Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Amusement Park

When our friend Christian came to town we went to the amusement park that I had mentioned in our ZooQuarium post. Christian and I had a great time going on all of the spinny rides and roller coasters, while Michelle patiently enjoyed watching us. She did enjoy the ride where you drop straight down (akin to the Puyallup Fair's Tower of Terror) and the roller coasters where you don't go upside down. Also, as it was a cool November Saturday, there were almost no lines and we got to ride many of the rides multiple times. Our collective favorite was a roller coaster that also allowed free 360 degree spinning on each of the cars (they went one at a time) so you don't change to direction you faced as you turned corners, or you started twisting while going straight. It was called the Tarantula, but was broken for the second half of the day, and we only got to ride it once.

This displays our beautiful windblown hair after such rides as the spinning chairs on chains 150 ft in the air. Also, we randomly found the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile, but there was no one inside giving out free whistles.

They had all of the classic rides, one, that launches you up in the air while allowing you to flip forward and backward, the ring of fire, the pirate ship, the free fall tower, nausea inducing teacup style spinning rides, airplanes you ride in while going up and down, and an assortment of roller coasters, both the looping and non-looping kind.

Michelle has a poor stomach for spinning rides and there was one that spun you in a circle as it launched you up the sides of a half-circle. Christian and I both thought it was pretty great and just to see if her stomach still couldn't handle it, Michelle tried it once at the end of the day. She couldn't. She didn't throw up or anything, but was very glad we were headed home.

I am really excited to go back, but don't want to go alone as that creepy, lonely, older guy that hangs around the amusement park by himself and doesn't really speak much Spanish.

Real Madrid

Also, during the week that Christian and his girlfriend Stephanie came to visit, we went to a Real Madrid Soccer Match. (It's pronounced Ree-al, meaning royal in Spanish). It was against the Dinamo Football Club from Zagreb Croatia. We all loved Bernabeu Stadium, because even the worst cheap seats (ours) had a great view of the game. Madrid beat 'em good.

This is a picture of Michelle and I desperately trying to keep our eyes open for the picture, despite the flash. I think it just came of a bit creepy

This is the teams warming up before the game as fans filed in.

Christian and Stephanie excited for the game.

A couple of pictures of the four of us after the game.

This is what it looked like cramming into the metro after the game. I love the two guys on the right side totally hamming it up!

After the game, the security held the Dinamo fans (they were all kept in one section) until after most of the stadium had cleared in order to try and prevent riots and violence. They even had to expel one guy in the Dinamo section halfway through the game for some reason.

Madrid with Christian

These are some pictures from around Madrid. Most of them were taken when we were showing our friend Christian around.

This is the interior of the H&M on Gran Via in Madrid. I think they converted a hotel. Talk about classy casual wear.

This is a picture Christian took of Hollis in front of Bernabeu Stadium, where the Real Madrid soccer team plays.

This is us in front of the northern facade of the Madrid Cathedral. Completed in the 1990's, it is the newest cathedral I've ever been to.

This is the courtyard in front of the royal palace. We haven't gone a tour yet, but I hear it is fantastic. It is directly across from the cathedral as viewed in the picture above.

Not actually a picture of Hollis, he was the excuse to take a picture of the Spanish guys in the the cafe window.

And there are lots of motorbikes that just get parked wherever.  This one was pretty cool.

'Cause frowning while posing with a cool scooter makes the picture even better.

This is what it looks like when they tear down a building in Spain. Almost every city block here is solid buildings, even though each building is owned and built by different people or groups. When they demolish a building, they spray a orange foam sealant on the surrounding walls until a new building goes in. Sometimes buildings stand like this for a very long time.

Hollis and Christian (former roommates and kind of/almost related) in front of the gates of the Royal Palace.

Snaking on the train ride home. We were pretty beat.

At the Bernabeu shop, we came across these beauties. They are some of the lightest soccer cleats in the world. Literally what the pros wear. They weighed about as much as half of a small/medium sized apple.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I don't know who decided to put an aquarium in the middle of the Madrid zoo, but they were a genius. Not only do we get to enjoy both land and water animals, I get to call it a ZooQuarium!
Michelle and I each bought a season's pass to the zoo, that also includes most of the amusement parks, water parks, and zoos in Spain. So we immediately went to the Zooquarium, and then a couple weeks later, to the local amusement park. Also awesome. Here is a collage of some of our favorite pictures:

A stunning pose of Hollis and a bear; Michelle and the flamingos; self portrait of Michelle and Hollis posing as lemurs; the bears giving Hollis the cold shoulder, and both of us with a porcupine. 

It was chilly and few of the animals were up and about, but it didn't stop these lemurs from being adorable!

