Summer in Spain Pt. 1 – Tabarca

I know I’ve been nonexistent this summer, but hopefully I’ll be able to share some exciting info soon. Now that it’s September, it’s back to the real-life grind in Madrid. The next few posts will be about the different cities I visited this summer.

A good deal of the summer was spent in Alicante. A group of us decided to spend a weekend on Tabarca which is a tiny island a short 15 minute water taxi ride from Santa Pola. The island has an interesting history as a refuge for Barbary pirates and a prison for Genoese sailors. The island is a popular tourist spot during the summer, but in winter, most families leave the island.

Casa en Tabarca

 

Tabarca is well-known for its squid and rice dishes. Since it’s an island it isn’t surprising that most of the food involves some type of fish or seafood.

Squid Caldero Caldero de bogavante Arroz

 

 

When we weren’t eating we spent a lot of time snorkeling. The water is incredibly clean and not as cold as in other parts of southern Spain. Part of the island is on a nature reserve so we were able to find many interesting things such as starfish and octopus.

Asturias and Galicia

I know this post is a little late, but it’s a doozy. In the beginning of May we took a “double couples” trip to visit the green landscapes of Asturias and Galicia in the north of Spain. It was my first trip to either of these regions of Spain, and I found them absolutely different from the arid landscapes I am used to seeing in Andalusia. I believe I could live in Asturias or Galicia one day if I could get past the frigid winters.

I believe we visited about 12 different towns along our way, so I’ve listed them below with some descriptions. Of course, with so many places and a short period of time, we visited several for only an hour or two.

 

Burgos 

Our first stop brought us to Burgos, which is in Castile and León instead of Asturias or Galicia, but it was the perfect halfway point. We munched on their famous morcilla (blood sausage) and patatas bravas and strolled the city to admire the buildings. I really liked the windows in the older part of town. The closest English translation I can think of would be “bay windows”, but I’m not certain they are the same. 

 patatas bravas, beer, and floor decorations.

You know you are in Spain: patatas bravas, beer, and floor decorations.

Morcilla from "La Favorita"

Morcilla from “La Favorita”

 

 

Covadonga/Cangas de Onís

We spent the first night in Asturias at a small hotel called Casa Asprón. The hotel was wonderful and served a delicious breakfast. This area was my favorite part of the trip. We were surrounded by forests and even a waterfall.waterfall close to the hotel

The rural house is in Picos de Europa National Park and we could see the Basilica of Covadonga from our window. Covadonga is the patron of Asturias. In the 700s, the Christian Visigoth army made a stand against the Moorish army in the caves of Covadonga. It was reported that before the battle, the Christian commander prayed to a statue of the Virgin Mary which had been saved during the conquest. The Moorish commander died in the battle, and the rest of his army fled. After the victory, King Alonso I ordered a monastery and shrine to be built there. The shrine sits nestled in the mountain and is really a sight to see.

Basilica Covadonga

Basílica de Santa María la Real de Covadonga

Covadonga Shrine

Covadonga Sanctuary

 

I’ve never seen anything like the Picos de Europa National Park. There is a trail which circles several lakes, forests, and mountains. Everything was super-green and we even found cows grazing on the hills.

Picos de Europa landscape 20140502_125638Picos de Europa lanscape

At the end of our hike we had worked up an appetite, and the fog was so dense that we couldn’t see any buildings. We ended up following our ears, and the sound of a generator, to find a small restaurant. We ate cheese, fabada, goat, arroz con leche, and strawberry cake. I’d be willing to go back to that area and park many times! (hint: other anniversaries)

Fabada

Fabada

cheese

stawberry cake and arroz con leche

 

Soto de Luiña

We spent the next night in a small town called Soto de Luiña. We stayed at Hotel Valle las Luiñas. There didn’t seem to be very much to see in the town, but it was a short drive away from Cudillero.

 

Cudillero

Cudillero is a beautiful fishing village. It seems to get a lot of tourist traffic, but not completely overpriced. I think I found the best arroz con leche I’ve ever tried at a place called El Remo.

Cudillero Cudillero

 

Luanco

We stopped briefly in Luanco. The newer part of the city was not very lovely, but when you reached the water there were interesting buildings and a church on the waterfront.

