Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the casa,
Not a creature was stirring. Caramba! Que pasa?

Pues, I'll tell you what's que pasa. I'm in a little bit of a crisis and it's getting pretty serious. The situation is getting graver and graver by the day and I'm not sure how I am going to handle it over the next few weeks. 

No, I'm not sick. I'm not hungry. I'm not financially insecure. But I am dying a little bit.

Well....being deprived of my normal this time of year traditions is well....a kind of dying. (Someone please sing me "Soft Kitty." Oh wait...that's for when you're sick. Well, deprivation and dying is a kind of sick.     ........Say haha if you got that, Big Bang fans.)

You see, it's now December and this time of year is generally classified by cold weather, pine trees, an annual Advent shindig in Apartment 2, and my usual Thursday study day pilgrimage to Christmas Village at City Hall in Philadelphia where I can purchase my obnoxiously German-themed Tannenbaum ornament. Two years ago it was a pickle. Last year it was an overflowing beer stein. Seeing as I am unable to attend this year, I have no choice other than to entrust my handy American sidekick to go and procure a "brezen" and then walk across the street to check out my annual viewing of a Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol in the Wanamaker Building before fighting the crowds of ridiculous overprotective yuppie mothers who have brought their at worst screaming and at best blatantly uninterested toddlers to see the Julie Andrews narrated light show. 

But for me, all of those incredibly fond memories are simply glimpses from the Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Past. And seeing as the Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Future has not shined his (or her) bright light in my life yet, I will have to settle with my experiences hanging out with my Ghost of Two Weeks Before Christmas Present. 

And quite an interesting Present it is. 

Sometime circa World War II, a man named Irving Berlin wrote a musical entitled White Christmas, which ironically is previewed at the Walnut Street Theatre every year (and going there just happens to be another little Philadelphia Christmas tradition that is rearing its ugly head in my face right now.) The main song in said musical happens to begin a little like this:

"The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.

There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,—
And I am longing to be up North—"

So, ummm, yeah. Change the location from Beverly Hills to Valencia, Spain, and you've pretty much read the story of my life right now. This is Christmas Present for me. 

I know a bunch of you are probably reading this and thinking, "Sure, warm weather and sunny skies in December? Weather where you don't have to wear a jacket every day and a city in which it hasn't snowed since 2007? Hurt me. Sounds realllllllllyyyyyyyyy difficult living there." Truth is that it's not. Generally, it's quite nice and I absolutely cannot and will not complain about not having to deal with the post-snow slush that sticks around until April. But that being said, just hear me out.

An advertisement at El Corte Ingles urges people to get into the Christmas spirit. For native Valencianos, that is easy- this is what they are used to every single year. But for Valenciamericanos (a new term I've dubbed my cohorts and myself), it is a little difficult. It boils down to a simple formula. Here's how it works:

There are a eleven Fulbrighters in the region of Valencia. Two are placed in Castellon de la Plana to the North. Three are placed in Alicante and Javea to the South. The other six, including myself, are placed in the actual city of Valencia. Nine of us (Brittni, Lisa, Natalie, Sara K., Bobbi, LaTasha, Ted, Christine, and myself) are what I like to call the Christmas time rule. That pretty much means that we are from parts of the United States (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Oregon) that fall into the typical Christmas time stereotypes of cold weather, snow, jackets, and having moms that pretending that the black lab actually sings "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." One person, my other roommate from Austin, is the Christmas time exception, which basically means that growing up in Texas and being a total wuss when it comes to cold weather and snow has prepared him for this relatively "normal" Christmas in Valencia. Finally, one other person, Peter, is what I like to think of as the Exceptional Christmas Rule as he lived in Detroit for ten years until his family relocated to central Florida, thus meaning he has experienced the best of both Christmas worlds. (That makes 11.) 

That being said, the majority of us are used to a more Frosty the Snowman environment than Christmas in July. And despite El Corte Ingles's best attempts, it is just a little bit difficult to get into "the Christmas Spirit" when you are surrounded by swaying palm trees that look fairly odd when covered in LED lights. We're used to Christmas trees in the middle of town that feebly resemble the one at 30 Rock versus thirty foot white cones in the main Plaza that are supposed to pass as trees but really look like large teepees with stars on top. But this is how it works here, and we might as well get used to it because the opinions of what Christmas should look like to a group of sometimes legal immigrants pales in comparison to the opinion of the always legal general public. Which raises another question in general: What should Christmas look like?

