Thursday, December 31, 2009

Day 4: Why didn't I pack an umbrella?

Guest blogger--LuAnn (Rebecca's mom)

After a few hours of misleading sunshine, the rain returned for most of the day.  We began our day at Gran Via--an upscale shopping street located in central Madrid.  There were many kiosks, too, with more crafts and things to buy.  I purchased some souvenirs for the family and a few post cards for my scrapbook.  It was fun to look at all of the jewelry, scarves, and crafts.  

Then we took the metro to the Prado Art Museum.  Bernice loved looking at all of the paintings.  She could have spent all day there, I think.  Rebecca and I looked at the paintings, but without the appreciation Bernice has.  The Prado has many famous paintings by many famous artists.  There were lines of people all over.  Rebecca said that one day she saw the line a block long waiting to get in.  We picked a good day, with not much of a wait.

On the metro ride back to Rebecca's apartment, a man played the accordion.  I was entertained by the song "Fernando's Hide Away."  I clapped when he finished, but I was the only one.  I guess he only wanted euros--not applause.

Rebecca made us a stir fry supper.  There were five people in the small kitchen while Rebecca prepared the meal. Gregorio and his friend Alex were crammed in there, too.   What's that expression about too many cooks?  ha ha

A few odds and ends about Spain...
When you pass people on the street or in the metro, they do not smile like we do in Wisconsin.  They are very serious.  Yet, they greet people they have just met (like us) with an air kiss to both cheeks--much more personal than a greeting in the U.S.

Christmas is celebrated, but Santa doesn't play a very big role as he does in the U.S.  The big day is still to come--January 6, Feast of the Three Kings.  Every store is decorated with its own nativity set or statues of the three kings.  I know Rebecca will blog about that day, as a big parade is planned as part of the celebration.

I learned that when you say "gracias," the "c" sounds like "th."  It sounds like my second grade students who are missing their front teeth! :)  

What appears to be a carton of "chocolate" milk is really thick chocolate that is used to dunk churros (a pastry) in.  I bought a carton, thinking it was chocolate milk like we have in the U.S.  Was I surprised when I tried to pour it!  I now mix the thick chocolate with regular milk.  Rebecca's roommate laughs, but it works for me. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Day 3: Valladolid - what a day!

After a night of mostly not-sleep, we were up by 5:45 and all out the door by 6:45am. We metro-ed to the bus station, and set out for Valladolid.

But first some background as to why the we took a day trip there:
This past summer (and the summer before), my grandma, aunt and uncle, and cousin each hosted a girl from Valladolid for a month during the summer, through a program called "American Experience"*.  The woman who runs this program is Krissa.  Krissa was a WHS graduate as well, and went on to graduate from UW-Eau Claire with a double major in Spanish and Linguistics.  During the spring semester of her sophomore year in college, she studied abroad in Valladolid (just like you, Rachel!).  Long story short, after returning to Valladolid to teach English, she dated - and is now married to - a Spaniard she had been friends with during her semester studying abroad.  

Krissa has lived in Valladolid for 7 or 9 years now (my memory is failing me right now...) and has two children.  I met Krissa and her family at the American Experience banquet this past summer, which I attended with my grandma and cousins.

Krissa has been so welcoming, and said if I ever wanted to visit Valladolid, name the day and she'll show me around.  When I found out grandma and mother would be here for a week, we planned to visit Valladolid for a day.

And back to yesterday.  10:15am our bus pulls into the bus station.  We easily find Krissa, who is pushing around little Marco in his stroller.  We leave the bus station and start walking through the city's main park, Campo Grande, known for its ducks and peacocks.

I'm looking to my left, staring at some ducks or something, when I hear my name being called - by a voice I hadn't heard since April.  If I recall correctly, I think mother said "Rebecca - look!"  I look straight ahead.... and there's Michael A!  For those of you who don't know him, Michael is my very good friend from high school, and last April he left the US for his 2-year mission trip in Spain.  He's been living in Salamanca, but with the strict rules of the mission, we can't plan to meet up at all, and he can only e-mail family, thus contact has been slim.  In the past four months, many-a-times I have pictured running into him in Madrid (where they come to get their mail every month or so) but never did I expect to run into him in Valladolid.

