The World’s Getting Colder and I’m Getting Older

Brrrrr! It’s finally jacket weather in Madrid. Autumn is my favorite season, but eventually it gets cold enough where you don’t want to crawl out of bed, doesn’t it?

I know I haven’t written much in a while and it’s really bothering me. It’s not like I’m overworked. I’m teaching 6 private classes a week and I have fewer hours in the school this year (read: less money). You won’t hear me complain too much, because I have an amazing schedule. I’m only working in the school mornings and one afternoon Monday – Thursday. Yes, this means I have a three-day weekend every week!

Maybe all of this free time is making me a little restless about my career situation because I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to attach myself somewhere permanently. Aside from regular positions I think about starting a business every day. I have a couple of ideas, but just can’t decide what I should do or where to really begin.

Last weekend I blew out some birthday candles which also probably led me to question my position here. At 27 I’m a bit older than the majority of people in the same teaching program. It’s good for now, but if I am going to stick around for a while I need to find something more concrete. Unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult for me to get a job in my degree field (Political Science) in Spain right now. I don’t know if I should be looking into getting a Masters here or in the U.S. Both options would take a lot of preparation before I could even apply.

On a more upbeat note, my birthday weekend fell on the puente and I visited Ávila for the first time. It’s only about an hours drive from Madrid so it’s a good choice for a day trip. The city is small, but beautiful and largely surrounded by walls. I read that work began on the walls in the 11th century. You can walk along a portion of the walls. The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Avila

Views from outside the walls

Avila

Views from outside the walls

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Walls of Avila

Avila

We ate lunch a little outside of the city in a small town called Mingorría. There was so much food that afterwards I felt like I was waddling around Ávila. I think the chuletón is basically a big prime rib and the tostón was a cochinillo (roasted baby pig MMMM). If you look closely at the photo you can see my meal came with tail and foot!

chuletón and tostón

chuletón and tostón

There were signs for “Yemas de Ávila” everywhere. Yemas, egg yolks in Spanish, seem to be made with, you guessed it, egg yolks and a lot of sugar.  They are not my favorite, but they aren’t bad. I can only eat maybe one or two at a time.

Did you ever visit Ávila? What would you recommend doing there?

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. 😉

La Feria de Abril – Sevilla

Oh, Sevilla! One of my favorite cities in the world.

Ever since my first trip to Spain, I’ve absolutely loved Sevilla. It’s one of the places I considered when choosing a location in Spain. In the end, Madrid seemed a better and more central hub to find work.

Back before I even stepped on Spanish soil I researched different things to do in Spain and added “la feria” to my list. When a roommate told me she was going in April it didn’t take much convincing before buying my RENFE ticket. “La feria” is a giant fair in Seville about two weeks after Semana Santa, so either in April or May. After experiencing it for the first time this year I can see myself going back again and again.

Some things which stick out the most are the colorful casetas, and sevillanas dresses and music. This is also most likely what this fair is most famous for. Many families reserve their own caseta, or small house, for family and friends. Normally you can’t enter unless you know someone inside, though there are a few public ones. Thankfully, we were there with some people who lived there, so we were able to enter several.

Most women wear colorful and sometimes extravagant sevillana, or flamenco, dresses. I felt a little awkward (go figure) asking people if I could take their photo, so I didn’t take any good dress photos. I think you can get an idea from this photo, though. So many polka dots!

Sevillanas

There seemed to be a never-ending stream of Sevillanas music and dancing flowing from each caseta, especially at night. Before going I only had time for ONE Sevillanas dancing lesson so I left most of it to the professionals. After a few drinks I may have tried… a bit…

I found this video on Youtube from last years feria.

Another feature of the fair are numerous horseback riders and carriages. Watching them trot down the street was like seeing a very, very Spanish glimpse of the past.

Carriage and Casetas

How cool is that?

It seemed each caseta was uniquely decorated.

At night, the party was turned up a few levels. The music and dancing continued and spilled onto the streets. Like most places in Spain, you could stay in a caseta until the wee hours of the morning. Some common drinks in the casetas are rebujitos or manzanilla.

Feria at night

 

Don’t let my serene expression deceive you. I probably had one too many rebujitos by this point.

I plan on going next year! The next feria will be May 5 – 10 2014. Maybe I’ll even have a dress.

