Tutoring

tutoringSince my program doesn’t pay all that much, I needed a way to make some extra money to feed my travelling addiction. The most common (and obvious) way to do that is to tutor students in English. At first, I was expecting some of the students at my school to request me, but after a month or so I realized that wasn’t going to happen of it’s own accord… Plus I didn’t know if I could handle some of those students for longer than I already had to. I ended up posting some ads various places online (I recommend Tus Clases Particulares) asking for €15/hour. It took a few days but then I finally began receiving emails, and started my first tutoring session with two 6-year old girls.

I was a bit nervous at first… I had to meet them at their house, which made me anxious since I would be walking into a stranger’s home and who knows what could happen? I asked some of the people at my school (local Catalans) what they thought about it and they were shocked I was worried about anything; they said the thought had never crossed their minds. Leave it to an American to dramatize and think of every possible worst case scenario.

Anyways, it all turned out well and I’m still alive, so they didn’t turn out to be serial killers 😀

I am currently tutoring every day, Monday through Friday, for one hour. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider this is after already working from 9-5 it is absolutely exhausting. Twice a week I tutor two six year old girls who are very sweet but man, it can be super difficult to keep their attention. They’re constantly fighting over who gets to use which colored pencil, who wins, who gets to go first… the list goes on. It’s ridiculous. At first I thought they were super cute, but I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying. Now that I’ve been tutoring them for so long, I understand the majority… and boy, can they be brats!

I recently started tutoring an 11 year old girl from my third host family (the family I move to next). She is very well-behaved and kind, and her English level is very good because the family hosted another girl from the States last year. The only problem is that she has been diagnosed with ADD, and it is extremely hard to keep her attention. It feels like every 5-10 minutes we need to switch activities in order to keep her interest and keep her from getting bored. She isn’t receiving very good results at school but she seems to know the material, so it is difficult to know the best way to teach her. That, I guess, will be the challenge as we continue.

I also tutor two adopted children from Africa, one who is 9 years old and another who is 11. I teach them separately, an hour each. They couldn’t be more different! The 11 year old girl is super sweet and loves to speak English, so it is easy to get her motivated and working on projects. Her writing level isn’t as good, and it can be hard sometimes to get her to work on grammar and spelling, but overall my tutoring sessions with her go very well. In fact, there’s been a few times where she has tried to keep me from leaving the house or will follow me down the street because she wants to keep practicing. It’s times like those that warm your heart… ❤

The boy, on the other hand… is probably my most challenging student ever. He’s 9 years old, and he refuses to speak with me unless really pressed to. Five minutes into a class he will ask me “how much time do we have left?” (in Spanish), and it just makes the class feel even longer for both of us. He is not motivated by anything except for Michael Jackson, but unfortunately I can only plan so many lessons around that. The family recently asked me if we can extend his tutoring sessions to 1.5 hours… I hesitantly agreed, but tried to explain that it is really hard to keep his interest. He almost intimidates me, believe it or not! He has began to warm up to me a little bit, but I am always worried he’ll just shut down and stare at me blankly. His favorite move is to shrug his shoulders and look away.

It’s so interesting how different experiences are in tutoring… it can easily go from fantastic to disastrous. Any one else have similar experiences?

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Weekend Trip to Ireland, Part 2: Glendalough

As we were planning our trip, my friend suggested that one day we leave Dublin (read about our adventures here) and go to Glendalough. I was a little bit wary when she told me about it; I had never heard of the place, and how fun could a nature area be on a Saturday night? Would we regret leaving Dublin?

No. No, we would not. After spending the previous day and a half in Dublin, we were ready for a little break. Dublin is very fun and we enjoyed it, but we were definitely ready to see another view of Ireland. We had booked a hostel in Glendalough and found that the best way for us to get there was to pay for a tour (€25) that took us on a full day trip to see everything and then just have them drop us off at the hostel instead of taking us back to Dublin. I guess if we had just taken a bus or train or whatever there it would’ve cost us about the same, so it was perfect!

It was a tad awkward because we were in a small van with 6 or 7 other people, and we were the only ones with our big bags… but oh well.

