What’s for lunch? Part 1

What’s for lunch? Part 1

If you have ever lived in a different country, you know that recipes never turn out the same from country to country. It could be that foods taste a bit different or something simply “doesn’t exist” in that country, here’s looking at you, sour cream, bagels and good quality bacon. I once learned to make green bean casserole from scratch in order to satisfy a craving for one of my fall favorites. However, in the end. I found it was easiest to just adapt to my local (Día or Carrefour) ingredients.

Here are a couple simple, cheap and delicious recipes that were on the menu just about every week when I lived in Spain and tailored to Spanish grocery stores. Both of these recipes will be cooked on a stovetop and you will need a pot, a pan, a strainer and a spatula. Feel free to try to imitate them outside of Spain, they never turn out how I want!

Simple macarrones a la carbonara

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 250 g pasta (1/2 of a bag)
  • 200 g tiras de bacon
  • 500 ml nata de cocinar (two small boxes or one 1/2 L box)ingredientes-carbonara
  • mozzarella cheese
  • salt
  • pepper

Instructions:

  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
  • Sauté the tiras de bacon in a pan on medium-high heat until cooked. Bring down the heat to low-medium and add the nata de cocinar to that same pan, bring to a simmer while stirring.
  • Once the tiras de bacon/nata de cocinar sauce has simmered, add it in to the pot of already cooked pasta.
  • Add mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Enjoy!

*Tip: Sauté onions or mushrooms with the tiras de bacon to add some extra flavor! Also, feel free to add more or less nata de cocinar to the recipe, some people prefer more or less sauce!

Simple macarrones con chorizo

This simple recipe is really special to my boyfriends family. It is something that his grandmother used to prepare weekly for his mom growing up in the 70’s and then for him when he went to visit, while growing up in the 90’s. When my boyfriend was a kid, he remembers how special it would be when he would get an extra piece of chorizo on his plate!

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 250 g pasta (1/2 of a bag)
  • 200 g chorizo
  • 500 ml tomate frito
  • salt
  • pepper

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Instructions:

  • Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
  • Cut the chorizo as desired. I prefer 1/4 inch slices, others prefer thinner. Sauté the chorizo in a pan on medium-high heat (don’t let it burn!). Bring down the heat to low-medium and add the tomato frito to that same pan, bring to a simmer while stirring.
  • Once the chorizo/tomate frito sauce has simmered, add it to the pot of already cooked & strained pasta.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Enjoy!

*Tip: Use good quality chorizo and you will taste the difference in this recipe!

Have any of your Spanish roommates made either of these recipes? I know they are favorites of my Spanish friends.

¡Que aproveche!

Kate

Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): Week 1

Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés): Week 1

Pilar, Adri and I have just started the Camino Francés! By just started, I mean a week ago. If you take a look at this map (that I stole from the internet), you can see where we are headed! The bold red line is more or less our route, ours is actually one step earlier than Roncesvalles! We started in St. Jean Pied de Port, France on a Monday afternoon! 
One of the difficult things about starting the Camino is getting to St. Jean! We came from Madrid and I think took the best route possible! 

On Monday morning Adri’s mom dropped us off at Atocha and at 7:35 we caught a train from Madrid to Pamplona and then took a taxi to the bus station in Pamplona…(well, we stopped at a sporting goods store quick to get sleeping bags for Pilar and I)…and then took a bus from Pamplona to St. Jean! The bus from Pamplona to St. Jean was enough to make anyone feel car sick so if you do get car sick, make sure to take some sort of anti nausea medicine if you decide to start your hike from there!  

   
Please take note of our backpacks, don’t worry, within the first couple days we definitely realized they were too heavy and sent about 4 kilos worth of stuff to Adris house by snail mail! 

Honestly, what I did before the Camino was read packing list after packing list! I seriously don’t know how I had (still have) so much stuff! 

Day 1 (Madrid-Pamplona) St. Jean-Orisson:

7,5 km (difficult at mid-day with sun!)

We got from Madrid to St. Jean and went to get our pilgrims credentials! 

 
Thanks, Anne! From there it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and we started walking to Orisson. If you know anything about weather in Spain, you know that their “hottest part of the day” is from about 2 to 5 pm. So, we had the great luck of walking through 100 degree temperatures! It definitely felt like it! 

       

St. Jean
 
So, Orisson maybe halfway to Roncesvalles but we wanted to get ahead and we heard the hike from St. Jean to Roncesvalles was brutal! So this was our time to give ourselves an “easy” hike! It wasn’t easy at mid day by any means but I am so glad we did it! I couldn’t imagine having to go all the way from St. Jean to Roncesvalles on that first day. Not to mention the Albergue in Orisson is great! It’s expensive but it comes with dinner and breakfast included so the price balances out, the price per person was €35! At dinner in Orisson we got introduced to everyone and then went to bed around 9! 

Also, another plus about Orisson is that there is an AMAZING sunrise in the morning!  


Day 2 Orisson-Roncesvalles:

18,2 km (Wind and Pyrenees, be warned!)

Here we go, our first full day, through the Pyrenees! Wind. Wind. Wind. Oh, wind. I was pretty sure I would get blown off the mountain. As we walked, it was breathtakingly beautiful with lots and lots of hills. 

Pyrenees
    
Highest point before Roncesvalles
  In Roncesvalles we stayed at the Albergue municipal de Roncesvalles, I don’t think there’s another option, but I wouldn’t choose anything else! It wasn’t so bad!  
Albergue in Roncesvalles
 
Day 3 Roncesvalles-Larrasoaña 

27 km (Hills! So. Many. Hills. So. Hot)

We left Roncesvalles pretty early and saw our first sign for Santiago…only 790 km to go!

   

We left early, but who knows what happened and got in late, this was our longest day of the week! This day I sent Adri’s bag by messenger service which is why you will see Adri with my bag! We put the heavy stuff in his bag and sent it away, we were too tired to bother with all that weight! 

