Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hasta Septiembre España!

This week has been pretty stressful, but as it is finishing up, I have de-stressed and am all set to come home! For my last day, my friends threw me a suprise going-away dinner/party! Well, it wasn't really a surpise in the end because I found out about it, but regardless it was great. They made Mexican food, because they know I love love love it. After dinner we went out barhopping and meeting up with even more friends! It was a great last party night with my friends - most of who will not be here when I return in September. Kind of a sad day but so happy that I DO get to come back. I think I will visit a lot of these friends in thier hometowns next year - Warsaw, London, Copenhagen and the sorts to see all my amazing friends.

This last year has flown by and I feel like I loved every minute of it. Thank you so much for reading my blog and keeping up with my Euro adventures! I hope you enjoyed it :) I am coming back to Seattle and will spend the summer all over the NW - with little trips along the way. I come back to Spain in September, and know by that time I will really have missed it. So, until September, hasta la vista Donostia!


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Last full week in San Sab!

Well, I don't know where the year has gone, but this was my last full week at work and my last weekend. It's kind of surreal how quickly my return to the States has crept up on me! I am so excited to come home but know I will really miss Spain - so I am definitley happy I will be back.

For the last two weeks we do fun things at work with the kids, and I chose to do milkshakes. I am 100% tired of milkshakes now, considering with all of my glasses I made them like 10 times and made about 50 milkshakes (batidos) ha. Because I like my activities to match what we are learning in class, I made a recipe for the little kids to fill out about how to make a milkshake with some new vocabulary. For the older students I found the 'history of the milkshake' hahah. Pretty silly, but I did learn quite a lot about milkshakes this week. If you're interested - the term was first used in print in 1885 and was an alcoholic whiskey drink - no, my milkshakes for my kids had no whiskey ha. A nice little factoid in case you ever see it on Jeopardy. My kids thought it was so silly we were doing the history of the milkshake, but it was good practice of the past tense! The kids were SO excited about the milkshakes, they almost didn't beleive we were going to make them. I don't allow food in the class, so this activity broke all the rules and they were as giddy as can be. I had a great time with them, but don't think I will be wanting a milkshake for quite some time.

Thursday night we had one last work dinner. Again - a nice restaurant where I always try something weird. This time around it was some salad with squid squiggilies, a shot glass of some fish puree and a little crayfish. It was nice to have dinner together because we are all going to be there next year as well. Sean is staying at the school and of course Erika will be there and me!

For my last weekend I partied it up. I figure that even if I am tired I will be able to sleep on my 10 hour plane ride and rest up when I get home! Friday, I was at the beach until 3pm when I had to go to work. I am really getting brown - hooray. Friday night we had a costume party at my friend Madeline's house. It was a 'doctor, nurse or injured person' party, which turned out to be pretty funny. Peni (she came back from Denmark to say goodbye to me this week!) and I decided to just put Disney bandaids on our faces and all over our body ha. There were some impressive costumes - Madeline even bought stuff to make a cast and had a cast around her stomach and on her arm. So silly. The best part was that Madeline and I bought IV bags (because you can somehow buy them at the pharmacy here) and everyone put thier drinks in IV bags and drank them from there hahaha.

Saturday, we recovered from the party on the beach all day. And I really mean all day! Peni and I got the beach at 10am, laid out until about 2 and then headed home for lunch and then back to the beach with a big group of friends until about 7pm. It was so nice - soaking up the sun, playing frisbee in the water, jumping waves and eating little appetizers and cherries. It was a perfect day and it was the most people I have seen on the beach all year!

All in all it was a good weekend - full of good weather and friends! Home in a matter of hours!


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bonjour Paree! - Paris Part 3

