Trip to Spain – Sevilla, Part II; Madrid

Monday – Lunch by Conchi, Alcázar

On Monday, I went for a run in the morning along the Canal de Alfonso XIII.  It was so nice! The weather was beautiful – I wore a t-shirt and shorts!! Check out this picture I took after my run:

Decent running scenery, I’d say!!

In the afternoon, Shannon’s host mom, Conchi, had me over for lunch again!! This time, she served tortillas de bacalao (fried codfish), patatas alioli (potatoes with a garlic mayonnaise sauce), and picos for tapas, and a delicious garbanzo/navy bean stew with chorizo for the main dish.  Afterwards, she gave us oranges and torrijas (a typical Spanish dessert, made of bread soaked in milk and honey) to eat!

Shannon and I then went to the Alcázar, a beautiful royal palace surrounded with equally beautiful gardens, for their weekly free hour visit! There was so much to see, so I went back the next day 😀 Here is a photo I got with a peacock who lives at the Alcázar on Monday:

And here is a photo of me and Shannon standing in part of the palace, overlooking part of the gardens!

On Monday night after Shannon’s class, we met up again and went to bible study! Shannon met a few people through CIEE, her study abroad program, who were interested in setting up a bible study so they have been meeting every Monday for a few weeks now.  I really enjoyed it! The other people in the bible study were so incredibly sweet, and they led a great conversation about being foreigners.  It was interesting to connect being a foreigner in Spain/Scotland to being a foreigner on Earth and seeking to spread God’s message.

Tuesday – Alcázar (again!)

On Tuesday morning, I met up with Shannon before her class and we went to the Convento Madre de Dios, a convent where the nuns make delicious baked goods and sell them!!  I had already tasted their delicious muffins since Shannon generously brought me some on Friday 🙂 I bought a bag of really tasty ring-shaped hard vanilla cookies! They were called mantecados de vainilla and they were SO good.  Unfortunately, I did not take a picture, and I cannot seem to find even a photo online of this type of cookie. I guess you’ll just have to go to Sevilla to see for yourself 🙂

Later in the day, I went back to the Alcázar – I did not have nearly enough time on Monday to see everything! I stayed there for over two hours but I could have easily stayed longer.  Here are some more pictures I took on my second visit:

The Alcázar is phenomenally beautiful. Six years ago, during my first trip to Sevilla, I visited the Alcázar, and it stood out in my memory among all the other beautiful sights I saw!  Yet, it was still even more breathtaking than I remembered!!

On Tuesday night, Shannon and I met up for our last dinner together in Sevilla 🙁 . Dinner was delicious, as usual – the Spanish really know how to make food right!!

Wednesday – Puente de Triana and Plaza de España

On my last day in Sevilla, Shannon and I went to the Mercado de Triana!  This market is right by the Puente de Triana and it offers all sorts of shops and stands.  There are stalls dedicated to produce, meat (some to just ham!), fish, pastries, soap, wine, oil, and so on.  There was a stand for cooking lessons, and they were teaching how to make paella.  There was even a shoemaker stand!

Under the Mercado de Triana, there are old ruins, so we walked through a guided tour of those.

Then, we went back to three of my favorite places in Sevilla (I’m a copycat, though, as they were Shannon’s favorites first 😀 ).  We went to the bridge (Puente de Triana), and took one last bridge photo together:

We also went to Parque Maria Luisa, which was beautiful as ever.

Our last stop, of course, was Plaza de España.  Shannon took this photo of me there… notice anything?

A rainbow! Okay, so maybe there was no rainbow in the sky, but a fountain rainbow is still pretty magical.  It was a perfect ending to a perfect week!

We said our goodbyes, then parted ways 🙁 – Shannon went to class and I went to the train station! Onward… to Madrid!

Thursday – Madrid

I arrived in Madrid at about midnight.  My goal for Thursday was to have the most fun-filled and cultural experience possible during my one day stay in Madrid!  I wanted to see and experience as much as possible.  My friend Gabri studied in Madrid last spring, so I asked her for a must-see/must-do list.  I made it to all the places she suggested…and then some!

