Sunday, May 8, 2011

Semana cultural, Feria and much more

The last 7 days have been extremely busy (I mean as busy as Spanish lifestyle allows) and I've loved every minuted of those days.  This past week was 'Semana Cultural' as my school.  This is a week dedicated to some part of culture.  This week it was dedicated to painting, so the students 'studied' famous artists and their work.  But mostly it was an excuse to do fun things all week.

After another rainy weekend we started off Tuesday (because Monday we had off of school for some celebrations) with a trip to Parque Moret.  A park near our school.  We met what would be the equivalent of a playground leader for the park and rec department and they led the students in games and activities (yes I felt a little parks nostalgic)  Us teachers stuck around for a while, but then of course we had to go get breakfast and coffee.  Wednesday the kids decorated book marks as a fund raiser to sell to their families.

Thursday, oh man, Thursday was the big day.  The day of the Picasso play.  Now we were all very nervous for this because the last time we had run through it it took 3 hours and the kids were still a little shaky with the English.  5 minutes before the play started the boy who played the blind man hadn't shown up yet so all the kids were freaking out and trying to figure out how to change the scene, but he finally showed up.  In the end the play was fantastic!  The kids did so well, a few mistakes obviously, but they performed beautifully.  I was so proud, and it only took an hour, so they did good.  Thursday evening my friend Kacie from Minnesota and I went to the theater.  One of my teachers was telling me about this great musical she had seen called ' Hoy no me puedo levantar.'  She let me borrow the CDs and told me it was going to be in town.  I've been wanting to see a show in Spanish since i've been here and how perfect to see one that is actually Spanish, versus just translated.  Perfect that it just happened to be during culture week.  It was awesome!  We had the best time.  It is basically the Spanish version of Rent, but we enjoyed it so much.  Totally worth it.  On Friday the whole entire school and eveyones family took a trip out to the country (to a park just outside of Huelva.) It was basically just this forest area with pick-nick benches and tables.  The minute we got there the teachers started setting up camp and out came the food.  We literally ate all day.  First we had salads and gazpacho, tortilla, jamon, fish and a few other things.  I sat myself down in front of the plate of jamon was ate way to much.  Everyone got drinks too, I had finished a beer and was starting on a typical wine drink by noon.  When in Spain do as the Spanish do right?  Then the guys started cooking presa (a type of pork) on the grill.  Being Spanish they can't go a day without their coffee so out came the thermoses of coffee along with the desserts, tables full of desserts.  So like I said, I didn't stop eating all day.  But I spent my time either with the teachers (eating of course) or playing with the kids.  We played at the park, explored in the woods and there was a little river/swamp the kids discovered and had a good time playing in or building bridges over, or any of those other things that can entertain you for hours when you are a kid. Over all a great end to semana cultural.

Something that is happening in Andalucia that you may not know about is the Feria de Sevilla.  It's a festival in Seville that is very popular.  In this fair ground area of the city they set up tents called Casetas. Most of the Casetas are private, meaning families or neighborhoods own them and the general public can't go in.  There are several public tents as well.  You eat, and drink and dance in the Casetas and everyone is wearing flamenco dresses, the typical outfits you think of when you think of Spanish culture.  It really is awesome to see.  On Saturday a few of us decided to check out the Feria.  I told my bilingual coordinator I was going and she found a dress for me!  So I went to the Feria very feeling very Spanish in my flamenco dress.  It was a pretty nice day and we spent the day wonder the Feria and then the streets of Sevilla for the day.  It was fun because my friend and myself had dresses and we were just walking around the streets all day wearing them and it was completely normal, it's just such a fun culture!  It was a really fun day.

Sunday it was my friend's birthday and she organized a little birthday lunch and day at the beach.  It was beautiful weather and we just have a few drinks, ate and hung out at the beach all afternoon.  Perfect.  It was seriously one of my best weeks here.  I had so much fun with my school, at feria and the beach, oh man.  May is just a great month in Spain because the weather is nice and there are a lot of fiestas.  The Spanish are always celebrating something, especially in May.  It was much enjoyed by this American and i'm looking forward to the few I have left.

