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Eating My Way Across Europe

Why travel if you don't get to experience the food, right?! When visiting a new city or country, many adventurers want to consume the local and authentic cuisine. For those of you looking for recommendations, I've composed a list of places I've eaten, what type of food they serve, and for some, if they have free WiFi available.

Southwestern Europe

  • Valencia, Valenciana, Spain
    • I didn't get to try any special restaurants while I was there because we made sandwiches and spent the majority of the time on the beach, but you can't go wrong with paella. It's native to Valencia!
  • Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain
    • Mercado de San Augustin   
  • Granada, Andalucia, Spain
    • Note: the bars/ restaurants in Granada serve free tapas when you order drinks!
    • Kasbah: Spanish-Moroccan restaurant in Albayzin (where there were many other Moroccan restaurants to choose from, too!)
  • Segovia, Castilla y Leon, Spain
    • If you're willing to take a little risk, try cochinillo, it's a slow roasted suckling pig native to Segovia
  • Lisbon, Portugal
    • Time Out Market: great variety, try some seafood plates
    • Pharmacia: lunch (I'd recommend just going for drinks, though)
    • Taberna Portuguesa: Portuguese plates to share
    • Pasteis de Belem: famous pastry shop

Western Europe

  • Tralee, Ireland
    • Ballyseede Castle: eat either at the bar or in the dining room
  • Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
    • The Elephant House: known as the one of the spots where JK Rowling wrote "Harry Potter," I'd recommend going here only for a cup of coffee and the experience
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • Coffee & Coconuts: brunch, WiFi
    • Pancakes Amsterdam Westermarket: traditional Dutch pancakes, WiFi
    • Bartack: great food but on the outskirts of the city
    • Bird Thai Cuisine: in the Red Light District, WiFi

Central Europe

  • Radda in Chianti
    • Pizza Pie
    • Le Forchette del Chianti: absolutely amazing Italian food! It's a little pricey, though, so bring a full wallet (along with an empty stomach)
  • Florence
    • Acqua al 2
  • Siena
    • Morbidi
  • Prague, Czech Republic
    • The Globe Bookstore & Cafe: breakfast
    • Aromi: Italian cuisine
    • Lokal: Czech food, mess hall style
    • Sudicka/ Name Problema: Croatian cuisine
    • Hergetora Cihelna
    • If you're visiting Prague during the Christmas market season, you must absolutely grab food from the stands! Try a little bit of everything and wash it down with mulled win!
  • Hungary, Budapest
    • Circusz: brunch
    • Vintage Garden: brunch 
    • Mazel Tov: Israeli/ Middle Eastern cuisine
    • Trattoria Pomo d'Oro: Italian cuisine
    • Doblo: wine bar (Hungarian wine is actually quite popular, and good!)
    • Great Market Hall: go for lunch or just a hold-you-over snack
  • Berlin, Germany
    • Distrikt Coffee: brunch, WiFi
    • Le Bon: brunch, WiFi, cash only
    • Chipps: brunch
    • Cafe Bondi: breakfast, cash only
    • Baraka: Moroccan/ Egyptian cuisine
    • Cocolo Ramen: authentic Ramen
    • Madami: Vietnamese cuisine
    • Katz Orange: more expensive but delicious
    • Shiso Burger: Asian-style burgers, cards for orders over 20 EUR

Feel free to leave comments with other suggestions! Hope you enjoy this food as much as I did!

Semana Santa

If you want a truly Spanish experience, I highly recommend heading to Andalucia for Semana Santa! As teachers, we are given about a week and a half off, which is plenty of time to travel around and explore all the sights! Last time that I lived in Spain (Huelva), I used the long break to visit my cousins who lived in Moldova, a decision I don't regret since they moved back to the U.S. soon afterwards. However, having lived in Andalucia and missed this enormous celebration, I always had a desire to go back and experience what I missed out on. Fast forward a few years, I 'm now living in Madrid and voila! I have the chance to actually go experience it.

For my trip, I took the train from Cordoba to Sevilla and then took a bus from Sevilla to Huelva to visit some old friends and enjoy the beach. Each city had some amazing processions and beautiful sights to enjoy. Cordoba was perhaps my favorite for viewing the processions as it was easily to find them just by listening for the sound of the marching bands in the streets and was also less crowded than Sevilla, however, Sevilla did have more to offer.

