The End Is Near??

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Today should be my last day at my school, officially. My contract ends on May 31, but that is Castilla-La Mancha Day so there is no school. However, I say should be my last day because I’m going into the school a few days next week. I have to make up one day that I missed last week and I also just want to have a day to go around to the classes and say goodbye.

It’s absolutely amazing to me how quickly the year has gone by. For the past three years the spring has flown by, but this year it seems like it has gone particularly fast.

Mentally, I do not feel prepared at all to be finishing my time at the school. I think a large part of that is because I’m not planning on leaving Spain until the end of July. So since I’m not leaving right away I haven’t put myself in the state of mind to be saying goodbye to people, although it’s very likely that after next week I won’t see the majority of my students again.

I think another part of  not feeling like it’s the end is that this year I had an alternating schedule. So for “Week A” I had 12 classes, and then the next week, “Week B”, I worked with 12 different classes. (The only classes I had every week were the fourth graders, but technically one of the fourth-grade classes I had two times during one week and not at all the other week). So by this point I’ve only had half of the time with each class that I would normally have in a full school year. It’s more like February to me because I’ve only spent four months collectively with each class, instead of eight. If I’m completely honest, I still have some students whose names I don’t know (I work with all of the approximately 425 students in the school, and when you only see them once every 15 days it makes it difficult to retain the names of every single student).

I imagine it will hit me next week when I wake up one morning and realize I don’t have to pedal my bike over to school, and that I won’t have to ever again (if I don’t want to visit in the subsequent weeks, the school doesn’t finish here until June 21). But until then I’m going in this morning feeling like it’s a normal day…

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He Vuelto! I Have Returned!

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After a four-month-long hiatus from Hablogging, I am back! Before I recap some very cool and very Spanish things, I feel like I should give an overall update on the state of things and justify my web absence a bit…

I’m arrived back in Villarrobledo in early January after a 2.5 week vacation where I visited home in VA, family in NJ, friends in NY, more family in NJ, and family in PA, then friends/my Czech family in the Czech Republic. And upon my arrival back in Spain I had no internet at my house. (Until that point my roommate and I had been sharing internet from a USB, but she changed her phone plan to include internet so she didn’t have the USB anymore). The plan was to use a USB from other friends once they had wifi installed in their apartment, but that turned out to be a much much much more complicated process than it sounds or than it should have been…

So in the end I had no internet at home until the middle of February when a different friend was so kind as to lend me an extra USB so I could connect. All was well and good with that pincho (a Spanish word for USB internet) until mid-March when my laptop suffered a major injury while furniture was being moved around my room. The screen of my laptop was busted and this was just before I was going on vacation for Semana Santa, so it didn’t get repaired until I came back… and when it was fixed that was mid- / late- April. So it’s been a techno-disaster around here for the last few months.

And on top of that, I have gone away a few weekends, had some visitors and carnival in February, which was like an 11-day interruption to my regularly scheduled life (albeit an AWESOME interruption). And in addition there were things like working, planning for my parents’ visit here, working, studying a little Spanish, organizing things for graduate school next year, more working, watching Spanish television, and socializing, all of which (rightly or wrongly) took priority over the blog… so that leaves me here in May with tons of things to catch up on… so let the belated updates begin!!!

*A small housekeeping note, to keep this better organized and in order I will be back-dating the entries to have the dates in the months in which they should have been written, helps me keep track of what I’ve written about and what is still missing! And makes me look like not such a total slacker!

Back to ballin’ (and other thoughts from Villa)

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Estoy muy contenta en este momento. / I’m very happy at the moment.

Perhaps it’s the adrenaline high of having just played some basketball!! Woo!! Or perhaps it’s the circumstances of some of my friends here are making me feel super lucky right now…

I had first heard about the women’s basketball team here back in November. A friend of a friend I met told me he knew the trainer and he would inquire about the possibility of me playing with them. He also told me if I knew how to play basketball I’d already be better than most of their players.

