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Rebecca Takes Madrid: Mar. 13-Mar. 19

23 Mar

Yes, I am super well aware that I refer to myself in the third person in the title. Thank goodness a certain older brother of mine is thousands of miles away so that he cannot sass me about it. I call this week “Rebecca Takes Madrid” because this was the most solo time I have spent in the city since arriving quite a few months ago. Since it was a long weekend, many of my friends were either out of town on trips or had friends in town. So I dedicated this weekend to checking multiple things off of my Madrid Bucket List.

The school week was pretty uneventful. Just doing the usual reading papers, giving feedback and shaking my head at certain questionable statements made by students. This week I learned that some students believe that there are 51 states in the United States. Unless they’ve added a new one during my tenure in Spain, I’m pretty sure there are only 50. ( I tried not to be too sassy while offering feedback on that- here’s to hoping that I succeeded).

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Friday was the one year anniversary of finding out that I had received a Fulbright grant. Oh my goodness, how time flies. I received the email about the grant after walking out of a very difficult evolution test. I don’t even know how to capture the feeling of pure elation and shock when I saw what the email said. I will never forget that walk from Gore Hall to Mentor’s Circle (where I paused to call my parents). I must have looked like a crazy person, as I was beaming while trying to hold back tears of surprise/happiness. It was a good thing I learned how to use the call-joiner a week earlier (I know, I was very behind on technology) so that I could tell both of my parents at the same time. When I applied for the Fulbright, I never really considered what it would feel like to actually receive one, because I thought that there was a very slim chance that I would be chosen. But wow. What a moment. And then, in typical Rebecca Jaeger fashion, I went to the dining hall (I know, of all places) and started to research the experiences of previous grantees to Spain. When I saw that I would have to procure my own housing in Madrid, my joy turned to “I don’t think I can do this” and I proceeded to panic a bit. But hey, that’s all water under the bridge now.

So yes, I was very nostalgic on Friday thinking about that moment a year ago and everything that has happened since then. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here and to be learning more about the world and myself (ugh, I know, so cheesy, but it’s true). It is crazy to me how I have less than three months left and I want to do everything in my power to make the most of the experience.

Which is why, I spent a crazy amount of time checking things off of the bucket list this weekend. On Friday I went to a museum in the former house of a famous artist, Joaquín Sorolla. Fun fact, I pass that house at least twice a week, but have never been inside. It was very interesting, and I could truly get behind his paintings as they were mainly beach scenes and portraits. It all made sense.

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Reminded me of Kathleen and I, when we aren’t flipping each other out of kayaks

The best part of the day was when I tried a new ice cream place. One of my co-workers had been recommending this ice cream place to me since October. But, it was a bit out of the way, so I never stopped to try it. Until Friday, that is. I figured that the best way to celebrate my one year Fulbright-eversary was to eat ice cream on a sidewalk in my host city. What a great decision that was. I had “Muerte por Chocolate” (aka Death by Chocolate) and Ferrero Rocher. Let’s just say that as soon as I was finished, I wanted more. It is a good thing that I did not try this place sooner, as my wallet would have taken a major hit over the last few months.

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Is there a better way to celebrate the one year Fulbright-eversary?

On Saturday, I took a day trip by myself to the Valley of the Fallen, which is a monument to soldiers who died in the Civil War, as well as the burial place of the former dictator. I will be honest, I’m not sure exactly what to think of the place. It is a striking monument, with the largest cross in the world (it can be seen for miles), but it is also a bit unusual to have a monument at the burial place of a dictator who many people did not like. From what I can tell, even Spanish people have mixed feelings about it. There were even children riding bikes and scooters around the plaza in front of the basilica. It was very interesting to observe.

My experience started at the bottom of the mountain where the monument is. Most people take cars or tour buses up to the top, but I had neither of those, so I was fully dependent on my own two feet. As I approached the gate, the man asked if I was walking and I said yes. He then asked doubtfully if I knew that it was over 3 miles (he used the number in kilometers, but I’ll convert it for you) and I said yes. Thus started my solo hike up a mountain. The entire time I was out walking, I only spotted one other person making the trek on foot. I felt like we shared a special moment as he passed me on the narrow sidewalk.

It was quite beautiful. Just me, the winding (uphill) road, and the trees. I find that I have a much greater appreciation for nature after living in a city for the last few months. There’s something about the fresh air, birds, and pine trees that I find very peaceful and reminiscent of home.

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Some Spanish trees

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More Spanish trees

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View of the cross from a distance

At the top, I spent time just walking around and taking in the views. Honestly, my favorite part of the whole monument were probably the views of the surrounding mountains. So I’m up there, admiring the views and documenting the experience through taking selfies. I had previously noticed these youths (like college-aged boys) having a push up competition, which I considered joining but then decided it would not be respectful of me to do so. (Obviously nothing to do with the fact that we were at a historical monument, but rather I didn’t want to embarrass them in front of an audience). So I just shook my head and continued snapping pics. About 4 minutes later, as I am headed toward the basilica, I hear the boys talking to each other and they say “Hey wait, she looks like that professor from IE” (the university where I work) and “Yeah, I think she is.” So guys, I finally had my first seeing-students-outside-of-class moment. Granted, I had no idea who they were, because I introduced myself to hundreds of students at the beginning of the semester, but it nevertheless made me smile.

