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7 posts categorized "Ellen Grinnell"

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!

Can Openers

Today, I did battle with a can opener.

Here’s how it happened:

Fall has descended upon Madrid, and with the arrival of cooler temperatures and browning leaves has also come nostalgic memories of growing up in New England during autumn-time. Colorful leaves, crisp air, and pumpkin- and apple-everything: bread, pie, crisp, cider, you name it. While I still cannot thank my lucky stars enough to be living here in Spain, this season has got me missing home a little bit more than usual.

So, I decided to bring a little New England fall magic to Spain by bringing some pumpkin bread and apple crisp to my kitchen.

The first obstacle to overcome was finding all the ingredients I needed. American recipes unfortunately do NOT cater to people living abroad, and I begrudgingly ended up at a Taste of America store to buy a can of pumpkin purée (I could’ve gotten a pumpkin easily enough to make my own purée, but as my mom always says - not only is canned easier, but sometimes it even tastes better).

So, with my kitchen fully stocked with all necessary ingredients, I was ready to start mixing some magic. First up was the pumpkin bread.

Step one: open the can of pumpkin.

That’s when I realized that my flat did not have a can opener...at least not the kind I was accustomed to using. We did have a small metal piece with a curved tooth that clearly seemed to be intended for puncturing cans...but I could not for the life of me figure out how to use it.

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Five google searches on how-to-open-a-can-without-a-can-opener later, I was sweating profusely from struggling to pry open the lid and nervously praying that I wouldn't injure myself in the process. After a solid thirty minutes, I finally made a hole just large enough to start desperately scooping out the pumpkin with a tiny spoon. It took another five minutes just to coax it all out.

When the mushy pumpkin was all sitting triumphantly in my bowl, I nearly cried from joy at the victory. And I could’ve kissed that sweet-smelling pumpkin bread when I took it out of the oven. The top was burnt because, naturally, I hadn’t set the oven to the right setting, but at that point, I was just grateful to even have pumpkin bread, burnt or not. 

Now, opening a can was something that I had mentally checked off the list of things I know how to do. As was baking something in an oven. As was going to the grocery store for ingredients. As was...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

But moving to and living in Spain has completely changed my perspective on these types of things - the things I thought I already knew how to do. Skills and tools I took for granted. Little things like can openers that I just grew up learning and can’t even remember being taught.

Yet, I’m realizing that as frustrating as they are, these can-opener moments are incredibly important - they help us become more competent and knowledgeable adults. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wanting to avoid looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s truly much more rewarding to test something out, fail, and be that much wiser for having tried.

In the end, I dove into a delicious bowl of pumpkin bread, apple crisp, and vanilla ice cream, tasting memories of my childhood and the satisfaction of a battle hard won. So, my advice is to not be afraid of discovering your “can openers” and to make sure you give them all you’ve got, because it’s those victories that taste (sometimes quite literally) the sweetest.

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A Festival-Filled Long Weekend: Continued

My stomach was rumbling, my legs were cramped, and I felt sore from sitting in one position on the bus for the four hours it took to drive from Madrid to Zaragoza. But all that discomfort instantly dissolved as we turned the corner and I caught my first glimpse of the magnificent Basílica del Pilar, with its colorfully-tiled dome tops and looming bell towers. I gasped aloud, along with most of the people on the bus, and my heart starting pumping with excitement for the day ahead.

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We were herded off the bus, handed tourist maps, and set free to roam the city to our heart’s content. My friend and I immediately made it our mission to visit as many of the historic landmarks as we could. Lucky for us, they’re all pretty much located on one quadrant of the city, starting at the Basílica. As we walked, we passed something old and beautiful nearly every couple of minutes, and squealed in awe every time.

Then, for just five euros (student discount), we could tour the museums of Zaragoza’s ancient theatre, public baths, forum, and river port - remnants of the city’s Roman origins. At the theatre museum, I was utterly fascinated to learn that the ruins had been so buried underground that no one had realized they even existed until 1972. I stood there, surrounded by the crumbling benches, and closed my eyes, trying to imagine the once magnificent, three-story theatre. I could picture Romans filling the rows, laughing and reacting together to the performance before them. What a sight it must have been.