Semana Santa is the week before Easter (the dates of which change depending on when the first full moon of spring is, so it can be either at the end of March or towards the beginning of April). Many people also have the Friday before that week and the Monday after off as well. In Spain, Semana Santa is traditionally celebrated with religious processions filling the streets. This is most popular in Andalucia where the processions can start at 5:00 in the afternoon and easily last until 2:00 in the morning. Several of the larger churches near the city centers will sponsor a procession, which will typically leave from their church and finish at the city's cathedral. Each procession is made up of penitents (people dressed up in long robes and tall hoods), a float of Jesus, which is followed by a float of Mary, one or two marching bands playing somber music, and sometimes women dressed in traditional black veils and black dresses to mourn. The floats are carried by many people underneath. All of this adds up to quite a scene flowing through the streets of Andalusian cities! 

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If you are interested in enjoying this uniquely Spanish tradition, here are some of my tips for Semana Santa:

1. Make sure you book in advance. Everyone in Spain travels during this week since they have a bit of time off. A lot of tourists also travel to Andalucia during this time for the Semana Santa experience.

2. Stay in Sevilla for at least the Thursday and Good Friday of Easter. Plan to stay up most of the night as you watch the processions continue on to dawn on these days. It's an incredible experience to hear the cries of the women following the processions and the bursts of mournful songs that come from people on the balconies. 

3. Sight see during the first part of the day and then plan to watch the processions in the late afternoon and evening. 

4. Pick up a processional schedule booklet from the local tourist information office as soon as you get into the city. This will give you all the times and locations of the processions throughout the week. 

5. Also pick up the schedule of tourist attractions as many are either closed or have reduced hours through Semana Santa.

5. When in doubt, always go to the cathedral. All of the processions will pass through the cathedral of each city, so if you can't figure out where all of the processions are, just plant yourself outside the cathedral to watch. 

6. Bring sunscreen!! It might be early spring time, but the sun is quite strong here in Spain and you can get a pretty bad burn just walking around the city. 

 7. Pack a small bag with water and snacks, especially if you plan on doing a bit of walking around or want to see several processions at once. It's easy to get dehydrated with all that sun and you won't want to ruin the processional experience by being hungry while watching. Just don't go over board or you might have trouble getting in to some of the castles and museums to visit.

8. Bring a light sweater or jacket. The temperature changes quite drastically in Spain with the sun, so you'll probably be a little chilly in the morning, evening, or sometimes in the shade too, even if it's quite warm in the middle of the day. 

9. Make sure you have a camera! This is something you'll definitely want to capture on film. 

10. Enjoy! =)

 

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What Part Of Forever

“Time has a wonderful way of showing us what really matters.” – Margaret Peters

It’s been a while since my last post that spoke about one of my very first posts: Embracing Uncertainty. Uncertainty means “indefinite or not clearly defined.” When we describe life events fraught with uncertainty such as living abroad, time is a theme that pops up frequently. You have the beginning months where everything seems so new and you feel like a tourist, then, you begin work and establish a sense of routine and then, seemingly suddenly, the year is about to end! For our time here in Spain, it’s almost the end and, again, the uncertainty is rearing back up saying, “I am back. Hello, life. What’s next?” I realize that as I get older this type of lifestyle, one that embraces uncertainty, is one that makes me feel like I am growing and learning and not feeling stagnant or misplaced.

With each day that passes, I grow, as a person. With each opportunity that arises, I try to push myself outside of my comfort zone, working towards that growth. My time abroad has shown me that I don’t know myself as well as I thought. Time spent challenging myself has been the reason for my personal growth (and I consider time, although it’s free, to be priceless.)

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I started this journey looking for more answers about who I am; I wanted to know as much as I could about Spain because my ancestors are from Mallorca. During my first day at my school here, I made a presentation to my students called “About Me” in which I spoke about my life, my friends, my country, and most importantly my family. Not too long ago, I was talking to my class and I held up a photo of my grandmother, whom I affectionately call Tata. It was then that I told my students the reason why I came to Spain, and why I teach. Time moves on so quickly and life can change in a heartbeat. And, in my case it did. Looking back, I never imagined that I would not be able to see my grandmother again. Those first days in front of my classes were the beginning of my life in Spain inspired by Tata. It’s been a journey that I will always appreciate because I know that she wanted me to be happy, as she told me in our last happy conversations together. As time moves on, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her sweet smile or soft voice. She is the reason I started to teach English. Her life inspired me. Each day I walk into a class, I carry her with me in my heart. She may not be with us any longer but her story lives on through my work.

