Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Resolution

As the year comes to a close and we transition into 2012, I feel a massive wave of appreciation for how incredible this year has been.  One year ago I was making my way around Great Britain, searching for new adventures, with not a clue as to where I was going or where I wanted to be.  I was still totally immersed in a vagabond life style, embracing good times but quite confused about my purpose and the future.  When I reemerged in Spain to be an English teacher, I faced hefty challenges, but fell absolutely in love with the country that I chose on a whim.  Spain became an essential part of me and the bonds created with the amazing people that entered my life remain unbreakable.  In one short year I embraced a new home, learned a second language, and grew into myself in ways I never thought possible. 

Now as I sit here in limbo, awaiting a return to my beloved Spain, but knowing it will only be a brief stay, I ponder what's next for this upcoming year.  The future seemed much more daunting one year ago, but today I am at complete peace with it, confident that each small step I am taking is leading me down a road to happiness.  It's hard to imagine what life would be like right now had I not made dramatic changes and taken risky steps.  Even yesterday a friend challenged me about what point there was in moving around and spending precious time and money on living in other countries.  My simple answer was that it is my passion and it makes me feel incredible.  Maybe to some it is not a logical or worthy way to spend my resources, but to me I have experienced such contentment from the time I've spent exploring that there is no dollar amount that could be placed on it. 

Many New Years resolutions are made based on things people want to change or improve in their lives like their health, their weight, their relationships... but this year mine is a little different.  I resolve to merely continue on the path I am on now and not be wavered by outside influences that aren't in sync with what I know in my heart will bring me happiness.  So far it hasn't done me wrong and for the first time I feel satisfied with what I have already.  I look forward to new experiences and a good career and more great people to enter into the picture, but right now, even if I am "just a waitress" and not living in an exotic destination, I feel so liberated and grateful.  Thank you to everyone that supported me and came into my life in 2011.  I look forward to seeing how the next year unfolds and embracing every moment of it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Discoveries Beyond Travel

How can a travel blog continue on when traveling has temporarily ceased?  While I wish I could say I've been dazzled by the secret wonders of Raleigh, North Carolina, rediscovering the beauty of the city in which I was raised, I do not have this feeling in the slightest.  Begrudgingly, I've plugged myself back into the service industry, filling my hours with restaurant work day and night, because let's face it, money is a necessary evil.  In the mean time I've been trying to embrace the free time I am allotted to take the focus away from the external world and become more inwardly "present".  What I am beginning to very slowly understand is that life can be quite beautiful regardless of the life situation (that is the location, job, social life, etc.).  With the help of some insightful reading and occasional mind expanding chats, I've been able to be more inwardly focused and see each moment for what it is, embracing the tiny pleasures of living in the "now".  It was much easier to find myself in this state of mind as I explored new lands and absorbed myself into Spanish culture; but even now, as I take a short, midday break from serving tables and sit in this nearby cafe, I feel that same reminiscent feeling of tranquility and peace of mind.  Sometimes when I reminisce on the past or look on to the future, I begin to feel deprived and a sensation of being in a suburban prison weighs down on me.  Therefore, keeping my mind steady and realizing that this inner calm and happiness is always accessible is absolutely essential.  I'll be back on the on the road soon enough, but in the mean time I'm pleasantly surprised with all that I've learned from this limbo period.  I won't discount my passion for travel, but being sucked out of that dream and into a very different reality has it's own awakening benefits that are revealing themselves in the strangest ways...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Search for a New Home

With Plan B underway, I'm doing my best to accept and embrace life back in the United States. While the lure of going back to Spain is weighing heavily on my mind (and my heart), I'm trying to get used to being on this side of the Atlantic and what better way to do that than visiting a few of the most popular cities in the US, where some of my closest friends and family now reside.

Stop one on the big tour: San Diego, California, known for its near perfect weather and laid back vibes. My lovely friend, Rachael, boldly picked up and left her life in Atlanta, ending up nestled into a fabulous home right by the sea, in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Ocean Beach, more commonly referred to by the locals as OB, is still very much stuck in the 70's with a hippy, slightly grungy feel along the beach and in its people. An abundance of kitschy boutiques, coffee shops, and thrift stores line the main street, dumping out into the shore, packed with surfers and vagabonds. Even with its predominant demographic of young beach bums, there is still an eclectic mix of people that fill the patios for Sunday brunch and pack the street for the weekly market. Beyond OB there are several other neighborhoods with their own special charm and unique theme. Pacific Beach (or PB) may have a similar name to OB, but the scene is entirely different. Young and hip, this is place to go for a party. (I’m still buzzing from an unforgettable Halloween extravaganza). A stop into Hillcrest for a few mimosas to recover from a night in PB is just what the doctor ordered. This next neighborhood I discovered had a whole different chill vibe, with superb restaurants and trendy character. It's known to be the gay section of town and as a result is fabulously liberal and stylish. Beyond the youthful, laidback areas of San Diego are La Jolla, famous for “seal beach”, with an upscale ambience, pricy condos, and spectacular views; and Coronado, home of the Hotel Del Coronado, and absolutely picturesque. And what's a big city without a downtown area? The Gas Lamp district has all you need to remind you you're there. So I soaked up as much San Diego as I could muster and walked away feeling happy and satisfied. Californians in general seem to have that open, relaxed attitude that I love and I can see that a life in San Diego would be a happy one, but is it me? It still lacks a sense of culture and depth that I long for. It was time to move on to the next potential city on my list, Austin, Texas.

While San Diego had several diverse pockets and neighborhoods, I got a completely different feel from Austin. I was immediately impressed by its charm and unique nature. They are famous for their art scene; even the sidewalks have decorative accents embedded in the concrete. The people are very granola, focused on being healthy and green. My cousin has called Austin home for over 10 years, graduating from UT and never turning back. His house where we stayed is located in a downtown residential neighborhood with a wide array of homes, from old fixer-uppers to new, modern works of art. There's even a castle and a house made entirely of glass just blocks away. The main street is lined with local restaurants, vintage shops, and several food trailers that you can't find anywhere else. Despite the hipster "weird" scene that Austin embraces, they still can't take the Texas out of the people. I witnessed more cowboy boots than I've ever seen walking the isles of Whole Foods. With that said, one thing Austin really was lacking in my eyes was diversity. I loved the tone of the town, but it was just one note and fitting in has never been very appealing to me.

Austin was incredible, with remarkable friendly people that made me feel right at home. Just as my dear friend in San Diego did, my cousin made it a point to show me the best that Austin has to offer and sell me on his beloved city. I adored both spots and am certain that either city could be a happy place to call home. But one essential thing was missing: I didn't have that feeling; that deep connection with the city; that shiver up my spine that I'd found a perfect fit. These cities are absolutely ideal for many people, I'm sure, but for me, I need to keep searching. Next stop on the tour is Denver, CO. While I've been to San Diego and Austin on other occasions, I am yet to visit the great state of Colorado. For some reason, I have some type of instinctive feeling that I need to see it. My Madrid soul mate and confident just moved their on a whim and has been trying to convince me for some time to join her. It has always been on the radar since it is a mountain town and I have a special affinity for the mountains after spending four years at Appalachian State in western North Carolina. I owe it to myself to check it out and see if I do get that crucial spark. If not, I'm out of ideas and compromising with my instincts may be my only option.

