Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All Things "Cuatro Villas"

So here we go, post number 2. To restate: I am writing two blog posts in one day and so as not to overwhelm anybody, I separated them. Below is my Germany blog post. This is my Cuatro Villas School blog post!

Before leaving for Germany, two of my schools took a fieldtrip to the Casa de las ciencias – a science museum more or less. This was convenient for me because it was in Logroño, so no commuting was needed that day! The English teacher, David told me to meet the group at a bus stop close to my apartment.  When I got there, they had already arrived and the kids could see me from a distance; when they had confirmed it was me, they all ran at me screaming Estephanie!!! Estephanie!!!! It was the biggest hug I’ve probably ever received in my life. I was nearly knocked over, but it was probably the most adorable moment I have experienced to date. I hadn’t had coffee yet, but that was enough to wake me right up!

The science exhibit they were going to see was about the 5 senses. They took turns doing activities to learn more about the senses. The sense they mostly focused on was touch because the activities were more interesting. Most of the kids were blindfolded and had to grab items out of a bag and tell the museum employee what the object was. Another blindfolded activity was touching warm objects vs. cold objects. The kids loved it.

The first floor of the museum had ancient Roman artifacts and the entire time we walked around looking at all the items I had identical twins attached to both of my hands. They are so cute and they asked me questions in English they had learned in class. I was really impressed.  Our day at the museum was very fun.

Activities in all my schools are currently centered on Christmas, a topic that I love of course. We’ve been singing, “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for about two weeks now. I haven’t gotten tired of it once.  Although, I made a huge contribution to Ribafrecha last week, I introduced them to Frosty the Snowman. It was a hit. Who doesn’t love a snowman that comes to life? I can’t think of anyone.

I had the fortunate opportunity to go to San Roman last Friday because the schedule was messed up since I am leaving on the 23rd.  I just absolutely love San Roman. It is so peaceful and the kids are so sweet. The kids had extra fun on Friday because Javier and I prepared a treasure hunt in English. They were so excited the entire time. The treasure hunt was useful in teaching them prepositions such as “next to”, “beside”, “on”, “in”, “behind” etc. Each student had their own set of clues and they searched individually while the class looked on. The student would have to read the clue out loud and then search for the treasure. At the end of each student’s treasure hunt was a letter. All of the letters combined made up a word in English that they should know. The first student to unscramble the letters and shout the word out won the treasure, which was a pencil container. It was fitting since the scrambled word was “pencil”. It was so much fun!

We had a spare 15 minutes at the end of the day so we walked a little around San Roman and we saw three donkeys just randomly eating grass on a hill. Of course, I was intrigued. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by donkeys…maybe it’s their size? I have no clue, but thank goodness I always have my camera on me because the kids went crazy with the donkeys. I’m sure they see them all the time, but they were excited to pet the donkeys. Maybe seeing my camera motivated them also. Overall, Friday was just a very successful day.

After school, Javier and I drove to Sergio’s house for lunch! Sergio made salmon and a vegetable dish that was delicious. I swear if it weren’t for Sergio, I would never be trying anything new. I don’t trust my cooking. But, it was nice that Javier joined us. It made for intriguing conversation. After lunch with Sergio, his wife Elena and Javier I tutored Maria. We played a great game; I wrote simple words on pieces of paper and put them in a plastic bag. We would each chose a word and have to describe the word without saying the word until the other person guessed it. Along the same lines as “Taboo”, but without a time limit. She loved it!

That evening, we had a faculty dinner. I was really looking forward to it after experiencing the last one. We went to a restaurant more towards the outskirts of the city so it wasn’t very busy. According to many, a lot of schools have pre-Christmas faculty dinners the same weekend that they make reservations during the summer! Being in the center of the city wasn’t an option on Friday. We ordered a bunch of food and split dishes between 4 people.  My group ordered some delicious stuff. We found out fantastic news during the dinner, the secretary of the school, Carmen is pregnant! Ahh! So exciting!! She told us all at dinner. After the dinner, we ended up bopping from bar to bar. That was an adventure and I’m going to leave it at that. Haha.

