Belgium

I’ve lost count now of how many times I’ve been to Brussels. I’ve got the entire routine down, memorized, and I almost hate that because the trip is an enormous hassle. But always in the end, despite the extra-lengths of getting to and from Brussels via Spain is without a doubt worth ever second of the annoying journey.

As always I sat on the plane, and then the bus, and then the train, nervously and anxiously and excitedly awaiting my arrival at Chez Peebles. My palms were sweating and despite being exhausted, I couldn’t sleep for a second on the plane due to my unnerving excitement. Continue reading

The Ups and Downs of Life in Barcelona

It has been a very long time since I’ve written. This is probably the longest break I’ve taken from this blog. I have legitimate reasons for my long absence in the blogosphere. It’s this awful thing called Graduate School.

I came to Barcelona to pursue my career and to take off with an international career. So that’s what I’ve been doing. My studies have been very overwhelming and much more intense than I expected (having worked in the Spanish education realm for two years, I was expecting this to be a cake-walk…boy was I wrong!) But apart from the normal life of studying and taking exams and all of that stuff we hate, there are other elements of my life that are being severely impacted. Continue reading

Barcelona: Week 1

I just finished my first successful week in Barna (street-name for Barcelona.) I have accomplished many of my short terms goals (and a few are still pending, like my visa renewal.) I have gotten one English class so far, but I’m pending on a few others, so that’s good that I’ve got that cog slowly in motion.  Also, I met up with two people to do a language exchange (half Spanish, half English), and they both went really well. In fact, last night, I caught the thirty-minute train from Barcelona center out to Cerdanyola del Valles to go to a house party of one of the girls I met doing the language exchange. She and her boyfriend threw a house party out on this amazing terrace that they have at their house. It’s up towards the mountains, it’s got a swimming pool, and the terrace was big enough to throw even a typical American kegger. Continue reading

High School Graduation

Wednesday was the graduation of my oldest pupils.  Maite, the teacher that I share these classes with told me that I had to go to the ceremony because apparently the kids had something for me. I figured, why not? After my classes on Wednesday, I rushed home, quickly scarfed down some lunch, showered, got dressed up, and then caught the train taking me back to Tres Cantos an hour away. I thought the ceremony might have been a bit boring, but it was actually a lot of fun. There were video presentations with pictures of all the kids from all the different classes. Then there were students doing performances, like singing, playing piano, and everyone’s favorite, the dancing which everyone had told me was going to be amazing and it really was.

Once they had gone through most of the classes, it finally arrived to the classes that I had taught. Each class had given out premios (awards) to all the teachers. Even though Maite had told me I was getting something I never expected to get an award. Miguel, one of my best students who speaks English like a true American (honest!) caught me off guard when he started to present the award and then said, “this one goes out to a ‘yankee…’”  (saying ‘yankee’ doesn’t sound as strange in Spanish as it does in English. That’s just what they call anyone from the Good ‘Ole United States).  That’s when I knew that I got an award. I was so stoked! How cool! Then Maite made me stand and wave to everyone. It was a great feeling, honest.  Plus, I got the award for “El profe más ‘cool’” (the coolest teacher). Can’t go wrong with that!

This is Miguel, the kid that gave me the presentation. You wouldn’t believe his English, it’s perfect American.

Now I understand why people like being teachers. I got to see the rewards of teaching. Even though I only taught these kids one day a week this year, I still felt some sort of satisfaction or pride. I’m really not sure how to describe it, but it’s such a cool feeling getting to see these kids move on with their lives and do something. Watching the picture presentations and listening to the awards and things, it took me back to my high school graduation which wasn’t all that long ago, but now seems like something that was in another lifetime. I started to think about all the interesting things I have accomplished since I graduated.  Knowing that I studied in Spain, and then moved there since I’ve finished high school, it only makes me feel so excited for these kids to get to explore the world and have similar experiences as I did.

After the ceremony everyone, parents, students, teachers alike, all went to the school where they had prepared a large piscolabis, or tables full of sandwiches, pizza, Spanish jamon (can’t have a Spanish party without a pata de jamon), and even sangria and beer!

This is Maite and I cutting the jamon leg! Coolest teacher in the world.

