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22 posts categorized "*Traveling around Spain"

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 

Cheetah Girls

When I was nine, a Disney Channel Original Movie was released that changed my world, The Cheetah Girls, starring Raven Symone, Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan, and Kiely Williams. Disney went on to produce a sequel, The Cheetah Girls 2.

YouTube can't seem to produce a good quality trailer. Here's the best its got:

 

The Cheetah Girls 2 is the story of four girlfriends who travel to Barcelona to become *~*SUPERSTARS~ !! I wanted to be just like them. I still do. In fact, four years ago I bought a cheetah print bodycon dress due to the mass amounts of cheetah girl soul that still burns within me. 

My mother, father, and grandparents came to Madrid for a visit. We had no big plans except for eating, drinking, shopping, and more drinking. I could live peacefully if I never ate a croquette again in my lifetime. Aside from this list, we had one other major task on our "to do" list. Can you guess? 

BARCELONA

We woke up at five in the morning to catch the six am speed train heading straight for that cheetah-licious destination. Our boy, Nicolas, showed us around the city. I liked him. He was young, but graying slightly. He had an earring that was not proportionate to his head size, and a flannel print flat cap. He was boss, and by my definition, quite trill. 

Our first stop was Museu Nacional D'art de Catalunya. Standing on the front steps you see an incredible view of the city. Clouds or sunshine, it's breathtaking.

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The four white columns in the picture above were my favorite architectural monuments of the city. I understand this sounds crazy considering Barcelona is the motherland of Gaudi. Sometimes all the grand designs in the world can't satisfy the unexplainable aesthetic pleasure found in the simplicity of these four columns. Who really knows, maybe these four columns are actually real ornate and I sound like an idiot. I didn't ask about their history. I find many times it's better to keep your own imagination than ruin it with facts. 

Moving on.

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This here was Gaudi's church. Gaudi was a famous Spanish Catalan architect if you haven't picked up on that yet. Gaudi died in a carriage-tram accident on his way to this church. It's lovely, isn't it, how the most elaborate, detailed, over the top designer finds haven in a place as bland and beautiful such as this. I get that this picture still portrays Europe, and to the normal eye this might look as far from bland as possible. Google image "Sagrada Familia"....catch my drift?

Barcelona is magical. I truly do love it. But as great as it is, Madrid is home, and always will be home as long as I live in Spain.

Live Large and Sparkle. 

XO,

 

Flo

 

Kilometre Zero

Last weekend I had a tranquil saunter through the chilly city, under Christmas lights, and in good company. We had no destination in mind, yet found ourselves in an Irish pub watching the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid game. We moved farther towards the center of the city to find pizza and papas fritas. We noticed a small bus cruising around the center and thought, why not? So we jumped on with no place to go, ate our food, and engaged in a nice conversation with a Spaniard. We jumped off once our food was finished and our hands warmed to satisfaction. Every now and then, no destination can end up being the best.

The next day we set out for coffee and postcards and I had a little side mission to find the zero kilometer origin of Spain.

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I found Kilometre Zero, or in other words the “zero mile marker” used traditionally to measure distances for roads and guidebooks. It’s located in Puerta del Sol in front of the old Royal House of the Post Office. I found it in a tourist guide magazine before looking for it in person and sure enough I stumbled upon a huddle of tourists looking down and snapping photos.

Sometimes we’re so busy planning our weekend trips and vacations that we forget to have a simple jaunt around the city we’re in. So please, this holiday season, make sure to enjoy the sights in the area you’re in. Sometimes the simplest pleasures hold the least amount of pressure and bring the most joy.

What Routine?

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What Routine?

I despise routine. I think it’s boring, predictable, and if you’re following one everyday, then you must be living a boring life.

Okay, so that’s a quote from my younger self…

After moving to a foreign country, working and working out travel plans, I find myself craving a routine. I’m craving the protection and security that a routine can provide.

Where am I traveling for the long weekend? What am I doing tonight? What am I eating for dinner? These simple questions are a breeze and easy to answer but from time to time, they lead me into more difficult topics.

What am I doing with my life? Where will I settle down? What big girl job will I have as a career? Do I want a big girl job?

