Power Of Social Media and the Mysterious Visitors

A few weeks back, a friend from high school saw I was in Spain traveling and messaged me. She asked if I had plans to go to Madrid or Barcelona, so we could meet up. Seeing as I had never visited Madrid, I packed a bag, and spent 2 days in Madrid. My uncle’s wife helped me find a place to stay with a couple she knew . To get there, I used a ride-share program called Bla Bla Car  you basically pay for your seat in someone’s car, someone driving to the same place as you. (It is essentially hitchhiking but with payment, and people leave reviews and such.) Since my family had already planned a road trip, my uncle suggested to meet halfway on my way back in Burgos, and then head on our road trip.

Mysterious Appearance
The family I stayed with in Madrid was extremely hospitable– sending me with a bag full of lunch everyday, a Metro card to use, and a room to myself. They live in a cozy apartment, with 5 kids, 1 grandma and a couple. They were so nice, just one inconvenient thing that was uncomfortable. I slept in the bottom part of a bunk bed, which was the girls’ room. They sleep there every night, but it so happened that with my luck, I had nightly visitors. You know the saying, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Well…
I had bed bug bites after the first night, that I didn’t notice until the next day. I did notice some off marks on my wrist during the day, and they were really itchy, but I didn’t think much of it. That night I changed into my pajamas, I noticed large red bites, all around one arm especially, some around my stomach, and two on my neck (about 24 I counted). They appeared out of no where, which is why I started to suspect it might bed bugs. The family didn’t think much of it the first time I mentioned it, because didn’t even know about them and their daughter’s sleep in that room every night. Where did they come from? This is a mystery. I can’t even say it was me because I didn’t have my large luggage with me, and I had already been in Spain a week when I went. Thankfully, I double checked everything to make sure I was right, and yes, I did see them. Once I spotted them, I immediately told the family and they were flexible in changing my sleeping place away from the room. The next morning, I put all my clothes in the dryer, to kill potentially any on my clothes. After that, I haven’t had any problems. BUT, THE FAMILY WAS SO NICE! I cannot express that enough! Also, my arm is back to normal now. I’m pretty sure anyone else would get a hotel immediately or never sleep over a stranger’s home again. Yay for being flexible and easygoing!

People-watching while waiting for the metro

Took a rest in a small café, that I later realized did not have wifi, but enjoyed a nice “café con leche”. I walked around with a map, and took note of where I had walked, and where I wanted to go next. I prefer this than walking around with google maps!

Plaza Mayor with a perfectly timed bird above. Thank you pigeon, thank you.

I was trying to get to Royal Palace in Madrid, but had some trouble due to this large crowd because of Holy FridayHoly Week in Spain is the annual tribute celebrated by Catholic religious brotherhoods and fraternities that perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city and town during the last week of Lent. The people in the cone-like hoods, are  the “Nazarenos“, or the religious brotherhoods walking in penance across the city. I saw at least 500 people in a 3 block span.

Made it to the Royal Palace of Madrid! I wish the person that took my photo could have asked me to move over a tiny bit….

Getting lost in Madrid is fairy-tale like.

Casual and usual occurence in the Austrias district in Madrid. This guy is not caught in motion, but perpetually in this position. I know they sit on something, but I can’t help but think it’s digging into their skin and hurting them.

Gran Via is comparable to 5th avenue in NYC, but in Madrid

Spent a beautiful day out scouting murals and street art in Lavapiés. This area is the home of many Indian restaurants, old Spanish taverns, and cultural art centers! No wonder I fell in love with walking and exploring.

“Compartir vs. Competir”– “Sharing vs Competing”

She was looking at me. 😛

Hipster theater Cine Doré in Lavapies

Loved seeing these painted doorways. Maybe I was lucky I traveled on Holy Friday and lot of things were closed, which meant lots of painted doors (that would normally be unseen)!

I visited the Reina Sofia Art Museum in Madrid and took a picture of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” which wasn’t allowed, but oh well. The piece was a statement about the town of Gernika bombed by Nazi Germany and fascists Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War. This is the original painting, but there is a copy is the town of Gernika.

Peeking into Mercado de la Cebada, which was also closed, but had several peeping holes into what seems like a graffiti- parking lot.

Came across the famous Calle de Miguel Servet, home to a wall full of murals funded by the city. My uncle’s wife told me about it, but she couldn’t remember exactly the name of where she had seen it. Thankfully I have great luck when walking aimlessly in a city and finding cool things. Talk about serendipity!

I didn’t go dancing in Madrid, since I was staying with a family, and didn’t want to intrude and come home super late from salsa dancing. I was also exhausted by the end of the day – so I was okay going home to rest for the next day. Super content I was able to make the spontaneous trip, and at least say I’ve seen Madrid. Bla Bla Car is amazing and I will forever use this, and hope to use it in other countries, too. Madrid is very charming, easy to navigate, and fun to get lost in. I don’t feel magic everywhere I go, but did feel it in Madrid.

Do you see the power of social media? Literally had the pleasure of meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in years + explored a new city. It was quite easy and planned in a matter of days. I am quite lucky to have family or friends in diverse places, where I can branch out and see cool places. Next Spanish adventure will be the Arab-influenced south, cities like Andalusia, Córdoba, Granada, etc. (That won’t be for another while.) My next travels after this will be discovering Kentucky! Let’s hope I make friends with cars.

Keep a look out for my next post: about my last days exploring the Basque Country or Pais Vasco.

Thanks for keeping updated and following my stories!

Follow me on @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from New Jersey!

From Snowy Mountains to Mermaids on a Beach

A few weeks back, while I was still in Jordan, I called my uncle to ask if he would mind if I passed by Spain, on my way to the U.S. I was actually not planning on staying more than 5 days, but seeing as affordable tickets were only being offered in April, I decided to go for it and prolong my stay in Spain. I start in June, so I actually don’t need to be home with any sense of urgency. As I spoke with my uncle, he also told me my aunt from Colombia was coming to his house. I told him not to tell my little cousins or even my aunt, and bought my airplane ticket. (I love surprises, remember?)