   
    
    
    
 It was a long day and I am so grateful we stayed at the Albergue San Nicolas instead of the Albergue municipal. Our Albergue was new and reformed and had a kitchen so we could cook! 

Day 4 Larrasoaña-Zariquiegui 

25.9 km 

This day we passed by Pamplona and sent a few things because our bags weighed so much! We stayed at the Albergue San Andrés in Zariquiegui, it was ok but not much space to dry clothes! 

Day 5 Zariquiegui-Cirauqui

20.8 km. 

Day 6 Cirauqui-Villamayor de Monjardín

23.4 km 

Day 7 Villamayor de Monjardín-Viana


That finishes our first week on the Camino, how many

Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

Housing, in Spain? Oh my!

The time is getting close for everyone to move to Spain and everyone is stressing about not having an apartment. Yes, you do have fair enough reason to be stressing, you are moving across the ocean with all of your junk and you don’t have anywhere to keep it! However, just relax. It WILL work out. To be honest though, finding housing isn’t as easy as it was in college. You can’t just ask one of your friends for advice because everyone has a different school placement and different financial situations. In college, we just wanted to know where’s the best place to live off campus, closest to the bus line, nearest to the best bars (because we would all be walking home through knee deep snow) and which landlords are most likely to give back your security deposit in full. Friends could usually tell you all of this information and more! In Spain, we want to know the same things, it’s just ALOT more difficult. You have a lot of options, almost too many. Do I want to be an au pair or just rent a room? Do I want to search on a website? Do I want to go through a company? How much am I willing to pay? How far am I willing to commute? Let’s take a look!

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Thanksgiving at my apartment in Madrid! November 2013

Housing Options

Rent a room: One room. This is the ideal situation. It’s all you want and all you need. Bills in your name? Try not to. Sign a lease? If you don’t have to, don’t. Security deposit? One month only please.
Rent a piso (an entire apartment): Yes, people do this however, really really think about what you are committing to.This would mean that you would have to fill the other bedrooms and you would have to have all the bills (internet, water, gas, etc) in your name. If you don’t find a roommate, you are responsible. If the internet stops working, you are responsible. If the bill is really crazy one month, you are responsible to find out why. If there are cockroaches, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE. Think about it…do you want to be THAT responsible?
Be an au pair: Live with a family, spend a couple hours a day teaching english to their kids and you can live for free and eat for free. Everyone I know who has been an au pair has had a different experience. Some liked it, some hated it. It really takes dedication. I tried it for a month, in the end I moved out. I didn’t want to spend 5 days a week giving private classes to three kids when I only have to work as an auxiliar 4 days a week. Maybe I am just lazy but I didn’t want to feel guilty when I wanted to take my 3 day weekends to myself. If I wanted to travel or lay in bed or do whatever I darn well please, I didn’t want to have to worry about a family needing me to pick kids up from school and then give them english classes on my day off.

How to Find Housing

Idealista: A housing website. The problem with housing websites is that many rooms get filled and the landlord doesn’t take the ad down. You could call 15 people and they could all say “Sorry, its already rented out”…Really irritating especially when you’re wasting minutes calling them!
EasyPiso: A housing website. I don’t like this one really but I know others use it.
SegundaMano: A housing website.
Auxiliar de conversación Facebook page: Often auxiliars are looking for roommates or renting out their own room. Also, Spanish people use the auxiliar page to contact people about open bedrooms in their flats or about being au pairs.
Ads on the street: As you walk around the neighborhood you want to live in, you will see ads posted on telephone poles or doors or anywhere really. Write down the phone number, give them a call and go see the apartment. (That’s how I found my first apartment!)

Paying Rent/Gastos (Bills)

Rent in Spain can be with gastos includos or gastos no incluidos. So, either your bills are included in your rent or they aren’t. If they aren’t, ask about how much they will cost monthly to figure out how much you will truly be spending on housing each month.

How much? It varies. In Madrid, I know people pay anywhere from €300 to €600 a month rent including what they pay for bulls. Paying €300 will get you a small bedroom in a shared apartment and €600 would be your own small studio apartment. The average from what I have heard is about €400 a month for a normal (for Madrid) bedroom. Friends of mine outside of Madrid paid €200 all included. Really you should try not to spend more than half of your salary on rent. In Madrid we make €1000 a month and everywhere else in Spain makes €700 a month.

Some advice about paying rent…make sure, make sure, MAKE SURE that you are not living with people who are stealing your money! It seems simple to say, but with the language barrier and lack of knowledge about how renting an apartment works in Spain, people get screwed over big time. The tenants and the landlords, to be honest. For every five housing stories with happy endings, there are 15 horror stories.

Make sure you read your lease, know what they will take out of your security deposit and make sure that you know what you are paying for. Also, make sure you are getting what you paid for. Most bedrooms will vary in price within each apartment, if you are in the smallest room and paying the most there is definitely a problem. Try not to open an internet account or any account in your name. The contracts are always at least one year and do you really want to pay for internet for 12 months when you will probably only live in your apartment for 9? Just a thought. Later on you will be posting on the auxiliar page saying “do I really need to pay this? I am going back to america anyways.”

Last but not least, when you pay rent each month, you need to pay your money directly into a bank account and make sure you know WHO the bank account belongs to and ALWAYS ALWAYS keep evidence of what you have paid. ALL of the receipts you get from the banks are the ONLY proof you have that you have paid. Try NOT to pay in cash, because if you pay in cash there is no proof that you ever actually paid it.

Leases (Contratos)

You don’t want a two-year lease. Simple as that. Honestly, you don’t want even a one-year lease. It’s a bitch to find a sublet. Sign a lease but make sure your lease has an out or even that your lease ends when you plan on leaving Spain. Most want at least a 6 month commitment, which is totally doable as an auxiliar!

If you didn’t sign a lease, DON’T PAY A SECURITY DEPOSIT. If it’s not written down, they don’t have to give it back, and trust me, they WON’T give it back.