We all have our ideas based on what we have experienced in our lives. For me, I expect to do the things I discussed earlier because that is where I have lived my life and what I know. Christmas to my friend Lisa looks like going to New York City to see a Broadway show with her family every year. For Peter and Neima, it is spent in a warmer environment that is often sans snow. And for the Spanish, this is normal. However, the one thing that has always stayed constant for all of us, no matter what we used to know, is that we have been fortunate enough to share our memories of Navidad with the people we love. It doesn't matter if you're going to do the same things you always do or have relocated to a new place and need to adjust: Christmas is iconized by being with the people you care about and the people who care about you. That's what it should look like. 

One major thing we've learned since being in Fulbright can be summed up by a quote from Robert Frost. Mr. Frost proclaims that "Everything I have learned in life can be summed up in three words: it goes on." Just because we are here in Spain, far away from literally everything we know as we try to assimilate into our new home and culture, doesn't mean that life at home stops. We have continued to live here and our loved ones have continued to live at home. Situations change sometimes, which is a natural phase in life that we all have to experience at some point. It's not exactly easy and definitely uncomfortable and different at times, but we'll be better for it in the end. And all of that means that if Christmas environmentally doesn't look like what we are used to with snow and cold weather, it can still look how it is supposed to look with the people we care about, despite the changes in life. 

Maybe I would like to be on Market Street to see and do the things I love, but being on Calle de Colon isn't so bad either. And quite frankly, I'd rather have a Christmas tree in Plaza del Ayuntamiento that looks like a cone that none at all. But those aren't the important things. What is important is that I get to wake up everyday and be with the people who have become some of my best friends and surrogate family and am blessed to see my real family and American friends in a few weeks. So yes, El Corte Ingles, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Paris, je t'aime

"I don't know why all the trees change in the Fall. I know you're not scared of anything at all. Don't know if Snow White's house is near or far away. But I know I had the best day with you today."- Taylor Swift, The Best Day

Just a mere week removed from our lovely adventures in Germany, my roommate, Brittni, my friend, Lisa, and I found ourselves lounging around my kitchen attempting to make homemade pumpkin spice lattes despite 1) a lack of understanding how to use my other roommate's coffee maker and 2) lacking a can opener, thus forcing us to rely on the expertise of our friend Peter who proceeded to open said can with scissors. 

No worries, though. We were victorious in our quest as Peter served his purpose and we all enjoyed the splendor of American consumerism, albeit for a short while. 

But, our meeting in the kitchen of Calle de Finlandia Ocho was for more than just coffee. Britt, Lisa, and I were a week out from our next trip and needed to discuss the important details like booking a bus and laughing at the negative comments on hotel reviews. And, it's just better if you do this over American Coffee. (Besides, we had a few hours to kill before meeting up with our Dutch friend we met in Spanish class and his friends who were in town for the weekend from Rotterdam.) 

In case you were unaware, our next trip, which occurred last weekend, November 11-13, was to Paris. And, my, what a time it was. 

We took a gamble and flew Ryanair again, trusting that we would not run into the same problems we did on our departure from Munich. Luckily, we didn't and we landed in Beauvais, France on time before hopping on a bus to the City of Lights. However, upon arriving in Paris, the adventures began with yet again another cabbie who spoke little to no English but proceeded to sing (loudly) while taking us from the train/bus station to the hotel... and us confusing some random arc on a random street as being the Arc d'Triomphe. (Good thing I whispered when I pointed out the random arc - that saved a potentially embarrassing situation with the cabbie, who by this point was whispering into his iPhone to his girlfriend as though we were going to actually understand any of what he said.)

Minutes later, we arrived at our castle, the Hotel Excelsior. As far as cheap places in Paris go, it was pretty ritzy: one room smaller than my room at my piso with two beds, a closet, a bathroom (which was a separate room, luckily), balcony, and one electrical outlet. It got the job done. The only downfalls were the one electrical outlet, which was conveniently hidden behind the TV attached to the wall and the receptionists who had conflicting answers as to where we needed to walk to get where we needed to go in the city center. 

