Starting Fresh

Well, about 8 months later here I am again! Too much has happened in between posts to explain everything. I thought I was going to be able to keep up, but that went out the window when I changed companies. Now I’m working longer hours, but getting used to the workload. I’m 100% thankful for the change, and I am no longer here under the student permit so that’s very helpful.

New job. New apartment.

For lack of anything more: I’m happy!

I hope I’ll be able to upload some info about my past trips, but at least I’ll try to make sure future trips are documented. Let’s see if I can also revive my review posts.

 

Shopping Online in Spain

Hello everyone! Right now the rebajas (sales which last the month of January) in Spain are in full-swing. This is a great time to pick up items you were eyeing while Christmas shopping. Sadly, I have no rebajas budget this year because I spent all my money during the holidays and I need to save for my next trip at the end of this month.

My family and roommates already know this, but I tend to be a bit of a shopaholic if I have some extra cash. I apologize if this is an “enabling” post for some of you! I’d like to share some of my favorite online shopping sites here in Spain. Almost all of these sites have a referral system which allow you to earn money to spend on their website.

1. Amazon BuyVIP – This site by Amazon offers discounts on different brands every day (it’s a bit like RueLaLa or Ideeli in the U.S.). The brands are normally good quality such as Diesel, Liebeskind, or Nike and you can find items more than 50% off the usual price. What annoys me is you can’t mix the brands in your shopping cart. So, if you want to order something from two different brands you have to put the items in your cart for one brand, pay, and then repeat the process for the other brand. This means you pay twice for shipping.

2. Vente-Privee – This is similar to the BuyVIP site. The website is a bit stranger and tricky to navigate, but you can find some good brands and prices here. Shipping prices are normally 6€ for each order, but sometimes shipping is free. Free shipping seems to be limited to larger items.

3. Groupon  – I used this site ALL the time when I was living in the U.S. Each day there are new deals on things available in your city such as services, goods, and vacations. You buy a voucher for the deal which is good for a certain amount of time before it expires. This is how I went on the all-inclusive trip to Mallorca last year. You can also buy something from “Groupon Goods”, for example an iPhone, and it’s shipped to you without messing with the vouchers. My most recent purchase was for a salon treatment and cut for 29€ which is normally worth 190€. Not too shabby.

4. Letsbonus – This is a company run by LivingSocial, which I also routinely used in the U.S. The idea is the same as Groupon. When you find a deal you want, just buy the voucher and redeem it later. They also have goods to buy without using the voucher.

5. Atrapalo – This site is different from Groupon or Letsbonus, because you don’t buy vouchers. You can find discounts on things such as, tickets, trips, and restaurants, but sometimes you must reserve the days and times at the moment of purchase.

6. Voyage Prive – This site only offers vacation packages. You can find some good deals, but it seems to cater more towards luxury travel (not that anything’s wrong with that). I haven’t had a chance to buy from here yet, but I often daydream while checking out the options. Right now there is a 5-star hotel in the Maldives for 5 nights in a water villa for just over 2,000€ with flights. Most offers have options for all-included and flights, plus the possibility to choose how many nights you want to stay. There are also some good offers within Spain.

7. Enolobox – I pretty much love this idea. You pay 25€ a month and receive three different wines with a write-up about what you are getting. If you have already tried just about every reasonable option in Corte Ingles or Carrefour (hey, I’m guilty too) then this is a good choice. The only problem is you have no control over what you get. During the summer I received a box of three white wines when I almost never drink white wine. With Enolobox you can earn points towards a free box of wine by participating in their online panel or inviting friends to join.

enolobox red wine

8. Restalo – You can use this site to make restaurant reservations anytime, but there are sometimes special offers, such as, 70% off if you reserve online.

9. El Tenedor – This is the same concept as Restalo. Sometimes I use these sites to check out new places or to see if a restaurant I want to visit is offering discounts for online reservations.

Some Tips:

  • Check the return policy whenever you are buying online. Some brands on sites like AmazonVIP allow returns while others don’t.
  • If you are interested in booking a trip or restaurant check their main website or a site like Tripadvisor for reviews, photos and maps. The photos on sites like Groupon are sometimes different from what you are really getting.
  • Before booking a trip or hotel you should read the special conditions because some deals aren’t valid during peak travel dates.
  • Also, don’t forget to pay attention to the expiration date for your vouchers! Don’t wait until the last minute to make your appointment before your Groupon or Letsbonus voucher expires, because their agendas fill up. Some places have been nice enough to accept the voucher after it expires, but not everyone will!