This will be my last post for a while as I’m going home to the United States on the 23rd! No updates needed from the States. As nothing out of the ordinary happens there. Just kidding. So, UNTIL NEXT YEAR!! 
San Roman Donkey Squad

Some of my co-workers at the faculty dinner


I am so behind in blogging that I’m going to have to make two separate posts. Worst part is I have nothing or no one to blame except myself. I will strategically separate the two posts. One will be about my incredible German vacation my roommates and I took at the beginning of December. (Yep, I went to Germany….forgot to mention that in my last blog post I believe) The second will be about SCHOOL SCHOOL SCHOOL! This one will be about Germany.

My roommates, Jamie and I decided semi-last minute to go to Germany for our December break. I especially felt strongly about going to Germany during this time because they have tons of Christmas markets in just about every city.  There is nothing remotely similar to these markets in the United States. Our destination: Düsseldorf. We chose it for two reasons…first and foremost, because it was the cheapest. Second, because my roommate Shana has friends that live only an hour from Düsseldorf in Münster.

After a long day of traveling, we got into Düsseldorf really late and absolutely passed out in the hotel. The next day, we decided to tour Düsseldorf a bit. It’s really an upbeat city! We of course stopped at the Christmas markets….and we stopped there for awhile. We drank glühwein, hot, mulled wine and potato pancakes. The potato pancakes were so delicious. To sum it up in a sentence: we basically engorged ourselves with German food at this Christmas market. What was really special was seeing the first snow of the season. While we were all drinking our glühwein and eating bratwurst, it began to snow and everyone at the market was thrilled! The German weather was a reality check…so much colder than Logroño. Good preparation for when I go back to the States in 2 days!

Later, we hopped on a train heading to Münster where we spent the majority of our trip. We stayed with Shana’s friends Felix and Sebastian. Let me start by saying these are two of the most hospitable men I have ever met in my life. Points for Germany! They showed us the city by night, and it was gorgeous because it was lit up. The next morning, they already had breakfast ready. Again – cannot emphasize enough how amazing they were. We walked around Münster which I believe is named “The City of Bikes” and if it isn’t, I’m naming it that right now.  BIKES WERE EVERYWHERE. Of course, I’d seen bike paths before, but there were so many bikes that it may have matched the number of cars that were on the road. Münster is definitely a University town; the population is so youthful.

We followed up our tour of Münster with a stop at their Christmas markets. They were just as amazing as Düsseldorf’s. Coincidentally, we saw Münster’s first snow while at the Christmas markets!!! We brought good luck I guess! That evening for dinner, Sebastian and Felix made a gourmet meal. First, they wouldn’t accept our help…so we sat, and watched them bustle around the kitchen. When it was time to eat, my jaw literally dropped open. I can’t even really describe the meal properly…it was salmon, baked in a flaky wrap, with a sauce inside the wrap….I don’t know what it was called, but it was amazing.

The following day, we toured the University a bit more and ate lunch at the student cafeteria. The lunch was actually fantastic. I had an incredible soup. That evening for dinner, Sebastian and Felix made another phenomenal dinner. It was pasta, with a sauce I’d never seen before…but MAN WAS IT GOOD. Later that night, we had the fortunate opportunity to attend a birthday party! Felix’s roommate was turning 22 and she was having many people over at the apartment. She was all dolled up and so happy. Of course, our conversation was limited since our proficiency in German doesn’t exist. Except for Shana, who thankfully spoke German for us the entire time.

Although, many conversations weren’t available for us to partake in, I did speak to Felix’s other roommate who wants to be a Spanish teacher! She spent two years in Spain and so of course her Spanish flawless, as was her English. (A MAJOR Ego-crusher) She was telling me that in order to become a teacher in Germany you had to be an expert in two subjects. Her two subjects: Spanish and Music. Basically, that means she could in theory also be a Music teacher. Germany does not make it easy, do they? After the birthday party, we went to “one of the best clubs” in Münster – and it was very good! We had a lot of fun.