Spain taught me some valuable lessons, and one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. I know that I would not have learned the lessons I needed to had I not come to Spain. My soul opened up and my heart has once again embraced another culture that has embraced me back. I am very grateful to have this opportunity.

I was extremely blessed to have been able to see Tata one more time before she passed. Remember to tell those people in your life how much they mean to you regularly and if they do something to upset you, it’s ok to be upset but remember that at the end of the day, time is all we truly have. There are a set number of days on our calendar that we will be here. Live your life, be well, let go and carry on.

“Cause you never think that the last time is the last time. You think there will be more. You think you have forever but you don’t.” – Dr. Meredith Grey

PhotoTata
 

Thanks for reading,

Leesa with two EE’s

Update: I have been busy with the other CIEE teachers that I interviewed. We have been working on our website called Dreams Abroad. The website will highlight the lives and of expatriates living in Madrid. We will follow each teacher just like I did during my first round of interviews. I am excited for this next journey, and I want to thank CIEE for the opportunity to post my material on their site. It was through this site that my vision began!

Please visit our site: https://www.dreamsabroad.org

The AZ to Spain Visa Documentation Process: Part 1

As a future CIEE Language and Cultural Assistant in Madrid, Spain, we are required to obtain a Long-Stay (180+ day) Student Visa from the Spanish Consulate in order to remain in the country.  As stated on the Spanish Consulate website, "The Visa will be valid for 90 days. During the first month of your stay in Spain, you must go to the Local Police Station where you will receive a 'Tarjeta de Identificación de Extranjero' (NIE/TIE). " The following information is my experience being an applicant from Arizona and going through the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles, focusing right now on the documentation process. Below are the steps we (my boyfriend and I) are taking in the initial documentation process. Check back for Part 2 the actual Visa appointment after June 23rd!

  1. Make An Appointment In AZ, we have to fly to Los Angeles, CA for an in-person appointment! To successfully achieve your visa before mid-August 2017 (for the Teach in Spain – 4 weeks immersion, other programs differ, see the CIEE Spain Visa Guide for help) we’re instructed to schedule our appointment between June 19th and June 30th. Since there are very limited appointments in the Los Angeles Spain consulate, I booked an appointment in mid-April for June 23rd, 2017! If you haven’t booked now, keep looking and refreshing the page since appointments are continually added. Making the actual appointment when times are available is SUPER easy.

 Navigate to the site (link above). Click “Make an Appointment”!

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Create a username and password, then follow the prompts and select the time that works best for you.   

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They will email you appointment confirmation and it will be titled “The Consulate General of Spain in Los Angeles Appointment Confirmation”. On the email they will include links and further instructions for your Visa appointment. (You also must print the email confirmation page and bring it with you too.)

  1. Read the website for your specific consulate! Now that you’ve scheduled an appointment, you need to invest time in reading the site for everything you need to bring with you! I spent maybe an hour and a half (I'm a fast reader) to read everything and open links and research documents.
  2. Download the Visa Application Checklist This is literally the list that has all the documentation you need to bring with you for your Visa. Download and print all the documents needed from the website (most documents you need to get on your own, I will expand more on this.)
  3. Make your own list of steps to obtain EVERYTHING. Here is MINE below: 
  4. Visa application form – (Download on Spanish consulate website, fill out in capital letters with black ink) Original and a photocopy
  5. 4-6 copies of passport photo (white background, obtain at CVS Photo by house, takes 5 minutes $13.00 for 2 copies)
  6. Passport - Original and a photocopy of the main page (I have this already.)
  7. Driver’s License - Original and a photocopy
  8. Acceptance Letter- Original and a photocopy (Ministry of Spain sends this early June)
  9. Evidence of Funds – Original and one photocopy - print 3 months bank statements in mid-June
  10. Medical Travel Insurance - Original and a photocopy (CIEE sends this in late May)
  11. Medical Certificate - Original and a photocopy (Print on Spanish Consulate website)

Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor –make sure to let them know they need to print your Medical Letter for the Consulate with their letterhead and sign documents for you, bring the CIEE medical form on the CIEE application site AND bring the medical letter with translation on it already. Keep in mind you’ll need your immunization records if your doctor does not already have them to sign off on CIEE medical form. (Tip: The County Records office will have all your immunizations records, as medical providers are required to send this data there.)