So obviously a few months have passed, but finally I went to my first practice last week. It was a combination of teenage girls who play on the girls’ team and a few women (the “abuelas” or “grandmas”) who are on the adult team (I would estimate they’re mostly in their 30s). It was a lot of fun to be playing again, but that first week was more like a practice – warm up, some sprints, then passing drills and finally some 3 on 3. Tonight we warmed up (even ran a suicide!! which I think was called “niñitas” or something in Spanish, I’ll have to ask what the word was next week), did some stations, but played a scrimmage between the “abuelas” and the adoloscentes (teenagers).

Oh my god it felt good to play again! I’ve played here and there over the last few years (mostly in the summer when I was working in New Hampshire), but the last time I played on an actual team was in 2008-09 when I joined a group of fellow ex-high school players to play in a Sunday women’s rec league that turned out to be more of reunion for Division I college players – yikes. We got stomped every week, but at least I got some good exercise. In any case, I’m going to continue practicing with the team and maybe I’ll be able to play in some games with them, we’ll see.

And about the things going on with some of the other Americans here… I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m realizing how lucky I was to find the apartment I’m living in and to be working at the school I’m at. My rent includes our heating, which I knew was awesome, but I didn’t realize how awesome it was until some of my friends received their heating bills for December. Two of them who share an apartment had to pay 280 euros for one month of heat!! And they don’t even use it very liberally. Another girl is having a lot of problems with her school schedule (as in they change it every week, and don’t always give her off Monday or Friday). And another one was told today that the school hasn’t received the money from the government to pay her this month and the school has no money to front her so they don’t know when she will get paid… another yikes!

So en fin, I’m feeling pumped to be playing bball again, and really hoping that my living situation continues to go as smoothly (and warmly!) as it is now. Oh and that my school continues to pay me! Keeping my dedos crossed over here…

“A Quarter to Four” in Alicante

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One of our good friends here in Villarrobledo, Julio, lives with his parents, which is very very typical of single Spaniards in their twenties (it’s even more common today with the crisis). After a night of going out his parents often ask him the next day when he got home, to which he always replies “a quarter to four” – with this time you are admitting to staying out somewhat late, but for Spanish standards that’s actually an early time, and makes it sound like you had a relatively tame night… so for the intents and purposes of this blog post, in Alicante we stayed out only until… yes,  you guessed it, “a quarter to four.”

me and Julio during Saturday “cañas” (Saturday afternoon beers) in the mercado area of Alicante

Although I say Julio is a good friend, the truth is in January he was really only an acquaintance. We had met at the weekly Thursday “intercambio,” held at a hotel in town. It’s a meeting where Spanish people get together to practice their English, and we go to help them, then later they help us practice Spanish or buy us drinks, or both. So I had talked to Julio only a few times there, and didn’t know him very well. Then the first week back from Christmas break we were out at a bar after the Thursday night meeting. He said he was going to Alicante the following day to visit some friends and asked my friends Lauren and Matt if they wanted to go  because he knew them a bit better. They said they were interested, then he was asking whoever else was around, which happened to include me. Initially, I wasn’t very interested. I was tired from traveling so much during winter break and was looking forward to a calm weekend at home doing nothing. But my friend Kayla convinced me to take advantage of the opportunity of someone willing to drive me to another city and offering me a place to stay at their friends’ house. So I went. And I feel pretty confident saying that deciding to go this weekend changed the course of my spring term here in Villarrobledo, in various ways…

The first thing we did when we arrived Friday night was drop our stuff off at Julio’s friend’s house and head right to a concert. It was a small very intimate concert in an art gallery with a Spanish singer-songwriter LuisMi Azogil. It was amazing, and one of the coolest things I’d been to in a long time (I have really, really cutback on my live music viewing since moving to Europe, it’s a shame, but that’s how it’s been). Besides really enjoying the music, I was really enjoying the fact that I could understand the bulk of it! Toma!

