Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spain's Traditional Festivals.

My first trip to Europe was in 2008. I can prove that I was in London, Madrid, Lisbon, Rome, Florence, Venice... because I have photos of me in front of all the major attractions. "I was here." The fact that I had a personal photo that I took, of whatever monument it was, just wasn't enough. 

Well, fast-forward to 2014. My photography outlook has changed. I'd rather take an incredible shot that I could put on a wall someday. Framed. One that becomes a conversational piece when friends come over. "Yeah, I took that when I was in Venice." "This is a beautiful monastery in Bulgaria that we took a taxi to... 7 hours by taxi and we only had to pay 60 euro!" That's my new outlook. It's not bragging. It's about the experience of having been THERE. 

Travel: the only thing you buy, that makes you richer.

The longer I spend time in Europe, the more I want to explore it's hidden gems. I've seen the big picture. Now, I want to understand the little pieces that make it a whole. I want to take in everything I can, even if it's a rushed trip I have to fit into a weekend. Even a small taste of a place can help you understand it -- and most likely it will leave you wanting more.

Tradition. Something that we see in America in family recipes, high school rivalry, and holidays. While tradition in Spain is also based on food culture and holidays, it's the tiny town festivals that really captivate me. 

Some Spanish festivals would be banned in the USA. Like, where would it be justified to throw turnips at someone? Where would it be acceptable to hit people with burning brooms? Where do you find an old medieval town holding a medieval festival with costumes, rides and food to match - and we'll throw in a castle too? Where do you find people running with bulls? Spain is different.

I'm lucky to have been able to experience these cool traditional festivals! 

JARRAMPLAS: A traditional turnip throwing festival.
Holy turnips!
Look at the turnips flying through the air!!
You're probably thinking that it's a prison sentence to have to be inside the suit. But, people actually sign up for this years in advance. They say the list is full until 2030... you must also be from the village of Piornal to have the priviledge to be the Jarramplas, the man inside the suit. While turnips are thrown at the Jarramplas, depending on where you're standing could mean a turnip is coming toward you! You have to be on-guard at all times as the Jarramplas quickly changes directions, people go scattering and the turnips come from every direction! 

I was so full of energy to be there - and to be in the front - getting a wonderful view of everything. I didn't get hurt by any turnips, but a few brushed by legs. The whole town smelled of turnips... there was turnip mush everywhere. It was definitely an adventure and I'm so happy to have been a part of this year's festival.  

More info here:
This was just crazy! I'll probably never see anything like it again!
Turnips as big as our faces! Me - Rachel - Mamen

MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL: Let's play dress up in Oropesa de Toledo!

Just this past weekend, in the neighbor community, Castilla la Mancha, I was able to experience my first Medieval festival in an old Medieval city! While I felt like I was on the set of Tristan and Isolde or Role Models, it was really a cool experience. People were fully dressed up - swords, armor, crowns, masks, etc. I mean, there were camel rides. An Arabic zoco complete with kebabs and falafel. Headbands to make you look like a woman from the times. Roasting pigs and sausages that filled the air with "ganas de comer" right then! And, there were crepes which had absolutely nothing to do with Medieval times but they were so good. 

Not to mention, Oropesa de Toledo is a fantastic little city. I can't believe I had never been there... it's just 15 minutes away from Navalmoral. Well, I'm glad I went and what great timing to see it as it was in its past! Three cheers for Oropesa's Medieval Festival! Ole! 
Streets lined with banners and people in costume!
Camel rides, people suntanning, a castle...
What's for lunch? It was such a beautiful day!
Watch out!
LOS ESCOBAZOS: A Fiery Festival in Jarandilla de la Vera!

This festival takes place in early December. I went during my first year in Spain when I taught in Jarandilla. It's too good to leave out of the blog post... 

But, basically, kids are taught to play with fire in Jarandilla. They are taught to hit people with their burning broom (waist down) - and when you are a teacher, you can only imagine your chances of being hit increase drastically. I know from experience. 

