Friday, December 24


There are a few differences between US and Spanish Holiday seasons:

1.      Holiday decorations in Spain go up on Halloween (in most places), while US the rule is after Thanksgiving.
Street in Malaga
2.       Santa doesn’t put gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas in Spain. It is the Three Kings (Melichior, Vaspar and Balthasar) put them in either shoes or by the Nativity set (Belen) on the Day of Epiphany, which in January.
Balthasar in the Flesh and asking for Money.

3.       Candy canes and chocolate Santas are replaced by Pulvorones, Turrones and Jamon.
4.       Houses are not usually decorated with lights, they are usually restricted to all the streets. However, recently, pisos began buying Santa decorations where Santa is usually hanging from a balcony or parachuting in. I did see one such decoration, but with the Three Kings, which I really enjoyed.

Almunecar's Santas have problems traveling.
5.       Spanish work holiday parties are usually dinners that last from 3pm until 8, then there is a bar/disco afterwards for copas and dancing until 3 or 4am. Even though my last US holiday party at the Tap was pretty amazing (yay for brewery tours, open bar and Cossettas!), but this year’s was pretty fun.
The only foto I got that evening

That is all I can think of right now. And here are some details on some recent events here:

Spanish Baking MacGyver Style - Wine Bottles work better
Gingerbread making à I felt inspired after returning from my Puente travels and decided to make gingerbread houses with my students. Thanks to a video sent by a friend, I found this idea for mini houses. Therefore each student can try to construct their own houses. Thus, I enlisted the help of Roxann, a friend and fellow auxilar in Malaga, in making the 30 houses x (2 sides + 2 fronts + 2 roofs) = 90 cookies plus some extras. That afternoon, we began mixing the dough, making templates and cutting out the cookies. Some other professors came over to have dinner (curry!!! Yummy!!!) and make the gingerbread house my mom sent me. They then learned how to make gingerbread. It was my first time making the bread too, so I wasn’t much of a teacher.

About Half the Blurry Houses
After all that work, figuring out icing, decorations and how to explain it to the kiddies, it was go time! I had 33 houses with a couple extra cookies, icing doled out (despite having to run in the pouring rain sin umbrella to J’s piso to retrieve the forgotten icing in the fridge), and a vague plan. Overall, despite the chaos and insanity, it turned out well. The majority of kids were able to construct a house but eating was another problem. The cookies were a bit hard… but they said they liked them! The professors also liked the cookies, so much so to snack on them before I brought them to class. Which was my fault, I shouldn’t have left the box on the table! The next day, some students and professors (mainly me) ate the other fancy gingerbread house.
Trader Joe House
One of the Kiddies House

The Aftermath

Institute Holiday Dinner à Yummy food and fun company. Good way to explain it. Al-Andalus held a holiday dinner at a restaurant in the center. Consisted of three courses: shared first course of pate, stuffed peppers, (interesting) omelet, salad with avocados, cheese, mangos and yummy. For the second course, many people got the duck but I decided to go safe with pork in a port sauce (too bad I was soo full of wine and the first bit). Then finally I got a bright green, lemon cheese cake. One Spanish tradition I do enjoy greatly is a chupito of orujo after the dinner. Its free too usually! Then after eating, everyone went to Missisippi (that is how it is spelled outside, but inside they spell it right) and suffice to say, it was fun and I saw sides of people for the first time.  I want another Institute Dinner.

Holidays à Right as I am writing this, I am attempting to make lemon bars and snickerdoodles for a Christmas dinner on Saturday. Lemon bars will be interesting… but I hope the cookies turn out [EDIT: they didnt, they too are hard :( )!

This will be my first official Christmas season away from the family. They are all gathering in Milwaukee with the snow, while I am sitting here on a terrace listening to the surf pound the beach. Instead of snow (or sleet at times), I get lots of rain and 60s temps. It doesn’t feel like the holidays to me at all. Even though I have a stocking here full of presents (I still haven’t opened them! Now I did and my favorite: Sample size medical Blistex, hahahahha), holiday decorations,  am going to a Christmas dinner… it still just feels like any other day except I am baking.
No Snow Forcasted in my Holiday Season
What is she going to do?
What I am planning on doing is the following:
1.       Malaga on Friday (Nochebuena) and hopefully find a carnaceria open so that I can buy a ham to roast
2.       Christmas Day there will be a dinner at Spanish Times and then going out
3.       Madrid or Cordoba on Sunday or Monday
4.       La La La Fun Fun Fun TBA
5.       Linares for New Years Eve (noche vieja) and probably day.
6.       Exploring somewhere until the 10th when I start work again. 
And yes, my Grilled Cheese can beat yours. 

