Sunday, May 3, 2015

Christmas with the In-Laws

Like most couples, we have to divide up holidays for visiting family. However in our case, the situation is slightly more complicated as we have family living on different continents.

Last year, my husband (then boyfriend) came to the U.S. to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve with my family. It was the first time he missed Christmas at home. This year it was our turn to go to Spain for Christmas. I had spent already one Christmas in Spain, my first year in Madrid, but my parents and brother had been there to visit. We had Christmas in Madrid and then went skiing in the Alps in northern Spain (the highlight of my brother's trip). We concluded the trip in Barcelona.

The Christmas season in Spain is great, but it's hard to beat your own family traditions. We decorate the house with lights, we listen to Christmas music all month long, we host neighborhood parties, we bake a ton of cookies... These are the kinds of things that make you nostalgic when living abroad.

I didn't really know what to expect about Christmas with my husband's family. Traditionally, Christmas is not as big as a celebration in Spain as the Three Kings' Day (January 6), or Epiphany as English speakers know it. Plus, New Year's Eve has a reputation for being one the biggest party nights in Spain, which is really saying something because the average weekend can see partiers until 6:00 or 7:00 AM.  One thing's for sure: there would be no tacky Christmas sweater parties. Spaniards in general don't have a lot of costume parties nor do they understand the reasoning behind willingly making yourself look silly. If you're going to put so much effort into an outfit, shouldn't it be stylish?

We arrived a few days before Christmas and I was happy to see the "Boas Festas" (Galician for Merry Christmas) lights around my husband's hometown. On Christmas Eve, the town council organized a visit from Santa, or Papa Noel. Among older generations, Papa Noel was not celebrated, but, like Halloween, this is an American custom that is slowly being adapted into popular culture in Spain. Some lucky children might get a small present from Papa Noel and from the Three Kings on January 6!

The town welcomed Papa Noel in the city hall and children and their families lined up to meet him. One by one the children came to sit on Papa Noel's lap as I did as a child. My husband's wife has two young girls and they were excited for their chance to reach the front of the line. Apparently a few years ago, when the city had more resources for holiday budgeting, Papa Noel arrived by helicopter drop. This must have been quite a sight.

Santa!! I know him!!
The big family meal is on Christmas Eve. In the coastal region of Galicia where my husband is from, seafood is the traditional dinner. Much to the dismay of my in-laws, I am not a big seafood eater. Each time I visit, I try to be a little more adventurous about tasting new things they prepare. This Christmas Eve dinner began with shrimp and stuffed clams, leading up to the main dish of baked bream. The bream is cooked many hours in a sauce of potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. The fish is cooked whole: tail, head, and everything. No room for wimps at this dinner.

Seafood Christmas was definitely a first for me. I can't say I'm a converted fan, but I did eat enough to satisfy my Spanish family. Give it a few more years and maybe I'll be embracing my coastal side like a pro. My favorite part of the meal was the free-for-all turrón fest. Turrón is a Spanish sweet only served during the Christmas holidays. Traditional turrón resembles an almond brittle; a hard consistency with nuts, honey, and sugar. The more modern kinds also include chocolate or krispies. We purchased all kinds of turrón to last us until the end of the Christmas holidays on January 6. If turrón is something you like, you have to buy it before January 7 because they stop stocking the stores immediately after the Three Kings.

The size of these shrimp!
Contemplating the besugo (bream).


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chicken for Thanksgiving

Not long after moving to England, Thanksgiving was upon us.

This wasn't my first Thanksgiving abroad. I'd spent one in Madrid and one in Paris with a friend while living in Madrid. The Paris Thanksgiving was actually one of my most memorable because we somehow stumbled into an Irish pub having an American Thanksgiving party. (An American party in an Irish pub in Paris. Let that sink in.) The American party was serving typical food and we were lucky enough to grab the last piece of pumpkin pie!

But this was different. Not only was this our first Thanksgiving being married, but it was my husband's first Thanksgiving ever. The pressure was on to impress him with our grand feasting tradition. Thanksgiving scenes take place in nearly every American series and countless movies, therefore he was already familiar with the common customs.

Even though we were living abroad and no family would be joining us, I decided to prepare our favorite dishes regardless. My mom mailed us a box of crucial Thanksgiving items: a carved wooden pilgrim statue, a turkey Beanie Baby, an apron, a US engraved glass serving platter (complete with bald eagle), and Georgia napkins. Armed with my recipes, I headed to the grocery store to find the necessary Thanksgiving ingredients.

At the grocery store, several items were quite difficult to find. Locating creamed corn for the corn casserole and the fried onions for the green bean casserole was nearly impossible. Boxed Christmas stuffing was already being sold, so I picked up some of that for good measure. (Sidenote: because obviously Thanksgiving is not celebrated in England, Christmas lights, candy, and food are put up right after Halloween. Talk about an extended holiday season!) The only Thanksgiving staples I was unsuccessful in finding were cranberry sauce, pumpkin/pecan pie, and a turkey. To confess, there were a few Christmas turkeys, but the idea of preparing a massive turkey for two people just was too much for me. I thought about buying smaller cuts of turkey, but decided to buy a whole chicken instead. Yes, I prepared a Thanksgiving chicken. Does that make me a bad American?