Hasta luego

Friday, April 22, 2011

Semana Santa

Well as always, I wait way to long in between posts and always have way to much to talk about, and of course end up leaving something out.  My last post shared the craziness that was March for me, and now I can't even believe we are almost to the end of April, where is the time going?!  Well in school news, we have made it to the end of the 2nd trimester.  Thursday before I was on spring break 2 big things happened.  Well not big for any of you i'm sure, but for the my students yes.  As I believe I have mentioned my 5th graders are working on a music video of the world cup song, 'Wave your flag.'  Well as of the last hour on Thursday, we finished filming all the parts we need.  It only took us 2 months.  A teacher is suppose to edit it over break and bring the finished product in on Monday, we'll see if it happens, i'm a bit skeptical, she is Spanish after all.  As I've also mentioned, my 6th graders are putting on a production about the life of Picasso.  Well on Thursday we finally put the entire play together.  It took us 5 hours.  Ok maybe not quite 5, at 9 when we got to school we started putting the stage together and getting everything ready.  We probably didn't start the run through until closer to 10, but it went on until 2 when the school day was over.  Yes, as of right now the play is 4 hours long, but of course that includes stopping every 5 seconds to fix something, the teacher thats directing it is somewhat of a perfectionist.  But it was exciting non the less, and once again, we will see how it turns out.

The first weekend of break my friend Kacie from Minnesota and I headed down to Cadiz for the weekend.  The capital city of Cadiz is on a peninsula.  It is small city, but has a beautiful cathedral and is on the beach.  We spent our one day in the city seeing the sights and walking on the beach.  I got to see a beautiful sunset, which I really don't get to see that often in Huelva.  The next day we went to a city called Jerez de la Frontera.  It is in the Cadiz region but inland.  It is known for it's equestrian and its Sherry.  We took a tour of a sherry bodega in the afternoon and explored the city in the evening.

A big part of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain is what they call processions.  Anyone who has ever studied Spanish culture thinks of these things as the people who dress up like the KKK.  But it has nothing to do with that, obviously, different country, different history.  Well each church has something called and Hermandad.  It's like a brotherhood.  Each one has something that is kind of like a float in a parade, but it isn't pulled on wheels.  They are recreations of scenes from Holy Week, or of the Virgin and men carry them on their necks.  They shuffle all around the city with these 'Jesus floats.'  The brotherhood in their robes go in front, and then a band plays behind them.  It is quite the sight to see.  We got to see a procession when we were in Jerez and then we spent the day in Sevilla on Sunday to see the processions there.  It was craziness.  There were so many people in Sevilla you could hardly move around.  Our train tickets home were for 8:30, but by about 4 we had had enough.  After 3 processions in massive crowds and the heat, we decided to cut our loses and buy bus tickets home for the next hour.  Totally worth it.  

Starting Monday of this week off it started raining, and it pretty much hasn't stopped since then.  I mean I can't really complain because before this week we had 3 1/2 straight weeks of sunny gorgeous weather,  it is just kind of a bummer it has to be crappy on our week off.  So my plan of going to the beach everyday has pretty much been ruined.  It is also a bummer because they have had to cancel a lot of the pasos here in Huelva, and I was looking forward to seeing them.  But they have managed to fit a few in, and Kacie's apartment is right above one of the main roads they come down.  So I've gotten to soak up a bit of culture this week.  Speaking of culture i've had 2 very cultural experiences this week that I would like to share.  First has to do with soccer, well actually futbol, which is what it is called everywhere in the world except America.  On Tuesday night Madrid played Barcelona.  HUGE rivals, when they play it's a big deal.  Well Kacie and I were hanging out, watching a movie on TV, flipping back and forth between the game and the movie.  Well we are watching the movie and all of a sudden we here shouts and screams coming from outside, she says I think someone just scored.  I quick flip to the game and sure enough, Madrid has scored a goal.  We could hear the cheering all the way in her apartment.  Then as I was walking home I was surrounded by celebration.  My whole 20 minute walk home cars were honking, people shouting out of windows and to each other on the street.  People were setting off bottle rockets and a group of kids were standing on the fountain by my house waving their shirts and flags cheering.  You just don't experience that in the US, they really love their futbol here.

