Spain Life in Photos: Reales Alcazares, Seville

Cities like Paris and Dubai and Florence are all about indulgences. Smaller cities like Sevilla are all about sharing them. I had another language assistant in to visit Sevilla for the first time this weekend, and my mission was to convince her to move to Sevilla instead of Granada.

Sure, the Alhambra and free tapas in Granada are pure overindulgence, but little else is. Sevilla, on the other hand, has so many small pleasures that make this city a great one to live in as an expat. Cheap food, a variety of nightlife and three UNESCO world-heritage sites in less than one block.
The Reales Alcazares, the royal palaces constructed at the city gates by Muslim conquerors, is a simple pleasure of the capital of Andalucía. Free to enter for students, residents or anyone born in Sevilla, the handiwork and bright colors stand out against Andalucía’s deep blue skies, and the palaces and extensive gardens are host to outdoors movies and concerts during the sweltering summer months.
Using Katie’s SLR Canon Rebel, I shot this picture to remind her that the best things in life are free.

Expat Life in Photos: Wafunjing Snack Street

They say a picture’s worth 1.000 words, but here’s a few anyway.
Most of my research for China was done through the book River Town by Peter Hessler, a Peace Corps volunteer assigned to the provincial city of Fuling, along the banks of the Yangtze. While his sweeping description of the Dragon Gorge didn’t prepare me for the vehicle-clogged alleys of Beijing, the food he described seemed succulent, exotic enough to be touted by Anthony Bourdain and fun to try. I left the planning to my dad and instead prepared my stomach.
After a dizzying day of travel, my dad took me to snack street, a city block with food stands open throughout the night. This is Chinese fast food at its finest: raw pipping dumplings, ears of corn and sweet potatoes get dumped into steam baths, hot oil or handed over to you as soon as you order it. Cooks echoing used car salesmen call after you, offering bok choy and sheep penis. Steam rises from stalls, making it hard to see prices or even know what you’re ordering, which is almost half the fun.
Don and I tried grasshopper that night, a crunchy snack before bed. Throughout our 10 days in China, we’d eat duck heart and webbed feet, shrimp longer than my arm, pig snout and watch fishmongers toss parts into freezers while customers grabbed them, gloveless.
China’s opening up to new people, ideas and traditions. But food as culture has always been an ancient thing for the Chinese.


Expat Life in Photos: Limerick, Ireland

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I’ll write a few anyway.

While traveling around Western and Southern Ireland with my parents during Christmas, we stopped in Limerick, widely known for the river Shannon that dissects it and some dude named Frank McCourt. I had brought along Angela’s Ashes to read during the trip and found that Limerick was kind of like he described it: forlorn. Ugly. Worthless. We saw three people who morning, all walking dogs. It was Christmas Day and not even church bells rang.

We walked through an old cemetery through a broken gate. The place had tombstones dating from the early 18th century, mausoleums and, when looked at through the lenses of my dearly departed Panasonic Lumix, seemed serene on a morning with soft light and not a sound around.

I left McCourt and his depressing childhood in the train station at the Geneva Airport a few days later.

2010: An Odyssey

I can’t believe it had been an entire year without seeing my parents and sister, but I was reminded of just how much time I’d spent apart when I arrived in Dublin last Thursday and saw my dad.

“What a year!” he said, “It crawled!” I gave him a patented Nancy, are you crazy? look.

What a year, indeed. Filled with milestones, farewells, travels and plan changes. Sprinkle in a few disappointments here and there, and it made for a solid, really special year.

I visited old, dear destinations, made it eight months without leaving Spain and finally met my goal of visiting 25 countries before my 25th birthday last August. All those hours scouring the Internet for the best deals really pays off – I paid 30€ round-trip to go to Marrakech, 68€ round-trip to go to Carnival in Cologne, Germany, took a 17€ euro overnight bus from Budapest to Prague to arrive to that last destination on my list. I couchsurfed, camped without a tent and nabbed the last room in a luxury hotel during Christmas. Saw old friends, made new ones and accomplished one of my first life goals with a few months to spare.

In 2010, I went to Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains, Cologne Germany for the Carnival Crazy Days, Prague, Budapest, La Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, Santander, Leon, Valladolid twice, Madrid countless times, plenty of beaches, Vigo and the Islas Cies, Portugal, the Southern end of Ireland and am now blogging from Laussanne, Switzerland. Menudo viaje!

