Monday, December 23, 2013

On the First Day of Christmas...Vacation

I feel really bad every time I fall off the regularly-blogging wagon, but I seem to do it over and over again. The other day, it occurred to me that part of this is that I have an expectation for myself to write really long, thought-out posts and so I have a dozen drafts of posts that are still only half finished. [I meant to write about my trip to Barcelona and 2 weeks later I still only have a title.] So I'm going to work on posting shorter anecdotes in between those longer ramblings.

But not today.

Today, I'm talking about figure skating, namely the Spanish National Championships of Figure Skating that I got to see on Saturday. [The competition actually started on Friday, so I missed all the short programs. Darn work.]


Actually, I'll probably have a bazillion posts in the next couple of weeks.

I'm also going to be talking about the city of Jaca, where the competition was held. This little town that I had never heard of ended up being a fascinating place to visit.

And I'm also also about to go on a marvelous adventure in Andalucia with my family, so you can bet I'll have stories to share from that trip.

...

Anyways, as I was saying. Figure skating!

Only once before in my life have I ever gotten to see Olympic level skaters perform live [the lovely Sasha Cohen] and that was something like 4 years ago. So being in Europe, in the Olympic year when Russia is hosting, I spent two months desperately searching for a competition that was either close to Spain or during one of my long weekends. There were a couple I could have gone to, but it would have cost a lot of time, money, and effort and to see a lot of skaters that I don't really follow.

[It would almost have been worth it to see Kim Yu-Na in Croatia a couple of weeks ago, but I went to Barcelona instead. Much cheaper.]

I was finally relieved from my I-can't-believe-I-live-in-Europe-but-am-still-too-far-from-Sochi sadness when Evgeni Plushenko announced a tour, with Johnny Weir, that's partially happening in Eastern Europe over Easter break.

And then I found out that Spanish Nationals would take place right when I started my holiday at the end of December.

And the city of Jaca is only a few hours away from me.

And Javier Fernandez would be competing.


This guy is one of my three current Sochi favorites, lander of quadruple jumps, skater of fantastically themed programs [his Pirates of the Caribbean is amazing]. Spanish skating is not the biggest - I had literally only heard of two other skaters in the whole roster - but that also meant that the competition was free and I had a really good view of the ice.

So after taking two buses [I had to transfer in Zaragoza], I got to the city Saturday afternoon, wandered a bit and had my sandwich lunch in front of a 16th Century castle. I couldn't check into my hostel until 5, so right after I dropped my backpack in my room, I walked to the Ice Pavilion. Which was conveniently located right next to the cheapest hotel in town.

The Junior Boys were just warming up when I sat down - in looking at the competition schedule, I had decided that catching a later bus [and therefore sleeping longer] was more important than watching all of the Novice performances, but I was pleasantly surprised with how well these kids skated. [I've always cared more about artistry than technical difficulty anyways.]


After the long Zamboni pause, during which I ate a whole bag of honey roasted peanuts, there was a team of synchronized skaters, which I have to say I had never seen before.


Then came the Ice Dancers.


And the pairs, one Juniors and one Seniors.


The ladies.


And the men.


It was a very different kind of competition compared to the ones I'm used to seeing. In the states, there are so many people competing for so few medals. I imagine that has as much to do with the size of the country as the depth of talent, although countries like Japan have been able to create a fantastic figure skating program in a small country. But anyways, it was funny to hear "Queda in primero posicion" after the only team in the event had skated - for them, 1st place was guaranteed.

The best part about a small competition though? I stood less than a foot away from an Olympic skater.


The medal ceremony was strangely held off the ice, so all the spectators crowded into the lobby of the Ice Pavilion to watch. And when the skaters got out to the lobby, they mingled with the crowd. They were taking pictures with people and congratulating each other and Javier Fernandez came to talk to some coaches who were right behind me.

It was an incredible moment to end an incredible day of skating.

[I have to mention that the 3rd place Mens Singles skater could be Johnny Weir's Spanish twin. And then waiting for the medal ceremony, I saw him holding hands with presumably his boyfriend who looks, to me at least, exactly like Johnny's husband. Bizarre.]

...

This event was really convenient for me because A) it was held fairly close to Soria and B) this weekend was the first weekend of the Christmas holiday. But once I was busy seeing Jaca, I realized something else - if I hadn't had anything to do this weekend but get ready for my family coming, I would have gone crazy with the anticipation. Keeping busy - first with work, and then with travel - really helped me keep my calm.


You know how I know this? I can't sleep. Or rather, I can't seem to go to sleep at a decent hour. Today's not so bad, it's only 1:00 as I begin writing this. But yesterday, I think I was up until 4. I could not for the life of me tell you how I spent wasted the last several hours of that time, because I definitely wasn't cleaning or trip planning or reading the last 200 pages of the giant book that I need to finish and send home.

