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From Salamanca, With Love


This past weekend I found myself in a beautiful place -- Salamanca.  Where to even begin?  


My birthday trip was initially supposed to be to Granada.  But when Granada felt like too much for just a weekend, we had to regroup.  Where to go that was not too far and could be accomplished in a weekend?  Enter Rick Steves, or Ricky S, as I like to call him.  I’ve never been one to search through travel guides.  I’m not opposed to them, I think they’re quite fun actually.  And my dad usually manages to slip an Eyewitness sights-to-see book in my bag upon departure.  I guess I just rely on the internet.  This time I chanced upon Ricky S’ pages on Salamanca.  After “university town,” “Art Deco museum in a building from the same period,” and “perfect for a weekend,” I was sold.  Salamanca, ahoy!

There is a train to Salamanca that only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes from Madrid, but none of those train times worked with our schedules.  Instead we booked the train that takes just about 3 hours.  En route during sunset, outside the window we could see large, beautiful fields turning orange and purple as the sun descended.  Arriving in the dark in the US would probably bring people anxiety and empty streets.  In Spain?  No way.  We got off the train at around 9 and as we walked the streets towards our hotel, bars were packed, stores were open, and children were playing outside.  I love Spain.

We stayed at Microtel Placentinos, another Ricky S recommendation.  It was perfect: perfect location, perfect decor, perfect people.  It is behind the university and in a peaceful spot.  The breakfast included was also muy bueno: meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, yogurts, coffee, etc. etc.  I’ve grown to be slightly obsessed with these “free” breakfasts.  They save stress and money and take two seconds to get to!  Though one day I learned of Croissanteria Paris, and upon reading that one should go first thing in the morning to get the freshest croissants, I fled.  I returned with one croissant filled with spinach and cheese, one with milk chocolate, and another with raspberry jam and queso fresco.  This was pre-breakfast breakfast of course. 


I digress!  I skipped to the croissants on Saturday morning.  Let’s go back to Friday night.  At check-in, the concierge cheerfully showed us a map of town and recommended a few places to go for tapas.  We dropped our stuff and trotted over to Bambú--apparently this is also a Ricky S recommendation, but I didn’t know it at the time!!!

No no no wow I’ve gone too far.  Let me go back to the walk from the train station to the hotel.  About 15 minutes in we hit one of the most amazing spots: the Plaza Mayor.  I was speechless at the time and I’m speechless now.  At night it is quite something, brightly lit and filled with people.  It feels like the place to be.  Will stop here and insert a photo below. 


So, check-in, luggage left, Bambú.  The restaurant was crowded and everyone behind the counter was moving fast.  I felt we had two options: 1) we could take a seat, as most tourists might, to avoid the scary situation of having to stick out in the crowd of standing locals and fumble through asking what the display dishes are, or 2) we could conquer our fears, dive into the crowd of standing locals and own our tourist-selves.  I’m excited to say that we chose option 2.  And it wasn’t that bad!  In fact, it was wonderful.  We tried 7 various tapas and had 6 cañas (claras con limón).  The most delicious was an hojaldre of bacon and cheese.  Photos below.  Feast your eyes.

IMG_4719 IMG_4722


Everyone was nice to us and we left feeling great.  We decided to walk on over to Cafe Novelty, a 1920s joint where I read they have special ice cream.  “We finished with the ice cream,” said the waiter.  Oops.  We left.  No problem!  Bambú had been a perfect first night adventure.

The next day we went first thing (after the Croissanteria Paris event and hotel breakfast) to the Oficina del Turismo in Plaza Mayor to collect our 4€ passes to both the Museo de Historia de la Automoción and Casa Lis--the Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum.  Easy peezy.  At this point I was feeling energized by my ability to go to a city in Spain and deal with tourist office things in Spanish.  We set off for the museums.

The car museum was fun--3 floors of automobiles from the late 19th century up until present day.  The Hispano Suizas were fun to see, as were the classic Rolls Royce, Ford Model-T, and Cadillac.  This museum is nice because the labels are simple, if you want to read them, and the point is really just to walk around and look at the cars.  After, we headed over to Casa Lis.

