Wednesday, December 21, 2011

¡Feliz Navidad!

Toledo has adorned the Casco (the historic neighborhood, where I live) with beautiful lights. The main street from the Plaza to the Cathedral has a "roof" of draped lights complete with "chandeliers" and many other streets have unique presentations as well. I love walking around at night; if only there were a little snow, too!

It is hard to believe Christmas is so close! I will be home in about 32 hours or so (not that I'm counting!). My flight leaves Madrid tomorrow at 6:40 AM, so I will head to the airport late tonight and camp out for a few hours before boarding. I am almost ready to go, too! (Almost).

Here are a few tidbits from the last week that made me smile:

A paper airplane, decorated and all, from Ángel in third grade:

A bow made from a tissue and colored purple, from Sandra, in first grade:

And a letter asking for forgiveness from Pablo, a five year old, for misbehaving in our private lesson:

Though the cookies I made don't taste nearly as great as when Mom and I make them at home, the teachers loved them!

I am so anxious to spend time with my family! I hope and pray that your holidays are filled with joy and peace. "Let your hearts be light!"

Un abrazo y ¡feliz navidad!

P.s. I posted pictures from my trip north! Click the link on the right to see them. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nahi Euskal Herriko I

(I think that is how you say "I love País Vasco" in Vasco).

This weekend in País Vasco (Basque Country) was absolutely lovely! The ocean views, the tapas, the weather (it didn't rain!), the people, the culture, the history...I loved it!

We rented a car in Toledo and left Thursday morning for San Sebastian. We arrived mid-afternoon and after settling into our hostel we walked along the coast. It was a beautiful walk, and I took picture after picture of the water (and I now realize that they are all very similar...). There were some pretty big waves, and it I made a game of trying to capture a picture without getting drenched!

(These pictures are all from San Sebastian on Thursday afternoon; I'm writing this at work and I don't have any other pictures uploaded!).

Friday morning we wandered around town, stopped into a neat bookstore, picked up picnic materials from an underground supermarket (it was literally underneath the plaza outside our hostel), and went to the beach! We enjoyed our lunch and the incredible views for a few hours. Then, we went back to the hostel to clean up before venturing into France for the evening. We were only 30 minutes from the Spanish/French border, and decided to hop over for dinner. We ended up in the splashy (pun intended) resort town Biarritz just after the sun had set. We took another, this time chilly, walk along the beach and took what pictures we could in the dark. We walked through the town, which is full of shops and restaurants. We ate in a very small but lovely restaurant. There was one friendly waiter, and when we asked if he spoke Spanish or English (we forgot our French phrasebook!) he replied: "Habla little". Our attempts to communicate were quite entertaining and our dinner was delicious. We drove back to San Sebastian for the night and said goodbye to the city in the morning.

Saturday we left around 12:00, after another stop by the beach, to drive to Bilbao. The main reason we rented a car was to travel the coast on our way. It was lovely! Breathtaking view after breathtaking view. We stopped for lunch in another resort town and ate at a table practically on the sand. It was chilly, but sunny. We tried the local cider (I didn't care for it) and with full bellies we were on the road again. After another stop in a small, colorful town, we turned south for Bilbao, with a brief drive through Guernica. Guernica is the subject of Picaso's famous painting; it was targeted and destroyed by bombing under Franco's direction in 1937. Franco used the city as an example, warning the Basque people to quell their hunger for independence.

We arrived in Bilbao around 6:00pm and settled in our hotel. We went for tapas to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook. It was a beautiful building opened in 1903! It was very popular, and thus very crowded. I love the theory of tapas, but I still get overwhelmed in the busy bars. We did discover the pichos morunos. In the back corner of the bar was a father-son duo with a rectangle box of charcoal, cooking skewers of meat. The line was long, but well worth the wait. They were delicious!

We caught the first half of the Barcelona-Real Madrid game, but left when it was tied 1-1. The drive wore us out, and we were wary of the early morning on Sunday...

We left the hotel around 8:30 in search of the old neighborhood and it's bustling market. We arrived too early for any bustle, but were able to quietly peruse the few tables (mostly full of books and antiques, though I did see a live-bird display...) before the square filled. We had coffee and pastries, followed by chocolate con churros and tortilla...not exactly well balanced, but so delicious.

We then went to the Guggenheim Museum, the must-see attraction in Bilbao. It was very interesting! Modern art isn't my favorite, but the building is fascinating.

While we were walking to the car we spotted Subway, and picked up sandwiches for the road. Yum!

And that was that, we were heading home to Toledo. We arrived without incident, except for some confusion around Madrid (read: we didn't know which highway to take). It was tiring, but a wonderful trip!

Spain has four distinct and official languages, each in a separate region. Castellano (what we know as Spanish) is spoken in the central and southern parts of the country; Gallego is spoken in Galicia, in the northwest; Catalán is spoken in Cataluña in the east (where Barcelona is located); Vasco (Euskedi, in Vasco) is spoken in País Vasco to the north. Castellano is spoken in all parts, but the other languages are also very widely used. Luckily, communication is not a problem, because most people speak both.

There is a strong push for independence from Spain among the Basque people. You may be familiar with the ETA, which is the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna. It translates to Basque Homeland and Freedom, and operates as a paramilitary group promoting independence. Previously, the group partook in terrorist activities against the Spanish government. I learned from a teacher that the violence has subsided and the group has promised to work more peacefully towards their goals.

I didn't notice any anger or resentment. Just lovely people and lovely cities. And an interesting language. For example:
"I enjoyed my holiday in Basque Country." translates to: "Nire opor gozatu I Euskadi."

The language is ancient, and it has not been reputably connected with any other language. It was likely spoken before Indo-European romance languages.

On another note, guess what?! I will be home in just one week (from tomorrow)!! I was told by a teacher that my excitement makes me look very pretty. Haha.

I hope all your Christmas preparations, both in your home and in your heart, are going well!

Un abrazo.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rapid Fire

It is really late over here (late for this old lady, anyway) but I am determined to give you a recap of the last week(s) before I leave tomorrow for Pais Vasco!

Bear with me, I am about to bombard you with potentially very boring anecdotes from my life. As the students say in gym class: Ready, steady, GO!

I had two lovely Thanksgiving dinners. We celebrated on Thursday with a small group (we even included two Spaniards!) and a big meal. And on Sunday someone in my program hosted many of the auxiliares for another delicious meal and pleasant afternoon. Here are pictures of Thanksgiving Thursday:

The food:

The company (minus two):

This has been a pretty easy week: Tuesday was Día de la Constitución and therefore a national holiday (day off work) and tomorrow is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is also a national holiday. And, we have what is known as a "puente" (bridge), so Friday is a day off work, as well (though I normally have those free)!

Saturday I went with friends to have churros con chocolate. Translation: pure sugar heaven:

After that we went to the public library to do some work, and we discovered a new, beautiful study room! I'm going to call it the West Wing, due to it's somewhat secretive location (Sorry, I am not referencing the television drama, but my favorite Disney movie instead...I am a child):

Sunday I went to Cuenca with Jessica, Alex, and a professor from Jessica's school. It was a beautiful, sunny day (though chilly). Cuenca is known for the "casas calgadas", which are hanging houses built into the chiseled cliffs. We went to The Museum of Abstract Art. I am not normally a huge fan of abstract art, but thoroughly enjoyed the museum, and found a few artists I really like. It helps that Raquel is an artist and was able to help interpret the art work. We found another art museum-modern art-but we just took a quick walk-through to see the building (quite impressive, I think it was once a monastery/church). Here are a few pictures, but more to come next week:

This dish is typical of Cuenca. Part of me does not want to admit what it is, since I did indeed eat some. Intestines. Gross, I know. It didn't taste horrible, though I probably won't eat it again. But, you know what they say: When in Cuenca, do as the Cuencans.

Yesterday I spent most of the day in bed with another yucky cold (I feel much better today, so I am hoping the extra rest did the trick!) and writing a paper for my online class. When I couldn't stand being cooped up anymore, Jessica and I went searching for a quiet cafe to study and read. We couldn't find one that wasn't busting at the seems, but we did stumble upon a free art exhibit!

It is a collection of Baroque art (one of my favorite periods in art history), and mostly Spanish painters. There is currently a photography exhibit featuring the nature in Spain's 13 National Heritage cities. A neat realization: both Toledo and Salamanca made the list; I have called two of the thirteen cities home! Another interesting fact is that the museum used to be a church. I saw my friend Patricia at the exhibit, and she said that the Church in Spain has had to sell a few properties to the government; there are too many big, beautiful buildings to maintain. I am at least glad that this is being used as something as worthy as an art museum!

As we were walking home, brainstorming dinner plans, we came across a new bakery that opened recently just down from our building. We went in "just for a look" and left with a spinach quiche, blueberry cheesecake, and a free sample of hot chocolate. It was all delicious-perhaps dangerously so.

Happy Constitution Day, Spain!

The Christmas lights are up and on in Toledo! I didn't think the streets could get much prettier, but they certainly have. I love it; I finally feel like Christmas is approaching. Speaking of Christmas, I will be home in two weeks to celebrate the holidays! I cannot wait!

This week's timing of holidays is especially sweet because Tuesday and Thursday are my days at the preschool; and I mean no offense to the little ones, but I relished the break. I must say, it is sweet to hear the excited "Hello, teacher!" while walking through the hallways.

I am really enjoying teaching the science classes. I don't know if I have two great classes, or if I have a captive audience (unlike P.E. where they just want to run around and play soccer-ahem, "fútbol"), but I love these two hours. I think it is because I feel the most useful.

Today after school there was a "tortilla y tapas" competition! It was pretty delicious-I can't say I minded eating with a purpose to determine the best tortilla (it is one of my favorite Spanish dishes: an egg and potato deal, similar to a fritata. But different; I am determined to learn how to make it one of these days!). I actually made bruschetta (way to represent America, I know) to "enter" in the competition, but I left in a hurry this morning and forgot to bring it!

Phew! There you have it. You can't say I didn't warn you.

As I said, tomorrow I am going to San Sebastian, and Bilbao on Saturday. We (Jessica, Alex, and Greyson-another from my program) rented a car (that was a learning experience...) so we are heading out on our first Spanish road trip! Saint Christopher-please protect us!

Much love y un abrazo muy fuerte.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A joy of teaching preschool...

Singing this song until my voice is gone (especially bad when I wake up with a sore throat):

I apologize if you end up singing it to yourself all day! Join the club!

I will write more later. I just wanted to share that song...haha.