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Suddenly, the upbeat sounds of a marching band interrupted my nostalgic thoughts and I was brought back to the present, to modern-day Zaragoza. The music was wafting down from the streets above, signaling that a parade was passing by. My friend and I decided to join in the festivities and hurried out of the museum to fall in line with the crowds of people dancing and marching down the street. Many were dressed head to toe in a bright royal blue color, with scarfs that had the word “Zaragoza” printed in crisp, white print. Many also carried bottles of wine with glasses, taking advantage of the fact that during the festival it is legal to serve and consume alcoholic beverages on the streets.

We then made our way to the riverfront, where countless artisans had set up stalls to sell their homemade goods and food. We passed a giant shrine of flowers made to honor saint Pilar, and a stage where local artists played their sets throughout the day and night. Spontaneous traditional dancing filled the streets - the kind that makes you wish you knew the steps so you could jump in. And, of course, fireworks went off at night to celebrate the end of the festival.

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By the time my friend and I re-boarded our bus at 2:30 in the morning, we were dizzy from the whirlwind adventures of the day. As I dragged my extremely exhausted body back home from the bus stop at 6:30 in the morning, head pounding and feet aching, I couldn’t help but feel grateful. Grateful to be here, living in Spain, and having the opportunity to experience magical days like the Festival del Pilar, and hopefully many more come!

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A Festival-Filled Long Weekend

Hypothetical question: what would you do if someone were to tell you that you’re about to have a five day weekend?

That was a question I got to ask myself in reality when the bilingual coordinator at my school handed me my class schedule and holiday calendar and I realized that I had five days off the following weekend.

My mind began racing with the possibilities of places I could visit - beaches, mountains, even other countries. After a couple hours of research, I ultimately decided to capitalize on one of the best parts of living in a country like Spain - festivals!

I was lucky enough to be able to make it to the last day of Semana Cervantina in Alcalá de Henares as well as the last day of Festival Pilar in Zaragoza.

First up:

Semana Cervantina

Alcalá de Henares is a quaint little town that lies about forty minutes to the north-east of Madrid (cercanías lines C-2 and C-7). It is the birthplace of famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, whose house is still intact and can be toured for free!

Cervantes is best known for his work Don Quijote de la Mancha. For those that haven’t heard of it, here is my very humble and very simplified summary: a man who has a bit of an obsession with books about knights and chivalry wakes up one morning and declares himself a knight named Don Quijote. Don Quijote then convinces a farmer named Sancho to be his squire, and the pair set off on a string of haphazard adventures, including fighting “giants” (read: windmills) and rescuing “damsels” (read: loose women).

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Naturally, Spain loves a good Don Quijote reference, and Alcalá de Henares is the motherland of paying homage to this fictional character and his creator. As a literature nerd who has taken an entire class on the novel, I was perhaps a little too excited to attend an entire festival dedicated to Cervantes.

And let me tell you, Semana Cervantina did not disappoint. Mere minutes after leaving the train station I stumbled upon the “Mercado Cervantino” in Plaza de Cervantes, where artisan stalls lined the streets selling trinkets, clothing, jewelry, pastries, and locally produced cheese and jamón. Medieval style flags were strung up in the air above the streets, which were bustling with people, many of whom wore medieval costumes. Children ran about and squealed with delight as the carnival rides spun them around and around. The atmosphere positively buzzed with energy and spirit.

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But the best had yet to come. Just as I was getting ready to head back to Madrid, I heard music coming from down the street and noticed a herd of people gathering. I approached the melodious sounds and pushed through the crowd of people until I came face to face with Don Quijote himself - shield and spear in hand - riding his white steed, and Sancho Panza - flask in hand - riding his donkey. The characters were parading the streets, accompanied by musicians and two men holding a live snake and eagle. I nearly burst out laughing at the sight and couldn’t help but admire their level of dedication.

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All in all, an amazing day! Stay tuned for a follow-up post about the Pilar Festival in Zaragoza!

An Ode to Plain Bagels with Cream Cheese

In the United States, there exists a wondrous delicacy -

A mouthwateringly tasty one, crafted with expertise -

That is known by all and enjoyed universally,

Called the Plain Bagel with Cream Cheese.

It features a donut-shaped roll of fluffy dough

Packed tightly, with crisped edges toasted golden,

And a layer of soft, creamy goodness smeared on top.

In America, for a bagel one need not search high and low.

But in España, this delightful country which I have chosen,

The quest has been extremely daunting, shop after shop after shop...

