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Pre Departure Craziness

When you're about to depart to Spain for a year, try not to procrastinate. I'm going to try to make your last few months a bit less hectic than mine.

When I needed to get the background check, I waited until the last minute. That costed me $150 to get expedited. Had I done it sooner, I wouldn't have had to pay so much. I got the fingerprint background check from Print Scan other than the rush it was pretty easy.

When I needed to get my Long Stay Student Visa, no appointments would open up. I honestly believe that they are lying about how booked they are but that's a different story. It ended up coming down to the last 3 weeks before I leave and I had to use the assistance of CIEE to get an appointment. Luckily, Samantha with CIEE was very helpful and clearly has some pull with the New York Consulate. Once I emailed her saying I couldn't get an appointment she was on it and got me one the following week. It took 6 days from my appointment to have the visa ready to be picked up. I wouldn't leave it until the last week though. When you go to the consulate, you need $160 via a money order only, 2 passport sized photos, and everything else CIEE tells you you'll need. There is a post office down the block that you can get your money order from should you find yourself only finding out in the city when you're just about to arrive. Also, if you book the wrong appointment they will not see you at all so don't even try it in desperate times. It must be a Long Stay Visa, DOUBLE CHECK.

I'm not too sure if I'll need it but I picked up an international drivers license from AAA. It costed $20 and you need 2 passport sized photos. I found out after the fact that they can take them there for $8 of course, I went to CVS and got them for $14. 

If you take the CIEE TEFL Course for $1,000 it is a pretty easy course. It takes up a good amount of time each week but it's really just clicking through slides with little quizzes here and there. At the end of each week there is an assignment which is never too difficult, just a bit time consuming. If you stay on top of it, you should be fine. If you have past schooling to become a teacher, it helps too.

This is my first blog post with more to come and hopefully it helps anyone out that is thinking of embarking on this journey, If you have any questions just ask in a comment!

 

Bienvenidos!

Hi everyone, happy Wednesday and welcome to my travel blog! 

For those of you who don't know me my name is Corinne Dabran and I am a (soon to be) ESL Teacher in Madrid, España through CIEE. I am a recent graduate from the University of Cincinnati (Go Bearcats!) and I hold a degree in Marketing, Spanish, and a Business Spanish Certificate. Right before the start of my last semester of college, I finally decided what I wanted to do with my life and that is education, primarily focused on the Spanish language and second language acquisition (SLA).

My flight is in 28 days (but who's counting, right?) and I could NOT be more excited to start this journey. Last summer I participated in a study abroad with UC and lived in Madrid for 6 weeks and knew the second I came back to the states that I had to go back, it felt like I had left my home behind me. Once I found out about the opportunity to teach English abroad, I knew it was a sign that I was meant to go back and begin my career path in education. 

I invite you all to follow me on this experience for the next ten months as I (once again) explore Spanish culture, food, customs, cities, and everything and anything that Spain, Europe, and wherever else I make it has to offer. At some point in time there may be videos posted to my youtube account as I really want to vlog and document my travels, but I will keep my blog updated with any videos I may add! 

Stay tuned for some ~always exciting~ pre-departure posts, including tips and tricks on handling a Visa appointment, packing, and traveling internationally.

Qué pases un día muy maravilloso! xx

Summer is coming!

Well, it’s a fact, the end of the school year universally equates to the total breakdown of routine and a mass quantity of insanity.  As summer break draws closer, the weather gets nicer, students get more antsy and teachers get more relaxed.  We finished the last of the exams and projects the first two weeks of June, leaving our last week of class for review, games and fun (also known as “complete and utter chaos”).  It was a blast!  For my classes, it was a week where anything seemed to go.  I had the chance to do games, practice routine questions, help with art activities, join in a massive water fight and even compete in a students vs teachers football game (which we won, 3-2).  We even made affirmation sheets for all of the students, that were then laminated for the students to take home as a reminder of the year and all the good that their classmates see in them.  

As the last week of classes began, it hit me that both of the 2nd grade teachers that I had primarily been working with would not be returning in the fall to work with me or the students. I wanted to do something for them to remember our classes by, so I made the decision that the classes would create a “class” painting.  Of course I decided this on Wednesday, so Thursday and Friday were a bit more hectic than they would have been otherwise... but in the end, it was a project worth doing!

