Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Can't Sleep...

              Time zones are dumb! Why do we even have them? Well I mean I know why we have them for practical reasons, but really why do we have them? All they do is mess with people’s bodies when they travel and make them appear to be zombies during the day and insomniacs at night. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not a huge fan of waking up at 4 am…

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lesson Learned

Warning: Do not continue reading if you in any way, shape, or form like Orbitz or work for them. You may not be thrilled at the rant that follows…

            Ahhhh Orbitz!! Let’s just say they are not on my good list right now (and certainly shouldn’t be on Santa’s good list either, can anyone say naughty list??). I made it to the airport this afternoon and was quite excited about my little stops in Casablanca and Montreal because it meant I would be home for Christmas. But yet again, I was in for a surprise! Orbitz had never really changed over my ticket, so I wasn’t going anywhere! After standing in multiple lines, spending way too long on the phone and getting charged God knows what (do they have frequent caller ‘miles’ for international phone calls??), I was finally booked on yet another flight through British Airways. Thing is I now don’t leave until Christmas morning and still have to fly through Heathrow (fingers crossed they have figured out their ‘travel chaos’ situation), but will land in Chicago at 2 pm on Christmas Day! So good news is that I will (hopefully) make it home for Christmas, bad news is that Orbitz is horrible and wouldn’t pay for a hotel for the next two nights (but yet they don’t know the phone call that is coming when I come home demanding reimbursement haha) and I can’t imagine how many other people’s flights they managed to screw up.  I definitely learned my lesson on this one. I will never, ever use a third party site, especially Orbitz, again when booking a flight and I suggest everyone else does the same. As a friend told me, “Don’t let other people make your plans for you”. Sage advice for both travel arrangements and life in general!

            And since I’m not a bitter or angry person, Merry Christmas everyone (and that includes you too Orbitz)!!

The Joys of International Traveling

             Oh the joys of international traveling! I guess it’s never an easy or certain thing and it certainly wasn’t this time around. Last week northern Europe got hit with some snow (what they claimed was horrible snow but was in reality 6 inches…), which caused major flight cancellations and delays. As the kind folk in London Heathrow put it, there was major ‘travel chaos’. I assumed that since I wasn’t leaving until Wednesday morning that they would have cleared everything up by then, but I was mistaken. I got to Madrid on Tuesday night and checked into my hotel after the longest 4-hour bus ride ever! I then proceeded to call my dad to see if he could check on my flights and lo and behold they were already cancelled! I then spent the next hour and a half on the phone with Orbitz, only to be disconnected halfway through, missing the callback because I was on the phone with another Orbitz guy. Luckily Eric at Orbitz was a smart man and called our home phone, which I had left as another contact number when making my reservation. He was able to book me on another flight via my parents so I will be making it home for Christmas! I am not flying through London though. I will be making my journey starting tonight from Madrid where I fly to none other than Casablanca! When the guy first told me that, I thought he was kidding, that Casablanca really isn’t a real city. So I head on over to Africa where I have an hour and a half layover and then from Casablanca I fly to Montreal! I have a 6-hour layover in Montreal and finally make it into O’Hare at 7 am on Christmas Eve morning!
            Even with this tiny snafu in my travel plans, things could have been a lot worse. Talking with the second Orbitz guy, he informed me that the earliest I would be able to get home would be the 26th. Clearly I was not going to let that happen and miss Christmas Eve and Christmas! I am staying in a nice hotel with a very comfy bed in Madrid, which has been excellent since I also have tonsillitis! Thank god for health insurance and the absolute ease that going to the doctor in Spain entitles. I found a clinic yesterday that accepted my health insurance and it took me longer to actually get there than for me to get diagnosed and given some medicine, and all for the price of 11 Euros! Sadly I have not been able to see much of Madrid, but am going to try and walk around a bit today before I head to the airport (that is if it’s not raining). It has definitely been a whirlwind of an experience but something that I will look back on and laugh at! I mean honestly, who gets to have a layover in Casablanca and Montreal?? Let’s just hope that my year of French at Miami comes back to me tonight…

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Could I Not Love Them?!

My absolute favorite class: 1st graders!!
Making dough Christmas ornaments!

The little little kids excited about using glitter!

The first graders at my school in Cenicero decided they wanted to show me their Christmas song/dance!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 'Typical' Barcelona Experience