IMG_4808Casa Lis really is something to see.  Perched above the burnt orange rocks of Salamanca lies a facade of an Art Deco building, red flowers lining the multicolored stained glass windows.  Inside there are more stained glass windows that are fun to see.  The rooms hold everything from glass objects to mini-figurines to dolls to paintings.  It’s a mish-mash of things to explore.  I found the room with dolls fairly terrifying, but still interesting!  One of the nicest parts of the museum, though, is the cafe.  I sat in the cafe with a Viennese coffee while the sun shone through the windows and highlighted all of the vibrant colors of the room.  Surrounded by reproductions of paintings and objects in the museum, I sipped my coffee in what felt like a 1920s cafe.  I highly recommend this spot to anyone who finds their self in Salamanca.  Like, literally, not figuratively.  If figuratively, that’s awesome too!


In an effort to not make this post into a novel, I’ll move on to some other Salamanca moments.  We took a 30-minute mini tourist train through the city and saw the Puente Romano from afar.  We searched for the frog and astronaut on the outside relief of the University building and Cathedral (upon renovation, fun images were added to the facades including an astronaut, a dragon eating ice cream, and more).  The frog is the symbol of the city, every type of frog is sold as every type of souvenir: snowglobes, shot glasses, figurines, fans, t-shirts, plates, this list could go on forever.  The university is from 1230, by the way.  The year 1230.  There’s something magical about the commitment to education that’s been there for so long.  And they hammer this point home for sure.  At the Convento de San Esteban, religious words are mixed with quotes that express a commitment to learning.  It’s cool, though kind of hard to accept, considering how many were excluded from educational opportunities over the centuries.  Or how many were thought to be “civilized” by this learning.  As a woman it can often be hard to see lines constantly talking of “a man’s spirit,” “a man’s this,” “a man’s that.”  But this certainly did not dull the magic of Salamanca the city.


One highlight was taking funny photos with statues of the architects of Plaza Mayor.  Another was a band of students with horns playing Beatles tunes.  Just like these two moments the city is an amalgamation of old and new, history and present.  One minute you see Zara and Carrefour, the next you see a Gothic Cathedral built between 1513 and 1733 hovering high over the city.  Walking through the old, small streets of Salamanca, I felt alive.  It was a great place to spend the anniversary of another year of life.    


Grat·i·tude (noun) : the quality of being thankful*

I honestly began composing this in my head last night (when it was still actually “Thanksgiving”), but sometimes life takes priority to sitting down and actually putting everything down in words on a blog!

Even though I might have missed out on many of my usual US Thanksgiving traditions of helping prepare all of the food, going to Mass with my parents and eating Turkey dinner with my family - some traditions follow us wherever we go.  One of my favorite, unspoken, traditions is just taking the time to look at all of the blessings in my life each year.  So, with this on my mind, I thought that I’d share a few things from my list of gratitude for this year...


1. I am first and foremost grateful for the gift of my life and all those who are (or have been) part of it - my parents, my siblings, my family and friends, my teachers and mentors.  I will never be able to properly thank you all for everything you have done and continue to do for me - often without knowing that you have made such an impact on me!

2. I am thankful for the family that welcomed me into their home for the year as an au pair and has quickly gone from a family I work for to the safe haven I can always turn to share a laugh or an anxiety or anything in between.  Words can’t express how much of a gift this family is to me (especially not if I’m trying to explain in Spanish!).

3. I am thankful for strangers who have become friends as we navigate the ups and downs of living in another country and all that comes with that - coworkers from work that give me a reason to smile on days when I’m not feeling it, people that I met at orientation all those weeks ago who still check in and take the time to meet up in our free moments!

4. I am thankful for the opportunity to work abroad, in a great school, with passionate and engaging teachers and administrators.  I actually love seeing what each day at work will bring and what I will learn.

5. I am thankful for the chance to test my limits - to go abroad, to see places that I’ve always dreamed of, and to step outside of my comfort zone.

