Saturday, August 4, 2012

10 Cities in 10 Days.

After getting moved to Extremadura, the next adventure was set to begin. 10 Cities in 10 Days. While we hadn't planned anything in advance, we had a plan in mind and we set off! 

Zach (a friend from Missouri) and I had decided to travel together... visiting his old friends/roommate in Madrid, finally visiting Asturias for me (and him) to make me happy, returning to Running of the Bulls (for him) and my first time seeing the toros, going to Barcelona (for him) to make him happy and my third visit to the wonderful city & to visit two friends of mine who live/are from there, and ending in Madrid with his friends again to do some day trips and catching up time!

In the end...

Madrid. Oviedo. Gijon (beach day!). San Sebastian (changing buses), Pamplona. Zaragoza (changing buses). Barcelona. Madrid. Avila. El Escorial. Ten cities in ten days. Wow, we were busy! 
Madrid's Barajas Airport, where I spent 5 hours waiting for Zach... delayed flights stink! I ended up buying a book to pass the time. I wrote some blogs. I took a siesta. This was my "view"...
After Zach arrived, we went for a relaxing day in the park; we had some refreshing drinks and enjoyed the Spanish sun. After, we headed to Augustin's flat (Zach's old roommate) where we were staying. After a tasty Mexican dinner and some Coronitas, we called it a night!

Day two was spent with Rocio, Zach's friend (and now mine!), visiting the Royal Palace and main historical buildings in the center of Madrid. Later in the day we visited the Residencia de Estudiantes, where many famous men came together and studied. This was Zach's fave.
Walking from the Residencia to Parque Retiro to meet up with Gonzalo, Rocio's boyfriend and another of Zach's friends, we stopped by the United States Embassy! Happy 4th of July!!!!
On Day 3, we made our way from Madrid to Oviedo, Asturias, in Northern Spain. I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful Oviedo was! Wow! Many of my Westminster friends have studied abroad in Oviedo, and I was happy to finally see it for myself!
For lucnh, we had fabada, arroz con leche, and Asturian sidra! You have to pour it over your head into the glass. I was happy the waiter poured it for us, because I've tried to do it before, and more ended up on my feet than in the cup!
Day 4: Beach day in Gijon!!! Unfortunately, the tied was rising...and rising...
and we were kicked off the beach just after a few hours. But we enjoyed a nice bocadillo at the beach and enjoyed the Spanish sun for a little while before we were forced to leave!
Gijon, a coastal beach town in Asturias, is absolutely lovely! Check out that sky over the port! After the beach was a no-go, we spent time exploring other places of Gijon before heading back to Oviedo.
Day 5: Due to last minute plans and a lack of busses/trains/transportation in general to get to Pamplona, we had to pay extra to go on the express bus to San Sebastian, then a second bus to Pamplona. But, the express bus was the coolest bus EVER. Seats with fold out foot rests (real ones, none of those that flip out from the seat in front of you), individual TVs, free water, free sandwiches and sodas for our dinner snack, a bus attendant, and free gifts when you arrived to your stop: little magnetic people clips that stick together and form a piece of "art". It was the fastest, most comfortable 5 hour bus ride: EVER!
The Picos de Europa around us were so breathtaking! I think Northern Spain has some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen. Due to window glares and constant tunnels, I couldn't get too great of photos in the really pretty places, so this will have to do! But, still, look at those mountains!
Later on Day 5, after a stop in San Sebastian, we finally made it to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls festival. Picture 500,000 people, dressed in red and white... partying in the streets for 10 days straight... drinking wine. Let's just say, Los Fermines is a fiesta you should experience once in your life. By the end of 10 hours, you're sick of seeing red and white clothing, drunk people, stepping on trash and people. Yes, people.
We couldn't leave Pamplona's bull festival without riding one... my favorite ride: El Toro Loco! Zach and I both had battle wounds on our hands and legs from falling off!!
Dressed in red and white, blending right in with the crowd. 