Next thing you know, I leave Jordan for good and I’m here in Spain. I’m actually on my way back to the U.S, but I did quite a bit of traveling on this trip, so I wanted to share my journey with you. My family lives in the Basque Country in a tiny city called Bilbao, home of the famous-eccentric metallic building called the Guggenheim. Since I told my uncle about my travel plans, he was able to incorporate me into a family road trip to a bunch of places. In two weeks, we traveled to over 10 cities/villages/towns!

Taken from Google, so you can see the areas I traveled to.

1 Bilbao, Pais Vasco
2 Madrid, Madrid
3 Barcelona, Catalunya
4 Cambrils, Catalunya
5 Huerta de Arriba, Castilla and Leon
6 Santander, Cantabria
7 Santillana del Mar, Cantabria
8 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Pais Vasco
9 Burgos, Castilla and Leon
10 Guernika, Pais Vasco
11 Zaragoza, Aragon
12 Arantzazu, Pais Vasco

My aunt and uncle on a dragon swing in Etxebarria Park in Bilbao. Let me tell you a bit about this city. >>>>> Bilbao has changed remarkably in the last 20 years. As my uncle’s Spanish wife tells me, Bilbao used to be an industrial city. Black clouds would hover over this land, that’s now a lovely park, and the city was mainly dependent on it’s ports and factories. Now, it’s a thriving metropolitan city, filled with museums, a “Prague-like” water canal, brand name stores, bars, endearing cobble stone streets, all surrounded by mountains. With only 1 million habitants (16 sq miles) Bilbao has a small-town feel and culture to it, with locally owned bakeries, meat shops, and bars, but the movement of a city. Over the years, it has gradually settled into a new context of modernity and tourism. To further make a point, they recently announced that the 2018 Europe Music Awards are going to be held in Bilbao this year! Go Bilbao!

Delicious homemade Paella Valenciana with oysters, calamari, octopus, and shrimp.

Rainy day in Bilbao is very typical

First few days were very cold and wet

Santander, Cantabria, Spain

This is my “bad” influence on my little cousins. Since they’ve learned about my street art-stickers obsession, they have learned to collect stickers from the street. This is a moment caught on camera, of one of my little cousins attempting to peel off a sticker off this sign, to add to my collection.

Vitoria-Gastiez with some Mary Poppins spirit!

I’m a sucker for souvenir shops, especially those in the cobble stone streets of Santillana Del Mar. It doesn’t matter how much I travel, I still love to browse souvenir shops.

My mom texted my uncle, “Hey, how’s it going with Vanessa and Magnolia?” He decided to send her this picture.

My family made a pit stop in Burgos to pick me up on my way from Madrid, and then on to Huerta de Arriba

snow in the mountains!!!

Cute arched door owned by a man who lives a sustainable life; hunts his meat, grows his veggies, and up until last year, used only candles and didn’t own a cell phone.

If you’re familiar with childhood stories with trees that talk, they are based off these gigantic oak trees in this fabulous forest of Dehesa in Huerta de Arriba. This tree has been documented to be over 800 years old and it is called “Roble de la Laguna de la Cantera.”

Feeling like a mermaid on the Medditeranean Sea in Cambrils

On a boat on the Ebro Delta in Catalunya

Spotted some colorful walls in Parc Forum in Barcelona, while we took a day trip to visit family in this vibrant, touristic city

My uncle’s wife explained to me that she used to eat this ice cream as a little girl. It’s called “Frigo Pie.” I laughed when I saw it because it’s such a cute, strawberry-flavored foot.

These past few weeks have been very filled with adventures, over 1,500 photos, and eating fresh seafood. I spent great quality times with my little cousins who are 6 and 11 years old. As you see in my photos, we had the fortunate luck to visit places with snowy days, beach days, and rainy days. I am home now, and will be posting and organizing photos to expect lots of InstaGram and blog posts!

My next post will be about Madrid, because I visited this magnificent city, and I have stories to tell about my experiences.

Follow me @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from New Jersey!

I Turned Tires into Engagement Party Decorations

Last 2 weeks in Jordan, I focused primarily on our small engagement party for me and Khaled, and seeing my friends for the last time before I leave Jordan. The party was more to make sure that Khaled’s family and our friends could celebrate with us for the occasion. It was quite simple, we just provided some sweets and snacks, and the whole time we jumped and danced like crazy young people on my balcony. The only bad thing was it was too windy, so my hair was a bit crazy, and the temperature was colder than expected. Either way, everything was simple and just the way we wanted.

Meanwhile, in my last few days, I was able to eat Jordanian food, walk around some neighborhoods, and enjoy the first days of Spring. I even saw some students I coached  from last year,  just a few hours before my flight.

City of Tarbarbour in Amman

Khaled too hipster for his own good

Creepy kids games in front of butchery

Sports City is a sports complex that has parks, a stadium, a place for the Jordanian Olympic team to practice, and gym facilities

Handwritten lettering for our small engagement party. We had some tires lying around, and I decided to paint them and use them to decorate our balcony for the party. I actually didn’t have black paint, so I just used Sharpies…I think it came out really good!

Same photo, but at night with the lights!

all smiles

They played a song for us and we danced in the middle while everyone watched

Khaled’s family

Being silly at my engagement party with Khaled’s younger siblings

end of night selfie, with friends and Khaled’s mom in the front. We were around 15 in total

My friend and I, exploring her neighborhood, as we found a hidden beautiful road filled with pockets of green grass, flowers, and took with us a whole aloe vera plant that she wanted to plant at home.

Once last meet up with the high school students I coached last year

I found lovely street art in an area called Jabal Amman

Things I will miss from Jordan:
Food: The fresh and tasty falafel, hummus, and other small plates. Very affordable spices used for traditional plates, knafeh, and the fresh mint used to enhance your tea.
My friends: I was so lucky to have made friends who were born and raised and in Jordan. I was able to properly immerse myself in Jordanian culture by understanding and observing the male and female perspectives of daily life. They taught me many new words and contextual meanings in the Arabic Language, exposed me specific experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and welcomed me into their lives even as a foreigner.
• Buying one of something, not the whole pack: If I only need one pack of tissues, I can go to the supermarket and buy just one for 10 cents, not the whole pack necessarily. This also happens in Colombia, and it makes me sad I can’t do that in the U.S.
EcoTourism: I will miss having such beautiful and natural places near me: The Dead Sea and Petra (one of the New 7 World Wonders) just to name a few.

