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Mi Barrio- Nueva Neumancia (Vallekas)

Quick Intro- I haven't been writing here a lot, so I'll bring you up to speed quickly before I dive into what this post is really about. I recently moved from Getafe up to Madrid. My friend Elena and I are going (I say going to because she's still in Mexico) to share an apartment in Nueva Neumancia. It's close to Puente de Vallecas, which is known as a pretty sketchy part of Madrid so I was nervous at first, but I've been here now for a couple weeks and have pretty much fallen in love with both the area and my apartment.

Today I got up oddly early for a Friday (8am- I couldn't go back to sleep!) so I took a walk around my neighborhood from about 9:30-10:30 just to explore and take photos. I've discovered that Vallekas pretty much has everything you need--

-we have nightlife- there's a bar de copas in the plaza across the street, and a disco/bar just down the street from me
-we have various chino/alimentacion where they sell actual instant noodles from korea, china, japan, etc.
-we have various stores selling latin american products- including spicy things!! :)
-numerous discount grocery stores (mercadonna, lidl, ahorramas,
-a really large park nearby called "Tio Pio", which has hills so you get a cool view of Madrid!!!
-a tattoo/piercing shop (this I already knew- it's on my path from the metro to my door!)
-a large market that houses not only Mercadonna but also smaller fruterias, carnicerias, artisan shops... that all have an amazing variety.

I'd say I hit the jackpot!

Only problem is my neighbor complained last night when we were practicing some music here, but well, that's a whole other ball of wax that I'll deal with later! People keep telling me that apparently in Madrid people can't make official noise complaints until after midnight or if the noise is above a certain number of decibels.

My music is going well... I've taken up translating... work is going well... social life is fabulous.... things are just good all around.

Over and out!

Good day at school

Today I was taking groups of the second graders out of the class to have them practice reading in English- more for practicing literacy, phonetics, that kind of thing. The kids have so much fun with it! One girl, whom the main teacher usually dismisses as a "weak" student, was so anxious to read, and read with relative ease. One boy really loved it- even though he stumbled on a number of words, he persevered through, and at the end of the session joyfully exclaimed, "¡Cómo mola leer en inglés!" (Reading in English is so cool!)

That whole group really enjoyed the reading session. I think it must be fun for them- they spent all last year learning about the different sounds in English, and now they're putting it into practice reading. I just thought it was so cool how much they liked it, to the point where they were disappointed that time was up!

Now I see why people like to teach... it can be so difficult and challenging, but whenever you see kids get excited about whatever you're teaching, it feels awesome! It's like, "Hey, I'm doing something right!"

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I think I need to move my blog over to google's thing.... revolutionize this baby.

Well, I'm back... it's been forever since I posted, lo siento mucho. But all that to say, I'M BACK IN SPAIN! OLE! Almost thought I wouldn't return. The problem is, I get attached to places that I like. I went back home to Vermont, and it was really difficult to leave again. But somehow I gathered up my courage and did it, even though US AIRWAYS tried to prevent me from boarding the plane because my NIE expires October 20 and my return flight isn't until July! OK, you hear that? This is advice to auxiliares-- DON'T FLY ON AMERICAN AIRLINE COMPANIES. I have never had this problem with British Airways or Aer Lingus, for example.

To be fair, this may also be because it was my first time flying out of Burlington, which is a very small airport, so they have time to be picky about these things, where as in the past I flew out of Boston and JFK.

On to more pleasant thoughts. I've been back for nearly a week, and things are already swinging into motion. Not full blast quite yet- I have not yet started giving clases particulares or taking French classes. But I have been practicing saxophone with the gang- tonight we're going down to Toledo for a swing festival. Today I went to the school to get oriented with things.... met the new auxiliar, who's English, and, luckily for me, also a polyglot! I start working at the school next week.

I found a piso in Getafe this year... it's a pretty humble place, and I'm sort of third-wheel-ish (living with a couple from Peru/Bolivia) but the rent is cheap (200 euros per month!!), it's a 5 minute walk from school, and there are a supermarket, pharmacy, and frutería right around the corner- whereas last year living in barrio Goya, I had to always cross a busy 4-lane street just to get a stick of bread, not to mention the hour commute to/from work. It's much more relaxing here. True, it does take me longer to go up to Madrid for jazz activities and such, but, well, I'll see how that goes. So far, it's better this way- something about riding the cercanías and metro sucks the energy out of me, so I think it's better to live in Getafe and then have to ride them in the evening, rather than ride them in the morning and start the day out already exhausted.

