After almost a year of blogging, I have decided to stop writing about my life and adventures abroad. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read and comment on my blog. I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments and appreciated everyone who followed me throughout the year.
I am so glad that I could share this year with others through my blog. I loved taking pictures and writing about the ups and downs of living in a foreign country, my travels throughout Europe, and life as a Fulbright language teaching assistant.
Sunset from Maui, Hawaii
It has really been a whirlwind this past week! I left Madrid last Tuesday and spent two days at home before heading up to Chicago to see two of my best friends from college. Then, after unpacking and repacking my bags, my mom, great aunt and I all set off for Hawaii.
Paradise… I think so!
After a cancelled flight in Chicago and a 9 hour journey with no on-board meals, we made it to our hotel without a problem. Now it is time to kick-back, relax, and enjoy a proper island vacation with sand, sun, and plenty of drinks!
Ioa Needle and gardens
Since I’m writing this post, I obviously survived Pamplona and the running of the bulls! This was not my favorite adventure of the year, but it was definitely something I will not forget. Before I talk about my own experience, here are some interesting facts about the event:
1. The Running of the Bulls, or Los Sanfermines, goes from July 6th-July 14th with a running taking place everyday starting on July 7th
2. Encierros (bulls running through the streets of a city) are popular throughout Spain, southern France, and a few places in Mexico
3. The event in Pamplona is the most popular one in the world and this is credited to Ernest Hemingway and his book The Sun Also Rises
4. The distance from the starting point to the bull ring in Pamplona is almost 850 meters
5. The typical dress for the festival is white pants and shirt with a red belt worn around the waist and a short, red scarf worn around the neck
6. The bull run starts bright and early at 8 AM when runners sing a benedition in Spanish and then loudly cheer “Viva San Fermin” “Gora San Fermin,” which is a tribute to the patron saint of the city in both Spanish and Basque
7.. Only 15 people have died in Pamplona since record keeping started in 1924. Of those, only two were not Spanish (one Mexican and one American)
Monument to the bulls in downtown Pamplona
I set off from Madrid at 2 PM on Saturday and rode the bus for 6 hours to Pamplona. Lots of companies organize all-night trips so that students and other young people can catch a glimpse of the bulls and one of the biggest parties in Spain. Once my friend Kenneth and I arrived in the city, we walked around and enjoyed the festivities. We met people from all over the world and enjoyed food and drinks typical of the region.
Since hardly anyone books a hotel for the night, the party continues all throughout the night until the bulls run at 8 AM the next day. Needless to say, the streets get pretty dirty with empty bottles and leftover food. To be honest, I have never seen anything so disgusting in my life. But, it was lots of fun and an experience that cannot be replicated!
Just a small glimpse of the party “leftovers”
After spending all night in the streets, we got into place around 6 AM to watch the running. Even though we got there two hours early, we could hardly see the street where they were running. To get a better view, some people climbed into trees, into windows, and on street lights.
Before the running
Starting the run!
I thought that the only people who were gored or injured during the running were the dumb, drunks they let run. However, there is a very strict entry process and no one can drink if they wish to participate. If they suspect you have been drinking, they will give you a breathalyzer to make sure you are sober.
“El toro viene!” “The bull is coming!”
This is the only shot I got of the bulls. I caught a glimpse of another one, but they ran so fast and there were so many people, it was hard to see anything.
So the question is, “would I ever go back again?” No. I do not think I would ever go back, but experiencing it once was really fun. The whole reason I wanted to go was to see the actual running, but I barely got a glimpse of the bulls. I think from now on I am going to watch it in the comfort of my own home after a full night’s rest!
I had been looking forward to my trip to Italy for weeks because it is one of my favorite countries I have ever visited. However, this trip did not quite live up to my expectations. There always seemed to be a problem around every corner like a inn keeper that spoke no English or a fine on the train back to Pisa. But instead of dwelling on the lowlights of the trip, I want to show off the parts that were great! Here are my top 5:
Leaning Tower of Pisa:
I have no idea why I have such a fascination with this site, but I have wanted to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa since I was little. And it did not disappoint. It leaned more than I expected (even though it does not show up that well in pictures) and was set next to a beautiful cathedral and baptistery. I even paid 15 euros to climb it just so I could say I was at the top!
This was the highlight of my trip. Piazza Michelangelo is located on a hill that overlooks Florence at sunset. People flock to this place to enjoy wine, sandwiches, and beautiful sunsets over the city. We could not have asked for a better night to watch the sunset!
The Statue of David
Most people say that if you only have a few days in Florence you should skip the actual statue of David in the museum and see the replica in the plaza. I totally disagree! The statue is so much better in person, and in my opinion absolutely AMAZING! I am so glad I did not miss it.
No pictures were allowed inside, but I found this funny replica outside the museum!
Siena is a town set in the Tuscan hills and is a great day trip from Florence. Many companies arrange trips here because of the beautiful cathedral and famous square. As soon as I got off the bus, I fell in love with the town. It was so charming with small side streets and winding roads.