The basilica was interesting as well- dark and kind of spooky, with chapels dedicated to each branch of the armed forces. The former dictator, Franco, is buried here (right at the main altar) which, to me, felt a little strange. But, I felt it represented an interesting piece of Spanish history, so I wanted to see it.

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The largest cross in the world

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The basilica on the hill

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Putting the selfie stick to good use

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Caught this guy trying to get into my bag…

After my visit to the top, I hiked the three miles back down. It was hot. It wasn’t fun, but I knew that I had to catch a bus, so I was making sure to hustle my way down. So I get to the bus stop (which is literally a little red shelter on the side of the road with a field of cows behind it) in plenty of time. So I sit in the direct sunlight and wait. Well guess what? The bus I wanted to take was full. Joy to the world. And the next bus wasn’t for another hour and a half. So, I sat there, all alone, on the side of the road in Spain waiting for the next bus. I was not a happy camper. All I could think about was the fact that the next bus might be full too, which would leave me stranded for even longer. I’m happy to report that the next bus did have room and my sweaty, sunburned self made it safely back to Madrid. Did I treat myself to that ice cream place after that ordeal? Yes, yes I did. (I will add that my ice cream tally for the weekend was 3 times in 3 days. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t try out the place sooner).

Sunday and Monday continued my bucket list extravaganza. I visited this “lighthouse” (which was in the middle of the city and not by water, so a bit of a disappointment). It did, however, provide great views of the city. And then on Monday I visited an art museum. I’m not sure if it is sad, but my favorite part of the museum was the collection of landscape paintings by American artists. You can take the girl out of America, but you can’t take the America out of the girl. There were even paintings of New Jersey! #JerseyPride. I was way too excited about that.

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A casual painting of the Jersey Shore in a museum in Madrid

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What a great view, am I right?!

I also ran a 9 mile race on Sunday (for fun). It was actually quite fun… But I had to share this sign that I found while picking up my runner’s bag. I’m not sure if anything would make for a better description of some of the things that I love…

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America, am I right?

 

Marching On: March 6- March 12

14 Mar

Another week in the life. This week was a relatively calm week. The work week was pretty typical and then I was in Madrid for the weekend. Needless to say, I got a lot more sleep than I usually do.

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Afternoons in Segovia

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Sunsets over Madrid

It is coming to that time of the year where many social activities revolve around food. People have gotten recommendations from others or from the Internet and are now clamoring to try the culinary delights that Madrid has to offer.

By Thursday, my plans for the weekend consisted of trying a pizza place, a menu del dia for lunch on Friday, and brunch on Saturday. No other cultural activities planned, just meals. Honestly, not a bad way to plan a weekend.

If you were curious, the food was all pretty good. My favorite was lunch on Friday, where I got a menú del día (which is a set first course, second course, bread, drink, and dessert). Despite the fact that it was a Friday during Lent (oops), I had chicken & pasta, sea bass, and chocolate ice cream. It was quite the meal. One thing I will miss about Spain is the culture of daily menus like this. I always feel like I am getting a great deal for the price I pay and it often saves me the trouble of preparing a lot of food for dinner.

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I have never had fish served head and all

I did do more than just eat on Friday… I also went to a park to stroll around in the gorgeous 70+ degree weather and enjoy the signs of spring: birds, blue skies, blossoms. It was a very peaceful and relaxing afternoon. As I was sitting underneath the trees all I could think about was that a year ago, I never would have imagined myself here. How time flies.

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However, the best part of Friday was the most unexpected. I was on my way back to my apartment after strolling in the park, and making the painstaking decision of whether to nap or to go for a run. As I was walking, I saw a lot of people walking in the opposite direction with gelato cups. Naturally, this captured my attention. I continued walking and saw that the new gelato place near my crib had opened. And, to make things even better, they were offering FREE GELATO for all customers all afternoon. Honestly, I don’t think life can get any better than that. Plus, the line wasn’t even that long. So, I got a healthy portion of dark chocolate gelato and chocolate gelato with nuts. This made my decision a bit easier as I decided to go for a run to burn off those extra calories.

In true ice cream aficionado spirit, I decided to swing by the gelato place after my run as well. Lo and behold it was still open and they were still giving out gelato for free. And so, I hopped back in line. At first I felt bad for getting a second helping, but then I noticed that the group of youths in front of me was the same group of youths who had stood in front of me in line 2 hours earlier. My feelings of guilt quickly dissipated. Unfortunately this time the flavor selections were much more limited, so I had white chocolate with a pistachio swirl. (Definitely not a flavor I would usually pay for). But, I was impressed, and the fact that it was free made it taste even sweeter. So right there was my supremely lit Friday afternoon in Spain: lunch, a park, ungodly amounts of ice cream.

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A few of my favorite things: ice cream and spring blossoms

On Saturday, I decided to go into work for the IE University Open House day. I’m pretty sure my coworkers thought I was a bit crazy choosing to attend on a Saturday morning, but the former Blue Hen Ambassador (tour guide) in me could not resist. It was very interesting seeing the open house of an international university in comparison to that of an American university. It had much of the same structure with information sessions and a resource fair. There were a great deal less people here than even the snowy mid-February Decision Days at UD. I do have to say though, IE University had better food (lo siento Delaware). It was fun getting to observe the Open House in progress and seeing all of the high school seniors made me miss donning that royal blue polo and talking about my love for the good old University of Delaware.

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For the open house, they built a cardboard version of the aqueduct to represent Segovia!