Something worth mentioning about Germany is how perfect it is. I mean they are perfectly organized, everything is immaculately clean, and everything runs on time. Germany is a very well oiled machine. As much as I love Spain, things do not work that way in Spain. Although, I will say Logroño is one of the cleanest cities I have ever seen, they work around the clock to make sure it is spotless. However, the general atmosphere in Spain is very laid-back, which ironically enough sometimes stresses me out. I blame my Dad, he arrives late to everything (love you DAD!!) and so now, as a rule I hate being late and it stresses me out. Spain sometimes is late with certain things.

All in all, our German adventure was amazing and I cannot thank Sebastian and Felix enough for their hospitality. They went above and beyond. My roommates and I now have higher expectations from American men. Shana and I went from Germany to Madrid to celebrate our friend Adrian’s birthday. We stayed there for the night with our Spanish friends and watched the incredible Madrid vs. Barcelona fútbol match. I’m a big Barça fan, having lived in Mallorca for a year. So thankfully, they won….by a landslide. I almost felt bad for Madrid. All right! Time for post number 2!!

P.S. Münster cheese does not come from Münster, Germany. I was truly disappointed to find that I had been lied to for so many years. 
Apparently, it comes from the United States. How boring. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Una Mezcla de Todo

Where on earth to start with this post?? So much has happened in between Thursday and now that it’ll be difficult to condense it all. Hence, the title of this post which means “a mix of everything”. Okay, Thanksgiving. After a little Ribafrecha drama on Thursday, I was running behind on making my stuffing! My roommates and I crowded into our little kitchen practically bumping into each other trying to prepare our own dishes. We got so scared because during the middle of our cooking chaos the power went out. We had no idea what to do because we didn’t know where the circuit breaker was located. I had to call Catalina to ask for her help and she told me it was next to the door inside the apartment. The only thing next to the door was a small electricity box and no circuit breakers. Turns out it was behind a painting next to the door. Immediately after switching it back on, we returned to cooking. About an hour later, the power went out again. It certainly was an interesting preparation process. During the cooking process my family called me on my Spanish cell and it was great to talk to them!! Finally, we were finished with everything. The dishes we had in total were: mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, stuffing and chicken (because we couldn’t find a turkey in time).  Our guests were: Judith, a woman from our intercambio who is super sweet, her daughter Vega, our very good friend Adrian (he basically helps us out with everything we just cannot do and therefore is our godsend) and his brother Daniel. I wasn’t sure how the stuffing turned out, I used my mom’s recipe which to be honest is the most incredible stuffing recipe on this planet. Daniel erased my doubts because after tasting it he looked at me and said: WILL YOU MARRY ME???? Yep, it’s that good. Something I would change if I attempt to cook it again: use less bread; it kind of dominated the dish. Overall, despite blowing the fuse twice, we had a magnificent feast.

Friday, I went to San Roman, the school I help out at once a month. It is so tiny, but it is a gorgeous town. This time I was prepared and brought my camera. Last time, Javier told me the next time I came to San Roman we would all go on a walk through the town so I could see it all. At recess, the kids were playing a game and asked me if I knew it. I said I had never heard of the title, but that we had an identical game called, “Red Light, Green Light”.  BLAST FROM THE PAST. I think the last time I played that game was when I was in elementary school at Shaker Road. I didn’t need to teach them the entire game, just how to say the words differently. They loved it! We played for about 15 minutes, Javier included! Then, afterwards we all went on a walk through the town. I took so many pictures. I can’t describe how incredibly beautiful this town is. I wish I could see it more than once a month, especially because the kids are SO adorable. I’m disappointed because the next scheduled day at San Roman is the 23rd of December and I’ll be on a plane to the U.S.

