Thursday, March 8, 2012

happy days.

I'm back again after yet another little blogging hiatus. Life is pretty darn good these days. I've been keeping busy with work and giving private classes, but I still have plenty of time to enjoy this city (and my bed) on the weekends. I'm fighting a little cold right now (AGAIN), but I'm taking good care of myself so hopefully it'll be a short one. Well, I was thinking about this often neglected little blog, and I realized that I really haven't posted much about the wonderful little city where I spend most of my days, nor have I documented much about my everyday life over here. There is so much to love and share about this city, so I'm thinking that's got to change. Let's start with last weekend....

On Friday night, my lovely friends Lauren and Christina hosted a "Team America" themed potluck at their place so we could enjoy some of our favorite all-American foods and share them with some Spanish friends. I made homemade mac and cheese all by myself for the first time, and it turned out really good for my first try. We also had sliders, hot dogs, pigs in blankets, mashed potatoes, rice krispy treats, cookies, and lots more... heaven.

and thissss is why we're fat!

A little over a month ago, some friends of mine heard about a farmer's market in Madrid with practically free wine tasting, and we knew that was right up our alley! The farmer's market in Madrid takes place on the first Saturday of each month near Lago metro, in the Casa de Campo area. Unfortunately, I was deathly ill and stuck in bed for February's market and had to miss out on all the fun, but I was determined to make it this month. We somehow motivated on Saturday morning and headed to the market, which is easily one of my new favorite things about Madrid! For only 1 euro, you can buy a wine glass and enjoy free wine tastings from all of the vendors. There were a bunch of different local wineries serving unlimited pours of wine, as well as some other local vendors with samples of baked goods, cheeses, and meats. There was also a local brewery, La Cibeles, selling cañas y tapas and bottles of beer for only 2 euros. I tried their Castaña beer... it was the first Spanish microbrew I've tried and it was pretty good!

Apparently word of the market got around our auxiliar friend circle, so there were quite a few of us in attendance... we met up with a bunch of other friends at the market. After lots of wine tasting and purchasing bottles of wine (for only 2 euros... tomaaa!), a large group of us headed to the lake for a picnic. It was an afternoon of good people, good weather, and good times! This primavera weather and lazy weekend afternoons at the park have been the highlights of my month!

lago at casa de campo... views of palacio real and the cathedral

life through my lense

That's all for today... time to rest up so I can survive my last workday of the week!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hey y'all! Happy Valentines Day, (or el dia de San Valentin in Spanish), Single's Awareness Day, whatever you wanna call it. I can't say that I really care too much about Valentine's Day. I'm not any more concerned about my love life, or lack thereof, today than I would be on any other day of the year. But hey, I like sweets and hearts and love and all that jazz, so I decided to celebrate this year (and no, not Chico State style).

Inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, I decided to make these cute little conversation heart sugar cookies to share with the teachers at my school. Of course my little breadbox of a kitchen isn't very well equipped for baking, so I was forced to improvise... aka I used a jar of garbanzo beans as a rolling pin, cut cardboard from my cereal box to make a cookie cutter, and used sandwich bags for the icing. I was up until 2 am and my entire kitchen was covered with sugar, icing, and cookie dough, but they turned out adorable and sinfully delicious. I put them out at recreo this morning and the teachers LOVED them... they even asked me for the recipe, so I translated it into Spanish today!

The end product :)

I may have been the only person at my school who actually celebrated Valentine's Day. Unlike any American elementary school, there was no Valentine's card exchanging going down at Colegio Laura Garcia Noblejas y Brunet today. The 1st grade teacher quickly acknowledged the holiday and then we danced around the room to celebrate the start of Carnival in Spain. Apparently Valentine's Day in Spain is less of a Hallmark holiday and more of an actual "lovers" thing.

I ended the day with homemade Mexican food and Coronitas with two of my favorite ladies, Lauren and Christina. Yummm. By the way, I really miss REAL Mexican food... if only La Cocina Economica delivered to Spain!

my valentines!

Anyways, I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine's Day whether you're spending it with a special someone or just with friends.

Besos y abrazos!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

La verguenza: struggling with español

A lot of people have asked me how my Spanish is coming along, so here is a little update on my language learning progress. Truth be told, it isn´t coming along as well as I was hoping it would after a few months in Spain.

You may be thinking... well, you´re speaking Spanish all the time because you're living in a Spanish speaking country, right? Not exactly. I live with another native English speaker. I work as an English teaching assistant and I teach a private English classes a couple times a week, and pretty much all of my friends here speak English. As you can imagine, I have been speaking far more English than I have Spanish.