Post open house, I spent some time exploring Madrid. I think I found a new favorite park, that used to be the gardens of the royal palace. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the park was in bloom and the peacocks (yes, peacocks) roamed free. It’s afternoons like this that make me fall in love with Madrid all over again.

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A view of the royal palace from the side

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More flowers, I know

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I have never been to a park where peacocks just roam free

I think that my week could be summed up with ice cream, parks, and flower blossoms. Not a bad week my friends, not a bad week.

 

An ‘Andorra’ble Adventure: Feb. 27-Mar.5

9 Mar

Well, well, well. We’ve made it to March. This week I hit my 6-month Spain-versary. Weird, my friends, weird. It seems like just yesterday I was celebrating surviving a month in Spain. Now, we are up to 6 months. I can hardly believe it.

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Accurate depiction on my thoughts on making it through 6 months. Am I happy (to be returning to the comforts of family, friends, dog and cookie dough quite soon)? Am I sad (to be reaching the end of the adventure or a lifetime and returning to regular life)? Idk. It usually changes by the hour….

So work this week. Up to this point, my office hours have been pretty dead. I mean, who thinks about their final essays in January/February? Nerds, that’s who. (Just kidding…) But, I have been gaining a lot of traction from the seniors who are writing their theses. There was one thesis advisor who sent an email to his advisees encouraging them to meet with me. And they all decided to sign up. I can tell you the exact day that this guy emailed his students (February 8) because that is when my office hours filled up like the Titanic post-iceberg. Thus, my office hours were popping this week. And, I only got stood up two times, which is a pretty big deal in my book.

Along with March, spring also arrived this week. I spent my Thursday afternoon post-Segovia in a part taking an ungodly amount of pictures in the hope of capturing some artsy moments. I’ll let you be the judge of how I did.FullSizeRender(7)IMG_6285IMG_7282IMG_7297

And then this weekend, I took a little trip up to Andorra, which is a small country between Spain and France. No, I did not know that it existed until this year. There happen to be 5 Fulbright Teaching Assistants up there, so they planned a ‘conference,’ the Andorra Spring Seminar, to allow the Spain Fulbrighters to experience their tiny country.

It was quite a hike to get there: a 2 hour train ride and then a 2.5 hour bus ride through the mountains.  I was expecting a coach bus to pick me up from the train station, but I was sorely mistaken. This little van rolls up and that was my ride through the Pyrenees mountains. What a pleasant experience. They did have wifi though, so that was all good for me.

So, Andorra. What an interesting place. It is essentially a country located in a valley between mountains. I almost missed the border crossing as it is just a street and you pass the Spanish flag and then the Andorran flag, signalling your entry into a new nation. (The bus did get stopped on my way back to Spain for the border patrol to check something. It wasn’t me though, thank goodness!) But to get into Andorra, we just sailed through. The country is very small. It is 181 square miles (to give you some perspective, Hunterdon County, NJ is 2.4 times the size of the entire country of Andorra). We were able to walk from city to city and didn’t even realize where one ended and the other began.

In Andorra, we spent the day getting to know the capital, Andorra la Vella. It is the world’s highest capital (elevation wise). On Friday night, we went to a Castellers practice. This is a popular sport in Catalonia, Spain that involves building human towers. It is very interesting, as it includes people of all ages who have no problem with physical contact/climbing over one another. While I certainly respect the inclusion factor, it is not the sport for me. Way too much touching of strangers. So, like the cultural ambassador that I am, I gave it a go twice before deciding to watch the rest of the rounds. It is pretty impressive to see how high they construct the towers and to watch these little kids scaling up so high.

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I think I’ll stick to rock walls, thanks

On Saturday we woke up to snow. It is an interesting phenomenon being surrounded by mountains as there was snow up in the mountains, but none in the valley. Instead, I was treated to views of snow covered trees at altitudes that I could not explore. It was lovely nonetheless.

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The Andorran flag

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Stairway to heaven (if your idea of heaven involves snowy mountains)

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Needed to get a pic with my face in it into this post

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View of the country from above

And then, we went to the spa. My life is so difficult that I really needed a pampering. Andorra happens to be home to the largest spa in Southern Europe. One of the baths is like a hot tub with floating grapefruits. In order to firm up your skin, you are supposed to rub the grapefruits on yourself. Weird, but it might have worked. I hope the fam won’t mind the new addition to our hot tub back home. The remainder of our spa afternoon included some jacuzzis, warm marble benches, and a questionable room that was dark except for blue neon lights on the ceiling. A very interesting experience.

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I’ve suggested matching white robes for our hot tub back home and after this experience I stand by my request

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The spa from the outside

We also explored a smaller town after our strenuous afternoon at the spa. It was further up in the mountains and it started snowing while we were there. Nothing like being at the beach one weekend and then finding yourself in the snow during the following one. The afternoon was capped off with a tour of the old parliament building in the capital. Nothing like a day containing hot tubs, history, and snow.

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When spring comes just a little too early

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For dinner we went to a German restaurant (yes, a German restaurant in Andorra, I know. Apparently there are very few dishes for which Andorra itself is known). Dinner consisted of a very large plate of meat, potato salad and, my personal favorite, sauerkraut. It was a delicious meal. The night was capped off with some Jaegermeister (which I found surprisingly enjoyable). The only problem was that you had to drink the Jagermeister at the same time as beer. I was not talented enough to do that and ended up drenching the tablecloth. Oops.