6. I am thankful for all the things that I, too often, take for granted - a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, warm clothes to wear on cold mornings, food to eat each day, good health and the chance to get medical (or dental) care when I need it...  


The list goes on and on, but I won’t bore you with my list of gratitude - I’d rather let you go make your own!  As we jump into Black Friday and the rush of the holiday season, I hope that we can all hold onto that feeling of gratitude... ¡Besitos!

(Ps 9:1)


*As defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary

Thanksgiving from 5000 miles away.

It's Thanksgiving back home but here in Spain it's just another work day. With my 1ESO (7th grade) students we talked about some of the history and traditions that go along with Thanksgiving so I had them all share something they are thankful for. My favorite one by far was "I'm thank you for me because I like me and school." which roughly translates to "I am thankful for my life and the fact that I am at a great school." They have not been learning English as long but they try their best and that's what counts.

I may have moved half way around the world but that doesn't mean I won't still cook a turkey dinner. A small Thanksgiving here has turned into 13 people coming and none of them have ever had a Thanksgiving meal so it's up to me to pull this off. Everything that you can so easily get in the US does not exist here. Making pumpkin pie for example has shown to be quite the task. At home I could have just bought a can of pumpkin pie filling and called it a day, but now I have to wander through the city looking for something that I can turn into pumpkin pie. 6 stops later, I have all the ingredients. The next problem is finding a turkey. They don't just sell them at the supermarket, so you have to go to the butcher shop, but they don't readily keep whole turkeys on hand, so you have to order one ahead of time. Seems easy until you ask for an 8 kilo (about 18 lbs.) turkey and the butcher looks at you like you are insane. They question your ability to speak Spanish and if you know what you mean when you say whole turkey. Once you have the turkey you have to hope that it will actually fit in your oven because every appliance is smaller outside the US. That's for tomorrow though. For now I have one fresh baked pie ready for eating and the rest will hopefully fall into place tomorrow.

Embrace your Inner Teacher

Goofing around during an assembly

Ever since I started babysitting at the age of 13, I’ve always been around kids; we just seem to get each other. For the past nine years I’ve worked as a babysitter/nanny, mentor, daycare worker and camp counselor. Finding the Volunteer program in Spain was the perfect fit for me because I could work on my Spanish with a host family and be around kids-which was a comfortable feeling for me.

But teaching is its own kind of animal. Now I stand in front of a room with 25 pairs of eyes staring at me. It took me a few weeks to get into a rhythm where I felt like the kids and I were connecting. The language barrier isn’t your only challenge; you also have to make English FUN. Blindly walking into the teaching world has been an eye-opening, frustrating, hilarious and great experience...but getting comfortable takes time. Here are some tips to ride out the awkwardness of your first weeks so you can embrace your inner teacher:

1. Go with the flow

Something Spaniards are notorious for is their relaxed attitudes. As an American who lives by her watch and schedules everything to the hour, this was a challenge. If school starts 10 minutes late? Don’t worry about it. If your teacher isn’t in her classroom? No need to panic, she’ll be there soon. It’s definitely a cultural thing that you’ll find yourself falling into, so just embrace the chill pace.

This “go with the flow” mentality also applies to classroom time. Most likely, you’ll walk into each class everyday without a clue as to what’s going on-what a rush! There’s nothing like having to think on your feet or learn 6th grade science vocabulary on the spot. Honestly, this makes teaching really exciting for me because it’s so spontaneous. You get to feed off of what the kids like/don’t like, plus your lead teacher is running the show, so you’re not the sole person responsible for feeding their young minds with knowledge.

2. Try (and fail) to make activities

Where the learning happens

What I love about the teachers I work with is that they let me be hands on. I’m constantly helping with pronunciation, correcting homework and running lessons. My favorite part is helping come up with interactive activities. So far I’ve played “restaurant” with the kids to help them with conversation & vocabulary, created competitive review games and done Halloween charades. You’re definitely on a teaching high when you see that your kiddos are excited about the activities you came up with.

