Reflection Upon The Return

I wanted to get out a blog post before the end of the year, but I’m sure similar to you, these last few weeks have been hectic. It has been a great time for reflection. Without work Christmas parties, family get togethers or drinks with friends, I had a lot of spare time. Some of it was spent packing my apartment and saying goodbye to my favourite places in Madrid. But the majority was spent making my documentary. This is the first one I’ve ever filmed. It’s not perfect in many ways. I was pushed for time, lacked the equipment and the editing prowess, but I am very proud of it.

Nuestro Año 2015 | Our Year, A Documentary.

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It is called Nuestro Año, which in English means Our Year. It is a rough documentary in an interview sort of style with three of my close friends here in Spain about our experience studying abroad. I scripted, directed, edited and filmed almost all of it myself. And it has very much been our year. The travelling, the learning and the emotional (and physical) growth has been intense. I struggle to remember all the highlights because there were so many, and yet it was also a year filled with enormous challenges, loneliness and difficulties in many aspects.

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Pulling down the postcards off my bedroom wall, doing a final load of laundry and sitting in an empty room eating a mixture of what was left in the fridge was quite emotional. Madrid has so much beauty and I’ve admired every window balcony and alleyway but the bitch has tested every one of my limits and I am surprisingly very ready to leave. I think my time here is done, and I’m ready to move on with my life and get set on the next stage of achievements. But it will be extremely sad to say goodbye, and you know I’ll be creating a new playlist on my iPhone called “cry it out” specifically to listen on the plane as it takes off.

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Sydney, my home, my first love, the foundations of my soul… I’m coming back to you.

michaela.

I’ve also hit 500 subscribers on my youtube channel, click here to check it out!

Reunited and it feels so good… In Zaragoza!

Although I have spent this year studying abroad in Madrid, thirty other students from UTS have been creating their own dream year in different Spanish cities. We were all assigned in pairs or threes to cities like Pamplona, Logroño, Malaga and several others. My partner in crime, Angelica, was placed in Madrid with me, and our close friend, Rebecca had been assigned to Zaragoza, a city a few hours from Barcelona. We met up in the summer and listened to her praise Zaragoza, begging us to come for a visit. Clearly word spread and soon all the girls from our class were keen to visit Rebecca and Tessa’s town. Within days we chose a weekend we were all free, Rebecca confirming that she could house all seven of us in her flat (she bought air mattresses on sale), and the reunion was marked on our calendars.

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We came to Zaragoza from all corners of the country and had the ultimate girls weekend! Zaragoza lived up to Rebecca’s praise; a charming town that still had a city feel. Prices were drastically lower than in Madrid, the cathedral was stunning and the parks and rivers were very enchanting. But we got the sight seeing out of the way quickly, focusing more on conversation… the mutual struggles we were having in dear old Spain, usual disagreements with our room mates and of course, our growing love for Justin Bieber.

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It was a great weekend of eating pizza, drinking wine and eating tapas. And let me tell you, the tapas did not disappoint. We visited a croquette place that served flavours like squid and black rice, goats cheese and mushroom and ham and cheese with walnuts! Next door was a bar that served only one type of tapa, garlic roasted whole mushrooms triple stacked on bread! We decided to splurge and visit a Japanese tapas place (I know right!) and ordered calamari that was shaped like churros and fried in squid inked batter… Dear god, thank you for this feast we are about to receive!

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I highly recommend a visit to Zaragoza, especially if you’re on your journey from Madrid to Barcelona. It was great seeing all the girls and even better to know that we’re all facing the same challenges, and all a little sad to be going home to Australia so soon.

In a few weeks, I’ll have to start packing up my apartment for good!

 michaela.

The Barcelona Getaway

So last weekend, after a year of living in Spain, Angelica and I finally took the two-hour train journey from Madrid to Barcelona. A city with a different language, different landscape and of course, different sites! It was a perfectly timed weekend trip, I had just handed in most of my assessments and some subjects had finally been packed away. I had nothing to worry about but the wind in my hair and the dust on my camera lens!

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Barcelona was a quality city. The streets were lined with adorable independent stores, there were so many delish food stops but more importantly… there was… the beach. In Madrid, you’re trapped inland with no sight of water anywhere near. So finally pressing my toes into the sand was glorious. The Australian in me came right out and even though the beach was too narrow and the waves were small, it was such a beautiful sight to me.

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But Australia has beaches, so that’s nothing new. But what Australia doesn’t have… is what I believe to be one of the most beautiful churches in all of Europe. The Sagrada Famila. Don’t let the outside fool you. The cranes and scaffolding block out the sandstone sculptures but inside is where true magic literally shines. The stain glass windows were absolutely breathtaking. Words cannot describe the amount of colour that flooded the giant halls. The Sagrada Familia gives meaning to taste the rainbow.