While singing traditional songs, people march through the streets lighting bonfires in the plazas until they reach the final plaza next to a small church. The final fire's flames actually surpass the church! I don't think anyone was nervous but me... I was so scared the town was going to catch fire - and/or myself. But, clearly, I've survived to talk about it!

Throwback photos to my experience at los Escobazos
Grab your broom...
Fire taller than the church. I saw this going wrong in so many ways...
San Fermin: Running of the Bulls!

When people think of Spain, I think it's a given that they think of flamenco dancers... Siesta & Fiesta. And, of course, the most typical: BULLS. The famous party of "Running of the Bulls", where crazy, drunk people run in front of bulls down the narrow streets of Pamplona, Spain.

I went in 2012 with my friend Zach. Wine festival. Red & White clothes. Sleeping in a park. No showers. Thousands of people... sleeping everywhere. Crowded buses. The whole lot. I can happily say: Been there; Done that. Would I repeat... maybe....!?!

The whole "running of the bulls" part lasts literally just a few minutes, once a day for six days. If you're not running with the bulls, you're packing behind 6 foot tall, wooden barricades, double stacked... with 100,000s of people... but still, it's tradition and I again, I was happy to be part of it! 

Throwback photos to 2012: Running of the Bulls!
Lucky are those who have friends with balconies!
Sleep where you can... park or bus station... your call. Want privacy? Cover your face with your scarf.

Spain is different. Long live traditional festivals.
Here's to discovering more of Spain's uniqueness...
and photographing more conversational pieces.
What will I experience next?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2013: A Recap

I started writing this blog around New Year's. So, I guess it's only fitting that it is finally being published three and a half months into 2014. 2013 was a busy year for me and I hardly had time to write about any of the "cool stuff" I was able to do, experience, and share with others. I can only hope that 2014 is filled with as many wonderful moments as 2013... if it's anything like the first three months, 2014 will be a very busy year!

School ended with lots of sad goodbyes... but I couldn't have been more excited at the same time because it was SUMMER! In June, I was able to explore Spain and Portugal with good friends from home. Theresa and Emilie came over to spend two weeks with me and live my life for a few days! To say we had fun would be an understatement! Our adventure went like this:

Madrid-Segovia-Madrid-Toledo-Madrid-Salamanca-Oporto-Aviero-Oporto-Lisbon-Navalmoral de la Mata-La Vera-Navalmoral de la Mata-Trujillo-Caceres-Navalmoral de la Mata-Madrid.

We road-tripped by car, train, bus and foot. We filled the week with day trips to many great little places and hit the big sites in the bigger cities. We spent nights out which turned into mornings... we even made new friends! In Portugal, we got lots of things for free because we were blondes; the fact that we were foreign probably helped out, too! We laughed so much and were wonderful travel companions together.

At the Aqueduct in Segovia... herd of sheep approaching in the background - was an incredible moment!
Girls having fun on the walls in Avila! :)
Roadtrip to Salamanca, check! Enjoying the sunny plaza mayor!
Theresa, Emilie, Kelsey, Laura, Me
Franceschina in Oporto! Layers of meat and bread, covered in cheese and sauce. YUM!
Basically, we found out we are super a like and did lots of similar things, unplanned.
At our favourite bar in Porto... where we basically lived every night.
What started with Fanta... ended with a Mini Cooper.

Aveiro is nicknamed "The Venice of Portugal" and for good reason...
Pinstriped fun in Aveiro, Portugal. I was clearly prepared in my striped shirt!
We're at the beach!!!! We spent nearly an hour taking stupid photos... and I saved all of them!
So much fun with these girls! Thank you for coming and enjoying Spain and Portugal with me!
We had drinks at this old castle in Jarandilla de la Vera...
Went swimming in the mountains where we had a picnic!
Rode boats in Madrid... paddled, sun-tanned... total relaxation!
We ended the trip in a "really great" hostel... that was full of outlets... ha

I couldn't have been happier to share my life with friends from home. Sometimes I feel like no one from home understands me. It's hard to describe my lifestyle... there are just so many differences--big ones and small ones, strange ones, and normal ones. I live on the other side of the big pond, and things are just done differently. Like, I go out for "dinner" and come home at 2am. In Missouri, I come home from a night out to the bars no later than 2am. I am now grateful to know that two friends from home understand my life--and me--much more after living it with me. Theresa even bought a new, European toilet for her house! They really are more efficient! Anyway, moving on.