But sometimes your ideas fail: To help the kids learn about the digestive system, I tried putting them in groups and had them draw pictures to make connections between the information and visuals. All good in theory, but the kids were extremely distracted working with friends and just ended up copying images from the books instead of using their imagination.  Total fail-but a great lesson for me. Now I know what activities to stay away from for that class.

3. Get to know the kids

I try to have side conversations with the kids before and after class so there’s more of a personal connection between us. This helps me get to know their personalities and to give them extra practice with their English in a more casual way.

4. Have a sense of humor

Kids are crazy, whether you’re in the U.S. or Spain, it’s a fact. As an English Assistant, you only have to work 3-4 hours a day (go you!), so don’t let those tough days get you down. Try to turn the mood around and do what you can to keep most of the class on track. Most likely, your lead teacher will be just as overwhelmed as you are, so spreading some positive vibes could be a huge help to her.

Since being an English Assistant is fun, have fun with the job! This is your time to give them a break from boring grammar lessons and show them a different side to American culture. Cracking jokes and creating a fun (but respectful) teaching environment will keep the kids engaged and excited to learn from you.

Un saludo,



Blog For Birthday Week


This post will be the written manifestation of what my daily life is like here: the first half devoted to life at school, the second half to life outside of school. It will include the same emotional swings as a day in the life here does. And I don't mean that dramatically!

In my Advanced English Bachillerato classes I gave them yet another assignment.  I’m really enjoying creating these assignment sheets.  Probably also am taking some pleasure in knowing I’m not on the receiving end for a change.  For the rest of the year--2017--they're going to develop short stories! My lesson plan (adapted from a creative writing teacher in the US): bring in about 10-12 books, preferably fiction, have each student look through a book to find a word, preferably one they don't know too well, write it down, pass the book to the next person.  In the first group, they wrote 10 words down. The rest of the groups progressively diminished their word count. I felt 10 was a bit much, a bit too difficult, so 5 sufficed.

After writing their words down, they had to stand up (keep them energized however I can) and pick the opening sentence of one of the books. They had to take a picture of it or write it down (some students actually did not have their phones! miracles can happen).  I didn't specify preface, introduction, first chapter, didn't matter. I then asked them what think is a story. Then what they think is a short story. Did not do the genre-explaining justice oops. I'm learning. Then I told them that the opening sentence they chose is the opening sentence of their story and they have to incorporate the 10 (or 5 or 4 or 7) words they have written down into their story. To soften the blow I said “those of you who wrote about wanting to expand your vocabulary on the blog, here you go, take this opportunity to not only learn new words, but also work on incorporating them into sentences.”    

I think they found the task a bit daunting, but I stressed that this isn't "write a story in a week, go!" In one week they have to just have ideas for their stories or some sort of plan. In another week they should have a first draft (they thought this meant a chart or storyboard maybe? That was interesting.  I gave them my definition of a first draft and said it means it can be rough, very rough). In two weeks (another vacation) they'll turn in their revised story. On the assignment sheet I emphasized that what they're practicing is revision: writing, revising, writing revising, etc. I wrote the words over and over so that they'd get the point. At the bottom of the assignment sheet I included my definition of revision: going over something with the intention of making it better. That definition certainly needs revision (I crack myself up!!!!).  

When two students were laughing I asked them what was funny, not as a challenge. They said they'll have trouble STOPPING themselves when writing. Another student stayed after the bell rang to tell me her ideas and chat a bit. I'm pretty lucky with this group of students.

Week after week it becomes more and more clear to me that effusing passion is the most engaging way to teach. When I'm excited, they perk up; if I'm just plowing ahead, trekking through the mud, and avoiding quicksand, they feel the tense, rough road ahead. What a performance teaching is. Very funny to experience as someone who never liked the spotlight, kind of :)

As for the second half here, it was my birthday this week.  Did I give that away already?  I had a wonderful birthday even though I'm far away from most people I love.