Our first stop on the tour was Powerscourt Gardens in Wicklow County. Above is a beautiful picture of it in the Spring, with all of the flowers in bloom. However, we went in December… so there weren’t really any flowers. But it was still incredible nonetheless. When you first enter the gardens, you have a breath-taking view of Sugarloaf Mountain, part of the Wicklow mountain range. It has a very unique shape to it and draws your attention immediately. We must’ve taken at least 100 photos of it from different angles.

Powerscourt Gardens was named one of the world’s top 10 gardens by National Geographic (don’t believe me? See it here) behind the gardens at Versaille (been there too… boo yah!) and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. My friend is obsessed with nature and got so excited to see so many trees and so much grass… Back in Catalonia where she lives currently, they really don’t have much nature going on and she’s from a very woodsy place… so she felt right at home.

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Powerscourt is huge. It took us a full two hours to go through it all, and that’s even with rushing it a little bit towards the end so we could meet back up with our tour. We took the path to the left and went through a foresty area and ended up at a small turret with some beautiful ivy climbing up the side of it. I think we literally jumped up and down in excitement. Who doesn’t love castles?!? Even if it is just a small turret… Bonus Points: You can go inside and climb up to the top!

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The grounds are just so beautiful, even in the uncultivated parts. It really feels like you’re walking through a magical forest, we expected fairies to pop out at any moment. It was also nice to see the green side of Ireland, especially considering hey… when you think of Ireland, you think green.

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We wound our way back to the center and ended up at the beautiful Chinese gardens. Unfortunately these pictures don’t do it justice, but the green is just such a lush color and everything looks so surreal. At one point we went into this little pathway made of stone and covered in fern, and there was water trickling down the walls… It was just magical. Unfortunately, my good camera decided to crap out during this section, so unfortunately my photos here look a little more muted.

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Although we missed out on seeing all of this beauty in its prime during the spring, one benefit we did have for coming in winter was that there was pretty much no one there. It was a really cool feeling be able to wander around and truly enjoy the scenery without pushing past people and trying to wait patiently for the right photo opportunity. It was calm.

Also, I suppose I should mention that during these 2 hours we spent at Powerscourt we had the option of going on a hike. In fact, pretty much everyone else in our tour group chose the hike option. But we are super happy we chose Powerscourt, not because we were lazy but because it truly was an amazing and beautiful experience. Definitely worth the visit, and it was a very cheap entrance fee!

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We met back up with the rest of the group and hopped back in the van. We had a quick pitstop in a town nearby to grab something to eat before heading toward Glendalough. This little town was super small… literally a small plaza with maybe 6 different tiny cafes, a mini market, and that’s it… seriously. We walked around the surrounding neighbourhoods a bit to see if there was anything else, but all we found was a small church a couple blocks away.

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We ended up deciding on a small tea cafe, where I tried a scone. A little back story: My mom would love to think she was from England, she drinks tea 3 times a day and is obsessed with scones. When I was little, we would have tea parties all the time with 3 different types of tea, various scones with clotted cream and jam, mini sandwiches (cucumber was my favorite!) and mini tarts. When I was old enough, she’d even bring me with her to actual fancy ‘high teas’ where we’d be surrounded by fancy women in feathered hats and costume jewelry. I loved it!

So scones have a special place in my heart as well. I decided to try one here because, even though it wasn’t England, it was pretty damn close. I ordered a red berry scone and my god, it was delicious! Not quite like what I was used to but perfectly sweet and heavenly. My friend originally wasn’t going to order anything, but after having a taste of mine she had to order a full one to herself. It was heavenly!2014-12-06 15.16.16

Our next stop was Lough Tay, better known as Guinness Lake due to the color. The tour guide also said that Guinness sources its water from this lake as well, so you may just be having a taste of this every time you enjoy a cold glass of Guinness. It is important to note that it is absolutely FREEZING here in winter. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in the picture below, my teeth were literally chattering. I’m surprised we even got a half decent photo because the wind was INTENSE, and the wind chill was nearly unbearable. Some of the people in our tour even stayed in the van because they couldn’t handle it. My friend and I were definitely not prepared for just how cold it gets here.

