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27 posts categorized "*Spanish Culture"

Bliss

It's hard to keep track with what I confess, what I admit, the secrets I tell, and the stories I share with the people I meet and the readers I write for. 

So here it is, another one.

When I was a sophomore in College, I ate lunch with a boy I had a small crush on. I decided a few bites into my salad I was going to tell him. He rejected me, naturally. I don't look back on that moment in shame or embarrassment because I set the tone for the remaining duration of our lunch-date. 

We talked about our aspirations, and I told him I wanted to change the world. His response? "You will." Him as a person has long left my life, but those two words still follow me around, floating from one section of my brain to another. It's been the backbone behind many of my decisions.

I didn't know how to do it. Did I become an astronaut? I def didn't want to be President. I picked the pathways that made me happy. I went to South Africa, I went to Spain. With these decisions I slowly realized I didn't need to be an astronaut or the President. I changed the world one person at a time. It was the small things, like explaining the difference between "hit" and "heat," or writing down instructions to a healthy recipe. Things add up. It might seem insignificant, but that word clarification taught a child a new sentence. The recipe changed a families entire diet. My presence in their lives, and theirs in mine, is all it took. 

I know I've been scared to leave, to change the direction of my life. But right now I am sitting in a coffee shop in my small-town, USA, 4,000 miles away from the closest place I really consider home, and I recognize I will still be able to change the world whether I am there or here. I'm excited to see how I do it. 

So Madrid. I love you. I always will. To the students, the teachers, the citizens, the sexy football players. I have to say goodbye right now. Keep a look out for me. 

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

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Eating My Way Across Europe

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

Southwestern Europe

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

Western Europe

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

Central Europe

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

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

Semana Santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Enjoy! =)

 

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Spring Break

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

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

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

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

Rock

Take a picture with this rock. Take a picture standing on the rock, touching the rock, and smelling the rock. All ages, people wait their turn to catch a photo with this rock.

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Me 2
Me 2

The rock is not famous or well know. It has no name. It's only important because it gets you a lot of likes on Instagram and a few more followers on Twitter.  

Lisboa is different. Stunning in it's own way, it's a young city. I would even go as far as saying it's more romantic than Paris.

Lisboa

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

Mayor

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

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

Remember!!! Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

The Winter Travel Bug

Europe is real cool. That sums it up well. No complicated sentence, no GRE vocabulary necessary. Europe is real cool. Smooth. It's a jazz song and every city has its own rhythm. Especially Spain. 

I'm based in Madrid and  recently I took a trip up to the Basque Country. Made my way north. Some friends and I rented a car and took the long route through the mountains and Spanish pueblos. We drove through the clouds. We pulled over to watch the clouds rise up from behind a mountain. Some people watch sunsets, my amigas and I, we watch clouds. 

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We landed first in Bilbao and then hit San Sebastian. Bilbao was on my list. I created a Spanish travel list. It's not long, in fact only two places are on it.

  1. Bilbao
  2. Sevilla

I can't tell you what it is that captivates me about the names of these cities. I would be a happy girl going home in July having only seen these two cities in Spain. Though, I will have seen much more. 

The Basque Country speaks its own language.  The citizens have a unique accent. Their food is...interesting. They specialize in pintxos. These are small snacks that sit out all day long at bars. Spaniards will have a drink at eleven o' clock at night and munch on these plates that were made at nine in the morning that day. This includes eggs, fish, ham...and other categories that some might agree taste best fresh. I think we can all see where I stand on this issue. Not my fav. Culturally amazing, but not my fav. 

Bilbao is famous for the Guggenheim. It's a small city, but this museum is home to a few Pollock's. I didn't go in to the museum, I spent most of the time with the giant spider that chills behind it by the river. It's as weird as it sounds. I don't expect anything less, coming from an art center. 

San Sebastian had it's beach. One of Hemingway's go-to vacation spots, if anyone is curious. You can Google Image it. Something about lying down in the cold sand, the same spot Hemingway dug his feet into decades ago. I felt an overwhelming connection with this stranger of a writer I never met.

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Basque Country, Basque surfing. Just out here, keeping it trill. Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo 

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Cage the Elephant

Similar to the Cheetah Girls, there is one more band that takes over the life of a millennial. Three words: Cage the Elephant. The truth, you are either team love or hate.

When I was in seventh grade, I was new to town. When everyone at the local bus stop would gossip, I had my headphones plugged in playing "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." 

That was over ten years ago, because I was a fan before their debut album dropped. 

Three Italians and I, made our way to Sala Riviera. We got lost, seven months in Madrid and still getting lost. You have no idea how many Concierto Riviera's there are in the La Latina barrio. Several.  A few times we had to use the bathroom, this required stopping for cervezas because local shops wanted our financial support first.  