Hooray for Hotel Excelsior.
After checking in, we decided to go look for food. In a ravenous state, we stumbled upon a great ray of light: a dive called "Quick Burger." Yes, I'll admit it: I cheated on my vegetarianism with some chicken dips...but paid for it later as I did not feel so well. After some churros with warmed nutella (aka "the best thing ever"), we took a long walk around the Place de la Republique and retired to the Hotel Excelsior where we naturally did the second best thing ever after churros and nutella: watched Mary Kate and Ashley's Passport to Paris, a classic from when I was nine.

The next day started the real adventures. After more conflicting directions and being told that we "just had" to take the metro because "it was just too far a walk," we set out (yes, walking) towards Notre Dame Cathedral, just where we needed to be to eventually start our walking tour. We found breakfast at a little cafe near the Isle de la Cite where we had croissants (the ones in Germany were better), freshly squeezed orange juice (the best I've ever had), hot chocolate, fresh French Baguette that would make Panera shameful, and, yet again, adventures with the waiter: In Germany, the waiter chastised us for not eating enough rice, but in Paris, the waiter offered to take a picture of us and then started laughing and explaining that it was hard for him to take pictures because "mornings are tough for him." He did, however, give us perfect directions to the Place de Saint Michel.

We went on another lovely walking tour of Paris with yet another lovely tour guide, Onno from Amsterdam. We saw the Paris usual: Notre Dame, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Palaces, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc d'Triomphe (I swear it was the real one this time), walked on the Champs-Elysees, visited Lock Bridge, toured Les Invalides, and just had a grand old time. 

That being said, our time in Paris is better expressed in pictures. That, and I don't feel like typing anymore because Big Bang Theory is on Neox. 

Basically, Paris is an incredible city that I absolutely loved. Best three days ever.

A government building.
Notre Dame Cathedral.
Seine splitting at Isle de la Cite.
Brittni, Lisa, y yo.
You call it weird. I call it art.
Les Invalides.
I've wanted to see this for as long as I can remember.
Arc d'Triomphe.
Champs Elysees.

Font de Saint Michel.

Dachau: "Remember how we died here."

I should have probably written this post a long time ago, but I needed time to reflect on what I saw, felt, and heard. I needed to put my thoughts together to give justice to my experiences and respectfully find the right words to say. That is why, over two weeks later, I am finally sitting down to form a few paragraphs that probably can't even begin to fully describe the magnitude of what one experiences when they visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in Dachau, Germany, just 11 kilometers outside of the center of Munich.

Before I recap the day, however, I would to state of overarching realization that hit me that day, and I need to do so by quoting Harry Potter. Before you judge me for comparing two things that seem quite unrelated, think about both. Think about history, think about the stories. One can make some connections, albeit not on a large scale. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, when Harry goes into Olivander's shop to buy his wand for school, Olivander hands him three wands, the last of which becomes Harry's. Olivander the proceeds to tell Harry that the wand has a twin that belongs to Voldemort, who...well, most of you know the story. However, Olivander goes on to say this: "The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It's not always clear why. But I think it is clear that we can expect great things from you. After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things. Terrible! Yes. But great."

Now, do not take that quote out of context. Just like there is nothing "great" about what Voldemort did, there is absolutely nothing about the Holocaust was "great" in the slightest. It was a horrible time, full of truly unthinkable things, some of which they don't write about in textbooks. However, my realization that day led me to think of that quote simply because I was hit over the head that humans are capable of amazing things...amazingly good and, in this case, amazingly terrible things.

I'm not going to sit here and write about the events that led to the development of concentration camps. I'm not going to explain the history of Dachau. I'm not going to delve into the history of World War II and attempt to lecture on the political problems in Germany at the time. I'm not going to show you pictures of the crematorium because, quite frankly, I didn't take pictures of the crematorium. I thought it would be too disrespectful to what happened there. But, I am going to ask you to just think about what I write here and merely request that you help me to try and make a change. 