            I have often heard that you do not fully experience Barcelona unless you get robbed or something is taken from you. My first two times in Barcelona proved this theory wrong, but I guess the third time really is a charm… err disaster. This weekend I was in Barcelona visiting my friend Jenny for the Puente and we wasted no time in having that “typical” experience. We went out on Saturday night for some tapas and drinks. We had a wonderful time and ended up staying out much later than we had initially expected. Around 6 am, we were heading back home when Jenny’s purse got ripped off her arm and the kid ran down the street. We were both so astonished as to what happened that our reaction time was greatly reduced and there was no way we would be able to catch the kid. Luckily we had met Carlos that night, a fun and extremely generous gay man that let us crash on his couch for the night as Jenny’s purse had her keys, camera, ID, 15 euro. We woke up on Sunday and attempted to call her landlord to let us back in but were unsuccessful. Since we couldn’t reach anyone to let us in, we had to call a locksmith. He was extremely friendly, which made the whole experience not as bad as it could have been. However our opinion may have slightly changed when he handed her the bill… 480 euro to get into her place and replace her lock! We were both astonished, but at that point just cared about getting back into her place. So really the only consolation is that karma really does work in situations like this, so kid watch out, karma will get you!
            Other than that minor blip, the whole trip was so much fun! We saw a movie (in English!), went on a day trip to Tarragona, did some shopping, walked around Barcelona, saw one of Gaudi’s houses, and had unbelievable weather. As this was my third time to Barcelona, it was nice to have someone who lived there to show me a different side of the city and one a little less touristy. I will definitely be heading back to Barcelona, and hopefully this time it won’t require a trip to the police station or 480 euro to the locksmith.

Becoming Wiser in Spain...

1.     As hard as you try, it is very difficult to ‘blend’ when you have blonde hair here.
2.     Spanish people struggle to walk like a normal person. Whether it’s the crawling pace or the stopping mid sidewalk, they can’t seem to grasp the concept like the rest of the world.
3.     Kids really do say the darnest things.
4.     All of the ridiculous and hysterical experiences you will have will be enough to fill a book. And maybe writing that book will make you millions!
5.     Elementary children can be adorable or hellish and your opinion of them will change on a daily basis.
6.     English teachers are some of the most interesting, amazing, and fun people you will ever meet!
7.     Traveling is one of the best ways to figure out who you really are and what you truly want in life.
8.     People will never cease to amaze you, both in good ways and in bad ways.
9.     Never take central heating or ovens for granted. You will greatly miss them when you don’t have either.
10. There are few things more amazing than sitting at an outdoor café in a plaza having a beer or coffee with friends, just talking and people watching.

Friday, December 3, 2010

An Expat Thanksgiving

I have officially become a part of the expat community over here in Spain as I had not only one, but two Thanksgivings last week. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday by far and also my favorite day of the year so I was bummed that I wasn’t going to be able to spend it at home with my family. Luckily I was able to share it with some friends here and had a fantastic time! Thursday I had to teach, which consisted of me throwing on some video clips and having the kids color, as I was not in the working mood. Then Thursday night we all went over to one of my friend’s house for a nice potluck thanksgiving meal! We had two turkeys (which were expensive, 50 Euros, but well worth it!), stuffing, green beans, rolls, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, lots of wine, and even homemade pumpkin pie! It was delicious and wonderful to be able to spend the night with friends! Then Friday morning I headed down to Segovia for the weekend where Friday night we proceeded to have yet another thanksgiving meal! This one had all the fixings as well, so by the end of the weekend my body was stuffed to its limit! As much as I missed being home for Thanksgiving this year, I had such a wonderful time celebrating it twice in Spain!

Monday, November 22, 2010

They Ran Out of Mushrooms?!

            Food is the way of life in Spain. Almost every gathering or social event involves food here. It also seems like my day-to-day life is all about food at some point or another haha. I have always been a food lover, but it seems to have just increased while being here in Logrono (although I’m not complaining!) Most regions in Spain are famous for one type of food. In Valencia it was paella, in Sevilla it was tapas and sangria. Here in Logrono and La Rioja it is wine and pinchos. Pinchos are the northern part of Spain’s version of tapas. They are the same thing, with different varieties and specialties, but just called a different name. Yet again another way the north of Spain is different from the south of Spain. And since La Rioja is so close to the Basque country, we have some tremendous pinchos here since the best of the best come from San Sebastian!
            In Logrono, there is a street that is filled with nothing but pinchos places. On the weekends this street, Calle Laurel, is filled with people of all ages out enjoying some of the edible treats for dinner. It is amazing to see how many people actually do live in Logrono when you walk down Calle Laurel on a Saturday night. There are people who are in their 80s walking with their canes, as well as little kids as young as 3 years old with their parents. It is definitely the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night in Logrono. On Calle Laurel there are many delectable treats to be found such as Spain’s version of the hot dog (pork with the most amazing pepper sauce ever!), bread with goat cheese, ham, and strawberry jam, patatas bravas, perfectly salted steak with peppers, and the most amazing mushrooms piled high on bread and doused in garlic butter! Just talking about this food is making me hungry! Not to mention the fact that you can have about 3 pinchos and a glass of wine or small beer with each pincho for about 10 euro for the whole night. It’s a fantastic way to start off a night in Logrono!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Joys of Piso Living

