Friday, March 11, 2011

New Apartment, New Start

You know what's amazing? The fact that such a small change, such as moving to a new apartment, can make everything seem so brand new.

I'm officially all moved in to my new place and couldn't be happier. It's a tiny little studio apartment, but it's my own space. No one else's. Just mine. Not that I don't like sharing, it's just that it's so nice to come home at the end of the day to a place that is all my own.

It's in a perfect location, too. I now live about 10 minutes away from the bus station where I take the bus to work every day. So now instead of having to take the metro for 30 minutes to get to the bus station, I have a little morning walk and I'm there. It's fantastic. It's also in a great, lively area with tons of restaurants and bars and young people. Plus, I'm now living right next to my friends Robin, Tom, Marcus and Lupe, so it's a little added bonus!

And now it's time to give you a tour of the new place! (which, let's be honest, won't take long)

First up is a shot of my "living room." You can see my storage places and my little tv and on the right is one of my balconies. That's right...I have multiple balconies.

Next up is my kitchen/entry way. Conveniently located right next to my living room/balcony area.

And here we have a close-up of my kitchen area, complete with all the necessary amenities: sink, mini fridge, microwave, stove, washer AND bottle of wine. All the important things for a happy home.

On the other side of the apartment is my "bedroom." The bed is actually a futon that doubles as a couch for my living room, but so far I've mainly just left the bed out. Next to the bed you can see my other balcony. And, as you can also see, I'm still showing my Oklahoma pride. :)

Here is a shot out of one of my balconies that faces onto my street and directly across into another building. At night we can kind of all see into each others' places, but it's all good. I've never been much of an exhibitionist before living in Spain, but it kind of comes with the territory here. You can also see that this balcony also doubles as my "dryer." Gotta love hanging the laundry out to dry. (side note: next time I write a "Things Jordan Misses," I will write about dryers)

Here is a shot of my street from out on the balcony. You can kind of tell that it's a lively little area with tons of shops and tons of action.

Here is another shot of the bedroom area but now converted back into the living room. So my big comfortable bed becomes a big comfortable couch.

And last but not least, my "dining room." I have a little folding table that can extend out even further than this depending on how much company I have. And with the size of this apartment, I honestly doubt I ever have a ton of people over at one time.

The only thing I don't have pictures of is the bathroom, but it's pretty basic. Shower, sink, toilet and that's about it. I'm sure you can imagine it.

Anyway, I'm really happy with the new place and happy with my new start. And I honestly think it's the perfect way to live out my last few months in Spain.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Amsterdam, Ik hou van je.

Translation: Amsterdam, I love you. In dutch, of course.

As always, the time is flying and things are happening and I'm failing to take the time to sit down and write about it all. I suppose part of this can be blamed on the fact that I have moved apartments and don't currently have internet. Which makes it kind of hard to write on the blog.

So I believe the last place I left off was talking about my upcoming trip to Amsterdam. And before I continue, I just want to point out that this is the perfect example of why I love living in Europe. Anytime I want, I can hop on a plane and be in a foreign country with a whole other language and a completely different set of people. Weekend trip to the Netherlands? Sure, why not?

So anyway, along comes yet another random Spanish holiday that gives us a long weekend. As always, I had no idea what the holiday actually was for and none of my Spanish friends or coworkers could explain it to me. However, the fact remained that it was time for a little vacation. Much needed, of course.

So my friends Lupe, Rachel and I hopped on a late flight from Madrid to Amsterdam on Thursday night to fully take advantage of our three day weekend.

The first thing I want to point out is that flying with an actual good airline instead of a cheap airline like Easyjet or Ryanair was INCREDIBLE. I officially love KLM. Tons of free food and drinks, friendly stewardesses, flights on time, and no people on the speakers constantly offering to sell you lottery tickets, bus tickets, cologne, etc. etc. I need to fly with real airlines more often.

Lupe on the left and Rachel on the right are showing how excited we are to be in Amsterdam AND how much we love KLM.

So by the time we got to Amsterdam and got to our hostel, it was around 2 in the morning, so we ended up going straight to bed. But the next day we got up fairly early and headed out to see the city.

