Holidays in Alicante

Christmas and Reyes are now over.  The weather here is still quite nice (haven’t worn a jacket during the day since ‘Nam).  It’s almost always sunny and no one can complain about that. One could complain, however, about the amounts of studying I need to be doing and the paper writing that needs to be completed in the next few weeks.  But after finals in two weeks, I’ll be heading off to Belgium for a week to desconectarme and to just relax.

Christmas this year was probably the most Spanish I could have ever imagined. Continue reading

Brussels II

Brussels has been the place I’ve given most attention to in the past year because I so desperately wanted to study there for my Master’s. However, after my previous visit, we’ve all seen my great disappointment in the school I found there. I would have looked into other schools but it seems that French is such a fundamental element to their education that I would fall short of understanding.  Regardless, Brussels continues to be a place that I like better and better.

I went out there last week to visit Chloé for three reasons. One was to just pass the time since I’ve finished working. The other was to see Chloé (and Olivia of course). But third, it was also Chloé’s birthday.

I arrived Thursday morning bright and early. I had the entire city to myself. Not even Chloé was there at the moment, she was in Amsterdam visiting family. She left me the keys to her flat at the newspaper stand across the street from her place. She wrote me out a script to tell the man in French. I entered, said, “Bonjour” the best that I could, and I tried to read the note Chloé left me with the most authentic French accent I could muster. The guy looked at me strangely at first, but then understood what I meant. He laughed and handed me the keys and then in a broken English accent said, “There you are.”  I smiled, grabbed the keys, and left, proud that I was already speaking French.

The rest of the day was spent alone, wandering Brussels getting to discover it for myself. I had always been accompanied by Chloé but this time I got to make my own agenda.

After eating lunch, I went to the Atomium. I’m not entirely sure what it is but it’s this giant sculpture in the form of an atom. Chloé told me it was boring and not worth the visit which is why she had never taken me, but I know that it’s an icon of Brussels so I wanted to see it for myself.

Afterwards, I returned to the city center and went to the Modern Art Museum and saw a special photography exhibit by Stanley Kubrick. It was absolutely wonderful. He has always been one of my favorite directors but I didn’t know he was such a talented photographer.

Eventually I made it back to Chloé’s house, pretty tired from having walked so much and having slept only a few hours the night before. I ended up falling asleep on her couch only to be woken by her and Olivia a few hours later.

The rest of my trip was spent meeting all of Chloé’s friends around town. Our first night we went to a small get-together to drink, talk, and watch Italy beat Germany in the EuroCup.  The people at the party were all wonderful, inviting, and seemed to have really gotten a kick out of having an American there.  Most of us were pretty divided by language since my French is so elementary as well as their English. But I ended up getting the attention of all these Belgian guys as we discussed anything from music to politics. I’d see a few of them, including the girl that had the party again at Chloé’s birthday.

The next day we were pretty groggy and I was still overtired from not sleeping the night before, so we took it easy. At night, we went out with some more of Chloé’s friends, had a few delicious Belgian beers and then called it a night. My favorite part was the bike ride home. We rented bikes to get from point A to point B. I dearly miss cruising through cities on bike, especially at night. When I move to Barcelona in August, I am definitely getting one.

On Saturday, we woke up and had a picnic in this gorgeous park. We sat there for several hours just talking, eating and reading. To all of our surprise despite the cloudy day, we all ended up getting pretty sun burnt. Go figure getting burnt in a place famous for having considerably dreadful weather year round.

Eventually we made our way back to Chloé’s flat to prepare for her birthday party. We made food and got cocktails already. Chloé had devised a fun game for her birthday: everyone had to wear a name tag with the name of the first street they lived on. Then, everyone was given a Hawaiian lei and if you called the person by their real name, you had to give it up.  Some people ended up with several lei’s and others with none.