With all of this said about these fine cities in the USA, I still can't shake my deeper urge to keep exploring the world abroad. There is still so much I'm yet to see, so many places I haven't discovered, and imagining life cooped up in one place seems overwhelming and just not the right option for me. I have to keep moving, keep exploring, and keep reaching out for more. Latin America, the islands of Southeast Asia, Australia... I can't give up the dream. But for how long is traveling on a tight budget, with a loose plan, doing a job not meant for me going to last? Teaching English is always a viable option to stay abroad, but this too is not the answer. The only way I see to solve the puzzle is to follow what my heart is telling me to do and work with what I have at my disposal. Some pieces are starting to fit together and new ideas for a career that keeps me on the move is materializing. For now I’ll invest in the process and maintain confidence that no matter what, as long as I do what feels natural and right, I’ll end up where I am meant to be, whether that is one of these named cities, some strange exotic land, or right here in good ole Raleigh, North Carolina. I believe that just like everyone else, my fate has already been written; it’s my job to live it out and see where it takes me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Plan B

This past week has been a whirlwind of changes as my plans for the future have taken a complete 180 turn.  Due to the politics around the Spanish consulate and other extraneous circumstances, the plan has shifted and another year in Spain is no longer it.  I could have continued to push on, defying the Spanish government as I did before, or returning to the consulate again and again until I was dragged out of the building.  But being turned away had me facing that question once again, is this what I really, really want?  I just had this feeling come over me that this was not what I was supposed to be doing after all.  And so I decided, no more Spain.  But with this comes many other new considerations that I was not prepared to face.  Suddenly everything in my life from my home to my career to my relationship were coming to an abrupt end. And the questions have been multiplying in my mind.  Where do I want to live?  What do I want to do?  When will I get abroad again?  Are the adventures coming to an end?

Being home surrounded by people moving on with there lives and the influential voice of my parents only has made the decision more complicated.  I needed to clear my mind and figure this one out on my own terms.  Timing could not have been better as today I find myself in a neutral zone, by the sea once again, in San Diego.  My incredible friend that I'm here with decided to take life into her own hands, much like I did, and came here to begin a new life.  And some really well timed chats with other extremely inspiring friends has reminded me that I need to step back and gain perspective on all of this.  Having people on that same mission, to live on their own agenda, has me remembering what Spain was truly all about for me. I'm accepting the fact that my chapter in the amazing city of Madrid is coming to a close, and while that is a painful realization to swallow, I'm also reminded that just because this one door is closing, the adventure is nowhere near over.  Sure I have some big decisions ahead of me, but suddenly I'm looking forward to all the possibilities ahead and bringing the adventure just a little closer to home.

I am reminding myself now that life really is a journey and that I chose to live off the beaten path for a reason.  I'm also starting to remember certain things about living in Spain that were not so ideal and I'm looking forward to embracing a new city and lifestyle that won't be so temporary, one where I will not be such an outsider.  All I need to do is figure out my next step, Plan B, and dive in with out hesitation.  I'll still return to Spain to say farewell and get one last taste, but new cities are twirling around in my mind creating a new storm of ideas that I can't wait to dive into.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is It Worth It?

I'm swimming in paperwork, up to my eyeballs in politics, spending money on documents, gas, you name it, and I still have a low probability of getting this visa. After being turned down once yesterday on a few technicalities and tediously trying to get every detail covered before driving another nine hours to try again, I am forced to ask myself, is all of this worth it?

My perspective keeps shifting and my mind keeps changing. Massively frustrating is this rollercoaster ride I've been on, trying to decide on the next course of my life. And now that I'd finally decided, Yes!, Spain for one more year!, the challenges to make that happen are mounting up and I can't help but lose faith that this was the right decision. Getting this all together has cost me an incredible amount of time, money, and frustration, and I still don't have the visa in my hand. Now I'm reevaluating and asking myself the tough question, yet again, of what is it that I really want? Do I really want to be teaching English for another year? Is learning Spanish as important to me as I set it out to be? Will the experience be even close to as amazing this time around? Would it be possible to enjoy for just a few more months and then gracefully bow out? All these questions are bearing down on me as I face more fees, more driving, more waiting...

I suppose I owe it to myself to give it one more fighting chance before throwing in the towel. The thought of not returning to Spain makes me absolutely nauseous, but I can't determine if that sick feeling comes from my lack of another plan, emotional attachments I've made to the people I'm close to there, or because I really am meant to be there for longer. I do love it there and I do find it to be home for me. But is all of this madness some way of the universe to tell me that this isn't right and I need to move on? I think of the backpacking trip and how it felt when it ended, and I hate to admit it, but this is a very similar feeling. The truth was back then, there would have been no possible way to reproduce that trip, or capture it and keep it alive. I needed to say goodbye to the experience and be grateful for the amazing memories and people I came away with. Maybe this is the same, but because my time in Spain was not over yet in my mind, I'm not ready to let go.

The toughest part of this right now is that I must decide today. Do I run around town, to the courthouse and the notary, spending more money on authenticating documents, and then making the haul back to DC tomorrow to try my luck again? The chances of actually getting this visa are not great, but if I didn't go for it, if I didn't go through with what I began, I would never know. So I'll bite the bullet, try one last time, and if I am denied once again, I guess I'll take that as forces bigger than me telling me it's not meant to be. Surely there is life after Spain, I just need to accept that as amazing as the past year has been, it was intended to be a beautiful blip in time and another experience I'll not soon forget.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Madrid is It

After tough deliberation and an endless stream of thought on the subject, I've decided that I will stick to my initial plan and head for my home away from home, Madrid.  Agonizing over the choice of where to settle routes for the upcoming year has forced me to get back to the real truth of why I wanted to be Spain, Europe, abroad in the first place.  For so long I've wished that something would light me up inside like so many people seem to when it comes to their passions.  After trying out many different things, I've discovered that travel is absolutely it.  Travel and experiencing people, places, and tradition wildly different from what I am used to makes me feel absolutely alive.  So I will return to the road, as much as finding a comfortable spot in America among loved ones is tempting.  There will be a time for that, but right now I must continue on this Spanish adventure.  And with that piece decided on, the option of where in Spain was to follow.  I have made Madrid a home and even with it's lack of a beach and sometimes unpleasant weather and crowds, I absolutely love that city and what it has done for me.  It has such a massive amount of Spanish tradition perfectly blended with a revived new age life style that I adore.  Merely strolling through my favorite barrios, setting up shop for a long chat in a quaint cafe, or hitting the streets for an exciting late night that Madrid is famous for makes me so pumped I want to hop a plane right now and get back there. 

We all face decisions that will in some way shape the course of our lives, and in retrospect, this choice was not too hefty in the grand cosmic scheme of things.  This is just one of those times that I needed to follow my heart, my passion, and stop letting the "what if" factor stand in my way.  I hope it doesn't mean the end to a relationship or stifle my future in any way, but I've just got to let the universe guide me and have faith that these strong instincts are leading me down a road that will satisfy my passions and bring me happiness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I believe that the decisions most difficult to make are the ones that are made to satisfy another person or support a relationship. Right now I'm facing one of those decisions that challenges the strength of my individuality verses the strength of my current romantic relationship.  It comes in the form of geography, which I'm learning quickly is a common draw back of living abroad.  When it comes down to it, it's important to face these type of decisions because it forces us to be extremely, painstakingly honest with ourselves and what we really, really want.  It is much easier to skate through life going with the flow and letting the chips fall where they may.  But for me that is not so much an option.