Because have I mentioned that my family's coming to visit? And they're bringing a bagful of things that I forgot in my hurried packing and I'm sending stuff I don't need home with them so I have room for everything I've bought over here?

I'm so excited it's kind of consuming my every thought.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Very Different Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has never seemed to be the quintessential American holiday more than right now. There are plenty of other celebrations that have made it to Spain in an Americanized form - last month, Halloween was a pretty big deal. But not Thanksgiving.

Even the concept of "being thankful" for things was difficult to explain, especially to the younger students in my private classes. With the 5 and 9 year old siblings I taught yesterday, I ended up asking them to write down things they liked. So the little boy said the only thing he's thankful for is football.

I actually ended up learning new things about the holiday in preparing a Thanksgiving-themed lesson. For example, some historians believe that the Native Americans showed up at the "First Thanksgiving" feast not because they were invited, but because they heard a ton of gunshots and thought the Pilgrims were being attacked.

And I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving about 10 times.

This may also have been the Thanksgiving that I ate the most food. The English teachers at my school organized a fantastic Thanksgiving Day lunch. Since I am ovenless, I set aside my dreams of chocolate pecan pie and made a Waldorf Salad - I figured that was something uniquely American and easy to make in a short time. However, it's a lot more difficult when you can't buy seedless grapes.

The Menu:

Appetizers
Shrimp
Ham
Toasted crackers
Salad (mine and a more typical salad, although it had apples and walnuts in it as well)
Bread
Soup
Some kind of soup with pan-fried bread and lemon. I can't remember what it was called, but it was good, and I am the most picky when it comes to soups.
Main course
Chicken
Baked mashed potatoes
Deserts
Coffee flavored flan
Lemon cheesecake (I definitely had two pieces of this and then was given another heaping serving to take home with me)

I raced home from our 4 hour lunch so I could go struggle to explain the holiday for my hour and a half long class, and then had a little time to sit in my apartment before Thanksgiving Round 2. [I also said a quick hello to my new roommate who moved in yesterday! Because there just wasn't enough going on this week already.]

The spread.
So I made up another batch of salad and joined some friends for a late dinner. We ended up eating around the same time as our families at home would have, which I thought was nice except for the waiting to eat part. There are quite a few American teaching assistants, so between us, we were able to put together a very American Thanksgiving feast, with some Spanish and French contributions as well.

The Menu:

Appetizers
Crackers
Dip (the one I tried was cheese and tuna, which was so delicious, I didn't even try the other)
Doritos TexMex
Cucumbers and carrots
Main course
Turkey (some of the best turkey I've ever eaten in my life)
Baked macaroni and cheese
Green bean casserole
Salad
Peas with ham
Cornbread and baguettes
Desert
Apple pie

Several of the teachers have asked me if this was my first Thanksgiving away from family. It was weird to realize that it was. There is no holiday that I associate more with family, so it's strange to think that it passed without me being able to see or talk with them. Nevertheless, I had a terrific day - although now I have a lot of sleep to catch up on.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

At the Moment: November 24

WHAT I'M READING
A Dance with Dragons
Like the last time I posted one of these, I'm reading a Song of Ice and Fire novel. In the past 2 weeks, I've made it all the way to...page 232. I'm hoping to finish before Christmas so that I can send it home with my family, and therefore have extra room in my luggage. Probably for a new pair of boots :)

WHAT I'M WATCHING
La Patrona
This is the Spanish-language [Mexican] telenovela I've been watching consistently. Except for a few stretches where either not much happened, or a lot of really bad things happened to the protagonist, it's been delightful. Bonus: there aren't too many long, drawn out, dramatic stares.

War and Peace
So far, I've watched the first part of this miniseries - like the novel [which I haven't read], it's ridiculously long. But I really enjoyed it. I mean, it's about Russia and the 1800s, I have every reason to like it. Plus the cast is fantastic, full of talented actors from all across Europe, including Brenda Blethlyn and Malcom McDowell and Clemence Posey [Fleur in Harry Potter].

WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO

Christmas! It's only one month away! I get to see my family, travel in Andalucia, and then spend some time in Istanbul or Morocco as well. I cannot wait to feel warm again.

WHAT I'M DREADING

Sweeping. Mopping. Doing dishes. Laundry. Ugh, so many chores. I get lazy about cleaning my apartment and then accumulate a really long list of things that need to get done. The dishes are the worst, no sooner have I gotten around to cleaning the dirty ones than I need to cook again. And especially since I don't have a roommate, I'm bad about cleaning the floors as often as I probably should. Oh well.

