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 ( 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!