Shopping in Sevilla

Today I spent some time wandering around in the grocery store. I must have looked really weird, shuffling slowly and staring at all the shelves and products. It doesn’t sound so weird, but I shuffled up and down the Olive Oil/Tex Mex aisle about 10 times. Maybe you had to be there.

It’s just that… Spanish supermarkets are fascinating. For example, you wouldn’t find this in an American supermarket. Keep in mind that it was located right next to the health foods/special needs (sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, organic) section.

Ham stack! An aisle display covered in legs of pig.

What a ham-ongous aisle display!

And I’m not sure if you would find this in America, but I wish I could:

A platter of fried brie on display in a deli counter.

DANGER! DANGER! There is fried brie far too close to my piso.

Aside from the food itself, the packaging is quite different. Behold this creative offer:

A box of tomato juice offers a giant Twister towel promotion.

Tomato Twister! It's not a hot new cocktail. It's this week's special offer.

Then there are strange intersections of America and Spain. For example, I swear this is Mandy Moore:

Is that a picture of Mandy Moore on the packaging of this 'Gran Ripieno RANA'? I can't tell.

Why is she selling ravioli?

In the end, I got almost everything I came for. I was buying ingredients for my favorite comfort food: spring rolls!

Because I like it so much, I don’t understand how it’s not already your favorite food, too. Try it! Here’s how you make my vegetarian spring rolls:

Ingredients/Preparation:

  • A couple cups of equal parts grated carrot and grated daikon radish. Sprinkle evenly with sugar (or vinegar, but I prefer sugar) and let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Some kind of fancy/tasty lettuce mix or spinach.
  • Cucumbers cut into 3″-long rectangle-cube-boxes. Why can’t I think of a reasonable word for this? The shape that comes to mind is “coffins.”
  • Browned tofu cut into the same shape as the cucumbers.
  • Cooked rice noodles. When deciding how much to make, err on the side of overcompensating. Remember to rinse it in cold water, drizzle a tiny amount of sesame oil on it, and sprinkle it with sesame seeds so it looks pretty. It reheats well in the microwave. You’ll either make too much or not enough. You’ll never make just the right amount. Sorry.
  • Avocado. It is not the same without this. I halve the avocado, remove the pit, and then make nice even slices with a knife about 5/8ths of an inch thick, and then scoop it out with a spoon.
  • Cilantro. Yummmmmmm.
  • Mint. This is so necessary. It takes the spring rolls from “best meal of my life” to “best meal ever.”
  • Rice paper wrappers.
Construction:
  1. Generally, I put the tap on hot and rinse a rice paper wrapper for a couple seconds on either side, shake it off a little, and then let the water soak in while I build. This is not a fool-proof method, but it works for me. Feel free to follow the package instructions instead, or figure out your own way.
  2. Stuff your wrapper! Here are my favorite proportions:
    – 1 tofu coffin
    – 1 cucumber coffin
    – 1 large avocado slice or equivalent
    – 2 T carrot/daikon mix
    – 1 layer of lettuce (3-5 pieces)
    – 2-3 T of rice noodles
    – 2 T of cilantro
    – 1 T of mint
  3. Drizzle with Megan’s Ultra Special Secret Delicious Sauce Deluxe
  4. Wrap it up! It’s just like rolling an egg roll. Someday I’ll take pictures and show you. For now, here’s an outline:- Fold over the edge of the wrapper nearest you until it just covers the contents of your wrapper.
    – Tuck in the sides so that they close off the ends. It’s nice to make sure that your tuck creates a slight taper in the final, unfolded side so that the ends of your roll stay pretty and tidy.
    – Roll the bundle of contents away from you with gentle pressure, all the way to the end of the taper. When you move your roll to build another one, place your roll with the seal side down so that it can dry/set that way.
  5. Repeat 5 times. I think 5 is enough to fill you up, and sometimes it’s just a little too much, so if you’re having sides, make less.

After purchasing my food, I walked back into the Department Store. Oh, yeah! The grocery store is right by the book section at El Cortes Inglés. Because it was the last thing I saw before I walked home, I will share it with you, too. Don’t forget to click on the picture and read the fine print:

A book called "Cultura General for DUMMIES"

Thanks, French authors.

