Category Archives: it happens

The moment you have ALL been waiting for.

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting…

¡Mi Señora!

For the ever curious, here is a picture of my host mom (grandma?) and me taken tonight before dinner.

Seeing as our time is quickly coming to a close, she made sure to remind me that we needed to take a picture before I left. This came as a relief to me because I have always wanted one but did not know how to go about it. I knew that it would have to be a predetermined night, as it would be imperative (to her) that she’d be dressed properly with neat hair and flawless makeup. So when I saw that she had been out earlier today (for her daily thirty minute walk… aka the only time she leaves the house) I asked if we could take one that night so that it was taken care of!

Five things about Flora:

1)    She is an eighty year old widow who lives with two cats, she also has eight kids and many grandchildren who all live close to her

2)    She must always be listening to the radio or have the television on, be it in the morning, during siesta, or whilst she sleeps

3)    Her hearing is no good at all

4)    She is a chain smoker

5)    Her typical day goes like this: wake-up, listen to radio whilst eating breakfast, watch television, “marchar” aka walk across the street and back, eat lunch, siesta, eat snack, watch television, eat dinner, watch television, go to sleep

While I was (and still am) a bit intimidated by her, she has truly been a wonderful host and I feel lucky to have been placed with her. Sure, it would have been nice having Internet, but I learned to cope and after talking with other kids about their host families, I feel like I did not fare badly at all!

I am officially embarking on my last week in Madrid. Christmas shopping is almost complete and now I am just getting a bit nervous about the weight of my bags on the way home! Before I can fret too much, I have two tests, an essay, and a presentation to get out of the way that I just want to get done with! Even so, it is so surreal to think that this time next week I will be sitting in my own bed blogging away!

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Sweatin’ it in Spain

So as I mentioned yesterday, my gym membership is officially up! When I first got here I signed up for the three month deal they had going, knowing that I would want to be working out while I was here. Thankfully, that was a good move because not only do I have way too much time on my hands at all times, but I am not quite sure how I would avoid gaining 100+ pounds without it. Overall, it turned out to be a nice place, I loved the Pilates classes (although they are a lot easier than the ones at home- here the focus is more on stretching and not so much the work-out), I tried spinning for the first time (quickly realizing that my knees were not built for it), and I worked with a personal trainer and finally got over my machine-phobia.Don't those primary colors remind you of doing toddler gymnastics?

Spending time in the gym also gave me lots of time to experience and reflect on Spain’s attitude towards exercise, leading me to assert that it really is a lot different than back home! For starters, to see girls working out is very odd. I cannot tell you the number of times it was about 15 men and me in the weight room. But, oddly, I did not mind. (Which is funny considering at school, I refuse to enter the fratboy-infested area with all the weight machines due to intimidation!) Instead, I took a bit of pride in it (and I’m pretty sure they found it less strange because they could tell that I was American). Good news is that I took my folder with my workout regimen in it to maybe keep up it up in the states if I can find the courage! I really did like lifting and working my muscles though and not only doing cardio all the time because I do feel like the two go hand and hand and it made me stronger!

The walkway to the gym!

However, what women can do without reproach is Pilates and the stretching classes. This is where you will find old ladies who chat like you’ve known them for years and twenty-somethings trying to fit some sort of exercise in their routine. Like I mentioned before, a lot are easygoing stretching classes with some emphasis on resistance training so I do not think you can rely solely on these classes for “exercise.” I always liked going to Pilates though and found it was a great way to stretch and relax.

To be honest, my gym was rather stuffy and not the most comfortable place to spend the day and so at times, I would run outside in the park right by my house! I established a wonderful loop that I can run once or twice depending on how I’m feeling. Here I experience similar things though and sometimes get strange looks from old people sitting on benches and very rarely see other women running (but lots of men!) A few of my friends have even been called out while running themselves. The other day, one was forced to stop by men impeding her path, only to be told “You run too much,” and then allowed to carry on her way. Another one of my friends was mocked while walking home after a run by boys our age, I guess since it really just is not that common?!

Now don’t get me wrong- there are lots of women who do work out, but it is definitely more of an exception than a rule. I think everyone else just considers their exercise in all the walking we do everywhere. That, and I have found Spanish people are very proud of their diet- they think that it is the healthiest and best food in the world even it only revolves around olive oil, potatoes, bread, and  ham. So maybe they don’t think they need  a reason to work out when they eat so “healthy?”

Even so, for me, working out is not only a tool to lose weight and maintain physical fitness, but more importantly, it’s really makes you feel better and alert for the whole day! I can always tell a difference after I work out and it’s something that you cannot get just from walking.

