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4 posts categorized "Ellen Grinnell"

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).


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.


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.


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!


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 :)


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.


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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