Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I is for...

... El Corte Ingles

If you're looking for high-end department store shopping then this is the place you'll want to go! It's got everything you could ever possibly want from a store, with a nice little price tag to go along with it. This particular El Corte Ingles is located in the heart of Madrid, in the Puerta del Sol district where thousands descend every day. Charlie took this picture on December 23rd when we went downtown to take in all of the Christmas lights. The snowflakes on the side of the building were particularly impressive. And don't think that they only sell clothes and shoes! Nope. Head here for their gourmet food shop, book stores and really anything you're little heart could desire!

H is for...


Oh dear, where does the time seem to go? Apparently the month of May has come and gone and nary a single alphabet blog. My apologies! Well, there's only one thing left to do if I want to get through the remaining letters before our 2 months left here are up...on with the show!

Should a person ever choose to rent or own a car here in
Spain, your options would be limited—

Have you caught on yet? That's right - you would be driving a trusty hatchback. Other than the motos (motorized scooters) hatchback cars are the way to go. Red, blue, green, 4 door, 2 door - they come in all shapes and sizes! The smaller the better though since the spaces between cars to parallel park in are teensy weensy.

You should also be prepared for it to be standard as well, making driving in Spain even more of an adventure. Even yours truly has been learning the ins and outs of driving a stick shift—thanks in part to a very patient and loving husband.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

G is for...


What is a gato you might ask? Well, gato is the Spanish word for cat and there are plenty for the picking here in Tres Cantos. If I could put it simply, forget about choosing one from the humane society, there are more than enough in the wild. It is not very common for a cat to be a household pet, rather this dignified position is left to the dogs. Instead, cats are left to um...shall we say...be like rabbits and keep the kitty population large. Being a cat lover at heart, no matter how many times I see 1, or 5 or 18, I always emit the same 
sentence "ooooh, Charlie, look! A kitty!" He's not swayed by my pleas to take the especially cute ones home. And so instead, I have had to resort to simply taking pictures. 
This is a few steps away from our locale but every public space usually has 2-3 lurking around. 
El Buen Parque Retiro is another popular place to find them. If you're the market for a cat...give me call. I can find you one for a good price. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

F is for...

...Franco & Flip flops

One cannot venture a visit to Spain without the imposing figure of Francisco Franco making its way into the conversation. Let me give you the shortened version of a very long and complex history about one of Spain's most notorious figures. 

Where to begin? The leader of the Nationalist forces, General Franco, headed the authoritarian regime that came to power in the aftermath of the Civil War. Until his death in November 1975, Franco ruled Spain as 
"Caudillo by the grace of God". In addition to being generalissimo of the armed forces, he was both chief of state and head of government, 
 the ultimate source of legitimate authority. He retained the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and other decision makers. Even after he grew old, began to lose his health, and became less actively involved in policy making, Franco still had the final word on every political decision (http://countriestudies.us/spain/22.htm). 

An interesting thing that we learned upon arrival was that every baby that was born under Franco's regime could only have a name that was already on a pre-approved list. As well, the impact that Franco had on the Spanish artists of the era is fascinating. As you may or may not know, Pablo Picasso is Spanish and painted the famous work entitled the Guernica. Which is his depiction of the time when Franco hired Hitler's army to air bomb the northern Basque town of Guernica on April 26th, 1937 causing widespread death and destruction during the Spanish Civil War. 


After painting this anti-war piece from Paris, Picasso vowed never to return to his home country while Franco was still in power. And as it happened, Picasso died a mere 2 years before Franco did, thus never setting foot on Spanish soil again. The painting now hangs in the Reina-Sofia, the modern art museum here in Madrid and is quite a sight to behold. A definite must see for any visitor to Spain. 

Lastly, in 1969 Franco appointed Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón as his successor, fully expecting him to step in and pick up where Franco left off. This was not the case. Once Franco had finally passed on, instead of assuming the role of dictator, Prince Juan Carlos used his newfound authority to declare Spain a democracy. Which it continues to be to this day.

On a lighter note, the topic of flip flops. Yes, flip flops. Thousands of people wear them in the summer months as a way of keeping their feet cool in the sweltering heat. Despite that same heat found in Spain, nary a flip flop is to be found. At least not in public. In the recent weeks of warmer weather that we've been having, I have on occasion, worn my trusty pair of Old Navy $4 flip flops for brief ventures to the grocery store and have gotten strange looks every time! Nevertheless, I will continue to wear them as they definitely get the job done!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Churches, Palaces and Castles (aka Lisbon)

(post written by Charlie)

It seems that my ability to keep people up to date on the photos of our lives is not as good as Becky's ability to tell people about the events of our lives. While most of you probably know that in February, we were fortunate enough to meet up with our fellow European onSiter, Eleah Reimer, for some midpoint debriefing and exploring, you probably haven't seen many photos. In an attempt to remedy that, here are the three brief but wonderful days that we spent in Lisbon, Portugal for our Extended Learning Experience (E.L.E.)

We decided on Lisbon for a few reasons. First and foremost, Eleah has been living in Stockholm, with something like 4 minutes of sun per month (a very slight exaggeration) and we had read that Portugal is one of the sunniest countries in Europe in the winter. In this, it did not disappoint. We had beautiful 18° weather everyday. We also wanted a cultural experience—we had thought about a beach island in the Mediterranean, but as this was a "Learning Experience," we wanted to learn. And again, we were not disappointed. We went into church after church after church and palace after castle after monastery. I was in heaven. I'm not sure Eleah knew what she was in for when she embarked on a "vacation" with me, but I was deeply stimulated and refreshed by what we saw.