That is my main news, for now. Now I'm trying to figure out what to do for renovating my blog and moving it to blogger!

Just kidding- one more thought! Yesterday I met a Spaniard who couldn't tell where I was from based on my accent. First he thought I was French because I said "sil vous plait" and "merci". When I said no, I'm not French, he asked, "Then where are you from?" and I said, "I'll let you try to guess." I said some random things about myself so he could hear more of my accent. He guessed Germany, Eastern Europe, Northern Europe, then finally Canada. I said, "OK, close enough, I'm from Vermont, USA." His response- "Pero, no puedes ser un Yanqui!" (EN- "But you can't be a Yankee"- btw, Yankee in Spain means ALL Americans, even if you're from the South.)

So that was amusing. That said, though, there are plenty of Spanish speakers who tell me my accent is very obvious :-/ but I've honestly stopped caring- just what matters is that I continue to improve my fluency. It's a nice compliment, though, when they can't tell where I'm from! I even once met a Mexican who thought I was from Spain- I think that's the best one I've heard!!

Avenue Q in Spain

I was quite excited today to see an ad on my Facebook page announcing that Avenue Q will be coming to Spain on 23 September. I pressed the "like" button right away- well, in my case it's the "j'aime" button, as I have my facebook in French.

I want to see it with my friends there, but I wonder what it will be like. First, will it be in Spanish? Second, a lot of the humor in there is mostly targeted for Americans originally, so I wonder how much of that will be changed. Especially if they're translating it, since many jokes don't work in multiple languages.

Rebeccacita en... IRLANDA!

I realize this is a journal about my adventures in Spain. However, I am going to use this to talk about Ireland for the next couple weeks. I've included other European adventures in here after all.

I arrived in Dublin late on Wednesday night last week... On Thursday I explored a little, but didn't try to do too much since my sister was coming in the next day and I wanted to do stuff with her. On Thursday I met two of my hostel roommates- they're musicians from Barcelona, and very cool people, named Angie and Pau... Angie sings, Pau plays guitar... Pau also does some really amazing magic tricks- no, not magic tricks- better. Think of The Illusionist.

Speaking of meeting people and speaking other languages in the Hostel (I've been staying at Camden Place, btw), I also met these really nice girls from Dresden, Germany. They've been speaking with me in German the whole time, and it's been quite a mental workout for me, but they were so sweet and patient so it was really fun.

We also met a guy from Nice staying in our room, and we invited him to come with us on the walking tour... since the tour guide spoke fast and with an irish accent, our new French friend asked me to translate some of the stuff... hahaha, yeah, with my elementary French :D Actually, he was really cool and helped me practice my French a little. I was glad to practice all three of my languages here- French, German, and Spanish. It's hard not to mix up French with my German now since I've been studying French more than German! More over, though, I'm happy that I've met all these different people- that's what's cool about staying in hostels.

Julie arrived bright and early on Friday, so I met her at the airport, surprisingly not so hung over from going on one of Dublin's oodles of pub crawls the night before! We went for a walk around the garden behind St Patrick's cathedral. There was a really nice woman there who came up and said, "Would you like me to take your picture?"

I have to say, of all the cities I've traveled to in Europe, Dublin is the nicest! Literally if you stand around even the most touristy parts of Dublin with a map in front of you looking lost, Dubliners come up to you and say, "You look lost. Can I help you find something?" That exact situation happened to me on Grafton Street on Thursday. I think the best example was when I arrived late on Wednesday, I had taken a different bus than the one I should have for the hostel (because it was late and that was the only bus left into town), and an Irish guy comes up to me and says, "Do you need help finding something?" so I explain how I need to get to my hostel, and we take a cab there together, since it's on the way to his destination. At the end I ask, "How much do I owe you?" He says, "Don't worry about it."

So, tomorrow we finally leave Dublin... going to spend a night in Kilkenny, a night in Waterford, then headed to Cork for a few days. We've seen and done the following here in Dublin:

-visited the Guinness Store house, where we had a "free" pint of Guinness at the top in the Gravity Bar. Don't go just for the pint- the tour itself costs over three times what a pint in any of Dublin's pubs would cost you! It's a self guided tour. At least you get to taste the roasted barley... it tastes like coffee, so then later when I was drinking Guinness, I noticed the coffee-like taste of it a bit more.

