Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving and Granada

Friends from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and
Germany enjoying their first Thanksgiving!
Some of the food from our Thanksgiving dinner
 Thanksgiving is always a bittersweet holiday.  Obviously, I miss spending the holiday with loved ones from home but I was lucky enough to have a great group of people to spend it with here in Spain! In typical Spanish fashion, we didn't eat Thanksgiving dinner until 10pm, but everything else was pretty authentic.  Five of us American girls got together and provided the main parts of the meal: Roasted Chicken (no turkey here), mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, green bean casserole,  dinner rolls and banana bread.  Our other 15 or so foreign guests brought salads, desserts and someone even brought mac-n-cheese! To keep with American tradition, we had each guests say what they were thankful for.  Although this is normal to us, this made a lot of our guests kind of uncomfortable; they aren't used to being that open.  Nonetheless everyone participated and we dug in!  The meal was surprisingly authentic and everyone loved it.  It was so special for us Americans to spread our tradition with all of our international guests (7 countries were represented at dinner!).  It made the holiday that much more special to celebrate.

One of the beautiful views at the Alhambra
I spent this past weekend in Granada!  It's only a short distance away (2 and a half hours by bus), so I've been dying to check it out since I got here.  I left late because I had to teach private lessons on Friday but I met my friends Amy and Hannah there.  The first night, we just went out for tapas.

Saturday we woke up and headed towards the Alhambra.  Although we didn't have a scheduled tour for the castle until 3pm, we knew there were a lot of things to see on the way.  Granada is a town that has been extremely influenced by moorish culture due to it's history, so all of the shops we stopped in had a Moroccan/Arabic flare! After some shopping, we sat down for a tapa of paella and enjoyed the incredible scenery.  By that time it was time to make the ascent to the Alhambra, which is situated on top of a hill so it was no easy task.  Finally we made it and spent three hours exploring the giant moorish castle, it's gardens, and the breath-taking views.  The castle was stunning and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Granada. Next, we headed to a restaurant in the Albayzin neighborhood (on a hill opposite the Alhambra) to buy flamenco tickets for later that night.  The neighborhood is notorious for Mirador San Nicolas which is the most famous view of Granada.  From this view, you can see the snow-capped Sierra-Nevada mountains, the Alhambra, and the entire city of Granada.  The pictures I took can't do it justice, but take my word that it was incredible.  Later that night we went to a Flamenco show (sorry, the pictures didn't turn out) which was fun because it was my first!  Flamenco is a traditional Spanish dance that includes a lot of stomping and arm movements.  Very cool.  After the show we went out and enjoyed a few more tapas before bed.
View of the Alhambra from "Mirador San Nicolas" with the Sierra-Nevada mountains in the background

Sunday, we did a little more shopping and visited a traditional Moroccan tetería (tea restaurant).  We sipped on mint tea and at delicious Moroccan food.  After that, it was time to go home.

At the Moroccan Tetería
An all around incredible weekend.  I love traveling but I need a break and I'm looking forward to just staying here in Almería this weekend :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Weekend in Dublin

Temple Bar
This past weekend I went to Dublin to visit a couple friends.  A friend of mine from Eden Prairie, Colin, has a job as a leader of a study abroad program in Dublin until December this year, so I wanted to visit him while I could.  We organized it so that I and another friend from Sweden, Sofia, could visit the same weekend.  Colin should the both of us around Dublin, and we had a great time!  We covered a lot of ground, so I will go through my trip day by day.