WHAT I DID INSTEAD OF MOPPING

Iglesia Nuestra SeƱora del Espino
Went on walks and took pictures! After this weekend, I'm pretty much out of touristy things to do in Soria. I still have plenty of masses to go to in order to see the insides of all the churches, but other than that...I've been to all the "highlights" that are listed on my tourist map.

So that just means that I'm going to start going to all the other cities on my ever-increasing list of Places to See. I'm focusing on Northern Spain for the moment - Barcelona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Segovia, Valladolid and Zaragoza are up first, mostly because they're fairly close to me. [I definitely did not make that alphabetical on purpose...OCD in action.] It'll be a little difficult to travel on weekends, since I only have three days and it takes a while to get anywhere by bus. There is, however, a nice 4 day holiday weekend coming up :)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Yearning for Something Else

It seems almost impossible, but I’ve already gotten used to all the beautiful old European architecture that I dreamed about seeing for so long. I've settled into a routine. I’m not constantly in awe of my surroundings anymore.

Chinchero, Peru
And I find this normalcy quite tragic. 

One of the things I hate about being American is that there is such a dearth of ancient historical sites. Sure, I love the Alamo and Nottoway and the Biltmore [Estate? Manor? Mansion? Giant house] and Independence Hall, to name a few. But my favorite buildings in history are earlier than all these – like the Hagia Sofia and the Alhambra and Petra and Saint Petersburg. A medieval Spanish city really is one of the most perfect places for me to end up.

A similar thing happened while I was in Peru, but then I was living in a newer urban area, so that wasn't too surprising. Besides, the Inka walls and ruins in and around the Sacred Valley never ceased to amaze me. [I think I wrote about the time that ruins and terraces made me cry.]

Here in Soria, every other building looks like it was built 400 years ago. From my living room window, I can see the ruins of a church built even earlier. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love it, and yet, I’m already walking through the streets quickly, not bothering to look at the wonders around me. I already want something different, something else.

Partially, this means I have to quit being lazy on the weekends and go explore other pueblos and cities in the surrounding province. I have a long list of recommendations from both students and teachers on the best places to see – cathedrals, castles, nature areas, etc. Those, I’m sure, will bring me some of the oh-my-goodness-I’m-in-Spain-this-is-amazing moments that I crave.

With my newly connected Internet, I've also been researching and planning trips for my Christmas and Easter breaks. There are so many possibilities - Andalucia, Istanbul, Morocco, Eastern Europe, the U.K. I haven't entirely figured out where I'm going to be going, but I am already super excited about all that traveling!

Secondly, it means that I need to quit being super nostalgic about the past and start finding things to like about the present, a la Midnight in Paris. [If you haven't seen it already, I really recommend it - the casting and script and cinematography were all perfect.]

So many famous actors: Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Alison Pill, Adrian Brody, Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni...and Owen Wilson, who really can act.
Continuing with this pop culture theme, I recently rewatched several episodes of Castle. 

[And Mr. and Mrs. Smith was on so I watched that again too – in Spanish, because I hadn't figured out how to change the language yet. Undoubtedly one of the best Spanish language dubs I have ever come across.] 

[I’m not just watching American stuff though, I promise. Telemundo has a channel with all their ridiculously goofy telenovelas, so I've been watching one of those on weeknights.  And there’s a Spanish hospital show, and plenty of Spanish period dramas.]

But anyway, the Castle episodes were all from last season, which I couldn’t resist, especially because they started with "Still," a.k.a. the best flashback episode ever created. Two episodes later [they were going backwards, apparently] was the Bigfoot one, where once again we see Castle ready to believe in everything imaginable and Beckett being skeptical. I am super realistic and practical about just about everything, so it really hit me when she said she didn’t need to believe in Bigfoot or zombies or ghosts – she believes in the magic of everyday things.
The most perfect incredulous look. Stana Katic is brilliant.
I think that’s why I work so well with little kids - they are still curious. Everything is new and amazing and magical to them. Daily life doesn’t have to be boring. It’s an infectious idea. And yet, I forget so often. It's hard to remind myself to appreciate and enjoy life when that self-critical inner voice starts nagging me.

Today, however, that's been really easy to do. All because it snowed! For at least 30 minutes. Actually, as I've been writing/editing this post, there have been a few more snow flurries. No matter how many times I've seen the same thing in Texas - although I always seem to miss the biggest snowfalls - it's still amazing and magical that it's happening here, in Spain, in the middle of the day, in November.

