Friday, December 14, 2012

December Apartment Makeover

HAPPY DECEMBER!
Well, I guess we're already halfway through the month, but this blog has taken a lot of work to complete!

The weekend after Thanksgiving, Anna and I got right to Christmas decorating. Now, I love a good Christmas cookie baking session, some light decorating, and Christmas music once in awhile during this time of the year. [Sidenote: I can NOT stand Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas". Christmas DJs do not comprehend the term "moderation" when it comes to this song. I'm proud to say that so far this Christmas season I've managed to only hear this song once. May it stand as so!] As I was saying, I can get into the Christmas mood, to a certain extent. However, my spirit is pitiful in comparison to Anna's!!! She started playing her Christmas playlist as soon as we got home from Thanksgiving dinner, she's been going around the house singing Christmas carols, and she's hung Christmas ornaments and snowflakes all around her room. Hahaha so she has been a positive influence on my own Christmas spirit, and it's been quite fun to get back into the festive mood at a level I unfortunately haven't experienced since grade school :)

So, with that Christmas spirit in tow, we plowed through a local discount store to gather items suitable for our apartment decorating. The bulb ornaments pictured at the top of this blog made up a majority of our purchase, but my personal favorite selection of the day was undoubtedly these creepy Santa Claus ornaments. Clearly, at this point in the entry I have no choice but to display an irrationally large picture of this ornament.


These little guys made quite the fine addition to our tree, and I don't think the final product would be nearly as gorgeous without them!


Along with our Christmas Tree, Anna and I have been tirelessly creating hand-made snowflakes to further liven the mood of our apartment! But really. We've spent several hours total making dozens of them, and hanging them all over the apartment. This really may be what finally caused our 3rd room mate to leave the apartment. (hhahahahah just kidding, she left because our landlords are muy pesados and I'm finally starting to empathize with her but I will get to all of that later...) So in a sense our apartment underwent a bit of a makeover, and now that it's properly decorated I thought I would share some before and after photos!



BEFORE                                         AFTER
Entryway

Living Room

Second view of the Living Room
The Kitchen...as you will notice, there is no difference. Even with boatloads of Christmas spirit, there is nothing that can better the old-fashioned, tasteless kitchen,

My bedroom! I am super pleased with the result
Now, everyone who has seen what I've done to my room has complimented me on a job well done. Everyone, that is, except for the landlords. Rather than remarking about the the great space I've created, they have disapproved of my moving the furniture around, scolded me for hanging something on the wall that could take the paint off, and complained about fingerprints on my wall and the curtains getting wrinkled and dirty when I took them off (both of which only occurred because I had to have a friend come fix my blinds when the landlords took 3-4 weeks to respond to my problem). COULDN'T THEY HAVE JUST SAID "HEY CYNTHIA. THAT 'C' YOU MADE IS REAL NEAT. HAVE A NICE DAY."?? Man. If nothing else, this has taught me that I'm capable of arguing in Spanish, so that counts for something! Language improvement!

So I now only have one week left of work in 2012, and work has really been slowing down because all of my students have exams. What I'm most looking forward to at this point is an itty-bitty reunion with Alex, Jill, and Kevin 2 weeks from today in London where we'll celebrate my birthday, then we'll jet off to Barcelona for New Years celebrations with some wonderful french friends, and finally we'll explore Venice together!! I'm thinking this experience in and of itself will make up for my 5-week bedridden state last winter from ACL surgery, huh? :) :) :) :) :)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How to Make a Pumpkin Pie Without Having Any of the Ingredients Readily Available


Crust:
1.      Put a cup of water, flour, and pie pans in freezer beforehand. (The recipe stressed keeping everything cold for optimal results).
2.      Mix flour and sugar together. (We also ended up adding salt, and putting less sugar. I prefer savory crusts to contrast with the sweet pumpkin filling!) How did we measure the flour and sugar? Pure guesstimate. At first I was trying to be exact about it, trying to measure out the correct amount of tablespoons for 3 cups of flour...but after awhile I looked at my heaping pile of powder and thought "This is undoubtedly more than 3 cups already. I'll stop."
3.      Cut butter into flour mixture. This was difficult, as all I had to work with was a knife and fork. Measuring the butter also proved to be difficult. With the first crust, I tried to guess what a stick of American butter would look like, and just tossed that amount into the mixture. By the last pie we made, I looked up the equivalent online, only to find out that I had been using about 3/5 of the correct amount. Oops.
4.      Slowly add ice water to mixture until just before it forms a ball. Of all the appliances we have, apparently the freezer is the most potent. After only 20-30 min in the freezer, a 2-3 cup amount of water was frozen solid.
5.      Knead dough, put in fridge for half an hour.
6.      Roll out into circle form. We also do not have a rolling pin. We improvised with a can of beans, and you know what, I think the extra design on the crust is quite festive.
7.      Put into pie pan and crimp edges.As lovely as it looks now, the edges kept caving inward during the baking process, lost into the pie filling abyss.
8.      Freeze overnight.