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Other highlights of my trip included La Boqueria, a giant food market filled with juice, I definitely recommend mango and kiwi, what a flavour combo! There was also Park Guell and Casa Batllo, works of architecture by some dude called Gaudi. I was thoroughly impressed… but what really hit me, was the gigantic Sephora and Urban Outfitters! Typical basic bitch. But yes, the shops were giant and magnificent; I barely made it out with my wallet!

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So needless to say, Barcelona has everything Madrid has and more! But I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I like Barcelona better. I’ll just say that I definitely need more time there to decide!

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Lucky for you, beautiful souls, I filmed all three of my days there and it’s all on my channel; make sure you check out Part 2 to really understand how wonderful the Sagrada Familia is.

Churches and Beaches in BARCELONA | VLOGTOBER

Hope you enjoyed this little blog postie! Two months till it’s home time.

michaela.

Living In An Alternate Reality…

I apologise for the lack of contact with this blog since the summer has ended! My “Epic Summer of 2015” came to a close at the start of September and you can read all about my trips and travels in previous posts… But what has happened in the past six weeks?

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I’ve settled down in a new apartment. Equipped with a gorgeous balcony, open spaced living room and a perfectly functional kitchen. Not to mention my cute room (the size of a van), with its white shelves, comfy tiny single bed and an air conditioner! These are the small luxuries I missed over the summer.

But Madrid! Surprisingly in the three months I was away, my home city has changed. New stores have been built; scaffolding has been taken down in one place and rebuilt in another. Tourists are crawling all over the streets and the weather has never been better!

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But as this year begins to begin to begin to come to a close, it has dawned on me that I am living in an alternate reality… A parallel universe where my life is more or less bliss. Now to preface, I do have my own struggles; worries about money, concerns about assignments in a different language, feeling like there’s an empty hole in my chest that Sydney used to fill etc… But here in Spain I feel so detached to what I had last year that I’m convinced I’m in a whole different world.

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Welcome to my life, a world where alcohol is cheap, I live two minutes away from a giant H&M, the architecture is beautiful and I do my own laundry successfully. When I get together in my group of friends, exchange students who have fallen down the same rabbit hole as I have, we reminisce about our “old lives” and the things we “used to do” back at home… back in the real world. We dread returning to fully packed university time tables, stressful jobs and life with our parents living in the next room.

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Needless to say, there are a few things I dread returning to. But the things that await me on the other side are too tempting to pass up. I get to return to the land of cheap sushi, perfect burgers and Sunday brunches! Wow I just realized all three of those things were food related… Let me rewrite thatI get to return to the land of my family, friends and cute kangaroos. My home where my bed (which currently houses my brother’s drunk/hungover friends on a Sunday) waits for me, where my dog wags her tail and where I truly feel… well… at home.

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My friends and I talk about home, where our apartment is, and “home-home” where our life began. This alternate reality is beautiful, but paradise can’t last forever. I miss my old life, even with the stress and pressures. But for the next three months, I get to enjoy this fantasy land… Where my problems are easily ignored but there’s always a small fear of having nothing left in the fridge.

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My summer was fantastic, and now my autumn is holding up strong. Winter will definitely be a challenge for this Sydney born but I’ll make it through till January, when I put on my astronaut helmet and return back to Earth, back to sunny Australia where I belong.

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I hope you enjoyed this little update about my health and sanity. If you’re interested in more, I have a Youtube channel and this October I’m participating in Vlogtober where I make a video everyday about my life. Click here to watch them, don’t forget to subscribe!

michaela.

The Last Stops: Brussels & Toulouse

After having companions for the previous leg of my journey, I headed alone to Brussels. As an introvert, I really didn’t mind being on my own, especially because I needed to wind down and relax as I could feel the stress of my second semester of university around the corner. So what better place to relax than Brussels? After another walking tour I really did love the city. Belgium is a wonderful country that has been in the middle of various wars and has been overlooked for many achievements such as the creation of comics like Tintin and Asterix and Obelix! Not to mention that French Fries are actually mistakenly named and originally from Belgium!

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I loved the vibe of the city, the old looking streets, the giant shopping avenues and the third most famous statue in the world, Mannekin Pis, a little boy peeing. But my favourite thing about Brussels was the Gran Place. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful square in the world. Guild houses covered in gold, a giant town hall and an ancient gothic designed museum.

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I did do a lot of relaxing in Brussels and enjoyed a chocolate waffle as well as the fries but there was some partying to do at a bar called Delirium. The three level bar offered 2500 different flavours of beer. I’m not a big beer girl but I fell in love with the cherry beer, mango beer, passion fruit beer and Bounty beer! Surprisingly the cookie beer was disgusting. Avoid that shit.