A little taste of the bulls! :)
After sleeping in the park, we got up early on day 6 to go see the bulls run! There are 10 bulls and some other cows running down the streets around 7:30am. The bulls were inside two rows of fencing, and all the people (who were smart not to run!) were packed behind them. While it was a bit uncomfortable and super hot, it was over rather quickly and we made our way to the bus station, which was an experience all on its own!
People slept wherever people could sleep. The tv monitors didn't work, so you had to walk around to find your bus... 6 buses left for Zaragoza at the same time... which was ours? What. A. Mess. Well, in order to get to the doors of the buses, you had to step over the people still sleeping/passed out from too much wine. My 50+ pound suitcase didn't help matters - good thing Zach was strong!
Day 6, in the afternoon/evening, was spent exploring La Rambla and its surrounding areas in Barcelona - like, the Plaza Mayor seen above. We were able to meet up with an Irish friend of mine, Seodhna, who I met in Salamanca. Together, we all went around the Gothic quarters, near Bacelona's port, before stopping for tapas.
Barcelona's port at sunset. Yet another amazing view!
On day 7, we explored Gaudi's Parque Guell, that has nice views of Barcelona below. Good thing they had esclators to climb the hills to get there, or I'm still not sure if I'd have made it to the top! What a fantastic place - the tile work, the design - it just let you in awe!
Zach wanted to see the 1992 Olympic park, so we went. This view is overlooking the magic fountain, Plaza Espana, and the Plaza de Toros (all seen on the left of the photo!) Later in the night, we returned to the magic fountain (thinking we would see the light show - but it only happens on certain nights in the summer - bummer!) where we bought beers from the guys walking around and enjoyed the nice summer weather, before we met up with my other friend, Edu, who lived in Valladolid this year! We spent the night going out on the town, which was way too much fun!
After visiting the Olympic stadium, we needed some refreshments. Healthy ones! We stopped by the San Josep Market just off la Rambla. These fresh fruit slushes were wonderfullllll. What kind do you want?
After trying to visit the Cathedral of Barcelona, (we visited La Sagrada Familia earlier in the morning) and were unsuccessful due to my sundress, we wandered through the Gothic area again and found this wonderful side street! How pretty is that walkway?!
After spending the 8th morning on the high speed train (thank you Zach!) we made it back to Madrid to spend the evening/nigh with Rocio and Gonzalo. We went to El Escorial, a town/monastary about half an hour from Madrid. Later in the night, we had a nice dinner with their friends!
Day 9 included churros for breakfast followed by a fun day trip to Avila, with Rocio, Gonzalo, and two of their friends. We hiked the city walls that surround Avila's old town. We had incredible views of the city below as we circled the town from high above. We had a wonderful home made dinner at Gonzalo's house, with some of the best tortilla espanola I've ever had prepared by Gonzalo's mom! 

Day 10 was a day full of traveling - from Spain back to Missouri. Rocio and Gonzalo took us to the airport where Zach and I met up with Rodrigo, the 12yr old Spanish student from Navalmoral de la Mata, who was coming to spend three weeks in the USA at a summer camp and then with my family and me. We said goodbyes to Rodrigo's family and headed for our plane! After stops in Miami and Chicago, we were happy to be home! 

I had an incredible time traveling during my last days in Spain for the 2011-2012 school year. I'm so glad Zach decided to come visit, as it's always nice to travel with friends and family from back home! We had great experiences in places that were new/old for both of us and wonderful friends to meet up with along the way! Thanks for a fun adventure, Zach!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hasta Luego!

In Spain, it's never goodbye; it's just see you later.  "See you Later" can be taken literally as "see you later in the day" but, most likely it means, "see you in a few days" or " see you in a few weeks".  When you see someone on the street in passing and you have no intention to start a conversation, you say hasta luego. When you leave the house for an hour or three days, you say hasta luego. When you leave a store or a restaurant, you say hasta luego to those near you.  I guess it's just what you want it to be.

Well, the time has come in the school year to say "hasta luego" to all those who I have come to respect and love in Valladolid. It's bittersweet really... bitter because it's over, sweet because it happened ... bitter because I have to leave, sweet because it's summertime and that means I get to spend an extra long visit with my family.

I was skeptical about coming to a new school. What if it didn't feel right? What if I didn't like the teachers? What if I didn't get a day off? (and other super serious issues like lesson planning, etc.) Just, what if...???

Well, I'm happy to say, I couldn't have been blessed with a kinder school.  From day one, the teachers and students made me feel welcome; I felt like a new member of the family. Everyone was interested in meeting me and comparing me to the former language assistant (they say they like me better!) I got asked the usual "first time meeting questions" ...time and time again.

1. What's your name?
     - I would say "Whitney" and they would say "Winnie the Pooh?" And laugh. Of course. I kindly
       told them, "No, like Whitney Houston." Then they understood, finallly!

2. Do you have any pets?
     - Me: "....blah blah...and I have two donkeys."
     - Every student: "Donkey? What is a donkey?"