When I decided to move to Spain, I had every intention of immersing myself in the language and culture. I imagined myself living with Spaniards and speaking Spanish at home and making friends with locals. In reality, finding an apartment with Spaniards didn´t work out. With my low level of Spanish, the apartment hunt was quite a bit more difficult, and I wasn´t able to find a nice place in a good location, in my price range, and with Spanish speakers within a short period of time. However, I did find a cute place with an English speaking roommate in an area that I love, so I jumped on the opportunity.

I have also found it much easier to just hang out with other English speakers. The teachers at my school don´t make a huge effort to talk to me and I´m not really able to comprehend their conversations, let alone join in. I typically just hang out with the other auxiliars at my school or talk with the teachers who speak English. And lastly, it´s just easier to make English speaking friends here, and I´ve made some really great friends so far.

So yes.... I will be the first to admit that I´ve been taking the easy road out. It´s not that I never try to improve my Spanish. In my first few months here, I studied grammar on my lunch break, listened to Spanish podcasts and tried to practice the phrases I learned, I carried a notebook and wrote down words and phrases to look up and practice, and I took a class a couple days a week to improve my grammar and vocabulary. It pains me to admit this, but at some point over the last two months or so, I started to give up on myself. I wasn't seeing the improvement I was hoping for, and it was discouraging... and also totally my fault. However, I would be lying if I said that I haven't improved at all. I moved here with a really low level of Spanish, so while I have learned a lot, that isn't saying much.

My slow improvement really boils down to one thing: not speaking enough. And why am I not speaking enough when I am surrounded by Spanish speakers? I have a little case of la verguenza, or the shame. In other words, I get shy and nervous about speaking Spanish. I guess I´m somewhat of a perfectionist, and I keep getting afraid to sound dumb and not know the best words to get my point across. I know, I know... it´s stupid of me. I know that I have to push through it and just try, even if it means making mistakes. I know that´s the only way to learn. I know I´ve been making too many excuses for myself. I have been meeting with a few language exchange parters since arriving in Spain, but I find myself flaking out more often than not.

Since returning from my winter break, I´ve been feeling my motivation slip even more. I was almost to the point of considering it a lost cause, but I don't want to give up on myself that easy. Over the last two weeks, I have been trying to enroll in an intensive, 8 hour/week course at a public language school. After completing a written and oral exam, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I tested into the lower intermediate level. After becoming SO excited to take this class, my plans were crushed when I went to enroll last Thursday and learned that there were only 7 spots to enroll in the class and I didn't get one... and neither did two of my close friends who were also trying to enroll. Go figure.

After Thursday's disappointment at the EOI, some friends and I met up to bitch it out over a bottle of wine. After unexpectedly bursting into tears of frustration, my friends gave me the reassurance and motivation I needed (to all my friends in the kitchen that night, thanks again). It's interesting... although we are all at different levels, ranging from beginner to advanced, we all find ourselves having the same frustrations with learning Spanish.

Anyways, there you have it: an honest report on my language learning progress. I wish I could have shared more positive news, but hey, it is what it is. I 'm ready to stop making excuses and start having more realistic expectations for myself. More importantly, I'm ready to put in some real effort and to begin challenging myself more.

Have you ever found yourself in a language learning (or just motivation in general) rut? Any advice for how to overcome it?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Inspired // Street art in Granada

I've decided to interrupt my Italy travel posts with a little inspiration from the streets of Granada. We came across some pretty awesome graffiti while walking through the backroads. Apparently the city has allowed graffiti in some areas of the city, and it really adds character to its quiet streets. Here are a few pics I took:

I've saved my favorite for last:

"Cansao de no encontrar repuesta... decidí cambiar mis preguntas //
I was tired of not finding the answer... so I decided to change my questions"

Christina and I were mesmerized by this last one. We both love collecting quotes, and this one really resonated with us. If you're not finding what you're looking for, then maybe you aren't looking for the right things in the first place. Sometimes a change in direction is just what you need...

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed these photos. As you may have noticed if you've been following my blog, I changed up my blog theme over the weekend. I made the banner using a panoramic photo taken in Granada. Thoughts??? I hope everyone stateside enjoys their Superbowl Sunday, although I don't know who even cares, considering the Niner's didn't make the cut! As for me, I've just recovered from a long week of being sick, and I'm ready to take on the world this week. :))

Un Beso!

Saturday, February 4, 2012


The second stop of our epic winter vacay was none other than ROME. Our flight from Paris arrived in the evening and we took a bus to Termini station, the major train station in Rome. Our hostel was conveniently located nearby, but we quickly learned that the Termini area completely blows. It's ugly and totally lacking in character and good places to eat. On the brightside, it is well connected to the metro, busses, and trains. Our hostel wasn't much better... boring, ugly, rude staff, the works. Oh well! After grabbing a subpar meal nearby, we began our nightly tradition of drinking wine and playing card games, which was abruptly ended at midnight when our hostel closed the common areas and declared quiet hours. Seriously?!

The next day, we explored ancient Rome! We bought a pass that allowed us entrance into the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palentine Hill... lot's of tourists, but it was pretty cool to be in a place soooo old. We also began our deep love affair with Italian gelato... yum!

On our third day in Rome, we headed to Vatican City, the smallest country in the world! First, we hit the famous Vatican museum, which is HUGE. Once again, we were plagued with huge crowds, but we got to see some amazing art, including Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistene Chapel. Next, we went to the St. Peter's Basilica, where we toured the cathedral and then climbed the stairs to the top!

Michelangelo's "finger touch". I was naughty and snuck a picture.

St. Peter's Basilica

The stairs to the top of St. Peters were intense! No, my camera was not tilted...

Our third day in Rome was New Year's Eve. We took the bus into the better side of Rome, and the first thing we came across was the world's most epic pizza. We walked by this place that had tons of people flooding in and out, and we knew we had hit the jackpot! Next, we walked around and hit up sights like the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, shopped, and ate more gelato. We didn't really know what to do for New Year's Eve, so we went to some club event organized by our hostel, and to make a long story short, it sucked. But hey, we're past that now!

Eggplant, sausage and peppers, and mozzarella pizza... EPIC.

nom nom nom

On our final full day in Rome, we spent time being lazy, ate lasagna, and visited the Spanish Steps. The next morning, we headed to our next destination: FLORENCE! There is a lot to do and see in Rome, but I can't say it was my favorite city of our trip. If I could do it over, I would have stayed somewhere else and maybe planned our stay a little better, but we did enjoy ourselves nonetheless.



yes, yes it is.

First stop of my Christmas holiday: Paris. My friends Jamie, Christina, and I packed our bags and hopped on an early morning flight to Paris... early as in 6am flight. We survived our miserable Ryanair flight and arrived in Paris with little to no sleep. The first thing I did upon arrival to Paris was walk into a cafe and order a big piece of the most amazing salmon and spinach quiche I have ever eaten.... and at that moment, I knew I would love Paris.

We stayed at the St. Christopher's hostel in Paris, and it was really nice, and by far the best hostel of our trip. After checking into our hostel, we headed straight to the Christmas markets on Champs de Elysees, one of the main shopping streets in Paris. Maybe this is my inner fat kid speaking, but the markets may have been my favorite thing in Paris! We walked through the markets drinking hot wine and stopping to eat delicious food, including the most amazing potato and ham dish I have ever experienced. We loved the markets so much, in fact, that we made it a point to return almost every day of our trip.

Day 2 of our trip was Christmas eve. We took a free walking tour of Paris hosted by Sandeman's New Europe tours, and it was wonderful. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Paris! We walked along the Senne River and saw sights such as Notre Dame, the Lourve, a lover's lock bridge, to name a few. Although we nearly froze to death, I enjoyed getting a little history lesson while seeing more of the city. That night, we went to a holiday dinner at our hostel and then headed out to see more of Paris. Our new friend and hostel roomie, Joe, took us to the Montmarte region to see the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur. We had a nice little night walking around the area, drinking our vodka and orangina deathmix and freezing our culos off.

Notre Dame

Lover's lock bridge. Lovers and friends lock a lock to the bridge and throw the key into the river to symbolize eternal love. We learned that they actually cut the locks at the end of each year. So much for eternal love, right?

The one and only Moulin Rouge.

The Sacre Coeur... beautiful at night!

Day 3, Merry Christmas! Good thing there isn't much to do on Christmas day in Paris, because we spent the first half of our day trying to recover from the night before. Since many restaurants were closed, we made our way back to the Christmas markets, where Jamie and I shared the most incredible mushrooms we have ever had... and a salmon sandwich... and churros. nom nom nom. Feeling satisfied, we headed to the Eiffel Tower! We had to wait in line for quite a while, but it was 100% worth it... the views from the Eiffel Tower were amazing. It's one of those places that feels so familiar because I've grown up seeing it in photos and movies and such, but it's still impressive in real-life. On Christmas night, we went ice skating at this cute little outdoor rink. We had fun showing of our skating skills (Joe is a pro), or lack thereof (cough cough Christina), besides the fact that some asshole skater bros were cutting people off left and right. I ended the night with a phone call home... getting to talk to the fam made my day, even if it was only for a few short minutes.

