El Castillo Real de Olite (The Royal Castle of Olite): A playground for big kids.

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Next fun day trip we took? To a ridiculously cool castle. With great people (read: my fiance Jake, our friends Jason and Gabriel, and a new friend, Chiara). Where we could run around the open-air turrets/towers/etc like 5-year-olds in a McDonald’s play-place. In the beautiful sunshine. Basically just pure awesomeness.

Let me begin…

Castle-front picnic to start off our day!

Castle Playground. 🙂

Lovely day, but a bit gusty on those towers....

Notice the small triumphant figure on top? That would be Gabriel. "I'm king of the world!!!!"

We kind of scattered in all directions and started finding each other on separate towers...and of course taking pics the whole while. This shot, of course, was taken from the vantage point of yet another tower.

Had to do it.

One of a long series of many silly shots.

I don’t know. Maybe playing around a beautiful old castle is impressive to you, maybe it’s not.  (I don’t really care, actually…not to be rude, but impressing people isn’t really the point here). There was just something a bit, forgive me…magical about that day: with 5 friends, 3 languages spoken (English, Spanish and Italian….and a whole lot of  Englispanglitalian), a roadtrip to a castle, a day to do nothing more than enjoy ourselves in that beautiful place and finally— be completely silly(i.e. our true selves).  Just one of those times that carve themselves into your memory, I guess. Vale, enough musing/rambling/blubbering off into space. I’ve got more blogging to catch up on!

Until next time— besos!

Brianne

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A perfect weekend getaway (without “getting away” too far)

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This is a backtrack post as usual, but I’ve been busy,….so cut me a little slack, eh? 🙂 gracias!

February 26- We had a three-day weekend off from work (imagine that) and though it’s usually our habit to get as far away as we can as soon as we have any time, we (Jake and I, and our friend, Jason) decided to keep it a little closer to home and save up money for when the weather gets better, not that it’s anything like the freezing, snowy weather my home state Nebraska is getting, pero bueno… winter cold of any sort always makes you long for spring.

So instead of taking a mondo bus ride (both distance & dinero-wise) to Galicia, a region in northwest Spain (we’ll make it there another time soon I hope) we decided to get to know La Rioja a little better. We are a little limited in our lack of car —aka basically only able to go to places available by bus, but this weekend we were lucky enough convince our Spanish friend, Gabriel (studying here, but originally from Girona, Cataluña) to take us along on a roadtrip to see a few places. So we packed up in his little car and headed first to Clavijo, a tiny village near Logroño that’s home to the ruins of an old castle. I better just let the pictures do the talking on this one.

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Not a bad view. (Castillo de Clavijo)

Next we drove another hour or so to a little pueblo called Arnedillo….beautiful in its own right, we later found, but we initially were drawn by the allure of some natural hot springs we’d heard were nearby. We weren’t disappointed. 🙂

Hot springs in Arnedillo...hanging with the guys.

Ok, I can't take photo credit for this one....this is actually a photo of a previously-unknown location in La Rioja I had stumbled upon while researching the area...and then we found this same picture on a wall in Arnedillo. It was that very place!

This one I can take credit for....we didn't get to see the spectacular view by day, but nighttime was pretty ok I suppose. 🙂

After a fun roadtrip home, talking a fun mix of Spanish/English/Spanglish and later a fun night out with friends, we were feeling pretty “satisfecho.” Next day? Attempt at going to Pamplona, but foiled (what seems like the millionth time) by bus schedules. Plan B? A little mini-trip to the nearby pueblo of Nalda for a return-trip to our favorite caves.

Not a bad perch for a snack with a view.

Then we climbed to the top of the caves for even more picture-taking goodness.

The Fantastic Trio.

And last but not least, that Monday happened to be a holiday, remember, so more time for trips! This time we FINALLY made it to Pamplona. No bulls this time, obviously, but still a fascinating city for sure.

Cafe Iruña-- of Hemmingway fame. Definitely the classiest place I've ever had the pleasure of sipping a cafe con leche.

Pamplona's beautiful town hall, or ayuntamiento

The closest we got to actual bulls: the "encierro" scuplture in Pamplona.

Y está. Be posting more to catch up on the latest adventures, I promise….

Up next: 

-Castle play-day in Olite

-Wonderful week with my Mom and sister

-Reflections on friend departures

…Y más! 🙂 

Besos,

Brianne

Un momento español…muy tĂ­pico.

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Primero: Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Promise to fix that…tonight. Prepare for an onslaught of blog posts the likes of which you’ve never seen (well, actually you most likely have–but the dramatic phrasing seemed necessary).

Segundo: The post.

Ok, so let me preface this by saying I’m having preemptive separation anxiety from my adopted country and find myself wistfully saying “I’m going to miss this so much” once or more per day. I know. I haven’t even left yet and I’m already missing the place. In my defense, I am now doing my best to cherish and savor every one of these last moments I have here, which sometimes one tends not to do until they have a mere week or a few days left in a place. So for these last two and half months, I’m going to be doing a lot of enjoying of all this lovely country has to offer (more than usual, I think).  I know…rough life.