-went on the literary pub crawl. This was more for Julie, but I enjoyed it too. These two guys lead you around two four different pubs that are associated with some of Dublin's famous writers, and even perform some scenes from their plays. For example, they started with a scene from Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" in the pub called The Duke. The ask various trivia questions for you to answer at the end of the pub crawl. This tour costs 10 euros but of course does not include drinks- this is just to pay your entertainers!

-saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College. I didn't really think it was worth the 10 euros, but still I can say I saw the original Book of Kells! They had interesting info there about how the book was made. It's actually 9 euros to see the book, but pay 10 euros and you get a tour of trinity college, led by a true Trinity College nerd, accent and everything! ;)

And of course this is not Ireland related BUT....

SPAIN WON THE WORLD CUP!

We were at a pub with the rest of the hostel, sitting with Angie and Pau, so all of us were excited when Spain finally made the winning goal!

I don't usually care at all about football (or soccer as other Americans would know it) but everyone's talking all the time about the world cup, and it's cool to see the different countries competing. And I was really happy when Spain won. Sorry, Holland!

Well, that is all I can think of to tell you for the moment... I'll try to check back in here tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have been to the castle in Kilkenny by that point. We'll be hanging out there tomorrow before going on to Waterford (not sure if we'll get to see the Crystal factory yet) then to Cork. Yay!

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My life is really not bad at all!

Firstly, apologies for not having updated this blog in quite a long time- it's been nearly two months. Que vergüenza... Basically when I came back from Greece I all of a sudden became really busy- between rehearsals and starting to give clases particulares.

In addition to being very busy, I've also been going through a lot of personal stress, trying to decide whether I should stay here another year or go home, with good reasons for wanting both. I've spend a lot of time reflecting on it. But I think what I'm going to do is travel for part of the summer, then I'll be back in Madrid for September to spend another year teaching at the same school.

I owe you all some photos.

-First, here are my Greek photos. Athens and Paros.

-Some more random Madrid photos.

-Photos of my trip to Montpellier (FRANCE, not Vermont :P) last weekend... including the (in)famous Vert Anglais and drunken expat writer!!!!

-Photos of a pretty crazy/cool weekend this past weekend here in Madrid and also in Getafe.

What I love about my photos is that they help put things into perspective. Lately I've been stressed a lot, and then looking at my photos reminds me that I have a pretty cool life right now. Hence the title.

sketchiness of MEC

I would like to take a moment to note how amazingly sketchy MEC and the auxiliar program are, by copy-pasting for you the following email:

Dear candidates,

It has come to our attention that a fake organization, using the name of our organization and of our program, and giving our website as a reference, is offering interviews for teaching positions in Spain, charging fees for some services.

Please note that our program does not involve any kind of interview, and that neither the Ministry of Education of Spain nor the Embassy of Spain’s Education Office in the United States or elsewhere charges any application fee or any service fee at all in respect of the Language and Culture Assistants program.

Please, promptly contact us if you are in any way asked to pay for any services in connection with this program.

Office of Education – Embassy of Spain


Why does this not surprise me?

One of my friends pointed out to me that she was glad she did the auxiliar program through CIEE the first time because MEC is "set up like a scam". They take all your information, and you never talk to an actual human by phone or anything. CIEE at least does a phone interview, and they promote their program at various fairs. So even though I've criticized CIEE because of their fee and the fact that the insurance they give is NOT recognized by most doctors, I will give them that- at least there's a comfort factor they provide, if you can afford the $2000. Plus if you know you want to be in Andalucia, you're guaranteed that with them.
My travel buddy (Fishy) and I are almost done with our Malta trip.

We arrived Thursday afternoon, around 1pm or so, and our CS (couch surfing) host, Cecilio, met us at the airport. He's an Andaluz who's been living in Malta for about the last year or so. He's been a great, friendly host, plus we get to keep practicing our Spanish- er, our Andaluz! After taking us back to his place to drop off our luggage, he took us to Rabat and Mdina, which was the former capital of Malta. Very small, quaint areas. Then we went to Valletta. The whole time we were going between these cities, we took these funny-looking buses that only cost about 50 cents to go from one city to the next.



We also got to experience these delicious 1-euro meat pies (kind of like empanadas) for dinner before taking the bus back to Saint Paul's Bay, where we're staying.

On Friday, Fishy and I were free to explore a bit. First we grabbed breakfast at a cafe- finally, a full English breakfast with eggs! Yum! Then we went into Valletta and walked around there some more, then we took the ferry across to Sliema. More modern than Valletta, not so tranquil. We walked along the coast up to St Julians, where we found a Ben & Jerry's.