And I haven't even needed to turn the heat on.
Even though I started writing this post weeks ago, I knew there was something missing. So I waited, and in the meantime I started some more posts, about books and charity and Spain, that also need to wait. But now I feel a perfect clarity about the ending. The day has come, the snow has come, the magic has come. That was the something else I needed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Everyday Life in Spain

Seven weeks ago today, I was boarding a plane to Madrid (via Miami). Time really has been flying by on me - I feel like I've hardly done anything other than work, sleep, and watch TV (in Spanish, of course). It's been amazing to visit so many ancient ruins, beautiful churches, and lovely parks. But I think now is a good time for me to share a list I've been compiling since day one: the biggest differences I've noticed between small-town-Spain and big-city-Texas.

Now, I wasn't expecting any kind of culture shock on moving here. For one thing, I love love love European culture and history, what I know of it from books and classes and articles, so I think I came pretty well informed (plus I took a class in college just on Cultural Diversity). More importantly, I spent 6 weeks living in Peru. This was useful not just because of the shared language and history between the two countries, but also because I got used to doing things in a different way.

So I'll start with the most obvious differences between Spain and the U.S.

Education. I work at a secondary school, which covers 6 years of schooling, the American equivalent of 7th-12th grades. Classes start at 8:15 in the morning and end at 2:15, with two recess periods - the first is 20 minutes long and the second is 25. Each class lasts for 50 minutes and they have 5 minutes in between classes. There's no designated lunchtime or cafeteria, so most kids bring snacks and sandwiches from home. The older students are allowed to leave the school during their breaks, and the English teachers always go get a cup of cafe con leche at a nearby cafe. (I have a longer post coming about more school-related things I've noticed.)

Food! Always a good topic. I can't imagine anyone comes to Spain not knowing about tapas and super late dinnertimes. I've really just reverted back to my Peru eating schedule - a small breakfast (hot tea and bread), a large lunch, and then a small dinner (bread again!). This works better with my private class schedule; I eat lunch when I get home from morning classes, have a nice siesta, and then have dinner after my private classes.
I'm having tapas this weekend! It's mushroom season in Soria, apparently.
Finally, walking. Walking to school. Walking to the store. Walking to classes. I can literally count on my fingers the number of times I've taken a car or bus somewhere since arriving in Soria. For me, this is the most wonderful thing about living in Spain. As much as I love driving, it is so nice to not have to drive to get somewhere. Also, a lot more healthy.

There have definitely been some surprises, however. These are the things that have most struck me as being "foreign."

People smoke. People smoke in doorways, they smoke walking down the street. I pass by a smoker probably every day. I don't like to begrudge anyone this habit, dangerous as it is, but I cannot stand smelling cigarette smoke. (Perhaps this might considered obvious as well, but people said the same thing about Peru and I rarely had to walk through or behind a cloud of smoke while I was there.)

Also, despite all the walking around, people don't smile at anyone on the street unless they already know them. People don't even smile when someone lets them pass in front of them. This is so strange coming from Texas, where you learn to wave/smile at other drivers when they let you go through an intersection first or if you walk through a crosswalk in front of them.

People walking around the Plaza Mayor.
I once had to go to 3 grocery stores to buy soap. Just regular old liquid hand soap. It was mind-boggling that both of the nearest groceries would be completely sold-out of something like soap.

Speaking of grocery stores: milk here comes from a shelf. Not a refrigerated shelf. A shelf, like next to the cookies and bread. It just sits there. And yes, of course it's been treated and it's perfectly safe to drink, but...I cannot get over the fact that it has been sitting at room temperature for who knows how long. So I walk to a supermarket all the way across town to get my refrigerated milk.

The milk aisle at the supermarket looks pretty much like this.
Instead of no dryer, which I was expecting, I get no oven. You would think this was a good trade, but the dryer takes forever to actually get things dry (I've used it once when I washed my PJs because there is no way I'm going to bed with less than 4 layers on). I'm perfectly happy to use my drying rack and clothespins instead, but recently I've been wishing for all the things I can't bake - banana bread, chocolate pecan pie, etc.

Continuing on the apartment theme, I'm renting my apartment from the owner rather than an actual apartment complex. I don't think apartment complexes even exist here. Everyone just puts up a notice if they've got a room to rent, online or at the university or on a telephone pole. A lot of people don't even sign a lease. I did, but my landlord repeated over and over again that it was a private contract and he'd have to pay a lot of extra taxes if I tried to use it for something public.

Oh, and sofa covers. While we did have a slipcover on our living room couch for a while, they aren't super common at home. Here, they are everywhere. Everywhere. I don't think I've seen a single apartment without sofa covers, since the majority of places are furnished by the owners.

My least favorite difference? The infernal front doors with their center handles. I've gotten the hang of them, but at the beginning I could not figure these things out. The handle is just a knob in the center, so when the door shuts, it's not going to open without a key. You turn the key one way - generally to the left - to unlock the door and then push it open. BUT, if you had unwittingly turned it right to unlock it, you actually threw the deadbolt and need to give it another turn or two to the left before it will open.