Jusi, Julio and Chiqui taking a break from playing

After the show, we went to have a late (even by Spanish standards) dinner around midnight, then to a karaoke bar where Julio’s friends go sometimes to play their guitars and sing. Here is the part where it becomes important to mention that Julio and his friends are very musical and belong to a traditional Spanish university singing group called a tuna. Although they aren’t in college anymore (and have been out for longer than I have) they continue to play with the group, which is becoming a common trend as fewer and fewer young university students join the groups. It’s a method of preservation, you could say. Later in March, I will end up going to a tuna competition with them, and you will see more pictures and hear more details about the tunas, but if you can’t wait, here is a video on youtube of Julio’s tuna performing one of their songs, Don Quijote. (And don’t ask me what’s up with the dancing tambourine players, I was just told that is typical.)

So back to Friday night, Julio and his friends (Jusi and Chiqui, real names Víctor and Antonio) played on and off in the karaoke bar, occasionally stopping for the very few patrons in there who were actually singing karaoke. And we stayed out at the karaoke bar until approximately a quarter to four…Saturday we were woken up around noon (calculating from 3:45 that’s about 8 hours of sleep HAHA) to get ready to go for a Saturday tradition (or really any day of the week tradition) called cañas. A caña is a small beer, like 6 ounces usually. I have heard that this small size of beer became typical in Spain because of the hot weather. If you have a larger beer, it will have time to get warm before you can drink it all.  To go for cañas is usually around midday, before eating lunch (so between 1 and 3 pm, roughly). Or some people here in Alicante just bring their lunch to cañas:

Yes, that is a complete leg of jamón on the table!! Before we left, the guy in the sunglasses saw one of us taking a picture of the jamón so he offered us some slices, mmmmmm.

Matt, me, Kayla and Julio in the city center of Alicante

After cañas we walked around downtown Alicante for a while to the port area, which was really nice. Even though it was the middle of January the weather was awesome and I was very comfortable in a T-shirt and light cardigan… until the sun set. Then it got chilly and we were all inadequately dressed, and our coats were at Chiqui’s apartment, which was not within walking distance. But luckily, Jusi came to our rescue and brought us some jackets and sweaters from his house when he came to meet us just before it got dark. He then took us up to the castle in Alicante, which was really neat, but since it was dark I didn’t take many pictures (and the ones I took came out pretty poorly).

We ate a delicious dinner with lots of seafood (if I remember correctly) and had a lot of laughs at the dinner table (we were “those people” at the restaurant). Afterwards we went to a bar in Alicante where Julio’s friends often go to hang out and play their guitars… there was a lot of singing and dancing going on and Chiqui’s mom was trying to teach me how to dance sevillanas (just think of stereotypical Spanish flamenco-type dancing and that’s pretty much what it was, basically she just kept yelling at me to move my hips more). And, naturally, we stayed out again until a quarter to four, more or less. Sunday we decided to hit up the beach for lunch before heading back home to Villarrobledo… definitely a fun and memorable weekend with fantastic (and incredible hospitable!) company – very glad I was talked out of staying home for the weekend!

San Juan beach in Alicante

 

Feliz Navidad! The Christmas Lunch

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Instead of the typical Christmas party that we tend to have at US workplaces, the Christmas tradition here in Spain is to have a Christmas lunch (or dinner) with your workmates. In December I was lucky enough to go to two of these, one for the English academy where I’ve been working this year, and one for the primary school where I teach.