Saturday during the day we went to Judith’s house to make a Spanish pastry called Rosquillas. They are basically doughnuts, but they have a lemony flavor to them. Vega dunked her hands in the bag of flour and put it on the dough. She was hilarious. It was a group effort, but they turned out great. One was in the shape of a heart. However, we had to leave directly after because we decided to take a mini-trip to San Sebastian!

San Sebastian is about two hours north of us in the Basque Country. Jessie, her friend Jamie who is visiting from the U.S., Shana and I stayed overnight in San Sebastian. It is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. In the Basque Country, they have their own language that is not even the slightest bit close to Spanish or any other language on the planet to be honest. I could see a sign that means "watch out for the falling rocks" and think, "hey let's take this shortcut, this looks good". I have no idea what any of it means. The great thing was that my roommate Shana knows the man that works in a hostel in San Sebastian. It was ranked as one of the best hostels in San Sebastian, number two I believe. It was so small and quaint! Matt the hostel employee welcomed us and showed us where we’d be staying. He’s an Aussie. While we were there we met a bunch of American and British runners who were running in a marathon the next day. We also met a girl from New Zealand who is traveling the world; mainly for surfing purposes and San Sebastian has a great surfing area. The proprietor, Rafael gave us fresh oranges his mother-in-law had picked that morning. Basically, we really lucked out. We went out that night with Matt and Niccola, the girl from New Zealand. Matt showed us all the good places. It was a lot of fun. The next morning, we began to tour the city. Matt showed us a place near the hostel that serves great tortilla con patatas and it really was delicious! Matt was more or less our tour guide for the morning/early-afternoon. We met up with Melissa, Adrian and two of his friends around 1ish. They were hungry and wanted some tapas. Matt showed us a great area and the tapas were AMAZING!!!! Believe it or not, there was a tapa made with KANGAROO meat. Shana ordered the tapa and we all tried it. I was extremely nervous…but it wasn’t bad and now I can say I’ve tried kangaroo. After, we meandered through the city, went into a few stores and I bought two scarves, shocker. I just couldn’t resist. In my defense, I WASN’T THE ONLY ONE! We had an incredible day and finished it with more food.

Shana, Jamie, Jessie and I had to catch a bus that evening to head back to Logroño, so we headed back to the hostel to say goodbye to Matt. He joked saying, maybe if you miss your bus you’ll come back to stay another night! Of course we laughed thinking it was a joke…however, it almost became a reality. We had underestimated the time it took to walk to the bus station and full out sprinted for 10 straight minutes. We made it onto the bus barely breathing. Despite the madness, this weekend was fantastic in every sense of the word and I know we plan on visiting San Sebastian again in the future. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Full of Bologna!

I’m hoping this post’s title is witty enough to keep everyone’s attention…or is it not very original? Oh well, here goes. I went to visit my lovely friends Allie and Francesca Bruzzese in BOLOGNA, ITALY. Immediately upon arrival in Bologna, I went to Allie and Francesca’s friend Luca’s apartment. We were having an early Thanksgiving dinner! Also in attendance were their friends Anita and Chiara. The dinner was absolutely delicious; Francesca is quite the chef. She made the stuffing and the pumpkin pie. Both were phenomenal. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if Thanksgiving dinner were stuffing only, I would be content forever. Meanwhile, Allie and I struggled to make frozen peas. That sentence alone defines my culinary skills and to be honest Allie did most of the work because she stirred the peas while they were cooking in the pan. We ate turkey cutlets, fried potatoes, peas, stuffing and pumpkin pie. Mmmmmm!!! It was a nice preamble to my Italian trip.

 We went out later that night and I was surprised at how busy this small city was. There were people EVERYWHERE; the streets were packed!! The city at night is absolutely breathtaking because Bologna is a series of old, medieval buildings; at night they are illuminated and the lights create a beautiful scene. I struggled the first night trying to make my camera take photos at night.  The nightlife in Bologna is definitely not dead, we had a lot of fun that evening bouncing from bar to bar.