Lastly, happy shopping, everyone!

Do you have any favorite online shopping sites I missed??

Staying Healthy in Madrid

It’s important to take care of yourself, especially when you are over 6,000 km away from your family and main support network. Something that has helped and is also a good stress reliever is staying active. I joined a gym here in Madrid when I was training for the half-marathon last Spring and I believe it’s helped me as far as health and focus. Also, today I am stronger and at least ten pounds lighter than last year. I believe this is due to the change in foods I eat and some working out.

At the gym I frequent, I see all ages, but it’s in a university area so there are many people around my age. It costs 99 euros for three months, so it’s not too bad. Normally I mix weight training and cardio each visit. I’ve been using something called HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) for part of my treadmill runs. Last week I made it to the gym three times and I ran around Retiro this morning.

I’m normally pretty shy while I’m in the gym. I don’t talk to other people and just keep my headphones in. I’ve noticed if I don’t bring my music there is no way I can get a good run in.

I listen to a crazy range of music, but here are ten songs that keep myself going on the treadmill.

Something Bigger, Something Better  – Amanda Blank

Hold On – Rusko

Sexy Results – MSTRKRFT

Hustler – Simian Mobile Disco

Momma’s Place – Roisin Murphy

Play Hard – David Guetta

On the Run – The Qemists

Crush on You – NERO

Molly – Cedric Gervais

Beam Me Up – CAZZETTE

 

What do you do to stay healthy? Do you have any songs that keep you moving?

One year in Spain

I’m so happy to share that today marks the one year anniversary of my life in Spain! I think I’ve got things pretty good after one year. I have a job/income, a roof, good friends, and I’ve seen and done many new things. Every day is another learning opportunity and I’m incredibly thankful!

When I look at this list of some things I’ve done in one year I just can’t believe it.

  • Two trips to Sevilla (one was for la feria)
  • Valencia for las fallas
  • Casablanca, Fez, Tangier and Chefchaouen, Morocco
  • Barcelona
  • Zaragoza
  • Toledo
  • Mallorca
  • Trips to Alicante (one for Hogueras)
  • Ibiza
  • Florence and Rome, Italy

In addition to the places visited I completed a half-marathon and finally began to like children. For any close family and friends who read this…you know what I mean. I’ve improved my horrendous Spanish a bit and also found out that I can live on my own without starving to death.

I can only hope the next year and years following continue to get even better. 😉

Barcelona & Zaragoza with the Abuelos

Back in April, my grandparents flew from New York to Madrid to visit me. I wasn’t exactly sure of our plan until they arrived and I discovered we would rent a car then drive to Barcelona and Zaragoza. Since I ran in a half-marathon that weekend, they went off on their own to explore cities near Madrid.

I love driving, and it was awesome to drive in Spain again. The last time was during a December trip to Morocco. The drive from Madrid to Barcelona took about 4.5 hours. The first thing my grandparents wanted to do after we checked into the hotel was find a drink. Gotta love them! I wish you all had the chance to meet them, because they are crazy in a cool way. I want to be like them when I “grow up.” Some of the earliest memories I have of them is flying in their plane and visiting their law offices. Now my grandfather is retired, and travels around the world doing what he loves; taking photos. Several years ago now he even took his Harley Davidson out for a spin on his 82nd birthday. My step-grandmother is 15 years younger and still enjoying working and traveling.

Our first dinner in Barcelona was at Tenorio. This place was very stylish and the food was really good.

Dinner at Tenorio

Next day we took a bus tour of the city. If there’s one thing I want to say to Barcelona it’s, “I’m not finished with you.” My grandparents weren’t feeling up to walking around too much and we didn’t go inside any of the tourist attractions. It’s okay because now I have an idea of what I want to see next time. We found some cool shops like this music shop.

Composers aplenty!

That evening we had dinner at 7 Portes which was another great restaurant, but very different from Tenorio.

Delicious dinner at 7 Portes. My grandparents are characters!

After Barcelona, we made our scenic way to Zaragoza. I probably drove through over 60 roundabouts and several small towns. The city was smaller, but lovely. I definitely want to return again to explore more. We visited the cathedral, walked around the streets, and ate and drank MORE. After this trip I felt like a complete blimp, but it was worth it. La Ontina is the restaurant in the NH Gran Hotel, and it was awesome. It was a bit comical when I had to do my best to translate everything on the menu and being said into English. Seriously delish!

La Ontina

It was a sad parting when we arrived in Madrid the next day. I’m so glad they were able to come out to see Spain and me and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to visit them when I make the upcoming short trip back to the US.

What places are worth checking out in Barcelona or Zaragoza?

Summer in Madrid

It’s now the middle of July in Madrid. It seems many people have left the city for the coast or their home towns. I can’t blame them. Maybe you can imagine it gets “hot as Hades” here. I believe I’ve only worn skirts and dresses since the last week of June. Many apartments don’t have air conditioning so you need to buy a fan to avoid sleeping in a pool of your own sweat. When I told my dad about this on the weekend he didn’t believe me. I am still apartment hunting and the one I’m hoping to move into has A/C! Glorious! I’d be living with two Spanish girls and they seemed really sweet. So cross your fingers for me! I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this, but the last apartment I was in had 8 people…so switching to a place with only 3 would be wonderful.

So why am I in Madrid and not on vacation in Malaga or something? I’m working and trying to earn some money to hold me over until the end of September. My work contract doesn’t begin again until the middle of September and I won’t be paid again until the end of that month. I know some people have found cushy gigs in summer camps, but unfortunately I didn’t find any that would hire a US citizen and pay them decently. The one I was offered was 500 euros for living and working in a summer camp for the whole month of July. I couldn’t leave the residence hall so there was no way to earn extra money. Sometimes I wish I had dual citizenship with an EU country! Working here would be so much easier then! In Madrid I’m working several different jobs. My main job is to take care of a 4 year old girl every morning while her parents work. Then, in the evenings, I teach private classes almost every day. Right now I have 7-8 private classes a week. Then I am also working with a company who needed proofreaders to correct Spanish to English translations for a travel  website.

I’m not sure what’s happening in August, but I might be traveling. I’m still trying to buckle down and write about all of the other trips I’ve taken. I might end up lumping them all into one post.

If you are in Spain for the summer what are you doing?

My Challenge

This week I will attempt to tackle the daunting task of summing up my adventures over the last month or so. I haven’t completed my post about las fallas and I’ve got a bunch to write about from my trip to Italy. I know that if I don’t start now I’ll be even more behind especially because by the end of May I’ll have finished the following new adventures!

Seen la feria in Sevilla

Ran a half-marathon

Traveled to undetermined destinations with my grandparents

Resort weekend in MALLORCA!!

 

Anyway, stay tuned as I attempt this time-management tango.

“It’s a Tough Way to Learn” or “When Crap Happens You Write a Blog Post”

Moving to Madrid is one of the most exciting and freeing things I have ever done. I know that I have grown here in ways I hadn’t in the US. The only trouble is that you often achieve this type of growth after facing some pretty tough situations.

Besides the obvious difficulty of balancing living expenses and entertainment with the salary of a Language Assistant, I’ve learned some things about safety and personal property.

While we were having the time of our lives in Morocco, someone was cleaning our apartment of electronics. My room didn’t lock from the outside with a key. There were two rings which I latched my luggage lock through. In theory, this may have worked if they didn’t have wire cutters for the rings. My laptop, Ipad, and external hard drive were gone when we returned along with thousands of dollars worth from three other roommates. Now I live in a room which locks with a key. We still don’t know who robbed us, but it’s possible that someone saw our posts on Facebook about being away for the puente. Also, the police told me that even if they found my things they couldn’t give them back to me since I didn’t have a copy of any of the IMEI numbers. After that, I’ve sent an email to myself with the IMEI for all my electronic devices.

Not long after that, I was sitting in a McDonald’s with some friends when two young boys came over to our table. The boys didn’t say anything, but they held out sheets of paper which made it look like they were asking for signatures. As soon as I saw them approach I placed my hand over my phone, which was on the table. One of the boys was standing next to my roommates when a friend of ours ran over to the other side of the table, grabbed the boys hand, and slapped my roommates phone out of it. They used the piece of paper to distract and cover the phone while the other hand grabbed the phone.

Now for my most recent experience. This past Friday my Samsung Infuse was stolen while I was in a bar in Sol. Sol is a notorious place for pickpockets since there are so many tourists. When you are there I would suggest to always keep your purse in front of you and closed. I believe I became too comfortable in the bar (and probably had too much to drink) and didn’t close my purse all the way. Within a span of about 30 minutes since the last time I had checked my phone, it was gone. On Saturday I went to the Yoigo stand and asked if it was possible to keep my old number. The woman there said it wasn’t. However, I talked with an agent at Yoigo today after I saw their website who said I should have told her I needed a copy made of my SIM card and then I could have kept my old number and saldo (amount of money I have left to use). Right now I have two numbers with saldo floating around because the agent told me it was not possible to transfer the saldo from my old number to my new number.

