Sunday, May 10, 2015

Balancing Life and Catching Up

It's been a while, okay maybe a few months is more than a while, but I've finally lost the guilty feeling of not keeping this blog up-to-date. Back in 2013 there were many times I forced myself to sit down in front of the screen and write something that just didn't inspire me. So for 2014 I had vowed that I would only write when I really felt moved to, and because it was something that interested me. If people read what I write that's great, if they don't I have this page for myself and my loved ones.

So I continue this vow for 2015. No inspiration, no post.

Teacher Appreciation Day, what's not inspiring about this?

Since moving back to Spain last summer I found myself wondering about my general outlook on life. I had gotten so comfortable living life here in Madrid that I almost forgot I was still living abroad. After the tragic death of Robin Williams, I vowed I had to seize the day more and push myself out of my comfort zone; whether it be small steps like buying running shoes, taking a Spanish exam, or hurtling down a mountain learning how to ski.

And yes, while it's a great to seize the day, there has to be some kind of balance to 'seizing the day' and being comfortable and secure. A balance I've never really felt like I've been able to grasp. Living with anxiety has always made me feel like I was living from one extreme to the next. I was always worrying about something, whether is was a legitimate concern or not.

Casual day relaxing with zombies at Parque de Atracciones.
The last half of 2014 brought about various steps to balance out my life, on all different levels. A balance of saving and spending, of work and fun, of comfort and excitement, of worrying and relaxing, and of social time and "me" time. I guess that's what it means to 'grow up,' knowing when, where, and how far to push yourself. And I feel that it truly paid off, because 2014 has been one of my happiest years.

In 2014 I spent my first Christmas season away from home. Instead I visited with my boyfriend's amazing family in Santander and was welcomed with open arms into their holiday celebrations; had my first cotillón, my first roscón de reyes, and my first Carnaval. I spent a wonderful month at home in the summer enjoying the beach and time with my friends and family and renewed for a second year in my school.

Beautiful Cantabria
Upon my return to Spain I pushed myself to learn and improve myself, both physically and mentally. I started to run in hopes of being able to run 5 km without my inhaler. I took the DELE (Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language) at the B2 level and I finished the year off by learning how to ski, even making my way onto some easy Red paths.

I took full advantage of living in Europe and traveled as much as possible. I saved every spare cent I could and explored more of Europe and Spain. With my father I returned to Paris, Rome and Toledo, but also traveled to new destinations like Ávila, Barcelona, Mérida, Santiago de Compestela, Ibiza, Salamanca, and Ireland. (And for all those who think it's not possible, I've also been actively saving and paying off my student loans. It's all about the private classes and budgeting).

Templo de Debod
As 2015 arrived, I thought about my initial goals for arriving to Spain and how they all circled around traveling and Spanish. Of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to see the world and improving my language skills, but few of them focused on my health and well-being. My blog is called "Life after College," and I feel like over the past few years I've lost sight of my original intentions: documenting my life after college in a relatable way. 

Yes, my own life has revolved around Spain the past couple of years, but I don't want to paint an idyllic picture of my life as sunshine and roses. Spain is wonderful and I love living here, but I still have doubts of my post-graduate life. How am I going to pay off my student loans? What am I doing with my life? What am I going to do in the future? Is this the right choice for me?

The winding road after college

So I've created new goals this year, goals that balance my love of travel with my health and well-being. Goals to help stay true to myself, and to this blog. Goals to help make the most of my life after college.

  • Stick to a consistent exercise routine
  • Eat healthier foods without sacrificing taste
  • Run 5 km without an inhaler
  • Learn how to relax
  • Save for my student loans
  • Blog when I can, and share the good and the bad
  • Improve my Spanish to take the C1 exam next spring
  • Travel to two new countries this year (Portugal down, one more to go)
  • Visit the rest of Spain's autonomous communities
    • Aragón
    • Gran Canarias
    • Comunidad Valenciana
    • Murcia

I am excited to work more on this blog this year, and to share some fantastic news. Big changes are coming my way this year, and I couldn't be happier!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

No Soy Yo: On Being Myself in Another Language

Ok.  We all know learning another language isn't easy, but expressing yourself...that's the hard part.