The next day was the icing on the cake. Unfortunately, Francesca had to return to Rome where she is currently working as a Fulbright Scholar. However, Allie and I went to a restaurant with fantastic pasta. Allie knows the waiter, Alfredo. Alfredo was absolutely hilarious. He escorted me, LITERALLY, to our table.  He insisted that I be escorted because I was a guest. How friendly are the Italians??? I had to get Bolognese sauce while in Bologna. Italy’s pasta is just indescribable.  The dish was amazing. I could eat pasta forever. Alfredo was extremely nice and gave Allie and I free limoncello. That stuff is POTENT, proceed with caution while drinking it.

Following the delicious lunch, Allie and I met up with Anita and Luca and we went to the CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL. I cannot properly describe how magnificent this festival was. Tents and tents and tents filled with nothing but chocolate!! How can you go wrong!? We ate truffles as we moved from tent to tent. Luca and Allie drank hot chocolate with cinnamon flavoring, and it was incredible. I regret not getting my own cup. I could not forget to bring back some chocolate to Logroño for my roommates. They were selling large bars of chocolate for only a euro so I got five different kinds anticipating the chocolate coma my roommates and I would fall into.  For the record: two bars are already gone. 

That evening we had pizza. Italy also wins many points for its pizza. Why are pasta and pizza exponentially better in Italy?! The pizza was SOOOOOOOO good!!! We went out later and enjoyed the company of a current Holy Cross student studying in Bologna, Olivia. She is enjoying her time in Bologna.

My final day in Bologna was very exciting as well. Allie and I met up with her friend Chiara at a restaurant and had this delicious creation that I am currently forgetting the name of. Basically, it was similar to a large soft shell taco, with better tasting bread and the insides were of your choosing. My ingredients were: Mortadella and Mozzarella. It was grilled and it was MIGHTY tasty. We followed that up with Gelato. (More points for Italy) The flavor I chose was called Duo Torri (I am hoping I spelled that correctly and it is supposed to mean Two Towers). It was an ingenious flavor; I can’t properly describe it, very chocolaty maybe. The story behind the towers is that there was a competition a long time ago to build two towers and they stand next to each other in the city center. One is MUCH taller than the other, so it wasn’t much of a competition I suppose. 

The final dinner was a return to Alfredo’s restaurant, except he wasn’t there this time around. The pasta was still incredible. We finally met up with Luca and Olivia and went to a bar called the English Empire. I went up to the bar by myself to order a glass of wine. I ordered Sangiovese (shout out to my parents) and the bartender left to look for it and came back speaking rapid Italian and among the foreign words I heard him say, Sangiovese and I said Sí, Sangiovese! Clearly, I misunderstood. He apparently was trying to tell me they were out. Now what to do? I told him okay just whatever vino rosso you have. He said Chianti? I said okay, fine, sure, sounds great. A woman behind the bar came and asked me something that I didn’t understand. OVERALL, the experience taught me I should learn some Italian before attempting to order anything without my helpful Italian-speaking friends. I have to give Luca credit, he spoke English to me the entire time I was there and according to Allie he doesn’t like to use it. So hats off to him! You would think at the English Empire, they would speak SOME English….not the case AT ALL.

When it came time to leave, Allie escorted me to the Aerobus and after she left me to fend for myself with Italian, I STRUGGLED. Without Allie, it was Struggle City in Bologna.  I had no idea what the bus driver was saying to me; I almost missed the stop because I hadn’t heard him say my airline in the list he was reading off in Italian. After I got off the bus, I tried to walk towards the terminal and of course was walking in the wrong direction. Ayyyyyyy!!! Note to self: learn basic Italian. When I landed back in Spain, I can’t describe the relief I felt to understand what people were saying again! All in all, it was a phenomenal trip and I thank Allie for being a gracious hostess. I had to post this blog post as soon as possible because tomorrow my roommates and I are going to try and cook Thanksgiving dinner! FINGERS CROSSED WE DON’T BURN DOWN THE APARTMENT. My contribution will be the stuffing, wish me luck!! Enjoy the photos of lovely Bologna, Italy!