A Rebirthed Mostar

Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina is a really easy day trip from Dubrovnik. We had time on our hands so we bought a 290 kuna trip to visit Mostar and Počitelj. The trip included transportation and guide to both cities.

We visited Mostar first. Upon arriving, I started noticing the heavily pockmarked buildings. As we walked down the streets to get to the bridge, our guide somberly explained to us about the 1992-1994 Croat-Bosniak War. The city was basically demolished and ravaged over the two years.

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Building ravaged by bullets

Included in the destruction was the Stari Most, meaning “Old Bridge”. It took more than 60 shells and tank fire to bring down the bridge. A spokesman for the Croats admitted they destroyed the bridge because of its strategic importance; however, academics argue the Croats destroyed the bridge because they wanted to destroy something of cultural significance.

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Stari Most – Mostar’s most iconic landmark

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View from the top of Stari Most

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The Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque. You can enter the mosque and take photos free of charge

Today the bridge is fully reconstructed, using the same stone and building method as the original. Although the bridge does serve as a poignant memorial of the war, it’s most famous for its divers. These crazy, courageous men dive off the 79ft bridge into the Neretva River. Not only is the Neretva River freezing, it’s a little less than 10ft deep. Once they do it, the men get a tattoo of the bridge as a badge of honor.

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Getting ready to take a scary dive

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A pretty cafe along the river with a great view of the bridge

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One of my favorite pictures of all time

Make sure to bring comfortable shoes as the streets are ancient cobblestone and the bridge is a little steep. If you’re hungry or want something to nosh on, I definitely recommend eating a burek. It’s like a flaky pizza-shaped croissant filled with cheese (or other ingredients). It is HEAVEN in your mouth especially with a coke to chase it down.

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I wish I can find burek in the USA

On our way back to Dubrovnik, we stopped at a small town called Počitelj. We only had 20 minutes to look around so Lenny and I hauled our asses to reach the top of the citadel. Boy, were we glad we hustled! We had an amazing view of the mosque against the blues and greens of the Neretva River.

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The citadel nestled on top of the city

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Such a GORGEOUS view on top of the citadel

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I’m a little obsessed with the structures of mosques

I CANNOT wait to go back and visit more of Bosnia and Herzegovina!

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A day trip to Lokrum

An easy day trip from Dubrovnik is to the island of Lokrum. Because of its close proximity (a 15 minute ride), it’s popular amongst the locals and tourists.

Getting to the island is super easy. Just go to the old port, Porporela, and you’ll find different companies that will take you. A ticket is 60 kunas round trip and the boats run from every half hour from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. The island is tiiiiiny, less than one mile wide, making it a sublime day trip.

It’s the perfect place to have a picnic and a swim. Make sure to bring snacks and drinks, as there’s only one café on the island.

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Categories: Croatia | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My time in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is a gorgeous city… like drop dead gorgeous. It has one of the most spectacular coastlines I’ve ever seen. Because of its natural beauty and its official EU member status, its popularity has been soaring faster than Justin Bieber’s music career. I thought the Mediterranean Sea was to die for in Italy, but the sparkling blues of the Adriatic Sea totally stole my heart. Even Woody Harrelson was impressed with Dubrovnik stating, “I first came to Dubrovnik in 1996 and was blown by the beauty of this ancient town hugging the sea, the kindness of the people and the tallness of the women! I always have fun there but dearly miss it when I’m away for too long”.

Lenny and I arrived on a Thursday and we stayed until Tuesday. We actually had more than enough time to sightsee at a leisure pace.

Here are some of the highlights of Dubrovnik:

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The best known area is the Old Town and it offers stunning views of the city. It’s 90 kunas to purchase a ticket to get the best shots.

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I swear I sang “Part of your world” like 50 times while walking along the city walls. To me, Dubrovnik screamed The Little Mermaid.

Prince Eric’s castle. Look alike, no?

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Dubrovnik became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. From 1991-1998, it was endangered by Serb-Montenegrin forces and today you can still see some of the damages from the war. Luckily for us, the city remains in tact and offers us a glimpse of its history.

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There are tons of kayak companies that will take you to the nearby islands for a swim and picnic and they do so for a reasonable price. DSC06652

See the white umbrellas? There’s a sweet hole-in-the-wall bar called Buza. The drinks are pretty pricey but you’re rewarded with a great view of the Adriatic Sea and the island Lokrum. If you’re adventurous enough, Buza is also a great place to go cliff diving.

