Wednesday, September 25, 2013

To Morocco I Go

Two free baklava, one Moroccan nutmeg espresso, and a million people asking me if I´m Moroccan. This is what happens when I go to the Moroccan pavilian. (I vaguely remember this happening in southern France, too....)

It started as just a visit to see a friend, but turned into this. Bien chance, eh? ;)

Merci beaucoup et shukran!

Flashback provided by Kyo (French boy band, just give them a shot) :

working for the mouse

I´ve been a Cast Member at Walt Disney World Resorts a little over a month now and I´m starting to see a trend.

Let me start from the begining. I work at All Star Music Resort for this internship. Most of the resort is nice, nothing special--spacious pool, budget prices, easy access to the parks, and what would a Walt Disney location be without giggles galore. But behind the chipper smiles is a not so happy place, Intermission Food Court. Here you will find employees who´ve been forced to serve hoards of Brazilian tour groups. These tour group can be up to 200 people. Imagine that. Not just 200 random guests, but 200 intercontinental guests flying together with a common goal.  I´m baffled as to why this many people would hop continents together... But now I just feel bad for their airline. And my family reunions......

The resort next door is under reconstruction . What does this mean, you may ask? This means that Intermission Food Court´s occupancy level has regularly been reaching to 160% capacity for the past few months.

Yeah, bugga.

At around 8pm is when we have a steady stream at each station. From around 8:45 to 10:30 is when we all develop Dr. Jekll/Mr. Hyde personalities. Picture it.

At least Mr. Hyde smiles.

The most curious part of life now though is all the strange bruises, pains, wounds, sores, and sprains I find after I leave Intermission Food Court.


I tried flossing after I got home from a grueling night on the job. To my surprise, though, the tips of my fingers were scorching. With floss strangling the circulation out of my fingers, I looked in the mirror and I noticed a dark purple bruise on the back of my wrist. Both of my knees feel like a soccer player jumped on them with their cleats on.  Then there´s the strange avacado-shaped bruise on the side of my leg and a red  cut/bump on my wrist.


There´s a few more but I won´t go into detail. In fact, I can´t go into detail because my alternate ego likes to keep secrets from me (scroll up to picture, man on left).

So now that you all think I´ve lost it, I´ll leave you with this, the latest hit single in Deutschland. It soothes my alternate ego´s soul.

monkey-ing around

This is what happens when I find Rafiki...

best friends forever.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

parte di il tuo mondo

The only thing that made me spend an evening of my life in Epcot was the world showcase. Last time I went was over ten years ago and as a five-year-old, it had made a magical impression on me. =)

Anyway, I skipped through Norway, trekked through Deutschland, and dived straight into Morocco. One place that hit an unexpectly tender spot was Italy. Go figure.

I walked through the shops and practiced my Italian with another College Program student from Rome. We had a deep and meaningful conversation about where he was from, how North American´s don´t speak Italian, and how I go to school in Lugano (because remember, my command of Italian is limited to the present and future tenses).

Even though I´ve been dying for a latte macchiato or a Melange since January, I flew past the coffee kiosks and went for the gelato instead. I was giggling at the thought of having "una coppetta" of seasonal gelato, like fig or pistacchio.

The kid serving gelato and I had a very special bond, he is from Bologna and I lived in Ticino. That makes us, get this,  "northerners".  He chuckled, I smiled, more magic (kidding).  After discovering they only had chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, I refused any gelato at all. He supported my decision and told me there will never be any such seasonal gelato in the United States, ever. Thank you Paolo, for setting the facts straight. We parted, and it went something like this:

Him:  "Ciao"

Me: "Ciao"

Him: "Ciao, beeeeella." insert animal-like growl

Me: smile-over-shoulder-because-I´ve-done-this-before

I found my new hangout spot.

Never Have I Ever...

1. ...watched the film Grease twice in two days, until now. My six roommates must have brought every DVD they own from their respective homes. How do I know this? Well, just look inside the two crates they keep next to the tv; they´re filled with every chickflick and Disney classic since Mary Poppins. I thought indulging my musical senses like this was unreasonable and excessive, until I watched Beauty and the Beast twice in three days.

I can justify this
2. ...thought that seven females could live together, and function.

3. ...seen so much Disney appareal (and Mickey Mouse ears) in Walmart. Yes, you´ll always find that one section of Disney regalia, but not rows and rows of Mike Wazowski t-shirts and Goofy hats with ears.

4.  ...had a flatmate that shares my love for salsa and bachata. The first morning we were together I, and the rest of the house, could hear her blasting Romeo Santos from her iPod in the bathroom. It was a beautiful moment.

Below is a freshly-filmed video straight from Lugano, Svizzera. If you were ever wanted to know more about my darling little Swiss school, this is it:

Monday, August 19, 2013

Up, Up, and Away

I´m a little brain dead after my five hour red-eye flight from Las Vegas to Orlando. Not only were we taxiing for all eternity, I was also the lucky gal to be seated in front of a child, screaming his lungs out, in Portuguese.

Other than that, I don´t think I´ve had so much fun on a flight. I use the term¨"fun" loosely, though. Speeding off a tarmac with a full view of everything from MGM to Mandalay is quite a view(for a city-scape anyway). It gets even better when you´re hovering around the tip of the Eiffel Tower. =)

Being above the lights and below the stars is always the best part of the trip. It´ s the point when you try to prepare for whatever you may run into. Whether you´re traveling for work, leisure, solo, or in an obnoxiously large tour bus, you have expectations. But not knowing anything about your destination and shedding any preestablished stereotypes before your arrival can end up being incredibly rewarding. You get to dive into a place that probably won´t share your  views on life, that´ll challenge your religious affiliation, that´ll test your ability to communicate without a common spoken language. It´s challenging, but maybe that´s why people are traveling now more than ever.  Forget about advancements in technology and globalisation and such; travelers do what they do to be challenged. It takes a certain type of person to accept constant criticism and to be confortable in completely unfamiliar environments.

 Then your little daydream of hearts and flowers bursts when you get off the plane and in sets jetlag.

And then you have to run to catch the last train of the night and because it´s Sunday (or some sacriligious event) everything is closed so you can´t eat until Wednesday. Good luck. You get out of the train station to see gypsies and some southeast asian man is yelling at you in his languge for directions. blah, blah, blah. Some series of unfortunate events will inevitably occur. So many love to think about the "romantic" sides of traveling but rarely do they think about the less-publicized sides of travel. The people who can come out of a travel-fiasco without being scarred for life are the ones who get the most from the experience. People who shake off the teachings of their cultures and go to the unknown are real travelers, the one´s who go around looking for something to sink their teeth into (North Americans all too often exempt countries like Albania, Montenegro, Bulgaria from their European travel plans because it doesn´t have some place as beaten into as Las Vegas, Barcelona, Paris, etc.). (I major in hospitality management. I should really try to be less sinical about touristy cities...).

Anyway, I´m offically a Disney Cast Member. I´ll be working Food and Beverage at All Star Music. I just train this week. Work starts next Monday. Time to make some magic.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

hotel life

North Americans like to talk. No doubt about it. We´re the only ones in the western hemisphere who can ramble on to strangers about "how we are" at the grocery store and instantly become besties sparked from a question about how late the pool will be open at a hotel. I was recently a victim of this type of friendly.

I moved out of my apartment because my lease ended, but my courses continue. So instead of driving 40 miles a day, I found a summer special at a nearby hotel. It´s bumpin. For being off the strip.

Enthralled at the sight of a possibly free private cabana, I walked right up to the security guard and I promise, all I did was ask how late the pool was open til. Somehow though, SOMEHOW, we ended up in a discussion about his antique newspapers dating back to 1830 and his salary. It got personal. I wondered if this guy worked too many lonely nightshifts...

We had a few other riveting encounters throughout the week. Once while I was jamming to my Icelandic band in my private cabana and the other at the entrance of my room.


He either looked up which room I was in or followed me. Neither of those are particularly pleasant to think about. He came to my room to talk about his sister this time, I think. Or that could have been the time I was rushing to my room after carrying around my uniform for my culinary course like a pack mule, trying to eat my take-out dinner at 11pm. Oh, and he managed to show up with four water bottles and two cans of beer. I drank the water and left the beer. (Not kidding.)