Chloé’s birthday was a blast. There were so many people there and everyone was kind enough to make an effort to speak English so that I could understand. When they did speak in French, I tried so hard to understand but it only resulted in me getting a really bad headache. Once the moment came for us to all go out, we went to a wild karaoke bar until about six in the morning when we went home for me to grab my bag and then head directly to the airport since I had a morning flight.

Brussels, as boring as Chloé says it is, continues to amaze me. It’s always a riot for me. I love the quaintness of the city, but also it’s grandiose internationalness. I felt like a complete loser there, only being capable of speaking two languages. There you meet people who speak several languages, have family all over the world and are just so downright international. I guess I hold my own as being a cien por cien American, but everyone there is just so well educated and interesting.  I really hope to move there after my master’s to attempt to make myself more international. Even just talking to the people, I feel like I’m learning so much. In the few days I was there, I feel like I learned more French, more about other countries, more about my own country and just about things in general than I have in college. Not only was it a trip for pleasure, but for knowledge. And those are always the best kinds of trips.

Missing Chloé and Olivia as always. Hope to see them soon.

Write more later,

Graham

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Amsterdam

I have just returned from the single longest journey of my life and I am left feeling incredibly tired, but not because I traveled so much but rather I’m beat from all of the incredible things I saw and experienced that it has left my body, mind and heart exhausted. I feel as if I now carry the places, the cities, and the people in my heart. It’s something unreal inside me that still lives on and I am at a complete loss of words to describe the impression I have been left with from everything I’ve seen.

When we bought our tickets to Amsterdam, I was a bit intimidated just because you hear all of the typical stories of Americans traveling there and getting messed up. I’m not that kind of guy. Sure, I like to party just as much as everyone else, but Amsterdam seems to be a hotspot for ignorant American tourists and I didn’t want to be one of those.

But to my surprise, Amsterdam was one of the most intriguing, unique, and breathtaking cities I’ve ever seen. And that stands alone: sure the Red Light District is fun to take a walk through, and yeah, smoking pre-packed joints in their legendary coffee shops is always a good time, but the city as itself is an undeniable gem.

Being “Dutch” myself, I was excited to return to our family’s roots, even if our family fled Holland in the early 1600s which hardly makes us Dutch, but at least my last name comes from there. I was excited to observe the culture and the people and I’ve come to the consensus that they are the pedestal of the perfect human environment: it makes you proud to be Dutch…actually; it makes you wish you really were Dutch.

Amsterdam’s endless canals, the buildings that all lean forward (and others from one side or another), and the distinct uniqueness and at the same time the similarity that each street possesses, one can only feel breathless when attempting to take in all of the beauty.

Apart from the aesthetic enchantment of the city, the culture is remarkable.  According to our tour guide, the way of life in Amsterdam is all centered around one word: Tolerance. That means you won’t have any issues if you do the following:

  1. Make money
  2. Don’t hurt anyone
  3. Be quiet and discreet

Although the Red Light District and the coffee shops may be far from “discreet,” anyone can do whatever they want in this city. It’s a place to go to live your life the way you want it. They have erected a statue supporting sex workers all over the world and that all people involved in the industry should be respected. Also, they have the first (and maybe only) homosexual monument. Of course gay marriage is allowed in Holland. Like I said, everyone can do whatever they want without any persecution from anyone. It’s a beautiful society and it’s a way of thinking that the United States will never see.

Also, as if their society couldn’t be more perfect, everyone there speaks perfect English. When I say perfect English, I mean perfect. They hardly have an accent, but everyone is comfortably fluent to a level that shocked me. Even the most unsuspecting people spoke perfect English: A little Dutch boy asked us to buy some postcards to raise some money to save the rainforests and he spoke flawless English (he couldn’t have been a day over the age of 10). Even the people that worked at the kebabs spoke perfectly. I was blown away. It made me really think: Why can’t Spain speak so well? What are we doing here in terms of English education that they are doing there to be so successful?