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We also passed by the bridge that premiered in a famous scene of the movie P.S. I Love You, which of course got all of the girls excited. It was the scene towards the beginning where the female protagonist and Gerard Butler (see? I can’t even remember who the girl was, Gerard is the important part of this story!) meet for the first time on a bridge. The girl is standing there with a map looking confused, and Gerard asks if he can help. She asks for directions to Wicklow, which is where our tour was just before. Our guide explained that this scene wasn’t anywhere near realistic since this location is in the middle of nowhere… literally. It’s a one way road and it took us about an hour by car to get there from Wicklow, so there is no way this girl in pretty clothes would be able to find her way there on foot. But oh well, who cares? We all love a good love story.

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Oh, Gerard, you heart-stopper… Photo Cred wicklowmovies.ie

The pictures above were taken by me during the winter... this is supposedly how green and beautiful it can get in the spring/summer! Photo Cred www.viator.com

The pictures above were taken by me during the winter… this picture is supposedly how green and beautiful it can get in the spring/summer! Photo Cred http://www.viator.com

Next, we went to Upper and Lower Lake in Glendalough (which actually translates to Glen of Two Lakes). Again, I need to reiterate just how ridiculously cold this place was… My fingers were not functioning correctly. My face felt numb. It was INSANE just how cold and windy it was. I mean, look at this lake… when have you ever seen waves like this on a lake? I could not stop shaking.

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Nearby lower lake there is the monastic cemetary and settlement. It was spooky the first day we went because the fog was rolling in, and our guide reiterated just how old all of this was. Some of these buildings and structures date back to the 10th century… it is just beyond comprehension how old it all is and how much history it has! Not much is left besides archways, the tower in the pictures below, the ruins of an old church, and a small house.

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After visiting that, our tour guide dropped us off at our hostel nearby. We asked what there was to do around there, but they said pretty much everything was closed besides a small bar/hotel nearby and another restaurant about a 20-30 minute walk away in the next town over. We were hungry and decided we’d have a decent meal that night (rather than the gas station pasta we had been eating) so we decided to make the trek over to the restaurant.

It was a lot farther than we imagined… but I think part of it was that it had gotten dark and there were 0 street lights, so I literally couldn’t see a thing. I’m very stubborn and refuse to wear my glasses, so that was my bad…  I actually had to hold on to my friend and rely on her as my eyes. It was crazy. I’m not used to small towns!

We finally found the restaurant and, when I saw corned beef on the menu, I immediately ordered it (and of course got a Guinness to wash it down with… gotta have the full Irish experience). Every February/March, my mother and I make corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day, and WE LOVE IT. Honestly, sometimes we even make it randomly throughout the year. So I was absolutely stoked to see how they’d serve it here.

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The picture sucks, but whatever. It was so delicious! Definitely not like how we prepare it back home (i.e. there was no cabbage, and I’ve never eaten it in a cream sauce) but I was definitely in heaven as I ate it. And the plate was HUGE. I forced myself to eat it all, but my god that could’ve fed three people.

On our way back, we decided to stop by the bar the guy at the hostel had mentioned. It was such a small town that there really wasn’t anyone out and about (on a Saturday night) except a small group of guys playing pool and speaking Irish. They started speaking Irish to us and we just stared at them blankly, so they switched to English… but even their English had an extremely thick accent, we could barely understand them then! It’s very interesting to see the difference between the city (where pretty much everyone speaks English as their first language) and the country side, where many people know English but speak Irish as their first language. And it’s very interesting as well because Irish is NOTHING like English.

The next morning, we woke up early to get in a quick hike before having to leave for Dublin on the bus. We chose a route that went around the lakes and supposedly had some nice views, but we ended up taking a wrong turn and ended up actually climbing the mountain. It was still a great hike with some amazing views, we just weren’t expecting it to be as strenuous! It was so beautiful there, though, I’d love to go back for a few days during the summer to enjoy it.

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The sun rises very late here; this was at 8am and it was still very dark!

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After about an hour, we had to return back to the hostel to pick up our things and catch the only morning bus back to Dublin. We had to cut through the monastic settlement once more, but this time in the sun which was a lot less eery.2014-12-07 10.06.342014-12-07 10.08.58

This was one of our last views in Glendalough before the bus carted us off. The river cuts through the small town, and you are surrounded by trees, grasslands, and a couple buildings scattered about. You don’t come here to meet people or party, but it is such an amazing place to explore with a good set of hiking shoes and an adventurous heart.2014-12-07 10.11.41

Carnaval Celebration #3: Lliçà de Vall

My host family left for the weekend, so a friend from my school invited me to see the Carnaval in her town of Lliçà de Vall (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either). It is a very small town, and if you were visiting Catalonia, I doubt you’d ever come to visit… but I am super happy I got to see their Carnaval! Somehow I lucked out and got to see 3 different carnavals in my one year here in Spain. The first one I got to experience was at the school, the second in the famous town of Sitges, and then now in the small town of Lliçà de Vall.