More importantly, I completed my second life goal, traveling to 25 foreign countries before turning 25. When I pulled into the Prague bus station early in the morning, I was so disoriented and drowsy that my friend insisted I hold up a sign and take a picture. It’s blackmail worthy, but that feeling of accomplishment you get, whether it’s putting down a book or finishing a paper, was relieving. It was ambitious, but great in process. Switzerland became #26 and I’m thinking about Poland, Turkey or Russia for Holy Week.

     Life Goals and Accomplishments
Apart from the 25 countries business, I came back to Spain wanting to figure out where to go next, improve my Spanish and make friends apart from Kike and his group. I had a stellar year, being able to balance everything I had going on – school, private classes, applying for grad school and the nov – while joining a gym, keeping my room clean and enjoying life in Sevilla. I felt, for the first time, well-connected, well-knowledged, and I even surprised myself that I could be back in my usual busier-than-ever mode and still find time for ocio. That, in itself, is a big accomplishment for me!

The other part was, well, figuring out my next step. I applied to three grad schools kinda (one I never sent), got into both, including the prestigious language college, Middlebury College. I was all set to go and do long-distance for a while when they gave me next to nothing, financially. The director of the program advised me to defer, as the tend to give money to people who put it off due to monetary reasons. I decided, instead, to look into teaching and got into a local university’s masters in Bilingual Ed. When the long hours at the job prohibited me from actually attending, I went with the “experience is the best teacher” mentality, even though Spain thinks otherwise.

Further, this summer’s successful month in Coruña brought me a job as Director of Studies at another summer camp. It was challenging, not knowing anyone or how the camp worked, keeping up with diets and naughty kids and one’s continual asthma attacks, fielding parent phone calls and still trying to have fun, but it was a great experience for my managerial skills, and I’m hoping Forenex will be of help when looking for jobs. I made it through, and to good reviews!

Personally, romantically and professionally, 2010 done me good.

The year started out with a sad departure of my friend Jess’s mom, Irma. Irms was our mom away from home, driving us to Fitz´’s every Wednesday night and giving us money for “taxis.” I heard the news all at once on a Saturday night, Kike’s brother’s birthday, and felt like someone had hit me upside the head. I called Jess and we just cried over the phone to one another for ten minutes. I sent flowers to the service to stand in my place, and it killed me to not be there for my friend when she needed me. It really made me think about being over here, so far away from everyone, so I’m doing my best to put away money should something unthinkable happen.

And, of course, there’s the usual cycle of friends coming and going. I met a really superb group of Americans last year, coupled with my Spanish “familia” which grew and shrunk by half in a matter of weeks. I miss Bri, Kirsten, Sarah, Christene, Josito, Jenna and especially Meag all the time. But, this is the life I’ve chosen, and this has become a part of my life. And a normal one!

By far the hardest was saying goodbye to my coworkers and students at IES Heliche. That job became more than an assistan teachership to me: I learned to value myself, found out that creativity is one of my strong points as a teacher and that education may be my career. But, really, I sobbed the whole week, knowing that a great school and a great set of kids would no longer be mine and that I’d be jobless. I miss my high schoolers a lot – teaching preschool is great for all the hugs and watching the kids grow in their abilities, both manually and intellectually, but I had a really blessed relationship with those kids in Olivares.

     Citizenship issues
Speaking of being jobless, I obviously found one, but it took hours of writing resumes and cover letters, just as much time standing in line at the post office, countless sunny days and tintos missed and a lot of hair-pulling. From getting up at 6am to stand in line at employment offices to getting half-married, I wasn’t going to stop at anything to find a job. A few were offered and turned down (see above: valuing myself), one of which was changing diapers for 40 hours a week. Sick, no. If you want a full account, click here, but as my dear Tonya Luna said, “If anyone is motivated enough to get it, it’s you, Cat! You can do it!”

And do it I did!

     Looking forward
While I try to set some goals for myself at the coming year, I want to enjoy myself more than anything. Travel a bit, hang on to the little social life I had and keep in touch with loved ones. That, and pass the DELE exam in May. I’m trying to take things in stride because, hey, life happens. Kids get born, people pass away and you just keep on moving through.

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