Archive | November, 2010

You’re a what? The Life of a Vegetarian in the Land of Ham

29 Nov

Read my full post about vegetarianism and Spain on the DIWYY website:’re-a-what-the-life-of-a-vegetarian-in-the-land-of-ham/


Emily vs. Laundry

29 Nov

One of the things that I miss the most from my home back in the U.S. (besides my family and friends, of course) is having a dryer. Now I know that this may sound extremely materialistic, but you wouldn’t understand unless you were here.

At first I was excited at the thought of hanging my clothes out to dry. How eco-concious! I even began to think that dryers were a frivolous invention. Why would we ever need dryers when clothes can dry by themselves, airing out in the sun? I didn’t even mind that I had to wait several days before my clothes were dry.

But the one thing I didn’t think of was rain. Weeks and weeks of rain. It has been raining or sprinkling for over a week now, which makes doing your laundry very difficult. But desperate times (aka I don’t have any clean socks) call for desperate measures and I set out to do all my laundry.

After dumping about half a load of laundry water all over my kitchen floor, I finally had t-shirts hanging from the roof, sweatshirts slung over chairs, and socks pinned up to dry. As night-time approached, I collected the damp items and started hanging them inside the house to finish drying, leaving several items outside to dry.

This morning I woke up to the dripping of rain, feeling relaxed at the thought of not going into work today. But then I remembered my almost-dry laundry out on the terrace. So much for almost-dry! The rain water had completely soaked them, which meant another turn in the washer and another round of drying.

Now, I have clothes hanging from every nook of my room. And as I listen to the drip. drip. drip. of water on the marble floors, I eagerly anticipate being able to wear the clothes in about 2 days when they finally dry.

My Lesson of the Day: Emily – 0; Laundry – 1

The little oven that could

27 Nov

First of all, Happy (belated) Thanksgiving! or as they say it here in Spain, Dia de Acción de Gracias.

This year marks my busiest thanksgiving by far! Determined to share this American holiday with everyone here, I decided to make the first thing I think of when I think of Thanksgiving dinner: pumpkin pie!

So the day before Thanksgiving, Lauren and I headed to the supermarket to buy ingredients, which is a task in itself. Three stores later, we finally found almost everything and set out to make pumpkin pie – from scratch.

So we baked, and baked, and baked until nearly 1:30am using my “oven”. Most of the apartments I’ve seen here don’t come with an oven (or a dryer). And although mine technically does, its more of what we call a toaster oven. However, it did the job and the pumpkin pies were a hit.

Pumpkin pie isn’t common here, and everyone was a little hesitant at the sound of a pie made from a gourd. But I shared some with my roommates (who loved it), and I took one to school with me.

We had a small Thanksgiving celebration during our breakfast break, which we have in place of a lunch. After school, a few of my students took me out to lunch to celebrate their first Thanksgiving.

Then it was back home to start cooking a few more things for our big Thanksgiving day dinner with the foreigners. There ended up being over 30 of us for the dinner (which we ate late – on Spanish time). I think we counted 6 Spanish, 3 English, 2 French, 2 Mexicans, 1 Welsh, 1 Canadian, 1 Irish, 11 Americans and then some. Talk about a multi-cultural Thanksgiving!

My Lesson of the Day: I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.


24 Nov

Lisboa… where do I even begin? I don’t know if a single post is enough to encompass the city, but maybe a top 10 will suffice.

1. um (oohm): Portuguese

I am in love with this language! While in some sense it’s so similar to Spanish, it is also very different. Furthermore, I love that a country so close Spain in location could have such a different culture. A seven hour car ride brought us to a place with a different language, different foods, different eating times (Portugal is more on an American food schedule), and different attitudes. Plus, Lisbon, with its population of over half a million, was a nice change of pace from smaller Jaén.

2. dois (doyis): Miradouros

Nothing in Lisbon is more beautiful than the city itself. The city is set around 7 hills, so it is full of lookouts. We headed to many of the miradouros, but my favorite were:

Miradouro de Graça, located on the east side of town and offering a side-view of the castelo (castle), along with a view of the rio Tejo (the river), the bridge, and much more.

