Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Toledo Day 1

[I want to come up with cute titles for these, but I don't think it's going to happen.]

For me, Easter break began at 7:00 p.m. on the 11th. After a car ride to Madrid filled with conversation about Morocco and a stay in a super cheap hostel, I made my way to the Toledo bus station. Not to be confused with the bus station I go to to get to Soria OR the main bus station.

There, I discovered that A) they don't sell buses for particular times/seats, which was perfect for me because I didn't know what time I'd want to leave and B) the discount for buying a return ticket only applies if you're returning the same day. Lame.

But the 2 extra euros were totally worth the extra time in the city.

I got to my hostel, armed with a map from the tourist office, and sat trying to figure out where to start. Luckily for me, the hostel guy who was changing the sheets in the room recommended I start by buying this Tourist Pass to six different sites for that day, because the Cathedral and Alcazar would be free the next day [Sunday]. And free is obviously always good.

I set out with the intention of buying my pass at one of the further sites. Somehow, I ended up going in completely the wrong direction, despite having a map, and ended up at the other end of the city. So I bought my pass, really one of those stick-on paper bracelets, at the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. It felt weirdly validating to wave my braceleted wrist and pass up the ticket booths at each of the monuments.

[Side note: I tried to keep the bracelet as a souvenir but ended up losing it. That's a story for later though.]

This monastery was smaller than others I've visited but absolutely beautiful inside. It was founded by los Reyes Catolicos [Isabel and Ferdinand] after they won some big battle...clearly my knowledge of Spanish history is still quite incomplete. However, I do know that Queen Isabel was a big fan of this particular St. John.

I walked a block down the street to reach the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca. The Santa Maria part of the name comes from the Christians taking it over after they kicked the Jews out of Spain. It was the main synagogue when it was built in the 12th Century and was my first introduction to the beautiful arches that would appear in so many other buildings in Toledo [and later Cordoba].

I was planning on going to Santo Tome next, but being an El Greco site and this being the 400th anniversary of something El Greco related, there was a super long line. So I skipped it for the time being and went to the El Salvador Church instead. Reading my tourist bracelet pamphlet, this was originally a mosque from the 9th Century but in 1159 it was Christianized. In further Isabel and Ferdinand connections, their daughter Juana was baptized here.

Continuing down the road, I found the San Ildefonso Church, also known as the Church of the Jesuits. It's the newest building; they only started building in 1569, although it was apparently not finished until 1765. I lovedlovedloved this church. After seeing so many in all the different styles, I'm a little desensitized to how awesomely beautiful they are, but for whatever reason, this one brought back that feeling. Plus I got to go up into the tower for some amazing views of the city.

I was really looking for somewhere to eat, but being notoriously indecisive, I managed to wander over to the next site without stopping. The Cristo de la Luz Mosque, like the Synagogue, was reconsecrated by the Christians, but I think it happened a lot earlier. There was a legend that the Queen, when entering Toledo after it was conquered [so like, 12th Century], felt a wind almost knock her off her horse as she passed by the mosque, so she insisted it become a Christian church.

At that point, I'm pretty sure I gave in to my growling stomach and found somewhere to eat. And then I toughed it out in the line for the Santo Tome Church. Which as it turns out, was just there because people were crowded into a small space to see El Entierro del Senor de Orgaz, the El Greco painting in the church. And when I say people, I mostly mean tour groups that stood and talked about it for-freaking-ever and made it difficult to get up close and see. So I spent a few minutes marveling at the actual church before pushing my way to the front of the crowd to look at the painting.

Then, because I had time and things are on their summer schedules and therefore open later, I went to two museum. For free!

I started at the El Greco Museum. It's housed in an old house that was built by a Jewish treasurer or court official or something like that in the 1400s. A couple hundred years later, some rich guy bought it because El Greco lived there at some point and restored it to create this museum. I didn't end up getting to the Santa Cruz museum [the bigger El Greco museum] so I'm glad I got to see this one, because those paintings are incredible to see in person.

Plus the rose garden smelled wonderful.

After that, I headed across the street to visit the Sephardic Museum (in the former Synagogue El Transito). It consisted of the main worship room - are they called sanctuaries if they're Jewish? - a rememberance garden, and a few galleries with historical objects, including the Women's Section that looks over the main...sanctuary.