As I worked with each student, one more time, individually, I was able to take some time to appreciate just how much they have taught me the past 9 months...  Even the most challenging student has his or her own streak of greatness and, as an educator, I hope I can always seek out that greatness and celebrate it.  I hope that I can always see the beauty behind the mess and the child behind the reaction.  

I look forward for the adventures to come but, for now, I am excited to celebrate the summer that’s here!  

-Stephanie

(2 Tim. 4:7)

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First Post- An Introduction

Hey All (and by that I mean the few people who will read this),

In a little less than 2 months I will be leaving to live and teach in a country I have never been to, and one in which I barely speak the language. I have always wanted to travel, but something has always held me back (mostly $$).  I moved from Massachusetts to Florida a few years ago to work for Disney. I was sick of the winters that MA had to offer, so I packed up my car and moved to the Sunshine State. I didn't last long with Disney because that whole $$ thing again. I went back to being a nanny which I had done for 8 years prior. I have been with the most INCREDIBLE family I could imagine for the last 2 years, but my kids are in school full time and now I am looking to do some of that traveling I've always wanted to do.

I chose Spain because I've had a slight obsession with it for the past 14 years, due to my insane love of Rafael Nadal. Who can blame me?! I have had goals of wanting to learn a new language, travel a lot, travel alone, go to a country that doesn't speak my language, and work in a new country for a while now. I am so excited I can finally work on making these things a reality.

Those who know me are well aware I'm not big on pictures. I don't take selfies, and I don't like photos being taken of me. Most pictures I take are of really random stuff that doesn't interest many people but myself. I am hoping this blog will force me to take more pictures than I'm used to. Something tells me there are a lot of bigger things that will be pushing me outside of my comfort zone than a few pictures.

I hope I will be somewhat entertaining and informative! 
~Danny


Teacher Spotlight: Kamalía Alcantara

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Name: Kamalía Alcantara

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

CIEE Teach Term: Oct 2017-June 2018, Teach in Spain Immersion

Location in Spain (Neighborhood or Town): Salamanca, Madrid

Why did you want to teach English in Spain? What did you hope to learn, gain and contribute? Honestly, I wanted to immerse in a different culture and improve my Spanish speaking/understanding skills. I wanted a change. I wanted to see more of the world--yet still somehow positively contribute to it. What better way than to teach in Europe!

I hoped to learn more Spanish, gain more friends and cultural capital and contribute my expertise in American culture and language and share my passion for education to a new generation of young Spanish citizens, empowering them to achieve upward mobility for themselves and their future families.

Tell us about your daily routine as an English teacher. What was a “typical day” like? I don't have what you might call a "typical day" since my schedule is different Monday-Thursday, but--I will give you a snapshot! My full day contains 6 classes, 45 minutes each: 9:00am-11:15am (3 classes), 30-min break, 11:45am-12:30 (1 class), 2-hour lunch, 2:30-4:00pm (2 classes). Thursdays I only come in 9:00am-12:30pm and I'm OFF on Fridays! Typically, I go into school at 9:00am and wait with my 2nd or 4th grade students in line, talking to them, hugging and kissing them back. I might be asked to lead class and reinforce their learning on sea animals, vertebrates, or body parts, or I am tasked with choosing 2-3 students at a time and playing an English game with them at the back of the class or helping them read while the lead teacher teaches. I may also accompany the 2nd graders on their bi-monthly field trips! 28 out of my 30 2nd graders LOVE to learn English with me & each morning I am bombarded by tiny laughing humans with surprisingly strong hugs. 

If you want an in-depth look of a typical day, ninja jump HERE

What is the funniest thing a student said while you were teaching? Oh gosh, I stay cracking up daily from my students' antics and the things they say.  I literally "LOL" 2,908 times per day... The funniest...is always when they ask outlandish questions about my life in the U.S. Randomly, while I was teaching 2nd graders about invertebrates and vertebrates, one of them raised his hand and shouted out (in his cute heavy Spanish accent, half in Spanish and half in English), "Teacher, have you eaten dinner with President Obama?!" or when I told them I partially grew up in California, they all assumed I was a former actress... ???

Budapest

What advice would you give to an incoming CIEE teacher in Spain? Make friends, try new foods and new activities, celebrate Spanish culture and still celebrate your holidays in your own way, see Europe and Africa (it's affordable!), be flexible--it can be both frustrating and fulfilling to work with the Spanish students, admin and teachers, DO take selfies, post and share pictures...but try with all your might to be present and let yourself learn, grow and empower others. 