Just after Theresa and Emilie left, I was fortunate to be able to spend nearly two weeks with one of my best friends, Gina, and her family in southern Spain and Salamanca. While the cities were not new to me, exploring them with Gina, her sister Nancy and Nancy's friends was a whole different experience. For starters, our hotels were simply gorgeous in themselves.

We explored the Plaza de España in Sevilla by day and by night, drank expensive drinks along the Guadalquivir River where we met new friends and partied the night away. We took wonderful photos from the lookout point across from the Alhambra in Granada, and went to see a flamenco show in a cave! We also ate our body weight in free tapas (but eating when I'm with Gina is a given. We are very good at that!) We then made our way to Navalmoral to celebrate the 4th of July! Yeah, we celebrated the 4th in a town that didn't even know it was an important day for us. But, we carried around an American flag and let everyone know about it! After a quick visit to Caceres to see it's historical old town, we took the bus to Salamanca.

Drinks by the river to start our Sevilla exploration.
One of Spain's prettiest plazas, Plaza de España, Sevilla.
Eating and drinking our way through Granada.
Rainbow over the Alhambra, what an incredible view!
Taking a break.. Nancy, Gina, Me
The only type of tattoo I'll ever get... henna!
Happy 4th of July from Lluis, Gina and me! Out for drinks in El Abuelo in Navalmoral.
A tour of the Real Madrid Stadium in Madrid...
While we were en route to Salamanca, I got a message from Gina's brother, Anthony. Ant told me that he and his parents were going to be flying to Madrid and making their way to Salamanca the next day. WHAT A SURPRISE! I was told to keep it a secret as we organized a little plan to surprise Gina. We eventually surprised Nancy a few days later, too! I was so happy that my second family joined us in Salamanca! We reunited with all our old friends and had the best time, ever. It was as if no time had passed and we were just hanging out, as usual, as we did back in 2008. It's funny that even as time goes on, it can seem as if time has stopped at the same time. What a treat it is to have good friends and times that seem like you just start where you stopped off the last time.
The D'Ammassa gang was here!
We played BP at Irish Rover... we actually hit a cup!
Nights out with all our novios... it was as if we had never left...
Jorge, Nacho, Gina, Rafa, Me
The whole gang went out too... we had so much fun!
Gina left, and I went back to Navalmoral for just a few days before going home for the summer. It was only a few days, but I thought I was going to die of heat stroke. Every year I forget just how hot it really is in Navamoral. Sleeping on the tile floor so I could try to "stay cool"... I open the windows hoping for a breeze--that never comes--which welcomes any bug that wants to come in because there aren't any screens on the windows! Really, the only advantage of Navalmoral in the summer is that my clothes dry in just an hour! It's really awesome!
One of the "cooler" moments... garganta time with Mamen and Marisol.
Now, summer in America.

This was the second year I brought students home with me. It was Rodrigo's second year and we were joined by Patricia, a 16 year old girl. Wow, did we have a fun time or what!? After having more trouble in the airport this year (they still think Rodrigo is a terrorist) and missing our flight and taking the shuttle from JFK to La Guardia, we got a free dinner! Oh yeah! We were all about passed out by the time we arrived home, but I was so happy to be home.

We wasted no time in getting the summer started... we went to Branson for some walking around and swimming at my grant aunt's cabin! We all had such a blast -- even though we were all jet-lagged. Patricia visited "the mecca": Victoria's Secret. Rodrigo bought some hats at his "mecca": Lids. We even brought Brittany, my mom's little sister through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Program, with us to Branson! In her words, "I'm going on vacation! I'm going to Branson and Springfield!" She was so excited.