Pie filling:
1.      Cut pumpkin/squash in half, and roast for 30-40 minutes, until soft.
2.      Once softened, scrape out insides and mash up. Prepare to be disappointed with your inability to make it look as smooth as Libby's Pumpkin Puree. Also, prepare to see puree not unlike the peach from the movie James and the Giant Peach.
3.      Mix puree with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Sugar? Easy. Cinnamon? Easy. Ginger? Had to scrounge around 4-5 stores before finding it…and not even ground ginger that we needed, but fresh ginger. So we ended up having to chop it up as finely as possible…which was difficult seeing as the biggest knife we owned was a steak knife. Also, we found whole cloves easy enough, but then had to try to grind them up using the back of a spoon or other hard objects. This pie was becoming quite labor intensive!
4.      Mix evaporated milk into dry ingredients. Mix mix mix mix mix because we don’t own a blender or food processor. Again, prepare for another wave of disappointment as your mix does not come out perfectly smooth.
5.      Pour into pie crust.
6.      Bake at an arbitrary temperature since your oven is temperamental and hope for the best. Check on it every 3 minutes to make sure the crust hasn't lost the battle to the filling. Turn it every 2 minutes.  

Why did we go through this process? Why did we sacrifice our blood, sweat, tears, and hours to this? FOR THE LOVE OF PUMPKIN PIE. And let me tell you, it was all worth it.

We made perhaps 6 or 7 pies over the course of 2 weeks, all of course leading up to having the perfect pie prepared for our Thanksgiving meal. After all that practice, we are kind of professionals. Despite the fact that the pie doesn't look exactly like the ones we made back in the U.S., the resulting pie still has a satisfyingly rich taste! But UGH I will never again take Libby’s Pumpkin for granted.

Our large lunch table at A Farixa
So as I said before, we brought one of our pies to the American Thanksgiving dinner. But I also brought 2 to a party the professors at A Farixa threw. They’d been planning this party for over a month, with the star of the party being cocido, a food very typical of Galicia. The way they described it to me, it sounded like a hearty soup with lots of vegetables and many parts of a pig. ALL parts of a pig. In reality, the focal point of the cocido is the pig itself, which is just flavored by the accompanying vegetables and broth. Apart from cocido, they told me there would also be a dessert called bica, also typical of Galicia. They warned me that it was extremely sweet... Clearly, my co-workers do not yet know my dessert eating habits on an intimate level. I felt no fear in trying this new dessert!

So the party was to be held the Thursday of Thanksgiving, right after the classes let out at 14:30. I had no classes that particular day, so I came in to watch and help out in the kitchen. I thought for sure they wouldn’t entrust the American with any work, but I found myself opening chestnuts for maybe an hour straight. Before you roast chestnuts, it’s  necessary to make a little opening in each one otherwise they will explode from the heat. So me and another professor, armed with peeling knifes, went to work on 4 boxes filled with chestnuts. Afterwards, I took a little tour of the kitchen to see all the different meats being cooked up. And then, I happened upon this tray of meat…
Sliced Pig Ears
…PIG EARS. WE MEET AGAIN. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly detest the sight of them more, I witnessed the cook flop large ears onto a cutting board, one by one, and slice them thinly before tossing them onto the tray where they wriggled a bit before settling into position. When we finally all sat down to eat, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly the professors pounced on the ears. Meanwhile I stuck to legs and other more common parts of the pig. The food was AWESOME. Along with the meat and chorizo, there was a cabbage/potato slaw, garbanzo beans, and of course scrumptious bread. 