What are your plans after your teaching commitment in Spain? After my Spanish journey comes to a bittersweet end on June 30th, I will return home to Phoenix. I plan to continue my passion of narrating Audiobooks and voice acting, continuing to blog about travel and cultural resources and traveling the world when I can! 

Do you have anything additional you’d like to share? Want even MORE reasons for teaching abroad? Here are 9 reasons you should DROP EVERYTHING and teach abroad!

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As Time Goes By...

Well, here we are with less than 4 weeks left of actual classes and it leaves me feeling reflective.  I feel as though it was only a few weeks ago that we were arriving in Madrid in the sweltering heat of mid-September and now I’m looking at all that I’ve managed to accumulate (and the two fairly small bags I have to fit everything in) and trying to determine when I REALLY need to start packing.

A lot has happened in the past 8 months.  I have become a more flexible person - I have learned to adapt to changes in the blink of an eye as well thought-out lesson plans flopped with 35 minutes left in a 45-minute class (yup, that was rough).  I have grown more confident in my ability to discern how to handle a chaotic classroom, as I continue to gain patience and creativity daily. I have become more engaged, more excited, more invested in the students.  The little accomplishments of a student who has been struggling in class have become the motivation to keep trying on days when I’m tired.

When I decided to move to Madrid and begin working as an auxiliar, I had no idea what I would be getting into.  I had heard many different people share various experiences - some positive and others not so much - and I wasn’t sure where I would find myself.  Would I become one of those auxiliars who sat in the back of a classroom, unutilized by the teacher? Or would I be overwhelmed with the tasks that were assigned to me by a teacher that was so eager to share the workload?  Would I know what to do?

The most important thing that I learned was how critical communication between the auxiliars and the classroom teachers is.  One of the auxiliars at my school just finished writing her thesis on this exact subject and we have spent a fair bit of time discussing how much this one aspect - communication - can drastically alter one’s experience.  By taking the time to get to know the teachers with whom I’m working and discussing expectations, goals and the like, I have established a strong working relationship and have gained a great deal of hands-on knowledge.  To take the time and talk with someone can make a greater difference than you might ever expect.  So, whatever your situation, wherever you are, make sure to be open to communicate... you could learn a lot.

...

I came to Spain hoping to gain some unknown insight as to my future.  Now, as I prepare to pack my stuff up for the summer, I still remain uncertain as to where my future may lead.  But, I can say that, overall, I have a more peaceful acceptance of my situation than I did a year ago.  (Maybe the whole Spanish culture is starting to rub off on me?!).  And, who knows what the next months or years may bring?  Feel free to stay tuned and find out... 

-Stephanie
(Mt. 28:20b)

 

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Madrid Burger Quest 2018: Part I

It’s time to talk about burgers.  Specifically burgers in Madrid. AKA HEAVEN.

This project has been a long time coming for me, a self-proclaimed burger fanatic.  I haven’t always been obsessed. I used to just be in love. But the love has transformed over time into fanaticism.  Not the kind that drives you crazy, but the kind that’s always there, always reminding you that it is there. I’ve been told lately that my go-to foods are: burgers, pizza, and pasta.  I’ll take it.

It was a Saturday.  The plan had been floating in the air for a few days--commence the Madrid Burger Tour on Saturday--but I hadn’t done much planning.  I had, however, done a lot of research. In my phone there has always been a list of burgers to try in Madrid; in my heart, always a yearning.  Waking up that Saturday, it just felt right. Today would be the day. The day of all days.

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Before leaving, I wrote down the date and six spots to try.  Part of me wanted to achieve all six by the end of the day. The other part of me knew I was being overambitious.  Another part of me just wanted to list all of the burgers I want to try. I sectioned off three stops and ordered them.  They fell into place geographically by chance; I didn’t really care if I had to pass spot C to go to spot A and then pass spot C again to get to spot B.  This route was not about efficiency. I’m happy to report, though, that it ended up being efficient.

I embarked on my Madrid hamburger route with my hungry sidekick, a small notebook, an inky pen, and hunger on a Saturday around 4 o’clock in the afternoon--a good time because though the menús are coming to an end, the burger places are still cookin’, still beckoning people in with the smells of patties, buns, ketchup and cheesy goodness.