Small side street I found while looking for the cathedral
I took two different trips through the Tuscan countryside. The first one was one the bus ride to and from Siena, which drove us along the flat main roads between Siena and Florence. Here, I got to see fields filled with sunflowers, small farms, and lots of livestock. The other trip was on the back of a Vespa through the hilly back-roads of Tuscany, which was filled with olive trees and grape vines. Both of these were beyond beautiful. I know why people sell their possessions and move to Tuscany!
I know this picture does not show how beautiful Tuscany is, but none of my pictures do it justice.
Today I’m off on my last adventure to Pamplona for Running of the Bulls! I have my white outfit on, snacks packed for a long night in the street, and my running shoes ready to go (no worries, these are just to keep my feet safe, not for running)!
If I had been home yesterday to celebrate the 4th of July, I would have been eating hamburgers and hotdogs, enjoying strawberry pie, and watching fireworks with friends and family. But for obvious reasons, Spain was not celebrating the 4th of July, so my options for celebrating were limited.
So what did I decide to do with my holiday… I spent the entire day running around the city renewing my paper work to stay in Spain for another year! It was necessary, but it felt very un-patriotic. But, in typical Spain fashion, it was not an easy day of office visits, it was one frustration after another. Here is how my day went:
Stop #1: Foreigner’s Office
On my last day at school, I spent almost an hour printing out necessary documents, getting these documents stamped by my school, getting multiple copies made, and organizing them all into corresponding folders. So yesterday should have been an easy trip to turn in these documents. However, I forgot to make a copy of one of the documents. I nicely asked the lady where I could make a copy close to the office and she told me she could not tell me. Really?!?
Officina de Extranjeros
Stop #2: My house/Copy shop
I tried to ask around for a copy shop, but no one knew of a place that was close. I had to go all the way back home and make a copy at my local copy shop.
Stop number #3: Foreigner’s Office
An hour later, I was back at the office, but a long line had formed outside. I waited for a few minutes before I realized the line was for a different office inside the same building. I pushed through the people and turned in my documents in less than 30 seconds.
Stop #4: Foreigner’s Processing Office
Since I had finally turned in all of my paperwork to stay in Spain for another year, I needed to get authorization to come back into the country in September with an expired residency card. I then spent 45 minutes on the metro going to the other side of the city to pick up a form that “allows” me to pay a tax which is necessary for this authorization. Luckily this step was hassle free.
Scary office they make foreigners go to for most issues regarding residency. Every time I go, I’m afraid they are going to deport me! Hardly anyone there is friendly.
Stop #5: The bank
After another trip back across the city, I went to my bank and paid the tax, which finished the list of tasks on my to-do list!
Stop #6: TGI Fridays
This was definitely the highlight of the day. I went out with three American friends to the most American restaurant we could find (it did not hurt they were offering half price drinks!). We did not really order American classics, but we did our part in celebrating America’s birthday in our own little way!
I only have a few more blog posts before I head home for the summer. Up next my trip to Italy and then hopefully a post about Running of the Bulls in Pamplona (if I survive!).
I remember back in October there was a tapas “fair” in the Lavapies neighborhood, but I could not go because I was out of town. I was really upset that I had missed the one and only tapas sampling opportunity of the year. Fast forward eight months and I have been to two different tapas tasting experiences, and I am sure there were many more that I just never heard about. I was so silly to think that I would only have one chance to sample tapas!
My latest tapa tasting adventure was just a short walk away from my house at the Real Madrid basketball arena. The best part about this experience was that all of the tapas were in the same location, but prepared by different bars and restaurants throughout Madrid.
Each tapa was 1.20 euro and drinks ranged from 1.20 to 3.60 depending on your preference. There were 38 different stands, and each place had three tapas each. That lead to lots of tapa tasting. There were so many, I had to go back two different times just to try all of the ones that looked good. Here is a quick look at what I had.
One of the best tapas that I had. Beef check with a wine reduction sauce
And then probably the worst tapa: Oysters (it tasted like sea water)
Chocolate mango dessert: the sugar decoration on top was the best part!
I also had four or five other tapas, but they were not as pretty or as interesting. I started out with a hamburger, then moved on to ham croquets, and then finished up with a loin slice and caramelized onions. Plus I sampled other tapas that my friends bought.
I will be spending the rest of the week in Italy eating great food, sampling fine wines, and enjoying the historic sites. I cannot wait to share pictures from my last international trip of the year!
After months of waiting and lots of stress, I finally received my acceptance letter to continue living and working in Madrid! I have known for a long time that I wanted to stay, but with the bureaucracy and disorganization of the Ministerio de Educacion, I did not know for sure if I was going to be able to work in Spain for another year.
My school for another year!
Luckily, I will be working at the same school next year, and two of my three American coworkers will be staying as well! I am sure many things will be similar next year, but I cannot wait to spend another year in Madrid exploring, traveling, and learning!
I just love walking around Madrid and seeing all of the specialty stores. During my first two months here, I ran into some really good ones. Since then, I have been scouring the city looking for more stores to feature on my blog. Although most of these are not as funny as the first round, I have to laugh every time I walk by one of them.