***

For most people, one of the most exciting parts of moving to any foreign country is being surrounded by local cuisine and getting the chance to try new dishes nearly every day. 

I am not one of those people.

“But it’s Spain, how can you live in Spain and not want to try the paella, and the gazpacho, and the patatas bravas, and the salmorejo, and the pisto, and the tortilla española, and the…” The list could go on for a while.

The problem is: I am a picky eater. It has absolutely nothing to do with foreign foods - I struggle to find things to order at American restaurants at home. I’m not proud of it, and I’m working to broaden my horizons (one of my goals for this year!), but it’s not likely to magically happen overnight.

However, after a month of grocery shopping in Madrid, I can happily attest to the fact that even picky eaters have nothing to worry about here. Right off the bat, I was able to find and prepare many of the foods I would eat at home - pasta, eggs with toast, peanut butter sandwiches, and turkey and cheese sandwiches (although of late I’ve been opting for the oh-so-very-Spanish jamón y queso bocadillos).

But even after weeks of successfully finding my comfort foods, there was one that still eluded me: my beloved plain bagel with cream cheese. I was determined to find it.

Though rare, bagels are not impossible to find in Madrid. Naturally, I began my quest for them at the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks coffee shops that are scattered throughout the city. To my dismay, however, the only types of bagels these shops offer are sesame. Being the picky eater that I am, I must have plain bagels. 

So, I turned to my good friend Google and found lists of the best places to find bagels in Madrid. One morning, I set off and traversed all over the city, visiting each and every one with high hopes, but with little success. It seemed as though, while bagels themselves are rare in Madrid, plain bagels are non-existent.

And then, finally, at a tiny little cafe called Panela & Co, victory was mine.

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The price was steep (6,95€), but I paid it without hesitation and savored every single bite of that glorious plain bagel with cream cheese with pure and overwhelming bliss.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s good advice to spend too much of your time on a foreign adventure in search of food from home. But every once in awhile, I say go for it. Ironically, my quest for a taste of home brought me to many new neighborhoods in Madrid that I had yet to explore. It’s all about balance and finding your happiness - whatever and wherever that is - so go find it!

 

NOTE: Since writing this post, I have found another café, called Juicy Avenue, that has a variety of bagel and cream cheese flavors for much cheaper prices.

IMG_0418I will be continuing to take note of all the good bagel places I find, so if anyone is interested, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Aranjuez

The other day I went to visit Aranjuez (the town I'll be teaching in) to have a look around and become familiar with the area. After just ten minutes of exploring, I stumbled across this gorgeous view of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez and was rendered speechless...needless to say, I think I'm going to like it here :)

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Panicked Packing

I am a planner. I go all out - checklists, detailed calendars, etc. So when it came time to prepare for something as big as moving to a foreign country, you better believe I planned like CRAZY.

I had read every single Facebook and blog post that existed about how to pack for ten months in Spain. I knew about the “Rule of 3” (only bring three articles of each type of clothing) and that I should lay out everything I want to bring and then cut it down by half. I had researched Spanish weather, how to secure a year’s supply of medication, and the baggage size regulations of the airline I was flying on. I bought space saver bags and practiced arranging my pile of things into my brand new suitcase until they fit just right. There was even room to spare.

And then I weighed my suitcase: 85 lbs.

The weight limit for any single item of baggage is 50 lbs. For an extra fee of $100, an item can weigh up to 70 lbs, but no more.

Panic.

I had planned so carefully and worked so hard to ensure that everything fit into exactly one suitcase - I had planned to avoid the inconvenience of dragging two bags around Madrid. In my eagerness to plan for space so perfectly, I had completely overlooked planning for weight. I felt a tightness in my chest as I sat on the floor next to my overweight suitcase, wallowing in disappointment and frustration.

In the end, after poring over the airline’s website and talking on the phone with a representative, I figured it all out. I paid a fee for an extra piece of luggage (a duffel bag that could sit on top of my suitcase, therefore not an extra nuisance to carry) and was able to laugh at myself about the whole thing. The lesson learned was that in any endeavor, no matter how much you plan, there will always be something that goes wrong. And that’s okay - the key is to be flexible and not let one hiccup, even one that weighs 15 extra pounds, ruin your overall experience.

Hey, at least I measured my suitcase before getting to the airport, right?

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