This one was very different than the rest, probably specifically because it was a small town. Rather than be focused on a parade, the main part of this Carnaval was a costume contest. They had 3 different groups: individual for adults and children, small groups with under 10 people, and large groups. Each participant had to put on a show, and they were, of course, rewarded for creativity. There were some of the cliche costumes such as hippies, but there were also some extremely creative and unique costumes that surprised us! On top of that, we got to watch each group put on an entertaining dance/skit. Of course, some were better than others…

Some of the Individual Contestants

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Children’s Individual: Peacock (to the left) and Parrot (The winner! To the right)

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Carnestoltes, the Carnaval King, coaxing one of the children to take part.

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The Adult Individual Winner.

Next came the groups. First up was Barbie, which I thought was pretty awesome. They had at least 20 different Barbie characters, complete with their big pink boxes. So creative! I guess they had done the same costume the year before as well, so they didn’t win, but it was still super cool to see.

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Hello Barbie, Let’s go party!

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DSCN2805Nerds – Winners of Best Dance

DSCN2814The Little Mermaid – Creative concept and costumes, but very little dance preparation 😦 If you look to the right, you’ll see a white umbrella with white strands hanging off of it… Jellyfish! Super cool idea I am tempted to steal. They put blue lights underneath so it looked really nice at night. And the white balloons make really cool bubbles!

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Superhero Family

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Rio

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Playmobile (Similar to Legos) – Winner of Best Costume. It was so fantastic! They looked like actual toys! DSCN2856   DSCN2860  DSCN2864 DSCN2865

Soldadito de Plomo – Winner of Best Small Group

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Time Machine – Winner of Best Overall. This one was pretty cool, they had the workers who created the time machine, and then people from ancient Egypt, medieval times, hippies, and from the future.

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The Royal Family – the worst costumes (considering it was basically just a printed out picture of the Royal family’s face) but a very interesting skit making fun of the Spanish Royalty. Catalonia would like to become independent and the royal family definitely isn’t popular here. If you look closely, you can see an elephant and gun in the King’s lap which refers to the king’s extremely controversial elephant hunting in Africa.

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I forget the name of this, but it was a cute costume for the little one.

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Overall, we had a lot of fun watching these shows. People obviously put a lot of time and effort into these costumes and dances! In certain ways, I preferred the way they did Carnaval here than in Sitges, by highlighting the entertainment and skit part of the show rather than just walking down the street. I feel super blessed to have been able to see this!

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On the left is my friend from my school, on the right is her sister. Her family was so sweet to me! After the Carnaval, we all went together for dinner and they ordered a bunch of Catalan tapas including patatas bravas, Galician octupus, squid, fried whole baby fish, etc. The Catalan hospitality here is amazing!

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Mirablau: A Club Overlooking Beautiful Barcelona

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Upstairs restaurant and bar. Photo Cred http://www.mirablaubcn.com

On Friday, my friend took me to a club called Mirablau. It has an amazing location on Tibidabo mountain overlooking all of Barcelona. The views were unbelievable! When you enter, there is the restaurant and bar portion. We arrived very late, so we didn’t see anyone with food, but they had a nice drink selection (expect to pay around €10-€14 per drink). I ordered a Gin & Tonic with strawberries and orange slices which was pretty tasty. Pricey, yes, but hey… enjoying a drink was nice while admiring the beautiful views Barcelona has to offer. Plus, there was no cover charge!

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Downstairs Bar & Disco. Photo Cred http://www.mirablaubcn.com

Downstairs is the dance floor, another bar, and also a small outdoor terrace. It isn’t all that big, but it seems that no tourists really come here (it is too far out from the city center to be noticed by many visitors). Everyone there (besides me, of course) was a local. The dance floor also has fantastic views of the city, and they played a variety of good dance songs. We went on a Friday night and there weren’t as many people as we would’ve liked, but I hear on Saturdays it is fantastic. I will definitely be back!