Oh the wonders of living in a piso. How do you begin to describe them? Our piso is a bit on the older side and that is something that I definitely love about it. But it is also something I hate about it. The building itself is beautiful and definitely feels old, but sometimes it feels a bit too old. I love the layout of our place with our big living room, but I don’t like that we don’t have central heating and must rely on radiators to heat the place, especially when these radiators are weaker than the space heater that I use in my room (because my room is too tiny to fit a radiator). I love our quirky bathroom with the chain hanging from the ceiling to flush the toilet (yes confusing at first let me tell you), but I don’t like how the pipes don’t work and have caused the wall in my room to become wet and grow with mold. And I of course love my roommates!
            Now our neighbors are a different story entirely. I sometimes think that there should be a reality show in our apartment building with all of the random and hysterical and sometimes annoying people we have living with us. First let’s start with our neighbors across the hall from us. I just happen to be the lucky one with the room that is next to the courtyard, meaning that my room is the closest to their apartment. They keep the windows to every room wide open no matter what the weather is like, which means that any time I open my window I can see directly into their piso! Not to mention the woman is crazy! She is constantly yelling and screaming at her husband and kids, although we’re not entirely sure if they do have kids since we’ve never seen them (only once creeping in the window haha). She has an extremely harsh voice, which just adds to the fact that she is always mad at the world and swearing. Then we have our new neighbors above us who just moved in last week.  I swear that they are rollerblading around up there because it sounds like someone or something is skating around. And their excellent taste in music! Now I don’t have a great taste in music but enough to know that being woken up on a Sunday morning to heavy metal is not my cup of tea! And last but not least we have our neighbor who lives several floors up. We have never seen this neighbor but hear him every day! He has a bird that he likes to imitate. The bird will start squawking and then the man will make the same noise as the bird. This goes on for hours at a time, and always at that exact moment when you are trying to take a siesta or trying to plan a lesson. Needless to say if that bird ever gets loose into the courtyard and happens to fly by our piso, he will never return!
            I am seriously considering using my free time (which at 12 hours a week of working I have ample free time) to start shooting a documentary on the ridiculousness that is piso living in Logrono. Perhaps I can call it True Life: I live with crazies in Logrono! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fasten Your Seat Belt, You're In For a Bumpy Ride

            Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the Spanish are wickedly crazy drivers! From blowing through pedestrian crossings to not using their blinkers, it seems like they may be the worst drivers ever! Now I haven’t been to many other countries and ridden in a car so I don’t know if there’s another country that beats Spain in this category, but it looks like the Spanish are making a run for the medal.  The last two times I was in Spain I was never really in a car except for taking a taxi, but this year I catch a ride with a professor to and from school every day. Not all of my professors are bad drivers, but I have had some near death experiences on my way to and from school! Sometimes it seems like rules apply to no one, especially when it comes to switching lanes or pedestrian crossings. I have almost been hit numerous times while trying to cross the street (and most likely would have been dragged because the driver wouldn’t have noticed me). Also when changing lanes if the driver uses a blinker at all, they keep it on for way too long. One of my biggest driving pet peeves is when people leave their blinkers on for an inordinate amount of time, and the drivers here take the cake. This may be a rule, but to me it seems a bit ridiculous to leave your blinker on for 5 minutes after switching lanes, just in case the other driver failed to see you narrowly cutting him off. And traffic circles! I am by no means the best driver when it comes to traffic circles and have been terrified of them, but they are everywhere here. One of my teachers actually slowed down as she merged into the circle. Isn’t the whole point to speed up to the speed of the other cars? Apparently not in her case it isn’t. Some drivers will either fly around turns or take their foot completely off the gas and sadly I’m not sure which is worse haha. Here are just a smattering of some of the road signs you can encounter while in Spain:

Bull crossing... really?!

Just driving along hanging out with my friends...

Be careful of the flowers?

If you walk this way you will be like Tom Hanks in the movie 'Big'

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Oh the Wonders of Olive Oil...

Last Sunday my roommate Sadie and I decided to be cultural and see a new side of La Rioja that we hadn’t seen before. We signed up for a trip to see how olive oil was made. For some reason I pictured that we would be walking through olive groves and picking the olives ourselves, which we definitely didn’t do, but it was still such an incredible trip! I didn’t realize how much work went into actually making olive oil. It’s not as simple as taking an olive and rubbing it in between your hands until it turns to olive oil (as I once thought peanut butter was made that way haha). The entire process is quite complicated and takes quite some time to complete. First the olives are picked from the grove (well duh haha) and then they are brought to the “warehouse” and are dumped into bins. The olives are then cleaned and sorted. Once they are clean they go through a multi step process of heating them to the exact temperature to melt them. Once all of that is said and done they separate the water from the olive oil, so as to get the purest form. The oil is then taken to another facility to go through another purification process and then is brought back to be stored in huge bins, for lack of a better word.
            We went to two facilities on the trip, one that was family run and operated and very old, and the other that was a huge manufacturing plant that produces the greatest quantity of olive oil in La Rioja. We were able to try the olive oil at the smaller place and all I needed was some bread and I would have been in heaven! After visiting the two places and driving through some of the most beautiful countryside and mountains I have ever seen, we stopped at an olive oil restaurant in a town called Arnedo.  The restaurant is called Zeytum (www.deolivavirgenextra.es) in case anyone is interested haha. It is a tiny shop and we were ushered to the back where the owner (who was on the trip with us) and his wife had set up a beautiful table and proceeded to show us the wonders of olive oil and how to properly taste it. This part of the trip was amazing, as I had previously assumed you just tasted the olive oil and that was that. However it is a much more complicated process to truly get the flavor of the olive oil and is very similar to tasting wine properly. In actuality there are many different types of olive oil and all of them smell and taste and look different. Some are clear, some are slightly yellow and some of them even are green! We also were given some chocolates that were made with olive oil. Man oh man was I in heaven then! The whole trip was fantastic and Sadie and I have vowed to return to the store to buy up the whole place haha.