If you didn’t sign a lease you can move out whenever you want OR they can kick you out whenever you want, it goes both ways my friends.

Social security number, official documents, etc. be CAREFUL as to who you are giving the information to. Yes, you’ll probably have to give a photocopy of an ID, most likely your passport, however, no one wants a random photocopy of their passport floating around in the hands of someone else. If they don’t ask for it, don’t give it.

Where to Live/Commuting

Take a look at the public transit information for your city. Does it look like gibberish? I imagine so. This gibberish will become your life. Madrid has a great metro system, cercanias (trains) and the busses aren’t bad either. All Spanish cities have really reliable public transport. To be honest, Madrid isn’t THAT big either. You should be able to find yourself an apartment that lets you have under an hour commute.

WOAH, an HOUR commute?! That was my thought too. Really, an hour on the metro isn’t bad, you can get lost in Game of Thrones, just don’t forget to get off at your stop! Some people even have a 5 minute walk to school. It all depends on your school and the size of your city! Honestly though, don’t set yourself up for failure, if you know you can’t make it on time living an hour away, move to a different part of your city. Living by school is an option too! However, if you are an hour from your friends it makes it a lot more difficult to meet up for dinner. Especially at night when public transport stops at 2am. Sucks to be the one to have to leave early to catch the metro…or sucks to have to taxi it home when you just missed the last metro by minutes! or you could just take the metro home at 6am when it opens back up!

Sunrise walking to the metro in the morning when it opened back up!
Sunrise from Gran Via at 6 in the morning on the way to the metro to go home from a party!
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The city center of Madrid as a ghost town as I walked to the Metro at 6am!

Metro: Locate your school, find which metro stop you are at and which line your school is on and plant yourself in an apartment in the center that’s within easy walking distance of the metro line your school is on. For example, your school is off the red line but super far north. Try finding an apartment by the red line closer to the center, so you can metro to work but walk a short distance to meet up with friends. Not having to transfer lines could save your sanity on early morning commutes!
Cercanias: The train, takes you to the suburbs of Madrid (Getafe, Alcala de Hernares, etc). If you have to take the cercanias, you should try to live with an easy commute to Atocha to make your life easier!
Bus: In Madrid, there are city busses that are red or blue that stay within the city limits. Then there are green busses that leave from Principe Pio or Moncloa or wherever that take you to the suburbs that there may not be a train or metro! If this is your situation, live near the bus station!
Walking: Then there’s the lucky ones. Those that have their schools in the city center and can live there and walk a few minutes to school. Lucky ducks.
Biking: Within Madrid, I wouldn’t bike to work, the bike paths aren’t great. However, in other cities throughout Spain, such as Sevilla, there are great bike paths that you can easily and safely bike to work.
Car: In some towns, teachers live in the center and drive to their school if there is no good bus system to the school. This takes place more often in very small towns. You can contact your school and ask the teachers their schedule and maybe there is a spot for you in someones car. You’ll have to pay them but you will have a direct route from your home to work! Seems pretty good to me!

Things that are easily Overlooked

In Spain, their idea of what is included in the apartment isn’t exactly the same idea as what we would have in America. If you need an oven, make sure that your apartment has an oven. Some may have ovens that don’t work (you have to directly ask if the oven works sometimes, not even joking). Is there a microwave? Is there heating? In my old apartment we had radiators in all of the rooms except mine. The reasoning was that my bedroom was an interior bedroom so the cold from the street couldn’t reach my room. I thought the cold air came in through my window…either way, they bought me a mini heater. If your apartment is big, make sure the WIFI reaches your bedroom. They sell “repitidores de WIFI” for about 60 euro (In english maybe it’s called a transmitter, it’s to make the signal reach further). Also, if your bed is really uncomfortable, before you move in, let them know that a mattress pad is something you want included (Yes, you can do that).

I do know people who have complained that they don’t have paintings on the wall. However, I would take a toaster over a poster any day. Some other things you might want to ask…when is the last time they sprayed for cockroaches. Have they got bug problems? Do the neighbors play the piano really loudly? Really anything you can think of. You should ask the questions to the roommates if you see other roommates around, it’s probably the only way you will get the truth.

If you have any questions feel free to ask! I will help as much as I can! If you think I left out anything important in selecting apartment, let me know and I will update my post! Good luck on your apartment hunt, I will be starting again in a couple weeks too!

Kate

 

Neptuno v. Cibeles

Neptuno v. Cibeles

As we all know, with sports, comes RIVALRIES!

I found this on twitter. It's a great representation beside  the fact that the fountains are above the wrong teams.
I found this on twitter. It’s a great representation beside the fact that the fountains are above the wrong teams.

 

We all know the Cubs/Sox and of course, Bears/Packers. Maybe you have even heard of the Real Madrid/FC Barcelona rivalry if you keep up with soccer. However, I am almost positive you haven’t heard of the Atletico de Madrid/Real Madrid rivalry. This one is pretty comparable to the Cubs/Sox…good versus bad as some may say, you choose who is good and who is bad.

As a study abroad student in fall 2010, the very first hotel we stayed at was the NH Paseo del Prado, right across from the Prado museum and the Neptuno fountain. Now, this was the first time I had ever stepped foot in Spain and the only thing I knew about Spain before I got to Spain was, well, nothing. I vaguely remember being in the bus and seeing a big beautiful fountain and having everyone take pictures of it and having no idea what it was even called or that it had any special significance. The next day, we went to the Prado Museum and then we left Madrid for Toledo and last stop, Granada, where I studied abroad. While in Madrid, we didn’t even walk down Gran Via or make it to Sol (that I remember). I just remember staying in the Plaza of Neptuno (that isn’t the plazas official name), and admiring the huge fountain from afar. Looking back, as memories of Madrid, I have the Prado museum and a nameless fountain. While studying abroad I learned a little about soccer (fútbol), too. I learned that Madrid has a football team called, Real Madrid and Barcelona has FC Barcelona, nothing more than that. Four years later, I live in Madrid and I realize, sadly, how much I truly DIDN’T know about Spain and specifically about Madrid when I was a study abroad student. Every day I am learning new things about Spain and Madrid, and I love it even more and more!

