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Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 28, 2013
Happy Thanksgiving, friends! While I'm still bummed that I can't celebrate with a gluten free American Thanksgiving feast here in Spain, I feel profoundly thankful for everything else in my life right now. Although 2013 has been a year of monumental transitions, I have so many things to be grateful for this year. While my list could go on and on, I feel particularly blessed by all of the following:

My Friends

Growing up is hard. Now more than ever we are all sorting out which friends are here for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I'm incredibly grateful for my lifelong best friends, who have encouraged me and loved me through the toughest of times. We're all going in different directions and embarking on new adventures, and although I wish I could be in Seattle/New York City/Orange County with them every day, the physical distance between us irrelevant. I love you guys so much.

My Job

How I managed to score a well-paying job in one of Europe's most struggling economies is completely beyond me. Nevertheless, I feel incredibly blessed to 1) actually have a job, and 2) work at a job that I genuinely enjoy. While teaching English is exhausting, it is incredibly fulfilling. Even when they're being little monsters, I love my students with all my heart. And nothing cures a case of the Monday's quite like getting tackled by 25 kids at once screaming, "We love you teacher Courtney!"

Since Spain doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, it's my job to explain to my kiddos what it's all about. It's hard not to play favorites when some include me on their turkey crafts!


It's a well known fact that my first time living in Spain didn't go so smoothly. Thankfully, living in Madrid is pretty much the opposite of living in Cádiz, and I couldn't be happier here. (I take that back. It would be awesome if Madrid had a beach. But I digress...) I'm so blessed to live in a city that I actually click with. Every day I'm reminded of something that makes me love Madrid even more. Yesterday I stopped dead in my tracks and realized, "Wait a second, it's November. Why is it sunny outside?!" As a native Seattleite, I had forgotten that sometimes it doesn't rain 3/4 of the year in other places. Like, where did the rain go, you guys? It may be freezing here, but a sunny November is a novel concept to me. I don't hate it.

Life in Madrid is undoubtedly enriched by my roommates, coworkers and friends I've met here. I'm thankful for the community that I'm building, the support system I can rely on, and the adventure buddies I can explore the world with.

and most importantly...

My Family

The beginning of 2013 brought some adverse times for me, and I couldn't have survived without the support of my parents. Their love, encouragement and wisdom kept me afloat during those times when I didn't think I'd make it through. My parents are and always will be my best friends, and I am lucky to have them by my side for constant support (even if they're an ocean away). Also, this past August I gained a new stepdad and stepsister! I lucked out with two new superb additions to my family. Every day I am grateful for the many ways in which my family supports me and helps me grow.

So with that said, I hope everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day! (And don't worry about me completely missing out, I'll surely be stuffing my face with all of my favorite gluten free Thanksgiving dishes when I come home for Christmas!)

Autumn in Retiro

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Between my love for pumpkins, brightly colored leaves, wearing boots and scarves, apple cider, butternut squash, football and Thanksgiving, autumn is undoubtedly my favorite season. While I initially felt disappointed that I'd be missing out on a beloved Pacific Northwest autumn this year, I'm quickly realizing that fall in Madrid is a truly magical time as well.

While the city is generally lacking in nature (especially in comparison to the ubiquitous greenery of Seattle), the undeniable presence of fall can still be found in Parque del Buen Retiro - my all-time favorite spot in Madrid.

I spent the majority of last week sick and cooped in my apartment, so this past Saturday seemed like the perfect day to take advantage of the autumn sunshine and take a stroll around Retiro. This is the only place in Madrid that truly feels like fall to me; the trees are adorned with vibrant reds and oranges, colorful piles of leaves scatter the ground, and the crisp autumn air remains untainted by the surrounding city life. While I do wish the rest of the Madrid felt just as much like autumn, I suppose that's what makes Retiro so magical.

Madrid via Instagram

Friday, November 8, 2013
I'm not going to lie you guys, it's been a rough week. But despite being overwhelming and exhausting, it's also been filled with little victories that have kept me afloat. 

