Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bienvenida a Madrid!

Man…it has been AWHILE since I’ve updated this blog. Last time I posted an entry, I was melancholy alone in the Madrid airport wishing I could push the rewind button back two years and start my experience in La Rioja all over again. Now, I am in Madrid studying with Middlebury College and I am really enjoying it. It has been exactly a month since I arrived in Madrid and it definitely wasn’t easy getting here. Delayed flights, switching flights, losing luggage and watch two airline companies fight with each other to determine whose fault it was definitely wasn’t the smooth introduction to my new madrileño life…however, I will admit watching Iberia and United go at it was similar to watching a bad soap opera and therefore quite entertaining.

My first few weeks in Madrid were difficult, only because the size of Madrid overwhelmed me. Palma wasn’t this big…definitely bigger than Logroño, but smaller than Madrid by a LOT. The adjustment period I think is almost over. I know my neighborhood, I know how to get to school, I know how to get to the center and I know how to navigate around the park now. I live right next to the Parque del Retiro and if I had to make a comparison it is similar to Central Park except smaller. I like my neighborhood a lot; it’s peaceful and pretty. I live in Barrio Ibiza. I think part of the adjustment period is getting accustomed to how much more expensive Madrid is than Logroño…. groceries are about double the price, rent is WAY more expensive, I pay 150 euros more than I did in Logroño for an apartment that is much smaller…but the rent is nothing compared to the states of course so I guess I can’t complain TOO much, but at times I wonder WHERE DID MY MONEY GO??? Mostly to groceries and ATM fees. I'm thinking about opening up a Spanish bank account again because I'm pretty sick of the fees.

Something that definitely helped was Middlebury’s planned trip to Segovia, a city I have never been to before and have always wanted to see. Segovia is home to the famous roman aqueduct. I learned all about it while studying at Holy Cross, but to see it in person was breathtaking. Visiting Segovia was always one of those things I have wanted to cross off my Spain to-do list. So I feel very accomplished in that sense! The city is about an hour away from Madrid and it is much smaller and more personal in my opinion. There is a large Arabic influence in architecture in some parts of Spain and Segovia was no exception. All of the buildings had intricate designs on them…it was just so intriguing to see. I’m so glad we went!!

To get to the actual reason I’m here, classes, I have to say that I really really like them. I picked three winners I think: Colloquial Spanish, Classic Works of Literature (Spanish of course), and Spain as a Cultural Image. All of the professors are fantastic and although I was a Spanish major in college, I am being introduced to new topics and for this, I am enthralled with my classes. The Colloquial Spanish class is great because now I understand better what I am hearing on the streets. We have to bring in examples of colloquialisms that we hear and I get most of them from tuning in to the Spanish TV. There are a few cheesy shows I am into and now cannot miss... for example: La Voz, the Spanish version of the American show: The Voice. Anyway, nothing crazy has happened in any of my classes yet, so I will be sure to include that in the future in case it does.

As previously mentioned, the adjustment period I think is wearing off, but I was very fortunate to get back to my home away from home a couple weeks ago: La Rioja. It was such a relief to arrive again. My friend Caroline and I were on the bus together and it felt natural to get off the bus and know exactly where we were going. I will say, there was a part of me that was disappointed I couldn’t walk to my old apartment and rest from the trip. I stayed with my friend Andrea who has recently moved to Madrid and is now staying with me while she finds an apartment. I went to Logroño and visited with my old friends, made some new ones (new auxiliares), celebrated the famous San Mateo festival, visited with some co-workers, ate the magical pinchos on Calle Laurel and above all…visited some of my schools. Ahh I just love those niños!!! Shocking… I was attacked by a mob of little school children: ESTEPHANIEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hahahaha of course, either they had forgotten or had pretended to forget that I wasn’t returning to teach them this year. I heard a bunch say, “so, you’re back?! Will you come next week???” It killed me to tell them, “No! I live in Madrid now!! I’m sorry.” I promised to visit another time.  Leaving Logroño wasn’t fun, but at the same time I felt so happy after my visit.

Now, I’m not exactly sure how my blog to keep all you back home informed will work. It’s a very different year that won’t be filled with funny elementary school stories and bodega visits (or at least fewer of those). However, as I mentioned in my last post…the difference with this year is that it's a new adventure and most likely will be my last “jaunt” in España for awhile…meaning, I have to take advantage while I can! Not only to enjoy Madrid, but cross other things off my Spain to-do list. These things include but are not limited to: visiting Salamanca, La Coruña, Santander and Burgos. The visit to Burgos embarrasses me because it is so close to Logroño and I can’t believe I didn’t take advantage of the proximity while I was living in La Rioja!!!