First check-in:  New York Burger. [Everything in quotes is directly from my handy-dandy notebook]

I’m not sure what I expected.  Kitschy names like that, well, I always appreciate ‘em.  But could whatever this place was serving really earn the title New York Burger???

4:20pm -- Arrived at New York Burger.  It took a bit of time to be attended to by the host, but finally we were told it’d be a five-minute wait.  I’m starting to realize that most places in Madrid tell you it will be a five or ten-minute wait, even if it really will be twenty or more.  I’m down to play naive for food!

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The place smelled “nice,” as I wrote in my notes, and was “chill but crowded.”  In my notebook, I express some concern that the place would close in 30 minutes, so we’d look at the menu while waiting to not lose any time.  “Smells delicious,” I later amend to my earlier “smells nice” comment. But, and a big “but” here, “maybe clouded by starvation.” If I had arrived full, would it have smelled as great?  Some of these questions may never be answered.  

4:36pm -- Seated!  The usual debate ensued: do we order just a burger?  Or do we order plates of other delectable fried goods?  But that would make us too full. We need to experience the burger and just the burger in all of its singular wonder.  Ok. Just the burger. But now which one? Which one??? The age-old question. “Leaning towards ‘Meat Packing’--> double meat, double cheddar, salsa ‘NYB’ sounds like it’ll give us what they have to offer.”  One of the great parts about this place is that they go full-throttle on the New York theme. All of the burgers are named after something New-Yorky. There’s the Chinatown with noodles on it, the Little Italy with parmesan, basil and semi-dried tomato, the Park Avenue with foie and roasted apple compote.  The Meat Packing was listed under “Hamburguesas Prime” for only €1,00 more and sounded promising.

4:45pm -- Ordered.  According to my notebook, my patience was waning.  Luckily we were given two glasses of H2O immediately.  “Side dish ordered?  Patatas fritas, come on.”  There’s free wifi that’s easy to access, the water glasses were giant, and I wondered how they chose those glasses.  Perhaps because they are so heavy, they won’t break easily?

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4:56pm -- “Burger arrives.  Wrong one. Then correct one comes out, looks delicious.  Small amount of bacon, dollop of sauce on top of bun” which is facing up next to the patty on the other half of the bun.  “Fries look banging. Cheese amazing-looking.” My sidekick says the cheddar is real--a helpful and knowledgeable sidekick who knows just when to chime in.  Though they were slightly under room-temperature, the fries were delicious and well-salted.

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5:06pm -- “Plate is ridiculously clean.  Burger was AMAZING. Perfectly juicy and compact.”  Juice was running down my fingers, hand-wipes were given for good reason, the burger did not need ketchup or any other taste, it was incredible.  “I finished before my fast-eating companion. Incredible.” INCREDIBLE, I TELL YOU! I’m itching to go back and fulfill both my craving and curiosity: will it be as good as the first time?  We shall see.

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I spend the next page and a half of my notebook musing on what I had just experienced.  The fries tasted a bit like oil but they were still delicious and perfectly cut. Apparently I licked my fingers and palms and entire hands.  “So amazing @ end was looking for more, so I licked knife that had [been used to] cut burger initially. Used juice on plate for sopping up with fries.”  I appreciated the wipes and was sad it was over. “Half-birthday dinner will be here.” I was already planning. The bun was well-chosen and not too large as to overpower everything it cradled.  Then again, it was a double patty.

5:14pm -- Two candies given with the bill, €12,40.  “Hard to leave,” I wrote.

Meat Packing: Double meat, 125g each, double cheddar, caramelized bacon, NYB sauce, always served al punto.

While walking to the next place, I was overcome with emotion.  I stopped on the street a few times to write down thoughts I had post-burgerjoy.  I noted that we had eaten halves, how that may alter the experience because you don’t have to start from the outside working your way in.  The presentation wasn’t perfect, that dollop of sauce on the bun had to be swirled around before placement. The bacon portion was small. “Good to have bit of a walk between places.”  My companion, in an effort to salvage the image of Meat Packing, mentioned that the sauce oozed around. But I was thinking of the potential issues with my process. “This whole thing depends on angle you take on experience.”  

My sidekick luckily burped up some of the burger.  I was jealous they got an extra taste. “Unfair.”

