February 20, 2015

Holidays in Gijón.

CovaDonga     
Well, it only took me about 3 months, but better late than never, right?  We're already passed the Valentine's season, and I realized after people kept asking how my holidays went here, that it was high time I sat my lazy butt down and started writing.
Cangas De Onis (with an ancient Roman bridge) 
The water was picturesque. Like a deep, aqua, green-blue
     I'll just cut to the chase. I've just passed my 4 months here in Spain, and things are still going splendidly. I'm finally getting a better handle on the lesson plans this semester, (Praise God!) and still getting to explore around the area, and loving the beautiful landscape. I am not, however, loving the weather. It's so cold and rainy. And people constantly tell me, "Yeah, but you're from near Chicago and it's so much colder there!" With my reply being, "Yes, but I'm not in Chicago, now am I? I'm here. And HERE, I'm ALWAYS freezing!!!"  (Keep in mind, we don't have heat in our flat, and the temperature has been hovering in the 30's and 40's the past few weeks. I have to go to sleep with thick socks, long layers, and I feel like I'm from the olden days, because I fill a hot water bottle and stuff it in my bed to keep warm.) Finally, we've had a few days of some sunshine and warmer weather, and it was just enough to improve my attitude. Who am I kidding - I was ecstatic. I always joke with my roommate, because it's so obvious what the weather is just based on my attitude and attire alone. On sunny days, I'm playing loud, beachy music, making all of these healthy dishes with fresh fruits, decked out in some form of bright pink clothing, singing and dancing... and then the rain hits, and I'm covered in black while eating my feelings, with a hat over my head and drinking coffee in a dark corner, listening to shadowed music. (whatever that means). I can only handle so many days in constant rain, wind, hail, etc. I was beginning to get a bit depressed, especially after people told me that even when we're in spring and summer, (depending on who you talk to) the weather never really gets THAT much better. It peaks in the low 70's in the warmest part of summer, still with it's occasional (or frequent) rain, and that's about it. Consider my bubble burst. On the bright side, (literally), I'm so grateful I've now had some sunshine, which has helped enormously! I'm also going to start taking some Vitamin D, and I've started making a lot of fresh smoothies, which seems to boost my spirits. And listening to a little reggae never hurts either. :)
     So, onto the holidays. The holidays in Gijon have been such a fun and different experience. I'm so grateful to the people I've met here, who have graciously opened up their homes to me so I wouldn't feel alone.  (Really - when you're living in another country, having friends makes ALL the difference! I can't stress that enough.) I wasn't really homesick at all, because it just felt so different here. Christmas isn't as big here as it is in the States. I did get to see an American gospel choir from Mississippi, which was so much fun. Everyone in the theater was dancing and clapping, even though I'm pretty positive they didn't have a clue what they were singing. But even in the midst of that, you could just feel God's presence and such a joy! Otherwise though, there aren't really any Christmas shows, concerts, ballets or anything. They did have some small Christmas markets, where there were some amazing baked goods, roasted nuts, hand-made crafts, etc. On Christmas Eve, my roommate and I spent the afternoon together, went for a coffee, and exchanged our gifts. Then I had dinner that night with my friends from England and Ecuador. I've learned that keeping myself busy and occupied is always the trick. (Especially since this was my first Christmas away from home. Ever.) It wasn't until Christmas morning that I had about 20 minutes to myself where I was completely alone, and then it started to hit. I missed everyone, my friends, my family, my dogs, and I just couldn't fight the tears. But thankfully I had been invited to eat Christmas dinner  with my friend Fernando and his family, which completely took my mind off of everything.  There, they made all kinds of traditional Asturian foods like Pastel de Cabracho (an amazing pink fish spread), paella (typical Spanish rice), Favada (like a soup with beans, pork, bacon, sausage...), meat and cheese trays, (they're famous for their cheese here), and the main dish was this amazing stuffed, whole chicken with pork and fruits. The name is "Pollo Relleno," and I've never had anything like it. Of course there was fresh bread, and salad. Despite the descriptions, everything was delicious! Then we finished with the typical Christmas Spanish desserts - Turron, Mazapan and others that I don't quite know how to describe. (You can Google it for a far better explanation than I could ever give). They surprised me with Christmas gifts as well, including It's a Wonderful Life, so that we could all watch it together and I could have a small piece of home. (Because my family is obsessed with Christmas movies!) It meant so much to me that I even started crying during Jimmy Stewart's, "My lip's bleedin? Burt! My lip's bleedin! Whaddya know about that!" Sigh. A wonderful Christmas indeed. Even with Spanish subtitles. :)
Some of the buildings had clothes from Santa, elves, etc "hanging out to dry", 
With some ladies from our tiny church, about to walk through the Christmas Market in Begoña.  (You can spot me by my gigantic scarf). 

A small snippet of a window Christmas display. 

Some of my friends threw a big Christmas dinner party at a local restaurant. We played games, ate a ridiculous amount of food,  laughed, competed, and here is a shot of the ladies with the flowers they bought for each of us. It was an absolute blast.