Now I am in Spain, enjoying my little cousins, and spending the next few days exploring. I’ve visited Bilbao, Madrid, Cambrils, and tomorrow Barcelona. I am very fortunate to have family in different places, that allows me to travel within Spain.

More pictures to come from Spain in another post next week. I’ll return to the US by the 11th of April.

Don’t forget to follow me @Travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Mediterranean!

Spring is Coming!

Jordan has decided spring came early, while people in Jersey are suffering with shoveling snow and still dealing with below freezing temperatures. These are my last weeks in Jordan, and I am trying to take advantage of the weather and friends with the little time I have. I visited my old school where I taught last year, to see some familiar faces, visit my old supervisor, and check up on the high school students I had worked with last year. Still selling things slowly, and now starting to pack so I can know what I have and what needs to be donated. It feels good to give my clothes another life in someone else’s hands, either because they’ll enjoy it or they needed it. I feel relieved getting rid of things I don’t need, and it makes my luggage lighter for traveling. I only plan to take one luggage and one carry on!

Random Cultural Facts>>>>>>>>>
Did you know? In Jordan and other countries in the Middle East, when a child loses a tooth, they wrap it in a tissue and throw it at the sun. They do this so in return, when the tooth grows back, they will have a bright smile. In Colombia, we put our teeth under our pillow and the next morning receive some money. Kids believe a small rat by the name of Perez, or sometimes Miguelito, (Ratoncito Perez) takes the tooth and leave money for the child.

The reason I thought of this fact was because I was eating with Khaled’s family and his little sister decided to randomly play Christmas music on YouTube. This made me think of Santa Clause, and I asked if in Islam or culturally, if there are any traditions involving figures like Santa Clause. His mom said no. Then I asked, “What happens when they lose their teeth?” She responded with the answer above and it was so interesting for me, since it’s quite different to what I grew up with.

Here are some photos of my recent adventures.

Found in Jabal Al Webdeh, Amman.

“حب” means “Love” in Arabic. Found this along the wall of the school I used to teach with Fulbright last year.

I think it says “home”

Wild Jordan Cafe has a great view, and even better eggs benedict with salmon!

Quite the popular tourist souvenir are these hand made sand paintings in a bottle. They are quite inexpensive and you can get your name written on them for you or your loved ones.

I painted Khaled’s sister for her birthday, and caught her twirling in happiness

Inside the Wasfi-Al Tal Museum in the city of Salt or السلط. Wasfi Al-Tal was the Prime Minister of Jordan in the early 1906’s. His house contains books in 4 languages, relics from Iran, and giant books of old newspaper headlines containing really beautiful hand written Arabic.

I love parks in Jordan because you don’t see the often. This was the entrance to the museum

At the Wasfi Al-Tal Museum in Salt. Trying to jump amongst the magnificent view. You can see the cities of Jerash, Salt, and Fuheis all in one view.

My friend, while I have only known her a few months, we always manage to have an adventure together.

class Vanessa self timer

greeeeeeens + bluuuuuuues

This is freshly baked bread with olive oil and za’taar herbs that contains thyme, basil, oregano, and savory (similar to rosemary). Very popular breakfast item, for those who just buy two large pieces from the bakery, cut them in quarters, and have it alongside some hot tea with mint. You can feed 6 people with just 2 large pieces for $1 USD.

I think the hardest thing about leaving any place is leaving the people you’ve met. Remembering all the memories you have had with people, all the delicious foods you’ve tried, the adventures you’ve had, and the immersion into Jordanian culture beyond what the media portrays. I am lucky to have many Jordanian friends, that without realizing, have taught me SOOOO much. I can now say, firmly, I know Jordan very well. I’ve eaten almost, if not all food, that is to be considered Jordanian or Palestinian, and even learned to cook some dishes myself. I feel at peace because some people only travel to a country for a few days, and don’t end up befriending locals, never have a home cooked meal, and even so never learn the language. I feel accomplished for what Jordan has given me. For now, enjoying what I have left in this lovely country, and then off to another chapter in my life. This next chapter involving visa paperwork with Khaled, AmeriCorps, and Kentucky!!!! Pretty exciting stuff. Taking it one day at a time. Now, I am hungry and shall go eat.

Thanks for checking in on my update. I post every 2 weeks, so make sure to subscribe to not miss a post.

Follow me on @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

Almost Eaten Alive at the Royal Stables + Big News

It feels like it’s been a long 2 weeks! Since I applied to AmeriCorps jobs, I’ve heard back from all of them and interviewed back-to-back this week.

I AM EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE that I have accepted a job in Louisville, Kentucky as a Graphic Design VISTA with AmeriCorps. This organization is a national service organization, which means you are making a social impact + working. While I won’t be making much, I will be helping my loans, and discovering Kentucky! The job includes teaching kids graphic design. I am very excited I found this job that matches my values + interests + passion + educational background! Yay!

Now, it is time to sell everything. Actually, I accidentally sold my refrigerator yesterday. I was thinking that if I put it up for sale, no one would buy it for a few days–maybe weeks. Turns out, fridges sell like hot cakes and now I have no fridge. Yeah…no milk for the next few weeks.

Maftoul – Finally tried this Palestinian dish! What you see is pan-fried chicken over Palestinian couscous, a wheat grain that look like small balls, like couscous, but it grows bigger than normal couscous. It is closer to pasta than Moroccan couscous, so it fills your belly a lot more. In addition to what you see, there was also the chicken broth, spiced with black pepper, chopped onions, and other flavors that you pour on your maftoul, as you dig into the flavors of the chicken. And of course, fried nuts on top! Definitely in my top 3 favorite Palestinian dishes.