My first stop of the day was La Mallorquina, a pastry shop Gabri recommended.  They are most famous for their napolitana de chocolate, so of course I had to get that…

It was phenomenal.  No wonder they have been in business since 1894!

La Mallorquina is in the Puerta del Sol, which is a really cool place.  Not only do about ten streets intersect here, Kilometre Zero is located here too.  There is a marker on the ground which indicates Km. 0! The square itself is very lively and full of activity.

My next stop was to Plaza Mayor, the main old square of Madrid.  I loved it here:

Then I went to the Mercado San Miguel, which was much like the Mercado de Triana.  I bought a delicious juice here from one of the vendors… I cannot explain how good this juice was. It was raspberry, pineapple, and coconut juice.  I want more…

After the Mercado San Miguel, I went to Plaza de la Villa.  It was so pretty here!! Next, I went to a  cute little garden nearby that has been around for quite a while – it was called Jardín de Príncipe Anglona.  I then went into the Iglesia de San Pedro, which was also close by.

I then went to the Catedral de la Almudena.  This cathedral was so beautiful, and it had such cool ceilings!! I stayed in here for a while, marveling at the beautiful architecture, statues, and symbols in the cathedral.

Next, I went to the Palacio Real! Well, kind of.  I just looked at it from the outside.  If I had more time in Madrid, maybe I would have gone in. I guess I just have to go back now!  Here is the palace (it is enormous!):

There are beautiful gardens right next to the palace, so I went there next.  They are called the Jardines de Sabatini.

I went to the Plaza de España (quite different from the Sevilla Plaza de España!), then walked along Gran Vía, the main street in Madrid.  There are countless shops and interesting buildings located on Gran Via!   I stopped for lunch, then continued onward to my next destination.  I stopped for a minute at Plaza de la Cibeles, which was very pretty.

Finally, I made it to Retiro Park, a huge park that Gabri put on her must-do list.  I spent over two hours here, but still did not see everything there was to see. In fact, I did not even come close.  The first thing I came across was the Monumento a Alfonso XII, a huge and stunning monument with an artificial lake in front of it.  There were people in boats in the lake, which looked fun!

Within Retiro Park is the stunning Palacio de Cristal…

And lots and lots of incredible landscape.

I went to the Prado Museum for about an hour.  This was another place I would have loved to have gone back to if I were in Madrid for longer.  The Prado Museum offered free entry after 6 PM, so I took advantage of that opportunity!

My last stop on my busy day in Madrid was another location on Gabri’s must-do list.  I went to Chocolatería San Gines, where I got chocolate con churros.  I lost track of how many chocolate con churros I ate in Spain… so many, but still not enough.  Back to San Gines – this chocolatier has been around just as long as La Mallorquina… since 1894.  It is no surprise that both of them are in business and flourishing… their food is so delicious!

And one more picture from Madrid, just for kicks…

On Friday morning, I headed back to the airport (but not without stopping at La Mallorquina once more first) to board my flight to Edinburgh! It was bittersweet to leave, but I am so glad I went to Spain and had the opportunity to explore two of the most beautiful cities in the world!!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed following along.

– Tori

Trip to Spain – Sevilla, Part I

This past week was Innovative Learning Week at the University of Edinburgh.  There were no classes, and the school offered workshops all week for students who chose to stay on campus.  I took this opportunity to travel to Spain, where I visited Shannon in Sevilla for 6 days and then spent a day in Madrid.  I had the most magnificent time! Here is a summary of the first few days of my week in Spain 🙂

Thursday – Arrival

I arrived in Spain on Thursday night, checked into my hostel, and met up with Shannon for dinner and exploring. We got tapas for dinner… actually, we got tapas every time we went out to eat.  Tapas are small dishes which can be served as snacks or, if you order several, as a whole meal.  I am the most indecisive person when ordering at a restaurant, but tapas make it a little easier… I don’t have to commit to just one dish!  After dinner, Shannon showed me a bit of the city and we went to her favorite heladeria (ice cream shop), Bolas.  It was just okay.  I went back two more times during my five-day stay purely for research purposes.