The decision I am facing comes in two levels: where I will be in the next year and where I will be following that.  I know Spain is my home for now and I will return there once again pending all goes well with paperwork.  But where in Spain will I go?  I made Madrid my home last year and even though many of the people I grew close to there have moved on, it still feels like where I need to be.  It is a place I can call home, I am familiar with, I know.  I feel like myself there, independent and free.  But the person I am with right now is faced with his own dilemma to return to the Canary Islands.  It is an option for me to follow and each night I go to bed with my mind made up that I will and wake up with my mind set that I will not.  How do I make such an abrupt, risky decision to abandon my life I've established in Madrid or my relationship that is still new and growing?  The Canaries are beautiful and the people are fantastic, but it will always be his island and I know I'll loose that sense of individuality by being there.  I learned that the hard way for the month I spent there in August.  While it was delightful, it also put a massive amount of pressure on the relationship and robbed me of my freedom.

I don't like to put this person in my blog normally, but with this being such a unique issue to living abroad and trying to cut a new path, and with very little available to me as a road map, I figure it doesn't hurt to expose this issue to my readers.  I also feel that putting it down in ink really helps to see the big picture.  What it all comes down to is the decision between following another person or choosing a path based on your own self interest.  The only gage I have to use right now is my heart.  I'm trying to follow my instincts and be very honest with myself about what it is I truly want.  I still have some time to decide and ultimately, I know what ever I do choose will be just fine.  Still, if I go to Madrid, which is what my instincts have been hinting to me more consistently, and have to end my relationship as a result, it will be a painful process filled with what ifs.  I guess that's just the complicated beauty of life...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Out in the Middle of the Ocean

Why do I feel like I need to run to the end of the earth inorder to figure life out?  Now that I've been abroad and back home, then abroad, and back home again, the meaning of all of it is getting all misconstrued.  While being an expat is exciting and liberating in the moment, and even reflecting back on the experience, being home again in extremely daunting and even a little depressing.  The things I need to make me feel better back here are the very things that also make me feel slightly worse.  Being with my friends is great, and knowing that they are here for me still is extremely comforting, but almost all of them have advanced remarkably in a life I fled from.  They are becoming more established in their careers and they all have families on the forfront.  I can't beleive how many of my girlfriends are sporting bling on their ring finger and even a couple of little ones!  While I resist the urge to be influenced by this, I can't help but notice that I'm perpetually the loner and the more I go away, the less we can relate to eachother.  Even though I have a person in my life I love very much, we can't have a life like they all do, comfortable and normal... and together!  My person is thousands of miles away with no clear veiw of when or if that will change. 

So I feel the weight of it all bearing down on me like a ton of bricks.  In my own mind, uninfluenced by all of these factors, I still believe I am young and free and have a window of opportunity to live this way.  But what's the point of it all, living abroad and bouncing around, if it keeps me from having this happy future that I can see in the lives of so many of my friends?  The truth is I want to have certain things I gave up very much, but I don't know if it's enough to pull me away from my expat adventures.  And deciding anything in the confines of my parents house in Raleigh, NC is virtually impossible.  It's clear what they are thinking and what they want for me. 

How does one decide?  How can I choose between two lives I passionately desire but are remarkably different in virtually every respect?  Maybe there is some kind of compromise, a city in the US that lights me up, a job that still takes me abroad... I can reach out for advice and hope that some external influence decides for me, but the truth is, this puzzle is mine to figure out.  I have faith that the answer will come, I can feel it deep inside of me, but for now I partly feel like I am still floating out there.  It's like my life abroad was a little island out in the ocean, far away from the main land, and now I'm beginning to swim away from that island and now I can see both the island and the mainland but I am far from both, out in the middle of an ocean of mystery.  I'll get to land eventually, but I don't know which way to swim or what I'll find when I arrive. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

When Is Enough Enough?

I think this is a question that many other wanderers, vagabonds, and expats contemplate from time to time.  Even while the exciting life of living abroad is underway, there are3 always several moments of acknowledgement to it's temporary nature.  I think something that is overlooked when taking a step as I did is what comes next, once that inner desire to have an adventure has somewhat faded and the longing for being somewhere comfortable where a career that can flourish is becoming more pronounced.  Now that I'm back, taking a momentary pause in my Spain experience, I can't help but face this question full on.  I've been away from that more conventional life for almost two years now and the idea of coming back to it, at least to a degree, is becoming more real, more pressing, yet more palatable.  I've missed certain things that I took for granted before like my friends and family and all the things I worked so hard for before.  So what now?  I uprooted myself for a reason and I know my journey overseas is not finished.  While being home comes with great comfort, my passion lies abroad, discovering different cultures and places, and the idea of only getting the opportunity to return to foreign lands in the confines of a two week vacation truly makes me nauseous.   So that brings me to that question: when is enough enough?  When will I be okay with turning back and facing the life I left behind?  It won't be the same life, but I'll have to reemerge into a world that I shunned for so long.  And to do that in a sluggish economy, be competitive for work, return to the rat race... I'm still not ready for that reality. 

I suppose I have a short term plan, to return to Spain and continue on teaching my language and acquiring theirs.  Further complications I've added to my plate like my increasingly serious relationship and my rapidly growing connection to living like a Spaniard, are also issues I will soon need to face.  This is just one of those defining times in life when change is inevitable and while it's surely going to be a painful process, I need to remember that like many others who depart from their day to day life to experience something entirely different, it is worth it.  I'll find my own way to ingrain myself back into American culture and face that fear of being settled.  Once all of this is in my past, I'll have the memories of poignant moments, the photos of incredible places, the bonds with those I shared the experience with, to always go back to and remember fondly.  And who knows, maybe I'll find a way to combine career with international travel, being in a community at home and integrating myself into societies abroad.

Monday, September 12, 2011

An Ode to Boone

This weekend I finally returned to my beloved university town of Boone, NC.  Good ole Appalachian State, where it all began.  Up in the High Country things change subtlety year after year, but it still remains the Boone I remember in my eyes.  Sunday, after all the excitement of wedding festivities and reunions, I had a chance to perch up in my old favorite coffee shop, right in the very spot where I crammed for countless exams, escaping from the confines of my apartment or the library.  I found my favorite spot, right by the window upstairs, and even though the chairs were different and the people surrounding me were fresh students, it still was incredibly comforting to be right back in my Espresso News.  Writing has been more challenging lately with so many question marks about life and so much change occurring all at once, but being back up in the fresh air and surrounded by my old school finally made the words flow onto paper.  Just driving into the small downtown, walking up King Street, hearing the chatter of the students adorning their yellow and black for home game weekend, and seeing the peaks of the campus buildings surrounded by the mountain tops took me back to a mind set of being right there with them.  I can remember how bright eyed and enthusiastic I was, the possibilities of post college so vast, my mind set on a specific path that I was massively motivated by...