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Thanks for the pit stop Brussels! But Toulouse was the last stop of my summer. A friend I made in Madrid, Vladimir, invited me to his French city and I was definitely keen to see what all the fuss was about. It was well worth it. Vlad had lived in Toulouse for ten years but just like all of us, he hadn’t been a big tourist in his own city. So this was a perfect opportunity to use me as an excuse to explore his own hometown. We ate and cooked delicious French food, took a ride on the Ferris wheel, visited the Japanese gardens, went to a street art exhibition and learnt about the history of flight at the Aeroscopia.

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Toulouse was also very relaxing, Vlad’s flat looked out onto the airport with stunning views of the sunset and we watched a lot of TV. I recommend Bojack Horseman and the movie Django Unchained if you haven’t gotten around to those yet!

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On our last day we drove an hour out to a castle town called Caracasonne! It was incredible to see an ancient castle still standing. We walked around on the walls of the fortress and bought ice cream from the touristy centre. The views were great and I forgot how much I missed road trips, or just being in a car.

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But that was the close of my epic two/three month summer travels. The next day I woke up at 6:30am to begin my return to Madrid. I can’t possibly sum up the summer in these concluding last sentences so another post will have to come later. But just a big thank you to the new friends I made in Brussels and Vlad for letting me shed my hair all over your bachelor pad!

michaela.

A Quick Stop In Dublin!

After a thrilling time in Edinburgh, Angelica and I headed to Dublin. It was cold and raining but we filled ourselves up with some delicious Thai food (we had them Asian cravings) and went on a pub crawl. Dublin definitely has no shortage of pubs and it was great to explore some of the famous ones with live music and great décor. We didn’t just drink the entire time we were in Ireland, we also did a Sandeman’s Walking Tour! I do these in every city I visit but walking around in the rain and trying to enjoy the history of blood and war and kings was certainly a struggle this time around. I didn’t dare take my camera out in the rain, so unfortunately Dublin lacks some photos! But the weather was nothing a delicious lamb shank couldn’t fix! We also discovered a vintage store in this basement that felt other worldly!

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It was incredible and we tried on all the old jackets and top hats. I made it out with some funky sunglasses! I adored Dublin, and possibly because of one particular place, The Counter. Originating in the US, The Counter was a restaurant where you could design your own burger. I still dream of that burger… that was a bloody great burger. Unfortunately I only have a photo of our spicy wings, sweet potato fries and onion strings… but you get the point. DAMN.

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But enough about the food, we took a train out to a fishing village called Howth, which was the definite highlight of my time in Dublin. We clambered the rocks and cliffs and were told great mythological stories by our suitably named guide, Patrick.

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The streets there were gorgeous and we even saw seals swimming around in the harbor! There was always something to do and see in Dublin… and there’s unquestionably always something to eat!

michaela.

FREEDOM in Scotland!

After an exhausting Contiki tour, I hauled myself out of bed at 4:30am to catch my flight to Edinburgh after only three hours sleep. I almost cried from feeling the most tired I had ever felt. But I’m so glad I kept soldiering on and when I arrived in Edinburgh, I knew immediately that coming there was one of the best decisions of the summer. The city was like nothing I had ever seen before.

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Elegant ancient buildings amongst castles and parks, dainty independent stores, delicious food shops… and the most exciting aspect of it all… the Fringe Festival. Before I had set foot on the Royal Mile, I had no idea what the Fringe Festival was. I had, by pure coincidence, arrived in the middle of the biggest Arts and Comedy festival in the world. Fringe ran through the entire month of August with hundreds of talented individuals performing acts in venues across the city at every single hour of the day!

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The city was full of talent, overflowing with energy and the population of Edinburgh tripled! I was overwhelmed. But Angelica and I took the festival head on. We bought tickets to comedians like Ronny Chieng and Jimeoin. We went to free shows where we laughed, we cried and we were grabbed by drag queens! The buskers were also a highlight and we stacked up on CD’s from cute musicians with floppy hair and blue eyes.

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We also ate ourselves happy in Edinburgh, gorging on burgers, pies, fish and chips and a glorious deep fried Mars Bar! Yes I did. Highlights include sushi train, M&S and OX184.

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It was such an amazing time we decided to skip Glasgow entirely. We were so lucky to have relatively sunny weather, and I definitely want to go back! In my opinion Edinburgh has everything! Thank you to the Fringe for giving me memories I’ll never forget and inspiring me to live life to the fullest. Push on when you think you can’t possibly go any further!

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Thank you to my brother Zac and my best friend Isabella and my new friend Mae for giving me enough encouragement to keep going when I had run out of all my strength! I owe this trip to you guys!

michaela.

Contiki European Experience

Contiki is a company that does holiday tours for 18-35 year olds. You spend a lot of time on the tour bus being driven from location to location, you make friends for life and you party till dawn. Perfect.