Then came the licor café and bica! The bica was great, although I noted a strong resemblance it had to standard pound cake. Very dense, sweet, and delicious. Certainly a very sweet dessert for a traditional Spanish diet, but nothing that shocked my taste buds. This cake was paired with  licor café, which is supposedly a digestive liqueur consisting primarily of coffee and aguardiente. It’s very common in Galicia, and I had tasted it before, but this kind was particularly strong. One professor had me try dipping the bica into the  licor café, which reminded me quite a bit of tiramisu with the sweet cake/liqueur combo. Along with these desserts, we broke out the 2 pumpkin pies I had made. While a couple of the professors were hesitant to try it, most of them loved it, and some even asked me for the recipe. I also got 2 rounds of applause for making and bringing it haha, but I’m sure some of the gratitude was amplified by the countless bottles of wine and chupitos of liquor café consumed. After some digesting, one professor broke out DJ equipment, and a dance party complemented by gin and tonics ensued. It was a very fun night and very entertaining to see the people I work with in a more relaxed and fun atmosphere!

The very next day we had our big American Thanksgiving dinner at an apartment where 4 other Auxiliares live. There was so much food there…it really was a proper Thanksgiving. There was a delicious homemade hummus and deviled eggs as an appetizer, and then the main course included mashed potatoes, corn, green been casserole, macaroni and cheese, two different kinds of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course TURKEY. I was astonished at how successful everyone had been in making traditional American dishes using Spanish food. Of course some people had to make special trips to bigger grocery stores, or happened to have traveled to a bigger city in Spain where international products are readily available, but regardless, the results were fantastic. Oh man I’ve never consumed Thanksgiving food so quickly. While we digested a bit, everyone went around and shared what they were thankful for, which was unbelievably cute. I shared that I was thankful for the kindness of everyone I'd met in Ourense thus far, in particular the people at A Farixa who could not be more welcoming, and then I was also thankful for pie. For dessert we had pumpkin, apple, and chocolate pie, and so of course I sampled them all. I do believe I did Thanksgiving right, if I may say so myself, in the sense that I ate until I felt sickly, and soon after went to sleep. It was a good holiday :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wine. Chestnuts. Running.



I thought I’d take this opportunity to catch up on small going-ons in Ourense!

           Ribeira Sacra

I am fortunate enough to work at a school that goes on many field trips, and I’m fortunate enough to have them invite me to go along on all of them! One of the classes I work with is a tourism class, and they went on a trip to Ribeira Sacra. This is an area very near Ourense, and it is known for making lots of wine, particularly Mencia wine (Spain is making me significantly more well-versed in wines. I may even reject the consumption of Franzia once I return to the States). Since it was all tourism students on this trip, the school also hired a professional Tour Guide to sit on the bus and explain everything. The students didn't seem to pay a whole lot of attention to her, but I listened intently and tried to catch whatever I could. Granted, she explained everything in Gallego and not Castellano, so it was a bit of a headache but I was proud of my effort.

We started by visiting an old monastery that was built on a rock. The location was awesome in this very pretty wooded area. It was amusing to see everyone astounded by how beautiful the forest was, when to me it looked like any other forest preserve. Of course then I remembered that Spain is not really known for having this type of vegetation! I also couldn't remember the last time I'd been in such an area, so this stop was a delight.

Parador Santo Estevo
Next we went and visited a parador, which is some sort of historical building that nowadays acts as a luxury hotel. The one we visited used to be a monastery, but now rents out rooms for hundreds of euros per night with exquisite views of the Ribeira Sacra vineyards. This place we went to was GORGEOUS. The views were absolutely insane. 

In general the views all around Ribeira Sacra were beautiful. There is a deep valley that runs through the entire region, and apparently during the warmer months you can take a boat all along the river found here while sipping some wine. Paradise. I will say, the beautiful views came with their cost. We took a huge bus which struggled to maneuver the cliff side winding roads. I’m not one to get easily carsick, but at a certain point I found myself to be unbelievable dizzy, and I thought to myself “MAN! I’m worse than [my sister] Sofia!” :) 

The culmination of the field trip was a huge asado lunch we enjoyed as a huge, 60+ person group. I found it very interesting that the field trip organizers opted to rent out a place to have everyone eat, as it was quite a madhouse to have us all squeeze in. The food was greaaaaaaaat. It was a menu so they just kept bringing out courses of food. I devoured a plate full of asparagus that had some sort of cheesy chestnut sauce drizzled over it (only later would I fully understand the importance of the castaña, chestnut, to Ourense!). The asado part of the meal refers to an assortment of meat such as pork, ribs, and sausage all grilled to a delicious crisp. 