Well things have changed remarkably since then, but I can still reclaim that feeling as I settle back in to the atmosphere.  Boone will always be home in many ways, even after everyone I've ever known has moved away and when a much longer span of time has past, this will still have a part of me captivated.  It is one place that, regardless of the ridiculousness that often ensued in those naive college days, will always make me feel whole again and remind me I always have my little corner of the world to rest and just be.  I've ventured to many new locations, seen many beautiful cities and scenes, but there is something spectacular about these mountains that grab me in a unique way.  The beaches of the Canary Islands that I recently returned from have incredibly blue water and breathtaking views; the five towns of Cinque Terre, Italy adorn the vast green hills and traditional, modest, colorful homes; iconic landmarks fill the streets of Paris and Rome.  But there is something enchanting and timeless about these Appalachian Mountains.  And as much as I run off in search of my next place to call home, a new city to embrace, and as long as I seek out new awe inspiring images offered all over the globe, these mountain ranges and humble towns will never fail to impress me and leave me feeling refreshed.  It's my own personal connection that seems to only ripen with the years.  I love this town, this school, and these mountains, and I will always return to it, no matter how much it changes or what new places I venture off to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hasta Luego, Gran Canaria

It's hard to believe how quickly this month has gone by.  I have always been sentimental and nostaligic, so clearly a month of paradise with my boyfriend and heaps of new incredible friends and experiences is bound to make me alittle emotional.  In one month I've grown massively attached to all of it, from the people to the days spent lounging by the sea... I feel so lucky it's ridiculous but yet all these new people I've grown close to see this as absolutely normal living.  It makes me wonder, could I call a place like this home one day?  Not necessarily the Canary Islands, but some place tropical, relaxed, and overly friendly with close to perfect weather everyday incredible sights around every turn. 

I have to get back here sooner than later and somehow make this a more regular destination.  Now it is no longer some far off island, it is very much a part of me.  I never thought such a short time could stir me so much.  I feel like I'm leaving a place I've lived for ages.  I set up shop, with an apartment and roommates, a routine, familiar places to eat or have a coffee... and now it's back to feeling like a vacation.  It makes me so sad but so happy at the same time and is a big reminder why living this way can be hard but is so worth it.  Goodbyes never get easier, but that's why I have to see it as a see you later, rather than farewell.  Asi que, hasta luego Gran Canaria y gracias para todo.  Volvere aqui un otra vez, seguro. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Un Poco Español

Hoy quiero escribir en español para describir mi experiencia demasiado lejos y practicar mi nuevo idioma.  Nunca practico escribiendo así que mi blog es la oportunidad perfecta para intentarlo. Y que es mejor hablar sobre mi experiencia aquí en Gran Canaria y como de simpática y espacial es la gente.  Ellos son el razón de que haya mejorado y estoy orgulloso de saber algunas palabras canarias para añadir a mi vocabulario. ;)

Me encanta esta isla fleje y mi vida aquí.  Es increíble como la gente es amable en cada encuentro.  Esta mañana cuando estuve caminando hacia un café para tomar mi desayuno, cinco personas me dijeron ¨buenas días!¨ con grande sonrisas y entusiasmo.  En Madrid y en muchas otra ciudades, la gente es mas fria, nunca teniendo contacto con los ojos y solo hablando cuando es necesario.  Aquí es muy diferente, posible porque es una isla pequeña, muy lejos de el todo mundo, pero con tiempo perfecta y la playa muy cerca.  Mis amigos aquí son fantástico también.  Soy la ¨guiri¨ del grupo, pero en solo un poco tiempo, me siento como parte del grupo.  Mi español es malo todavía pero cada persona es muy paciente conmigo, explicando historias para mi muy despacio y muy interesante en lo que yo tengo que decir.  Me gustaría poder quedarme aquí mas permanente, pero tengo solo una mas semana.  Necesito disfrutar cada momento, y cuando sea tiempo de salir de aquí, estaré emocionada sobre lo que me depara el futuro. Ojala puedo volver a esta sitio tan especial.  Gracias para todo, mis niños!  

Monday, August 8, 2011

La Playa

There´s really nothing like the sound of the gently rolling waves at high tide in the late night, when the tourists have all moved on and you are left alone with the placid sea and the moon glowing in the distance.  Yesterday, after feeling more antcy then usual, I decided to escape the walls of my apartment and go for a quiet dinner and late night stroll solo.  I rarely get the opportunity anymore to take in experiences alone and set time aside for quiet reflection.  I had forgetten how much I love it and need it from time to time.  After a tall glass of red wine, a peaceful stroll along the shoreline, with my feet dancing in the warm clear Atlantic, was a perfect compliment.  I took a seat in the soft sand and simply watched the water rolling over the rocks and glisening in the distance, thinking, how can anyone that lives in a place like this not feel a certain undefinable connection to the sea and the nature around them.  I guess it´s easy to forget such beauty is a stone´s through away when the heavy weight of life´s responsibilities and distractions are baring down.  But for me, this is likely the most freedom and down time I will ever get to have, so making a conscious effort to soak in as much as I can is not too difficult.

I´ve never considered myself a ¨beach person¨ persay, but after spending just a short two weeks living a short walk away, I can now see exactly why people that have always lived by the ocean have something uniquely more relaxed about them.  Something about the ocean´s presence is like a reminder of what is important and real.  Some how just taking a few beats to silently stare out into the distant sea at least temporarily dissolves my racing thoughts and various daily concerns.  It´s like instant thearapy for the soul.  After only a short time of calling this paradise home, I feel like I absolutely must live somewhere with the ocean nearby when it´s time to settle into a place.  This island is incredible.  It´s no wonder why the people here seem to have an extra warmth to them and a ¨don´t worry, be happy¨attidude.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Another City, Another World

After over a month of neglecting my blog, it´s finally time for an update.  Right now I find my self sitting in an apartment, just minutes from the beach in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.  Before arriving to this point, I´ve been completely preoccupied by endless guests, making plans, and sorting out this crazy life of mine.  There has been no time to write and no possible way to catch up because between my trip from hell to Amsterdam and gobs of family and freinds here for adventures, there was just no way to document each story.  All I can say is July was an experience and I am totally blessed to have the people I have in my life, stateside and abroad.  Having my brother here and my close friends from home mingling with my new friends Madrid and sharing my new life at last was a healthy reminder of how important relationships are and that no matter where I go or what I do, they will always be there.

So now, here I am in the Canaries.  I´m still having a hard time absorbing the fact that I am here, but it feels like a dream-- most of the time.  Upon arrival I felt completely overwhelmed and uncomfortable.  Never have I felt so dependant and helpless as when I first got here.  My only person here was my Canary boyfriend, and with this relationship still fresh and new, the last thing I want is needing his assistance for every detail in my day.  Those thoughts quickly desolved as I got an opportunity to really see this beautiful place.  Absolute paradise.  I settled into my new apartment quickly, and even though my Spanish is still shaky, I´ve been able to establish sound relationships with these people, along with a massive group of new friends Borja has graciously ushered me into.

It´s been a week and I already feel right at home here.  I´ve explored the island, enjoying the warm sun down in the south for an incredible camping experience and day trip with a few fabulous Spanish girls.  My Spanish has improved more in the last week than in months of living in Madrid.  While I adore my companions in the big city sharing the same expat existence, it really hurts my productivity in acheiving one of my paramount goals of being here.  I can only imagine how much progress I´ll make by the time I leave at the end of August. I´m trying not to think to much about that right now, because I know in just a few short weeks, I´ll be setting off from this island paradise and faced with new decisions about a few hefty topics.  Maybe this experience in the Canary Islands will continue on when I return to Spain, but for now I have to see it as an incredible experience that will hold many nostalgic memories.  Another adventure to add to the catelog, reminding me of how many special nooks and cranies exist in this world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Living in the Moment

