Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Impact of a Mitten

After a partially disastrous trip to Madrid this past weekend, I've resolved to catch up on all the travelling-in-Spain posts that I've meant to write and yet somehow...haven't. I am the worst when it comes to procrastinating on things without deadlines. I unfortunately got really good at getting essays done last minute when it came to school, and now without that slightly panicked, I-have-four-hours-left-to-finish adrenaline, I have so much trouble writing. So. Here's hoping this resolution is one I can actually keep.

It's going to take a while. But better late than never, right?

Anyways, Madrid. When my family was here at Christmas, we spent a day and a half in the city. But due to a couple of factors, namely it being the end of our whirlwind tour of Spain, we didn't do many of the "must see" tourist destinations so I've been meaning to go back ever since. 

Waiting in line for an hour.
[We actually only got to spend 3 hours at the Prado which, sad times. But I'm going to do the museums on my next visit and I can get in for free with my ID because I'm here on a student visa! Yay technicalities!]

Noticing a possibility for snow in the forecast for last Saturday [which didn't pan out, but now it's supposed to snow tomorrow...boo], I quickly booked one night at a Madrid hostel. I am also currently hosting a Flat Stanley from a friend's elementary school class and I figured pictures of the palace in Madrid would be pretty cool :)

Looking at bus schedules, I learned that there was a strike going on. About half of the normally planned buses between Madrid and Soria aren't running at the moment. No big deal, I thought, I can always try the ride-sharing thing if I need to. [Spoiler: this didn't work out so well.]

Because of the strike, I meant to buy my ticket ahead of time just in case, but since Fridays are super busy, it completely slipped my mind. When I got to the bus station Saturday morning, the first bus was already "completo."

Crap. I sat down in the waiting room and sent a message to a ride-share guy that was leaving in 45 minutes. And then, miraculously, someone returned their ticket and I got a seat.

My first stop in Madrid was the Apple Store. This has a ridiculously long backstory, but basically: parents bought me a new [used] iPhone for Christmas since my dad's old one is too old for most apps. Previous owner was a jerk and had neither unlocked nor erased/reset the phone before selling it. I can therefore do nothing but use the alarm, take pictures, and play Solitaire.

So my dad suggested I go to an Apple Store to see if they would delete his accounts for me. They wouldn't.

Which was really annoying to learn after an hour on the Metro and the 1.50 euro surcharge I had to pay because the store was in a mall waaaaay outside the city center. I was consoled by purchasing the most delicious pita sandwich I think I've ever eaten.

The rest of the afternoon was fantastic. I dropped my stuff off at the hostel and headed out for sightseeing. I first stopped at the Sabatini Gardens which my family and I had missed despite being about 500 feet away from them [right next to the palace]. These are a fairly new addition, having been built where the royal stables used to be.

After admiring the view and successfully giving someone directions to the Cathedral, I headed over to the Templo del Debod. Basically, the Spanish helped the Egyptians save some ancient temples, and to say thanks, the Egyptians gave them one.

So there's a legit Egyptian temple in the middle of Madrid.

The park around the temple is also beautiful, so I wandered a bit before getting in the line to go inside. It was pretty windy, so I was debating the value of waiting in the cold just to see this little temple. But I would say it was worth it, especially since it was free. The carvings that were still preserved on the walls were incredible! Plus now I can say I've seen a little piece of Egypt, even if I never make it there myself.

I stopped for dinner at a pizza place I had passed earlier because I have been craving pizza like crazy. I was good and went to a little Spanish restaurant and refrained from stopping at a Domino's by the mall for lunch. I got one slice of "canibal" pizza - basically meat lovers, none of them being human - and the "pizza of the day" which was cheese with a Spanish cucumber-like vegetable.

Also it was 3 euros. I am cheap, especially when it comes to food.

Sunday morning, I was woken bright and far too early by some crazy 6 a.m. partiers on the street. And then only half slept the next hour and a half because everyone in the hostel snored so loudly. I swear, all the snorers in the city were staying there.

But they offered free breakfast, which makes up for a lot.

Catedral de la Almudena
I walked back to the same part of town to visit the Cathedral and Palace. By this point, I've been inside so many Spanish churches that they all start to blend together. The distinguishing factor here was the modern stained glass windows and the decoration of the ceiling. It's a painted ceiling, but really just in patterns and bands of color, which is not very typical. 