The amazing view. Photo Cred gastronomictalent.blogspot.com

The amazing view. Photo Cred gastronomictalent.blogspot.com

Learning a New Language

languagesOkay, so let me start by saying that I am HORRIBLE at languages. Like, beyond horrible. I know English, and I think I’m pretty damn good at it, but being able to add a second language to my skillset proves elusive for me. I am currently trying to learn Spanish, but honestly I have been trying to learn Spanish for the last 9 years.

How pathetic, right?

Back in the States, they started us learning colors, days of the week, months, and basic phrases such as Me llamo Jessica and ¿Cómo estás?. When I graduated from middle school, that is pretty much all I knew. In my high school, it was required that we take 3 years of a language and I decided to take Spanish. Not to diss my Spanish teachers here, but I didn’t learn much there either. Sure, now I knew how to conjugate basic verbs and differentiate between the past and the future, but if someone spoke to me in Spanish I’d just stare at them blankly.

My last year in high school I had completed the requirement, so I didn’t take Spanish. However, I did pick up a job at a small local Mexican restaurant, and I was the only gringa. While I didn’t become anywhere near fluent, I definitely picked up a bunch of phrases and could speak to the cooks in Spanglish. To this day, some of the phrases I learned there are engrained into my mind because I used them so much.

Next, college. I decided to take a Spanish class my first semester, and my Spanish teacher was actually from Barcelona (where I am now). She was a lot of fun, but I must say I didn’t get all that much out of the class… One positive thing I did get from her was an even bigger urge to travel. Her lessons were often based around places to visit, such as Argentina, Sevilla, and Barcelona. Instead of paying attention to the Spanish like I should’ve been, my eyes were focused on those places. I am now living in Barcelona and just visited Sevilla a couple of months back, and I’m in love with both places. I’m still dying to visit Argentina!

Anyways, here I am in Barcelona, still frustrated that I don’t know Spanish. But it’s not like I’m completely useless at it. I know a lot of vocabulary and grammar rules, and when needed, I can definitely communicate to people what I need and they’ll understand me (more or less). In fact, a couple of my friends here are extremely impressed whenever they hear me speak Spanish and wish they had my level. But for some reason, I am just mortified that I am not fluent by now.

I can also get the jist of what people are saying to me. In fact, on our trip to Madrid and Sevilla I led us around pretty much purely on Spanish. However, I lack confidence. Majorly. And while I know the information, I have a hard time putting the puzzle together.

Recently, I finished the podcast Serial. It was actually the first podcast I had ever listened to, but I decided to give the whole podcast thing a try because I am constantly walking from one place to another, and it is an entertaining way to make the boring bits and pieces of the day go by quicker. Anyways, I finished the series and needed to find something else. The idea popped into my head that maybe there would be a good Spanish podcast that could help me improve. The first thing I came across was Spanishpodcast.net, so I decided to give it a go and downloaded it to my mp3 player.

I must say, even the first episode intrigued me. It is all in Spanish (well, duh…) so I would recommend knowing a bit of Spanish before starting. The first episode outlined ways to learn a language, and it mentioned that traditional methods of teaching a language that include drilling grammatical rules and having hundreds of lists of vocabulary (aka the way I’ve been taught all my life) isn’t all that effective. It results in people being able to read and write their new language decently, but when it comes to speaking they become a babbling mess (aka me). This podcast is based upon a new method of learning, going back to the way we originally learned our native language as babies. By listening. And repeating. And then repeating some more. Practice, practice, practice.

Logically, it makes sense. I mean, why wouldn’t we try to learn a second language the same way we learned the first? They make a big point about not translating things constantly, which seems ridiculous (or at least it did to me) but think about when you first learned English… you didn’t have any other language to translate what you were learning, you just figured out meaning through context. I feel like maybe this is the missing link for me. Sure, I know vocabulary, but only through the medium of English. Now, I need to learn how to think in Spanish. Intuitively, I think it will help eliminate that awkward pause I have when trying to speak Spanish since I’m constantly trying to translate everything in my head before speaking.