This is a small. Awesome, right?! I got Dulce de Leche (caramel colored, left) and Galletas de Maria (cream colored, right).

Shannon and I walked around the Alameda de Hércules (Hercules Mall; also referred to as just La Alameda), a square in Sevilla and popular hang-out spot.  We made a canine friend in La Alameda! While we were talking, a dog ran up to the water fountain a couple feet away from us, looked at the button, then looked at us.  I ran over to the fountain and pressed the button, and the dog started drinking :’) I got a picture as it was running away after drinking its water, but Shannon got a picture as it was happening!!

Friday – Lunch by Conchi, Torre del Oro, Plaza de España, Churros, Art Gallery

Friday was a very fun and busy day!! I went for a run in the morning – which I was already very excited about since I have been unable to run until recently due to my 2 knee surgeries!  Being in such a beautiful city made it even more enjoyable 🙂

In the afternoon, Shannon’s host mom, Conchi, very graciously invited me to come over for lunch!  A week later, I am still thinking about the food she made.  It was all so good.  She set out some tapas (chorizo and cheese, fried fish, bread, and picos), water and red wine to drink, and the most delicious rice for our main dish.  I had some really phenomenal food in Spain, but Conchi’s cooking was definitely my favorite.  After we finished all of that, she brought out fresh melon and oranges, which made the great meal even better.  Here is a picture of me, Shannon, and Conchi all together!

After lunch, Shannon and I went to the Torre del Oro (Tower of Gold). The view from the top of the tower was so pretty.

We then went to Shannon’s favorite place, the Plaza de España.  I loved it there so much and went back two more times during my stay in Sevilla!

We also walked around in some nearby gardens, where we saw a flamenco class occurring!  After the Plaza de España and gardens, Shannon and I went to get churros con chocolate.  We went to the same place that Shannon had her first churros con chocolate, and I was not disappointed in the least!! The churros were so tasty and greasy and all sorts of unhealthy, and the chocolate was rich and sweet… the combination of the two was just marvelous.

While walking around and exploring after churros, Shannon and I stumbled across an art gallery dedicated primarily to the works of Amalio Garcia del Moral, who created hundreds of pieces of art all centered around La Giralda, the tower of the Catedral de Sevilla.  I had never heard of Amalio, nor had Shannon, but we loved his drawings and paintings and were so thankful to have come across the exhibit!

Saturday – Independent Exploring and Casa Anselma

Shannon had a day trip to Córdoba, so I spent most of the day exploring the city on my own! I had a very successful day of exploration.  The first place I went was Parque Maria Luisa (Maria Luisa Park), where I spent a good chunk of time.  The park is huge and beautiful and it was so calming to be surrounded by nature.

After walking through the park, I went back to Plaza de España, which is right next to Parque Maria Luisa.  Then, I went to Iglesia del Salvador, which was once a mosque and is now a Catholic church.

It looks like this from the outside…

…and this on the inside.

I then went to what is officially called “Metropol Parasol“, but called Las Setas (the mushrooms) for its appearance.  This is a large wooden structure which, in all honesty, is rather ugly… I am not alone in saying this, though! The construction of Las Setas is a point of contention among Sevillanos.  Regardless, it provides some pretty unique views of the city.  Here I am on Las Setas:

I met up with Shannon that night after she got back from her day trip.  She was very excited to take me to her favorite bar in Sevilla: Casa Anselma.  This is an authentic flamenco bar in Triana (the neighborhood where Shannon lives with her host family) that is popular among locals. At Casa Anselma, four very talented Spanish men play instruments and sing while a duo dances the Sevillanas.