The group at Lambert's Cafe - home of throwed rolls! (Even Brittany caught one...!)
We got Rodrigo off to camp, where he took courses on videos and medicine. He said he had more fun this year than his first year! Some of his old friends were there and he knew how the dorms worked... it was easier saying goodbye this year! When he made it back to Jefferson City, we got his "request list" which included some high priced electronics! While it took him a while to make the decisions, he got the ones he wanted and was a happy camper! We did some swimming and he and my dad played with their sling shots! I'm so happy he had a fun time with us again!
Rodrigo and a few camp friends, 2014!
Patricia and I had girl time while Rodrigo was away. In Jefferson City, we jammed to songs in the car... we got our nails done... we wore our pajamas allll day long and watched One Tree Hill!. She had some "country" experience by riding the fourwheeler, the rocking horse "Pokey", and meeting our two miniature donkys, Jose and Pedro. Then, we got antsy and decided to get out of town. We went to St. Louis and went up in the Gateway Arch and then toured the museum under the Arch, where met Patricia's boyfriend: an American Indian statue, who actually moved and talked! We made fun out of nothing! We also took the train to Chicago and walked ALL over the city--I'm pretty sure we walked over 12 miles in 2 days. (This prompted me to buy a pedometer for future trips...) We had a pit stop of just under 2 hours as we explored Forever 21 on Michigan Avenue... probably a highlight of Patricia's as she didn't have to shop online for the first time! Again, another visit to the "mecca" for her! She would also consider Poptarts, Reese's, and Funfetti Cake and icing wayyy up there; the ultimate American foods. I think it's safe to say she absolutely LOVED the USA and we loved sharing it with her!
We did "The Notebook" in the middle of downtown JC. Completely safe!
First time having Mexican food for Patri. And, I bet everyone thinks Spain and Mexico are the same! ha
Visiting the Arch in St. Louis!
Chicagooooo! What a fun get-a-way we had!!
FOREVER 21! "A dream come true" :)
103 Stores above the streets of Chicago!
The next important event of the summer was (drum roll....) MY BIRTHDAY! (veintiseis) To celebrate, we went to the Lake of the Ozarks -- "The Lake" -- and we had an absolute wonderful time. While I'm sure it seemed like an episode of "My Super Sweet 16" to our Spanish guests, to me, it was just a day at Uncle Tom's house. My uncle is always so nice and welcoming and has let me have friends down to celebrate my whole "Whitney is back in America" birthday party. Emilie and Emily came down to join the fun too and we made it a fiesta! We went on a boat ride, took a limo to dinner and then played 10cent skiball. Oh yeah! I won a water wiggler and an Nsync mind bender game. YES, I turned 26 but still act like a 12 year old. No worries, I'll grow up sometime.
The girls before dinner! Emily, Patri, Me, Emilie and Camilla
Dad and Rodrigo having fun at the arcade... :)
Just before Patricia and Rodrigo left us for the summer, we'd all gone for a dinner out somewhere (I eat so many places I can't remember where we went...not important to the story though) and the funniest thing happened. I had taught the kids about the traditional game "SHOTGUN!!!" so they didn't always have to sit in the back seat. Well, Patricia said to me "I want to yell shotgun, but your mom or dad will have to sit in back..." I told her to go for it. And, she did. She yells "SHOTGUN!!!" and proceeds to the front passenger door. My mom yells "I'M DRIVING!" and my dad says "ARE YOU SERIOUS?? FINE, I CALL MIDDLE." So, if you can imagine, we had a backseat full... Rodrigo on one side of my dad, my dad cramped up in the middle and me on the other side. It was just down right hilarious! Of course, Patricia kept it up by saying, "Wow, there is so much room up here. Do you want music? I will be the DJ!" I think it's probably the most memorable part of the whole summer in America! (Well, that and all the other things I remember...)
I'm hommee!
St. Louis Cardinal's Baseball. ALL decked out.
Walmart purchase list... Oreos, Poptarts, Confetti-cake, Reeses and Red SOLO Cups...
We went out on my dad's fishing boat... which was even a first for me!!
Rodrigo drove!
And, we hung out with my miniature donkeys Jose and Pedro. (This is Jose, I think!)
Life, after my Spanish "siblings" leave.