It’s quite unfortunate to say, but there I really got to know my students. We finally had the barrier of teacher-student broken and I was able to speak to them in English or Spanish which I was unable to do so during the year. All the kids kept telling me, “No more English, we’re out of class. Speak to us in Spanish.” So I did, even though these kids all spoke such wonderful English.

I asked everyone (or almost everyone) what they plan to do for the future. Most are going to college. Others are studying in other countries.  But this all makes me really sad at the same time, that it took me so long to really connect with these students. They are all such great kids, and all have such fascinating stories and I was finally able to get to know the kids on a really individual level only at the very end.

After the piscolabis, everyone went out! Even some of the teachers tagged along, including Maite, who is a teacher I wish I had had in high school.  She’s really wonderful and the children adore her.

The students had rented out a venue for the night so everyone was heading there. First, we had to do as the Spanish do: botellón. Everyone, and I mean everyone was drinking in the streets. It was a riot! I did rounds, chatting to everyone, getting to know them. A part of me felt like I was graduating too, it was all just so exciting and I’m not sure why I felt this way.

Eventually we made our way to the bar and everyone was dancing.  What a blast!  We were there until about 6 in the morning when I had to catch my train back home to sleep. I was accompanied by a large caravan of students. We all said goodbye, and I took the hour long journey home. Once I got home, I slept for a short hour and a half, woke up to complete a presentation I had for that day, and then as I was entering the metro, I received a phone call telling me not to come in today. Thank god, I thought. I was still pretty groggy from the night before, feeling extremely hung over, and possibly a bit drunk still. But regardless, totally worth it. I’m sure all the other teachers wished they were teaching assistants so they could stay home.

Anyway, that was my Spanish graduation and as strange as it may sound, it was easily one of the most fun nights I’ve had living in Spain. I know I’m going to miss teaching in Madrid next year. I’m already feeling nostalgic about all of it. But in last words, good luck to all those students. I know they all are going to accomplish amazing things.

Write more later,

Graham

Amunt Valencia!

Since Britt and I have been in Madrid, all Britt has told me (aside from her wanting to go see some guy charm a snake in Morocco) is that she wants to see a beach. I thought about where to go. Maybe Cádiz? Or Alicante? Or Benidorm? Maybe even a trip to the Canary Islands? But in the end, I figured the best place for us to go would be Valencia because they have the beach but also the Oceanográfic, which is something I’ve always wanted to see.  And it’s a lot cheaper to get to.

I have been to Valencia before but it was only for Las Fallas last year, so I didn’t get to see much of the city since, let’s face it, I went there to party with all of my friends.

I talked to Jeana and her friend Alex beforehand to see if they wanted to come along since they were going to be coming to Madrid around the time that Britt and I wanted to go see Valencia. We all coordinated the trip together. On Thursday morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn and caught the bus out of town to Valencia.

The ride was pretty quick: only 4-hours by bus.

The best part was the arrival. We weren’t sure what to expect of the weather, although Britt thought ahead and all she wanted to do was wear a dress on the beach. And sure enough, the second we stepped off of the bus, the weather was absolutely wonderful! We started stripping off layers it was so hot.

While we waited for the bus to take us to our hostel, we were taking off coats, hoodies, rolling up pants and stripping off our socks, it was that hot. I couldn’t believe that at this time of the year it could be so warm. Britt and I had become so used to the freezing cold in Paris and Madrid that it was almost unfathomable to have enjoyable, sunny, warm weather this time of year. The weather definitely put all of us in a good mood.

We checked into our hostel then wandered around the city a bit to try and go see the Oceanografic, which is Europe’s largest aquarium. The architecture itself is worth seeing: It looks like some futuristic space ship and landing pad. It’s hard to describe, because it’s such an abstract edifice.

Upon arriving, we realized we’d only have about 2 hours to enjoy the place and the entree fee was about 25 euros so we decided we’d put it off for the day. We ended up grabbing some gelatto to take a break and cool off. From there, we grabbed another bus and headed to the beach.

Everyone I talked to (except Agathe, who recommended we go to Valencia) said that the beaches in Valencia were really ugly. I kept this in mind, especially after Britt and I visited my friend Alejandra in El Escorial for an afternoon and she almost yelled at me for taking Britt to see an ugly city and ugly beaches. But everyone was wrong: The beaches were wonderful! We decided that everyone in Spain thinks Valencia’s beaches are ugly is because they are used to actually having beaches. But if you come from landlocked Denver, Colorado or even Madrid, any beach is enjoyable. And we didn’t find anything ugly about the beach or Valencia. We all fell in love!