After an exciting and action-packed two days in Paree, the only thing really left on our list was the Louvre! I didn't know much about the Louvre besides that the Mona Lisa was there and that it was in The Da Vinci Code book. That was about my extent of Louvre knowledge (almost as extensive as my French language knowledge). Turns out that the Louvre was originally a fortress in the 12th century. After that it used to be the national palace until Louis XIV decided to move the national palace to Versailles. Soon after, the national collections of art and sculpture were moved into the palace and during the French Revolution it was decided that the palace should be used to display the national masterpieces. It is thought that the word Louvre comes from the French word L'OEvre, which actually means masterpiece, because at the time the palace was built, it was the most magnificent of its time. Now, there is the palace, which holds the 3 wings of the museum and in the center, at the entrance is the famous glass pyramid. The designer won a competition to put up his design and the French people were really excited about it - as the designer said that he had discovered a way to make it so that the whole thing would be stable and would be practically invisible. He was sorely wrong and now the pyramid is connected with many metal rods. Some people love it, others hate it. For me, I think it is interesting to see such an old buliding juxtaposed with such a modern piece of art. What do you think? Lucky for us, every museum in practically all of Europe is free on the first Sunday of the month, and guess what last Sunday was? Ohhhh yes, free day for us! There were swarms of people but we were excited to be able to enter without much of a line. First stop - the Mona Lisa of course. There was practically a freeway of people heading there and the room in which it is hung was packed with people estatic to catch a glimpse of her. Like everyone mentions when they see the Mona Lisa for the first time...it is rather disappointing because it is so small. Also, because of previous theft and vandalism, it is behind glass. Our tour guide on Friday told us that one time it was stolen by a Louvre janitor who walked out in 1911 with the Mona Lisa tucked into his jacket - saying that the Italian painting belonged in Italy. While it was not as spectacular as I had expected, it is still always stunning to see something you have read and heard so much about - so here is an up close pic of Mona for you all! The real treat of the Louvre is when you leave the traffic of the Mona Lisa highway and wander into different parts of the museum which are much less crowded. I figured that I have seen Spanish art in the Prado in Madrid and Italian art in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, so I should spend some time looking at French art here in the Louvre. While we managed to see many beautiful paintings, the museum is gigantic and we were obviously not able to see it all. Focusing on just French art was a good idea. They say if you don't take any breaks and spend 4 seconds looking at each peice of work in the museum, you will be there for 3 months straight! My favorite painting though, and I am so mad I didn't note down who it is by, was in the History of the Louvre section of the museum. It is only a painting of people looking at paintings in the Louvre, but I really love it. It's like people-watching caught in paint. After a few hours at the museum, we decided we should probably get around and get closer to the train station. We jumped in the metro, and this entrance was one of my favorites. It is one of the surviving 83 art-nouveau entrances that was made in 1900. It was quite a controversy at the time and although it is beautiful, French people have referred to the metro entrances as praying mantises. I can see the resemblence! We popped out near the train station and decided to grab lunch and participate in what we have decided is Parisians favorite pasttime - people watching. I noticed that all of the outdoor tables in every restaurant in town have chairs that all face towards the street. If you are eating with someone, you don't face them, rather you face the street so you can stare at everyone who passes by. Since I enjoy people watching, having lunch with my chair facing the road was shamefully enjoyable! After lunch we stuck around a little longer with some coffees. Here in Spain, I always order café con leche (basically just espresso shot with milk). I found out that to say that in French you say café a lait - which is pronounced cafe olé! Whenever I ordered in there, I felt like I should be bullfighting in Madrid or something haha. Six-thirty finally came and we reluctantly got on the train back. It had started to rain, so we weren't so heartbroken to be leaving the city, but I wish we could have stayed longer. I think it was a fabulous weekend and hope you enjoyed reading about my French-filled days! I would say a weekend with the Eiffel Tower, French wine, Michelle Obama, palaces, stained glass and beautiful art makes for a pretty decent weekend! Bisous! Amanda