What is interesting is that, without really knowing it, I have been slowly learning the Catalan language through this mode of learning – purely through listening. I am surrounded by Catalan; at school, on the streets, and at home pretty much everything I hear is Catalan. Sure, I can’t really speak Catalan at all besides the basic Bon Dia, Adeu, Merci, but I can definitely understand a lot of what is being said (or, at least more than I could when I first arrived here). When a teacher is explaining something or chastising the students, I can understand what the topic is… which I am super excited about. I feel like I learn something new all the time without even trying. So hey, maybe this new method does have some truth to it. If I was forced to communicate in Catalan all the time, I am sure this process would go even faster.

I’m currently only on episode 7, and some episodes are longer than others. So far I’m finding them very useful and interesting. As I listen, especially at first, I find myself automatically translating what I hear into English for comprehension. My goal is to stop doing that and just listen, using the knowledge I already have and context to help me understand. I find that some words and phrases I already have as second nature due to years and years of repetition. So, in a way, all of those years in classes did help for something.

I guess the cliché is true… repetition is the key, as much as I hate it.

One fault I see in this method is that I feel like children learn a lot because the adults around them really assist them with this. Adults talk very slowly and enunciate to children, and they also repeat themselves a lot and speak in simple terms. However, when an adult who speaks Spanish sees me, they talk at an age-appropriate level which, to my ears, is lightning fast and complicated. No adult will slow down and speak as simply to a fellow adult as they would with a child. So kids have the advantage in this one.

I’m still missing the key part of speaking Spanish (since everyone here speaks Catalán and pretty much demand I speak English), but I’m going to try to begin reading short stories aloud to train my tongue to the sounds. I’ve also been listening to songs and watching movies in Spanish.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be fluent sooner than I think. Fingers crossed.

Girona, a Small Catalan Town with Great Views

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There was a little festival going on in Girona, and I figured it was the perfect excuse for me to take a short trip up there. Girona is located in the northeast of Catalonia and is situated along two main rivers, which makes it very picturesque. I had heard a lot of good things, so off we went. We set off on a Saturday morning and returned the following day. It really is rather small, and doesn’t require a lot of time to see everything. We didn’t go into any museums but by the time we left we felt like we had seen pretty much everything we had wanted to.

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The town has a very small town feel to it, with small local restaurants, vendors, and shops. On one side of the river lies the old city walls, a definite must-see. You have to climb quite a few steps to get from river level to the top, but it is worth it. Once there, you have amazing views of the entire city. The wall extends for quite awhile, with different towers that you can climb up. The city is a lovely gradient of different levels, stairs and small pathways leading every which way. A friend of mine remarked that she felt like she was in the story Romeo and Juliet, everything was just so fairy-tale like and beautiful.

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Once finally at the top of the city walls, you have gorgeous views of all of Girona. From there the city looks much bigger than it really is! Off to the right you can see some beautiful mountain ranges topped with snow.Jessica Europe 2014-215 733 Jessica Europe 2014-215 742Jessica Europe 2014-215 769

Near the city walls is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, a beautiful building at the top of a huge flight of stairs. Unfortunately they charge to go inside, so we opted out… but if you go on a Sunday, you can get in free! It is a famously beautiful cathedral in Girona; in fact, the host mother from my first family got married there!

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We ended up walking around the city nearly three times, admiring the views and exploring. We stopped for lunch and drinks along the way, but the little festival I had mentioned earlier didn’t turn out to be all that much. Instead, we all got together that night at the hostel (Equity Point Hostel… I highly recommend it!), had some drinks, then headed out to a local club to dance and meet other people. Although it didn’t seem like many people were in Girona during the day, all of the young people came out at night! We had a lot of fun and met some lovely people.
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Weekend Trip to Ireland, Part I: Dublin

It was November, and I was really exhausted at this point from working constantly and not really getting to see as much as I would’ve liked. I found out that there was a 3 day weekend coming up in December and immediately began thinking that this would be the perfect time to travel. However, I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes either in case my host family had already planned something for that weekend.

One day, the host mother came up to me to let me know that they would be going to Italy that weekend (sin me). I was a little bummed, but then also realized that this meant I officially had the OK to go somewhere. I began planning vigorously (no exaggeration) and found some cheap flights to Dublin, Ireland. The girl I had met the first day I was in Spain was also down to go, so it was perfect.