Sorry for the terrible picture quality. I was getting weird looks from the store owners as I was running around snapping pictures!
The Pajama Store:
This store sells every type of pajama imaginable from sexy lingerie to more functional house dresses. I have been tempted to go into the store, but I’m afraid I would come out with way more pajamas then I could ever use. And if nothing else, I love the mannequins in the window!
The Cane Store:
I know that there are lots of people who need a cane to help them walk, but this store takes it to another level. They have antique canes, gold canes, and even ivory ones. However, this store is not for the budget shopper. Some of these canes will set you back 200 euros.
The Pipe Store:
I do not know anyone who even smokes a pipe, but this store has a luxury line and large selection of pipes. Like the cane store, make sure you are not on a budget because the cheapest pipe I saw started at 50 euros and quickly went up from there.
The Yacht Store:
Although the contents of this store are not really that funny or interesting, the location is. Madrid is geographically the farthest place in Spain that you can get from a large body of water. I guess you need a yacht store in the capital city, but it just seems a little out of place to me.
The string store:
This one is my favorite! I walk by this store almost everyday on my way to the gym, and I cannot figure out how you can make a living selling all different types of sizes, strengths and lengths of string. They never change their window display or have deals on string, but there is always at least one person in the store when I walk by. Maybe I will stop in one day and get some string just for posterity sake.
A month from now, I will be on my way to the U.S. ready to enjoy the comforts of home, see family and friends, and eat food I have been missing for the last ten months. Although I am very excited to go home, there are so many things I love and will miss about Madrid while I am gone.
As I was thinking about my upcoming trip back home, I thought about making one of those paper chain kids make in elementary school. That is when a friend suggested that I put a Madrid-related activity on each one and try to do something special each day in the city. I thought it was a great idea, so here is my list of activities I will be enjoying in my last month in Madrid. (Note: I will only be in the city 20 of the last 30 days, so my list does not actually contain a month worth of items!)
Dumplings at the Chinese restaurant under Plaza España
Shrimp croquetas at Casa del Abuelo
Huevos rotos at El Mollete (my favorite restaurant in Madrid)
Pastry from Levadura Madre
Shot of Madroño licor
Mercado de San Miguel for a drink/tapa
Zarzamoras from my favorite candy store
Octopus tapa with Rioja wine
Sites to See
Cathedral of Almudena
Banco de España/Ciebles at night
Plaza Mayor at night
Temple of Debod
Royal Palace at night
Things to do
Picnic at Retiro Park
Rent a row boat in Retiro
Go to a puppet show in Retiro
Go to the Prado
Go to the Caixa Forum
Go to the Botanical Gardens
Go out to a night club and take the metro home in the morning
Go clothes shopping at my favorite Spanish stores (Zara, Mango…)
I really enjoy posting about the errors that my students make, but I think it is only fair that I write about some of the funny Spanish mistakes I have made. These are just a few of the things that people have been nice enough to point out to me, or I have realized were wrong due to the shocked or disgusted expressions I get from people. I am sure there are many more silly things I have said that people were too nice to correct.
Porro vs Porra
A common breakfast snack here in Spain is the porra, which is a fried, thick pastry dough topped with sugar. I can never seem to remember if porra ends with an “a” or with an “o” and I quickly learned it did not end with an “o.” Porro means joint and usually refers to marijuana! I got quite the look when I asked for a joint to go with my hot chocolate.
Percha vs picha
Right after moving into my apartment, I needed to buy some clothes hangers. My roommate was nice enough to take me to the store and show me where to buy them. A few days later I had to go to another store since the original store was out, and I asked for a “picha” instead of a “percha.” What did I ask for you might ask? I asked where the penises were. Picha is a slang term used to refer to male genitals! The lady at the store was not even nice enough to tell me my mistake, so I had to come home and ask my roommates what I had said that make the store clerk raise her eyebrows.
Esquiar vs esquilar
During my first meal with my new roommate, I was trying to make conversation about his hobbies. I was trying to ask if he liked skiing (esquiar), but accidently put in an extra “l” which changed the question to “Do you like to shear animals?” After he finished laughing hysterically for a few moments, he told me my mistake, and I was able to laugh as well.
Ingles vs inglés
I have always known that accents are important in foreign languages. Everyone knows that if you forget the accent on the word mother (mamá), you have just said the word breast instead. But, I had no idea that leaving the accent out of the word English (inglés) could be so hazardous. The word ingles actually means groin or bikini area!
Pajero vs pareja
This is not actually one of my mistakes, but when my Spanish teacher told me about it I could not stop laughing. For Valentine’s Day, my teacher asked a student who she would be spending the day with. The student wanted to stay: “I’m going to spend it with my partner (pareja), but ended up saying “pajero” instead. Unfortunately, the word pajero in Spanish means a man who perpetually masturbates. I bet that poor student never made that mistake again!
Although some of these mistakes were slightly embarrassing, that is all part of the learning process. My students and I will never get better if we are scared to make mistakes. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, move on, and hope I am getting better every day!