The front door of Dachau always stays open to honor the victims.
Dachau was a horrible place as were most concentration camps. If you were in Dachau, you were not considered a person. You gave up that right when they forced you in the door. They took your right to living the life you wanted. They took your happiness. They took away the ability to laugh when the director of the camp lined you up at your "welcoming" assembly and told you that there is no laughing at Dachau because only the Devil laughs at Dachau and he was the Devil. After that, they took your clothes, they took your belongings, they took your citizenship, and they took your dignity. And then, if you stood out in the least, you were made to be an example by an SS guard, which basically meant that you were beaten, tortured, or killed. 

Your "welcoming" to Dachau began here.
Rows where barracks used to be.
The bunker where the most horrible forms of torture occurred.
Again, I'm not going to write about the things that they did at Dachau to torture and kill. Yes, it's necessary to hear so that we can understand and learn, but you don't need to hear it from me. It's not my place to share. But I am going to ask a simple question: Why hasn't genocide ended today? The question is hard, but the answer, no matter how you answer it, is even more loaded. But the basis of the answer is, in short, that humans, in general, sadly don't care.

At Dachau, there is a memorial in the center of main area that contains a large block of ash from the victims in front of a plaque that reads, "Never Again" in seven or so languages. "Never Again" is a idealist belief, because if you look at the history of the world both before and after World War II, we have no right to say never again. It has happened again and again and again. And we are fooling ourselves if we say it won't happen again in the future. Since World War II alone, there has been genocide, or the new euphemism "ethnic cleansing," all over the world: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Cambodia, and many other places. Look at what is going on today in Darfur. There has been genocide on every continent. And yet, many people just sit there and do nothing because it isn't us. 

Well, my opinion is that thought process is, for lack of a better term, complete bullshit. As Martin Niemoller, a pastor during World War II, said: "First they came for the communists and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me." I can guarantee you that if we lived back then, the Nazis would find a reason to throw everyone I know, including myself, into a concentration camp. I guarantee you that there are people today who would find reasons to throw every one of us into concentration camps if they had the chance. It's a harsh reality, but it's true. And there would be no one left to fight for us because they would be in the camps right beside us.

At the entrance to the crematorium. Translates to "Think about how we died here."
So I make a request of you, the same request that the Dachau Survivor's Association makes of everyone who walks through the literally haunting halls of the bunker, gas chamber, and crematorium at Dachau: "Think about how we died here." And don't just stop at Dachau. Think about how the Native Americans died on the Trail of Tears. Think about how the people died in Serbia. Think about Rwanda and Darfur. Then, think about if it were you. 

And then, most importantly, think about the dignity in human life that has been lost AND how you can help restore it.

When I was a senior in high school, I first started learning about the genocides occurring in Darfur in my Government Class. A group of us started a chapter of STAND at our school and did a whole day of presentations on what was going on in Sudan. The highlight was that our US Representative, who was at the time one of only 25 representatives to sign a letter petitioning the government of China to stop using Sudanese oil in response to the atrocities in Darfur, came to discuss the topic of Darfur and show us ways we could help. We sold T-Shirts and raised money. My first semester at Temple, I joined an organization that educated on Darfur and tried to raise awareness on what was going on there. I remember being absolutely sickened when someone in a faith-based community on campus told me in conversation that I "shouldn't be worried about Darfur but more concerned about buying Christmas presents." Even if it was joking, it wasn't funny. Not in the slightest. Talk about a major slap in the face of the victims and just blatant disrespect.

But, I'm not perfect. I'll admit that school work, friends, and other organizations I was involved in got the best of me and I have not done anything to support the anti-genocide movement in a few years. That embarrasses me. I'm ashamed I didn't do more. Going to Dachau was the hit in the head I needed to get back into it. And, yet again, I'm asking you to do the same. Write letters to your politicians, watch a video online, donate money, join an organization in your town or on your campus tell your mom, just DO SOMETHING. Just think if it were you.

But, please, this is not about me. Don't do this because I asked you to do this. Do this for the victims- the people who really matter. Do this in their honor in the hopes that one day we truly can say "Never Again." After all, when I went to Dachau, I was granted the blessing to do something that so many people who walked in its doors did not get to do: I got to walk back out.

And you would have as well.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adventures in Germany. Quite literally.