Today we did a tour of Gozo, which is very beautiful. We saw the Azure window, the fungus rock (yes you heard right), and the fisher's port at Xlendi, which is by far the most beautiful coast I've seen here. We rode in a bus full of GUIRIS... all older British people! But still, for 11 euros, it was a good way to see the island of Gozo which is not as "well communicated" as Malta. (by the way, "well communicated" is a direct translation from Spanish, but I'm not sure how else to say it in English!)

We've enjoyed Malta. Colder than I expected for being so far south in the Mediterranean, but still pretty cool to check out. Here are a few other random observations Fishy and I have made-

1. In Malta, ice-cream is not food. The buses say "No food, drink, or ice-cream."

2. Malta is just like Spain- so NOW I understand why I've met so many Spaniards who have been to/are going to go to Malta despite their aversion to travel! The architecture, the narrow streets, the beach, the climate... even the tiles on the side walk are JUST LIKE what I've seen in Cordoba!!!

3. We hear a lot of Maltese being spoken in the streets. Everyone knows English, though contrary to what I had previously imagined (my guess was that they'd speak very British English), they speak English with a Maltese accent- the best thing I can compare it to is a Caribbean accent of some kind. Maltese the language sounds like some kind of odd mix of Arabic and Italian, if you can imagine that.

Well, that's all for now. Tomorrow we might go to Marsaxlokk and the Tarxien temples during the day. Our flight to Athens is tomorrow night... but not until 12:45 AM. Yes, what a lovely hour. I'll let you know in my next blog entry if we made it safely to our hostel at 4am in Athens!

Coming up next: MALTA, ATHENS, PAROS

Well, I'm still getting over how exciting the Fallas were. One of my co-workers at school told me about the bonfires of Saint John in Alicante in June... from the little bit I've read and heard, this sounds like something I need to go to!!
On the note of crazy Spanish festivals, now I'm thinking of going to San Fermin!

Well, all those plans will have to wait for a bit because in just THREE days- no, now TWO days- Fishy and I embark on our MALTA-GREECE EXTRAVAGANZAAAAA!

Here's the itinerary:

Thursday 25/3 - Fly out to Malta, arrive noon. Cool thing about Malta- we're going to couch surf with a Spaniard!

Sunday 28/3 - Fly out around Midnight for Athens. Stay in hostel until Friday 2/4. Head to Greek island Paros for a couple nights to stay with a friend of Fishy's. Sunday 4/4 head back to Athens to catch our flight back to Madrid Monday morning 5/4.

And that's that.
This past Thursday I met up with Ani (my Bulgarian friend here in Spain) and we took the bus to Valencia so that on Friday we could see Las Fallas- in other words, we went to go look at giagantic, painted paper-maché works of art, which the valencianos have worked on all year to make, and then watch them go up in flames in an awesome display of firecrackers and fireworks. Click here for a better explanation about what the Fallas are.

We hung out with Ani's friends, who are all Bulgarian, so I felt oddly like I was back in Bulgaria, yet I was still in Spain! It was a lot of fun, though. We spent the day on Friday taking pictures, walking around down town Valencia looking at these marvelous sculptures.... all while knowing that they were going to BURN later at night. They're burnt one at a time, because the firefighters of Valencia have to be there to control the fire.

Some were just very beautiful, like this one, which was the biggest of all:




Many of them were like looking at 3D political cartoons, especially in the lower levels rather than the main figures of the work:



The cool thing about this is that you know they're going to burn. A lot of people think this is sad- why would they work all year to make such works of art just to burn them? But when you know they're going to burn as you're looking at them, it makes you enjoy them much more. It makes them more interesting.

The first one we saw burn was in a pueblo of Valencia called Alaquás.

I took this photo from Ani's friends' apartment:



Then we went down to watch the show. They start with fireworks...



Then they turn off the lights while the puppets await their doom...



...and all of a sudden all these firecrackers go off one after another and the thing ignites!





You can see the firefighter's water here controlling the fire- I mean, look at how close the fire is to those apartments!!!! These people are nuts!




All in all, the fallas were f***ing amazing, and if I'm still in Spain next year, I am definitely coming back again next year! Of the Spanish festivals I've been to (not that many... Carnaval and Feria en Sevilla... also los Patios Cordobeses), this is without a doubt the one I liked most.

If you want to see more photos here's my album on facebook.

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