Monday, December 20


So blogging is harder that I thought- It is hard to get motivated to actually sit down, start writing about myself and THEN perhaps edit the post. This one will be a bit more edited becauce I have alot to say. So grab a snack, sit back and enjoy!

Since Spain is the country of holidays, I had about a week away from work to celebrate the Spanish Constitution and La Inmaculada Concepcion. Then I took Thursday off and traveled with Amy from Geneva, Switzerland up to Brussels. We started off visiting my Uni friend Steph and her family near Geneva, then go from there.

It was good thing that we didnt make any plans (i.e. book hostels, buy train tickets) because the Spanish airtraffic controllers decided to go on strike at 5pm on Friday. No one knew about this before it happened and if our plane hadnt gotten delayed because of the snow, we would have made it. We made it on the plane at 4pm, got our seats, I took a nap, then Madrid's air space closed, then Barcelona's, so the pilot tried to find an alternative route, couldn't in time and then everything closed. So Amy and I were delayed about 42 hours. On the bright side: we got to spend a night in a brand new 5 Star Hotel in Malaga, free dinner and then finally got a plane to Geneva at the crack of dawn on Sunday.

So we finally got to Geneva, had our first of many hot wine, ate fondue, ate more yummy food (Thanks Steph's fam!), saw some Xmas markets, saw Julius Caesar and some other stuff.

We also got to get "educated," or attempted to, at CERN. While we missed the tour since it was in the morning, we got to go through their exhibit and I taught the front desk man a new "Caitlin English" word.

THEN, on Tuesday (I think), we took the train to Strasbourg, France, stayed with an amazing couchsurfer, ate french food, the french ATM ate my US bank card and my Spanish bank card doesnt work outside of Spain, so thus no money. Pero, no pasa nada, Amy was kind enough to lend me some money until we got to Brussels and I picked up my wired money! But reminder all: Do not post Western Union numbers on facebook!

Nativity Scene in Strasbourg Catherdral
In Brussels we got to relax a bit: despite missing our first train to Brussels, we caught a later one and didnt have to pay for a new ticket! Yay! We arrived in Brussels Nord at 10:33pm, got to walk through the Red Light District (the ladies in the posters there wore HUGE underwear, like granny panties times 134), and made it to our hostel before they closed at 11pm! Success again! After a night of weird dreams, a 3am arrival, and so one, I got my free coffee and Amy and I headed to Brugge for our first sunny day in a while. I forgot my camera, so you will have to stalk her photos.

Brugge was wonderful: tasty onion soup, lots of beer, sunshine and medieval pretty buildings. We went on a Brewery tour of De Halve Maan. I highly recommend it if you are in the area! 5.50 euro gets you a drink, a nice tour of one of the oldest running breweries in Belgium, and an awesome view of the city (the tour guide was fun too!). You could pay 4 euro to go up to the other tower in the town for their view- but would have you laughs and beer? NO! So go!

Ok time to wrap this up: in Brussels, Amy and I stayed with another couchsurfer there. And despite my failing at phones, we were able to finally find him! That night we had a mini tour of the old town, saw the female version of the Mannikin Piss, went to a bar that had over 2000 beers (Heaven!), ate some traditional Brussels late night food, played on public art and then passed out after much talking. The next day was about the same (as in drinking beer and hot wine), except we went to a flea market, ate some Ethiopian food (yummmmmmy), and went to a Natural History Museum. At this site, it used to be a zoo in the late 1800s but the zoo went bankrupt and all the animals died. So now it is a museum full of stuffed animals and some dino bones! One weird thing about it, was that after all the school groups left, Amy and I were the only ones in it except for the gallery supervisors (they reminded me of you, Molly!).

Overall, despite some minor set backs, I really enjoyed my Puente vacation. Someday, I hope to live in Brussels- it reminded me about London, I like the food and I find Dutch hilarious and want to learn it! Someday! Now I must work on my Spanish grammar... eek.

Sunday, November 28

Thanksgiving Spanish Style (aka Late)

It's a-cookin' - One friend said this was the Guantanamo Turkey
I had to tie it up a bit to fit it in the oven.
 First off: I COOKED an entire TURKEY!

It fit in the oven, I got a How-To guide from my family and the dinner turned out delicious!

Here is the back story: One late night about three weeks ago, after eating lots of tapas with some co-workers, someone decided to have a Fin de Semana Gastronómico. I suggested we do it Thanksgiving weekend and I started weekend off by making a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. This included mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (Thanks Amy!), stuffing, cranberry relish, corn, banana-chocolate cream pie and for an appetizer: Fried Turkey Spam. It was good... but many were somewhat scared of the mystery meat. But the ingredients were fairly normal: White Turkey, Turkey broth, modified potato starch, some chemicals...
The directions said to "Squeeze until it Pops and the Spam will slide right out"
 The hardest part was getting the turkey, then discovering it still had some feathers in it. So I got up close and personal with the turkey and plucked it with some tweezers (because that is all we had). The turkey and I are (were?) best friends by the end of it.