I went to see Cyrille Aimee as part of the Madrid Jazz Festival. Aimee is a French jazz vocalist who won a Montreal vocal competition that put her on the map. Her set was awesome and the venue was awesome. Sala Clamores felt just like a jazz nightclub should: dark lighting, red lighting, a bar with overpriced cocktails that take a long time to make, the logo of the place in bright lights behind the stage, a middle-aged male owner running around in a t-shirt that says "give all" or something motivational like that.


I went to the bar to order cocktails and they were delicious. Aimee's set was a lot of fun. It was the first stop of this tour for her and this band (a female pianist!).  They started with a great rumba version of “I Could've Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.  Perfect opening number for a set. Later on, Aimee showed some serious vocal and arranging chops on a solo number where she looped her voice using that machine that I don't know the name of. Ed Sheeran uses it too... You sing or play a phrase of music that the machine records and can play aloud while you record the next part you want to play with that first part.  Even more people took out their phones for this number; everyone perked up and realized they were witnessing something special.


Other fairly well-known songs performed: “Whatever Lola Wants,” “Off The Wall” (Michael Jackson), and “Oye Como Va.”

I also, on my birthday, went to one of my favorite cafes. This is part of wonderful life in Madrid: I get home with enough time to turn the day into something totally different if I so choose. On the Monday of Birthday Week, the second half of my day involved cappuccino, truffle mortadella, manchego cheese, churros y chocolate (birthday week, bear with me here).


Only in Madrid.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Okay, while I didn’t plan this, I feel as though I managed to find the perfect way to kickoff the (pre)season of Advent and, for all intents and purposes, Christmas!  If anyone is looking to really start the season of preparation for Christmas right, head to Germany.  From my arrival to the Madrid airport to my departure from the Köln train station, my weekend seemed to be seeped in the start of Advent and Christmas celebrations.  

668ACE89-54B0-4E53-8340-A3A96F9AFDCE (The display I was greeted by in the Madrid airport on Friday morning)

So, Köln...
My first adventure alone in a foreign city since I arrived in Spain. I won’t lie, there was a mixture of emotions as I stepped out of the plane and made my way through the airport. There was the disappointment of not getting my passport stamped (I know that it may sound silly, but I want the proof in ink that I took this trip!), the anxiety as I waited in line to buy a ticket from the ticket kiosk (and listened to all the German being spoken surrounding me), and the excitement of having made it. Because, for better or worse, I was there - in Germany - alone, for a weekend.

I started the morning at the Dom (Cathedral) located right outside of the train station in Cologne. I took a tour of the Cathedral, taking some time to sit and rest both my body and soul. After such an early morning (catching a taxi before 5am meant that I had to be up around 4:30!) and a very restless week of sleep, I was very in need of some coffee.
When in doubt, look for a Starbucks and you will find baristas who speak English and coffee that you recognize. I settled in with a hot chocolate (because they have their Christmas/holiday drinks out now) and my devices, and began writing and planning what to do during my time in Cologne. (Nothing like being prepared ahead of time!)

I knew that I couldn’t check into my hotel until 2 and I didn’t really want to carry my bag of stuff with me while I went exploring, so I finished my last blog post at the coffee shop and then headed over to the hotel a little after 2:30. Once I got to the hotel, I put my stuff down and decided that I would make my way to the Rhein Garden for a stroll before heading out for an early dinner - I had skipped lunch and I was also still tired. After checking out some reviews online, I had decided to go to Bei Oma Kleinmann for some authentic Schnitzel. As I walked, I thought of how this was the first time that I have gone somewhere “nice” (and by nice I mean somewhere where you sit down without your phone out or a book open...) for dinner all by myself... It was a bit nerve wracking, but I’m glad that I took the plunge. I sat at the bar, where the very nice (English-speaking) bartender chatted on and off with me as I ordered “ein Bier, bitte” and my Kinderschnitzel. Despite the initial discomfort of sitting by oneself while being surrounded by groups of strangers, it was a great experience! I walked back towards my hotel, stopping to meander in and out of a few stores that I passed along the way.  Everywhere I looked I saw Christmas lights and decorations.


