Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Je t'aime Paris!

I’m doing that thing again where I don’t blog as often as I should and therefore all my information gets backed up…so this is another double post. SORRY. This past weekend gets it’s own blog post though because so much happened! Starting with Friday when I had dinner with Satur, one teacher I work with in Agoncillo, her boyfriend Julio and David the English teacher at Satur’s house. It was fantastic; Satur and her boyfriend had laid out quite a spread of food….tortilla española, croquetas, goat cheese, stuffed peppers and the list goes on and on. I made chocolate chip cookies for the special occasion and they turned out great! The four of us were eating, drinking and talking until 1am. Wow. So that was a great way to begin the weekend because the very next day… JESSIE, SHANA, AND I WENT TO PARIS!

The three of us had a phenomenal weekend in Paris; the Parisians were actually really nice to us. As long as you tried to start speaking in French and visibly struggled, they switched to English very quickly and were extremely friendly. We stayed at a great hostel and made friends with an Argentinian woman who was visiting for a week, and two Australian girls that are bopping around the world riding from city to city via bus. The hostel was perfectly situated in the Latin Quarter of Paris. We were surrounded by great food; the Latin Quarter has many fantastic restaurants and it’s such a vivacious part of the city.  It was so refreshing to be eating such rich food…French onion soup, croque monsieur, crêpes, and croissants and I could keep going. 

The first full day we had in Paris we wandered around the city, but most importantly we went into the Louvre and saw the famous Mona Lisa. I was shocked to see how small it was. It is encased in glass and there was a huge crowd trying to get pictures. I pushed my way up to the front of the group to get a good photo. After walking around the city for an accumulated 5 hours, we decided to get out of the cold. I will say, the weather in Paris was absolutely freezing. I was not prepared for such cold…and I’m totally to blame. I thought about bringing my winter boots and then decided not to wear such cumbersome footwear around the prettiest city in the world. Well, that was a bad decision.

Typical tourist touching the Pyramid at the Louvre 
That evening we went out in the Latin Quarter and were able to make it into a busy bar thanks to three kind French Police Officers that were off-duty. We hung out with them for a while, but the language barrier was too impeding that we had to leave. They spoke basically no English and we couldn’t speak a word of French…so we were playing charades and Pictionary for most of the night. Overall, we had a great first evening.  

Our second and final full day in Paris, Jessie and I took a free walking tour around Paris. Shana had lived in Paris for three months, so she decided to take the day to explore places she hadn’t already seen. For Jessie and I, the tour was amazing. Our cool Dutch guide, Onno, brought us everywhere and we learned so much. For example, how many of you know that a woman from San Francisco was legally married to the Eiffel Tower and it was approved by the city of Paris and then divorced the Eiffel Tower only to marry the Leaning Tower of Pisa?? I certainly didn’t. Apparently, there are official documents making both marriages and the one divorce completely legal. We learned so much interesting information about Paris that I’m still so thrilled we went on the tour. The excellent thing about the tour was that at the end, if you wanted, you could accompany the tour guide to a French restaurant and get a discounted price for a typical French meal and a glass of wine or beer. So, of course, Jessie and I did not need to be persuaded to join. We both ate DUCK. That’s abnormal of me but the food was incredible! 

Later, after getting sufficiently lost in Paris, Jessie and I returned to the hostel and met up with Shana. Shana had a great idea for dinner that night, she found a restaurant in the Latin Quarter that served a full menu: starter course, second course and dessert for only 10 euros. For Paris, that is a TERRIFIC price. We ate so well that night. We followed the dinner with crêpes. I forgot to mention that the three of us were the crêpe princesses of Paris…we ate so many in the short time we were there that it’s embarrassing.
Jessie eating French Onion Soup

Shana with her empty dessert plate -- the chocolate was so good! 
That evening was my favorite part of our trip. We walked towards Notre Dame to see it lit up at night and accidentally ran into the famous “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore. It appears in the movie “Before Sunset” (which I highly recommend).  We got lost in this little bookstore; it was so quaint. You had to climb ladders to get the book you wanted. I felt it absolutely necessary to purchase a book here. (Mom, pick up your jaw…yes, I bought a book.) This store was old and full of the classics that I was almost compelled to buy Shakespeare. However, the reality is I would never read that on my own time, so I decided to search for other options. My favorite author, besides JK Rowling, is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I looked at the small collection they had of his works and I saw a title I had not seen before, “Of Love and Other Demons”. I bought this book and I’m hoping I’ll like it! We stayed perusing around this bookstore until it closed at 11pm. 
Notre Dame
Notre Dame

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore 
This was great, but it also posed a problem. We wanted to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle! It only sparkles every hour for ten minutes until 1am. We needed to get over to the Eiffel Tower STAT to see the 12 o’clock sparkle display. The metro was abnormally slow and one train had stopped and I began to worry we would miss it entirely. So when the metro finally arrived at our stop, the three of us sprinted and slid under the turnstiles, towards the Eiffel Tower where we were astounded by the beautiful sight of the sparkling lights. After the lights stopped, we took a few more pictures and then sprinted back to the metro because it was supposed to stop at 12:26am. We were very far from the hostel and we were nervous that we’d end up walking most of the night back or have to take a very expensive taxi. The stress level was pretty high on the journey to and from the Eiffel Tower. I have never in my life slid under a turnstile before. I did it twice last weekend. The guards found us amusing and did nothing. All in all, the night was a success and I’ll never forget it. Below, I have a video of us watching the lights, memo to self...don't take a vertical video. Sorry about that.