 

Cabo de Peñas

“Cabo” means “cape” in Spanish. We enjoyed the views and lighthouse, but we struggled to get there. First, we parked the car in a tiny village called Viodo and asked one of the locals if it was possible to walk to the lighthouse. We should have known by her laugh and response not to try, but we finally found it after getting lost in the field a few times. It turned out fine in the end. Who doesn’t like a little adventure!?

cabo de peñas

 

Candás

Another short stop in Candás allowed us to stretch our legs. We took a quick stroll to see the beach. While walking on the beach I saw many small, raised mud tunnels in the sand. When I tried to dig one that was moving up to discover the creature underneath I found nothing.

 

Luarca

Luarca is yet another seaside town. We stayed less than an hour, but drove around a bit of the town and saw the port. Maybe one day we’ll go back with more time.

 

Puerto de Vega

Puerto de Vega was another stop with marvelous views of the ocean.

puerto de vega

 

Ribadeo

Our next stop took us to Ribadeo in Galicia. This town is on the border of Galicia and Asturias. The next “Salimos el Sabado” will be about a great restaurant we visited called Casa Villaronta so I will make this section brief. There were some beautiful spots to see close to the city, such as, the Pancha Island lighthouse.

ribadeo lighthouse lighthouse galicia

 

Lugo

On the way back from our whirlwind trip, we stopped in Lugo to see its Roman walls, the Cathedral, and other sights of the city.

Lugo Cathedral

 

Astorga

We needed to eat eventually so we stopped at Restaurante Serrano in Astorga for a delicious lunch. This small town had some surprising things like the Palacio Espiscopal which was designed by Gaudí.

Palacio Espiscopal

Palacio Espiscopal

 

A Puente in Prague

Here, in Spain, we have a ridiculous amount of holidays and long-weekends (puentes). This is especially true for people who work in schools, but still, it’s extremely different from my old schedule in the US – in a good way! For our last one from February 28th – March 2nd we decided to take advantage of the free time to jump over to Prague.

It turned out to be a very economical trip. We purchased the flights and hotel several months ago in November. It only cost about 300 euros per person for a direct flight and two nights in a 4-star hotel with an awesome breakfast included. The food in Prague was surprisingly cheap. During the trip, 1 euro equaled 27.35 Czech Korunas. It did make things a bit interesting if the dinner bill was 600 Korunas. It felt like we were spending a lot of money.

From the airport you can choose to take either bus 100 to Zličín at the end of the yellow line or bus 119 to Dejvická at the end of the green line. Our hotel was on the yellow line, but it was faster to go to the green line (Dejvická) and then switch over to the yellow line at Můstek. 

Don’t make the mistake I made of trying to pay for tickets with a 500CZK bill. If you buy the ticket from the bus drivers it will be about 40CZK per ticket. You use the same ticket from the bus on the metro. The tickets are timed. You can buy a ticket for 30 mins, 90 mins, 24 hours, 72 hours, or a full month. We did a lot of walking during the trip and only bought a ticket to travel to and from the airport.

Prague Metro System

Map of Prague’s Metro System

To be honest, I can’t imagine riding the metro very often during a trip to Prague unless you are visiting areas far from the center. There is so much to see!

Staroměstské náměstí (Old Town Square)

Church of St. Nicholas

Kostel svatého Mikuláše (Church of St. Nicholas)

colorful Prague

Colors everywhere!

This square is, not surprisingly, full of tourists and tourist shops. Some of the most spectacular buildings are here, such as, the Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem (The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn). I had never seen anything like this huge, gothic church in real-life before.

Our Lady Before Tyn

In the background: Kostel Matky Boží před Týnem (The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn)

You can find an astronomical clock in the same area which is supposed to be one of the oldest astronomical clocks in the world. I won’t give it away, but you should watch it chime on the hour. If you go to the top of the tower you can see some good views of the city and important buildings are labeled.

Prague clock

Astronomical Clock

You can find many food stalls in this square, but we found an outdoor market on the other side of Karlův most (Charles Bridge) which we liked more. When you cross, just go down the stairs on the left side of the bridge. There was a row of about 20 tents with greater variety of food and we were in luck because a band was performing live music. Some of the best food we found was white sausages and dumplings with pork and saurkraut. I was freezing so I drank mostly sickeningly-sweet hot wine instead of beer. We saw everyone in line for some type of cinnamon and sugar bread so, of course, we followed suit.