Well I guess the hardest part was finding a meat thermometer, which I never did find, but I was able to practice my Spanish (even though I still cannot say thermometer in spanish- but it kinda sounds like "tell-mom-I-throw").

No pumpkin pie (gonna make that no bake pumpkin pie later)-
 but banana cream with chocolate and rum. 
It was my coworkers first Thanksgiving dinner and my American (and one Spanish) friends from Malaga came bringing some sides and rum. Even though we did not eat at 2pm and didn't watch football afterwards, I thought it was a success.

The next day my coworkers used the leftovers to make Turkey Fajitas (inspired by my mom's turkey enchiladas), and today I am going up the mountain to eat at another house. I'm going to be eating rabbit: Scary... I'm sorry Thumper.

Monday, November 15

Weekend(s) Update

 I have been behind with the events happening outside my kitchen.. so here is a quick update:

Halloween came and went in Almunecar (some amazing sunsets as well), except for some amazing decorations that my friends and family gave me! My roommate was pretty impressed and slightly scared. We now have a glow in the dark ghost on our fridge. It is the only decorations that I have added to our piso. Ghosts, fake petals and candles are our decor style.

 For Halloween, I was actually in Barcelona visiting Ana and Albert (Ana is the "favorite daughter" in our family). We explored the city: the beach, a castle, the Olympic Village, learning lots about Spanish food and experiencing a Catalan BBQ. Which mainly involved meat but there were some tasty veggies: green grilled asparagus with a tomato dip and grilled artichokes. I LOVED those - bought one today to see what I can do with it. If any of you were wondering about my album "Weekend of Meat" on facebook, the title was inspired by that BBQ.

While in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to get to go to a real Spanish soccer (futbol/football/etc) match. Barca v Seville. Most of the players from the World Cup Spanish team play for Barca and so it was like watching royalty! I got to see lots of yelling, swearing, some confetti and also some people dressed as Where's Waldo. I was told that I witnessed one of the best games of the season. Barca won 5-0 and had possession of the ball 75% of the time. While I didn't understand/see all that happened on the field, I can understand numbers!

The next weekend, I received my first visitors in Almunecar! Barb and Ted from Jaen came down for the weekend and we explored numerous tapas restaurants, the gardens, the castle view and a very British bar (got two rounds of Strongbow/Guinness for free - thanks Michigan!). My roommate and everyone had a great picnic on the beach of bocadillos (sandwiches) with lots of veggies. 

Now for the past weekend: Molly from MN came to visit (via London where she is living) and I got to explore even more of my city, then head up to Granada and Malaga. It was a hectic weekend filled with traveling, LOTS of tapas, drinks, people and tourist sites. Despite everyone telling us that the Alhambra line would be crazy, and maybe it was because we woke up so early, but the ticket seller was sitting there waiting to sell US tickets! Lucky eh? We also went to a flamenco concert after the Alhambra - busy day. But sadly, my camera battery died while trying to take pictures of some cats at the Alhambra, sooo no pics of flamenco (or the gatos)!
Having guests in Almunecar made me appreciate my location better: the sun, the air and also how cute everything is. Even after just a month, I have already began to take my new home for granted. For the past month, Almunecar has just been a place to sleep, to walk to school and try to avoid your students when having tapas.   We'll see what the next month brings...

Wednesday, November 10

Maestra de Cocina

I will give ya'll an update on what I've been doing these past week (has it been a week or more? Time moves so slowly here...) but this blog will be dedicated to what I've been doing to occupy myself during the week.

As you may have heard, I was trying to get a job in a bakery, but I keep on forgetting to go to the bakery every day because I like to sleep. Also, the stuff in bakeries cost money so instead, I have been cooking lots! My first week here I made black bean soup (Ok- next time will be better), second week I made potato leek (yummy!) and the third I made a chicken curry.

 My family is amazing and they sent me a package from the US with some tasty foodstuffs: Mac and Cheese, Curry mixes and Penzey's Spices (I am currently waiting for the postman for the next package!). During one week, I was lazy and made a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese, accompanied by a tinto de verano. Also my roommate gave me some castanets to practice becoming more spanish. I still need to practice that!

 After I got back from a weekend in Barcelona (I will talk about that later), I found out that it was my roommate's birthday! Since I don't have an oven in my piso, I was extremely limited in what I was able to make. Also, I could not go out and buy a cake since it was siesta (nearly EVERYTHING in my town closes for it - except the bars of course) and I wanted to make her something because she has been so nice to me and very understanding with all my craziness/quietness.