The next day was our last day with Jamie, so we decided to head to the Louvre museum before saying goodbye. I really wish I could have enjoyed the museum more, but it was just too crowded to really appreciate it. I don't think it's any secret that the Mona Lisa really isn't that impressive in person, and it doesn't help when the room is packed like a concert- I was waiting for people to start crowd surfing at any moment. Nonetheless, it was still cool to see some iconic art pieces, and I got in for free so I didn't feel too gipped. Hopefully I'll get to return on a less crowded day in the future. After the Louvre, we went inside the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral.

see what I mean?

The girls in front of Notre Dame!

On our last full day in Paris, we took a day trip to Versailles to see the Palace of Versailles. I've seen pictures of Versailles in the past and it's beautiful, but we happened to go on the wrong day! It was insanely foggy and cold, and after waiting in line for over an hour, the palaces were jam packed with tourists. We got through the palaces as quickly as we could and then headed to the gardens for maybe 5 minutes before we decided to call it quits. That night, we paid another visit to Montmarte to visit the sex shops. Good, clean fun, I promise! We also went out to dinner in celebration of our last night in Paris. I would recommend never ordering horse meat (I know, that should be a no brainer...), but I did sneak a bite of Christina's beef bourguignon and it was to die for.

mystic gardens at Versailles.

Day 6 of our trip marked our final day in Paris. After checking out of the hostel, Christina, Joe, and I stopped by a famous falafel restaurant before heading off to the airport. I'm glad we spent a full 5 days in Paris- the city is huge and there is so much to do and see! While Paris is gorgeous around Christmas-time, it was a little too crowded for my liking. As a result, I think I enjoyed just walking around the city and eating more than the museums and such.

Au Revoire, Paris! Until next time...

Next on our itinerary: Rome, Florence, and Venice. Full report to come.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Peel an Orange

Okay, so I suck... I wrote this post a few months ago, when I had only been here for 2 months. For some reason, I decided against posting it. Upon discussing this topic with friends and finding that we've all had this same experience, they convinced me to post it. Better late than never, right?!

I have been in Spain for exactly two months now... crazy, huh?! Since arriving in Spain I been picking up on many cultural differences between Spain and the United States. While I could list off dozens of little things that make me feel super American around here, and some of the biggest cultural differences are related to food.

A common topic of discussion between my auxiliar friends and I has to do with Spanish eating habits. There are quite a few differences in the types of food eaten, meal times, and table etiquette, which I plan to elaborate on in future posts. One thing that has stuck out to me when dining with Spaniards is how they eat fruit. In the States, fruit is a portable food. Hungry on the go? Grab an apple or a banana and eat it on the run. Fruit is a finger food. You simply bite into the apple, eat the banana straight from the peel, or tear into an orange with your fingers.

Just like this...

In Spain, you´ll be hard pressed to find someone eating fruit on the go. Fruit is eaten with a plate, knife, and a fork. I´ve never seen anyone eat fruit as gracefully as the Spanish. And until today, I have avoided any fruit besides bananas at the lunch table. Today at recreo, I decided to give it a shot. I picked up an orange and began peeling it with my knife. Super Spanish, right? I began peeling the rind off, and next thing I know I had dozens of pieces of rind covering my plate and my hands were covered in orange juice. The gym teacher just looked at me and laughed and commented on my peeling technique, and I tried to explain that I don´t like the white part on the orange. Called out!

I immediately looked around the room to see what was so different about my technique. I mean, I used a knife after all! Sure enough, everyone at the table had cut the top of the peel off their oranges, and neatly removed the rest of the peel in one piece. After the orange is peeled, they continue to eat the orange with a knife and fork. So proper. This same technique applies to almost every type of fruit: apples, pears, oranges, etc.

Well, there you have it: How to peel an orange in Spain. I´m going to give it another go tomorrow, and hopefully I´ll be a pro by Friday.

Update: 3 months later, and I still avoid eating oranges at the table, but mostly due to the fact that I'm too lazy to put that much effort into eating a piece of fruit.

Un besazo!