3. What's your favorite alcoholic drink?
     - Seriously, this is one of their favorite ones... to which I respond "fanta limon/vodka negro" -
       then, I turn it into a cultural lesson: "In America, we don't have Fanta lemon nor black vodka,
       so when I'm in Spain, I like to drink them together." 

     - Their response: "No lemon?????" (like it's the end of the world.)
4. Do you like sports? Actually, it's more like "Which side are you on, Madrid or Barcelona?"
     - I tell them I played basketball and that I'm not a fan of football/soccer and again, they look at
       me like "are you an alien? you DON'T like football?" (again, the end of the world!)

5. What is your surname/last name? Do you have Tuenti (Spanish facebook)?
     - After telling them it was Griffin, I had to pause to let them discuss (in Spanish) that I have the
       same last name as the family from Family Guy. Then, I would get the next question....

6. Is your father's name Peter? 
     - To which I would respond, "No, and I don't have a brother named Stewie."
7. Do you have any brothers and sisters? 
     - To which I would say, "No..." and they would make clicky noises and make a hand gesture
        meaning "she has money" (As they do for every person who is an only child.)

6. What is your favorite sport? (clearly, it's not the same as number 4.)
7. Where do you live in Valladolid?
     - It was simple: "In the Plaza Circular with two roommates." Although most times they didn't
       understand my American accent on "Circular"...

8. How old are you?
     - Me: "I'm 24."
     - The boys: "I'm 18....(with a sense of 'date me, please!')" or "My brother is 24..."

9. Do you have a boyfriend? 
     - I said "Yes, one in every country." (I wish!)
10. Do you speak Spanish?
     - Simple answer: "No... I only speak a little "hola/adios/me llamo Whitney..." I couldn't have the
       students knowing I understood/spoke Spanish because I knew they wouldn't put any effort
       into speaking English in the classroom. I still remember one day when I said "hola" to a 7th
       grader and she about died. She ran to her friends and said "Whitney me ha dicho 'hola'..."
       ("Whitney just said "hola" to me!") I mean, it's not rocket science, even my mom knows how
       to say "hola". haha

I had quite the range of classes... from 7th graders to seniors. But they were all really good students, for the most part. I think the worst behaved class was actually one of my favorites, not because they were annoying, but because it was an annoying/funny/entertaining sort of thing. You know, the type of class that asked you "what does the word _______ (insert any bad word here) mean?" on the first day of school. I told them that I would teach them these words the last day of the year... well, today was the last day and what was the first thing they said to me when they came in the room? "Teacher, today we are going to talk about all the bad words, right?" And, keeping my promise, I did. Actually, I didn't teach them anything new, but we just reviewed their vocabulary, which was, not-surprisingly, pretty large. We also made a video where they told me their deepest, darkest secrets! My favorite lines are "Ivan loves you." "I adore you" and "Vamos a echarte mucho de menos." (We're going to miss you!)

During my last days of school, some students made me a cake... another class threw me a surprise party! And, the best part was that they were the high school seniors - it really made me feel special when the oldest students felt like they got close to me! We took an abundance of photos that I will take with me next year... and of course, upload to el Tuenti, Spanish Facebook.
The girls from 2A - I'll miss you all!
Surprise!!!!!! You all were so nice to throw me a party! :) Good luck at University!
I experienced my first Spanish graduation (no cap toss here!) and reception. Boy, was it a night to remember. The reception was drinks and snacks in the school cafe/gardens. After, all the students went for dinner (at 9:30pm) with the teachers before going to an open bar for drinks (lots of drinks) and dancing into the late hours of the morning ...followed by breakfast. What a way to end an era. (Remember my students can legally drink at 18!)
Instead of tassels, they get stoles!
Enjoying the dinner with Dani, one of the seniors, who kept filling my wine glass to the top!
Doesn't sound much like a high school graduation does it? No. I didn't think so either. But, I was happy to join in the fun, until 4am when I called it a night. (I'm pretty sure they nicknamed me "abuela" but after going out until 7am the night before I couldn't handle it. Somehow I lasted until 8am the following day...but that's another story!) At dinner, I was given a "special seat" at a smaller, round table with four of the boys. I was informed that one of them only came to my English class "cada miercoles" ... because he thought it was fun, yet educational, and because he got to see me. I was taken back by it, as I never knew he only came to my classes! I was flattered a little, even. I love when the students enjoy my classes. It really makes my day when they are happy and class goes smoothly and without any guerras.

