Friday, December 16, 2011

Paris, Part 2

  We started our second day by getting a delicious croissant from a crowded bakery on the way to the Luxembourg Gardens. This is the location of the French Senate, as well as a very population spot for joggers and people practicing some form of tai-chi or self-defense.(Seriously, it was strange how many people were doing it. Maybe it was a class?) From there we walked to Notre Dame. There was a huge Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral and a very intricate Nativity Scene inside. Our next stop was the Sacre Coeur Cathedral in the Montmartre district.
   And that’s when the strangest thing happened. Unbelievable even. As we were exiting a Metro train to change lanes, Caitlin turns to me to whisper that the guy right behind us looks like our Italian roommate. (Oh by the way, did I mention his name is Fabio?? Yes, Fabio. From Italy. No resemblance though.) So I sneakily turn around, and, to say he looks like Fabio would be an understatement. We let him pass to get a better look.  Same features, same clothes and everything. It dawns on us that this could be his identical twin that we’ve only seen once on skype. We follow him onto the train and decide it worth a shot to ask him if he has a brother. He does. And it’s our roommate. Turns out he and his friend were going to Sacre Coeur too, so we went together to the cathedral and the art district nearby. It’s a small world after all.
                We walked back to Montmartre that night to have a glass of hot wine and watch the people posing for portraits and caricatures. We had an early flight back to Madrid, but we really enjoyed our fall weekend in the City of Lights!

Luxembourg Gardens (above and below)

Notre Dame
Coincidental Metro run-in 
Sacre- Coeur
Montmartre art square

In the square with some hot wine!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Thanksgiving in Paris! part 1

  The actual truth is, Caitlin and I didn’t really plan a trip for Thanksgiving. We forget about it. Back in September, we decided to start looking for cheap flights around Europe in advance. We found the best fares over the weekend of November 24th-27th. We checked our school calendars and didn’t see a conflict, so we booked them! It wasn’t until about a week later that we realized that was Thanksgiving weekend. Woops.  But since we weren’t going home, why not go to Paris?
  We stayed in a studio of an American girl who is doing our teaching program in France. Her apartment is in the Latin quarter of Paris, with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  The tower was lit up, and shortly after arriving, the lights began to twinkle. I tried to get Caitlin’s attention by exclaiming, “the Eiffel Tower is sparkling, like diamonds!!” Thinking I was in some kind of cheesy romantic mood, she didn’t even look up. “No, literally!” Luckily, she saw it just in time. So for your future knowledge, be sure to look for the Eiffel Tower right before 1:30am so you can watch it change lights before it turns off for the night.
  We went walking around to check out the action and look for food. (Yes, at 2 am. We didn’t get to eat dinner because of our flight!) The streets were so quiet; we were very confused. In Spain, everything is open until at least 4. The only place we found open was a sports bar near the apartment. And as luck would have it, they were having an American Thanksgiving party. We joined all of the 7 other people there were able to grab a quick slice of pumpkin pie before it closed. So that was our Thanksgiving feast- one piece of pie. But we enjoyed every bite.
  The next day we started out bright and early to head to the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, it was a super foggy day and you could barely even see the top of it. At the base, it was roped off and surrounded by guards and emergency cars. I’m not sure what was going on, but we couldn’t go up. We crossed the river and walked into the Christmas markets on the Champs-Elysees. Rows and rows of tents were up with crafts and treats. This was the weekend the city started the markets and lights around town. Que suerte (how lucky)!  
  We continued down until we got to the Lourve and went inside to wander around the massive museum. Although we didn’t have any room in our carry on suitcases to make many big purchases, we felt we had to at least go through some stores. We were in Paris after all. Aside from the countless streets of shopping, there are several huge malls, decked out with all their Christmas decorations. Every year, they put up Christmas displays in the mall windows that draw big crowds. Most had robotic toys that moved or danced. We went back to the Christmas market that night to get crepes with Nutella. First day in Paris=success.
Day 2 of Paris to come…



 


         




Saturday, November 19, 2011

Yall take out your English books...

  All the English taught in Spain is British English, which I'm learning is very different from what is spoken in the States.  The materials for my students are made from Oxford University, so all the listening activities have very strong accents. Poor kids. Whenever I read the activities and then we listen to it on the CD, words are not pronounced the same. I'm finding myself trying to adjust the things I say so it'll match their books. I'll probably come home with some really strange sayings. Here are a few examples:
  British version = American version
-"Have you got any...?"= "Do you have any...?"
-"Can I go to the toliet?" = "Can I go to the bathroom?"
-The only answer to the question, "How are you?" is "I'm fine, thanks." Never "Good", or "Well", or "Great", or anything else. Only "fine".
-rubber = eraser
-bin = trashcan
-lift = elevator
-patio = playground
-pavement = sidewalk
-lorry = truck
-timetables = schedule
-trousers = pants
-biscuits = cookies
-spellings: favourite and colour
   Even though I don't think I have much of an accent, I am from the South and it's harder for the students to understand my instructions than their professors who were taught British Spanish. Plus, I have to try really really really hard not to use 'yall'. :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Puente de Octubre