It’s been quite awhile since I have taken the time to update this blog and I understand that, at least some of you, have been anxiously awaiting the latest installment. I’m sorry it has taken me so long and, in the future, I will try to update it more frequently. 
However, my lack of recent updates reminds me a bit of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (albeit, I’ve substituted some words): “I was going to update my blog, but then, umm, I just carried on living my life.”
Now, I mean no disrespect to any of you by relating my situation to that quote, but if I don’t live my life, I have nothing interesting to write about, and by default, you have nothing interesting to read. It’s a lose-lose situation and if I just wrote something for the sake of writing something, it would be worse than my very first draft of my Fulbright Statement of Grant Purpose essay (which was so bad it made my fifth grade paper on Humpback Whales seem like Pulitzer Prize winning stuff.) 
Anyhow, recent life took me to Munich, Germany from October 29-November 1*. (I put the asterisk next to that date because it really ended up being November 2, but that’s a story for a little bit later on in the post.) We flew out of Valencia on Ryanair, one of the classiest European airlines. It’s like the Megabus of Europe. Our flight there was relatively decent with the exception of being an hour late. Our return flight, was non-existent, but, yet again, I’ll get to that later. We landed in Memmigen, Germany in an airport that is smaller than Tuttleman Hall on Temple’s Campus and took the bus to Munich.
After our bus ride to Munich and taxi to the hotel which included listening to a mash-up of intense German rap and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song, we arrived at our hotel very hungry and took the front desk guy’s suggestion of eating at the Indian restaurant next door. However, as we walked into the restaurant, which was really more like walking into some rich kid’s tenth birthday party, we were informed that the restaurant had closed only a minute earlier. Luckily, the host was nice and said we could eat there anyway, but still gave us a ten minute lecture on being aware of opening and closing times at restaurants. We tried to eat as quickly as possible and get out of there, but our plan was thwarted when said host came up and asked us if we would like more rice. Already full and thinking we should just pay and leave so we could let him close once again, we said, “Thank you, but we think we’re good.” That was apparently the wrong answer as we were immediately greeted by a huff and “You know, if I keep this restaurant open for you, do NOT deny the rice.” Of course, such a situation would only happen to us. 
Hotel Kent: The beds were like sleeping on clouds.
The next morning included a nice ride on the Underground, getting lost on the Underground, switching trains, and finally ending up in the Marienplatz. The Marienplatz quite literally looks like it jumped out of the page of a book in a fairy tale. We ate in a little shop that provided the best croissant I have ever had and waited for our tour to Dachau Concentration Camp to begin. (I will not be writing about the experiences at Dachau in this post as it requires a post of its own. I strongly encourage you to read the next post for that documentation.) While waiting, we got to watch the Glockenspiel, which, quite unfortunately, lives up to its dubbing as the “second most overrated tourist attraction in Europe.” In fact, the tour guide’s parody of what happens in the Glockenspiel was better than the actual thing itself. The rest of the day was spent at Dachau, followed by a good German dinner of Kaiserspatzle with new friends and walking around the same city block for three miles. 

Oh, Good Morning, Marienplatz!
I believe Neima's reaction to this was "HOLY S---!"
Does this not look like it was taken out of a Fairy Tale?
Sadly overrated.
Full day two in Munich started late as we were a bit tired from the day before, but it was still just as eventful. After attempting to find a free bathroom in the city and stumbling upon a makeshift memorial to Michael Jackson, we took a free walking tour of the city. The tour guide was very enthusiastic and you could tell she loved what she did. I thought it was a compliment when one of my roommates told me that he could see me being just like her in a few in Europe, teaching English, and being a crazy tour guide. But the commonalities between the tour guide, whose name is Diana, and myself don’t end there: it turns out she is not only from Philadelphia, but went to Temple and received a Fulbright as well (she stayed after her Fulbright year and is studying to get a German teaching degree, hence why she is there now.) Small world. Later that night, we went on a tour that taught us about the German Beer culture. We had a different tour guide, but were surprised to see Diana join us on that tour. 

