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11 Free Things To Do in Madrid!

Madrid is a city bursting with life; literally ALL DAY & ALL NIGHT, there is just so much to see, so much to do, so much to EAT and so many things to spend money on! But sometimes, you just wanna go out, have a good time and NOT spend any money. Or maybe...you're just broke for the moment and you're in between paychecks...or you're an auxiliar and have a fixed monthly stipend--No pasa nada, you'll find something you'll like on this list whether you live in Madrid, or if you're just passing through! Check it out!

  1. Stroll around the Ópera, Gran Vía, Retiro, Sol and Goya Metro stops--these areas are PACKED with tourist hot spots, Instagrammable scenery and you literally just have to walk around! If you so happen to have a couple euros on you, this could potentially buy you a delicious ice cream and a small snack! Hours of free fun with your significant other, visiting family, friends or just a simple solo trip...
  2. Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid It's free to stroll around the garden and admire the palace up close. Carve out an hour or so of your day for this...you're gonna wanna take pictures (see my picture above) and stroll on over to Almudena Cathedral!

3. Admire the Almudena Cathedral --just a minute's walk from the palace. Even if you're not religious or just not Catholic, tourists from all around the world love to visit the Almudena Cathedral. Over a century years old, this Roman Catholic church is a sight to behold from the outside in. You can even donate 0.20 euros to send a prayer to the Virgin Mary. If you have an obsession with gorgeously gothic and artful doors, you'll love the one below outside of the cathedral.

4. Experience the famous Mercado San Miguel This market is a must-see! This culinary paradise holds wines, candies, paellas, tapas and so many Spanish delights! If you're looking for a taste of Spanish culture, step on in! It's free to take in the sights and smells of all the delicacies, but if you've got 5 euros on you, you'll be able to try Spanish Paella, taste a chupito of yogurt, have a cup of wine or share a couple tapas!

 

5. Stroll along El Capricho Park This park is precious! Large green trees, vibrant flowers and autumnal leaves welcome you...you'll also find precious treasures and lakes as you make your way through the park. It's a great way to get some free exercise and enjoy nature with your lover or friends.

6. Wander around Retiro Park Madrid's Retiro Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Hundreds of people enjoy the park in multiple forms. You can paddle boat, bring your dog, picnic, drink, eat, enjoy a museum, run, do yoga, play sports and almost anything you can do in a wide open space with plenty of grass!

7. Write a poem or read a book at Desperate Literature This perfect little bookstore just opened 2 years ago offers plenty of the newest and best selling books in English and Spanish. They even have an adorable reading corner for children--along with English children's books. Some books even cup with a shot of whisky if you decide to purchase them. You can even write a poem on an old-fashioned typewriter--don't forget to leave your name--they may publish you!

8. Check out the sunset or sunrise at the Temple of Debod The Temple was a gift from Egypt; so here you'll find a piece of Africa in Spain! As you can see in the picture below, it's quite a picturesque place. It's also right by Calle Serrano, a posh shopping district where you'll find Nike, Louis Vuitton and other high end products.

9. Head up to El Corte Inglés's Top Floor - Gourmet Experience It really is a gourmet experience. In Sol, this famous Spanish mall has it's food court on the 9th floor. You can actually step outside and enjoy a quick bite to eat or just simply to enjoy the sites. The view from the top is marvelous--and you don't have to spend a dime to enjoy it.

10. Check out all the cute things in HEMA, Tiger and ALE HOP. Seriously, just walk in! It's kind of like a Spencer's mixed with the irresistible $1-$3.00 bins at the front of all Targets plus a PG rated Novelty Store in Las Vegas.

11. Chill at Plaza Mayor. This plaza is highly Instagrammable! There are always events going on here; tons of vendors will sell there wares and you'll find a lot of performances. If you're thirsty, they have great restaurants and little shops to grab a drink or some lunch!

BONUS - CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN MADRID

Plaza Mayor in Sol has over 100 vendors with nativity scenes, Christmas trees, toys, winter clothes, books and all things Christmas! It's free to look around and take pictures--but trust me, you'll probably want to bring a 20 euros or so to purchase some Christmas swag!

I will continually add to this list, but Madrid ALWAYS has a lot of events--especially in Lavapiés and in the Sol and Malasaña areas. You can find so much to do! You could spend the day window shopping or just getting lost in the mesmerizing narrow streets. Comment below if you'd like to add to the list!