We went with Shannon’s friends from school, Kathryn and Kate, and loved it.  The atmosphere was so lively and homey – the majority of the people there knew the words to every song and would sing along and dance.  The crowd was composed primarily of middle-aged Spaniards, presumably Sevillanos.  I am fairly confident the four of us were the only Americans there, which made for a very authentic experience.  And, presumably because it was technically Valentine’s Day while we were there, we witnessed a proposal!!! It was so cute.

Sunday (Valentine’s Day!)- Mass, Catedral de Sevilla, Chocolate-Filled Churros, and Fancy Dinner

On Sunday morning, I went to mass at Iglesias de Santa María Magdalena.  The mass was in Spanish (which I have not studied since high school), so I did not understand everything, but I followed along pretty well.  I took some pictures after mass was over, check out how beautiful it is!

In the afternoon, Shannon and I went to the Catedral de Sevilla, which was breathtaking.  This cathedral was also originally a Muslim mosque, and there is still clear evidence of the difference in architectural styles between what the Muslims built and what the Christians built.  Here is a photo from inside:

While there, we climbed La Giralda, the Cathedral’s bell tower.  The views from the top were stupendous!! Here is one photo I took:

Click the photo to see a larger version!

Here is a photo of me and Shannon inside La Giralda.

And here is a photo Shannon took of me in the Cathedral’s Orange Tree Courtyard:

After the cathedral, we got chocolate-filled churros. YUM.

Shannon’s mom generously treated us to dinner – all the way from America! – at a restaurant right on the river. The food was SO good and I had so much fun talking to Shannon about anything and everything. It was so great to be reunited with my best friend… and in Spain on Valentine’s Day?! It cannot get much better than that!! Really, it could not have gotten any better unless there were puppies there too.

Here is a picture we took in front of Shannon’s favorite bridge, which she crosses every day to get from her apartment to school. It is called Puente de Isabel II, but people refer to it as Puente de Triana.

Stay tuned for the highlights of my last couple of days in Sevilla and my day in Madrid – coming in next week’s post!

Thanks for reading!!

– Tori

Lunar New Year and Dumfries Trip

Hello readers! I apologize for the tardiness of this post; this past week I was in Spain, which you can read about here. In this post, I talk about what I did two weeks ago.

On February 4, Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) hosted a free Lunar New Year celebration.  I went to the event and had a great time!  I am interested in Chinese culture but know very little about it, so this was a wonderful chance for me to get a taste of it.  There were several performances by very talented students; my favorite was a duo who performed a sword dance. It was the first sword dance I have ever seen and I loved it.  Here is a photo I took:

At the celebration, there was a table where anyone could write a Chinese calligraphy character on a piece of special red paper – this paper is then hung upside down on your door and is supposed to bring good fortune.  I was very humbled by the incredible difficulty of calligraphy.  I was aware of how highly valued precision and artistry is in calligraphy (admittedly, I only knew this from having read Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter in high school – a great book, I must add)… but to really try it was certainly an altogether different experience.  The student working at the table helped me with my technique, but my paper did not even hold a candle to the example paper.  She (the student) worked on one at the same time as me and then generously gave me hers!! Hers was perfect, of course.  Here I am with my friend Carla, who is holding the paper with the very talented student’s calligraphy (I am holding the paper I wrote on… I did not intend for it to be in the picture, 😆 ).

As if it could not get better, there was also an impressive array of Chinese food: young chow fried rice, egg fried rice, Singapore noodles, plain noodles, chicken and cashew nuts in char siu sauce, sweet and sour pork, Szechuan vegetables, vegetable spring rolls, chicken wings, prawn crackers, and rice crackers.  I ate more than my fill of food 🙂  It was a great night and I am so grateful EUSA hosted this event and that I went!

On February 6, I went on a day trip to Dumfries, a town in Scotland which is a former royal burgh.  I went on this trip with the ISC as a volunteer, so I did research on the town and helped make the itinerary! The famous Scottish poet Robert Burns lived there for several years of his life, so a great deal of the city attractions are focused on him.