Kilmainham Gaol
Wednesday-  On Wednesday night I had to leave for Malaga to spend a night there before my flight.  Although there is an airport in Almeria, the one in Malaga is much bigger and had much cheaper flights, but this means I had to take a bus to Malaga and spend one night in a hostel to get the deal that I wanted!  I was FREAKING out because Spain had a national strike on Wednesday, so I thought there might be no buses going to Malaga, which would have resulted in me missing my flight on Thursday.  Luckily, there was one bus (instead of the normal seven) going to Malaga that day, so I made sure that I was on it.  I got to Malaga pretty late, found my hostel and went straight to bed!  I was exhausted.
Old Jameson Distillery

Thursday- I woke up early and caught the metro to the airport.  I arrived in Dublin at 2:30 and took a bus into town.  Colin picked me up from the bus stop.  I was starving so the first thing we did was go out for a bite to eat in Temple Bar, which is an area of Dublin known for its concentrated group of pubs, shops and restaurants.  Then, we stayed in the area because the city was having a Christmas lighting celebration.  Colin said that they had been hanging lights all around the city for days, and they were going to all light up for the first time at 5pm that night!  After the lights turned on, Colin took me back to his apartment so I could drop off my stuff and then he took me out for a traditional Irish dinner! I got delicious fish and chips and my first taste of Irish beer.  After that we went to two pubs.  The first one had traditional Irish music, which really added to the atmosphere, and the second claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, established in 1198!  That's crazy old.  We also met some friendly Irish residents that night, so the whole night felt pretty authentic to me.

River Liffey
Friday-  First we went to Kilmainham Gaol, an old and historic prison of Dublin.  The reason it's so well known is that it was primarily used to jail political leaders during Ireland's uprising against the British crown.  Also, at one desperate point during Ireland's history, people actually tried to get into the prison just so that they would receive food.  At the height of desperation, the building held 9,000 prisoners, which is 6,000 over it's capacity, many of which were children.  The history was incredible to hear and I learned a lot.  After that we headed into Temple Bar for lunch and got Mongolian noodles.  Then we wondered around the area little bit and we happened upon a candy store that actually sold Reeses! That's a rare find anywhere in Europe.  It came at a steep price though, 3.99 euros for a small bag of minis.  We also stopped by the grocery store because I wanted to see if I could find gravy and stuffing (two things that can not be found in Spain).  Luckily, I found some to bring back just in time for Thanksgiving this week!  Later we went to the Old Jameson Distillery where we got a tour and I became a certified whiskey taster!  For dinner we got Indian take out (Dublin is known for it's international cuisine) and later that night we picked up our other friend Sofia from the airport!
Christ Church Cathedral

Certified Guinness Pint Pourers
Saturday- We started the day at a cute little organic cafe just around the corner from Colin's.  Sofia and I split a "toastie" with mozzarella, sundried tomatoes, arugula and pesto which was delicious.  Toasties are basically just toasted sandwiches but they are very popular in Ireland.  After breakfast we headed down O'Connel street (the heart of Dublin's downtown), past Parnell Square and ended up at the Garden of Remembrance.  This garden was made to honor all of the lives lost in the fight for Ireland's Independence.  It's strange for me to think that Ireland's independence is only about as old as the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the US!  Next we visited Trinity College's campus, the Dublin Castle and the gardens of the castle.  By then, it was lunch time but we were still pretty full from breakfast so we decided to go to the "Queen of Tarts" for lunch.  I had tea with an apple crumble, both scrumptious.  After lunch we went to check out the two main churches of Dublin: Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patricks Cathedral.  While wondering around we happened across a very cool gypsy-esc market which had everything from a vegan cafe to hand-made jewelry sales!  Although we didn't stay for long, it's always fun to happen across little things like that.  As Colin said "You won't find that in the green book" (the green book was our Dublin tourism guide).  Finally, we ended up at the Guinness Storehouse which I must admit that I had been looking forward to the whole time!  It did not disappoint.  The storehouse is 7 floors and each one is different.  The first two floors teach you about the process of making Guinness, and what ingredients go into it.  The third floor is the history of Arthur Guinness and the tasting room.  The fourth floor was the history of Guinness advertisements.  The fifth floor had a beer IQ test and a pub where we learned to pour the "perfect pint."  Finally, the seventh floor is the sky lounge where you get to see a 360 view of Dublin.  For dinner that night we had traditional Irish stew and guinness bread.  Delicious!  After dinner we went to the smallest bar in Dublin, which was about the size of most people's kitchens.  Our last event of the night was a concert.  A band from Minnesota called "Trampled by Turtles" just happened to be in Dublin on Saturday so we went to see them live!  We even got to meet them after, and they were pretty excited to meet some fans from Minnesota being so far away from home.