The first attempt: Needs more time in the fridge!
After almost exhausting google search (no bake desserts, easy desserts, cooking with no oven, etc), I decided to make a Panna Cotta with this spiced red wine sauce. I had all the ingredients in my piso (except the gelatin or gelatina en espanol!). And since I've watched Top Chef so many times, I felt very special for making this fancy dessert- which was actually really easy.

Second attempt (after 8+ hours): Much better!
All you need for the Panna Cotta is: a box of whipping cream (nata para mandar- I think), 1/2 cup of sugar, 2.5 sheets of gelatin (you have to soak these in water for a couple minutes before using), and  a vanilla bean (also honey if you wish).

Making the spiced red wine sauce
To make the panna cotta, bring the cream, sugar and whole vanilla bean to a simmer. Remove from heat, cut open the bean and scrape out the black stuff and put that back into the milk. Stir in the gelatin sheets until they have dissolved (about 30-60 seconds). Then you pour the mixture into your molds (I used out water glasses and you can put honey in the bottom of them for extra flavor) and put the cups in the fridge for about 4 hours. To remove from molds, just heat up a bowl of water and put the mold in it. Slide a knife around the edges and then flip the cup. It should slide out -if not stick it back into the water.

Then the red wine sauce, all you need is about 2 cups of wine (I used cheap box wine: 55 cents!), 1 cup sugar, a cinnamon stick, orange zest and for some reason I stuck a bay leaf in it. But you can add anything you think would taste good in it. Bring all that stuff to a simmer and let it go until it turns syrupy (about 15 minutes), stirring often. Then turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for about 20 minutes, or as long as you like. Strain out of extra bits then bring it back to a boil for a few minutes until even more syrupy. Let cool and refrigerate! You can put this sauce on anything - my friends and I put it on some crepes I made and I also put some in vanilla yogurt. It's yummy.

 The next thing I attempted to make was Tortilla de Patatas, or Spanish Omelette. All the professors at my school thought it was quite impressive that I was attempting this without anyone teaching me how too - but Google is an amazing thing and Ana explained how to make it as well. Next time I might cook the potatoes a bit longer, add a bit more spices and also more eggs. But overall it was yummy- especially with Famous Daves BBQ sauce or the lentil stew one of my professors gave me. I made chili con carne this week, and I bet that would taste good on it as well!

I shall end this blog with another sweet I made. Lately, I've been making alot of crepes because they are hella easy and require little ingredients (Flour and water). This time I had some extra apples in the fridge which I would never eat, so I decided to caramelize them to make them yummy.
To caramelize an apple, just peel and cut them into small bits, heat about 2tbsps of butter on the stove, put the apples in with a fair amount of sugar and I put cinnamon in too. Sautee on a medium high heat until the apples are cooked, but not mushy. Place apples in a bowl, and if you want some extra sauce, add some apple juice (or in my case orange juice) to the pan. Scrap the bottom of the pan, and simmer for a couple minutes. Then place into a crepe and eat!

Tonight, I will eat some left over chili con carne (I will post that recipe later- once I can remember it) with toast. I am super excited today because Molly is coming to visit me! I hope she likes chili- if not there are plenty of tapas to eat as well.

Tuesday, October 26

El medico esta en el cactus

Today, after nearly three weeks of a cold, I got the guts up to go to the doctor. I had my insurance card and information book in hand, I google-mapped the location of the office and I set out. But I got lost. I found 9 Carrera de la Concepción and 2 Carrera de la Concepción, but no t3 (which was what I needed if you couldnt have guessed that). I asked for directions in the candy/snack hut nearby and he said, "El medico esta en el cactus." Or I thought he said that. After my blank stare and a hoarse cough, the snack man grunted and led me to the doctor. It turns out the building's name is Edificio del Cactus. 

Now the next leg of the adventure. I went into the Medico to find two very empty room with some really loud classical music playing. My bedroom back home was bigger than this place. I wander through, knock on the open office door, look at the doc's medical books, examining room (more like a closet) and then decide to wait to see if someone comes. After 10 minutes, I get bored, decide to go deal with my phone and then come back. After 30 minutes, I return, and amazingly, the doctor is in. Nice old man, spoke slowly and clearly for me, enjoyed saying "correcto" after everything I said (even after "buenas tardes"). But he gave me a prescription, told me to eat three fruits a day because that keeps the world healthy, and in 7 days I should be good. Yay!