Portugal

What an amazing place! I spent three days in Lagos, and that was all I needed to decide that I will have my main house here and my vacation house somewhere else.

The food is cheap and delicious and served in large portions. The swordfish, for example, didn’t even fit on a platter. There is nothing more you could ask from food.

A table set with plates of fish and potatoes, cervezas, wine, and condiments.

Fish and potatoes in the old city center of Lagos

The weather is warm during the day and cool at night. In a word: perfect.

The scenery is breathtaking. Steep, multi-colored cliffs tower over dark and tumultuous waves at the End of the World. When the waves crash into the cliffs, spray shoots several meters high–and on this day, the weather was calm.

Waves crach against tall, yellow cliffs on the Atlantic Ocean

They call this the End of the World

Someday, I would like to return to this location on a stormy day. I will wear iron-weighted boots and tie myself by a rope to the car. On this day, it was good enough just to watch the sun melt into the ocean. Somewhere past the sun lies the United States:

The bright sun melts into a dark Atlantic Ocean

See you tomorrow, sun!

Elsewhere, the cliffs are striped in shades of orange and yellow. They are made of layers of sedimented seashells, which are sharp and cut your legs as you try to scale them. You have to be careful where you put your feet and hands because the sediment is porous and crumbly, and you don’t want to fall.

Tall yellow cliffs overlook a sandy beach speckled with sunbathers and a smooth, clear ocean.

This is the beach a few steps away from my hotel.

When you reach the top, you will look down and the water is so clear and greenish blue that you can see all the indentations on the rocks below and all the shadows in the sand.

You can see rocks through the clear water between the cliffs.

The water is like glass, and the rocks are like rocks on the other side of some glass.

This is good because when you jump off the cliff, you don’t want to jump into the rocks. This is the cliff I scaled and jumped off of:

Some cliffs in the water at night. The sky is pink, and you can see the lights of a city on the other side of the water.

The one I jumped off is in the foreground in the right center of the picture.

Elsewhere, the purple and red cliffs are forgotten, even though they are beautiful.

Red cliffs line the beach where all the surfers get ready to take to the water.

Just a few minutes to take in the landscape before we put on our gear and get in the water.

The focus instead is on the surfing. Here, at la pleia amata or “loved beach,” I learned to surf for the first time with my friend Mike. I went for 3 hours before I was too hungry and thirsty and tired to continue. Well before those 3 hours were up, I was already planning on surfing again. Surfing is officially my favorite sport to play.

Me and my friend stand with our surfboards on the beach.

Mike and I are exhausted after 3 hours of falling off our surfboards.

In summary, Portugal is a fantastic place to visit. I felt sad when I left, and that’s a good thing. It’s good to know you’ve experienced something so special that it’s worth missing. I know I will have to go back.

Here are some other pictures just to make you drool:

A view of the beach outside the hotel. Tall cliffs line the shore so far into the distance that they form a dwindling line to the end of the photo. In the other direction, the beach grows and two figures in the distance help put it all in scale.

It's less crowded during a morning walk on the beach after breakfast.

The view from a lounge chair by the pool on the roof shows the cliffs and ocean in the distance.

My feet are so happy here, lounging by the pool on the roof of my hotel.

Some people catch the sun beneath giant cliffs on the beach.

Dramatic cliffs on one side, dramatic ocean on the other. What to look at? Books.

A lighthouse sits atop a steep cliff overlooking the ocean at sunset.

The Lighthouse at the End of the World doesn't need a better caption.

Daily Sevilla

I saw two Spaniards sword-fighting–I mean french kissing!–in the street. It was intense and fast, like two wriggly worms shaking hands. No, like a couple of electrified 5-year-olds without bones trying to high five before disappearing into a tunnel. And all the couples clutch each other’s culos constantly, at every age, even when they’re walking with their parents. I’m not used to the PDA.

But when my bilingual coordinator asked me my first impressions of Spain, I proudly told him that I know how to flush the toilet.