Sunday- I woke up bright and early to catch my flight back to Malaga and then my bus back to Almeria.
Dublin Castle

Overall it was an incredible weekend.  After seeing Dublin, I want to go back to see what the rest of Ireland has to offer.  With each country I see in Europe, it just makes me more excited to continue to travel and see more!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Madrid and Halloween

Plaza Mayor
So it's been a while since I last updated and a lot has happened!  But today, I am going to focus on the two main highlights from my last week and a half.

We stumbled upon a kayak race in the park in Madrid
First off, last weekend I went to Madrid with my friend Hannah.  She was going there to meet her friend who is working in Pamplona this year (where the running of the bulls takes place).  They were nice enough to let me tag along :)  It was only a three day trip but we definitely made the most of it.  The first day, we had a nice three course lunch of paella, pork, ice cream and of course the Spanish staple vino tinto (red wine).  Then, we decided to go see some of the main sights like plaza mayor, mercardo san miguel, the royal palace, the basillica, the puerto del sol, and more.  Then, later that night we went out for some tapas in the centre, and went to bed early so we would be well rested for our one full day in Madrid.  Saturday, I had breakfast in my hostel and then we went to Starbucks for a coffee!  Spain has pretty good coffee, but they always have it with milk which I'm not a big fan of, so I was excited just to get my plain dark roast black coffee :)  Then, we spent two hours in the Prado!  For those of you who don't know, the Prado is one of the most famous art museums in the world.  We got to see works from Rubens, Rafael, The Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Bosch, and many more and it was FREE for students between the ages of 18-25.  Such a steal!  I'm usually not big into art, but when you get to see a painting that is so famous that it is something you have studied in history class, it's pretty incredible.  We spent the rest of the day wandering throughout Madrid and saw the famous café Gijón that Ernest Hemmingway made famous, countless monuments, central park, and the famous road Gran Via.  Later we went out for a nice italian dinner, and experienced the Madrid night life (which means we didn't get in until 6am!)  Finally, Sunday we only had time for one activity before we had to catch the bus home (plus a trip to get some Dunkin' Donuts coffee!), so we decided to go to this HUGE flea market called El Rastro that only happens on sunday.  I bought a couple of cheap souvenirs and sunglasses.  Overall an INCREDIBLE weekend!  Madrid is so full of rich architecture, history, and culture.  I would definitely recommend visiting.

Madrid at night

Some of my students in their costumes
The Halloween Party Feast!
Wednesday was Halloween and here in Spain, they celebrate quite differently.  I think it's funny because even though the U.S. basically created the quintessential halloween holiday that is known worldwide, the Spanish find a way to make it their own.  The first thing you should know is that Spanish people only interpret halloween costumes as scary.  All night I saw zombies, vampires, devils, mummys, witches, etc.  Not like in the US when you will see a broader range of costumes like animals, princesses, athletes, etc.  Also, trick-or-treating does happen here, but on a much smaller scale.  Also, when trick-or-treating, its more common to go store to store to get candy rather than houses.  All shop-owners have candy for the kids.  At school, we had a halloween party.  Every student brought something to share which ranged from sandwiches and deviled eggs to any kind of pastry you can imagine.  I explained to them that halloween in the U.S. pretty much revolves around solely candy.  Here, its anything sweet: pudding, cake, donuts, you name it!  Also, later that night my city shut down the main street and threw a huge halloween party that included marching bands, concerts, street performers, a thriller dance, and much more!  Not how we would celebrate halloween, but still a fun night!  My favorite part of the night was seeing hundreds of paper lanterns being released into the sky!  It was an incredible a magical moment.  All in all it didn't feel like the halloween that I know and love, but it was still a fun way to celebrate, so no complaints here :)
The best shot I got of the paper lanterns!  This picture doesn't do it justice