Unfortunately due to culture differences, I got into a little bit of an argument with the host family when I told them I had planned the trip. I figured it wouldn’t be a problem since they’d be gone that weekend anyways, but they viewed it as I had been planning all of this secretly behind their backs for weeks (which wasn’t anywhere near true). Luckily we hashed it out and things returned to normal quickly, and I was extremely excited to have this amazing opportunity. I mean seriously… the idea of a weekend trip to another (awesome) country (besides Mexico) is like a dream for a Californian like me!

We took a late flight on a Thursday night and landed in Dublin around 11pm. We found some cheap transportation into the city and were dropped off right in front of Trinity College, Ireland’s oldest university. We needed to find our way to the hostel, so we asked people if they could point us in the right direction.

A quick side note here… I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it was not to have to pause and think about what we were going to say before saying it. It felt so strange being able to just walk up to someone and speak in English and to have them understand. I cannot describe just how exciting this was for us after 3 months of broken Spanglish.

Anyways, one young guy we asked for directions said “Oh, sure, I’m heading that way. Just come with me!” He proceeded to tell us he had just finished a date with a girl he had met on tinder, that it went really well, and he was super stoked about it. At one point we were crossing the street on an orange light (a completely foreign thing to us – what does an orange light even mean?) and we began jogging across because it looked like the cars were about to get the green light. One guy yelled out the window of a taxi “Yeah, you better run… You mischevious little devils… On an orange light, oh, you better run!”

At first I was REALLY taken aback by this and took his actions as threatening. I guess that is the typical American response, to be afraid of everything. The guy we were with started laughing and continued the banter, and this lasted at least a minute… a back and forth, loud banter yelled out from the street corner to some random guy in a taxi. It was hysterical. I immediately decided that Ireland was an amazing place with fantastic, friendly people.

We said goodbye to the nice guy who helped us and went into our hostel. There was a laughable sign at the front desk of our hostel that said “Absolutely no alcohol allowed inside the hostel.” HA! Did they not get the memo that they were in Dublin?

2014-12-05 01.52.34After dropping off our things, we tried to find a pub to have our first beer in Ireland (a big deal, of course). Surprisingly (and sadly) many places were already closed past midnight on a Thursday, but luckily we did stumble upon a nice bar called The Porterhouse in Temple Bar. They had an awesome beer tasting flight for €5 that we tried, all with their own craft brews. It was fantastic to be sipping a cold one in Ireland, a place I had dreamt about visiting my entire life. Their specialty is the Oyster Stout which is made with actual oysters! Not vegetarian friendly, but even my pescatarian friend really enjoyed it.

2014-12-05 02.34.03We tried walking around some more to find another bar, but we could only find one place open right across the street. We popped in because hey, we were super excited to be in Dublin and weren’t quite ready to go to sleep yet. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was very nice inside! They had everything decorated in mosaics (it reminded me of dear ol’ Gaudi) and eclectic decorations.

A side note… when most people think of Ireland (sorry, Irish people), they think of loads of beer and drunken people in the streets. However, that was not our experience at all. Perhaps some new measures in Ireland changed everything because you couldn’t even buy alcohol at a store after 10pm (or something around there, my memory is faulty). Also, I can’t remember ever seeing a crazily drunk person wandering the streets like my host mother had warned me there would be. Everyone was extremely friendly and responsible.

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Christ Church Cathedral

2014-12-05 15.41.25The next day, we woke up and took a free walking tour around Dublin. It was beyond cold. Like, to the point where we couldn’t feel our toes and fingers and had to awkwardly jog around in circles to stay warm. Despite that, it was a beautiful day with only a few clouds in the sky (I guess a rarity in Ireland), so we lucked out.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

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Dubhlinn Garden

We walked around Dublin Castle, the gardens, and then meandered our way through the Temple Bar area and then over to the famous Trinity College. Unfortunately with free tours, you can expect quite a lot of self-advertising and less sight-seeing… but oh well, it was still very nice to see everything, learn the history, and hear the perspective of a native Dubliner.

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Temple Bar

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Sweet Molly Malone, who has a song named after her. We’re touching her boobs for good luck, I promise.

Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest university, and there’s a lot of pride for an Irish person if you are accepted. They have some fun traditions as well… Most notably, if you pass a certain exam you have the right to ask test proctors for a glass of Guinness during any other exam for the rest of your time as a student. The university is also a popular place to get married, but one (or both, I can’t remember) spouses have to have graduated from the college… and so on. It is a huge university, and it was actually the first thing we saw upon arriving in Dublin.
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After that, we ran on over to the Guinness Museum. Before going, we had heard a lot of different opinions on the place. Some said it was fun and good to see, if for nothing else than to have a Guinness at the top of the Gravity Bar for lovely views of Dublin. Others, our tour guide included, said it was a waste of time and money. My friend and I were also a little wary because neither of us remembered liking Guinness all that much when we had first tried it years and years ago.

2014-12-05 15.57.29But hey, when in Dublin… go to the Guinness Museum, right?

And we are so happy we did! We were blown away by the museum itself and all of the information we learned. And it’s state of the art, too… You’re not just walking plaque to plaque reading boring information. They have activities and virtual boards that talk to you. It was super cool!

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Unfortunately not the highest quality photo, but it is a giant pillar of hand-carved wood and a chandelier at the top to form a giant glass of Guinness.

They also had a special tasting experience, which was like nothing I had experienced before. They guide you through a dark tunnel with neon orange lights and then it opens unto this room in all bright white. They said it’s supposed to challenge your sensory experience. In the white room, there are 4 (or were there 6?) pillars with smoke coming out of them. You could go up to each one and smell the unique aromas of the hops, barley, etc. so that you could discern all of the different elements that go into a good glass of Guinness.

2014-12-05 17.07.45After that, they lead you into a darker room with special glass holders and portraits of important Guinness family members on the walls. There, they show you how to properly taste a Guinness (we are adorable mini Guinness glasses). From what I remember, you have to raise your elbow in the air as you hold the glass then swallow a sip while breathing so that you can both taste and smell the beer. It was quite interesting!

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Up at the very top of the museum, 7 stories or so up, is the Gravity Bar. It is a circular room surrounded in all glass so that you can see Dublin all around you, and you get a pint of Guinness included in your ticket. A professional pourer gets you a glass and draws a shamrock into the foam… it was such a nice experience!

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And even better…? We LOVED the taste of Guinness! I don’t know if it was just because we were in Ireland and we felt like we had to, but it was absolutely delicious. We came to the conclusion that perhaps the bottled Guinness you can get in the states does not come even close to comparing to the deliciousness of a professionally poured draft Guinness with that creamy head. And the view from the top was so beautiful… unfortunately I didn’t have a camera to do it justice!

After that amazing experience, we explored Temple Bar with a girl we had met at our hostel who was currently living in Germany. Temple Bar is such an eclectic area, you really never know what you’re going to find. It is also famous for being a tourist trap but hey, when the shoe fits…2014-12-05 20.55.22

There were many bands playing out on the sidewalks (in the freezing cold!) and people dancing, it was so fun to see! Drinks in Dublin are pretty expensive wherever you go… we ended up going to multiple bars/clubs that night and the average price we paid for a pint was about €5.50… ouch! But hey, we tried not thinking anything of it because beer just adds to the Irish experience.

2014-12-05 23.30.18 2014-12-05 23.31.26We danced SO much that night, it was fantastic. At one point we found ourselves in a bar when there was a party in another room just finishing. They still had a lot of food on the table and it seemed like they were about to just throw it away. My friend is extremely ballsy… she has no fear. We were hungry so she just waltzed in, grabbed a handful of fried onions, mushrooms, and sausages, and waltzed on back like no big deal. It then became a game… who could pull it off best? I was the wuss of the group; after much anxiety and backing out, I finally ran over and got a small handful of some food. Those people must’ve thought we were crazy!

This girl also somehow snuck out 3 guinness glasses from the bars, one for each of us… oy vey! XD

At one of the last bars we went to, a local Irishman approached me for a dance. But not the usual club grinding dance, an actual classy dance that consisted of swing and the cha cha… I have never in my life danced like that with someone I had just met, it was so much fun! We must’ve danced for at least 30 minutes. I had enough Guinness in me not to care what other people were thinking or how horrible of a dancer I was, we just danced and danced… that is probably one of my happiest memories in Dublin!

The following day we woke up early for a tour to nearby Glendalough County (pronounced Glendalock) for some beautiful nature views and hiking. Post to come 🙂