Early last week as I was leafing through my where-I-write-down-everything notebook on my cercanias (regional-rail) ride to work, I came across a list of goals I’d written just after arriving in Madrid (five months ago!), while sitting in a plaza, sun on my back, watching four year olds chase each other in circles (Oh, the marvelous-ness of life before temperatures hit below 0). # 3 keep my blog updated. OOOPS! I’ve certainly failed at that one. But the fact that I haven’t updated this blog is testament (excuse?) to the fact that 1) I always put it at the bottom of my to-do list, and 2) I have been very busy.
Over the next few weeks I’ll try to give some posts in detail about the interesting (or so, I think) things happening in my life. And below I’ll give the run-through of my life over the past two and a half months:
December started with a week-long trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. Maybe it was because I stayed at a great hostel and met wonderful people, or maybe it was because I felt like I learned a huge amount about the history and culture of a society I had never really studied, but either way I absolutely loved Budapest. The city which is split along the Danube River into Buda and Pest has a great mix of architectural beauty and modern-alternative style. The view along the Danube and the Dohany Street Synagogue (biggest in the world!) were both beautiful. At the same time, the city is full of innovative, locally run restaurants, cafes, and bars. The old apartment buildings in the Jewish quarter were all turned into bars, each full of extravagantly decorated rooms and courtyards to get lost in.
I ended up only spending a day in Vienna and probably didn’t do the city justice (although the icy wind didn’t do me justice, either). One of the best parts about visiting Vienna was going to the Christmas markets. After work all of the locals would congregate in the Christmas markets singing and talking loudly as they sipped mulled wine and ate doughy pastries. Little kids would play in the hay stack or listen to concerts. And all of the stalls selling homemade crafts were covered in lights. It was this sense of Christmas cheer that I had never experienced before.
And Prague. Despite going in December, Prague was still very touristy, a little too much so for my liking. On my last day in the city, I got up early and walked across the normally packed Charles Bridge to watch the sunrise. It was just me, the pigeons, and a few other photographers and early-morning joggers. From the bridge you can see the (huge!) Prague castle and at that time the sky had started to brighten, but the full moon was still shining strong behind the castle. It was beautiful. I walked a little along the water and through an outdoor contemporary sculpture exhibit, whose highlight was huge babies with barcodes instead of faces. They were a little scary to see, but I dug the critique on consumerism.
The day I got back from Eastern Europe a friend came to visit and between my friends/family and my roomates’ friends, there have continuously been visitors at our apartment from then up until two weeks ago. Yep, that means a month and a half (told you I’ve been busy!). But I love exploring the city with different people, so although I was busy, it was quite enjoyable.
Celebrating Hanukah in the country where jamon (ham) reigns king (AKA where barely anyone has ever met a Jew, let alone heard of Hanukah) was such a mind-opening experience that it warrants its own post. (Coming soon!)
I spent all of December break in Spain. The first week of break was a really nice chance to relax and catch up with friends (a surprisingly large amount of my American friends stayed in Madrid). Spain doesn’t have the same Christmas-cheer of Eastern Europe, but the city throughout December and January was covered in beautiful Christmas lights! I made a big Christmas-Eve dinner (here everyone has the biggest dinner on Christmas Eve, not on Christmas) with my roomate and some of her friends who were visiting. And right after Christmas my family came to visit for a week!
Despite that fact that we took turns being sick for the entire week, it was (obviously) wonderful to see them. We ate at my favorite restaurants and I finally visited the Prado and Reina Sophia. They rented an apartment in the center of the city and we spent the entire week exploring all of Madrid’s neighborhoods. I fulfilled my lack of board game playing, by playing endless games of set with Rachel and Eileen. And on New Year’s Eve all of us, donning flourescent colored wigs, gathered in Sol (the center of the city) and ate 12 grapes at midnight, as the Madrileños do. (Afterwards we loudly sang aude lang syne and shouted a bunch of other things in English…not so Madrileño. But, obviously, we were just excited about the new year!)
Most of the family left on the 2nd of January, but Rachel stayed for another three weeks. We took a week long trip down to Granada and had a fabulous time. We stayed in a (wonderful!) hostel in the historic albaicin district on a hill full of windy, narrow street. The Alhambra (the moorish palace that Granada is known for) was as beautiful as everyone says and we spent a full day exploring it. During the rest of our time there we ate falafel, and shwarma, and couscous from Selma, our friend at the best (or so we think) Moroccan to-go restaurant in Granada. Whereas in Madrid (and many parts of Spain) you have to pay for tapas, in Granada they normally come free with your drink, which is a very nice perk. Overall Granada had a relaxed energy that we really loved. And the city was (or at least felt) so small that even though we were only there for four days, on the street we constantly ran into people we had met.
The past few weeks I’ve been focusing a lot on work. I started volunteering at an after school community center program that works with immigrants, mostly from Latin America. Once a week I hang out with the teenagers and I teach them English (well, mostly we play games in English).
I am still teaching private classes to kids who live in my building. I have a one hour class a day, which keeps my afternoons busy. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about their private classes, but I love mine. I especially enjoy one of my classes with a few high school kids who are constantly excited to learn. We’ve started playing apples to apples during class and although they take it very seriously and don’t get that you can sometimes play words ironically, they are really into the game.
At school I’ve been very busy recently. The Madrid Model UN conference that my kids participate in is coming up in two weeks (details coming in a post soon!) and I’ve taken over doing the full-time teaching in one of the geography classes (I’ll write about this in more detail, too). Both are really exciting things, but mean I have barely any free time at work.
And it seems that my life in general has picked up a lot more now that we’ve gone into 2012. I’m working with a group of girls to put on the Vagina Monologues in March. A few weeks ago I went to a free crocheting class and have been spending my free time working on a scarf. And I went to a consumo de alimentos ecologicos (eating ecological foods!) meeting in my neighborhood and with my roomates am signing up to recieve fresh veggies straight from a local farm!
More updates (and photos!) coming soon…