I really do love my friend’s neighborhood, which is why I always post pictures about it. It’s a side street, so it’s not always busy and you can totally sit on the street without any worries.

Palestinian Maftoul cooking with the steam inside the pot. I thought it was very interesting how they use soggy bread and paste it on the side of the pot, so the steam doesn’t escape.

Working on some collages. I found an old and ugly notebook, so I spiced it up and made it beautiful. I am very pleased with the results!

Since I’m leaving Jordan soon, I started cleaning out my room and giving away things. I made this for my friend. I was actually super proud of it because I had so much fun making it. Collaging is something I used to do when I was young. Particularly in middle school and high school. It was the only times I found myself doing personal work as a youngster. After I entered college, I stopped collaging and put that hobby on the side. But since I adore gifts for people, I decided to decorate this notebook and customize it for my friend. It makes for a lovely gift, especially because the magazines and papers I use are either really old things I’ve kept for a long time, or papers from traveling that I pick up because I like the photos inside and never know when I will need them. I love this when I make birthday cards or collages like this for people, it’s not randomly put together, but carefully chosen by color, shape, movement, message for the person it is for. They are my inspiration board for the piece and I find that to be really amazing.

For those who do not know, I have a history with being scared of dogs. I have gotten better over the years, meaning I can survive with a dog next to me, as long as it wont jump on me or want to play with me. Normal, I think. Anyways, I was with my friend that day and she asked if I wanted to walk to the Royal Stables, where they keep beautiful horses, they host races, etc. I said, “Sure!” We started our walk, maybe 25 minutes, the day was beautiful with blue skies and clouds sprinkling the sky. We approached the sign, which meant the gate was just a few meters away. We entered the gates, and started admiring the green trees all around us. Out of no where, a terrifyingly angry, barking, and super fast dog comes out from the bottom of the hill to chase us. When we saw the dog, we IMMEDIATELY freaked out and both screamed “RUUUUN!!!” It’s unfortunate I am such a slow runner, but the dog caught up to us fairly quickly, as we exited through the entrance, and the dog just stood at the gates. He barked at us, letting us know we weren’t welcome.
Holy guacamole! We were out of air, gasping. My heart was in my hand, I was trembling, and the food I had eaten was in my stomach twirling. I’ve been chased many times in my life, but never by an angry dog. Always by a dog who wanted to play and give me love, and I did not want to reciprocate. As we walked along the highway back to her house, I was trying not to collapse on the floor because my body was like a spaghetti. That was really scary. We ended walking around the around the stables and seeing some horses, but not the really well-kept ones. My friend told me the ones they keep by the entrance are mixed between donkeys and horses. Anyways, the pictures of them are below.

By the entrance to the Royal Stables

To the right where you see this ominous wall, is land that belongs to the Jordanian King. This is seen on the highway to a city called Fuheis. You can’t really anything but a mansion that sits on the top of the hill as you walk further.

Before running for our lives

The only horses we were able to see. These aren’t as groomed and “royal” as the ones we wanted to see, but still. They need love too.

Peeking between trees

Also, pretty big deal but I am now engaged! I am not a fan of a big surprise by the guy, where he wows me with flowers and drops the question on me like he makes the decision for something so important. I could have easily done that for him, I have no problem. But, it was actually a mutual decision. We are moving to the U.S together, and if you are familiar with immigration laws, you have to marry the person once you bring them over from another country. So, I will take head start and work in Kentucky, while Khaled saves some money in Jordan. Then, I will petition for him and he will be able to fly over and start working as a resident! Exciting stuff, kinda crazy, and totally wild, because I never thought I would be doing this. But when you know, you know.

Thank you for checking my blog. I post every 2 weeks (sorry I was a few days late).
I hope you are keeping safe in the crazy storm the East coast had. Be careful driving and stay safe for the rest of the weekend.
You can find me on and follow me on instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

The Mystique of Eating on the Floor

Happy Valentine’s Day!
Not many photos to show when I’ve been looking for jobs non-stop.
Literally, it’s like a job in itself looking for jobs, not sure how people do this while working. But I’ve done a lot of thinking with what I want to do and what that looks like. Answer is, not settling for what other designers are doing. I know that my new focus involves looking for jobs within graphic design, but for an organization either involved in youth development, or equality, women’s rights, racial justice, etc. I realized, if the organization doesn’t involve me doing something just besides design, then I wouldn’t be doing what I want. It would also be a plus if I was interacting with kids somehow, or people. While I love design, sitting behind a desk isn’t as inspiring to me as interacting with the people I would be designing for. Have some decisions to make but won’t be announcing anything until I know.

So, I’ve been home a lot, however here is some proof of actually going out to a restaurant. The first two are at Yemeni restaurant. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that in 2014 I studied abroad to Qatar and that was the reason for starting the blog. ( Click here for my Qatar entries!)
Anyway, I was exposed to a lot of new food while abroad, but learned about the Khaleej culture and countries that have similar customs and food. Qatar, Saudi, Oman, Yemen, Kuwait and UAE, these countries eat very similar things, in contrast to Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Another thing is all the food was eaten on the floor. This is so interesting to me, especially as a Colombian, because in Colombia you do not eat on the floor. Not that you always eat on the floor in the Middle East, and most certainly not if you are alone, but it’s a communal mindset. More plates are easily spread on the floor than on regular tables. However, these pictures you see were a separated part of the restaurant for those that want to eat on the floor. But, there are also people who prefer tables, which is why it is rare to see restaurants serve you in this way. This restaurant had 90% tables, and 10% section for foreigners maybe or locals that prefer the experience of eating on the floor. The carpeted floors are cleaned after every meal. You also eat on a plastic cover, which picks up most of the mess made from the food. I would think it’s safe to say, if people eat on the floor, it’s usually because there’s no table available, too many people, or it’s in the comfort of their own home. Think about it–sitting on a table is a bit more formal than relaxing with your friends, drinking tea, while sitting on pillows. It’s not for everyone, but I don’t mind.