With my Thanksgiving chicken in the oven, I encountered another setback. We don't own so many cooking pans the right size for making casseroles. I had to make the corn casserole in muffin trays. The top of the green bean casserole ended up a little too crispy (nice way of saying burnt), however the pineapple casserole came out right. The chicken was delicious I might add.

To not feel so lonely about our small Thanksgiving dinner, we Skyped with my parents who were together with the family at my aunt's house. To end the night, "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" was on TV, which I thought was a little odd, but I'll take it!

All in all our first Thanksgiving was a little unconventional, but my we were full for days after so I guess it was a success!

Skype: every expat's favorite technology.

Our turkey wanna-be and cornbread casserole muffins, the next big Thanksgiving trend.
If you marry a foreigner, you at least have to buy him a t-shirt from your home state to wear on Thanksgiving.
A Charlie Brown classic.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

London and my first NFL game

Two days after our wedding, my husband and I hopped on a plane for England. 

We planned to honeymoon in London before settling into our city in the north end of the country. It'd been 10 years since I'd been to London with our high school senior trip and I was looking forward to going back. A few months earlier, I'd found that my home NFL team, the Atlanta Falcons, would be playing in London the very same weekend we were there. Firstly, I love American football. Secondly, I've never actually been to a Falcons game, or any other NFL game. (Disclaimer: I live in the South and everyone supports their university teams so going to University of Georgia games always trumped the Falcons.) Thirdly, what are the chances that the weekend you go to London your team is playing an NFL game there? 

This was an opportunity too good to miss. Several years back, the NFL recognized the fan potential they had in the UK and decided to partner with London to host a rotation of NFL games every season. It has been quite a success and last year four NFL games were held in London's Wembley Stadium. I figured it might be some time before the Falcons get asked back to play in London. Plus, as I was moving to England, my future chances to see live American football were slim. 

The dilemma: my Spanish husband neither understands nor appreciates American football (oh, the horror). I have tried in vain to teach him the ways of the glorious game we have invented, but it just never caught. To a person raised in the soccer (or should I say fútbol) capital of the world, any game where you pick up the ball in your hands is sacrilege. 

You can only imagine his surprise when I wanted to see a football game during our honeymoon. I think at first he thought I was joking. But he shouldn't have been surprised, I used to get him to stream UGA football games on his computer from some Chinese provider so I could watch my team from Spain. So he agreed and when we arrived in London after the wedding, the whole city was in a hype over the big game. US and NFL flags hung down Regent Street, and we caught just the tail end of the Falcons fan rally in Trafalgar Square. 

Making our way to Wembley Stadium, home to the English national football team and the biggest stadium in the UK, I was getting pretty excited. Falcons gear was everywhere and fans from all over Europe were showing their support. I heard a variety of languages being spoken amongst the crowd, just going to show that the love of American football reaches far beyond our borders. I of course had my Falcons shirt on and picked up a "Rise Up" flag on the way in. The Falcons were the designated 'home team' so all the stadium was decorated in red and black and the rallying cries were always for our team. 

I loved the whole thing. Well, except for the fact that the Detroit Lions managed to come back from behind to beat us by one point. One. My husband observed the game with about the same amount of interest I would show toward a game of cricket. I suppose I did enough cheering for the both of us. Although I failed to convert my husband to American football, and despite the heart-breaking loss, being in Wembley Stadium with Atlanta and foreign fans alike was an unforgettable experience. 

The rest of our days in London we spent doing the usual sightseeing circuit and relaxing from a few crazy days of getting married and moving abroad. 

Other pictures from our trip:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blog Update: International Wedding and Moving to England

I've been needing to revamp my blog for some time now. As most of you know I was previously writing about my daily life and adventures while living in Madrid from 2011-2013. I worked for the Spanish Ministry of Education and was also studying a Master program in Political Analysis. In October 2013, I completed my thesis paper, graduated from the Complutense Universidad de Madrid, moved back to the US, and took a job in marketing for international pharmaceutical companies in Atlanta.

At the same time I took my job in Atlanta, my boyfriend from Spain completed his PhD program in Madrid and accepted a position teaching at a university in England. We had a (very) long-distance relationship for a year, traveling back and forth between countries every few months. On one such visit to England, he proposed and I began planning our Atlanta wedding for fall 2014. 

That was six months ago. In case anyone is curious, we met through a mutual friend who put us in contact to do what's commonly known in Spain as a "language exchange". I was determined to improve my Spanish and he was studying his PhD in English. Luckily my amatuer Spanish level didn't put him off and the rest is history. I always warn people about the hazards of traveling abroad: you might meet your future spouse and never go back home! 

Now we live in a very historic, cobblestone street city in northern England. I haven't adjusted to the lack of sunshine in the UK, but I am getting used to life as a British resident. 