We missed the first act, which I was personally okay with because I still don't remember their name. We arrived on time and I jammed out, singing every lyric, every word, with three Italians who were equally involved, but lacking similar memories that I used to connect with C.T.E.

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The group members were lit. Matt and Brad Shultz, Daniel, Jared, and Lincoln. Lit names. First, I'm in love with Matt. He owned the stage. Everyone stood still, working their instruments, but Matt, he didn't stop to take a breath once. He ran from one side of the stage to the other, screaming "Nashville, Tennessee." He swung his arms everywhere in his "Tokyo" studded jacket. His flaming reddish hair dripped in sweat. Daniel stood right-downstage, strumming his bass guitar, lighting cigarettes, and living in the music he produced. 

The passion was there. I've seen Beyonce. I've seen T-Swift. I've even seen Kanye. They all bring it, they do. But Cage the Elephant was another level of beauty. 

One side of this story is, I'm in Madrid and I went to go see a band from Nashville Tennessee... I get it. The thing is, sometimes a taste of home in a foreign city can be comforting, even when you don't realize you need the comfort. Many times I forget celebrities have international fans. I think of Drake and I only picture Americans singing a long to his songs. I forget that Italy, China, Australia, Denmark, Chile, and more are singing the same chorus in another time zone, another hemisphere. To be placed in a pit of Spanish speakers all waving their arms and singing the wrong words to songs they maybe listened to as much as me, it was, for lack of a better word, breathtaking. 

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

Happy Birthday, Plaza Mayor! ¡Felicidades por 400 años!

So this year is the 400th anniversary of Plaza Mayor, and to celebrate, the city of Madrid put on an amazing light and projections show.

The projections told the story of Plaza Mayor from its founding to the present day. At one point the plaza went up in projected flames; at another it transformed into a music box. Standing in the square, surrounded by buildings, with projections on all four sides, it feels like being a part of the show. Having all the people in the plaza surrounded by the story turned the audience into active members of the show, shouting "bravo" or clapping or screaming in fright (the little girl next to me screamed the entire fire scene). It was very immersive, and a very cool example of bringing history to life (especially since it utilized such modern technology).

Here's a photo...

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...and a video from the show:

***Password to view is PlazaMayor400***

Happy 400th Anniversary, Plaza Mayor! May you be around for 400 more!

 

 

Around Town, Now Featuring: Rain

I tend to organize my days around meals. On the weekends, that means brunch and dinner. 

When I heard I needed a costume for my school's Carnaval celebration, the first place to look that popped into my head was El Rastro (a huge outdoor market right in the center of Madrid that runs 9am-2pm every Sunday--you're welcome). As my friend and I wanted brunch at a reasonable brunch time (which in Spain, is anywhere from 11-1:30), we decided we would rastro from 10ish-noon, then head to Panela (a not-too-pricey brunch place of dreams in the posh Salamanca neighborhood). 

As it turns out, if you head to El Rastro by passing through metro Embajadores, there are these amazing sections of wall painted in all different styles (by, I presume, different artists). They are stunning. 

Here're a couple photos:

 

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My friend the boat

 

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As they say, "a concrete jungle"

 

Anyway, we got a bit carried away playing with the murals. Which was fine until we realized we had paint/plaster ALL OVER US. It was somehow dry, yet still able to spread onto all of our clothing and purses. I fundamentally disagree with the formula and manufacturers of this wall paint. I for one certainly hope it was not certified as waterproof.

Anyway, after 20 minutes of tissue wiping and hand sanitizing, we were starting to get hungry, so we only ended up poking around the market for just a little over an hour, then were on our way to brunch.

So we arrived at Panela, only to find out that it is not open on Sundays. Heartbreak. Well, being the hungry munchkins we were, we quickly decided to go to another little place, Crepes and Waffles (a huge international chain that started in the Americas), which was a solid choice because their food (and waters! and juices!) are fantastic.

A sample:

 

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It's called "Hidrátate"

 

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Dessert (of course) 

As I was still costume-less due to our limited time at El Rastro, after brunch we popped into a little bazaar-market. I'm on a budget, so when I saw a €2 tiger tail there, that made my decision. I will be a tiger for my school's Carnaval celebration next week. Sunday shopping trip success.

Spanish Resolutions

I know I promised a post on my new years resolutions. Hinting at it the numerous times that I did. There's just a couple issues with that idea of a post which I didn't think about at the time. The good news, while teaching, something better got my attention. 

I gave my students an assignment to come up with three new years resolutions as a class. This took me about thirty minutes to carry out. This is because it takes me five minutes to get to class, four minutes to let the kids file in, another seven to take attendance, nine minutes to get them as close to under control as possible, and finally five minutes to give the assignment. Long story simplified: yes, it takes thirty minutes for me to say "I spent my New Year in Boston, these are my resolutions..." Teaching the lower levels ain't easy. I finally understand how my high school Latin teacher felt while trying to educate me. Probably no surprise I can only remember one word, "est" translates to "is" in the present tense. And even that might be wrong.

