Monday, February 27, 2012

Back to Basics

As expected my way of life is different here in Spain compared to The U.S.

Spain, in many ways, is very good about conservation, recycling, and consuming only the necessities. Many public bathrooms have timed lights, which can be a pain if they aren't timed long enough. You rarely find paper towels to dry your hands with in the bathrooms. Rather than throwing the trash all into the dumpster there are separate disposal containers for the pieces of trash; for instance: compost, paper, glass, and sometimes batteries. Impressive right?

Now....imagine living without a dish washer, an oven, a microwave, and a dryer. Fortunately, I have an oven and a microwave, but I am lacking a dish washer, which I miss so much, and a dryer. I never really noticed when I studied abroad how basic the Spanish home is. Most all homes have gas stoves, which I love, but my house is one of the few with a hot water heater, meaning that most other houses have propane heaters to heat the water as they use it. In my mind this seems like a characteristic of an undeveloped country, but I know that is not the case. The Spaniards don't see any reason why they need these high-tech machines to do work for them that can easily be done with a little time and patience.

Coming from a country on the majority, every household has a dryer. I grew up in one of these households, therefore, I had to learn a few tricks how to hang my clothes on a clothes line to properly dry, which can be tricky especially if you live in a climate with temperamental weather. At night we have a heavy dew and a high moisture level, but during the day the sun is bright and the wind is usually blowing. So, take these two different weather characteristics into account, and imagine how difficult drying clothes outside can be. Yes, the sun and wind are wonderful BUT the wind makes your clothes hard and crunchy; and the sun fades the colors. Now, at night if my clothes are on the line, they most likely will be damp in the morning, so I never can put anything on the line to dry a few hours before sunset that I want to wear the next day because more likely than not, the clothes WILL be wet. There are the few times that I am afraid my clothes are going to blow off the line, down into the parking lot below, due to the strong winds, but "knock on wood" that day hasn't happened yet. After a few trial runs, I seem to have gotten the hang of drying clothes in the natural conditions. My clothes do have a nice fresh smell to them, which is the bright side of a clothesline! This was an ideal drying day!
                                                                      Back to Basics!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Puente de Los Festivos

Compared to the U.S., Spain possibly has triple the amount of Holidays celebrated throughout the year than the U.S, meaning Spain will find even the slightest reason to have a fiesta. The following holidays are a handful of holidays celebrated throughout the year: Dia de la Virgin (each pueblo has one), Dia de Andalucia, Dia de Educacion, All Saints Day, Entire week for Semana Santa, Reyes de Los Magos, and etc. Each one of these holidays are bank and government holidays, meaning the pueblo/ province/ Autonomous Community/ Country is/are shut down.

Yet again Spain is entering a "Puente" weekend, meaning either it is a long-weekend, as we would say in the U.S., or there are holidays within the week. For instance the first week of December 2011 was a puente. We had school Monday, off Tuesday, school Wednesday, and off Thursday. I enjoy the long-weekend puentes more because I find having holidays during the week very inefficient, as well as unmotivating for students to return to school and workers to go back to work. At least on the long weekends people are able to catch "Ryanair" flights to Belgium, Germany, England, France and etc.Normally I try to take advantage of my "Puentes" and travel, but since I am saving up for my trip to London the first week of April; I decided to stick around the Cadiz-Sevilla area and enjoy my time off here.

Let the fiestas commence!

El Gallego

After finishing classes at 3:00pm, a group of Castillo de Luna professors and I headed to lunch at the Galician restaurant in town called "El Gallego".

I knew from the beginning that this restaurant was going to be a treat!

Lunch started with a nice cold cana of Estrella Galicia, my favorite beer in Spain. There is nothing like socializing over a good beer. Mercedes, a wonderful friend of mine, ordered all the raciones (portions) for the whole group; 13 total. Lunch began with the typical Croquetas, which are basically creamy delicious balls/nuggets deep fried. They would be very popular in Texas. Next was the mini green fried peppers with sea salt. Delish! I wish we had these in the states. Supposedly during Feria, the famous fair, these are the food staple plus a cana of cerveza. After the mini peppers, was the pulpo, Octopus, drizzled with olive oil with some paprika for seasoning. The way the pulpo is prepared is truly Gallegian. I would love to actually visit Galicia and try this in it's homeland! Next were the orange colored Mejillones in shell. They were much better that I expected, especially with lemon drizzled on them. Then came the salad with toasted goat cheese, bacon, and pine nuts! Yet again delish! Lastly was the carne Roxa, a type of stewed cube meat with garlic and parsley, and of course you can't forget the patatas fritas (fried potatoes)!

At the end I was happily full and feeling very blessed with wonderful people!

...and of courses we made a stop at another cafe to "take a cafelito" (to drink a small coffee).  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

El Escorial Monasterio

This past Friday, January 27th, I visited "El Real Monasterio del Escorial" in the small pueblo, El Escorial, outside of Madrid in the mountains. We couldn't have picked a more frigid cloudy day to visit. Fortunately, our purpose for visiting was indoors rather than out.