Now, I don't want to be rude, but Jefferson City is just not the place to be if you haven't got a daily schedule. I feel like I looked up flights to anywhere-but-JC on the daily. I did several lunch dates, but I feel like I knew that I had so much time that I just put off meeting up with people. I did have time with my family and time to just do nothing though. I love doing nothing and just being AT HOME. Of course, I take advantage of the air conditioning, my car, my favorite home cooked dinners, mom doing my laundry, dad making me lunch... life is just good when I'm at home with no real responsibilities!

When the time came to either buy a plane ticket to anywhere-but-JC, I had a very interesting opportunity come about. My former high school, Helias, called and said they had a Spanish teaching job opening. I told them I'd be able to help out until they found a replacement. For me, it was a wonderful insight into something "I might like to do" at some point in life -- it was also an escape from my daily "routine" of doing nothing. And, I loved it. I have to say, I grew quite attached to my students after our short week together. I hope I made a lasting impression on them and helped them see that foreign language class IS important. It might just be one of the most important classes they are taking... the world is becoming ever more global, as Spanish is quickly becoming a dominating language throughout the United States.

We did fun things for a week. It was like a summer camp. I think it was a whole different approach than they were used to... I thank my friend, Gina (who just got teacher-of-the-month in NY!), for all her insight and sharing her favorite website with me: I think my goal for the students was to reassure them that they actually knew more than they thought they did. I, too, need to be more confident in my Spanish skills. So, I gave them something they already conquered: Facebook and Twitter. But, we did it in Spanish. And, they absolutely rocked it!

We looked at "Justin Timberlake's" Facebook profile in Spanish. (Yes, I made it! And yes, it HAD to be JT.) Since the students already knew where to look for information (birthdays, profile photo, status update, etc.) it was easy for them to find the answers, once they understood me. That was the hard part, but after a bit of repetition, they really got the hang of it! They also learned some new Spanish celebrity names and how to say/recognize common Facebook phrases! "Me gusta tu foto de perfil!" "Melendi ha compartido la foto de Estopa."

We also translated some Tweets in present tense for a nice little present tense and vocabulary review. I think it's important to learn practical things... for traveling purposes, for general everyday conversation, to order food in a restaurant, for basic reading comprehension, etc. Most of these students won't pursue a future in Spanish, so it's important to get the basics down-pat and to feel confident about it.

The experience and opportunity I had to substitute teach at Helias was so special; I was back at my Alma-mater. I had lunch with some of my favorite teachers and we reminisced about stories from when I was a student! It opened my eyes to the fact that I could seriously consider teaching for a future job! Gracias, Helias! 

with that wonderful experience under my belt, I headed back to Spain just a few days later. (...a good 12 pounds heavier, too, from all the American goodies I'd enjoyed during the summer months with no walking and no regular exercise.)

Back in Spain, fun was just a week away. My Aunt Barb and Uncle Bill, who live in Tucson, AZ, had decided to come for a visit! While they had spent several weeks touring the east coast before coming to me, they were up for another week of adventures throughout Extremadura! We had plenty of tapas (free tapas!) and nice big plates of food for sharing. We watched little kids play on a swing-set, which we were sure was going to break at any second! We had a long wait for a rental car, which resulted in exploring a rainy Plasencia, something that hadn't even made our travel list before. So, I guess that's the silver lining, even though the car rental company really messed up on that one. I also guess I should learn to drive a stick so I can eliminate this problem in the future... (My dad would probably say, "been there, done that, and there is little hope for you!")

Other key towns/places on our "To See List" included La Vera, Merida, Trujillo, Caceres, Monfrag
üe National Park, Hervás, Salamanca, and Guadalupe! We road tripped -- in our automatic Mercedes that I was super sad to see go..... and really made the most of our time together! We drove upon small villages and sometimes got out of the car to have a look around. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Hervás for the first time! I actually ran into a friend's roommate whom I'd met four years, ago but had never really known! It's rather strange when a stranger asks "Are you Whitney?", in a town you've never visited. I always say I'm famous here, but I guess that proved it! (just kidding!) But my true favorite 'new find' was a tiny, little village called Cabañas del Castillo. It was the town of cats. We were quickly befriended by a cat who acted as our tour guide throughout the pueblo. It fell at our feel and let us pet it. No, it wasn't sick nor carrying diseases; don't worry. When we went to leave, a small kitten jumped into the part underneath our car. So, of course, that led us to lay on the ground to try and coax it out. After drawing the attention of all of Cabañas del Castillo, a nice local was able to save the kitten and we were able to leave. No hurt kitty!