Random Michael Jackson memorial.
More important than MJ, but less publicized historical memorial.
The history is long, but displays the people's disdain of the Third Reich.
Lions all over Munich!
Hofbaruhaus. Even my mother told me I "just have to go there."
Paulaner Biergarten.
The next day was a long one, which was made longer by our airport mishaps. We left our hotel early and with time to kill just meandered around the city. Neima went to a Starbucks to read while Brittni and I explored a bit and then sat in and looked around the Frauenkirsche, the church that was built by the Devil himself. Britt had a lot of questions about certain things people do in Catholic churches (since she is Protestant) and it was nice to see her find everything so interesting. Finally, we all met up at the Hauptbanhof and got on the bus to go home. 
Or so we thought....
We had to go back to Memmigen Airport, which is an hour and a half away from Munich. Our flight ended up being delayed four hours due to fog and then was ultimately cancelled. Now, I’ve never been on a flight that was cancelled and didn’t know what to do so I made a 6.50 euro phone call to my Dad, which in retrospect was a stupid idea since, being 6,000 miles away, he was unable to help me. (It’s okay though...Britt made an equally expensive phone call to her grandmother in South Dakota to arrive at the same conclusion.) Memmingen Airport kindly told us that if we would like to wait until the next flight, we would be guaranteed a spot on it. The only catch is that flights only fly into and out of that airport on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We then started calling friends in Spain and luckily our good friend, Lisa, was able to find us a flight to Alicante (a city south of Valencia) through Air Berlin at 6:00 am from the main airport back in Munich. We boarded the bus again which was another hour and a half ride to the Hauptbanhof, where we boarded a half-hour train that took us to the airport. After arriving at the airport at 2:15 am to find that the Air Berlin check-in desks were not yet open, we slept on chairs with the other stranded people from our original flight. Luckily, I woke up just as the check-in desk was opening at 4:00 and we were seamlessly able to get through check-in and security and then sit at our gate. I was so hungry that I relented and bought a 5.50 euro bottle of freshly squeezed kiwi juice knowing it was all I had eaten in close to over thirteen hours and all I would eat in God only knows how long. 
Air Berlin itself is a very nice airline. It provides you with free sandwiches, drinks, and magazines, and includes my favorite thing: assigned seats on flights. (I HATE fighting to get a good seat on Southwest and Ryanair.) Too bad Brittni and I were asleep the entire flight and did not enjoy any of these things. Luckily, Neima was nice enough to ask the flight attendant for some nice vegetarian sandwiches for us for later. The only time I wasn’t sleeping I vaguely remember groggily staring out the window down at the beautiful French Alps that were snowcapped and visible through the clouds. I stupidly didn’t even think to take a picture. 
After arriving in Alicante, we had to take another half-hour bus to the train station where we learned that the earliest trains and/or buses to Valencia were at 2:30 pm. It was only 10:08 am. Therefore, we did the only thing we could think of doing: sleeping at the train station. I’ve never felt so dirty in my life. Long story made shorter, we arrived at our apartment at 5:00 pm after over 24 hours. I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life. 
Looking back, I’m proud of myself for having only one moment of freaking out in which I called my Dad and then regrouping to get it together and get home. Looking back, it’s a good story to tell and a great life experience to have. It’s nice to be able to look back on it and laugh. After all, what else can we do?
I’ll be leaving Spain again next weekend (November 11-13) with Brittni and Lisa to go to Paris. We’re flying Ryanair again. Please just say  prayer or something that we don’t have any problems with our commutes. As fun as our German airport adventure was, I’d like to skip that same good time in France. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oh hey! An introduction!

I'm realizing that with starting this blog, subsequently deleting it, restarting it, and just diving into the meat and potatoes, I've so rudely forgotten to introduce myself. Granted, the only people reading this already know me, but it may just be a good idea to throw some fun facts out there for the world to know.