Baab Al Yemen, one of the several Yemeni restaurants in Amman. Yemeni food may sound far from what you know, but really it is a lot of rice, meat, eggs, salad, and gigantic bread (only one piece shown). One of the main differences between Jordanian food and Yemeni, is how they spice the rice. They even spice their tea, usually with some cardamom and with milk. It’s heavenly!

Me participating in the making of Mansaf by breaking down the chalk-like Jameed, into lukewarm water. Don’t worry, I cleaned my hands!

Second time making Mansaf, but this time, with lamb and not chicken. I like the chicken better because it gets seasoned better, but some people don’t know Mansaf without lamb meat, so it’s preference really.

There should be a user manual for these buses.

Have I ever explained buses in Amman? If living in Jordan were a video game, I think taking these buses gives you some extra points for various reasons.
1. Know exactly where you are going.
Well first, the bus destinations are written on the side in Arabic. Thankfully, the guys working on each bus will shout the name of the destinations so people know where the bus is going, incase it’s different than what’s written. Second, when I say you should know exactly, is because you need to know the name of the stop, not just what it looks like. Let’s say you have an idea of where to stop, if you don’t know what the stop name is, the conductor may take a faster route, if no one speaks up that they need to stop. I used to take the buses last year, when I would visit my friends at their university, so I learned the stop names. It actually isn’t too hard to learn, since they repeat it a lot before the stop, and as they stop. Tricky thing is won’t stop if no one needs get off or get on.  
2. Have the courage to tell the conductor to stop in Arabic, if he doesn’t.
This was never fun for me because I’m shy, especially if I am the only person getting off. What I do is check with the person next to me, if they are also getting off, I ask them to let the conductor know. Or, as I give my bus fare, telling the guy where I want to get off. That way, he’ll let the conductor know and I won’t have to say anything more than a head nod of approval, when he asks me to confirm. That’s not much of a problem anymore for me, thankfully.
3. Know female-male dynamics.
So, as you know Jordan is a fairly conservative society, in many regards. On buses, the guy working on the bus,  usually is the one to asses the best situation for the people getting on. Men always in the back, unless a whole family fills up the seats. Ladies next to ladies, and if there is a guy in a two-seater, he is asked to move to another seat, allowing 2 ladies to sit there. Most guys will know what to do, and even some men will ride the bus standing up, so an older lady sits down. These are unwritten rules, and I know the drill because I ride the bus often.
4. Know Arabic numbers, when you pay the bus fare.
At first it is confusing to understand what the rates are, because they are not written or anywhere at all. I learned the numbers early on, but even then they speak so fast, I would never really understand. They expect everyone to know the prices, so they just ask for the money, not the amount. I know the fares, which is helpful, especially when knowing what to get back.

Making a face when Khaled snaps a photo through the window.

Nothing like a little fire for sweater weather. Add some hot tea, munchies, and you got yourself a nice cozy night.

Hiding behind Valentine’s Day flowers. Khaled knows I don’t like roses, so he got me a bunch of colorful ones instead.

We didn’t have any vases, but we did have old wine bottles. I think they look better this way!

Well, not much else to say, other than I am so sad the other domain I made for my blog didn’t work out. The storage was not unlimited and because I hadn’t posted on that domain yet, I didn’t want to continue knowing I had such strong limitations. Thank you for always reading my blog and keeping updated with me. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day, either with friends, a loved one, or just a night to yourself. Either way, there’s no obligations to celebrate this holiday, it’s just a money-maker for restaurants, for the most part. See you in 2 weeks!

Make sure to follow my Instagram account: @travelobsesswithvaness

Peace from the Middle East!

My love for Goat Cheese and other Foods

Winter in Jordan has been brutal in our apartment. Not only does it feel 10000x colder inside than outside, but it’s rained and hailed a lot. The winds have also been destructive, and since I live on the top floor of my building, I feel and hear everything more.

The past two weeks have been a great exploration of Jordanian and Palestinian dishes.
Mansaf, Musakhan, Mulukhiyah, and Magloobeh. My boyfriend has proved to be quite the cook, successfully attempting traditional Jordanian dishes. Everyday he seems to think of what new dish we can try. It really has been really fun seeing how to cook Jordanian and Palestinian dishes, as well as trying them in the comfort of my home. I always help, but Khaled knows the amounts of things, what exact spices, etc.

Jordan’s wind speeds are trying to show off

First culinary demonstration…Middle Eastern Breakfast! Tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh lemon juice, salt, and sumac on top; goat cheese (I’ve discovered is DELICIOUS); pita bread; scrambled eggs with green onion and tomatoes; Lebneh in olive oil; and black tea with mint. Every culture has its customs about what meals are served when. Some have light dinners, and others a light lunch. In the U.S, breakfasts and dinners tend to be heavy, while lunches are light. In Colombia, breakfast and lunch is heavy, while dinners are light. Generally, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan are countries with similar foods and cultures. So, the picture above has some of the things that you would eat in a normal breakfast in these countries.

Mansaf, one of the most famous Jordanian dishes!!!! It is consists of rice, chicken with spices, and Jameed (soup made from hard dry laban from ewe or goat’s milk). You place flat pieces of bread on the bottom of the serving plate, a coat of jameed, then rice, and the chicken on top with parsley and fried pine nuts. The yogurt is then served on the top of the rice. Because the yogurt is quite heavy, it is notorious for people to take naps after this meal. Usually served on Fridays, on family days for lunch, otherwise for dinner it would literally knock you out. I once ate Mansaf at 6pm and I took a nap right after. When I woke up, my refrigerator was installed in the kitchen, and the noises of men installing it didn’t even wake me, as I opened my eyes at 9pm. Think of the equivalent on Thanksgiving Day, when turkey makes you feel sleepy after you eat it. But, nevertheless delicious!

Third culinary demonstration…Favorite Middle Eastern breakfast item! Manaeesh, the giant pieces of bread you see on the right are not your average bread at all. With Manaeesh you will find a layer of olive oil and za’atar (Middle Eastern herbs including sesame seeds, oregano, Thyme, and more) Other options for toppings on this bread includes eggs, cheese, or a mix of za’atar, egg, and cheese. Always baked fresh in the mornings, and for under $1.00!