Unfortunately, the weather gods and I always seem to butt heads. As you can see here the days were overcast and kinda rainy the entire time. What you can't see is that it was freezing. But whatev. You can also see a good example of typical Amsterdam. Canals that run throughout the entire city and beautiful buildings and houses situated right on the canals. Everything just looked so.......dutch.

And aside from kind of being the Las Vegas of Europe (neon lights everywhere and the smell of marijuana gently wafting from the many, many "coffee shops" in the city), it was pretty awesome.

Of course we had to take some pictures with the famous "I amsterdam" sign. You can never avoid being a tourist, you know?

And this picture shows a good example of how we chose to fight the cold. Amsterdam is completely full of bakeries and coffee shops (the non-marijuana kind) and they are all DELICIOUS. We stopped and had pastries, sandwiches, coffees, etc. as often as possible and we were always satisfied. My waistline and my wallet both prove just how much I enjoyed the Dutch food.

And their apple pastries were always INCREDIBLE.

Of course when one thinks of Holland, a few things come to mind. Tulips, apple pastries, and clogs. Here is a picture of Lupe in one of the clog stores somewhere in Amsterdam. There were tons and tons of them hanging all over the walls and the ceiling. Although they don't look too terribly comfortable, they were really cool looking. I bought a small one for a souvenir.

And luckily, I found that the store did, in fact, make clogs big enough for my big American feet.

One of the favorite things that I did in Amsterdam was make a visit to the Anne Frank house, where the Frank family spent over two years in hiding during WWII. For those not familiar with the story, the Franks were a Jewish family who had fled to Holland to escape Nazi Germany. Later, after Holland fell to the Germans, they went into hiding in a small annex at the back of a storage/office building. They spent two years hiding from the Germans and eventually someone betrayed the family and told the Germans about them. To this day no one knows who it was.

The house became so famous because Anne Frank, who was 12 years old when the family first went into hiding, kept a diary about the family's experience in hiding. After the war, Anne's father (the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps) published her diary. For anyone who hasn't read the book, I highly recommend it.

Seeing the house in person was incredible. I can't imagine living in such cramped, dark spaces for such a long period of time, all the while being terrified of being found out and captured. This picture is of me in front of the front door of the house.

And I ended up finding a pair of clogs that fit just a tad bit better....

So all in all it was a great trip. Very cold and very rainy the entire time, but awesome to see another new country. Just another reason why I love living in Europe.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Trip to the Coast, Some Life Changes, and Lots and Lots of Rain

Man, it's been a while since my last post. I'm going to blame it on the fact that it's been a really, really busy couple of weeks and leave it at that. But suffice to say, I haven't had a ton of time for blogging.

I guess first and foremost, I should start with my trip to Valencia. On the first weekend of the month, I left school on Friday afternoon, headed straight for the bus station, and readied myself for the 4 hour bus ride from Madrid to the Mediterranean coast.

I've made the trip several times now to visit my Valencian friends that studied at OU and I've gotta say, I kind of enjoy the long bus ride. It gives me some solo time to just read, or listen to music, or just kick back and relax and ponder things. Alone time is something that I never really appreciated before coming to Spain, but I've found it to become some of my most treasured time.

Anyway, I arrived in Valencia around 11:30 at night and my friend Dini was nice enough to pick me up from the bus station and take me to my friend Xamu's house. We were having a mini-OU reunion because our friend Susana was going to study in Australia for 6 months and it was kind of her goodbye dinner. Naturally, I arrived just in time for the end of dinner. Typical.

But they were all happy to see me, mostly because I brought presents. Specifically, I brought bags and bags of candy brought all the way from good old Oklahoma.

Here are my friends Paz and Susana holding up the Twix, Reese's cups, Butterfingers, and Almond Joys that I brought to everyone. I was definitely happy to see that they were such crowd pleasers.

After everyone finished up eating, we hung around Xamu's place for awhile so that we could all chat and catch up on things. Lots of gossip about old OU friends and lots of chatting about what we're all doing with our lives. We're all in our mid-20s and few of us are very certain about where our lives are going. So it was nice to relate with everyone on that. Here is a picture of Susana, me, and Dini (the one who picked me up from the bus station).

Later on, we decided to go out on the town. I let the Valencians choose all the places to go because there is honestly no better way to see a town than with a native leading you around. Here are my friends Cobra (real name is Alejandro), Xamu (real name is Jaime, Spaniards love their nicknames), Paz, and Susana.