Weekend Update: Last weekend I went to Malaga again. Met up with Amy, Roxann and some other people. First night, we made fajitas (the Mexican in Spain way), then hung out at the hostel. The next day Amy, this other auxilare Kim and I went to see cloudy Marbella (has the richest mile of coast in Spain), ate some tasty pastries, drank tinto de verano on the beach, rejected the numerous Asian women selling massages, then ate wayyyy too much for lunch (fried food!). Went out with some authentic Spanish guys but headed home early (for spanish time). On Sundays, many of the cultural activities are free so we headed up to the Alacazaba in Malaga. Beautiful views! Now I feel out of breath (I know I typed this and didn't talk), will go make a crepe for dessert and then go to bed! I shall leave you all with a few pictures. Enjoy!

Churros con chocolate with Roxann, She got to go behind the counter!
Empty Beach in Marbella 
Westerly view from the Alacazaba

The chicken curry I made yesterday - Delicious but not spicy despite me accidently dousing it in Chili Pepper (says something about the Spainish idea of "spicy."

Thursday, October 21

Weird = Raro

I was inspired today from a discussion with one of my teachers about the weird of Minnesota. While he did concede that Spain was one of the loudest countries in the world (supposedly Japan is louder?), he thought nothing else was out of ordinary. If I grew up here, I would think having conversations involves yelling at each other. But here is some of the weird/different things I have experienced (as a foreigner) in my short stay here.

The TV
It is horrible. Horrible. If you know what I watch back home, me saying that the TV is bad means it is Bad (with a capital B). Most of the shows are of the following formula:

Jerry Springer (with female host) + Judge Judy + Yelling Spaniards + Big Brother = 1 hour show

While I cannot understand much about what is happening in the shows, I get the general gist. Here is an example of a show I watched today: it consisted of a debate over whether or not the hotel manager should be responsible for young people jumping off balconies (balconing en espanol!). The show started with a female judge (Isabel Winkles) who listened to a Mother and the Hotel Manager state their case in a court like setting. Then she goes backstage to come to a conclusion, and during that time the audience gets to discuss with the two plaintiffs and the two hosts. This discussion is the Jerry Springer aspect of the show. Then after about 40 minutes, she comes out and rules her descision (which I couldnt understand). The rest of the shows are your standard soaps (I love Fiscia o quimica) and even the news shows usually lean towards TMZ and Entertainment Tonight type content. Oh, and the newsanchors usually talk to you while looking in a mirror and then the camera moves away.

The Fashion
Couldnt find a real pic, but this is the idea.
Men wear purses, have mullets/rat tails and v necks (ewww) and the girls wear whatever they want no matter how old they are. I have teachers at my school, who are at least 50 years old, wearing short skirts and tank tops. Women (of all ages) love wearing leggings and shirts that don't cover their bums. I am all for their self-confidence to wear way to tight clothing, but it must be my midwest, repressed upraising to not want my muffin top out in the open for everyone to see. Seriously, you do not understand until you see how many people, even grandmas, going out in just leggings that are usually too small. Maybe it is happening in the US and I just dont know about it, but seriously, eww....

The Food
Going to the grocery store is always an interesting experience and I usually learn something new every time. Things arent organized like they are back home, which is logical, but I am still learning my way around and realizing things like canned food is usually next to the beer and milk, flour and sugar are put together next to cleaning supplies. Also, asparagus isnt green, looks like fingers and comes in cans. I also thought it was only a Dutch thing, but they have hotdogs with cheese inside of them and instead of coming in cans, it comes in normal hotdog wrappers. But I have to say, I love the fact you get free tapas when you buy a beer/wine. Also the prices for things are good. However, I would love some real bacon sometime soon...

Wednesday, October 20

Still here

This was a week of mixed emotions (as is with all weeks) and it felt like it was looooooooooong. In short, this week I barely worked, made some soup, had a mini break down, got sick (twice), went to a feria/fair, and now feeling a little better about the situation (except for still being sick – but all of Spain is sick). So… here are the details:

The (Lack of a) Bridge

On Tuesday, all of Spain had a day off of work and many people got Monday off as well (called a Puente which I believe means Bridge). However, my school doesn’t believe in extra holidays (how un-Spanish of them!) and had flyers posted all around the school saying THERE WAS SCHOOL ON MONDAY, that the only extra days off were one day in December and one in March. Anyhoo… I went to work, my roommate went to Jaen, and I was completely alone for about 48 hours. You could say I went a bit stir crazy, I didn’t understand why I was here, how I would survive here with my (very) limited Spanish, knowing no one in my town, etc etc etc. Think of 48 hours of just stewing in that. Thanks for everyone who I made listen to my rants, and tried to calm me down. Let’s just say I am a bit more balanced after the last weekend.