Sometimes, when I'm caught up in my mind, having a less then pleasant day, I tend to get a little carried away and go on a bit of a rant.  That last entry was definitely a form of ventilation.  Today, with a much clearer head, feeling much more organized and productive, I must follow up by giving a little credit to enjoying the moment and dealing with upcoming challenges one step at a time.  Yes, people are leaving, things are changing, and I face new decisions ahead, but in reality, every person is just living from day to day, making the best of things and getting on with it.  There are amazing memories constantly occurring, near future things to look forward to, and even just the simple pleasures of day to day living there to remind all of us how short and sweet life is.  It's easy to make life into this grand production, everything being mapped out like an intricate plot line filled with a perfect balance of love, romance, and suspense.  But, as one of my dear friends here reminds me often, you never know what surprises will come along, for better or worse, so it's best to enjoy and appreciate each moment.  I have an especially hard time with this sometimes, but it's so true that living in the now is massively important.  I've written about it before in this very blog, yet I tend to forget it as life gets a little heavy.  Why sit here spending this time worrying when there is so little time left in this situation, with these friends, this lifestyle, this flat... The time to make decisions is ahead, but I will cross that bridge as it comes, as they say.  It’s a beautiful summer day in Madrid, so I think I’ll go enjoy it.  :)

Monday, June 20, 2011


As I spend my final week of relative normalcy here in Madrid, a rush of pressures is beginning to hit me like a sudden tall wave on a calm beach. Here I am, moseying through life, when suddenly reality rears its ugly head. Well, I suppose reality isn't such a terrible thing, but I need to make sure my feet are braced so I can handle the inevitable impact.

There are good things, very good things that lie ahead in the upcoming months. Nonstop travel begins this week, and from there a constant stream of visitors will be gracing my presence and giving me not one moment to digest. That means that while it will surely be a memorable adventure, it will also leave me very little time to reflect and absorb this experience before dashing back to the United States in September. Many new contemplations have entered my spectrum of possibilities that I cannot ignore. I am now quite certain that I will return here for another year of teaching and improving my Spanish, pending the proper paperwork successfully goes through. This is one loose plan that must stick because in my oh so indecisive fashion, I needed to make a choice and this one was it. Beyond coming back to teach for the season, I have not a clue where to point myself. I have so many endless options about the where, what, and when, yet I can't seem to make a decision, even after spending so much time on the road. Now there is a new factor, a new person that is also applying the pressure and complicating the issue. It was challenging enough to be feeling my way through life and carving my path, but now when other people begin to walk on that path, a new sense of anxiety about my life decisions are weighing down on me heavily.

These are all good problems, I suppose, but as I continue to drift farther from a life that was, all of my friends back in the States, my lifestyle, possessions, career, I can't help but grasp on to the final strings with an unexplainable desperation. I feel a massive gap between a life that was and my life that is in such a short period of time and fear losing all that was familiar in exchange for an unknown that could turn out to be quite temporary. I wish I had more time, or better yet, I wish my path wasn't considered to be so rebellious to the upbringing I come from. As I traveled through Europe, one thing that grabbed me was utter freedom that other people from other countries seemed to have. My NZ friend could jump on a yacht doing grunt work for a year and think nothing of it; an Aussie I met decided to pick up and set roots for a year with no plan at all; my Canadian friend thinks it's bizarre that my move to be here was considered to be radical at all. But this vagabond lifestyle was not one I planned on and I am having a hard time feeling relatively useless as I float through my adventures. I'm ready for more. I'm ready to grow up a little and begin once again to have an impact. I'm so torn between so many things: my deep values that encourage me to break away from conformity, my relationship here with an amazing guy, the strong bonds with other expats on their journey, the dread of taking a number and standing in line as another unemployed American, the overwhelming decision of where to live if the US will be home again, my desire to see every corner of this planet... I don't know what home even is anymore and I just hope that even with the maddening travel schedule of this summer, I will be able to keep a clear head, gain some perspective, and further decide what is truly important to me and my future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Making way for summer

As the days of the school year wind down, my schedule has been widdled to merely one class a day, with next week being the final week for me. As June flies by, my mixed feelings of excitement and sadness are coming to a head. While I am absolutely thrilled to begin a summer of travels with friends from home and my bro, I can't help but feel a twinge of loss with the knowledge that this incredible whirlwind of a year is coming to a close. I'll return to this life once again next year, but it will take a much different form as only a small hand full of this incredible group of friends will be in Madrid once again.

I've kept myself plenty busy with goodness to distract from the reality of more changes to come. Next weekend I'll be having an early birthday celebration that will double as a grand goodbye party for all those folks heading out in June and July. Then the following weekend I'll revisit destination number two of my epic backpacking trip over a year ago and spend my actual birthday in an Amsterdam haze. Only days after I return from that trip, it's off to Barcelona for a weekend of good times before my brother arrives for two weeks of adventure. More friends from the states have chosen this time to visit as well so the entire month of July is going to be a whirl wind of travel. August will be my final month here and I plan to spend it with my special someone down in his home of the Canary Islands. In September its back to the good ole US of A to see my lovely people and tie up loose ends before returning back to my new home, here in Madrid, for another year that I can only imagine will be just as exciting and wondrous as this one has been.

Taking this path less traveled, departing from the comfort of a schedule and a planned future that is at least partially predictable, can be massively nerve racking, yet beautifully liberating. Looking ahead to my loose plan for the next six months, I sometimes wonder, is this actually a feasible way to live my life? What am I missing? But there's hardly time to think about that and when I look back on the time I've spend here thus far, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Who knows what the future will hold and whether this path has some detrimental missteps that I am blind to right now. I'll take them as I come and in the mean time, keep planning based on these whims and what feels right for right now.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Mediterranean Does it Again

Last year, as I made my treck through Europe, I discovered many beautiful locations that left me awe struck and impressed.  I found that the most picturesque of locations that I truely fell in love with were those along the Mediterranean coast, with Cinque Terre, Italy being my favorite.  Nice, Capri, the Almafi Coast, and Barcelona all had a special charm and the blue waters of the warm sea never failed.  Once again I've discovered a beautiful oasis situated out in the middle of this vast ocean and I can confidently say that it is a contender for one of the most beautiful locations I've visited thus far. 

Mallorca is a small island off the east coast of Spain that is know for it's German and English travel resorts and the infamous party island of Ibiza just south.  A friend and I ventured out on a cheap flight we managed to snatch for a long weekend of beach and sun.  Little did we expect to be blown away by the cliffside views and natural reserves we discovered.  Our hostel was situated right in the midst of the German party scene.  The pretty beach was littered with hoards of inebriated tourists and pink fleshed families.  We managed to find a spot to soak in the rays, but I couldn't help feeling how remarkably reminiscent of Myrtle Beach this was (the hectic underaged Spring Break version).  We endulged in the action for our first night, finding plenty of people to enjoy a night out with and ending up at the atrosious "Mega Park", a bastard child of the beer halls in Germany and fully equipt with shnitzle stands outside of the massive club. 

The next day, with our heads pounding and in desperate need of a change in scenery, we made our way to Las Palmas to get a taste for the city, have a real Spanish meal, and catch the match, Barcelona vs. Manchester.  The city was just as I expected, with the old city backing up to the massive port and plenty of places to duck in for a snack and a beer.  We discovered a crafty jewelry market to do a bit of browsing then popped into a local pub to see the game.  We went from being in Germany, to reentering Spain, and then to England as we entered the pub filled to the brim with English travelers.  We were among the very few happy patrons that night as Barca pulled out a win, but entering the streets we discovered that Mallorca is stuffed with supporters of the famous Spanish team.  People in their jerseys and waving their flags barreled down the streets, all heading for the central fountain to celebrate the victory.  Suddenly the town was filled with honking horns, chanting, and the colors of the team dashing by.  The festive spirit of the Spanish people never seeks to impress me.