Experience number 2, also happened has I was walking home one night.  As many of you know the culture here is way more about the night life.  Dinner is eaten much later, and the general public just tends to stay up much later than our culture.  Walking home at midnight, it is perfectly normal for the streets to be filled with people.  So as i'm walking home at 12:30 I bumped into 3 brothers I tutor.  They are ages 4, 5 and 9.  They were walking out of restaurant, having just eaten dinner.  We chatted a bit (about the Madrid vs. Barcelona match, good thing I watched it the day before)  and then they were off to play.  The 4 year old was off to play at 12:30am as I was walking home to go to bed.  And the thing is, that is perfectly normal here.  I just had to chuckle at that.  So anyways, that is what has been happening around here.  My time is just dwindling away too fast and I'm just trying to take it all in before  it's gone.  I'm excited to get back to school next week, and I'll let you all know how the play turns out.

Happy Easter everyone!
Hasta luego

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March Madness

Well I as I find myself almost at the end of March I can't help but to think that is was a full and crazy month indeed.  As I've been told  by my mother several times, my blog has not been updated in quite some time.  I'm sorry, but really, I have been quite busy.  So as this month comes to a close I'll update you all a bit.

As you know the month started with the end of my trip to Madrid, but that one I already blogged about.  But it was a great start to what would be a great month.  Tony left the beginning of March,  It seems like forever ago that he was here, but it's really only been a few weeks, regardless he is very missed in Huelva.  Carnaval happened here in early March as well.  It is the celebrations that take place before lent, sort of like Marty Graw.  We had a big party at my school and all the kids dressed up.  We had a parade and all the kids got a turn to dance on the stage and through confetti at everyone.  As my choice of costumes was limited I went as a 'typical American,' wearing a baseball hat, jeans, my twins shirt and tennis shoes.  The kids didn't really get it, but my teachers thought it was funny.

Some of you know my good friend Julia from Gustavus is nannying here in Andalucia.  So we began planning a trip together.  Two weeks ago I took 3 buses and finally met her in Algeciras, where together we made the trip over the boarder to Gibraltar.  What a crazy place!!  As an English colony everything around me was in English again, something I am not use to.  It was the first time in 6 month I could read a menu and know what everything on it was.  The sight to see in Gibraltar is obviously the rock, so we took the cable cars up to the top to spend a little quality time with the monkeys.  They are actually kind of scary because they just rome around where they please and can attack at any moment.  We walked around the paths and enjoyed the beautiful views up the coast of Spain and over the straight to Africa.  Probably the closest I'll get to Africa this time around.  

The next day we took the early train to a city called Ronda.  A beautifully unique city built on top of giant cliffs pretty much.  We had a nice Spanish breakfast on our arrival (cafe con leche and tostada with tomato and olive oil)  and began our walk around the town.  We spent the day hiking up and down the paths, taking in the breath taking views of the bridge, cliffs and city, all at the same time.  We grabbed some delicious tapas and then headed back to were Julia lives, Sotogrande.  This town is unlike any one I've seen in Spain.  It actually more reminds me of a suburb, only with really really really rich people.  There are housed and yards and driveways.  As we were walking down the street to her house it felt the most like home since i've been in Spain.  In the sense that it felt more like walking in my neighborhood than when i'm walking around Huelva.  But she lives in the port and seriously these housed are incredible.  You can see the beach from her window, felt like I was on spring break.  All in all it was an excellent weekend, beautiful views, great company and amazing views of southern Spain.

Monday morning my class took a field trip to Castilla de la Guardia Reserva.  It's an animal reserve about and hour and a half from school.  The bus ride there is a little different than say the bus ride to the science museum.  It is through the windy curvy roads of the countryside.  Needless to say 6 kids puked, fun stuff (I think the large amounts of candy they ate before we left may have been party responsible.)  But once we got there everyone was fine.  We went on a train ride around to see all the animals, went to a sea lion and a bird show and saw a Wild West village replica and show, complete with the wild west clown. . .?  The weather was great and the kids had a blast, as did us teachers.  We left at 9:30am and returned to school at 7pm.  What a day!

