A Travellerspoint blog


A Spanish Thanksgiving

sunny 20 °C

Apart from the classes Matt dedicated to teaching his kiddos about Turducken, Thanksgiving would likely have quietly come and gone without as much as a glúglu (gobble, gobble) being uttered here in Vera. Since the Spanish obviously do not celebrate Thanksgiving and Matt and I aren’t planning on stuffing a turkey or searching for a cranberry bog later this afternoon, tomorrow will likely be a normal day (maybe we’ll at least eat a turkey sandwich or two). Still, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we thought we’d share a few things we’ve found ourselves to be most grateful for while we’ve been living in Spain.

* Mercadona- Mercadona is the grocery store in Vera that Matt and I frequent at least two or three times each week. The store is relatively smaller than most grocery stores in the U.S., but if you can’t find the food item you are looking for in Mercadona, you won’t find it anywhere this side of the Spanish Sierra Nevada mountains.

* Döner Kebab- Vera’s only “fast food” option. You choose a pita with meat from either the giant hunk of lamb or chicken rotating in front of a burner which is sometimes lit, and sometimes not. When it’s not lit, we chat with the only two employees who always work there while the meat slowly warms up. They are from Pakistan and speak limited Spanish, so between our Spanish and theirs, conversations are always an adventure. A highlight of my last visit was getting a High-Five from one of the workers when he finally understood what I was attempting to explain. All in all, trips to Döner Kebab are always a treat!

* Los Simpsons- Overall, I’ve come to the conclusion that Spanish TV is pretty awful. The options are typically strange game shows, cheesy dramas or telenovelas, or hours of the news on every single channel. However, The Simpsons are on during lunch time every day so we always take advantage of this opportunity.

* 15 Hour Work Weeks- We have a good job.

* E-Books- Since we tend to read books or novels in Spanish at the rate that turtles run marathons, it’s nice to be able to access books in English too. Matt’s Kindle doesn’t work internationally so it currently functions as a great paperweight, but my less hip Sony E-book reading device has allowed me to read quite a few good books since I’ve been here. In light of the fact that today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I have to plug a book I recently read by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called Half the Sky. It’s an excellent book about the role that women’s empowerment needs to play in international development so seriously check it out!

* The Detroit Lions- Every Monday Matt and I watch an online delayed broadcast of the Chicago Bears game. For the most part, it’s been a pretty rough season for the Bears. However, even though the Lions are off to a strong with their two wins, they still remain in last place behind the Bears. So, we are thankful for the fact that the Lions maintain a solid hold on that position.

* theofficefree.com- Aside from Matt’s infatuation with reality TV shows like The Bachelor, we’re not huge TV watchers. Still, we’re faithful followers of The Office and could not find a website that worked here until the season was well on its way. Thankfully, we now watch each episode only a day or two late and with minimal pauses as the videos load and buffer their way through each 22 minute program.

* Spanish fútbol- Everything in Vera is closed by 10pm. We work 15 hours a week. Spanish TV is pretty terrible. In other words, we get really excited when a soccer game is on.

* Choc D’ors- Matt and I have come to love these pre-packaged cookies. They are small crackers with a mini chocolate bar on top, kind of like a S’more without the marshmallow. Sounds simple, but they are magical.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Posted by staley 11:12 Archived in Spain Tagged motorcycle Comments (2)

Bobbing for Swine Flu

Due to the lack of deciduous trees in the desert area we currently call home, we’ve yet to see any trees change color nor have we seen any leaves fall. Still, signs of autumn have still reached our semi-isolated area of southeast Spain. First, for me (Sara) the week leading up to Halloween was filled with attempts at bringing autumn traditions from the U.S. into my Spanish school. My favorite activity proved to be bobbing for apples in English class. Posters thoughout our school read “Cómo prevenimos la Gripe A?” or “How can we prevent the H1N1 Flu?” Having an entire class of about 30 students bob for apples from two small bowls certainly answered that question. Good new is, we are about a week and a half out from the Bobbing extraveganza, and no school-wide outbreak yet… Also, check out the pictures in our photo gallery to see some impressive Jack-o-Lanterns which were carved throughout the week.

While Vera’s palm trees don’t have much hope of changing color any time soon, Matt and I were treated to a beautiful scene filled with hundreds of trees with leaves turned orange, yellow, and red during a stroll through Madrid’s huge city park a few weeks ago. Other highlights of Madrid were visiting the Reina Sofia and the Prado, art museums housing many modern and classical works of famous Spanish artists such as Picasso and Velazquez. DSCF5353.jpg

Back in Vera, things have been picking up as Matt and I have become involved in activities outside of school. During the week, we are both teaching a few private English lessons to earn some extra cash. Matt also runs an after school program, leading his students in activities such as working on their homework and playing basketball.

Slightly colder temperatures are a final indicator of a change in the season here in Spain. As we have both survived many a cold winter in Illinois/Michigan, we are definitely still appreciative of the relatively much warmer weather here. Still, in the past week or so we have finally pulled the jackets and sweaters out of our suitcases and have come to the realization that we will not be able to swim in the Mediterranean Sea all winter.

Hasta luego and please jump in a few piles of leaves for us!

Posted by staley 02:59 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

¡Si no has visto Granada, no has visto nada!

(If you haven't seen Granada, you haven't seen nada)

View No Spain No Gain on staley's travel map.

We apologize for the lack of updates over the past few weeks, but we were trying to lay-low for awhile because our visas expired and we were no longer legal residents of the country…just kidding (kind of). But don’t worry, we are now well on our way to becoming legal residents due to our most recent trip (there have been a couple attempts) to the capital city of Almería, the province we live in.