It looks nice, but you'd better know which way to turn the key.
I stood outside my hotel room for about 20 minutes on my second day in town because I could not for the life of me unlock the door. Luckily, I had added the hotel's wifi to my phone and, a few Google searches later, understood enough about the locks to get into my room.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mercado Medieval

A couple of weekends ago [and yes, it's taken me that long to upload the pictures. Internet problems are the worst] there was a Medieval Market in Soria. That Saturday was a national Spanish holiday, so I'm not sure if that was a coincidence or not, but it was certainly a festive environment.

This guy was accompanied by a troupe of musicians and a guy carrying a python.
Another musical group. The guy in the front was a juggler.
And there were plenty of opportunities to shop. There were stalls, with the vendors dressed in medieval costumes, from the Plaza Mayor all the way to the other end of the main pedestrian street. The first day, I tried the food - a giant banana chocolate crepe and some delicious ribs. Then on Sunday, I bought some jellies, some muffins, and some Christmas presents.

The food stall where I got the ribs. I wasn't brave enough to try octopus.
I think this actually may have been a hookah tent.
The enormous spice stand. It smelled heavenly.
Aside from the shopping and music, there were plenty of other entertainments. One smaller plaza in the middle had all sorts of things for kids to do, from pottery to some kind of medieval game. And the Plaza Mayor had this swing ride and a mini-bird show.

I wish I was young enough to ride this.
Every now and then, two of the ladies from the bird tent would have the hawks fly across the plaza.
The owls got to just hang out all day long.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dar un paseo

Or, to take a walk.


As much as I love the city, sometimes it's nice to get out into nature as well. I spend a lot of time outside, of course, walking from place to place, but then I'm usually surrounded by buildings and roads and cobblestones. And while those things are all nice and beautiful and Spanish, it does get a little monotonous, going along the same streets every single day.


So on the weekends especially, I try to go somewhere new. My apartment is really close to the river, where all these pictures were taken; I've been over there twice already and it feels so refreshing to wander through all this greenery [especially when the sun makes it feel a little warmer]. Growing up in the suburbs where trees are more often found scattered across front lawns, it's enchanting to walk under a full canopy. To look around and be surrounded by things that people didn't build. Walking around places like this makes me feel like I'm in a fairy tale.


I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with the other English teachers from my school. The restaurant was a ways outside the city and after we finished eating, we took a walk down a gravel road, which was not so nice walking in flats. But we said hello to some horses, were stared at by some cows, and saw a few tiny flowers that were still clinging to the last bit of fall. Everyone has said that we're basically in winter from now until March or April. I believe that at night - I never want to get out of my warm bed in the mornings. It doesn't help that it's still super dark when I have to wake up, even at 8 a.m.

Monday, October 21, 2013

(Spanish) Kids Say the Darndest Things

My first two weeks at the school, I introduced myself to all the English classes with the help of a PowerPoint. [Thanks to Google, I found a U.S. map with Texas highlighted, pictures of my high school and university, etc. I found it both reassuring and frustrating that I couldn't get a picture of my house online.] The kids had time to ask me any questions they could think of, some of which spoke to stereotypes of Texas, and some of which were too amusing not to share:

Q: Do you have a boyfriend?
A: No.
Q: Do you like Spanish mens?
A: I wasn't quite sure how I was supposed to answer that, especially with a roomful of 13 year olds. Luckily, the teacher picked up on the grammar mistake so we talked about singluar/plural of man instead.

Q: You live in Texas where a lot of people use guns. Do you have any guns at your house?
A: Um, no.

Q: How long does it take to drive from your city to Las Vegas?
A: Probably 3 days. [They were shocked.]

Q: Do you have a favorite singer? And then another student interjected - Do you like Justin Bieber?
A: This class, all boys, was very happy when I said no.

Q: What do you think about the economy?
A: I don't really remember what I said, but the gist was - I don't know much of anything the economic situation, in Spain or the U.S.

Q: What is the season for the NBA?
A: I told him November to March. And then later I realized that it's college basketball that does March Madness, so that was probably completely wrong, wasn't it? Oops.

Q: Do you agree with the death penalty?
A: No. The teacher seemed really flustered by this question and told me I didn't have to answer if I wasn't comfortable with it. I'm not exactly sure why.

Q: What is your favorite Spanish food?
A: Bread. They seemed disappointed with my answer, but that's really the only Spanish/not at all American thing I had eaten at that point.

Q: What is your favorite food in America?
A: Pasta. We had talked about BBQ being typical Texas food, so one girl called out, "Why pasta when you have all this meat?" Does this make me a bad Texan?