It was a brief encounter, as he and Elder Spiers were supposed to be in a meeting when we ran into them, but had enough time to snap a photo:

That run-in made the whole trip to Valladolid worth it for me, but the day continued to be a wonderful trip.  We then ate a late breakfast at the top floor of Corte Ingles, with a great view of Valladolid.

And then Krissa took us around town:

Plaza Mayor

Real Monasterio de San Benito

Meat market

Cow's stomach 

Iglesia de San Pablo

House of Cervantes

We had lunch with Celia, the girl who stayed with my grandmother for a month this summer.  It was great to see her again, and the meal was delicious - lamb.

Celia and grandma

After lunch, we met up with one of the girls my aunt and uncle had hosted, Paloma; her mother, also named Paloma; and Consuela, the mother of the girl my cousin hosted.  Krissa left at that point, understandably, as her mother was in town visiting from the US, and she had two young kids at home.  The two mothers didn't speak a lick of English, just as my mother and grandma don't speak any Spanish.  Thus it was on Paloma and I to be the translators.

We had after-lunch coffee together at a nearby cafe.  Translating worked just fine, and we had some great conversation that afternoon.  The mothers were both so nice and welcoming - I give them credit for agreeing to spend the afternoon with us (they didn't know I spoke Spanish, and thus had been a bit nervous about the language barrier).

Paloma, Paloma, grandma

After-lunch coffee

After coffee, we walked around town some more.  Our hosts for the afternoon had to leave around 7, so we had a bit of time for some window shopping before heading back to the bus station.

Our bus left Valladolid at 9pm, returning to Madrid a bit after 11, and back to my apartment by midnight.

*If anyone living near the Madison area is interested in hosting a young-teen this summer, or would like more information on the program, leave a comment with your e-mail and I can get you in touch with Krissa.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 2: The rain in Spain falls and falls and falls

Guest Blogger: Bernice (Rebecca's grandma)

We slept late (10) and then we went to Dia (grocery store) to get some napolitanas for breakfast.  They are a chocolate-filled pastry.

It rained and rained and rained today, but that didn't dampen our spirits.  We had fun anyway.

After breakfast, we took the metro to Sol.  We walked to the Royal Palace.  There were lots of queues waiting to go in, but we didn't join them.  We went into the Almudena Cathedral, which sits right next to the Royal Palace.  Construction of the cathedral began in 1883, and finished in 1993.  It was consecrated in person by Pope John Paul II that same year.

Then we walked to Plaza de España.  There, we browsed through the "Feria Mercado de Artesanía" - an outdoor, roofed art fair.  It reminded me of the cloth market in Krakow, Poland.  Rebecca found a pretty ring.  LuAnn found an almost-perfect purse.  And I found some souvenirs for my mother and sister.

Then we were hungry, and took the metro to eat.  It was around 5 o'clock (lunch).  We ate at the best kebap place in Madrid, according to Rebecca.  Kebap is a turkish food with tomato, lettuce, beef, and special sauces.  Rebecca and I ate the whole thing.  LuAnn didn't eat the whole thing, but she wasn't picky.

LuAnn and I eating kebap

Then we rode the metro again, back to Ventas (Plaza de Torros - "The bullfight place"). We climbed many, many, many stairs.  Then we went to a pastry shop and got dessert for later.  Rebecca got a sugar donut, and LuAnn and I got mini-mousses and a cream-filled chocolate to share.

We just ate dessert, and Rebecca turned on Fantasia (for Jacki, she says).  It's 7:50 and we have to wake up early tomorrow morning to catch a bus to Valladolid.