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You can catch a ride to Dubrovnik’s nearest island, Lokrum, for 60 kunas at the old port.

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See how new the terracota roof tiles are? You can see how Dubrovnik tries to retain its old charm and beauty despite being ravaged by the war.

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Seriously, it’s ridiculous how beautiful this city is!

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After climbing Mount Srd, you can see the countryside of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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With 80 kunas, this cable car will take you to the top of Mount Srd. Lenny and I actually hiked Mount Srd instead of taking the cable car. It took us about 1.5 hrs one way. You can also drive up to the top.

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The greens and blues from the top.

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Sitting on the top of the world.

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The Mount Srd trail gives you a fantastic view of the Old Town and the islands surrounding Dubrovnik. Fun fact: Over one thousand islands belong to Croatia.

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Banje is  Dubrovnik’s closest and most famous beach. It’s right outside the city walls. Just a tip: bring water shoes when you come to Croatia. It’s  totally worth the small investment.

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I need to figure out how I can live my life here.

Categories: Croatia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Colorful Croatia

Croatia is by far my favorite place I’ve travelled to. The first thing I noticed were the hues of blue and green: turquoise, indigo, mint, aqua, emerald, olive, pistachio, pine green and so many more.

I’m going to share my favorite photo of the cities I went to. I hope you guys enjoy them as much as I enjoyed experiencing it.

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Dubrovnik

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Lokrum

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Mljet

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Korçula

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Plitvice Lakes

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Split

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Zagreb

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Notre Dame and its Famous Gargoyles

Notre Dame

Sounds familiar, right? Maybe this Disney movie can jog your memory.

The real Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is absolutely magnificent. Its construction began in 1163 and continued for another 200 hundred years.  Don’t let its pretty exterior fool you. This poor cathedral has been looted and damaged over its lifespan. Thankfully, the French deemed it necessary to repair and restore it back to its glory.

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Example of the exterior details

Example of the exterior details

Beautiful stained glass windows inside the cathedral

Beautiful stained glass windows inside the cathedral

Some cool facts:

  • Notre Dame is the spiritual heart of Paris.
  • It’s a shrine. It preserves the Crown of Thorns, rumored to have been forced on Jesus Christ’s head before the crucifixion.
  • Impatiently, in 1804 Napoleon took the crown from Pope Pius VII’s hand and crowned himself like a BAMF.
  • “Emmanuel” is the largest bell, weighing over 28,000 pounds.

Notre Dame is open every day from 8am to 6:45pm and on weekends it closes at 7:15pm. To save yourself from an obnoxious line, I recommend going super early or almost to closing time. The best part of Notre Dame is it’s free to go in and search for Quasimodo let your imagination go wild.

The gargoyles

As you’re admiring the exterior of the Notre Dame, pay close attention to those half-man, half-beast monstrosities. Yep, those are totally the infamous gargoyles. Carved out of stone, these gargoyles are what adorns the gutters and make Notre Dame… well, Notre Dame. The name comes from the Latin word-meaning gullet or drain. And guess what they do? They drain water. Each demon-looking monster has a passageway from inside that carries the rainwater from the roof and out of its mouth. To get the best views of the city, you have to climb 300+ steps up the tower and get up close and personal with these gargoyles.

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Depending on when you’re going to Paris, check the times for the Bell Tower. I recommend going early in the morning to avoid the heinous long lines or when the sun is setting to get an amazing picture.

Prices:

Adults: 8.50

Reduced rate: 5.50

Or better yet, if you’re between 18-25 years old and are a resident or citizen of the EU, you get in for FREE with your ID card!

Categories: France | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Malaga bound

Today is the day! All my stuff is packed and luckily I wasn’t charged for going 5lbs over the limit! We’re flying with TAP airlines to Lisbon, Portugal and then Malaga, Spain. Once we arrive tomorrow, we’ll have 4 days to find an apartment, figure out our residency renewal and do all the miscellaneous things like grocery shopping, setting up Internet and figuring out our first lesson plan for our kiddies. I can’t wait to start another year with Lenny and see where life takes us in this new adventure.

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Categories: Sarai Quiel, Spain, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Less than 3 weeks until Spain!

Finally! I’ve been here for 3 months and I’m dying to get back to Spain. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and the conveniences I missed while I was away in Spain but I am ready to go back.