"I've got the black lung pop, cough cough"

            Smoking is Spain is one of the most common things I have seen while in this country. The last two times I was in Spain I certainly noticed the smoking and had to deal with it, but I seem to have noticed it more in Logrono for some reason. Smoking is part of the culture here and when I was back after studying abroad in Valencia, sometimes smelling smoke would make me all nostalgic and bring me back to Spain.  However I did not see young children or pregnant women smoking in Sevilla or Valencia as I do in Logrono. One of the teachers at my school is 8 months pregnant and chain- smokes during recess; clearly not good. I have also seen 12 year olds smoking during their recess or while walking to school. Also coming back from going out you reek of smoke and have to air out your coat and purse and clothes. Just a little something I’ve noticed the past month and a half…

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making Some Mosto...

            Today I was able to partake in quite the interesting experience at my school in Navarette. Every year the little kids (3, 4, 5 year olds) go to a vineyard after the grapes for the wine have been harvested, and pick the grapes that are too small or not sufficient for wine making. After they pick the grapes, they bring them back to the school, and the following day they stomp the grapes to make Mosto. Mosto is the first step in the wine making process, so it is before the grapes have fermented and turned into alcohol. It tastes a lot like grape juice! The whole process is hysterical and quite fun, as you must stomp the grapes to get the juice out. When one of the teachers heard that I had never done that (because of course it’s super common in the States to stomp grapes haha), she insisted that I skip class and partake in the festivities! So I was able to stomp my own grapes, and even try some of our homemade Mosto... quite delicious! I can now say that I’ve taken part in one step of the wine making process! I took some pictures of the whole experience, as well as a video. The video is sideways, but it's well worth turning your head to watch and listen to them sing the "grape stomping" song!

Stomping like crazy!

They absolutely loved it!

Now it's my turn

Luckily I didn't fall haha

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One Month Down...

            I can’t believe it’s already been a month since I arrived in Spain! Sometimes it feels like I just got here yesterday and other times it feels like I’ve been here for 6 months already. Being back in Spain has made me realize that there are things that I absolutely love about Spain, but also things that irritate me and make me miss the U.S. I’m sure I will add to this list the longer I’ve been here, but here are some of the things that I adore about Spain and some of the things that really make me miss the U.S.A.

I could stay here forever:
·      Wine is abundant in Spain and no other region more so than La Rioja. I love that I can get my favorite bottle of wine for 4 euro at any grocery store.
·      The bread and the pastries here are incredible. I have never craved bread more in my life than when I am in Spain, and I am okay with that.
·      My students are absolutely amazing! Nothing makes me feel more appreciated and loved than when all the 1st graders jump up when I come into the classroom and give me the biggest group hug one can imagine.
·      Siesta and all things that come with Spanish life. I love their attitude towards life that is ‘things will happen when they happen, no need to rush through life and not enjoy it’.
·      The use of public transportation and walking here is amazing. I love seeing everyone out walking; young, old, middle aged. It also seems like everything is within walking distance in Spain, which has been great on my waistline to say the least!

I miss the good old U.S. of A.:
·      There is zero sense of urgency or customer service here. Normally that doesn’t bother me, but for some reason it has really irked me this time in Spain. It took over 3 hours for the carpenter to hang up a clothesline because he would frequently stop and take breaks. It also took over 2 weeks for our Internet to be installed because the technician didn’t feel like coming.
·      People are extremely slow walkers here. I’m not sure if it’s the large population of old people or if it’s just everyone walks slow here, but I am a fast walker and I can’t stand getting stuck behind people crawling and taking up the entire width of the sidewalk.
·      Blonde haired people are not common in Spain, but they are not non-existent. For the love of god, take a picture people it lasts longer!
·      The time difference has really been hard for me this time around when it comes to keeping in contact with people at home.  Being in the same time zone would really make things easier sometimes.

