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34 posts categorized "*Spanish Culture"

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.





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.



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.




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...


...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:


My friend the boat


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:


It's called "Hidrátate"


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.




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. 

Image may contain: night, sky and outdoor Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

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. 


Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, outdoor Image may contain: one or more people, night and outdoor

Until next time, 


12 Grapes

Happy 2017! Here's to the new year and the new me, I guess everybody is saying it. I came home for the holidays, it's been a while. I miss Spain. I need to get back. 

I have a story I want to tell the world. I thought, no better place to write it. Three weeks ago I was in Madrid, in Valdebernardo, teaching my super cool high schoolers. I just finished a presentation on my holiday traditions. Their task was to write a paragraph discussing similar topics. I walked around, reading over shoulders, editing, correcting grammar. It took me a good half a period to realize Diego, Jesus, Maria, Alba, Manuel, Jorge, Gemma, and every other thirteen year old in the classroom were attempting to form sentences around the same noun: grapes. Uvas

Grapes are good, delicious if it's hot outside, but I'm not crazy about having grapes as a winter holiday dessert. I didn't understand the obsession. Apple cobbler, hot chocolate, and peppermint bark por favor. It was eventually explained that Spain has a New Years Eve tradition, which involved grapes. 

Supposedly Spaniards count down the new year with the last twelve seconds instead of the last ten. In those twelve seconds, you eat twelve grapes. The goal is to eat one grape per second. I believe it's meant to bring you luck, wealth, love, and all that fun stuff. 

I was in Boston for the new year. I told all my friends about the grapes so we went to the seven-eleven down the road and picked out a bunch of grapes. Grapes from seven-eleven sound a little sketchy now that I'm reflecting back on the memory. 

12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1... I couldn't do it. It's not easy to chew that fast. My older brother once peeled and ate a clementine in ten seconds, he was going for the world record. 

I should have got my grape-eating countdown on video, as proof. Just believe me, I guess. Mostly it was me giggling, screaming, and shoveling grapes in my friends' mouths as well as my own. My friends and I made a pact to practice our grape-eating on the last Sunday of every month until new years eve came around again. Surely twelve days should be enough. Surely...

Keep life trill. Live Large and Sparkle.



Happy New Year, 12 Grapes Later

Though it's not quite New Year's for us in the states, a quick update from my phone :) we ate our grapes (celebrating the Spanish tradition, one for each month of the year) this evening when it turned 2017 in Spain! Twelve grapes later, we are feeling pretty lucky. Cheers!

The music note that drops in Nashville

The Belén (Christmas Take 2)

As soon as I returned to school after the puente holiday, I began helping the art teacher to set up the nativity whenever my other teachers could spare me. The nativity scene (or belén) that my school set up was tied to India, the country that classes were paying special attention to this year. Every age of student created artwork for the belén: the young ones (infants age 3 & 4) painted stars and wrapped string around them to hang in the air above the scene, the next age level created snakes, the second and third graders painted elephants, the older students created houses and people figures out of cardboard and chess pieces.

Part of the goal of the project was to teach the children about the beautiful traditions and culture of India as well to bring awareness to the difficulties facing a country that is relatively newly-independent. As with any project, sometimes execution was a bit wonky (let's just say there was a video clip made in which the sixth graders said, "Our project this year is set in India. In India there is a lot of poverty. Merry Christmas!"), but I do think the children learned a lot about Indian history and gained a lifelong interest in another country's culture and way of life. The kids loved reading stories about Divali (the Hindu Festival of Lights) around Halloween, which was extremely fun for me.

The belén! It was setup right outside the comedor (dining hall), facing the front desk.


A fuller view of the nativity. See the Indian flag in the background? A fellow CIEE auxiliar painted that!

One of the most exciting parts about the Christmas celebration at my school (It still feels strange to me from an American perspective to have holidays that are so tied to the Catholic Church; when I mentioned Chanukah, I had to explain the holiday to all of my students because they had never heard of it), though, is that the children all learn songs to perform in front of their parents. I work primarily with third grade and fourth grade (though I have classes with every other grade except first grade), so I learned their songs with them. They perform two English songs and a Spanish song, and third and fourth grade's songs were "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," and "La luz que nace en ti" ("The Light that shines from you"--literally it would be "the light that's born in you," but from what I understand of the song, I think the literal translation makes it sound like it is referring to the light that you shine with/your individuality and loses the point that the light is shining out of you, connecting you to all who see your light). They all had adorable dance moves to help remember the words to the songs; my kids would all "hop" on the line "at the Christmas party-hop" in "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." 

The children had so much fun, and the songs and belén were incredible. Seriously, the art teacher and religion teacher are so creative; no wonder there are so many Spanish master painters and artists.

Now all that's left to say is ¡Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo!

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