When you speak in your native language it feels natural.  You can crack a joke without thinking, have small talk with ease, and express yourself as an individual.  In another language it's just not the same: you fumble for words, your sarcasm doesn't come through, and cultural jokes are lost on you.

Being away from loved ones certainly doesn't help either
I can understand, have conversations, and produce Spanish.  But even with how much my Spanish has improved living abroad I still don't feel like myself.  I'm no poet, but in English the words have always come easily (excellent for all that SAT prep) but in Spanish I feel more like I'm the equivalent of a ten-year old child.  And not even a very funny one.

I know fitting in is always hard, especially being a naturally shy person, and moving abroad is no exception.  It's a frustrating circle of struggling to express myself, disliking my inability to express the real me in Spanish, and feeling further anxiety at the thought of struggling to express myself in the next social situation. Ugh.
Cracking jokes with my BFF back home
Speaking Spanish, especially the fear of speaking it incorrectly and inadequately (even though I know it's incredibly silly) has led me to just keep quiet.  I kept pulling the whole "try and make yourself invisible" that we all know never works.  I know the irrational fear of my Spanish causing me to be laughed out of a room has only been made worse by my anxiety, but knowing this didn't always make it easier.

So as this new year began I've finally realized that, after years of struggling to reconcile the real me with the "Spanish" me, the fear holding me back is pointless.  My Spanish won't get better if I'm too afraid to speak it.  And the more I hold back the progress of my Spanish the longer I stifle my personal expression.  Not to mention if I've never judged anyone for making mistakes in English why would I be judged for imperfect Spanish?  Answer: I can't let fear hold me back forever.  
Definitely speaks to me this year.
I know it was a brave thing picking up my entire life and moving to another continent, to start over in a new city, a new culture.  But as I remember the little girl who walked into my grandmother's Spanish classroom unashamed to babble in Spanish and share herself, I think that maybe it's time to be brave again.  To allow myself to make mistakes in Spanish, to share myself more freely, and to not be so afraid of just being me.

 Plus speaking Spanish can't be as scary as jumping out of a plane, can it?

How has your experience been expressing yourself in a different language?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Barcelona and Gaudí Galore

The famous La Sagrada Família
Back in March my boyfriend and I planned an impromptu trip to Barcelona, and by impromptu I mean it.  It was a trip planned in three days and I thought I was going to have a panic attack because we didn't even know where we were staying until we arrived to Barcelona.

Despite the near panic attack, I was still very excited to arrive because I had always wanted to travel to Barcelona.  The plans were finally pushed into fruition this particular weekend as a reunion for my boyfriend and his friends.  I have to point out that the biggest thing I had noticed about discussions of Barcelona is that it seems to elicit strong feelings, everyone either seems to love it or hate it.

To be honest I managed to fall somewhere in between those opinions.  And before anyone gets offended, it wasn't really Barcelona's fault.  The weather was terrible, a mix of rain and cold, and we were so rushed to see the city in only a day and a half. What instead moved me about the city was how kindly I was treated by the BF's friends there.
I was obsessed with the stained glass windows

We arrived to Barcelona late at night, picked up by one of the BF's friends to be dropped off at another friend's house where we'd be spending the weekend.  When we finally arrived at our home away from home for the weekend we were greeted by home-cooked food the family had saved for us from their dinner, I love Spain.

After we shoved food in our face a quick dinner we met the rest of the friends in the center for a night out.  A night out that proved why botelloning gives anxiety, though no worries my #guiristatus and the fact that I wasn't drinking saved me from the whopping 12€ fine.  Kind police officers aside, I still prefer just paying at a bar or club and not worry about my anxiety when I want to salir.

Thankfully the rest of the night was not nearly as exciting and we woke up bright and early, still not sure how we we did it, to tour the actually city of Barcelona.  Which if you couldn't guess is a lot to do in one day, but is possible if you if you A) Don't mind paying for public transportation or B) Don't mind walking until your feet make you want to cry.

We chose B and started out near the center at the Arco del Triunfo and made our way to the world famous Sagrada Família, which is really a church and not a cathedral like many people think.  For those unfamiliar with this beautiful church, it's famous because it was designed by Catalan architect Anton Gaudí and also because as work depends on donations and ticket sales the construction has taken well over 100 years and the church is still not complete (though it's anticipated to be finished in 12 years).

