Monday, July 9, 2012

A quick "hola" from Uclés

I know I said I wouldn’t have internet access, but they surprised us at the monastery with spotty wi-fi! Yay! The last week has been an absolute whirlwind. I packed up my apartment Saturday night, moved out Sunday morning, and hopped on a bus to the monastery in Uclés where an English summer camp is held. We arrived late morning, had the afternoon to prepare our lessons and classrooms, and the students arrived later that night. I think all the teachers have been working pretty much non-stop (seriously, 8am-9pm, if not more) to make awesome lessons for the campers. Given these hours, I clearly am procrastinating right now. 

I just wanted to share where I was because I kind of can’t believe I’m here. First of all, the town is in the middle of nowhere. Literally. Driving up to the monastery, we could see it from miles away because it was the only thing around. In town, there is one shop (which is like a mini-convenient store), one pharmacy, one church, and one disco. Within the past year, they have built another bar, which makes it a grand total of two bars in town. (They’re on opposite sides of the plaza.)

I went for a run one of my first nights here, and I wasn’t sure where to go, so I just ran the perimeter. They told us to try to maintain a good image for the camp when in town, so I greeted everyone I passed. But then I ended up finishing the perimeter after 15 minutes, so I decided to run around it again. So then I passed all the same people. And greeted them again. In just a week, I’ve come to recognize some of the faces of the people in town, which has a population under 200 (and much less in the winter).

Another bit of interesting news is that this monastery is haunted. Haunted. HAUNTED. At first, it seemed to be all funny business, but then the stories kept on coming with similarities between them all, so you know they must be real! Apparently this monastery, which is the second largest monastery in Spain, was used as a terror and interrogation center during the Spanish Civil War. A few years back, they found a mass grave on the monastery properties. There are plenty of stories of ghosts to tell, but you’ll just have to wait for those...

But here are a few pictures!
The view from my classroom

The campers at one of their assemblies on the patio of the monastery
The view walking into town at sundown -- if you look closely, you can see windmills in the distance! We rode bikes out there yesterday -- an 18 mile trip!
The view from the bathroom. I may or may not have stood there bare-butt naked after my shower and just stood and looked out at all of this.

I'll try to update when I can. It's crazy to think I'll be home in j three weeks. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Farewell for now

I'm sorry. I'm really bad at blogging. The thing is, I'll be riding the metro or walking down the street and I'll be thinking of some story to write, but then I'll go home and Skype with my parents, and then I consider the story sufficiently shared. My apologies.

Since the last time I wrote, life has been wonderful. I have so so so many thing I'm thankful for!

First of all, I went to Ireland. IRELAND!! It had been my dream trip forever, and it completely lived up to my expectations. I think I had a smile on my face for six days straight.

A few weeks later I went home for my friends' wedding and that was four days FULL of amazingness. I just felt loved all weekend long.

And then a few weekends ago I went to Zermatt, Switzerland to go hiking by the Matterhorn. Who does that?? My friends and I just kept looking around and repeating, "Oh my goodness, we are so lucky."
The trail turned into a stream for a little bit.

Last week was my last week of teaching and that went wonderfully too. Two classes made me cakes! At the end of the student assembly on my last day, the head of studies spontaneously volunteered me to perform a song for the students and as I walked slowly up to the stage with a look of shock on my face, the students started chanting, "Jenni! Jenni! Jenni!" As I played guitar and sang, those little buggers were waving their hands back and forth and singing along and all around just made me feel like a rock star. And then, of course, they did the wave and ran up on stage to give me hugs and kisses. I'm so happy I'll be at the same school next year!

All this having happened, in the last few days, I've been thinking about what my life would have been like had I not quit my job. I quit my job without 100% certainty of a job waiting for me here, without a Spanish visa, and pretty much without a clue of what I was getting myself into. Ha. That could have ended really badly, huh? But it didn't! I've done so many things this year that I never would have had the opportunity to do. I've met so many people I would have never met! 

And what's next? Well, I'm off to teach at an English summer camp for the month of July. A camp that just happens to be held in a 16th century monastery... in a town of 287 residents... where there is no ATM and the discoteca in town is somebody's attic with a CD player. It's going to be an interesting month, that's for sure. And since the monastery has no internet, so I finally have a good excuse for not blogging! Don't worry though, I'll be back stateside August 1, and I would love to share my stories with you!

Until then, I'll just keep thanking my lucky stars... and continue dancing in a field somewhere.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catch-up Time: Paris!

I never thought I could love a wrought iron building, but I did and I do. I literally let out a little gasp at my first sight of the Eiffel Tower, and a big smile crept upon my face whenever I saw it.
Love at first sight.

We stopped at a street vendor to buy some sandwiches, and sat and watched as the sun went down. Every hour, the Eiffel Tower sparkles and is extra pretty, and we ended up staying so long chatting that we got to see it light up twice!

Paris is one of the most expensive cities I've ever visited (It didn't even phase me to pay 16 euro for a hamburger and fries. Sad.), but the city definitely makes up for it with it's art. And I'm usually not one who ever wants to go inside an art museum.

As sad as it is, thanks to Dan Brown, I was really excited to go see the Louvre. It took me 5 tries, but I finally got in waiting in no line and using my Spanish ID card to get in fo' free. Yo! 
This was before attempt #1 to get in. Fun fact: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays.

I totally judged everyone who was in front of me doing this, but when I got to the front of the pack I decided to be an A-hole tourist too. When in France!

P.S. Did you know the Louvre used to be a palace for French royalty?

Now moving on to other lovely things! Let's take a stop at the Cathedral of Notre Dame! Thank you Catholic Central High School for an education including the architecture of Gothic cathedrals. I was weirdly excited to the see the flying buttresses.

Fun fact: At one point after one of the many revolutions, the people wanted to tear down the Notre Dame because it was a symbol of the French regime, not to mention, it was in terrible ruin. But this one guy named Victor Hugo did not want that at all. In fact he wrote a book about it called Notre-Dame de Paris. He was a little annoyed when the title was changed to The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the English translation of the book, but in the end he was happy because it brought attention to the cathedral. People started coming from all around the world to see it, and eventually they decided to repair the cathedral instead of tear it down.

Also, while sitting outside in the courtyard in front of the cathedral, a pigeon flew into my head.

Next stop: Sainte-Chapelle! This chapel was built by King Louis IX to house the original crown of thorns and a part of the original cross that he brought back from the crusades. The huge stained glass windows tell stories from Genesis all the way up through the Resurrection (and then showing how Lou for the relics and brought them to France). During World War II, the windows were taken down to try to keep them safe. I couldn't get any good pictures, so if you ever get the chance to go, it's worth the wait. The details are incredible. 

Next stop: Eiffel Tower! Yay! So this guy was built for the 1900 World Fair and they had a 20-year contest leading up to 1900 to design a monument for the fair. Other entries included a giant cyclops, a giant skeleton, and a giant guillotine. 

Fun fact: There are bathrooms on top of the Eiffel Tower! Not just a one-staller either - the ladies' room had three stalls! And after my two-hour wait, it was much appreciated. 

"Did that girl say she wanted to be the Eiffel Tower" - tourist taking my picture, talking to her friend

I learned so much history on this trip! I hope you're learning too!! Another fun fact for you: A Nazi saved Paris from being destroyed. Apparently during World War II, Hitler said, "Either I have Paris or no one does." He left one of his most-trusted men there with the order to blow up the city if things started looking down for them. They were prepared and everything, and had buildings wrapped in dynamite ready to be blown up at an orders' notice. However, the guy left in charge came from a military family and he grew up listening to war stories and learning strategies, and he just didn't see any point to blowing up Paris. He said it just didn't not make sense strategically. So he called up the Allies and was all "Help me help you" and he waited just long enough for them to get to Paris before retreating. Apparently there's record of Hitler yelling "Is is burning!? Is Paris burning!?" because that's what he had ordered.

But in lighter (and more current) news, my travel buddy has a friend who is studying in Paris right now, so we were super lucky to have our own personal tour guide. 

I definitely could have spent more time in this expensive, yet beautiful city. One day, my friends, one day!! Because, gosh darnit, I still want to have a picnic in the yard in front of the Eiffel Tower. And, of course, sit at a café and judge people as they walk by...

...because that's just what you do in France. 

Next stop: Bilbao!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Catch-up Time: Amsterdam!

Okay, okay, I know. I'm way behind. But really, I've been going non-stop for over a month now. I'll try to catch us up as quickly as possible. Expect a quick fire description of my Spring Break trek through Amsterdam, Paris, and Bilbao ("beel-BOW" for those of you who have asked how to pronounce "that city with a couple B's and some vowels at the end" :)  ).

Yes, yes, we all know what we think of when we think of Amsterdam. BUT, seriously guys, despite the massive number of "coffeeshops" in this town (which has been brought down from 700-something to 200-something in recent years, fyi) Amsterdam is one of the most charming cities I've ever been too.

One thing I suggest you do if you go to any major European is go on one of the free tours offered by Sandeman's. A lover of fun facts and cheap things, these tours and I are a match made in tourist heaven. Plus, here in Amsterdam, our guide was a middle-aged British man wearing a Pabst Blue Ribbon baseball cap. Can't go wrong there.

You would not believe the number of bikes there are in Amsterdam. Ged the Tour Guide said that most people have a couple spare bikes at home in case they end up at a pub after a few drinks and can't ride home, or better yet, you've been at the pub and you're fine to ride home, but other drunk people have thrown your bike into the canal. Ged also said that a couple times every year, a big machine will float down the canals to scoop up bikes (and whatever else) from underwater. Then companies will fix up the bikes and resell them.

See? They're everywhere.

You don't even know how happy I was.

In Amsterdam, I also went to the Anne Frank museum, which is in the house where the Frank family hid. It was kind of weird being inside the house and knowing so much about the background and fate of the people who were there. Per Otto Frank's request, the house has been left exactly the same as it was when he came back after the war ended because he knew nothing could ever replace anything that had ever been there. After the SS found everyone hiding in the annex and took them away, they ransacked the house and took everything they could that would be of use -- so everything that was metal, wood, etc.

One really interesting thing I learned at the museum was why Otto Frank published Anne's diary in the first place. I've heard so many people say things like "How dare people invade this little girl's privacy!", but Otto was just doing what he thought Anne would have wanted. During the war, the Dutch government made an announcement asking Dutch citizens to keep any of their records, diaries, or journals from their experiences in the war, because they wanted to compile them all together. Anne heard this announcement and rewrote her entire diary, editing and taking things out and adding things in, because she hoped to one day have her work published. Otto wanted his daughter's dream of becoming a published author come true, so he had it published.

I've also heard people ask we we focus so much on Anne Frank's story and not anyone else's. There was a quotation from a Holocaust survivor on the wall at the last part of the museum that I thought was incredibly insightful. It said something to the effect of "If we had more stories like Anne Frank's, with each and every detail, we wouldn't have the strength or ability to bear all that pain." Makes you think.

But on a lighter note -- other things that I absolutely loved about Amsterdam:
1. Their adorable language.

2. Houseboats

3. Children riding in buckets. (Some bikes had room for up to THREE children with crazy attachments in the front and in the back. The Dutch are amazing!)

4. Beer-mobiles!! This is the reason I will go back to Amsterdam. With seven friends.

(In case you can't see, it's basically a picnic table on wheels, and underneath each seat is a set of peddles. And in the middle of the table is a keg. So you have to peddle to get the car to go, but you also have a keg to drink.)

Next stop, Paris!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

It all started with an LMFAO concert

I´ve been running on all cylinders for a few weeks now... and it all started with a freaking LMFAO concert. That lovely night was then followed by St. Patty´s Day, a flamenco show, my parents visit and our trip to Granada and Málaga, and Spring Break in Amsterdam, Paris, and Bilbao. Deciding that rest is for weiners, I also went hiking last Saturday in pure rain and hail and I will run a 10K this Sunday. Hey, you can sleep when you´re dead, right?

I toyed with the idea of skipping writing about everything that´s happened in the month or so and just start writing about the present, but you can´t just not talk about LMFAO. Right? Eh? So yep, I joined the wild packs of animal-print clad madrileñitos to party rock. We felt incredibily old as we stood in line with Spanish youngins dressed head to toe in Claire´s accessories waving goodbye to their parents that had apparently just dropped them off. But we stood strong, damnit! The concert was much how you would expect it to be: lots of neon, leopard print, and metallic speedos. And lots of shaking in those metallic speedos. A couple beers the size of your head also make the night much more interesting.

Moving on. St. Patty´s Day we headed to our favorite wee pub, Finnie´s. It´s an Irish pub so of course it was completely packed. But to our delight, there was a huge amount of native Irish people there. We chatted a while with a group of guys from Cork, and I´ll admit, I didn´t understand a good 80% of what they were saying, but I just loved the way it sounded so much that I just kept smiling and nodding my head and cheersing, hoping they would keep talking. At one point, I commented on how much I loved Irish people, and a guy responded: "Gingers. Freckles. Dat's all ya need." LOVE.

The cousin of a friend of mine was visiting so we got our tourist hats on and went to a flamenco show. It was a teeny show, with only two dancers, one guitarist, and one "singer". As the "singer" "sang" his "songs", it took every last bit of my self-control (and we all know there's not much of that to begin with) not to laugh. I can only imagine how a whole table of Pattersons would have reacted. Yes, yes, it is the traditional song and singing style of flamenco, but on a very superficial level, it was a chubby, middle-aged man with a flowery button-down on (with his hairy chest showing, of course) howling dramatically. Ahh, Spain. The guitarist, on the other hand, was incredible (how do people move their fingers so fast?) and the dancers were fantastic as well. They each did their own little solos, and lemme tellya, the guy dancer must have sweat off a good five pounds. It was like watching the Riverdance on crack. So crazy. Also, castañuelas (the clackity clack things the flamenco ladies wave around) are still mind-boggling to me and I want to learn how to make them work. Instead of waving them around soundlessly. Sigh.

And then there was Patty and Donny!! They landed in Madrid and claimed they weren´t tired. And I believed then. So commence my 4-hour tour of Madrid! A couple people fell asleep around 5:00 that day. Any guesses who they were?

After work on Thursday, we hopped in a car and headed south. After a frustrating and frightening half-hour of trying to leave Madrid, we finally found success. (Sidenote: Madrid, please make better highway signs. A sign post the size of a pillow at the exit is not sufficient.) Our first destination was Granada. Since we were a bit behind schedule, we had to drive the twisty mountain roads in complete darkness, which made me pee my pants a little, but we arrived in Granada unscathed. After driving all tensed up, we headed to the bar after finding our hotel (*cough* like we need an excuse...) and with our beers came the lovely Andalucian tapas you hear so much about! Yay! 

We headed up to the Alhambra the next day. The Alhambra is a Moorish castle built in the 14th century (that is absolutely gorgeous with an incredible view of the city and with tons of fountains and colorful tiles and other pretty things). It was conquered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492 (good year for them, eh?). Ferdinand and Isabella were always on the move trying to unify Spain and gain support from their people, yo, but the Alhambra was Isabella´s favorite castle and she wanted to be buried there. (She was, but then when Ferdinand died, she got moved to be with him. Now they´re both entombed in the Royal Chapel in Granada.)

This fountain originally worked as a clock as well, with twelve lions surrounding the main part. Each hour the lion spitting water would change, thus marking the time. However, after the Spanish conquered the Alhambra, they took apart the fountain to see how it worked. Annnd then they couldn't figure out how to put it back together.  
We had read about a secret room in one of the guide books that said in this room you can whisper into a corner and people at the other corners can hear you. So we spent a good five minutes in another room whispering in corners trying to hear each other.  
View of the palace from the Generalife gardens

After hours at the Alhambra, we headed back to town for dinner. We were walking around a plaza deciding on where we wanted to eat, and we started walking into on of the restaurants, when all of a sudden this guy on a segueway blocks our path. Gah! He goes on his spiel about how awesome segueways are. I´m not convinced, but someone had a look in her eye. "I´ve always wanted to try a segueway," she says quiety. But our hunger overcomes and we go eat somewhere else. After dinner, we once again encounter this man on his segueway, who hooks you with letting you just "try it out". Well played, Al. Well played.

We headed up the hills of the Albaicín neighborhood towards la Iglesia de San Nicolás, where we had a lovely view of the Alhambra and the rest of the city. We may not have looked stylish, but damnit, SEGUEWAYS ARE FUN!!! (You may or may not be able to hear a constant giggle in that video.)

The next day we headed off the Málaga. In true form, we got lost trying to leave the city and had to stop for directions. We also went the wrong way trying to get in to Málaga. I just don't understand. 

As you can see, Málaga is quite a lovely city. We wandered along the tiled streets, played on the zip-line on the beach, guessed what famous people owned the big ships in the port, and drank beer. You know, good ole' fashioned fun. (We also went to the Holy Shroud exposition at the Cathedral thinking When else will we be able to see something that might have touched Jesus Christ?! But then after hearing about the history and science and theories behind the shroud, we learned it was in freaking Italy. "But here's an exact replica! It's just like looking at the real one!" Oh shut up, recorded lady talking into my ear piece.)

Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Anywho, after a day in Málaga we headed back north to Madrid. (We may or may not have had more trouble trying to enter the city.) Mom and Pa, thank you so much for visiting! I hope you had a good time despite the not-so-sunny skies! I love you!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

February Blues

I think the month of February
is a hard month for most.
It’s a bit cloudier, a bit colder,
(much unlike fresh toast).

We celebrated our holidays
together a few months ago.
In January, the memories still brought us joy.
In February, oh no, no, no!

Oh, what pathetic people are we,
huddling alone in our rooms
eating baguette after baguette
and chocolate by the spoon.

The little things that rolled off your shoulders
back in October or September
now make you want to yell or cry
or, perhaps, to someone, dismember.

Well, gee, I’d love to write that lesson plan
for your class tomorrow morn.
I also would’ve loved if you’d asked me
more than eight hours before.

Please stop assuming I’m wasteful,
cold-hearted, rich, and ignorant.
There’s kind of a lot of Americans
and it's possible we’re all a bit different.

No, I’m not dumb or unintelligent
just because I don’t understand.
Perhaps you could speak more clearly
and not cover your mouth with your hands.
Why are you standing so close to me?!
Stop staring at my face!!
Ah! The customs are so different
in this strange European place.

February Blues, what you do to me!
I’m so glad you’ve gone away.
March brings a lovely new month
and brighter, happier days!

But you wretched month, I know you’ll return
You’ll never, ever resign.
At least the next few Februaries
are only twenty-eight days instead of twenty-nine!

(Please, my friends, be aware
that I’m not really in too much pain.
Now that it's March, I’m once again content
in this country known as Spain.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Darn you, Groupon

In this particular story, I blame the marketers of Groupon. Damn them and their convincing ways! They send me daily deals of vacations I can go on, restaurants I can eat at, and *dun dun dun* massages I can get. After a few different Groupons for massages passed by, I finally convinced myself that my back was feeling sore and I had been working so hard lately and insert other excuses here and gosh darnit, I deserved a massage!

And with a picture like this...
... who could resist, right?

So I buy my Groupon and make an appointment for a Friday morning. What a great way to start the weekend! I show up to the salon, and the woman checks me in. I have a hard time understand her because she doesn´t open her mouth when she talks. (Too many face lifts, by the looks of it.) So she resorts to short phrases and hand movements, which is fine by me. I´m directed downstairs, and then ushered into a room. With bright lights. And a table with several beach towels laid on top.

Now, I´ve only had two massages in my life, but in both those instances, there was soft music playing, the lights were dimmed, things looked clean. You know, there was a relaxing kind of feel.

(I'm sure you've figured out by this point that this massage isn't exactly what I had envisioned, but alas, I'll continue.)

Face-lift lady walks in and points at my pants and say, "Cinturón, abajo." Belt, down. As she moves about the room, I´m not sure exactly what she wants me to do. We in the United States are accustomed to a certain amount of privacy. But were not in Kansas anymore, are we Toto? And at this point I make up my mind. I realize this will be the first of many awkward moments, but today, NO SHAME SHALL BE HAD BY ME!

I drop my pants and start shedding my shirt as well, but Face-lift halts me. Okay. And tells me to hop on the table. SO I SHALL!

Survey: If you had to guess the length of Face-lift's fingernails, what would you guess? Short and well-groomed, what you would expect from a masseuse? Or long and brightly-painted, like... this:

I trust you can figure this one out.

So this woman is massaging/scratching my legs. Which might be comfortable if my head wasn´t stuffed into a beach towel. RELAX! NO SHAME, JEN!

She asks me to flip over. Ok, I can do that. And she starts lifting up my shirt. What is she doing?!? And she starting massagscratching my stomach. Really, woman? Because it´s so obvious my abs have been getting in some killer workouts?

She goes back and forth across my stomach, and as she reaches each side, her damn fingernails tickle me. And, Lord, am I ticklish. But what do I do? HAVE NO SHAME! I know how to say "tickles" in Spanish (cosquillas), but "Can you please stop massaging my stomach because it´s ticklish. Plus, it´s weird."? Hmm, not sure. So instead of relaxing, I´m having a mental battle with myself about whether or not I should just flip over on my own and force this woman to massage my back, which is actually the only thing I wanted in the first place. But I don´t want to be rude. BUT HAVE NO SHAME, JEN!

Face-lift finally stops tickling me, and instructs me to flip over (Oh thank you, sweet baby Jesus). She awkwardly pulls my own shirt off me over my head and snaps off my bra as well. HAVE NO SHAME! Meanwhile, my face is stuffed into a beach towel again. RELAX!

After a few minutes (and after I've finally adjusted my head so I could breath efficiently), I'll admit I was able to relax a bit. But before I could really enjoy it, Face-lift tells me time is up. And as she walks towards the door, she says, "Por favor apaga la luz cuando te vas." Please turn off the light when you leave. And out she goes.

The awesome thing is, guys, is that I have two more massages left! Goodness knows, I'll be ready to drop trou in front of a complete stranger. And I'll learn how to say "my sides are ticklish." And while we're at it, I'll learn how to ask them not to massage my stomach at all. Because, really, that's just weird.

P.S. I took my email off Groupon's mass email list. I had to stop the madness.