Explore
Questions/Comments?Contact Us

Still Thankful, Now for New Reasons

With Thanksgiving just one day away, most Americans start the annual discussion of why they are thankful.... and social media becomes flooded with posts telling the world (or at least people's followers) details of gratitude. (Not a critique against those who choose to share publicly, just a comment that I believe most social media participants could agree on.) When people are asked, "Why are you thankful this Thanksgiving?" most people respond with some variation of "family, friends, and a roof over my head" (or at least I'm assuming those are some of the most common answers). And I, too, am grateful for those things today, and every other day, but the why behind feeling this way has taken on a different meaning since moving across the Atlantic this year.

 

1. FRIENDS

This one is intentionally placed at the top of the list. Moving to any new place can provoke feelings of anxiety and isolation; moving to a new, foreign city, where I understand, but am not cultured to, the customs and am significantly less proficient at the language than I would like to admit, can be a potentially panic-ridden disaster. But that could not be farther from my (three month and counting) experience. While there are many factors that have made my transition from Nashville, Tennessee (with a summer stint in my small New Jersey hometown) to Madrid, Spain smooth, the friendships that I have developed have made the biggest impact. Probably a combination of being Americans (don't worry, I'm working on forging international friendships) and just being who they are, my new friends have filled any potential holes I would have felt from leaving behind my family and friends in the U.S. (Side note: don't worry, none of you back home are being replaced) I have yet to experience feelings of loneliness or homesickness, and I credit a huge part of that to my new friendships. I truly believe that any experience, good or bad, can be positively or negatively impacted by who surrounds you. I thought there was no way lightning could strike twice (the first being the lifelong friendships I made while studying abroad), yet I feel equally supported here in Madrid for my second time around.

DSC_0059

Florence, Italy in late September

2. FAMILY

Of course, I am grateful for my entire family. In particular, though, I feel immense gratitude for three of them this year. I've always felt slightly cooler because I could say I had family members who lived overseas, as if that somehow made me more cultured, but I never anticipated needing their expertise for real life situations. Whether it be housing difficulties (check out the third point in this post), international safety concerns, or general "living in a foreign country advice," two of my uncles and one aunt have guided me through adult-ing abroad. Prior to moving to Madrid, I hadn't anticipated needing their wisdom; now, I know how blessed I am to have family that can help me through this specific phase of my life.

3. A ROOF OVER MY HEAD

The "finding a place to live" situation over here is cutthroat. In August and September, thousands (I don't think I'm exaggerating that number) of young, foreign adults bombarded Madrid. Whether they traveled here through Erasmus, study abroad, or to work as an auxiliar, finding a reasonably priced, decently nice, and relatively safe, in a neighborhood nearish the center, apartment was a nightmare for anyone during that time period. After not finding anything I would deem livable (that makes me sound like a diva, but trust me, I wasn't... I looked at one apartment that didn't even have a kitchen) or affordable, I opted to live with a Spanish family through a language exchange program. I'm not going to go into detail, but the process took about a month to be placed, and when I finally moved into their home, I only ended up living with them for a week. That entire housing ordeal made me seriously question my stay in Spain, despite wanting desperately to remain here. Luckily, I happened upon a newly redone apartment, which is where I now reside. While the apartment is far from perfect (yes, it's redone, but not with high-quality materials), it is comfortable, in a neighborhood which I appreciate, and filled with respectful roommates. 

I could list off so many more things and reasons why I'm grateful, but I wanted to share how my perspective differs this Thanksgiving from years prior.

 

Happy Turkey Day!

My Top 5 Outdoor Activities in Madrid

Hello everyone! Wow, it's been a while since I last wrote. My apologies. I've been a bit busy traveling and showing family around. Life has become so normal and routine (yet still quite adventuresome) that I've had to think a little bit harder about what to write. Since some of you have either just been accepted to teach in Madrid or are seriously considering it, let me share with you some of the outdoor activities I enjoy doing in Madrid, most of which you can do year-round. 