This past weekend I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with a friend of my friend Mary Beth to Granada.  I've been wanting to go there since I got here so I was really excited to see the city.  It was the last city to fall to the Christian conversion from Muslim to Catholic and the city has been left with a lot of Arabic influence.  It is also the provence that feeds you free tapas when you order a drink.  Beautiful.  It is also home to the Alhambra, the Arabic palace that luckily wasn't torn down after the conquest.  It is huge and seriously beautiful.  It was almost named one of the 7 man made wonders of the world, maybe someday. The city is a very hippie/gypsy city as well.  The rock there is very easy to dig into, so on the outskirts you can find many people living in caves in the summer.  Apparently cave living is a big culture in Granada.  The old party of the city, Sycramonte is also built into caves.  We took several walking tours with our hostal and got to see some great views of the Alhambra as well as explore a lot of Sycramonte.  One day we explored the new side of the city, with the Cathedral many plazas and fountains, and of course the beautiful mountains that surround the city.  Granada is cool because all the water that is used in the fountains at  the Alhambra and what not are fed by water that comes directly from the mountain snow.  It is channeled through aqueducts that brings the water all over the city.  Part of the reason the Arabs conquered Granada so many years back was for the water.  Imagine coming from the deserts of Africa to a land so rich with water!  I can see why they stayed put for so long and put up such a fight about giving it up.  It was  beautiful city and beautiful weekend.

Spain's weather has seemed to change quite rapidly.  Two weeks ago we went through a very long spell of rainy cold weather and then all of a sudden it just turned nice.  It is beautiful here now.  Hardly any need for a jacket anymore.  I've missed two fantastic beach weekends, but I plan on taking full advantage this weekend.  School is still awesome.  Our play about Picasso is coming along and I work as much as I can with the kids and their English.  The music video with my 5th graders is also coming along quite nice.  I've become the designated dance choreographer, ja, that should be interesting.  But the kids are loving it and i'm having a blast as well.  I try to spend as much time at school as I can,  I just can't get enough of those little ones, plus I like to practice my Spanish.

Well gang, there you go.   Although I didn't watch a single basketball game my march was also filled with 'madness.'  Lots of traveling and seeing a lot of Andalucia, a part of Spain which is growing very near and dear to my heart.  I'm very excited that beach weather is starting again!  Oh, I also received the best news, two of my very best friends, Marissa and Emily, bought their tickets to come see me in May!! So i'm busy planning my time with them.  Enjoy the rest of of your snow Minnesota,  I'll take a dip in the ocean for ya.

Lovin' life, lovin' Spain,


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sharks on a train

This last weekend was a Puente (break) for me.  We got Monday and Tuesday off of school, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to go visit Kelley in Madrid.  As luck would have it Kathleen and Kate were visiting Kelley that week too, so I would have 2 days with the Duffey family in Madrid.  Friday morning I took the train to Madrid and Kelley met me at the station.  Getting back to her apartment I had such a fun reunion with my old neighbors!  We were experiencing unusually nice weather so we headed out to walk around and see the sights of Madrid.  I wish I would have worn a t-shirt, that Spanish sun is warm!!  It was so nice to be out of Huelva for a while and to be with a family again.  That evening we had the most random reunion ever.  The parents of a girl I went to elementary school with were in Madrid for a few days.  So the Duffeys, myself, Kelley's roommate Becca who also went to Language Immersion, and Paul and Jill Kirwin went out for tapas in Madrid.  Talk about a blast from the past!  Never in a million years did I think I would have dinner with that group of peope, in Spain.  Life is crazy, but it was a great night full of laughs and remembering.

The next morning we set off for a day trip to the town of Toledo.  We were planning on taking the 11am bus, but when we got to the ticket window there were at least 100 people ahead of us in line, and of course only one person working the ticket counter. Oh the efficiency of Spain.  So an hour behind schedule we were on our way.  But it was worth the wait, Toledo was an amazing city!  It helped that it was another gorgeous day.  We took a train tour (like one of the ones you would ride at French Park or Vally Fair) around the city.  Which sounds lame but was actually really cool.  The train went all the way around the city, including the other side of the river, which is something we probably wouldn't have gotten to see had we just walked around.  Toledo is a city that is surrounded on three sides by the river and the other side by a huge arab wall.  It was built in the year 934 and is still standing, amazing.  We spent the rest of the day strolling around, popping into shops and eating at a place that gives you free tapas with your drink.  It was a beautiful day.

The next day Kell and I said goobye to her mom and sister and she took them to the airport.  It was so nice to have a family again.  Made me really miss my own fam, but I know I will see them soon enough.  Then we enjoyed an amazing box of Mac and Cheese, courtesy of mama Duffey. Man I miss that stuff.

