Feliz Navidad!

I promise this is my last post exuding holiday cheer (maybe). As I sit on a plane bound for Colorado with eight and a half hours to go, it only seems appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on some Spanish Christmas traditions that I’ve come to take part in the past few weeks.

Now that I’m a working girl, one could only hope to partake in a “holiday office party” that always seemed so wild and crazy as a young kid listening to parents gossip about. Thankfully, teachers like to have fun too (who knew?) and we have been nonstop celebrating. To begin, last Friday night we had a staff dinner in a town right outside of the city center. Long story short, the dinner began at 9 and did not end until 2:30. Welcome to Spain.

The past few days at school have consisted not of grading homework and repeating questions like “What is your name?” but rather, drilling the lyrics of “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” into my student’s little non-English understanding brains. All our work lead up to the Christmas concert yesterday morning at Estremera’s Cultural Center for all their parents to see and hear. Remember those teachers who would always have to stand at the corner of the stage waving their hands and dancing for the kids to follow? This girl. I figured you would be sad about missing out on the festivities so compiled the hour-long concert into this two minute video:

Jealous much? Probably not… But on another note, I must admit it’s a good thing I am starting to even enjoy being with these little rugrats. I sure hope it lasts the next six months.

Afterwards, us teachers gathered for another huge meal at school to commemorate our last time together until we come back January 9. It consisted of way too much food that left me unable to eat for the rest of the day, along with singing and happiness. While I can’t help but complain about my long commute and tiring days, I feel truly lucky to work with such a great group of people who make going to work not too daunting.

Away from school, me and friends had some gatherings of our own including a festive holiday shindig, Ugly Sweater Party, and boozy holiday brunch. I even managed to get all my Christmas shopping done along the way.

In Spain, kids do not ask for presents from Santa, but the Reyes Magos. These three kings bring the kiddos presents on January 6 but our American Papa Noel is starting to creep his way into households all over, forcing parents to buy their children presents not only on January 6, but December 25. Sneaky, sneaky children. One other Spanish Christmas phenomenon is the lottery. La Loteria de Navidad is gigantic and announced every December 23. I forked over 20 Euros for a ticket but alas, did not win.

Besides that, I can say that I have consumed more sweets over the past four weeks than I did on every Halloween combined. From turon to polvorones to churros con chocolate and bizcocho… I can say for once I am all sweeted out for the time being. (and I didn’t even get to try the traditional roscon de reyes). These treats have infiltrated my school and let me tell you, nothing offends a Spaniard more than refusing their offer for food. One day, I added to the mix by baking pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting that I made with overpriced ingredients bought from Taste of America. Seeing as it such an atypical pastry to the Spanish tongue, they were a huge hit. I’ll definitely be bringing cake mix and baking supplies back to Madrid with me because it’s nearly impossible to find and when you do, it’s marked up a ridiculous amount.

I cannot believe Christmas Eve is tomorrow and while I’m definitely ready, I don’t know if I’m excited to return to Madrid in January knowing that all the bright lights, markets and bustling crowds will be gone. Even so, I’ve already begun to draft a bucket list for everything I want to accomplish for my next six months in the city and if all pans out, it’s going to be a pretty great year.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays!

 

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Getting a Little Swiss

After one “rigorous” month of work devoid of the ample days off I experienced in October, December ushered in a new season not only of the holiday kind, but also with free days from work! If you haven’t noticed already, Spain likes celebrating at any time and I was blessed with a couple days without work allowing for me and Anna to take our first trip together since we went abroad. The story of how we ended up in Switzerland was anything but methodical. After realizing a ticket to London might be a little steep, we made a list of the cities we could fly to for the least amount of money, read a little blurb on each, and booked our trip to Geneva. Little did we know that affordable ticket would quickly be supplemented by plenty of expensive train rides, food, and lodging, but like I said, we were indulging our spontaneous side.

We arrived in Geneva late Thursday night, found our hostel, and cashed in for the night so we could wake up early to catch the English tour of the United Nations. We saw a lot of the different halls where meetings are held and even caught one in session. It only reinforced the international feeling the entire city emanated from the moment we stepped off the plane.