Most buildings in Jordan were not made for cold weather. We’ve been experiencing extremely humid and cold temperatures inside our apartment. We walk into the bedroom and we can see our breath. NOPE, too cold. So, this has been our set up for the past 3 weeks. It feels comfy sleeping on the floors and the room heats up quicker, which is why we decided to do this.

Enjoying a lovely night of Sahleb and talking in Arabic with Khaled. It surprises me sometimes how I can manage to have myself understood with such little vocabulary. Of course, I give myself no credit, but I don’t know many verbs. As in, I can form sentences and conversations, but there would be one specific word that I don’t know, and then I get stuck. I am understood by explaining or describing what I mean to the person in Arabic, and then they understand. Usually I struggle to finding a word I learned a while ago inside my brain, and trying to use it successfully. Language learning is really amazing, but hard work.

Fourth food demonstration: What is Sahleb? It’s a warm drink, popular in the winter for its magical warming powers. It’s made from a powder extracted from an Orchid flower, which gives the drink a slight dense feel to it. On top, they usually compliment the drink with coconut and cinnamon. It’s delicious and perfect for a night where you don’t want caffeine, so you go for Sahleb. And super cheap!

Calm, blue hues of my friends neighborhood.

Taken at Abdali Mall, a fancy open mall that continues to house new businesses, and random advertisements with no words, like this one.

This woman risking her life, just to clean a window. She is part of the working class in Jordan. Like in many countries, residents and businesses bring women and men to jobs such as cleaning, nanny, doormen, etc.  As I saw her on my balcony, I told her, “Be careful,” in Arabic. She just smiled.

Walking towards Starbucks on a pedestrian bridge, as I look over Abdoun. Abdoun is an area in Amman, home of the U.S embassy, the largest and fanciest Starbucks in Amman.

Musakhan: A Palestinian dish consisting of onions, sumac spice, chicken, a bit of parsley, and fried pine nuts. First you layer very thin bread called Shrak, sautéed onions and olive oil. You make a few layers of bread, onions, oil, …maybe 3 or 4, depending on preference. Then, you lay on top the chicken, season it with sumac and sprinkle the pine nuts and parsley. We accompanied the meal with chicken soup from the broth of the chicken itself.

This week, I wanted to dedicate my blog to food. It is such an important part of any culture – how you eat, when you eat, and what foods you eat. Having not grown up in Jordan, sometimes break the rules of their food culture. For example, some people would never think of eating Maneesh for dinner. They would look at me weird, and even most bakeries here close early because of the mentality. Magloobeh, which I’ve mentioned a few times, (food with eggplant, potatoes, chicken, cauliflower) can’t be served unless the pot is turned upside down on a larger serving plate. I’ve suggested to serve it normally directly on the plate, but somehow even if there is no larger serving plate, it’s ALWAYS served upside down from the pot. I know the word Magloobeh does mean “upside down,” so I see the disservice I’d be doing to the food, but sometimes I’m just hungry.

Regardless of the rules, it is wonderful living in Jordan and experiencing the culture in its multiple facets: language, Jordanian female and male friends, food, holidays, work, transportation, etc. Some foreigners stay and never learn the language, or only befriend friends of their native language. While that may work for some, I am happy how I chose to live my experience and immerse myself where I can honestly say I understand both the good and the bad of Jordan. I can’t say how much longer I’ll be here. I’m still looking for a job, taking care of my blog, and trying to release some new designs soon that I’m excited about.

Even though I may not have a job at the moment, I am enjoying reflecting a lot about what it means for me to be in Jordan, all the aspects of what I’ve learned from being here, and all the adventures I’ve had. All I can say for sure is I am learning to enjoy the process of figuring things out, and making sure I listen to what I really want.

That’s all for now! Thanks for checking my blog. I update every other Thursday, so make sure to subscribe to receive an email with the updates!

I re-named my blog, let me know your thoughts.
Follow my Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness

Thank you always, and peace from the Middle East!

Back to Tiny, Delicious Cucumbers and Real Hummus

Leaving the U.S was a bit more difficult than anticipated due to terrible weather. Actually, in all my traveling since at least 2006, I don’t remember ever having flight cancelled. So, yeah that was a first for me. Expected, but nonetheless annoying.

The first two flights were cancelled due arctic weather and snow in Jersey and New York. It reached -13º Celsius and 2º Fahrenheit! Cars were covered, schools were closed, and people were buying everything in the super markets. After calling the airline and being put on hold for an hour, I was rescheduled to our third flight, with another airline and through Canada. So, we had our goodbye dinners, and goodbye breakfasts and last hangouts with my friends. My family drove an hour to the airport, and we were about to check in our bags at the check-in desk. The woman looks up our information on her computer and sees that Khaled is not able to travel through Montreal for a layover, because he needs a visa. Honestly, I had never traveled with someone from outside the U.S, so it was not an issue I had on my mind. Canada only allows U.S citizens or Canadians to enter without a transit visa for layovers, leaving everyone else to somehow know they need a visa for a simple layover. The woman also insisted that I could travel regardless and have Khaled fly to Jordan a week after. HECK NO! We bought the tickets together, we fly together.

With my family literally behind us for support, we pressured the woman to fix the problem, and soon enough she rerouted us on a different flight, a different day, but nonetheless flying together. Now, I have no problem flying solo and I have done it plenty of times. But, it was in their duty to give us the best option. And on our 4th flight, we flew out and made it safely to Jordan. One of our bags arrived late, but we are alive and back! Thankfully I was coming back to look for jobs, so there was no actual rush, other than it was annoying to be in limbo.

At a delicious Mexican restaurant in Jersey, one of many goodbye dinners with my mom. We pretended it was Khaled’s birthday and ordered him a dessert, with all the waiters and waitresses singing to him. Also, they brought him a cool hat with long hair. He was confused.