[General Tickets: 14.80€, Student Tickets: 12.80€; to visit the towers too General Ticket: 19.30€, Student Ticket: 17.30€; the Basilica is open 9-8 PM]

After Sagrada Família we then walked to Park Güell, another famous site designed by Gaudí.  For new visitors the rules of visiting the park have recently changed.  The park used to be entirely free but now visitors have to pay to enter the famous Gaudí area of the park, though the rest of the park still remains free and open to the public.

The biggest shock to me when we purchased the tickets is that you're given an entry time.  If you miss your entry time, well then you're out of luck.  Since we had about 45 minutes to wait for our entry time we decided to walk around the free area of the park, starting at crosses that mark the highest point of the park.  By climbing to the top you get a spectacular view of Barcelona, and a nice little hike.  Though be cautious if it's a windy day, seriously had a few moments clinging to the rocks and fearing for my life...

Finally it was almost our entry time to the monument portion of the park so we marched back downhill and had our tickets collected by the security guards at each entry point.  And to be honest, I was not as impressed as I was with La Sagrada Família.  At 8€ to enter, a specific time available to enter, and such a small portion of the park actually designed by Gaudí it was beautiful, but not my favorite spot on our whirlwind tour of Barcelona.

[Online Tickets: 7€, Office Tickets: 8€; the park is open 8:30-6:00 PM October 27 to March 23, 8:00-8:00 PM March 24 to April 30, 8:00-9:00 PM May 1 to October 26]

Too tired to walk back to the center, we took the metro to head to Casa Batlló, a house that was redesigned by, you guessed it, Gaudí.  The roof is said to represent a dragon and the spire on top the lance of Saint George, Saint George (Sant Jordi) being the patron saint of Cataluña.

It truly is a beautiful building, especially with the gorgeous mosaic Gaudí is known for, but at 18.5€ for a student ticket it was just more than we wanted to spend so we just stopped by to see the façade.

[Adult Tickets: 21.50€, Student Tickets: 18.50€, the building is open 9:00-9:00 PM]

After the quick walk-by of Casa Batlló we made our way to La Rambla, the famous Barcelona street that connects Plaça de Catalunya and the monument for Christopher Columbus.
While La Rambla is known for its shopping, it is also infamous for tourists, tourist traps, and pickpockets.  We spent most of our time trying to find a place to wait and stay warm until we met our friends for dinner.  Too cold to walk much further and we hid in Starbucks and naturally I ordered a cold drink, sometimes my intelligence knows no bounds.

After the previous night's dinner at possibly the worst Chinese restaurant I've ever eaten in, at least it had Karaoke, we spent our last morning in Barcelona with a quick tour of the area known as the "Gothic Quarter." This area of Barcelona is famous for the number of buildings that are from the Medieval Period. 

We started the tour at the Cathedral of Barcelona. While the structure of the cathedral is from the Medieval period, few people seem to know that the façade is actually neo-Gothic and was added in the late 19th century.

As we walked through the streets we entered a plaza called Plaça de Sant Felip Neri that is famous for the damage it sustained during the bombing of the Spanish Civil War. During the bombing people were hiding in the basement of the church and 42 people, including children, were killed. Here's a great video about the plaza from Barcelona Blonde (previously Hola Yessica) from her MyBarcelona video series.

It was a shame we saw this area so quickly, and on our last day, because it ended up being one of my favorite parts of Barcelona.  While it didn't entirely win me over on my first visit, I would love to head back to Barcelona one day and explore more of this area.  With bad weather and such little time, it wasn't quite enough to get charmed by the Barcelona that everybody seems to love.  Though this time I'll be checking the weather reports!

Have you ever been to Barcelona?  What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Carpe Diem

Since my last post I've been busy, as in: finishing the school year, moving apartments, visiting home, and moving back to Madrid busy.  Even though I'm finally back in Madrid and settled into our new apartment I still had trouble feeling inspired, until this week.