Bonjour Paree! - Paris Part 2

After a much-needed rest, we woke up Saturday morning ready to head to Versailles. Grammy had told me about Versailles and said she loved it so much and that I should definitley see it. I was so excited to visit Paris because Grammy had been there and had told me all her tips and favorite places, so I figured if she loved Versailles so much, I should go see it as well! It worked out perfectly because it was kind of rainy and we knew that being at Versailles we would be indoors - in a massive palace, or as the French like to call it, the Chateau de Versailles. The Palace started out as a hunting shack for Louis XIII in 1624. Later in the 1600s, Louis XIV expanded the Palace to it's current shape and moved the entire government of France to Versailles along with himself. There is a painting of Louis XIV in the Palace, showing off what he thought were his sexy legs. During his reign, Versaille went from the hunting lodge to a grand palace in four main building campaigns as they called them. The first major changes occured when a huge party was held at the Palace and the Chateau was altered to accomodate 600 people. The next building campaign saw some of the more recognizable changes - large apartments for each the King and Queen on the first floor, and Chateau Neuf (New Chateau) for the King's friends and family when they visited the property. The third building campaign brought in the famous Hall of Mirrors and the landscaping of the never-ending gardens. The last building campaign was mainly focused on the chapel of the property. As the years went on, the new King Louis XVI did some sprucing up and redecorated some rooms in the palace, including Marie Antoinette's room, and replanted the gardens. Versailles became a model to many other countries for its layout, gardens and the idea of having multiple buildings on one property. In fact there is almost a complete copycat in Bavaria when Ludwig II demanded a clone of the famous Palace. While the Palace is no longer lived in, it still serves some royal duties - for example they edit the French constitution there and heads of state are regaled in the Hall of Mirrors. Walking in, you are just blown away by the amount of weath that is just sitting within the walls. There are over 6,000 paintings in the Palace and each room is elaboratley decorated, making it seem like a museum. When we wandered from room to room, it seemed like it couldn't get any more ornate, but every new room it would. From painted ceilings that could rival the Sistine Chapel and chandiliers that sparkle to gold-accented everything and perfectly detailed furniture, it was like walking through a dream. It's impossible to imagine living there. Some things I found out about the Palace were just unbeleiveable: the King's bed is sectioned off from the rest of his bedroom because guests could not enter his sleeping area because they weren't worthy; the artisans from Venice that made the mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors were assasinated by the Venetian government to protect the mirror trade secrets; and the entire property is bigger than the entire island of Manhattan! There is no way to explain the sheer beauty of the place, so I hope that my photos do it some justice! Because of the sprinkling rain, we didn't pay the 8€ to venture out into the gardens, but from the Palace I did get a look at the never-ending grounds. After a few hours with my mouth wide open in amazement, we headed back to Paris to do some more sight-seeing. We first decided to go to Sacré Coeur - The Sacred Heart Basillica. Sitting atop Montmartre, the church is situated on the highest point of the city. It is said that the church was built as a guilt offering after the Franco-Prussian war. The most interesting part about the church, besides the amazing view it has of all of Paris, is that the dome is made of a self-cleaning stone so no matter how old the building is or how bad the weather is, it will always gleam white! After the church we fell into a Farmers Market where my favorite person was this accordian player who had her whole set ha. From booth to booth we sampled French cheeses and wines. We eventually bought a French merlot and headed back towards the Eiffel Tower to enjoy some wine and pizza and stare at the Tower. Ahhh the life. After what turned out to be a delicious dinner and a tasty wine, we got back in line to get to the top of the Tower and were successful! After 686 steps, we caught the elevator to the VERY top to look out over Paris at night. While walking up the stairs, the sparkling lights turned on! Every hour, what look like Christmas lights, illuminate the Tower for 5 minutes. Being in the Tower when it happened was pretty surreal, as was the view from the top. As soon as I got out of the glass elevator at 986 feet (about 80 stories high) I had a huge smile plastered on my face. Before I came to Paris, I figured it would be a nice city but didn't think I would be too impressed. At the top of the Eiffel Tower I realized how magical the city was. I don't know if it was being that high and seeing the whole city, seeing the sparkling lights or just realizing that I was having a great weekend, but I couldn't stop smiling! I read a quote the other day by Oliver Wendell Holmes that says 'Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.' I guess that Oliver thought Paris was like Heaven...and as I went to sleep that night, I wouldn't say I really disagreed much. Another successful day in Paree!


Bonjour Paree! - Paris Part 1

Well, for my second to last weekend, I decided I should finally go to Paris! After work on Thursday night, I met Esther and we got the night train at 1030pm. For 8 hours we talked, slept and worked up quite an excitement for Paris! We arrived at 8am and headed to the hotel - Hipotel haha - thinking we would just check our bags and then go see the city. Fancy enough, the hotel allowed us to check in at like 830am! Impressed! It was a small little room with a baby shower and sink but was perfect and definitley in our budget.