These bears were being all photogenic for the camera and not hiding like the stupid tiger was.

PostScript Editor's Note (May 2012): Since Michelle has been pregnant, she has been endowed with the super-sniffer and we have yet to go back to the ZooQuarium.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Around Alcalá

These are some pictures from October when we first wandered around Alcalá.

There was a bonsai showing of miniature trees of all types from all around the world. These two were our favorites.

If you look closely, you can see the wire holding up the stem. Most of the trees had to have some form of support, either on the stem, or holding up the branches.

Alcalá is known for its storks, or ciguenas. I had never actually seen storks before, but they have nests all over historic downtown because, not only have they been there for years, their nests are protected by law. Once they go up, they can't be taken down. There is one perched on the top of the weather vane on top of this tower.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Here in Spain, peppers are super cheap, especially at the local outdoor market (4 huge peppers for 1€, ~$1.30), so I've been putting them in most of the stuff I cook, and I cook about 80% of the meals.
I've created a delicious recipe for pasta sauce in an attempt to satiate Michelle's deep abiding love for pasta. Since inception, I've made it at least once a week.

1 chorizo (a bratwurst size Spanish pork sausage)
1 large red bell pepper
1 large spicy Italian pepper
1 medium sized onion
1 carton of tomato sauce with olive oil (about a cup and a half. I can just buy it at the store, and it is not as good with just plain tomato sauce)
dried powdered garlic
mozzarella cheese (optional)

Cut the chorizo into small chunks a little larger than a centimeter a side and fry it in a pan until cooked. Drain the grease. Chop the pepper (being careful to remove the stems and seeds) and onion into ~.5 centimeter squares and add to the meat. Allow it to cook together for a few minutes until the vegetables are cooked (I like the peppers to be a little firm and crunchy). Add the tomato sauce and olive oil and allow it to simmer for a while and spice with oregano and garlic powder to taste. Serve hot over pasta (cooked) and top with mozzarella or like shredded cheese (I really like emmantal).

I've taken to chopping up our peppers and the appropriate proportion of onion and freezing them, making prep time only about 20 minutes.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"We're getting out of here like the Moores!"

Today, Christian Johnson, Stephanie Schenck, and I went to Toledo. It's about 30 minutes by high speed train from Madrid and only about 18 Euros roundtrip a person. It was very fun.

First of all, if you take a train to Toledo, walk from the train station (which was probably my favorite building) to the city. As you do, you get to cross an awesome old footbridge over the river that runs around Toledo and through the huge city gates. And then you climb the stairs along the wall the old city and look out the surrounding area and a lot of the newer parts of the city. It was kind of sad that these beautiful long stone staircases were covered in litter and graffiti. The stairs come out a few blocks from the main square on top of the hill where old Toledo sits.

Christian and Stephanie in Front of the Train Station

Toledo is known for its gold work and swords. Most cities have souvenir shops of one kind or another (Granada had knick knack shops of arab influence), Toledo's shops are filled with knives and swords. They are alllllll over! We wound through the city more or less in the direction of the Cathedral for about 20 minutes, enjoying the architecture, and the views from the hill. One of the most interesting things to me about Spain is that buildings are all connected to each other along the same block. The only thing that separates buildings are streets and alleys or courtyards. Other than that, one wall of a building forms the wall of the adjacent building. Usually each block is one solid building. Because of that, you have a lot of building materials and styles all smashed up against each other.

Me in an Alley

Most of the buildings in Toledo are made of brick or stone, and most of the newer buildings are then covered in plaster and some are even then painted to look like bricks or stone. Also many of the doorways look to have a strong Moorish (Arabic/pre-reconquest Spanish) influence. The top is a arch, but it's almost a full three quarters of a circle, instead of just half, and then it goes straight to the ground. Also there was even a couple of walls of a house that looked like they were just kind of including any rocks they found along with the bricks. They could be seen because the plaster covering them fell away.

A Seam Between Two Buildings

The Cathedral was beautiful from the outside. It was smaller than the one in Granada, but the outside was much more ornate, probably because the Cathedral in Granada was built with waning funds. It even had a full larger than life stone carving of the last supper above the lintel of the main front doors. Another interesting aspect of the Cathedral was how you could see when different pieces were added on because a different color or shape of stone was used.


Unfortunately, due to various circumstances this morning, we didn't get to Toledo until about 2:25 PM and because we were having Thanksgiving dinner that night, we had to catch the train back at 5:30. So, we stopped at a little cafe for lunch around 4 and I had a Womba Bocadillo and Stephanie and Christian both had plates of Paella. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish made with Saffron rice and lots of seafood. Bocadillos are Spanish sandwiches made on a piece of bread much like a baguette. The Womba Bocadillo had what tasted like red pasta sauce on it with very thinly cut pieces of pork loin with cheese on top. It was delicious.