And finally, in the classes where they asked what my favorite movie was, they had never heard of any of the movies I thought of. Salt? No. [Angelina Jolie? No.] The Avengers? No. Phantom of the Opera? No. I was relieved some of the students knew what I was talking about when I said I liked reading The Lord of the Rings.

Monday, October 14, 2013

El piso

My apartment! I finally made it out to the library, where I took advantage of the free and fast wifi to upload pictures. [And call my mom on Skype, kind of against the rules but I didn't get caught! There's actually some kind of security guy with a uniform and everything who told the lady next to me to take a phone call in the bathroom.]

The living room.
And dining room.
[Yes, I know most of you probably learned departamento for apartment. I don't know which country says "departamento," but I have never actually used it in a Spanish-speaking country. I'm always a little surprised at first to learn a different word for something, forgetting how many differences there are between American, British, Australian, and other forms of English.]

The kitchen.
I live in a lovely, wonderful apartment 10 minutes away from my school. I'm going to have one roommate, but she's not getting here until next Wednesday. Probably. My landlord isn't exactly sure.


My bedroom.
The problem is, the Internet connection is really spotty and the walk is almost entirely uphill. Some days I'm regretting my decision to choose the pretty (recently remodeled) apartment over the closer (and older, and with 3 roommates, and weirdly tiled bathrooms) one. I'm hoping the Internet situation is going to resolve itself soon which will make me feel a lot better.

My bathroom.
And of course, every time I walk into my seemingly brand-spanking-new apartment, with its big TV and dishwasher and dryer and private bathroom, I can't believe how lucky I am to be living in Spain.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Firsts

Well, I've been in Spain a week now. I'm getting all the logistical things straightened out (it really helped that there were only two days of school this week) and should have my own apartment tomorrow! To coincide with my earlier post, here are some of the new things I'm experiencing.

Airport Express! I saw 30 minutes' worth of Madrid from those bus windows.
The first bus ride. And the first glimpse I got of Spain! A ride on this wonderful creation cost about the same as the metro but was so much easier with two full suitcases and a backpack and a purse. Of course, right after I paid for my ticket, the driver pulled out the airport, so I stumbled into the first available seat and tried to keep all my stuff upright. Luckily for me, the guy I sat next to was part of the same program as me and had remembered the directions from the bus stop to the hotel (just a block down the road, but directionally challenged me would have had no idea which street to go down).

The first nap. Madrid hotel room, 3 hours after landing. 

I got these to see what Spain considers "Tex Mex," but they're really just the Nacho Cheese ones.
The first food. I don't think it's possible to travel abroad and not talk about the amazing, (somewhat) foreign foods. We had buffets at every meal provided for us in Madrid - so much delicious food. The fruits and vegetables! The fish - yes, I actually ate it! The chocolate pudding! And the bread! I haven't stopped eating fresh bread since I got to Soria. It's heavenly.

The building was originally a Jesuit monastery and was built in the 16th Century (I'm pretty sure that's right).

The first day of school. After spending 8 hours with 6 different classes, I think secondary school (the equivalent of 7th-12th grades) isn't going to be as hard as I originally thought. The school is housed in a beautiful old building, the teachers all seem really nice, and the kids ask some interesting questions. I didn't realize but in Spain, education is only compulsory up to age 16, and the students who want to go to university then take an extra two years called bachillerato (every time they say it, I just think of IB). A few of the kids in that class are actually 19 or 20, which makes me feel weird to be their (assistant) teacher.

Everyone squeezed into shop doorways so the band could get past.
The first holiday! Similar to what happened to me in Peru, I got to Soria right before the festival for their patron saint, San Saturio. The actual Saint's Day was October 2 - also my cousin's birthday. I felt like the whole city was celebrating for her since I didn't get to wish her a happy birthday in person! There have been bands playing pretty much all night long in the Plaza Mayor since Tuesday, kids running around in giant paper mache masks, and food stands selling delicious churros. My sadness at missing the new Big Tex and funnel cakes at the State Fair has been mitigated by all the festivities here.

The stage set up in the Plaza Mayor.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I'm Not in Texas Anymore


After almost 24 hours of traveling, I got to my orientation in Madrid on Thursday afternoon. There's a 7 hour time difference between Spain and Texas, but I slept so little on the plane that I haven't been too bothered by jet lag. Here's a few of the interesting/different things that have happened so far:

The lights in my Madrid hotel room only turned on when the hotel keycard was in this card reader deal. When I first got there, I flicked all the switches, not understanding why none of them worked. I was in the very last room at the end of the hallway, right next to the housekeeping room, so the two ladies in there told me to put my card in the reader. I'm guessing they got a good laugh at me not being able to even turn the lights on.