And on Sunday, I took the time to walk around Andorra and explore a bit on my own. I found this path that led up to the mountains a bit and then continued along a canal. Armed with my camera and my selfie stick, I went on a hunt for the best views of the city (and to enjoy nature). It was quite lovely. Nothing like finding yourself wandering down a path on a beautiful day. I admittedly took way too many pictures, but found that the photos did not do justice to the views. It was a very peaceful and relaxing end to the weekend.

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City of Andorra la Vella

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View looking up at the mountain- where the snow ends and the dirt begins

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Clearly when I leave Madrid, I can’t get enough of nature (Who have I become??)

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So there you have it. My weekend in the lovely country that is smaller than my lovely New Jersey county. Now that I have taken trips to the mountains and to the beach, I think it’s time for me to stay and enjoy the city life in Madrid for a few weekends.

“My Orca”: February 20-26

28 Feb

And the month of February keeps on rolling by. Work was fine this week.  I actually had a student show up to class in Madrid this week. It was nothing short of a miracle. I was all ready to get settled in and have an hour and a half to delve into the depths of the internet, when a student walked in. Hallelujah! It was great. I enjoy having smaller classes because then class is usually just an interesting conversation on many different topics. We talked about dogs, vacations, and what makes a good life. So yes, we covered quite a range.

The rest of my work week will be summed up for you here:

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What happens when students use too many semicolons incorrectly

So, Mallorca. As my mother will tell you, she remembered the name of the island by thinking “my orca.” When I asked her if this was because she considered me to be a whale, she only laughed. I hope that her refusal to answer is not indicative of an affirmative answer.

It is funny how natural traveling feels these days. When I studied abroad I did so much traveling in a short amount of time that I hated the thought of entering another airport. These days, I stroll onto the plane as if it just a normal activity for me. We landed in Palma de Mallorca a little bit after 11pm on Thursday night and got our first look at the island through the windows of a bus. It felt very dark as we were traveling along that stretch of highway towards the city, because usually I am surrounded by the overbearing light pollution of a city. It felt a little bit like home.

On Friday we did the touristy things in the city of Palma de Mallorca: visiting the cathedral and Bellver Castle, a castle that is situated up a hill. It was supposed to rain, but fortunately we managed to avoid the worst of it. The cathedral was stunning. I’ll be honest, I did not give much thought to the quality of the cathedral on the island. Perhaps I just assumed that people go to the island for reasons other than to go to church. But this place was gorgeous. Not to mention, it includes work by Gaudí (creator of the Sagrada Familia) and Barceló (another famous Spanish artist who I won’t pretend to know something about). I could not get enough of the stained glass windows in the church (as you will see by the pictures).

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Cathedral de Mallorca

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IDK why I loved this window so much

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So gothic. So pretty.

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Cathedral at night

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A gray day in Mallorca

After a visit to the Cathedral, a meandering walk along the port, and a delicious burger and fries, we decided to head to the which is a 13th century circular castle located 3 kilometers west of the city center. It was our hike for the afternoon and a great way to burn off those calories from lunch. I will say that this “hike” was along a mountain road that had no sidewalks. It felt very ~islandy~ to be walking in the road surrounded by greenery.

The castle was pretty spectacular too. It had a moat and all. I will say that my friend, Sally, was probably tempted to push me into the moat after I made her take an excessive amount of pictures of me, but thankfully she withstood that urge. The best part of the castle was the views from the top. We had no idea that we could access the highest level of the building and made sure to ask for permission before heading up a random set of stairs. It was quite a moment to emerge onto the highest level of the castle, see the city from above and hear the wind whistling around you. Simply magical.

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Welcome to my house

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Views from the top on a cloudy day

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Could not resist a pic on 13th century walls (I’m such a tourist, I know)

On Saturday we took a trip to a small town 30 minutes outside of the capital. We spent the day hiking to and through small villages in the mountains. The scenery was spectacular (a common theme this weekend). The hike took us through groves of lemon/olive/orange trees, up stone steps, and through the winding streets of the small villages. Despite the killer inclines at some points, the views were totally worth it.

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Seriously tried to get artsy pics

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No big deal, just a small avalanche on the trail

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Nothing like a little bit of nature

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When life hands you lemons, take a photo of them

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Was tempted to steal some fruit, but Bonnie did not raise a criminal

The hike ended in the town of Soller and then we took a San Francisco streetcar (yes, a legit one that was imported from good old CA) to the Port of Soller. This port and the surrounding ocean provided stunning views. I was blown away (literally and figuratively) by the view off of a cliff looking out into the deep blues of the Mediterranean.

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Port of Soller

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When all you want is a nice pic but the wind just won’t cooperate

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So blue!

And on Sunday, we went to the beach. The capital city had a lovely stretch of beach with a wooden boardwalk area right alongside it. I could not get enough of the sea, the rocks, the sky and the smattering of plants that lined the beach. Honestly, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

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20 bucks to whomever can guess how many attempts it took for me to get a picture that I liked.

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I’m going to be honest; Mallorca was the bomb. I did get a little sunburned though, because 23 year old me still has yet to remember that I should wear sunscreen when I am outside. It was a bit of a rude awakening to return to chilly Madrid with sunburn.

And…We’re Back!

18 Feb

Quite frankly, I am ashamed by my own blog performance. Here I had the opportunity to be this fount of funny stories, knowledge and insight, but I have been slacking on my duties.

I have a wee bit over three months left on this side of the pond. And yes, I know that it is going to fly. Therefore, I am going to make the most out of this time to regale you with stories of my life.