As always, follow me on IG for more travel tips @APetiteTraveler

xx,

Kamalía

All the feels...

There are multiple sides to every story... there are even multiple sides to every situation and the way that we, as people, process those situations.  I realize that every time I sit down to write a blog post.  I’m always torn between giving the factual account of what is happening and sharing the emotional response I have towards my day to day experiences.  As you have probably noticed, I tend to switch off with being either more factual or more emotional... I have just been typing up a more factual account of my first full week of December, which I will post shortly (once I have edited it a bit), but I want to first post this, for it has been on my heart since the beginning of December.

One thing with our emotions and our memories is the way that they follow us, wherever we go... We can never run away fast enough or far enough to lose them - at least not completely.  And I hope that we wouldn’t want to lose those memories or emotions, for I do believe that they are a vital part of who we are.  They are reminders that people who have come in and out of our lives each have the potential to leave a mark on us, if we let them.

December is a reminder of all these things for me - and for many people who have loved and lost someone; whether in death or even just the ending of a friendship or a relationship.  The holidays are blatant reminders of how things should have been - the laughter and cheer, the music and lights... No matter how many years pass, there is always going to be a pain when this time of year comes along.  With the pain though, in time, I have come to also look forward to the reminder of happy memories and the miracles of the season as well.  With every loss there is still new life, new celebrations, the potential for new joy.  I remember those who I have lost and I do my best to live a life that reflects their legacy, to live as a better person - in the ways that they have inspired me to.  It seems fitting, in a way, that on the anniversary of the death of one of my closest friends from high school, I came home from work to decorate the Christmas tree with the boys and the family - to commemorate the anniversary with laughter and love of a beautiful family; much like the family she was blessed with.  

I recognize that this post doesn’t seem very relevant to my time in Spain, but I guess it just serves as a little insight on how important it is to recognize and acknowledge the things that we are feeling - whatever country we are in.  It’s important to have people to talk to and turn to.  It’s helpful to be okay with not always being okay... It is also okay to find that things are actually OK, maybe better than you expected them to be, even when they don’t go as planned.  Things may change, break-ups may happen, people may lose touch and life definitely will happen, but it is all part of the adventure.

So, before I finish up, I’ll end with this last thought.  I won’t lie, there is a great deal that I miss, not being home (both in respect to Maryland and Buffalo) for the Advent season.  But there is also a quiet peacefulness that I have been able to experience here in Madrid - most especially in Rivas, where I reside.  There seems to be less hustle and bustle around and the season seems to be a bit quieter and less commercialized; I find that, as I climb into bed at the end of the day, I can appreciate the chance to look up at the stars in the silence of the night.  As much as I enjoy the change of pace, I am still looking forward to finding my way home for Christmas and enjoying a white Christmas back in the States... just as I am excited, at the same time, to return back to Spain to celebrate 3 Kings Day here on the 6th of January.

Alright, I know, I know... enough emotions for one post.  I’ll write again soon.  But, for now, ¡Felices Fiestas!

-Stephanie
(Lk 2:8-14)

To teach: to share knowledge and gain wisdom

With two months of working as a language assistant, I have done a fair deal of teaching but a whole lot more of learning.  Working with the younger students (those in primary schools) I have witnessed numerous differences than the education that I received - including the fact that all students, no matter their academic level, are mixed in every class.  From what I have heard and seen, the separation of comprehension levels doesn’t occur until secondary school (7th grade).  So, while certain students in a classroom may have a high grasp of English and even their other subjects there are just as many (if not more) students who struggle, even with the subjects being taught in their native language.  It poses challenges for students and teachers alike but can also be used as a great opportunity for leadership and growth among all the students.  

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A present from one of the 2nd grade students that I work with - a “Spanish-English dictionary” of words.

Working primarily with the second graders, I see how, even at the young age of 6 or 7, several students who have higher comprehension levels take the time to work with those who struggle to grasp the concepts being taught.  There are several students who are truly behind that I have been asked to specifically engage during classroom “assembly” (where we gather and do the daily routines of discussing what day it is, what the weather is like, asking questions to allow the students to practice sharing information about themselves, and reviewing the topics from the units we are studying).  After trying to specifically engage several of these students by asking questions of him or her each day, one student in particular clearly began to rebel.  When asked his favorite animal, his response (in Spanish) was “tu madre”, or “your mom” in English.  Several of the boys in the class snickered but I, for one, was less than impressed.  Rather than get upset with him (as is often tempting to do), I came up with a different plan.  Now, I ask one student a question and then have that student answer and then ask another student the same question.  I’m finding that this is a better received method for those students who are struggling to not feel like they are being “called out” in front of their peers and for those who have a stronger understanding I can allow them the freedom to think of different questions to ask after they have responded.  