Coming from Madrid, we were able to pick up the Madrid bus from Moncloa directly to El Escorial for a cheap price. The bus takes almost an hour, but like usual you can enjoy the scenery, take a nap, read your travel book as Saki did, or whatever you please. The last stop for the bus is within walking distance to the Monastery and not hard to miss.

The building itself is beyond large. We walked through several hallways just to begin our tour starting with several small museums of art, tapestry, construction tools (that freaked Saki out), models of the monastery (commonly found throughout Spain), and more artwork. Next we proceeded through a dinning room/grand hall of some sort that was adorned with doors of numerous types of woods. So far the parts we had seen had been very typical Spanish-European sights that were not too outrageously exciting.

But at this next moment....

We found the hallway leading to the chamber that housed the Royal Mausoleum. At the time of our arrival, the chamber was temporarily off limits and we had been asked to make a detour and return in 20 minutes. Saki and I continued our Monastery adventure through several casket chambers that seemed eerie enough to make Saki walk a little faster than usual.

Next we found a staircase leading up to an area with a beautifully painted ceiling that proceed to get me yelled at in Spanish that I did not enjoy very much. All that matters is I have a nice picture of Saki posing with a look alike Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Walking past the basilica into the vast courtyard we then found our way into the next incredible part of the building; an ancient library. This library housed books dating back to at least the 12th century. The room smelled wonderfully of books, but of course we were prohibited from opening one up and cuddling in a corner to enjoy the essence. Instead, we were able to peer through the glass window onto the beautifully painted pages with elaborate hand writting.

After finishing in the library, we peeked inside the basilica, which looked like any common high-vaulted ceiling stone structure in the shape of the crucifix to worship our Lord.

Now the best for last...

I then followed the instructions given to us by the lady who explained the temporary closure of the Mausoleum. We were specially escorted through the large sanctuary doors, through the red velvet curtains, and back to the beginning of the hallway where we were then escorted down into the Mausoleum chamber of the Spanish Royals! This Baroque style Mausoleum was specifically built as a tomb for the Spanish Kings. Unfortunately, King Ferdinand and King Philip V are not buried at this location.

Our favorite part of the entire tour, despite the bitterly cold weather, was the outdoor gardens over looking the countryside, mountains, and the incredible view of the monastery/palace itself. We found the gardens to be peaceful and quiet, which were most likely the intentions of the designer itself.

This is one of the 20+ UNESCO sites found within Spain. The architecture, artifacts, and history of this building support the reasoning why this place should be included on the preservation list.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gypsy Market Madness

Every Wednesday from 9:00-2:00 a caravan of white vans are unloaded to sell cheap goods, which is known as the Gypsy Market.

You can find a little bit of everything at this market from clothing for all ages, scarves, fresh olives, socks/leggings, fabric, jewelry, shoes, etc. While walking past the booths and tents you can hear phrases being yelled out such as, "Aproveche, Aproveche, Aproveche" meaning to take advantage of the cheap prices. This market is known for being extremely cheap. For instance, I bought a pair of tights for 2 Euros one time.

At this time of the year every store is in their "Rebajas" period, meaning things that didn't sell for the past season are held until after Christmas time and sold for extremely cheap. So it seems the Gypsy Market participates in this wonderful affair as well. Normally a pair of boots can be bought for as cheap as 10 Euros. Today I bought a pair of boots and a pair of sandals for 8 Euros TOTAL! Although, I am not buying quality, I am buying shoes that will keep me walking through these next 4 months. Deal for me!

Normally I can't resist the olive booth at the market because the smell is enticing. I have a favorite I usually buy, Garlic Stuffed Olives.There are usually two olive stands that have buckets and buckets of all sorts of colors and sizes of olives. You can find pickle stuffed olives, almond stuffed olives, pickled onions, pickled eggplant, pickled beans, and so on. When I have people come to visit me here in Spain, for instance my family and Saki, I buy these delicious olives because they can't get any better than this.

I plan on attending this wonderful little market as many Wednesdays as possible before I no longer have the chance.

Sevillana La Primera!

Tonight I had my first Sevillana class taught by the lovely Pepi inside the garage of her house.

Sevillana is a form of Flamenco created by the Spaniards of Sevilla. This is the type of dance that is common during Feria, a fair for food, horses, Sherry, Flamenco dresses, and socializing. More towns other than Sevilla have Ferias, which will give me the opportunity to put my new dance skills to use come the middle of April until I head home in May.

There are 4 different sequences of the dance, which are usually danced between a man and a woman. Tonight I learned the first sequence, which involves several steps, passes, points, and the most important the grand finale spin ending with an Ole!

I am sharing this wonderful learning experience with my good Swedish friends, Lotta and Tommy, as well as several Americans here in Rota. Tonight was a first for all of us!