I also should offer a brief apology to those who are hoping to see food pictures here. Normally, I'm a strong supporter of taking pictures of the food on our trips, but I was so hungry from the 10's and 20's of kilometres we were hiking each day, that I generally chowed down immediately and would have been taking pictures of empty plates by the time my camera came out. Please understand, the food was excellent. The seafood particularly (as well as the beef, which is not a very common thing in Spain) was excellent.

Day One: Downtown Lisbon
We decided that attacking the core of the city should be priority one for our first day. We were staying in an apartment about 20 minutes outside of the city centre, accessible by an easy and inexpensive train system and were happy to have a retreat to go to every night. The core of the city is very European. Restaurants and pastry shops, bars and designer shopping. Much of the centre of town is pedestrian only and all of the sidewalks (and many of the roads) are done entirely in mosaic tile. It's incredible! We shopped, drank coffee, visited churches, had pastries, sat in the sun, and then walked the seawall in search of a restaurant for dinner. As we walked the seawall, we realized that Lisbon was very quickly becoming a modern city as well. If you took much of what is cool about Vancouver or San Francisco, and merged it with a European city, you'd have Lisbon. Our first day was a success, and it was topped off by a view of the ocean, delicious shrimp and cod appetizers, and beef smothered in roasted peppercorn sauce for dinner. At this point, I was ready to move to Lisbon.

Day Two: Sintra
Because we only had three days in Lisbon, we wanted to make sure we took one day trip. We had been told by a friend who recently travelled to Lisbon that Sintra, a town up the coast about 45 minutes away had some great sites to see. We looked it up and found the main attractions were a 1100 year old Moorish castle built by Moroccan Muslims and a vibrant 17th century palace. The long and winding road that led us there was a little longer than the train would have been, but we did get to see the farthest western point in continental Europe, and we felt very close to Canada at that moment. The castle felt like Cair Paravel at the beginning of Prince Caspian when the Pevensie children don't yet recognize it's their old castle. It was a good little hike and had marvelous views of Sintra and the coast beyond. The palace was eccentric and fun, and the tour was worth the cost of admission (this cannot be said of every castle/palace in Europe). For dinner we took a local's advice and ate at their family's favourite restaurant in a little back alley. It was a dive, the food wasn't great, and the service was even worse. Worth the laughs it provided? Absolutely. 

Day Three: Monastery & Lisbon
Our final day in Lisbon gave us the chance to return to the city and do a few of the recommended tourist things. Our first stop was on the way into the city: the Monastery of Saint Jeronimo. While the cloisters (which cost a small amount) were beautiful and interesting, the cathedral (which is free) is what is really spectacular. We were fortunate to have much of the cathedral to ourselves and I could have sat in there for hours. While photos don't do a building like this justice, be sure to check them out. We then made our way to Lisbon, enjoyed more pastries, which I should mention are much better than Spanish pastries, and relaxed yet again in the sun and warmth. Late afternoon, we made the hike up to Saint George's castle, at the highest point in Lisbon, where we watched the locals playing cards and took in the beautiful views of the entire city and the coast beyond. It was a great way to cap off our time there.

The next morning, we arose early to catch our flight, but I was able to catch the sunrise from our bedroom patio and a few pictures of the apartment we rented as well. All of this to say, if you ever have a few free days, and can find flights for 40€ per person and an apartment for 30€ per person, go spend those days in Lisbon. I guarantee you won't regret it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

E is for...

... English Camp!

That's right folks. The thing that I will be thinking about and most likely dreaming about for the next 4 1/2 months. English Camp as well as being the final thing we'll be involved in here in Spain, is really the culmination of everything we've worked towards my whole internship. Let me tell you about it.

This will be the 6th year of this 2 week intensive English camp that we put on for 100 kids in Tres Cantos. Because parents are desperate for their kids to learn English, spots fill up very quickly. Charlie was involved right from the beginning of our time here as he was responsible for revamping everything that needed a designers touch. And he did a GREAT job! And now it's my turn to be heavily involved. The success of EC is found in the 30-35 monitors who come to Spain and volunteer 2 weeks of their summer to help teach cute Spanish kids. My job is to co-ordinate all of these monitors. I send out applications, receive applications, answer questions, track down flight itineraries, and organize it all. If this is something you might be interested in...drop me an email! I'd be happy to hook you up with an application! 

As previously mentioned, this is an intensive English Camp. Through games, crafts, songs and sports we really try to make English come alive for these kids! However, this is NOT a Vacation Bible School. Our real testimony comes through the monitors who spend the 2 weeks living with a native Spanish family and letting their lives speak for themselves. I'm looking forward to experiencing what EC is all about! 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

D is for...

... Dog poop and Digame!

Watch your step! Were you ever to make your way over to the fair land of Spain, you would always have to be keeping one eye on the ground while you were walking. Why you might ask? Well, even though it is mandatory for dog owners to pick up after their precious pets have done their "business" this is not always the case. Sidewalks, grassy areas, parking lots...it's all fair game. Too often we have been walking around only to be followed by that most distinctive odour only to go "Oohhh, no. Shoot." And furiously wipe our shoes off. So a word to the wise - beware the poop! (I will not be attaching a picture as I feel that might gross out some of our readers). 

And you might be wondering what digame stands for. Digame is the way that the Spanish answer their phones. In Canada, when we pick up the phone, normally we say "Hello?" However, here it's much more abrupt. Usually if you were to call someone they would answer, "¿Sí? Digame." in quite a brusque manner. Literally translating, "Yes? Speak to me." Often it's only "Diga." (speak). And then once the person on the other end knows who they're talking then it's all about the "¡Hola! Que tal?" in quite an animated tone. It took a little bit to get used to but now we're quite accustomed to it. It makes hanging up on a telemarketer quite a bit easier when you're already sounding a bit rude when answering the phone!