So what I have I been up to since you heard from me last?

-Trip back to the United States. Yes, I had the chance to go home for Christmas and the holidays and it was (by far) the greatest culinary 12 days of my entire life. I don’t think I will ever retain such power over my food choices at home ever again. In addition to the food, it was beyond lovely to spend time with my family. So many moments that I just wanted to freeze and live in forever. I was very excited to see my dog upon my return home. I thought he was excited to see me too, until he ran right past me to go greet my dad. Whatever, Kodiak. I’m sure he will remember who I am the next time I’m the only one home and he is hungry.

-I took a nice little trip to the Netherlands, which is just another place that I never anticipated traveling to. It was certainly an interesting city with parts that reminded me of London, Copenhagen, and even Princeton, NJ. We saw a lot of museums, wandered the canals, and tried some traditional culinary delights. For me that included herring on a bun with onions and pickles. It was truly as magical as it sounds. We also happened to be there on National Tulip Day, so we were treated to a display of tulips right in the center of the city. It went a long way to brighten up the cloudy skies. I think my favorite parts of my trip to Amsterdam were the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. All that I really ever knew about Van Gogh was the fact that he cut off his ear. But this museum was incredible. It was very interesting to see his artistic progression and to learn about his life and struggles. And, I could actually appreciate many of his works, so that was a plus for me as well. The Anne Frank House was very impactful. While her diary is a common read for people in school, it is something else to walk through the house, see the rooms that she hid in, and see actual pages from her journal. An experience that is difficult to describe, but really made me think that

To add to my list of traveling adventures, I was swiped for explosives again, this time at the Madrid airport. The kicker was that this time they had to double check that I was of legal age (aka 18) before doing the test because they thought that I was too young. Ah, the baby face strikes again. I had to reassure them that no, I am 23.

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The canals (notice how the houses are all tilting in different directions)

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Did I take enough pictures of the canals?

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Celebrating National Tulip Day

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Going early in the morning = no crowds at the sign

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-Fulbright Mid-Year Seminar. For four days, the entire Fulbright Spain program meets up to discuss the progress of our grant so far. It was a fascinating conference that included presentations from senior researchers, discussion groups about our role as teaching assistants and our cultural adjustment, and more presentations from Fulbright grantees about their research/side projects. I was delighted to give a presentation on my role as a Fulbright teaching assistant at IE University. Since I am the only university TA in Spain (yes, I do consider myself the chosen one), I thought that this would be a great forum to introduce the other Fulbrighters to what I actually do every day. I had a great time presenting in front of the ~150 audience members. I stand by the fact that if I could just get paid to talk for the rest of my life, that is what I would do. In order to jazz up my presentation a bit, I included some Snapchats that have chronicled my journey so far. I was initially worried about the reception of my selfies, but the audience did seem to enjoy it, if I do say so myself. Here’s a little selection for your enjoyment:

The Mid-Year Seminar was a nice break from real life. For those four days we ate and drank like kings, had the opportunity to partake in cultural events, and socialized like nobody’s business. And, in true Fulbright fashion, one evening included a cocktail party with an open bar. I thought that I would have to wait until the end of the year to have another Fulbright open-bar party, but I’m definitely glad that I was wrong.

After the conference officially ended, I stayed behind in Burgos for the day with my friend Sally. Despite it being a cold, rainy, and windy day, we took advantage of seeing another interesting city in Spain. One highlight of the day was the giant Evolution Museum, that included artifacts from nearby archaeological digs, including bones from millions of years ago. While I had felt a bit small compared to some of the the accomplishments of other Fulbrighters discussed at the Mid-Year Seminar, seeing these remains made me feel absolutely dwarfed. It really puts you in your place. And then, there was an entire floor dedicated to Darwin, the evolution of man, and other fun science tidbits. I was very proud that I actually remembered some information from my evolution class last year. While it was not a city that was originally on my radar, I was very impressed with Burgos: the museum, the cathedral, the beautifully colored buildings, and walkable streets. I was decidedly less impressed with the weather (tropical storm force winds and pelting rain), but I did learn that umbrellas do, in fact, flip inside out in real life, in addition to the movies.

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Me clearly thinking I’m hilarious while presenting

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Monasterio de las Huelgas

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The “I’m halfway there” sign pic (can you believe that the next one you will see will be the one from the end of the year??)

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The cathedral of Burgos

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More cathedral views

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Up there on my list of cool ceiling designs

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That sure is some wood carving

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How I feel when someone tells me there’s no dessert left

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Clearly the weather was beautiful

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A colorful Spanish plaza

-Day trippin’. Since I go a little stir-crazy staying in Madrid for an entire three day weekend, I try to get out of the city for at least a day. With my friend Sally, we have taken on two places outside of Madrid: Alcalá de Henares and El Escorial. Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel Cervantes, so our visit mainly centered around checking out his home, as well as some other historical buildings. El Escorial is the site of a monastery built by one of the Spanish kings. It is absolutely massive and now houses the caskets of many royal family members. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that a walk through the lower level is basically like taking a walk through caskets. I, of course, find it very fascinating.

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Alcalá de Henares

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Monasterio de San Lorenzo

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Snow in Spain!!!!

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Another monastery view

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I also took a day trip to Cuenca, a city about two hours outside of Madrid. Cuenca is known for its “hanging houses,” which, as you might suspect, are houses that are hanging off the side of the mountain.

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A little bit of nature

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The hanging houses

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Just some houses built into the mountains

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Probably laughing at my own joke…..