Now, let’s get back to our rivalries. First of all, Madrid has many, many soccer teams. Who knew? Apparently everyone. However, the two biggest are Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. As we all know, I am not exactly a die hard sports fan. However, I do like tailgating (which doesn’t exist in Spain), hanging with friends and cheering along when everyone else starts to cheer. So, what does that mean for me when people start talking bringing up sports teams that I never knew existed? It means that it’s time for me to learn about sports and the culture that surrounds the sport. In Spain, this important sport is soccer. If you are coming to live in Madrid or Spain for that matter, you should probably learn your basics. I will teach you the basics of Madrid soccer. In Madrid, the main teams are Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. For those of you living in the states, you probably have only heard of Real Madrid because it is the most popular team and yeah, they do win a lot more (Sorry Adri, it’s true, it’s probably even a statistic).

Bernabeu and Calderon. Cibeles and Neptuno. Madridista and Colchonero. Hala Madrid and Aúpa Atleti. Madrid and Atleti. The Derby.

What do all of these things mean? These are what represents each team. In reference to Chicago sports, these things would be comparable to the Madhouse on Madison, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, The Cubbies, The Hawks, Go Cubs Go, Let’s go Hawks or Bear down. Recently the European Soccer Championship took place, for the first time in history it was two teams from one city competing for the title of Champions, Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. This big rivalry is called, “The derby”. In the end, Real Madrid won, taking their tenth championship title. The “we are the champions” song played on the TV for the next week following the big win! Now, let’s talk about our teams.

Ciebeles vs. Neptuno
Cibeles vs. Neptuno (from Twitter)

Atlético de Madrid

Nickname for team: Atleti
Nickname for fans: Colchoneros, rojiblancos, or indios. 
Stadium: Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Catch phrase: Aúpa Atleti
Place of Celebration: Fuente de Neptuno

Atleti are the underdogs, they are like our dear Chicago Cubbies. However, unlike the Cubbies, Atleti actually does win things! The tickets to the games during the season for Atleti aren’t very expensive (depending on the game). Anyways, when Atleti wins they get to celebrate at Neptuno, the fountain, which is in the city center near the Prado Museum. What do they do there? Sing songs about their team, chant “aúpa atleti”, drink calimocho or beer and party until the wee hours of the morning. This happens after games but it is most important after a big victory. When Atleti won La Liga this year, everyone went that night to Neptuno and then the next day everyone went back to Neptuno because the team came. Everyone went crazy and there was more people packed into one plaza than you could ever imagine. If you are ever in Madrid on the day of a big win, make sure you go to the fountain, you won’t regret it!

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Photo by Ana
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Photo by Estibaliz
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Gabi, the captain of Atleti after winning La Liga against Barcelona in May 2014 from 20 Minutes

Real Madrid

Nickname for team: Madrid
Nickname for fans: Madridistas, merengues, or vikingos 
Stadium: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
Catch phrase: Hala Madrid
Place of Celebration: Fuente de Cibeles

This team is the popular team among people in the States along with Barcelona. It’s the most advertised of all the Spanish soccer teams. Typically tickets for the games are very expensive. When Madrid wins, all of the Madridistas go to Cibeles, which is located at metro Banco de Espana and they, like atleti, party until the wee hours of the morning. Recently, when they won the championship league, the fans partied at cibeles until the time the team made it to madrid from Lisboa at 6:30 in the morning!

My friend Pilar celebrated her birthday watching Madrid win the Champions League and earning a 10th title!
My friend Pilar celebrated her birthday watching Madrid win the Champions League and earning a 10th title!
Plaza de Ciebeles where Real Madrid celebrates (Background, the post office of spain)
Plaza de Ciebeles where Real Madrid celebrates (Background, the post office of spain)

Each fountain is there through the wins and the losses for the fans, along with the police who surround the fountains! I was told that the fans (a few years ago) used to storm the fountains after the victory of their team. It’s only in the recent years that there are so many police (and now even barricades) to block entrance to the fountain because one year, someone took a hand (I believe) from the fountain of Cibeles, it was later returned. Since that incident, no one is allowed in either of the fountains. They say that they don’t want damage done to the historical monuments, alright, understandable, I guess.

Each fountain represents their teams unity and team spirit and the spirit of Madrid. Although the Madrileños wouldn’t admit it, no matter which team they are cheering for, they are always celebrating one victory, Madrid. The heart of Spain and each of their teams in their hearts.

Kate

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Aúpa Atleti

Legumbres

Legumbres

Recently, I have had a bunch of visitors here in Madrid and it has been amazing! However, when you have visitors, what do you show them? Where do you go? When do you go?

After living in Madrid for the last few months, I think I have become immune to some of the things that used to seem really different to me. Things like, taking the metro, eating dinner after 6pm or cooking with a pressure cooker weren’t the norm, until now.

So, here’s a list of a few things that I like to do as a “tour guide” when people come visit me here in Madrid.

Tapas and drinks

My whole life revolves around food, so clearly forcing my friends and families to eat loads of tapas is my number one priority while they visit me in Madrid. However, when friends visit, you can’t just show them any tapas or choose random bars and hope for the best. No no. Think of it this way, their first homemade croquetas, their FIRST tortilla de patatas, their FIRST EVER TINTO DE VERANO! Now, don’t get me wrong, I like 100 Montaditos for cheap pre-made tinto any day, but If your friends and family spend $1,000 on a flight to come visit, do your research and show them the good stuff. They can’t leave Spain thinking that tapas are only montados, olives or potato chips and that tinto comes pre-made! Oh, Sangria shouldn’t come from a box either! With my visitors, we went to Pintan Tapas, as well as some other amazing bars around madrid!

The family enjoying pintan tapas!
The family enjoying pintan tapas!
Sophia and her first ever tinto de verano!
Sophia and her first ever tinto de verano!

