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?

“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?

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.