This past Monday the world lost one of its greatest talents, and it got me thinking about where I am in my life all thanks to one of my favorite Robin Williams' movies: Dead Poets Society.

Don't worry, no spoilers here if you haven't seen the film (though you should), but Dead Poets Society has inspired me since the first time I watched it in my sophomore English class.  The major concept of the movie is an unconventional teacher, played by Williams, inspiring his students to think for themselves and make the most of their lives.

Being a high schooler myself when I first watched the film I could relate to the students who struggled with concepts of peer pressure, conformity, and self-doubt.  I laughed, I cried, and I vowed that I would take Williams' advice and make my life extraordinary.

Fast forward to Monday, and the start of this post and the question of what I'm doing with my life.  Yes I went to college, got a degree, made friends, fell in love, worked hard, traveled, and moved across the world but was I really "seizing the day?"  

Ok, moving to Spain I may have taken the road less traveled but what good is it if I'm not "living deliberately," if I'm not fully enjoying and appreciating this amazing opportunity that I have.

I have become so comfortable with my life, both back in the USA and now here in Spain.  During the school year I woke up, went to work, came home, cleaned and cooked, and went to bed.  Not really an extraordinary life is it?  Even now on vacation my life has fallen into the routine of cooking and cleaning, sounds like instead of "sucking the marrow out of  life" I'm "choking on the bone."

With the sudden, tragic loss of Robin I decided it was time to make good of my sophomore year vow.  Before it was too late I would make my life extraordinary.  So what did I do?  

I bought running shoes.

Sounds pretty normal right?  But for someone who loves to exercise but has never been able to run outside because of hip pain buying a pair of good running shoes (apparently I had high arches all this time) is the start of me seizing the day, and my life.  And today, on this beautiful sunny day, I went for a jog and for the first time I finished without any pain.

Templo de Debod, beautiful place for jog.
To me, living an extraordinary life doesn't mean crazy dare devil moves or spending lots of money, it means enjoying your time and making the most out of every moment.  Whether it's time with friends, having a nice run, picking up a new language, or trying a new recipe.  Push yourself, open yourself up to new things, and take every ounce from your life that you are capable.  Always remember that the most beautiful thing about life is:

"That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blast From the Past: Visiting the Medieval City of Ávila

Edge of the murallas, walls, of Ávila
Maybe you've never even heard of it.  But, you should give it a try.

At first I didn't know much about Ávila either, I had only become familiar with the area when I met one of the BF's friends who is originally from the province.  It was a last minute idea when my co-workers and I decided one weekend that we wanted to travel somewhere together.  Among other options, Ávila was the top contender for spending a relaxing day outside of Madrid.  As the capital of the province Ávila, in Castilla y León, it may be a small city (with a rough population of 60,000) but it's proximity to Madrid makes it an excellent, and affordable, day trip.

To arrive to Ávila from Madrid we took one of the many trains from Chamartín, which is about a 1.5 hour journey (if you don't take the regional train, 2€ less but not worth the extra time!) and roughly 10€ each way.  After our train arrived, also known as the 1.5 hours I spent being used as a race track for the two-year-old boy sitting next to me (who would NOT share his kit-kats), we made our way to the entrance of the old town of Ávila.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ávila is mainly known for its old city center and murallas (walls), that enclose most of the old town.  Built between the 11th and 14th centuries these walls are impressive for their sheer size alone.  While they may not seem that tall at first glance, the history nerd in me wants to comment that most Medieval cities were built into hillsides so they could use the height of the hill to build protective walls to their advantage (think entering the city of Toledo and its uphill trek).  The city of Ávila however is quite flat by comparison, meaning that with a rough perimeter of 8,000 feet and a height close to 40, there are few medieval walls I've seen that are as massive.
Naturally, the walls were the first part of the city we set off to explore.  While not all of the walls are walkable, nearly half of the perimeter is open to the public.  The general ticket price was 5€, but with a student ID only 3.5€ (with both including a guided audio tour).