Vineyards
What was also interesting about this lunch was that we were given an unlimited supply of drinks. All of us at the professors’ table drank water and pop for the most part, but the students were downing bottles of wine like nobody’s business (Don't worry, they were all at least 18 which is the minimum drinking age!). I found it funny to imagine this happening in the U.S…but the fact of the matter is it just WOULDN’T. By the end of the lunch a majority of the students were drunk, so I thought for sure we’d all pile into the bus and everyone would pass out. NOPE. Spanish students LOVE to talk. There was nonstop chatter and cheering when we went to visit a wine cellar (what?? you're going to give them more wine??) as well as the whole ride home. I was quite frankly too impressed by it all to be annoyed. Overall it was a great field trip, a nice “day of work”, and just added to the numerous Spanish experiences for which I am thankful!

     Magosto

I’d been quite excited for this celebration ever since I'd first heard about it. The word Magosto seems to derive from some latin words referring to fire, and fire is certainly a key player in the celebration, right after castañas. The party basically consists of people climbing (or driving, if you are fortunate) 20 minutes up the tallest mountain of Ourense, building bonfires to cook food (asado!) and chestnuts, drinking, singing, and seeking refuge from the rain all day long. When I had asked my students to explain the celebration to me, they were all a bit uninterested, I found. They complained that it always rains on the mountain, it’s always cold, it’s a long walk, people get very drunk, etc. Well, that didn’t hinder my excitement for the party! I just assumed that since most of the students are from Ourense anyway, they don't see the novelty of the celebration anymore.

The day of the party, we went up with one of Anna’s fellow teachers. YAY for cars. We passed so many poor souls walking the tremendously steep, wet, incline, all the while we were in the comfort of a warm, dry car. Up on the mountain, we met the teacher’s friends and also ran into some fellow American Auxiliares. It was nice to meet some new people, the food was great and plentiful, the beer was not so great, but plentiful, and the chestnuts were delicious. I had a blast! I’ve never been camping, but I'm told that this party resembled it quite a bit. It was great to see how efficient people became when a rain cloud made its way over the mountain. People would scramble to get brush to protect the bonfires, the food and people moved inside the tent, but the music usually continued. As soon as the rain stopped, within seconds everyone was back out in the open, never skipping a beat of the party. So enjoyable!

But Magosto in Ourense didn’t end that day! The next day there was a big celebration on the Praza Maior, the main plaza of Ourense. There were a ton of people there, and a huge bonfire right in the middle of the plaza. This is where the chestnuts were being cooked…yes…chestnuts roasting on an open fire! Also, for 1 euro you could get a small meal of a sandwich (a large roll of bread stuffed with a whole chorizo. Genius.), wine, and chestnuts. There was also a band playing traditional Galician music, which includes lots of bagpipes. There was one older woman just having the time of her life dancing to this band. I was clearly too awestruck by her inspiring movements, because I totally did not think to take of a video of her! Darn. Overall, this was a super cute celebration.

Me and Kirsten
But the celebration didn’t end that day either! The next weekend there was a party at one of our favorite bars, Auriense. This Magosto party was originally supposed to have taken place the weekend before, but it was quite lucky that it got delayed to this weekend—Kirsten was visiting us so she got some of the Magosto experience herself! (Sidenote: Also while Kirsten was visiting us, we managed to try pig ear. I could not bring myself to chew it for longer than 3 bites, let alone swallow it. So we won’t be eating that again.)

 Overall I am a huge fan of Magosto, but the remains of the surplus of chestnuts can still be seen throughout the streets of Ourense!


Carreira Popular San Martino—my first 10k



Must.Catch.Next.Female.
After about a month of training, I ran my first 10K here in Ourense! It was such an awesome first experience. It was nice to experience it alongside (kind of) some of the people I work with. They'd all been making jokes and talking smack about what time they were going to get in the race, but it was all in good fun. We all ran in our flourescent orange CIFP A Farixa shirts. Felt nice to be part of a team again :)

All the training definitely made my workouts more enjoyable. Just the mere fact of knowing that I was working toward something motivated me so much more to stay on track and push myself more with each run! I only ran about twice a week, but each week I added another kilometer to my run with the intention of maintaining a 7:30 mile time, assuming that once I ran the full 6.2 miles I'd easily be able to complete each mile within 8 minutes.