There sure are a lot of countries

Afterwards, we made our way into the city to see what Geneva was all about. We explored their big cathedral, Maison Tavel museum showcasing it’s history, park, and anywhere else that would let us in. Little did we know we were visiting Geneva on the weekend of it’s biggest holiday, the equivalent of our Independence Day called L’Escalade. This 400 year old celebration is marked by lots of mulled wine, vegetable soup and parades. We found ourselves in the midst of it all by nightfall.

Hanging with some new friends.

Saturday we awoke to catch a train to Montreux, a town about an hour outside of Geneva that is known for Chillon’s Castle. While the entire castle was beautiful, the views from above were absolutely breathtaking.

Since it’s Christmas, their was huge market scattered throughout the town. At the castle there was a medieval themed market, while in the city center there was a more traditional one where we ate a French dish called tartiflette.

Potatoes? Check. Cheese? Check. Cream? Check. Bacon? Check. Deliciousness? Quadruple Check.

Then we hopped on the scenic Golden Pass train for a three-hour journey into the heart of the Alps. We passed through charming towns, alongside lakes and green pastures, and snow-capped mountains until we arrived in Interlaken, our stop for the night. Apparently, the town residents haven’t been doing their snow dance because the area was devoid of the white stuff I had been hoping for. This made it impossible to snowshoe or sled like we were hoping. Instead, canyon jumping and paragliding were the activities available and being strapped for cash, we decided to cut our visit in this town short and instead, make our way to the country’s capital, Bern.

Interlaken and some paragliders

We spent the afternoon walking around Bern, taking in the cathedral, another Christmas market and an old house of Albert Einstein where I found out more about the scientist than I ever imagined. Since we hadn’t had Swiss cheese fondue yet, we knew what we wanted for lunch.

Sunday evening we made it back to Geneva in time for the Proclamation Parade, the culmination of the L’Escalade festivities, and it  felt right to end the trip just like we started it. We did have a little time to spare on Monday before catching or flight back to Madrid to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. While I understood probably one percent of all our tour guide had to say, I felt smart just being there.

Simplest thing I saw all day.

Now I am back in Madrid and anxiously awaiting my return home for the holidays. Until then, I am planning on some holiday gatherings, including the classic ugly sweater party, present shopping, and I guess some teaching along the way!

Christmas Gets Serious

There’s no denying ’tis the season. Thank goodness Christmas is celebrated worldwide (unlike Thanksgiving) so I am able to carry out all my normal holiday traditions thousands of miles away from my family and best friends. I have been in the Christmas spirit since the day after Thanksgiving with holiday tunes blasting every chance I get, watching movies like Love Actually and Elf, and using the holiday as an excuse to eat treats in Spain like turron. A friend of mine remarked the other day that I may take Christmas too seriously. But is it my fault I’m just excited it’s that time of year? I think not. His remark came after realizing all the traditions I try to keep up that I’ve carried around with me since I was very young. I started reflecting on all of them and sure, there’s a lot but they are anything but serious and I will keep continue and pass them on to my family in the future. Thought I would list some of them out here and let you decide for yourself. In the meantime, I hope everyone is in the holiday spirit too!

Christmas music begins the day after Thanksgiving (and continues everyday until December 26). We spend almost every Thanksgiving in Red River, New Mexico where my grandparents live. Driving home the day after, our first music selection was more often than not Garth Brooks Christmas. This year, one of my favorite albums is MIchale Buble’s new one which I would highly suggest if you haven’t heard it yet.

Advent Calendar. The German tradition of Advent Calendars is something I can thank my grandparents for imparting onto me. Every Christmas since I can remember, I recall my grandma bringing me and my brother a calendar for the month of December that doles out a piece of German chocolate everyday. There’s no better way to start off a day than with a tiny piece of chocolate!

Christmas trees must be real. I’ve always protested any time my mom might have hinted at the idea of getting a fake Christmas tree. What’s the point of having one if you don’t get the smell of fresh pine wafting through the house? That’s just not Christmas. Not to mention, our arguments in the Christmas tree farm as me and my brother push for the biggest one we can find is just priceless.

Dad’s Christmas letter. Those who are lucky enough to get the Glenn family Christmas card know that Dave Glenn knows how to make someone laugh. While our 2-page update on the fam is usually half fabricated, it’s something I even look forward to reading each and every year.