La Feria – Imagine the State Fair a million times dirtier
Some others and I originally had the crazy idea of renting a car, driving to Cadiz and seeing a free concert, but that failed. Instead, I took the bus to Jaen (after a morning at the beach) to invade Barb’s new piso. I met Barb in MN a bit before we all headed to Spain, and it turns out we grew up just a few blocks from each other in STP. But she went to Nativity and I went to Groveland, so of course we never interacted. She was kind enough to let me crash at her piso (even though she moved in just the day before) and follow her around Jaen for the weekend. It seemed like a very small world that weekend: meeting another auxilare from MN, seeing Joanna on the streets  (I met her through one of my high school friends and met her in Malaga), and seeing many of the same people again over the weekend.  

The main even that weekend was the Feria, or the fair. It is somewhat like the MN State Fair, but minus the animals, agriculture, butter sculptures and fried cheese curds. But there was a lot of churros (I ate none!!! WHAT?), pizza, bocadillos, kebabs and other Spanish food along with amusement rides (they go 10x longer than rides in the US and a bit sketchier) and at night there are tents of music. Next time, I might just wear my rubber boots to the feria because it was disgusting. I am scared to clean my shoes… very scared. But it was a lot of run dancing, listening to the crazy mix of music, people watching and the Spanish guys (except that one with the dreads – silly boy).

I also got to experience my first botellon, which is where all the young people gather in a park (there was a playground) and drink themselves silly before going to the feria. We were supplied with cups, boxes of wine and some lemonade and proceeded to drink the night away (don’t even ask about the bathrooms… or lack of). It wasn’t at all like drinking in the states (or in Canada). Instead of drinking an insane amount in a short period of time, you drink over several hours (I think we started about 10pm and were out until 6am or 8am). Very different cultures.

First Lessons
This week I got to do my first lessons at school, which are difficult. Everyone tells me that I need to speak slower, because no one can understand my accent (even when I speak veeerrrrryyyyy sllllooooooowwwwly and enunciate all of my words). I guess Minnesotans are the Andalucians of the US, where we only pronounce half the words (I guess I pronounce T's like D's?) and slur the rest. Crazy. The majority of my conversations recently have been very slow, disjointed and a weird mix of Spanish and English. 

Sometimes I wonder what these kids will learn from me since my lessons are always too hard for them to understand and I spend most of my time in this room speaking to their teachers: 

How to Keep Myself Occupied and Not Crazy
In order to keep myself occupied (and try not to spend all my days in the flat with a broken TV that hates me but loves my roommate) I am giving myself a quest. I am to befriend a baker in the panderia and then once they somewhat recognize me, I am going to bomb them with this weird request: I will work for free if you teach me how to bake. The bread, crossaints, cookes (they have ones called Sonrisas!) are all just so tasty.

My current errand is to buy some more shoes, because wearing my bright blue Keds and red sneakers is getting somewhat tiring. And I start spanish class tonight!  

Sunday, October 10

Da, Da, Da...

So I am kinda getting into the swing of things here, my spanish still sucks but I didnt get as many "WTF?" looks this week as I did the last. Right now I am watching Step Up for the Streets in Spanish in hope to improve my Spanish (and perhaps my dance moves too).

The First Week of School

This week I started at I.E.S. Al Andalus. Most of my time is in conversation classes with the professors where we discuss random things and then prepare for the actual class time. I am helping with one class of 12 year olds, helping teaching them natural science (which has some words I can barely pronounce in english), math (the kids cannot pronounce "Divided by"  to save their life- but it is so cute) and English (with the bilingual coordinator- last class consisted of the kids asking anything and everything about my life in MN, including my favorite futbol team and since I had none I explained American football to them and the Vikings... or Veekings). I didnt get to do P.E., music or art with them yet because I was in Granada for Orientation on Thursday.

A Granada

Luckily, thanks to friends, I found out about an orientation in Granada for the Language Assistants. Once I got the information from Paco (my coordinator) and after some long drawn out explanation on how to get there, what bus to take, what the building looked like, etc etc etc, I was ready to learn more about the program, see Granada for the first time and meet some more peoples.  So I got up before first light, caught the first bus and watched the sun rise over the mountains and sea. As I watched the darken streets of Almunecar pass by me, a sense of ease descended upon me. I felt that I made the right decision coming here, despite not knowing much Spanish. I attempted to take a picture of the waning crescent moon, but it was too dark and the bus was moving to quickly... so I drew a picture instead.

I successfully traveled the Granada public bus system, had enough time for a cafe con leche and then headed to the orientation. It consisted for 3 hours of quickly spoken spanish (I understood 20%), lots of questions about the NIE but afterwards there was FREE food. Paelle, ensalada, sangria and flan. I ate with some new friends and Valentina (who I talked to alot on Facebook before coming to Spain). The restaurant was at a "Carmen," which is a traditional Arabic type of house there consisting of a giant courtyard surrounded by a wall. Many of them we turned into restaurants and are very pretty.