Here it goes:
  • I’m a dork. You can take it or leave it.
  • I love what I do, I believe in what I do, and I  have no problem saying it.
  • I tell everyone not from Pennsylvania that I am from Philadelphia, which is partly true. I  was born and raised in Allentown but my whole family is from Philly and I have lived there for the better part of the past few years. 
  • Just because I moved 5,000 miles away and want to see the world does NOT mean that I don’t love my family, as was suggested to me a few years ago upon expressing my desire to do this. Conversely, I love them and miss them very much and wish more than anything that we could all be together. But, I have to do what I have to do. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
  • That being said, Spain has taught me to live by the British mantra of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” 
  • And furthermore with that being said, I love Mark Twain with a passion. And Walt Disney. And The Beatles. 
  • PGST 2006, PGST 2008, Temple, and Fulbright were four of the best things that have ever happened to me. 
  • If you verbalize to me that your profession is not only better than mine, but more substantial, I will quietly think to myself that you’re probably wrong, but I will never tell you that out loud. Please don’t belittle my profession until you have managed to keep a room full of children who depend on you in a state of calm all day while educating them in ways that cater to their needs. Until then, watch me work.
  • Fun dorky fact: I could talk educational theory and my educational philosophy for hours.
  • I’m proud to say that I am incredibly well read. 
  • I love to run and play sports. 
  • I’m quiet and shy until you get to know me. Once you do, I’m fun. I’m funny. And, damn it, I know it.
  • During my Fulbright year, my friends and I have plans to see Spain (check), Germany, France, Ireland, England, Italy, and possibly Greece.  
  • I really dislike milk. I always have. Here in Spain, my disdain is even more so because they fail to refrigerate their milk in the grocery store.
  • I could eat hummus and Mexican food all day everyday.
  • I know two languages almost fluently and can get by in a conversation in three more. 
  • If you bring me Peanut Butter and Nutella, I will love you forever.
  • I’m vegetarian and proud of it. Unfortunately, living in Spain I have had to cheat twice, but there were no other options. 
  • I WILL hit every continent in my lifetime except Antarctica. I don’t know where or when yet, but I will. I only have five more to go!
  • I get obnoxiously excited over looking out the window on an airplane, Harry Potter, museums, good books, and a fun day at work. 
  • I love Disney movies and music and living in Spain has shown me how much I miss Disney World. 
  • I have no interest in owning a house. I really never have. Give me a large apartment in a city and a metro pass any day and I’d be a happy girl. 
  • I don’t know if I really want to have children, and if I do, at least one will be adopted.
  • My two favorite places in the world are Kelly Drive down near Boathouse Row in Philly and near the fountains and Palau de Musica in the Rio Turia in Valencia, Spain. 
  • I’m obsessed with anything pumpkin-flavored. I recently heard that The Cheesecake Factory has pumpkin-flavored cheesecake and that my friends back home ate it. I silently sat in jealousy for awhile over here then. 
  • I’m living the dream and thank God every day for it.

And that's about it. Do what you want with this info, but at least now you know more about who I am. 

Abrazos y besos.

Poco a poco.

I did something stupid last Saturday.
Check that. I did something totally worth it but culminating the experience may have been a little more, shall we say, painful, than I thought it would be.
My adventure on October 8 began when I was in search of Artesania Yuste, a small store run by a Spaniards that creates the art one sees while strolling the streets of Valencia. The shop has been in existence for awhile and has art for sale from many, many different centuries so, naturally, I thought it would be worth a looksee. So on this splendid and, well, yet again sunny Saturday, I found myself walking to the Plaza de la Reina to find said store. Going off the directions I had, I was to search for the archway before the McDonalds, walk through it, and the store would be located in a little plaza, Plaza de Miracle de Mercadonet) off the main one. Well, after searching all around the McDonalds (which I’m sorry to say did not look anything remotely like the grandiose McDonalds on Gran Via in Madrid and instead more like the McDonalds across from South of the Border in South Carolina), I realized that the archway is in fact a block South of the McDonalds, right in between the Reina Sofia Souvenir Store and the Ice Cream place that’s most popular flavor is “Donut.” (Note: I’m highly embarrassed that this paragraph mentioned McDonalds five times. Oops...make it six now. I swear on my life that I DO NOT eat there. No really, I’m a vegetarian. I don’t.) The archway turned out to be more like a long tunnel, and did take me into Plaza de Miracle de Mercadonet which was literally no bigger than the area of my parents’ house. I was so excited to have made it there only to realize that the store closes at 2:00. It was 2:02. 
Donut Ice Cream.