Step one of “Mission: Appreciate Spain” — re-develop that wonder-filled, starry-eyed awareness of a beautiful moment while you’re in it. Check. Moment in question? What I would call a “muy tĂ­pico” (very typical) Spanish moment, from what I have seen of Spanish culture thus far: sitting outside a cafe, just drinking in the moment (and a cafe con leche) and enjoying a beautiful evening. Let me illuminate…and sadly this one moment I wanted to capture so badly in a photo, I didn’t have my camera on me, so words will just have to do.

The scene: sitting at a table outside a cafe in the Plaza Mercado, a very popular square  in old-town Logroño. It’s early evening, but with spring fully arrived and the time change just….a’changed, the sun is still shining enough to make the cathedral’s facade glow against the bluer-than-blue sky, as well as stretch the shadows of the people walking by (rhyme non-intended).  And yes,  it happens to be THAT cathedral, yes, that one where a certain someone got down on one knee in front of our friends and the whole plaza. And lucky for me, I have that someone sitting across from me, busily engaged booking hostels for our upcoming trip on his laptop and sipping on an espresso (cafe solo, as it’s ordered here). The air is a perfect cool-but-comfortable temp, just right for sipping a hot drink but that still makes you want to linger outside. The plaza is milling with people of all ages eager as I am to take in the last of the days lovely weather.

The soundtrack? A street performer strumming a tune out on his guitar at a nearby cafe mixed with the lively chatting of the paseo-takers. Paseo-ers. Paseo-adores. Pase-what, you might ask? Paseo. The evening walk taken by what seems like every man, woman, child and dog in our city, if not everywhere in Spain. The purpose? Any Spaniard would probably be offended at such a question. Why indeed would one need (or wonder about) the purpose of such a normal activity? But this is my favorite part about the moment I’m in. Watching this so authentically-Spanish tradition….the darling little older ladies walking arm in arm in their Sunday best (which until just recently was fur coats) or with their equally cute older man counter-part in his hat and cane (the latter purely for aesthetic/style purposes in many cases); the young-and-in-love ones holding hands and looking more at each other than their destination; the families with giggling/snoozing/cooing-child-filled strollers (these make up about 1 in 3 if not more); the occasional weather-worn, backpack-&-walking-stick-sporting pilgrim (a walk/bike/ride -er of the famous Camino del Santiago whose path runs through Logroño) and finally, the multitudes of dogs walking their masters (or the reverse? It’s hard to tell sometimes) from the tiniest of tea-cup types to the giant fluffy German shepherds…while often wearing the most surprising collection of dog clothing–from rain ponchos to sweaters to hoodies.  And the crescendo to this lovely reverie? The bells of the cathedral, swinging their little bell hearts out for what must be only the pleasure of the people in the plaza.

Needless to say, it is a lovely hour or so of sipping on my drink and simply relishing this moment of perfection. I once came across the phrase “il dolce far niente” or “the sweetness of doing nothing” in a book….supposedly a beloved Italian mantra, and I think the Spanish must surely subscribe to the same dogma. There is an art, of which many Americans (myself often included) cannot quite achieve and/or understand, of simply enjoying moments of sweet, perfect not-doing-anything-ness. It’s something I admire about Spanish culture and aspire to be able to do. Anyway. You get the picture, I hope.

I know I said I didn't get a picture, and I didn't....but I had to give you some sort of visual, at least of the cathedral in this sort of light... Photo source: http://bit.ly/HAio7r

¡Viva Carnaval!

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So, there’s not too much I probably need to explain on this, my post about Carnival (or Carnaval, in Portuguese), but just in case you’re unfamiliar with the tradition…Carnival is a pre-Lenten fiesta celebrated world-over, (though curiously not in the U.S.). In Spain, or at least in my little corner of the country, it calls for a day off of school, kids dressing up in costume the day before classes let out and on the day of, big crazy parades and of course: more costumes.

It’s vale la pena (worth it, worth the trouble) to be in Spain, or for that matter, anywhere except the U.S. for Carnival. Yeah, I know Mardi Gras is cool, but another day in the year to dress up? I will take that over drunken, bead-throwing madness any day of the week. (Obviously there was still some drunkenness that occurred on the Saturday night of Carnival down in the bars area, but what do you expect?)

Anyway, let me simply continue minus words–it’s better that way anyway.

My darling 4 year olds mustached, goatee-ed, and eye-patched up for their year's theme--Pirates! Have hardly seen anything so cute in my whole life!

Ha! Some of my first graders getting a little restless....the last few hours of the day they did "Cuentas y Chocolate" which is "Stories and Hot Chocolate" and one parent was reading a particularly lengthy one....

One of the crazy groups filing through during the parade (which conveniently ran right in front of my apartment window).

The guys hanging out the window watching the parade....we actually had several people watching us instead of it (the parade), haha!

My peacock costume.... (in Spanish "pavo real" that's right, I'm a royal turkey).

Jake and Jason, aka “Thing 1 and Thing 2” of Dr. Seuss fame. Didn’t always get recognized, but guys this big in red jumpsuits and blue hair definitely will get a few laughs/stares.

The awesome signs advertising Carnaval in our town. And yes those are indeed wine corks with mustaches.