Despite the victory festivities, we managed to make it an early morning the next day and rented a car with ease and for next to nothing.  I took the wheel and we began our ascent up into the mountains along the east coast of the island.  With each bend in the road, we became more and more awestruck by the breathtaking views dropping down dramatically from the thin windy roads I traversed.  The plentiful sun sparkled on the water as we marveled at the perfectly clear blue Mediterranean Sea.  We made our way through the first village, Validernossa, having a meal on the terrace and strolling though the quaint streets.  We stumbled over an inviting sign for Mallorca's special wine for a steal and couldn't pass it up.  This enchanting little nook was more than we bargained for with the most beautiful view out the large open window on the back terrace and the sweet, delicious red wine filled to the brim. We left content and continued up the coast, tripping over the next town, Deia, built quite literally on the side of a mountain.  It's hard for me to even capture the beauty of this tiny village in words.  Finally, we ended up by a famous port in Soller to have an ice cream, watch the sunset, and head back into town to meet an old good friend of mine before making our way once again to German town.

The next day, our final day, we dragged ourselves out of bed even earlier than the prior day to make good of the sun and our car.  We head southwest this time toward a natural reserve that was known to have one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain. As the roads became more secluded and we twisted through country roads, I doubted the direction we were headed.  We saw signs for this apparent beach, parked the car, and walked down a short, sandy trail.  As I turned the corner, my skepticism vanished as the crystal blue water and white sand took my breath away.  Not a building in sight and very few people lying on the sand, we could hardly believe that this was the same island as the hectic German scene we've been experiencing.  We found a spot to get comfortable and laid in the warm sun for hours.  As the clouds began to roll in, we decided it was a perfect time to have a bite and a drink and strolled up to the little beach cabana for some sangria and a bocodilla.  The clouds darkened as the day grew later, so we said goodbye to our special little discovery, packed our bags, and said goodbye.

Once again I've managed to be blown away by the beauty of the sea along the Mediterranean.  The more time I spend getting to know new places, the more I feel almost instinctually drawn to the warm climate and the ocean.  How is it possible to have such beauty be so accessible?  It's so great to know that not every pretty spot has been absorbed by holiday seekers and filthy rich spenders.  Next up:  The northern coast of Spain and then the Canary Islands. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ryanair, You Suck!

Sorry, had to remove this one, but the title and Dilbert say it all.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ah, Refreshed at Last

I would have never guessed I could wake up so clear and refreshed after merely one day of a semi recovery. Last night I still enjoyed a couple of canas and a few hours of terrace time with my dear friends before heading home on the late metro and staying up far too late once again. But when I returned home I made a command decision to get organized at last, regardless of the time on the clock. I once lived by to-do lists, but lately it has fallen by the way side as my responsibilities seem less pressing. Last night I pulled it together and went into a productive frenzy, planning the next several months before I head back home (temporarily). I woke up this morning before the alarm after having my first uninterrupted sleep in ages and pleasant dreams to match.

It remarkably all comes down to a lesson told by my dad many times, a lesson almost as old as time: everything in moderation. For a moment I was worried that in order to rebalance myself, I'd have to say goodbye to my social nights and glasses of wine on the terrace after work. But my problem has not been my lively routine; it was more an issue of not moderating myself. As I commence with morning Spanish classes in June, it's a relief to know that I can spend my final month of many of my friends being here enjoying their company and still not be wrecked the next day.

So the plans are set for the summer months at last and I feel a great weight is lifted, being replaced by a burst of excitement. This weekend I set off to the sunny beaches of Mallorca and when I return, my much needed intensive Spanish course begins. June will be more tame, staying here in Madrid to enjoy my people, and closing it with a bang in Amsterdam for my birthday. I'll need to get back to Spain fast, though, because a hoard of friends from home along with my brother, who I miss like crazy, will all be here, ready to see all the goodness I've already discovered in this country. When they leave at the end of the month, I'll either post up in a cottage on the sea or hit the trail on the Camino de Santiago. I get to look forward to seeing family and friends in September when I at last book my flight to get back home. It will be a return flight, though, because I am not ready to leave this place. Next year will surely be a different Madrid with many of my friends moving on, but I look forward to embracing a now familiar city and hopefully achieving the ultimate goal of cracking the code that is the Spanish language. Outlook is bright today and it's all thanks to simple moderation and at last being good to my mind, body, and soul.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It Keeps Going and Going and Going

The marathon continues as I can't seem to step away from the constant activity of this lively city.  Every day I fall more and more in love with the laid back Spanish culture valuing leisure and togetherness, countless bars and restaurants with their outdoor terraces and late hours, and the expansive parks cluttered with lounging people enjoying the warm Spain sunshine.  The energy lures me in as I join the masses for long afternoon pic-nics, giant botellons, and sleepless nights.  With the week long political demonstrations going on as well, this city is buzzing uncontrollably. It's absolutely incredible to witness so many passionate people fighting for their beliefs and simaltaneously making way for party.  I can't seem to get enough but I don't know how these people do it. Almost everyday this week I've been burning the midnight oil or watching the sunrise over plenty of constantly flowing wine and never ending fiesta.  When am I going to crash and why haven't I yet?  I feel like the Engergizer bunny. 

Aside from the influence of this country, there is a part of me feeling the pressure to be more structured and productive, a past voice telling me that is my inevitable responsibility as an adult to get serious and have a plan. But why deny this great feeling of happiness to satisfy a muttled inner voice? I feel divided, but making certain sacrifices is worth soaking in these great vibes and enjoying my time. Each day I live this way, collectively reflecting with my peers here following the beat to this other drum too, I become more secure with forfeiting certain luxuries in order to have a life of relaxed pleasure, at least for now. Sure, work is an inevitable necessity that I completely acknowledge and welcome, but that doesn't mean adopting another 50 hour a week schedule and burying myself in stressful tasks.

With all that said, I realize there is a time for work and a time for play. I am incredibly off balance right now, playing entirely too much like I'm in college again, but as the days wind down to summer and this experience comes to an end, or at least a dramatic transition, I can justify the scale being slightly tipped. Many of my close expat companions will be making their way back to the "real world" to commence in higher education, career pursuits, or another adventure. After June it is challenging for many to earn money and therefore makes it difficult to stay through the summer months, so our time together is rapidly coming to a close. We've committed to each other that for our last month or so together, the time is now to sacrifice sleep for fiesta and routine for spontaneity. Sure I'm feeling the effects and my body and wallet are not thrilled with me, but for the first time I don't feel guilty for the endless party and focus on fun. A time will come once again when work will be in the forefront, so for now I'll embrace. Another week is ahead of already scheduled gatherings and a cloudless weather forecast, so unless my body completely gives out on me, I will be right there to soak up every possible minute of it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Marathon Weekends

While I absolutely love how action packed my weekends here in Madrid are, Mondays are always painful.  From Thursday to Sunday my responsibilities are over and with perfect weather, incredible friends, and constant festivities, it's impossible for me to not get sucked into the vibe.  I could resist, but why?  This is the time to enjoy.  Still, I can't help wondering if I need to give my body a break and sacrifice missing out of some of the action.