So there you have it, my little take on Spanish culture and exercise.

In other news, I got my advent calendar filled with yummy Spanish chocolate and Taylor and me put up a tree in her apartment today whilst listening to Christmas carols!

My advent calendar! (Ignore the flash)

Our lovely Christmas tree

Now my dilemma for the day… if I go to Vienna tomorrow do I:

a) Eat all the chocolate for the 4 days I will miss beforehand

b) Bring the chocolate in a baggie and eat one piece a day

c) Wait until I get back and eat all the pieces at once

HELP!

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Filed under fitness, it happens, learning, reflections

Taste, or rather, Smell of Home

Walking into my apartment last Thursday, I was elated by the fact my last class was cancelled and I had plenty of time to get ready for my flight to Paris. However, my mood was immediately soured when I opened the door to my room and smelt something a bit funky. Like a hound dog, I began crawling on the ground, following my nose to the source of the smell. When I got to where it was the strongest, there was nothing around besides a hardwood floor and my closet. I started sniffing the bottoms of my shoes, thinking maybe I stepped in dog poop that lingered on some soles. But there was no trace of anything anywhere. I was certain the smell was not in my head.

I came to the conclusion that one of the two cats that reside in our humble abode must have pooped in my room, all for the housekeeper to clean it up before I noticed, but not good enough to eradicate the smell. With this in mind, I began to pack because I had a flight to catch in a few hours.

But I just could not get that smell out of my nose. Surely, there must be something more. That is when I looked under the bed and saw my rug pushed up against the wall. I pulled the rug away and with it came cat poop aplenty, rendering the smell even stronger. I went to my senora to inform her of the “accident,” and that is when she told me I trapped the cat in my room that morning and that is when the cat must have made it’s mark.

This reminded me of a similar time back at home when my beloved Rainbow left a similar surprise on my bed… Don’t you just love animals?

The culprit

The former criminal from Colorado, Rainbow... They're creepily similar, no?

Thankfully, upon my return from Paris, all was cleaned up with no remnants of the accident. Needless to say, now I do not take my eyes off these fellows whenever I see them lurking near my door.

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Intercambio-ing

I apologize it has been so long since I have written. Not that I think any of you are that offended, but I also do not like when I forget to write because although nothing life changing occurs, I am learning new things everyday that I would love to share! But it seems like these weeks keep flying by and before I know it, it’s the weekend and I am off again. Since my parents have left, things have been pretty mellow. Halloween was nothing special on my end but I was surprised by all of the costumes that I saw in Madrid. Coming here, everyone talked about how they really did not celebrate the candy-grabbing holiday in Europe, but I am here to tell you naysayers that it is alive and growing in popularity every year. The biggest difference between the European and American costume bonanza is made most distinct in examining in the objective of the costume. Whilst American college girls view it as an excuse to wear the least amount of clothing as possible and boys seek the easiest costume to store as much as alcohol as possible, Spanish youth look for the most striking and scary costumes. We’re talking about fake blood running down the face and devil horn galore. Anyways, I would still see the holiday as a very American tradition, but we may see some competition from our European counterparts in the near future…

This past week was marred with new experiences beginning on Monday night when I had job training at a bar called Maloney’s. Now I know what you’re thinking… Why would I be getting a job when I have a month and a half left here and should be taking in the Spanish culture? Well the truth is, I did not realize it was job training until I got to the bar and the owner started showing us where the drinks are kept, how to clean the freezer, and the proper way to slice a lemon. Turns out, the owner needs bartenders to work during the week so thought that it would be a good night to show me and two friends the lay of the land in case a night comes where he was short on workers. Details aside, it was quite the night and I surprisingly learned a lot from how to make sangria to the proper way to fill a beer glass from a tap. He even called the next day to see if I could come in for work, but let’s just say that I am not that desperate for a job… Maybe something I will regret come Christmas time.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were all standard madrileño days, minus the Mexican restaurant me and Taylor visited Tuesday night for dinner to get quesadillas. Ironically, it was called Colorado Express and it did just the trick to satisfy my Mexican craving. Funnily enough, yesterday I was chatting with a friend who has found the sole Taco Bell in Madrid (and been there five times since) at a mall that is accessible on the metro, and I’m not going to lie, I think I am going to have to go within the next week. It’s not that I even like Taco Bell in the states, but it’s just one of those things that sounds like it would hit the spot right about now.