Overlooking Garganta la Olla with Aunt Barb and Uncle Bill!
Bird watching in Monfrague National Park.
Cabanas del Castillo, up in the mountains, no one around!

Some of the most interesting flowers I've ever seen...
Another view of Cabanas del Castillo, built right into the rock.
Hervas, a beautiful little mountain town between Navalmoral and Salamanca.
In Hervas with Uncle Bill!
Look where WE are!!!!!!!!! So happy they came for a visit!

First time in Casa Lis' for a coffee.... cannot believe it took me all these years to find it!
I'm always so grateful when people come to see me and we make new memories together! This trip transformed me into an avid bird watcher; in Monfragüe National Park, we were able to see numerous Griffin Vultures. This was a highlight, too; they are just gigantic birds who perch and then fly and perch again... binoculars are an incredible invention. I am now the proud owner of a new pair thanks to my aunt and uncle! (Gracias!) I still find myself looking at birds and wondering what my aunt's birding book would tell us about them. Just yesterday, I noticed the storks are back in town! Yes, storks. They are very common in Navalmoral and sit high above the church. Thanks for coming Uncle Bill and Aunt Barb! I am so happy to have shown you my version of Spain!

That brings us to the second week of October. Wow!

School started in Spain and I unfortunately had to get in that routine I had been wanting. You know, when the time arrived, I really wished I was back in the sun room at my house, in that big comfy chair just like weeks before. This year I am teaching 7th graders to Sophomores at IES Augustobriga in Navalmoral. This is the first time I've never had to carpool to school while living in Navalmoral! It is so nice! I work mainly with the bilingual courses, but have the opportunity to teach in some Music and PE classes and other non-bilingual classes as well. The students seem to enjoy my class, as they are usually alone with just me. I take groups of 10 students to my own classroom and we have our conversation classes there. It works nicely and I have freedom to have whatever atmosphere I want. Of course, we always try to have fun, but we also have to get things accomplished and make headway.

I've got one class of 15, 15 year old boys. They usually ask me off the wall questions... and they usually sound something like: "In Spain (points down at table) has boyfriend got you?" I say "Maybe!" I asked them what their New Year's Resolutions were, and one of the two boys named Carlos told me: "I will sing in the shower and not in my bedroom because it bothers my mom." Ok, I mean, that is original. Another boy told me he wanted to open a medicinal marijuana shop to help the sick in the community. Again, that is very independent thinking... and they are practicing their English skills... so, to put it nicely, I am glad they take advantage of my lessons and actually practice English! They test me. They make me stronger. They get on my nerves. They make me laugh. They are able to laugh at themselves. And, we laugh together! Now, that is a good class.
With one of my second levels, 8th graders, we made a video to send to Gina's school in NY! It was mainly about introducing themselves in English, but also about Christmas vocabulary they prepared in both English and Spanish. In the video, each of the students described a traditional food, decoration, etc. about Christmas for the American students to guess--in Spanish!

Can you guess the word? Look at the English level my students have!

--They are shaped like asterisks. They're small. Together, they form a snowball.
--It's round. It has a bow. It's usually on the door for decoration.
--He lives in Finland. He is fat. He delivers presents to all the children. 

(Answers: snowflakes//wreath//Santa!) In the afternoon, I teach even more. All that talk about "Spanish siesta" is real... but it is not a part of my lifestyle unfortunately. I usually have between 30minutes to an hour and 30 minutes to walk from school to my house, eat, and walk to the next school. This year, I am giving courses to teachers through the Teacher's Resource Center (CPR) in Navalmoral. I really enjoy teaching adults because they know why they are in my class: to learn English, to speak English, to learn American culture. They aren't there to speak Spanish or to socialize with their co-workers. It's such a nice change from the high school.