Bilbao: No Churro Left Behind

            This past Saturday I went to Bilbao for the day with some other girls in my program. We didn’t decide to go until the last minute, so decided that going just for the day would be better than trying to find a hostel and not being able to (trust me I’ve done that before and staying out all night is not as cool as you may think haha). We caught an early bus and were there in about 2 hours. We made a lot of stops, more than we were supposed to, but hey it’s Spain why not haha. I’m actually glad we made a lot of stops because it allowed us to see the beautiful countryside. We stopped in some of the most amazing little pueblos with vineyards galore and it made me really want to try and see La Rioja a bit more. The northern part of Spain is very different from the southern part in that there are lots of trees and the leaves change colors, so I felt like I was at home during fall, which was nice!
            Once we arrived in Bilbao we set off walking towards the Guggenheim. Bilbao used to be a pretty ugly and bad city, as it was all industrial and full of factories. Some time ago (not sure how long, but fairly recently I think), the government cleaned up Bilbao and changed it into an absolutely gorgeous city! I was half expecting our walk to the Guggenheim to be underrated but I was quite surprised with how green and how beautiful everything was! We stumbled upon a museum that had the ‘Bodies’ exhibit showing, so we decided to stop in and see the exhibit. 8 euro later we came out a little bit creeped out and disgusted, but much more informed of the human body and how it works (at least I came out with more knowledge haha). I’m glad we went to the exhibit because I had wanted to see it when it was in Chicago but never got a chance. Although it was very cool, I don’t know if I would pay money to go see it again, but that is also because I’m not a very science oriented person. If you are, then it’s amazing! After the bodies exhibit we, of course, decided we were hungry and wanted to eat (preferably some sort of cured meat haha… kidding!). We made our way into the center of the city and stopped and had a café con leche, which was just what we needed on a somewhat chilly day! It was only 12 noon, so of course no restaurants were serving food yet, so we just sat and people watched and enjoyed ourselves for a while before heading over to the Guggenheim. A teacher of one of the girls I was with said that the café in the Guggenheim was very good and cheap so we figured we would give that a shot. Clearly she is not in our program and is not making the ‘salary’ (I use that term very loosely haha) that we do. 18 euro for a sandwich is a bit much for me! So we found a nice German café where we had hamburgers and a pint of Cruzcampo (yes a pint!) all for 10 euro.
Entrance to the Guggenheim

Colored beans!
Reminds me of Christmas

Famous spider!

Amazing architecture

Front of the Guggenheim with the 'Puppy' sculpture

            The Guggenheim was up next on our list! I have always wanted to visit the museum and I am so happy I was finally able to do that. I am not a big modern art fan, but was extremely impressed with the museum! Just the architecture (designed by Frank Gehry) is incredible! The outside of the building may be better than the actual art inside haha. They had a Golden Age Dutch exhibit going on which was very interesting and much more my-style art. We were able to see all of the famous sculptures around the outside of the museum as well. After spending about 2 hours at the museum we walked around a bit more and then stopped for some churros con chocolate! Man oh man were they just what we needed! They, of course, were heavenly and we devoured each and every one of them. After the churros we had to catch the bus back home, which wasn’t nearly as fun because of the huge amount of fried dough sitting in our stomachs haha. Bilbao is definitely an interesting city and one I would love to go back to and spend more than one day exploring!
These were delicious and were devoured in about 5 minutes!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Here are some pictures of my kids at my school in Cenicero. Last week I did Halloween lessons and had the kids decorate their own trick or treat bags, bob for apples, and play "guess the monster part" game. They thoroughly enjoyed it and I just hope that all of my lessons can be this fun!
6th graders enjoying "guess the monster part"

Bobbing for apples

Now it's the 5th graders' turn!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Disclaimer: This May Make You Jealous

The life of an Auxiliar de Conversacion (my job title) in Spain is hard work. We work 12 hours a week, get a three or four day weekend, work with the cutest of little Spanish kids, and oh yea get paid the same as working over three times as much in the U.S. Sigh, I’m tired just thinking about it. Yes I know, you all probably want to never speak to me again, but I just felt the need to gloat a little bit about my amazing experience here!

So far teaching has been absolutely wonderful. I have some amazing fellow teachers and tutors at my schools who are nothing but nice and helpful and will answer any question I have. I also have the cutest, most adorable little kids ever! Some are so adorable that I have often considered “stealing” them for the day just to play with them (and I still have a few in mind haha). For the most part the kids are great in the classroom, although sometimes they have extremely small attention spans and misbehave quite a bit. Luckily discipline is not part of my job description so that is left up to the real teacher. There have been some classes where the entire class has consisted of the teaching spending the whole class trying to quiet the kids down or just yelling at them to be quiet. It’s very different than the U.S because if you had acted how some of the kids act, you would be sent straight to the principle’s office, but oh wait they don’t have a principle here! It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been at the schools for 2 weeks each. Sometimes it seems like I just got there and other days it seems like I’ve been there for months already. Overall it’s going very well and my lessons have gone swimmingly too! I just finished up my Halloween lessons where I had the kids make their own trick or treat bags, color their own haunted house, bob for apples, and play “guess the monster part” game, all of which were big hits with the kids!

I have also found another way to supplement my (limited) grant money while over here. I have picked up two private lessons each week, which will help in the money department. The going rate for a private lesson with a native speaker is 15 euro an hour, so with two lessons a week I’ll be making an additional 30-euro a week (see that quick math there?!) One of the lessons is with a seven-year-old boy named Miguel, who I am going to start with next Monday. When I spoke with his mom, she said she just wanted to give him some extra practice so I can’t imagine that it will be too hard or grammar intensive. The other lesson is with a woman in her mid-50’s who is an English teacher herself, but who just wants to have more practice with speaking. When I asked her if she wanted grammar lessons, she looked at me with a horrified look on her face and told me absolutely not, she just wanted to practice speaking! So our first lesson was this past Tuesday, in which we walked around the city for a bit, stopped in an art exhibit, went to a bar and got a beer and just talked! She is the sweetest woman ever and has such an interesting life! She sings in two traditional Spanish choirs in Logrono and invited me to their Christmas events! Next time we are meeting at her house because she wants me to get to know her family and also so we have a quieter place to talk. So after an hour of just talking and hanging out with this woman, I was handed 15 euro! Score! So needless to say I am very excited about the prospect of making some extra cash. All in all life is pretty good here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sugartoad's Livin' the Dream