With so many students, all at such different levels, it is easy to see how one could get frustrated - especially when students are talking and appear to not be listening, or when they are acting out in class - but when you realize that the student talking to the boy next to him is explaining what the activity is or that the girl who isn’t even trying is so exhausted that she’s fallen asleep in class and seems to have some problems taking place at home or that the “trouble-maker” has taken the time to make you a present and really does work hard when someone takes the time to help him, all of those moments make you want to try just a little harder, to be a little more patient, and show a little more affection to the ones you sometimes think you could strangle (but not really!).  

I am continually being challenged and offered the chance to grow as a teacher and as an individual, with every passing day.  And when I’m tired of trying to get all the students engaged in an activity after break (when it is often a time of total chaos) or repeating the same grammar explanation again for the 17th time in a class period, I look up and I smile (even if it’s an exasperated smile) because I have the chance to teach and to learn, to love and to instruct.  There are so many blessings that come from teaching children; and even if these students never learn that “it has” but “they haven’t”, I hope that they learn that they are capable of greatness and that they can accomplish more than they think.

-Stephanie
(Pr 22:6)

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City Spotlight: Segovia

Ever since I visited Spain two years ago, I've been raving about how Toledo is my absolute favorite city in the entire world.

But now, I think I’m going to have to say I have a two-way tie, because I just visited Segovia for the first time and am already in love.

Just like Toledo, Segovia is a magical place. Walking through its old, narrow streets I felt as though I had walked through a portal in time, with the city’s ancient buildings and vestiges of the past inviting me to contemplate what the world used to be like centuries ago. An overwhelming sense of humility and awe came over me as I took it all in, and as the bus took me away, I was already eagerly planning my return.

Whether or not you’re inclined to such emotional and philosophical reactions to ancient cities as I am, Segovia is certainly a place all can enjoy! Here are three reasons why Segovia is an absolute must-see:

1) Alcázar de Segovia IMG_1004
Disney fans will be delighted to know that this majestic castle is rumored to have inspired the Cinderella castle in Disney World. I would highly recommend touring the inside and enjoying the breathtaking landscape views from the castle's mighty tower.

2) Acueductos de Segovia IMG_0950
As one of the city's only remains of Roman times, the aqueducts are a glorious sight to behold. They stand tall and proud smack in the middle of the city, surrounded by adorable shops and restaurants. Also worth a climb to the top!

3) Catedral de Segovia IMG_0897
A testament to Gothic architecture, the cathedral is simply awe-inspiring. Its intricate designs and powerfully looming presence make it a worthy visit. 

Other notable Segovian sights are the Plaza Mayor, Casa de los Picos, and Barrio Judío, among many others. In short, a highly recommended and very easy day trip from Madrid!

Hoy lo mejor: Blog Post #8

When I went to title this blog post, I could not believe that it’s number eight.  EIGHT.  That means I’ve been here for 8+ weeks.  Two months.  Wow.  It feels simultaneously like I’ve been here for forever and for no time at all.

I’m pushing myself to write weekly, and so sometimes substance suffers for the sake of (hello alliteration!!!!!) timeliness.  A good learning experience nonetheless--routine writing, time management, all those lessons that one never really stops learning.  I had a really nice class with my 2nd Bachillerato Advanced English students this week, so I will write about it.  

Their teacher warned me that they were not thrilled with their grades for the first trimester, but noted that because of this, they would all be quiet and attentive.  Ecstatic to report that they were!  I also handpicked the group of students I would have, assuring a quiet and attentive bunch.  Last week I had a student hang around and tell me about poems she had written in a class the year before.  This was after I introduced the short story project they would all be doing for me (written about in a previous post).  She was obviously excited and I realized in that moment that this had been another one of my dreams.  I always wanted to be the teacher whose students hung around after class to talk to.  I used to do that with teachers/professors that I loved and wanted to experience the other end of the exchange.  It’s almost always a sign the students are enjoying the class.

