Friday, July 29, 2011

Un Viajecito con mi Familia de España*

Since I arrived here, my host-mother, Isabel has been trying to plan a little family trip to El Escorial. Until we got there, I never really realized what it was. I finally did find out when we took that trip last Wednesday. El Escorial is the historical residence of Spanish royalty. It also served/serves as a monastery, museum, university, palace, and houses one of the oldest libraries in the world. El Escorial is near and dear to the hearts of my host-parents because about ten years ago they worked at the University at El Escorial. They have always worked at a university in Madrid but for that period of time they had been assigned to establish their foundation at this University. 

I've included some photos from the adventure. We did the museum/palace/monastery tour as quickly as possible, given its size; for the girls were not as eager as I to listen to the headset about every single piece of art and dead royal in the place.

After our tour we headed to a favorite restaurant of the family, situated on top of the above mountain. The restaurant has not only been the setting of past birthday parties, but also the place where Isabel told me she fell in love with Angel.
As sweet as the image of your mind is, scratch that. Because it was soon tainted by pouting children who wanted to have dinner at McDonalds instead of tapas in the Pueblo of San Lorenzo.

Fortunately for us, somehow the children managed to get that fantasy out of their minds after a number of some rather tactical distraction techniques, and we were able to walk around the little town, and indulge ourselves in tapas, tinto de verano, and helado.

Despite the scattered tantrums and threatening punishments, it was a wonderful outing and I'm so glad to have spent that time with my little family in a place that has been very important to them throughout the years.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Two Sundays ago I took a bus ride to Segovia with my two friends, Pilar (the neighbor's Canadian au pair) and Noemie (Raphy's aforementioned French/New Caledonian cousin). The bus ride took about an hour and 10 minutes and we got to see all the highlights in less than a day. I was pretty amazed that such a compact little town could offer so much in the way of architecture, engineering, food, and 'photo ops.'
Here are some of those moments captured:

The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia

The  Segovia Cathedral

Alcázar of Segovia

Some Miscellaneous Shots

Friday, July 22, 2011

I know she loved this... *

Hello followers.

I've been a bit distracted this week. After my family spent last weekend with her, I found out on Sunday that the Starr of my blog had but a few days left with us. Yesterday morning, I found a message in my inbox from my mom asking me to call her, I knew what I was calling to hear.

A few months ago, a healthy Starr showed us videos of songs from Playing for Change, a foundation "dedicated to connecting the world through music by providing resources to musicians and their communities around the world." Her interest in PFC was fueled not only by the organization's mission, but it's powerful statement, music, and one particular Israeli musician whom she thought looked like yours truly.

I wanted to share this video. It is one that doesn't include my doppleganger, Tula. But I think the song choice is the most appropriate, given recent events. Starr, if you are reading, this is for you. Your family stood by you in your last months here, and now we need you to do the same with us as we figure out how enter this new chapter of our lives.

I love you, my sweet Aunt.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blast from a Few of my Pasts*

Another reason this weekend was so eventful was because the FSU Valencia study abroad program was visiting. I have one friend from high school on the program and one friend of a friend from college. When I did my program last year we took trips like this except they were not to Madrid, they were to Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland; and they were with our program of 30, not 100+. I was quite interested to see what a group of that size looked like and how it operated; and I was also, dare I say it, craving some 'good' American college fun (in a different country of course, that's the only way I really like to do college fun).

It was tricky though, because as we all know, I now had established a very strict curfew for myself, but good-American-college-abroad-fun-in-Madrid does not end anywhere close to 12:30. In fact, I'm fairly certain it hadn't even really gotten started by then. So I spoke to my friend, Leah (the one from high school), about a solution to this problem. Staying at their hotel with them wasn't exactly permitted, but after asking around, she reported back that the general rule of thumb was that, "it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission." So that settled it, and I was ready to have some Madrid fun and pretend I was on a study abroad program again, which is pretty much as good as it gets for me.