Things I’ve missed while I’ve been in the States:

  1. Cañas and olives: Before I arrived to Spain, I would have sworn up and down that I loathed olives and olives hated me. But now I’m addicted to the green ones. And nothing goes better with olives than a nice glass of Cruzcampo.

    Photo courtesy of Ruby

  2. Modes of transportation: At $3.65 a gallon, I can’t afford to drive 30-60 minutes away to find entertainment on my limited budget. It was so much easier in Spain. If I’m bored, I can walk 10 minutes to the heart of the city or the nearest beach or park. If I wanted to go to another part of Malaga or another town, I’d hop on the bus or train and for less than €7, I could go about an hour away roundtrip. Amazing, isn’t it?
  3. People: Malagueños are super nice. They give crappy directions but they’re always willing to help you out. And I miss people watching especially when Lenny can look at a person and just know their life story.
  4. My job: Yes, I sorta dislike kids but MY kids are the cutest kids. Now that I have a little experience in teaching, I’m excited to go back and be a better teacher and teach them awesome English stuff. Plus, I totally miss making and spending monies!

    Some of my kiddies

    Some of my kiddies

  5. Travelling: I miss checking skyscanner, ryanair and easyjet for great travel deals. One of the great things about living in Spain is having the accessibility to explore the world so cheaply. Greece, Turkey and Egypt are on my to-do list this year.

    Best part of Malaga? The airport is only 10 minutes away on the train!

  6. Cheap fresh fruit and veggies at the fruteria: Fruits and vegetables are SO cheap in Spain! I usually spend less than 15 euros for about 10 kilos of fruits and veggies. Also, there’s so much life and culture at the market. When I’m buying my things alongside the people who’ve lived in Malaga for decades, I feel like I really belong in the community.

    Nom nom nom!

  7. Walking anywhere: There’s something strangely therapeutic about walking to a destination (this coming from someone who hates walking). It helps me get some exercise and also calms my mind from the little things Spain does that irritate me.

    Up in the mirador to get the best view of Malaga

  8. Not tipping: Maybe I’m just super stingy or I’d rather use that money to buy clothes, but I hate tipping. I never noticed how much we tipped in the USA until I returned. We tip for food, drinks, waxing, haircuts, etc. Even though I receive crappy customer service in Spain, I’m glad to return to my non-tipping ways.
  9. Clothes: Bershka, Mango, Pull and Bear, Zara, Stradivarius.

    My favorite store =3

  10. Tapas: I’m a born snacker and the most brilliant thing for a snacker is tapas! Normally under 5€, it’s the perfect snack, light lunch or appetizer. Nothing’s better than going with a group of friends and getting different tapas to share.

    Photo courtesy of spainstudyabroadprograms.blogspot.com

Categories: Sarai Quiel, Spain, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Istanbul

“If the world were a single state, Istanbul would have been its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Istanbul is absolutely majestic. With its impressive history, this city me giddy with excitement to explore and explore I did.

The Grand Bazaar was one of my favorite sites. Colorful can’t even begin to describe this shopping wonder. Opened in 1461, it has over 4,000 shops. One can buy anything from hookahs, jewelry, souvenirs, ceramics, magic carpets or magic lamps. Never accept a person’s first price because you’re expected to haggle for the best price, often lowering the initial price to half. Unfortunately, all I could do is ogle and take pictures of the things I wanted considering all I brought was a backpack as luggage for 13 days of travelling. Make sure to give yourself 2-3 hours to sniff around because it’s enormous and worth getting lost.

Another cool site was an underground cistern practically in the center of Sultanahmet. A cistern is a fancy word to describe a reservoir that stores water. It was built by Emperor Justinian in 532 CE and it holds 335 marble pillars that supports the roof! The bottom is filled with water and is lit with orange-looking light that makes one believe there’s gold or hidden monsters lurking for their next meal. At the end of the walkway are two mysterious giant Medusa heads. No one knows why they were placed in the cistern. I like to think they were there to combat those hidden monsters lurking in the water. At the end of our little walking tour, Lenny and I did the super touristy thing and paid to take pictures in traditional Turkish clothes.