I wish I could bottle up the sentiments, the adrenaline, the pure joy I felt while running this race. I honestly have not felt a rush like that since playing soccer at Grinnell. I don’t remember being tired during the race, I was just on a constant mission to pass the line of people in front of me. Eventually, it was all about seeking out the next female in front of me and beating her. And anyone who knows me knows that I'm as competitive as you get! The first 2 or 3 kilometers were an absolute drag. There were so many people that you couldn’t find any vacancies to fill to try to pass people (there were over 9,000 registered for this race!). In these first kilometers I had all but ceded to the fact that there was no way I’d make my goal time of 48 minutes.

Me immediately after the race!
Who knows what happened exactly, but I must have turned on some secret jets. Or maybe it was the "Disco Pogo" that was playing on my iPod. The first mile couldn't have been faster than 8:30, but somehow in the end I got a time of 45:18, giving me a 7:18 mile average! Like I said, who knows what happened, but I was quite happy with my time, as you can tell from this picture :)

You may also notice that the name on my number, "Antia" is actually not mine. I didn't register for the race in time (What? The night before is too late??? Ugh so like me leave things til the last minute), so I didn't have my own official number or time chip. Luckily for me, one of the A Farixa students was a young female and didn't show up for the race! I used her chip and number, and got her 4th place in her age group (she's 18). I have yet to see this medal that people told me I earned...

I'm dying to run another race. But until then, I have brought it upon myself to eat an extra amount of pastries to make up for the one week I went without them.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Packing Report Card



Warning: If you have no care to hear a female babble about clothing for an extended period of time…skip this blog.

To everyone else, prepare for an unreasonably thorough analysis of the clothes and other items I have brought to Spain! Now that I’ve been here for over a month, I think I have a good feel for how well I packed and, alternatively, ways in which I did not pack so well. For simplicity’s sake, I have divided my apparel into categories.

Work Apparel
This was the most important category for me, since the whole reason for my coming to Spain was to work! Knowing this, I packed a good amount of dresses, and nice skirts as well as heels. I didn’t know exactly how nicely the other professors would dress, so I wanted to keep my bases covered. Luckily, the dress code is more casual than I had expected. Some professors wear jeans and Converse shoes to work, while others wear dress slacks and dress shoes. I decided that I'd like to follow suit of the latter. Once in awhile I will wear jeans to work if I wear a nicer top or boots, but overall I think I've mostly kept to wearing dresses. Let me tell you, I went the whole month of October as well as the first week of November without having worn the same outfit to work. SCORE.
Grade: A+

Sports Apparel
This was actually the second most important category for me. I want to keep a reasonably high level of activity while I’m in Spain, so having comfortable work out clothes is essential! Good work out clothes also act as a motivation for working out, in my opinion. Having fun shorts or a cool GWS t-shirt always makes me feel tip-top and thus it affects my work out positively :)

Well, to my dismay, upon my arrival to Spain I realized I only brought 2 pairs of running shorts and maybe 4 running tops. Along with that it looks like I brought my entire arsenal of sports bras, about 10. That shorts to tops to bras ratio is way off. Luckily, after running my first 10K last weekend I got to add 2 more shirts to my collection!

I remembered to bring my soccer cleats (hopefully breaking them out this week!), and shin guards, but I brought no soccer socks. Luckily those shouldn't cost more than 5 euros. As it turns out the running clothes I brought have been more than sufficient, so my packing for this category turned out perfectly for the most part, although unintentionally so.
Grade: A-

Outdoor Apparel
This category essentially includes anything used to keep me warm. I only brought two jackets: one a nicer grey peacoat type thing, and the other a casual brown jacket. Unfortunately, when I want to wear a black jacket, all I have is a thin black blazer. I bought this blazer just before I got to Spain and it has been a GODSEND, but not great for cold nights! Since I’ve been in Spain I’ve bought a new winter scarf as well as a matching wine-colored hat, one of those pseudo beret types. We’ll see when I gather the confidence to wear it in public.