I go back to Rumor Boutique Hotel for my last week of courses of the summer. Will I have to endure the perky smiles and upbeat cheeriness that every Las Vegas hotel  employee should exhibit? Probably. Can I hide away in a private cabana with an über convenient mini fridge and view of a neon sign-filled sky? Probably not.

That middle cabana should have been all mine...


No matter, though. I should be learning from them, following their example. After all, I am studying hospitality management in this fabulous, fabulous city.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What´s that Smell?

Three days of scrubing, dusting, vacuuming, and shuffling around luggage later, I´m finally out of my apartment complex...and into my parents house. What a joy. Just kidding, but at least I have a full kitchen. The past few days I have been successfully whipping up whatever I feel like. But it´s only successful when my dad doesn´t tell me "It´s too healthy". Mom will always like my meals, though...

My first attempt of the weekend was also my first attempt at making meat in years. (I was a vegetarian through high school until I went to Europe, go figure). Cooking it, meat from any animal, was never my specialty, but some how I found myself sifting through the meat section at my neighborhood Von´s. The chicken was about to expire and the beef (was it beef?) was, well, I´m still deciding. And just as I was about to run from the clutches of the pork sirloin that wanted to swallow me whole, I spotted a 1 lb package of meat that had an image of the Wyoming Rockies on the front. Turns out it was bison meat from Colorado. (Um, Colorado doesn´t have bison, so it must have been imported from Wyoming, obviously).

It was ready to expire and half off. I tossed it in the cart and froze it until I could find a recipe. Never do I remember seeing bison meat in the grocery stores in Wyoming. It might be more popular up north but I´m a "city girl" from Cheyenne. Bison meat has always been a delicacy in the area, saved for long-standing traditions, like Cheyenne Frontier Days (the longest running rodeo in the world. We´ve seen everybody from Wild Bill Hickok to Annie Oakely to Buffalo Bill. It´s our pride and joy).

Being a Wyoming-ite, I guess I should have made something more traditional, shame on me. I made Middle Eastern Bison Meatballs with Cilantro-Yogurt dip instead. Google it. It was fabulous.

My next endeavor was to use up all the cilantro and mint I had leftover. Add some lemon, cumin, red chile flakes, pine nuts/walnuts, and some extra virgin olive oil and you have yourself a meal fit for parents with exotic tastebuds.

Now I haven´t baked in years and after a certain age it never really interested me. Flour everywhere, mediocre cupcakes from a box, thunder thighs--who wants all that? I learned in Budapest that I´d prefer to sit at a café overlooking the Danube while I dine on strudel and café Melange. But the thought of trying something new (and having my parents around to test it on) inspired me to try this bit out:

Vegan Brownies.

No eggs, coconut milk instead of cows milk. Add just at a touch of cinnamon, serve with vanilla and a sprig of mint and voilà.

Tomorrow I´m planning on roasting some chicken and putting it over spinach with a homemade strawberry vinaigrette. And avocados, possibly one of the only foods I missed while in the Old World.

You know I still consider myself a vegetarian? I might want to rethink that.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Don´t Crimp (or Cramp) my Style

Las Vegas doesn´t always have the best reputation, but it is known for many halfway decent things: hotels, entertainment, the highrollin´ life, ...this list is not inclusive but that´s the vast the majority of it. (You really can fit most of Las Vegas culture into category "highrollin").

One of the first things I noticed about Las Vegas was the disgusting amount of neon colors in style. Pink, green, orange, yellow, blue--no shade is safe.

It looks like a mythical creature spit up on it then tried kicking it around. There´s just no other way to put it.

I came here in January and the insanity continues.

 I don´t want to crimp this girls´ style, however, I really think this should be appropriate for Carnivale or EDC only.

Now I digress. As I was writing the previous sentence I had to think about how to use my American-English slang (or lack thereof). Was the correct phrase "to crimp my style" or "to cramp my style". Being the epitome of "nerd", I consulted

"To crimp my style" is defined as "to have adverse affect upon one" while "to cramp" isn´t even listed. Here´s the catch, though. "To crimp my style" takes on a new essense when changed to "crimping my style". The latter being defined as "to be bothersome to the point of ruining one´s day or event." Then it goes on to say that it´s frequently confused with "cramping my style", which is an equivalant expression. (But if it´s equivalent, how can you confuse it? Even more baffling is why it doesn´t even get two lines in if it does have an exact definition).

For your viewing entertainment...

Notice it says "PROMGIRL" at the bottom. That concerns me. I just had my senior prom two years ago. No of us would have been caught in something that looked like it was smacked around by a freshman in the chemisty lab. Anyone who would have worn this to Prom in the Wyoming, Colorado, Utah area would have been something of an outcast. Poor girl. Just kidding. This dress is just the pathetic cry of a wallflower.

I can only imagine that the next step in the fashion world is for someone to figure out how to make black a neon color, too. It´ll be bigger than Bieber.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

So maybe our friend Rolf isn´t quite so unique.

When was the last time you noticed so many bird carcasses in a 3 mile radius? Just walking around on campus I saw five dead pigeons since my last post . One was just a head so I don´t know if that really counts... There was also a dead cat walking to Mandalay Bay from the Hard Rock.

The bigger question here is why. Is it just because it´s so rediculously hot that birds just die midflight? Is it really too overwhelming for city maintenance to sweep it up??

To all you tourist out there:  Vegas off the strip is not what Vegas is on the strip. And unless you have hoards of money, don´t stay for more than four days. You´ll shrivel up much like the pigeons around.

This city was not meant to be inhabited. Most people that do live here though, are in transit, probably going to LA or back to nowhere, Wyoming next. My family is already talking about moving out-of-state.

By the way, city maintenence swept Rolf up on Monday.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

movie night

Because I don´t have a television, people ask ¨So what kind of movies and shows do you stream?¨ The answer: nothing.

I used to have a swiss website I used to use, but they were hacked and have never worked well outside of Europe anyway.

Being clumsy and not very tech savvy usually keeps me at a safe distance from things like iPads, iPods, iPhones, and even the prehistoric home Computer.

The other day, though,  I tried streaming ¨Eat Pray Love¨. After clicking a few buttons here and there without much thought about what I was okay-ing, I was blocked by a screen that claimed to be the US Department of Justice. Under Article 1, Section 7, they accused me of pursuing some ghastly internet material and told me I might be convicted as a felon if I didn´t take action within three days. Oh, and they also requested 300 USD.

This charge (in addition to not having a phone number or any contact information) concerned me, but there I was, tossing and turning all night thinking about how I was going to pay 300 USD within three days without a job and how this would look to Swiss authorities if I decide to apply for my Swiss passport. Always thinking ahead, I am.

Turns out I was hacked by a Bulgarian terrorist organisation when I tried uploading ¨Eat Pray Love¨  Saturday night. I´m exaggerating about the terrorist organization part, but I was told that the 40 viruses on my computer were traced back to the Balkin region...

(My anger was alleviated and I even smiled a little when I heard my woes and worries could have stemmed from Bulgaria).

So now I only have to pay 200 USD to clear my computer of Bulgarian bugs and I´m estatic to say I´m in no way about to run into a felony conviction.

This is why I prefer to read. On my window sill right now is ¨I´m a Stranger Here Myself¨ (Bill Bryson), the Swiss Constitution, and you guessed it, ¨Eat Pray Love¨ (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Call me a caveman, but I prefer a book that doesn´t have to be charged or will eventually charge me.

If you´re interested in a real travel blog, I´ll refer you to my favorite source of online entertainment:

An Irish perspective on life in Lativa. This is the only blog I follow because well, all the other travel blogs I´ve read just aren´t as good as hers. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

plight of a duck

It's high time I write about something that's been bothering me the past two weeks.

Now, there isn't much to look at when walking from my apartment to the university, really. It's either busy traffic to your right, a desert to your left, an empty-blue sky looking up, or sizzling pavement looking down. Take your pick.

On one particular Monday I chose to stare at the burning desert in hopes of seeing something flashy that would catch my eye, like a ball of tumbleweed. Instead I saw something a tad more shocking, a touch more disturbing, a pinch more sombering: I saw a dead duck.