Looking back at old albums of myself. Year 1999~ Here, my parents threw me a big birthday party when I turned 7. There was a clown, a person dressed as Tweety Bird, Cinderella cake, and outdoor games! I felt like a superstar in my new outfit that day. Next to me is my childhood friend Victoria, who moved to Arizona in 3rd grade, but we kept in contact (even before Facebook). I went to visit her in Arizona freshman year of college, and we remain friends till this day.

Year 2001~ Also with Victoria, and me making faces. In my old house, playing dolls on the floor, as we always did. My room was one of my favorite places to be, and doing everything on the floor was so much more comfortable for me. Maybe because the desk I had was tiny, but I remember spending so many nights creating artwork, painting, collaging, reading, and hanging out with friends, just sitting on my floor. I also had one giant wall full of magazine cutouts and totally collaged from the ceiling to the floor. I do miss that wall.

Year 2018: Last breakfast at my dad and brother’s breakfast spot

In front of my mom’s apartment, before hitting the road for the airport for the 2nd time

View over the Alps, flying near Italy. Thanks to the captain for informing us.

Lovely orange tree I spotted walking to our apartment. Khaled tried to grab one, but it was too tall for both of us. Had we successfully grabbed one, we could’ve been part of Tropicana commerical

I take no credit, Khaled cooked an amazing meal, while I working diligently on a resume. Magloobeh, as described in other posts, contains rice, chicken, eggplant, and potatoes accompanied by a fresh salad and yogurt. Definitely one of his best versions yet! Practice makes perfect! YUMMMMMM Side note: Cucumbers in Jordan are so tiny compared to the ones we bought in the U.S, but they have a sweetness and taste that the ones in the U.S don’t have. Not sure why…but I know that in Colombia the cucumbers are also big, so maybe it depends on the land they grow on? Not sure.

I remember hours before traveling, we had guests over and we were crazy with organizing the apartment that day and the days before. But no matter what we did, coming back from vacation always means going back to clean and organize everything again. And even though the bare floors and limestone walls makes Jordan feel colder than the U.S, it feels nice to be back!

Now, being back has been a slow readjustment. It has been hard adjusting back to the apartment being so cold, even though outside it only 50º-60º degrees outside. We had absolutely no food coming back, and were waiting on one luggage to come a few days late. Thankfully, my boyfriend’s mother rescued us and came over and cooked enough for a week, that gave us time until we bought actual groceries. But now, getting into the groove of things…starting to cook again, and getting back on my chia seeds with fruit. I was happy to eat Lebneh again – a Middle Eastern fresh, cream cheese eaten with drizzled olive oil and bread.
I’m applying to jobs everyday and making sure every application I send out means I get better at writing about myself. Applying to jobs is a slow process anywhere, but I hope to hear back soon!

Stay warm and thank you for keeping up with my blog! Make sure to subscribe to this blog, so you can receive an email every time I post. I update every 2 weeks, but just incase you forget to check. Folllow me on Instagram: @travelobsesswithvaness to see other pictures that I may not post here.

Thank you for your support and I hope everyone in cold weather stays warm.

Peace from the Middle East!

New Year 2018!!!

Happy New Year!!!

Since my last blog post, the days have been quite festive. The Novena of Aguinaldos continued, as mentioned in my last bog post, up until Christmas Eve. In Colombia, as well as other Hispanic countries, we only celebrate Christmas Eve. For me, I divided my time between my mom and my dad. With my mom, she cooked a delicious stuffed chicken, we shared some drinks and spent the day and part of the evening with her. The second half of the evening, I spent it with my father and his family, catching up with cousins, dancing, and opening gifts. Our tradition on Christmas Day, as of a few years ago, we open gifts in the morning, and make delicious empanadas from scratch in the evening. The fun part is to help add the stuffing and mold them into perfectly nice crescents, and my mom drops them in the frying pan. SO GOOOOOD!

Cheers to holidays!

Pre-cooked stuffed chicken, all ready to go!

Christmas Eve dinner: Stuffed chicken with rice, veggies, and meat, (slowly cooked for 2 hours) and baby potatoes with salad.

Christmas Eve dancing with my dad

home-made empanadas for Christmas Day!

Kick-back margarita night can’t be good without some avocados for the guacamole

Michael Jackson Tribute at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village

Happy with my matcha latte from Bibble & Sip, small coffee shop in Manhattan

Since I spend so much time away, I make an effort to see as many of friends as I can. This month, my best friend who lives in Texas took a flight out to Jersey for the New Year to see me! We try to see each other every year, so either I go see her or she comes to New Jersey. Last year, I flew to San Antonio to see her, so now it was her turn. Valeria and I grew up together, living only 91 steps away from each other. When she moved to Texas freshman year of high school, it was hard for both of us, but we tried our best to continue the relationship and see each other at least once a year somehow. Now, 18 years later, and maintain a friendship that I know will be for a lifetime.

And, since I came home for this time of year, I was able to see most of my friends from Jersey. I am so thankful to have so many friends, all from different walk of life–always fill my heart with love when I see them.

Gallivanting on frozen lake in Jersey. After a few days of freezing cold weather, the lakes freeze over a layer of ice thick enough to have all 4 of us walk on it. Though the parts we stepped on are quite frozen, it safe to assume the inner parts of the lake going away from land, might fail at holding us

Doing the Titanic on a frozen lake

Everyone trying to distribute their body weight so the ice doesn’t break. This is Valeria (in the front), we used to go everywhere together and people would always confuse us. We were both similar body types, long hair, pale skin, Colombian and our names started with “V.” Needless to say, some people wouldn’t even try so they called us V #1 and V #2.

Khaled lookin’ like Bruno Mars

Spent the day with my friend Audrey, walking to the Museum of Natural History

Near the Strawberry Fields in Central Park

Penn Station with pigeons who DON’T  fly away majestically like they should.

NYC Metro rides

These two girls give off an energy unlike any other. I always make sure I see them when I’m back home because with these two, it’s pure love.

Happy New Year with these great people!!!!!

Worst storm this winter season, shoveling the first round. After we were done, it was as if we did nothing.