Oh what a true statement that is! Sugartoad is quite the attractive, um, whatever he is! And he is certainly living the life abroad! Although he has not met the children at the schools yet, he has had quite the adventure thus far. He has enjoyed himself tremendously over tea and a biscuit in Bath, experienced history in Stonehenge, sampled some pinchos in San Sebastian, and of course has had a sip of some La Rioja wine in Logrono! All the while looking so adorable (and creepy to some haha). It’s good to be Sugartoad!

A part of history at Stonehenge

Tea and a biscuit in Bath

Just a couple of pints at the Coronation Hall in Surbiton

Delicious pinchos in San Sebastian

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Internet is Finally Here!!

Praise the Lord Hallelujah, we finally have internet at our place! Let's just say that these past 3 weeks have been much more of a hassle than I would have liked with no internet at our place, but such is life! I never realized just how much I rely on the internet to do such simple things as talk with family and friends, check my bank account, plan lessons etc. Very typical Spanish to take 3 weeks to get something accomplished that normally takes about 5 minutes! Oh well, one of the downsides of living abroad I guess (which the positives clearly outweigh). We were supposed to have gotten internet the first week we were here, then the second week, and then on Saturday, but the guy decided that since he was already 6 hours late, he might as well not show up! Luckily our landlady is amazing and called and hassled them until they agreed to come today. So I am up and running, so to speak, with the internet. This will hopefully make it easier for me to post to my blog, upload pictures on Facebook, and Skype. Can't wait to chat with everyone!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Little Weekend Getaway

This past weekend Nell, Juliet, Sarah and I decided to take a little weekend trip to see another city besides Logrono. It was definitely a last minute decision, as we didn’t decide to go until Friday early afternoon and were on the bus Friday late afternoon. That is certainly one of the best things about Europe in general. It is so easy to travel and is very cheap as well. We took the bus (as there are very few trains into and out of Logrono) and it was a 2.5-hour bus ride through the mountains of the Basque Country. Needless to say it was one of the most beautiful bus rides I have ever taken and I was captivated the entire time! The Basque Country has so much green, something which I am not used to in Spain. We arrived in San Sebastian around 7 pm and checked into our hostel, which was right in the center of the old part of the city. Friday night it was just Nell and I (the other two met us on Saturday), so we walked around a bit, saw the beach, and headed out for some pinchos and vino! San Sebastian is known for it’s amazing pinchos and it did not disappoint in the least! We had an early night in the hopes of waking up early to explore the city a bit more.

Saturday morning we woke up and walked around the city a bit. I tried my first café con leche and loved it! I don’t like coffee at all in the States but man oh man the coffee in Europe is amazing! So Nell and I enjoyed the city just people-watching sitting outside at a café… what a life! We met Juliet afterwards and went walking a bit more. We had heard the aquarium was nice, so we decided to head over there. It was great, seeing as I love aquariums! The sharks and stingrays were great and we spent a little too much time staring at them like little kids haha. Afterwards we walked around the city some more and did some shopping. We bought some wine to have before we went out for more pinchos.
Beautiful view of the city


Sunday morning we walked along the beach and then climbed up the mountain to the castle. The views were spectacular and I only wish we were there in the summer so we could have gone to the beach. Oh well another trip to San Sebastian then! The pictures really don’t do it justice, so if any visitors come we will have to plan a trip up north!!

View from the top of the mountain

Nell, Juliet, and I at the castle

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mi Piso

I am so excited that I was able to find a place… and so quickly! Luckily it only took me one day to find a place and I was able to move in last Monday. I’m living in a great location, on one of the major streets and very close to the center. I look out at a pedestrian area, which leads to the center of the city which means that it isn’t super loud. The place is older, but still in great condition! My landlady, Pilar, is a great woman and has already helped us out in so many ways. And the best part about my place is the price! I’m paying 160 euros a month for everything, which is unheard of back home (around $300 per month). I’m living with a two other girls my age, one of which is in the same program as me. Sadie is from Manchester and has the sweetest, most calming accent ever! I feel at ease when she is talking with me. She is doing my program as well and is teaching in a school in Logrono, so it’s nice that we both have a similar schedule and can help each other out with teaching advice. Nyota is from Brussels and speaks French, beautiful English and is learning Spanish now (aka I want to be her!). She is adorable as well and is an Erasmus student at the university here. We all get along great and I think it’s going to be a fabulous year!

Our living room!