Prague cinnamon and sugar

Prague sweet which reminded me of Cinnabun

The Charles Bridge is the creepiest bridge I have ever seen (read: I thought it was awesome). There are many baroque statues lining the span of the bridge and gives it an eerie vibe.  Crossing the bridge was worth it for the food and sights like these:

Karlův most

View from Karlův most (Charles Bridge)

 

Prague buildings

Pastel buildings on the other side of the bridge

Hradčany (Castle District)

Now that we were on the other side of the bridge, we made our way to Pražský hrad (Prague castle). It’s absolutely huge and the surrounding area is made of multiple palaces, cathedrals, and gardens. You can find some great views from the top of the hill.

Prague roofs

Beautiful red roofs

The John Lennon wall is a short walk away. There was a crowd of younger people adding to the existing layers of graffitti.

graffiti Prague

John Lennon Wall

 

Josefov (Jewish Quarter)

I loved the architecture in the Jewish Quarter and it was interesting to see all of the places about Frank Kafka.

Klausová synagoga

Klausová synagoga (Klausen Synagogue)

 

We had seen an episode of “Madrileños por el Mundo” in Prague where they visited a restuarant, Výtopna, where the beer is brought to you by model trains. We ate there the first night. The food was decent, but the service was very slow. It was amusing to see the trains in action.

Slivovitz was probably the most difficult thing I tried in Prague. I don’t know how or why, but my dad drank this clear, plum brandy as a special treat certain times of the year. For me, it was very difficult to down, but at least it warmed me up…including my entire esophagus.

Slivovitz

 

 

Liebster Award Nomination

I was shocked earlier to receive a comment saying my blog had been nominated for something called the “Liebster Award”. I admit that I had absolutely no idea what a Liebster Award is, but hooray! This is my first award nomination here on WordPress. I did a little digging and found that the “Liebster Award” is to promote newer bloggers and hopefully allow them to gain followers and drive more traffic to their sites.

Look how shiny it is!

Look how shiny it is!

A big thank you to Courtney at Cartas de Courtney for the nomination! She is also living in Spain as a teaching assistant and I love reading her blog for travel ideas.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

THE RULES ARE:

ü 1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.

ü 2. Answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.

ü 3. Nominate 10 of your favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.

ü 4. Come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Nominations:

(Quick note: I know I must have chosen a few with over 200 followers).

The Rooted Traveller – Ghezal is another teaching assistant in BEDA, but I’ve been following her blog before my move to Spain. Funny how we met and became friends before knowing we were following each others blogs.

Sunshine and Siestas – Cat writes a lot about Seville which is one of my favorite cities in Spain. I found her blog before moving to Spain and it helped drive my desire to become an expat.

The Book of Ness – Vanessa’s blog is a mix of expat and entrepreneur posts.

Kaley…& Más – Kaley’s posts make me realize things which are true, but I never really considered before.

Lady in Spain – A fellow Marylander, Yari, really helped me when I was trying to make my way through the pile of paperwork needed for my visa to Spain.

The Expatriate Adventures – Dan is a fellow BEDA member who writes about his travels and life in Madrid.

Hola Yessica – Jessica’s blog is another I followed before I became an expat myself. Her posts are mainly about Barcelona.

Curiosity Travels – Jessica has a colorful and fun blog with plenty of posts about travel and teaching English in foreign countries.

Estrella Explores – Estrella is another English Language Assistant in Madrid and her blog is about her life abroad.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

1. What do you consider “home”?

For most of my life, Maryland was my only home since that is where much of my friends and family – my “roots” -, are located. After that, New York and Wisconsin were close contenders because I’ve visited many times to see family. During my first trip to Spain this idea of home was skewed. How could a place I had never been to before feel as comfortable as home? Right now I suppose I have two homes: My USA Home and Spain Home. I’m comfortable with that for now.

2. How long have you been traveling or living abroad?

The first time I traveled outside of the US (other than Canada) was to Guatemala when I was 17 years old. Before I was born my parents traveled all over the place and lived for a while in Guatemala. When we went, my family and grandparents spent Christmas and New Year’s there so we could see the village where they used to live and experience the country. My first trip to Europe was in 2011. After travelling with a friend in Spain I continued alone to Paris and Berlin. During this trip I was overcome with the insane idea to quit my job and move to Madrid. Somehow I made it a reality and have been living in Madrid since September 2012.

3. Do you have a favorite destination? If so, what is it?

I absolutely love Seville and Alicante. I have known Seville for longer and the atmosphere is amazing along with the sights. Alicante has great weather and beaches. It is much more relaxed than Madrid. Sometimes I consider moving to one of these cities for a change of pace.