This year has been so amazing for me. I started the year traveling in Europe, with my family and visited my friend in Denmark. I returned to Jordan to finish my U.S Fulbright, and received acceptance into an Arabic Type Design course at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon for the summer. I spent July and August there, and mid-August surprised my parents when I visited the U.S, after a year of not seeing them. During my layover going to the U.S, I spent 14 hours in Qatar with some friends. Towards the end of my U.S trip, my dad paid a ticket for me to see my grandparents in Colombia. Then, I traveled back to Jordan, and returned to the U.S for a whole month with my boyfriend. I am lucky to have my family to spend the holidays with, and I am blessed to have had the opportunities to travel as much as I have. Seven countries this year: Denmark, Spain, France, Colombia, Jordan, Qatar, Lebanon…..let’s see how many next year!

Thank you for checking in! I hope everyone spent a new year with a healthy mind or good people (or both!). Make sure to follow my Instagram account: @travelobsesswithvaness 

Peace from Jersey!

Long Majestic Lady Legs and Hiking in Shenandoah

This December has not been that cold at all. It even snowed in Virginia and Texas before it snowed in New Jersey/ New York. Otherwise, days are mostly sunny and above 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
The day we chose to go to the Statue of Liberty was beautiful. We were lucky because I casually mentioned to the ticket lady if we could get access to the pedestal, and once we were on Liberty Island, I overheard the security officers telling some people you need 2-3 weeks reservation in advance to go up to the pedestal. The unlucky part was when the elevator was taking too long, so we decided to use the stairs, not knowing it would be 200 stairs. We managed to make it and take pictures of the view. That night, I had planned with my mom to take both her boyfriend and mine as an anniversary surprise to a Hibachi Japanese restaurant in the mountains, called Mount Fuji. They cook in front of you, and put on a show, and the food is excellent!

First mild snowfall of the season, so naturally we went to Overpeck County Park in the cold snow. I used to come here a lot in high school. The park opened a few years back and I really loved its wide open spaces and its large spider web for climbing.

Coming close to the  Statue of Liberty, as we pass her on our way to Ellis Island on the ferry

Self timer on the Pedestal, the Statue of Liberty above us.

Hibachi Japanese dinner at Mount Fuji in Hillburn, NY

Medieval Times– a dinner tournament that involves real horses and knights competing against each other…and you eat with your hands.

My mom’s Christmas gift to us was tickets to see Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in NYC. The Rockettes are a precision dance company that are famous for their Christmas themed show, with colorful costumes, and a talented group of women who put on a fabulous show! They characterized and remembered by their synchronized dancing legs and moving in unison.

Pretending to be the Rockettes. Nailed it

Since I went to school in Virginia, I have a few close friends there, so always make some time to go and see them. We left early to Virginia, because we wanted to avoid traffic. We entered VA around 10am, and my friend and I had planned to meet around 4pm. So, I thought about stopping on the way to eat something and to explore a bit in Baltimore. I remembered a few years back I traveled with some friends to a really cool art museum, so I looked up the same one. The American Visionary Art Museum is the only museum in the US that exhibits only self-taught artists, so none of the artists went to school for artistic studies. It’s an incredible selection of work–very funky, eccentric, and colorful. I definitely recommend to go!

American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore…with its funky exterior you KNOW it’s worth it!!!

On our way to see my friend in Virginia, Khaled really wanted to eat at a diner, like the old ones he had seen in the movies. I decided to take him to Broadway Diner in Baltimore, MD, a place I remembered going to years before, and loving the food. The FRIES were amazing!!

Hiking the Shenandoah National Park, and me in the back

Shenandoah National Park, with an easy 3 hour hike. It was warm that day, so it was no problem hiking without our jackets. We brought them just encase it got colder, as the sun went away

With my long time friends Rebecca and Katie at Belle Isle in Richmond, VA

Soaking some sun on the Pipeline, off of the James River, in Richmond, VA

Natilla– a Colombian traditional dessert that is only made during the Christmas season. It is a custard, made with cinnamon sticks, cloves, whole milk, a touch of rum (or alcohol of choice, or none), and sometimes with raisins and coconut, too. It is usually a delicate process, stirring it enough times, and knowing when it is done. Some people, like my mom, only likes it fresh  (which means a few minutes after making it. After it after a few minutes of cooling down, it becomes jello-like. People love it during the holidays with buñuelos, (made with cheese and flour), that compliments this dessert nicely. Buñuelos are found at any Colombian bakery.

Novena of Aguinaldos- A set of prayers recited 9 days before Christmas, mostly done by Catholics in Colombia and some people in Ecuador. For each day, there are songs, and prayers dedicated to the journey of Mary and Joseph looking for a stable to have their baby. I like attending them because I get to see my family, and each day it’s at a different house, which means fooooooood. Mostly, it’s just something I grew up with, so it brings nice memories. (You also realize which family member sings the loudest, slowest, and most off-harmony. This can be quite funny.)

Khaled helping my dad to make natilla

I didn’t realize how much we’ve done in the last 2 weeks, until I started looking at photos and putting them together! From now on, it’s quite family oriented and we will be more busy with family activities. It’ll be exactly 2 weeks until we leave, and will be back in Jordan. I still have a few things I want to show Khaled; like the Empire State, the Observatory Deck near the Rockefeller Center, ice skating, and walking around more neighborhoods in NYC like Chinatown and Brooklyn. It’s been interesting having someone with me all the time, because when I travel I am usually alone, and when I’m home, I usually go out and about by myself. This was definitely a new experience for both of us, an opportunity for Khaled to see a lot of the Colombian culture through food, and Christmas traditions. He understands now how Christmas is everywhere here and almost injected into your veins no matter if you like it or not. But nonetheless, all has been well. I’m happy to see my friends and to spend time at home eating yummy Colombian food. Khaled has enjoyed seeing all my favorite restaurants, meeting my friends, and getting to know small Jersey towns around us.

I hope to accomplish more in these last 2 weeks of vacation. Also, hoping for a snowy Christmas.
Thank you for reading my update!
Peace from the Jersey!
Instagram: @vanes792