Womba Bocadillo

After lunch I bought a couple of postcards and then it was time to go. In fact, it was about 8 minutes past time to go. And whats more, because we had been just kind of meandering while looking for a place to eat, we didn't know where we were. But Stephanie and Christian whipped out the map, pointed us in the right direction, and we took off back to the station. It had taken us about 25-30 minutes to get to the top of the hill from the Station and we were planning on about 30 minutes to get back. We had about 20, so we hustled. As we were flying down the long stair cases (ever so carefully as to not trip and die falling down all of these stairs), Christian laughs and says, "We're getting out of here like the Moores!" We all had a good laugh.

Building in a Hill (We took it on the way in.)

Since we knew our way back, once we got to the top of the hill again, and because it was almost all down hill, we made it back to the station in about 15 minutes! Oh and we also didn't stop to take pictures on the way back.

Me on the train ride back

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Awesome park we found

This is footage from a park between the school Michelle works at and the church we attend. I don't quite remember the time of day, or why there were no children there, but this is one of the funnest parks I've been to.

They have a zip line that is bowed. I'm not exactly sure of the design purpose, but to get from one side to the other is a quite a work out as you have to swing your legs up to propel yourself onto the platform on the other side. Here are a few attempts.

Michelle's fail #1

Michelle finally makes it. More or less.

Hollis showing off

This park also has a teeter-totter that is a bow with the ends pointing down with seats attached to them and the center mounted on a giant spring. It also allows for full 360 degree spin. it is awesome. You can bounce each other, spin around, and lean side to side all at the same time. Michelle doesn't like it all that much though. If It was guaranteed that no children would be on it, and no cops would stop me, I would exercise there daily. It's just so fun!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I'm a binge blogger

Yep. I only blog about once every month or two, and then when I do I have to post everything in chronological order, and I post-date it so it matches the date it happened. This worked fine when it was my own blog. However, enter Hollis, my loving Husband. He blogs within a reasonable time after an event. This means that, yes, sometimes the information on our blog is actually current. However, it means that some of my blog posts end up behind his because I am unwilling to assign them a date that does not match the date when it happened. As such, I fear that some of my readers might miss my lastest binge of posts. So here are links to them all:


Thursday, November 10, 2011

A 'normal' day as an American Teacher in IES Complutense

One of the first things I learned is that there is almost no such thing as a normal school day, let alone a normal week. I think we've had one complete week of school so far this year. The weeks are interrupted mainly by holidays, with a couple of strikes still happening occasionally. But setting those regular 'exceptions' aside, this is how a typical day is for me (and the two other teachers at my school).

I need to be at the school between 815 and 10 AM, depending on when I have my first class. If I do have class at 815, then I should show up at 810 at the earliest, because getting to school any earlier pretty much guarantees that you will see the school deserted. The students aren't allowed in the building until 810 anyway, and even though the bell rings at 815, there is a leeway of time for the teachers to get to class (most arrive around 817, but really you have until 820 before it's kind of late).

During the school day there is only one official class break from 1055 to 1120. This isn't a luch break (because 25 minutes is entirely too short to actually have lunch :). But in practice many students eat.

The class structure seems somewhat predictable, but there are less student activities than I remember having when I was in middle school. Well, in some of my classes. I remember doing more projects. But in my middle school, I had the same classes every day. Here, some teachers only see the students once or twice a week. The only classes that students have every day are English and maybe Math. So it is a lot harder to cover the same amount of material and still do activities if you only see the students three days a week instead of five. It's a strange system, but it is what it is.

In my school, we are lucky enough to have a fantastic coordinator (José-Luis) who understands the importance of actual coordination, so we have two coordinating meetings a week: one meeting with all of the CLIL teachers (Content Learning In Lanugage...? it's the teachers who teach their subjects in English), and one meeting with all of the Americans with just José-Luis. There are three American teachers and one American auxiliare at our school. These meetings are necessary because it makes it easier to brainstorm solutions to common problems.

Each of the Americans work with several teachers. However, as we have a specialty, we each have one main teacher that we work with. We all have time set aside each week in which we can help plan out the lessons. In my case, Irene and I schedule out what topics are going to be taught on what days, and then I pick the days and topics that I think would be fun to teach. Sometimes we decide that we need to spend the day doing some sort of activity, and then I usually volunteer to research and find something because that leaves Irene free to spend more time with her other classes. Irene lets me know exactly what material she needs covered and what parts she wants emphasized. This makes my life much easier because then I don't have to worry about Irene having to go back and re-teach what I taught because I did it wrong.