I took a lovely walk across the San Martin bridge and saw the panoramic photo spot, but decided it was too far and I'd had enough walking. I admired my view until it got too cold and windy, so I bought myself a Nestea and headed back to my hostel. Mmmmm Nestea.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Back from the Dead

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

I'm sure I've said this a thousand times already, but I am terrible about remembering that I have a blog to update. And travel pictures to upload. And dishes to wash.

I want to be able to focus on accomplishing all these things, but I always almost-accidentally seem to binge watch TV instead. Especially YouTube series. Right after I finally gave up on a few network TV series, I've gotten addicted to several more online. It's a little ridiculous.

[On a related note, I will take the time to watch shows just to see some of my favorite YouTube actors on "real" shows. I find it adorable - even more so when they're in commercials.]

This week, I'm blaming it on the chilly, rainy weather we've been having. Alas. Such a letdown after my nice sunny week in Morocco.

BUT, even if I have to unplug my wireless router, I am determined to turn off the TV shows and get busy writing and photo uploading this weekend. I promise. Between my camera and my phone, I think I have just under 900 pictures to share, which will definitely take forever. So they'll be going up on the blog in smaller doses while I wrangle with the Facebook album uploader.

Check back probably tomorrow for the first installment of Toledo pictures. For a small town/short trip, there are quite a lot of them.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Education in Spain

Here are just a few of the differences I've noted between Spanish and American high schools:

My school building was originally a 16th century monastery.

It's served a variety of purposes since being built, including a hospital, before becoming a secondary school in the mid 1800s. That means it has no lockers, spotty wifi [it has trouble getting through the thick walls], a former chapel turned mini-museum full of old science equipment, etc. It also means that it's a tourist stop in the city, mostly because Spanish poet Antonio Machado was a teacher there. They even have a room on the ground floor that's done up to look like a classroom would have looked when he was teaching.

Antonio all decked out for his birthday.
Students refer to their teachers by first name.

And not out of rudeness or over-familiarity. There's just a different definition for respecting the teacher.

Behavior-wise, most of the kids are amazing. But they talk [with each other, at least] so much more than anyone would have dared in my high school classes. They generally keep it pretty quiet, but if a kid crosses the line, the teacher sends him or her [but usually him, let's be honest] into the hallway for the rest of the class. In a few of my classes, especially when I'm alone with one half, it is so hard to get the entire class to pay attention at the same time.

The education system is set up a little differently too.

There are four years of secondary school, the equivalent of 7th-10th grades. Attendance is compulsory until age 16, after which students can continue studying another 2 years in Bachillerato classes in preparation for university, or they do vocational training instead.

Primary school is a little different too. The kids have said that their language instruction begins at age 3, which from a developmental perspective is great. Of course, that also means that they basically have public preschools within their primary schools which are so hard to find at home.

Snow in the courtyard in February.
Teachers change classrooms (as do students, but to a lesser extent).

There aren't enough classrooms for each teacher to have their own, so they're moving around all day. Each department has its own “Sala de profesores” where the teachers leave their things and keep resources. But there's not really a specific area of the school for each subject, except for classes in the science laboratories.

Instead, the students are grouped into smaller groups inside their grade level and each group has their own classroom. So for example, the 3rd year students [9th graders] have four groups: 3A, 3B, 3C, and 3D. But then there are some classes [like the bilingual ones] that have a few kids from each group, so they use whatever classrooms are free during that period.

Three flags over the entrance of the school.
Speaking of which, the daily schedule is worlds away from blocked scheduling.

Classes are 50 minutes long which is great for me because that means I don't have to hold the kids' attention quite as long. There are two short breaks during the day but no lunch period. So they have two classes, a 20 minute recess, two more classes, 25 minutes of recess, and then the last two classes. The younger students are supposed to stay inside during the breaks, but the older ones are allowed to leave.

The most interesting thing to me is that the schedule is the same week to week NOT day to day. So despite having a shorter school day - school goes from 8:15 to 2:15 - the kids are studying more subjects. For some electives, they might only have 1 hour a week, while they have 3 or 4 English class periods. The only problem is that classes which are scheduled for Mondays and Fridays have a lot more non-class days [usually due to holidays or class trips] than others and they get behind.