Have you ever been to la feria or Sevilla?

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?

Staying for More Punishment

Okay, so I haven’t exactly kept true to my goal of “one post a week.” However, I just NOW uploaded the remainder of my Semana Santa photos to Facebook so you can see what kind of time-lag I’m working with. I’ll (hopefully) be posting about Italy, Barcelona, Zaragoza etc within the next few weeks.

But first…

drum roll please….

 

I am renewing with the BEDA Program for next year. I’ll be working in the same school, but they are hiring another assistant to cover more hours. This means they are dropping my hours from 24 this year to 18 next year. Ugh. Also, I’ll only be working with children who are 12 years old and older. Maybe this will give me more time to prepare activities or even pick up more private lessons, but I’m a bit sad I won’t be working in infantil anymore.

Now I’m in the process of getting together all the materials to renew my NIE. Friday, I have my appointment to get my empadronamiento. This is basically just a way to register where you live and it may be necessary for the renewal. If I ever need to verify how long I’ve lived in Spain, it will also help. I will try to write a post with all the steps for the renewal after I’m finished.

Once Upon a Fallera

One of the coolest things I’ve seen in Spain to date was las fallas in Valencia, Spain. I’ve tried to remember how I learned about this festival in the first place and I believe it was from a Spaniard I met two years ago while I was working as a volunteer for Pueblo Ingles. I’m so happy I remembered his advice and saw the festival. Last month, I hopped on a bus with two friends for the 4-hour drive from Madrid. From the bus station we made our way into the center where we were staying. Even though I’ve been to Valencia before it didn’t take long to notice something was different.

IMG_2717

This looming creation is a “falla” and the festivals namesake. They range from big to small and from child-friendly to completely inappropriate.

This was one of the tamer fallas, but you can see nudity was not a big deal.
I love Europe…

Throughout the year, people in Valencia and the surrounding province work on creating the best falla they can. Each is judged and prizes are given out. Each one can cost a heck of a lot of money!

165,000 euros right there

165,000 euros right there

240,000 euros

240,000 euros

Another amazing sight was the street lights contest. The street Literato Azorin had some amazing lights. The surrounding Russafa neighborhood had some amazing street dance parties.

La Despertà wake up at 8am

Each morning during las fallas you can expect to be woken up with brass bands and noise on the streets. Hopefully, you got enough sleep the night before because people in the city set off firecrackers throughout the day. Also, if you want to find yourself a 1 euro beer for breakfast it’s out there waiting for you.

La Mascletà 2pm fireworks display

Each afternoon there is a giant fireworks display at Plaza del Ayuntamiento. People normally gather in the plaza to watch. My friends and I decided we would rather watch from the top of a church rather than packed in the streets.

During the festival it seems there are parades 24/7. The women and girls, or fallaras, as they are called, are everywhere. Most seemed to have this Princess Leia vs steampunk thing going on. The men wore traditional clothing also which sometimes reminded me of a pirate.

L’OFRENA FLORAL FLOWER OFFERING

A representative fallera from each group attends a ceremony in which they give flowers to be placed on a structure depicting the el virgen. Sometimes a representative comes from a long line of falleras. I was told that this is a reason some of the falleras may get a bit emotional. The ceremony is broadcast on television and we saw some teary-eyed falleras.

Els Castells fireworks displays

Inside the old turia riverbed, which is now a park, they set off an amazing fireworks display each night. Every nights performance gets increasingly crazier until…

La Nit del Foc

This fireworks display is the last and craziest. There was a light rain while we were watching, but it was worth it.

La Cremà

This is the night when all the hard work and money goes up in smoke…literally. Sadly, I worked Tuesday so we had to make it back to Madrid before this final night. On this night, nearly all of the fallas are burned in the streets. I think maybe one or two of the spectacular fallas are saved for a while at the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias.

If you were at las fallas what was your favorite falla? Was there anything else you would recommend a visitor to see?

Travels and Teaching

It’s only Monday and I’m already daydreaming about the next weekend. Two friends and I will arrive in Valencia to experience las fallas! I have found mixed reviews of fallas from several Spaniards. I’m a bit worried that it will be a crazy guiri-fest, but as a closet pyromaniac I’m still excited as all hell! I will be sure to post something more after the trip, but essentially las fallas is a major celebration where giant and ornate wood structures are burned for all to see.

