Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Guide to Granada.

I've recently decided that this blog, while originally created to relay my international escapades, has fallen woefully short of that intent.  Not that humorous introspection doesn't have its place, but I think I should try to switch it up a little.  Come with me now and take a walk though my streets: the streets of Granada.

You may be in Granada if...

#1. You may be in Granada if...when you order a drink, you get a tapa the size of your face with it...for free.

A "Los Pescadores" tapa captured by one Hannah Martone.

(For those of you not in the know, a “tapa” is normally a small serving of food that traditionally comes with a drink, originally on “top” of the drink.  I think it was created to keep flies from getting in the drink, but I can’t speak to the veracity of that theory.)  It's no secret that Granada IS the happeningist place for foodies of all tapas persuasions.  The size and tastiness of the free tapa will vary immensely depending on the establishment being patronized.  Some of the best tapas are located in my neighborhood, the infamously hip Plaza de Toros.  Caution: A lot of the time your brain is tricked into thinking that the tapa is larger than it actually is because of the massive quantities of bread served with the tapa.  Do not be fooled!  A restaurant of superior quality will not rely on bread alone, but will craft a quality tapa from a variety of ingredients for your dining pleasure.  Local Granadinos benefit from tapa restaurants of all sizes and varieties: Spanish, Moroccan, World-fusion, Spanish, French, Italian, and Spanish.  It’s deliciously dangerous.

#2. You may be in Granada if…you see weird stuff like this on the reg.

Just another typical day in Granada.

I don’t know if this happens as frequently in the other capital cities around Andalucía/Spain, but, to date, I’ve seen roving groups of teletubbies, vampires, the pac-men pictured above, and even boxes of condoms.  I’m sure there've been more, but that’s all I can remember for the moment.  If there is a purpose behind these shenanigans, it is completely lost on me.  I will say, however, that they have made me much more diligent about having my camera with me whenever I go out.

#3. You may be in Granada if…you can see the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains from almost anywhere.

View of the Sierra Nevadas from Avenida de la Constitución.

The Sierra Nevadas are the highest mountains in continental Spain.  While rather small in comparison to a lot of other mountain ranges around the world, they nonetheless contain a certain majesty.  I’ve had the experience several times where something stupid will be bothering me as I leave my apartment.  As soon as I get to Avenida de la Constitución, however, I have the view pictured above, and I remember, “oh yeah, it’s not that big of a deal.”  I can’t quite explain it, but feeling small is healthy from time to time, methinks.  It’s a great reminder that the world, in fact, does not revolve around me and my silly problems.

#4. You may be in Granada if…you have one of the most awe-inspiring cathedrals in Spain at your doorstep.

Definitely worth the 3,50€ entry fee.

The Granada cathedral, according to one Rick Steves, is the second largest Gothic cathedral in Spain (after Sevilla’s), and is one of only two Renaissance churches in Spain (high five to Córdoba for having the other).  One thing that makes this cathedral especially unique is the brightness of the interior.  Most cathedrals are rather dark inside, whereas Granada’s is exceptionally bright.  If it weren’t so expensive to go for a visit, I would probably go once a week or so, just to take it in.  I think it goes back to that “feeling of smallness.”

#5. You may be in Granada if…you see this wherever you go.

The unwashed masses of Granada.

(The above picture is normally accompanied by a wafting weed smell.  Cig smoke may, however, be substituted from time to time.)  I’ve said it before, so I won’t dwell on it again for too long.  Granada, being the hippie capital of Europe, is home to all varieties of unwashed youths, hanging out with their dogs, doing nothing nothing with their lives (I was going to say something nicer, but…I chose honesty instead).  I think my biggest problem is that I just can’t understand why these people are here.  I mean, I guess self-expression and blah blah might have something to do with it, but it’s mostly just beyond me.  At least they don’t go around asking everyone for money like the Gypsies.

That’s all I have for now.  I hope you enjoyed a walk through the beautiful Granada!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brain pain.

It's often said that as humans, we don't use more than 10% or our brains, or something like that.  Sometimes I believe it, and other times I know this is completely ridiculous.  Allow me to expand upon this idea.

First of all, idiots are everywhere.  Allow me to use some visual evidence.

Examples of people using 10% of their brain (courtesy of Failblog):

Completely unacceptable.

Creative...but, c'mon.  Seriously?

I don't know what's more ridiculous: that there are enough
drivers are doing this that it's a headline, or that the TTC's solution
is to tell people to stop taking pictures...rather than getting the drivers to stop texting.