Other than these items, the only other options I have for things to wear over my dresses are a red cardigan-type thing and a long grey sweater. I'm thinking of buying a fleece. Ourense will get no where as near cold as the Midwest does, so a fleece will definitely last me longer here than it would at home. Either way, I definitely need to give myself some more options!
Grade: B


Footwear
Shoes were the most difficult to pack. They take up the most room in a suitcase, but when you need to bring some boots you need to bring some boots!! I brought 3 pairs of heels…none of which I have yet worn (but when I DO finally need a pair of heels, it will be worth having brought them, right??). I brought 2 pairs of heeled boots but can only stand to wear one on a regular basis since I have a 20 min up and downhill walk to work. I brought 2 pairs of flats as well as my Toms, but only one pair of flats gets worn, and the Toms are slowly going into hibernation with the weather getting colder. I have bought one pair of brown flat boots which I wear ALL the time, so they were a good buy. Now I have my eye on some black riding boots. And some fun-colored biker boots. And neutral flats. This isn’t looking good.
Grade: C-

Accessories
I didn’t forget all my earrings at home like I did when I went to Granada.
Grade: A+

Weather Appropriateness
Really as long as I brought an umbrella I should pass this category with flying colors. I also bought a rain jacket and rain boots when I got here. Rain boots are a difficult purchase. I was hoping to buy a pair that were super cute and sassy, but in the back of my head I also knew that I had perfectly fine rain boots waiting for me in St. Charles, and whatever boots I bought here would not make it into my suitcase on my way back to the U.S. So instead of splurging on 40+ euro rainboots that look more like they're made out of leather than plastic, I settled for 15 euro boots in a nice shade of purple. As it turns out, Ourense really hasn’t rained as much as I expected it to, so these items have only gotten used once, maybe twice.

As far as my other clothing, I packed a great deal of short sleeved shirts and shorts that I won’t be able to use until my last month here or so. I think that I was anticipating lots of exotic travel to warmer countries in Europe. Also, the long-sleeved tops that I did bring are no fun! No fun means no wear. So I will certainly have to do some shopping to change that.
Grade: C+

Toiletries
 2 sticks of American deodorant? CHECK. I made the mistake of not bringing enough deodorant when I went to Granada, and thus had to settle for the strange liquid roll-on deodorant found there. It's not the most horrid product ever, but it really really pales in comparison to the American stuff. I only brought enough shampoo and conditioner to get me through the first couple weeks in Spain, so I have since bought some Spanish stuff. While they have some American name-brands here, they tend to cost twice as much, so I've settled for some local brands. I am slowly running out of Frizz Ease straightening products so I going to be out of luck there--if I'm fortunate enough to find those products here, the insurmountable cost will certainly draw me away from them. I'll be more likely to try out Spanish products and hope for the best. Ah also, I am about 3 weeks short in my supply of daily contacts. So I will have to start getting creative with those...or...I will have to start wearing my GLASSES in PUBLIC! Gasp. (...but really...)
Grade: B

Overall
I made use of every cubic centimeter in my suitcases, so for that reason alone I am proud. On the other hand, I haven’t even begun to consider how I will be getting all my stuff home, especially with future shopping trips. I have been responsible so far, buying only essential items like the rain gear and flat brown boots. Christmas is coming up though…and since I will be far away from my family I will have to make up for it all by spoiling myself...

Final Grade: B

This is how organized my closet always looks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Portugal


Anna and I took advantage of a 4 day weekend by traveling to Vigo, and then to Porto, Portugal! It was our first longer trip so it was a nice little adventure with which to start.

We traveled first by train 2 hours west of Ourense to the city of Vigo. There we found

...very little.

I can't really be one to talk because Ourense isn't exactly a booming metropolis, but at least Ourense is pretty! Vigo is technically larger in size, it seems to have a good number of shopping options, and it's right on the water. It's from this city that you can visit the Cies Islands, which have been called the most beautiful beaches in the world. (We didn't get to visit them this time around because they were closed for the season). Maybe it's unfair to pass judgement on Vigo when it was clearly a holiday also, and maybe I am already quite loyal to Ourense...or maybe Vigo is really just not my kind of place!






We only spent one day there, and then we continued on to PORTUGAL! Specifically Porto, Portugal, a city known for its Port wine.

