Monday, November 17, 2014

New Home, New Family, New Town: Daimiel!

I ate burritos and apple pie this weekend.
Also, I moved to a new town with a new family!

Since three months is kind of a long time to commit to hosting a stranger, I get to have two families while I'm here! On Friday, I moved from Ciudad Real to Daimiel which is actually the town where my school is located. This means no more waiting outside for a ride for a 30 minute commute! Daimiel only has about 18,000 people so it's much smaller than C.R.'s 75,000 people. It only takes a couple of minutes to drive to the city center and my school from my new house, and it's not a bad walk either. I had a few tears when I left my host family in Ciudad Real; my host mom started crying and said it was just like having another daughter in the house and so that made me all kinds of emotional. I wasn't expecting to get so lucky again with host families on this trip but it seems like I really have gotten put in the best possible circumstances. We saw a huge, gorgeous rainbow on the drive to Daimiel and that really made me feel better about the relative unknown of my new situation.

Anyways, my new family is great! I'm staying with the French teacher from my school, Edith, her husband Jesús, and their 3 kids: Carolina (17 yrs.), Jesús (14 yrs.), and Valeria (10 yrs.). Carolina and Jesús I knew a little bit already from being in their English classes which was nice, and Valeria is a ball of energy and we've just gotten along wonderfully since I arrived. I already feel at home which is awesome; I think it has something to do with the fact that I come from a family of 4 kids and I'm used to the general commotion and sibling debauchery that goes with that. I'm also used to having younger siblings so this is super comfortable. It almost feels like I've been transplanted into my family of about 6 years ago! I'm also glad I've had experience working with kids and teenagers of all different ages, it makes things a lot easier.

On Friday night we took a little walk through the town and picked up a map for me so I know where I'm going, and I also met Edith's parents. Her dad is from France and so most of the family can speak French at various levels! I hope I pick up a bit during the month that I'm here!

On Saturday, we took another walk and I saw where the gym and swimming pool was, and then I was invited to spend to day with one of my students, Andrea, who is a dual citizen of the US and Spain and whose family is bilingual. Her dad, Caleb is from Texas and her mom, Mercedes, is from here in Spain and so since Andrea and her brother Ian were born their dad has spoken to them in English and their mom in Spanish. Andrea, who is 14, has only spent about 3 months total in the US, and hasn't been there since she was 7, but her English is perfect! Ian who is 6 speaks very well also, but he's still learning. They said it was nice the Andrea and Caleb could be tag-team teachers for Ian. I ended up spending the whole day with them from 12:30 to about 9:15 and it was wonderful! It's such a unique situation, and the mix of languages and cultures is so intriguing to me. The kids have such advantage, and an invaluable skill in this day and age. I could go on for days, it's so awesome. My kids WILL be bilingual - and if I have to move back here with them for that to happen then so be it. ;) It's was strange getting to speak English for practically the whole day, because I usually don't speak so much unless I'm traveling with Katie or the other Americans in my program, but it was great.

We had burritos for lunch!! I have been craving Mexican food so it really hit the spot. Mercedes also made a delicious apple pie! It tasted like America mixed with a little bit of heaven.

After lunch, we went up to La Mirador de la Mancha. It's kind of a weekend getaway/tourist spot/restaurant/venue for events and weddings. They have cabins, a pool, and a giant wooden Don Quixote! It's set up in the hills over Villarrubia de los Ojos, which is a tiny town about 15 minutes away from Daimiel. Here's the website with some more pictures and a video at the bottom of the page so you can see what it looks like. There's not a lot of wood buildings here so seeing this place in the middle of nowhere practically was pretty cool. 

Even though it was a little bit cloudy, windy, and rainy, it still made for some pretty spectacular views of the countryside. They said that in the summer it's even prettier, and you can see even more. 

Here is a panoramic view of the courtyard...I think I will get married here - I just need to find the lucky guy! 

Of course a selfie was needed with Andrea and Ian! Ian was super duper cute, he told me he loved me and asked me for a kiss while we were having a drink in the restaurant/bar area! I feel like I've found yet ANOTHER amazing family with whom I hope I'll be able to spend time and keep in contact, not just for the next month and a half, but for many years to come! 

That night when I got back, I went straight out with Carolina to get Chinese food with her and some of her friends! It's just like Chinese food in the US, very tasty. It was awesome to get to know and spend time with her and her friends, who I only know from seeing in class! On Sunday, we had a super relaxing day. Everyone stayed in their pajamas pretty much the whole day, and that's when I knew for sure I could fit in here! I did some backyard archery with Jesús and Valeria with suction cup arrows, then played lots of games with Valeria. 