  1. Certification of “absence of police records” –Original, a photocopy and translation into Spanish.

In Arizona we must obtain a FBI background check. We went through an online FBI-approved channeler at http://www.myfbireport.com/. We obtained fingerprint cards Monday, sent them in priority 1-day mail at FedEx ($26.00) on Tuesday, and then received our FBI background check forms by Saturday ($39.95 +$9.00 for the 1 additional copy we need for our school, +$14.00 optional USPS Priority Mail). We obtained the document inside of a week, but it does take a couple stops and exchanges before it's ready for the Visa appointment. Here are the steps for AZ:

  1. Stop by Phoenix Police Records Department to obtain 2 copies of fingerprint cards This process only took 15-20 minutes around 8:00 am when they opened, bring an ID and $6.00 per card, $12 total. It was strongly suggested to grab 2 copies just in case a print isn’t readable, the second copy will help provide a second print to analyze. You don't want to have to go back and do the process all over again. 
  2. Send 2 copies of fingerprint card & Request Forms (print on my FBI report website) to:
  3. National Credit Reporting
  4. ATTN: FBI Consumer Report Request
  5. 6830 Via Del Oro, Suite 105
  6. San Jose, CA 95119
FBI report Screenshot
This is what the My FBI Report site looks like...
  1. Obtain Spanish Translation certified through Rev ($33.00/per page, if no records, the FBI background check is only 1 page) They say it is a 24-hour turnaround but they literally sent my translation in 15 minutes!
  2. Mail FBI background Check to U.S. Department of State in DC for Apostille.  $8.00 per document (need money order--processing time is 5 weeks)
  1. Visa fees $160.00 Money Order only - Money orders are to be addressed to the General Consulate of Spain Los Angeles.
  2. Prepaid “Express mail” envelope through U.S. Postal Service or FedEx completely filled out with your name and address in both the “To” and “From” sections, (pick up in early June...)
  3. Disclaimer duly signed (print this 1 page form from Los Angeles Spain Consulate website)

And there you have it! Again, this is for the Los Angeles Spain Consulate for Arizona residents, even so, always check the Spanish Consulate website! Overall, we spent $155.95 for everything mentioned above excluding Visa fee, gas $ for the drive and hotel for a night for our in-person visa appointment. 

Good luck everyone! I will post Part 2 right after my visa appointment June 23rd!

It'll be just as magical as Beauty & the Beast once you've finished gathering the documents!

via GIPHY

But seriously though, we should get medals with our visas...

Carlitos and Kamala Pats Run
Boyfriend & I after conquering the 13th Annual 4.2 Mile Pat's Run in Tempe, AZ | April 22, 2017

Many blessings,

Kamalía 

Spring Break

Every person knows the most fun thing about being a teacher are the vacation weeks. I just had my first spring break. Unfortunately, it was an experience I never had in university due to extracurriculars. I mean, I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.

I got back late last night after spending eight incredible days in the South of Portugal. I went to Lisboa, Cascais, Sintra, Lagos....I did it right.  

Since a blog post only really allows a writer about five hundred words, I'll try and not waste lines. 

I noticed an immediate difference between Lagos and Lisboa. I am drawn to places that are not overcrowded with tourists. I can't imagine a place like Lagos not being well-known around the globe, but for spring break, it was relatively calm. Families and friends, including mine, gathered around the town square every evening with cones of gelato. Every girl fresh with that Sun-In + tanning oil combo. The classic babe. 

There is one thing that every beach hottie is required to do when traveling to Lagos. If you are young and if you are cool, then you hit up Camilo Beach. Walk down the 247 stairs. Find this rock:

Rock

Then, take a picture with this rock. Take a picture standing on the rock, touching the rock, smelling the rock. Around the clock, all ages, people wait their turn to catch a photo with this rock.

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Me 2
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It's not famous or well know, in fact it has no name. It's only important because it gets you a lot of likes on Instagram, and a few more followers on Twitter.  

Lisboa (very noble, always loyal #preach) is a little different. Stunning in it's own way, it's a real young city. I would even go as far as saying it's more romantic than Paris- but, what do I know? I've only lived abroad for, like, forever. 