SO, I provided examples of my own:

  1. Eat healthier (more veggies)
  2. Exercise three times a week
  3. Travel around Spain
  4. Expand my vocabulary, both English and Spanish

^I call these my fake resolutions. Because I'm twenty three years old and I can promise you that eating healthier while living in Spain where three out of their five main dishes are deep fried in oil, and their only beverage being beer- it is just not going to happen right now.

I can't post my real resolutions in public, for reasons...

but these are my resolutions as sugared down that I could make them:

  1. Stop sending raunchy snapchats
  2. Free the Nip 
  3. Don't smoke as many cigarettes
  4. Eat more sushi

SO, I didn't get mad at my students for coming up with the following three resolutions as a class. I simply, just understood.

  1. Buy more video games
  2. Be rich
  3. Pass English class
  4. Eat more fish

I think I would be best friends with those angsty pre-teens if I was born post 2000 as well. I like where their mind is at. They never fail to send me surprises like this. Who would have thought, eat more fish and your life will be at peace.

Peace, Love, Fish.

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo 

Christmas Time in Madrid

Let's talk Christmas. Okay, so this might be late, but at least in Spain it's only 2 weeks late, not 3 or 4 as it would be in the U.S! This late post might come in handy though if you are thinking about teaching in Spain next year and are wondering about the holidays here. 

While it's of course going to be different from home, I still love Christmas in Spain. I love the lights strung up all over the streets, the giant Christmas trees in the plazas made out of lights, the Christmas markets that pop up, and chestnuts roasting on the streets. I also love that Christmas lasts at least a whole week longer with the celebration of 3 Kings Day on January 6th.

For those of you not familiar, 3 Kings Day is like their Christmas Day (although they also celebrate that sometimes with a gift or two from Santa Claus). The 3 wise men leave presents for the children and put candy in their shoes. The children leave out water for the camels and treats for the wise men. There is also typically a parade the night before with the 3 wise men "arriving" to the city and throwing candy to the children watching giddily in the crowds. 

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This is my second Christmas in Spain, but my first in Madrid, which is a whole other ball game. For the month of December and the first week of January, tourists pour into the city and swarm the more popular locations. As teaching assistants, we get almost two and a half weeks off from school between Christmas and 3 Kings Day, as well as almost a week off at the beginning of December for a Madrid holiday, so I spent a fair amount of time traveling (to Austria for the Christmas markets and Thailand to spend Christmas with my sister who lives there) in order to take advantage my time and avoid the craziness of the crowds in Madrid. I did, however, enjoy the Christmas-y things in Madrid while here and even made it back for the 3 Kings parade. 

At school, all of us assistants did Christmas activities with all of our classes, which ranged from making origami stars in Art to watching The Grinch and doing Secret Santa gift exchanges with the students. On Wednesday before Christmas, the teachers invited us to a nice lunch with them in celebration of the holiday and on Thursday, a half day at school, the students took on the parents, teachers, and assistants in volleyball and basketball matches. If you are thinking about traveling early and making up some of the days ahead of time at school, be sure to check with your coordinator to make sure first that it's okay, but second, that you aren't going to miss out on all of the fun there. 

For those of you planning on being here in Madrid in the near future for the Christmas season, here are some suggestions for surviving and enjoying your time:

1. If you feel averse to crowds, avoid Sol and Plaza Mayor.

2. Watch your belongings. Pickpockets are out and about in excess during this time. 

3. If you plan on traveling or going home for break, buy your tickets several months in advance. You'll get better prices and better choices of flights.

4. Buy tickets online ahead of time for the Navibus. For only 2 euros, you can go on a bus tour of all the Christmas lights in the city. Just don't make the mistake I did of thinking you could buy a ticket once you got to the bus or of thinking that you could buy a ticket last minute as they sell out really quickly. 

5. Have fun exploring the Christmas markets, shops, and nativity scenes around the city. Don't get your hopes up too high for the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor, but it's still fun to go and people watch. 

6. Europe has some pretty amazing Christmas markets in other countries as well, which I highly recommend checking out.

7. To put yourself more in the Christmas mood, go ice skating in one of the temporary rinks they have set up for the season, grab some hot chocolate from Starbucks, or get churros y chocolote from San Gines (note: hot cocoa and chocolate are two VERY different things here in Spain! Think hot cocoa vs. drinkable warm chocolate pudding). 

8. Eat 12 grapes, as is tradition here, with the strokes of the clock at midnight for New Year's. 

9. Go see the 3 Kings parade. There's quite a crowd, but you can go early or go further up the parade route for a better view. It's worth seeing at least once. Plus, there's free candy being thrown at you. =) 

10. Spend time with loved ones and family. It's Christmas, after all. 

 

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Until next time, 

Rebekah

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