We played a Scrabble kind of game, and we used English and Spanish words which was great for both of us. Then we played Trivial Pursuit Jr., which was pretty hard for me because the vocabulary for the questions was all very specific, but there were some that I surprised myself by knowing and I learned a lot of new words (and trivia!). I also taught her how to play Crazy 8's - the playing cards are different here apparently, but I haven't seen a deck yet. 

That night we finally got dressed and went for a walk with the grandparents through the town again. We got some candy, and their grandma got me a barquillo, which is pretty much an over-sized waffle cone! Delicious. 

In the main square of town there is a fountain and this olive tree...which is supposedly about 1000 years old! WHAT. How cool. 

Of course, a selfie with the sisters in a mirror on the ceiling of a shop! Shortly after this Valeria told me this was going to be the best month of her life and I almost cried. The family is worried that she is always bothering me, but I don't think I will ever get tired of her! Super sweet. When we got home Carolina and I watched Gran Hermano (Big Brother) together - everyone here loves it! 

The food has been delicious, as usual. We had pork chops and roasted potatoes yesterday for lunch, and ham and cheese omelette (tortilla francesa) for dinner. Today, it was penne pasta with cut up hot dogs and cheese! So far the meals are not very different from meals I've had in the US! I'll keep you posted though of course. 

There are also Pringles here, therefore duckface! 

That's it for now I think! Enjoy your snow all you Ohio people, I'm enjoying the sun and 50 degree weather! Next weekend I'm going to Granada so stay tuned!

Abrazos y Besos,

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marvelous Madrid

This past weekend was fantastic. On Friday I had a stomachache; I don't know what it was from but maybe the combination eating of tortillitas de camarones (fritters with the tiniest mini shrimp I've ever seen), puree soup made from a straight up gourd (I think it was just squash but I like my description better and there's really only one word for pumpkins/gourds/squashes that I've heard), and mussels on potato chips in one day had something to do with it (I liked everything except the mussels). Either way I stayed in on Friday and then got up at a reasonable hour to get ready to go to Madrid on Saturday. 

These aren't the ones I ate but this is what tortillitas de camarones look like. 

This is what I've had for breakfast several times, including today and Saturday. These are called Ensaimadas but it's pretty much just individually wrapped really soft rolls with powdered sugar on the outside. Super delicious. 

I got dropped off at the train station and had another lovely and short trip to Madrid by myself. Even if I'm not sure exactly where to go, I think I've really mastered the "I've done this a thousand times" stride of confidence. Katie was getting in to Madrid at almost the exact time that I was and I actually found her before we got to our designated meeting point; I nudged her backpack on the escalator which was funny for me, but she was about to turn around and slug someone! The reason we went to Madrid was to visit our host brother Jaime! When we studied abroad in Segovia, Spain in 2011 we stayed with him and his family for a month and have kept in contact ever since. He's visited the US twice, during the summer in 2012 and this past summer so we've gotten to see him more than I thought we might when we left Spain the first time, but it's just such a special and exciting thing to be able to see him here in Spain where it all started. 

Jaime had sent us his address and we saved the directions to our phones so we set off from the train station to try and find his apartment. It only took us a little longer than he said it would; we paused a few times and looked like tourists checking our maps and looking for hidden street signs but we finally arrived after about 15 or 20 minutes. 

We sat around his apartment and talked for a long time, he made us lunch, we looked at pictures from his trip to London, and then while he showered we helped his roommate with an English proficiency test he had to take! The questions were pretty hilarious and obviously not written by a native English speaker. Then we went for a walk down by the river which had some lovely sights and was very relaxing. On our way back we stopped in La Casa Encendida, (a socio-cultural center which has different programs in the arts, traveling exhibitions, and a resource center) for a half hour or so to see an exhibit called "Metamorfosis." It's hard to explain, but the link takes you to a translated page of the description if you are curious. Here's a picture of part of the exhibit, the other parts focused on cinematic art with different animated bits included too. 

After that we went to the grocery store, which I love to do here. Seeing all the different brands and random foods that we don't have in the US is super interesting. Maybe I'll do a post entirely about the grocery store one of these days! The most important things we bought were 2 huge milk chocolate and Oreo candy bars to share. That night we had a snack and then helped Jaime make homemade empanada to bring to his friend Alejandro's birthday party! It had Gouda cheese, bleu cheese, bacon, and dates inside of a pastry and it turned out so good. We carried the pan in a plastic bag on the metro so we looked pretty goofy but it was absolutely worth it. There were probably 20 people at the party so we met a ton of Jaime's friends, and some of his friends of friends, which led to very lively conversations in Spanish and English. One of the guys had spent 3 summers in the UK and so his English was incredible and he had a strong British accent. He kept imitating our accents and calling America, "The Colonies," but it was only because he loved us, so he said. There was also an interesting conversation about the use of the N-word in Spain versus in the US - apparently it's not a big deal in Spain at all, so we (mostly Katie) were trying to explain our American experience of the word. I think the message might have been lost on account of the sangria though. Another guy, Emilio, wanted to know about the word "yeah," and if he sounded more fluent if he said "yeah" instead of "yes." I told him, "Yeah!" There was a huge table of food to snack on (which has been the norm in all 4 of the birthday parties that I've been to in Spain so far), and there was also cheesecake with candles! It seemed a lot more put together and low key than most of the birthday parties I went to in college.

We were going to go to the famous disco that has 7 floors, called Kapital, but it would have cost 17 Euros and we would have had to try and catch night buses back home in the rain. We took a pass on that to get some sleep so we could get up and have a lot of time on Sunday to spend together. We got up and had some breakfast at Jaime's apartment (toast and butter [haven't seen butter in ages] and jam with a pear), and then walked to El Rastro. El Rastro is a huge open air market in Madrid that's held on Sundays and public holidays. There can be up to 3500 stalls and there are also antique stores that are usually open along the way too. "El Rastro" means "trail" and apparently this name comes from the trail of blood that was left by cattle when they were transported from the slaughterhouse near the river, to the tanneries located where the part of the market is now. It was cool to see all the stalls selling anything and everything: t-shirts, jeans, leather jackets, posters, paintings, jewelry, purses, flags, books, DVDs, furniture, etc. 

Near the beginning of the market there was an American store that we stopped in! It was crazy to see so many things that we had either not realized they didn't have in Spain, or things that we had been craving. Katie was excited to see bagels and ended up buying some peanut butter and pumpkin pie filling! I was excited to see Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch and ended up buying Reese's cups, of course. We also picked up some ginger ale and root beer to share so that Jaime could try them; he really liked the root beer! They also had some American beers like Sierra Nevada and Blue Moon, and A1 Steak Sauce!

This is one of the antique stores that we went in. It had tons of furniture stacked up to the ceiling, books, and other knick-knacks. 

This is a space where lots of hipsters hung out, listened to music, and drank beer. There was also a community garden on one side. It was pretty neat even though we didn't really know what exactly you would call it. A concrete park in the middle of the city? 


After the market we went to have some tapas! Jaime has really good karma; we always got to the metro just in time for the train and we got a table right away at this crowded bar! We each ended up having two - mine had some kind of chicken and that delicious roasted green pepper that we had in Barcelona, Jaime's was pork, onion, and cheese, and Katie's was salmon and cheese with an itty bitty pickle.  

My second one was bacon and Gouda cheese. A veritable STACK of Gouda cheese. Amazing. 

At the second bar we went to we all had a big slice of bread with guacamole and chicken and shared a small dish of paella. Haven't had guac in a while and it made me crave Mexican food; I don't think I've ever gone this long without a taco or chips and salsa. 

Finally, we went back to Jaime's apartment to grab our stuff, meet his girlfriend Ines, and take a quick walk through part of El Retiro, Madrid's famous park. It's like Central Park in New York but it's a little bit less than half the size. We didn't get to see much but of course we had a great time anyways. 

Sadly it was time to go back to our respective cities. Katie's train was at 6:30 and mine was at 7:15 so Jaime and Ines waited with me until I had to leave. The Atocha station is awesome and has stalls with food in the middle of an indoor tropical garden complete with a turtle pond. 

I did my confident "I'm so Euro" stride again, but it was a lonely walk to the back of the train. There are some people you meet in life who instantly become "your people" forever, and Jaime and Katie are two of those people. They're more than just my friends and more than just part of my host family, but they're people with whom I feel at home, no matter where we are in the world. It's always sad to leave them, but that just means it's time to plan the next adventure together. I am so lucky to have a lot of those forever people, because even when I feel a little lost and drifting, I know there are always people I can call home who will understand.

Stay tuned, more big things are coming - I'm moving in with a new host family on Friday! 

If you want to read more about my feelings (of which there are a lot), you can pop over to the blog my best friends and I keep together:

I also encourage you to check out one of those best friend's personal blogs: 
Sam is in grad school in New Zealand and she's having many adventures and feelings to which I relate, and about which she writes beautifully.

Much love,

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


On Monday on our day off, we took a little trip to Almagro! It was only about a 20 minute drive from Calzada. It's an important part of the Historic/Artistic Zone of Spain and only about 8,500 people live there. None of the churches were open to see but we took a walk through much of the town. Almagro is a big theater town; they have numerous theaters and an International Festival of Classical Theater in the summer time. 

Here is the city hall: 

And the really charming Plaza Mayor: 

In the summer, there are tables and chairs set up all along the square for the cafes. 

Many of the churches and buildings I saw were from the 16th century! There were lots of manor houses built for rich families at this time. 

Almost all of the buildings were whitewashed and had blue trim. 

This is palace called Palacio de los Marqueses de Torremejia. 

Even the streets had a blue and white pattern. 

Many of the buildings have a little patio within them like this; this is a meeting center with classrooms.

Another view of the plaza. 

We didn't see inside the Plaza de Toros, but that's alright with me. Bullfighting was my least favorite thing about Spain the last time I was here. 

This was a cute little garden in front of a hostel that used to be a convent. Also probably 16th century. They also have a national theater museum in Almagro, and a Corral de Comedias. Here's a site about that, (in Spanish, but there's pictures) and there's a video if you scroll down. It reminds me of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre a little bit. 

I forgot to say on the last post that we went to another birthday party on Friday and I had these! I'm getting a reputation here for liking every food I try so I had to give them a chance: Eggplants pickled in vinegar, paprika, olive oil, and red peppers! They're called "berenjenas" and they're very typical in this region. They were pretty good, reminded me of a pickle more than an eggplant though!

It was a short but lovely visit, and then it was back to Ciudad Real to get ready for the week!
Hope you all are well!

Halloween Weekend

Happy Halloween! I saw some places in Ohio got snow this weekend and I'm so sorry for your luck! The weather here has been in the 60s and 70s, but this week it's getting a little chillier, only in the 50s! Halloween isn't as big of a deal in Spain as it is in the US, so I was curious to see how people celebrate. We did a whole week of learning about Halloween in school, and I gave a presentation about where the holiday comes from. Did you know it came to the US from Ireland?? I think I gave the students a better idea of what Halloween is like, and I learned some things too. The students wanted to know if everyone throws eggs at houses, because that seems to be the image of American Halloween over here. But we had a bank holiday this weekend, so that meant Friday and Monday off of work! 

I went to Calzada again this weekend with the host family and the first thing we did on Friday was stop and buy two flower arrangements to take to the cemetery for All Souls Day. Here are some pictures of the cemetery - I know there are some more similar to this in New Orleans and other places but it's pretty different from the cemeteries I'm used to in Dayton. 

This kind of tree is very often found in cemeteries; there were some in the cemetery of the 13th century castle I visited a few weeks back so it's apparently a long-standing tradition. 

The graves are raised instead of being below the ground completely and the cemetery is surrounded by a high wall all around. 

The crosses on the right and left with the two flower arrangements are the graves of my host parent's parents and there are various other family members buried nearby. It seemed like the whole town was at the cemetery bringing flowers and cleaning off the graves. For the people my age, whether they went to the cemetery on All Souls/Saints Day seemed to be a similar issue as going to mass on Holy Days of Obligation is for young Catholics in the US; some people go because they want to, others because their parents make them go, and others don't go at all. 

Here are some pictures from the corralon that I was talking about before. They spend a lot of time here in the summer in the pool and having meals in the yard. The door is to the big room with the fireplace, tables and chairs, and bathroom. 

Being back in Calzada means being back with Fermin, our little gatito!! 

He's alone all week so he's so excited when we arrive for the weekend. 
So cuteeee. 

On Saturday, I went with two of Ana and Fatima's friends to watch Ana play soccer! She plays for the Ciudad Real city team which is pretty cool. It's girls from around age 14 all the way up to around Ana's age, 24. (She's one of the oldest.) It definitely made me have itchy feet and want to start playing again. When I get home I'm signing up for indoor soccer right away. Cristina and Fatima wanted a bathroom selfie so here it is. 

After we got back from the soccer game we got ready and headed out for tapas and drinks with more friends! 

This is Fran, the 13 year old son of the cook at one of the popular bars/cafes in the main square of Calzada. Everyone knows him and he's just a super chill kid; I was showing him pictures on Facebook of my family and friends and the cats, and pictures of what everyone was doing for Halloween. I'm sad I didn't get a better picture, but he's a character I'll remember. 

Usually you get sunflower seeds if you order a drink and in most of the cafes and bars you just throw the shells and napkins on the ground and they sweep it up at the end of the night (kind of like peanuts at Texas Roadhouse). 

We ended up at Agape, which is the popular bar/disco that everyone goes to and saw tons of people. It was very well decorated for Halloween, with spiderwebs, spooky wall hangings, and bartenders dressed like jesters! There were some people dressed up, and some with crazy makeup, but for most people it was just a normal Saturday night, and we stayed out until 6am! A lot of the kids dressed up and went to the cemetery on Friday night apparently, but I don't know what kind of shenanigans they got into. There was a haunted house (Casa de Terror) in town too, but we didn't go to that thankfully, because I'm a scaredy cat. 

Here's a creepy little statue from one the corralon of one of Fatima's friends. We went there on Sunday night for dinner and to stream Big Brother on a laptop in front of the fire. Very fun, but I think I would like Big Brother more if I understood all of the subtleties of the profanities they were using and insinuations they were making as they were shouting at each other. Reality TV seems to be the same all over the world.
Happy Halloween!