After freshening up, we headed to the city center and first on the list was Notre Dame! I am a bit confused because in the States we call the school Notre Dame the Fighting Irish...but the church is in Paris. Does anyone understand it? It really puzzles me. Regardless, I got in my best Quasi-moto mindset as we strolled around the church - inside and out. It is massive! There were loads of tourists wandering around, all the heavenly songs of the church choir that happened to be practicing while we were there. I found out that the church's offical name is Notre Dame de Paris - which means Our Lady of Paris. Also, it was one of the world's first gothic cathedrals and the pioneer of the flying buttresses (those arched supports outside of the church). A very gorgeous church, I was most impressed with the sculpted boards that tell the story of Jesus. In the old ages, when everyone didn't read, this is how people learned about the story of Jesus, and the fact that they are still intact and in good condition is quite amazing!

We checked our watches and it was almost 11 - time for the free tour to start! When I was in Madrid the first time I stumbled upon a free tour in English and found out that they are offered all over Europe. I looked it up and saw they had one in Paris, so we definitley wanted to take advantage of a 3-hour free history lesson! With about 40 people in our group we were quite a sight walking around the city, but the tour guide did a good job of managing us while showing us the best spots and dishing out interesting information!

Our first stop was the walkway along the Seine River where we were briefed on hundreds of years of French history in a matter of about 10 minutes ha. I'm pretty good at my US history, but trying to remember France's as well is a bit challenging ha. I do recall it was filled with a bunch of Louis' haha. On the Ilé de la Cité, the island in the middle of the Seine, Matt (tour guide) told us about the early history of Paris - how in about 250 BC a Celtic tribe called Parisii found the area and made great use of the river. Through our history lesson we ended up at Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge in all of Paris! The best part about the bridge, I thought, was the fact that when the bridge was opened there was a huge party and Henry IV was so amused by all of his drunk friends he commanded his sculptor to immediatley come to the party and sculpt all of his friends onto the bridge. The sculptor questioned him because they were all so drunk but Henry IV thought it was funny and as a result, the faces that adorn the bridge do quite resemble a bunch of crazy drunk men. Ha. Atop the bridge is the statue of Henry IV and a great view of the river. From the bridge we were able to see the building where the Academy of French is (it was called something like that...more Frenchy but you get the point). There, Matt told us that this Academy is where the French people work dilligently to keep any trace of English words out of thier lovely language. For example, when we invented the word computer, the French people thought it sounded to American and instead, changed it to ordinateur. Also, because in French every thing is either masculine or feminine, we found out that the iPod is a masculine product in French and cars are feminine. Useless information for you to have!

The tour continued over the river and then to the Louvre. With the sun shining the pyramids shined bright and really showed the contrast between the old palace building that houses the museum and the pyramids that were only built in 1993! We passed by the Louvre (no worries, we go back on Sunday!) and headed to have a French lunch. Esther and I stopped at a sandwich place and I ordered a tasty le sandwich. I have determined that in order to speak French you just add 'le' to every word. I speak pretty much no French. In fact, most of the French I know is from Beauty and the Beast. So, as you can imagine, I am not an expert.

After lunch we walked through the beautiful Tuileries Garden. Once the private gardens of the Palace that used to be party of the now-Louvre museum, the Tuileries are still considered private property, so you cannot sit on the grass. As a result, people make themselves comfortable in many of the green chairs in the park and relax the day away with the reflecting pools and fountains. From the park you can gaze one way and see the Louvre and to the other, you can stare down Champs-Elysees and see the Arc de Triomphe! It was at this park that I first spotted the Eiffel Tower! We end up going there later, so I will spare you the details right now!

Our tour group headed down towards the Arc and ended after we heard how Paris was one of the only occupied cities in WWII that maintains it beauty and wasn't bombed to oblivion. While many soldiers were heading to Normandy, one group of French soldiers headed to Paris to save the city. Giving the impression that they were blowing up Paris (Hitler's orders) by burning insignificant buildings and bombing non-residental and non-historical neighborhoods, the allies were able to secure Paris and save the city! After the tour we headed to the Arc, where the allies marched after thier victory. Arguably one of the most famous Paris monuments, the Arc is huge and is in the middle of a round-a-bout that no car insurance policy will cover if you wreck there! We went in the underground tunnel to reach the Arc, since it is very ill-advised to actually attempt to cross the circle. Supposedly, an accident happens every 30 minutes. We didn't see any. The monument is set up to honor all of the wars that France has fought in...and let me tell you the whole thing is covered in names of wars! It also houses the Eternal Flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