Just as I always sign off on every other blog post, I am going to try and keep this as up-to-date as possible!!! Really. So….hasta luego! 


Buildings with Arabic designs in Segovia

Cathedral in Segovia

View from Castle in Segovia

View from castle tower


With friends in Logroño

On a pincho run!

The beautiful Parque del Retiro in Madrid

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hasta siempre La Rioja

How do I tackle this last blog? Since my last entry up until now I have had no spare time to sit down and write this. All I can say is that since my last entry I have done a lot of crying. Although I will be in Madrid next year studying, I am truly closing a wonderful chapter of my life here in La Rioja. I am currently sitting in the Madrid airport waiting the 5 hours before I have to board my flight to the US. I have been catapulted back to 2010 where I was hysterically weeping alone in the Palma de Mallorca airport with many Spaniards staring at me awkwardly. This time I wept alone on the bus from Logroño to Madrid. So far, no problems in the airport… but, it’s good to see I haven’t changed THAT much. I could sit here writing pages and pages to pass the time talking about my time here…. quite easily…. but, I will spare you from a novel. However, I do want to say something.

It is incredible to see how things turn out differently than you expect. When I signed up for this program during my senior year of college in 2011 and received my LAST choice, La Rioja, it was a way of avoiding jumping into an entry-level job that I had no interest in. I didn’t want to just have a job right out of college because it is something college seniors are expected to do.  I knew it would be a fantastic adventure, not so much on the job front, but to explore a new area of Spain. The funny part was that the job aspect is what kept me here a second year…. not exploring Spain and Europe (although I was fortunate enough to do that as well). I fell in love with my job here. I met incredible and unforgettable people along the way as well… some fellow auxiliares, Spanish friends, my co-workers, and my private lesson students and their families. For two years I saw these people on a daily basis and next year that won’t be the case at all. It is very difficult to wrap my mind around that… hence the weeping on the bus. To sound VERY cheesy I will say that when one chapter of your life closes, the next one opens. Next year, I will also be beginning an incredible, yet scary, new adventure in Madrid. It is very exciting and I’m very anxious to begin.

My final weeks in La Rioja have been VERY emotional. I left off right before I said goodbye to my schools. I spent 4 of 5 school days saying goodbye to students. I cried every single time. First, I said goodbye to El Arco, which wasn’t easy. I left with many cards and after that day I knew the rest of the week was going to be so hard. Wednesday was the most intense saying goodbye to Arrúbal, There are only 3 classes there and each class presented me with gifts and cards galore. They then surprised me with a feast of chorizo, salchichon, chips etc. The students were crying and I was crying and as I left the school to go to Agoncillo, they all ran out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go begging me to stay. I was in a sea of crying children and I just cried buckets with them. I will never forget that moment ever. Saying goodbye to Agoncillo was just as difficult but for some reason I was able to keep the tears in check until the very end when the school surprised me with yet another feast and the teachers surprised me with a 5-piece wine set, and a beautiful purse.  Then I said goodbye to Ribafrecha and San Roman. Ribafrecha really surprised me this year. I had two troublemaker students in the oldest class and when I was saying goodbye to their class, thanking them for being awesome kids, these two kept shushing people when they made noise because they were so intently listening. San Roman we had a fun school day and I didn’t cry until much later when it hit me that I wouldn’t be seeing them again. By the end of the week, I had used up a good majority of my tears and had MANY gifts and cards that somehow I have managed to fit into my luggage.

Following the emotional goodbyes, my friends and I went to Barcelona to see Rihanna in concert. One of my coworkers happened to be going to the same concert with his friend and girlfriend so it was great to hang out all together. Rihanna put on a great show. I recommend her concert to anyone! We were only there one night and then it was off to start the Camino de Santiago!!