The first day there rained on and off, as expected. That didn't stop us from exploring the old part of the city, though! Porto is incredibly hilly. Yes, even more so than Ourense. I don't think you can walk more than 50 meters anywhere in the city center without encountering an uphill climb so steep that you want to give up before you get to the top, or a downhill slope that personally made me feel the need to silently cheer to my left knee's ACL (YOU CAN DO IT, LITTLE GUY! YOU'RE STRONG! DON'T GIVE UP, KEEP ON TRUCKIN').

Livraria Lello
We also visited this very pretty library. According to my thorough and completely reputable Wikipedia research, this library has been named by BBC as the 3rd best library in the world. Pretty neat! Some of the teachers I work with have also heard that apparently this library inspired some library in the Harry Potter movies. I guess that's cool for some people.

We had a lot of time to kill before we went out with our CouchSurfing Host, so we took a nice long stroll by the river. It was quite beautiful! Especially the Ponte Luis I Bridge, WHICH, may I add, was designed by the same guy  who designed the Eiffel Tower? COOL :D

Ponte Luis I Bridge
Check that. After further Wikipedia research, it looks like the guy who officially claims the design of the bridge only worked alongside the guy who made the Eiffel Tower. It's all the same. It still strongly indicates to me that the Eiffel Tower/Paris/France is calling my name and wants me to be a permanent inhabitant.

Okay. Back to Porto! Day 2 was vastly distinct from Day 1. We went to the other side of the river where all the wine cellars are located, and proceeded to get some wine tasting in. I'd never had Port wine before, it was strangely delicious! It's a special wine in the sense that it also includes brandy in it, making it more potent than other wines. What I will say about our wine-tasting experience is that I have never felt so sophisticated while consuming alcohol. With our first tour I learned more about wine that I'd ever known, all the while I got to sip on 3 different types of Port. Good deal.


We had a relaxing last night in Portugal. We had done a ton of walking...and probably more traversing of inclines in 48 hours than we'd had since we arrived in Europe. We did some minor shopping and hit the sack.

But. The next day, look who found me...

I TOLD YOU PARIS IS CALLING ME!

Ne t'inquiete pas, mon amour. Je te verrai au printemps :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Goals



HAPPY NEW MONTH! 
My 2012 resolution was to celebrate the beginning of every new month, and along with that, make monthly resolutions. I went astray in October, but, can you really blame me? I was trying to figure out what the heck I was doing in Spain. 

Well, now I’ve got the first month in Spain under my belt, and I feel stabilized into a schedule. My November resolutions are to 

  1. get back to baking [MADE-FROM-SCRATCH PUMPKIN PIE, HERE GOES NOTHING...] 

  1. decorate my room (YES I am finally moved in...). Specifically, there is this monogram mosaic project I have envisioned for my wall...we'll see how this goes. Here is a sad picture of how my room was given to me:


I decided it’s also time to take a moment to set some goals for the remaining 7 months here! We did something similar with IES Granada, and I thought it was really neat to look back at your goals at the end of the stay and see how ya did. So I’ve thought of several categories for goals, along with some of the categories IES Granada provided us:

Learn something new:

  • FOOD: There’s a ton of things I’d like to learn here, mostly related to cooking. I’d like to learn how to make a Spanish tortilla, Zorza, octopus, and tuna empanada. Homemade croquetas would also be ideal.

Delicious octopus empanada in the front, patatas in the middle, croquetas in the back!
  • DANCE: Also, I want to take a dance class. From Granada I learned to be an EXPERT flamenco dancer (lololoolol) but Galicia doesn’t appear to have the equivalent type of traditional dance. However, I have seen posters for Latin dance classes that I would be able to sign up for in January, so that could be fun/embarrassing/worthwhile.
  •  
  • LANGUAGE: Gallego is quite intimidating, but I think it'd be a shame to go home and not know a few key phrases. So far I've got boa noite (goodnight), hoxe en dia (nowadays), falar (to talk), ano (year), foi (went), tamen (also)... other than that, I just furrow my eyebrows and hope I can catch the general meaning when someone is speaking Gallego.


Continue old hobbies:

  • SOCCER:  I have done an okay amount of running since I got here, but I haven’t yet gotten on a soccer team. Truthfully, I am a bit worried that my knees wouldn’t hold up if I were to get into the routine of practicing multiple times a week. But I also find myself getting so anxious whenever I watch soccer on tv, when I come across pick-up games in the plazas, when I watch GWS soccer, anything. I WANT TO PLAY. So it’s worth giving it a shot.