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I did the Contiki tour called “European Experience”. It would start in Paris, head down to the Beaujolais Wine Region, to the French Riviera, then into Italy for Florence, Rome, Venice, then to the Austrian Tyrol, Munich, the Swiss Alps, and then back into Germany for the Rhine Valley and at last finishing in Amsterdam. All of these places over the course of twenty days on a bus filled with 50 young adults. It was the best decision I ever made.

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Despite the fact that everyone got sick very quickly, bed bugs were jumping around, conjunctivitis was spreading and gastro was on the prowl, we all had an intense amount of fun and once in a lifetime experiences.

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My highlight of the trip was definitely mountain biking through Hopfgarten in Austria and then ending the day with paragliding! I’m a total thrill seeker and running off that giant hill into the open sky was definitely an adrenaline rush. The rush continued as my pilot, Wolfgang (yes that was his name!), started to flip us around in the sky, with me screaming and laughing the entire time. The Swiss Alps were more gorgeous than I had ever imagined, Florence was the most delightful city, and I will be dreaming about the pork knuckle I ate in Munich for the rest of my life.

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It was a tough and exhausting twenty days and I have now mastered the art of falling asleep on a bus. We all cried when we had to part ways, it was truly an emotional experience to go through so much with such an amazing group of people. I’m still amazed at how many quality Australians I’ve met while out of Australia.

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A massive thank you to my partner in crime, Sandy, for making the entire trip bearable. Yin and yang forever. Contiki is definitely not a tour for everyone, but it was certainly right for me.

michaela.

Sailing Croatia

Sail Croatia was one of the most relaxing weeks of my life! Eighteen of us on a small boat, sailing the seas and visiting the islands of Croatia such as Makarska, Hvar and Korcula.

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Our rooms were no bigger than a broom closet, breakfast was always an early 8am, and wi-fi was next to non-existent, but I enjoyed every minute. Everyday began with leaping off the boat for a swim in open water or in a gorgeous untouched bay, then lying on a deckchair, feeling like girls in a rap music video or babes waiting for Leonardo Di Caprio to walk out and shower us in dollar bills. Later in the afternoon we would usually arrive in a small town somewhere along the coast of Croatia, the perfect holiday destination. The night would consist of various dress up parties and cheap cocktail bars.

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At last, I wouldn’t have to haul my backpack onto a plane or train every three days, I could just sleep in the sun, eat food cooked by our private chef, and just watch the pristine water pass beneath my feet.

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Not to mention the thrilling rush of discovering yet another Game Of Thrones filming location such as Kings Landing in Dubrovnik and Daenery’s dungeon dragon in Split! I’ve pretty much visited half of the shows locations by now. Fangirling so hard…

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I met such amazing people, saw such stunning towns and really truly enjoyed myself. I only wish I had taken more photos but I’m glad I took some time to relax and soak in the beauty of life.

michaela.

Detoxing in Istanbul

After consecutive days of drinking… finally we reached Istanbul. A Muslim transnational city with great kebabs, cakes, apple tea, trams, ferries, mosques and bazaars was the perfect cure to my hangover. Grant and I packed in so much in four days. It seems a lack of alcohol does wonders for the body… who knew? We went through the beautiful Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, caught a ferry to the “Asia side” of Istanbul, walked through the Topkapi park, haggled in the Spice Bazaar, got completely lost in the Grand Bazaar and completely gorged ourselves on the Turkish food! Highlights include gozleme, kumpir (loaded baked potato), tavuk doner (chicken kebabs), aryan (sourish yoghurtish drink), baklava, Turkish ice cream and cakes!

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We let it splurge in Istanbul and booked to see a dancing show, which was totally worth it. The Rhythm Of The Dance was a series of dances through Turkish history (with a totally banging belly dancer) that was fairly high production value and really enjoyable.

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We also booked a day trip to Gallipoli, which also meant a fantastic long drive through the countryside. After watching millions of gorgeous sunflowers pass by, we arrived in Gallipoli and started our tour on a cute little minibus (air-conditioned… hoorah!). We were taken to the cemeteries, memorials, statues and trenches.

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Our guide Hasan showed us a map of the coast line and pointed to where different battalions landed and talked about battle strategies that had gone wrong and war legends that had done right. It was a really eye opening experience especially as an Australian to get a glimpse into what had happened exactly 100 years ago. We gave our respects and read the gravestones and names on the memorials. Some of the men died at my age and I felt so grateful that I was given this opportunity to see the world and not have my life affected by war or hardship.

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Istanbul was a time of relaxation and reflection and also good eating! It was really great to experience another culture… but now I need to wake up my liver from its nap because Croatia Sail is about to begin!

michaela.