Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The weekend I turned 25...

Here is the second of the two posts I have just uploaded. I’m 25!!!!!!! On February 2nd, I became a quarter of a century old. How did that happen? I feel as though I graduated college…. like…. yesterday.  Anyway, believable or not I decided to celebrate in my home away from home, La Rioja! My friends came from all over and they helped me celebrate. I hate planning things so I said just grabbing pinchos and going out would be sufficient for me. But… no…. my friends didn’t accept that and started planning a few surprises for me. They are the sweetest. We started off with an Italian dinner, which was scrumptious; you can’t go wrong with pasta with truffles. At the end, for dessert my friends surprised me with homemade cupcakes! They made them and had the waitress bring them out all lit up with candles. The candles were trick candles so of course I spent about 5 minutes trying to blow them out!! Not surprisingly, there was singing involved in both English and Spanish, which always makes me go red in the face. It was a fantastic evening.

I got a little ahead of myself though. While I was in Madrid, I went to the Taste of America store and bought the traditional Duncan Hines cake supplies. In Spain, you bring things in for your birthday. It’s like elementary school circa mid 90’s, your Mom makes cupcakes for all the kids in your class. I don’t know if schools do that anymore. I made the cake in my apartment and was alarmed with the excessive batter and I decided that with this much cake… I should share. I brought the cake, carefully, on the bus and the following day I planned to bring them into one of my old schools. I arrived in La Rioja Thursday night after my class had finished. I was lucky enough to get some pinchos with a few of my former co-workers that evening, which is always a good time. We finished at about 1:30am, so by Spanish standards, an early night.

The next day I went to Arrúbal to dish out the Duncan Hines cake and it was a HUGE hit. One of the teachers couldn’t get over how jugoso, moist, it was. One of the classes I re-visited of course had to catch me up on what had been going on in school for the last few months while they gobbled up the cake. The girls had to play with my earrings and hair as per usual, so nothing has changed there. I hate leaving that class because it seems like they have endless things to tell me. However, I was seriously concerned how much cake was still left. I figured most of it would be gone…not even half of it was gone. So…I went with Carmen, the director of the schools to nearby Agoncillo and just had all of my former co-workers inhale it. A few said they were on “operation bikini”, but after a bite of the cake, that disappeared hahaha. There was still SOME left over so we cut the leftovers into teeny tiny pieces to give to the other classes. The pieces were so small the students asked if they could have more. I showed them the empty tin and apologized. It was a great day J That night was the dinner with my friends.

Saturday was the next day of surprises. We went to a Bodega in Haro, which is about an hour away. We went to Cvne, the bodega that is home to “The Best Wine in the World 2013” according to The Wine Spectator. I had been dying to see this bodega!! The tour was great, it was pretty cold out but that didn’t matter. There is a part of the bodega that houses “the wine cemetery”. The cemetery is carved into a portion of a mountain and holds very old and some of their best wines. Because of its location, there is mold everywhere!! They left it the way it is because it makes the cemetery all the more real and as an added bonus it protects the wine bottles. For those that remember the movie The Parent Trap with Dennis Quaid and the late Natasha Richardson, will remember the scene where Dennis Quaid blows off the dust from an old wine bottle and the dust gets in Natasha Richardson’s eyes….this cemetery was absolutely covered in mold and dust. I would not want ANY of that blown into my eyes. I have to admit it was pretty cool looking. However, if I were ever trapped in there I would feel like I was in the middle of a horror film.

I was looking for the “Best Wine in the World” so I could buy it…but they were totally sold out! They were advertising the same wine but from a different year. It’s not the same thing, so I didn’t buy it. Oh well! I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled.

The weekend ended with pinchos galore. On Sunday, my friend Hayley and I just wandered around Logroño taking in the glorious weather. After living there for two years, the gorgeous landscape still enchants me and I’m sure it always will. That is probably part of the reason I’m attracted to La Rioja like a magnet. Anyway, it was a great weekend and I had an unforgettable birthday thanks to my amazing friends!! Also, I got to speak to my family via Skype, which was awesome. My sister sent me a text message that morning with an important birthday message from another family member…see photo below.

P.S. I’m sorry for how long this post is.

Homemade cupcakes with trick candles

Inside the bodega

Inside the dark, creepy wine cemetery

wine cemetery

Dark, mold-covered hallway in the wine cemetery

Picture of the Best Wine in the World next to the 2007 version

"The important thing is to not stop questioning" -Albert Einstein

Stone bridge, Logroño
Camino de Santiago sign, Logroño

Birthday message from Victoria and Kona

Toledo Re-visited

So, I’m sticking to my word and THEN SOME. I have to separate my posts in two because otherwise the blog post would seem never ending and we can’t have that. Since the second semester has started back up things have been non-stop! I selected three excellent classes and I’m looking forward to upcoming topics in all three. With this new semester comes new undergraduate students and this means…. The WELCOME reception. The welcome reception and the closing reception last semester were held in a hotel near the school and this welcome reception was no exception. I like the welcome receptions because the undergraduates have to undergo a “signing ceremony”. They sign the palabra de honor, the promise that they will only speak Spanish in the school. We had a great time; many professors and the majority of graduate students attend the welcome reception.

The most exciting piece of news is that the school took us to Toledo a couple of weekends ago! The last time I went to Toledo was when I was 17 years old and we were only there for half a day so going back 8 years later for an entire day was amazing. My memories of Toledo had seemed so faded before our daytrip but after walking around a bit things became a lot clearer. The incredible aspect of Toledo is its mixture of three cultures: Christian, Jewish and Islamic. There is a Jewish quarter of the city where all along the streets there are small tiles with Hebrew engravings in the stones. There is a mosque, a synagogue and a cathedral. These buildings are all so gorgeous and their histories are well preserved.

An undergraduate professor came with us to explain everything that Toledo had to offer; the small details about the three religious buildings and the history behind them. Toledo is the city of El Greco, one of Spain’s most famous painters who lived in Toledo. In the Cathedral many of his paintings are on display including one of his more famous works, The Disrobing of Christ. In high school when we went, we saw El Greco’s house and unfortunately that wasn’t on our itinerary, but seeing his house was one of my memories of Toledo that remained clear so I don’t feel as though I missed out this time around.

In between visits, we had some free time to eat lunch and shop if you felt so inclined. Some friends and I went to a restaurant that had a phenomenal menú del día.  I had been told earlier that day that Toledo was known for its perdiz dish, which is partridge. I had never eaten partridge before, but I like to try typical dishes when I am in a new town or city so I decided to order it. Like many other types of poultry, it tasted like chicken and it was delicious!

I also took advantage of the time to shop…of course. Not for just anything….I really wanted to purchase Damascene Plates. Toledo is famous for them. It comes from a Moorish tradition of carving decorative patterns into black steel and filling the carvings with 24 karat gold. They sell them in all sizes and I just wanted a very small one. However, they are EXPENSIVE…so I settled for the knock-off version, which is still very beautiful. I also bought earrings that have the REAL damascene design, so I left very satisfied.

Overall, our trip to Toledo was a complete success and now I have ironclad memories. Below are some pictures I took with my phone, because unfortunately I left my camera cord back in the United States. I am very annoyed by this because my smartphone isn’t an iPhone or anything special like that and therefore the quality isn’t the greatest. The camera doesn’t even have a flash. However, I am going to try and make do with my phone. Enjoy the photos! 

The Disrobing of Christ -- El Greco

Panoramic view of the city

The whole group!

This damascene plate is very similar to the one I purchased