Also, look at that organ.
[The Valencia Cathedral had some similar murals commissioned by Rodrigo Borgia, AKA the Pope with a bunch of kids who maybe had a fondness for poisoning people.]

I also visited the Crypt, which was beautiful but appropriately somber. Unfortunately, the Cathedral Museum and access to the cupola are not open on Sundays, so I'll have to go back another time.

Then the Royal Palace.

Oh, the Royal Palace.
I was so disappointed in December when we arrived 1 minute [literally, one minute] after they stopped letting people in. So this was my primary goal for the weekend. I timed it perfectly - I walked up and bought my ticket with no line whatsoever. There were a few people waiting when I walked past to go to the Cathedral, and even more when I was leaving, so I was really happy with how that turned out.

I skipped the 4 euro audioguides and just stalked a couple of tour groups for extra background information on all the rooms. I'm going to borrow a couple of pictures from Google to show y'all since photos aren't allowed inside.

The throne room. The lions were part of a table that burnt in a fire. So they added the tops of their heads and here they are.
The Gasparini Room. Embroidering the walls [yes, embroidering] took 55 years, about twice as long as constructing the whole palace.
The Banquet Hall, created so one of the King Alfonsos could throw a big wedding party for his daughter. Before, it had been 3 rooms: the Queen's breakfast, lunch, and dining rooms. [The King had his own three rooms for eating.]
The Royal Chapel. They've got Saint Felix's mummy on display here because Queen Isabel II liked him so much, the Pope gave him to her as a present.
Basically, it was fantastic.

I stopped for some mildly expensive churros y chocolate on my way back to my hostel, since I never could find a street vendor selling them. And then, disaster struck.

First, I realized that all but the very last bus to Soria were booked. This would have been okay, but I was really looking forward to Skyping with my family that evening and getting home at midnight was therefore not ideal.

Second, none of the ride-share drivers would return my messages/calls. I realize I should have arranged this more than 24 hours before, but really. There were four rides being offered, so I expected at least one of them to call back. Giving up on that, I bought a bus ticket online, thanking my lucky stars that the guy at the hostel desk let me use their printer.

Third, I lost a mitten.

And not just any mitten. My beautiful, orange, wool, handmade in Peru mitten. My super warm, combination glove/mitten. I love those mittens. I had been wearing them in the chilly morning and put them in my purse after going to the Cathedral, so it could have been lost anytime after that. I had to work to hold back tears.

I had a cup of tea to console myself, accidentally wandered through a new part of Madrid, headed back over to the tourist area to see if, by some miraculous chance someone had found my poor mitten at the palace or the churros restaurant [they hadn't] and then...waited. I bought a light dinner at the Corte Ingles, people watched in the Plaza del Sol, and stopped to listen to street musicians.

Eventually, it got to cold to sit around outside, so I hopped back on the Metro to wait in the bus station for about an hour and a half. [At least I finally finished Anna Karenina because of that wait.] I blessedly slept the whole bus ride, startling awake about two minutes before we pulled into the Soria bus station, and managed to Skype with my family after all.

Palace and Cathedral, seen from the Templo del Debod park.
So while as a whole, it was really a good experience, that poor lost mitten really tainted the weekend. [And the bus hassles. But those at least resolved themselves.]

RIP, dear little mitten. I hope you're enjoying yourself, wherever you ended up.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

Ever since I first found out, late last August, that I was actually going to teach in Spain, I was thrilled. And not just about the living in Spain part. I was most excited because I [finally] had the next two years of my life planned out. That hasn't happened since I accepted my spot at Texas State.

Three weeks ago, I decided not to renew my position for another year, letting go of my dreams of living in Andalucia.

Which puts me back in my post-college what-am-I-doing-with-my-life mindset.

Which is quite the struggle for organized, planning me.

Somehow, this seems to keep happening to me. I grew up knowing that I was going to be a teacher. I have a very distinct memory of a guest speaker we had in a youth group meeting at the very beginning of my senior year of high school. She asked if any of us knew, 100% for sure, what we were going to do for a living. So I, supremely confident, raised my hand and said decisively, "I'm going to be a teacher."

Less than a month later, I had changed my mind.

So I started college getting my degree in Family and Child Development instead of Education. At the time, I was planning on being a Child Life Specialist [if I haven't already explained it to you, basically it's a job where you make kids in the hospital happier].

And then I changed my mind again. I did my internship at a Child Placing Agency and fully intended on working for CPS after I graduated.

