Tuesday, July 1, 2014


This past week has been spent packing up not only our suitcases, but everything in the apartment. In our absence, Ana has decided not to live there on her own (it's fairly expensive), so we've been helping move everything out. On Friday evening, we had a little going away party in honor of the ático.

On Saturday, we hopped on a bus to Segovia, where Susan did a study abroad program four years ago, and also where our profesora is currently teaching for the summer. As I got to show Susan around Teruel, she finally got the opportunity to show me around the place where she fell in love with Spain. I had somehow never managed to make it there before, so it was all a nice surprise. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Teruel y Albarracín

Last weekend we made a trip to Teruel, where I lived in Spain before. I attempted to make contact with a few old friends, but we primarily hung out with Ana Belén and her new husband, Jorge. It was sad that I didn't get to spend some time with all of my old friends, but in a single weekend, it's nearly impossible to meet up with everyone. Ana and Jorge were amazing hosts, though. They got us a hostel room across the street from their apartment, just above a tavern. They bought us all kinds of food and took us around Teruel and even to Albarracín!

We ended up taking the bus to Teruel, which was every bit as long as I remembered. We somehow arrived thirty minutes ahead of schedule, despite it still taking nearly five hours to get there. I took Susan on a quick walk through part of the city center and the Plaza del Torico so she could get a glimpse of everything. Then we doubled back and met up with Ana at the bus station.

Although her life has changed quite a bit, she seemed mostly the same. She was noticeably happier with her life (she's headed to Kansas in July to teach Spanish for the foreseeable future) and she very recently got married to her boyfriend (mostly so he could accompany her to Kansas, though they seemed to be in love). The biggest difference I noticed was that I could now understand her much better. It's not that I didn't understand her before, but I could pick up on all the slang that she was using without nearly as much trouble. I believe I was automatically tuning out some of her slang before in order to pick up on the important bits of what she was saying. I was proud of my progress.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A week in Madrid

Last weekend (6-8 June), we took it relatively easy by staying in Madrid. I had a late night on Friday celebrating Las fiestas de Getafe with Ana and her friends. We had a wonderful dinner at Home, a partially vegetarian restaurant that allows you to bring your dogs inside. Later on, we ran around town, where everyone was out in the streets partying just about everywhere you looked. I ended up coming home when the sun was already out and took a nap on the couch.

After my four hour slumber, we decided to go hiking around. We walked part of the GR-124 Senda Real, which ended up mostly being us walking along a highway with occasional breaks where we had to dodge people on bicycles. We ate lots of pumpkin seeds and some sweet red peppers that Susan chopped up for us. We eventually got kind of lost because the markers for the trail were confusing and misleading. In the end, we hiked over 13 miles, which I consider quite the feat given my lack of sleep.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Up until last weekend, it had been about two years since I had seen my Spanish roommate and his girlfriend here in Spain. When I last saw David, he was dropping me off at the airport in Valencia at about 5 a.m. (which saved me a five hour bus ride to Madrid and a hotel stay). I was so glad to have the opportunity to hang out with them again after all this time, as they were always so good to me here in Spain. David patiently put up with my ferocious appetite for learning Spanish and for visiting Spanish Civil War sites (and even took me to a few). He cooked me dinner, made me a cake, and toured the medieval festival in Teruel with me for my birthday. He was one of the most open-minded and laid back Spaniards that I met here. Thankfully, none of that has changed in the past couple years.

David and Irene received us like kings. Upon arriving in Huesca, they picked us up at the train station and took us to their house outside the city, in a little town called Tierz (which, if I'm not mistaken, is related to the Latin for 'third' according to David). They moved here about a year ago, but we had visited Huesca together before in May 2012. We dropped off our backpacks and headed straight towards a historic site (they know me well), El Castillo de Montearagón. Atop the castle site, we took in the beautiful Aragonese landscape, a welcome change from Madrid's endless view of rooftops. It reminded me a lot of my time spent in Teruel. I may have had a little nostalgia trip for most of the weekend. But not everything was familiar. Even though I had seen this castle from a distance while visiting some civil war trenches, I had never actually seen it from this perspective.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Last Friday, Ramona, Susan, and I decided to try and check out Toledo. I had yet to have any luck getting tickets, as I had tried both in person and on the website and was met with various roadblocks. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare to catch the 10:08 train, but the ticket vending computers kept giving us an error after we picked out all the tickets (it showed plenty of open seats). I guess that explained why everyone was in the ticket sales office. We had to get a number and wait in line until well after the 10:08 train had already taken off. We did get a seat on the next train, though, which was a relief.