I think mosques are so beautiful and majestic. The exterior is just as impressing as the interior. The Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I, also known as the Blue Mosque, is right across the Hagia Sophia. Five times a day, you’ll hear this enchanting call to prayer being broadcasted from the speakers of the Blue Mosque. Only allowed to enter during the non-worship hours, you have to take your shoes off. Ladies, if you’re showing off your legs or shoulders, they’ll give you a wrap to cover yourselves. Inside, you’re greeted with enormous chandeliers and beautiful ceiling work. It’s free to enter and enjoy.

This UNESCO word heritage site is the famous Hagia Sophia. It was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in 537 CE and was the center of Orthodox Christianity for 900 years until 1453. When the city was conquered by the Ottomans, Sultan Mehmed II converted it into a mosque and it became known as the grand mosque of the sultans. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was preserved into a museum and is now one of the coolest and most important monuments in the world. Inside, you can still see the Christian mosaics alongside the turkish treasures.

If you want some real Turkish food or nightlife, take the tram up to Taksim Square. This side of Istanbul is super modern and feels like a metropolitan city. Here you’ll find most of the nice hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and shopping centers. Fortunately for me, my friend Selim who I met when we both studied abroad in Florence, Italy, lives in Istanbul and insisted in taking Lenny and I out to eat. He treated us to real authentic Turkish food, helped us learn a couple of Turkish words and took us out for drinks (Be aware of the taxes on alcohol. A couple of drinks can get pretty expensive).

Here are some of my other favorite pictures from around Istanbul:

If you like an adventure and want to experience something unique and amazing, take a trip to Istanbul! Have any of you guys been to Istanbul? Or somewhere else in Turkey?

Categories: Sarai Quiel, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cash Converters

Up-coming and returning auxiliares: you are going love this!

  • Are you looking for DVDs that you can use in your European dvd player?
  • Need a bicycle or skateboard to get around town?
  • Do you need to replace that camera that just died or drowned in the ocean?
  • Did your hair straightener or blow dryer die?
  • Need extra cash until the Junta pays you?

Go and check out Cash n’ Converters. It’s a pawn shop that sells great cheap second-hand items. I personally haven’t sold anything there but I’ve bought things from there. My apartment came with a sweet European dvd player but sadly without any dvds. Our Australian friend Morgan told us about Cash n’ Converters after buying a second-hand skateboard for 20 euros. We took a gander and found cheap things like guitars, jewelry, blow dryers, cameras, blenders, tricycles, etc! We found dvds 5 for 4 euros. And no, not the crappy ones but ones like The Wedding Singer, Maid in Manhattan and Disturbia. We saw digital cameras for about 30 euros and DSLRs for 2-300 euros. Blow dryers and straighteners were being sold for 10-20 euros, definitely cheaper than buying it from El Corte Ingles. So wherever you are auxiliares, just check out their website and get cheap stuff to fill up your apartment or make your life easier in Spain!

One of the best finds in Malaga

[After reading this, I just realized it sounds like a cheesy infomercial. But hey! At least I recognized it haha.]

Categories: Sarai Quiel, Spain, Tips, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You know you’ve lived in Spain when…

1) You think adding lemonade, fanta or even coke to red wine is perfectly acceptable. Especially at lunch time.

2) You can’t get over how early bars & clubs shut back home – surely they’re shutting just as you should be going out?

3) You aren’t just surprised that the plumber/decorator has turned up on time, you’re surprised he turned up at all.

4) You’ve been part of a botellon.

Be careful not to end up like this bro haha
Photo courtesy: blog.castello.es


5) You think it’s fine to comment on everyone´s appearance. And to openly stare at strangers.

6) Not giving every new acquaintance dos besos seems so rude.

7) You’re shocked by people getting their legs out at the first hint of sun – surely they should wait until at least late June?

8) On msn you sometimes type ‘jajaja’ instead of ‘hahaha’

9) You think the precious aceite is a vital part of every meal. And don’t understand how anyone could think olive oil on toast is weird.

Photo courtesy: oliveoiltop.com

10) You’re amazed when TV ad breaks last less than half an hour, especially right before the end of films.

11) You forget to say please when asking for things – you implied it in your tone of voice, right?

12) You love the phenomenon of giving ‘toques’ – but hate explaining it in English

14) You don’t see sunflower seeds as a healthy snack – they’re just what all the cool kids eat.

15) You know what a pijo is and how to spot one.