5:48pm -- Arrived at Bacoa.  A highly anticipated arrival.  I’d seen solid reviews from a solid amount of reviewers.  

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Now, this was one of those places created on the “Burger Bubble.”  The “Burger Bubble” is the explosion of corporatey burger spots. These are the places that have tried their darndest to adjust for all kinds of issues, the places that want to maximize performance and efficiency at the same time, the places that have thick portfolios in black binders with the large three rings explaining the psychology behind how people order and the justification for this kind of sauce and not that one, this type of bun, but not that one.  They offer all they have on a sheet of paper for you to choose from by drawing a checkmark in tiny boxes with the tiny eraser-less pencils they offer. The less social interaction between burger management and burger customer the better. They try to show off with their fancy shiny TV screens and they want you to know, no, they need you to know, that they have done everything they can to ensure what you eat has made it to your plate only after the most environmentally-friendly, people-friendly, workplace-friendly journey.  Are you getting the vibe of this place? Oh, and it’s spotlessly clean, which, those of you who know me, may think I’d appreciate, but come on! We all have dust in our corners!

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So, the place is empty when we get there, which was lucky, because it’s right next to Sol, so it has the potential to be absurdly crowded.  There are picnic-style tables, with long, thick chestnut benches. They’ve also already thought through the entire seating process, of course, so there are baskets beneath the benches for your bags.  As a safety-first person, there was no way I was going to put my bag in a bin out of sight beneath my seat, but I appreciated their thoughtfulness.

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5:56pm -- Ordered.  I was into the jabby “quips via written word,” for example, under their listing of french fries they wrote “never frozen.”  There was a flatscreen TV playing a montage of burgers cooking. I got suckered into adding truffle mayo to the fries for an extra charge.  I was really not into the benches; it wasn’t simple to contort my leg in the precise way it’d fit underneath the table. “For a place into recycling, you’d expect a non-gendered bathroom, but alas…”  Free wifi available.

6:08pm -- Burger arrives.  “Sizable patty. Thick and juicy-looking.  Portion of fries doesn’t look worth €2,50, but mustard well-draped over pickles.  Yellow and white cheese looks good, bun looks pretty thick/brioche-y but could be good for thick patty.  Writing while eating -- says something.”

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The truffle mayo was incredible, but things kept falling out of the burger in pieces.  The pickles were those sweet kinds that I don’t love but can appreciate. I couldn’t really taste the cheese, but it was a good burger.  The fries--unimpressive. The truffle mayo was the standout. The mustard was good as well. The meat wasn’t as juicy as New York Burger’s and I had to fight the urge to schmear the truffle mayo on the last bite of the burger.

I kept writing about the significance of the truffle mayo as the standout.  “Nuff said.” My companion agreed that Bacoa was “less special.” New York Burger had set the bar ridiculously high.  Could anything ever live up to that???? Additionally, the bathrooms weren’t up to the standards of the main floor. The reviews were stellar for Bacoa, so I was kind of surprised.  I figure because it’s near Sol it attracts a lot of attention. And it’s not bad, so the heavily populated area nearby plus the quality gets it those tons of good reviews. “Flavorless fries, not thrilled that we finished them...I had truffle mayo plain.”  If I’m upset about finishing a plate of fries………………………………………………………………………………………………...

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At this point, I write “[NYB does NY proud].”

7:00pm -- We walked by Mad Waffle and wondered why we weren’t doing a waffle tour.  Bacoa had let our minds wander…

7:34pm -- Arrived at SteakBurger.  It had the usual condiments, plus a fiery chilli ketchup.  The menu is a metal slab. You feel as though you’ve arrived at a burger factory.  The place was fairly empty because, again, odd time of day. It was easy to choose what to order -- the SteakBurger with caramelized onion, monterey jack cheese, and STB sauce.  I’m a sucker for that mystery sauce that’s always named after the place and always is some combo of ketchup and mayo in different proportions, or it’s just Russian dressing.

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The waitress and my sidekick were concerned that the 160g patty wouldn’t be enough, so we upped it to 250g, with fries.  

The metal chairs weren’t the most comfortable things I’ve ever sat upon, but the booths looked plump.  Wifi is accessible.