I told this student to bring in her poems so I could read them.  Needless to say she brought them in and is one of the most engaged students I have.  This past week the bachillerato classes had to turn in the first drafts of their stories to me.  While the turnout wasn’t wonderful, I’m happy there was a turnout at all.  I have about 6 drafts and while I could focus on the fact that I have only 6, I’ve chosen instead to focus on the fact that I have 6!  I am very excited to read them and write notes to the students about my experience reading them and also thoughts on how they could improve their writing/English.

That lovely class though…  I prepared a lesson on the NFL players who are protesting violence against and oppression of Blacks by kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem.  I thought they’d welcome insight into some major topics of conversation in American culture right now.  I also know some are interested in politics, history, law, etc. and so I figured they’d be intrigued by the “controversial” topic.

I had copies made of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Washington Post article, “Insulting Colin Kaepernick says more about our patriotism than his” from summer 2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/08/30/insulting-colin-kaepernick-says-more-about-our-patriotism-than-his/?utm_term=.add82fddfdca).  I instructed the students to each read aloud one of the paragraphs of the article so they could practice pronunciation/speaking, etc.  Then I told them to take a few minutes to circle or underline words or phrases they don’t understand, and also to familiarize themselves with the article, summarize it and determine Abdul-Jabbar’s argument.

I had initially intended on preparing two articles for them, one by an author who doesn’t agree with or like the NFL players’ protest and one by an author who supports the players’ protest.  But due to time constraints and typical teaching-improv, I decided to just focus on the WaPo article.  To bring in the other stance, I found a page on the New York Times website where they have listed comments sent in by readers on the NFL situation.  So after I clarified the meaning of some words and phrases, we had a discussion.  I asked them to tell me what the article is about, their thoughts etc.  They all agreed with Abdul-Jabbar, and so to spark thought and play that advocate game that academia loves so much, I showed them a comment by a reader who says the players shouldn’t be invoking their right to free speech on the field.  I could hear their brains moving, as cliche as that is, and as cliche as it is to say “as cliche as that is.”  

Lastly, I showed them Trevor Noah’s segment on The Daily Show, “When Is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-Gx23vH0CE).  They LOVED it.  How do I know?  Because the bell rang signaling class was over and NO ONE, NO. ONE., moved.  They all stayed put until the end of the video.

THEN I even had a couple of students who stayed behind to chat about various things.  To the student interested in poetry I recommended she look up Adrienne Rich.  Another student wanted to ask me if he could write on our class blog about the Barcelona soccer matches.  I told him he could.  Then he told me he likes these sorts of videos and he watches similar shows here in Spain.  He also helped me put the desks back in rows (I have them in a circle for the class and then usually am putting them back into place by myself, barring the help of some thoughtful students).

Later in the day, the 2nd Bachillerato teacher told me that the students came back to her after our class and said “hoy lo mejor, lo mejor.”  That means “today was the best” : )

Where are you from?

Hello my name is Colin Gill and this is my first blog for the Teach Abroad Spain blog.  I was meaning to post earlier but the last couple of months have been quite busy trying to settle into my position as a Language Assistant and other life events.

I have been living in Spain for nearly three months now and a question that I have been thinking about and reflecting on is when someone asks, "Where are you from?".  For me, this question is not usually because of my physical appearance, but rather when I speak in Spanish and an accent is detected.  Or when I write something in Spanish with grammatical errors.  At first I did not think much of this question, until recently when someone messaged me on a dating app saying, "Hello beautiful, you must be a foreigner because your Spanish is quite bad.  Lets meet."  Did he actually think I would meet up with him with such a statement?  Not only was I taken aback by his rude comment, but I was also painstakingly reminded that no matter what I am an outsider here.  Additionally, it made me reflect on the ways in which I am privileged in the USA.  I am white and I have a "Standard American Accent" [whatever that actually means].  For example, when I go into a grocery store, go on a date, order a coffee, etc. I will be assumed to be an "insider" in U.S. society.  No one back home will ask where I am from.  I will be assumed to be an American. 