We ended up going out to a bar mostly populated by 40 to 50 year old women, so things were pretty interesting. We stayed out until around 5, fairly early for Spaniards. But Sus had a long goodbye weekend with all of her family and friends, so we had to get her home and rested up.

The next day I spent with another friend of mine from Valencia named Koke (real name is Jorge). We both were pretty tired and didn't feel like doing much, so after a much-needed siesta, we drove out to a place called the Albufera. It's this HUGE salt water lake that is kind of an inlet from the Mediterranean and it's a famous spot for going at sunset. The next picture proves why:

Seriously one of the most picturesque places I have ever been to. Absolutely gorgeous at sunset. Really breathtaking in person and, as with so many other pictures, this picture just doesn't do it complete justice.

The weather was so nice that after seeing the Albufera, we also went on a little stroll on the beach. Yes, folks, that is the Mediterranean and a completely deserted beach. But it was beautiful and it is always so refreshing to be near the Sea. For both the body and the soul.

After coming back, I had to face some changes that started speeding my way. Basically, a lot of it revolves around moving to a new apartment. No, it has absolutely nothing to do with fighting with my roommates or my landlord. I won't go into it too much on here, but when I get moved in to my new place, I'll throw some pictures up of it all. Maybe I'll explain later, but I promise, it's actually a very boring story.

And other than that, we've had a rainy spell here in Madrid. And I mean really, really rainy. Rainstorms in Spain are not at all like rainstorms in Oklahoma. In OK, the storm comes in, floods us with rain, and goes away all in the span of a day. In Spain, it's a slow steady rain that lasts for days and days and days at a time. And winter is unfortunately the rainy season in Madrid. So mix the really cold weather with tons of rain, and it gives you a lot of depressing weather.

So I guess that's it for this update. I maybe did a few other things throughout the last couple of weeks. Went out on the weekends and met up with friends here and there. Hung out with my friends Robin, Rachel, Lupe, and Lizzie. And maybe those stories will get told later. But for now, I'm done and done.

Expect my next update to include lots of pictures of Amsterdam because my trip to the Netherlands is this weekend! Woo hoo!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Small Victories

An old OU friend of mine recently wrote a blog post on her site about how nothing major had really happened in her life during the previous week, but how it is always important to recognize the small things in life and to celebrate those small victories that happen every day. Otherwise the small things can start to get you down.

I can relate. I feel as if I have quickly slipped back into the daily routine of life here in Madrid and find myself thinking about how I have not made any major accomplishments in the last week. It's really an incredible phenomenon that one can live in a foreign country and still feel as if things are mundane.

So it's time to celebrate my small victories and appreciate the little things that have happened in my life lately. Let's do it!
  • Body Factory Gym received a new member last Tuesday when I finally decided to do something good for myself and signed up for a gym membership. I've found that I have really become pretty lazy when it comes to doing things for myself, so I finally jumped on the gym bandwagon. (and I feel like I should note that a lot of the motivation for this also came from peer pressure from my co-workers) And I've actually already worked out several times. So yay me.
  • I FINALLY booked some trips for myself to get out of Madrid for awhile. I'm going to Valencia next weekend and then Amsterdam at the end of the month. One of my goals for the time I have left has been to do more traveling because I know after leaving in the summer I probably won't be back for a while. Valencia is always fantastic because I have some really great friends who live there and the Netherlands is a place I haven't been to before. So it looks like I've got some pretty cool places to look forward to!
  • Speaking of the two previous bullet points, I made the decision that the money I make while over here doesn't do me a whole lot of good just sitting in the bank. So even if cool things (like the gym or a plane ticket) cost a little extra money, it's all worth it in the end. It's just money, right?
  • I downloaded two new books (one is a historical thriller that supposedly has received high marks on amazon and the other is a Salmon Rushdie novel, and he is an author who I have recently become obsessed with) and have been reading away once again. Seriously, the Kindle is pretty much the best 150 bucks I've ever spent.
  • I made some new Spanish friends in the past few days, and for some reason that always makes me feel kind of accomplished. Like my Spanish is good enough that actual Spanish people like to talk to me in their native language. Or maybe it's just that I'm the foreign guy who sounds funny when he speaks. Either way, I've got new friends.
  • I re-connected with some old friends who I haven't talked to in a while and that always makes me feel good, too. I always fear that one of the biggest sacrifices I've made in my years over here in Spain has been my friendships from back home. It's really tough to maintain close friendships when you're an ocean apart. But I'm working on it and this week I did a pretty good job, I think.
  • I downloaded some new music, which seems awfully insignificant, but trust me. With my hour and a half commute every day, good new music can be a life saver.
So, as you can see, nothing major in the life of Jordan these days. But some decisions were made, steps taken to further myself, and some big things planned. Individually, everything would seem awfully minor. But together it makes me realize that my life is pretty dang good.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Lesson in Spanish Culture...and Marketing