Pijos are the preppy posh people from up north like Madrid or Barcelona

16) Every sentence you speak contains at least one of these words: ‘bueno,’ ‘coño,’ ‘vale,’ ‘venga,’ ‘pues nada’…

17) You know what ‘resaca’ means. And you probably had one at least once a week when you lived in Spain.

18) You know how to eat boquerones.

boquerones en vinagre.. YUMM

19) A bull’s head on the wall of a bar isn’t a talking point for you, it’s just a part of the decor.

20) You eat lunch after 2pm & would never even think of having your evening meal before 9.

21) You know that after 2pm there’s no point in going shopping, you might as well just have a siesta until 5 when the shops re-open.

Photo courtesy: fotolog.com

22) If anyone insults your mother, they better watch out…

23) You know how to change a bombona. And if you don’t, you were either lazy or lucky enough to live somewhere nice.

24) It’s not rude to answer the intercom to your flat by asking ‘Quien?’ (or maybe that was just my flatmate…)

25) You don’t accept beer that’s anything less than ice-cold.

There’s nothing better than a Cruzcampo and olives

26) The fact that all the male (or female) members of a family have the same first name doesn’t surprise you.

27) The sound of mopeds in the background is the soundtrack to your life.

28) You know that the mullet didn’t just happen in the 80s. It is alive and well in Spain.

Torres STILL looks hot even with his mullet!

29) You know the difference between cojones and cajones, tener calor and estar caliente, bacalao and bakalao, pollo and polla, estar hecho polvo and echar un polvo…and maybe you learned the differences the hard way!

30) On a Sunday morning, you have breakfast before going to bed, not after you get up.

31) You don’t see anything wrong with having a couple of beers in the morning if you feel like it.

32) Floors in certain bars are an ideal dumping ground for your colillas, servilletas etc. Why use a bin?!

33) You see clapping as an art form, not just a way to express approval.

34) You know ensaladilla rusa has nothing to do with Russia.

Photo courtesy: laylita.com

35) When you burst out laughing every time you see a Mitsubishi Pajero

36) You have friends named Jesus, Jose Maria, Maria Jose, Angel, maybe even Inmaculada Concepcion…

37) You know that ‘ahora’ doesn’t really mean now. Hasta ahora, ahora vuelvo…etc

38) When you make arrangements to meet friends at 3, the first person turns up at 3.15…if you’re lucky!

39) Central heating is most definitely a foreign concept. In winter, you just huddle around the heater under the table & pull the blanket up over your knees…and sleep with about 5 blankets on your bed!

40) Most women under 30 own a pair of those attractive ‘Aladdin’ style trousers with the crotch around the knees (you know what I mean!)

I’m a fan of these pants!
Photo courtesy: alibaba.com

41) Aceite de oliva is ‘muy sano’, of course. So you help yourself to a bit more.

42) When women think that clear bra straps are in fact invisible.

43) When it’s totally normal for every kitchen to have a deep-fat fryer but no kettle.

44) Te cagas en la leche….

45) To avoid that cheap Eristoff vodka you have to ask for ‘un esmirnoff’

46) When you know what a guiri is / have been called one

LOL
Photo courtesy: desmotivaciones.es

47) When you add ‘super’ in front of any adjective for emphasis

48) When it’s completely normal for men and women to have at least one facial piercing

49) When you pay for something that’s, say, 8.50, you always ask, ‘Quieres el cincuenta?’

50) Blonde girls actually start to think their name is ‘rubia’

51) When you accept that paying with a 50 euro note is going to get you a dirty look if you’re buying something that costs less than 40 euros

52) If something is great, it’s ‘de puta madre’

53) You can eat up to 5 times a day – first breakfast, 2nd breakfast around 11.30, almuerzo, merienda, cena

54) You know the jingle for Los Cuarenta Principales…

55) If you see someone wearing a T-shirt with something written on it in English, you can almost guarantee it won’t make sense.

56) When you go into a bank/bakery etc, it’s standard practice to ask ‘Quien es la ultima?’

57) Who needs a dryer when you have a washing line outside the window of your apartment?

My worst nightmare

58) You know what ‘marcha’ and ‘juerga’ are. (Of course!)

59) You are more likely to call your friends tio/a, nena, chaval, macho or even tronco than their real name.

60) Love it or hate it, you can’t escape reggaeton.

I found this on Facebook and thought it was hilariously right! Thanks to http://www.pitoche.com/youknow.htm for sharing!

Categories: Sarai Quiel, Spain, Tips | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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