Legumbres!

Beans, beans and more beans. I love beans. Lentejas (Lentils), Cocido Madrileño (Madrilenian(?) stew), Fabada (stew), Judiones (big ass beans…that’s a direct translation), I think the list goes on forever because the Spanish love beans and I love the Spanish because they love beans (ok, that’s not the only reason)! In my family, we don’t cook with a pressure cooker, at all. I don’t know many (or any) Americans who do. So when it comes down to beans, we make refried beans from a can, baked beans from a can, and homemade chili…again, using beans from a can. Here in Spain, they use dried beans, soak them in water over night and then throw them in the pressure cooker with many different forms of cured ham and magic, you have some sort of bean stew! After all this bean talk, you can clearly tell that my family and friends got to enjoy some stews while here in Spain!

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Judiones in Segovia!

Terrazas

From the street, it’s hard to get a good view of Madrid, make sure you find some sort of terrace to take your guests to! I think any bar would be great! I usually like to go up into the old correos building in Plaza de Ciebeles. I also like to go to the Gourmet floor (floor 9) in the Corte Ingles in Plaza Callao. Also, learn what the tops of the buildings look like so you can show your friends all the places they’ve been! From the Corte Ingles in Callao you can easily see the Palacio Real, the Almudena, Opera, the tops of the four corners of the plaza Mayor and many other things, including the newly reinstated Tio Pepe sign in Sol! (During Christmastime you can see the top of the Christmas tree in Sol too!)

Old and new friends at the Corte Ingles!
Old and new friends at the Corte Ingles!

Entertainment

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a sports fanatic, nor a fan of bull fights, however, they are a big part of Spanish culture. Soccer and bulls that is. So, why not join the crowd? Who wants to be an independent when you can join the Frente at an Atleti game or go to Las Ventas to see a bull fight? Soccer is one of the biggest, if not the  biggest, thing that unites Spaniards, but, bull fights, not so much. Bull fighting seems to be up in the air, people love it, people hate it, people don’t care. I personally think that if I’m willing to eat the meat, wouldn’t it be hypocritical to be opposed to watching the animal die? It is what it is. Anyways, immerse your friends in something Spaniards love, (even if you don’t love it yourself) so that your friends and family can get a better idea of what Spanish culture is all about!

Soph and I supporting Atlético de Madrid back in April! Now the champions of la Liga!
Soph and I supporting Atlético de Madrid back in April! Now the champions of la Liga!
Aunt Wendy, Kate & Mom at the Bull Fight in Madrid (Las Ventas)
Aunt Wendy, Kate & Mom at the Bull Fight in Madrid (Las Ventas)

Day trips

Any town that is within a couple hours could be great for a day or weekend trip! With my mom and Aunt we took a train for a day trip to Segovia, with my sister we went hiking in Cercedilla and with Sophia we spent a couple days in Valencia. Any of these trips are easy and worth your time if you have it! Don’t forget your cochinillo in Segovia (we went to a restaurant called Lazaro off the Plaza Mayor, I highly recommend it!). Lastly, enjoy some agua de Valencia while in Valencia!

Cochinillo in Segovia (Yep, that's a piglet!)
Cochinillo in Segovia (Yep, that’s a piglet!)
Agua de Valencia (Roughly a mimosa/screwdriver)
Agua de Valencia in Valencia (Roughly a mimosa/screwdriver)

Really, there are so many more things to do, these are just a few! What kinds of things do you like to do when you are showing your friends around the city? To be honest, with all said and done, my favorite thing to do is to just walk around the city. The beauty of Madrid never ceases to amaze me and I love to share it with others! I hope you share it with your friends and family too!

Kate

Kalua Helados: Calle de Fuencarral, 131, Madrid

Kalua Helados: Calle de Fuencarral, 131, Madrid

It’s beautiful in Madrid and with this beautiful weather all I can dream of is paseando through the city and eating ice cream.

Ana enjoying Retiro on a beautiful spring-like winter day.
Ana enjoying Retiro on a beautiful spring-like winter day.

Although Spring officially arrives in just a few days, the weather has been Spring-like here for weeks, thank-you Spanish groundhog! No, there is no Spanish groundhog, but if there was, he definitely did his job correctly. With this beautiful weather I have spent most of my free time out and about in the city exploring and enjoying the beauty that is Madrid.

During my OTHER free time (hey, I’m an auxiliar), I have done a few weekend trips, Belgium was beautiful and I sure had my fair share of Belgian chocolate! Then I spent a weekend in Mallorca and lastly, for my first ever Spring semester in Europe, I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, I saw Zac Brown Band at the O2, went to the Guinness factory, wore a Vikings hat all weekend and even made it to the St. Patrick’s Day 5k on Sunday morning, impressed? I think it was my most successful weekend trip yet!

Now, lets get down to the nitty gritty of this article, I wanted to tell you all about one of my favorite places in Madrid. It’s an ice cream place, shocking, right? It’s at the top of Calle de Fuencarral, about a 30 minute walk from Sol straight up Fuencarral if you don’t stop to browse in the shops or you could take the metro and get off at Quevedo. It’s about a 5 minute walk from Quevedo. I highly recommend walking up Fuencarral, browsing the shops and rewarding yourself with ice cream. It’s really the only way to do it. Anyways, the staff are so friendly (maybe because I am their best customer) and the ice cream is amazing! My personal favorite flavors are cookies and brownies. I know, I really should branch out but I just can’t do it. Some of their other amazing flavors include Nutella and Red Velvet. Are you just a chocolate/vanilla person? Their chocolate and vanilla are both to die for, sometimes I’d almost just rather go with the traditional than the fancy stuff but I can’t keep away from that cookies ice cream!

Take a look my friends, yes, it's as good as it looks.
Take a look my friends, yes, it’s as good as it looks.

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The happiest guy on earth.
The happiest guy on earth.