My room!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nuestra Senora del Sagrario

I started this past week at one of the schools I am teaching at. The school is called Nuestra Senora del Sagrario and is in a pueblo about 15 minutes away from Logrono called Navarette. The school is the equivalent of an elementary school with two buildings, one for the 3-5 year olds and another for the 5-12 year olds. I am only teaching in the building for the older kids. So far I absolutely love it! The teachers are all amazing and super friendly are so interested that I’m from the United States. They’ve already joked with me that part of my contract is that I invite them all to visit me in Chicago. And clearly the best part of the school is the kids! The kids are all super eager to learn English, although sometimes they are quite rowdy and don’t pay attention. The 5 year olds are my favorite, as they will answer any question you ask them and don’t care if they’re wrong. I am teaching 12 hours a week at this school so only go to the school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday which means that I have a four day weekend every week! The school is your basic elementary school where the kids learn everything and have English as their foreign language. Most of the classes are 1 hour long, although the 5 year olds have a 30 minute class. I am in the classroom to help with pronunciation, so will read things out loud, will play games with them and help out if the teacher asks. Wednesday is my longest day as I am at the school for 5 hours, but I am done every day by 2 pm so am home in time for siesta! All of the kids are very curious about me and about where I come from, so I have been asked all kinds of questions. Where are you from? How old are you? Are you married? Why not? Do you have a boyfriend? When are you going to get married? What is your favorite color? What is your favorite movie? Who is your favorite singer? Do you have any kids? It is a great feeling to be so welcome in the school and by the end of the first day all the kids, even ones I hadn’t had in class yet, knew who I was and were anxiously awaiting when I would come to their class. It’s so great to walk through the halls during the break and have all the little kids say “hola profe, hola teacher”. The level of English that these kids possess astounds me, as I think of how long I have taken Spanish and when I was their age I didn’t know that much. I can’t wait to do lessons on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ribfest, Naperville, etc to show them how the States really are. I’ve also had questions such as: “Does everyone have a garden in the United States? Are all the houses big? Is high school like the movie Mean Girls?” I have not felt discriminated against (except for the stares with my blonde hair) and have felt totally welcomed here, which is a great feeling. I am very excited for the year to come and think it’ll be a great experience!

The Story of the Vacuum Cleaner and Other Mishaps

My life would not be complete, and I would not be who I am, if I did not have many awkward and hysterical occurrences in my life daily. These do not only occur in the U.S., but also in Spain (and probably more frequently haha). Since I’ve come to accept my “dumb blonde” status, I wanted to share some of these stories with you.  As many of you probably already know, when I was in Sevilla last year, I had a small issue with trying to use our vacuum cleaner. Unbeknownst to me, you actually had to plug it in for it to work! I spent over an hour trying to figure out how to turn the stupid thing on, and never once thought that if I plugged it in it would work haha. Now in my defense, the plug was a retractable plug and was hidden underneath and in the back of the vacuum. So when my roommate came home and asked how the cleaning went, I had to explain to her that I didn’t know how to use it. She gave me a funny look, pulled out the cord, plugged it in, and bingo! it worked. So here are some more stories just like this one that have happened to me since I have gotten to Spain (and remember that’s only been a little over a week).

-       While staying in Madrid for orientation, I had to use the restroom during one of our breaks. We were having our meetings downstairs in the conference center/rooms, so there was a bathroom downstairs. I tried to open the door by pushing (as most doors open that way), but sadly did not succeed. So instead of just moving on, I shoved and shoved thinking that I could get it open. My friend Juliet just stood there laughing at me, while everyone else stared. Then the idea hit me, what if I pulled instead of pushed? Hallelujah it worked! But no, the embarrassment did not stop there. I was so flustered that I just made a fool of myself trying to open a door that I saw a stall and just walked right into it. After going to the bathroom, I came out to wash my hands and saw urinals on the wall. Then a guy walked out of one of the other stalls. I had inadvertently walked into the men’s restroom! Needless to say I booked it out of there, ran into the girls bathroom (which was in the same door just on the other side) and proceeded to wash my hands there as if nothing happened. I’m not sure if anyone saw me, but if they did I’m sure they’re still laughing about it as I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Moral of the story: read bathroom signs before walking into them!
-       Most people think that you can only get locked out of a flat, but no you can locked inside one! When I moved into my flat on Monday, one of my roommates was there but was leaving right away so after I finished putting away my stuff and talking to my landlord, my friend Nell and I were going to look at a place for her. When we tried to get out we couldn’t! I guess with our flat, if someone is inside you can’t lock it from the outside or they are locked in!  So yes, we were locked inside my flat with no way to get out because our landlady was with us and both of my roommates were gone and weren’t answering their phones. Luckily one of my other friends was out and about so we had her come to my place, threw my key out the window to her and she was able to unlock the door. Moral of this story: don’t lock your door if your roommates are inside!
-       Washing machines are pretty self-explanatory and easy to use right?! Not in Spain they aren’t! Our washing machine has the entire alphabet on the dial and you must choose the exact letter that you want for the cycle for it to work. Easy enough?! Still no. I put some of my laundry in to wash and turned it on thinking that it was easy. Well it stopped about 5 minutes later and I knew it wasn’t done, so turned the dial to another letter hoping that would take care of it. After about 7 times of me turning the dial to another letter and praying that it would work, I thought I had got it. When I finally got the door open, water spilled all over the floor and flooded the kitchen! Apparently I hadn’t set it to the spin/drain cycle, so there was still water in it. So after mopping up the whole kitchen I figured I would know which one to turn it to. Wrong again. After that was done and I opened the door, water came spilling out again.  Needless to say after consulting with my roommates, we decided we should ask our landlady. After a frantic call to Pilar, she showed us the correct three letters (why does there need to be 26 on there I ask you). Moral of the story: don’t wash your clothes in the washing machine unless you are absolutely certain of the alphabet!
Hopefully these make you feel better about yourself and I’m sure there will be plenty more stories to come!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bienvenido a Logrono!!

