Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dreaming of Barcelona + Eat Guides Giveaway

Lately, I've got Barcelona on my mind. 

I first visited this enchanting city four and a half years ago when I was traveling through Spain and France with my mom. While my desire to return has been persistent throughout the years, it has noticeably intensified these past few months.


If I make it back to Barcelona sometime this year - which hopefully I will - there are quite a few things that I'd do differently. Here's what I'd love to see and experience next time I'm in the Catalonian capital:

My Barcelona (Round II) Bucket List:

- Go when it's warm enough to lay out on the beach
- Feast upon fresh goodies at La Boqueria
- Finally experience the nightlife
- Seek out the best views in Barcelona
- Spend more time at Parc Güell
- Visit Montjuïc
- Re-do Barcelona as a foodie


What stands out to me the most is my desire to re-do my Barcelona culinary experience and actually get to know Catalan gastronomy. I missed out on so many mouthwatering traditional dishes because a) I didn't know what I was looking for, and b) I was lazy. I'm ashamed to admit that I went to the Hard Rock Café twice for dinner when I was there... foodie blasphemy, I know. 


That's why I wish I had read Eat Guides: Barcelona four and a half years ago. This handy guidebook created by The Spain Scoop gives you the low-down on all the best restaurants in the city, where to find them, and what to order. 

Of the eight million people that visit Barcelona each year, I highly doubt all of them are experiencing the sublime gastronomy that Catalonia has to offer. I know I sure didn't. That's why co-authors Regina Winkle-Bryan and Adrián Benítez Martos poured their hearts into creating this extensive guide. Their thorough and honest recommendations are meant to prevent visitors like me from having to suffer through less-than-mediocre meals in Barcelona.

This week I'm giving away two free copies of this comprehensive guidebook, which would normally cost $4.99 each. Save yourself from any sub-par eating experiences in Barcelona and enter below to win a free copy!



Good luck!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Auxiliar de Conversación

While being an expat in Spain may sometimes seem glamorous from the outside, my day to day life is far from the extraordinary. So what am I actually  doing over here? Drinking sangria and watching bullfights all day? (Not quite.) Much like most of the people I know back home, I also have a job that involves waking up early, commuting, and subsequently battling a serious caffeine addiction. Here's a peek into my daily routine as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid:



It may still be pitch black outside, but it's time to get up and start guzzling coffee!


It takes me an hour to get from my apartment in the city center to my school in Galapagar, which is located in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. Although it's far, it gets me out of Madrid's pollution and into the fresh country air. I also get to watch the sun rise over the city skyline during my bus ride, so I really can't complain.


Time to brace myself for countless hugs and greetings such as, "Good morning, Teacher!", "Teeeacher, you look bery pretty today!", and "Hello, Corni!" (It's seemingly impossible for most Spaniards to pronounce my name. But at this point, it's endearing.) I spend the next five hours teaching English, Science, and Arts & Crafts to my darling third and fourth graders. I'm just a language assistant, so I'm always working alongside another teacher and I (almost) never run the classroom by myself.  

Sometimes it's exhausting, but that doesn't stop me from loving every single minute of it. I would have never thought that I'd want to pursue a career in teaching, but this job has convinced me otherwise. My name is Courtney and I want to be a teacher when I grow up.


And thus commences my lengthy return back to Madrid! At this point my stomach is audibly growling, and I'm more than likely complaining about it. 


By the time I get home, I'm absolutely famished. Quick and easy salads, pasta dishes and leftovers are usually my lunches of choice. The Spanish meal schedule is unique in which meals are eaten much later in the day than we're used to back in the States. Believe it or not, 3:30 is actually a normal time to be eating lunch around here.

Time to relax at home sweet home


Once or twice a week I use this time to actually nap, but most days I take advantage of this designated resting time to catch up on blogging and writing, work on the social media for Madrid Food Tour, organize occasional activities for school, catch up on emails and plan upcoming trips.


By this time, I'm ready to do fun things with my friends and explore the city. I'm always up for discovering new hangouts, but more often than not you can find me close to home in Conde Duque or Malasaña. Late afternoons can be spent enjoying glasses of wine or tinto de verano in sunny plazas, having picnics at Templo de Debod, Tinder practicing my Spanish, or bumming around Federal.


...or any other tasty Spanish treat that I'm craving! I also occasionally try my hand at cooking, which  thus far has been pretty successful considering I've only  started one almost-kitchen fire. I love going out to eat and discovering new restaurants, but my English teacher budget can only support so much of that.

There's nothing quite as satisfying as ending the day with a savory tortilla española


Time to finally catch some zzz's. See ya tomorrow, kiddos!


Have you ever taught English abroad? How did your schedule differ?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celebrating Cervantes in Alcalá de Henares


Did you know that Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than any other book in the world, aside from the Bible? I suppose you could say that Miguel de Cervantes is kind of a big deal in Spain. So, it's no surprise that his hometown hosts a fiesta of epic proportions to celebrate his birthday every year.


This past weekend I ventured to Alcalá de Henares to celebrate Cervantes at their annual medieval festival. Just a 45 minute train ride away from the center of Madrid, this charming UNESCO World Heritage Site is where the acclaimed author was born and baptized. 

Nestled between the picturesque buildings and lively plazas, one can find many homages to the iconic creator of Don Quixote. Alcalá de Henares is also home to one of the oldest universities in the world, and it's where Christopher Columbus had his first meeting with the Catholic Monarchs to receive funding for his voyage to America.


Of the festival's many attractions, the most prominent was the medieval Quixote Market. An abundance of colorful stalls lined the cobblestone streets, each selling handcrafted goods, mojitos, flower crowns and delectable fall treats. 

The intoxicating smells of freshly grilled meats, sizzling crepes and roasted chestnuts wafted through the air, prompting us to follow our hungry bellies through the maze of mouthwatering temptations. As we hopped from stall to stall, vendors in period costumes sold us piping hot castañas, savory Manchego cheese, and pimientos de padrón fried and salted to perfection. I think it's fair to say that we were in foodie heaven.


Between the medieval costumes, music, processions and treats, the Cervantes festival in Alcalá de Henares completely captured my heart (and my stomach). I'd love to go back again when I have even more time to explore and admire the quaint town. While I still have much to discover, Alcalá de Henares has easily made my "favorite day trips from Madrid" list. Espero que nos veamos pronto, Alcalá!

Have you ever been to Alcalá de Henares?
What's your favorite day trip from Madrid?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Spanish Drinks I Can't Live Without

Earlier this year I posted about the 5 Spanish dishes I can't live without, but what would a divine Spanish meal be without a tasty libation to accompany it? As if the mouthwatering gastronomy wasn't enough, I'm also spoiled by the variety of delicious beverages that this country has to offer. Here are my five favorite Spanish drinks that I can't imagine life without:

Tinto de Verano

Comprised of red wine and lemon Fanta or Casera, this is what the locals drink in lieu of sangria. This refreshing beverage is perfect for hot summer days, tapas crawling and lively outdoor terraces. Although it translates to "summer wine",  I prefer to drink it all year round - especially when it's paired with huevos rotos or tortilla!

Where to Order It In Madrid: Any sunny outdoor terrace


Red Wine

Recently, Spain has surpassed both Italy and France by becoming the world's biggest wine producer. While 86% of Spanish wine is shipped abroad, many quality bottles can still be found here at a shockingly low price. Just 2,50€ for my favorite glass of Rioja? Sold. The two superstars of Spanish reds include Rioja and Ribera del Duero; Riojas are lighter and fruiter, while Riberas are smokier and fuller bodied. I'm personally a big fan of both, although lately I find myself ordering Riberas more often.

Where to Order It In Madrid: De Vinos, Casa Gerardo Almacén de Vinos


Cortados

While most people I know prefer to start their morning with a café con leche, I get my energy from sipping several cortados throughout the day. Served as a shot of espresso with a splash of milk, its petite size packs a punch without tasting overwhelmingly strong.

Where to Order It In Madrid: Toma Café, La Bicicleta, Federal


Mojitos

Although mojitos don't actually originate from Spain, Madrid is abounding with bars and restaurants that serve sublime versions of this classic Cuban cocktail. These refreshing libations are best served on a warm evening, preferably as you await a feast of gourmet pintxos. Don't shy away from flavor-packed variations such as berry, watermelon or passion fruit!

Where to Order It In Madrid: Lateral, Lolina Vintage Café


Vermouth

As the capital's chosen aperitif, this sweet drink has become thoroughly engrained into madrileño culture. Around noon - especially on Sundays - you can find many locals partaking in la hora de vermut, or "the hour of vermouth" over pre-lunch appetizers. The undertones of cinnamon and nutmeg pair perfectly with Campo Real olives, Marcona almonds, and a myriad of other savory tapas.