He was peaceful for the first two days, resting very comfortably with feathers shining brightly. I never thought of a dead Mallard as elegant but lo and behold...

Then his feathers started to fray. They dried and the wind carried them at the tips. Through hundred degree days he squatted. His neck arched further down and his beak lost vivacity (compared to when he was a freshly dead duck, not when he was alive).

He's covered in dust now and is more grey than brown. His head lays about three feet from his carcass. Once his head was off I knew it was an appropriate time to name him. I named him Rolf. We´re two peas in a pod.

I don't want this to tear at your heart strings, but this being didn't deserve this untimely fate.  He was probably just waddling his way from the sewage with the prospect of finding someplace worth searching for (like the Venetian). But how did Rolf loose the flock? Did he choose his own path or did he leave out of revenge and spite? Is he just a loner? (Once you name an animal, it´s hard imagine them not having human emotions, like feelings of revenge and spite. )...

Tomorrow I will walked by this misplaced being. And, maybe through some relationaship between the living and dead, I will figure out the ways of the world (or at least think of a better reason for a duck to be dead in a desertous plot next to a gas station than feelings of revenge and spite).

Goodnight, Rolf.

P.S. I forgot to add that despite the sentimental side of this, the science behind the composition process in the desert is quite fascinating.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

surprise, surprise

What´s the first thing that comes to mind when I say ¨gas station¨? Maybe an underslept truck driver buying cigarettes or a disgruntled elderly couple getting iced tea.

There´s no doubt that a  gas station is a safe haven for purely North American goods like jumbo Hershey´s bars and piping hot hot dogs. And how can I forget to mention the expansive choise of slurpee? Brainfreeze is one of my favorite childhood memories.

Despite all this bad, there is some good (yeah, right). If you look closely, a gas station in the US like 7-11 or WaWa may tickle your multicultural senses. Next to a gritty coffee machine, you may stumble on a Dutch delicacy, Stroopwafel.

I first learned of Stroopwafel while researching Dutch culture for a class project. My team and I choose this because it seemed manageable for our meager culinary skills. It´s not turning out to be quite so easy. The Stroopwafel is essentially two crunchy waffles stuck together by way of syrup, honey, or some combination of both. We´ve searched multiple ethnic grocery stores and mainstream US grocers but to no avail.

After a few weeks without any leads on how to actually make waffles to Stroopwafel consistency, we hit a dead end. 

Until today. 

Out of nowhere, a teammate of mine tells me we´re going to 7-11. I didn´t question it. (Afterall, he was my ride home). Besides being at the epitome of  all things ¨ghetto¨, this place didn´t even have slurpees, shaking my faith in everything I ever knew. 

But you bet that next to a gritty coffee machine was a basket filled with individually wrapped Stroopwafel. 

 Never would I have gone to a 7-11 in search of culinary inspiration...or Stroopwafel. 

I don´t really know how this helps my team, though. We still have to figure out how to make this thing without a proper wafflemaker. Maybe it just settles my soul knowing I can find a crumb of western european existence in even the darkest corners of my country. (Yes, 7-11 is a dark corner of my world).

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

When Money Doesn´t Matter

The four countries that have had the greatest impact on me are all in Europe. One of them is in western Europe; three of them are in eastern Europe. Two of these eastern European locations are on the top ten list of poorest countries on the continent. Below are the results a 2012/2013 CIA survey regarding income levels for these two countries (plus others).

Country                                       Per Capita Income (USD)
1.Moldova                                             3,500
2. Kosovo                                             7,400
3. Ukraine                                             7,600
4. Albania                                              8,000
5. Bosnia and Herzegovina                     8,300
6. Serbia                                              10,500
7. Macedonia                                       10,700
8. Montenegro                                     11,700
9. Romania                                          12,800
10. Bulgaria                                         14,500
Source: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)--United States Here´s the link if you´re craving more (pretty pictures to convince you to visit included).

Although I was only in Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina for a total of about nine days, I had so many jaw-dropping moments, so many ¨a-ha´s¨.

It´s safe to say that most North Americans would brush off many of these struggling countries with their superiority complex and comments like ¨Serbia? Bosnia? Aren´t they still at war?¨ Who can blame them, though? Anything we´ve heard regarding the Balkans has been about the war, almost as a warning to stay away. When was the last time you saw an advertisement for Bosnian coffee or to skip Hawaii and go to Bulgaria´s Black Sea instead?

And Serbia?? Pff, they shouldn´t need any advertisement. Hidden among the clothing boutiques and outlets are dusty corner stores where hat makers perfect their trade. Hat makers. (I almost bought a dark-green winter hat  made from rabbit´s skin by the shoppe keeper herself. Unfortunately, my parents had already relocated from Wyoming to Las Vegas. sigh. I could have been as cool as this guy, but green).

My point is this:
You´ll see things none of your family or friends will believe. You may not even believe some of it but who knows what it is that will change the way you see the world until you set out. Don´t be afraid of stereotypes built by your culture. You´ll be more significant and interesting to people with yearly incomes equal to what some spend on one hand of Baccarat than to a few head honchos at an international hub in London or Paris, promise. Instead, go someplace that might scare you. I guarantee the beauty you´ll find will be worth the cost.

Friday, June 7, 2013

a breath of fresh air

So the solemn waiter at the Bulgarian restaurant last night told me where to buy Bulgarian cheese (something you can not find in you´re average walmart). Little did I realise the value of this suspicious grocery store. 

Not only was there Bulgarian cheese, there was also Bulgarian honey and wine. But pfff, not only that, there was also Croatian, Greek, and Polish wine.  !!

The fun doesn´t stop there, though. They also flaunt a variety of Bosnian Burek. And Armenian honey. And Russian Mors with cranberry and sea buckthorn. (No idea what sea buckthorn is, but that´s probably why I bought it). 

This place was filled with all my favorite European specialties, including, get this, Mulbeeren and Kichererbse mit Rosenwasser. I died!! This Mulbeeren is simply a box full of mulberry fruit and the latter is a bag of chickpeas covered in sugar and rosewater.  

Okay so maybe they aren´t the first snack you search for in your cupboard, but it´s a step up from Doritos and gold fish.

This store, Jones Market (located at the corner of Jones and Desert Inn) has given me hope for my life in Las Vegas. Where else can I get Bulgarian yogurts and Russian truffles?

A step off the normal path

My daily routine has settled into some combination of going to the weight room, cleaning, studying, piano practice, and way too much pool time. It´s getting old.

To kick the boredom, I decided to go for a walk, go figure. I grab some of the oldest clothes I have out of my closet (a white t-shirt and denim shorts) and put my hair up in a quick bun. I looked like a bum. Still, within the first ten minutes of walking under the beating sun, I was  to as ¨gurrrrl¨, ¨wuman¨,  ¨princess¨, and my favorite, ¨little mamacita¨. They´re easy to shake off as long as they don´t start following you. No followers this time; lucky me.

I´ve always been attracted to hot, dry climates, but I´ve never spent a full summer in Las Vegas. About 20 minutes into my walk I took refuge at the first place I found: the mall. Who knew I would find the Hispanic Heritage Museum of Nevada alongside Hot Topic and Sears? It was so tempting to go in, but I didn´t want to disturb the girls dancing Cumbia inside. (Actually, that´s only partly true. I waited out front looking at the display on Colombia hoping for an invite or a head nod to come in. I never got an invite. Still, I envied their Latin ways of dancing cumbia at work....).

For women, wedding dress shopping is something magical (or I imagine it to be so). So many styles, cuts, frills, sparkles to choose from. But Las Vegas takes wedding dress shopping one step further. Before you walk down the aisle ladies, don´t forget to consider a floor-length gown in neon green or electric magenta with a glittery bodice. Prefer a strapless summer-sky blue gown? Match that with thigh-high dresses with  an exorbitant amount of ruffles for your bridesmaids. You´re big day can´t come soon enough, can it?

Fifteen minutes and one water bottle later, I made it to my destination, Magura Restaurant. Okay, so I had set off without a destination but let´s be real, I´ve been dying for something authentically Bulgarian. And this is it. They have the traditional decorations, yeah, but that´s not what I think makes this place truly Bulgarian. It´s the people. The guys in the back all wear grey and black, only one speaks English. However, what makes this troupe authentically ¨Bulgarski¨ is that they don´t smile. It kind of concerns me. Being in the US and not having a smile plastered to your face can be taken offensively, especially in food service.