The question of "Where are you from?" made me also remember discussions I have had with my friends back in Seattle who are people of colour and frequently receive comments such as, "You speak English so well!" or  "Where are you REALLY from?".  When in fact, most of them have lived in the U.S.A. for decades and sometimes longer than my own family.  They are American.  Nonetheless, they are treated and viewed as outsiders in U.S. society.  I was aware of these instances of othering that my friends encountered, however, I had never experienced first-hand what it means to be an outsider based on accent or nationality.  Certainly I have faced othering due to my sexual orientation and genderqueer identity.  But this felt different because it's based on my accent and nationality.

Because of my skin colour many people will not look at me physically as an outsider in Spain.  I will never experience the same form of systemic oppression that a person of colour faces.  Yet, being asked multiple times, "Where are you from?" is getting tiresome and is a constant reminder that I am an outsider.  Not to mention it reinforces in my anxiety ridden mind that my Spanish is no where near perfect and will never be my mother tongue no matter how hard I try.  

Thus far, I think this experience of being othered because of my accent has helped me develop a deeper empathy for people immigrating to new countries.  I will state clearly that this experience in no way erases my white and class privilege, but it has helped me better understand why the question of "Where are you from?" can be problematic and signify your status as an outsider.  Being an outsider enables you to see things that may be missed by the insiders within a society.  

If you have experienced something similar please feel to share with me.  Until next time, hasta luego!

How is Tomorrow December?

If tomorrow is December that means I have been in Spain for over 3 months. How? 101 days? I don't believe it. In all of those days I have learned an incredible amount about everything. From the differences between Spain Spanish and Spanish we learned in high school, to new customs, and some new recipes. 

This month alone has been filled with adventures in and out of the school. On Monday I went on a field trip with the students to Navacerrada to go hiking in the mountains. The best part is that even if we are walking down a mountain side there are still things to teach about. That day happened to have some forest service workers doing controlled burns and we taught the students why that was important. They didn't think they were going to learn any thing on a gym class field trip, but I disagreed with them. Outside of school the weekend adventures have continued and will continue next week as I travel to Southern Spain for the "Puente" (no school Wed-Fri).

The weather has finally started to cool off. I haven't really needed a jacket until this last week but I am thankful the cold is finally here because walking around in shorts on the weekends really doesn't say December to me. I may be slightly biased growing up in Colorado and going to school in Montana but the cold feels great. The auxilar at my school from Florida thinks I am crazy.  

Update from Thanksgiving: I broke the oven my turkey was so large (but we fixed it) and the neighbors came dressed in overalls /flannel/cowboy hats and boots to be super Americans for the day. All in all it worked out and the turkey was perfect. IMG_20171128_170225_971

Photo is from the hike on Tuesday.

The Power of Music

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Watching my 4th graders dance "La Jota"

One of my favorite parts of immersing myself in a new culture is seeing it in action. Anything from trying new foods, to watching dances, to hearing music makes me feel more connected to Spain. What really sticks out to me about the Spanish people is how passionate they are, especially with their music.

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Gorgeous building in the city center of Valladolid

This week, my school celebrated La Día de la Música by having the kids listen to traditional instruments of Castilla y León (the region of Spain where my host city, Valladolid, is). A group from a nearby village paraded around the playground playing the dulzaina and bombo. Everyone was feeling the music-teachers were dancing, kids were swaying and the musicians were feeding off of our energy.

Some of my fourth graders even wore traditional dresses and danced “La Jota.” It was like being transported back in time. You could see, hear and feel the history flowing through every note. Since American history is much newer than Spanish history, kids in the U.S. don’t have the same opportunity to learn and appreciate how music contributes to a country’s dynamic culture. Sure, we learn about the Harlem Renaissance, but you don’t see Jazz players having concerts at public schools. I definitely envy the Spanish for this because music is such an important part of culture and super fun to listen to!

Today, the kids listened to a Rondalla-an ensemble of stringed instruments played with a pick (like a guitar). It comes from the word “Ronda” which means to serenade. And that they did. You couldn’t help but picture a Spanish couple slowly dancing around a dimly lit tapas bar at dusk. It sounds cheesy, I know, but music does that to you. It helps you picture the past and feel an emotional connection to the sounds. The kids were actually quiet most of the time (which is rare) because they were so entranced by the melodies.