1. Playing tennis in Casa de Campo
I had never played tennis before coming to Spain, but I've always enjoyed playing sports. Volleyball is my favorite, but with a busy schedule during the week and often traveling on the weekends, I needed something more flexible. Through the Auxiliares en Madrid Facebook page, I found a tennis trainer advertisement and decided to try it out. I love learning something new and being in the huge park where I can breathe some fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and get some good exercise at the same time. 

Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature

2. Reading a book in Retiro
This particular activity doesn't quite work when it's raining or a little too chilly out, but as Spain is primarily sunny and warm, it is something I enjoy doing quite often. The large park has plenty of green space to either lie in the shade or soak up some sun, as well as a few places to enjoy a coffee while you read, if you prefer.  

Image may contain: tree, plant, table, outdoor and nature

3. Sipping a coffee in Plaza Mayor
To be honest, the food in Plaza Mayor isn't great, but the people watching is amazing! Coffee and people watching are two of my favorite things, and Plaza Mayor provides both. It can be quite amusing to see tourists taking pictures with Fat Spiderman (yes, that's an actual character who frequents the plaza), the headless captain, or a myriad of other people dressed up in hopes of earning some money through photos. It's also fun to try to guess who is from what country based on how they are dressed or what language you think they are speaking. 

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

4. Riding a bike along the river
No worries, there are plenty of places to rent a bike for a reasonable price here in Madrid, since many of you probably won't be trying to haul yours over from the states. After successfully renting your bike, you can hop on the lovely path that goes along the river, with a view of the palace and cathedral. This path also leads into Casa de Campo, if you're interested in some different paths with more hills. 

Image may contain: one or more people, people riding bicycles, tree, bicycle, outdoor and nature

5. Hiking in the mountains 
If you are under 25, your transportation card can get you to the mountains surrounding Madrid for free (well, included in the 20 euros a month you pay for the card). If you are over 25 or just visiting Madrid, the mountains are about an hour and some pocket change away. So far, I've been to the Cercedilla and La Pedriza areas, both a few times each. My favorite part about hiking here is being out in nature (away from the city buildings, traffic, and noise), enjoying the beautiful views the mountains have to offer, and spending time with the friends I'm hiking with. 

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, mountain, outdoor and nature

Of course, there are also plenty of places to go for a run, window shop, etc., but I decided to stick with my top 5. You can figure out your own top 5 once you arrive and explore the city for yourself, but here's a place to start. =) 

Hasta luego!

The Winter Travel Bug

Europe is real cool. That sums it up well. No complicated sentence, no GRE vocabulary necessary. Europe is real cool. Smooth. It's a jazz song and every city has its own rhythm. Especially Spain. 

I'm based in Madrid, clearly. Recently I took a trip up to the Basque Country. Made my way north. Some friends and I rented a car and took the long route through the mountains and Spanish pueblos. We drove through the clouds. We pulled over to watch the clouds rise up from behind a mountain. Some people watch sunsets, my amigas and I, we watch clouds. 

91AB965C-C623-4D6F-8F7D-1FC3BD37C4AD

We landed first in Bilbao and then hit San Sebastian. Bilbao was on my list. I created a Spanish travel list. It's not long, in fact only two places are on it.

  1. Bilbao
  2. Sevilla

I can't tell you what it is that captivates me about the names of these cities. I would be a happy girl going home in July having only seen these two cities in Spain. Though, I will have seen much more. 

The Basque Country speaks its own language.  The citizens have a unique accent. Their food is...interesting. They specialize in pintxos. These are small snacks that sit out all day long at bars. Spaniards will have a drink at eleven o' clock at night and munch on these plates that were made at nine in the morning that day. This includes eggs, fish, ham...and other categories that some might agree taste best fresh. I think we can all see where I stand on this issue. Not my fav. Culturally amazing, but not my fav. 

Bilbao is famous for the Guggenheim. It's a small city, but this museum is home to a few Pollock's. I didn't go in to the museum, I spent most of the time with the giant spider that chills behind it by the river. It's as weird as it sounds. I don't expect anything less, coming from an art center. 