It’s true!

My Very Excited First Day Of School

Today was my first day of school.

Drew Barrymore dresses up as a "high schooler" for her first day of school in... many years.

It's been a while for me, too.

When I arrived, like a “new girl,” I didn’t know where to go because I still hadn’t received a schedule. My coordinator pointed me in the direction of a teacher, Jose Luis, told me to meet him in an hour, and ran off to a class. This is when Jose Luis told me that I’d be helping him prep for his class.

Jose Luis is really nice. He was full of information about past auxiliars (am I supposed to know all this stuff about their personal lives?), about Sevilla (I’m starting to look forward to Santa Semana and feria now), and about the school. Finally, we actually talked about his class: Technology.

I am so excited for this class! In Spain, Technology class is all about solving problems hands-on, and in the process they are exposed to several different kinds of engineering. We’re starting with materials: the properties of glass vs. ceramics vs. metal, for example. We’ll pass through a unit on circuitry and robotics. They’re saving the unit on Computer Programming for the end of the year.

Lining the walls in the Technology room are past projects. There are hand-made pinball machines, cranes made out of popsicle sticks, automatic bridges, and more. At the front of the room are bins full of scraps to build things out of. The walls are mounted with tools. I’m not sure if I’d rather teach this class or be in this class. The last time I did anything even remotely like this was in 8th grade when I built a cribbage-board shaped like a snake. I think the last circuit I made was using a potato to turn on a light bulb. Does using a cookie-cutter to make a heart-shaped piece of toast for Valentine’s Day count?

Anyway, Jose Luis’ educational philosophy is that learning should be fun. One of his favorite review exercises is “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” I know this class is going to be a blast, especially with such an easy-going teacher, but I’ll also have to spend extra time studying. I have two thick textbooks I have to read in order to plan my lessons.

Other than Technology, I’m also assisting with music, math, natural science, and english. Except for music and technology, I’ll be teaching each of those subjects at several different levels, which means I am assisting with 11 classes in all.

Not-so-secretly, I wish I could trade one of my 4 English classes for a Social Studies class. I think it would be interesting to learn about Spanish history. It would have also been interesting to assist in the Ethics class and hear the students’ perspectives on Big Questions.

Still, I’m super excited to write silly word problems for math class. And I already have a great idea for a music class lesson, thanks to Bill (Hail to the Victors!). English class is adorable, and I’m impressed with even the first-year students’ abilities (but why does the whole class always laugh whenever someone has to pronounce the “uh” sound like in “cut?”). Anyway, my English classes have great senses of humor, and although my role in those classes is much smaller, I think I’ll enjoy sitting in on them.

So, overall: it was a great first day. I’m looking forward to school again tomorrow. I like my fellow teachers a lot, and the headmaster was very welcoming. He even “invited me” to tea. Bill taught me that if someone says, “I invite you,” that means they’re paying. In case you were wondering, he is correct!

Tomorrow I meet 3 more teachers. Thursday is orientation. I have Fridays off, and I’ll be heading off to Lagos, Portugal. Soon after that, my beloved Olga is coming to visit for 10 whole days.

This.

Is.

The.

Best.

CouchSurfing with Manolo

My first real time CouchSurfing, and my first real time surfing alone, I contacted a man named Manolo and he agreed to let me stay for a provisional 2 days. Two days turned into five, and I couldn’t be luckier!

Manolo lives a few minutes away from downtown Sevilla in a pueblo called Valencina de la Concepción. Here’s a view of his street:

A view of Manolo's street on my last night in Valencina

White walls and flowers everywhere. The little trees lining the street are lime trees, and the big bushy one toward the front is lovely, fragrant jasmine.

Although living in Valencina meant that I wasn’t getting to explore or know Sevilla very well, it was a solid introduction the Spanish tempo of life. Here’s how a typical day went with Manolo, who is a retired lawyer:

8.00

Wake up, get dressed.

8.30

Have breakfast. This is tostada con tomate, fresh-squeezed orange juice (4 halved oranges and an electric juicer), and a cup of tea or coffee. Still hungry? Have a banana or an apple:

tostada con tomate, cafe, orange juice, apple

Oops! I ate it!