Furthermore, I’ve been to New York, I’ve been to London, but I’ve never been in a more dangerous city in my life: Between the chaotic tram system, thousands of people passing by on bikes, cars, buses and others, I’ve never been more afraid to cross the street. We swore we were going to get hit by someone, but we miraculously survived without getting even a scratch.  The entire bike-culture is wonderful and I wish I could be one of its citizens, passing through the endless stream of streets and alleys on bike. Maybe one day I’ll get a Dutch passport and I’ll be one of the thousands of bike travelers that skillfully maneuver through the maze of brick streets.

Some other interesting facts to note:

The Dutch wear orange because it has to do with the Duke of Orange whom the government hired hundreds of years ago to help reorganize their government. Their flag is red, white, and blue, but orange is a historically symbolic color to their country.

Also, in case you live under a rock, New York was originally New Amsterdam (which is where my family originally moved to) and Brooklyn and Harlem get their names from neighboring districts to Amsterdam in Holland. Even the term “yankee” is Dutch for “young person.”

As for our trip, we ended up rooming with four of the most incredible people, all from Finland! We went out together every night and had a blast together. Later, we met some Dutch guys who taught me how to pronounce our original Dutch last name and what it meant: it means “crossways.”

During the day, we visited the Anne Frank museum, which is probably one of the best museums I’ve ever seen. It is set up so well that doesn’t leave you feeling too depressed, but rather uplifted, it makes you want to change the world so that something so horrific never happens again. Anne Frank’s life was just so short and what she did was really beautiful.

We also saw the Van Gogh museum which is a must-see but wasn’t anything too spectacular (in fact, I was a little disappointed).

Amsterdam is a city that I would return to in a heartbeat. We were only there for four days, but they were some of the best four days of my life, honest. I want to return to Holland to see other parts of the country and maybe even learn a little Dutch since I’ve got Dutch in my blood.  Either way, Amsterdam deserves all the popularity it has.

Write more later,

Graham

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Life Update #9

I haven’t posted anything in such a long time because quite frankly there hasn’t been anything too out of the ordinary worthy of posting.

However, I feel that it’s time to put you all up to date.

First, I’ve been accepted to study at the CEU San Pablo University here in Madrid.

But I’m not going.

Second, I’ve been accepted to the University of Kent in Brussels, which was a huge deal for me to be accepted, but after having gone to visit last Wednesday…

I’m not going there either.

The reasons are such: The University here in Madrid is supposedly for rich pijo kids from Madrid and everyone tells me that the school is a place to slack off. It’s pretty expensive (in European terms) and I’m sure the education is just fine, it just doesn’t seem to be the right fit for me.

As for the University in Brussels, I’m pretty disappointed that that isn’t going to work out for me. I was really stoked at the prospect of studying in a country that isn’t Spain and I really wanted to learn French. Also, Brussels is the European capital which means that there are tons of great networking opportunities and potential job opportunities in international fields. I will be turning there after I get my master’s because I feel that that will be a great place for me to find a job, but after visiting the school, I saw that the entire student population is all Americans. I was hoping for a diverse program with other internationals so that I could meet people from all of the world and get great contacts. The last thing I wanted was a classroom full of Americans. It’s not that I have a problem with Americans, it’s just that living here, I’ve made a full effort of staying away from them in order to meet other people. Like I always say, if I want Americans, I should just move home.

So I’ve also applied to one other school in Barcelona and I’ve got my hopes on it, but it still hasn’t accepted me. We should find out any day now…

Also, next week I’ll be taking a trip around Europe with my good buddy Angel. We are going to spend three-four days in Amsterdam, five-six days in Berlin, and then two-three days in Krakow.

I’m incredibly excited for this trip not only because well, who wouldn’t be? But also it’s going to be of personal value to me. The first being Amsterdam. I am Dutch-American. Well that is to say that the Croesen family moved to the United States in the middle of the 1600s, so that doesn’t necessarily make me Dutch, but my grandfather does have the plaque to prove that we are original Dutch-American settlers.