Lisboa

In 1755, an 8.5 earthquake hit Lisboa, destroying most of the city. The people ran to the main plaza in the center of town in hysterics. The plaza, was considered a form of comfort. Unfortunately, an hour after the earthquake hit, a tsunami crashed down over the city. The neighborhood of Alfama is the only neighborhood left with buildings and architecture since that awful year. 

Mayor

It's a sad story, my tuk tuk driver told me. A tuk tuk is a tourist form of a taxi that drives throughout the city and tells stories about ruins and sites. 

I've seen a lot of unique places in my lifetime, and Portugal is a country I plan on returning to. Saying I loved the culture, the people, the atmosphere- it's not enough. It's indescribable. I believe it's an underrated country and I do hope it's popularity will skyrocket. I believe it will. 

Remember!!! Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

Feliz Pascua & Some Reflections

Because of Spain's historical links to Catholicism, Holy Week, culminating with Easter Sunday, is a national holiday. All over Spain, there are processions and parades and church services every day of the week! It's a bit off-putting at first, since the traditional dress for many of these processions is long garments with cone hat-masks that cover all of the person except his/her eyes, but it's also incredible. In one procession I saw, there were 20 or so men underneath an extremely heavy, ornate, wooden altar with a statue of Jesus carrying the cross, and they were moving it from the inside, so that you could just see their feet peeking out from under the bottom of the huge structure whenever they began to take a step forward. 

Since I am back from my travels and in Madrid for Easter, I decided to attend a service at the Almudena Cathedral, the famous cathedral next to the royal palace and the seat of the Bishop. There were so many people! But the music was lovely, and the priest gave a beautiful sermon that I think transcends religious denomination and is applicable to everyone. He said, "Lay down weapons/tools of violence, hate, greed, anger [...] Take up weapons/tools of service, generosity, love [...]." ‬Unfortunately my rough translation doesn't do it justice, but the sentiment is still really poignant. It's so easy, especially, I notice, living in a new place, and a foreign place at that, to be critical, to wrap myself in armor of mistrust or frustration. These times I find myself resisting Spain and my new home and forgetting all of the things I love about Madrid (the history, the art, the never-ending passion, the focus on getting to know people in your neighborhood or workplace, just to name a few). Instead, I'm going to make sure I arm myself with positivity, generosity, caring, and optimism, so that I can make the most out of the too little time I have left in Madrid! ¡Feliz Pascua!

Springtime and Easter

At school, we recently finished the second trimester and just got out for Semana Santa. I think everyone needed this week and a half break, students and teachers alike. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which means this year it was a little bit later than usual. Since we are in Spain, the end of the second and start of the third trimesters are planned around this Easter break, making for an almost 4 month-long trimester. We still had some days off between New Year's and now, but everyone was getting a little antsy at school. Here are some tips for how to keep your students engaged until the end:

1. Get the students involved. Lectures just before a long break will put anyone to sleep. It's actually recommended for language learning that the students should be doing about 70% of the talking and the teachers only about 30%. Since a lot of people travel during this time off, we had students tell us about all their exciting upcoming adventures. 

2.  Have fun. Playing games (some of our favorites are board races, charades, mafia, guess who, etc. will go a long way to keeping your students not only awake, but also enjoying the learning process. Since it was Easter, we did an Easter egg hunt within the classroom after talking about traditional celebration differences between Spain and the US and the relevance behind our symbols. I brought in chocolate eggs for the hunt, and since quite a few students were out on a school trip, it thankfully wasn't an expensive splurge (for my private students I also made cookies or dyed eggs with them).

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3. Change it up a bit. Students get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Since it was right before break and we don't watch a lot of videos, we decided to show some Easter videos (Charlie Brown & the History Channel proved to be good resources for this). The students did have to take notes and discuss what they saw afterwards, but they were happy to see Snoopy and Charlie Brown instead of doing more grammar exercises. 

4. Encourage participation. Even if a student makes more mistakes than what he gets right, I still want him to try! You learn from trying and correcting your mistakes when you make them. If a student knows you will be encouraging and not condescending when they make mistakes, they will be more likely to try and get involved. 