   Spaniards have several breaks throughout the year called "Puentes" (bridges). This one was the Puente de Octubre because we had the last days of October off. My friends, Caitlin, Angela, Amanda and I went to Northern Spain for the long weekend and we lucked out! Not only did we have a great trip, the weather was nice! We flew out of Madrid at 6am Friday morning and arrived to the sleepy town of Santander. This was a much needed break from the craziness of Madrid. We walked along the water and to the vacation house of the Spanish royalty. Along the way, we saw a mini-zoo with penguins and seals! That evening was cool and Caitlin and I tried our first roasted chestnuts. Our German roommate Angela couldn't believe we hadn't had them before! They're in our Christmas songs!
Santander: Dreaming we lived here...
Penguins in Spain? Who knew?
  Chestnuts roasting on an open fire....in Santander.

  The following morning we took a 1 hour bus ride to Bilbao. I won't write too much about Bilbao because we spent most of our time wandering lost. We did make it to the Guggenheim, so check on the list for being cultured! (although modern art is really not my thing.) Here are a few shots...
 Conquering Europe, one city at a time: Bilbao.
 G-Heim. Holler.
Huge artsy spider in front of the museum.

  Our final destination was San Sebasti├ín. We loved this city! Famous for its surfing, we hiked to the top of Monte Urgull to get some incredible views of the beaches. That night we went out for "pinchos", the small servings of meat or fish on top of bread slices. Each one costs about a euro and so you go from bar to bar, trying one or two at each place. I like to call this "pincho hopping." Check it out:
 San Sebasti├ín
 Views from the top of Mont Urgull.

 Pinchos galore!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The rain in Spain falls mainly.... never.

  For the first six weeks I was here, we did not have a drop of rain. Nobody seemed too concerned about it. Finally, a few days ago, we had our first day of rain. It was mostly just a sprinkle. But, I didn't have my rainboots (they didn't make the cut in my limited luggage space) so my feet were wet all day. The weather has rapidly changed from very warm to pretty cold almost over night. So the combination of the two has resulted in me getting sick. Bummer. And of course we have a break from school at the beginning of next week so my roommates and I are going out of town tomorrow. We're flying from Madrid to to Santander, in northern Spain. We're staying a night in Santander, Bilbao, and San Sebastian. Santander and San Sebastian are on the coast, but it's probably going to be too cold to go to the beach. Plus, you guessed it, it's supposed to rain. Really? No rain for six weeks and now it decides to rain all weekend all over the country? Oh well. We should have a fun trip anyway and I'm excited to see this part of the country. I've traveled a good bit in southern Spain because I studied abroad in Cadiz, but I never made it to the northwest. San Sebastian and Santander are supposedly very pretty coastal cities and Bilbao has the famous Guggenheim museum. When we get back to Madrid, we're celebrating my birthday and Halloween on the 31st! Although Halloween is not as popular here as it is in the States, people do get dressed up to go to parties in costumes. I've missed all our Halloween decorations and pumpkins- they're hard to find!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Food

  People are always curious about what we eat in Spain. I'll sum it up in 3 words: ham, cheese, and potatos. Throw in some seafood, eggs, and tons of bread and you've got a typical Spanish meal!
  From the outside it really seems like there's a ham obsession in this country. I can't really explain it so here are some pics.

   Ham hanging in the restaurants. Below, ham and cheese.
   Below- The "Ham Museum" A restaurant dedicated to ham!
Spanish tortilla. Eggs and potatoes. Probably has ham too.

Paella. Eat at your own risk. Octopus! Yikes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lately...

  So I haven't posted in a while. I started teaching two weeks ago and I really like my school! I work 9:30-4:30 at an elementary school right outside Madrid. I can take the bus or the suburban rail 20 minutes out to my school in Las Rozas. I teach at a bilingual school, so the kids take half their classes in Spanish and half in English. They take their science, physical education, art classes in English! (And English language, of course). Can you imagine taking science in a foreign language?? I assist professors in the classes taught in English, so I have a mixture of English, science, and art classes. My age group ranges from 1st-3rd graders, with a few hours a week with the little ones in kindergarden. The teachers are all great! The ones that speak English are excited to have someone to practice with, and I'm excited to be able to speak some Spanish to the ones who don't. However, the students are not allowed to know we speak Spanish. That way they're forced to practice their English. It's actually pretty hard not to immediately respond in Spanish when we can understand what they're asking! And it's pretty entertaining when they say things about/to us when they think we won't know what they're saying. Some even try to teach me how to say things like "hola", or the colors in Spanish. They are super cute, but highly energetic. Classes are much more noisy than we're used to in the States! But I'm adjusting and learning how best to work with the other professors to make their foreign language classes easier to understand and fun.
   Outside of school, I'm still exploring Madrid. I ran the Madrid 10k with some other Americans. The race went through all the main parts of the city and was a beautiful run! We started in the big park, Retiro, and ran down Gran Via (the most famous street in Madrid), past Sol (city center, like NYC's Times Square), Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, the city hall/post office that looks like a castle, the Prado Museum, and back to Retiro. It was basically the perfect sightseeing tour. I tried to take pictures on my phone as I ran because I was just so amazed. Here are a few pics!