I had been wanting to visit Toledo since the last time I was in Spain. The last time, I got confused by the train system and didn't want to mess with getting there, but I later kind of regretted not making the effort. With the recent setbacks and mishaps, I was nervous that we wouldn't get to go this time either. Luckily, this time around, I'm more familiar with how everything works and my Spanish is comparably quite good. We ended up taking the AVE high speed train, which went at a steady 170 mph most of the way, taking about half an hour to get there.

The train station was an excellent preview of the beautiful architecture to come. It reminded me a lot of Teruel, where I lived before.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ramona in Madrid!

Thanks to the infinite hospitality of my Swiss friend, Ramona, and her family, I've been fortunate enough to have visited Switzerland twice now. Until this week, I had been unable to really repay her the favor (and I still don't feel like I've repaid her enough!). Although I lived in Spain for a while before, Ramona never made it to visit (though I did visit her). But this time around, as we are living in Madrid, it was much more convenient for her to stop by for a few days.

I went to the airport to meet her. Thankfully, her flight arrived in the afternoon, so I didn't have to get up and rush to the airport early in the morning. She had come from Switzerland in what looked like about five or six layers of clothes, as it was 40-some degrees and raining there. By comparison, Madrid was in the upper 70s with not a cloud in sight. Needless to say, she was excited to shed a few layers and get some sun.

I led her back to Getafe on the train and we decided to get something to eat. I wanted to take her somewhere really Spanish and get some tapas, but Ramona is a vegetarian. Typical Spanish food is almost entirely meat and seafood, so it proved difficult. We ended up just going to the cheap Turkish restaurant on Calle Madrid and getting something simple. She loved the falafel, so it worked out.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Alcalá de Henares

On the first Friday of May, Susan and I had made plans to go to Toledo, as I'd never been. We got up somewhat early and headed to the Atocha train station. Although we arrived around 9:00, we quickly found out that all of the trains until 3:00 in the afternoon had already been reserved. We decided to change our destination and instead headed to Alcalá de Henares.

I'd only heard of Alcalá de Henares when Susan mentioned it a few times before when we were discussing day trips near Madrid and on an ad for a museum exhibit entitled La cuna de la humanidad, which I really wanted to see. Apart from that, it does seem strange that I wasn't very aware of it, because it is the supposed birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) and has one of the oldest universities in the world (or at least the building).

We arrived and grabbed a coffee at a little coffee shop and I watched some Spanish news. It is always fun to watch how other countries portray the United States' interactions with other countries. They were showing Obama's recent meeting in Japan and also covered the South Korean ferry sinking. One of the things I've noticed from my limited viewing of Spanish television is that there seems to be pressure to have pretty women in news and commercials, but men don't necessarily have to be good-looking (though it may just be due to my limited sample size).

Monday, May 12, 2014

El Escorial

The last Wednesday of April, at the suggestion of my friend Ryan, I met up with another Kentuckian who is living with a Spanish family here in Madrid. Her name is Ronnee and she was honestly not what I expected (though in a good way). In many ways, she exemplifies qualities that I've come to associate with good people from my homeland - her thick accent, headstrong but welcoming mindset, a curious mind, and a refusal to apologize for who she was. She seemed to be enjoying her time away from the States, although Spain wasn't necessarily her idea of a utopia. She told me lots of stories and a lot about her family, who frequently invite foreign exchange students into their home. One of those visitors is the reason she is able to enjoy an extended stay in Spain now. Not a bad deal.