7:55pm -- Burger arrived.  It was another follower of the trend, presented split into two.  The bun with the patty was smothered in cheese and the usuals--lettuce and tomato.  The amount of caramelized onion was “not overly generous.” Those “usuals” are not my usuals, and it didn’t look wonderful, but the bun with seeds looked fluffy.  “Fries look yum but look a bit undercooked.” Fun shape for the fries, though! Like little leaf boats to ship the condiments into your mouth.

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The sauce oozed out upon cutting and it smelled delicious.  The meat was juicy, but not too juicy, and the onions weren’t too sweet but added a nice sweetness.  Delicious meat on that burger and overall a really yummy burger. Unfortunately there was a lot of cheese concentrated at the edges, so it was too easy to get a lot off in one bite.  But I loved the special sauce, a Russian dressing-type. Though I’d eaten everything off the burger by the last few bites, they were still delicious.

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At this point I mused.  How hard it was to boil places down to one, single menu item!  “But you do get the gist,” I reassured myself.

SteakBurger got points for airing women’s basketball on their TV, though I assume unknowingly.

8:10pm -- Food over.  

SteakBurger had my favorite atmosphere of the three because New York Burger was a bit dim.  Bacoa felt too commercial/inhuman/touristy. SteakBurger is definitely always filled with tourists, though.  

Interestingly, New York Burger felt kind of local.  It looked like families had come in for a Saturday lunch together.  Now you know my weekend plans. The burger quest in Madrid has only just begun.

Touristing

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In the several months leading up to my parents’ visit to Madrid, all my chocolate-crazed mom could talk about was how excited she was to try churros and chocolate for the first time.

On their first day here, she passed a churrería-chocolatería that had creme-filled and chocolate dipped churros in their display case and quite literally jumped for joy. She was then shocked to discover that I have never tried filled or dipped churros. How could I live in a land where those existed and never have had them?

That got me thinking. Despite being the chocoholic that I am, I realized that in the eight months that I’ve lived in Spain, I’ve only had churros three times. Three. And all three of those times were in my first month of being here. It didn’t make sense, because there is nothing I love more than a steaming cup of thick, rich, and creamy hot chocolate. So why had I stopped going for churros con chocolate?

And then it hit me: getting churros felt like something a tourist does. And after just one month of living in Madrid, I had stopped “touristing.”

Throughout the rest of my parents’ trip, that realization continued to be reinforced. Guiding my parents through Madrid’s major sights and watching them marvel at their quaint European and Spanish charm, I noticed just how normal and natural those wonders felt to me now.

At first I was worried that this meant I no longer appreciated how lucky I am to be living in Spain - that I took it all for granted. But in actuality, I think my feeling so settled and comfortable in Madrid is proof of how far I’ve come. I’ve moved to a new continent and have been living in a different country, surrounded by a foreign language and culture, and have successfully adapted and adjusted to the differences. What an accomplishment. 

While I still love being a tourist in other cities around Spain and throughout Europe, I’m very grateful that my "touristing" days in Madrid are over and I've graduated to simply "living."

The Countdown has started!! Yahooo! Ole!
Spain Gear Ready! baby

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Puentes Galore!

O ‘tis but a joy to be an auxiliar.  Oh the places you’ll go. The puentes you’ll have!  Who could complain?

This past puente I found myself visiting a friend in Geneva.  Random. YES! But that’s what’s exciting about living here. You take those kinds of trips that you probably wouldn’t if you were flying to another continent for a week’s vacation from work.  I’d never been to Switzerland before and was very excited to add another country to the list!

Traveling is exhilarating.  There is always something new to see, to eat, to hear.  It’s a full sensory experience. Switzerland has such an interesting mix of languages and people.  At the airport there was a sign saying “Bienvenue. Welcome. Wilkommen.”

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That night my friend took me to an outdoor market with little stands from which to buy olives, cheeses, breads, beers, wines, everything!  Heaven! And it was crowded with people standing everywhere and sitting all over the ground with their cheese plates, antipasti platters, beers, and wines.  Thankfully my friend is a fluent French speaker, so I could just relax and enjoy the eating.

We had an incredible cheese plate -- my favorite was the Gruyere.  The land of Gruyere. I had a dream to visit Gruyères and the chocolate factory nearby in Broc, but wasn’t sure it would work out because of transit and money.  I had given up the dream until I was reminded of rental cars. What an invention, right? We would rent a car Sunday to drive to the chocolate factory and Gruyères.  And then of course all of these other options piled on the visit-plate: Charlie Chaplin’s world near Montreux, Montreux--home of all things jazz, the Queen Studio Experience, a lake promenade.  Too much, as usual. I’ve found myself more on the side of hustling on trips than on the relaxation side. And I’m not unhappy about it!