  • RUNNING: I kind of mentioned before that I am doing a 10K this month. I’m feeling pretty excited about it. I already went on a 10K run a week or so ago just to make sure I wouldn’t keel over and die halfway through, and I survived! It’ll be a challenging race, apparently there’s a ton of people in this San Martino 10K and lots of ‘em are hardcore. But, I can be hardcore too!!!!  Aside from this race, I’d like to run at least 3 other races over the next 7 months. Hopefully all of them at least 10K. Apart from running, I have only done plyometric exercises once...my big ol' biceps must be dissipating. I actually don't think I'm going to end up getting a gym membership...which is not something I ever thought I'd be saying here! But the fact of the matter is that even if I got a gym membership the only times I'd really be able to utilize it would be the weekend. If over the next couple of months I find that my body is starting to simulate the consistency of the doughnuts I often purchase, well, then maybe I'll reconsider...

  • FRENCH: I. MISS. SPEAKING. FRENCH. When we were in Portugal over the weekend (which I will describe in detail in a later blog post) I felt great comfort in the two instances I heard someone speak French instead of Portuguese. I UNDERSTOOD FRENCH BETTER THAN PORTUGUESE. I hope I haven’t lost all that I learned last year. So, I’m hoping to at least get back on this online Busuu.com French thing I’ve done. Also, a lady contacted me who I’d previously asked about French classes. I don’t think I can afford private French classes at this time, but that’s something to strive for!

Give back to the community:
I am struggling with this! I’ve found myself so busy recently, mostly trying to fit in clases particulares at every waking moment. My schedule has stabilized and I’m keeping my eyes peeled for volunteer opportunities. I noticed that my work is right next to a residency for elders, I wonder if I could find something to do there! We’ll see, I just feel the need to find something for sure. I remember at the end of my time in Granada I thought to myself “Wow. I have been granted this wonderful gift of an experience by Spain. I want to find a way to give back.” Still looking!

Career advancement
As it turns out, when I come back from Spain I won’t have a job lined up. I’m not freaking out about it yet, but I am aware of a looming deadline for starting the process of figuring out a job or other way to preoccupy my time post-Spain. I have not completely let go of the idea of Peace Corps. By the end of November, I will have enough teaching experience to reactivate my application, so I think it could be worthwhile to do that!

Along with the affinity for the French language that I have mentioned before, I have also not totally let go of the idea of teaching English in France for a year after Ourense. I’m not convinced my level of French is sufficient, but, my desire to learn counts for something, right???? I refuse to go my whole life without having lived in France for a year, so maybe next year will be my time to do so.

Regardless of how either of these applications/ideas go, I need to start looking for jobs in the Chicago area by February. EEK. JOB. REAL LIFE.

Travel: 
I have a fairly humble goal of visiting 3 new countries during my time in Spain. My focus is to maintain most of my travel within Galicia. I want to know all of Galicia like the back of my hand! I’ve gotten the chance to see lots of countries while I was in Granada, but I did not get to know Andalucia as well as I should have. I have no excuses for not knowing all of Galicia by the time I go home next June. 

We recently made a trip to Lugo, a city in Galicia. It was a nice little visit, and it propelled me onward in reaching this goal of getting to know my local area first and foremost! Here are a few photos from that trip: 

The wall that surrounds the inner part of Lugo

lol.



Cloister of a museum we visited


Pretty Cathedral!



Money/Budget: 

This. 

This is tough. 

I think I have been doing okay, I haven’t made any huge shopping purchases. But boy have I been ready to! We make 700 euros/month and my goal is to use only 500 of those euros and save the other 200 for either longer trips or, just money so that I am not dirt poor when I go back to the States. I have been keeping an excel spreadsheet with all my expenses, which is certainly helpful but at the same time depressing to see all the money it's necessary for me to spend! The plus side of the spreadsheet is that I am also keeping track of the money I make from clases particulares, and that amount always puts a smile right back on my face.

Diet:
I've maintained a very rigorous diet my whole life, always picking the stalk of celery over the cream-filled pastry...

NOT.

Sorry, dear body of mine, but I am in no way going to suppress my desire for trying any and all food (and double that amount of desserts). So here's hoping I stick to my work out goals!

I will keep adding more goals to this list, I think. If anyone has any suggestions as to some other goals I am all ears!