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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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Travel Guides

Bilbao: Casco Viejo Top Picks

Here’s a selection of images from my favourite bars in the Casco Viejo.

Mellila y Fez (Calle Ituribide)

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Morocan kebabs. The best tortilla I’ve ever eaten in Spain. Music. Welcoming staff. This is my favourite bar EVER. And it’s very affordable.

 

Gatz (Calle Santa Maria or Andra Maria Kalea)

Award winning pintxos. Never fails to please and really affordably priced.

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Motrikes (Calle Somera)

There are a lot of bars in Bilbao that are famous for their grilled mushrooms, but Motrikes beats the competition. According to urban legend, the recipe is a closely kept secret, and is worth a vast amount of money. All I know is that I love me some mushrooms fresh from the griddle!

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Impressions of New York

While I was in San Francisco for a week in January, I was offered a 4 week job in New York, travel and accommodation included, to facilitate some fundraising events. It was an opportunity too good to miss, so I spent between February and April teaching English “intensives” in my house to make ends meet, then off I went to New York, jokingly warning my boyfriend: “Maybe it will be so great I won’t come back!”

As I sat on the train from the airport into Manhattan, I listened to people around me talking, and it suddenly hit me: I was in New York, surrounded by New Yorkers. It was a surreal moment!

I arrived in the East Village, where I was staying. I loved the winding streets, the dark red bricks of the buildings, the crisp air, the people and their dogs, the hipsters and their cool clothes. I loved the quiet diner where the waitress called everyone “baby” in a loud, sing song, nasal voice.

During my month of work I had plenty of time to see various parts of the city. My first general impressions was of the crowds, and of a strong sense of order and things running like clockwork. For example, any medium sized supermarket you went into would be FULL of people, but the line ended with a screen that had a number on it, telling you which cashier to go to (“39, blue”), and this process moved really quickly. Coffee shops were full of people in their own little bubble worlds, staring at their phone/tablet/laptop. Manhattan had a real, urban feel to it, and any green space, big or small, was densely populated with people trying to take a restful moment.

I suppose people love New York for two reasons. Firstly, the city itself feels generally familiar, as so many series and films are set there. Secondly, if you like the “new, hottest” trends in fashion, theatre, film, and art in general, it’s a place you might love to visit or call home. Casually walking down the street, you might see properly famous people. But for me, there was one major problem.

In some ways I love the states. America has always seemed to me to have this “get up and go” quality about it. People seem to be more positive, to reach for the sky, to start their own businesses… An American doesn’t have a sporting hobby. They regard themselves as proper athletes. Look into their eyes, and you’ll see that the sky is the limit.

However, what happens to the people who don’t get a good start in life? The children whose families don’t have the means to send them to private school?

A friend of mine mentioned how they almost never took the subway. I started to see why. Putting aside the alien feel of the maps and signs, the clammy humidity of the dank tunnels was pretty off putting. Then you have the dirty trains themselves. But worst of all is the homelessness. I realised that I had never been in a city before where the contrast between rich and poor was so incredibly stark to me. One night I went to a party at a 5 story town house near 5th Avenue that had an original Toulouse-Latrec on the wall, rooms that had appeared in interior design magazines, and a Philipino family that lived and worked there as permanent domestic assistants. Then I walked home, streets full of piled rubbish, trash encased in black bags, vulnerable members of society under blankets to keep warm.

Just as people were everywhere, so the homeless were to me, seemingly everywhere. Some were clearly suffering from mental illness, others were just suffering. It was a constant reminder to me of a by product of capitalism; this idea that we have what we have because we “worked” for it, implying that *they* somehow didn’t, are in some way undeserving. I think back to my own childhood, where we couldn’t afford to heat our house in winter, where money was an ever present stress and worry, where I started to clean hotel rooms at the age of 13 years old, and I think: “What would have happened to a child like me, growing up in the states, where education and healthcare are businesses to be bought? Would I have slipped through the cracks and become homeless?”.

I was reminded of the Mommas and the Poppas song “I used to live in New York City. Everything there was dark and dirty”. Those lyrics suddenly slid into focus for me. Here was a city that was the capital of capitalism, where the rich lived in the city during the week and then drove to their second house in the country at the weekend to relax. I realised that I would never earn the kind of money to be happy in New York, and I didn’t want to.

One thing that surprised me was how polite and friendly people were. They see you doubting which way to go coming out of the subway, and they ask if you need directions. My friend who grew up there told me that that was a “post 9/11” thing, as if that event had rocked the collective consciousness of that city.

I missed Bilbao. I missed the trees. I missed the hills. I missed the slower pace of life. I missed walking to where I needed to go in the city. I missed the cultural centres. I missed the free bike system. I missed the kind Basque people, gracious and welcoming and quietly proud that a foreigner might come to their city. I missed wearing my hiking boots to go out for a drink and no one batting an eyelid.

Parque La Leona, Tegucigalpa

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View from Parque La Leona, Tegucigalpa

Parque La Leona was a short (yet steep) walk from the centre of Tegucigalpa.