Visited Cave Bar on Tuesday with my friends from Brazil. I love hanging out with them because, while they speak Portuguese, English, and Spanish all pretty well, when we all hang out together, we only talk in Spanish. It’s a great way to practice and if all else fails and I cannot understand exactly what they’re trying to say, they can usually explain it in English. I had a similar experience in a bookstore yesterday when a French man started talking to me in Spanish and, although he spoke English as well, he said his Spanish was better than his English and, thus, wanted to talk to me in that! Then he went on to try to dissect how we define what language we speak better, whether it is “how we say beautiful things” or what. I went on to tell him, for me, it comes down to having the vocabulary to say what he refers to as “romantic and beautiful things.” Maybe not the wistful answer he was looking for, but I was not in the mood for his French banter.

Last night I went to my first Intercambio which are arranged by my school weekly. An intercambio is a function where students from the Spanish campus of my school and my program can meet up in the designated café/pub/etc. to talk and practice language. Most of the time, you end up talking in Spanish while they talk in English but that is the point of the night I guess? But my favorite part was when we made the transition from the café to a bar down the street to play the time-honored game, beer pong (or Beirut for all you Coloradans). This game is virtually unheard of in Spain, only known to bar owners trying to lure American frat-boys to buy jarra after jarra of cerveza to make some dinero (pitcher after pitcher of beer to make some money). Anyways, I ended up partnering up with my British friend (who also did not know of the game) and it ended up being a ton of fun. They loved the game and I really would not be surprised if you could find them back for another round tonight.

Speaking of my British friend, last night was “Bonfire Night” in Great Britain. Although he explained the meaning of the tradition to mean a million times, I still do not really get it and for the sake of not offending all my British readers (ok I don’t think I have British readers but maybe one day) I am not going to go into the history, but rather leave you with this picture. Apparently the bonfires are HUGE in Britain and they roast sausages and baked potatoes (YUM) while burning handmade figures of Guy Fawks. We basically did that too…

guyfawks

Our mini-bonfire

And here we are today. This next month and half is going to fly by. Every weekend I am busy except my final weekend, and am already thinking of planning a one-final-hurrah-trip (OFHT, for short) that weekend. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself (or my bank account) so we will have to wait and see! I am headed to Germany, Paris, Barcelona, and Vienna so there is still lots in store and more intercambio action to be had!

For those of you who do not know, my grandpa immigrated from Germany to Canada (and later ended up in the United States thanks to my wonderful grandma) when he was just a young lad. All of his immediate family still lives in some part of Germany and so I figured it would be interesting to go and visit them and get a little taste of German culture so that is where I am off to tomorrow. Not sure if my German vocabulary (mostly consisting of food names) is going to get me very far but we shall see. Gute nacht! (I think that means goodnight?!)

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Lucky

Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting at Starbucks (per usual) reflecting on the past week with my family that flew by faster than you can say patatas. It feels like just yesterday I was picking them up at the airport (chocolate napolitanas in hand), anxious to spend a week showing off my temporary home. They were only here a week, but as I am sure they can attest to, we squeezed in a few weeks of activity… and food.

Dylan’s favorite find? Churros and chocolate. I only had it one time before they got here but now can successfully say I have sampled it at four different places and it really is crazy how each place tastes just a little bit different. Mom’s new jam? Tortilla española and pisto. And my dad really tried to embrace the Spanish culture, refusing to order cafe con leche at Starbucks like the rest of the family, and instead, heading to Pans & Co. next door like a “true” Spaniard.

I was the most antsy I have ever been in my life waiting for my family to get here. It is the first time we have had a week to spend together since I graduated from high school, and besides the few hours of class that got in the way on Tuesday, it really was like a normal fall break like I remember! I ate the best meals I have had in months, travelled to Sevilla, and enjoyed the time we all go to spend together sans cell phones, TV, and all those other silly distractions that interfere with togetherness at home.

In Madrid we spent time in Retiro, la Reina Sofia (art museum I wrote about before), el Museo de Prado, la Plaza Mayor, and they even got to meet my señora! We spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in Sevilla where we toured the amazing cathedral, Alcazar, bullfight musuem, intimate flamenco show and all the cute little side streets.

I could write for days about how great of a week it was but I am hoping my dad can guest blog it up with his description of the trip which would be both entertaining and give you his take on the whole experience. Here are some pictures that show you some quick highlights!

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Self time photo from the Rose Garden in Retiro

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Dylan and dad with one of the many gelatos we ate during the week!

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The fam with their calamari sandwiches

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Last night in la Puerta del Sol!

The last night, my mom said “You don’t know how lucky you are,” and the truth is, I think that I really, really do.

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Filed under food, it happens, learning, museums, trips