Waking up on Saturday was glorious! I had slept for about 10.5 hours and was excited for the start of the day. After breakfast at the hotel, I got ready and headed out to go walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge (covered in locks left by couples as a romantic symbol of their lasting love) over to the observation deck on the opposite side of the Rhein river where I spent some time looking out over the incredible city that is Köln.

The only thing, besides buying my tickets for my flight and booking a hotel, that I had done, in Spain, to prepare for my trip was to get a ticket to the Cologne philharmonic orchestra concert that was happening on Saturday. After determining (with the little German skills that I possess) that I needed to print out my ticket, I made certain to do so before I left Spain. And then, of course, I left the ticket, which I had so intentionally taken the time to print, in the house. So, this posed a new problem for me...

After trying to find (unsuccessfully) a “multishop” that was open, I ended up at the Köln Tourism building. The woman that I spoke to was so incredibly nice and printed out the ticket for me.  With my ticket in hand I made my way over to the trusty Starbucks I had found yesterday.  I picked up a gingerbread latte and some chocolate cake (because when in Germany, one aught to eat chocolate cake), and I ended up sharing some laughs and having a great conversation with a handful of people - two Russian sisters who were visiting an uncle in Cologne, a wonderful, older, German woman and a girl from Michigan who is in her 3rd year studying business here in Cologne - in a mixture of German, Spanish and (mostly) English.

When my coffee and cake were finished I headed over to the shopping district in Cologne and did a little window shopping as I passed the time before heading over to the concert hall. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I arrived for the concert, but it definitely wasn’t what I encountered...

It was a very small concert and I was actually sitting on the stage, right in front of the musicians!! The concert hall is, in and of itself, incredible - it is located underground and has an awesome set-up. The musicians (there were only seven musicians performing - 2 pianists, 1 clarinetist, 1 trombonist, 1 french horn player, 1 trumpet player, and one bassoonist) were very talented and passionate in their performances. And the music that was chosen for the concert was beautiful beyond words - a great mixture of fun and emotional. The experience was truly wonderful and I’m so glad that I got to be there!

If you’re interested in listening to some great music, check out Pierre Gabaye’s “Récréation” - I highly recommend it!  Actually, there wasn’t a piece that they performed that I didn’t love...

Once the concert concluded, I made my way back towards the center of the city and found a quick and easy place to grab dinner (a Falafel sandwich from Doner Kebab). I stopped into the Cathedral around 6:15 and sat - listening to the last couple decades of the rosary being prayed in German. Afterwards I headed back out into the cold and spent just a few minutes walking around and appreciating the lights and excitement taking place in the center of the city before I made my way back to my hotel room for the night.


My final day in Cologne was a quieter one; I enjoyed breakfast at the hotel and went back to the Cathedral one last time for Mass and a final look around.  While I arrived in Cologne too early to enjoy the Christmas market that German cities are so famous for, I still got to see the setup for the main event and some of the pre-decorations.  Then I took one last walk around the city, enjoying some time to just be as I stood and looked out at the Rhein river, off of the Hohenzollern Bridge. I know that I would like to come back and visit again - maybe once I have improved my German skills!

I made my way to the train station, picked up some postcards, and caught my train that would take me to the airport. As a reminder of where I’d gone (and where I would like to go), I picked up a copy of one of my favorite books “Der Kleine Prinz” (The Little Prince) and hopefully I can, one day, sit down and read it all the way through!


As much as I loved my trip to Cologne, there is always a special excitement that comes with heading home. And with that excitement ever present, I made my way back to Rivas, where I now sit contently on my bed after sharing dinner and hugs and the like with everyone here at home.

So, without further ado, I will say goodnight, so I can get some rest before another busy week begins! Gute Nacht! ¡Buenas noches!

(Pr 3:5)

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.


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.