I'm having trouble staying awake.  Rebecca says this is abnormal for her, because she would normally eat dinner at 10 or 10:30, but our late lunch sufficed for dinner today.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Guest blogger: LuAnn

Hello everyone!
Yes, we are the guest bloggers after flying from Chicago to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Madrid!  We made it--hooray!  Our first flight was delayed an hour due to the weather in Chicago.  It was snowing and blowing.  They had to de-ice the wings of the plane.  Once we got moving, the trip was fine...although lots of sitting.  As my Grandpa Spahn used to say, I had "boat seat ass."  The first flight was 7 1/2 hours.    The second flight left late because there was no crew to fly the plane!

After we landed in Madrid, we found our luggage and then met Rebecca.  It's amazing to meet up in such an enormous airport, but we opened the door to the lobby and there she was!  We took the metro to Rebecca's apartment and got settled.  Rebecca opened a few Christmas presents and then Bernice and I took a nap.  When I woke up, Gregorio (Rebecca's roommate) and Rebecca were sitting around the table having conversation.  I listened and Rebecca translated.  Gregorio likes to talk.  After Bernice got up, we went for a walk looking for a grocery store that was open.  On the way, we passed by the large arena where they have bull fights.  It was pretty quiet on the streets since it's Sunday, and we found a store that was open.  We bought things for stir fry, along with milk from the shelf.  They don't refrigerate it because they process it differently than the U.S.

As it turned out, Gregorio cooked for us.  We had lots of kinds of sausage--including a blood sausage dish.  It tasted good until I found out what was in it!  We had zucchini, beef, pasta, shredded carrots, and more sausage.  Bernice had a "good fork," according to Gregorio, but I was a picky eater.  I really did try a little of everything, but stuck mainly to the beef and pasta.

Now Rebecca is washing the dishes.  She gave us the night off, since there is no need to dry dishes.  They have a neat system.  There are two open shelves with drainers in them above the sink.  You simply put the dish in the drainer, it drips in the water, and you put the dishes away after they're dry.  Pretty slick.

Guess that's it for today.  We plan to do lots of walking on Monday.  I'm sure we'll get a good night's sleep at Rebecca's apartment and will be ready for new adventures.  Bernice will report about our day tomorrow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


New Year's Eve is nochevieja... Christmas Eve is nochebuena.

Today was quite pleasant outside; high of 52.  Felt like spring.  Had lunch with Asad, then we walked around the city for a few hours.  Some pics:

And then we watched the movie Taken, which, if anyone is looking for an action movie to watch, it was fairly decent.

feliz nochebuena!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

wish i could paint that.

Saturday after the "fake" nochevieja, I met up with Iz downtown in Gran Via to accompany her doing some Christmas shopping.

Down a side street, there were some pretty neat murals on the walls:


besitos en la oscuridad

New Year's Eve is called "nochevieja" here.  And apparently in Madrid, there are two.  The first of which occurred Friday night.  I guess it's mostly just celebrated by the university kids (an excuse to go out, it sounds like), but every year there's a "false" new year's eve two weekends before the real one.

Let me briefly describe the real nochevieja traditions: The downtown area of Sol fills with people, who all eat 12 grapes at midnight - one with every ring of the bell.  Although Sol gets way-crowded, I feel like it's mostly just tourists, as all the people I know who live in Madrid say they have never gone to Sol; they eat dinner and stay in with the family that night.

I learned of this second, early nochevieja from my madrileño friend Sergio.  So we planned to make dinner together at my friend Mike's house, with Iz, Richard, Sergio, and his friend Miguel.  Then meet up with more of their friends in Sol by 12, and then go out.  That night when Iz and I were picking up a few things at the grocery store, the people in front of us were only buying two cans of 12 grapes in each (which are sold at this time of year, for the real nochevieja).  Made the false nochevieja seem more legit.