 

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Did I mention they also have waffles, crepes and pancakes? When my sister arrived here from Chicago the first thing we did was go out to breakfast at Kalua! The waffles, crepes and pancakes are amazing, but really the ice cream is where it’s at, so if you are forced to choose between a crepe and an ice cream cone, definitely go for the ice cream!

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Anyways, I know sometimes the line gets really long, but patience is a virtue and this ice cream is definitely worth it, it will be especially amazing on a hot summer evening, I cannot wait! Thanks for reading my rant about ice cream, and if you stop by Kalua, you’re going to have to let me know which flavor you chose!

Kate

Palma de Mallorca: A quick & easy weekend getaway!

Palma de Mallorca: A quick & easy weekend getaway!

Bikes, Goats & Ensaïmada.

To the tune of around €90, you can fly roundtrip to Palma de Mallorca on RyanAir, and I do recommend it! ESPECIALLY because now RyanAir gives assigned seats on flights, score! This last trip both of my flights made it on time, I think RyanAir must be trying to step up their game and I don’t hate it. When you arrive at PMI airport, you can take a taxi (€20-€25) or bus to wherever you need to get! I would recommend a hostel/hotel near the Plaza de España because it’s well connected (Like all main plazas) and the direct airport bus leaves right from there.

Now, you got to Mallorca, it’s super cute, but what kind of constructive things can you do besides just “dar un paseo”? Let me tell you!

Rent a bike and ride along the bike path:

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Not an awful view from the bike path.

The easiest thing you can do in Palma is rent a bike for €6 and check out Palma from the bike path. You even get to use the bike all day, well, until 7:30PM. To rent a bike, you can go down into the metro station called Estació Intermodal right off the Plaza de España. They will want to know if you want a bike with gears or without, we took the ones without gears and they worked fabulously, there aren’t really hills in Palma so don’t worry about needing to change gears. Something to take into account is that they do want a €40 deposit when you take out the bikes, this is their collateral if you don’t return with the bikes. They give you back your full €40 when you return the bikes, no muss no fuss. Don’t forget to stop by a local grocery store to pick up something for lunch to eat lunch at the beach! Don’t have a backpack? Don’t worry, your bike comes with a cute basket!

Hiking:

The Serra de Tramuntana is beautiful. It’s more than beautiful, it’s right out of a movie. Adri and I hiked to the Puig de Galatzó. The round trip for us was about 5 hours and although the internet says the round trip is around 4 1/2 hours, and Adri probably could have done it in 4…this girl got a bit tired. In the end, we made it to 1,027 meters, towards the end it didn’t really feel like hiking, it was more like scaling mountains as if we were goats, and we got to see goats too!

During the hike there were plenty of signs to keep us on track, and when there weren’t wooden signs, there were piles of rocks to mark that you are still on the hiking trail, the internet told me they are called cairns. 

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I think this beautiful lookout from the highway would have been sufficient enough of a view for me, however, we couldn’t just drive to the coast and take pretty pictures and leave, now could we?

The overlook before we headed up the mountain!
The overlook before we headed up the mountain!

Thus it began, our trek up the mountain! 2hr and 10 minutes, ended up taking about 2 1/2 hours both ways…hehe!

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A foggy, but beautiful view from the peak!
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So, we headed back down…and to the real world…
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…to have Telepizza and Ice Cream for dinner…can’t hike for five hours and then have a healthy dinner, that might cause me to actually live a healthy lifestyle, not me friends!

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I highly recommend this hike (with plenty of water and a lunch!). If you want to do it, take a very close look at the bus schedule before you go to the mountains, you do NOT want to be stuck an hour from Palma without a way home. We ended up driving to KM 97 of highway Ma-10 and parked at the foot of the mountain to hike up, this drive was about an hour. I imagine the bus ride would be about the same.

Shopping:

The streets that intertwine between Plaza de España and Plaza Mayor are great for taking a stroll and doing some shopping, you will find your typical Spanish trendy stores (Zara, Springfield, Pull & Bear, etc.), as well as boutiques, restaurants and cafés. Hopefully you go at a time that there are sales because there are lots of sweaters and coats on sale (who needs sweaters in Mallorca? No one)…so those of us visiting from Madrid are able to take advantage of these sales!

Eating:

Try Mallorca’s typical Ensaïmada! This pastry is really just dough with cream in the center and powdered sugar on top. Imagine a Roscón de Reyes with a lighter dough, no hole in the center, no dried fruits on top or surprises inside. Great description, you are welcome, enjoy your ensaïmadas!IMG_0649 IMG_0651 IMG_0653

I hope after reading this, you are planning your trip to Mallorca! If you are, don’t forget a swimsuit, athletic shoes/clothes, sunscreen and a jacket because it gets a bit chilly in the evenings, if you have any questions about my adventures in Mallorca, feel free to ask!

Kate

He cogido frío

He cogido frío

What is cold?

Oh this beautiful winter weather here in Madrid, Spain. Most days it feels like Spring. A freezing average of 45 degrees fahrenheit and let me tell you, this cold sends Madrileños in search of hats, gloves, scarves and heavy duty coats. This winter thus far has brought one day of snow (On Thanksgiving!), a couple weeks of rain and countless days of beautiful sunshine (as you can see in the photo below). Those of you from anywhere else in the world might snicker a bit at these innocent Spaniards who really have no true idea what winter is. These same Spaniards who may or may not have experienced a true winter also have an interesting idea as to how a person becomes sick. Lucky me, I seem to lack an immune system, so I have been getting sick a lot lately (That’s a link to my boring tale of my adventures with Spanish doctors). Anyways, me getting sick leads Spaniards to analyze what I was doing and the reason that I may or may not be sick. Now, this isn’t to say that all Spaniards believe this, but the lovely few that I call my friends all seem to have the same general notion as to how one becomes sick.

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So, how does one get sick in Spain? You get sick in Spain because “He/has cogido frío” can be translated as “I/You got cold”…or literally, “I/You caught cold”…this phrase is something that you start to hear when the weather starts getting cold and people start getting sick. What in the world can getting cold have to do with anything? In Madrid, it has to do with EVERYTHING!