Bienvenidos todos a Logrono! I made it to Spain... yay!! Luckily I had no problems with the strike, as it happened on Wednesday not Thursday. Sadly I left London and headed down to the beautiful country that is Spain. I landed in Madrid and caught a cab to the hotel where my orientation was being held. Luckily I checked into the metro before I got to Madrid and realized that if I were to take the metro to the hotel with all of my stuff it would take 1 hour and 15 minutes of walking, stairs, metro, exhaustion or I could take a 20 minute cab ride for 22 euro. I bet you can't guess which option I chose?! After I checked into the hotel I went up to my room where I met my French roommate for the weekend. She was nice, but not overly nice and so luckily I met some other people in my region to hang out with during the weekend! Friday we had the day free but I was so exhausted that after I walked around for a bit and grabbed a bocadillo de queso manchego (god I missed bocadillos and the cheese!), I just went back to the hotel and took a nice long nap before dinner. As I was walking downstairs for dinner I ran into some girls who I ended up eating dinner with and who were extremely nice. I also met several girls who are also in La Rioja and Logrono specifically so it was really nice to meet people who I would interact with for the next 9 months. Orientation was all day Saturday and was kinda boring but beneficial as well. And since it was all in Spanish, I was quite tired by the end of it. Sadly I didn't see much of Madrid as I didn't go out either night, but we all decided that we will go back to Madrid for a weekend in the near future. Not only did I meet girls in Logrono, but I also met several girls who are in Segovia, and we have already planned on doing Thanksgiving together in Segovia. Everyone is super friendly and extremely nice and it's weird to think I've only known them for several days. It honestly feels like I've known them for ages and as if they've always been a part of my life. I experienced this feeling both times that I've been in Spain and I guess the whole experience, the type of people, and the fact that you spend every waking minute with each other makes for a quick building friendship. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Logrono on Saturday and checked into our residency (the other girls were able to get a room with me). Jaime, the man who runs the residency, is amazing! He clearly can tell we are American and have no idea what we are doing, seeing as we have had to call him several times for the stupidest of reasons aka when we went down to breakfast this morning it was closed, therefore we called him "Jaime, we would like to eat breakfast. Will you help us?" So of course he loves us and will bend over backwards to make our stay comfortable haha.

Saturday night we went out for some late tapas/raciones and some wine at one of the main streets in Logrono. After getting lost (not quite the best idea to make the first walk around the city at night), we ended up at a great little cafe with outdoor seating where we could people watch as we ate. We ordered tex mex (basically chicken fingers with bbq sauce), croquetas (a ham and cheese mixture that is fried... it's heaven I tell you), and patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy mayo sauce on top... also to die for). Along with our raciones, we had a bottle of their "house wine" and let me tell you, it was just as amazing as I thought it would be! It was smooth and dry and sweet all at the same time and I was almost in tears of excitement to be sitting at an outdoor cafe in Logrono, eating tapas, sipping wine, people watching, and having a good time with new friends. It really made me happy to be back and made me realize just how much I do love Spain!

Today was more of a laid back day, as most things are closed in Spain on Sundays, however the chinos were still open and I was able to score a sweet deal on a straightener (14 euro for a good one!) and some other things. And of course some of the bars and bakeries were open, so we stopped in for some yummy, fresh out of the oven bread! But the best part about today was finding a place to live! I am amazed at how quickly I was able to find a place, but lucked out with people responding online, so am moving in tomorrow morning at 10:30! The place is in a great location and I am living with two other girls my age (who I haven't met yet but will tomorrow), one who is English and who is in my program, although I didn't meet her, and the other who is an Erasmus student who is from Belgium. The landlady is amazing and the place is really great. My room is kind of small, but the living areas are huge and I'm hoping to not spend all my time in my room. Not to mention the fact that I will be paying 170 euro total for the room and utilities a month, something that I would never be able to find in Chicago! So I will of course post pictures and such about the flat when I get in tomorrow, but I am happy to have found a place and am starting to feel like I'm settling in. And I discovered via talking with my teachers at both of my schools that not only do I, A) only teach 12 hours a week but B) I only teach Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, which means that I have not a three day weekend, but a four day weekend every week! And that's not to mention when there are puentes/long weekends (like we have next weekend... hello five day weekend who wants to come visit?!). So needless to say I am very happy, excited, thrilled about everything! It certainly is good to be back in Spain and good to be me!!