4. What is your biggest struggle as a blogger?

Bah! I have two I constantly struggle with. One is that I don’t find it easy to be a creative writer. Sometimes I write something and think, “Seriously? That is the most boring and dry ‘ish’ I’ve ever seen. You should be ashamed of yourself.” The second problem I have is getting into a writing routine. I have an idea for a weekly piece, but I just haven’t gotten around to starting it.

5. What is your favorite blog and why?

At the moment, my favorite blog is Nowhere to Go but Everywhere for its beautiful photographs and simplistic style.

6. If you could spend a month anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

A month in Thailand would be amazing. Send me to the sun and sand!

7. After being away, what is one thing you know you took for granted at home?

I have to choose being around nature. My old home was surrounded by three different bodies of water and a forest. Here in Madrid the atmosphere is very different and you can smell and feel it.

8. What is your favorite music to listen to during a plane ride/bus ride/commute?

If it’s on the AVE I listen to Telepopmusic or Thievery Corporation. This sounds strange, but the first trip I took on the AVE I was listening to those groups so now whenever I travel it’s my traveling music while watching the countryside.

During day-to-day commutes I listen to a playlist of over 500 different songs I have on Spotify. Chromeo and The Prodigy were made for Monday mornings in the metro.

9. Do you consider any certain item a “travel necessity”?

My travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste!

10. What is your favorite book and why?

It’s a strange book, but 1984 has been my favorite since I was a child. It’s so warped!

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

New Questions for My Nominees:

1. What is your favorite blog right now?

2. What’s the strangest food you have ever eaten?

3. Do you have a favorite travel destination?

4. Now choose the song which bests describes that destination for you.

5. Describe a moment you decided to make a drastic change in your life.

6. If you were given 500 euros where would you go and what would you do?

7. Explain something you do well as a blogger? Then, describe something you struggle with.

8. What is one thing you found while traveling that you would bring back to your home country?

9. Were you ever in a dangerous or awkward situation during your travels?

10. Where do you see yourself ending up? Will you wander the globe forever?

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Thanks for reading and thanks again to Courtney for the nomination.

Happy Travels!

Spain for the Holidays

Hopefully everyone had a relaxing holiday season. Reality and work had to continue eventually, right?

When I saw that flights home would cost about 1,000 euros I decided to stay for my first Christmas and New Years in Spain. This was the first year I spent Christmas without my family, but I really enjoyed my time here, so this holiday season was a bit bittersweet for me. Some things were exactly the same in Spain as in the United States, but other things (such as an extra holiday) were completely different. The length of holiday vacation was much longer than I am used to having. It began the afternoon of December 20th and I didn’t have to go back to work until January 8th. Of course, this is also because my holiday period is the same for school children, but when I was working in the U.S. I only had two days off; Christmas and New Years Day.

I spent the first part of my vacation and Christmas in Alicante, Spain. Even though I didn’t have very much time to relax, I really enjoyed being there! Also, the weather there was much warmer than the normal Maryland temperatures for December.

alicante oranges

Warm enough for oranges

At Christmas in the United States I normally devoured cookies and egg nog (every student thought this sounded disgusting). In Spain some popular sweets are polvorón and turrón. The national lottery is huge in Spain during the Holidays. On the 22nd of December, many people tune in to watch children “sing” off the drawings and prizes. Now, in the United States, I don’t believe children could play a role in the lottery. I guess it’s seen more in line as something like using children to promote tobacco or alcohol. Even though it seemed unusual to watch children take part in the national lottery, there doesn’t seem to be anything “wrong” about it to me. In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t win anything.

I rang in the New Year in Tarragona, which is in the northeast coast of Spain and a bit south of Barcelona. The city wasn’t very big, but there were some interesting spots to see such as the Roman amphitheater from the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Tarragona Roman amphitheater

 

statue in Tarragona

We stopped for some food at a place called Lola Tapes Platillos & Gins. I tried ortigas, a type of sea anemone, for the first time. They also had delicious small fried shrimp which you could eat whole and like chips. At night we watched the New Years Eve celebration in Sol and ate 12 grapes. The tradition is you must eat one grape for each midnight bell toll or you will have bad luck for the year. My students were shocked when I told them, in the U.S., we don’t eat grapes or anything special on New Years Eve.