While the kids might not understand how important music is now, it exposes them to the sounds of their history and is something tangible that they’ll remember. I’m so glad to be part of a school that takes time away from stuffy textbooks to give the kids a more interactive experience. As a foreigner, these are the moments that I really love because I can actually hear the difference between this culture and mine. Even though I’m not a Spaniard, for a hot minute I get to pretend I am because we’re all hearing, feeling and clapping the same beats together-which is a pretty cool feeling.

 

 

 

Perks and Disadvantages

Busco professor de Ingles.

Hola, mi nombre es Alejandro Sanchez, soy de California y estoy vivendo aqui en Madrid trabajando en un instituto como Assistente de Conversacion…

This is how I respond to most posts about private English classes. The responses I receive are somewhere along the lines of “Gracias, pero buscamos un professor nativo en Ingles.”

Nativo en Ingles?

I am not a native English speaker?

…..

I am Mexican-American, I have tan skin, black hair and dark brown eyes. I was brought up speaking Spanish, but my superior language is English, and I have lived most of my life in California. There are many perks to these characteristics, one of them which I was told as soon as I arrived was that I look Spanish so that pickpockets and scammers wouldn’t target me as much because I do not look like a tourist. More important, I am proud that I was brought up speaking Spanish because I can communicate easier here in Madrid. But when people here read my name they assume Spanish not American; which is true, Alejandro Sanchez is a Spanish name, but I am also American.

In my posts, I respond to the people in Spanish because their posts are written in Spanish. Maybe because of this they assume I am Spanish, so I guess I must respond in English to change that perception. A woman, who posted about babysitting her twenty-month-old child, went as far as telling me that she didn’t want to work together because she wanted her baby to pick up an American accent. She assumed that I didn’t have an American accent just by reading my name.

Well jokes on her, I have had people here in Madrid say that they love my American accent. (hair flip)

It is a bit frustrating that I haven’t had much luck getting private teaching classes, but I can’t change who I am, nor would I. I love my heritage, I love my brown skin and I love that I speak Spanish and English.  

Big Planet, Small World

Everything happens for a reason.

There are some people that believe this statement; others say that the things that happen are a mere coincidence. Even though I feel that I am a logical thinker, I want to say that I believe everything happens for a reason. 

One day I had just gotten home from work...

For context it is smart to add that I work in the evenings. A bit strange no? Well unlike many of the Language assistants here in Spain, I am one of the few that works in a vocational school; therefore, I work with adults and at night. It may seem terrible, but it is not as bad as it seems. I will make a post about that in the future.

Continuing on... I got to my flat around 20:30. Starving, I prop open the refrigerator door to find a potato, some slices of cheese and a yogurt. This quantity of food would not sustain the amount of hunger I had. So, I began debating what to do. I could go to the market to buy more food, but I am too hungry to wait for the food to cook. But I was a bit tired from work, so I did not really want to go out. It was a school night. Decisions, decisions.

 I finally decided to go to a burger restaurant that I was told would be the best burger I would ever eat, so I wanted to see if it was true, also it was close to home. I walked into the restaurant and noticed it was empty. I asked for a table, but the waiter told me the establishment was closed. Hangrily I thought to myself, “Why don’t you lock the doors then!” But just like that I was back in step one; do I try go buy food to cook or do I try to find a new place to eat. Disappointed with the hamburger placed being closed, I gave up hope and started walking home. Then I thought to myself, I don’t feel like cooking, I have a couple Euros to spare, and I’m in Madrid. Why not go out to eat. I hopped on the metro and headed to the city center. I had a specific place I wanted to go to. There is a Mexican restaurant that sells 1 Euro tacos, and being Mexican myself I was a little homesick for some spice. I arrived at the establishment to find a line of about 20 people curving outside the door, at this point my cravings for Mexican food was greater than my desire to eat so I decided to wait it out.

The line was moving slow, so I decided to eavesdrop on the conversations of other people in line to make the time go by faster. I realized the people in front of me were switching from English to Spanish as they conversed and listening in more depth they were actually talking about California. What a coincidence, my hometown. I wanted to jump in and say, “Hey, I’m from California too!” But I am a bit shy and specially in situations like this, I don’t like to interrupt because I think people will think I am being rude. Some minutes went by and I just stood there nervously debating if I should join the conversation or just keep to myself. In the end I thought the worst that will happen is that they will ignore me, carry on with their conversation and I will go back to my thoughts. I took the risk and asked them if they were from California. Not only were they from California, they were from Mexico too and one of them was from even from the city where I was born. What a small world, in a city of three million people I happen to stand in line next to some that have the same roots as me. We continued to talk all the way to the front of the line and after I finished ordering, I saw that they had set a chair for me at their table.