We started our journey in Roncesvalles, a small town near the French border. We slept there for the night and then the following day walked 23 kilometers to Zubiri. It was gorgeous weather and pretty hot, and yet I enjoyed myself immensely! By the time we got to Zubiri my feet were tired, but not in pain. We ate lunch, showered, rested, had dinner and prepared ourselves for the second day. The second day we walked 21 kilometers to Pamplona. Again, pretty difficult but doable. Each day takes about 6 hours to walk. While in Pamplona we had lunch with one of our Spanish friends and then rested to prepare for our final day. We walked 26 kilometers to Puente la Reina and this day was by far the most difficult and the hottest. It took us 7.5 hours to complete. By the time we arrived in Puente la Reina we were SO tired. To officially complete the Camino you need to block out at least a month because it requires walking all the way across Northern Spain until you hit Santiago de Compostela. Three days was difficult enough and I hope to complete another portion next year. Traditionally, the walk is for religious purposes, but I can say that just doing three days can be very meaningful and you learn a lot about yourself along the way. I highly recommend it to anyone. It isn’t easy by any means, but if you feel like it is something you would want to do, don’t hesitate.

This leaves me with my last few days in Logroño. There was a medieval festival in the city and friends and I were able to enjoy the stands and parades a bit before saying goodbye to each other. On Wednesday, my friends Emma and Andrea and I went to our final bodega. It was great, the guide gave us a free tour and a free wine tasting. We bought bottles of wine and left so content. We basically crashed a business meeting because on the same tour were four men in suits who barely could get off their iPhones. For us, it was hysterical to be dressed so casually listening to a tour with these businessmen. It was a great way to end my time with some of my friends. I said goodbye to my co-workers on Wednesday on sacred Calle Laurel, where all the magical pinchos are. One by one they said goodbye until there were only 5 of them left. When they all left at the same time, the tears came out again. The co-workers I had in La Rioja were the most amazing people I could have been placed with. All of them. I still wonder how I got so lucky. Then there was yesterday. I said goodbye to EVERYBODY else: my good auxiliar friends, Spanish friends and the families of my private classes. Coffees, wines, and pinchos galore. Then I was escorted to the bus station with my friends Angel, Emma and Maeve. Somehow I managed to keep it together until I made it onto the bus at 1:30 am. While I stared at them through the window they did silly dances to make me laugh. When the bus officially left Logroño the whole day, and the conclusion of my two years hit me and the waterworks resumed. Which leaves me here…. in the Madrid airport sitting on the ground surrounded by my big blue suitcases. I have awhile before I board, but I can’t wait to get on the plane. I get to see my family and friends so soon!!! Maybe I will keep this blog open for when I come back to Spain to study in Madrid…. It will be a different blog to be sure, but that isn’t a bad thing. So, I will sign off for now until September…. see you Americanos in 12 hours J

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Okay, I know I need to write and post this TODAY because a lot of things are going to happen this week and I want a separate blog post for all of that. Again, like always I’ve neglected the blog. This past month, I’ve stayed in La Rioja, with the exception of San Sebastián… so no CRAZY trips or anything like that. Which, for me…. is a good thing. Although I will be coming back to Spain next year, I want to soak up my last month in La Rioja. I am getting very nostalgic and no, I’m not ready to leave it behind… BUT, it has to happen. This month has been fun; my friends and I have done a variety of things. Let’s back up to the beginning of May.

The first weekend in May, a GIGANTIC group of us had an “Alice in Wonderland Tea Party” in the park. I’m not really sure what the inspiration was, but we had a lot of fun with it. I dressed up as the Cheshire cat, my friend Caroline was Alice, Emma was the rabbit, and our friend Matt was the Mad Hatter. There had to be at least 20 of us sitting in the park, eating, drinking, laughing and getting sunburns. It was so peaceful and fun to just lounge around in the park with friends. The weather was perfect: not a cloud in the sky and hot. We spent at least 5 hours in the park.

The following weekend a small group of friends and I went to San Sebastián, 2 hours north of Logroño by bus in the Basque Country, to visit our friend Katie. Although we only spent one evening there, we had a LOT of fun. The pinchos in San Seb are high quality, but they made me appreciate Logroño’s famous pinchos a lot because boy were they were PRICY.  We were lying on the beach for hours soaking up the sun… it was so relaxing. We then went to the mini amusement park that overlooks the city of San Seb. We rode a wooden rollercoaster that was easily 50 years old. It lasted about 10 seconds, and was precariously perched near a cliff overlooking the ocean. It made me feel a little uneasy, but it was a VERY quick ride. We really enjoyed it. Then, a few of us rode the “Mysterious River” Log ride. Which basically was a slow, lazy ride that lasted about 2 minutes. At the end there were Disney characters waving at us.