Cut to later Friday night, 9 o'clock: Izzy and I are cutting up vegetables in Mike's kitchen.  Mike and Richard just left to pick up a few more things at the grocery store before it closed.  Sergio and Miguel have not yet arrived.  I turn on the oven. Doorbell rings. Aaand lights go out.... now.  So, right when Sergio and Miguel got there, all the power went out in Mike's apartment.

Him not being there, we weren't sure what to do.  Awkwardly met Miguel and introduced Sergio to Izzy in the dark.  Going into panic mode, some English flies out of my and Iz's mouths to each other.  We explain to the boys that neither of us live here, and the roomies weren't home. We call Mike. No answer.  Then the boys look to the front door for an electric box.

Using our cell phones our only source of light, we find it.  They flip a switch.  Makes a weird sound. No lights. Flip it again.  Same weird, unpleasant sound. Then Iz mentioned something about how Richard told her a couple of weeks ago that when his dishwasher is on, sometimes their power goes out at his apartment. Hmm. Was it the oven?  I go back to the kitchen, grab for the oven dial. Turn it off.  Score!  Lights back up.  Richard and Mike return, and we recount the electricity action.

It was a pretty funny, awkward situation.  You couldn't plan an ice-breaker as good as that one.

We made it to Sol with a few minutes to spare.  There was a botellón inside of the Sol metro station - it was crazy!  And afterwards, heading from Sol to Moncloa, the metro was just stuffed.  Normally on the platform there are, oh gee, 20-30 people waiting on one side.  Maybe more? Maybe less? I'm terrible at estimating.  The point is, normally there is plenty of space between people:

 A normal platform

But that night, while waiting for the train to Moncloa... there was not a single ounce of space between people on the platform.  It was insane.  I knew we'd have to push and shove if we wanted to make it on this train.  Which we did.  But alas, Michael has all the pictures from the platform/metro ride... and he has yet to put them up.  So that will be added at a later date.  But rather than sitting on the seats inside the metro train, people were standing on them, so that there would be more space for bodies where their legs normally would have been.

All in all, great night with the Spaniards.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

gracias wip

Last week being the final week of our Reunidas classes, we wanted to do something for the 4 that make up our WIP staff, some sort of thank you for everything they do for us.  And they do a lot.

So the weekend before, some of us headed down to the papelería, printed out some pictures, bought some paper and glue, and searched for come creativity.  The result?

It was actually really fun to make a poster; hadn't made one of those since AP Lit...

We also all threw in a little cash and got them a truffle cake! Yum, yum.

Amy, our coordinator

They told us that this was the first WIP group in the history of the program to do something for the staff.  We could hardly believe it, as we had already been tossing around ideas of what to do for them at the end of the year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

O Valencia!

Alright... time to work that memory and recount Valencia:

Well, firstly, we flew there.  Why?
1. Cheapest (by far) - roundtrip tickets were 5 euro, plus taxes totaled it to around 14 euro.
2. Fastest - got there in 50 minutes; return flight was about 40.
3. See 1 and 2.

To save ourselves a cab fare, we metro-ed to the airport... meaning we left around 12.30a to get to the airport before the metro closes, at 1.30am.  Slept on the floor at the airport.  On the metro from Valencia's airport to our hostel, I fell asleep between every stop... I just couldn't keep myself awake!  We got to our hostel around 8.30 Sunday morning, tired as ever, only to be informed that the beds wouldn't be ready until noon. So we wander into the living room/kitchen and each pass out on a couch.

Entrance: Indigo Hostel

Living room: couches we had slept on earlier that day

Walked around town, bought lunch at a grocery store... took naps that afternoon until 7pm or so, and felt caught up on my sleep.  Spent the evening meeting cooking, eating dinner, and meeting the other hostellers.

Monday was a bit chillier; went to the beach with some US kids we had met the day before.  These folks were all in high school, and were spending the year in Zaragoza, Spain.  Did more cooking at the hostel; met some girls from the US who have graduated college and are now teaching English in Madrid.  Two of these girls had been in our program, WIP, during the 2007-2008 school year when they were still in college.  Some of them actually knew a few of our fellow, current Wippers.