After they left we slowed down a bit.  Kelley had been going non stop for a week and me for 2 days with them there.  So we just took it easy.  We shopped (much better shopping in Madrid than Huelva)  saw more of the sights and just hung out.  The weather got significantly colder so we didn't feel as much pressure to always be outside.  I got to see everything I wanted to see in Madrid and it was wonderful.  I'm glad I had 5 days there.  Tuesday Kelley actually had to work again so I just hung out, packed and cleaned up a bit while I waited for her to get home.  Then we did one last loop around the park before I had to catch my train home (we are now getting to the explanation of the title.)  Taking the train is amazing.  Seriously, it is so great.  It was the least stressed i've ever been traveling.  It's nicer than a plane, and with much less stress.  You just waltz on, ride, then waltz off.  I did screw up a little bit though.  I didn't buy my tickets far enough in advance to on the way home there was only first class left.  It was a bit more expensive but I couldn't wait until the next day.  So I rode home in first class.  What is first class on a train?  You might ask.  Well the difference is there  is a bit more room and they serve you food.  Nice, good food.  We received a menu stating what we would be having and I should have kept it.  But they had the food translated to English on the menu also.  Now i've seen enough 'translated' menus so know that most of the time the translations don't match up.  Never the less, the translation for the main course was shark.  So yes, to the best of my knowledge they served us shark on the train (hence the reason for the title, which I owe to my cousin Tony, he thought of it.  Isn't he clever?)  We were also served bread and Olive Oil, gazpacho, veggies, fresh fruit and chocolate.  Oh yea and an after dinner coffee or liquor drink.  Yes the train is the way to go, I enjoyed.

Tony was back when I got home, but he left on Thursday for good.  I can't believe it is the end of his trip, I feel like he just got here.  Time is just flying buy now.  It's already March, what?  Unreal.  We celebrate Carnaval here this week.  It's the week before lent starts and it's like a big party.  We had a carnaval party at school on Friday.  All the kids dressed up in costumes and we had a parade. Then each grade got to take turns dancing on a giant stage.  The kids got pretty into it.  I dressed as a 'typical american.' I wore my twins t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes and a baseball hat.  The kids didn't really get it, but the teachers thought it was funny.  It was a great day.  One of those days that makes me so happy to be here experiencing such a fun different culture.  Yea it was a great day, and a great puente!  Vale, thats all I have for now.

'sta luego!


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LONG overdue

This evening I was reading a letter from my wonderful cousins back home (thanks for the Valentines day package Maass family!) and realized it has been far too long since I updated everyone on life on the other side of the pond.  Partly because I want to include pictures and my cord has vanished for the time being, and partly because of my laziness,  Spain has only added to my pre-existing laziness (I blame the siesta.)  Anyways,  time to bring you all up to speed.

As many of you know my cousin Tony has been staying here with me in Huelva and we have been having lots of fun together!  He just left last week for his tour de Europe and won't be back for a month and I already miss him dearly.  But he didn't leave before we got to do and see some pretty cool things.  The weekend before he left we rented a car (again)  and this time drove out to the countryside.   While Huelva city is write on the port and is very industrial, and lets face it,  pretty ugly,  the countryside of Huleva is beautiful.  We drove to a city called Arecena, famous for its ham, hillsides, hiking and caves.  Tony and 2 of my friends spent the weekend in a bungalow in the beautiful foothills of Arecena.  Yes, I said foothills.  In Spanish they are called "los cerros de Huelva"  directly translated "the hills of Huelva."  Well as a Minnesotan when I think hill I think of the slight incline in our backyard we use to use as a hill for crocodile mile,  not exactly what i'm referring to here.  This translation is hard for me, and other minnesotans I imagine, because this type of landscape doesn't exist where we are from.  But this town is literally tucked away in beautiful rolling foothills of Andalucia (for those Friends fans, no I was not backpacking through the foothills of Mt. Tibidabo,  that is in Barcelona, not Andalucia, although between Tony and I we may have worn out that quote.)  We also got to see the most incredible caves ever.  Huge underground chambers with pools and stalegmite/tites.  They were incredible!  And they are just right underneath the city.  Even though it wasn't allowed, we snuck some pictures.  One of my favorite things about Arecena is that they love their ham!  There is an ancient castle on top of one of the hills that is barely preserved and is basically in ruins, but they have an entire museum dedicated to ham.  It's the "museo de jamón" and yes we went to it.  The king?  Not important.  We need to dedicate an entire building to jamón!!!  I just think it is too funny, they are obsessed with their pigs.  We did eat some excellent ham that weekend though.  I'm starting to really love it.  That and olives, my taste buds are expanding so much.  Driving home we stopped at several other pueblos and got to see some amazing views.  It was a great weekend.