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So, Friday we wanted to go to Bern.  We didn’t buy the tickets ahead of time.  Switzerland is NOT a cheap country. I repeat:  Switzerland is a VERY EXPENSIVE country. But what could we do?  We were only there this one time. So we bit the bullet and bought tickets that morning at the station.  I can’t share the price. It was worth it, regardless.

At the train station we purchased some snacks as the ride from Geneva to Bern is just under 2 hours.  I had a gut feeling I should get the pastrami sandwich on a light brown bread. Looked like there were greens in it and some sauce.  We also got a mini quiche. WOW!!!! The pastrami sandwich was incredible! I can taste it as I write this. If only I could ship them in tons to me.  If only…

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So, the train ride was entertaining and not just because of the snacks.  The train chugs (in a 21st-century sense) right along the lake and my goodness how gorgeous it is.  Oh and also the Alps are there. THE ALPS. I’ve never seen anything like it. For those of you who think “mountains are mountains, come on.”  No. Just, no. These mountains are incredibly and overwhelmingly gorgeous, pointed, intimidating, lovely. I gotta say I could not stop thinking about the Disney Matterhorn while there.  Disney really does an incredible job of evoking the aesthetic of a place…

The train ride was an attraction in itself (another justification for the price of the tickets).  We arrived in Bern and I was googly-eyed. I just love being in a new place--such a funny concept for me, so anti-change, so into the new.  Now that I’m home I can’t remember how I became aware of a museum pass. Oh I think it was some online research on the train. This was one of the least-planned trips I’ve ever taken.  [We had a hotel booked in Barcelona for Monday-Wednesday, but no travel booked to get there hahaha, it’s funny now looking back hahaha.] So the museum pass! We calculated it made sense to get it, so we went to the tourist office at the station.  What a joy to have a credit-card-like card just for museums. It was incredible to waltz into a museum, show the card, and be granted access immediately.

Our first stop was the Zentrum Paul Klee.  I didn’t love it, but the setting is beautiful.  You have to take a bus from the station to the museum and that’s very easy to do.  There was an exhibition devoted to Down syndrome and an exhibition on Klee’s work during WWI--a bit uncomfortable because he was drafted into the German army.  The museum seems to be a spot for events more than for the Klee work (though I’m sure Klee specialists are thrilled with it). The building designed by Renzo Piano was the most intriguing part of the visit--three metallic gray slopes in the middle of the hills, the modern in the natural and the natural in the modern.

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After the Klee stuff, we took the bus back down to the Bärenpark.  The symbol of Bern is the brown bear, and so they are known for this bear pit, literally.  We passed a mini stone pit but saw no bears. We realized there why some would be upset by the treatment of the bears.  I had read that there was a new home for the bears that was more suitable. I desperately wanted to see the bears, but among the trees next to the river, we saw nothing.  Then! The bear! Napping in the shade! Couldn’t get a good photo. Of course upon walking away from the bears we see that two of the three bears are right there out in the open next to the bridge.  Bears, check. Lovely meeting you, Bjork, Finn, and Ursina.

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We walked onto the main drag and passed so many shops, so many well-dressed people, so many “classy” restaurants.  We saw a lot of these doors that opened to what seemed like an underground cellar where the monsters hide in horror films but these turned out to be steps leading down under the street to shops, cafes, etc.  That seemed to be a popular thing. We passed the Einstein house and popped in (covered by our museum pass). Einstein lived in Bern for a bit. Some places will really really take advantage of any big name that can be associated with it.

We continued and found a beautiful chocolate shop with a beautiful tiny sandwich on pretzel bread.  Delicious. It had the magic touch of a pickle.

We then found a cafe and took a chance on a good looking apricot cake.  Not my favorite flavor, but it looked good. It was incredible. Fresh, soft, not dry, delicious.  AMAZING.

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We trekked onward towards the famous clock.  Passed a shop with a beautiful display of buttons, arranged by color.  Once we got closer to the clock we saw that it was covered with a sheet.  A trompe l’oeil! I’d been fooled!