The view from my Madrid hotel room.
I already almost lost my U.S. phone when I left it in the lobby after using the wifi (which was only free downstairs for an hour before I got kicked off. Thank goodness my Soria hotel isn't like that also or I never would have gotten this posted). After a frantic search, in the dark, through all my bags, I went down and found it in the chair where I’d been sitting. So no more putting phones in pockets for me.

Where I am right at this very moment.
Today I caught a bus to the airport to get on another bus to my city. I slept for about half the trip, but what I saw of the Spanish countryside was beautiful. I had thought a little about staying in Madrid an extra day since I was already there, but I really wanted to get here and get settled. And also not carry my luggage all over Madrid. I did, however, make the decision to walk from the Soria bus station to my hotel. It's only an 18 minute walk according to Google Maps, but that didn't take into account pulling two full suitcases over bumpy, noisy cobblestone sidewalks. I got a lot of funny looks then too.

When you don't have any plates, tea cups will do just fine.
I walked around for about an hour and a half this afternoon, but it started raining so I didn't get any pictures. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will cooperate. I kept seeing people in running gear in the same area and 30 minutes later, I almost walked straight into the starting line of a race. Oops. I bought some fruit and bread from a tiny grocery store for dinner (and breakfast tomorrow) since the hotel doesn't have any kind of kitchen and so many of the cafes were closed until 7. Now that it's dark and rainy, I really don't want to go back out to find anything more substantial.

Trying new foods for dinner! The Spanish chocolate bread really doesn't compare to the delicious chocolate pudding served at the Madrid hotel buffet.
Overall, I have had a fantastic 3 days. I still can hardly believe that I'm living in Spain! Apart from hearing everyone speak different languages. We'll see how long it takes before I start dreaming in Spanish :)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Lasts

Well, I'm pretty much all packed, which means that I've moved into the what-am-I-forgetting stage of getting ready to leave. It probably doesn't help that I'm writing this at one in the morning when I really should be sleeping. All the preparations that I had a week to put together are suddenly scrambling around in my brain, trying to all be remembered. Go to the bank, grab that bag, don't forget to find those Spanish notes.

This is the last post I'm going to write stateside. The next time you hear from me, I'll either be in Madrid or Soria, the town where I'll be teaching. As a result, I've been feeling sentimental about everything for the past week, which is not at all how I usually operate. It hits me in waves, the idea that I'm really about to leave everything behind and move across the world. I can still hardly believe it's real; I keep dreading someone's going to tell me it was all a mistake.

And then I come across one of the lasts.

The last hymn I'll sing at my church.

The last time I'll hug my little sisters.

The last time I'll drive by my old high school.

The last movie and TV shows I'll watch at home.

The last time I drive my car.

The last, the last, the last.

It's the little things, I guess, that remind me what I have to give up to reach for something bigger. I have thought endlessly about the things I'll miss while living overseas. And what makes me uncomfortable about leaving is that I'm missing these moments for my own personal satisfaction. I know this time, at least, that I'll see my immediate family at Christmas, and that I'll be coming home in July. But someday, I don't think I will come back. Someday, I'll have my last day as a resident and I'll come "home" a visitor. It's hard to wrap my mind around that, so usually I try to avoid that worry.

But today, that's what I've been thinking about, when I've had a moment to pause. One second, it makes me want to laugh, the next I want to cry.

The terrifying part of traveling for me is not a fear of new experiences, but a fear of what will happen without me while I'm gone. The what ifs start piling up in my head, trying to keep me in place and complacent. It's bizarre to be battling theses thought while at the same time, trying to pack everything I can bring that I think I'll want 3, 6, 9 months from now. I keep second guessing myself on what I'm bringing - well, really just on which shoes I have room for. I suppose that's a signal for me to rest while I can. I've done the best I can in the limited amount of time I had to plan, and now I have faith that everything's going to work out in my favor.

As an old king once told a shepherd - in a Spanish town, no less - "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." [The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho]

Friday, September 13, 2013

No More Visa Headaches

An update on Spain: I have officially applied for a visa!

Finally.

I never quite realized how hard it is to arrange things like this until I tried to do it while also working full-time. Plus having to drive to Austin and Houston and dealing with annoying doctor's offices. So now I am done with all my paperwork and not working. It's just a 2-4 week wait until I can pick up my visa [as long as nothing goes wrong with the application, crossing my fingers and toes] and then I will be on my way! Which I guess means I have to start thinking about packing and hotels and apartments and all that jazz.

Finally.