That next week Tony said goodbye and headed off to Italy, and the rest of his Europe tour.  The piso is quiet without him.  I really loved having him here.  I mean I don't even know the last time just Tony and I got to hang out.  I think it might of been during the filming of Elfie the elf (If you don't know what that is, i'm sorry.)  Other than that life here is pretty normal.  Well as normal as possible living in southern Spain.  After January things just started to fall into place.  I didn't feel like I was "adjusting"  to life here anymore,  I'm adjusted and just enjoying living.  I've come to terms with the slower pace of life, and no longer feel guilty for not constantly being busy or having something to do.  I've gotten pretty good and taking my time and just enjoying what i'm doing in the moment instead of worrying what comes next, which is really what the Spanish live is all about.  Work to live instead of in America where it's live to work.  My mom thinks I'm a brat and just being lazy, but i'm just living another culture.

School is excellent as always.  Doesn't cease to surprise me and make me laugh.  It was one of my students birthdays a while ago and instead of bringing sweats or cookies she brought birthday sandwiches.  I actually laughed when my teacher told me.  All the students stood in line to pick out their treat from the tray of handmade (with the crust cut off) sandwiches.  Ah Spain. . .  The 6th graders are starting a play for "Andalucia day"  (a day in which they celebrate their Andalucia heritage) and it's about Pablo Picasso.  A lot of it is in English so I switched my schedule around so I could help out with that.  I just can't get enough plays at this school!  My second graders are learning a Flamenco dance for the program and I volunteered to help with that as well.  Watching second graders dance is one of the cutest things every.  After the first day of helping/learning the dance with them they informed me that I danced better than the teacher.  Untrue, but flattering all the same.  And my 5th graders are currently working on a music video for their art time.  It's to a song that was for the world cup called Wave Your Flag.  It's in English and Spanish and the Spanish part is sung by a famous Spanish singer David Beisbol.  They kids are having a blast and i'm really enjoying helping/ goofing around with the kids while planning it.  It's going to be adorable, i'll try to get a copy of it so you can see it.

Well I think that pretty much brings us up to date.  Life here is great and flying by quicker and quicker.  I hope you all had lovely Valentines day.  There is no hoopla here for the holiday, they know what it is but don't really celebrate it.  It was kind of refreshing.  Bueno,  hasta luego!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Visitors and road trips.

I realize it has been a long time since I've written a blog.  This is partly due to the fact that 1) I've been busier than usual and 2)  I'm lazy and 3)  I just haven't gotten around to it.  But now i'm at home with the flu, and decided it was time.  So lets back up to New Years.  My friend from Germany, Burkhard came to Huelva to visit!  I have gotten the question many times how I know him many times.  He stayed with my aunt Carolyn 2 years ago while he did an internship in Minnesota.  So thats how we met,  I realized when he was here that we never spent more than like 2 hours just me and him before, but it was a really fun week!  For me anyways.  I think Burk maybe wanted a little more excitement than Huelva has to offer, but I was assured it was a good trip.  The weather was beautiful, so thats one point for Huelva.

 Burk left on Thursday and school started again for me on Monday.  I really enjoyed getting back to school to see my students.  I was greeted with hugs and holas from my youngsters, and it was a great welcome back.  Tuesday of that week my long lost cousin Tony, who has been teaching in Ghana, arrived in Huelva for this portion of his Europe trip.  It has been so nice to see him again and hear all his awesome stories first hand!  It's so nice to be around family again. He got to experience going out Spanish style, nice weather and a January bbq in the park. Well the week quickly ended and on Thursday Tony and I, a friend of his from Sevilla and a friend of mine started our road trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