During our stay, we also met this friendly older couple, Jacob and Doris Gallan, who have been traveling the world since 2006.  Doris is a writer, currently blogging at Baby Boomers Traveling, and is working on a book as well.  Her book will feature their round-the-world travels, interspersed with traveling advice for baby boomers.  She is a strong advocate of traveling at any age, and wants to help make it easier for others by sharing their mistakes and successes through her blogs and book-in-progress.  Here is part of her biography from her site:
Thirty years of working for others led to burnout. It was now time to work for myself: my husband and I quit our well-paying jobs, sold our house and 99 percent of our worldly possessions. On April 1, 2006 – April Fool’s Day – we began a 26 month ’round-the-world trip. I also returned to my first love: writing.
We traveled to forty countries on six continents – including Antarctica, learned the polite words of some two dozen languages, ate foods we didn’t know existed, used practically every mode of transportation still in use and learned a lot about ourselves and the world around us. With this much experience to write about I had no excuse not to start putting some of this down on paper (okay, on computer screen).
I started off slowly by creating a blog (
that served many purposes: kept people informed about our whereabouts, provided me with a regular outlet for memories and photos, and – most importantly – disciplined me into writing every week.
After the trip, we settled in Mexico in the summer of 2008 where I began writing more regularly. I’m writing essays, short stories and a book about our world trip. This, while getting down to learning the craft of writing and improving my art. In April of 2009 we moved to Costa Rica with a quick trip to Guatemala for a week before settling in our new home. Don’t know how long we’ll be here but this is all part of our second ’round the world trip…just at a much slower pace than #1.
The Gallans have just left Spain, and here's a blurb from Doris's most recent blog post:
WHAT’S NEXT: Moving to Hel & Rob’s flat in Carcassonne, France to spend the holidays. We’ve been told it won’t be any warmer but it is a lovely town, a beautiful apartment and we’ll be with friends for the New Year celebrations. We’re likely going to Hong Kong after Carcassonne, maybe spending a week or two in Vietnam if we managed to save enough money, and then move to China for Jacob’s job in Wenzhou, for February 2010.
Tuesday was a day of fantastic weather; upper 60's and sunny.  Perfect day to visit Gulliver Park.  Gulliver Park is a playground in the shape of Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels.  With all the kids playing on it, they look like Lilliputians!

Here's a bird's eye view:


And a bit closer:

The slides were soooo fun!  Really, coming to Valencia just to play on this playground is reason enough.  Richard and I were surprised by all of the steep drop-offs, with no sort of railing at all.  Gave you a bit more of an adrenaline rush while you were climbing around; though I'd be tweaking out if my kid were running around up there.  It was awesome, but would never fly in the US.  I tried to take some pics showing the drop-offs:


Then we headed to Valencia's nearby City of Arts and Sciences, with some simply amazing architecture.  Here's a brief summary of the area from the official site:
The City of Arts and Sciences is a unique complex devoted to scientific and cultural dissemination which is made up of five main elements: the Hemisfèric (IMAX cinema and digital projections), the Umbracle (a landscaped vantage point and car park), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum (an innovative centre of interactive science), the Oceanográfico (the largest aquarium in Europe with over 500 marine species) and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (which takes care of the operatic programme). The Ágora, which will give the complex a multifunctional space, is under construction.
We didn't go inside any of the buildings, as entrance fees for all of the museums were quite pricey, but simply walking around outside to admire the architecture up-close was quite a treat.  Both the sites I linked to above have some great pictures of the buildings; here are some I took:

Tuesday night, exhausted from all that fun at the park and walking around the city all day, we watched Chicken Run, followed by Home Alone II while cooking/eating dinner in the hostel.

On Wednesday, after eating some breakfast and walking around the Central Market for a bit, it was time for me to catch my flight home.  Got back to my apartment, dropped off my backpack, and five minutes later I was on my way out to go tutor in Las Rozas.

