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42 posts categorized "*Spanish Culture"

So you decided to move to Spain!

What a decision! I did not realize how big this was until I bought a one way ticket and landed in Madrid. Were there times I wanted to give up? YES!! Especially when the San Francisco consulate was booked until October (since June), I bought a second passport (in case the consulate took my application before I traveled which ended up being unnecessary), went in to the consulate every day at 8 am for a week and did not land an appointment (got a parking ticket), and I had to drive to Sacramento (2 hours minus traffic) for a 20 minute appointment. However, I wouldn't change a thing!

Spain has been magical and I already feel at home. I went to Germany last weekend for Oktoberfest and although I had the time of my life, I missed Madrid so much! I missed the warm weather and the warmer people. I missed being in a familiar city and walking around without a GPS. Madrid has a way of capturing your heart and never letting it go. People here are not strangers living in the same city...they are a community who work in harmony.

To those of you who live here now, explore! If the city captures your heart, don't be scared of it...embrace it! To those of you who are thinking of moving here to teach, follow your heart. You will be rewarded in the end. Finally, to those of you who have never been to Madrid, I suggest you take a week off of work and buy a plane ticket here!

I can't wait to see what my future here holds!

Unexpected Blessings

It has been a whirlwind of a week - lots of adjustments and excitement.  Orientation went well and offered a good deal of insight in terms of banking, phone plans, important documents and appointments, meeting people, learning how to get around and a nice introduction to the culture of Madrid.  (I posted a couple of pictures at the end of the post, so if you're interested in checking them out make sure to scroll down!)  

At this point, I am sitting in the lobby of the hotel, surrounded by other auxiliars all looking for housing.  It is here that I find myself so relieved.  I happened to log onto Facebook the last night of orientation (Thursday), right before we headed out to our "Farewell dinner", and saw a post for a family looking for an "au pair" near Arganda del Rey (the suburb where I will be teaching).  I sent a message and got in touch with the woman and, next thing I know, I was making my way the next morning to the very school where I will be teaching to meet with this lovely woman, who is a teacher at the school I'll be working this year.  

That in itself was a blessing, I met a lot of the teachers at the school, the bilingual coordinator, the director of the school... And everyone was sooo wonderful!  I spoke with Raquel and had a really good conversation with her about the possible situation and everything sounds very reasonable.  I think it is going to be a great experience...

So, the plan is to meet her again tomorrow at her house, to see where I will be living and meet her boys!  I am excited for the new journey (and what seems like the ideal situation).  There are still a few more things that I need to do in the meantime - print out paperwork, make copies, pick up my bank card, and go to my TIE appointment (to apply for my residency card) - but I recognize that I am in a really good place right now.  

The only "glitch" in my living situation is that Raquel asked for a week before I move in - and we have to be out of the hotel by Wednesday (unless I want to pay to stay a couple more days - which was a pretty definitive "no").  I decided, in the end, that I would make the most of my break between Wednesday and Saturday to travel back to the first city I ever truly experienced in Spain - Salamanca.  I booked a bus to and from there and a hotel for when I am there.  I decided that, since I won't be putting down a security deposit or needing to pay rent, it is a good way for me to spend that time (since I'd be paying to live somewhere for those three days anyways, why not make it a place that I'd like to go and see again??).  

In the meantime, I will finish working on all the final paperwork and appointments as I look forward to my first adventure outside of Madrid.  Feel free to check back and hear more about the upcoming excitement!  Until then, ¡buenos viajes!

(Is. 41:10)

A look back at the week...

IMG_0043(The Crystal Palace, as the sun is starting to set, in Retiro Park.  Fun fact, at one point Retiro park was only open to royalty - that's a lot of beautiful space for a very small group of people!)

(The "center" of Madrid, located in Sol.)

(My "café con leche" in a local coffee shop, where my orientation group stopped before heading to watch Flamenco!)

A Lesson in the Formal

I always thought I was fluent in Spanish - that is, until I arrived in Madrid and hopped off of my flight on Iberia. 

Spanish, thickly accented with Castillian lisps, fired rapidly at me, and all I could do was blink in confusion and gawk. 

.......But.... I speak Spanish? I studied the language in college and high school. I am from California. Signs are written both in English and Spanish at home, and in Napa, it is never uncommon to hear Spanglish from the aisles of the grocery mart. But reality blind sided me. There I was, standing in the airport of a foreign country, realizing that I know very little of the language I was surrounded by.


After getting over my culture shock, going through the motions of CIEE Orientation, signing my lease to my new Piso, I felt like I was making progress. I am overcoming my fear of speaking, and actually enjoy learning new words, eaves dropping on conversations in the metro, and absorbing the language to the fullest extent possible. Some days, I understand everything, and feel confident participating in conversations. On others, I fail miserabley, and struggle to make distinctions between the words that slur together from the mouths of locals. A few days, I have had to lock myself in my room and surround myself with English and movies from home. Yet the majority of the time, I put in my  headphones, and jam away to the top Spanish hits on Spotify, willing myself to learn the language fluently through pure auditory osmosis. Every day is a new challenge.

Fastforward to the Sunday Rastro. The Rastro is a flea market that extends for miles, offering wares - clothes, Spanish fans, hookah pipes, just name it. I perused the streets, bombarded with noises, friends greeting each other, merchants shouting out deals, smells of onions and tortillas and seafood filling the air.  After stumbling across a art stand, the artist, a 93 year old woman, made her way over to me.