That kind of planning is completely up my alley. In my horribly boring high school computer class, we did a travel project using Excel and it was the most glorious few weeks of my life. Actually, thinking about that pretend trip - I even sent myself to Spain, along with France and Russia. Unfortunately, this time around I won't be able to fly first class and stay in 5 star hotels.

Someday, someday.

So that's what's going on with the moving out of the country preparations. I'm really hoping I'll be in Spain by September 27th since there's a program orientation in Madrid that I'd really hate to miss. There may be some program people that I can contact to speed up the visa process, but from what I've read, the bureaucracy around getting a visa is notoriously difficult. I'd appreciate any prayers and positive thoughts sent my way!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Escape

So this one time, in March, I applied to teach English in Spain for the 2013-2014 school year. [I also wrote blog posts more regularly back then...]

Then I heard nothing more than "Wait until next month and we'll have news" about it for, well, months.

And now I'm going to Spain in maybe 2 weeks. Which I found out not quite 2 weeks ago.

This has obviously caused me no end of hair pulling and panicked Googling as I scrambled to rearrange not only my mental image of the next year of my life but all the actual stuff that has to be done along with that. Pesky documents needed for a visa, bureaucracies and their confusing websites, telling the family I work for I'm leaving the country - and I haven't even begun to think about packing.

But a little stress now is only going to pay off big time over the next nine months because I GET TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY!!!
And I get to go somewhere that looks like this.
[At least, I hope this all works out. I feel like I can't get my hopes up until I've bought a plane ticket at the last minute just in case something goes wrong and they won't let me in the country.]

It has been a long two years since my glorious summer in Peru and I just about went crazy last fall calculating the time it would take me before I qualified for the Peace Corps [my original go-abroad scheme that sadly is not going to happen for a long time]. So as not-ideal as all this documentation and notarization and consulate stuff is, I desperately need it.

And that is not an exaggeration.

I've never quite understood how I came to be so uncomfortable with American culture. [Except for movies and TV. I already have all my shows set to record for the entire next season that I'll be missing. Thank goodness we finally have cable and DVR.] I mean, since I studied human development for three years, I have quite a few theories. But it's weirdly fascinating that, despite all the inherent privilege and cushiness in my life, I can't stand the thought of staying here forever.

Objectively, I know I could have a decent life in suburban Texas. A [small] part of me would rather stay and live la vida cotidiana, an average American life. But one of the most incredible things our culture gives us is a desire to strive for happiness. We feel entitled to live "happy" lives. To have "fulfilling" careers. To reach for our dreams. To have such lofty dreams in the first place. It's such a bizarre first-world, middle class goal.

I don't really know where I'm taking this. I'm just really [cautiously] excited about traveling again and I hope this isn't all ridiculously obvious and boring. I apologize if it is. I'm still having a bit of trouble articulating all the things I feel about getting closer to my international dreams. I always think this is partially because some people don't take me seriously when I say I want to move out of the U.S. Forever. Most people are looking to do the opposite of that.

So yeah. I'm going to Spain. I'll have a multitude of things to talk about so I will definitely be blogging regularly again. And sharing pretty pictures. And hopefully living my dream!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

At the Moment: May 25

WHAT I'M READING

The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby


Okay, I haven't technically started reading this yet, but it's the topmost book on my very high to-read pile from the library, so it's what I'll pick up next.

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin 


I'm finally to page 500! So...halfway done. This is the one series where I can actually read just one chapter and be done reading for the day. They're good books but it's terrible trying to finish one.

WHAT I'M DREADING

Job hunting. I have two weeks left of being employed (2 days at my preschool and a week doing VBS at my own church) and then hopefully I will be a nanny for a while before either teaching or being an au pair for the next year. But that means more interviews and more deciding what to apply for...which I hate very, very much.

WHAT I'M WATCHING

Howl's Moving Castle! (I got my sister to watch it with me last night. She hadn't ever seen it and I hadn't in a long time PLUS I finally read the book just a little while ago.)


Soon, the second seasons of Castle and The Borgias! The upside to not working is that you can watch hours and hours worth of episodes every day.


And eventually I will get to the theaters to see all the movies coming out this summer. But I'm going to have to wait on some of them because there are fifty bajillion sequels in the next few months and I do not have the money to pay $10 to see each of them. So hooray for the dollar theater!

WHAT I'M ENJOYING

Hanging out with all my family! Between Mother's Day, a 1st birthday party, my little sister's confirmation, and now Memorial Day weekend, I've decided this month is just family month. Not that I'm complaining.

I also got a bunch of Cold War and mob family related books and I'm hoping that reading those will make me actually want to work on writing my current favorite work-in-progress. We'll see.

So happy Memorial Day weekend to all of y'all! I'm having a very lovely 6 day weekend at the moment :)