Monday, November 21, 2011

Switzerland Splurge.

I checked another country off my list of "Places to Visit" - SWITZERLAND.

One of the reasons it will be difficult to leave Spain [whenever that day comes] is due to the massive amounts of puentes celebrated here. No, I'm not talking about bridges; it's more like when a holiday falls during the week, they just take off the other day too -- hence, Bridge/Puente Break. A holiday on a Tuesday means no work Monday either! And, as an added bonus, because I am an auxiliar, I also get Fridays off, giving me a grand total of 5 days to go exploring/6 days if I leave on a Thursday. This blog is dedicated to the 6 days I spent in Switzerland on my last Puente break in November with a good friend I met in Salamanca in 2009, Erin Melwing.

Switzerland's 5 Cs: Chocolate. Cheese. Cows. Canyoning. Caro (expensive).

Swiss Francs are like Monopoly money. While worth more than the Euro, everything has a higher price, so the exchange rate wasn't actually in our favor. However, this didn't complicate our trip: we just gave in. We splurged. And, I am so happy we did. 

Incredible view in Interlaken.
A visit to the supermarket left us pondering these funny tubes of mayonnaise and ketchup.
Bad translation = funny!
Switzerland loves its flag.
Cheese fondue.
Interlaken bier.
Swiss Chocolate.
Even the walkways were pretty.
Shutters of every color.
Fall in Switzerland!
Erin and I; Alps in the background.
Another typical photo of my feet.
Beautiful sunset.
Interlaken, a beautiful town at the base of the Swiss Alps, where the world's people go to do outdoor activities like skydiving (jumping from a plane? no, thanks!), para-sailing (cheaper in Florida), white water rafting (off season...), bungy-jumping (free falling? NO WAY!), and canyoning (jumping into freezing cold water/sliding/repelling...).  Like other adventure seekers, we spent Saturday CANYONING!

Favorite lines from the activity from Henna our guide, (1) "Ok, stand at the edge of this ledge... turn around. You know planking? Well, you're going to do a backward plank. I'm going to push you off this ledge. Ready? GO!  (2) You're going to jump off of this ledge into that waterfall. When you surface, you will be pushed against that rock wall because the current is very strong, but don't worry, that's normal. You'll just have to swim behind the waterfall and I'll get you. I promise, I will get you."  

So, as you could imagine, the day was full of surprises around every turn of the canyon. I went repelling for the first time, jumped off cliffs, and wore my first wetsuits - yes, we had two on because the water was freezing. I was a nervous-excited type of scared, but it was a one of a kind experience that I highly recommend to anyone! Since we went the last day of the season, I have no pictures or videos of me actually canyoning, here is a video of what I would have looked like!

View from the bus on the way to the canyon, overlooking Interlaken.
Tegan, Me, and Erin after canyoning in Saxten, Interlaken, Switzerland!
After our adventures in Interlaken, it was time to head to Switzerland's capital city. Since we were there on a Sunday, nothing was open. Well, we didn't see anything open in the old town anyway. But, we were fooled. What appeared to just be a second entrance to the train station/bus station, was actually an underground world that never slept! Supermarkets, restaurants, shops...everything you wanted! 

However, I am happy to say we found this paradise after we spent all of the early hours exploring the city center, above ground. We made trips to the rose garden to have a beautiful view of Bern, to the parliament building for a light show (twice), the bear garden (yes bear, not beer), to see the famous clock tower... besides cheese and chocolate, we had a wonderful chicken curry Indian dish for lunch (with the worst service ever), and attempted to go to the cinema only to find out it was 17Francs. NO THANKS! I could see 3 movies for that price in Spain - or buy loads of chocolate....which is precisely what happened.
Astrological Clock.
Trying to be artsy.
Beautiful Bern.
Bear Garden next to the river.
Roll. Werk? Bern.
There were all these cellar type things on the main street, most were stores.
Bern: up close.
Autumn leaves.
Bear Garden statue looks awesome in moonlight.
Main street by night; clock tower at end.
Love these movies. (Just not in Switzerland)
In the rose garden, we had a mini-photo shoot with the city and sunset behind us... We had many bystanders who were probably judging us, but it didn't stop us.
Overlooking Bern.
Fun hair flips.
Enjoying the view.
The light show we saw was so incredible, that we saw it twice. Since the movie was out of our ESL teaching budget and Switzerland doesn't party into the wee hours like Spain, there wasn't much to do at night, except watch the light show! We anxiously watched while we ate Tolberone McFlurries from McDonald's. Yes, I ate McDonald's - but TOLBERONE McFlurry - now, that can't be passed up.
Our last day was spent where our first night began: Geneva! Two things that are awesome in Geneva: free transport card for buses/trams during your stay and free transport card good for up to one hour when you arrive at the airport. Seriously, cool. After a horrible walk into Geneva's "Red Light District" that looked like a scene straight out of the movie Taken our first night, we used our transport cards to go the opposite direction on our last day. 