Later in the evening, I pulled the "teacher" card when all the boys were in front of the girls at the open bar. I told the bartender, "Excuse me... I'm the teacher and we are girls and girls should be served first." So, he did. It got shocked looks from the boys and cheers from the girls! After a while, the boys began to ask me to dance - as I was bombarded in twos - one boy would take my drink, the other would ask me to dance. Dancing was really fun actually; I even pulled an Ellen's Dance Dare on Antonio, one of the fellow teachers - which also got the students excited! I really had such a nice night, if only I could have lasted until breakfast. haha 
4am and still kicking it at Sotobanco!
El Parque de Attraciones de Madrid 
Thursday, April 21, we spent the day at a theme park in Madrid. Several students from 4th level (Sophomores) asked me to go with them for their end of the year trip... I didn't know that it was actually a total of 80 students from 7th graders to sophomores and was pleasantly surprised to spend the day with so many of them. We rode roller coasters and swings that overlooked Madrid and the park, I was coaxed onto the log ride (I hate water rides!), we went on another ride that drops like 10 stories in 3 seconds, and walked through a haunted house "La Casa de Terror" (which was actually really scary. I may or may not have held one of my student's hands the entire time and held onto the arm of another. I was literally screaming my head off around every corner and wouldn't have been surprised if Roberto's hand was broken and Fran's arm had bruises that looked like my hands!)
High above Madrid!
Sophomores/What a fun day we all had together! :)
Proof i was on the log ride. I barely got wet! YES!
That's me on the far right! Hands up, I had to look 'cool'!
To ride the last ride of the day, we had to wait in a line for 1.5 hours. Seriously, 1.5 hours!! I waited in so many lines throughout the day...that was the worst part about the Spanish theme park! But I didn't mind the wait though, as the students were quite entertaining. We shared stories about the school year, talked about the summer, they talked about their girlfriends/boyfriends/ex-relationships/cute boys in line/etc, we discussed their English marks - and how they wanted me to persuade the English teachers to change their marks, etc. (Sorry boys, I don't think I'll get the last one accomplished!)  
Two of my favorites, Ivan and Krasi, waiting in the longest line of the day!
You should have seen Ivan's ponytail I made him... super mono!
Final Private Lessons 
Saying goodbye to private lesson students is always a mixture of emotions. While I got closer to some and others were more of a "job", I will always hope they are doing well - studying hard - and having the time of their lives as they grow up! Some I have friended online, others aren't even in primary school. When you've spent a year playing with a 4 and 6 year old, you hope they've learned more than the word..... (big drum-roll here).... poop. But I can't say confidently that they could remember any other words on command. Well, at least it was fun!

In Mary and George's last class, we made jewelry from play-doh. Maria wanted to take photos and videos like models. So we did. The video started out with them talking about going to the bathroom in the toilet. "I'm Jorge and my sister Maria goes poop in the toilet... I'm Maria and I do too and he does too." When I asked them to "say something in English", I got the following responses... "No!" and "Poop!" - well, at least they understood me. Por lo menos! While I'll miss their cute personalities and high energy, I won't miss playing Twister every Monday and Wednesday. No more right-hand-red for a few months! 

"You're still here?"
After finishing up classes, and saying goodbyes, I wanted to spend as much time as possible in the school, around the people who made me feel so comfortable.  Basically, people kept saying “You’re still here?  You’re not in the USA?  When do you go?  Do I have to say my official goodbye, yet?”

One of the mornings back at the school, I was gifted the school magazine.  Last year, in the primary school, I got two pages full of info/photos/goodbyes/good luck wishes about me. This year, I got two and a half pages!  My “spread” consists of photos, an interview done by a class, and a writeup/memoria that I wrote titled: “How to be a language assistant and not to die in the attempt” (I didn’t name it, but it fits the cause).

The first paragraph is as follows: Whitney Griffin came from the United States in September to work in our center as a language assistant. He work and good character have helped not only better our linguistic competencies but also our knowledge of the culture and traditions of her home country. The students quickly grew close to her, for them she was "la Whitney", and all the teachers already consider her one of them. Here we offer you some of her reflections about her work in our country. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE WHOLE ARTICLE (pgs 30-32) 

After reading the article, I realized that my English has gotten… worse.  To the following question: “Who is your favorite singer?”  I of course answered: “Justin Timberlake”. But, I followed it up with: “Justin Bieber… no!”  (I’m officially “old” because most of them don’t know who Jt is.  JT!!!!!)  In Spanish, they put “no” at the end of a sentence and either it negates the anterior phrase or it turns it into a question.  I probably should have said “Not Justin Bieber.”  So, just remember if I’m speaking to you and I put “no” at the end of a sentence, I’m asking you a question.