I finish with the day between 115 and 305 every day, and then I go home and am done with the teaching part of my day. The work day is sufficient for me to complete all of my lesson planning (such as it is) and the English department has been very welcoming. It is a fun office to have as a base.

From talking with some of the other teachers here, Complutense is by far one of the best to work with. The staff has been welcoming of all of our input and it has a very colaborative feel. I understand that for many of the other teachers they act as a language assistant or spend a good portion of their day in PE, and their schedule is designed to keep them at school whether they have a teacher they are working with or not. But I think the situations in the other schools stems from the fact that the coordinators there think that is what they are supposed to do (and maybe it is). Here at IES Complutense we are treated as if we belong, and I like that.

Let me know if you have any questions about anything!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Alhambra: The unconquerable city

When Hollis and I went to Granada, we booked a tour of the Alhambra. Because it was a holiday weekend, all of the general admission tickets were sold out (General admission is 13€). But I found an English tour of the Alhambra and parts of Granada for 25€. We got to go into many parts of the Alhambra, some of which are parts not open for public wandering. And it was awesome to learn so much background about Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabel.

We learned that Washington Irving is pretty much the Hero of the Alhambra (okay, so they just call him "hijo de la Alhambra" or "son of the Alhambra"). He lived here for about a year, collecting stories about what happened there. Before he arrived, Napolean's army had destroyed much of the city of the Alhambra, but several beautiful structures remained. He published Tales of the Alhambra in the 1830s. Many Americans thought that it sounded wonderful, so they came to see this Alhambra. This tourism is what helped preserve what is left of the Alhambra to the present day.

Here is Hollis with Washington Irving.

The only remaining original entrance to the Alhambra is pictured below:

I think it's called the Door of Justice. This lower door leads to an S-shaped interior that used to have 5 doors (one at each bend) that you had to pass through to reach the upper door that has access to the city of Alhambra. If an army used a battering ram to break through the first door, they would have to leave it behind and simply hack at the second door (located at a 90 degree angle from the first one). The invaders would have to chop through all five doors while being killed by defenders above to breach the city. It never happened. The Alhambra was never conquered.

In this picture you can see the aquaduct that provides all the water for the Alhambra:

This was a very vunerable point because if an invading army could block this water supply, no more water would be entering the Alhambra. However, there was enough water stored inside the city walls to support the entire city of 2,000 people for nine months. This is about how long Ferdinand and Isabel laid seige to the city of Granada in 1491 before the city of Alhambra surrendered on 2 Jan 1492. Thus, the Alhambra is a city that was never conquered. It was given up. :)

The Alhambra is on the top of a hill and overlooks the city of Granada. This is a picture of the historic Albaicín.

Charles the V spent his honeymoon in Granada. Because of a sickness in the North, he ended up staying at the Alhambra for six months, and so some special rooms had to be built for winter residence. This small room was built to be warm. I got a kick out of the size of the doorways.

Yep. Hollis would have been a Giant in the 1500s.

The Alhambra is a very beautiful place to visit. Especially on a temperate sunny day. Hollis and I plan to go back again to have a general visit so we can spend more time looking at the many details.


I had a 4-day weekend this last week, so Hollis and I took the opportunity to travel. We took the bus to Granada, a city in the South of Spain.

The cathedral is one of the first things you see in historic downtown because it is so big.

Hollis is the shadow on the right. This cathedral is actually Baroque in architecture. If you are familiar with Baroque, it usually is completely overdone. However, in Granada, the cathedral was finished with very little money, so it is simple Baroque. Or (prepare yourselves) broke Baroque.

In the streets near the cathedral, they have rebuilt the merchant's district with the streets as narrow as they were historically.

Now it is completely full of gift shops. Over-priced, naturally, but not so much that you really feel like you are getting ripped off.

Our first night there, Hollis and I went for a walk to try and get a view of the Alhambra at night. I didn't know where the best view was, but I knew we needed to walk up. The streets were quite narrow and steep.

This is the part of town known as the Albaicín, the oldest part of Granada. Historic downtown is mostly rebuilt because it burned down in the early 1900s.

In our hunt for the best viewing spot, we found some crazy streets. Like this staircase in the middle of the road:

If you happened to be driving a car, you would have to go back and try another way.

Hollis was able to take this amazing panoramic shot of the Alhambra:

We did finally find the park: the viewpoint of some saint.

We really enjoyed Granada. We even discovered a new flavor of ice cream:

Yep. Chocolate hot pepper. And no, we didn't try it.