20 Differences: Spain vs. Latin American Spanish

A Petite Traveler

When I first moved to Madrid, Spain at the beginning of August 2017, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, and also by all the cultural differences, especially in the language. I learned Latin American and Mexican Spanish growing up in the United States. Here in Spain, I've learned European Spanish from my host family stay and from Tandem: a prestigious language learning school in Madrid. I'm still learning from my private Spanish classes, my intercambio partner who is a native European Spanish speaker, and from living in Spain! I've rounded up 20 differences in verbs, expressions, and what things are called here for your leisure. Of course, I do not offer an exhaustive list and I will continue to add to it! Please leave comments or follow me on Instagram @APetiteTraveler if you have any questions or comments!

(All of my photos are purchased and licensed through Adobe Stock, except the one of me above, that's just a selfie! Haha.)


1. Vosotros

In the majority of American schools, our Spanish teachers skip this form and we only use "yo", "tú", "él/ella", "nosotros", and "ustedes/ellos/ellas". This is because they only use the vosotros form in Spain and there are over 20 other Spanish-speaking countries. Sorry, Spain! So if you're like me and you're immersed in Spain Spanish or otherwise called "Castilian" or Castellano, it sounds like a different language apart from Spanish!

For example: "¿Como estáis, chicas?" This means, "How are you?"--to 2 or more girls/women or even more basically: "How are ya'll?"

2. Vale.

In Spain, this word means "okay" or "alright". It is used in almost every sentence, everywhere, by EVERYONE! Once you start using "vale" you're on your way to assimilating into Spanish culture. 

3. ¡Qué guay!

This translates to "cool" or "awesome" or "amazing! This word is very highly used from children, to teenagers, to young adults, and to 30 to 40 somethings. 

4. Zumo

Juice. NO ONE says "jugo", no one...unless they're not from Spain... 

5. Conducir

This is the verb for "to drive". You may have learned "manejar". In Spain, everyone uses the word conducir.

6. Coger

I know, I know!  This is something Rated R in most Spanish-speaking countries, however, in Spain, this means "to take" (transportation or an object). For example, "Voy a coger un taxi." I'm going to take a taxi. 

7. Coche

This is the word for "car". You might have learned, or use the word, "carro". If you say carro, half the time they'll probably know what you're referring to, but everyone says coche here. 

8. ¡Genial!

Literally it means, "great!" You'll also hear this ALL the time! It's almost like "awesome!" For example, "Oh, I found an extra bottle of wine for the party!" You can respond, "¡Genial!"

9. Ahora Mismo

If you say, "ahorita" (translates to "right now"in Spain, you'll get some funny looks. They know what you're talking about; but it's more common to say "ahora mismo". It means "right now" or "this very minute" but it also can mean "in a couple minutes" or something you're about to do next!

10. Móvil

It's the word commonly used for "cell phone" vs. "celular".

11. Sobremesa

In Spain, we eat dinner around 9:00-10:00pm (21:00-22:00 Spain time). Late late late into the night, after dinner is over you'll find the Spanish still talking at the same table with friends, lovers and family. This time spent after dinner still talking at the table is referred to as "sobremesa". You don't actually use it in speech like, "let's go sobremesa", no! But just know there is actually a name for it! I love this culture...take your time and enjoy life!

12. No Pasa Nada.

You will hear this A LOT in Spain. It basically means "don't worry".

If you're taking too long at the grocery store to grab your card to pay at the cash register and you say, "Sorry! Just need to grab my card..." the cashier will probably say "No pasa nada". Literally this phrase is thrown out daily!

13. ¡Hombre!

This is literally just like saying "MAN!" or "Oh man (I forgot something)" in American English. Or like "what the heck!" This is usually said in excitement or exasperation. 

13. ¡Venga!

This basically means, "come on!" and can be said seductively all the way to angrily. It can mean "hurry up", or "let's go!" It can be said when an irritated dad is rushing a very slow 5-year old. You'll hear this a lot!

15. Puente

This word translate to "bridge" but in Spain it also refers to a long holiday break from work or school (like a 3-6 day weekend due to a holiday like Christmas or Semana Santa.) 