These questions deter me from my beautiful present life here in Madrid, Spain! So I’m going to break down my day.

Here’s my typical workday at a primary/elementary school in Spain:

  • I wake up, like most people do and I get ready for work.
  • I arrive at my job before 9a.m.
  • I have three classes
  • I have a coffee break
  • I have another class
  • I have an hour break
  • I have another hour for lunch
  • I have two more classes

I work Monday-Thursday and two out of those four days, I teach private English lessons after school.

After classes I might go for a jog around Retiro Park, get a coffee with a friend, explore a new area of the city, or sometimes I go salsa dancing.

It changes day-to-day, night-to-night, and weekend-to-weekend. Balance is a moment-to-moment challenge no matter where your “habitat” might reside.

I think it’s natural to crave a familiar routine to recharge, especially in a thriving capital city. I’m not sure when a new place stops being new but I enjoy the time I spend in figuring it out.

Moving to Spain for 1+ Years?! What to Pack ‘n' Consider…

I was initially instructed to pack based on the “Rule of 3’s” i.e. 3 shirts, 3 pairs of shoes, 3 pants, 3 dresses, etc. and I am VERY glad I didn’t. I was moving abroad for a year and although it is a relatively short chapter in my life history book; it is still a move! Because of this, I had to plan based on what I use in any given day, week, or month back home.

Also, if you are doing the CIEE program or any organized teaching placement program you will have the ease of someone picking you up from the airport. If not, simply pay the $30 cab fare to pack all things necessary. In the end, it will be much cheaper to cab then replace all the things you didn’t bring and then throw them away, donate, or try to ship them back home. Other things I heard before moving here is that it’s fine to pack light because there is cheap shopping. Okayyyy, it might be cheap relative to back home but when you don’t have an income as a teacher for 1-2 months after arriving then the last thing you should be doing is going shopping. Not to mention that the clothes are as advertised… cheap in price AND quality.

I have compiled a list of all the things I brought for perspective along with additional suggestions for items to consider bringing. I hope my full list can provide a little more clarity than the guidance I was provided.

Clothes:

  • 14 pairs of socks if you are someone that works out regularly otherwise 10 could suffice.
  • 10 underwear and 7-10 bras in case you aren’t doing laundry on a strict routine or have longer vacations. You will sweat A LOT the first couple months in Spain so re-wearing bras is not feasible.
  • 5 camisoles to wear under cardigans and undershirts
  • 7 cardigans or nice shirts
  • 4 t-shirts and 5 long sleeved shirts
  • 2-3 sweaters
  • 3 pairs of slacks
  • 4 jeggings/jeans
  • 2-3 pairs of leggings – If you have fleece lined ones then bring them for winter time
  • 6 nicer dresses for work, going out, b-day celebrations, etc.
  • 2 maxi dresses
  • A pack of Nylons – Working professional women wear nylons in Spain. In the US, technically you should be too but we have become more lax over time.
  • 3-5 scarves – I brought 12 and accumulated 3 more in Morocco but I’m obsessed.
  • 7 workout outfits (leggings/shorts, sports bras, and shirts – this will vary depending on your typical workout regimens).
  • 3 zippy jackets for working out and/or keeping warm at night. I brought one fleece Columbia and two Polyester jackets.
  • 3 pairs of flats – You will be walking a lot! Comfy shoes that support your back are advised.
  • 1 pair of flip flops– Gotta love hostel showers.
  • 1-2 pairs of tennis shoes – I brought 1 pair of running shoes and my Reebok Nanos for lifting.
  • 1 winter jacket and 1-2 other jackets – I brought 3 peacoats and 2 fake leather jackets to dress up my outfits. I probably didn’t neeeed all 3 peacoats but they are all different colors, I didn’t want to make a decision on which to leave behind, and I wear them all happily. #smalljoys
  • Jewelry – A couple of your favorite pieces are advised but bare in mind that anything too flashy will likely make you more of a target for pickpocketing.
  • Sunglasses 

Toiletries, where Costco/Sam’s Club becomes your BFF (if not already), and other necessities:

  • Toothpaste – 3 large tubes and 1, 100 ml travel size
  • Tampons – 2 boxes
  • Orbit Gum– 3 boxes emptied throughout my suitcase– I’m an addict, I’ll admit. I’m also particular about having the Green or Dark Blue Orbit. Gum in Spain is the Sugar coated hard shelled ones and more expensive. No Bueno.
  • Toothbrushes – 4
  • Floss
  • Favorite cover-up, foundation, eyeliner and/or mascara – Bring 2-3 depending on your use habits
  • Razor – 3 packs of 4 shaving blades
  • Brush/ratting comb (if applicable)
  • Perfume – Bring 2 if 3 oz bottles
  • Moisturizer – 1
  • Face cleaner – 3
  • Soap bars – 3 to get started
  • Shampoo/Conditioner– one bottle each to get you started
  • Deodorant – 4. You know what works for you and you likely won’t find it in Spain.
  • Q-tips- 2-3 handfuls in a sandwich bag shall suffice
  • 10-15 Cotton balls and nail polish remover
  • 2 nail polish colors
  • Nail kit – tweezers, clippers, cuticle cutters, nail file, etc.
  • Teeth cleaning kit- I’m a freak and I like cleaning my teeth at the dentist regularly so I picked up one of these from Amazon for $10 and it’s a gem.
  • Mini sew kit – Little snags and holes can be easily salvaged.
  • Lent roller
  • Medicine – Advil, multivitamin, Omega 3s, etc. that are a part of your typical regimen.
  • Thermometer – Do you realllly have to go to the doctor?
  • Sunblock
  • External hard drive – You will want it. People often lose/get phones stolen or computers croak so backing up your pictures will be necessary.
  • Ziplocs – 1 box of them with zippers to pack your lunch or you can buy non-zipper ones here. I use Ziplocs to keep toiletries dry on trips. Travel ain’t always glamorous.
  • Converter– so you can charge your electronics.
  • Various sized padlocks – 2-3 for those hostel stays, gym locker, luggage locking, and to help a friend if they forget theirs : D

Additional things I brought to assist with the transition. This will depend on who you are and what brings you joy so this category is at your own discretion.