Well, that plan clearly didn't work out for me. I spent the next few months getting over my I'm-terribly-burnt-out-from-school-and-job-hunting funk and then was offered a terrific part-time position at a preschool. I was reminded how much I lovelovelove toddlers. There are not many people who seem to like this stage best [hence the term terrible twos] but it is my absolute favorite.

Unfortunately, the Peace Corps doesn't need a lot of preschool teachers. So I applied for the Spain job and said I wouldn't be back in the fall because, as much as I love those babies, I also desperately needed to travel. Overseas.

And then I didn't hear from them, and didn't hear from them. So, change of plans again! I got a full-time nanny job for the sweetest baby boy, with a lovely family, that I was planning on staying at for a year, at which point I was going to try for Spain again.


Here I am, teaching in Spain 5 years after I decided I could never be a teacher. [For some reason, teaching languages is a little better than teaching other subjects, although the variety in the education systems in Peru and Spain also makes a big difference.] And it's great, and I get to travel, and I'm earning money.


But I'm sick of high schoolers.

Don't get me wrong, most of my classes are great. There are a lot of kids that are really invested in learning English, and their level is much higher than that of most American students. But the ones that aren't just...aren't. They talk over me, they don't pay attention, and they make me really, really miss my sweet toddlers.

These past 5 months have reinforced the knowledge that I am not cut out to be a grade school teacher. Preschool is my home. [It's also the most important age for attachment, and therefore foster/adopted kids, and therefore combines two of my loves.]

And as much as I enjoy living here, I realized, as I procrastinated on working on my reapplication, that there's not a lot left I want to do in Spain. I've done a ton of traveling, practiced some Spanish, and eaten a lot of delicious paella. When trying to picture next year, maybe in Granada, the only thing I was looking forward to was coming home during Christmas break and having a Presbyterian-ish church to go to.

Which are not good reasons to commit to living somewhere for nine months.

So now I'm working on a new plan. And I'm really excited about it and can't wait to share it with everyone. But this post is long and picture-less enough as it is, so that will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Adventures in Pancake Making

I consider myself a decent cook. And usually a good baker too. But no matter how hard I try to follow recipes or keep the kitchen clean while I work, it never seems to go quite so smoothly.

So of course, my first stab at solo pancake making was bound to be interesting. [Especially because there are no mixing bowls in my apartment. I don't understand how this happened. We have an overflowing cupboard full of them at home.]

BUT pancakes are a must for Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Since I can't be at my church eating pancakes and applesauce and sausage patties, I dug up a recipe I had saved - well, it ended up being a combination of two recipes - and got to work buying ingredients. And this is how it turned out.

Step One: Find a YouTube playlist of New Orleans jazz music

Step Two: Make the batter [and in this case, a cinnamon filling as well]

The ingredient-mixing itself wasn't that hard and I only made a tiny mess with the cinnamon sugar. Yay! I did have to make some substitutions due to Spain not having vegetable oil, and had to leave off a yummy sounding cream cheese glaze because I haven't seen any powdered sugar. I even realized how big of a recipe it was and halfed it [the batter still lasted two days, but what's wrong with two days of pancake dinners?].

Step Three: Grease pan with butter and plop down the pancake mixture

This is not as easy to do when you're guestimating how much butter to melt because there is no non-stick cooking spray in my apartment. Maybe in all of Spain. Who knows?

Step Four: Swirl in some cinnamon

Technically you could follow the instructions from the recipe and use an icing bag/ziploc to make a nice circle. But when you have neither of those things, a tea spoon will do just fine.

Step Five: Flip

This is where it got dicey. The cinnamon swirl, while a tasty addition, also makes the pancakes flimsier. Which I wasn't quite expecting when I made my first gigantic pancake, hence the broken pieces above. Poor pancake #1.

[Also, is it strange that I think of the Aral Sea every time I look at that picture?]

Step Six: Eat!

I'm obviously a lot biased, but these are some of the best pancakes I've ever eaten.

Here's the recipe. For the pancakes, just mix the dry ingredients together, add in the wet ones and mix them until all the flour is blended in. For the filling, I melted the butter in a glass dish then added the cinnamon and sugar. Then you basically make them like regular pancakes - although the recipe did say to be careful not to cook them too fast because the cinnamon could burn.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsps baking powder
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 mashed banana [my Google-approved substitute for 2 tbsps vegetable oil]
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract [because I didn't make the glaze]

Cinnamon Filling
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Cream Cheese Glaze

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla