Puente in Valencia

A few friends and I spent this past weekend in one of my favorite cities – Valencia. We had a wonderful time filling our bellies with paella, horchata and fartones, biking to the beach and seeing all the beautiful sights the city has to offer.

Contrary to belief, paella is not Spain’s national dish. Each autonomous community has their own typical dishes and paella just so happens to be Valencia’s. Paella Valenciana consists of rice, chicken, rabbit, flat green beans, and alubias or garrofó.

One of my favorite ways to see and learn about a city is by going on (free) walking tours. Our hostel had daily walking tours – which was perfect! Our guide Eduardo was hilarious and extremely informative. Some sights we saw while on the tour included: Centro Arqueológico de la Almoina, the cathedral, Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, the beautiful Torres de Serranos that was used to protect the city, the Merat Central de València. We learned about the history of Spain (information ranged from why Spain is called Spain… It means The Land of Rabbits to an explanation of Las Fallas that take place in March).

During our tour, we stopped inside a small chocolate/sweet shop in Plaza de Santa Catalina to purchase some horchata and fartones. Although horchata can be found in the states, it is quite different from Valencian horchata. It is consumed with a farton – a sweet glazed bread. Eduardo informed us that the best way to consume a farton and horchata was to soak up the liquid by dipping the farton. It was marvelous.

Saturday was spent biking to the beach along the Túria River (which is actually dried up). The path along the river is so awesome! There were so many runners and bikers enjoying the beautiful Valencian sun. We also biked right past Parque Gulliver and La Ciudad de Ciencias y Artes; a truly breathtaking sight.

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Antwerp, Belgium

My second stop during my holiday travels was in Antwerp, Belgium which I was beyond excited for because it meant that I would be reunited with these two girls:

Mariam + Lindsay (enjoying/staying warm with gluhwein)!

I departed the Rivera’s on an overnight train. I had every intention and desire to sleep during the ride but found it nearly impossible due to a number of reasons such as uncomfortable seating, sharing a cabin with two snoring men, etc. The train I took required me to transfer two times. During the last leg of the trip I had to transfer in Brussels (going to Antwerp) and was scheduled to arrive in Antwerp around 10:20 AM while the girls would arrive a bit earlier than me. However, I ended up being about an hour late because I accidentally got on the wrong train (going towards Antwerp, but stopped running about three stops prior to my final destination). I had no way of letting the girls know I would be late because our phones only work in Spain or with wifi, which was nowhere to be found. I finally arrived in Antwerp, walked around the train station for a couple of minutes, searching and hoping that the girls hadn’t left the station. I reached the top-level of the station, saw a number of coffee shops and thought… “Knowing Lindsay… they have to be in one of these… But which one?” I turned around and saw Starbucks and KNEW they had to be there – walked in, and there they were waiting for me. It all worked out because Lindsay told me she asked herself, “What’s the first thing Nicole is going to do when she gets here?” Answer: Find coffee. Find wifi. Done.

Our time in Antwerp was really awesome. The first day there, we got caught in some nasty rain, but after that, the weather was quite nice. We were excited that the Christmas markets were still up and even more excited to indulge in Belgium waffles and Belgian beer. We saw and learned a great deal about the city by going on a walking tour (which are the best way to explore and sight see). Our tour started near the cathedral. During the tour, we discovered that the cathedral is the tallest building in the city – standing at 123meters and that no building can be taller. Our next stop was to visit the City Hall, Guild Houses, and Brabo Fountain; all of which are located in Grote Markt.

Antwerp's cathedral
Antwerp’s cathedral
Guild Houses of Grote Markt
Guild Houses of Grote Markt

The Brabo Fountain has such an interesting story behind it. Druon Antigoon is a mythical giant who lived and guarded the bridge of the Schedlt River. He exacted taxes (half of everything) that passed through the river. Those who refused to pay the tax, had their hand severed and thrown into the river. Eventually, a Romanian soldier named Silvius Brabo killed the giant, then severing and throwing his own hand into the river. Antwerp in dutch: Antwerpen which translates to: hand werpen which then translates to: (Old English) hand and throw. 

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Brabo Fountain

Ari volunteer me to do a little project while we were at Brabo Fountain. He asked how I would throw a hand and told me to stand like Brabo. In the end, we discovered that the statue was poorly created because Brabo was using the wrong hand and standing on the wrong foot.

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M trying to help me get the stance

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Other sites we visited included the Vleehuis (Butcher’s House) – now a music museum, Museum aan de Stroom, and Lange Wapper. Near the Butcher’s House, there is a dark tunnel which frequently flooded. Lange Wapper was a mythical creature that lived in the swampy waters and provoked drunks as they stumbled on their way home.

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Lange Wapper and two intoxicated men

More photos:

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Antwerp Centraal Station
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Chinatown – where we stocked up on Chinese candy!

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Germany – My First Christmas Away From Home

As a first year in the Auxiliares de Conversación program I spent my first Christmas miles away from my family. As Thanksgiving came and went, I began to anticipate homesickness. Strangely, it didn’t quite hit as soon as I thought it would. This year, Christmas didn’t seem as real to me. It could be a result that my apartment was lacking a tree, decorations, cookies, Christmas tunes, etc. Despite the fact that it didn’t really feel like the holiday season; I really wanted to take advantage of the vacation days and get some traveling in. Fortunately for me, my family friends are currently living in Germany – so that’s where my holiday travels started.

I left Santiago and arrived in Nuremberg around 2:00 pm and was warmly greeted by Frank, Olga, and Luckey at the airport. After we left the airport, we went to the Nuremberg Christmas Market to grab some dinner and do a little sight-seeing. The market was beautifully decorated with lights and vendors. As expected, Germany was cold, but we warmed up with some delicious glühwein (hot mulled wine)!

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ImageMy stay with the Rivera’s was so wonderful. The house was constantly filled with bachata, good conversation and good company. Over the course of my four-day stay, Frank made me breakfast every morning after waking up (coffee, juice, eggs, pancakes, etc. – so spoiled!) We visited another Christmas market in Weiden, where we indulged in bratwarst and more glühwein. The Christmas markets serve glühwein in mugs decorated with the name and year of the market (I ended up coming home with 4 mugs). After the Christmas markets, we took a drive through one of the scenic routes in the woods and hiked up to a small castle and wandered through some beautiful churches.

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Christmas dinner was absolutely amazing. Olga cooked up a storm for four people. Dinner consisted of pernil, ham, gravy, potato salad, puerto rican style rice, and more. By this time, the homesickness had begun to sink in, but dinner with Frank, Olga, and Robert (a coworker of Frank’s) definitely helped take my mind off of it. Another good note about Christmas, was that I was able to Skype with my family – including Kobe, which definitely made the night that much better.

Upcoming posts:

  • Antwerp, Belgium
  • New Year’s celebration in Paris

Bo Nadal – Celebrating Christmas

With Christmas being just days away, for the past month or so we have been working on Christmas related projects and activities at Kid’s Garden and the colé. Here’s how we celebrated!

Kid’s Garden:

At Kid’s Garden, la escuela infantil that I work at, we celebrated Christmas a few weeks ago. Celebrations included inviting the parents/families to come to the school to watch our Christmas show followed by snacks and beverages. There are two different groups at the school – los mayores (2-3 year olds), y los bebes (1 and younger). I was in charge of los mayores and we performed We Wish You A Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells while los bebes performed Mi Burrito Sabanero (http://bit.ly/1jyrE3o). Overall, the celebration was a lot of fun and soo cute. The children showed up to the school dressed up as shepherd’s or in other Christmasy outfits – absolutely precious! Eva, my boss wanted to introduce me to some of the parents before the show started, which was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience! I’ve seen quite a bit of the parents come and go each morning as they drop their child off at the school. However, I never actually had conversations with them. For me, the experience felt like I was speed dating – two or three minutes with one set of parents, then run over to the next, quick introduction, then run over to a next set of parents. The performance went great! I had feared that my group (as well as los bebes) would be crying the whole time or I would be dancing solo, but it was the total opposite. None of them cried and they actually danced with me!

