Semana Santa 2012

Two years ago I fell for France. This week, I finally rekindled my love affair with a trip to the “City of Light” during my twelve day break known here as Semana Santa. While you may have thought only schoolchildren deserve Spring Break or that “Holy Week” celebrations should occur outside of work hours, the people of Spain think a little differently. If you’ve kept up with my blog and caught on to the numerous days I get off, this probably doesn’t come as a big surprise.

Before my Parisian getaway, I had one of the best gifts of all- a visit from one of my best friends Taylor. We fit in as much as we could in her quick stay from a day trip to the town of Cuenca to running the Madrid Half Marathon side by side. We were exhausted by the end but it was so worth getting to spend time together less alone in another country!

Alongside the Casas Colgadas in Cuenca

Then came France with Gabe. After our first flight was cancelled due to an airport strike, we arrived Wednesday afternoon and I was ready to take a walk hike to the top of Sacre Couer which I heard had a view to rival that of the Eiffel Tower.

It definitely did not disappoint

Afterwards, we took a break in a cafe in the Montmarte neighborhood before walking back to our apartment to rest up before dinner at a delicious creperie. On the way, we made a stop at notorious Lauderée because I was determined to find out what the hype was about. With one bite into a fresh macaroon, I understood.

Simply delicious.

After a tasty dinner of exotic crepes, cidre, and fromage blanc, it was off to bed for our big adventure the next day to none other than…

Disneyland Paris!

We spent all day running around Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park. Unfortunately, the weather was not the best but it made for short lines and certainly put a little bit of a spring in our step as I wanted to minimize our wait in line outdoors for as long as possible. Favorite rides? Crush’s Coaster, Tower of Terror (classic), and Pirates of the Caribbean. We were wiped by the end of the day.

20th Anniversary Parade!

Friday morning we woke up and hopped on a train to Versailles. I loved the city last time but missed the chance to tour the palace. This time we did just that and and spent hours wandering the vast gardens. We even stumbled upon a fairytale village, equipped with a farm and everything, near the Marie-Antoinette’s estate that literally threw me into a storybook. Somehow we had enough energy afterwards to make the climb up to the top of the Eiffel Tower when we returned to the city.

View from the top

All that walking had our stomachs rumbling and we stumbled into a tiny French bistro called Le Hide near our apartment. We shared close corners with other Americans but dined on some amazing Parisian food including pan-roasted foie gras, veal, pepper steak, and tarte tatin, or apple pie. I was in heaven and wanted to take a picture of every dish that came out but did not want to feel judged. Regardless, I went to bed full and happy.

Our flight was late afternoon Saturday and I did not want to leave before walking around Le Marais, a neighborhood I already loved from all I had read. Again, it fulfilled my expectations from Le Marche de Enfants Rouges to the most amazing falafel.

Heaven

After a pit stop at a delicious sweet shop for last minute macaroons and chocolates, we boarded a plane to make it back to Madrid in time for Easter Sunday. The best part of the holiday this year was getting to gorge on potatoes which I gave up for Lent this year. Let me tell you, it’s not easy to resist potato chips, patatas bravas, tortilla española, and any other dish the Spainiards like to throw at ya that include potatoes; however, I made it through but am happy to say it’s all over now.

With work on Tuesday looming, I’m a bit sad but seeing as this might be my last “spring break” ever, I will make sure the memories last for a lifetime.

Advertisements

Fire, Felonies, and Las Fallas

Graduating college, everyone was nervous about entering the “real world.” Well, if I am living in this so-called, scary “real world,” then it actually isn’t too bad at all. Maybe I didn’t spend last weekend watching drunk frat boys play dizzy bat on a crowded Key West beach during spring break like I was last year, but instead, I witnessed a festival I had read about in Spanish class for years right in front of me. That festival was Las Fallas and three of us headed to the city of Valencia to take part in the action.

Let me give you some background on the festival. There are a lot of facets to this five day party but the main attraction are the huge fallas, monuments each neighborhood spends all year making to ultimately be burned on the final day. Meanwhile, there are lots of fireworks that go off in the streets and different processions. We wanted to catch the celebration on the last day also known as La Cremá to see the notorious burning.

Our journey began early Friday morning when we hopped on a bus. Four hours later we arrived to the city. Thankfully, our friend Bridget studied abroad in the city so knew her way around. She led us through the city streets and along the way we ran into falla after falla, each more interesting than the last.

One of my favorites

Later, we walked to one of Valencia’s main attractions- Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias which I had visited on my first trip to Valencia in 2009.