5. Build good rapport with your students. This is something that started way back at the beginning of the year, but having them know that you respect and care about them goes a long way in keeping them engaged. This can be done in several ways, but with my students, I listen and respond whenever they have concerns and do my best to make sure the games that we play are as fair as possible. I might also have secret handshakes now with several students in the school. =) 

Well, I'm off to go explore Cordoba and revisit Sevilla and Huelva for Semana Santa! I'm sure I will have plenty to post about once I get back. Until then, happy Easter! 

Type A & Travel: How the Two Fit Together

People travel to discover a new side of themselves, to explore new lands, to push their boundaries. Traveling extensively (and moving to a new country) demands taking a leap of faith that everything will play out the way it was intended to (that is, if you believe in fate). This requires a "go-with-the-flow" mentality, a Type B personality (and maybe a little of a "Type T" attitude, as my mom likes to describe thrill seekers like my dad). So how, then, do the Type A people fit into all of this? Speaking from personal experience, lists and Google Docs and months-in-advance planning can be incredibly beneficial, especially when visiting a foreign land. While it would be nice to be the type of person who can wake up one morning, decide to pack a bag and be on the next flight to some exotic location, planning in advance is necessary (in my opinion), particularly when you're looking to partake in incredibly popular tourist excursions. Take if from personal experience, you DO NOT want to be waiting on line in the cold for hours because you didn't buy tickets in advance. So, for the following popular European tourist attractions, don't be like me and buy tickets in advance (but if you were like me, here's how to still get tickets the day of).

  • La Alhambra (Granada, Spain)

Having rightfully earned the title of most visited site in Spain, this fortress and palace sells out months in advance. If you weren't lucky enough to buy tickets online, I've heard that you can buy from a secondary website (some travel websites will buy La Alhambra tickets for the sole purpose of reselling them), but I don't have personal experience with this. If you're looking to get tickets the same day as visiting, be prepared to wake up early. Same-day tickets go on sale at 8 a.m. so plan on getting there no later than 6 a.m. (at least that was the case in mid-September). Yup, that early. There are two ticket lines; one for cash only sales and the other for cards. My recommendation: split up so that you have at least one person standing on each line in order to maximize your chances of getting tickets. 

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  • Anne Frank House (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Tickets to this powerful museum go on sale two months in advance. Buy your tickets then because they will be sold out in a very short period of time. If you don't, same-day tickets go on sale at 3:30 p.m., but don't expect to waltz up to the ticket counter at 3:30. There will already be a line wrapped around an entire block by this point. I've heard and read to go around 2 p.m. to start waiting. I didn't, and my friend and I waited on line for three hours (and it was a stereotypical overcast, rainy, cold day in Amsterdam).

  • Guinness Factory (Dublin, Ireland)

Now this one I can't say how to beat the same-day ticket line, as I invoked my Type A-ness and bought tickets ahead of time (knowing that I would be there St. Patrick's Day weekend), but what I can recommend is to avoid going that weekend, if possible. Also, ticket prices vary depending on the time of day, day of the week, and time of the year, so plan accordingly.

I can imagine there are many more popular sites in Europe that their tickets should be bought months in advance (if my memory serves me correctly, the Eiffel Tour is one of those), but these are just the ones I've had experience with this time around. So, be that thrill seeker and decide one morning to jump on the next plane, but if there are specific things you would like to see and do, take my advice and plan in advance (although I'm sure I won't always follow my own words of wisdom).

 

Keep on traveling (& planning),

Sarah

Life Is a Carnaval

As Easter approaches and March comes to a close, I am reminded of the celebration of Carnaval which opens the season of Lent. Like my elementary school used to celebrate Mardi Gras, my school here celebrated Carnaval, the difference being that Carnaval celebrations lasted the entire week! Each day had a different theme for dressing up: crazy hat day, crazy neckwear day, crazy socks day, face paint day, and a day of full costumes (I dressed like a tiger, with a tail!).

The kids got to parade around our town (Boadilla del Monte) in their costumes and, afterwards, enjoy some chocolate a la taza (or Spanish style hot chocolate) and biscuits. The kids love seeing their normally serious teachers all dressed up, and we have fun dancing with them and marching around the city with them. It's an incredibly sweet and fun day for everyone.

Since our school is focusing on teaching about India this year, some teachers dressed like Gandhi and we all made signs with quotes from Gandhi or other famous and inspiring figures from India. 

Of course, I took many, many photos:

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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. 

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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.  

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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!

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