After the Arc we shopped around Champs-Elysees, knowing we couldn't afford anything! It is the most expensive retail space in the world. We drifted in and out of stores and eventually headed to Sainte Chapelle - another church! This one is known as the Entrance to Heaven, so we had to see it! Who knew it only cost 5€ to get into Heaven! The chapel was probably the most astounding ones I have seen, and after travelling Europe all year I have seen quite a few stained-glass, awe-inspiring churches that make you want to be Catholic, but this was by far the most impactful. The entire chapel, which houses the Crown of Thorns that Christ wore, is made from tall stained-glass windows that are known to be the best in the world. From the pamphlet, I learned that in the old days they would make a mock-up of the window and then cut the glass and mold it together with the metal and after, paint the details. I also learned that stained glass was only made in yellow, purple, red, green and blue.

Next we jumped in the Metro towards the Eiffel Tower to climb to the top in the twilight. When we arrived we were sad to find out that the top level was closed, due to too many people being there. Defeated we started walking around the Seine and noticed a lot of barricades and finally asked a French police officer if someone was coming. He said yes and we asked who...and he said, Obama. We FREAKED out and then he was like no, no Mrs. Obama is coming. Since us Americans never refer to her as Mrs. Obama, Esther and I were confused for a split second and then realized Michelle Obama was in town. The nice police officer kindly told us the car route she was going to take to the tower (I am pretty sure that's against the rules but oh well) and we ended up seeing her pass in a motorcade! We rushed to the Eiffel Tower and pushed our way to the front of the crowd and as she was coming out after her Eiffelt Tower visit we saw her again and waved like 6-year olds seeing Mickey Mouse. Kind of funny, I wasn't in the USA for the election and where do I finally see the first lady? PARIS! You know, Michelle just wanted to hang out with Esther and me! After that we didn't care that we weren't able to scale the Tower that night and headed home happy. Esther and I recreated our excited faces for Michelle on Saturday, so that's what that picture is all about haha. A stop for wine and creme brulee topped the night off and after being on the go for about 13 hours, we happily said bonsoir (goodnight) and headed back to our Hipotel.

More to come for Saturday and Sunday in the City of Lights!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy to be a teacher!

Great news today! I had a student, Lorea, for the past few weeks that was preparing to take an entrance exam to the university she was applying for. She was going for the translation program at the university and needed to pass this test with high scores to be accepted. She had been coming for some weeks and was great at English - like amazing for an 18 year old girl! I was so excited for her to take the test and realize how good she was, but she was really nervous. I wrote her a text message Monday morning, the day of her test, and wished her good luck and to let me know how the test went. Well, she just wrote me back and said that she was sooooo nervous but that the writing portion of the test was so easy for English and the only trouble she had was thinking of the appropriate word of the Basque translation sometimes. She said the listening was a bit challenging but she thought it was ok. What she was most scared about was the speaking portion of the test. She had to select a photo at random and talk about it for 15 minutes after introducing herself. She told me that she introduced herself and with the test moderators she talked about Jane Austin, her favorite English literature and about her studies. She said when she started to talk about the picture, the moderators said 'well I think this will be enough' and she was so scared because she hadn't even started about the photo and they told her not to worry that they could see she had a very high level of speaking and they didn't need her to speak about a photo to see that!

Lorea was so sweet - she wrote me thank you for all my help and support for the test! Hopefully when she writes me next time, it is to tell me that she made it into the program - which I am sure she will!

It was so great to get a thank you - to realize that what you are doing is really helping someone! I was so happy when I got the email and was clapping while reading it and my roommate asked me why I was so excited. He was suprised that I was so concerned and into my students' success and I said of course!! I love when my students come in and show me thier test scores, or share experiences when they use English.

Another favorite moment was with my 12 year old girls. We are learning future tense in class and they are still working on present tense in thier school. They were suprised we were so far ahead and kind of saying that its silly to be this far ahead of class. I just keep telling them that when they finally start to learn this in school that it will be a breeze for them and that they should try and use thier more advanced English in thier English class. One girl came back to class the next week and was so estatic to tell me a story. She said her teacher had asked her to say a sentence in the present simple. She said she replied with 'I often go to piano lessons after class but today I am going to the beach' or something like that - she used the FUTURE! She said her teacher was in awe and all the students were super impressed! Hooray!

Off to the beach for the morning then to work again, but just wanted to take a second and share some of my rewarding moments with you guys! It's always nice to realize how much you really do like your job, and this week was a good one for that!