Although I've been sick on and off for the past month, this week my mystery sickness escalated. Truth be told, I was avoiding going to the doctor for as long as possible because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to understand them. (Classic conflict-avoider move.) Nevertheless, after visiting them twice this week, I'm thrilled to announce that I understood everything they told me in Spanish. And they understood me! As frustrating as being sick may be, at least I feel consoled by the fact that I can successfully communicate with my doctor in a foreign language.

Something about being sick inevitably induces waves of homesickness. I've spent this past week longing for mom's chicken noodle soup and sincerely missing the creature comforts of home. Despite these pangs of homesickness, I'm trying to focus on all of the things I adore about Madrid. By constantly reminding myself of why I love living here, I've managed to keep my spirits high. So while we're being positive, here are a few of my favorite Instagram shots of life in Madrid thus far:

A gorgeous autumn day in Retiro
My street
Drinking tinto de verano in my favorite plaza, conveniently right next to my apartment
Enjoying a glass of wine atop my favorite rooftop bar in Madrid - Círculo de Bellas Artes
Roomie night! I'm incredibly lucky to live with such encouraging and supportive individuals
Famous huevos rotos from Almendro 13 in La Latina
Exploring the Royal Palace at night
Just your average building in Madrid...
Nighttime view of la Catedral de la Almudena

Another silver lining of this past week: WE FOUND BRUNCH!! Last weekend we ventured to Carmencita Bar - a charming little vintage café that serves delicious American-style brunch. The best part: it's only 2.5 blocks away from my house. And did I mention that they have 1 Euro mimosas?!?!

Since I've been constantly reminding myself of all the reasons I love living in Madrid, I'm getting more and more anxious to recover soon and get back to exploring the city. I don't usually mind having down time when I'm sick, but this week I'm feeling particularly antsy. I guess that means I really do love it here.

Follow along on Instagram @courtneylikkel

Top 10 Things I Love the Most About Spain

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
A few weeks ago I posted about the Top 10 Things I Miss the Most About America, and although I still genuinely miss these things, I truly do love Spain as well. Not only do I adore the beauty, culture and people of Madrid, but I find myself enamored by the endless possibilities of this diverse city. Every day I discover something new that makes me appreciate Madrid that much more. So, as promised, here are my favorite things about living in Spain:

1. Cheap Wine

Can you imagine ordering a high quality glass of wine at a restaurant for only $4 in the USA? Ummm, yeah right. Try like, $12 (if you're a wine snob like I unabashedly am). When I say "cheap wine" I usually think of that Franzia crap that I refuse to drink because it's an insult to my Italian heritage (wine in a box is NEVER okay). But in this case, I literally mean "cheap" as in, it hardly costs me anything at all. The fact that I can get a glass of fine wine here for 3 EUROS is nothing less than a miracle.

2. Free Tapas (Sometimes)

Speaking of cheap, some places will even give you free food when you order a drink. This isn't as common in Madrid as it is in Granada or other places in the south; but if you search hard enough, it exists. Case in point: El Tigre. I ordered a gigantic glass of tinto de verano for 5 euros and got all of these tapas for free. You know what's even better than being peer pressured to take naps every day? Free food.

Free tapas galore at El Tigre. Heaven is real, people.

3. The Language

Ironically, this is probably the worst my Spanish has ever been. After I finished my Spanish degree and graduated college, I only spoke Spanish once a week (if that) at my old volunteering position. So little practice made me forget an embarrassing amount of Spanish... and now I'm paying for it. Sure, I attempt to practice with my coworkers and I go to weekly intercambios, but the fact of the matter is, I need a lot of improvement to get myself back to where I once was. But does that stop me from loving Spanish? No way, José. I may not understand it all anymore, and I may undoubtedly stumble over my words anytime I want to form a complex sentence, but I fall a little bit more in love with the Spanish language every time I hear it.

4. Espresso

Confession: I haven't had coffee from Starbucks in over a month. Who am I?! But the fact of the matter is, I haven't even needed to drink Starbucks because the coffee here is so good. Every morning I get a cortado (an espresso with just a slash of milk) from the tiny café next to my school in Galapagar. But sometimes when I'm out and about in Madrid, I spice things up and order a café con leche (espresso with milk: a Spanish staple) or a bold café solo (straight up espresso, for those times when you really need to feel caffeinated). While I do miss the comfort of grabbing lattes to go, the alternative isn't so bad.