There's lots of stupid to be had in the world.  I don't think this comes as a shock to anyone.  That being said, however, there are many times when I feel my brain heading into a state I call “over think.”

This typically happens for me under three circumstances: when trying to fall asleep, after sending a potentially anger-inducing text message/email to a friend, and when under pressure to accomplish something in a short amount of time.

I think we can all relate to the first of these.  Thankfully this isn’t every night, but it’s not uncommon for me to be lying in bed with the lights off, saucer-eyed, while every synapse in my brain is ablaze pondering every possible outcome to every possible situation to every circumstance that has happened, is happening, or will happen in my life.  “I sure had fun this weekend with so-and-so, I wonder when we’ll hang out again, am I going to have time this week?  What am I doing this week?  Shoot!  Did I plan lessons for tomorrow?  What classes do I have tomorrow?  What time it?  What day is it?  Did I brush my teeth?  It’s so cold in here.  At least it’s warmer than in Paris.  I wonder what the weather’s like in Paris?  I haven’t talked to Paula in a while. I wonder what she’s doing.  Shoot!  I was supposed to talk to her today.  I wonder if she wants to go to Amsterdam in a few weeks…” ad infinitum. 

That is only a very brief excerpt, believe you me.

The second (and worst) happens when I decide to go out on a limb with a friend.  Usually it’s someone I don’t know extremely well, but am just beginning a friendship with.  It’s at the point where you’re starting to joke around more, becoming more comfortable with the person, but you still can’t quite be 100% your true self because, let’s face it, you’re a little weird.  (Well, this mostly applies to myself; I can’t speak for everyone reading this.)  I’m maybe emailing or texting back and forth with someone, and I decide to get a little punchy/sarcastic in a message.

In my brain, the chance this individual will get pissed off because of this message increases exponentially over time:

  • 5 minutes: “Meh, s/he’ll probably think it’s funny." 
  • 30 minutes: “Hmm.  ::rereads message::  Should I have said, ‘might,’ instead of ‘may be'?  Oh well they’ll get it.  I wonder why they haven’t responded though…”
  • 2 hours: “Crap, I hope I didn’t stick my foot in my mouth."  ::Rereads message again::  "No no, it’ll be fine.  They’ll text back really soon.”
  • 6 hours: “OOOMMMGGGGGG!  Why am I such an IDIOT!"  ::Franticly reread message::  "S/he is sssoooo pissed.  Good thing I have other friends.”

Of course 99% of the time this is all rubbish.  Chances are that the next time I talk to this person, if I reference the text message, I’ll be met with a blank stare of incomprehension, followed by, “oh yeah, haha, what did that even mean?”  Or, on the rare occasion I’ve made the intent of my message known, I’ll normally be met with a, “it’s fine,” or, “of course I’m not angry.”  Phew.

The third type of “over think” normally occurs when I’m working on lesson plans for the next hour/day (usually sometime in the very present future).  This is the most distracting of the three, as I’m usually using the Internet for my lesson creating, and the Internet, let it be said, is nothing if not a procrastinator's drug of choice.  My brain normally darts between lesson planning, skype-chatting, gchatting, facebook chatting, facebooking, emailing, lesson planning, weekend trip planning, reading the news headlines, getting a new email, lesson planning, and talking to anyone in my immediate vicinity.  My newest technique to combat this is to have a blank piece of paper nearby on which I can write down all the fleeting thoughts that pass through my consciousness.  Having a nice To Do list is great.  Not that I necessarily get everything done, but at least I can focus on the task at hand and leave those stray thoughts trapped, immobile, on a piece of paper.

While still a work in progress, I've made great progress in all three aspects of my condition.  If you're a fellow "over think" sufferer, take heart!  There is hope for you too!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Golden Years.

I'm 25 years old.

That may not seem old, but for someone that is only halfway to 50, I've gotten a pretty good start on doing a lot of the things common for someone in their dotage:

For starters, I've rarely met a 3-for-2 sale I didn't like, especially when it concerns getting sweaters dry-cleaned.  I doubt I'm alone in this.  After all, who doesn't like getting something for free?

I love me a good sweater vest.  Not to the point where I own one, but sometimes I could almost see myself getting one at a Goodwill store.  I have worn them before, however.  They are nothing if not dangerously dapper and impossibly comfortable.

One of my most cherished past times is getting 10 hours of sleep.  While this is obviously completely unnecessary, it'll make you feel like a new person.  Guaranteed.