Where to Order It In Madrid: Bodegas Ricla, Bodega de la Ardosa



What are some of your favorite Spanish drinks?
Are there any that you can't live without or are dying to try?

Friday, October 3, 2014

On Blogging and the Writing Process

One of my favorite parts about being a blogger is the opportunity to connect with other writers. This community is abounding with individuals who inspire me to become a better writer, photographer and blogger. They captivate me with their stories, insights and writing styles - and some of them have even become good friends along the way!

Recently I was nominated by Jessi of Two Feet, One World to participate in a blog hop about the writing process, and I thought it would be interesting to share a side of the blogging world that I don't normally discuss.

Jessi's stories and photos from her extensive travels always inspire me to explore new cities, countries and cultures. I think it's fair to say that her blog is a significant contributor to my ever-worsening case of wanderlust! You can read her post about the writing process here.

Writing has always been one of my greatest passions, and it's the very reason I started this blog. Since I've never really addressed the topic of writing here, this blog hop is meant to give you the inside scoop on what I'm working on and why. So here goes...

What am I working on?

Right now I'm finishing up some posts about last year's travels, as well as working on others that focus more on Madrid and expat life. In addition, I'm a contributing blogger for Utrip. Currently I'm continuing my "48 Hours In..." series, but you can find my other work here. I've also just started my internship running the social media for Madrid Food Tour!


How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

I'm not an expert, so I don't pretend to be. I try not to write things like "The 5 best blah blah blah you HAVE to do in _____", because if I was only in that city for three days, then who am I to tell you what to do? Do I definitively know what's "best"? Probably not. I try to make my posts more personal, because the internet doesn't really need another generic travel blog. I like to focus on imagery when I write, because I want my readers to envision themselves in the places I blog about. I use my photography to supplement this - but I still have a lot to learn!

Why do I write what I do?

Traveling is what I'm the most passionate about, and I want to inspire others to see the world. Also, writing about my adventures (as well as photographing them) is a way for me to digest my experiences and look back on it all. Writing is extremely cathartic for me, so I often feel the need to spill my words out onto paper (or in this case, a computer screen) to fully absorb it all.

How does my writing process work?

While most people assume that I'm an extrovert due to my social nature, I'm actually a huge introvert. This isn't totally conducive to being a teacher in a Spanish elementary school! When the school day is over, I'm incredibly drained and need a solid 2-3 hours of alone time to recharge before I can go out and do fun things with my friends again. This is usually when I get my blogging done, because writing in solitude is one of the most effective ways to replenish my energy.

I prefer to finish a post in one sitting rather than working on it a little at a time. Once I bunker down and get the draft of a post done, a lot of editing and re-writing comes into play, and then I mess around with the arrangement of my photos. I tend to proof read it about 15 times before I actually publish it, because I have an irrational fear of misspellings and simple grammar mistakes. (Blame it on the slight OCPD.)


While I would have never guessed what kind of doors writing would open, I'm excited to see where it will take me next. Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing, but at the end of the day writing is a hobby that I've fallen irreversibly in love with.

So in the spirit of blog hopping, I've nominated three of my favorite bloggers to also share their insider tips on the writing process!

Cassandra of Gee, Cassandra


After falling for Spain during a study abroad stint (typical!) Cassandra Gambill returned to call Madrid home in 2010. She loves tortilla, paseos, and Spanish reds (also typical). Her blog chronicles English classes gone awry, the nitty-gritty of living abroad, and trips around Europe and Latin America with her Colombian boyfriend. That last bit may not be very typical--she'll leave it for you to decide!


Jessica of Curiosity Travels


Jessica is a native Californian, over-thinker, spicy food lover and serial expat. She has studied and worked in South America, taught English in Korea, backpacked Asia and currently lives in Madrid, Spain. You can follow along as she calls different parts of the world home via her blog, Twitter and Facebook.


Lauren of laurenonlocation


Lauren is a native New Yorker starting her second year working as a language assistant in Madrid. Her new blog features expat life in Madrid, a sprinkling of travel stories, and other ramblings covering life's adventures.


And thank you Jessi for nominating me for this blog hop!