Not to worry, though. I have no doubt that, single-handedly, I can keep them in business. Bulgarians have this traditional pasty called Banitza. I´ve only had it once in the US (not including all the at-home attempts), but it was made by Americanized Bulgarians. Anyway, my point is that these people will make this for me even though it isn´t on the menu, no questions asked. That´s what I call service.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spring in the City

Walking around just off the Strip at night is a definite no-no, however taking a stroll when the sun is shining over this happy speck-on-the-map will keep you on your toes. Let me explain...

1. Going to an interview at Mandalay Bay, a car pulled up to the sidewalk next to me and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. Um, did they think I was hitch-hiking in a pencil skirt and blazer?? I was only at the Wynn and Mandalay would have been a grisly walk so , well, I took the ride...

2. It´s already ridiculously hot by early afternoon so while I was waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street, I took my sweater off. Innocent enough. Before I knew it, one of those over-sized Hummers is hovering next to me. The light still hasn´t changed. I hear a loud whisper and look back to see the window of the Hummer rolled down. It was two 30-something year old men, giggling like nine-year old´s who got away with opening their Christmas presents early. What was their chant?

¨Puta!....puuuuuuuta¨. (Spanish for a woman who gets paid for her nightly work. You know what I´m talking about...)

I have no hope in marriage.

3. Walking down the Strip at 3 o´clock in the afternoon on a Friday does not guarantee safety. A man who claimed he served in the Gulf War offered to pay me to have his next child.He has two other girls from two previous marriages (one wife was supposedly English and the other was a blond Jewish girl from Germany). We talked about the morals and ethics of raising children (and how much he would pay me) before I lost him the first chance I got at Fashion Show. 

He wanted to give me $10,000 to have the child and wanted me to give the baby to him. 

I told him ¨no¨ because I could easily make twice that much as a surrogate mother. hmmph. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

The ways of the world make me question my beliefs.

There I was, in the Chipotle across from the university, quietly savoring my meal when...BAM. A couple in their mid-twenties walks in. The girl was, in short, a tomboy. Dressed in a band-t and leather sandals, she was as plain as it got. On the other hand, the man was a drama queen. He was bedazzled in glitter from eye lashes to fingernails. His lip liner was applied impeccably and his eyes bold. I think I was more impressed than anything. Whoever did him up was an artist.

This was the last thing I expected on a Wednesday evening. Everyone else in the room was unfazed, probably didn´t even notice. Hmm, I guess I can´t claim I´m a local just yet...

Not only that, I was hit in the face with a black bean that some whining kid threw at me from across the room...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You´re Hired...well, you might be.

The front of Trump International Hotel is nothing like the life that comes from the back.

Walking through the front is a very cosmopolitan experience: the limos pull up through the sparkling driveway, the valet greets their guests with a bright smile, and in they go. Beautiful people walking through a beautiful lobby. (It´s unfortunate that sometimes the lobby is more beautiful than the guests. But that´s another story for another time...).

Going through the back is a slightly less calming experience. I´m even convinced the front and back of Trump have nothing to do with each other. Without a chandelier, employees were jumping from English to Spanish, laughing, smiling. Some in suits, others in white chef´s gear. It was really just a boring room with temporary excitement.Through the chaos, I found peace for my upcoming interview (go figure).

Let me just say that they advertised this as a Job Fair. What is really was thought, was a series of one-on-one interviews, which I was  not prepared for. Fortunately, the first interview went a little something like this:

Him: Hello, Monica. Good to meet you. So I see you go to UNLV? (did not look up from my resume until...)
Me: Yes, I´m a sophomore transfer student.
Him: Where did you transfer from?
Me: Franklin College Switzerland.
Him: SWITZERLAND??? (immediate eye contact)

And it was magic.

A group of us who had passed the first interview had been shuffled to a wall to wait by until there were enough of us to go up all the way to the 65 floor for the second interview. Meanwhile, I´m in heels I´ve never worn before and all I can think about is how the big toe on my left is probably slightly longer than the big toe on the right foot.

The manager who did the second interview has been playing phone tag with me the past day so we´ll see....

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Art of Hosting Visitors

It isn´t hard to figure out what to do with tourists in Las Vegas: shop on the strip, walk Fremont St., try new restaurants. What´s interesting as a local, though, is how each wave of visitors perceives their exotic vacation.

The first round of visitors came from every direction: from Denver, from south Jersey, from LA via Australia. We didn´t just walk the strip, we were forced out of convenience to split into smaller subsections because of our sheer size (only 9, but...) . This was the family reunion. So while half the family saw Jersey Boys, the other half went to Zarkana. Except my dad. He got distracted by some frilly slot machine. And now we´re questioning his stance in the family. I mean, he always shows up for meals but ever since he moved to Vegas, he´s taken up craps and betting on horse races (which my mother and I whole-heartedly support, when he wins)....

I have no doubt that this city makes people go wild. Duh, you say. But I´m not just talking about fraternity boyz and sorority gurls on spring break or even Nebraskans at a summer bachelor party. No, instead I want to discuss my aunt. She doesn´t drive; she hates getting into cars, planes, trains-especially when other people are driving them. It´s just one of those quirks people have (Personally, I cry loudly in public when I miss a plane or train, what´s wrong with that?). My dear aunt, Bless her heart, not only made it to Las Vegas from south Jersey with a smile on her face, she voluntarily rode the zipline at Fremont Street. We´re all very proud. Now my grandmother on my mother´s side is here. Slow with thick glasses, she´s almost 80. She wants to ride the roller coaster at New York New York with us today. We´re concerned since we know this is not in her character, but in the words of my mother ¨If she goes, at least she was happy. Buy the picture.¨

The second wave of visitors came with much anticipation. A friend, a solo traveler from Latvia, whom I had kept correspondence with the past few months was luckily in town on business. We met in a kitchen of a hostel in Porto, Portugal, yeah...What a friendship it´s been. We shopped for ten straight hours the first day we rekindled. Yes, ten straight hours for men´s pants, shoes, polo, shorts. It hurt, physically. Blisters ran rampant on my ankles and toes. Just as a warning, if you´re looking for a men´s size 34-34 on the strip, STOP! You just won´t find it. Not at all. Loose hope. You will find nothing between Fashion Show, Miracle Mile Shoppes, and The Forum at Caesar´s Palace.

After we found we still liked eachother a few days later, he decided to bunk at my place for about a week. From this experience, I learned that I can flip a five egg omlette like it´s easy and can now roast potatoes like Jaime Oliver. In fact I should put these on my resume under ¨Skills¨. Unfortunately, I can not stuff an eggplant worthy for my dear Latvian friend. But that really isn´t my fault. He had me cook beef. He´s known since the first day we´ve met that I´mvegetarian. Do we need to analyze further?

Me: So how is the meat?
Him: Cooked...
Me: *should I be offended?*

Either way, he ate it. And I was just dying the whole time. Never had I expected an answer so brutally honest.

There were some other cultural differences: unbearable for him, laughable for me. We spent time by the pool, on the strip, salsa dancing in my living room, even showed him around UNLV, which he found campus life to be awesome. (On the otherhand, he found Fremont Street to be disgusting. He normally stays at the M Resort when he comes to town so I wonder what he thought of my dingy little apartment with brown rugging and stained tile....). Despite our slightly awkward cultural differences (and making me wake up at 6:30 on a monday to make an omlette), I hope he visits soon!

My last two visitors included my Uncle and an old friend from high school. They stayed at the Bellagio and insisted on eating at a place called ¨Heart Attack Grille¨, where you eat for free if you weigh over 350 pounds...We walk in and the waitresses are wearing nurses outfits, one girl puts a hospital gown on us and one of those bracelets. The menu is made primarily of burgers and everything is named after a bypass surgery: single bypass burger (one patty), double bypass burger (two patties), you get the picture. My uncle ordered a vanilla milkshake. It came out with a slice of butter in it...I just ate three of my dad´s fries and called it a night.

Every visitor has a slightly varried take on what to do in fabulous Las Vegas. As a new local, it can be fun or disturbing to see what people come up with. Let´s see who comes next.