It never ceases to amazing me how many exciting things constantly happening in this country.  After an epic night out Friday, I sealed the blinds shut to block out any peep of the already rising sun managing to eek out some sleep before chanting from outside my window stirred my curiousity and pulled me out of my cozy bed.  A demonstration, among many this weekend, was occuring down below with scores of Spanish flags waving and a sea of unbrellas of the on-looking crowd lining the streets for as far as I could see.  I spent as much time as I could bear observing the passionate political scene before hopping on the metro and getting an early start to another incredible unplanned evening out.  We sought out a familiar atmosphere, taking a break from the Spanish way and ducked into a popular neighborhood English bookstore, stuffed with expats from the UK, Ireland, and the States.  We gulped down a few blood maries and made our way to Carmencita, our favorite bar here, owned by a good friend of ours.  Before we knew it, we were putting down fishbowl sized gin drinks and hiccuping our way down the long calles, enjoying the sights and sounds of our city. 

The next day I was apruptly awakened from my dreamless sleep by loud music and shouting people speaking a slew of different native languages.  Right below my friend's window was cranking club music and loud drunken chatter.  In disbelief at the display on the clock reading 8:30 am, I did my best to ignore the maddening noise for the next hour.  At last I pulled myself to the window and shouted tirelessly at the top of my lungs for them to end the music and terribly abnoxious converstation.  It only got worse as the music drowned out my voice.  Until 11 am, the party rocked on and I lay, eyes wide open and glued to the cieling.  Sleep was no longer an option, so I got an early start on our Sunday Funday and by noon we were out the door, gulping fresh squeezed oj and cafe double to ward off our increasingly familiar hangovers. 

The Rastro, one of Europe's largest and most popular outdoor markets, was our main objective for the day.  We sorted through piles of junk and treasures and wandered through the mazes of streets filled with various street vendors, antique shops, and hand made goods.  The sun was shining brilliantly and the overwhelming crowds and merchandise kept our minds off the fact that the coffee was fading and we were essentially the appitamy of death, all heated up.  When the markets packed it up at 3:00 we decided to cure our pounding heads by putting hair on the dog at the famous Sunday spot in Madrid, La Latina.  With not a cloud in the sky, there was no other option for us than perching up at one of the many out door cafe tables and joining the minons for canas and vino for countless hours.  With converstation flowing in unison with the drinks, we barely realized that the sun was setting on our perfect day.  Six hours later we found ourselves reluctantly strolling nearer to the metro for an "early" end to the weekend.  But just as we began to throw in the towel, the lure of excitement from inside a tiny Spanish pub sparked our curiousity and mutual desire for just one more vino tinto and plate of tapas.  After 2 more wines and incredible "enlightening" converstation, the doors of the restaurant closed on us and finally set us on our way. 

Today I pay for it but can't help but still have a hazy smile on my face from the good times every weekend seems to bring.  Sure it's not a sustainable way to live- spending my little bit of money on an uncountable amount of booze and being less than productive with my free days.  But I will never be living in Spain again, free, young, broke, but loving it.  I've decided to stop feeling guilty for my good time and instead embrace the fact that after paying my dues working for the man, I can now enjoy this pocket of time to kick my feet up and turn the hands on the clock back.  Oh Spain...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's Hard to Find Things When You Are Looking For Them

I woke up this morning with a pounding headache and the residue of a tromoltuous evening filled with drama and heightened emotions.  I had been dreaming vividly this morning and this montra, that it is dificult to find things when you are looking, was the last clear memory from the dream.  As I came to and recalled the previous hectic evening, I realized that this is true in so many different regaurds, even in unexpected situations like last night's explosion.  We all have experienced those moments when you are desperately searching high and low for you keys only to discover they were nestled safely in your pocket, waiting for you to stop tearing apart your house trying to find them.  The same is true with other, less tangable things.  Last night I discovered the true strength of my friendship here with the very girls I was passionately arguing with.  Being here, living this uncertain life, can create great stress, but also bonds people in the most incredible ways.  I was in no way expecting such a lousy situation to transform into finding out that these people were such amazing friends to me.  I am learning this lesson the hard way since I always seem to be seeking out something more- a possible future career, where to settle my roots, even prince charming.  Slowly but surely I must stop deliberately searching for these things and allow them to materialize naturally when I am not expecting it.  My dear friends reminded me of how important this was last night as I stressed endlessly about things I simply can't control.  We can all gain from this very true phenominon and I for one will do my best to let life flow and stop searching so tirelessly for what is likely right infront of my face once I stop looking.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Missing Special Moments

One tough part about living abroad is when significant moments occur that I can't be there for.  My little bro, Jason is graduating this weekend from uni, and even though some don't see this as a huge momentous occasion, the fact that our entire extended family, as little as it may be, is finally in one place at the same time is a rare and special event.  Unfortunately with ticket prices being exorbitant from here to the US, making the long flight back for a few short days absolutely impossible.  I know you guys will be reading this when you get all unpacked and settled in, so I am glad I can take a moment to say I love you all so much and you mean the world to me!  Enjoy your stay in NC and when I finally make my return to the States, the first thing I'm doing is heading south and west for a long visit.  And congrats, Jas!  Hard to believe you are already finished.  See you here in two months when we can really celebrate.  Los quiero a todos con todo mi corazón!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tapas, Vino, y Amigas

If there is one thing that makes me nervous, it's trying anything new in the kitchen.  Cooking has never been my strong suit, but for some reason, the simplicity of Spanish cuisine eased me into the ambitious endeavor of creating a meal for 12 of my closest friends here in Madrid.  I decided to take a risk and make 5 dishes of traditional Spanish tapas and use my girl friends as guinea pigs to sample my creations.  The results were outstanding and I feel compelled to share the experience and receipts for these surprisingly successful dishes. 

I began the process by marinating green olives for 2 days in 2 different simple brines: one a spicy Spanish style and the other a citrus Moroccan style.  The Spanish style consisted of diced garlic, spicy paprika, olive oil, and salt.  In the Moroccan olives, I used the juice from two Valencia oranges, olive oil, and seasoned with lots of whole cumin and some salt and pepper.  I rinsed the olives, mixed in the new brine, and sealed them back in their original jars to marinate for the next 2 days, shaking them occasionally, and tasting them, of course.

My next endeavor was a cold salad consisting of spinach, garbanzo beans, red pepper, and green onions.  Besides lightly sauteing a large bag of spinach and draining and washing a jar of cooked chickpeas, the only requirement is mixing up a few simple ingredients.  I added chopped red pepper and green onions to the mix with a drizzle of olive oil, the juice from one lemon, and some salt and pepper to taste.  I threw some toasted brown bread, coated lightly in olive oil, on the side and watched as the dish evaporated before my eyes.

Now the real cooking begins.  One experimental dish I found was a honey baked tomato bruschetta.  It consistes of halved medium sized tomatoes a top a toasted slice of brown bread.  To prepare the tomatoes, I removed the cores, places one thin slice of garlic in the center of each, dusted them with thyme, salt, and pepper and drizzled a mixture of honey and olive oil over the top and inside the tomatoes.  The sat for 30 minutes, soaking up the flavors, before being placed in the oven for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.  When they were finished, I placed them atop the toast, allowing the leaking juices to be absorbed by the bread.  These little suckers were my favorite hands down.