I still relish the opportunity to take a good nap in the afternoons.  If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: If napping is wrong, I don't want to be right.

One of my favorite television shows of all time is the Emmy Award winning program, The Golden Girls.  I am in no way ashamed or embarrassed by this because, when it comes down to it, this show is hilarious.  Everyone can relate to it, regardless of age.

Sofia, Blanche, Rose and Dorothy: The Golden Girls.

Let's move swiftly to things I severely dislike:

I generally abhor staying up past 2 am (though it's fun occasionally).  This mostly comes from the fact that staying up super late requires skipping life the following day.  I went out a few weekends ago until 7 am, got back and went to bed, woke up at 3:30 pm, and then only got out of bed to make dinner with a friend.  After she left, I left the dishes in the sink, crawled back into bed, and stayed there until I was overcome with sleep.  Less than ideal.

People talking loudly outside my apartment (this is also in general).  I realize that I currently live on the ground floor, but c'mon, do you have to have a yelling conversation at 7 am?  It just seems unnecessary.  And who has the energy for it that early?

I have no patience for stupid kids playing stupid music too loud on their stupid cell phones while wearing stupid clothes and “sporting” stupid haircuts.  There is apparently no shortage of bad haircuts here in Spain.  It’s quite shocking how someone can get a haircut that, in the States, would do irreversible social damage, and everyone here seems to just pretend that nothing happened.  And don’t even get me started on the groaty dreadlock epidemic that is in full swing here in Spain.  It’s disturbing. 

It must be said, however, that all of this pales in comparison to one of my biggest pet peeves: What really gets me going is good-for-nothing, unwashed youths hanging out in parks with their damn dirty dogs and taking all the premium bench space.  It's the worst.  And of course, it just so happens that I live in the hippie capital of Europe: Granada.

Don't ever say God doesn't have a sense of humor.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I think being healthy is killing me.

I've been trying to be healthier lately.

Remember this guy?

It's nothing really new really.  I like feeling healthy and, though I'm not the most active person, do enjoy a good run, a trip to the gym, a hike, or other activities along the same lines.  It's hard with my work schedule right now to find the time to do such things.  My typical day resembles somewhat the following:

  1. Wake up between 9 and 11:30
  2. Waste time online
  3. Get some breakfast and coffee
  4. Go grocery shopping (only if I have literally nothing in the fridge)
  5. Eat lunch sometime between 12:30 and 1:30
  6. 1:30 - Get in the shower
  7. 2:15-2:20 - Leave my apartment to meet my teachers to ride to school
  8. 2:45 - Meet teachers and drive to school
  9. 9:30 - Get dropped off by my teachers in Granada
  10. 10:00 - Arrive back at apartment

Even though I don’t “work” per se the whole time I’m at school, I try to plan as many lessons as I can to get ahead.  I’m usually in front of various classes for at least 2 hours, performing an overly excited routine to try and get the students interested in speaking English: Big hand gestures, silly jokes, extreme facial expressions to show if someone is right, wrong, or really close to being right, the works.

Of all these things though, I think the aspect that is the most exhausting is trying to talk to people who simply don’t understand what the hell you’re saying.  So you have the de facto language barrier that exists in the classroom.  Then, when you leave the classroom, SURPRISE!  There’s another language barrier!  Now you have to talk to everyone in Spanish!  Throw in the odd French teacher, and it’s a recipe for mental exhaustion.

All that to say, there’s no way I’m going to throw on my runners, change into sweat pants and a parka and go for a run on the 30º, windy, pitch black streets of Granada.  No thank you, sir.

So what’s the alternative?  Well, I found this great website that creates exercise routines for you that you can do in your own room.  Plus there’s a great way to track what you eat.  I’m not trying to lose weight or anything, but it’s good to be conscious of what’s going into your body, ya know?  Just trying to make good choices.

The other day I did the first workout.  It was pretty simple stuff: two part push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts, horrible horrible one-arm push-ups, etc.  I felt really good after.  I felt good—though sore—the next day too.  I even went out to a discoteca and danced the night away until 7 in the morning.  I merrily thought to myself as I was boogying down, “Exercise and I are going to be best friends!”

I think that might have pushed me over the edge a little.  I woke up around 3:30…later that day, and had this weird sensation running through practically my entire body, my arms especially.  It wasn’t pleasant.  It was as if Exercise had taken my plea for friendship and said, “NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’m finally feeling better, and am ready to pick up the cross again: I’m not one to give up so easily.