San Sebastian had it's beach. One of Hemingway's go-to vacation spots, if anyone is curious. You can Google Image it. Something about lying down in the cold sand, the same spot Hemingway dug his feet into decades ago. I felt an overwhelming connection with this stranger of a writer I never met.

IMG_5414

Basque Country, Basque surfing. Just out here, keeping it trill. Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo 

IMG_5443

Top 5 Excuses NOT to Travel

Hey guys, it's Kimi again!

Just a recap, I was just accepted to the Teach in Spain 2 week immersion program for the 2017-2018 cohort. You may or may not know me, but one thing you should know is that I HATE excuses. They can put a halt to a great many wonderful things, like traveling and LIVING! My New Years’ Resolution is as follows: During our Teach in Spain Adventure, my boyfriend and I resolve to visit a minimum 12 other countries and over 30 cities! Nothing will stop us! I've been counting down the days to placement in May and departure in August, a lot of my friends have asked about the program and expressed their awe. The soft deadline is March 1st--what have you got to lose!? Even if you don't go to Spain, go somewhere! Listed below are 5 excuses I've heard a million times; excuses that I've also made, but will never make again!

Imgres

"I'm broke!"

Don't let money stop you! You HAVE TO BUDGET! After extensive research scouring blogs and books, I've found that exploring the world does not have to be expensive.  You can even enjoy some cities for cheap or even free. There are a lot of creative ways to save money! For example, with my regular paychecks at work, I have 80% directly deposited to my checking and the remaining 20% directly deposited to my savings. This little trick allowed me to save more than I ever have in my lifetime. If I don't have the money in my checking, I can't spend it! You have to know where your money is going. Maybe you DON'T need that extra $13 cocktail or the $3.00 guac. Check out these awesome budgeting templates from the Huffington Post here!

"An investment in travel is an investment in yourself!" - Matthew Karsten

Imgres

"Traveling abroad will hinder my success in the U.S.!"

Did you know that 75% of the CEOs leading Fortune 100 companies have international experience? You'll find that most employers value leadership, organization, self-starters, and people with excellent problem solving and communication skills! The challenge and experience of living abroad will certainly inject or increase these soft skills in you! Check out Forbes' Six Myths to Ignore About Working Overseas! UC Merced also released info on the benefits of having experience abroad. International experience doubled the chances of securing a job, imparted valuable job skills and secured higher salaries!

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

 

Imgres-2

"I'm too scared to fly!"

Did you know that you're actually more likely to be STRUCK BY LIGHTNING than to die in an airline accident? It's true! There's only a 1 in 8 million chance to die from a plane crash vs. a 1 in 6.3 million chance to get struck by lightning! Not to be bleak, but you're also more likely to die from drowning, a gunshot wound, a car accident, or heart disease...

“Man [and women] cannot discover new oceans unless he [or she] has courage to lose sight of the shore.” - Andre Gide

"I can't make a living out there!"

Sure you can! With programs like CIEE Teach Abroad you get a monthly stipend to teach English in many countries like Spain or Thailand. With great planning, this can pay out your monthly rent, phone service, transportation expenses and food! You can also pick up some extra cash by private tutoring. Since you only have a 16-hour workweek, that's an additional WHOLE day in your week to generate income & travel! You can also find REMOTE U.S. jobs, and/or blog for a living—see here: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/how-to-create-a-travel-blog/! 

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” –Susan Sontag

45774146

"I can't just leave everyone/thing behind!"

Hey! Don't think about it like that, but...YES YOU CAN. You will most certainly be missed. And you will also miss them...well maybe not the ones that never text back... But consider all of the experiences, growth, and knowledge you will obtain from taking the challenge of living in another country. Every single minute, $1.8 million is spent on travel, you are not alone! Plus, maybe you can bring a friend or (existing) significant other with you! The opportunity of a lifetime awaits you, and your community will welcome you home with open arms!

A wise anonymous human once said, "We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us."

Abrazos,

Kimi

Cage the Elephant

Similar to the Cheetah Girls, there is one more band that takes over the life of a millennial. Three words: Cage the Elephant. The truth, you are either team love or hate.