The Regina Hotel bar, 'Le Tigre' bar, an Irish Pub, and  a very elite Madrilleno club, 'Joy' later, and we were hobbling into bed in the wee hours of the morning. I don't know how much more of the story there is to tell because the rest is a bit of a mish-mosh of accents, drink orders, and techno music, but I do know that it was it was great fun, and a true testament to how being in a foreign country can turn strangers into friends, acquaintances into best friends, and old lacrosse teammates into bed-sharers.

Oh, I almost forgot--I also did some solo "sightseeing" Saturday afternoon. I put sightseeing in quotes because when I'm alone, I tend to do more wandering than seeing of sights. Often times it results in an inordinate amount of walking and me lying on my back in a park, taking pictures of strangers instead of sights. Which is precisely what happened on Saturday. I take pictures of the former rather than the latter mostly because while traveling alone, I prefer not to look like the biggest tourist in the plaza.
So here's what came of that event:

This picture is not an accident. I took this picture because this is what the sky looks like in Spain.
All of it. Every day. All day

In other news, I have befriended the neighbors' Canadian au pair, Pilar. She and I went out for a much-needed nightcap two nights ago, and now have plans for Madrid tomorrow and Segovia on Saturday. Hopefully the weekend will also include a cameo from Raphy. Of course, I will be keeping you posted.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"La Calabaza en el Colonial Jardin"*

"The Pumpkin in the Colonial Garden"

On Friday, I went into Madrid for the first time. This trip ranges from about 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on wait-times at each station. It involves a full-line ride from my neighborhood in Boadilla to the 'Colonial Jardin' stop, a change to the 10 line for about 9 stops to 'Plaza de Espana' and then 2 stops on the 3 line to Puerta del Sol, where I was to meet my new friends. Keep this in mind.

The aforementioned friends were not really friends before Friday. I 'met' the first new friend through my cousin, Jennifer on Facebook. This friend's name is Raphaelle, or Raphy as she was introduced to me. She is originally from France and met Jennifer while they both lived in London. She is now living in Madrid and has been for the past 4(?) months. I was apprehensive about meeting her because of one, the obvious--I had never met her, and secondly because there is quite an age difference between us, and I wasn't sure if that would be, uh, weird? But midway through my first week here, after not spending very much time with anyone above the age of 10, I decided to "grab the bull by the horns" and try to make a friend. I told her what I was up to and she was very enthusiastic to meet over the weekend with her and her visiting cousin and the visiting cousin's visiting boyfriend.

So I ventured out on all my metros and met these new people in the middle of Spain. And, what exactly, you might ask, would I do in the middle of Spain with three people I have just met? Why, eat paella and drink, of course! And so we did. And it was fantastic. After meeting Raphy I cannot believe I ever would have been worried about an age difference or meeting her for the first time. It was a great set-up, and I kind of feel like I've known her for years. We had the best, best time eating and drinking and carrying on, and by the end of the night, I was so proud I had not only been able to geographically find these people, but had also been able to collect 3 new friends, one of which being a resident of this new place I call home.
Thank you, Jennifer!
(Raphy is actually not in this picture; I'm on a hunt for the one of the four of us.)

But of course all good things and drunken evenings must come to an end, and unfortunately mine was a little earlier than I wanted to leave. Isabel (the mother of my princesses) warned me that I should allow 30 minutes for the last train I needed to take back to Boadilla, because at 2 am, the metros stop running and Cinderella would turn into a pumpkin. Keeping this in mind, I left our soiree at 1, even though it was still going strong. As I proceeded through each stop, my thoughts raced between whether or not I would make it home in time, and whether or not I had time to find the nearest bathroom. I continued to pursue the former because I decided that not making it home in time would be far more embarrassing than having an accident on the metro at age 21.

But at 1:45, I had made it to the place of my last transition, El Colonial Jardin, to realize my unfortunate fate. There it was, Cinderella's clock striking twelve as she runs from the prince leaving her glass shoe behind - in the form of Spanish security guards making everyone leave the metro station and not allowing me to continue on to my last train.
So there was nothing left to do but swallow my pride, and call dearest Isabel at 2 am to have her get out of bed and into the car to pick me up in the middle of nowhere.

There I was, poor Cinderalla after the most magical evening with her new pals; now nothing more than a pumpkin in a Jardin.