We spent a good hour walking around the wall, enjoying the view and beautiful March day, before hunger got the best of us.  Nearing lunch time we wandered in the center of the old town to find some typical food.  One of my favorite things about Spain is that each region is known for it's "typical food," travelling from one province to another you're able to enjoy part of their individual.  One of the foods that Ávila is famous for is it's chuletón, or rib steak, which is just as juicy and delicious as the picture below looks:

source, Chuletón, yum!
After lunch we decided to walk around the rest of the old town, some claim that Ávila is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain, whether or not that's true there are definitely plenty of beautiful churches to see.  Two that we visited in Ávila were the Cathedral and the Convent for the patron saint Teresa de Ávila, built on her birthplace.

Though both beautiful, with only a few hours left before our train we decided to take some of the locals' advice to head to "Los Cuatros Postes," to get a full view of the walls.  On a hill outside the walls, the view from the posts was worth the twenty minute walk to overlook the city.

As we headed to the train station to return to Madrid we forgot we had opted to save 2€ by buying tickets home on the regional train.  Not worth it!  As the train pulled up we realized with a sinking feeling that we would be spending the next two hours stuck on a cercanías train, with a transfer in El Escorial, and the cherry on top was that we almost sat in a seat where someone had previously "tossed their cookies."  Ew.

Moral of the story, spend those 2€ for a shorter, more comfortable train ride.  Trust me.

source, yemas de Ávila/Santa Teresa
But don't forget to pick up some traditional yemas before you leave!

 Have you given Ávila a try?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Renewing Your TIE in Madrid

It's that time of year already, back to paperwork!

After receiving my new Carta Nombramiento for this coming school year, and yes staying in my same school, I thought I would try take a few (baby) steps on the paper trail.  Per usual, extremely overwhelming.

As my anxiety started to set in on how I would possibly be able to get all of it done in the month before I go back to the USA for a visit, I had to take a step back and organize myself.  Leading me to this current post, as I assume I'm not the only one grasping at straws right now.  Prepare to be informed and simultaneously bored, after all Spain can't always be exciting.
Representation of my current emotions, but not as pretty...or fun
First off, make sure to use ANY resource available: If you're part of the main Madrid auxiliares FB group, look up in the documents section the document "RENEWING NIE in Madrid."  If not, just use this document from the Madrid auxiliares' website: Renovación de la tarjeta TIE, which was just updated today.

The documents that you will need are:

1. Impreso de solicitud en modelo oficial (“Solicitud de autorización de estancia y prórrogas-
EX – 00) make sure it's completed and signed, and that you have two copies. I used this link
2. Copy of ALL pages of your passport, plus bring your actual passport with you.
3. Old carta de nombramiento from the 2013-2014 school year
4. New carta de nombramiento from the 2014-2015 school year
5. Certificado de aprovechamiento from the 2013-2014 school year (Ask the director of your school!)
6. Photocopy of the student TIE that you want to renew (front and back of card)
7. Receipt of tasas de prórroga: Modelo 790 / Código 052 costing 16,81 euros Download, complete, and print here, make sure to mark the box for: 1.3 "Prórroga de la autorización de estancia por estudios, movilidad de alumnos, prácticas no laborales o servicios de voluntariado (titular principal y sus familiares)"
               *Make sure you select the right province: Madrid- código de provincia 28)
               *No need to photocopy, it will print out the three copies of the tasa to bring to the bank

Applying for the renewal:

You must go in person to the Oficina de Extranjería at C/ Garcia de Paredes, 65 (Metro: 
Gregorio Marañón – Line 10, 9am to 2pm, Telephone: 91 272 91 71 – 92 88) either within the 60 days before your card expires OR within the 90 days after your card expires.  According the auxiliares document (linked above) if you later need to present another document, or something has changed you can drop off the document at the registro público auxiliar de la calle Manuel Luna, 29.

According to the FB group, you follow the sign that says “Registro”unless you have questions and need to go to information.  Once you have turned in all of your paperwork you will be given back the stamped copy of your EX00 and Tasa 052 receipt (which you willl need these for your second appointment and to apply for an autorización de regreso if you plan on traveling outside of Spain while your NIE is expired). Make sure the address on your EX00 is correct because this is where information will be sent to you.