Elavador de Santa Justa, which is actually an old elevator that was built in 1903. Although it costs a few euros to ride up, it offers a beautiful view of the castelo, catedral, rio Tejo and more.

3. três (tuhrays): Fado

The bluesy, melancholic chants of this traditional portuguese music are enchanting. There are many places you can go to watch a show and even a museum that traces the history of the music. We opted for a bar close to the hostel where we ordered a few appetizers, listened to the music, and watched on as the crowd joined in with the performance.

4. quatro (qwat-tuh-row): Barrio Alto

One of the best neighborhoods to end a night out, barrio alto has a wide variety of restaurants and an eclectic mix of bars. We spent the night hoping from bar to bar, drinking in the streets with the thousands of others wandering the neighborhood, and enjoying the varying venues.

5. cinco (sink-koh): Alfama

This neighborhood is a snapshot into the city’s Moorish past. We spent hours wandering the labyrinth of narrow streets and enjoying the beautiful views of the rio Tejo. We also headed to the Feira da Ladra (the Thieves Market) which is open every Saturday morning. The market had a wide variety of items from new clothes to antique records and from souvenirs to one-of-a-kind paintings. This was definitely worth the stop.

6. seis (say-is): The Drive

One of the best parts of the weekend was the road trip itself. My fellow auxiliar Valerie and I rented a car and trekked halfway across Spain and across nearly all of Portugal. It was so nice to run on our own time schedule, not one dictated by bus or train schedules. We also got to see a lot of beautiful countryside along the way, including this cool little Spanish pueblo of Belmez:

7. sete (set-ay): Belém

The neighborhood of Belem, which is located along the south-west edge of Lisbon, is a historical landmark, and should probably be a little higher up on my list. This is the place where the Age of Discovery began. The port, with the Torre de Belém is where great navigators, such as Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator, embarked on their world expeditions.

8. oito (oh-ee-toe): Shakira Concert

Ok, ok so the Shakira concert isn’t exactly a staple in Lisbon, but it was a pretty exciting event to end our weekend trip. The venue was located on the eastern edge of the city, close to the aquarium and big shopping center. And the concert itself was pretty good, or should I say loca, loca, loca. (PS. Shakira speaks portuguese. When did that happen?)

9. nove (no-vay): Public Transportation

One of my favorite parts about Lisbon was that it was so easy to navigate! Between the subways, streetcars, busses and walking, we were able to leave our car parked in the same spot all weekend. The streetcars are also really beautiful, and we saw many pictures and photos featuring the whimsical yellow cars.

10. dez (dehz): The People

Ok, this should probably be a little further up on the list as well, but the people in Lisbon shouldn’t go without mention. We met many helpful and friendly people throughout our journey. Although some people speak English, there are many who patiently delt with our Spanish to Portuguese rough translations. And even more were happy to tell us what to see and where to go during our stay. We even had one nice guy lead us through the city by car when we were terribly lost and couldn’t find our hostel.

My Lesson of the Day: This won’t be my last trip to Lisbon.

I came to Spain and I’m learning English?

17 Nov

When I signed up to spend a year teaching English in Spain, I came prepared to learn a lot of Spanish. Little did I know that my time in this Spanish-speaking country would teach me more about my native English. My time both inside and outside the classroom has been a big tutorial in English.

My first lesson has been in British English. I had wrongly assumed that the accent was about the only thing that set us apart. That could not be further from the truth. Most of the people here in Spain have been taught British English. Between the textbooks and the British friends that I’ve made here, I’ve noticed a few differences. In addition to the funny spelling (think colour, apologise, programme, and centre) the vocabulary can be a little confusing.

For example, if someone here tells you that they are “pissed” they aren’t mad at all, but in fact quite drunk instead. And I wrongly laughed at my male student who said he wears “jumpers” because in England that apparently means sweater, not a dress worn by young schoolgirls. I’ve also adopted the term “time table” not only because its more commonly used, but its also easier for a foreigner to pronounce than “schedule.”