First,  we went to visit the United Nations Headquarters and the Red Cross Museum. By tram, we continued on to the center of Geneva to visit the Cathedral. From the Cathedral there is an incredible view of the city - and the famous geyser/fountain thing in the lake nearby. We drank Dr. Pepper, Mezzo Mix and Fanta Mango... had some pizza, and called it an early night back to the hostel to watch a movie (that was free of charge!) 
I've been to the UN Headquarters! Woo!
United Nations Protest.
Red Cross Museum, Geneva
A nice day for a walk in the park.
Bike friendly.
Fall in Geneva.
How pretty!
Everything was written in French or German. Geneva was very French.
View from the Cathedral.
We spent Halloween here with goodie boxes I brought from Spain.
Unfortunately, puentes don't last forever and we had to return home to the Iberian Peninsula. But, I left Switzerland so happy. Just the train rides in that country had astonishing views you could never get tired of looking at...
Swiss Lake.
Swiss Cows.
Swiss Alps.
Thank you, Spain, for allowing me 6 day breaks now and again so I can travel and check more countries off my "Places to Visit" list. Where to next?

Monday, November 14, 2011

La Vuelta a España.

There are two sides to every coin. Every conversation has two sides. Sometimes the glass is half-empty. Sometimes the glass is half-full. These short phrases remind me that there is always another side to consider and another way to view a situation. I must always remember the "other side" - and I'm working on that in Valladolid.

After coming to Spain in September 2010 with nothing but an open mind and two full suitcases, I found myself lost in an unknown town in the most rural part of Spain. It was an immediate set back and made me view life in Navalmoral de la Mata with a "the glass is half-empty" mindset. However, after a few hard weeks, I began to change my mentality and embrace my situation; besides, what could I do about it? I wasn't going anywhere else.  But, living in Navalmoral became one of the best experiences of my life. When I look back, I realize that Navalmoral taught me about true Spain - culture, language (ok, Extremadurian Spanish), friendship, Spanish traditions... It's where I learned "it's not what you're doing, it's who you're with". I think this experience is making it harder for me to transition in Valladolid...

This year, I arrived to Valladolid with a perfectly located apartment, more full suitcases, roommates... everything I needed to have a fantastic year. The glass was half-full.  But, after two months, I find myself still adjusting to my new lifestyle in the big city of Valladolid.

Before I came here, I'd heard just two things about Valladolid: 1) The weather is cold. 2) So are the people. Making friends in Valladolid is practically impossible. I've resorted to putting ads on English/Spanish language websites for friends. And, it has worked! I have a small group of friends who go out on the weekends and during the week to tomar algo (have drinks). It's a great group of people and I'm happy to have them in my life. But, I'm still not feeling "at home" yet. Last year I was one of four English speakers in a town of 18,000 people and the only English speaker in a town of 3,100 people.  I miss being famous for just being American. Valladolid has its fair share of international students and there are 20 Americans in my auxiliar/teaching group. So, it's safe to say, I'm just part of the crowd. This is the sole reason I didn't go to a big state school for university - I wanted the feeling of being known for who I was and what I was doing - not to just be a number. Well, in Valladolid, I'm just a number; the glass is half-empty. 

But, as it is said, there are two sides to each story and pros and cons of every situation.

I miss my friends.
I miss Canterville. 
I miss Irish Rover. 
I don´t miss pig ears, but I miss my friends trying to feed me pig ears. 
I miss short walks. 
I miss ¨long¨ walks of 11 minutes. 
I miss "the pool".

Living just one hour from Salamanca by car.
Living just one hour from Madrid by train.
Living just three hours from Navalmoral. 
My school is wonderful to me. 
I never need to take the bus.

Ok, so these lists are a bit skewed and clearly don't include every pro and con. But these are the things important to me right now. Because I don't feel "at home" in Valladolid, I'm still focused on past Spanish experiences and people in my life. But, I can't shut down, I must continue on as I always have, making the most of every experience. I am just so grateful for the opportunity to be in Spain again. 