While I'm not sure of any specific time frame as I'm in the process myself, the documents from the ministry claims that within two months you should receive a letter in the mail telling you if your renewal was accepted or not.  If accepted, the letter should have a date of when you're supposed to go to Aluche and what documents you need to bring with you.  And after that approximately another month or so until the physical TIE should be ready.
source, Don't let this be you!
I'm in the initial stages of the renewal and have collected almost all of the paperwork, except the certificado de aprovechamiento from my school.  If you're still waiting for your carta, I highly suggest starting to gather all of the documents you'll need.  Most of them felt much easier to gather than from the initial TIE appointment!  Not to mention it will help you start to prepare if you are going home for part of the summer and need an autorización de regreso like I do.

[Update 7/18: Checked the status of my renewal to see that the result is: favorable, meaning that so far in the process my renewal has been accepted.  Pretty good considering it hasn't even been a full month since I turned in my papers.  Now just waiting to see when I get the official letter in the mail to get my fingerprints done!

Update 8/18: About three weeks into the process my favorable letter still never came, so figuring it was either A) lost in the mail or B) sent to my old apartment I decided to make the appointment myself without the letter.  To make an appointment for your huellas (fingerprints) in Madrid go to the extranjería website, select Madrid and EXPEDICIÓN DE TARJETA DE EXTRANJERO (HUELLAS), then follow through and put in your information.  

1. Once you have your cita, print the justificante form.
2. Print out your "favorable" status
Pick up the Tasa Modelo 790, Codigo 012 form at any national police station or foreigner's office (This cannot be downloaded, I went to the foreigner's office on Calle Silva near Callao) and make sure to mark box "4.2 Tarjeta que documenta la renovación o prórroga de la autorización de residencia temporal, la prórroga de la estancia o de trabajadores transfronterizos" pay €18,56 at a bank
4. Original + copy of your passport (including old visa and entry stamps)
5. Original + copy of your empadronamiento
6. Your old TIE + copy of your TIE (front and back)
7. A new photo (carnet size, I went to one of those booths in the metro stops and it cost 5€ for six)
I also brought the EX-00 document with the stamp/sticker from my original renewal appointment just in case. 

Update 9/18: Went to pick up my new TIE today!  No issues and I was out in five minutes with my shiny new card :)]

On the day of your appointment go early, like at least an hour early if you can (and bring water if it's in the summer!).  Get in the line labeled "huellas" and wait until it's your turn to enter, if it all goes well you'll get a resguardo at the end and be told to come back in 25-30 days with your old TIE and passport to pick up your shiny new card.  Good luck!
So hot the line was waiting in the tents.

Autorización de Regreso

After you turn in your renewal paperwork you can start to apply for your autorización de regreso (yes, at the dreaded Aluche), which gives you permission to re-enter Spain once your card is expired and you don't have a valid card.  The regreso is valid for three months and is only good for one use, which is why it's suggested to only present it IF asked for it.

To apply for the regreso you must have these documents:
source, How I feel when I have to go back to Aluche
1. Original and copy of your passport (some debate on the FB group if you need a copy of the whole thing, or just the information page)
2. Original and copy of your NIE (front and back of card)
3. Stamped EX00 form from your renewal appointment
4. Copy of your plane reservation
5. EX13"solicitud de autorización de regreso" I used this link
6. Receipt from Modelo 790 Codigo 012 (pick up a PHYSICAL tasa form from any police station or foreigner's office, I went to the one Calle de Silva, 19 near Callao) so show you paid the fee of €10,30

Be sure to ask for an appointment: here.  Choose “Madrid” and “Autorizaciones de Regreso” from the drop-down menus. Click “Entrar” at the bottom and be sure to fill in your personal info correctly. Select “Solicitar cita” to make an appointment and from there complete the rest of the information. Do not forget to print out the confirmation, you need it for your appointment!

Definately feeling the pressure to get these done with my flight home only a month away!  Just a reminder that while life in Spain can be great, it's not as glamorous as people think.  It's full of lesson planning, daily errands, and enough of paperwork to keep you on your toes.
Now go celebrate some football!

Have you started the renewal process, or applied for an autorizacón de regreso yet?  What tips do you have?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Día de los Reyes and Carnaval, Two Holidays with One Stone

This post is long overdue, months overdue, back in January overdue...I am hiding this behind my "students have their English exam next week" excuse.  But seriously.  Apologies for Trinity exams consuming my life for the past few months.