  • I got two coffee mugs for Christmas in 2014, one is molded like a peacock the neck being the handle and the other is an elephant with a trunk for the handle; two of my favorite animals! These remind me of loved ones back home and hold a lot of coffee for my relaxing Saturday mornings.
  • Adult coloring book and gel pens – If you’re into that kind of thing.
  • Protein Powder and Ziploc bags (as noted above)/shaker (I don’t like the latter because it leaks, it’s too bulky, and I don’t care to invest in the compartmentalized one). Ziplocs carry my dry powder until I add water later, cut the corner, and drink up.
  • Special seasonings. In my case, a big mama jama thing of lemon pepper. Some things are more challenging to find (i.e. hot sauce for you spicy lovers) or don’t exist here so if you like it enough, bring it. You’ll be okay without your excess of American goods though too, I promise!
  • 3 pairs of plastic chopsticks – my trusty travel companions. I take them wherever I go because I can eat everything I want with them and their easy to sneak into luggage.
  • Pack of Thank you cards – whether in the professional world or not, handwritten cards are thoughtful!
  • Big backpack for those flights with Ryanair- I hucked my purple turtle shell through the Sahara for 7 days and use it regularly to bring my workout clothes into town so that I can pit stop at the gym after school and before heading home. I’m allll about that efficient life.
  • A smaller drawstring bag or satchel – Great for carrying around your goods on lighter days. I also pack my drawstring bag in my medium sized backpack on trips so I can use it to carry the necessities throughout the day i.e. camera, map, notebook, pens, wallet, phone, etc. because I don’t have a large purse or a purse in general for that matter.
  • Fancy camera (if applicable) – Make room to fit it in your luggage, you won’t regret it.
  • iPod – Does anyone even use these much anymore? I do for long trips to preserve my phone battery.
  • Backpacking packs (if you have one) – Largest of the ones you can take on the plane and necessary for those 7+ vacation days or winter travels where clothes needed are thicker. Here’s my backpack that’s lasted 3+ years of excessive travel.
  • 3-5 pairs of headphones – Ridiculous I know but one ear bud goes out, get lost or left behind at hostels unintentionally. If you already have them at your house then bring them. Also, pick up the free ones from flights and trains when possible. Speaking of keeping things for free, I always klepto the fleece blanket from int’l flights to use for picnics or a beach adventure since it’s light weight and I can throw it away if it gets filthy.
  • Spotify Premium – Lifesaver abroad for anyone that LOVES music and isn’t willing to pay an arm and a leg for data. The best $11 I spend a month goes to Spotify since I’m pretty much listening to it anytime I’m not teaching or meeting with people face to face.
  • Kindle app. access– I used to be a short article reader but now that I metro everywhere I have lovely books downloaded to my phone (thanks Nikole, my beloved sister, for the Membership and great selection : P) to pass the time.
  • Journal – I have a 5 year Journal that Nikole, genius she is, gave me 4 years ago. This is my trusty travel companion to record life happenings of every single day in the year. It’s fun to recollect on what I’ve done or thought about in the past. For example, October 25th, 2013 I made a 2 year goal to teach or move abroad to Europe, Thailand, or Myanmar. Well I’m here under 3 years so woo for following through on a goal anddd being able to see what I was thinking 4 years ago!
  • 2 Notebooks – I presume you’re moving abroad partially because you want to learn the language of the country? If so, you’ll be taking diligent notes. If not, notebooks are easy travel companions to take on long flights and trains to jot ideas, make plans, write poems, journal entries, letters, etc. The best thinking time I have is when I’m plopped down in a train or flight seat so a notebook always comes in clutch.
  • Phone charging brick – You never know how long you’ll be sucked into the city for and in a new place the last thing you want is no access to resources in your phone. Thank you Dad for always gifting me things I always needed but never knew about!
  • 5-7 Pens – I’m sure you have them laying around your house. Bring them.
  • Cards – I love games so I brought 2 decks of cards, Loaded Questions, and Bananagrams. They have contributed to some of my favorite rainy day memories while back home or traveling.
  • Bible, Spanish Dictionary, and Lonely Planet Book – I brought these because sometimes I like tangible things to read and scheme trips. Definitely not necessary with the advent of the worldwide web and applications but it’s part of my wind down on long days or leisurely Saturday mornings.
  • 6 copies of everything – Passport, NIE, School Placement e-mail, passport photo, etc.
  • Deflated balls and ball pump – I brought a football and volleyball since I already had them at my house and didn’t want to pay to play in the park with friends. Pumps are about $5 from your local wal-mart if you don’t have one already.
  • Yoga mat – It serves two purposes. Allows me to participate in the obvious, yogi time but secondly, serves as a floor mat/rug next to my bed since all apts. I have seen here are hard wood or tile and gets real cold!
  • Reusable water bottle – Double check that you can even drink the city’s tap water. For Madrid you are good to go! Plastic waterbottles are cheap here i.e. 30 cents for 1.5L at the grocery store but that’s a lot of trash for the landfill…
  • Phone plan – Purchase once you get here. Many people did Orange or Vodafone for 20 euros for 2GB/month. I have 2 GB for 10 euro/month with Lycamobile and have only positive things to say about them!

Potential additional items if they fit otherwise purchase when you get abroad if necessary:

  • Heels/wedges- 1-2 pair
  • Boots – 1-2 pairs for cold mornings and travels to cold lands in the winter
  • A book or two – These things take up quite a bit of space so I advise limiting the quantity brought
  • Gloves – 1-2 pair
  • Thick/Long socks – 1-2 pairs
  • Earmuffs/Beanie
  • Umbrella
  • 1 Rain Jacket AKA the ones that roll into themselves, nothing fancy needed. OR I guess you could always do the good ol’ fashioned trash bag but I don’t think they have big ones here in Spain so you might have to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag).
  • Wine Opener – You’re moving to Spain after all : D

I hope this helps provide more clarity as you scheme for travels abroad! Exciting adventures await! : D

P.S. If you’re wondering how I brought all these things without exceeding the weight limits it’s through weighing my luggage before going to the airport. Aside from that, I used my drawstring bag to carry my precious laptop, iPod, headphones, notebook, pens, journal, necessary travel information and passport in a folder, phone and laptop charging cord, wallet, gum, etc. that needed to be easily accessed for the immediate international flight. My Backpackers pack was filled with my yoga mat, fancy camera and point and shoot camera, all other technology cords, and clothes. My two suitcases were filled with everything else and my purple backpack rested emptied in one of them.

Happy Thanksgiving

Madrid is a different being in the winter. 'Tis the season. I could almost say it happened overnight. The city went from gray and cold, to this:

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In my opinion, I think New York might take the win on the worlds greatest Christmas tree, but Madrid puts up a good fight. The lights are mesmerizing.  Unfortunately all the bulbs like to turn off at around 1:30 in the morning, which is somewhat hypocritical since Madrid sleeps less than the Big Apple. 

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Only a couple weeks ago, half of the Hadid family were represented all over that billboard. 

The lights got hung up around the beginning of November. Santa's elves would hang  the unlit lights late at night. The elves would do it in front of every passer-by on the street. For those who observed, it was easy to question where they were going with the design. Magically enough, it seems to have worked quite well. I need to remember to never doubt the creative minds from the North Pole. The lighting ceremony took place on Thanksgiving this year, how ironic. 

I've never felt such a dramatic change within a community, simply due to an upcoming holiday. Every plaza has its own market. Although, I'm somewhat confused, the most popular market items up for sale are a variety of colored wigs (more on that later). You can have your choice of red, pink, dark purple, blue, glitter green, and red violet. I'm confident when I say every store has been officially stocked since last Monday. 

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Starbucks holiday cups clutter the hands of locals, tourists, and me. I'm a regular order of the Gingerbread Latte Christmas Blend, grande.  Every corner has some sort of merry-go-round. I even saw a cotton candy stand chilling on the side of the road today. A young adult was eating a pink wad of it while dressed as a cow. It's all kind of incredible. The city turned in to a giant festival. 

All of the merriment floating around in the air is making me even more excited for the month of December to finally begin.

Live Large and Sparkle.

XO,

 

Flo

Please Let Me Plead the Fifth (#USexpatproblems)

Sometimes you’re from the U.S. and something major happens in the U.S. and all your fellow teachers want to talk to you about it, and you just want nothing more than to talk about anything else.

Even my third graders had opinions about the 2016 Presidential Election. And they're too young to know the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so I can't even plead the Fifth with them. Sigh.

Needless to say, coffee breaks were a little dicey for a while, and I wished more than anything I had lied during the first few weeks of school and claimed to be Canadian. Pro travel tip: Always tell people you’re from Canada. There are no negatives to this (besides, you know, lying). I mean, remember that awesome morale-boosting Twitter hash tag from a few months ago? Go Canada.

Anyway, I took a welcome escape to Segovia this past weekend, where I could be a tourist and ignore my nationality for a little while. Pro life tip: Find a beautiful, fairytale castle whenever suffering from never-ending streams of questions to which you absolutely do not have the answers.

The Alcázar de Segovia was the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Historically, it was a royal residence for the Castilian monarchs, including Isabel I and Ferdinand II.

 

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Alcazár de Segovia

 

 

 

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Alcazár de Segovia from afar

 

 

 

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Castle from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

 

It was a gorgeous day, and Segovia is so beautiful. The aqueduct was incredible (and supposedly two thousand years old!); legend has it that the Devil himself was responsible for its construction. The cathedral was gorgeous, and with the bright green trees surrounding it in the middle of the stone Plaza Mayor, it looked like it was in its own little world. Everything in this little city was full of history and beauty. As I told my friends who were with me, I am starting to experience some serious city-envy!

 

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Aqueduct

 Not really, Madrid is still my favorite. Even if Antonio Machado lived in Segovia and there’s an awesome museum about him there.

_____

Other photos from La Granja:

 

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Palacio Real

Palacio Real

Okay I want to show you where I’ve been.

Palacio Real or The Royal Palace of Madrid is located on Calle de Bailén near metro stop Operá. Students under 26 years old get in for €5 on Sundays starting at 4p.m. I however, haven’t retrieved my TIE card (foreign residency card) yet, even though it’s been ready for a while… well because I’m a little irresponsible sometimes, so I paid €10 no big deal.

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I am not able to show the intricate details of every colorful room we walked through because it is prohibited to take photos in the majority of the palace. I was allowed to snap a photo (above) of the entryway, a beautiful vault fresco to set the scene for the rest of our tour.

Our self-guided tour, lead us through variously themed rooms inside the palace. Each room differing from the last and yet, still complementing the next. Out of all the gold paint, meticulous sculptures, detailed tapestries, and lavish paintings, the most eye-catching art piece I noticed: the Greek god Atlas. There’s a different version of his statue carrying the world on his shoulders in more than a few rooms. I must say he makes an endearing focal point.

 

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Aside from adoring the dark reds and deep royal blues, there are two rooms that I’d like to highlight for you. The first one is a dressing room that was used for Carlos III. It’s a green Chinoiserie styled room –a decorative style in Western art, furniture, and architecture, especially in the 18th century characterized by the use of Chinese motifs and techniques. It stands out against the other rooms because of its unique decorative style. You can find some Google images here.

The second room I think worth mentioning is a room made entirely out of porcelain. It’s one of the smallest rooms in the palace created from ceramics made by the Royal Porcelain Factory. You can find Google images of the room here, and you will also see the Greek god Atlas in the middle. It’s the second room that sets itself apart from the rest because of its unique design and material.

 

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Fun Facts:

-The current royal family resides in Palacio de la Zarsuela but the Royal Palace is still occasionally used for royal ceremonies.

-The rooms hold a good selection of Goyas, 215 absurdly ornate clocks, and five Stradivarius violins still used for concerts and balls (Spain, Lonely Planet).

-From what I’ve read, the original palace was named, Real Alcázar de Madrid or The Royal Alcázar of Madrid (Alcázar = Muslim Fortress) and there was a fire in 1734 burning it to the ground, but the new palace is built on the same site.

Overall it’s an easy expedition with friends or to go alone, rain or shine.

If you would like more information about the Palacio Real just follow this link.

Thanks for reading!

The Iberian Peninsula: My Top Five

    I can’t leave out my homie Portugal, especially after this stellar weekend, so I’ve elected to write about the five best places I’ve visited on the Iberian Peninsula (rather than just Spain) on this trip.

  1. Mallorca

    If we’re working in chronological order, and if I so happen to be writing from the midst of Castilla y Leon’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plunge from summer into winter, then it makes sense for Mallorca, in all its green and blue sun-swathed glory, to come first.

    Mallorca is one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, floating merrily between Ibiza and Menorca in the sea to the south of Barcelona. I arrived in Mallorca, like so many of these cities, in the dark, and so I passed a bizarre but not unenjoyable evening in one of Mallorca’s heavily German neighborhoods celebrating Oktoberfest and wondering where exactly that Air Europa flight had plopped me.

    The next day, though, we rented a car to explore the interior of the island. Limitless green mountains, lush wineries, clear beaches in mountain-fringed bays: we twisted all the way up to the opposite coast of the island, tasted wine and lolled in the shallow waters, and then wandered back to pass Palma, Mallorca’s capital city, at sunset.

    Sunday, I rented a bike and rode ten miles along the coast to Palma. Tourists and locals sprawled on the rocks along the way, relishing the strong autumn sun. How do I convey Palma? It was cloud-high palm trees, shaded streets, Es Baluard, a surrealist art museum with wicker lounges on the roof for gazing out at the Gothic Cathedral, and narrow little restaurants with fresh cheese from the mountains and pork that had been simmering since the dawn of time. It was also the first beach city I’ve ever been to in which it didn’t feel as though much of its essence had been sacrificed in the name of tourism. I’m coming to appreciate that more and more, as I rove around.

            Have I been blabbering? Yes. Salivating? Yeah, that, too.

  1. Salamanca

    Technically, I came to know and love Salamanca before Mallorca. But I can’t be held accountable for errors made ten minutes pre or post Netflix binge (sometimes a girl just needs an hour of English every now and again!), and so I hope you’ll forgive me.

    Salamanca, my home base: its churches and towers are crafted of Villamayor sandstone, a tawny-colored stone that’s positively resplendent at sunset. Salamanca’s skyline is medieval, but wedged within its streets are restaurants and bars lively with conversation and congeniality. Because it’s home to one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities, Salamanca is so much more than just a small, pretty city. I love that it’s my jumping off point for travel – I get to snatch up a beer at Plaza Mayor here, a sunset in the garden there – even though I want so much more!

  1. La Alberca

     This is the one that most of you won’t recognize on sight. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a decent majority of Spaniards aren’t familiar with La Alberca, either.

    Twenty minutes west of my pueblo, you can fit this medieval town in your palm. And let me spell out medieval for you: homes fortified with wooden beams, centuries-old cobblestone streets, and a church constructed with pre-Roman materials.

    Outside of its modest plaza, where one can sit and drink a lazy glass of wine, or poke into dark shops where artists hand-paint tiles and sculpt leather boots, the streets of La Alberca are nearly silent. I remembering thinking, roaming them alone one weekday afternoon – how many inhabited places have I ever known to be so quiet?

    It’s a place where you feel as though the past is easy to touch.

  1. San Sebastian

     Have you ever wanted to learn to surf in a moon-shaped bay, guarded by green, cloud-cloaked hills? Have you ever wanted to meander in and out of bars nibbling at pintxos - wedges of bread heaped with cheese or sumptuous sausage, dishes of fresh, ripe-to-bursting mussels and shrimp – and drinking a glass of beer here, a glass of wine or cider there? Perhaps you’ve always wanted a real scare on the eve of Halloween. Might riding an ancient funicular up a mountain to a half-abandoned amusement park deep in fog fit the bill? Perhaps riding its roller coaster around the peak of said mountain, screaming into the night?

    San Sebastian has a vibe. It has a young, art-centric, communal, surfer vibe.

    Alright, should I just say “hipster” and get it over with?

    San Sebastian is extra special because it was one of three places on my must-see-in-Spain list prior to embarking on this journey. I find that oftentimes, it’s the things for which we set high prior expectations that disappoint. Hence the short list.

    And madre mia, San Sebastian most certainly did not.

  1. Porto, Portugal

    Without further ado…the reason I entitled this list “Iberian Peninsula” instead of “Spain!” The reason I have the most life-altering sweater in my closet right now which I may or may not have just worn for four days straight! The reason I stayed up until well past midnight last night dog-earring a book on azulejo tiles!

    Porto!

    Lonely Planet describes Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, as “humble-yet-opulent,” and I can’t help but feel as though this descriptor is beyond perfect. Ensconced in azulejos, hand-painted tiles of the richest and most intricate design, and strewn with street art and crepe banners, Porto manages, miraculously, not to feel as though it’s packaged for neat, aesthetic consumption. It feels humble, homey, worn-in a little. The best bars and restaurants are holes in the wall with chandeliers made from old trumpets, hand-written menus. Portuguese (which sounds nothing like Spanish – don’t listen to the lies!) is the predominant language here, and it’s refreshing (albeit frustrating, at times) to hear, “No, no hablo ingles. Y no hablo espanol.” In today’s day and age, that’s pure magic! Wizardry, perhaps!

    And so, there you have it, folks. My top five, entirely unbiased by the presence of high-quality travel pals, my predisposition towards the arts, or a deep zest for local food. Like, if you put these five places into a blender and tossed in some garlic and oil, you totally wouldn’t make a Jenna smoothie.

    But that’s besides the point. It’s time for me to go – this chicas got a few more trips to book!

A Month and a Half in the Life

Somehow it feels like I've been in Spain for more than just seven weeks (okay, so a little more than a month and a half), but even so, time seems to be flying. I now have six weeks of teaching under my belt, have acquired eight hours of private classes per week, opened a bank account, picked up my TIE (foreign identification card), made some good friends, had fun exploring Madrid, and traveled around a bit. I've also gotten paid by my school and earn enough between that and private classes to pay for all of my expenses here and still have a little bit to travel around with. Where to you ask? So far on my list I've checked off a day trip to Toledo (an hour away), a weekend trip to Salamanca (2-3 hours away), and a longer weekend trip to Manchester, England (a two hour flight away). 

The seven weeks haven't been without struggles. As mentioned in a previous post, the apartment hunt was a bit rough. Finding a bank and private classes took me a while too (see below for my suggestions on those). Madrid is typically dry, but once fall hit it rained for almost three weeks straight. I've gotten a cold twice now. The presidential election was stressful for everyone here, even being an ocean away. I've also had to learn how to handle a couple of classes that aren't my favorite to teach. However, with that set, moving abroad is always an adventure, and you have to take everything in stride and laugh at the stories later. 

Overall though, I'm enjoying my time here in Spain. I love only working Monday-Thursday. I teach at my school from 10-2:30 with a couple breaks and then tutor from 5 to 8 in the evenings. Not working on Fridays gives me a day to run errands, relax, or get some more traveling in. I love living next to Retiro Park, which is great for a cafe and people watching, a relaxing walk, reading a book, or going for a run. I love being able to go to a pharmacist and get meds instead of having to pay to see a doctor. I love walking everywhere (and losing a few pounds as a result!). I confess that I don't speak Spanish as much as I would like to, but I'm still getting in some great practice and could find ways to speak more Spanish if I wanted to make it happen. I'm already thinking about renewing my position for next year and am excited for family and friends to come visit. 

As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions! I'm very happy to help! 

Until next time, 

Rebekah 

 

Some more helpful hints on various items:

1. Spain gives us a student visa, even though we are here to teach. Use this to your advantage! You can get great discounts in Spain and around Europe if you flash your student id. They've been content with either my visa in my passport or my TIE.

2. Wait at least a full month before you pick up your TIE and then don't put off picking it up. It will make it easier travelling around Europe and doing some other things around Spain. To avoid the lines, arrive around 11 am or before. People like to sleep in (don't we all) and will start arriving in hordes soon afterwards. 

3. Private classes typically pay better than working for a tutoring center. On average, the tutoring centers might pay you 10-15 euros an hours, whereas private class will pay 15-20 euros an hour, depending on your experience. 

4. If you can't find private classes on your own (ask everyone you know), then try looking on the Auxiliaries de Conversacion en Madrid Facebook page. There are posts about a variety of things, but I found about half of my classes through that. You usually have to be the first one to respond to a post, which for me meant sitting in front of my computer for a few hours and making sure I got the notifications on my phone right away. 

5. If given the option, I would highly recommend asking for Fridays off instead of Mondays. Why? There are a few reasons. First, holidays falling on Mondays and Fridays are almost equal. Second, students typically don't want private classes on Fridays, but they do on Mondays. Having a three day weekend is amazing, so I prefer to teach and give private classes Monday-Thursday in order to maximize travelling time. Finally, students get antsy on Fridays. It's almost the weekend. Who wouldn't feel that way? You'll probably enjoy your teaching time more if you have the students when they are more willing to be at school. 

6. To open a bank account easily, go to Sol. They are used to handling new accounts with foreigners and typically only require a passport. If you try to go somewhere outside of the center, they will usually want your TIE, perhaps some utility bills in your name, etc., and you will definitely want your first paycheck from your school before you are able to get all of that in place. I had a lot of success with Bankia, which is open until 6:30 in Sol (love!) and doesn't charge any fees until you are 30 (score!). Some other friends also had success with Sabadell. Santander didn't work for me this time around, even though I tried 3 times at separate branches. =(

7. The metro in Madrid is amazing. The trains go pretty much everywhere and come every two to six minutes. I highly recommend getting your abono during the CIEE orientation (they set up the appointment for you). Getting your abono will save you so much money and you can easily reload it at the ticket machines at any metro stop. 

8. When traveling within Spain, it can be tempting to take the speed train, but double check the bus prices. The lower cost can often offset the shorter travel time. 

9. My favorite traveling accommodations are Airbnbs, when I don't have friends or family to stay with. I find that they price is equivalent to a hostel, but they are usually cleaner and nicer and don't require sharing a room with 12 other people. For me, it can even be cheaper to stay in an airbnb as you usually have access to a kitchen, where you can make some of your meals instead of constantly having to eat out. 

10. When looking for cheap airline tickets, try the following: Ryan Air, Edreams, Student Universe, Norwegian Airlines, and any others that you know to be reasonably priced. You might not get the extras, but I've found I can survive off a carry-on and my own snacks. 

 

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