Disclaimer: This is not being posted out of perversion. It is being posted to prove a point. So before you judge me, watch the whole commercial and read what I have to say. And then judge away.

As a student in Oklahoma, I studied international business and marketing. With that in mind, the way the Spanish culture expresses itself, both in real life and in the world of advertising, is absolutely FASCINATING to me. Seriously.

Exhibit A: The above advertisement.

First, let's analyze the ad itself. For a little background info, this is an ad that is shown on prime time television on all the major television networks in Spain, so it's not just on "special" networks for men. From an American standpoint, my first thoughts were that it was for condoms or something equally sex-related. There is so much gratuitous skin and less-than-subtle sexual context that I really couldn't fathom what else it could be advertising. (And be honest, if you're an American, you thought the same thing.)

And then BAM! IKEA!


I think it can definitely be said that an ad like this would just never fly in the much more conservative (comparatively) American culture. We're just not that comfortable with our bodies and public displays of......well, anything, really. It just wouldn't work. (I mean for the general public. I'm sure there are some demographics out there that would love it.) And plus, I just don't think we can connect sex and furniture superstores. The American mind just doesn't work like that, I'm afraid.

Now, the Spaniards, on the other hand....I mean, it is a long-running commercial in Spain. Guess that kinda speaks for itself.

First of all, Spaniards don't see gratuitous skin as anything major. Take a trip to any beach in the country and check out all the topless women and men in Speedos and it's something that is painfully (and I mean that literally) obvious. And the nudity is no big deal to everyone around, despite the fact that you want to poke your own eyes out.

Also, public displays of affection are extremely commonplace here. Take a trip to any park, theater, supermarket, metro station, school, workplace, etc., etc., etc. and you'll get an eyeful.

So as long as this ad doesn't show the actual sex act (which it comes awfully close by an American standard) then it is A-OK. And what's more, the Spaniards can get past all the skin and sex and actually make the connection between what's happening in the ad and the joy of buying and having great, impossible-to-put-together furniture. And that is FASCINATING.

Right? You all agree with me, right?

BAM, you just got a free lesson in international marketing.

And that'll be enough nerd time for tonight.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oh, Hey There 2011

So now that all of those boring old 2010 updates are out of the way (ancient history, really), I can finally start moving on into the new year.

As I said before, I really strongly believe that 2011 is going to be a hell of a year. I really have no concrete idea on what is in store for me, but I do know this: it will. be. AWESOME.

So far, the year has treated me pretty well. First and foremost, about a week in and it got me out of Oklahoma! Doesn't get any better than that, am I right?

Oh, just kidding, of course. It was sad to leave home after a really great couple of weeks.

But getting back to Spain is always pretty fantastic as well. After living in Madrid for about a year and a half, it feels as much like home as anywhere else. So it was nice to get back to the familiar sights and sounds (and smells.....not quite as welcome) of my vida madrileña.

This time around, I seemed to have a lot more problems with adjusting to the jet lag. Sometimes it works out for me, sometimes it doesn't. But my first week back at school was kind of hellish because I didn't sleep well at night and therefore was exhausted during the day. Which meant that I naturally took out my anger and frustration on my 6 and 7 year olds. Because there's nothing like the tears of a child to really brighten my day.

Oh, just kidding again. But I probably was a bit crabby during the week, to be perfectly honest.

So the first weekend, what did I do to try and get myself back on schedule? I went out on Friday AND Saturday night and stayed out until 7 and 8 in the morning. Which I suppose is pretty much on Spanish time.

Friday night I spent the evening with some coworkers, