Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Vacation...kind of

This week is my last week of school at the two institutes before a Christmas break of two weeks. (WHOO HOO) But it won´t be a complete break for me, and unfortunately I won´t have an opportunity for travel- which is what just about EVERY other auxilar is doing now. During the next two weeks, I will be working at an English academy for children, called Kids & Us, about 5 minutes walking distance from my house. The academy is one which I went to earlier in September when I was still looking for afternoon work. They had told me then that they did not need any more teachers for the regular semester, but they were going to have a Christmas Camp during the break and they need English speakers for that. So I happily agreed to help with the camp.

The camp is Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9am-1pm for the two weeks of December 23rd-27th and December 30th to January 3rd. I will be in charge of a group of 10, 3-4 year olds (EEKK). With them I will be doing crafts, reading stories, singing songs and playing games. I´m looking forward to working there, it is a nice, new academy, full of colorful decorations for the children and happy workers. If the Christmas camp goes well, I am hoping to be able to work there in the Spring should they need me. The location is great because it´s so close to my home. As for the group of 10 kiddies.. here goes nothing!

Besides the Christmas camp in the mornings, I have no other plans for my two weeks. This is my first Christmas away from my family, and it has already been difficult. Coming home to an empty studio is quite a change from my fully decorated home in Salem. I miss my fireplace, the Christmas trees, and fresh wreaths and candles and winter comfort foods. Most of all I am missing the snow!! I know all of you back home are probably cursing the cold, snowy weather, but I feel as though something is missing. While the mild temperatures and sun are so nice for walking around the city- I would take colder temps and snow over that for Christmastime.

So after feeling sorry for myself for about a week, I decided to do something about it. I have a wonderful tiny tree (although fake, it is the perfect size for my tiny place!) and I even sprang for some Christmas lights (although I did not read the label well and bought blinking lights- annoying at first but I´m getting used to them). I am finally able to listen to Christmas songs without feeling sad and tearing up, and I have even started to embrace the ´villancicos´(Spanish Christmas songs) and am getting excited for the Spanish Christmas I will have. This year I will be spending Christmas, New Year´s and Three Kings Day with Nacho´s family. Also, of course, I will be skyping home to have Christmas with my family. I received from the mailman today my package of gifts!! Most things are wrapped and I must wait for Christmas, but there were a few which I opened early. American candy and Kraft mac and cheese! Also, my favorite gift of all- measuring spoons!! No longer will I spend the time trying to guestimate the amount of baking powder for my culinary creations! Best gift ever!

One thing I am so impressed with is the way the city of Madrid has transformed for the Christmas season. There are lights hanging over every major street and on buildings. Food carts and small tents are set up in every square, selling wreaths and dried fruit, turrón and churros con chocolate. People are everywhere- shopping, walking, out and about with their family buying gifts and Christmas food and candies. It is a nice time to be living in the city.

Merry Christmas to everyone back home! Christmas pics to come! MUA

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To Burgos We Go!

Hi everyone who takes time out of their busy day to read this! (Thank you!) What have I been up to lately, you ask? Well, last weekend I went to Burgos!

So Nacho helps to coach a soccer team of girls around my age, whose practices I sometimes go to (cough-once). The girls are so sweet and nice to include the awkward American girl with the broken Spanish. One member of the team, Ana, has a family house in a very small town called Villagutierrez (population- 75!) Because last weekend was a puente (3-day weekend) because of the holiday of Constitution on Friday the 6th, she suggested people of the team, boyfriends and friends stay in the small town for the weekend, eat, drink and be merry together in the ancient country home, and explore the beautiful neighboring city of Burgos. I was up for the adventure!

Spain is broken up into communities, and within each community there are provinces. Madrid is a community with only one province- that of Madrid. Burgos is a province in the community of Castilla y Leon (See below: first find Madrid in the center of the Community of Madrid, then find the much larger community of Castilla y Leon, and within that community you will see the province (and city) of Burgos):

After about a 3 hour drive with traffic, a bumpy, dirt road that went on seemingly forever led us to the tiny town of Villagutierrez on Thursday evening. The house was everything I could have expected and more. I love country homes, and even though this one was thousands of miles from my own, its similarities filled me with a nostalgia for Salem and the simple, country life. Complete with creepy dolls and taxidermied owls, I knew every painting and knick-knack in the house had a story behind it. After exploring the house, choosing rooms, and turning the heat up up up, we gathered around a delicious meal and spent the night warming by the large fire in the fireplace, drinking and playing games. I taught my Spanish friends flip cup-hilarious! 


Yep, that's the town. All of it. Who needs more?

Friday was my favorite day. Waking around noon, drinking some coffee (or for others, cola-cao, a nesquick-type of chocolate milk that people are crazy for here..) we were ready to head out in search of some morcilla. 

Let's talk about morcilla. Blood sausage. Sounds tasty, right? Well, it is! And Burgos is famous for its morcilla. It is a sausage that is filled with rice, pig blood, onions, and some other spices- sounds simple enough but the blend of it all is magical. And spicy! It is absolutely delicious. 

So on Friday we drove to the neighboring town of Estepar, which is a little bigger and has a general store where we found and bought out their stock of morcilla.

Shopkeeper of the General Store in Estepar- seemingly shocked that her store was at capacity (all 8 of us..)
After that it was off to the cheese factory. This factory, also in the middle of nowhere, was not that big. But I learned quickly that its name is huge! The cheese of Sasamon won the silver medal for best cheese in the world! The man working there was happy to give us a taste and sell us some cheese- but it was lunch time and he was ready to close up shop. Disappointed and wanting a tour of the factory, my Spanish friends explained to this poor man that I was a journalist and potential investor from the U.S. who was quite interested in the factory. After that, he was happy to give us a full tour- and that he did! He spoke at great length to me (I understood about 15%), but I was grateful to have the tour. After stocking up on cheese we had all we needed for a hearty feast, we spent the rest of the day was spent eating, having our siesta, and enjoying another night cozied up next to the fire, playing cards, and of course- after the drinks flowed- getting everyone to speak a little English!  ;)


Telling us all about the cheese
mmmmmm mold

Open Spaces. Countryside. A feeling close to that of being home.

Saturday we headed to Burgos. About 20 minutes north of Villagutierrez, Burgos, the historic capital of the Castile region, was home to medieval hero El Cid. So there was some famous medieval guy, and yea, there's this really pretty cathedral, and the Camino de Santiago runs through here, but what has caught everyone's attention here recently is Burgos' newest title, 'The Gastronomical Capital of Spain 2013.'

I really fell in love with this city. The mix of the old, detailed buildings and the trees, flowers and lights which lined the clean streets full of space for walking made me feel on the set of a movie...and ready to move here and live. The people of Burgos (typical of many cities north of Madrid) seem quite posh. Women and men dressed to the nine's perused through the streets with their vintage strollers- hell even the babies were better dressed than me! But I wasn't interested in the clothes or the shoes. I was interested in the award winning restaurants, tapas and wines- dressing like a local is far inferior to me than eating like one! So, after taking in the views of the breathtaking Gothic cathedral which stands high above the surrounding ceramic tiled roofs, we set out for a little tapa-hopping around the city. 

They shape the trees so that their branches connect and form a canopy over us- one that's wrapped in Christmas lights :) So pretty!

Oreja- pig ear! Tasty but the texture didn't sit well with me, the meat was too soft and the cartilage too hard 

Sneaking a pic inside the cathedral
The cathedral was stunning. 

A view of Burgos from above.
Chestnuts (castañas) roasted on an open fire!
Sun setting over the city
A walk near Villagutierrez. Almost looks like Connecticut!
The weekend came to an end on Sunday, after a group lunch together. We were tired, but everyone had a good time. I was happy to have the opportunity to practice my Spanish, and make some new friends in the process. The weekend, I'd say, was a success. On to the next adventure!