First, we visited the Caerlaverock Castle, a very unique and interesting medieval castle – it is triangular and surrounded by a moat!  Much of it was destroyed, but the parts that still stand are pretty magnificent.  Here are two photos I took:

Castle exterior (the hills are hiding the moat, but you can see it a bit in the next picture)

Castle interior (notice the moat on the left side)

After visiting the castle, we drove into the main area of the town of Dumfries.  I ate lunch at The Globe Inn, Robert Burns’ favorite pub, with a few friends.  We then walked around, took photos by the river, and went to the Burns Centre and the Dumfries Museum.  I had a great time on the trip, even in the pouring rain and freezing cold 🙂 . The Dumfries Museum was my favorite part of the day, so if you ever happen to find yourself in Dumfries, go to the museum! It’s free!

I took this photo by the river; unfortunately, the grey skies exude a gloomy feeling, but the town really was quite lovely.

On Tuesday, February 9, Alex and I went to Mary’s Milk Bar, located on Grassmarket in Edinburgh. We got hot chocolate floats to celebrate Mardi Gras and the re-opening of Mary’s! The milk bar was closed for about a month while Mary traveled so this was our first opportunity to go since arriving in Edinburgh. Here is a photo of our floats:

So yummy. New favorite spot in Edinburgh.


Thanks for reading!

– Tori

Durham Day Trip

To everyone back at Scranton – congratulations on finishing your first week of the semester!! 🙂

Last weekend I went on a trip with the International Student Centre to Durham, England.  The city was adorable and I had a great time!  Durham is home to the Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle.  You may recognize the courtyard and cloisters of the cathedral…

No? That’s okay, me either. 😳 (I know, I know, I’m a savage!)  This courtyard and the surrounding cloisters were used in the movie adaptations of the first two Harry Potter books!  It was pretty cool to see in person, even though I know close to nothing about Harry Potter.  I wish I could have brought along my older sister and all my other friends back home who are big Harry Potter fans!

The cathedral was massive. I took lots of pictures of it since I couldn’t possibly fit the whole thing in one picture.  Check out how beautiful it is!!

One view of the cathedral

An attempt at a panorama of the cathedral (it’s not actually curved, that is due to the panorama!)

Between visiting the cathedral and visiting the castle, my friend Alex (from Scranton!) and I went to a nice little cafe called Saddlers for lunch – incidentally and serendipitously, right before the rain started.  Lunch was delicious, and by the time we left the cafe the rain had stopped. 🙂

Then we went to our tour of the castle, which was fantastic! Our tour guide was very friendly and informative, and the castle was so beautiful.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the castle, but here are a few photos of the outside.

Just like the cathedral, the castle was massive, so I could not possibly capture it in one photo.  I recommend a visit if you ever come to the UK, then you can see it for yourself 😉

Something really cool about the castle is that it is actually used for student housing!  Students at Durham University have the opportunity to live in the castle given that they are in a specific college within the university.  Imagine living in a real castle!!

I had a great time in Durham, and I was glad to spend my first-ever visit to England in such a beautiful and history-rich city!


The weather this past week in Edinburgh has been all over the place! The winds have been unbelievable – loud enough to wake me (keep in mind I have slept through a fire alarm…) and incredibly strong.  There has also been quite a bit of rain, which is not unusual here; combining the two yields a nasty combination!  But it certainly has not been all bad… the winds eventually give way to a beautiful calm and the rains to clear skies.  There was even a rainbow the other day!  I have taken advantage of the days with glorious weather by taking walks through The Meadows (right by my flat).  There really is nothing like being out in nature, breathing in the fresh air and walking alongside the trees! Here are two photos I took on one of my walks.

The Meadows, with nearby apartments that look like castles

Lovely view of Arthur’s Seat from the Meadows

As I have already mentioned, I love living so close to the Meadows!  I love taking walks to de-stress and rejuvenate, and I am so glad to have such a perfect place to do so right near my flat 🙂

Tomorrow I am visiting Dumfries and the Caerlaverock Castle. I cannot wait to post all about my trip!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend 🙂

– Tori