That evening we made our own pasta dinner with a little TOO much pasta and Hayley had made this INCREDIBLE Oreo cheesecake. It was heavenly. Over that weekend, we easily ate all of it. After dinner, we hit the town. This resulted in us sleeping in until 1pm., we had a great time though and it was totally worth it. The next day it was colder and cloudy and we decided to create “The Challenge” a dare for all of us to run into the ocean in our bathing suits. I’m not going to lie; I was scared because it was much colder that day. However, we all did it and to my surprise it wasn’t terrible! We finished the rest of our day with pinchos and ice cream and then caught the bus to head back to Logroño. It was a perfect weekend and I’m so happy I went.

This past weekend, our group of friends decided to do something a little quirky and we had a “fake prom”. We did this because my friend Emma and I had been teaching our students all about proms in the United States. I taught them about graduation traditions, prom, school spirit and basically the differences between our education system and theirs. Because of this, we were inspired to do our own prom. Fourteen of us dressed up and went out for a nice dinner. Our friend Sarah made paper corsages, which were gorgeous. We took the traditional prom pictures with those silly poses and sipped champagne (a small difference between our fake prom and our high school proms).  Of course a prom would be incomplete without dancing…. so we danced most of the night away.

As I mentioned, I am getting very nostalgic. So, I prepared a surprise for some of my friends as a goodbye gift. I made a slideshow of our two years here. I presented it yesterday because it is the last weekend we will ALL be together…. Which is really sad to think about. Next weekend, a few of us will be in Barcelona to see Rihanna in concert and then following that we will be walking the Camino de Santiago for four days. After that, people are leaving…. I leave on June 14th.

Finally, like always I want to have a portion dedicated to what’s happening with my schools. With my coworkers in El Arco, my Logroño school we had a dinner at the director’s house. The food was SOOO good. There were about fourteen of us I believe and the dinner was in this underground bodega…. that is the best way I can explain it because I have been told it isn’t a basement. We had a very fun night.  Last Monday, I had lunch at my coworker’s house with his family. Which of course, like all food I have had in La Rioja was fabulous. So hats off to him. His family was very welcoming and it was a great time.

Now, I will finish by talking about Ribafrecha. Last Thursday was my last day with two of my classes there. I will be in the school on Friday, but the English teacher I work with on Thursdays planned this big surprise for me with those two classes. To their delight at the end of both classes I spoke to them in Spanish for the first time which like all of my students they have wanted to hear since last year. Jose Ignacio planned the surprise by using the code words “take out your books” and the students scattered to their cubbies and they all had goodbye cards, one girl had made a cake and they individually presented their goodbye cards to me. Each student gave me the classic double-beso and in two of the cards there was jewelry, a beautiful ring and a gorgeous bracelet. I’m still wearing them now I love them so much. After receiving this huge, shocking surprise I thanked them for being such a great class, said it had been a pleasure to teach them English for two years and that I hoped they would continue studying English. Of course, I got teary-eyed and so did the students. One girl in particular started REALLY crying; I was stunned how upset she was. I reminded them I would see them on Friday when I finished with the other two classes so it’s not OFFICIALLY goodbye. After that day in Ribafrecha, I knew that this coming week was going to be so difficult saying goodbye to all of my classes.

I also told my students that I would be attending Ribafrecha’s first Artisan Fair that Saturday. I was very curious to see what they had. I spent a couple of hours there and was pleasantly surprised about everything they had to offer. They had really good food, local wine, jewelry, and music to name a few. I spent about 20 euros on homemade cheese, Ribafrechan wine (which is not AMAZING, but I wanted to try wine from at least one of my pueblos), jewelry, and a pin that says I <3 Ribafrecha. I just had to get it. It also made all of my students SO happy. They asked me to wear the pin and the jewelry I bought on Friday so they can tell the other teachers they saw me buy those items on Saturday.

Anyway, that is everything up until now. Tomorrow begins my week of “Last Days” … I am so sad to say goodbye to the people and students who have made these two years for me so special… but here goes! Until after the Camino de Santiago.

Logroño Prom

My Ribafrechans 

Two of my favorite high school bound students at the Artisan Fair

My students playing the drums at the Artisan Fair

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Enigmatic Post

Wow, where to begin…? After this week, everything I did before Monday seems to pale in comparison to the devastating tragedy that happened in my country, in my city. This past week has been an insane rollercoaster. Going from so low to so high back to low back to high has been difficult to deal with. The lowest point of course being far away from Boston, from my family and friends while the city was suffering from a shocking and disturbing terrorist attack. It affected me deeply…no sleep and no appetite. After learning my family and friends were safe I began to feel a little better. Then Wednesday night, I was shocked and overjoyed to learn I had been accepted to Middlebury College’s Language School Graduate Program in Madrid. I received incredible reactions from my family via Skype and we were able to watch the opening of the Bruins game together and listen to the National Anthem; an amazing night despite the circumstances.