So getting sick could not possibly be runny nosed toddlers or first graders with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. Perhaps “germs”? No way. Not here in Spain. Then what made me sick? Chances are if you ask a Spaniard they will tell you that you have a sore throat because, “A lo mejor es porque has cogido frío de la garganta”. PIENSO QUE NO WAY DUDE. This basically means, “You have a sore throat because your throat got cold”. With that being said, it also means that any particular part of my body that may be hurting was exposed to cold air and thus now, that part of my body hurts. My first reaction is to say “I hate you”. That’s my first instinct, I don’t know why, I just find it really hard to believe that I have a sore throat from not wearing a scarf. I remember that one time when I grew up in the Midwest, oh yeah those 23 very cold, actually wintery winters where I cogido a bunch of frío and never got sick from it. So weird that now all the sudden I’m living in Madrid (or the Antarctic as they may see it) and I am getting sick from being cold. *chirp*chirp*

Not to mention, this “getting cold” thing doesn’t only apply to exposing your neck or face when getting sore throats or runny noses. No, no friends. This applies to all vulnerable body parts. Perhaps one day I don’t wear slippers/socks, I may hear, “Ohhhhh nooooo! VAS A COGER FRÍO DE LOS PIES!”…I’m gonna, what? Who? My feet are going to get cold and then I am going to get sick? LA LA LA I don’t believe you! All I know is that it’s not true!

You do not have a sore throat because your neck got cold! End. of. Story.

Now, that being said, I have been sick a bunch but to be honest. I have yet to feel truly cold in Madrid. We went to Chicago over Christmas, and there, there is where I truly felt cold, but I didn’t get sick in Chicago. Only in Madrid. Perhaps my appendicitis scare was because my appendix got cold? We may never know. All I know is that there are all kinds of germs in Madrid that my body hates and instead of wearing a scarf, maybe I could wear a mask to protect against germs like they do in China?

No scarf, no hat. Didn't get sick and Hawks won. This is what life should be like! #chicago
No scarf, no hat. Didn’t get sick and Hawks won. This is what life should be like! #chicago

What do you believe causes someone to get sick? Do you have any beliefs that you think will cure you when you are feeling bad?

The thing that I say when people tell me they have a head ache or that they are tired is, “Are you thirsty? Have you drank water? You are dehydrated.” That could come from countless years at summer camp, but I still think it’s true. When you have a really bad headache, it can surely be cured with a couple glasses of water!

Kate

 

Hospital in Madrid

As much as it’s hard to believe, it does get cold in Madrid and with the change in weather comes sickness. Kids with runny noses, lots of booger picking, sneezing and coughing. So of course, I got sick. Does anyone want the story?

Basically the story ends in me paying out the ASS for treatments and never finding out what was wrong.

I suppose you can stop reading here because I just summed up the whole story for you. Here are the details (as much as I think is appropriate for the internet). For those of you who are sick and wondering what will happen to you if you go to the hospital here in Madrid.

One week I had to go to the bathroom a lot…(why does this happen to me?), so I went to a public health clinic here in Madrid and they more or less said, “If you don’t have a TARJETA SANITARIA (Public health insurance card), we aren’t going to help you”. This is something I don’t have. As an Auxiliar de Conversación, we are not part of the public health system. End of story. We aren’t. So that means that treatment that I receive has to be from a private hospital or clinic. Everyone has different insurance, mine is iNext. iNext functions as a SECONDARY insurance if you have insurance in the states. Lucky me…I have insurance in the states. Basically, I just dealt with it and felt awful for a while…luckily, it stopped the morning that I had to go to the extranjería for my TIE appointment. Grateful for not pooping on myself while waiting in a two hour line to apply to get my Spanish residency card #proudmoment…

Anyways, that passed but the following week I woke up with unreal stomach pains at 4am. I thought it was diarrhea again. It wasn’t. It was nausea and awful stomach pains. I just waited hoping it would go away. I didn’t want to go into an emergency room at a private hospital because I didn’t want to have to pay for it. I didn’t go to an emergency room at a public hospital because I didn’t want to get all the way there and have them tell me they can’t help because I don’t have a TARJETA SANITARIA. So what did I do?

Unidad Medica

Waited until 8 am, and called a clinic. The clinic I called was Unidad Medica. They gave me an appointment for 10am, I made my way there, yes, crying in the metro on my way. They gave me an IV with fluids and pain killer (not very strong pain killer either). They took blood, did a urine test and then told me that I needed an ultra sound and a CT Scan, BUT that I would need to go to a different clinic to get these tests done because at Unidad Medica they don’t have either of those machines. They suspected appendicitis or a UTI. They were very concerned that it was appendicitis and that my appendix could rupture at any second. Now, it was time to head to the clinic, but I had to pay before I left: €342.

Consult with doctor: €125
IV+Medication: €60
Blood test: €125
Urine test: €32

Well, that’s a lot. I paid it on my credit card. I asked about how much the CT scan and Ultra Sound would be. They said the CT scan would be about €800 and the Ultra sound €200. So, obviously there is no way that I am going to head to this other clinic just to get charged €1.000. I called Alana, one of the CIEE coordinators. She told me that I should get in contact with Hospiquality at Hospital of Madrid. Instead of going to the clinic that Unidad Medica recommended me for a CT Scan and Ultra Sound, I went to Hospital of Madrid to see the Hospiquality team.

Can you even follow what was going on? I hardly knew what was happening. All I knew was that they were not being very helpful.

Hospiquality at Hospital of Madrid

I got to Hospital of Madrid (which turned out to be about a 5 minute walk from my apartment) and we waited for my test results to be sent from Unidad Medica. I was still in pain and at this point its 2pm. We waited until 4pm for the test results to come in. They never came so I went home.