-Workin’. Yes, I still do that too. As it is the beginning of the semester, my office hours are not too poppin’. Seriously. They are starting to pick up for the next few weeks, which will hopefully be a good thing, provided that all of the seniors don’t expect me to read their entire theses. I have been hosting some thesis workshops for the students in an effort to fix some of the problems before they even happen. In some, the attendance was high and I was able to (hopefully) impart my wisdom. And in others, well, no one showed up. So, we will see how the final products turn out. I also have my usual conversation classes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Attendance has been a little low this semester, but unfortunately, that is out of my hands. I did bring in American candy to share with them, and they really enjoyed the dark chocolate with peanut butter (I know, I was surprised too). Side note: the moment that I knew my mother loved me was when she let me bring an entire box of Gertrude Hawk Smidgens back to Spain with me.

I did have fun showing my students Super Bowl Commercials. While I have missed many big events this year, the Super Bowl was the one that I felt was the largest cultural experience that I was not able to partake in. So instead, I regaled my class with facts about numbers of chicken wings that Americans eat and showed them a selection of commercials from this year’s game.

-Just surviving. I had a much tougher time coming back to Spain after the holidays than I thought I would. Before I left, my younger brother, Chris, said to me “Don’t go back. Stay here.” And my only response was that I couldn’t stay, simply because half of my wardrobe was still in Spain. It was just too easy to be at home, surrounded by family, food, and fun. And, I essentially came back to the apartment where I was by myself. But, I had weekend jaunts and friends, both of which made it easier to re-adjust to life in Spain. I am amazed at how fast time had moved so far- I have been back in Spain for almost 6 weeks- so I know that it will continue to fly. So, I am keeping my nose to the grindstone: working hard, making travel plans, and trying to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. And, since I wasn’t able to stay as Chris requested, we use The Bachelor as a way to make sure we are staying in touch. There are many things that I never imagined I would be doing this year, and talking about The Bachelor weekly with my 15 year old brother is one of them.

-And, the most recent rip was a foray into Galicia, which is an autonomous community in the Northwest of Spain. In one weekend we were able to see two cities: Santiago de Compostela and Ourense. I really liked Galicia. It is known for being rainy and having a lot of green. I appreciated the more ‘nature-y’ feel of the province, as we don’t get very much of that in Madrid. Ourense is known for its thermal baths, so we spent part of the day at them (aka an afternoon of lounging in pools of hot water). Life’s rough. I know.

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View from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

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A little bit of nature (a foreign concept in Madrid)

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Puente Romana

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Look, more nature!

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A Roman bridge in Spain

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Sunsets in Galicia

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Yes, I know that I just pared down dozens of days into some short blurbs. I wanted to give you the highlights of the past few weeks as a) I know no one has time/desire to read too much about my life; b) There are only so many entertaining things that happen to me; and c) I’ve got to leave space for some pictures.

Ich spreche kein Deutsch: Dec.5-Dec. 11

9 Jan

So this week, I returned to the Motherland (aka Germany). Traveling to Germany and Austria was a trip that I had wanted to make since the last time that I left Europe three years ago. I especially wanted to see the Christmas markets that this area of Europe is so famous for.

I happened to plan the trip for a long weekend, as we had Thursday off due to a holiday. It was going to be a very long trip- from Wednesday afternoon to Monday morning.

After some flight delays and figuring out the Munich airport, we finally made it to the city. Let me say that Munich goes all out for the holidays. Everything had lights and was decorated. There was even a Christmas market in between the terminals at the airport. I literally walked off the plane, out of the airport, and into a Christmas market. Talk about a dream come true.

Our first stop on Wednesday night (since everything else was closed) was the famed Hofbrauhaus, a three-story beer hall. What a way to kick off my German adventure with some beer, pretzels, and sausages. Okay, I don’t really like beer so I could only handle it when it was mixed with lemonade.

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Just a girl and 1L of beer (okay no, I couldn’t handle a whole liter so this is beer and lemonade)

Thursday was our day trip to Salzburg, Austria: the home of a lovely Christmas market and well-known for its connections to the Sound of Music. We spent the day gallivanting around the city doing everything we could from spending time in the Alps to posing in front of relics from the Sound of Music.

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The hills were alive

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Practicing my dancing @ the Sound of Music gazebo

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In case you haven’t realized it yet, aerial views are my fave

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It may or may not have been one of my goals to eat a pretzel as big as my face

Unsurprisingly, countless people mistook my features for being German and I was spoken to in German quite frequently. I was proud to be able to use my fledgling German to tell them “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.” Yes, I told them that I couldn’t speak  German in German. I was really proud of myself.

We spent Friday roaming around Munich and seeing the sights: a royal residence (large portions of which were rebuilt after the war), strolling around a park, and a very informative museum about the Third Reich. We tried to find a nice balance between fun and educational activities- what mature travelers we are. I also tried some schnitzel (fried pork, I think) and some more German beer (which was surprisingly not terrible). I was really trying to embrace the culture of my ancestors on this trip!