After the food, some of us wandered around the old ciity for a bit, ate some tapas, gelato and drank tinto de verano. But since I had to work in the morning, I caught the last bus to Almunecar. At the bus station, I met another auxilar from the orientation who lived in Salobrena (15 minutes from my town). Hopefully we will be able to hang out sometime before she moves to Granada, but I will be returning to Granada hopefully soon! (Before the big traveling starts)

Making Soup

One thing that I miss from back home is spicy food and an assortment of spices. I probably just havent found them here in Almunecar, but this week I did attempt to make black bean soup. I found some semi-picante peppers at the store, but despite putting twice as many into the soup it didnt taste spicy at all. Next time will be better! One successful dish I made was just frying up some sweet potatoes (I am SO happy they exist here). This week I am going to try to make either Jambalaya or Chicken Paprikash.

The Spanish do Oktoberfest

This past weekend, I battled between going to Granada or Malaga. But ultimately Malaga won out because they had a Fiesta de Cerveza (or Oktoberfest) and a feria in Fuengirola. So I repeated the voyage to Malaga (I had phone credit this time- but both my phone and camera died halfway through the weekend- thus no pictures of the beer, but I bet you can use your imagination!), and Amy willingly housed me again (THANKS SO MUCH!). Both Friday and Saturday night we ended up at Oktoberfest where they actually had big beers (liters! and half liters) along with better beers than San Miguel and Cruzcampo, but they still tasted like eww. Brats were two euros, the fries were tasty but I would stay away from the apple strudel.

Ok, so alot happened at Oktoberfest. The first night we befriended some silly Spaniards and then joined some drinking games between some Germans and Dutch boys. It involved rock, paper, scissors, drinking beer (spilling lots) and just being loud. Later that evening (around 4 am), we went on a quest to find churros, but instead found some crazy twins. Two identical blonde Spaniard, dressed the same (except for the color of their shirts) that were their own two man act. One was "pregnant," not embarrassed, with  the Franz Ferdinand eggs. It's hard to describe exactly what happened, but we ended up talking for an hour on the street.

The next night, the power went out at Amy's flat, so we changed out pasta dinner plans to a brucetta type meal. Then later we ended up at Oktoberfest again since it was raining and no one had the energy to go to the feria. This time, we were able to win a contest and get Oktoberfest Paulener hats!

Still we were not able to find churros... instead I just settled for some coffee and a bus ride back to Almunecar.  I am starting to enjoy my time here more and once I get my NIE, I can take some free Spanish classes at a local college to help my everything!

Sunday, October 3

La Primera Semana

(WARNING!!! Long entry. Use the bathroom before reading and maybe get a snack)

Hola Todos! I have been in Spain for about one week and it has been a mixed experience. As  I write, I am sitting in my piso, watching a Russian pirated copy of Robin Hood en espanol (because this TV hates me), and I went to the beach earlier today. After a bit of juggling, I finally figured out how to get money out of the bank accounts (thanks family and Ana!) and now I am relaxing, waiting to see if some couchsurfers actually arrive, listening to a crazy lazy outside my window singing about cats and fish, then might head to Malaga to meet some other Language Assistants!

Now for the description of my week!!!

The Entrance

It was a standard flight: long, bad food and long waits (The movie was the A-Team and the food nasty tortilini but the salad was tasty). However, I did manage to get a row to myself, sleep through most of the flight and meet a girl who was in my program but in La Caja de Mijas (just west of Malaga). The plane flew over Malaga just as the sun was rising, so the views of the mountains, white pueblos and waters (I didn’t see any sharks) were amazing.

We journeyed through Spanish customs (which wasn’t much), navigated the public transportation and walked up a hill with way too much luggage and no street signs. But we made it to the hostel!

La Huelga 
(29 de septiembre)

I spent two days in Malaga (one day longer than planned due to La Huelga or Strike). My first home in Spain was the Picasso’s Corner hostel (comes with free breakfast and paella cooking lessons!). Since I arrived before 2pm, the rooms weren’t ready, so my new friend and I stored our bags, took a shower and went out to explore the city.

One thing I enjoy most about being in a new city is observing the people and their actions. Malaga has some real crazies: at the beach we saw a man who was combing his dreads with a gull’s feather and then one drinks vendor sit down on his cooler in front of a topless lady and just stare. Then when wandering the city center looking for tapas, this one man walked down an alley and sat in a trash bin. Not sure why, but he looked like he was having fun. There were a lot of street performers and vendors in the center. While eating tapas at one restaurant, a man wandered by and started to sing (horribly and he looked like a rooster) to the plaza. When his phone rang, he answered it and while talking he walked table to table proffering a dish for donations. Not everyone in Malaga is like these people, the majority are fairly normal Spanish people with a mix of tourists.