Los bebes performing Mi Burrito Sabanero
Los bebes performing Mi Burrito Sabanero
Los mayores!
Los mayores!
Some of the lovely ladies I work with!
Some of the lovely ladies I work with!

 

CEIP – Serra De Outes:

Celebrations at the cole included making Christmas trees out of magazines, making ornaments, and singing Christmas related songs including We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Jingle Bells, and Train’s Shake Up Christmas. The profe’s also had their own celebration a couple of days ago which consisted of a six-hour lunch accompanied with an endless supply of wine, some amazing seafood, licor café, and singing. I really love my kids. They all asked if I would be going home for Christmas to be with my family. When I told them no, they all gave me hugs and kisses and told me to have a Merry Christmas. Celebrations at the school took place this last Friday and school ended by 1:30. I had to work in Campus Sur – at Kid’s Garden that morning and wasn’t able to make it in time. I did however, take the first bus I could get on in order to make it to our staff lunch. The food was so delicious. I forgot about all the seafood Galicia has to offer! After our six-hour lunch “ended,” a few of us headed to a bar a little bit closer to the school for one last copa, where more dancing and drinking took place. Once the glasses were emptied, Toño and I said our goodbyes and made our way back to Santiago. Overall, it was a great night!

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Christmas trees made by the students!
Lunch view
Lunch view
Rosa, Toño, and I
Rosa, Toño, and I

 

Upcoming Christmas/New Year adventures:

  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • France

Weekend Day Trip: Finisterre

The weather in Galicia has been absolutely amazing as of lately.  Although, it has been freezing, and I swear, its ten times colder in Serra de Outes than in Santiago. Everyday I go to school resembling the Michelin man with my 3-4 layers, barely able to move my arms. However, I can’t complain too much seeing as though we haven’t seen rain in weeks.

Friday was fiesta – the day of The Constitution in Spain which meant we had a long weekend! Given the good weather and the holiday, I decided I should take a day trip somewhere. I’ve been wanting to go to Fisterra/Finisterre for quite some time and thought this weekend would be the perfect opportunity to go. Saturday morning, I woke up early to catch the first bus out of Santiago.

Fisterra (Galician): Originates from Latin; Finis Terrae, which translates to “Land’s End”.
Finisterre (Spanish): Also originates from Latin, and means “the end of the earth”.

It is located on the rocky Costa de Morte (Coast of Death in Galician) as a result of the numerous shipwrecks along the shores.

After a two-hour bus ride, I arrived in Fisterra and was determined to visit the lighthouse located at the tip of Cape Fisterra – which is said to be the most western point in Europe.  Making it the closest point to the US (hence the name – the land’s end). I had little to no clue where to go, and circled the town several time before encountering directional signs to the  “Faro”.

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Following the signs to the lighthouse.
Trekking up.
Trekking up.

The 3km walk to the lighthouse was peaceful and quiet. Not exactly what I expected – walking on a steep, windy road with no sidewalk, but it was nonetheless, an enjoyable walk. On my way up, I ran into several other walkers who were making their way down. One woman and I exchanged hello’s. At this point I was still very unaware as to whether or not I was following the right road. She seemed to take notice and said, “Guapa! Estás llegando!” as she pointed up the hill. (*insert sigh of relief here*) So I continued walking.

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Cemetery of Finisterre
Cemetery of Finisterre

Halfway to the lighthouse, I stopped and visited the cemetery of Finisterre, designed by César Portela to recall the ancient burials of the Celtic culture.

Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!
Faro de Fisterra.
Faro de Fisterra.

As I arrived to Cape Fisterra, I was blown away by the beauty. There was little wind and an abundance of sun, making everything that much more beautiful. Listening to the waves crash on the rocks was so calming and peaceful.

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At the land's end.
At the land’s end.

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