Grandma’s Christmas cookies. Every year I can count on a tin of cookies from Grandma that are always the same- biscochitos and thumbprint cookies with raspberry jam.

Christmas Eve runs on a schedule. I don’t know when this all began but in the past few years, Christmas Eve has become even a greater day than Christmas. Our evening begins with a new movie to be agreed on by the fam (in the past it’s been Slumdog Millionaire, Night Before Christmas, Juno, etc.), then we head to a nice dinner at a place like Vesta Dipping Grill or the Brown Palace. Then, it’s off to Midnight Mass at Montview where I get to see my friend Becca for a present exchange and then we return back home to sleep soundly until it’s time for presents. There have been times in years past where my mom and Dylan didn’t quite make it to church, but thankfully, my dad always sticks by my side until the bitter end. What’s Christmas without belting Hark the Herald Angel Sings? (Or Hark the Hairy Angel Sings according to Dave)

Sharing the love with my Jewish friends. Christmas is undoubtedly a time to spend with family but that can be a hard pill to swallow for a pair of preteen best friends to grasp. Hence the reason many years ago, my best friend Dani started coming over every Christmas morning after we finished opening presents to play with all my presents with me. From Karaoke Revolution to many versions of Scene It, she’s our adopted Jewish daughter and I count on her knock on the door every Christmas morning.

Of course, we still get presents from Santa and he still deserves milk and cookies while the reindeers get carrots. Sure someday my traditions will have to be tweaked but for now, I’m content with them all and think that they’re anything but serious.

Coastal Connections

Over the years I have found one of the best things about traveling is reconnecting with old friends. This time around in Madrid, I was fortunate to find myself living very close to one of my best friends from high school, Carl, who is studying abroad for the semester. It’s been great being in the same city with him and getting to spend quality time together that just doesn’t rival the catch-up sessions we regularly got when home on breaks from college. We knew we wanted to take a trip together before he returns back to school stateside, so this past weekend we traveled up north to the province of Galicia, an area I have always wanted to check out.

As fate would have it, an old friend from middle school named Michelle contacted me when she caught on from Facebook that I was living in Spain. Turns out, she is teaching English in Santiago de Compostela and had nothing but great things to say about it. She encouraged me and Carl to travel up there, arranged a place for us to stay with her friends, and was the best tour guide we could have hoped for. Times like these, I am very thankful for Facebook. It also worked out well because Carl and Michelle know each other from our days in the Colorado Children’s Chorale and although she hadn’t seen us for over 8 years or so, we all got along great.

Old friends reunited

Due to Galicia’s location, it tends to be rainy but we lucked out with the weather and although it was sprinkling a fair amount, we didn’t experience torrential downpours that could otherwise put a damper on our trip.

The main attraction in Santiago is a giant cathedral that I remember first learning about when I was 12 years old. It was definitely rewarding to finally see it in person. It’s significance arises from the fact it’s the ending point for the famous pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago taken by many every year. It was stunning.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

The city is divided into two parts- the zona vieja and zona nueva. We spent plenty of time walking around both but I favored the cobblestoned streets of the zona viejalined with cafés, bars and shops. We also visited the town’s market which as chock-full of surprises like entire pigs hanging by their hoofs, chicken feet and furry (yet dead) rabbits. Thankfully, those things don’t make me squeamish.

La zona vieja (I'll save you from the pig heads)

On Saturday me and Carl took a quick train to A Coruña, a neighboring city nestled by the coast. Once again, we experienced bearable weather that made for a refreshing walk along the water that ended with a trek up to the top of their famous lighthouse. The city was breathtaking and being by the sea was relaxing to say the least.

Seaside

Afterwards, we had an amazing meal. Galicia is known for fresh seafood with their specialty being octopus so, of course, that’s what I got. Another staple treat of Santiago is the tartade Santiago which me and Carl tried yesterday. It’s a moist and nutty cake that was delicious!

Pulpo a la plancha

We spent yesterday checking out the cathedral, shopping, and eating with Michelle and her friends. We got home late last night and now it’s back to the work, but this week is a little different. I only have to work Monday and Wednesday (Tuesday is a holiday) and then Thursday night me and Anna are off to Switzerland for four nights and five days! This weekend definitely reminded me how much I love traveling so to say I am excited for my first trip to the Alps would be the understatement of the year.