9.00

Drive to Sevilla to do errands for a few hours. For me, this meant looking at pisos and finding a place to catch wi-fi, getting a cell phone, and generally trying not to get lost.

OR

Go on a trip! We went to the cuevas (caves) in Aracena and then drove to the top of the hill to the church.

14.00

Siesta! Take a nap or go swimming. Or, take a nap and then go swimming! He has a beautiful pool:

Manolo's backyard, including a well, swimming pool, eating area, and patio.

A perfect place to spend a hot, sunny afternoon.

At the foreground of the picture, where the potted plants are, is a well. You can recognize the pulley hanging from the top right. In the lower left of the picture, in the midground, is my laundry hanging out to dry. We always did laundry during siesta because the sun was hot and everything would be dry within an hour. In the top right corner you can see jasmine flowers. They smelled so good that I picked some and put then in a glass of water by my bed.

15.00

Lunch! Sometimes we went out to eat, especially if we were still in Sevilla or on our way back from Sevilla. Sometimes we stayed at Manolo’s and ate at the table by the pool.

18.00

Head back to Sevilla, but this time for fun. We would explore the different barrios (neighborhoods) and Manolo would tell me about them. The first night we went to Los Remedios which is in Triana across the river. We ate at a pizza place called Sloppy Joe’s, which is owned by an American who used to be a pilot. We ate pizza espinaca (spinach pizza) and garlic bread. The sauce on the pizza was made out of spinach instead of tomato, and it was delicious with a nice thin crust!

Another night we spend wandering in barrio Santa Cruz, which is the old Jewish Quarter. The buildings are very close together here, and the streets are very short and branch off in every which way. Every time I come here I get completely lost! We passed by the old Arab bath house, the best flamenco show in town, and some of Manolo’s favorite cafés. This is where Manolo was born and grew up, so he knew a lot of people, shop-owners, and history.

Another night we walked past Plaza de España to look at the old exhibition center all lit up for night. Practicing just outside was the drum corps for Semana Santa. He showed me a famous statue where all the high school kids go when they are dating. The statue forms a bench all the way around an old tree. The Three Graces sit flirtatiously on one side of the tree, and a young cupid lays over their shoulder. On the other side of the tree an older cupid lays, collapsed, arrows broken. Tucked into one of the The Three Grace’s hands was a piece of paper with “I love you like crazy” written in Spanish with different handwriting on either side.

22.00

Finally it is time for dinner. Usually we have tapas and drinks. Here we are getting vegetarian tapas near Plaza Alfalfa:

Eating tortilla espanola and berenjenas con miel at las columnas in barrio santa cruz.

The eggplant with honey was so good, and I always enjoy tortilla. We are drinking "tinto de verano, blanco, poco tinto."

A few times we went to a bodega for a bigger meal. My favorite meal was at a bodega near Manolo’s house, so not in Sevilla center. We ate with his friend and his friend’s wife. We had gazpacho, espinaca con tomate, bruschetta, tarta, olivos, and more. Including drinks, dessert, and enough food to fill 4 people, the bill came to only 11 euro each. The bodega is known for making its own wine. Large barrels lined one side of the wall, big, brown, and marked with chalk for the date they were created. The owner of the bodega said that October was the best time to drink it because it was the freshest (so we had perfect timing!). It was white wine with a bit of a kick, a little like sherry:

A small glass of wine from Bodega Pepe Girón

Delicious! I would love to go back!

24.00

Usually by midnight I was getting very sleepy. The first couple of days I didn’t take a nap for siesta and my energy was too low to keep on going. After I started taking naps, I could stay up more easily until 2 am.

Finally, it was my last day with Manolo. I had adjusted so much to staying at his house that it almost felt like moving to Spain all over again when we dropped off all my things at the new piso. Now on my second day here I feel a lot more comfortable, and it’s nice being able to walk to whatever I want to do on my own time.

Manolo and I will keep in touch, though. It’s nice to know that I have a friend in Sevilla!