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The Kunstmuseum had an amazing exhibition on the works discovered in the apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt, son of Hildebrand Gurlitt--art dealer for the Nazis during WWII.  I was impressed by the museum’s openness to present their work as it is--in the process of determining provenance. It’s kind of a mystery why Cornelius Gurlitt bequeathed the art to the Kunstmuseum in Bern, and they mention that.  Every work has a label telling you they know who it was stolen from, if it was stolen, if it wasn’t, etc. It was special to be there for this show.

I’m gonna skip ahead to the snacks we purchased for the train ride home.  There’s an incredible (yes, I’ve overused this word) chain of quick-stop food called Brezelkonig.  How I wish they existed elsewhere. We got a Raclette Pretzel and a hot dog stuffed inside a pretzel bun.  They had all kinds of pretzels, but I can attest to the goodness of the raclette option. And the hot dog one.  Wow.

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In Geneva we took a boat tour on the lake, we walked around the old town, we saw the university.  We passed all the watch companies you can name in 10 seconds and some immaculate chocolate shops. Major food stop in Geneva was a crepe cafe.  We had a waffle with salted caramel topping and two crepes: one with spinach, egg, gruyere and ham, the other with banana and chocolate. Oh and chantilly cream--one of my weak spots.  I too am laughing at myself for writing about food this much, go ahead, it’s okay.

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Geneva wasn’t my favorite city, but I’m still glad I saw it.  Au revoir for now!

A Week's Vacation in Three Parts: Cantabria

Spring has sprung in Madrid.  The smell of olives is wafting into my apartment.  People have morphed into vultures, circling around the cafe terrazas waiting to pounce on a free table.  The sky is lit until 9pm, deceiving you into thinking you could sit out until it got dark and still have time to accomplish everything you want to that evening.  So I’m in vacation mode and would like to return to the roadtrip. Part Two. Cantabria.

Teleférico of Fuente De.  The teleférico of fuente de.  Wow. What words are there to describe it?  High up. Snow. Mountains. Words not usually associated with me, but that day, they were.

We arrived in sneakers and well I guess we weren’t dressed properly for the skiing, wood cabin, put-up-a-fire-and-let’s-have-some-hot-cocoa mountain look, so we went into the trunk in the parking lot and I pulled out my winter hat.  Still in sneakers, we ascended the stairs to the entrance amongst a crowd of winter-hatted others with chunky boots and cameras. Does that age people now? To say they have a camera? Yikes. We had our disposable ones :) I digress.  Luckily there weren’t a lot of people because it was early. Perhaps also some stayed away because they thought it would be foggy. We were so lucky. Bright blue sky, bright sun, bright white mountains.

Now this is not a cheap experience.  17€ round trip. But it was worth it for me.  I’m not often up in the snow-capped mountains taking chairlifts up hills to ski down, let alone in one of Spain’s national parks--Los Picos de Europa--with access to one of the major tourist highlights.

Initially, I couldn’t see the thing.  I couldn’t see a cable in the air, or poles, or something moving, nothing.  Just gigantic mountains and little dark spots of trees poking out like hairs.  After paying for the ticket, I watched as a red, white, and blue box-like thing was lowered into the loading dock.  I was gonna get on THAT???? I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. It didn’t even stop swinging a bit, so when you get on, your foot is not in the spot you thought it would be when you picked it up to put it on.  Am I being dramatic? Absolutely. Did it feel this dramatic? Absolutely.

Before I could change my mind, the door closed and we were ascending.  I just kept thinking don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down. I don’t think I did.  I was looking up and straight ahead. It was getting brighter and brighter as more and more of the mountain range revealed itself.  Always hiding from people, make you work hard to see it.

At the top I breathed air like I’ve never before.  Both literally how I breathed and the air I breathed.  Full, crisp, intoxicating. To be eye-to-eye with the mountains was to soar.  If I had done nothing else “exciting” the whole trip, I would’ve been beyond content to have just experienced this.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in the gift shop (only after 200 photos, of course).  And then nearby there was a small room with photographs documenting the history of the teleférico.  I was reassured reading about the two ways you can be saved if your cable car stops in the middle.  It's clear that this attraction is a jewel of the region.

On the way back down I felt confident.  I had conquered. Triumphant, I looked down on the way down.  Before I knew it, I was back on the ground looking up at those glorious mountains I had just had the pleasure of meeting.  The world is open.

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