La Cabalgata in Santander

Anyway, now to bore you with an informational post, my "B".  One of the greatest parts of living in Spain with a native Spaniard, and working at a Spanish school is that I get to experience many Spanish holidays quite authentically.  Two such holidays this year were: Día de los Reyes and Carnaval.

Día de los Reyes

Our "USA meets Spain" Reyes presents
Día de los Reyes, or Day of the Kings, is celebrated January 6th in honor of the day the Three Wise Men are thought to have 'beheld' baby Jesus after he was born.  In Spain this holiday is in many ways quite similar to how Christmas is celebrated for children in the USA, as it is traditionally the Magi that bring them holiday presents and not Santa Claus.  They're incredibly popular and if you ask many Spaniards they always had a favorite growing up (Balthasar is in particular quite popular among my friends).

To celebrate the arrival of the kings to Spain on January 5th, most cities hold a typical parade known as the Cabalgata de Reyes Magos that welcomes them into the city.  The parade I saw in Santander had different floats, trucks, and even sheep (who doesn't love a herd of sheep wandering through a city)!

Near the end of the parade the kings finally arrived on their own floats and are followed by different fire trucks and delivery trucks that "help bring the children their presents".  Later the Magi walked around the city distributing candy to any little children, which was absolutely adorable to see...and I maybe asked for candy too...maybe...
Our Roscón de Reyes
As it's celebrated on the 6th, this is the day where most Spanish children receive most (if not all) of their holiday presents.  For their breakfast celebration it's typical to have a special cake called a roscón (similiar to a fruitcake, but tastier!), which can even be filled with different things like cream or chocolate.

What makes the roscón so special is that inside there's often a small toy that's been hidden inside, sometimes even a bean.  If you find the toy you are proclaimed the 'king/queen of the day' but if you find the bean in your piece then you're supposed to pay for next year's cake.  This year in the cake the BF and I bought for ourselves I found the prize, which was a tiny turtle!  Though it did help that I devoured most of it...


Carnaval is a great holiday for Auxiliares because we get to celebrate it with our students.  It celebrates the time before lent with a hugeee party (think Río and Mardi Gras), but in Spain there's more child-friendly activities than 'earning' beads.

In my schools the children got to do a lot of fun activities preparing themselves for a big parade at the end of the week.  The theme for the year was art so all the students made costumes depicting different artists and aspects of art like: crayons, colored pencils, paintbrushes, and even the melting clocks of Dalí.  The teachers even had their own costumes to parade around with the students.  As you can see I was a beautiful painting.

At the school they had El Entierro de la Sardina or "The Burial of the Sardine" which is a Spanish tradition that one of our teachers explained as symbolizing the end of Carnaval by burying the past in hopes of a better future after fasting during Lent.  The sixth grade students and their teachers all wore black and paraded around 'mourning' as the fun of Carnaval ended and Lent was about to begin.

Celebrating El Greco
Our 'Sardine' was a large, colorful, paper Sardine that was actually burned instead of buried and when that sucker finally went up in smoke everyone cheered for the end of the celebration (or maybe just that it was time to go home for a nice long puente).

Later that weekend there was a parade in Madrid capital that we watched with my BF's parents who were visiting from Santander.  Instead of having a tradition 'Carnaval' theme, the parade was designed to celebrate El Greco (as this year marks since the artist's death) along other important, particularly Spanish, artists.

Las Meninas
The various floats and displays featured works ranging from El Greco himself, to Bosch, Velázquez, Picasso, Goya, and even Andy Warhol.  Between the floats there were also various performances of cultural groups from different areas of Central and South America.  Even though I've celebrated Carnaval once before in Spain (read as going out with friends in costumes), this was the first time I had seen any kind of parade.  Even though it wasn't "traditional" Carnaval, the art nerd in me was still impressed by a lot of the floats.

It's definitely a unique feeling to be a part of another culture's holidays, but I've also found that experiencing these holidays now that I'm living and working here has helped me learn a lot about Spain and its history, and also feel a little bit less like the "token guiri".

What experience have you had with Día de los Reyes or Carnaval?