Anna and the beautiful buildings

From there, we grabbed a spot to watch the Parade of Fire. It started off calmly with the royal court and  traditional music but quickly turned into something out of a nightmare- people in devil costumes flinging fire around. It was very cool but a tad frightening.

Needless to say we were covered in ashes

Afterwards I hate to say things took a turn for the worse. Unfortunately while eating dinner Bridget had her entire backpack stolen, losing everything from her passport and camera to all her money and Kindle.  That led us to logging in an hour at the police station so that she could file a report to ensure she could make our bus ride home without an ID. We made it out just in time to see one falla burn down.

Definitely the biggest fire I have ever seen

Watching the huge figures falling to the ground brought on some mixed emotions. It is clear a ton of effort went into these works and then they turn to ashes in a matter of minutes! But alas, it is just another Spanish tradition I think you just have to be “in” on to really understand. Nevertheless, I am happy I went and even happier I came back with my hearing intact after all the explosions.

Basque-ing in Bilbao

March has arrived and in Madrid it feels as if spring has sprung a bit early this year.
With so much sun, last week I was walking around in t-shirts and even felt compelled to buy a pair of bright yellow pants which I wore to the dismay of my co-workers. Seems as if they are a pretty bold fashion statement for the folks in Estremera. Anyways, I’m excited March is here because, along with the change of seasons, comes many visitors from overseas and exciting happenings! Before all that though, me and Gabe decided to head up north to the Basque Country for the weekend to take in the refreshing sea breeze and discover new places.

We arrived Friday afternoon in Bilbao and the green hills and humid air immediately
signaled we were no longer in Madrid. After checking into our hostel located smack dab
in the center of the old town, we took a tram to the top of a hill overlooking the city.
Unfortunately the fog got in the way of the supposedly great view.

The city is down there somewhere

The city is known for pintxos, the Basque form of tapas, so for dinner, we did a txikitea, or pintxo crawl, up and down the streets. We tried everything from tortilla made of morcilla to all kinds of fresh seafood on toast. The whole custom is quite crazy. All of the bars set delicious platters on the bar and you are free to take what you want (with each costing 1-3
Euros), order a drink (I fell in love with the city’s white wine called txakoli) and chow down
until you are ready to move onto the next one. I went to bed a full and happy camper.

The next morning we took a stroll to  el Mercado de la Ribera, the largest indoor food market in all of Europe. Although it was mainly a place for locals to pick up fresh fish and meats to prepare what I can only imagine are delicious meals, it was cool to see. After that, we made our way to the notorious Guggeheim Museum, the main sight of the city. Not only was the building’s architecture truly inspiring, I really appreciated all the modern
paintings, sculpture and art found inside. One of the coolest parts? The audio guide
was free! (You can argue it came with the ticket price but I’m still giving them props).
Sometimes it’s the little things.

With stomach’s rumbling, we made our way to El Globo for some of my favorite bites
of the trip including a banana wrapped in bacon (proving once again bacon goes with
anything), and tempura fried stuffed artichoke. This city was a food photogs dream.

Beautiful tuna concoction

Bilbao is known to be rainy this time of year but we got lucky and were able to take a
break in the park and later, made our way to a beach that was equally relaxing. We took
it easy that evening with a nice Italian din before crashing.

Sunday morning we grabbed a bus for a one hour trip to the coastal town of San
Sebastian. I have heard great things about it’s beach and, of course, pintxos. We
enjoyed a tasty lunch of just that before soaking in our final views of the beach. We both agreed its a place we’d love to come back to when it is prime beach season.

You could call these next few days the calm before the storm. Some friends from UM
come in this week followed by a trip from my lil’ bro on Sunday. This are gonna get
crazy.

Here are a few more pics of the trip!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trip Back in Time

If we are keeping score, one area where Europe scores a point over the United States is the ease in which one can travel back in time with just a simple drive outside of the city. Two women Anna works with at school invited us to visit the town of Pedreza located in the province of Segovia. Yesterday, they picked us up and we made the hour-long trip to this medieval town which was unlike any other I have seen.

We began our tour at a stone castle made back in the thirteenth century. Next, we visited an old jail and then came my favorite part: an amazing lunch of the town’s specialty, roasted lamb, which was the juiciest and most savory dish I have had in a good while.

The group consisted of the two couples, us, and  the combined five kids who are all under the age of five. They actually behaved quite well and seemed to enjoy themselves. Not to mention, one of the perks of being with kids is finding the excuse to hang out in parks and we took advantage of that at one located at the bottom of the Alcazar, Segovia’s huge castle that I have visited a couple times in the past. It’s the one they say inspired the iconic Disney castle.