It was nice to be in a different (warmer) environment for a few days, and I always love learning about the other hostelers and listening to their stories.  Gets me excited for all of the traveling I have yet to experience in my lifetime.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Before I headed to the airport last Saturday, Sergio and I spent the afternoon in the park 'Casa de Campo', taking Madrid's teleférico to get there.  The ride reaches a maximum height of 40 meters above the ground, and the entire ride stretches across 2.5-kilometers, lasting around 11 minutes each way.

I didn't take any pictures that day, but here are some from the interwebs:


View of Madrid

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

snow day, schmow day

You enjoy your snow day, Wisconsin, and I´ll enjoy my 67-degree, perfect Valencian day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Portage to Portage Paddling Project

In the midst of my year-long blogging, I thought I´d aware readers of my cousin´s 10 month adventure: A 5000 mile solo kayak trip around the Eastern US, starting and ending in Portage, WI.  The launch was on Sunday, and he has blogged every day.  You can also track his location at any time; the main site is HERE.

It´s obviously completely different than what I´m doing this year, but I´d strongly recommend checking out the blog!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Oh Valencia, you'd best get ready for me!

Off to Valencia for a few days tonight!  Our flight actually doesn't leave until 6:40 tomorrow morning, but since the metro closes at 1:30a and doesn't reopen until 6a, we're taking the metro tonight before it closes... and camping out at the airport for the night.

I'll be back Wednesday afternoon - just in time to head out to the Sanchez's house for tutoring.  Which means you won't hear from me til Thursday at the earliest.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

but where is uncle meat?

Although I doubt any of you remember nor care, today is December 3... the day that Uncle Meat and the Highway Children had told us they'd be playing in Madrid.  Well, the next concert on their site isn't until January 5, and that's back in the UK.  We searched the interwebs but found nothing.  Hence, I am highway children-less tonight.

I did tutor the Sanchez family yesterday, although my voice was not fully there.  Today it's the strongest it has been in the past 5 days - though still raspy. And I'll get throat itches and cough.  But I should be on my way to normal.  Was able to tutor Pablo tonight since I had to cancel on Tuesday; glad that worked out.

And I watched the second episode of 'Band of Brothers' with Gregorio tonight.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

flumil forte y bronquidiazina

I wake up yesterday unable to speak at all. Nothing. Even when I'd sneeze, there would be no noise whatsoever from my vocal chords; just the sound of air leaving my nose. Wonderful.

Drank some tea...
Back on the home front, the roomies drown me with shoulds/shouldn'ts about my health.  Rather, living habits. Zuzana says I should stay in bed some days, and really bundle up when I go outside. Grego wonders where's the protein in my dinner... bla bla bla - It's not like I tried to lose my voice!  Heck, I even bought hand sanitizer the other week to use after I metro every day...

Anyway, stayed in last night and watched episode 1 of 10 of Band of Brothers with Gregorio in castellano (He's a WWII fanatic... has a stack of at least 30 movies that are "required" for me to watch this year. Not so sure they'll all get watched...).  He wanted to watch the second episode tonight...but I had too much e-mailing/blogging to do.

This morning I wake up... can make a few lower sounds, but still can't talk.  After class, I stopped  by the WIP office and Amy, our coordinator, called Pablo's mother for me to explain I couldn't tutor tonight because I couldn't talk.  Then I skipped my Complutense class tonight and visited the doc.  Followed by a trip to the pharmacy to buy his recommended drugs.  Side note on that - I didn't need a prescription or anything... you just go to the pharmacy and tell them what drugs you need.  Um, and then they give it to you. And they're cheap, too. Fantastic.

I now have some liquid bronquidiazina to take 3x a day for a week, and some flumil forte to take once a day for a week.  I really hope I can somewhat talk tomorrow... because if I have to cancel with the Sanchez's, there goes 50 euro...