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Lovely ceilings at the royal residence

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Some German nature

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Found myself on Jaeger Street

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Just a girl and her schnitzel

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And the Christmas markets. Easily one of my favorite parts of the trip. Entire squares covered in lights with all of the fixings of Christmas: food, mulled wine, stalls selling decorations/clothes/goodies. It was a dream come true. There were so many options that I found it overwhelming. I learned that I am not a Christmas market shopper, as I like to see everything before deciding what to purchase. And, at a market, you just have to commit when you see something favorable. And I just couldn’t make those commitments without seeing everything that the markets had to offer. I was able to commit to the food though. After spending time at markets in Germany and Austria, I managed to try bratwurst, apple strudel, giant pretzels, orange punch, and mulled wine. Mulled wine is a drink of choice at the markets. Each stand that sells this tolerable drink gives it to you in a special mug. And, as a connoisseur of mugs, it became my mission to see every available mug and make an informed decision. Let’s just say that I left these beautiful countries with three new mugs to my name. I will be bringing home a lot of drinkware this year.

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Why buy a star when you are a star?

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Salzburg, Austria

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Ornaments galore

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Cookies galore

From Saturday morning to Monday morning I was on my own in Munich. In some aspects, solo traveling in a great thing. I had the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted. I was like a young child who had a new toy and didn’t have to share with anyone. That kind of freedom was intoxicating. I was alone in a foreign city with the whole place at my fingertips. But, at the same time, I missed having someone to talk to and to share experiences with. Some solo travelers are great about finding friends in new places and in starting up conversations with strangers, but that’s not me. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the amount of people that I talked to each day that I was alone. It was just me and my thoughts. And yes, I did find myself talking to myself much more often. I also became quite decent at taking selfies because I no longer had a travel partner to force to take pictures of me.

Saturday was a packed day. I decided to visit Dachau concentration camp which is a little outside of Munich. I don’t really know how to describe the experience. It was very emotional and I think that it is something that everyone should do. While I have read and studied a great deal about the Holocaust and the Second World War, it is really another thing to be standing in the places where such atrocities occurred.

After that very heavy experience, I decided to explore the city a bit more on my own. I checked out Nympenberg Palace and went to the top of St. Peter’s Church to get the best view of the city right as the sun was setting. It was a great decision and the perfect time to see the city from above. I spent the rest of the night roaming around the Christmas markets in search of the greatest market mug, checking out booths, and admiring the lights all around the city. It was a very peaceful and fun night.

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A view of Marienplatz from above

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On Sunday I decided to take another day trip to Austria to see some more markets. Back in August, when I was discussing my ideas for travel plans with my grandparents, my Oma suggests that Innsbruck, Austria, was decorated very nicely for Christmas. So, I decided to take her recommendation and travel there. Okay, I have had many cool experiences since being here, but it was unlike any other to actually be standing in Innsbruck four months after this conversation with my grandmother and thinking “Wow. This is actually happening.” And she was totally right, the town is nestled in the Alps and was decked out for Christmas. So I spent the day wandering around the city, trying to snag a perfect picture of the mountains/river/colorful houses, and enjoying the Christmas market. In order to fully experience the charm of the city, I had to try the kiachl, which is fried dough with sauerkraut. Yes, I know that sounds gross, but it was marvelous. And, let’s be real, I may have been really missing sauerkraut. In that moment, it was just me with some orange punch, eating what is essentially a sauerkraut doughnut, standing in a Christmas market in Austria. It was one of those surreal, “Is this really my life?” moments.

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Photo cred to some random Italian dude

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Apologies for all of the colorful house pictures

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What a nutritious dinner

Monday morning itself was an adventure of its own. I woke up at 4:50am to leave the hostel and get to the airport on time. It is always a very odd feeling waking up to start a new day when my family back home hasn’t even gone to sleep yet. I managed to make it to the airport thanks to the assistance of a kind German man who knew very little English. Apparently, there was a point on the train ride where the train split into two, only one part of which went to the airport. And, this kind man went out of his way to make sure that I knew that I had to switch parts of the train. So, whenever I am giving up hope in humanity, I will remember this guy who saved me at 5:40am on a Monday morning.

But, my friends, the adventures did not stop there. I get to the airport and wait in a surprisingly long line for security. I mean, it was 6am so I was not expecting there to be a lot of people. As I walk through the metal detector (and thank goodness that it didn’t go off) and start collecting my things, a security agent approaches me, points to my backpack, and asks if it is mine. I confirm that it is, and she tells me that they need to do a special test on it. I agree (because what else can you do at an airport) and she and a colleague begin wiping down my things. The colleague leaves, and it is just me and this security agent staring at each other. I asked her if I was allowed to know what they were testing for, and she told me that they had stopped me to test for explosives. All I could think was that of course this would happen to me. When the second woman hurried over and announced that the results of the explosives test had been negative, I felt such a sense of relief. Which was ridiculous because clearly I knew that I had not come in contact with explosives so there was no way the test would be positive. But, I made it through pretty much unscathed.

Well then my flight was delayed. In case you were curious, I’m 0/4 with inter-European flights leaving on time. This pattern better not continue for my flight home….. But, I finally made it back to Madrid, dropped my things off at the apartment, and then headed straight to work. I woke up in Munich, was tested for explosives before breakfast, and made it to Madrid a bit after lunch time. What a day.

Finals Week, Spanish Style: Dec.12-Dec.18

19 Dec

I know what you’re thinking. “Rebecca, you aren’t in college anymore. You obviously don’t have a finals week.” Well my friends, sadly you are incorrect. Being a university TA means that when my students have finals/final papers due, I also get swept up in the fervor of finals. Suddenly everyone wants to have a meeting with me or have me look at their paper. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, this is the most popular that I have ever been and probably the most popular that I ever will be.