Enjoying a café con leche on an outdoor terraza 

5. Dos Besos

This chic Euro greeting is so much friendlier than a simple handshake. It just exudes sophistication and style. Like, why wouldn't you kiss someone on the cheek twice if you're excited to see them? The same goes for meeting strangers... talk about an effective icebreaker. (That said, I really miss giving hugs. Thank goodness for my American friends here who still insist on hugging... you guys keep me sane.)

6. The Social Nature of Spaniards

Around 10 pm on any given night, you're more than likely to find families taking paseos throughout town, children playing in the plazas, bars packed with friends catching up over drinks and tapas, and crowded streets bustling with life. To say that Spaniards are social beings would be the understatement of the year. Although I am still finding my niche within Madrid, I love the vibrant sense of community here.

A bustling Plaza de San Andrés in La Latina

7. The Fashion

Spaniards have an uncanny ability to look stylish and put together without even trying. I've even tried to copy some of their outfits, but I don't look nearly half as good as they do. (Although that still doesn't stop me from shopping constantly...) The polished men here put the guys back home to shame. (I'm looking at you, Seattle hipsters in ragged flannels and beanies. You are not all lumberjacks, so please just stop. Take a hint from the Spaniards - and Barney Stinson - and SUIT UP!) Even the little old grannies hobbling down the streets are nicely dressed. It makes me never want to leave the house in yoga pants ever again (...but who are we kidding).

Trying to keep up with these trendy Spaniards has led me to a Zara addiction. These are a few of my most recent indulgences.

8. Walking Everywhere

In other words... I don't have to drive. As someone who has an irrational fear of driving, I find this aspect of Spanish life particularly awesome. Despite being a huge city, Madrid doesn't actually feel that big. Hence, it's possible to walk almost anywhere you want to go. Even when it's not feasible to walk, the metro and bus system are ridiculously easy to use. (Seriously, if I can figure it out, anyone can.) One of the many benefits of walking everywhere is burning off the calories consumed from delicious Spanish dishes, which brings me to my next point...

With views like this, why wouldn't I want to walk everywhere?

9. Spanish Food

Tortilla Española, huevos rotos, olive oil, jamón, manchego cheese, paella, chorizo, tinto de verano, patatas bravas... the list goes on. While Spanish food generally lacks intense flavor (suffice it to say, spiciness doesn't exist here...), it is the ultimate comfort food. Sure, it may not be the healthiest, but what real comfort food is? After a particularly grueling day at work, all I crave is a consoling plate of huevos rotos con jamón (fried eggs over potatoes with ham), some restoring patatas bravas (fries with "spicy" tomato sauce) and a revitalizing glass of tinto de verano (a less fancy version of sangria).

10. Endless Possibility for Adventure

I feel like I don't really have to explain this one, but I will anyways. Sometimes I stop dead in my tracks and have a series of profound epiphanies: I can go anywhere I want. I can do anything I want, I can have as many adventures as I please, anything is possible because I'm in Spain. Do I want to go to Sevilla next weekend? Yes, yes I do. How about Prague and Budapest for Spring Break? Yep. Croatia this summer? Sure. See the running of the bulls in Pampalona in July? Obviously. Take a spontaneous weekend trip to Munich? Why not*. (*As long as I'm getting paid... which hopefully the Spanish government will stay on top of.)

The best part is, I can have plenty of adventures without even leaving Madrid. I live in a city that constantly surprises me. Madrid is abounding with places to discover, sights to see, bars and restaurants to try, neighborhoods to explore and experiences to be had. It's impossible to feel bored here.

That's not to say I never get homesick, or that my life is as picture perfect as my Instagram account may look from afar. I assure you there are plenty of times when I spontaneously start tearing up because I miss my parents and my best friends, and days where I stay in my pajamas all afternoon and watch How I Met Your Mother reruns in bed for hours on end. Moving abroad is hard, no matter who you are or where you live. I'm just lucky I ended up in a city I click with. 

Spain, you may seriously lack in brunch, pumpkins and American football, but I really like you. I think I'll stick around.