¡Feliz DĂ­a de San ValentĂ­n!

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¡Feliz dĂ­a de San ValentĂ­n! Or as we say in English “that holiday in February that mostly only Americans pay any attention to.”

Not too much to report, but I did have to share this…was doing a little fun poem-creating with my 5th graders using the basic “roses are red, violets are blue” format, but letting them have a little of their own creative license…

The finished product, an original masterpiece from 5th level B in Albelda:

“Hearts are red

The sky is blue

Bananas are fantastic

And so are you.” 

Pretty much Lord Byron, I know. I was asking them to brainstorm adjectives that “are nice to call people we like” and then objects that can also be described by that same word to fit in the poem. I just about lost it at the enthusiastically suggested  “BANANAS ARE FANTASTIC!” (and perfectly correct, but hilarious all the same). Maybe I just find this hysterical and random because I’m their teacher, but perhaps you might get half a chuckle out of it too.

Happy heart day everyone! ¡Besos y abrazos a todos!

Cumpleaños! (Birthday/trip to Toledo & Segovia)

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Late again, I know.  But where were we? Ahhh yes, my birthday (January 26)! Birthdays are always great fun and this one did not disappoint.

Some fun highlights of the day itself:

-Had to work, obviously since it was a Thursday, but the director of my school played the Beatles singing “Happy Birthday” over the loudspeaker in my honor. Got lots of birthday wishes, besos and love from my colleagues and students.

-Came home to an ENORMOUS bouquet of lilies, irises and daisies from my fiancé, Jake and a sweet note. He is pretty much amazingly awesome and knows very well how much I delight in getting flowers.

-For all the faults of Facebook, it sure is fun on your birthday. I was overwhelmed by a mountain of birthday messages from family and friends in the U.S., friends in Spain and friends from the world-over and in several different languages, to boot! It was seriously splendid.

-Went out with a few friends for tapas (my favorite meal, of course) and hung out with a bunch of people at a friend’s flat before catching a 1:30 a.m. train to Toledo. I was fortunate beyond REASON and lucked out with the day after my birthday being a fiesta…meaning NO SCHOOL!

So we used the time to a bit of traveling. We spent all day in Toledo, which, though rainy and foggy, was quite amazing. It’s a gorgeous, medieval looking walled city that actually used to be the capital of Spain prior to Madrid. Here…just let the pictures do the talking.

View of foggy Toledo town from the top of a cathedral. The Alcazar is the large building to the left and the main cathedral to the right.

So mysterious looking at night...

A fascinating (and EXPENSIVE) antique shop with their selection of swords, of course...medieval weapons seem to be the preferred souvenir there, haha.

Gorgeous views...

Intricate embellishments on the walls of a synagogue we visited...one of only 3 remaining in Spain.

The next day we headed to Segovia— an easy daytrip from Madrid and a worthwhile one, I would say. It’s not a huge city by any means, but it’s worth the visit to see the awesomely old Roman aqueducts (built in the 1st century….FIRST CENTURY!) and the incredible fairy tale-looking castle that is the Alcázar.  We did, however, nearly freeze our hind-parts off. I recommend going in sometime other than winter! 🙂

The incredible Roman Aqueducts! (They are not held together with mortar or clamps or ANYTHING! Just incredible engineering.)

View from the Alcázar. Feels like you've gone back in time.

El Alcázar. So so awesome.

And THIS is what it looks like from the other side...hard to access unless you go down the cliff and probably quite far away from the city. Or from a helicopter. Photo via http://mevoydeviaje.wordpress.com/2011/06/

Last but not least…we had attempted to get churros con chocolate about 5 times during the trip —and either the place didn’t have them, we got there and they were closed, or what have you. But finally…FINALLY we found some in Madrid and sat enjoying them in a park for the two hours we had till our connecting bus.

I call this: "triumphant churro face."

Top 5 Reasons to Visit La Rioja

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Calle Laurel--aka Pinchos (tapas) Paradise

Never heard of Logroño or the Spanish region of La Rioja before? It’s true, while the area doesn’t boast the fame of  tourist hotspots like Barcelona, Madrid, Granada or Toledo, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the North, if only for the world famous Rioja wine and/or a trip to a bodega (winery), the incredibly tasty tapas on Calle Laurel, the beautiful landscape, warm and friendly people and the un-touristy, “authentic” Spanish experience you’ll find there.

In fact, those are precisely the reasons to visit here, live here even. While I know one can’t make it to every city when traveling abroad on a tight time schedule, I understand why La Rioja doesn’t make it on everyone’s list. However, I would have to say it’s probably an even more incredible place to LIVE, rather than visit…just fantastic quality of life (in Logroño, at least) for a city that’s big enough to have a fun/lively night life and amenities but small enough to feel very safe and to be able to get to know lots of people.

But don’t take my word for it: read what mi amiga and fellow Auxiliar, Liz,  has to say about our lovely home in her article for the Spain Scoop. (A note on Liz—she’s rather a veteran at this Spanish living abroad stuff, as she’s called 5 different cities home all over the country, so I daresay she can speak with some authority).  Top 5 Reasons to Visit La Rioja