For example:  (I’ll probably be using this phrase often… I haven’t been to a movie in MONTHS.)
Incorrect: We’re going to the movies tonight, no?

Correct: Are we going to the movies tonight?

Another day in the school, when I was walking home, Antonio, a fellow teacher, stopped and offered to give me a ride home.  We had an African heat wave come through Valladolid/Spain for a few days, over 100 degrees every day… so I JUMPED when I heard the horn – jumped right into his car. I probably would have jumped into a stranger’s car, it was THAT hot.  In Missouri, it’s hot – normally 90/100 (37-40 for my Celsius amigos!) but I'm not walking around in the heat! Instead of taking me home, he invited me to come for lunch with his parents since they lived just near my place.  Of course, I don’t turn down a good, home cooked meal and good company, so I went and we had a really nice time!  Later, he took me around some pueblos in the Valladolid province. I hadn’t had the chance to visit many pueblos, so again, I was super excited for the adventure.  We made a nice circle and were able to visit Nava del Rey (The town where Antonio lived when he was younger.), Medina del Campo, Tordesillas, and finally *Simancas, where we had dinner… croquetas, ensalada mixta, revuelto, roasted baby lamb/lechazo! YUM!
Nava del Rey on the horizon.
Castillo de La Mota is a reconstructed medieval fortress from the 11th century in Medina del Campo.
The great view of Simancas overlooking the Pisuerga River.
*Interesting fact about Simancas.  Now, I’m no history buff, so I only remember the general idea of the story… basically, there was this king who wanted 100 pure girls to come live with him.  He requested a certain number from each town.  From Simancas (then, not named Simancas) he wanted seven.  However, their families/town didn’t want to send the girls away, so they cut off one of each of their hands.  <<“Si” = “siete” and “Mancas” = “one arm/hand”>>  In the end, the king decided he didn’t want girls who weren’t perfect, so he let them stay with their families.  So, that is how “Simancas” became “Simancas”.

Another day, I met with Maribal to go to her house for the afternoon.  I’ve been going every Tuesday for lunch for as long as I can remember. It’s Tuesday as I’m writing this… and it’s going to be strange come lunch time and I’m not headed to her house with her family.  Well, the last lunch was extra special. We went swimming (ok, I sunbathed) and then had lunch out on the back patio.  After, we took naps in the garden…  and later went to Palencia, another town near Valladolid.
Calle Mayor in Palencia.
Palencia had old charm, like this building, the Colegio de Villandrando. 
Palencia, a town of about 50,000 people, was actually quite surprising! It has preserved many older buildings and offices (pharmacies) and they are seen sporadically throughout the city.  I hadn’t ever really heard anything nice about Palencia, but I decided for myself that it’s a nice place.  I think it could bave been a nice experience to live there vs. Valladolid city because the people seemed friendly.  There was so much life in the streets and in the plazas; it had a small town feel to it, a safe non-city feel. I like that feeling!

I feel like I know Castilla Leon really well now, sad to say I waited to long to venture outside of Valladolid to get to know its pueblos, but I'm happy I finally did! 

End of the Year Dinners
So, goodbyes weren't getting any easier. I had a final dinner with Concha and Maribal at Maribal's house with both of their families and it was a fantastic way to say goodbye... I've gotten so close to both of them that it's strange to think that I won't be there next year with them! 
Wonderful food... but even better company!
The last day of the school year, June 29, the teachers and staff at the high school had a really nice farewell dinner where they honored two teachers who were retiring. Everyone said goodbye to me and other teachers whose jobs have been changed due to cutbacks in Spain, too. After our 2 hour lunch, a large group of us went to a nice terrace for drinks. Our best amigos, vodka, gin, and rum were all there. We fought for the salty-sweet gummy-bears in the cocktail nut mixture... and we had a good afternoon! I love co-workers who know how to turn an afternoon lunch into an early evening party! I finally went home around 1am, after I had tapas and drinks with David, one of my fellow English teachers and his girlfriend, Mila. What a nice day and night we all had together! I was so sad to say goodbye, so I turned it into a "see you later" because I KNOW I will be back. They aren't getting rid of me that easily! ;)
Hey, hey the gang's all here!
The retirees and their co-workers, giving a toast! Arriba, abajo, al centro....
My right and left sides, Jose Angel and Concha, my tutor!
I could not have asked for a better second year in Spain. I like to say that I've gotten really lucky these last few years. Maybe it's just me and what I make of it. Here's to round three! But first, I have to enjoy my summer at home!!!!! :)