When I was in seventh grade, I was new to town. When everyone at the local bus stop would gossip, I had my headphones plugged in playing "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." 

That was over ten years ago, because I was a fan before their debut album dropped. 

Three Italians and I, made our way to Sala Riviera. We got lost, seven months in Madrid and still getting lost. You have no idea how many Concierto Riviera's there are in the La Latina barrio. Several.  A few times we had to use the aseos, this required stopping for cervezas because local shops obvi want our financial support first.  

We missed the first act, which I was personally okay with because I still don't remember their name. We arrived on time and I jammed out, singing every lyric, every word, with three Italians who were equally involved, but lacking similar memories that I used to connect with C.T.E.

D3465ADA-C071-4EF4-A930-332A4BEEAC2A

IMG_5114

The group members were lit. Matt and Brad Shultz, Daniel, Jared, and Lincoln. Lit names. First, I'm in love with Matt. He owned the stage. Everyone stood still, working their instruments, but Matt, he didn't stop to take a breath once. He ran from one side of the stage to the other, screaming "Nashville, Tennessee." He swung his arms everywhere in his "Tokyo" studded jacket. His flaming reddish hair dripped in sweat. Daniel stood right-downstage, strumming his bass guitar, lighting cigarettes, and living in the music he produced. 

The passion was there. I've seen Beyonce. I've seen T-Swift. I've even seen Kanye. They all bring it, they do. But Cage the Elephant was another level of beauty. 

One side of this story is, I'm in Madrid and I went to go see a band from Nashville Tennessee... I get it. The thing is, sometimes a taste of home in a foreign city can be comforting, even when you don't realize you need the comfort. Many times I forget celebrities have international fans. I think of Drake and I only picture Americans singing a long to his songs. I forget that Italy, China, Australia, Denmark, Chile, and more are singing the same chorus in another time zone, another hemisphere. To be placed in a pit of Spanish speakers all waving their arms and singing the wrong words to songs they maybe listened to as much as me, it was, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. 

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

Happy Birthday, Plaza Mayor! ¡Felicidades por 400 años!

So this year is the 400th anniversary of Plaza Mayor, and to celebrate, the city of Madrid put on an amazing light and projections show.

The projections told the story of Plaza Mayor from its founding to the present day. At one point the plaza went up in projected flames; at another it transformed into a music box. Standing in the square, surrounded by buildings, with projections on all four sides, it feels like being a part of the show. Having all the people in the plaza surrounded by the story turned the audience into active members of the show, shouting "bravo" or clapping or screaming in fright (the little girl next to me screamed the entire fire scene). It was very immersive, and a very cool example of bringing history to life (especially since it utilized such modern technology).

Here's a photo...

IMG_7465

...and a video from the show:

***Password to view is PlazaMayor400***

Happy 400th Anniversary, Plaza Mayor! May you be around for 400 more!

 

 

Around Town, Now Featuring: Rain

I tend to organize my days around meals. On the weekends, that means brunch and dinner. 

When I heard I needed a costume for my school's Carnaval celebration, the first place to look that popped into my head was El Rastro (a huge outdoor market right in the center of Madrid that runs 9am-2pm every Sunday--you're welcome). As my friend and I wanted brunch at a reasonable brunch time (which in Spain, is anywhere from 11-1:30), we decided we would rastro from 10ish-noon, then head to Panela (a not-too-pricey brunch place of dreams in the posh Salamanca neighborhood). 

As it turns out, if you head to El Rastro by passing through metro Embajadores, there are these amazing sections of wall painted in all different styles (by, I presume, different artists). They are stunning. 

Here're a couple photos:

 

IMG_7416
My friend the boat

 

IMG_7416
As they say, "a concrete jungle"

 

Anyway, we got a bit carried away playing with the murals. Which was fine until we realized we had paint/plaster ALL OVER US. It was somehow dry, yet still able to spread onto all of our clothing and purses. I fundamentally disagree with the formula and manufacturers of this wall paint. I for one certainly hope it was not certified as waterproof.