But why allow that little let down to ruin my day? With a whole myriad of things to do in the Plaza de la Reina, I turned my attention to the nearby Cathedral of Valencia which IS conveniently situated right next to the McDonalds. (Count now up to seven.) I meandered in, right past the incredibly large tour group of people from Asia, and walked up to the desk where I planned on shelling out 4.50 euros for a tour where I could check out the church...complete with earphones and bilingual digital guide! However, as I was explaining, in Spanish, that I would like to go on the tour, the overly enthusiastic receptionist misheard me and thought I wanted to tour the tower of the cathedral and directed me across the church where I was greeted by her less than happy co-worker who demanded I hand over two euros. “Why not?” I thought, “I have no idea what’s going to happen at the top of this tower, but sure. Let’s do this.” 

The infamous tower.
Giddily, and stupidly, I walked towards another archway that led to the tower entrance and saw the lovely staircase that would lead me to the top of the church. I climbed it. I got up there. I was a bit startled when the bell rang, but whatever, the steps were big and I wasn’t going to fall. Then, as I started climbing higher and higher, the steps started getting smaller and smaller. “That’s okay,” I thought, “I’m almost to the top.” Finally, I reached the summit where I was pleasantly surprised by this:

I could see the WHOLE city. Everything was visible and the views were beautiful. I stayed up there and took it all in for a good fifteen minutes, getting my two euros worth. 

And then comes the stupid part: I realized I had to get down, and the only way down was on these: 

Dreaded stairs built circa 1238. Clearly the best time I've ever had in my life.
So we meet again. 
As I was standing at the top of them, I recalled a comment my mother made while we were on a lifeboat drill on a cruise last summer. The lovely cruise staff was explaining that in the event the boat sinks and we cannot make it to our lifeboats in time, we are to find an edge of the boat and simply just act as though we are walking off the boat until we safely make it into the water (while wearing a life jacket, of course). My mother, being both afraid of heights and unable to swim very well (which is the reason my sister and I were on a swim team for years), told us that if that happened, my sister and I were to be right behind her and push her off the boat. Well, same story, different situation: Maybe I should just turn around and find someone to kindly push me off the top of the tower safely to the ground below. 
No such luck. As I stated before, the stairs were smaller towards the top. Moreover, they were made completely of concrete and were a bit wet, guaranteeing me a nice bloody mess should I fall. I gripped that handle tightly and started me descent. 
I don’t know if any of you have ever walked down spiral, concrete staircases in Cathedrals that were built in, oh I don’t know, 1238, but it is not a fun experience. And naturally, as I was going down, it seemed everyone else wanted to come up. Too bad. I was not letting go of that railing. Furthermore, I had half a mind to turn around and tell the two overweight men bounding down the steps behind me that 1) Yes, I understand English so I know that you’re cursing me under your breath for walking so slow, and 2) Do not touch me again to try and get me to move faster. That plan was thwarted when I realized that turning around to angrily deal with two frustrated, rotund men who were in their mid-forties and walking significantly faster than me on extremely thin stairs would only cause my impending death by spiral staircase to come a bit sooner than I initially thought. I resorted to simply wonder why they didn’t  just walk around me. 
I’m proud to say, while I almost slipped once, I made it down relatively safely, yet with a little less piece of mind. I’ve never been so happy to see solid ground. My legs were shaking for hours afterwards. 
Our more recent adventures have not involved nine stories of spiral staircases. Instead, they’ve involved the usual: teaching children that no, American Pie is not a real representation of American high schools and neither is Glee for that matter, wondering why nobody in Spain eats anything remotely similar to pumpkins (especially when I know for a fact that friends back home indulged in a pumpkin cheesecake the other night), carefully calculating every step on the streets since Spaniards don’t understand that both people are supposed to move to the right when walking towards each other, learning how to stay energized while working twelve to fourteen hour days and working out upon arriving home, and handling simple differences in opinions with some people. I've also been hanging around the lovely Rio Turia more often as seen here:

 And in two weekends, on October 29, our adventures will include navigating RyanAir, surviving in Munich, Germany, a country where the only vocabulary I know is a few school objects, body parts, how to count to ten, and say Happy Birthday! And the worst part? Only packing enough to fit in a backpack since checking a bag on RyanAir will cost more than the return flight. 

Should be a good time, but suffice to say, if anything that remotely resembles a steep, spiral staircase built in 1238 is involved, I will be the one staying on the ground who obnoxiously waves up at my counterparts above.