I also have my usual families, who I have grown to be a part of instead of just being "the English teacher". I'm so grateful to have met such nice families who have welcomed me into their homes and their lives. 

First up, Paris, France! It was my second time visiting Paris, and I enjoyed it twice as much as the first time. In 2008, Paris was the first place in Europe I'd visited where I understood NOTHING. I was a bit nervous and under the "I can't believe I'm in Europe" spell. But, this time, I was all for exploring. The first day we spent at Versailles Palace, which was simply, incredible. The swarms of people were not so inviting and made the tour very stressful. Marie Antoinette's smaller palace was a bit of a walk away, but I found it quite charming and more welcoming because there weren't any crowds!
Hall of Mirrors.. is probably even more breathtaking without all these people, but what are you gonna do? ha
Hanging out at the gardens at Versailles.
The rest of our time in Paris was spent visiting the Eiffel Tower, outside the Louve Museum, The Thames River, The Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, and other smaller neighborhoods that had the cutest Parisian cafes. Besides visiting Versailles, highlights for me included the Ponte des Arte, where I found love locks! and seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge all lit up at night! Yes, I love being a tourist and taking all the touristy photos in front of famous statues, but, I prefer to be a traveler. I like to just see what I see while I meander through the streets. I like to see how people live their day to day life. I like to see laundry drying, hanging over the streets. I like to stop and have a hot chocolate... and then stop at another cafe and repeat the experience, comparing the two drinks. In Paris, we were both tourists and travelers. We took everything in!
Absolute favorite bridge... "Pont del Arte" across the Thames next to the Louve. LOVE LOCKS!
Funny tourist photo at the Louve. Whitney Fountain!
It's so pretty by night...
Moulin Rouge! What a cool place to photograph with all the lights!
My last weekend in Europe before going home to Missouri for three weeks was spent exploring
Timișoara, Romania. We also did an eventful day trip by train just north of Timișoara to Arad, too. We went with no plans of what there was to see or do, but just to enjoy ourselves. And, enjoy we did. We stayed in the nicest 4start hotel we could find. Took long showers. Had a movie night and ordered pizza while we lounged in our pajamas. Watched all the American programs Spain doesn't provide us with... IN ENGLISH! Bought a train ticket successfully in Romanian, thanks to Rachel's awesome iPhone app. Had cheap (but awesome, local brewery) beer. Ate at ONLY the expensive restaurants. Went to a shopping mall. Bought my New Year's Eve dress! Had Starbucks (and it was cheap, too!)Basically, this was a trip on a whole different level because our money went a loooongggg way. "Oh, that place looks expensive... LET'S GO!" was our attitude. The waiters treated us very well because we ordered two specials of everything. Two soups, two meals, a bottle of wine.... 12 euro each AND THAT WAS THE EXPENSIVE MEAL. Our local brewery dinner at the Timișoarana Brewery cost us a TOTAL of 12 euro (15 dollars more or less)... and we couldn't even eat all our food (but we did down 2 pints of beer each!) Mulțumesc, Romania for being so cheap!!
I have to feed pigeons when I see big groups of them...
Where do you want to go? We went to Arad.
So peaceful... Timiosoara!
New Fanta flavours... enjoyed on the train to Arad.
Travel buddies in the "little-Vienna" plaza in Timisoara, just before getting on the airplane back to Spain.
Then, it was time to make the 33 hour journey home to Missouri. Basically, it went like this: I worked all day Thursday. Had lunch at Rodrigo's house. Went home, showered around 8pm. Went to the Liverpool Academy Christmas dinner at Boulevard Cafe at 10pm. Finished dinner at 1am. Went home to get my suitcase. Walked 15 minutes to my high school in the rain. Got on the bus with my students who were on their way to Amsterdam for a field trip. (Yes, a high school field trip to Amsterdam!) They gave me a ride to the airport... but then I had to wait 6 hours until my plane left. I prepared the video of my students to give to Gina. I met a really nice Spanish man in line and we chatted for nearly 45 minutes. He was 55+... and he found me on the plane and gave me ALL of his contact numbers in NY and Alicante, Spain, should I want to visit. He was just the nicest person! (No, I'm not going to visit him.) The flight was 9 hours long, and I barely slept due to the placement of my seat--next to the bathroom, on the aisle, in the absolute last row. I'd be rich if I had a dollar for every person who hit my seat, used it for balance, leaned ON ME... it was a total disaster. Upon arrival to Newark, NJ, I got a nice view of the NYC skyline! I met a nice Korean boy next to me who was freaking out "It's my first time in America!!!!" He then asked me about Black Friday Sales... it was December 13. I couldn't break his heart, so I told him "If you look really hard, I bet you could find one!" (Oops.) Well, then, my new friend's bag was mistaken by another passenger and it got taken.. so he had to chase the guy down. And, then I forgot my coat and had to walk the length of the plane AGAIN to get it. Anyway, I was in no hurry because I had a 7 hour layover in Newark. But, Gina came to the rescue!!! After she had sat in traffic for 3 hours, she finally made it to me. We had dinner at an airport restaurant where the alarm went off for a good five minutes straight. (Annoying!) We exchanged Christmas presents! Then, I had to get on my plane to STL. Two and a half hours nap later, we arrived to a snowy, cold, iced over Missouri. HOME. haha, not quite yet. It took us nearly four hours to make the 2 hour journey... and I finally got HOME HOME at 4:35am. Then, I showered. Then, I was happy. Then, I slept until 4pm. That was day 1 in Missouri and the end of my journey home for Christmas. Phewww, that was a long day and a half.