The next day (Tuesday), I went back to the hospital and had an appointment to read my test results. Urine test, all normal. Blood test, high white blood cell count and I still had weird stomach pains, he ordered me an emergency ultra sound and then charged me €125. Uhm hi, I’m still breathing and alive, and you just charged me €125 to spend 5 minutes with me. I am not doing anything “emergency” because if things are done “emergency” style, it costs more. So, we made an appointment for the next day for an ultrasound.

Well, now it’s Wednesday morning (IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY) and the doctor does an ultra sound. For €310, I got an ultra sound from a cranky ass doctor. She was mad because I was getting an “emergency” ultra sound done with an appointment and didn’t know why I wasn’t in the emergency room, she tells me to come back later for the results. Rude, it’s my birthday, you think I want to be here feeling awful? No.

Later, Wednesday evening, another doctor consultation to see the results of my ultra sound. What happens? Ultra sound shows inflamed appendix but nothing conclusive to say “we must operate right now”…he orders an emergency CT scan. He didn’t charge me for this appointment because I had been going back and forth and he felt bad for charging for 5 minute appointments when I was getting no results. Again, I am alive and breathing, not trying to have an emergency CT scan, thanks but no thanks. If I need it, it can wait for an appointment where I won’t have an extra “emergency” fee. The next available CT scan was the following Monday. I scheduled the appointment. I later cancelled it because I figured it’s either going to tell me that A. they need to remove my appendix or B. that there is nothing conclusive. Either way, I’m not trying to get an operation, so thanks, but no thanks.

Thursday evening, was supposed to fly to Mallorca and didn’t because I still felt awful. €90 down the drain.

The hospiquality staff are really nice and helpful overall.

So why did pay for all of these appointments? and why didn’t you use your iNext travel insurance to pay?

Because if you have primary insurance in the states (I am insured though my mom’s health care plan in the US), iNext functions as SECONDARY insurance. I have to file a claim with my insurance company then later, what my company doesn’t cover, iNext will cover. My insurance covers ABSOLUTELY nothing because both of the places I went to are out-of network (obviously, they are in Europe). I will receive an explanation of benefits and that explanation of benefits can be sent to iNext and they will (hopefully) reimburse me. As of yet, my primary insurance company has yet to process my claims. It’s been a couple months since the first claims were sent in. I hope to get it all figured out within the next year! Good thing its January!

Kate

‘Tis the Season

‘Tis the Season

It’s that time of year again!

Where all of us become nostalgic for Harry Potter movie marathons during ABC Family’s 25 days of Christmas, Starbucks Christmas Blend coffee, seeing lines of kids ready to take the photo with Santa at the mall, making cookies, wrapping presents and of course, eating many many home cooked meals. This year my holiday season is looking a little different, at least until I make it back to Chicago a few days before Christmas!

The beginning of November, I found myself to be surrounded by garbage. Garbage everywhere. There was a sanitation worker strike in Madrid that started and didn’t end until mid-November.

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Mid-November, the garbage strike ended and I also began baking Gram’s homemade macaroni and cheese to practice for my first Thanksgiving in Madrid. I even brought a batch to my favorite bar, Pintan Tapas for the bartender to taste the macaroni and cheese that I kept talking about!

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The Saturday before Thanksgiving I hosted my first Thanksgiving at my apartment here in Madrid! I invited a few friends and we ate delicious American food, drank some Spanish Wine and made crafts, later on I went to see The Hunger Games with Adrian and his sister. It was a pretty perfect Spanish Thanksgiving!

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Before the movie I snapped a picture of Adri’s sister, Emma and her friends for her parents! Yes, that is a bunch of Spanish middle schoolers getting ready to see The Hunger Games. Yes, I was a bit frightened that there were so many of them!

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On Thanksgiving day, it snowed in Madrid for the first time this season! I took the bus to school to get pictures of the snow and the beautiful sunrise! Sunrise is around 8:30, so no, I didn’t get up at a crazy hour to get these pictures! The snow was cool to see, but it all melted by mid-day.

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When I got to school on Thanksgiving, none of the kids knew it was Thanksgiving and frankly, they didn’t really care that it was Thanksgiving. We tried to give them some general ideas as to what Thanksgiving is, but I think they missed the whole point. Either way, we made hand turkeys with my first and second graders and talked about what we are thankful for, some got the idea, others…not so much. It was adorable to see their ideas though! At the end of the day watched a “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”.

Some Turkeys done by my first graders:

  • Picasso turkey.
  • Normal turkey, “I’m thankful for dad, Toys, scool, trees, mom” turkey (it says “Happy Crismas” in the hand if you look closely enough.
  • A perfect turkey which says “I’m thankful for, school, family, dad, mom, friends” with no spelling errors and in perfect cursive!
  • Also, an example of one of my confused Turkeys, the official “Happy Crismas” turkey.
  • Lastly, I hung them all up on a bulletin board for them to admire their work! They were very proud and pointing saying “mio! mio” (mine! mine!) Enjoy!

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The friday after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday”, there were actually a few stores that advertised Black Friday sales which really surprised me! There weren’t any sales that interested me but there were a bunch of people in the center because the lighting of the Christmas lights around the city started that Friday, November 29th.

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The Christmas lights here in Madrid are amazing. The Christmas Markets are pretty exciting too! In Plaza Mayor, there is the oldest Christmas Market in Spain! It is full of toys, christmas decorations, nativity scenes and knick-knacks. In every plaza, there are different stands open selling just about anything you can imagine. Walking around Madrid with everything set up for Christmas is beautiful!

Lastly, this first week of December, I have been working on a bulletin board at school! I hope it turns out the way I want! I drew Santa and cut him out, now I just have to make his reindeer! I also drew a little guy sledding down the hill. I threw some tinfoil on the tree and my first graders are going to make some present boxes to put under the tree and ornaments to put on the tree! I am excited!

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“May your Days be Merry and Bright!”

I hope you have all taken your time to appreciate and enjoy the holiday spirit that is filling the world! Merry Christmas to all!

Kate