The beach was very nice. We stuck our feet in the frigid water, collected some seashells, and then once our feet were turning blue and the sky was fading to black, we caught a bus back towards our hostel.

It seems that I cannot escape the parties in Valencia because the instant the bus dropped us off, we saw thousands of people crowding around the street of our hostel for a parade. That’s when I realized that it was January 5 and the following day was the Día de los Reyes Magos, or the Day of the Three Wise Men. January 6 is Spain’s official Christmas. It is becoming more and more popular to celebrate actual Christmas on December 25, but everyone gets their presents on January 6. So all the families were out with their kids to watch the parade. We had to push through hundreds of parade-goers to get to our hostel.

Luckily, we had a terrific view of the parade from above, but it didn’t interest us too much since everything in the parade was religious related. But it was still really interesting to be able to see.

From there, we headed towards the city center for dinner. We stopped by a place that seemed “typical Spanish,” but I’m sure it was designed for tourists. Alex and I shared a big bowl of Paella Valenciana, which after all, Valencia is where Paella originated. Jeana and Britt each got their own meals, and Britt ordered herself a delicious looking membrillo-jamón tapa.

But we didn’t eat in the typical Spanish fashion by taking a few hours to eat, relax, and enjoy. We were a bit pressed for time. Earlier that afternoon, Carlo texted me with some exciting news: That night, Valencia was going to be playing against Sevilla! We all wanted to get tickets but weren’t sure how to go-abouts getting them. Plus, we figured it would be sold out since Sevilla and Valencia are two of the biggest teams in Spain. We asked around all day and the best results we got were: “Nah, it’s probably not sold out,” and “Just go to the stadium an hour before the game and you should be able to get tickets.” So that’s what we did.

We finished our meal and caught the first bus to the stadium. There were people everywhere, and everyone was drinking on the streets. This is typical Spanish.
Afterwards I learned that they don’t sell any alcohol in the stadiums (which would explain why I didn’t see anyone with beer in their hands like you’d see at any sporting event back in the States). I guess the football hooligans get a little too rowdy if they’ve got some drink in them.

After fighting through the crowds, we made it to the Taquilla to buy our tickets. I asked for the four best 10-euro tickets (which were the cheapest) but unfortunately the guy said that all that were left were 30-euro or 40-euro tickets. Dang. That’s killing our budget.

We left the line to think about what we were going to do. We figured we’d just go find a bar and watch the game, but NO! We came all this way, and it was now or never. Let’s go to the game! So we bought 40-euro tickets because that was the only way we could all be seated together. But who cares about the money! This was something they say you have to do. So after living in Spain (on and off) for about 2-years total, I finally made it to my first professional soccer match. Amunt Valencia!

And the best part was, Valencia won! 1 – 0. (Kind of a boring match, really. A bit disappointing.)

Then we went home to sleep.

The next day we went to the Oceanografic, which was very large indeed, but nothing that spectacular. I guess it’s just any old aquarium, but this one is just really big. And again, I can’t put enough emphasis on its incredible architecture, you really have to see it for yourself.

From there, we went back to the hostel to get our things, then headed to the bus station and rode home.

Valencia is a place I could live in, honest. I absolutely loved it. I wish I could have stayed a little bit longer. We all wanted to stay: The weather was perfect, we never got to get day-drunk on the beach, and we really didn’t even get to explore the city center, which was much larger than we realized.  Even the people were incredibly kind to us. I asked for directions, information, etc., and every person I spoke to was very patient and gave us great help. The strange thing to me is that in Valencia they speak Valenciano, which is a dialect of Catalan. But if you go to Catalonia and you ask for help in Spanish, they will respond to you either in Catalan or English regardless of who you are. They are very proud people of their language and despise Spanish (so I’m told.) But the Valenciano’s were all eager to speak to me and there was never an issue with them speaking Valenciano or Spanish. They all treated us the same and were incredibly helpful. I guess that just means that we’ll have to go back. I hope to see Valencia very, very soon.

Write more later,

Graham

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