Then of course, the tragedy in Texas was very unnerving. I just felt like our country had been cursed that week and it was just so unfair to watch it all unfold from so far away. Then finally, Friday…. learning about the Boston, Watertown, Cambridge, and Newton lockdown. I sat glued to my laptop watching the CNN live stream for hours. Just like all Bostonians, and all Americans all I wanted was this monster captured. When I heard “We got him”, it was this wave of relief that I cannot describe. I saw the videos of citizens waving American flags and cheering as Police passed by in their cars, hearing a spontaneous eruption of the National Anthem in the streets of Boston; I was overwhelmed with pride. So, although there was so much pain this week in the United States, I’m glad there were moments of pure bliss to bask in. Being so far away from all of this was the first time since being in Spain that I was painfully homesick. However, I must say that being with the other American auxiliares and supporting each other through this difficult time coupled with the tremendous support from my coworkers has made this time a lot easier. I have to extend my thanks to all of them. So, where does it leave this blog? A lot has happened since my last post but I still feel so confused after this week that I more or less am going to make a list of the things I did.

The last week of March was Semana Santa and I spent Holy Thursday with friends visiting the one bodega I have wanted to see since I came to La Rioja, Marqués de Riscal. It is a large bodega with a hotel that was designed by Frank Gehry. It is absolutely gorgeous. We made a day of it, starting by visiting a small family bodega, Bodegas Urbina, followed by a lovely lunch in Haro a town about an hour away from Logroño, followed by the tour of Marqués de Riscal, and then to see “Los Picaos” a tradition I have never wanted to see, but ended up seeing anyway. It is a procession in the small town of San Vicente and men whip themselves as a way to repent for their sins. Something I only need to see once I think.

The weekend before Semana Santa I explored Vitoria, the capital of the Basque Country with my friends Andrea and Hayley. It is a beautiful city that is larger than Logroño and it was very pleasant to visit. It has incredible architecture and a gorgeous cathedral. It was a nice day trip together. 

Then, I went to Rome for four days to visit my college friends Allie and Francesca. The weather was fantastic and so warm. I consumed so much amazing food while there. Of course: pasta, pizza, gelato, and arancini. I was able to tour the city with Allie, Francesca and a few of their friends. I remember most of Rome from when I went with my family as a kid. I saw the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is my favorite spot in all of Europe. It takes my breath away. There is something about that fountain that is so entrancing. Allie and I saw it at night after a long search; we threw in coins to make wishes and then ate gelato nearby. A perfect evening. We went back during the day just to see it at a different time of day and it was just as lovely. I had a fantastic time visiting with Allie and Francesca, it was great to see them. All I can say is, Rome is a must-see city. Like the Trevi Fountain, Rome is an enchanting city.

There are places in Spain I am trying to squeeze into the rest of my time here. I would like to see Santander and Santiago de Compostela. Some friends and I would like to make weekend trips but otherwise no large trips are in the works.

As far as my schools are concerned, before Semana Santa I had a fantastic time dyeing Easter eggs in Arrubal and Agoncillo. I was unsuccessful in my search for white eggs so they did not turn out in pastel colors, but they were beautiful nonetheless. I showed a powerpoint about Easter in the USA to all of my schools and they all seemed to enjoy watching a video of the Obamas hosting the Easter Egg Roll at the White House last year. After break, in my Logroño school, we had an English competition between three of my classes. It is called 'Seven' and it requires concentration as the kids say the numbers in English but try to remember not to say numbers that have sevens in them or multiples of seven. It was very entertaining to watch. 

I believe that is all of it in a nutshell. Another reason I feel very confused is that before this week, I have been feeling intense waves of nostalgia due to my impending departure in June. I have created a life here for myself that it is painful to think of the idea of uprooting myself from La Rioja and all the wonderful people I know here. Of course, despite my conflicting emotions, I am going to try to really take advantage of the rest of the time I have here in Logroño, to go out with a bang!

Agoncillo's Easter Eggs


Cathedral in Vitoria

Marqués de Riscal Hotel

Vatican at Night


As if this needs a caption... the most beautiful fountain in the world (my opinion)