And no, I did not leave a glass slipper behind... only a small puddle on the concrete :/

For My Aunt Starr on her Birthday*

This is hard.

Today is my Aunt Starr's birthday. She is very sick. She is all I can think about right now, which makes it hard for me to tell you all about my weekend. I have decided to though, because before I left, she made it known how very disappointed she was when I stopped blogging last time. So for her, I will continue with these anecdotes. For her on her birthday, and every day, these anecdotes are for; and henceforth will be marked by a * for Starr.

Happy birthday, my dearest Aunt. Your vivacious spirit never ceases to amaze or make me smile. I love you very much.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reopen for Business

Hello dedicated and disappointed followers. I'm very sorry to leave you hanging after a mere 3 weeks of my last adventure, but I'm hoping to redeem myself now, with my latest.

In case you haven't been informed, this latest adventure is set in Boadilla del Monte, Spain. A beautiful town about 20 minutes outside of Madrid. As I am preparing for the GRE in the fall, one of my favorite expressions of late is, "Boadilla is to Madrid as Kendall is to Miami." The task in Boadilla is to be the cuidadora for two Spanish princesses, Claudia (8) and Angela (6). For those not as fluent as I, a cuidaora is Spanish for an Au Pair, a nanny, directly translated, 'the girl who cares for us,' or as I like to refer to myself: Maria Poppins. I got the gig by way of my sister. The mother of the princesses, Isabel, was one of Kefryn's roommates when they lived in Madrid (2000ish). She requested me, or someone like me to look after her kiddies for 6 weeks of summer while her and her marido (hubby) go to work. You all probably know that last summer I was unavailable, but we made it happen in 2011.

The new and improved Mary Poppins bag, circa 2011.

I left Miami on the 30th of June, 3 days after my 21st birthday marathon, and arrived in Madrid on the evening of July 1st. Isabel was waiting for me in the airport. She brought me to our home in Boadilla where I met the aforementioned marido, Angel. The girls weren't home because they had stayed with their grandparents in Manzanares (see: Don Quixote of La Mancha). After a tour of my rooftop cuarto, a little unpacking, gazpacho, y frozen pizza dinner, I put myself to bed - I would be meeting princesses tomorrow, after all...

The princesses wearing every piece of jewelry I brought.


Isabel and I left for Manzanares via Madrid in the late morning. We had to pick up her brother, Antonio's girlfriend, Luna on the way. Luna, next to Claudia, is the best translator I have encountered thus far. The town of Manzaneres is just as you would expect the setting of a 17th century Spanish novel to look like - and so does the abuelos' house. The bottom floor is used for Summer and the top for Winter. Two complete houses, one on top of the other. Every room on the bottom has at least two doors, and the entry room is decorated in spectacular classic spanish tile. It's fantastic.

Unfortunately, the only pictures I was motivated to take of this Spanish masterpiece was of the dog, Linda.

I was quite nervous about what to expect when I walked in. But the second I did, I knew I was in the right place. The little one immediately grabbed my hand and hasn't let it go since. And the older one doesn't like me as much--she only likes to hold my hand/sit in my lap 90% of the time. These girls are the most loving girls I've ever worked with - that is not to talk bad about any other kids I've looked after, but I usually have to work a little before I receive that kind of love. Claudia speaks beautiful english and Angela is so fervidly eager to learn, it blows me away. And I am happy to say that by the end of this I expect to have the Spanish vocabulary of a completely fluent 6-year-old!

After spending the day at Isabel's parents with her sister, brother, and their significant others, we headed back to Boadilla. The next day was lunch in Madrid with Angel's parents, twin brother, and unfortunate Nadal Wimbledon loss.

Wimbledon Watching.

Today, the fourth (yay America?!), was my first day alone with the girls. It included barbie-playing, homework - complete with a reading from my bilingual Cat in the Hat present, pool time, lunch (Isabel's cream of pumpkin soup & albondigas), tv + siesta for la cuidadora, more pool, dinner, iCarly en Espanol, and bedtime/blogtime.

The pool time was also "Angela-kidnap-Landis'-camera-and-take-pictures-of-everything-in-sight-time." So you have her to thank for these because I had definitely not been as diligent...