I have several trips planned because the week after, I’ll be traveling through Italy for Semana Santa. I’m trying to work out a trip to Sevilla to visit a friend in April. Probably the craziest thing I did this weekend was book a groupon deal for May in Mallorca with three friends. Ironically, my new swimsuits arrived in the mail today.

All of this reminds me that I need to be careful with what little money I have!

Things have been going well in the school. Last week was “English Week” and the theme for this year was the Middle Ages. I spent last week talking about knights, castles, crowns, and princesses with my infantil classes. I even found a pretty cool jousting game. I let children decide which shield, horse, armor, and strategy we used. Then everyone cheered as we watched if we were able to unseat our opponent.

This week I’m teaching the five-year-olds about different types of marine life. Tomorrow, we will be playing a fishing game in class if everything works out. I bought magnets, string, and paper clips. I’ll attach the magnets to rulers, using the string, and I’m bringing pictures of different animals to color. Once each student has chosen their animal (fish, shark, turtle, seahorse etc) they will put a paper clip on them and put them in the center of the floor. My idea is that there will be three lines. Each with one “fishing pole.” On the other side of the room there will be three bags, or buckets if I can find them. The team who picks up the most animals and places them in their bucket wins.

See you after las fallas! If you have ever been I would be interested in your story!

“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.”

It’s Been a While

Hello everyone!

Bad, bad, BAD me for not writing a post in months. My procrastination turned into a cycle of sorts. “If I write a post now I need lots of time to cover everything that I’ve done.” eventually led to “There is no way I can write about everything that has happened since September!” Here it goes, dear friends; a brief summary.

It seems I’ve eventually settled into an everyday routine. I live in an apartment with 7 other people so sometimes it is the furthest thing from normal, but it’s going well. I’m teaching 28 classes (24 hours) a week in the school and 5 private classes a week. The students in the school range from 3-5 years and from 12-18 years old. One of the first questions people ask is which age group I like the most. I can’t choose because each age level has reasons why I love them. The younger children are very loving and energetic although they can be rowdy. When they see me on the street they stop and wave. This weekend I saw one of my 5 year old students walking with her mother. When she saw me she started waving and tugging at her mother to show her that I am her teacher. Sometimes I even get besos on the cheek or a “Te quiero mucho!” They are most challenging to prepare classes for since they have a short attention span. The older children can be really fun to talk to, but sometimes it’s difficult to converse with them. It’s also frustrating when they don’t prepare the assigned topic. Some days are fun though. Last week in the 12 year-old classes we talked about extreme sports, I showed them a video of me skydiving, then we made origami hearts.

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The teachers in the school are very kind and have made an effort to make me feel included during and outside school hours. I feel very lucky.

In addition to the school classes, I give 5 private lessons a week. The ages range from 5 to 37. For the younger students I normally charge 22 euros a class and for older students 18 euros. Even with all of this the money situation is tight. At the end of every month I find myself scraping money together and playing “let’s see how long this loaf of bread can last.” I don’t regret my decision to come to Spain. Far from it. I’ve decided to renew my contract here for next year! Bring on the vida española!

I’ve made some amazing friends here so far. I’ve been lucky enough to travel with several and even found myself in a recording studio with my violin! Okay, so I didn’t play very long, but it’s a start, right?

I’ve started cooking a lot more. This includes cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for my roommates (substituting chickens for turkey), and various weekend breakfasts.

french toast last weekend, for example.

Travels

I’ve returned to Sevilla. Oh, what a marvelous city!

Plaza de España

Took a trip to Toledo.

Made it to Valencia

Morocco was spectacular and also the most terrifying driving experience! I was able to add camel to my “weird things eaten” list. Luckily, one of my roommates is from Casablanca and we traveled with him and another friend from Tangier. Having Moroccan friends with us really made things easier. We even met the mother of one friend and the father of the other.

Breakfast in Tangier

The amazing blue city of Chefchaouen

Tannery in Fez

Casablanca

For the future

I signed up for the Madrid half-marathon so I’m in the process of shaping up and training. I’m also looking to get back into bellydance and I’ve been searching for classes here.

That’s all for tonight, but I’ll do my best to post more regularly.