Our idea was to meet up in a station and leave from there. I don't think we thought it through really well, because any given station in Spain's largest city could be packed with people and I don't have a functional phone. I managed to catch sight of her going up an escalator somehow and I creepily stalked her and yelled at her. I am glad she doesn't look like a typical Spaniard...

We took a train to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a small city outside of Madrid, mostly known for the royal monastery there. Susan suggested the site for a day trip, since she and Ana are normally at work during the day and I have plenty of time to explore. It took about an hour to get there and the change of scenery was very welcome. Living in Getafe, you sometimes forget what it's like to see far-reaching, green landscapes.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Greece, Part Three (Santorini)

This is a continuation of my previous post here.

Despite the late night, we were able to wake up successfully and head out for the bus on time. Unfortunately, the bus driver was less than helpful in notifying us of our stop and it was never obvious that we had passed the place we were looking for. So we wasted a good forty minutes riding the bus and then backtracking on foot. Somehow, we still made it to the metro and got to the port on time. When I say on time, I mean we got there according to the time we thought the boat was leaving. In fact, it had already left an hour before.

Needless to say, we were a bit upset. Susan may or may not have cracked for a minute. I tried to talk to the only employee in the entirety of the port of Piraeus that represented Sea Jet, the company that we were traveling with. She was on the phone for a while, so I just waited patiently at the window. At some point in her obnoxiously long phone call, she stopped and asked what I was waiting for, at which point I briefly described our mistake. She told me to wait one moment and then resumed her conversation. After a while, she hung up the phone and then very briefly told me that we had missed the boat. That was that. I asked if there was a way to get a partial refund or to change our tickets, even at a fee. Her reply was to smile and say, in the most arrogant manner, "No, of course not!" It took every bit of my being not to jump through the window and dismember her where she stood.

Apparently Sea Jet has a "no tolerance" policy and just hires vile-mannered representatives to work in their customer service locations. So I demanded our pre-purchased return tickets and then we went elsewhere to purchase tickets to Santorini. We had already invested so much in the tickets and hostel reservations that it would have been too much of a loss not to follow through with it. The new tickets were about half the price of Sea Jet's tickets too. The only problem was that the boat left at 6 in the evening and it was 8:30 or so in the morning.

We found a nice little coffee shop with Wi-Fi and emailed the hostel so that they would know we weren't going to be arriving that afternoon and would instead arrive at 1 a.m. We were hoping they'd still come pick us up at the port, as transportation to our part of the island at that hour would have been nonexistent or extremely expensive. They never emailed us back. We passed the day in various coffee shops, buying freddo cappuccinos to try and maintain some kind of consciousness.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Greece, Part Two (Delphi)

This is a continuation of my previous post here.

Susan and I awoke at some ungodly hour of the morning in order to get our stuff together and hike back to Syntagma Square and grab a taxi. Our ultimate goal was to get to a bus station and head to Delphi, but for some reason there is no direct way by bus or metro to get to said bus station. The Athenians really thought that one through. There are all sorts of well-meaning wikis and how-to's online for ignorant foreigners, but I don't think I found a single one that made much sense. We just skipped the whole process and asked a nice cab driver to take us straight there. And that he did, for less than $10, which was surprising.

The bus station wasn't much to look at, but then again, I don't guess a bus station really needs to be extravagant. However, I would kindly request that, in place of a glorified hole in the ground, they get some actual toilets. And perhaps those toilets could be equipped with a toilet seat, unlike most of the ones I found in Athens. The beautiful exception was this jewel we found at the Olympic Stadium:

We ended up on the 7:30 bus to Delphi, on which Susan immediately passed out. Unfortunately, I wasn't made for sleeping in just any old place, so I stayed up and listened to music and watched as the landscape transformed. One of the most surprising features of the farms that I saw along the highway was that they contained entire fields of solar panels. I thought that was quite progressive and would later ask Christos about it (our CouchSurfing host and some sort of alternative energy engineer). Apparently he hates the solar panels (or at least the way they were implemented), as no one can afford them and now the country is in debt in yet another way because of it. Oh well. There were a ton of olive tree farms along the way, too. It's amazing how abundant olive oil is around Spain, Italy, and Greece. You can get gallons of it for a few euros. Even our canned tuna was sitting in olive oil instead of water. Talk about amazing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Greece, Part One (Athens)