On the first day of the new year we traveled to Andorra in the north. Before the trip a few people mentioned that Andorra was a great place for cheap electronics because there is no IVA tax there. I was sad to discover the prices seemed just about the same in Andorra and Spain. I thought the food would end up a bit cheaper, but that also seemed the same price. Restaurants seemed hit or miss. The places near the more touristy areas had horrible service. We were tired from the trip and just wanted a fast and relaxed dinner and a couple of beers, but we waited in two different places for at least 40 mins and were never offered to order food. The next day we picked up our ski rental equipment and made our way to Grandvalira. The place is huge and ski passes were 44 euros a day.  I was surprised by the amount of Russian tourists in Andorra. Those of you who know me probably know I’m accident prone. Towards the end of the first day I took a “heavy metal” spill/tumble and ended up spraining my wrist which put me out of commission for the rest of that day and the next.

Grandvalira Andorra

The second night in Andorra we tried a pizzeria listed as #1 in the town. L’Escenari de Pizzes was good but expensive for what it was. A plus was that almost all of their products are ecological. The wait times were a bit long and they only had one woman working as waitstaff.

My favorite restaurant we found in Andorra was Borda del Tremat. When we arrived the family was finishing their dinner. Then, the whole family pitched in to set up the restaurant for the night and they gave us olives and bread with garlic, tomato and meat. We ordered onion soup, salad, filet mignon, sirloin steak, apple pie for dessert and wine for only 70 euros. I really loved how it was decorated. It seemed to be an old barnyard or farmhouse.

A more luxurious, but expensive, place was Celler D’En Toni. The meat was delicious and tender, especially the mignon with cognac. The quality was a step up from Borda del Tremat, but it felt more cold and distant. There was a delicious chocolate coulant dessert for 9 euros.

The day before leaving we made a stop in the caldea, a giant thermo spa. The general admission for 3 hours was 37 euros. There is another ticket for 46.50 euros and 4 hours which gives you access to the top floor of the spa. Paying a bit more may have been worth it to escape the crowds. It was a bit difficult to relax with all of the people and children playing, but I enjoyed it.

Spanish children have a holiday that I didn’t have when I was growing up. Reyes Magos is a holiday on January 6th where the three wise men of the nativity bring gifts instead of Santa Claus. Many people eat some Roscón de Reyes, a round cake with a surprise hidden inside, and hot chocolate on this day. There are parades where the wise men throw candy to the children. I polled several students and They told me Christmas is becoming more popular in Spain. Most received gifts on either Reyes Magos or Reyes Magos AND Christmas. Few students only received presents on Christmas.

What holiday traditions did you celebrate this year?

May in Mallorca – Wishing for Warmer Weather in Madrid

I know it’s only the first week of December, but I’m already wishing it was summertime. It’s probably the fault of looking for warm getaways for the upcoming holidays and semana santa. This led me to remember my May trip to Mallorca and how I never posted anything about it! Well, this will be my warmer weather reminiscing for this month.

Mallorca view from the plane

The view from the plane. Helloooo blue waters!

I didn’t know very much about Mallorca before I moved to Spain, but it’s part of the Balearic Islands east of mainland Spain.

I can’t remember which one of us stumbled on the deal first. I’m sure someone will remind me after they see this post. Within a short while we were ready to buy a Groupon for a six-girl vacation to Mallorca. You could choose a 1 – 7 night stay in Cala Millor, Mallorca for two people and it only cost 99 euros a night. After you split that between two people it was not bad at all. We bought three of the deals and decided to stay two nights in the resort. Another perk was it was an all-included offer so all of our food and drinks were included in our stay. The problem with all-included vacations is that you stuff yourself for each meal. At least that’s exactly what we did.

The taxi ride from the airport to the resort was about one hour. When we arrived at the resort I think we were a little surprised to find we were the youngest guests there, but we had a lot of fun all the same. One thing I found surprising at first was the amount of people there who spoke German. I was confused when the resort staff began conversations in German instead of Spanish. I wasn’t used to it.

beaches of Mallorca in Cala Millor

Mallorca had some of the most beautiful water I’ve seen.

The view was paradise, but the temperature wasn’t so cooperative during our trip. We went in May, so it was our own fault for taking the trip before warmer weather arrived. We still toughed it out on the beach in our bikinis and shorts. Some brave souls (not me, okay?) even went for a swim.

Cala Millor Beach in Mallorca

Everything for us! Brrr…

Cala Millor, Mallorca, resort

Our view from the terrace

all-included Mallorca

This wristband was my ticket to…gluttony?

One of my next posts will be about the different shopping websites in Spain you can use to find deals like ours. One thing I wish for my next trip to Mallorca is that I get to explore a bit more of the island instead of staying at one resort the whole time.

What was your favorite spot in Mallorca?

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?

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!