how my eyes would be opened, and how my love for all things wild would essentially explode.

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I knew Alaska was nicknamed “the last frontier” and maybe I had my doubts, but it has absolutely earned the title and proven its point in my book. It truly is the last frontier and we need to do everything in our power to protect it.

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I’ll be seeing you again, Alaska. Just you wait.

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The ultimate Airbnb experience in Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia started out a bit rough for us. We landed on the western side of the island, ready to grab our rental car and begin the three-hour trek to the opposite side, but the car agency (cough, Dollar, cough) had other plans for us. I’ll spare you the long and dramatic story, but just know that we paid full price and never ever received a refund or a car. Although, we did indeed receive some of the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced in my life! Believe me when I say I’ll never, ever look Dollar’s way again, especially since this was my second awful experience with them in less than two months.

We took some deep breaths, gave Dollar a sassy one-fingered wave goodbye and booked a car with Avis instead. Since we were delayed by Dollar the Devil for two hours, we found ourselves unexpectedly driving off into the sunset, which made for quite a complicated journey. Sardinia has some of the worst roads I’ve ever seen. As in they twist and turn around steep mountain cliffs, with no street lights and little to no road markings. I’m still dumbfounded as to how we made it to our Airbnb, but somehow we took all the right twists and all the right turns and arrived safely to Mercedes’ apartment around 10 p.m.

We were starving, stressed, annoyed and quite frankly a bit hangry (you know, when you’re so hungry you’re angry…) when we pulled up to the duplex, but Mercedes and her sweet mother greeted us in the driveway with refreshing, welcoming smiles.

They led us up to our floor to find the most wonderful spread of food displayed on the kitchen table. Hot tea and cappuccinos, homemade bread, freshly sliced prosciutto, cheese made from their goats, and grapes and persimmons picked from their garden. Now the only problem we had was finding a way to properly express our gratitude–although I think the looks on our faces said it all. It was such a small, genuine gesture that honestly meant the world to us on that frustrating day.

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One of my favorite things about arriving to an ocean-side destination after it’s dark is waking up to discover the views and surroundings that were hidden the night before. It’s like waking up on a different planet– one with the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen.

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Before we began our day, we were again offered some hot tea and cappuccinos. Although communication was a struggle in a mixture of Spanish, Italian and broken English, we couldn’t help but adore Mercedes and her gracious family. They pointed to maps, tried to give recommendations and directions and ensured that we had everything we needed.

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We spent a stunning day at Cala Goloritze, a World Heritage Site only reachable by boat or a two-hour hike, and returned to the duplex to find more cappuccinos and a tempting offer on the table.

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Mercedes’ brother, Andre, speaks a very small bit of English and runs a tour company on the island. He didn’t have any tours scheduled for the next day, but had to travel down the coast to pick up some SCUBA equipment. He offered to drop us off on a beach (only reachable by boat due to the surrounding cliffs) and pick us up several hours later. We, of course, enthusiastically accepted his offer.

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That night, we wandered around the little coastal town, tried some Sardinian beer and chowed down on some scrumptious pizza and pasta. As we walked around, we were not only enthusiastically greeted by every single one of Mercedes’ neighbors, but also by every other local we encountered. I honestly believe Sardinians are some of the friendliest people in the world–well, besides the ones that work for Dollar.

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As planned, we met Andre at sunrise the next day. What I expected to be a simple seven to ten minute boat ride, was actually a 35 minute ride down the coast. Andre maneuvered the boat into every little cove along the way, sure to show us all of his favorite coastal nooks and crannies.

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Eventually, he pulled the boat right onto Cala Mariolu’s shore, handed us some snorkel gear and promised he would return to pick us up in two hours.

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As we waved goodbye to Andre, we quickly found ourselves in one of those double rainbow type of moments. You know the kind where you start pinching yourself because what you’re experiencing just can’t be real.