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There was a lot of graffiti style art along the way.

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The park had a huge old tree, that my friend told me was “hule”, which was a word I didn’t recognise as I only knew the Spain Spanish word for rubber (“goma”).

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Tegucigalpa at Christmas

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The city is nestled within a circle of green hills, dotted with little houses on the hillside. Riding in a taxi is kind of like being on a rollercoaster, as many of the streets are narrow, windy, and with a very steep incline. Taxis are more common than buses, and it’s normal that a taxi picks up as many people as they can (slowing to beep invitingly at tired looking pedestrians).

Although many people get around by motorbike.

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The streets bustle with activity in the run up to Christmas.

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Music blares from many shops, with someone talking on a mic, inviting customers inside the shops.

The main square is a hubbub of socialisation.

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Los Dolores church borders a busy market, although at Christmas there are a myriad of illegal sellers crowding the streets.

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Honduras: too unsafe to visit?

Here’s a map of Central America:

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Honduras is the pink country, and I’m going to San Pedro Sula, which is it’s second biggest city.

The media have dubbed Honduras  the “murder capital of the world”, yet it would appear that the violence that contributes to the statistics is mainly between rival gangs.

That being said, I‘ve made a promise to my boyfriend to “be safe”, so I won’t be travelling through the country, and will be staying in Our Little Roses home for girls, and following their safety precautions (like only travelling through the city using their driver etc), as violence is concentrated in the cities, and the home borders a neighbourhood called El Bordo. However, I do hope to meet some interesting locals through Couchsurfing.com as I would in any other place in the world. I realise that on all of my previous travels I have been incredibly lucky, as sometimes I made mistakes and been lax about my safety, but was always able to extricate myself. This trip, I won’t be taking any chances, and hopefully that will make me even safer than I have been while living, working, and travelling in big cities in Europe.

National Museum of Mexican Art: Eso si que es!

Address: 1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608

Free

Sometimes you come across a museum that is so amazing that it could convert people who don’t even like museums. That’s how good the National Mexican Museum of Art is. Not only is it FREE, it has a bit of everything, like history, traditional art, and contemporary art.

Here are some photos of my top art works from the museum:

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This painting dominates a whole wall as soon as you walk into this room, and it holds a quirky secret. The artist (Mario Castillo) uses his very own seminal fluid in the work, so “the painting contains an extraction of his ‘bodily presence'”.  Sometimes it really does pay to read the caption beside a painting.

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This image speaks for itself.

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This is a poster for the Carla Morrison concert in a few weeks. I first came across her music after hearing her on NPR Alt Latino, then I saw her live in La Casa America in Madrid. I don’t often buy music, as I prefer to support artists by buying tickets to their shows, but this is one artist who I buy her music from ITunes as birthday gifts to friends and family. She deserves every penny! If you haven’t listened to this lady’s music before, prepare to fall in love with how she sings about her broken heart.

Nuevo Leon: YUM!

1515 W 18th St
(between Ashland Ave & Laflin St)
Chicago, IL 60608

Quality 5/5

Price * (of 5)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nuevo-Leon-Restaurant/141812145839662

Have you ever had a dream that you were sat at Mexican mother’s kitchen table, and she was serving you the best comfort food in the world because she’s been honing her skills as a cook for a lifetime? Welcome to Nuevo Leon, where every dish is prepared with love, bringing you excellent home cooked food. This is a great place to grab lunch after visiting the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Frontera: Mexican High Dining

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Address: 445 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654

Experience: 5/5

Price: 5/5

http://www.rickbayless.com/restaurants/grill.html

Sumptuously decorated with vibrant paintings on richly coloured walls that seem to go on forever, Frontera is not your average Mexican restaurant. I love a bargain, but sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and this restaurant is excellent, with a price tag to match. Opened by a TV chef, it could be said that you are paying for dining at a restaurant with his name attached to it, maybe the food quality has suffered, but this isn’t the case. As soon as you open the menu you are given such a dizzying array of options that you are left with no option but to ask the friendly waiter for help. As someone who is environmentally conscious, it was nice to see that they also try to source their ingredients locally.

The drinks are also an delight in innovation. If you like spicy drinks, why not try their Michelada Moderna.

Taking the Amtrak from Milwaukee to Chicago

After various experiences with American public transportation, I booked my Amtrak ticket with trepidation. Would it take me twice the amount of time that it would take me to drive? Would it be dirty and unpleasant? Would I stick out like a sore thumb, being the only white person? (for an explanation of this comment, see my article “Racial segregation and the Midwest)

My fears were unfounded. The Amtrak was cheap (around $50 return), clean, and comfortable. Seeing as I don’t like driving in big cities, it was the perfect way to arrive in Chicago, as the friends I was staying in live in one of the beautiful buildings that make up the Chicago skyline, right next to Navy Pier.

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So, if you’re planning a trip from Milwaukee to Chicago and you’ve had negative experiences on public transport in this region before, then know this: getting the Amtrak isn’t just about being green; it’s an all round better experience than driving yourself.

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