On this day, I met some incredible people and ate delicious tacos, and all of this would not have happened if I stayed home or if the burger restaurant had been opened. So yeah, if you ask me some things do happen for a reason.

Salamanca and Ávila

The Journey

Jenna, Maria, and I decided to take a day trip to Salamanca and Avila through a company called Smart Insiders. The company is a multicultural organization that specializes in trips and event planning. We were to meet the group at 9:00 am and head straight to Salamanca. The three of us decided to pack some to-go champagne and breakfast for the trip since we weren't going to make any stops before arriving to our destination. Once we arrived at the meeting point and were on the bus we headed off on our day adventure and it was a beautiful drive. There were rolling hills filled with small farm houses with many animals such as cows, horses, pigs, and dogs. The three of us were enjoying ourselves chatting and taking in the sites. We arrived to Salamanca at 11:30 am, and decided to take a quick break, grab a coffee, and start exploring.

Salamanca is a pretty small city so we knew we would be able to see the majority of it in the 5 hours that were allotted before heading to Ávila. Salamanca is on a hill with a University: Universidad De Salamanca, Old and New Cathedral, good shopping and restaurants, and a beautiful plaza in the center of the city; Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is a large plaza located in the center of Salamanca, used as a public square. It was built in the traditional Spanish baroque style and is a popular gathering area.The whole city seemed a gold brown color because of the ornate sandstone architecture. 

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Our first stops were the cathedrals and they were gorgeous. I couldn't believe how detailed the interiors of both were. Because we went on Sunday there were masses going on in both so it was nice to see how the church is utilized on a weekly basis.  ​​

Next, we decided to head to Plaza Mayor which is one of the most beautiful plazas I’ve seen. In Spain it is very common to have a plaza or meeting point located in the center of the city. In Madrid I live very close to Plaza Mayor, along with a few others for people to get together and socialize. Once we got to the plaza we were greeted with an old fashioned Flamenco street performance. We met some nice guys from Madrid who were also spending the day in Salamanca and we asked if they could take our picture.  ​​ ​​

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At this point in the day we were really hungry so we decided to go and grab some lunch. We went to a restaurant a little ways away from Plaza Mayor called Rio de la Plata. We arrived and ordered a wine and decided we wanted to eat some traditional Spanish fare such as pork, croquettes, and fried calamari. Croquettes are small breadcrumbed fried food in the shape of a roll. Usually the main ingredients are mashed potatoes or ground meat, shellfish, fish, cheese, and vegetables. Ours were ham and cheese and they were the best I've had in Spain so far. Salamanca is also known for their delicious meat so when I tried the pork I was very impressed with the flavor. I would go back to Salamanca just to have their meat dish again. Overall, I would rate the quality of food higher than in Madrid so I am excited to venture out of the big city to find other hidden gems in other cities around Spain. 

Ávila

After lunch we needed to get to the bus because we were heading to Ávila which is an hour drive from Salamanca. The city is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name, and is a city in the rolling hill country northwest of Madrid. It’s best known for its intact medieval city walls is known for it’s beautiful Roman architecture. On our way to Ávila I was taking in the beautiful rolling countryside. I thought it was even more beautiful than our drive to Salamanca. Once we arrived before we headed into Ávila, the tour guides took us to a looking point so we could take in the entirety of they city surrounded by the walls, and it was absolutely beautiful.  ​​

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Once we arrived in the city everyone in the group walked to the plaza, which as I mentioned before, is the center of the city. As it was getting dark the lights were illuminating on the stone walls and it was magical. ​​ Maria, Jenna, and I were getting tired so we decided that we would walk around for a little and grab some dinner. We went to this old cafe where they had hamburgers and other American inspired dishes. Since we already had our fill of Spanish food this sounded perfect to us. Once we ordered we sat and talked with our waiter and practiced a little Spanish.

At 8:30 it was time to go back to the bus and head back to Madrid. On the walk back it was dark and the city was gorgeous since you could see the lights very well, and get to see more details of the architecture.  I was happy with Smart Insiders and how they organized the day getting everyone to two cities. I look forward to more day trips like this in the future and being able to see different parts of Spain. 

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