Driving through the hills of southern Portugal were amazing.  It was like driving through Dr, Seuss.  Plush greenery, lakes, windy roads, truly beautiful.  We only got lost several times, but made it to our hostal, which was awesome.  I won't bore you with lots of trip details.  Partly because the trip was a little tainted for me because I got the flu.  I had a slight cold when we left but the sharp winds and cold temperatures did me in.  Plus everything we did was outside.  I was able to power through ok I think.  I mean it was either be miserable in the hostel or miserable out doing things in Lisbon, and since I was already there I didn't want to miss out too much.  I'm sure everything would have been much better had I been able to enjoy it better.  So those of you who know my cousin Tony, you should read his blog (when he writes about Lisbon)  for a full detailed account of what happened.  I'll just leave you with some pictures so you can see a bit of Lisbon.  Oh, Lisbon is a city on the water (not the ocean, a port, but still water) and it is also built into hills.  So all weekend I was getting flash backs to Valparaiso, Chile, a city also built into hills.  I got a little bit nostalgic.  But the city is beautiful and we took a trip outside the city to visit a castle.  It was unreal.  The gardens were a maze of caves, towers and greenery.  Felt like the secret garden.  Probably not the best place to spend the afternoon with the flu, but i'm glad I got to see it.

I slept the whole car ride home, and called in sick for the first day since being here.  I probably have to call in sick tomorrow too.  Dang flu,  I wish I had my mom here to take care of me.  I really don't like having to take care of myself when I'm sick.  Good think I have Tony here to make me tea and noodles.  Otherwise i'd be lost.  So I'll just be here recovering,  hope all of you are in better health than me.  Take care.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmas in Paris and other adventures

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!!  I know it has been ages since I last updated you all, but I have been gone and busy busy busy.  As most of you know I spent this Christmas in Paris.  I have some great stories and I know you all want to hear about them, so instead of telling them a million times I will try to do them justice in this blog entry.

First of all, Paris was amazing.  We had an absolutely amazing time.  We were a little scared that we wouldn't be able to get there.  Parts of Europe were having horrible weather the week we were leaving, including France.  Lots of snow and ice,  many flights were cancelled.  But we kept our fingers cross and luckily our flight was only delayed a few hours.  But this meant we got into Paris pretty late. Then we were going to take the train into the city but it was broken or something,  so everyone starts rushing outside.  We find out there is a bus going into the city, but we have no idea were the bus will take us, and one in line does either.  So we just get on this bus and hope we will be able to find our way.  As luck would have it we end up sitting by this nice Parisian woman who takes us to the metro station when we get off the bus and shows us what metros to take to get to our apartment.  We were meeting my friend Kristine's (who also teaches in Huelva and my travel buddy for the trip) 2 friends there and had to meet them at a Mcdonalds by the apartment because it was the only thing open so late.  I hate to say that the first thing I ate in Paris was Mcdonalds, but it was open and we were beyond hungry.  So we made it to Paris, late, but we were just excited to be there.

The next day we walked around Lafayette Galaries, a huge shopping center that would compare to Macy's only much more expensive.  They had a huge Christmas tree inside and it was very festive.  Then we walked over to the Louve museum.  We say the glass pyramid and did the whole "outside the Louve" photo shoot.  We then headed back to our apartment to have Christmas eve dinner.  I guess I should explain why I keep calling it our apartment.  Our first 3 nights we stayed in an apartment rental in Paris.  It was really awesome.  We could cook food, It had a computer we could use and most exciting indoor heat and automatic hot water.  There was even a piano (I busted out as much Lori Line we wish you a merry christmas as I could remember.)  We cooked a Christmas eve dinner and decorated our apartment with paper snow flakes, candles and even a paper Christmas tree. That night we decided we wanted to go to midnight mass at Notradame.  Wow, it was so cool.  There were so many people there we had to stand, and the service was a combination of Latin and French, so I didn't understand a word of it, but it was so cool just to be there.  Definitely a good choice.  Christmas day was cold in Paris.  But all our activities we had planned were outside, so we bundled up and headed out.  We went to the Eiffel Tower, which was quite a sight and then walked over the river to the Arch the Triumphe.  Then we killed some time and headed back over to see the Eiffel Tower at night.  It is incredible all lit up, simply dazzling.  The day after Christmas we dedicated to the Louve.  We spent the afternoon inside and saw the Mona Lisa of course.  It is an absolutely epic building and so large you could spend and entire week there.  It was one of my favorite places in Paris.  The next day we didn't have an exact plan so we just strolled along the street Champs-eelyse (main shopping street).  We bought some hot wine and just walked around.  That night Kristine and I went to see Harry Potter 7.  We can't see it in English here in Huelva so we were both pretty excited.  Our last day we made a day trip out to Versille.  A castle outside of Paris, it was beautiful.  That night we say Sacred Heart church and walked by the Moulin Rouge.  I'm telling you, we got to see so much in Paris, it was a wonderful trip.  Now for getting home. . .