Friday, March 29, 2013

spring break: just what I expected

Three days with family have already come and gone. Two uncles, two aunts, and two cousins from my Dad´s side of the family all gathered for a very welcoming family fest.

I can´t believe it´s been over two years since I´ve seen most of them!

What did we find to do in Las Vegas, you ask? Well, three of us ziplined over Fremont Street while the rest watched the show above. All of us went to the Mob Museum, to Ceasar´s Palace, and to both Wolfgang Puck´s and Emeril´s restaurant in MGM Grand. Uncle George, my mom, and I did a thrill ride on the very top of the Stratosphere, which turned out to be quite enjoyable (you know, having a full view over the Strip and free-falling to your death). Just kidding, but the Stratosphere is so high, I felt like I was in southeastern Wyoming with all the wind.

Did I mention I tried calves liver at Wolfgang Puck´s?? The portion was too much for me to handle for my first go at calf meat, but my Dad did say that that was the best calf liver he ever had. Glad he liked it. Oh, and I should mention that Puck has an all male wait staff.. I noticed it before the appetizers came out just because there were so many good-looking waiters (maybe UNLV Hospitality Management majors too??). Hmm, maybe it´s better that way. I remember serving food at a retirement center as a part-time job in high school and always having sore wrists from carrying those large trays of meals...

My Uncle George had free tickets to see Zarkana! Can you believe that?? Cirque du Soleil´s latest and greatest. The costumes and scenery were amazing. Even some of the acrobatics seemed Zarkana-specific. I have a feeling that nowhere else in the world you can find men wearing full-body suits with cloth balls attached while spinning in an over-sized wheel. No where else can you find a grown man in a baby outfit, but that was Mystere, I digress. It was definitely an award-winning performance, though I couldn´t give it five stars like my Uncle did. For a performance to get that kind of rating from me, it has to move me. I want to be in tears before I realize it. I´ve been desensitized to the Vegas shows. I´ve seen Jersey Boys, Mystere, Absinthe, The Rat Pack, and probably a few more. But I´ve also seen the Russians perform The Nutcracker in Lisboa. The novelty of that never wears off. I kind of feel bad for the guy that went with me. (I had met him in a hostel in Porto but we met up in Lisboa a few days later). It was beautiful. I was crying. He had never been to a ballet in his life. But he, Kristaps, was a good camper. (He´s actually coming to Vegas on business next week so we´ll go see a Cirque du Soleil of his choice then).

The rest of the family, except my Dad who was undoubtedly playing craps for the full two hours, saw Jersey Boys instead.

For now, I still carry around my Swiss map, hoping someone will want to know where exactly Lugano or Sankt Gallen is.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Memoirs of a Former Vegetarian

The only restaurant open after 10pm in the MGM Grand is Wolfgang Puck´s. We walked up to the hostess, reserved a table for nine, and waited. In the meantime, I graciously asked the hostess about a few menu items. I wanted to try something new, something that would have the effect of glitter in my mouth. For some reason, I thought ordering calf liver would put a pep in my step. I asked the hostess, who had just finished filing her nails or something, what pancetta was. She looked at the menu, smiled down on me from behind her station, and declared it ¨a type of cheese¨.

I took her word, even though, even without ever eating calf liver in my life, I KNEW that would not make a pleasant combination.

Out comes my meal and guess what: no cheese!! Well, it´s Monday. Maybe Puck hadn´t received the weeks´ supplies yet. But it´s okay, I say to myself, I´m flexible.

I stabbed my fork into what looked like a roasted cube of potato, but my tastebuds failed to recognise the subtle flavors and texture. Touché secret ingredient.

A few family members from south Philly solved the mystery. What I had though was a potato was really uncured pork, better known as pancetta. Forgive me, food junkies of the world; the lighting was low and it was tough to tell what I was eating.

In the end, I ended up giving away half of the calf liver to my dad and all the pancetta to him as well. He´s not picky so it´s always easy to swap food with him, even at the dinner table as a kid.

Can you believe I couldn´t identify a piece of pork after living in the pork capital of Spain AND Lugano, Switzerland?? What on earth have I been eating the past two years? I consider myself a culteraltarian so I´ll try almost everything at least once, especially when I´m outside my own country. Meat-eating is not my specialty, but cultural perspectives on eating is. Well, I guess that´s why I´m now a former vegetarian.

Moral of the story? Don´t trust the hostess.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Suits, Ties, Heels, and a Hearse

In the midst of over 140 Las Vegan companies spanning from The M Resort to local wineries to softwear developement, there I am. Confused at which smiling face behind the desk to approach, I stand there and someone offered me a pen from a stand I wasn´t interested in. I declined it and walked away.I wasn´t sure if they were scouting me or if I was supposed to scout them. Either way, I was equipt with a stack resumes.

Welcome to Career Day. This particular day has no annual date nor does it function like a normal holiday. Rather, it´s approached with excitement by elementary students everywhere and used as the number one strategy for high schoolers to get out of class for the day. Most students under age 18 rarely, if ever, live to see this day come, until those university years begin. Here I am, at age 20, finally experiencing the epitome of a Career Day if there ever was one. Every major hotel-casino had a representative  even the Peace Corps showed up.

I chatted with a few companies but not having a car makes going to a job or an internship quite a reach. (This is where Americans need to Swiss up their lives).

On the shuttle bus back to my apartment, I was hoping to just space out to the rhythms of that one bus driver´s favorite funk radio station. Instead I had a nose full of chinese take-out food wafting from the seat next to me. And then I saw it. It couldn´t have been more obnoxious. It was tie-dye, it was groovey, it had every bright color, how could it not be called obnoxious. The swirls of reds, greens, pinks, oranges, yellows, and purples made me ask myself, ¨Why would anyone do this to their car?¨ and then ¨How did someone do this to their car?¨ and I ended with ¨How much did someone pay to do this to their car?¨ As we drove past, I had a better angle on it. This was an old volkswagon that someone was trying to revive as vintage. (Hey, it´s Vegas anything goes). But it was a little too long to be a normal volkswagon. My attention was then drawn to the two words written in caps: HAPPY HEARSE.

After some very shallow research (one Google search) I found that it´s owned by a former automotive engineer originally from Germany...and there´s a bubble machine. Here´s the link, you´ve been warned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And finally!

On a bright, sunshine-y Monday afternoon, I approached my professor of hospitality for some advice. Only hours earlier, I had been accepted to the Disney College Program! I would go for the fall 2013 semester,work at a Disney restaurant, and would go to Walt Disney World in Orlando! Not only that, it´s paid and I get credit. Despite all these perks, I consulted with Professor Carl to make sure this wasn´t too good to be true.

Well, it isn´t. He highly recommended it. Not only that, he casually invited me to the lunch with the Hilton family after spring break. Paris won´t be there, but her unlce, aunt, and a few cousins who work the business will be. I don´t think Paris has anything to do with the hotels...doesn´t she have her own clothing line??

Thursday, March 7, 2013

That moment you realise you don´t want to be at the gym running endless miles to vainly fit snuggly inside your swimsuit is similar to all your other revelations. Well, it is for me anyway.

Thursday night, no Swiss half pass to travel,  no couchsurfing, no one to savor a night of chocolate and wine with or an evening hike with. My next option? This is Vegas; I should be able to go salsa dancing right? Innocent enough, yeah? Wrong. Here, I am without transportation and underaged.

This is suffocating.

To cheer myself up, I give into my coffee-craving and hesitantly let Starbucks fill this empty spot. I don´t even want to get into how I´m never going to Starbucks again. All I want is a plain, SMALL cup of coffee. Nothing fancy, no whipped cream, no syrup, no sugar.

I could kill for a café con leche. My homework is done and I´ve practiced piano all day. There´s nothing attractive about going to the gym. Las Vegas, I am not impressed.

Since when did people start coming here for fun...?

I´ve been trying to look up. I do enjoy my courses and I live in a nice apartment. Falling into old ways, though. It feels like high school again. I know how Americans work; I am American. Being around more of my own kind is not what I want out of this ridiculously expensive education.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I´ve turned it into a game.

I happen to be on the strip a lot. So instead of just walking impassively down hallways filled with expensive shops and restaurants I can´t afford to eat in, I make a point to go into the most rediculous tourist stores.