Our wedding had an international theme, reflecting our relationship and both our Spanish and American background. The ceremony was held in my home church in Marietta and the reception was at The Biltmore in Atlanta, a national registered historic site. The bridesmaids had roses with Spanish fans and the guest seating chart at the reception was in the layout of a flight departure screen. Guests signed a framed world map as our guestbook and the passport emblem on the cocktail napkins matched our invitation design. Each table was marked with a vintage travel poster of an international city. Inspiring our guests for travel, we gave out luggage bag tags for gifts. My husband and I made our grand entrance to the epic "España Cañí" pasadoble song, complete with matador's hat and Spanish decorative fan for me. If you feel like listening to this instrumental while reading the blog, it might enhance your Spanish experience!

See some of our wedding pictures below:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Morocco: Day 3 & 4 Sunrise in the Desert and a Cookie Miracle

DAY 3 
The next morning we woke up at dawn to see the sunrise over the desert. It was an incredible sight.

After breakfast, we mounted back up on the camels to ride back to the pickup station. This time, we had a private tour with just the three of us and the guide. We took a different route back out of the desert. It was such a cool experience, one not to be missed if near the Sahara! Our trek through the desert had come to an end. Unfortunately, that meant the forever long return car ride back to Marrakech.

Once we made it back to Marrakech, we had yet another problem finding our new hostel (where we stayed the first night wasn't available). This hostel was again very close to the Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, but the address provided on the hostel directions didn't exist (of course not). We had the right street name, but the number didn't match. We walked up and down that street, searching for the number listed on the confirmation email. Unable to find this number anywhere, we wondered if this was one of those situations where the street randomly picks up again somewhere else. This was in the middle of the busy Souk markets. The roads were quite narrow and people were pushing their goods in wheelbarrows. Needless to say, they did not like having us taking up precious road space with our suitcases wandering around. Like the first day of our arrival, plenty of men kept offering to take us where we were going, some even getting really offended when we declined. We had the address and were on the right street, so we didn't think we needed a 'guide'. After asking a police officer for help (he didn't know), we ran into some young boys who said they knew the way. Doubting they actually did, but too frustrated to continue on, we agreed to follow them. At least this seemed safer than following a grown man somewhere unknown. Their English was pretty good- it was obvious they had been rehearsed to say the right lines to lost tourists. They asked us how we liked Morocco and assured us they wouldn't charge, "just for free we take you." We were counting on paying them anyway, we just wanted to arrive at the hostel. They took us down several wrong streets until arriving exactly back on the same street we had walked up and down 50 times. This time, I saw the name of the hostel (not the right number), to which the boys quickly shouted out that they had found the place. Although technically they didn't really give us much help, we each pulled out several euros worth of dirham and thanked the boys. The older boy looked at the money in disgust and semi-yelled that this money was nothing and that we had to pay them some absurd amount, something like 100 euros. We stood shocked, reminded them that they took us for 'free' and that we didn't mind paying a reasonable amount for an 8 year old. As the scene started to escalate, we walked inside, hoping the boys would take what they had and move on to the next unsuspecting lost victim. But no, they followed us inside the whole way yelling and stomping their feet. The big hostel guys, obviously used to this routine, had to kick the guys out. Well, so much for another easy journey to our hostel. Geez, I kind of half way worried they'd come back for us in the night, them and their roving gang of preteen street guiders.

We had another evening out in Jamaa el Fna , eating street food and haggling with vendors over Moroccan lanterns. There were cookie vendors with huge carts of traditional cookies that you bought by the dozen. We picked out our dozen, hoping to eat them on our flight home the next day

Day 4
On our final day in Marrakech, we only had a few hours to explore. We walked to the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in the city. For anyone who has been to the World Showcase in Disney's Epcot Park, this is the mosque represented for the Morocco exhibition. We also walked across town to another mosque that the guidebooks said you could enter, but this one was closed for reconstruction. On our way walking to the second mosque, the bells began ringing, signaling the hour of prayer for the Muslim people. It was really interesting to watch groups of men put down mats and start praying along the sidewalks. Unfortunately, our day was going fast and we had a flight to catch.

When we returned back to our hostel to pick up our bags that we had left while we were out, we noticed something missing. The cookies! All three boxes! We went back to our room, asked the front desk, who asked the maids.... Nobody had seen the cookies. But how do 3 dozen cookies simply disappear? Yeah, I think someone was snacking on those things all day. Disheartened, we left with only the luggage. We desperately hoped we could find the cookie vendors in the plaza, but it was too early and they weren't out. Then, something magical happened. At the exact moment we were exiting the plaza to catch a cab to the airport, the cookie guy from last night rolled right in front of us. We probably looked like crazy people, but we ran to his cart and physically blocked his way. In a super rush, we begged for a box and filled those suckers up with new selections. Not believing our luck, we happily took those dang cookies back with us to Spain. What a trip!

Bye Bye Marrakech!