Second, we’ll be dong a complete World War II tour of Europe. Starting in Amsterdam, we’ll be visiting Anne Frank’s attic. I hear that it is done in a way that won’t make you depressed, but I remember that as a kid, I became really attach to her person when I read her diary, so I’m expecting something powerful.

Then, Berlin would be the obvious, we’ll be able to visit all the museums and memorials and get lost in divided East/West Berlin.

From there, we’ll see Krakow which is one hour away from Auschwitz. Angel said he’d like to see that as well, so hopefully we have time to make it there, but I know that will be far from uplifting.

Furthermore, we just had to say our farewells to one of our roommates, Erika. She unfortunately had to move back to Italy because, due to the crisis, she was unable to find a job.  I really hate to see her go. We will sincerely miss her! Saying goodbye to roommates is my least favorite thing because we all get so attached.  On another note, I just lost a friend to the Big Apple today. My really good buddy Luis just caught a plane to go live in New York to work on a magazine for the next three months or so! I’ll miss him a ton but I wish him the best of luck!  (I also told him it was mandatory that he eat at Chipotle at least once haha).

As for this summer, I’ve applied for a position at an English speaking summer camp on the beach in Malaga. The mother of one of the families that I give clases particulares to put in a great word for me, so I’m sure I’d be hired instantly (at least that’s what the email said). I just have to wait until they know how many students they’ll have and then the number of teachers they’ll need.

Also there’s the possibility that my family will come out. Couldn’t be more excited for that!

Everything else in Madrid is going smoothly and normal. It’s just routine now. I’m getting ready for a change. If I don’t teach next year, great. I would really like to get my Master’s so I can find a “real job” but if it doesn’t work out, getting TEFL certified and moving somewhere else doesn’t sound too bad either.

Furthermore, I’ve been continuing with my studies of French and I absolutely love it. My French teacher, Valentin, is the coolest guy ever and he shreds at Jazz Manouche guitar. The language is proving to be pretty challenging but I’m loving it as much as I loved learning Spanish. It looks like I’ll be dedicating a lot more time to learning French as it’s slowly becoming something that I feel really excited and passionate about. It makes me wonder if I loved learning Spanish because it’s Spanish or if I just love learning languages, because speaking in French now gives me the same butterflies that Spanish did when I was first learning that. Who knows?

Anyway, off to enjoy this nice Sunday morning,

Graham

La Cena Americana

It seems that almost all of my friends have prepared some sort of a dinner for everyone. Everyone except me. So that’s when I decided it was time I made some sort of a dinner for all of my friends.
But there’s a problem (or two). What can I make? Everyone knows I don’t know how to cook.
What can Americans make? They all assume that all we’ve got in us are hamburgers and french fries. So last night I made something that is not-so-healthy but really delicious and typical American. And to my surprise (and maybe to everyone else’s), it was a complete success.  Considering the last thing I made was a complete flop, this awful macaroni and cheese that was thicker than a brick wall. But last night, I made something to everyone’s gusto.

I made Sloppy Joe’s and Pasta Salad. Here’s the recipe for any of you living in Spain looking for an easy recipe.

1 pound
1 large
1/8 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon
1 teaspoon
1 – 8 ounce can
1/2 cup
1/4 cup
4 – 6
lean ground turkey
onion, chopped
ground black pepper
salt
garlic powder
tomato sauce
barbecue sauce (bbq)
water
hamburger buns
Stove Temp: medium
Recipe Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Pan Type: skillet

Sloppy Joes Recipe Directions

In a medium skillet place the turkey meat and onion.
Sprinkle with ground black pepper, salt, and garlic powder.
Cook until turkey meat is no longer pink in the middle.
Drain off any excess fat.
Reduce heat and add the tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, and water.
Cover and simmer the sloppy joes sauce for 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove cover and simmer the sloppy joes sauce for an additional 10 minutes.