The past few weeks we have been getting acclimated to our schools and new schedules. This is a big week at my school (Sara) because it is up to the other American language assistant and I to accurately portray how Americans celebrate the amiable tradition of Halloween. Tomorrow I’ll be spending the day gutting and carving faces perhaps on pumpkins, but likely on whatever type of gourd Spain has to offer. Maybe we’ll even use watermelons.

School has been very different for the both of us. I (Matt) have a lot of freedom in the way I conduct classes. I mostly teach the younger kids (12-14 year olds) whose level of English is not very high. Usually I show them a bit of American culture and we play a simple game to practice English, like Balderdash or Hangman or Charades. Sara, on the other hand, has not had much freedom yet. Usually she just reads a page or so from a textbook to her captivated pupils. Still, she’s doing her best to work in some rousing games of heads-up seven up whenever possible.

As for our travels, we had our first grand adventure this weekend in Granada. Granada is an amazing and beautiful city, which is divided into 3 sections: Christian, Jewish and Muslim sectors. There is also a radiant castle, which is set upon a hilltop (which we the pleasure of climbing twice when entrance tickets were sold out) called the Alhambra. We toured the Alhambra on Saturday evening and were able to go inside the Palace of Carlos V. It had many elaborate decorations, such as a leveled ceiling which represents the 7 levels of heaven in Islam. The Muslim sector of the city is also on a large, steep hill, and has a gorgeous view from a plaza called the mirador. We ascended to the mirador at sunset to look out over both the city and the castle, a breath-taking sight. DSCF5241.jpg

We also had a confusing mishap at the bus station on the way back from Granada. Apparently, we did not know this, the Spanish also practice daylight savings time, it just so happens that we turned back the clock in Spain on the day we were to return to Vera. When we arrived at the station our phones said that the time was 4 pm. The clocks all throughout the bus station said 3, and we thought to ourselves “That’s weird that the clocks in a bus station, of all places, are wrong”. Our bus (the last bus that day) left at 5, and as 4 pm approached (or what we thought was 5 pm), we anxiously looked outside to search for our bus. When we went outside it was nowhere to be found! After questioning multiple bus drivers, who were of no help to us, we asked another driver. He told us that the bus would show up at the other end of the station, and we replied “But there’s no bus there, and it is supposed to leave about now”. He looked at us funny and told us that it was only 4, and that our bus would be coming at 5. Although we were very confused, we decided to trust him, and realized what must have happened. When we returned to Vera on our bus, we found that our friends had all known about this change.

So, now that we know what time it is, are no longer in danger of being deported, and will hopefully finally get our first paycheck providing us with a few much needed Euros later this week, things are back to normal in our quiet little town of Vera. Check out the new pictures posted this evening and ¡rompe la pana!

Posted by staley 14:20 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

First week in Vera

sunny 25 °C

DSCF5011.jpgWhile it's only Thursday, this afternoon Matt and I wrapped up our strenuous 12 hour work week and are now looking to the 4 day weekend ahead (apparently Monday is a Spanish holiday?). For me, our first week or so in Vera has brought a mix of stress and siestas, understanding and confusion, and opportunities to teach and to learn.

Even though the housing search proved to be a bit challenging in the bustling town of Vera, Matt and I were both able to find apartments located very near to our schools and really everything else in the city. Matt is living with another American in our program and I am rooming with a Spanish teacher from Matt's school.

Overall, adjusting to the new culture and lifestyle here has been entertaining and enjoyable. So far, my favorite aspect of Southern Spain's culture is hands-down the obligatory siesta everyone takes each afternoon. However, we've also had a few cultural failures such as purchasing tortilla chip salsa to make pasta with and getting kicked out of what we thought to be a public park. Furthermore, we are each learning to make do without a few things that American culture so ready provides: I deeply miss ranch dressing and we (really just Matt) struggle through Sundays without being able to watch the Bears. DSCF5042.jpg

The first week working at our schools also brought its own challenges and small victories. We're both teaching in what are considered more or less high schools here, but would be middle school and the first couple years of high school in the U.S. From my experience, the younger kids are pretty nuts and struggle to make it through each of their hour-long classes, but the older kids at my school are noticeably calmer and take more of an interest in the subjects. Either way, all the kids are in one way or another enthusiastic about learning English from us, or at least learning about what we know about such great American icons as Hannah Montana and Bart Simpson...

Tonight we were finally able to upload a few pictures which you can check out in the photo gallery posted on the right side of this page. We don't have very much access to the internet, but we will continue to try to update the blog as often as possible. Bueno, hasta luego!

Posted by staley 14:58 Archived in Spain Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Sevilla Later, Vera Nice to Meet You

semi-overcast 24 °C
View No Spain No Gain on staley's travel map.

As the title clearly suggests, Matt and I have moved on from Sevilla and arrived in Vera, the town we will be teaching in throughout the school year. While I only had about 3 jet-lagged days to enjoy Sevilla, I too would give the city an excellent review and hope to return soon.

We arrived in Vera last night and are staying in a hotel for a few more days while we search for housing. While the town is certainly small, it's architecture, narrow streets, and numerous plazas filled with fountains and interesting trees give it a charming urban feel. The city is in the middle of a desert, but throughout the city there are views of mountains to the north and south while the coast of the Mediterranean Sea lies to the east.

We have the next few days free to get established in Vera, and then start up at our schools this Thursday. We've both taken many photos which we will post as soon as we can finally fully unpack and find our camera cords and a clean pair of underwear... (in Matt's case at least).

Until then, aproveche!

Posted by staley 12:48 Archived in Spain Tagged armchair_travel Comments (1)

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