Our trip home is one of the craziest traveling stories i've ever had.  Our flight left from on airport outside of Paris, one that is very small and underdeveloped.  That day there was intense fog which made for very poor flying conditions.  Our flight got cancelled.  But of course they didn't tell us it was cancelled until we had already been waiting there for 5 hours.  And we couldn't leave until it was officially cancelled.  So Kristine and I have no idea what we are going to do, and there is this family sitting next to us who we know are going to Sevilla also cause we herad them talking.  I tell Kristine we have to see what they are doing.  So I casually ask the dad what is going on with the flight and he tells me of course.  Well from then on we latched onto them for the next 30 hours (not exaggerating.)  So our flight is cancelled and we wait about an hour in line to get our tickets refunded,  there is no flight leaving the next day for Sevilla and we don't to risk our flight getting cancelled again anyways, so we just get our money back.  Then we ( us and our new Euro family)  to just go back to Paris and try to find an internet cafe.  We take the bus and hour and a half back into Paris and walk around until we find an internet cafe.  So we are sitting side by side at the computers frantically searching for anyway to get home.  We search flights, and trains, and buses and are not having any luck.  We found one flight but we couldn't get it to go through on our credit cards.  Well then the man says he is closing the cafe and we have to leave.  Well we are no better off now then when we got there.  We decide the best plan of action is to just go to the airport and see if any of the counters are still open so we can buy a ticket. We jump on the train to the airport and hurry to find an open window.  It's around 9pm so everything is shutting down.  We have to take a shuttle to the other terminal to find the window we are looking for only to discover it is closed for the night.  We remember seeing a different window open in the other terminal so race back over there to check it out.  We were so lucky this guy was still open!  We was so friendly and stayed open just for us.  And so finally we had return tickets home, we would no longer be stranded in Paris.  It isn't until 11am the next morning but we are all just happy to have something.  Well at this point it is about 11:30 and we are all tired and starving.  The family we were with has a 7 year old daughter, who was just a trooper through this whole thing, but we need to get this poor kid some food.  Oh and our flight was actually leaving from the OTHER Paris airport.  So we have to make our way to the 3rd airport of the day.  The guy at the window tells us we should just take a cab, then we can get some food at a little area close by.  So we get a cab and the cab driver gets a little lost going to find food.  But finally I spot the golden arches of Mcdonalds, sweet relief (leave it to an American to spot the Mcdonalds).  When we get there I ask the cab driver to if he can come back in an hour to pick us up and take us to the airport.  He speaks very little English but says yes and shows me that he has stopped the meeter.  So I double check that he can come back in an hour and he says, "no I eat too!"  So we all head into Mcdonalds to get some food: Kristine, myself, Euro family and the cab driver.  What a crazy scene it was.  We all just laughed about it.  So my first and last meals in Paris were at Mcdonalds  (and until any of you have had similar experiences you can't judge me.)  We finish up and the cab driver brings us to the airport.  We spent a miserable night attempting to sleep in the airport, but don't have much luck.  Then the next day we take off back to Sevilla.  We clapped when we landed, we were so excited to be there.  We had to say goodbye to Euro family in the airport, which was sad since we had really bonded, and Kristine and I took the 52 buses we needed to take to get back to Huelva.  We arrived home at 6pm  30 hours after we were suppose to.  It was quite the adventure, one we could not have survived without our Euro family.  They gave me their contact information and Kristine and I are planning a trip to Sevilla to have lunch with them real soon.

Although the trip back was a disaster it in no way effect the mood of the trip.  Obviously we were frustrated and there were times when we wanted to cry, but surprisingly it was not that bad.  Most of the time were just laughing that this was really happening.  And everyone has to have at least one travel disaster so I figure this ones mine.  Plus we got to meet a really sweet family who we are going to go visit, and we got to practice our Spanish in the process!  The trip was still very fun and worth all the trouble.  So thats the Paris story, I have more to share about New Years and such but this has been a long story, so I think I'll save it for another time.  I hope you are all enjoying 2011, I am so far!

Happy New Year!