I cannot emphasize enough the contrast between my first welcome to Spain and the one I received this time around. Whereas I first arrived in Spain in September 2011 with two large suitcases (one of which was missing a wheel for whatever reason), with a limited knowledge of Spanish, and with no idea where I was supposed to go, this time I was greeted at the airport by Susan and Dani and got a ride by car directly to the apartment. Along the way, we talked in both English and Spanish, and I even got to impress/insult Dani with an elaborate Spanish blasphemy that I had learned in my wonderful profe's class last year. Although the weather was grey and wet, the welcome I received this time around was a warm cup of hot tea compared to the sweaty, sun-burnt, exhausting lack of a welcome Madrid first gave me.

To be honest, I was somewhat worried about living in a bigger city too. I've never spent more than a week or so in a big city, so the prospect of spending the next three months here was somewhat terrifying. I'm typically a fan of smaller towns, even if they lack as many options for gluttonous activities. Fortunately for me, Susan has been living in Getafe, which is a much smaller barrio of Madrid. So, as it turns out, although Getafe is just a few train stops away from the city center, it's tranquil and uncrowded here. Plus, this is the view from our terraza:

Susan and I had a very enjoyable anniversary weekend the weekend after I arrived. We took a stroll through the nearby park, Los lagos, and made a trip to Sol, in the city center. We cooked a delicious meal of salmon and rice on Saturday evening, where we learned that sometimes companies use cashews when making pesto, and are much less likely to make that abundantly obvious here. Thankfully, my allergic reaction was extremely mild and, from what I could tell, entirely external. On Sunday, we ate at a nearby Japanese restaurant in Getafe and got some sushi that was overpriced but riquísimo.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Here we go again.

After spending a couple of years trying to figure out what's next in this strange journey we call life, I've met with the good fortune of having the opportunity to return to Spain for a few months this summer. As I pack up my suitcase and get the last of my things together, I can't help but reflect on my initial journey to Spain in 2011. How much can change in a span of only two years!

* At this point, I no longer face a seemingly-insurmountable language barrier. Before, I was hoping to improve upon a very basic linguistic foundation. I've since immersed myself in two different Hispanic countries and I've practiced with native speakers from all over. I've formally studied the language from a more technical perspective. Now it's possible for me to be focused on adding colloquial phrases and idioms to my repertoire.

* I now have a TEFL certification and a lot more teaching experience. I spent a year in a MA in Teaching program and did student teaching at the high school level. I then went to Costa Rica last summer and obtained my TEFL certification, allowing me to professionally teach English to people in other countries. If the me of today met up with the me of 2011, I'd have a lot of suggestions and ideas for myself that only experience has taught me.

* I've traveled to Central America! In addition to studying different dialects in the classroom, I've managed to live in another Hispanic country and pick up on their dialectal differences and compare them to those of Aragón. I hope to study more of those differences within Spain now that I have a firmer grasp of the language and a wider sample group.

* And perhaps one of the more exciting differences is that I'll have a travel partner along the way (Susan!), something that was severely lacking in some of my previous adventures. Traveling alone was something that I became accustomed to during my time in Spain. It was an experience that challenged me to learn more about myself and to do a lot of self-reflection. However, there is a sense of longing for someone else to share those experiences with when you're on the road alone. I look forward to Susan's good company and the new memories we will make together.

I'm excited to reunite with Susan and some of my old friends from Teruel. I can't wait to make new friends, either. Unfortunately, experience doesn't truly dull the pain of navigating airports and being sedentary for over eight hours at a time. It's a small price to pay, I suppose.

¡Adiós de nuevo, Kentucky! Nos vemos dentro de poco.