The three of us with the Eiffel Tower
The day we left was crazy. We took the metro to meet up with the bus that would take us to the airport. However, the bus left without us and four other people. The guy at the bus station told us there wouldn’t be another bus for 2.5 hours and that we’d have to take a cab. We flew into Beauvais, which is over an hour outside the city. So, with a lot of pleading, we had one cab driver agree to take the 7 of us for 180 euros. The price was only 10 euros more expensive than the bus ticket would have been. Of course our trip had to end on a semi-crazy note. These things always seem to happen to us. Overall, the trip was an absolute success and was a phenomenal experience that I’ll never forget. Je t’aime Paris!  

Feliz Cumpleaños!

With this post, I’m going to spend very little time addressing the heartbreak the Patriots gave me earlier this month. Although they broke my heart a second time, I still love them. However, despite the depressing loss, I was so thrilled to be able to watch the Super Bowl here in Spain. I thought it would be impossible, but with some smart friends…it was possible! We definitely watched the Super Bowl in the traditional American way… with beer, pizza, and wings. Hats off to Brian who made some killer wings and was able to make them as spicy as they should be.  For those that don’t know, Spain is woefully lacking in spicy food.  What was even better was watching the classic Super Bowl commercials…. I think my favorites were the Doritos commercials.  The only other thing I can say is that I’m so grateful not to be living near any Giants fans at the moment.

Now, onto mi cumpleaños, my birthday….I had probably the best birthday ever. My birthday actually began a day earlier, on the 1st of February. I was working in Agoncillo and Arrubal and each class sang “Happy Birthday” to me which was very nice, but the birthday song always makes me cringe with embarrassment when sang in front of a lot of people. The last infantil class all came up and gave me birthday kisses which made me so happy. That evening we did a pre-cumple tapas run! Many friends and I hit up our favorite tapas bars. Eating tapas is probably one of my favorite things to do in Spain.

Tapas Group!
Then, the next day, my 23rd birthday AND Groundhog’s Day began and I had a ball. I had to catch the bus to Ribafrecha because Juana, the English teacher wasn’t arriving from Logroño. I was completely alone on the bus the entire ride to Ribafrecha. The bus driver finally asked me in Ribafrecha which stop I was because he had never seen me on the bus before. I told him which stop was mine, and he asked me if I was from Romania. I informed him I was from the US and then he asked me how old I was, and I was thrilled to tell him “I’m 23…TODAY!” and he wished me a happy birthday and to have a great day. Well, Ribafrecha bus driver, I certainly did have a great day. The first class with Juana made me birthday cards, and they were so sweet. Each student would ask me questions about myself…for example: favorite color, favorite animal, favorite sport etc. etc. etc. I received a birthday card that just said “DOGS” followed by “HAPPY BIRTHDAY STEPHANIE”. One boy sang a flamenco song to me! My jaw dropped because his voice was so amazing. Then they, like all the kids in Agoncillo and Arrubal the previous day, sang “Happy Birthday”. I was so happy; I literally began tearing up. Meanwhile, on another floor, one teacher Susanna was having her infantile class memorize “Happy Birthday” so that when I entered the room they burst into song. Following that class, the phone rang…apparently it was Jose Andres and Diego from Agoncillo singing “Happy Birthday” to me via speakerphone. I left Ribafrecha on cloud nine with a mountain of birthday cards. That evening, a group of friends and I went out for a nice Italian dinner. Three of the teachers at my school recommended the risotto, so I ordered that and it was incredible. Following the dinner, we went to get drinks and then my family called me. It was so nice to hear from them!!

The festivities didn’t end on Thursday, because when I went to San Roman on Friday, the kids knew about my birthday also! There were only four students that day since the bus decided not to risk the roads with the freshly fallen snow. I got birthday cards from all of them. It was also another student’s birthday, so his mother brought in a cake!! Because it was both of our birthdays we wore crowns the entire day and I was the Queen of San Roman and Resvi was the King. For recess we went sledding, so my day at San Roman was basically amazing. The day ended on an incredible note when I went to Sergio's house where I ate an amazing meal as always. His wife made me a cake and they sang Happy Birthday to me and I blew out the candles. Sergio was so pleased that the only time I really got to blow out candles was with them, because according to them I'm their American family member! They were so sweet because in addition to the amazing meal, and the cake...they got me a scarf! Their youngest Rebecca explained, "we always see you wearing scarves and we thought this one was pretty!" So observant! It is a beautiful and colorful scarf. I wore it later that night. :) 

I have to say, I’m one lucky person. I had a terrific birthday in Spain and I have to thank everyone here in Spain that made my day so special. I received more birthday cards the following week from the kids in Agoncillo and Arrubal as well. A very successful birthday indeed! The only downside of the day was Punxsutawney Phil seeing his shadow. I wonder if that tradition affects Spain as well, if not…too bad for all my Americans back home who will have to deal with six extra weeks of winter!  

Ribafrecha, and San Roman Birthday Cards!