As they say in Spain, "Work to live, not live to work." I work to travel, to explore new places and learn about myself in new situations. Not knowing where I will be next June is scary.  But, I'm not focused on the future. I am focused on here and now and enjoying myself. Sometimes it means taking a siesta. Other times, it means tomar-ing a beer with lemon and a pincho. It means partying all night because everyone knows some of the best bars don't get good until 5am. Little things like this make this experience worth it because my love of Spain is more than just a love of this culture - it's also about the friendships I've made with the people here. Leaving my friends will be worse than just leaving this country....

When I arrived in September, the fair was going on - la Feria. I heard there were to be over 100 casetas....but casetas in Valladolid are different than casetas in Extremadura. Here, people eat. There, people dance. Both are exciting! I was happy to have some down time before jumping into another school year.
Tasty pinchos with new friends: Jennifer, Caroline, and my roommate, Katie.
I´m only working at one school instead of two schools this year, located about 15 minutes walking from my house. No more commuting! Another bonus is that I see the same faces every week and not every few weeks. I like this, too. I have all levels in the high school from 7th graders to seniors in high school. The truth is, I think that my school (IES Ramon y Cajal) is the best part about Valladolid right now. I enjoy going to work and I´m happy about that. I work with four wonderful English teachers: Concha, Maribal, David, and Maria Jesus. All of them have been very welcoming and I feel good about what I do in each of their classes.

Typical days in the classroom include me yelling (countless times) at the students to be quiet or to ask if they understand what I've just said. I threaten to kick them out of class if they continue to speak in Spanish. I threaten to cut their hair if they don't stop eating in class. We talk about cultural differences...high school differences, traditions, holidays.... they ask me "Is it true, you can't drink in the USA until you are 21?" 
Halloween was scary fun with the 7th graders!

I have private lessons too... 15 to be exact. I call these my ¨travel fund¨.  I have seven teachers in the mornings at school; we talk about anything and everything. I learn just as much from them as they do from me. In the evenings, I have four families who all live in the center - which is a blessing - because I don´t need to get the bus EVER! Time is money and I´m not paid to ride the bus. I help with homework, give conversation classes, and my favorite (yet stressful) classes are play classes. But, I do learn a lot in the play classes, as little kids (4 and 6 yrs old) have limited vocabulary. So, I speak in English and they either repeat what I say or they speak in Spanish... we color, we sing, they make me dance... we play with balloons, we count, we play Bingo. 

In my free time, I meet with Spaniards to do intercambios - language exchanges - to practice my Spanish. I wanted to take a course in the language school here but that will have to wait until the Spring semester. So, until then, I'll keep watching Spanish TV and meeting new people. I try to travel quite often - usually to Navalmoral or Salamanca... to pass the weekend with my friends! When I stay in Valladolid, I go out here too - always with a few Americans and then other times with my Spanish friends. I rarely go out to dinner which is really frustrating (again, thinking of last year's Thursday night dinners makes me see this as a glass half-empty.) I'm getting sick of the food I can make myself - which I guess is normal after a year, as Mercadona only has 7 microwavable meals. In my free time I stray away from cooking and cleaning - just like in the USA. :)

I will continue to do as a I please and enjoy the little things (and big things) Valladolid offers me. Up until now, that has meant nights out, good students, and wonderful transportation to Madrid/Salamanca/Navalmoral to visit important people in my life. 
New apartment. New views, Valladolid.
First charanga experience, Jarandilla de la Vera.
El Cristo, Jarandilla de la Vera.
Random friend encounters, Jarandilla de la Vera.
Partying with old students, Jarandilla de la Vera.
Barefoot and alone in the Plaza Mayor around 6am, Valladolid.
Typical pictures with Rachel and Mamen, Navalmoral de la Mata.
San Miguel, Navalmoral de la Mata.
Picture for my favorite Scottish person, Navalmoral de la Mata.
Flat Stanley visit, Valladolid. :)
New amigos, Valladolid.
Divina made a visit to Valladolid!
Theta Reunion with Erica, Salamanca.
Day trip with fellow teacher Antonio, Penafiel.
Incredible view, Penafiel.
Day with Edna (and cousin Taysa), Madrid.
Exploring, El Gordo.
Lighting candles for Edna's cake, El Gordo.
Out with old friends, Navalmoral de la Mata.
Seminci Film Festival (Wuthering Heights = horrible film), Valladolid.

* * *  * ** * *  * ** ** **  * * * * * * *** 
Cheers to Valladolid and this experience of keeping my glass half-full.