The way people sell their city is a good insight on culture (and how some preexisting stereotypes blossom). It´s also fun to find glitter and sparkles on post cards in Las Vegas for a price half of plain postcards in Switzerland. This is the kind of stuff that excites me.

After a casual stroll through Excalibur, Mandalay Bay, and the Luxor with my dad, I am now the proud owner of two oversized, glittered-to-death postcards. I mean, these things are gaudy. 75 cents each---¡¡score!!

Back in my lavish apartment, a place where you can also find glitter, flowers, and pink everywhere, I´ve established myself as a hermit. I come out to cook and eat, then worm my way into my room to continue with flashcard making or Rosetta Stone.

Just the other day, I made a colorful and oh-so-tasty Salade Niçoise. Grape tomatoes, sweet mustard, anchovies, black olives, potatoes, green beans, a splash of pepper, egg, a roasted red pepper, all over spinach. Put it on a toasted baguette and it turns into a phenomenal post-run lunch.

My mom drove 40 miles roundtrip to bring me the ingredients (and so much more) the other day. The grocery store around here isn´t anything special, so I´m not particularly gung-ho about going to the store anymore...and it´s not like I really see anything new anymore. (And if I do see something new, well, chances are it´ll be in English so no surprises, uh). I guess this is why I´ve taken to cooking some of my favorite European classics. And once it gets really hot out, you bet I´ll be making Bulgarian Tarator Soup!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Deja vu


A bowl of blackberries and a sandwich on a baguette with mozzerella and honey.

I put on some of my favorite latin beats and was immediately taken back to the gold-moss covered cliffs of las islas cíes. The wind, miles of the northern Atlantic, the refreshing feeling of not wearing a backpack. It was all there.

Did I mention I can finally walk with a straight back again? It took awhile but here I am, looking like Miss America.

On the plus side, I received a 97 per cent on a German quiz! I also had a nice chat with the founder of the Ritz Carlton after my hospitality intro class. He was here to give a lecture, instead, he gave a motivational speech. I was wide-eyed and all ears.

¨Dream. Believe. Dare. Do.¨
                      ---Walt Disney

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Piano Class

I´ve had a performance in my Piano course every week for the past three weeks. It´s exhausting, but paying off.

After playing a series of musicals, the professor, a graduate student, wants me to start playing more traditional repetoire. eek! So she recommended a website and I found gold, aka, everything Chopin ever wrote!! With that, I´m taking on the challenge of Chopin´s Nocture 9 Op. 1.

I´ve been wanting to play an authentic Chopin piece for years (authentic meaning original, not arranged) and here is my window of opportunity. The prof wanted me to play a Mazurka but I couldn´t find one I clicked with. It will be a longer road to play these four pages flawlessly, but I´m imagining my parents standing by the door to listen when they hear me play. I love playing when I think I´m alone only to find my mom doing paperwork behind me by the end of the piece.

It´s as enlivening as my midday swims in Swiss glaciar water.

Next up: Flaxmilk, unsweetened.

Definitely watery, a slightly dry flavor but not powdery. On the plus side, it has 30% Calcium and 25% of your daily dose of Vitamin B12 per 8 fl oz. It has a bit of a grain undertone that I find pleasant over a nice bowl of müsli. White and translucent in color; soft in texture. I actually drink a lot of flaxmilk in the States, but I recommend hemp milk if your new to ¨exotic¨ milks.

Well, we have worked our way into a new tradition. My parents like to see me on weekends (yes, every weekend) so that means we go to the Strip. It´s only three miles away or so. If they come early, we go to the Fashion Show mall. If they come late, we just walk around a few casinos, stop for coffe or dessert. We favor the  Venetian, the Bellaggio, and the Aria. The watershow infront of the Bellaggio never fails to impress us.

One time, we stopped for a cupcake with straberry champagne frosting. This thing even had glitter on it.

Today it was just my mom and I at the Fashion Show. Believe it or not, we spent over seven hours there today. Bloomingdale´s is closing its doors so we hit the sale wracks with fury and walked away with two bargain blankets, which we are extremely proud of. We also walked away with two tops for Mother, two pairs of pants for me, and an incredible blend of chai tea. A true bonding experience between mother and daughter.

The strip is an amazing sight at night. As much as people talk trash about Las Vegas, it does have its own flavor and beauty. Think Vegas cheesy? What´s cheesy about a lion´s den in the middle of a casino? What´s inauthentic about the Bellaggio´s technology to put water shows on every night that are timed to fit different songs? What´s boring about talented people performing in Cirque du Soleil shows? Yes, Vegas has its share of tourist shops, but so does everyother  city. And remember, you cna´t get a gaudier shot glass anywhere else. Las Vegas is constantly reinventing itself to fit what travelers are looking for: fun, no matter the cost.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Hello my Dear Readers!

I´m very sorry for not keeping up with my blog. My only excuse is this: I have nothing to say. I didn´t want to bore you with my everyday routine. It can be monotonous, yes, even in fabulous Las Vegas.

In any event, here is something you may find interestering...

The other day, my mom came over with a bag full of milk cartons. This wasn´t your typical ¨low far¨or ¨whole¨, nope. She had brought me alternative milks.

Flaxseed, Coconut, Almond, Hazelnut, and Hemp.

I must have been happier than George Washington without the regret of chopping down that cherry tree. It was that liberating.

Naturally I started with the Hemp milk. The following is my comprehensive review:

Although I was expecting a watery consistency, the hemp milk was thick and it poured out smoothly. Surprising for a non-dairy beverage. It had an off'white color, nearly beige, but it wasn´t completely homogenous. It had, for lack of a better description, tiny black dots throughout. They didn´t have any taste, just something I wasn´t used to seeing in milk. (Yes, I checked the expiration date...not for another ten months).  It has a surprisingly high nutritional content, as well: Calcium, Vitamin D, Riboflavin, and Phosphorus are on top. This kind of hemp was the unsweetened kind and after this, I would never buy the kind with flavors. It was too refreshing. It already a hint of brown rice syrup and I think that shines through enough. Overall, I am impressed with this product (Pacific brand, all natural Hemp non-dairy beverage, original). I would buy it again, and maybe even put some in my coffee or with my Crema de Orujo...

And as I write to you know, I´m sitting in my apartment with the sun streaming through the blinds, listening to Chopin´s Mazurkas, and drinking some Hazelnut milk.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Retro Yodeling, my favorite genre

Maybe it doesn't have techno beats, but this is definitely a modern spin on what could be considered a classical form of music. Never before have you heard yodeling like this (unless I've posted this before). If you can't access it through the link, go to youtube and search "Sonalp mixte". It's a 5 minute and 58 second music clip of only the best retro yodeling in the business.

Monday, January 28, 2013

With all this extra time, I'm becoming a decent weekend chef. Yesterday I made Egyptian Red Lentil Soup and today I whipped up some Raclette!

Word of advice: if you decide to make Raclette, make sure you buy the upscale Emmantaler or Gruyere cheese. Don't buy rip off "Swiss cheese" made in North America. You'll miss out on a variety of soft, nutty flavors. Not to mention a 400-year business and a cut of culture.

They should pay me to write their advirtisments.

daily insight

I've had many enlightening encounters with people along the way. This was sent to me by a friend who, whether she realizes it or not,  helped me get out of my shell and shake off some old habits:

Have you ever heard of The Curse of the Traveler?

An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that's perfect (we all know there's no Shangri-La), but just for a place that's "just right for you." But the curse is that the odds of finding "just right" get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can't travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you've seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

None of this is to suggest that one should ever reduce travel. It's just a warning to young Travelers, to expect, as part of the price, a rich life tinged with a bit of sadness and loneliness, and angst that's like the same nostalgia everyone feels for special parts of their past, except multiplied by a thousand.

Friday, January 25, 2013

You will not believe the events of today...

My box from Spain came in and nothing broke!!!!

A friend visited me!!!! I haven't seen my friend since my one semester at the Las Vegas Academy (first semester jr. year of high school).

Oh it was all so exciting!

Okay, so maybe the most thrilling events of today wouldn't be quite so engaging for you, but this is my reality. It's not bad. Like everywhere, I just have to get used to it.