 "Hola, como estás?" I promptly said, smiling, and feeling brave. 

"Es estáis," she replied frowning. 

"...Oh. Estáis," I repeated back to her. She angrily walked away from my rude American self. 

And so began AND ended my lesson in the formal. I guess I am never finished learning. Next time, I know. 

Embracing Uncertainty

In two days, I will have been living in Madrid for an entire month. Not sure if I ever thought I would be able to say that, but as I sit on my kitchen counter watching the sun rise over red tile rooftops and stucco houses and listen to the faint murmur of a new day beginning in the city, I realize this place is slowly becoming my new home.

So what have I been up to this month? And what advice do I have to give to future participants?

For starters, the first month living in a new country will definitely be the most challenging one. Take it in stride and embrace the uncomfortability. I lucked out with a pretty solid group of CIEE  friends that have helped me navigate metros (shoutout to myself because I've never lived anywhere with necessary public transportation), residency card waiting lines, tutoring applications, Spanish walk-in clinics with 3 hour wait times, and the dreaded piso (apartment) hunting. This will all seem overwhelming at first and you will most likely run across a few setbacks. For me, getting WiFi was a week and half long process and there's nothing quite as terrifying as being lost in a city that you've lived in for a week because your phone died on the way to the Metro. Citymapper and Moovit are essential to navigating metros and bus routes here, but take it from me, screenshotting pictures of those routes will save your phone battery AND your first phone bill.

But here's the irony and the beauty in my number one advice I could give to any of you so far -- DO get lost. Talk to the Spaniards who have taken the Metro their whole lives (Spanish people are incredibly nice and will point you in the right direction). Take that weekend trip to the coast and swim in the Mediterranean with new friends, take the day hike and chase some waterfalls, go to that sketchy babysitting interview and fumble through your Spanish with the help of Google translate and 10th grade Spanish vocabulary, and land that side job that will allow you to go out and get lost some more.

My best experiences here, so far, have required this of me. To let go, to trust in the journey. If I feel uncomfortable, unlike what most of us have been conditioned to believe all of our lives, it is a good thing.

There is infinite space to grow in the midst of uncertainty.

Grasp it, use it, push yourself.

I can't say that I still don't take shortcuts. If I go up to a Spaniard at the grocery store, and they hint at knowing English, I will usually fall back on what I know best. Sometimes, this may be necessary, but in the long run its not what you came here for.

I'll leave you with a really cool experience I had the other day at my host-mom's house. It was my last night to come over for dinner after moving into my new piso. As I walked in the front door, I was surprised to see that she had company -- a woman and her young daughter. As I ate in my usual silence, I couldn't help but be pulled in by their conversation. The little girl (Milba) was discussing her English classes and I wanted to know more, so I nervously stumbled through my broken Spanish to ask her how they were going. She responded in perfect English, of course, and we continued a conversation in Spanglish for the next few minutes. Before I knew it, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, flipping through Milba's bilingual textbooks and laughing over our mutual hatred of Mathematics. As we bonded, the mother (Karina) started to open up to me as well. Her English was similar to my Spanish -- remedial, but we managed to have a conversation about the difficulties of navigating a new language together.

"No pasa nada" she kept telling me. Its no problem if you struggle, keep trying.

Its hard to explain the strange surge of emotions I got from this simple dinnertime conversation. When I spoke with Milba, I was reminded of myself at 10 years old, excited and eager to learn -- full of potential. Speaking to Karina felt like having a trusted conversation with one of my aunts, warm and encouraging and full of laughter. And my host mom, I don't think I had really earned her good graces until that last night in her home... As I was getting up to leave, she embraced me and gave me the traditional besos on both sides of my cheeks, but it was in the smile of her eyes that I could tell she was really proud of me. She had been pushing me for two weeks to speak Spanish in her home, and I had finally stumbled my way through some words and enjoyed what I can only say was the perfect Spanish night -- sitting in a home surrounded by friends and good food and great conversation.





Making My Way to Spain

In August last year you could have asked me what my plans were for after graduation, and I would have told you an internship at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda. Well that didn't happen, and now I'm sitting here in Madrid. As of April I had not yet decided on any plans after graduation and May 6th was quickly approaching. I was talking to my Spanish professor one day and she said I should look into teaching abroad. 3 hours later I was filling out an application to teach abroad in Madrid. As I sit here drinking my morning coffee looking at the streets of the Salamanca barrio I realize how thankful I was that my professor told me to go abroad for the year.

The last 2 weeks have been an awesome experience for learning about Spain. The first 4 days were filled with lots of paperwork, but also lots of exploring. We went to a flamenco show the first full day we were here and it was AMAZING. You could see the music running through the dancers from their toes to their fingers. Everything was so fluid and improvised in a way that almost seemed rehearsed. Others were surprised that it was mostly improvised, but I knew that they were talking to each other on stage and playing off all the energy between each other and the crowd. If you are ever in Madrid looking for something to do, go to a flamenco show.

Our host is a nice lady. She was a historian back in the day, but is retired now. She has traveled 
to the United States and lived in California and Miami for a number of years. Because she knows English and Spanish she is super helpful for learning because when we don't know a word she can teach us. A couple days ago  we gained a study abroad student from Nairobi, so now there are 3 exchange students ( 2 from CIEE and the new one) and a whole lot of learning about the differences between all the places.




Pictured is the Royal Palace of Madrid, which we visited while exploring the city the first few days here.




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.





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:


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.

Me 2
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.


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. 


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.




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. 


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.


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





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