The other important aspect of being healthy—so they say—is drinking your daily eight glasses of water.  Now, technically (so the Internet tells me), you’re supposed to drink an amount of water relative to your weight for “correct hydration.”  Thus, I’m supposed to drink 10 glasses of water daily.

I’m here to tell you that this is not only impossible, but also uncomfortable and stupid.  I’ve never hated water so much.  After glass six I’m ready to switch to anything else.  Seriously.

The other stupid thing about drinking that much water is the innumerable opportunities you miss out on in life because you’re preoccupied by the constant search for the nearest bathroom.

It’s quite unfortunate, really.

All this in mind, it’s a well-established fact that beginning something new is always the most difficult part of doing it.  So I’m going to press on, obstacles be damned.  I hope all of your New Years resolutions are going just as swimmingly, if not better.  If you’re still doing something new into February, congratulate yourself: You’re winning.

St. James of the Field of Stars.

This past weekend I had the great fortune of heading to the farthest Northwest corner of Spainland to the city known as Santiago de Compostela.  That region, called Galicia, is distinct from the rest of the country for several reasons:

·      it rains every day and is super cold
·      they eat tons of fish and, especially, octopus
·      they speak two languages primarily: Gallego and Castellano (Castellano is the technical term for proper, correct Spanish)

It was a fantastic weekend that started off a little rough.  Our flight was out of Málaga at 6:15 in the AM.  And for those of you who have been keeping track, I live in Granada.  That’s about two hours away, by bus.  It’s definitely not the most convenient way to fly around the country, but it’s usually the cheapest.  So it’s not uncommon for those living in the surrounding provinces to converge upon Málaga to fly somewhere else.

Anyway, so I caught the last bus from Granada to Málaga with a friend.  We got into town around 11:30 pm and met up with two other people we were traveling with, and then headed to the airport.  Our reasoning for spending the night in the airport was that, because we’d have to get to the airport at 5 am anyway, it would make more sense to get there the night before, take our time, and just chill, then walk the 100 feet to the security desk.  What’s the point of going to a friend’s apartment, arriving after 12, going to sleep around 12:45 or 1, then waking up again at 4 to get dressed, call a cab, then get to the airport? 

Well, the point is that in one of these scenarios, you can sleep for three hours.  In the other....you just sit there waiting sleep or death, whichever comes first, while a baby cries in the background for five hours.

All nighters were never my thing in college, so this is an experience that is somewhat newish to me, still.  I’ve been fortunate.

When the office finally opened to do the check-in, we were the first ones in line, surprise surprise, and it was then that we found out that you absolutely, 100%, do or die, have to have your passport on a RyanAir flight, or else you are screwed.  This wasn’t anything mind blowing, but for my friend I came with from Granada…we had an issue.  After going back and forth with RyanAir, Vueling and Iberia, it eventually came to pass that she couldn’t join the rest of us on our journey to the north of Spain.  It was very sad.

So it was with that weighing heavily on our hearts (plus the lack of sleep) that we headed off on our adventure.

I didn’t actually feel horrible that day, but it sure wasn’t comfortable.  I kind of felt like my head was floating off my shoulders, and a little bit like my stomach wanted to jump out of my body.  However, the three of us kept our spirits high, and even the apocalyptic fog that had settled onto the city couldn’t dampen our spirits.

Until about 1 o’clock that is.  Then we all hit the wall.  Actually, I think we hit the wall around 10 in the morning, but we pushed through for as long as possible.  At that point, the beds in our hostel were ready, so we took a 6-hour siesta.  Más o menos.

We woke up and went to dinner, exploring the city by night.

Santiago is much more medieval than Granada or other cities here in Andalucía I’ve visited.  It makes sense, I suppose.  While the south of Spain was in the grip of North African Musilms for about 700 years, the far north remained relatively European.  Thus the streets of Santiago were grey and twisty, there were Gothic and Romanesque arches everywhere.  It felt much more like the old neighborhoods of little French towns.

We saw pretty much everything we were hoping to the first day, so the second day was for seeing things again if we liked them, and walking around in the sunshine.  And eating an ungodly amount of food.

Weekend well spent.

The Fog.  This is at almost 9 am.  The sun is technically up.
La catedral de Santiago de Compostela.
Cooked octopus on the left...and a salad on the right.  (We didn't go 100% Gallego.)
End of the Camino!

The cathedral by night.