Think, I haven't been settled in one location since my senior year of high school. Coming to UNLV and moving into these apartments was a welcomed break for me after living under the constant supervision of my parents for three weeks. Not that they're strick or anything. (But then again I wasn't asking to go out or anything....).

After straightening things out with my schedule on campus, I walked to the nearest strip malls by my apartments. I was expecting to find a Kosher Deli and an etheopian restaurant; that's what the signs said. The etheopian restaurant did not exist and the Kosher Deli was in fact an over-priced Kosher sit-down restaurant.

The 7-11 nearby is crummy. I felt a little threatened walking through. Gone are the days of my dad and I walking to the nearest 7-11 in Pennsauken, New Jersey for a slurp-ee.

Sketchy looking man looks at me too long while waiting at a buy cross walk. This is how it all went down:

him: "Aw, hey gurl. What's ur name?"
me: shake my head and look away
him: "Do you talk?"
me: "uh, yeah I talk."
him: "u have a boyfriend?"
me: "yes", as I show him my hand as if I had a ring on it.
him: didn't notice I didn't have a ring, amen. "al-ight. you have a nice day, MA'AM." crosses street
me: I cross the other street.

first week at UNLV complete...and it's not even Friday!

So here's the grand schedule for the semester:

-Music Fundamentals
-Spanish, Conversation and Composition
-Elementary German
-Introduction to the Hospitality Industry
-Piano Class

The piano class is too easy, I'm in love with the German professor, the Music Fundamentals prof has long blond dreadlocks. I don't have courses on Friday's and I now have my MagicBullet blender with me! I made Egyptian red lentil soup and a banana and almond milkshake for dinner tonight. It was incredibly liberating.

My room is bare in comparison to my sorority-sister roommates. Pink and fluff everywhere. Me? I have a small Swiss map with three postcards next to it hanging above my desk.. All three from Gandria (town on the otherside of Lago di Lugano).

The campus is expansive. No matter the reason, whenever I come to this campus, I'm armed with a map and highlighted marks scribbled all over it.

I'm thinking about majoring in Hospitality Management. This is certainly the place to do it. (We see the strip from campus. Whose idea was it to build the university that close to the strip???? I guess it serves as a motivator for all those unmotivated students.)

Nothing particularly outstanding has been happening...unless you count actually being accepted as a non-degree seeking student wonderful.

If you'd like me to write about a topic, just email me at or through facebook. I'd love to know what I've left out from all my travels!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mix a tablespoon of honey and some white sugar to make an awesome facial scrub. Spread the inside of an avacado over dry skin to moisturize.

Enough of the natural remedies! I'm starting classes and UNLV tomorrow morning!!

Between 9:00 and 15:00, my mom and I ran around UNLV campus registering for classes, figuring out payments, unlocking passwords, creating accounts, and securing an apartment.

This isn't a quiet campus. There was a truck blasting music and grilling hamburgers next to it. The cafeteria had every US fast food chain I would ever need in my life : Jamba Juice, Subway, McDonalds, Greens-to-Go. A few guys came around while were were standing in line at the registrar handing out free samples from Jimmy Johns.

What caught me off guard was how casual everyone was. I was wearing my brown boots, Bosnian jackets, and a nice scarf but that seemed to be too much here. I was a bit out of place, even in comparison to the people who were more dressy. Well, I guess anything goes in Vegas.

The housing I have is impressive. I'll have three other roommates, a private bathroom with tub, and a walk-in closet. I even have enough space in my room to bring my keyboard! I didn't get the floorplan I wanted, but se la vie. I registered late. In and around the main office is a tanning salon, a modern gym,  a cyber cafe, hot tub, 3 resort-style pools, a poolside theater, a grilling area, poker tables, and a pool table. (But no recycling.)

So it's a season of firsts. Thank you Andrea for your motivating words of encouragment! We both know these adjustments aren't always easy.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I have a theory.

I have a theory that post offices in Spain aren't functional. I've sent simple postcards into Spain from Hungary, Switzerland, and the United States over the past two years and none of them have reached their destination, usually Valencia. I sent a box from Salamanca to the United States and the last time the status was updated on the website was 16 December. (Yes, I've resorted to checking the status of my box. It's supposedly at some international stop in unknown location, Spain. My mom even sent them an email to which they still haven't responded). Lastly, I belive that Spanish post offices aren't functional because they're difficult to find. It's very suspicious. In comparison to Switzerland, Portugal, and the US, post offices are a-plenty, around every corner. I bet you will be shocked to know that Salamanca only has one post office. It's a monster of a building, but not on my beaten path. For over 4 kilometers, I cradled that bulky box. And now I want it. Badly.

I have a funny feeling that once you reach this post office that they don't want you to send anything. You enter to a room full of people with too few seats. You get your number and fill out paperwork in front of the people who do have seats. People stare. Waiting time: normally 30 minutes plus. The cardboard boxes they offer are affordable but they're strange. You can't put the tabs in if the box is completely full but you can't fill the box all the way up or else you won't be able to close it.

Maybe my argument isn't strong, but my experience is. Ye be warn'd: if you travel to the Iberian Peninsula, take a sturdy box with you. They're free at the post office across the United States, as I just learned today...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

European Waxing Center

So there I was, laying on a white sterilized bed in suburban Las Vegas. I was not at a hospital, but instead, at the European Wax Center.

I don't know European waxing experience to be the soothing spa treatment that it is in the US. While North American's typically offer soft music and cucumber water, I remember most European salons with plain white walls, bad love songs on the radio, and, of course, some variants between each one.

Let's start with Spain.

I nearly ran when I walked into a waxing room in Salamanca and  saw a defibrillator.

(Now how often do you think they use that??) The ladies just happened to take me to the same room every time I got something waxed in Salamanca...I hated seeing the defibrillator (more than the huge poster of the most-tatooted and -pierced woman in the world).

In Barcelona, I asked the lady how business was going. She corrected my gramer and conversation ended. This visit was done on a bed behind a curtain rather than an actual room. Someone came into the shop partway through and they were having a conversation while this lady was waxing me.

My best Spanish experience of this sort must have been in Valencia. She was fast, accurate, and spoke clearly for my level of Spanish at the time. Maybe it was a little pricey, but she was personable and I needed it. Everybody, just go to Valencia. Sometimes I think Madrid and Barcelona are not imperative for a fulfilling tour of Spain.

Never was anything particularly relaxing or "rejuvenating", as North American's have us believe a good wax should be.

Switzerland. Like everything else, the price of waxing was/is/will always be astronomical. Never even thought of doing it.

I waited until I got to Bosnia. The perfect place to get waxed. (???) Across from the hotel was a dark alley. Cars were parked over the sidewalk that wasn't even wide enough for one person to walk on. Ice was everywhere in mid-March and it was slick. But someone had given me a recommendation for a supposed-waxing salon through this alley.

I was dumbfounded looking through the door of where I was suppose to go in. Dust had been piling into a cake. It didn't look like anyone had been in there for months. The buzzer didn't sound when I ringed the doorbell so was really convinced this place was abandoned. Wrong. someone let me in. This was sketchy; I was deterrmined.

Up one flight of stairs and to the right, I didn't touch anything. This could be a post-communist scam I'm walking into, I thought at the time. Alas, I just knocked and was greeted with a smile by a beautiful blond woman and was blinded by how exceptionally white everything was. The floors, walls, the woman's uniform, the desk, the chairs and table. Quite a contrast from the view into the hallway...

Long story short, the blond lady and a young assisstant waxed me. They worked together on each strip. They made faces of pain each time it came to yank one off. It was hilarious. It was slightly painful, but I tipped them well. They hugged me. It was a tough departure for everyone. Conversation was short since we didn't have a common language...

To this day, this Bosnian encounter is probably one of my favorite life stories.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Memories of Flamenco

The most famous flamenco singer of our day must be Estrella Morente. After recording her first flamenco album at age 8, she is something of a prodigy. She's also, not suprisingly, a gitana, a gypsy.

I was introduced to her in my history class el Mundo Arabe en el Mundo Espanol (The Arab World in the Spanish World) this past semester in Salamanca.

On another occassion in my flamenco class, the instructor (one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen and proud to say she was a gypsy) told us about Estrella Morente.  She shook her head in approval as she told us a quick biography of a fellow gitana.