     After Christmas, I was sick for a few days, but then decided New Years Eve I was definitely going out, so I took a bunch of meds, chugged some coffee, and went to my friend Alejandro's where he cooked some traditional Venezuelan food (delicious!) and after we went to the packed Plaza Mayor, where they had a DJ, lots of dancing and singing, and they did the tradition of eating the grapes. That's exactly what it sounds like: During the 12 chimes of the clock at midnight, they eat 12 grapes, one for every chime, and you're supposed to make a resolution with each grape. (Truth is, you're probably just hoping that you don't hack and choke on one of them, because they're big grapes, and they always have those disgusting seeds). I managed alright, but I was surprised they didn't announce it beforehand or anything, like, "Hey! It's 10 seconds until midnight! Get ready!..." Nope. Everyone was in the middle of dancing and talking and then suddenly these chimes just start, and you're rushing to find where you put your bag of grapes, (small, sealed bags that they give you when you enter the square) and I was sitting there trying to shred my bag with my teeth and shove them all in my mouth as quick as I could. I think I got about 8, which they tell me is pretty good. I think they're just being kind. That night was a blast though. I made it until about 4am, and then I think my medicine started to wear off. The DJ went on until about 5am, and most of the people stayed out the entire night. They're party animals over here. I think I say that in every blog, and I mean it every time.So, fast forward to January 6th, which is their "real" Christmas. They don't really celebrate on Christmas Day. Typically, it's a day to eat big meals with all of your family, and maybe open one present from the newly adopted "Papa Noel".... but traditionally, they celebrate the Three Wise Men/Three Kings (everyone kept telling me a different name.) "Los Reyes Magos." They're the Kings from the bible story, who bring the presents for the children. I went to a few different parades, (where these "ancient kings" in their "ancient garb" came rolling in in their convertible BMWs.... authentic indeed) but all in all they were very pretty parades. I kept pushing little kids out of the way so I could see. hehe (insert emoji face with the full set of teeth and the "oooops" expression).
With Jo at the gospel choir concert. 

New Year's Venezuelan cuisine.
Eating our New Years dinner.  
Plaza Mayor, New Years Eve, before the party started.

Alejandro, Ana and I before we met up with the others. 
Plaza Mayor, New Years Eve. In the action. 

El Dia de Los Reyes Magos.  Oviedo, Spain
After the parade.
Confetti, and Melchor, one of the Three Kings.

At the parade in Oviedo, January 2015
     My two weeks for Christmas break were filled with sightseeing, dinners, coffee dates, etc. It was a wonderful time off, and since then, it has just been getting back into the grind. Now that my students are preparing for their Trinity exams (speaking English), my lesson planning has become a bit more organized and regimented for me, which has helped a lot. Last weekend was the Carnival here, which would be comparable to Halloween, I guess. Everyone dresses up in costumes and they have a big parade, and then you pretty much just celebrate and party all night. It's a bank holiday, so I was happy for an extra 2 days off of work. :)
Sightseeing in the mountains. 
On a mountain excursion. 
Out for my roommate's birthday dinner at the ever popular Gepetto's Italian Restaurant. 
Terrible picture of us, but Fernando and I hiking in Cabo de Peñas. 
View from the top, after hiking up a steep cliff. Cabo de Peñas. 
Hilltop view overlooking Gijón, the mountains, and the ocean. In person, it was breathtaking. 
On this hilltop, you can grill, picnic, camp... so guess what I'll be doing when the weather warms up!
At our favorite Italian restaurant in Gijón, D'Aldo. (It's always a fun experience, because he's  fluent in Italian and good friends with the owner, so they're always going back and forth and I don't have a clue what anyone is saying, but I don't care because I'm so enamored by my food....)

       All in all, I'm still having an incredible experience. I now have 2 nights where I meet with different groups of people and we do like a "Language Exchange," where we speak in Spanish half of the time, and then switch to English the 2nd half. It's an awesome mix of cultures. My Friday night group is made up of people from Spain, Peru, Scotland, Ireland, England, America... It's a blast. I LOVE meeting people from so many different countries and backgrounds. I also have friends from Venezuela, Ecuador,  Brazil, Japan, Germany, and others. This past Sunday, while I was at a ski resort (sitting in the freezing lobby, because I don't ski...) I met this amazing, gorgeous family that was half Spanish and half Italian, and they had lived in the US for a few years and were more than eager to speak English with me. They were so sweet. Then, last night, while out for coffee with my roommate, we overheard a small group of Spanish people practicing their English, so with my roommate's insisting, (as I didn't want to interrupt and make it awkward), they were so excited for us to join their table and speak English with them, and I now have a new weekly group to meet with. :) You just never know what opportunities lay around the corner!
Carnival, 2015
"American Footballer's"- in the words of my Spanish and British friends. I was the only American. ;)
This was our best attempt at being intimidating. 
     I  think it's safe to say that my Spanish is slowly but surely improving, and I'm thrilled about that! I still have a LONG way to go. But nevertheless, it's a start. We've also slowly been introducing "potlucks"around here, because it's not very common for people to have little dinner parties at their houses, whereas in the States, obviously, it's so normal! So every time we do it, I love seeing how excited they get, and you can feel how new it is for them. One of my English friends and I had the idea to have a dinner from "around the world" where we each bring a dish from our own stomping grounds. So, whenever it happens I'll let you know how it goes...:)
      I'm also happy to report that we now have a small oven!! (Ana surprised me one night, and I was so excited I jumped and clapped and hugged her!) So, I've been looking up all kinds of recipes to try. Once I've tackled basic english recipes, maybe I'll attempt a Spanish one. We'll see.
Our kitchen, after a "quick" trip to Ikea. The creative juices were flowing, and I stripped the kitchen bare to reorganize everything. 
My new oven! Isn't it adorable? I didn't even know they existed like this! It's so tiny. But it works. :) 
Other than that, I think I've pretty much covered the main points. I'm now trying to figure out plans for Easter Break, as well as what in the world I'm going to do after this school year is over. Prayers for direction and any advice are always welcome and appreciated.  If there's any other specifics you'd like to hear about, shoot me a message! 
Miss you all tremendously!
-Jessica

Until next time...
Enjoy the pics! 
Christmas Party
Don't let that innocent, snowy look fool you. That's after another hail storm.

Driving home from the Ski Resort in the mountains. It's amazing to me that this is so close to Gijón!