Eventually we made it home absolutely exhausted but thankful for the chance to see a place we would have never found on our own. It was also a great chance to practice our Spanish as these people didn’t know a lick of English. Apparently, they enjoyed our company too and offered to take us somewhere else we want to go which we aren’t reluctant to do soon!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Carnaval: Part 2

As I mentioned earlier, my school celebrated Carnaval too this week. On Wednesday, all the classes dressed up and we had a parade through Estremera. Each class had a specific theme from Spongebob to Star Wars and I have to admit everybody’s costumes impressed me. All of the parents walked along with us and it ended in a plaza with the burning of a giant paper fish. Each child contributed a scale in which they wrote on the back what they want to rid themselves of. Most of them said something along the lines of behaving better which I can only hope materializes. I’ve come to find that in such a small town, they have to find ways to have some fun and this was certainly a shining example.

I’ll be honest, I did enjoy myself thoroughly although I couldn’t help but laugh listening to the same songs I heard at 4 in the morning at a club in Cadiz last weekend at 4 in the afternoon in a plaza in Estremera. The environment was definitely different but the spirit of Carnaval alive! Check out the slideshow to catch a glimpse of all the cuties I work with.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Carnival in Cadiz!

I was told that February would feel like a long month. After all, we have a regular schedule void of any strange holidays off. Unlike the normal working population, this isn’t something I’m used to. I have spiced it up with a few special events like seeing Broadway’s The Lion King in Spanish and doing a cooking class, but this past weekend me and Anna stepped it up and headed down South to the sun and sea for one of the biggest festivals in the country- Carnival in Cadiz!

Carnival is a celebration that takes place all over the world, and is kind of like our equivalent of Mardi Gras. It lasts an entire week and involves a lot of dressing up, singing, and partying. Here, the two biggest cities to celebrate are Tenerife and Cadiz so we chose the latter and took a three and a half hour train there Friday afternoon. We actually stayed in a neighboring city called Jerez de la Frontera after all the hotels in Cadiz were booked quickly, but that ended up being a blessing in disguise!

Jerez is known for their wine of the same name which is referred to in the rest of the world as sherry since jerez can be difficult to pronounce. We quickly dropped our bags off at our hostel Friday evening and walked over to Bodegas Tio Pepe for a tour of one of the oldest bodegas producing tons of sherry and brandy. I wasn’t really familiar with sherry before but after the tour and four-glass tasting, I think I got a pretty good handle on it. After that, we headed out to grab a bite to eat and crashed early to prep for Saturday in Cadiz.

As I mentioned earlier, costumes are an important part of Carnival and we were not sure what direction to go in. Thankfully, an older woman I work with decided to play mom and help me out, lending me bright orange trash bags for us to make Flintstones costumes out of, like her class will be doing this Wednesday for the parade at our school. We decided it was better than nothing and, in the end, the outfits worked out perfectly. Throughout the day we had people singing the Flintstones theme song to us and yelling out “Wilma!!!” which was kind of neat.

Saturday morning, after covering our hands in superglue and permanent marker while making our costumes, we hopped on the train to Cadiz which was only about 40 minutes away. What happened over the next 16 hours is engrained in my memory as a photo stream of ridiculous costumes, talented street choirs singing satirical songs, meeting people from all over the world, and some breathtaking views of the beach. For a peak into my head, take a look at this:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We didn’t get to sleep until 6:30 am and were kicked out of our hostel at noon on Sunday. That led us to hang around Jerez for a pleasant and extremely sunny afternoon which I pray put some color back into my pale face. It’s definitely hard getting accustomed to not being tan in the winter after living in Miami for four years.

You might have missed the part where I mentioned my school is having their own Carnival celebration this Wednesday. For the kid’s sake, I hope it isn’t as crazy as the one in Cadiz but I’ll report back with more on that later this week. For now, I wish you and yours a happy Carnival!

Where do YOU work?

In case you missed it on my Twitter feed, a few weeks ago my school put together a “LipDub” as a part of a project they are working on. The Spanish government is trying to link schools from all over the country through monthly tasks that we share on a blog to educate one another on different customs and traditions. You can catch a tiny cameo by me in the middle so check it out:

And that’s the entirety of my school that you see on the patio. I’m truly glad I have this tiny momento to look back on a few years down the road.

In other news, yesterday we had a huge celebration for El Día de Paz, or Day of Peace, here in Spain. It involved cake, everyone holding hands and singing “All You Need Is Love” on the patio, and releasing a dove from a cage. Ever heard of it? Me neither. But it was a nice reminder that at the end of the day, peace is something we should all strive for. So I leave you with this quote from MLK (also recently celebrated) himself:

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”