In one week I met with 19 students in person and read/gave feedback on 18 papers over email. I’m not kidding when I say that I was swimming (okay, more like drowning) in papers. I woke up in the morning and read papers while eating breakfast, I went to work and read papers/met with students, and then I went back to my apartment and read papers while eating dinner. I then repeated this process for 4 days. It was a very, very exciting week. I at least took a few nice pictures of Segovia…

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Storms in Segovia

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There were some highlights still though! I attended a cookie exchange party hosted by one of the organizations that I volunteer for. First, I had to decide what to make. If I’m being honest, I haven’t yet used the oven in the apartment, so I wasn’t too keen on giving that a try. And then, many items aren’t the same or aren’t available here, like they are in the U.S. So, my options were pretty limited. I finally settled on making Oreo truffles, which fulfilled the requirements of not needing an oven and having ingredients that are easily acquired.

I will say that making these truffles, while simple, is harder outside of the US and without the proper tools. I may or may not have spent Wednesday night crushing Oreos in my room with a small flashlight. My roommates definitely think I’m crazy. And, it was funny because I had to convert all of the units in the recipe to metric units- so ounces to grams, and then estimate how much of the cream cheese to use. Despite what felt like a shoddy baking job, I’d go as far to say that my truffles were a hit. I had about 20 left after the exchange and decided to share them (I know, how generous of me) in order to avoid eating them myself. I even brought some into work and my colleagues were fans. It is safe to say that my one foray into American desserts in Spain was a success. I, however, don’t plan on there being a sequel.

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A little piece of home in Spain

And on Saturday, the highlight of my week, I participated in La Carrera de Papa Noel (aka the Santa Race). Things I never thought that I would say: “I’m sorry I’m late. I had to pick up my Santa suit.” Things I never thought that I would do: dress up as Santa and run through the streets of Madrid. But I did. And it was quite a thrill. First, walking through the streets and riding the metro dressed as Santa is an experience. I felt very strange when I was by myself on the way to the race, but as soon as I stepped foot on the metro I saw another girl wearing the same Santa getup and we exchanged a knowing glance. By the time I reached the race start, the area was swarming with people in Santa suits. Standing at the starting line was great because everywhere you looked you saw hats and beards and red suits. It was quite entertaining. The race was a lot of fun! Let’s be real, if you had told me a year ago that I would be donning a Santa suit, running six kilometers and calling it fun, I would have said that you were crazy. But, this experience has definitely been one of the highlights of my time in Spain so far.

I’ve never been the kind of person that likes standing out in public or drawing attention to myself. But I really embraced this experience because I can say, with great certainty, that I will never dress as Santa and run through the streets of Madrid again. This is a one time deal. I enjoyed watching the expressions of people as I passed them on the street while wearing the costume. They either gave me a funny look, completely ignored me, or made a funny comment/started singing “Feliz Navidad.” I even had a full-blown conversation with one woman who started talking to me about my plans for Christmas and why I was wearing the suit. While it may have been the slowest 6k time that I have ever run (I blame having to dodge walkers and the incessant need to take selfies along the race course), it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had running a race. Just me and a sea of Santas running through the streets of Madrid.

Despite the fact that I spent my morning in a Santa suit, the most ridiculous part of my morning happened after the race. There was a Santa sitting in a sleigh that you could take pictures with. I was debating whether or not to sit on his lap for the picture, but decided to go for it after I saw multiple people in front of me doing it, including a woman a few decades older than me and a few pounds heavier. So, I hopped up on the sleigh and go to sit on Santa’s lap, and he tells me to sit next to him instead. Um, okay Santa. Thanks for that. Ways to get into the holiday spirit: Dress up in a Santa suit and run through the streets of Madrid. Ways to quickly get out of the holiday spirit: Have Santa tell you not to sit on his lap. What a morning.

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Have you ever found yourself in a sea of Santas?

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This week was also Blue Hen reunion week in Madrid. The Alumni Association President was visiting and the World Scholars program (UD freshman studying in Madrid) was ending, so I was invited to partake in some alumni/goodbye events. We had drinks and tapas on Friday night and then dinner and a flamenco show on Saturday. It is always comforting to meet fellow Blue Hens in Madrid and to share memories about good old UD and Newark. The free food was definitely a nice plus as well!

Also, I tried Chinese food in Madrid for the first time, and I have to say I was quite impressed. As you can tell from my Germany/Austria post, I’ve started to try some more foods and expand my palate while abroad.  I just consider this experience to be another of cultural immersion. (It’s a great thing to be able to classify trying foods as a cultural experience). In case you were curious what Spanish Chinese food looks like….

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And Sunday was a pretty casual day. I kicked it off with some mass at the Cathedral. I have to say, this may be the only year of my life where I celebrate Advent and Christmas masses in three different countries. Kind of a cool feat, if you ask me. I then wandered around for a bit before heading back to the piso for food/Christmas music/a nap. We did have a Fulbright cookie decorating party, which offered the opportunity to eat more than my fair share of Christmas cookies and socialize with some Fulbright friends.

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A Spanish Advent wreath

Each day I am getting more and more excited about going home. While I graced the United States with my presence three years ago after a semester away, this time it will be different. Last time when I left Spain I had mixed emotions as I did not know when I would be returning, so as pumped as I was to be going home, I also felt like one of the great adventures of my life was over. This time, I know when I’ll be back so there is zero nostalgia about leaving. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited for something in my life.

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Also, this is my dog wearing a Santa hat… He’s clearly very excited for me to be coming home