Finally, the star of the show was the Spanish Tortilla.  This dish is famous all over Spain and is a staple in virtually every bar, cafe, and restaurant.  It is essentially a giant omelet, cut into slices and shared.  It is made with a generous heap of potatoes, usually onions, eggs, and any other filling your heart desires, from ham and chorizo to pepper and broccoli.  My creation was made with caramelized onions and red bell peppers and a little bit of mozzarella cheese.  I began by cooking up the veggies and placing them to the side.  Then in a large pan filled with olive oil, I cooked 4 thinly sliced potatoes until they were golden brown and as soft as I could get them.  Then I combine the cooked ingredients in with six large eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper.  After making sure everything was well mixed, I poured the concoction into a large pan with a thin base, coated lightly in olive oil.  I used a low heat and continued to allow the runny un cooked egg to seep to the bottom.  The hardest part is the flip, so with a drum roll and camera ready, I used a shallow bowl, larger than the pan, to transfer the half cooked omelet.  It worked! I then slid the tortilla back into the pan, allowing the other side to cook for about five more minutes.  I presented it to my guests with pride and moments later it was completely devoured. 

The final touch was a large cheese platter, slicing the blocks of cheese into thin triangles and serving them with bite sized pieces of fresh baggett.  My lovely ladies generously added to the expansive buffet with more cheese and bread, fabulous desserts, and other creative dishes.  And what party isn't complete without a wide variety of Spanish wine that continued to flow and transformed our quaint dinner party into a lively night out that lasted until the sun came up. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Trekking Through Andalucia

Spain loves their holidays and I love Spain for it. Ten days off for everyone right smack dab in the middle of the spring. Today is yet another Monday off so I'm taking advantage to finally update the blog on the wonders of Andalucía, discovered by way of driving through the country side and taking it all in during one of Spain's most famous celebrations, Semana Santa.

We started off our adventure in Grenada on a mission to see one of the world's wonders, the ancient Moorish Mosque, the Alhambra. Before going, all I really knew was that people that have been gush over its beauty and grand scale. I am now one of those people. The day began with late breakfast in the sun and a long stroll through the city. The old town of Grenada was buzzing with people in the little markets and unique plazas. We gradually made our way through the crowds, stopping to take in the atmosphere, buy fruit off the streets, and enjoy the fantastic weather. Eventually we made it to the entrance of the Alhambra's grounds and began our ascent through the vast wooded hills surrounding the musk. As we inched closer, the sounds of the chirping birds and babbling stream and sight of all the lush greenery took over our senses. We finally arrived at the top and my breath was taken. The mosque itself was amazingly preserved and had an incredible effect over all of its guests. Typically when I am surrounded by tourists, they detract from the goodness of the actual site. But this was different. As we strolled through the interior rooms and out into the colorful gardens, people all seemed almost mesmerized by the tranquility of their surroundings. Everything, from the detailed design and scripture on the walls to the still, glistening ponds and breathtaking views put me in a state of pure peacefulness and transcendence.

This peaceful easy feeling didn't exactly last as we made our way back to the city to catch the first of several match ups of rivals Barcelona and Madrid. After a day in the sun with very little food or water, the beers went down just a little too easy and that peaceful feeling transformed into a hazy blur and over enthusiasm for Madrid's victory. The next day, as we nursed our pounding headaches over breakfast in a street side cafe, the church processions were underway for Palm Sunday, congregations carrying their symbolic palm leaves and singing in unison. We took it in and watched the scene for a while until it was time to hit the road again and head south for some much needed R&R beachside on the Costa del Sol.

We arrived in Torremolinos, a touristic beach town outside of Malaga, ready for a peaceful lie on the sand. It wasn't quite in the cards for us with the clouds beginning to roll in and the beaches littered with souvenir shops and fish and chips shops everywhere. Even though we were looking forward to a quite hide away, our massive flat with an up close beach view and enormous terrace was a fair trade. The rain rolled in all day the next day, robbing us from the beach experience, but we still managed to tour the spectacle that was, for me, the boardwalk from hell, covered in cheesy shops, hotels as far as the eye can see, and even an American themed steak house with a electric bull. All we could do was laugh and try to shut out the fact that we were still in Spain- it was too depressing to see what tourism has done to the southern coast of Spain. From up in the hills of the city, the red clay shingles and white buildings gave the illusion that we were in a quaint Spanish beach village, but this scene completely robbed us of that.

The next day we said goodbye to the best part of our stay, our great apartment, and made our way to our last stop- Cordoba. Before heading off, we stopped in a little slice of heaven, Marbella. It completely reenergized me and renewed my impression of the Costa del Sol. The adorable winding streets of the old town were perfectly quaint and exactly what I imagined a Spanish beach city to look like. We stumbled over a charming cafe, tucked away in a flowery back street and took five over a tinto de verano before heading back on the road, stopping at artsy shops and a classic old Spanish church on the way out.
We pulled into Cordoba around five and were quickly reminded of what Semana Santa truly is to the people of Spain. Every attempt to drive in to the city was a fail with streets closed off for the slew of processions making their way through the city. We gave up, parked the car, and decided to explore. We were not prepared for the spectacle that ensued. We followed a crowd of people and the sound of horn marching band to find our first paso, a large float with the life sized Virgin Mary and hundreds of candles adorn it, being carried by a slew of young guys slowly through the town. Accompanying the paso was a priest swaying the traditional incense barrel and filling the air with a musky, potent aroma. The most initially shocking site was the army of robed and hooded people walking with the parade of people. To Americans especially, it is a shocking sight, looking remarkably similar to the infamous Ku Klux Klan uniform.

Later that night after settling in and enjoying a superb dinner of tapas and wine by the river for a ridiculously cheap price, we stumbled upon yet another procession, this time even larger and more intense. We were over loaded on the religious parades and sought refuge in a plaza, adequately named Plaza de Canas. When the one bar still open shut down, we called it a night and geared up for our final day of seeing the peculiar Mosquito Mosque. This was once an Arabic mosque, but was transformed over the centuries as Spain shifted rule. Now it is an odd hodge podge of Moorish architecture and Christian symbols and art. Very odd, but still quite beautiful. We had our final meal of our trip and hit the road at last, making our way back to Madrid.

Exhausted and over stimulated from all we saw, I spent the next half of the long break slugging around the city, simply eating and drinking away the time and the rainy weather. Stepping back into the swing of things proved to be quite a challenge for many the following week, but after a close to perfect long weekend back home and another day off today, I am back to normal and finally got the chance to recall the goodness of one of many treks through this amazing country.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ying and Yang Effect

I feel lighter than air.  Is it unnatural to have this many increasingly good days in a row?  For the past week goodness has just come flooding in out of nowhere and things are changing faster than I can process them.  I've been pining for answers about the future and that "feeling" that points me in the direction of what is next.  For several months- nothing, which had me questioning this move all together.  But now suddenly a last minute opportunity to enroll in a masters program for teaching here in Madrid for an additional year magically popped up just as I began feeling quite positive about being here.  The weather is perfect, my classes are going great, and my schedule is littered with epic trips special visitors.  It also doesn't hurt that you came along... you know who you are. 

As all this happens, I am resisting the tendency to be a little concerned in the dreaded ying/ yang effect.  You know that Chineese philosophie that says when lots of good things happen back to back, you are doomed for bad things to arise?  It reminds me of that classic episode of Sienfeild when George is terrified and in an awful way because of all the good happening in his life.  But I figure, I've endured plenty of bad fortune over the last several months and that should cover me on the yang.  Dramatic first roommates, a disappointing end to a built up relationship, a slew of illnesses, all of my accounts being hacked, the famous night of the tripple pick-pocket... They all had me on the brink of packing my bags in a jiffy and getting the hell out of here. Yes, I think it's time to enjoy all of this and finally, after 6 months (to the day) of being here, I think it is time to exhail.  I don't really believe that life is perfectly balanced with ying and yang, but if it is, keep the ying coming...