On a third occassion, my professor, Lula, brought the topic up in grammer class.

So by now you'd think I wuld know a lot about Estrella Morente. Truth be told, I don't. What I've realised instead is that Spaniards tend fawn over the name "Estrella".

"Estrella, isn't that a beautiful gypsy name?" Lula would inquire.
"I love that name, Estrella", the history prof would mention with a far out stare.

I don't even know if they knew who they were talking about or if they just wanted to say the name. Either way, this is what I remember of Estrella Morente and this is occassionally what comes to mind when I hear a flamenco soloist reciting her song.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Switalian (Swiss-Italian)

The beginner's Italian textbook I snatched from a pile of free books at the end of last May is paying off. I am finally on my way to learning Italian! I'm not learning it the "natural" way, immersed, but it's a start. (If it weren't for the "natural" way, I wouldn't be interested in learning Italian at all. I now find it extremely practical.) With the guidance of this text and the world wide web, this can be a successful endeavor.

Want to listen to some Ticinese music? (Ticino is the only Italian-speaking region in Switzerland and where I called home for a year. Don't know if I ever mentioned that...) Type in "Chiara Dubey" in I recommend "Anima Nuova". It's easy listening with a slightly nostalgic flavor.

By the way, I cooked a stellar eggplant and tomato sandwhich on a panini for dinner. Oh, yes, how I do love having a full-sized kitchen with miles of counter space and an island.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Nerves are building

Well, I received four postcards from two exotic Portuguese locations (two from Madeira, two from Porto). Mind you, this was both on the same day.

It's nice to receive mail from myself, but I'm still anxiously waiting for this box. My mom thinks someone in Spain stole it and judging by the way I sent the package, I'm not surprised. (I was rushed, they kept telling me it wasn't packed correctly. It wasn't a good box, though. I bought it from them and it didn't close like a normal cardboard box I would have preferred to use. The ladies at the front desk were frustrated with me). I remember putting down the value of the box as less than it really was as a "deterrent"; don't think it worked. So here I am biting my nails. 

Meanwhile, my parents didn't even read the postcards...

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Where's my box??

Nearly five weeks have rolled by since I sent a package from Salamanca to Las Vegas. Where could it be???

It has the Hungarian teacups/saucers, vintage leopard print leggings from Frankfurt am Main, a Spanish liqueur, and who knows what else...

and I didn't get insurance on it...uff, learing the hard way. At least I packed two bottles of Crema de Orujo in my luggage so I have those. (We just opened the first bottle of Orujo straight from the Feria del Orujo and they loved it. Their first reaction was to go to the liqueur store and pick up another bottle....little do they know what I went through to get that bottle).

On the plus side, I was going through my day-planner from 2012, the last few pages where I write all my notes. Among recipies, e-mail addresses, and a list of things to do in Poland, I unearthed a list of Swiss musicians! Who knows where I got this from. Not all of them sing in their respective languages, but I still enjoy their work. Here's a few in case you're interested:

Chiara Dubey (Italian, made it to Eurovision finals for Switzerland)
Patent Ochsner (Swiss German)
Zuri West (Swiss German)
Stefan Eicher (French)
Bligg (Swiss German rap. from him I've learned that I don't like rap in any language)
Baschi (Swiss German)
Mani Matter
Mash-ewigi liabi

(If you want to listen to some of my favorite Bulgarian hits, listen to Ivana--dujd ot rozi is a catchy one--and Zaidi Zaide [there is controversy as to whether this is Bulgarian or Macedonian]. The former is pop from a former lawyer gone superstar and the latter is folkloric). Prepare yourself for something different if you watch Ivana's video clips. There's nothing wrong with them, they're just Bulgarian. =) here is Zaidi, Zaidi by Tania Skechelieva--live

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Just an Update

The jetlag has worn off. My luggage is stowed. Cleaning, errands, and piano practice are my primary occupations.

The next semester is begining in less than two weeks and I haven't even applied yet. The deadline for degree-seeking student passed in December so now I'm stuck with all the extra paperwork and residency applications that go with the non-degree seeking student application. We saw an apartment by the University yesterday but, being Vegas, it's in a traditionally seedy area (and it's not even furnished). So if we can pull all this together (application, housing, finances, the move, credit extension, residency, transcript from Salamanca, etc) by next wednesday, I will be attending the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

I'm more unsure of which major I'll choose than when I was a high school senior, but here's the list:

--Hospitality Management
--Music Performance
--Primary Education

...or some combination of the two.

I'm hesitant to each one, though. 

Working in a hotel or running a hostel is up my alley, maybe. After looking at the classes I'll have to take, I'm not so sure. There's a lot of accounting courses (I consider accounting to be a math) and such. After not practicing an instrument for two years, I'm not convinced that the music department would accept me. And as for Primary Education, well, it's the closest the have to English Language Teaching (ELT). Though they don't have much of anything to do with ELT, just one upper level couse. Would three years for this major be worth it? I don't want to deal with courses like "Math in the 4th grade classroom". Besides ELT, I'm not interested in classroom education for native english speakers.

For this, my choices are all across the board. But everything will fall in place. If I can get from Budapest to Salamanca after missing a very crucial flight, I can choose a university major.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Leaving the house

Leaving the house for the first time was quite nerve-wracking. This was the first time in a very long time I left the house/hostel/pension/communist cell block, without the following items:

-high boots/old black Spanish leggings

Those are my essentials. But I really shouldn't worry because in Vegas, anything goes. No passport? No problem. Don't have cash? We'lll find another way to let you gamble away your 401K. You're always under surveillance so no camera necessary. No make-up? Probably just an animal rights activist or a natural-beauty enthusiast. As for the high boots (which house my passport, wallet, and camera), I'm still quite attached to those.

I've also found that I'm even more attached to Spanish cafe con leche. Sometimes simplicity is unattainable in the US. For just one tiny euro, I get the perfect size cup, always white, with one shot of expresso plus milk. If I were to go to an establishment like Starbucks, the smallest  I could buy is a "tall"; it would probably be laden with sugar and cost at least 4.00 USD. That's one complaint that the US students have at Franklin: we're used to these tiny little things in most of Europe then recieve something four, five, six times the size when we return to the US. And after drinking my mom's coffee, which she drinks Americana, I no longer crave coffee.

Maybe I never really enjoyed cafe con leche in Spain or cappuccinos in Ticino. I have had bad coffee in Europe, but it's not necessarily the taste that always matters. It's the experience. Going into a cafe allows me to people-watch, to write, to think about how things are going to work out (even if it's just a quick coffee, even if I'm standing). It's not a life-changing moment every time I drink a coffee, however it helps me organize my thoughts. I can plan my day without the small-talk of hostel-goers. I can interact with locals, practice a language, etc.

Well, there's my speil on coffee and how I now leave the house. Don't get me started on the lack of public transportation...

Without a Suitcase

There can't be anything more dull, yet comfortable than living at home. The past three days have been so comfortable that my mom had to beg to get me out of the house just to go to Home Depot and the grocery store.

Do you know how strange it is to understand every word of everything said around you? Going to England used to be something special for this reason. After all the grief of traveling through contries where language is always a barrior (and all your conversations start with a pre-emptive "Do you speak English" in respective language), I was thoroughly annoyed. Listening to English was relaxing in England, it was still a memorable experience.There were so many American accents I heard in Home Depot, so many minute cultural connotations I had forgot about.

But this must be apart of the reintegration process.

Cardena's, the Mexico-inspired supersized grocery store, filled me with joy. I walked through automated doors to mounds of yucca, platano, bottles of rompope (eggnog) with the Virgin Mary on the front, and a type of round bread awfully similary to Bolo da Rei from Portugal. The trumpets and polka-like percussion coming from the overhead made me giggle as my mom and I searched for anona. (No anonas, but we settled on a yucca, which I don't think is a bad substitute at all).The only language I heard was Spanish, it was quite refreshing.

I was heartedly enjoying my stroll through this culture-capsule when I had to come into contact with a cashier. As I approached her behind the counter, I had barely opened my mouth when she cut me off with, "no, closed", in a heavy accent.

Five years of Spanish classes, heard it in the home, semester in Spain, shaken confidence. I was just stereotyped as a gringa.