Now, I don’t really want to focus on the negatives so much as that I want to share some things worth noting for future or current teachers here. Be aware of your surroundings. Take precautions. We all know it’s common sense, but sometimes we may let our guard down….and others could take notice.

A way of coping with all of this has been to try to see these experiences as lessons. Okay, I definitely wish that there was an easier way to learn than this, but if you let it consume you it’s possible to end up paranoid or sick. Maybe you would even pack your bags and head back to wherever you used to call “home.” After our apartment was robbed I was so devastated I became ill for several days. I found the main emotion I felt wasn’t even sadness, but anger. I wanted nothing more than to find whoever was responsible and pummel them with the blunt end of SOMEthing in a “How dare you come into my home, where I sleep, and take my things!” kind of way. When it comes down to it I just have to think, “I’m tough and I can handle this. Now let’s make sure it never happens again.”

5 Things I Learned in Morocco

Our group of nine set out by car from Madrid to spend the December puente exploring Morocco. The brutal 8-hour drive to Tarifa allowed us to see more of the Spanish countryside.

If you can find an inexpensive way to get to Tarifa, the southernmost part of Spain, taking the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco may be your best option. I believe it cost about 40 euro for a round-trip ticket. The ferry was very comfortable and there were bars, food, and a duty-free shop. We took advantage of the duty-free liquor since finding it in Morocco can be difficult and usually very expensive.

1. Take a Guide

We were extremely lucky to have two Moroccan guys with our group. Not only was it great to have friends with us that spoke the local languages, French and Arabic, but without a doubt, we had a better experience than if we had gone without them. Thanks guys! They made the arrangements for houses and in restaurants (see #4). They were able to show us around to different tourist sites and cool local spots. We even met several friends and family members. If you have made the trip without someone who knows Morocco well I would love to hear about it and whether you would do it alone again.

2. Eat camels, Not Ride Them

Have you ever wanted to ride a camel? You might change your mind after you view one of these roadside set-ups. The camels looked downright depressed. Although I didn’t actually board one I was ushered in between two grumpy camels by their handlers for a photo. In the end I had to duck to avoid some angry camel bites. HOWEVER, if you can find yourself a camel tagine that’s another story. We had one in Casablanca with cheese and it was amazing! I was happy to add camel to my “weird foods eaten” list. I think camel and jellyfish are tied for first now.

Now I know what happens when I type “camel vs jellyfish” into Google.

3. Don’t Expect to Get “Liquored Up”

As I mentioned before, finding alcohol can be expensive and sometimes impossible. If you can fit it in your luggage just bring what you need with you. If you don’t feel like lugging all that weight with you don’t worry. There are plenty of other things you can try in Morocco like avocado shakes, and of course, mint tea! Don’t forget to pour from well above the glass, like sidra.

4. Food is Cheap (Just Remember #1)

I don’t think I’ve eaten so much bread and egg in my life. In Chefchaouen we found a breakfast of msemen, cheese, honey, and tea for around 2 euros. During our travels I don’t think we really paid more than 4 or 5 euros for a complete dinner. As opposed to what I’ve found in Spain, the food in Morocco had plenty of flavor and a bit of spice. We ate very well and for almost nothing! Our Moroccan friends told us that prices are often different for foreigners and locals. When we went with these friends we had no issues with prices. However, one time we stopped at a cafe without them and we were charged a crazy amount for coffee, tea, and cake.

5. “If You Can Drive in Morocco You Can Drive Anywhere”

One of our friends from Tangier told me this during our trip when I mentioned my desire to drive in Morocco. The only problem was I didn’t want to drive in the city with the mix of pedestrians, motorbikes, animals and crazy drivers. In Tangier my friends decided I had to drive because one of the guys was staying behind. Oh, and they didn’t tell me this was their plan until we were walking to the cars. Let’s just say I spent my time behind the wheel shouting expletives at the friend driving the car in front of me. Okay, so I’m sure there are worst places to drive in the world than Tangier, but it was definitely “exhilarating.”

Have you ever been to Morocco? What did you learn?