Anyway, after 20 minutes of tissue wiping and hand sanitizing, we were starting to get hungry, so we only ended up poking around the market for just a little over an hour, then were on our way to brunch.

So we arrived at Panela, only to find out that it is not open on Sundays. Heartbreak. Well, being the hungry munchkins we were, we quickly decided to go to another little place, Crepes and Waffles (a huge international chain that started in the Americas), which was a solid choice because their food (and waters! and juices!) are fantastic.

A sample:

 

IMG_7396
It's called "Hidrátate"

 

IMG_7396
Dessert (of course) 

As I was still costume-less due to our limited time at El Rastro, after brunch we popped into a little bazaar-market. I'm on a budget, so when I saw a €2 tiger tail there, that made my decision. I will be a tiger for my school's Carnaval celebration next week. Sunday shopping trip success.

The New Auxiliar in Town

One of our auxiliars had to return home for good over winter break, leaving my school short an assistant. Because of the short time from when the auxiliar notified the school she could not return after winter break to the start of classes in January, we had to find someone who was either an EU citizen or had legal permanent residence/visa that would allow that person to work in our school. Luckily, one of our teachers is married to an American citizen who was studying education in grad school. He was up for the job, and we met our new Auxiliar a couple weeks ago.

Which meant we could *finally* finish our meet the auxiliars bulletin board which we had been working on since October (a day in the life of an auxiliar at our school involves a lot of one-on-one time with students or lesson support with teachers and not much time for crafts). So when a fellow auxiliar and I had to come in our day off (we are making up some days), we got to work on all things decoration/motivational poster inspired.

How'd we do?

Image

 

City Life

Last week, a few friends and I decided to finally go to trivia night at J&J's Books and Coffee (J&J's is half bar-half bookshop run by English-speaking expats, unclear why they leave the key bar component out of their name). We hardcore bombed. The categories were World Leaders, Music, Complete the List, and Famous Painters. We, uh, got 10/40 right. However!!! That put us solidly in the middle of the pack (so it really was quite hard). We can't even use the excuse of the pub quiz being about Spanish history/pop-culture, as it was at J&J's, the expat bar. Oh well.

At the very least, we got some good Irish cider and incentive to return (we must redeem ourselves, after all!).

Oh, and the best part about J&J's pub quizzes? You grade each other's answers then and there after all the rounds are finished. Our neighbors were especially creative, citing a Wheat Thins lover as the artist who painted Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Snaps to them.

Image
 

Spanish Resolutions

I know I promised a post on my new years resolutions. Hinting at it the numerous times that I did. There's just a couple issues with that idea of a post which I didn't think about at the time. The good news, while teaching, something better got my attention. 

I gave my students an assignment to come up with three new years resolutions as a class. This took me about thirty minutes to carry out. This is because it takes me five minutes to get to class, four minutes to let the kids file in, another seven to take attendance, nine minutes to get them as close to under control as possible, and finally five minutes to give the assignment. Long story simplified: yes, it takes thirty minutes for me to say "I spent my New Year in Boston, these are my resolutions..." Teaching the lower levels ain't easy. I finally understand how my high school Latin teacher felt while trying to educate me. Probably no surprise I can only remember one word, "est" translates to "is" in the present tense. And even that might be wrong.

SO, I provided examples of my own:

  1. Eat healthier (more veggies)
  2. Exercise three times a week
  3. Travel around Spain
  4. Expand my vocabulary, both English and Spanish

^I call these my fake resolutions. Because I'm twenty three years old and I can promise you that eating healthier while living in Spain where three out of their five main dishes are deep fried in oil, and their only beverage being beer- it is just not going to happen right now.

I can't post my real resolutions in public, for reasons...

but these are my resolutions as sugared down that I could make them:

  1. Stop sending raunchy snapchats
  2. Free the Nip 
  3. Don't smoke as many cigarettes
  4. Eat more sushi

SO, I didn't get mad at my students for coming up with the following three resolutions as a class. I simply, just understood.