The next day, me and a couple of people attempted getting a bus to our respective cities by taking a taxi at 7 am (we stayed up until about 2am in the hostel bar… cheap drinks there). The taxi driver ripped us off, and also said the best way to get to our cities (Sevilla, Jaen and Almunecar) was for him to drive us personally… for 300 Euros each! We would rather stay in the bus station. Once at the station, the staff said they couldn’t sell us tickets for the buses that were scheduled to run because they didn’t know who would actually show up. Short story: we stayed another day in Malaga, which turned out to be a lot of fun. Some of us went to the beach and the others (including me) went to find one girls school, where it turns out she gets to help teach cooking classes for adults! I want that job! Later that night, Fabio made and taught us how to make Andalucian paella and then took us to a soul concert (band name: Free Soul Band. Very straight to the point). I LOVED the lead singer, he looked like a blue Where’s Waldo: blue striped shirt, blue pants, long blue hair and big bug-eyed blue glasses.

The Final Destination
11am the next morning, I successfully took the bus to Almunecar! As soon as I lugged my stuff onto the bus (I brought WAY too much stuff) and found a seat, I passed out for the next hour. Good thing the bus ride is 1.5 hours. At the bus stop, my brand new Spanish roommate met me and helped me bring my stuff to our piso. It is really nice (my room is already a mess though… but I am doing dishes!). Once kinda situated, we headed to the supermercado to buy some food (tea, bananas and a cucumber… my brain was so foggy and I didn’t want to drag her around the store for an hour like I usually do) and then we headed to my school: I.E.S. Al-Andalus.  

At the school I finally met Paco, the bilingual coordinator, and he gave me my teaching schedule. I have 4 periods of conversation with teachers, and then classes in (I am quoting directly from my schedule because I don’t know what these classes intail yet!) Conversation, Science, English, Music (eek!), P.E. and Maths.  I work Monday – Thursday, so that leaves a long weekend to travel. Since he had a class, Paco invited me to a “jamon y queso fiesta” later that afternoon to welcome the new teachers. I picked a good day to come! At the party, I got to eat lots of good food (queso! Yum yum in my tum tum! And who can turn down ham?) and all of the profesors were really nice. I got to practice a lot of my Spanish, but there still is a long way to go with that.

The fog that invaded half the town.
The next day, I attempted to get my NIE number (the final stage of the visa process), so I went to the police station, was told I had to go to Motril (15 minute bus ride) to the national police station. So I went there without a map (bad decision!), got lost a bit but practiced my spanish when asking for directions and finally found the station. There I was told they only accept applications Mondays from 11-2pm. Bah! At least I got to see a bit of Motril and met (I believe… he spoke very fast) the police chief, who was kind enough to walk me to the bus station and tell me about the last stand of the Moors (muselmanes) and his daughter who is an English and economics teacher in Oxford.

One Night (Lets just say I am very good at catching buses now)

So on Saturday, my roommate left for Jaen and we were expecting some german couchsurfers to come stay on Saturday, but they never showed up (probably got caught in customs coming from Morocco). I hung out on the beach for most of the day, wandered the city, bought some food, realized I couldn’t access any more money. But that was sorted out later and in the evening I took the bus to Malaga to meet up with some other auxiliaries at a bar called El Pimpi. I took a risk last night, since I didn’t have a place to stay and the next bus back to Almunecar was at 7am. My phone ran out of credit while on the bus, so I accidently hung up on one friend, but I was able to find some of the auxiliaries. 

It was a fun night and I was able to crash with one of them (Thanks Amy!). One of the bars we went to reminded me of a Mexican restaurant back home and it made me really want some enchiladas! I need to figure out how to make those on a stove top or find a friend in Almunecar with an oven. That is the next sub quest (main quest: learn Spanish!). Other sub-quests include: hiking up the mountains, going camping in the Caja de Gata, and figuring out how to use the TV.

Deep (probably not) Thoughts

One thing I realized when coming here is how frustrating speaking and understanding the Spanish here is. It is a completely different vocabulary from the one I learned (and barely remember) and the accent is somewhat like a southern drawl or the Minnesotan slur. Half the words are not pronounced and it is spoken so quickly! When speaking, I feel stupid and that’s hard. Before I came here, I realized I wouldn’t be able to communicate well, but the reality is much harsher. I just have to thank all the people that have helped me so far (Ana, my roommate and other auxilares) and for the Spaniards (the men in the bus station restaurant and the phone store) that speak slowly to me and attempt to teach me things.