16. Ordenador

The word commonly used for "computer" or "laptop". In Spanish class in the U.S., you probably learned, "computadora". 

17. ¡Qué chungo! 

This word is a little versatile. Children and adults say it to mean "creepy" or "problematic". In this way it means "how creepy! or "how problematic!"

However if you were to say, as my private Spanish teacher said, "¡Ten cuidado! Ella parece una chica chunga." You're saying, "Be careful! She looks problematic", or like someone rough-looking that you shouldn't associate yourself with.

You can also say: "Estoy chungo/a" to mean something just doesn't feel right, or you don't feel well but you just don't know what it is.

18. Patata!

In Spain, instead of saying "cheeeese!" when someone takes a picture, you say "patataaaa!"

19. Cortado 

When you go into a café or one of the many delicious bakeries in Spain, you wouldn't say you want an espresso with milk, you have to say "¡Quiero un cortado, por fa!" They'll instantly know you mean you want an espresso with milk. Trust me, after 10+ cafes saying it wrong, my life is so much easier now!

20. "¡Ching ching!"

This is how you say, "Cheers!" in Madrid, Spain. It's also pretty widely used in other languages in other European countries--same sound but different spelling!

And there you have it! I'll be sure to add to this list as I learn more words!



Barcelona on a Budget!

PArk Guell

Barcelona, Spain is an incredible city that you absolutely HAVE to see for yourself. You've probably heard of the famous Sagrada Familia, the beautiful Park Güell, and the epic market La Boqueria: The Mercat de Sant Josep. Travel can be quite expensive; but to be a savvy traveler, all you need is to do a little research and set a budget before going. I stayed in Barcelona with my fiancé for 3 days and 2 nights and we only spent 100 euro/per person. You could easily spend 300 euros per person in Barcelona, trust me! 


In those 3 days, we explored the city by foot (free), bicycle (6€ for 2 hours), metro (4,50€ 1 trip), and bus (6€ airport bus)! We stayed at the Atlantis Hotel where we took advantage of the free and filling breakfast. When you go, spend a couple hours exploring and going into shops at Plaça de Catalunya, walking around and taking in the sights and landmarks like Arc de Triomf (above). We spent time strolling through La Boqueria and couldn't help but taste some of the delicacies (fresh oysters, fresh Yakisoba noodles) and of course savored some interesting yet tasty chocolates. Bring some euros with you because the minimums for credit/debit card are horrendous and force you to spend money! For example, chocolates can be anywhere from .50-5€, they also had oysters ranging from 3-9€ each, the minimums can be 10-20€. Food in Barcelona is super affordable with restaurants offering lots of deals and meals being anywhere from 2-12€! 

La boqueria

We didn't end up going inside La Sagrada Familia since there was a lot of construction and the line was longer than a new Disneyland ride line (2 hours + wait) but it was wonderful to just SEE it! 


There are tons of really cool shops and restaurants near the Sagrada Familia; you can easily take the metro there as they have a stop that's literally called La Sagrada Familia, haha. You can buy tickets to La Sagrada Familia here!

Park Güell is also budget-friendly and you have to see it as well!  The picture of my fiancé and I above is taken at Park Güell. It's wise to purchase your ticket online (9€/per person) to enter this part of the park. You definitely want to see it! You can order tickets online here


A list of free places to see (can fill 2-3 days):

  • Park Güell (the top half)
  • La Boqueria
  • Gothic Quarter (filled with tons of amazing architecture, narrow pathways, cheap bars and restaurants to grab lunch or dinner)
  • Plaça de Catalunya 
  • Walk along the beach, port
  • The Arc de Triomf (pictured above)

I could write so much more! Any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out on Instagram @APetiteTraveler or leave a comment below!







Exploring the Country

Every weekend we have a three day weekend and what better way to spend the extra day off than traveling. Some times just a day trip will suffice, and some times you can take your long weekends to travel further.  Even if the weather is awful, it is still good enough to travel. The best part about exploring is being at the top of the city and looking out at the whole city center as if you were in a movie.


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