  1. Buy more video games
  2. Be rich
  3. Pass English class
  4. Eat more fish

I think I would be best friends with those angsty pre-teens if I was born post 2000 as well. I like where their mind is at. They never fail to send me surprises like this. Who would have thought, eat more fish and your life will be at peace.

Peace, Love, Fish.

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo 

Christmas Time in Madrid

Let's talk Christmas. Okay, so this might be late, but at least in Spain it's only 2 weeks late, not 3 or 4 as it would be in the U.S! This late post might come in handy though if you are thinking about teaching in Spain next year and are wondering about the holidays here. 

While it's of course going to be different from home, I still love Christmas in Spain. I love the lights strung up all over the streets, the giant Christmas trees in the plazas made out of lights, the Christmas markets that pop up, and chestnuts roasting on the streets. I also love that Christmas lasts at least a whole week longer with the celebration of 3 Kings Day on January 6th.

For those of you not familiar, 3 Kings Day is like their Christmas Day (although they also celebrate that sometimes with a gift or two from Santa Claus). The 3 wise men leave presents for the children and put candy in their shoes. The children leave out water for the camels and treats for the wise men. There is also typically a parade the night before with the 3 wise men "arriving" to the city and throwing candy to the children watching giddily in the crowds. 

Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

This is my second Christmas in Spain, but my first in Madrid, which is a whole other ball game. For the month of December and the first week of January, tourists pour into the city and swarm the more popular locations. As teaching assistants, we get almost two and a half weeks off from school between Christmas and 3 Kings Day, as well as almost a week off at the beginning of December for a Madrid holiday, so I spent a fair amount of time traveling (to Austria for the Christmas markets and Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister who lives there) in order to take advantage my time and avoid the craziness of the crowds in Madrid. I did, however, enjoy the Christmas-y things in Madrid while here and even made it back for the 3 Kings parade. 

At school, all of us assistants did Christmas activities with all of our classes, which ranged from making origami stars in Art to watching The Grinch and doing Secret Santa gift exchanges with the students. On Wednesday before Christmas, the teachers invited us to a nice lunch with them in celebration of the holiday and on Thursday, a half day at school, the students took on the parents, teachers, and assistants in volleyball and basketball matches. If you are thinking about traveling early and making up some of the days ahead of time at school, be sure to check with your coordinator to make sure first that it's okay, but second, that you aren't going to miss out on all of the fun there. 

For those of you planning on being here in Madrid in the near future for the Christmas season, here are some suggestions for surviving and enjoying your time:

1. If you feel averse to crowds, avoid Sol and Plaza Mayor.

2. Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are out and about in excess during this time. 

3. If you plan on traveling or going home for break, buy your tickets several months in advance. You'll get better prices and better choices of flights.

4. Buy tickets online ahead of time for the Navibus. For only 2 euros, you can go on a bus tour of all the Christmas lights in the city. Just don't make the mistake I did of thinking you could buy a ticket once you got to the bus or of thinking that you could buy a ticket last minute as they sell out really quickly. 

5. Have fun exploring the Christmas markets, shops, and nativity scenes around the city. Don't get your hopes up too high for the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor, but it's still fun to go and people watch. 

6. Europe has some pretty amazing Christmas markets in other countries as well, which I highly recommend checking out.

7. To put yourself more in the Christmas mood, go ice skating in one of the temporary rinks they have set up for the season, grab some hot chocolate from Starbucks, or get churros y chocolote from San Gines (note: hot cocoa and chocolate are two VERY different things here in Spain! Think hot cocoa vs. drinkable warm chocolate pudding). 

8. Eat 12 grapes, as is tradition here, with the strokes of the clock at midnight for New Year's. 

9. Go see the 3 Kings parade. There's quite a crowd, but you can go early or go further up the parade route for a better view. It's worth seeing at least once. Plus, there's free candy being thrown at you. =) 

10. Spend time with loved ones and family. It's Christmas, after all. 

 

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, outdoor Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoor

Until next time, 

Rebekah

Keep Me Updated