Furthermore, in British English, your “trousers” may make your “arse” look big, but you can combat that by putting on your “track bottoms” and taking the stairs instead of the “lift” when you go to your “flat.” Bloody confusing, isn’t it? But at least it sounds posh.

In addition to the British English I’ve been learning, my time in the ESL classroom has produced a few problems. For you native speakers, did you know that there is a difference between “going to” and “will”? (“going to” is for predetermined plans, while “will” is for spontaneous actions and future predictions. Do you use them correctly?)

And try to go about explaining the reason where and why we commonly use “whatever, whenever, however, whoever, wherever” but not usually “whyever”. And which is correct: “compared with” or “compared to”. Does it really even matter?

Then we have the sayings. Why would “fly by the seat of your pants” mean to be spontaneous? And how could one ever be “deader than a doornail” or “dumber than a doorknob”?

Needless to say, English alone has got my head spinning. Now it’s time for me to go study some more so I can try to master the language that I’m about to teach tomorrow.

My Lesson of the Day: This whole English thing has proven to be a bit of a banana skin!


A trip to the country

16 Nov

About 15 minutes outside of Jaén, lies the pueblo of Pegalajar, our destination this past Saturday. The village is tucked behind a mountain, with beautiful views of the countryside:

Luaren and I headed to the pueblo with Juanma, his girlfriend Estefania, and my neighbor Nacho. We stayed for the night at his house, which is tucked into the terraced countryside. In addition to having a great view, his farm also has almond trees. (I never knew that almonds grew on trees!) And we got to try some freshly picked ones from the summer.

We spent most of our time at the house eating – I wish I were kidding, but I probably ate enough for 5 people. For lunch we made a traditional migas, which are a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing. And in between eating, we played board games, sat around the fire, and told ghost stories (The playstation 3 that was brought along didn’t end up working.)

Just to bring a little of America with us, Lauren and I even taught everyone how to play beerpong. Watch out Spain, I think it was a hit!

My Lesson of the Day: Life before TV wasn’t that bad.

Just keep climbing up

13 Nov

Yesterday (Friday), one of my fellow auxiliares came to visit Jaén from her nearby town and we had one main goal in mind: climb up to the castillo. I’ve been up to Santa Catalina Castle twice before – once during the day and once at night – but I had always gone up via car. This time we decided to hike.

Lauren came over for lunch and then the three of us started out around 5pm from my apartment, aiming to make it up before sunset. We didn’t exactly know where we were going, but I figured that as long as we kept going up (the castle is on top of the mountain), we were bound to make it eventually.

So up we went. And up, and up, and up. About 40 minutes later, we had finally made it out of the neighborhoods and to the base of the woods/castle. We started to hike up the trail and I swear I felt like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings – nothing but trees, rocks, and the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. I felt like we were miles away from any civilization as we kept climbing up.

After a loosing our way slightly and ending up at the pool of the accompanying parador hotel, we finally made it up to the castle. It was about 6:30 and we had made it just in time for sunset.

But something was wrong. They were closing the gates to the castle and there were a bunch of construction workers coming out. We knew that the castle had been under construction, but we had wrongly assumed that it was finished.

Then followed a short conversation with the construction worker, which went somewhere along the lines of:

“Is the castle closed?”



“Because we’re working.”

“When will it be open.”

“It’s closed whenever we’re working.”

Woah Mr. helpful! We finally got it out of him that the castle will be opening on the 25th for celebration of Santa Catalina (the saint). Then we retreated to the cafe of the hotel parador for some coffee. On a side note, Jaén’s parador hotel has been voted one of the top ten paradors in Europe. (A parador is an old castle that has been converted into a luxury hotel.)

But the trip wasn’t completely a bust. We got to spend some time at the top of the mountain, we got a good workout on the way up, and on the way down we were rewarded with this beautiful view of the cathedral:

I love that Jaén still seems to have little surprises that I’m still discovering 2 months later. But today, we’re laving the city behind and heading off to our friends pueblo for a night in the country.

My Lesson of the Day: Sometimes the best things appear when you’re not actually looking for them.