Segovia: Inside the Castle

Inside the castle, each room felt more impressive than the last. It was a perfect tour. I would get to a room, think, “this must be the peak,” and then say the exact same thing about the next room.

Our tour began at the very bottom of the castle, working our way up to the very top, on the azotea (terrace rooftop) of the tallest tower of the alcázar (palace), the Torre de Juan II.

The cellar was empty and rough. A deep, dark pit was blocked off by a wrought iron grate, but there were sparkling coins glittering inside. I turned away from the pit to see Bill standing with his face in the corner.

Bill bows his head in the corner of the cellar

Bill! Go to your dungeon!

Upstairs, the first two rooms of the tour were lined with suits of armor. Nearly all of them were shorter than I am, and some of them were very tiny — making them 1/3 the size of my future students. Despite their dainty appearance, I’m very nearly positive that each and every one would outlast me in a fistfight.

I am about to shake hands with my little friend, a tiny suit of armor.

Why hello there, Mr. Tiny Suit!

A knight with a  lance rides atop an armored horse.

None shall pass!

The throne room had a moorish-inspired ceiling with the mirrors and intricate patterns, but it was more angular than the throne room in the Real Alcázar in Sevilla. It had two large portraits, one each of Ferdinand and Isabella.

The royal bed was surprisingly small, perhaps 1/3 the size of a current king size bed. Reasons not to travel back in time: people will chase you with pitchforks thinking you’re a giant. Everything was covered in smooth red velvet. I wonder if kings and queens kicked the covers off their beds on hot summer nights to find them tangled and crumpled on the floor in the morning. Now their blankets are crushed velvet.

Midway up the palace was a terrace with pretty views all around.

View from the terrace over some turrets that have been carved up by tourists.

This post brought to you by Friday, Calvin Klein, Amy, and the letter A.

Right in the middle of the terrace was a well. There was still water in the bottom, but no pulley to bring it up anymore. Bill took a video of himself dropping a coin inside, and you can see it splash at the bottom.

Bill stands at a well beneath the Torre.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bucket

From here, we passed through more rooms filled with armor, flags, and cannons until we reached the chapel. Throughout, the artwork was very gruesome, reminding me of Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. And Quentin Tarantino.

A stained glass image of a horse's hoof pressing a king's head into the pavement.

That's gotta hurt.

Gory religious imagery

Yikes.

Finally we got to the bottom of the Torre de Juan II, where we warned not to even try if we weren’t in good shape.

ATENCIÓN

They forgot to mention that each step was a foot high.

The staircase was steep, cramped, and dimly lit — but also worth it. At the top, there seemed to be no such thing as a best place to look out at the scenery. Every spot was gorgeous, especially since it was the final golden hour before sunset.

We see the backs of the turrets on the top of the Torre.

It never occurred to me before that the turrets wouldn't be full circles.

Of course my photography can’t even begin to capture the depth and color and vastness of the scene, but I will try to show you:

A view overlooking changing trees, mountains, and sunlit Segovia in the distance.

Beautiful.

Here is the other side:

A couple looks out over the hazy sunset between two of the turrets on the top of the Torre.

Romantic.

And here’s the side overlooking the cathedral:

A view of the cathedral from the top of the Torre.

Stunning.

Before the sunset could fully kick in, we headed back to the bus stop to catch the train back to Madrid. One last view of the castle:

A view of the castle in Segovia from a distance.

Nice place.

And we arrived at the station:

The train station in segovia in the beginning of sunset.

There are worse places to have to wait for a train.

We got there sooner than expected, so Bill pulled out his harmonica.

Bill plays the harmonica in the sunset at the train station.

There are worse things to hear when waiting for a train.

I took pictures of the sunset, which was really this bright and deep.

Deep blues, purples, and bright pinks make up this sunset over Segovia.

There are worse sunsets when waiting for a train.

And, of course, before you leave, here are some Segovian cats:

A cat cleans himself in his usual place, you know, at the base of a gigantic cathedral.

Just another day for Señor Fuzzles

A tightly packed row of painted wooden cats.

Meow meow meow!