Home was surprisingly good. After dreading the long summer down time, I was nervous Christmas would be much the same. But, I was wrong. Christmas was wonderful! I was able to relax, see friends, go out a few times and have awkward mini high school reunions, eat at ALL my favorite places, go ice skating with my mom's little sister (BigBroBigSis) Brittany, see a few Helias holiday basketball games, visit the teachers and my former students at Helias, play dominoes, go to a Westminster baseball team holiday party, drink Cranbeerrrritas, forget my Spanish, practice my English, brainstorm about next year, ring in the new year surrounded by old friends... but most importantly, I was able to see my family and spend time with them. (Zoe too! Meow!) 

Saying goodbyes!
Christmas 2013... at the airport!
See you in July! :)
While the snow and ice and cold and bad weather really messed up Christmas plans, it was really beautiful. I love telling my students how cold it is in Missouri because they think it's "cold" here, in Navalmoral. I've been enjoying showing them photos of home and of the snow. I've also been introducing them to candy canes, which they love!

I've been talking about New Year's Resolutions with all my students this first week back. And, it has gotten me thinking about my own resolutions. I don't think I've ever made any, but I think I'm going to write down a few things I'd like to work on:

1) Learn all my students names. (I've got 120 in the bilingual section alone... Just to name a few... Jorge, Javier, Juan, Jose, Jaime, Jesus, Adrian, Alba, Alvaro, Angela, Alberto, Arantxa, Hugo, Carlos, Carmen, Pablo, Paco, Patricia, Pilar, Paula, Raul, Ruben, Raquel, Ruth, Mohammed, Maria, Marina, Marta, Lucia, Sole, Silvia, Samuel, Fatima, Dimas, David, Elena, Ester, Estella... ETC.)
2) Stop hitting snooze in the morning.
3) Skype/call friends and family back home more often.
4) Practice Spanish grammar. 
5) Spend one hour a week, outside of class, preparing essays for my Portuguese class.
6) Find time for ME during the week to relax. 
7) Ask for help when I'm stressed. 
8) Learn the word 'NO'... to only do what I really feel like doing. 
9) Continue traveling and exploring new places... 
10)Try to eat less so I fit into my veryyy tight carnival costume at the end of February.

2013 was a wonderful year which brought me many new experiences! I challenged myself and took on new work loads. I started learning a third language. I did a three day road-trip,. alone, by car (and only put one scratch on it!) I shared my Spanish life with friends and family from home. I can only hope 2014 brings just as many smiles, laughs and memorable moments to my life! SALUD!