   

Sunday, October 2, 2011

PDA

  Everyone knows Europe is romantic. People in Spain are much more affectionate in public than we're used to in the States. It's pretty humorous what I've seen thus far. I've compiled a list of all the places deemed appropriate for PDA:
-walking around, of course
-the metro
-Retiro Park (this is a big one)
-restaurants
-in line at the bank
-Cortes Ingles or other grocery stores
  I'm going to keep adding to this list as I see it!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fiestas and Siestas

  Spaniards never sleep! At least not during the night. That's one thing I've had to adjust to. They eat dinner at 9:30 or 10:00 and then go out after. And it's not just the young people; it's totally normal to see families out and about at midnight, just walking around. Moms and babies too! The Metros and streets are packed with people at nights. It makes you think it's so much earlier than it is. The bares and discotecas stay open until 5 or later. The Metro closes at 1:30am and reopens at 6:00 so teenagers and college students normally stay until then so they can ride home. !! If you're wanting an early night, you're looking at 3. They don't believe me when I tell  them places in the US close at 2.
  It sounds shocking, I know. The only way they function is that they have breaks during the day to go home and rest. All the businesses and stores shut down from 2-5 to eat lunch and nap. They go back to work at 5 and leave at 8. As Americans, siesta time is really frustrating. You can't run your errands in the afternoon or go anywhere. I'm not a napper, so I try to run or be productive during the down hours. I start classes on Monday, so I'll probably be staying at the school during the siesta to work on lessons. Who knows, maybe I'll even learn to sleep during the day.... maybe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Driving? No thanks.

  Madrid has great public transportation. Although walking is not a problem here, the Metro is very user-friendly and efficient. It goes everywhere (cough, cough, MARTA) and besides that, it's nice! The trains are so clean and  most have tvs exhibiting local attractions.

sleek.
Here's the Metro by our apartment; nice tile design.

As much as I loved my Jeep, I do not miss driving at all. Which works out well because I'm probably the onlyperson that gets lost with a GPS and still doesn't understand the Athens loop after living there 5 years. 

  The only not straightforward thing about transportation here is buying monthly passes. You have to apply for a monthly pass before you can buy one. Oh, and for some reason, these applications can only be bought at Tobacco stores (not at the bus or Metro station or any other place that would actually make sense). People love to smoke here way too much.  We now have our accepted application card and are ready to get our October pass and ride, ride, ride!


Success!!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hostals and piso searching

  Hostals are very interesting places. You meet all sorts of people from all over the world. I love finding out people's stories; what they're doing here, where they've been, where they're going. I was surprised how many people in Europe travel solo. For this reason, you pick up friends easily. I came with another girl from Georgia, Caitlin, and we met lots of people from our teaching program in our hostal. 
   Unlike most carefree travelers, Caitlin and I were on a mission to find housing. We discovered apartment searching in a foreign country is pretty difficult. Crazy, right? We had done tons of research online for housing and bought local cell phones to call the listings. Calling and asking about rooms for rent in our broken Spanish was, in one word, intimidating. Although everyone was really friendly, it's so much harder to speak on the phone than in person! At least when you see them, you can use hand motions. Most people would invite you to see their apartment that day. 
  After walking and metroing all over town, we narrowed down the area of where we wanted to live. We picked a nice part of town called Arguelles because it is close to the bus stop where we have to ride to our schools and we just liked the feel of it. There are a lot of students who live in the area because the main University is up the street. Arguelles is northwest of Sol and Gran Via, but is still considered inside the city center. Anyway, when we picked this area, we walked up and down looking for "For Rent" signs in windows. And we proceeded to call pretty much every one of them. Passersbys saw us in the streets calling the signs and told us about places they knew about for rent. They were so helpful! They probably noticed how disheveled and helpless we looked.  We must have seen dozens of places. They are entirely different from what we're used to back in the States. They are very small and usually only have one bathroom for up to 4 or 5 people. Most do not have air conditioning- which made me very glad we were coming in fall! They do have heat however. Whew. 
   Well we finally found a place! It's student housing and already we have roommates from the US, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany! I'll post some pics soon. I am so pumped about our international apartment.




Maps

 Here are some useful maps to locate where I am. Who doesn't love maps?


   The first is of the country, the second is of Central Madrid. There are lots of parks in Madrid and it is super easy to walk around or take the Metro! Cars are not necessary. Yayyy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My first blog!

  Hello friends! I am completely terrible with keeping up with blogs, but since I have moved to a foreign country, I'm going to give it a shot. I plan to record pieces of my life in Spain and hopefully it'll be interesting to those back home and a way for you to keep up with me abroad! Be on the look out for pics and videos to come...  I miss everyone in Georgia and know you'd be crazy if you don't come see me this year! (I am not kidding.)
    - Kelly Dean