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As we looked up and down the secluded, quite shore, we realized we had the entire beach to ourselves. I also realized there was a small possibility that this situation was be way too good to be true and maybe Andre would never return, but would that really have been so bad?

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We explored our private paradise, then dove right into the turquoise water for some snorkeling.

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Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea has to be one of my all-time favorite feelings in the world. Divine beauty and pure refreshment… It was the closest I’ll ever get to being a mermaid.

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And as he promised, Andre returned two hours later to retrieve us. We spent the rest of the afternoon “chatting” and sipping cappuccinos with Mercedes and her mother. It was mostly hand gestures and smiles, but it was obvious we truly enjoyed each other’s company.

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I’ve used Airbnb countless times and it’s always been a pleasure, but this family turned an Airbnb into an experience and that’s what makes it unforgettable.

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When Airbnb works, it really works and can define your entire experience in a place. This Airbnb wasn’t extraordinary because of the views from the balcony, the artwork on the walls, or the cats in the driveway, it was extraordinary because of the hospitality that was provided, the comfort that was ensured and the authenticity that was radiated. The constant cappuccinos, the unnecessary excursion, the honest gestures–this is what made our time in Sardinia truly memorable.

Want to stay with Mercedes and her family? Here’s the scoop.

Mercedes and her brother live on the top floor of the duplex, and her father and mother on the first. The middle floor is rented out to guests and includes three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a balcony.

Airbnb listingSardinia Bouganville
Current price: $26 a night
Location: Santa Maria Navarrese (East coast)
Maximum number of guests: 6

The day 2,000 sheep ran through Madrid

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for the strange and quirky. That and Chipotle. And when I heard that 2,000 sheep would be passing through Madrid today, well I just had to see for myself.

IMG_8101We arrived to the city center around 10:30 a.m. to find growing crowds, confused tourists, clanking bells, a stench of livestock and the start of the festival. What is the purpose of this, you’re probably wondering? Allow me to explain.

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Every November, Spanish shepherds herd their cattle to warmer, more southern pastures, but they intentionally pass through the city center to demonstrate against the rapid sprawl of urban development and modern agricultural practices that have destroyed this age-old ritual.

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This process is called Transhumance. Madrid has been a grazing route since 1372, but since the city became a capital, it has complicated the routes and forced most shepherds to transport their cattle via trailer.

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Keeping the tradition alive by shutting down the capital is a way for the shepherds to protest these changes. The sheep are driven from Casa de Campo, through Sol, and onto Retiro Park.

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Never in my life have I seen so many skittish little sheep be herded in such a way. As I watched them slip and slide across the cobblestone, spooked by the applause and people, I felt a bit torn.

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I admired and appreciated the idea of sticking up for this classic ritual, but the sheep were terrified… and sometimes animals bring out really disheartening sides to people.

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I saw people kick at them, try to saddle them and scream at them, which made me really irritated and upset. Maybe my heart is a couple sizes too big for animals (seriously, I’m about to block all my hunting friends from my newsfeeds), but I often found myself wondering if this process is really worth it–for the animals’ sakes. I’m curious to know your thoughts below!

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Once all 2,000 sheep had passed by, the workers in traditional costumes and Lady Gaga-esque shoes danced on, singing and performing more herding rituals.

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Seriously, where I can get me some of these?

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As they performed, they passed around a canteen full of red wine (at 11 a.m., mind you!) and I couldn’t believe it when one of the workers pulled me from the crowd and offered me a swig!

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“¿Es buena o mala?” He asked, while dozens of Asians took my picture.

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“¡Baaaa-uena!” I giddily responded (ha..ha..) after probably drinking a little more wine than he was hoping I would.

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So, there you have it, Madrid’s 21st Transhumance Festival. I’ve never seen such a sheepy sight. It’ll definitely be added to my list of quirky experiences, right up there with abandoned amusement parks, airplanes that land feet above your head on the beach and churches adorned with real human bones. 

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