Since I love food in general, and Spanish food in particular, this was an especially happy time for me. The meal usually starts with some appetizer-type plates, like shrimp, cheese, the famous Spanish jamón, and beer or wine.

queso frito = fried cheese = one of the most amazing dishes ever

Then come the main dishes, meat and fish, which you usually accompany with a glass of wine. At some of the lunches you chose one dish for your main, or others they have a choice of some different meats on the table and you can eat from all of them. For example, pork…

And then comes the cider toast, followed by dessert and coffee, and finally concluding with cocktails. So for example, at one meal it’s entirely possible to drink a beer, then wine with your meal, a glass of  (hard) cider, a coffee (Irish-style if you prefer), and a rum and coke. All I’m saying it’s possible, not that I have done it…

And then besides the food, there was lots of good company:

a few of my American friends/fellow teachers at the academy: Mellany, Kayla, Lauren and yours truly

And at my school’s lunch, we also exchanged gifts with our “amigo invisible,” which is like Secret Santa. For the two or three weeks leading up to the lunch you were supposed to leave small gifts or notes or clues for your amigo invisible, either in their box in the teachers’ room or in their classroom. Then on the day of the lunch you gave them a nice present. For example I received a cute snowman fondue kit, yum!! And besides the gifts and more good company, there was also music and some dancing!!

For example this:

And this:

I am very lucky that I have really fun and friendly coworkers at my school, and even quite a few young coworkers. For this reason, the party continued after the lunch (which ended around 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening, after starting at 2:30pm) and we stayed out so late I ended up not going to bed because I had to leave for the airport at 6:30am… so, yes, that’s the Christmas lunch in Spain!

Feliz Navidad! Decorations

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Most Spanish towns and cities go all out for Christmas decorations, hanging lights on all the streets in the center and placing a tree in the main square. Except normally the trees are made of lights, not real trees like you tend to see in the US, or even like I’ve seen in Germany, the Czech Republic, and the UK. For example this is the tree this year in Villarrobledo’s main square:

And two years ago (Christmas 2009) this was the tree in Málaga:

And from the same year in Huelva:

 

And, well, just for fun here’s another one from Villarrobledo’s main square this year:

true story: this is the only "jumping picture" I have ever taken

Feliz Navidad to all, and to all a good night.

 

Tripping to Toledo

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In November I left Villarrobledo again, and to another place that wasn’t Albacete or Madrid – double woo!

Kayla and me in Toledo

I had been told multiple times that the two places I neeeded to visit in Castilla-La Mancha were Toledo and Cuenca… so in the middle of November me and a few of the other Americans in Villarrobledo made a weekend trip to Toledo. Unfortunately, it was another cold and rainy weekend, but we still had a good time…

The first stop in Toledo was our hostel, where we ended up hanging out and lounging for a few hours. When we finally left we met up with Elisa, a friend of a friend who is from Villarrobledo but studying in Toledo right now. She was awesome and showed us around to a bunch of tapas places and bars. We ended the night at a place called Circulo de Arte, which is a former church now converted into a small concert venue/club.

Saturday we spent more time walking around the city. Toledo is one of those places where you can just wander and every few minutes you stumble across a beautiful building, church, synagogue, whatever. It’s full of narrow, windy streets and lots of hills. (Free exercise while sightseeing, always a bonus!) We also visited the El Greco museum, which started off a little slow but eventually became interested with his paintings being held in the last 1/4 of the visit.

Mellany, me and Kayla at tapas

Saturday night included more tapa-hopping and more rain.
There was one dish in particular that we couldn’t get enough of. It’s called “La Bomba” = the bomb. It’s a ball of mashed potatoes filled with some spicy-ish meat in the middle then deep fried and served with brava sauce. I had had a very similar tapa in Galicia when I visited my friend Julie there last February and I loved it as much this time. Now I just need to find somewhere in Villarrobledo that makes it…

We wrapped up our weekend with more walking around in the rain and a visit to a torture museum – ouch. Before we got on the bus to go back to Madrid (the to Villa) Kayla and I bought some manchego cheese and bread as a snack for the ride home… this sounds lame since I had just visited a beautiful medieval city, but that was one of my favorite things about the weekend… sometimes it’s the small things, right? Or just food. I’m not sure.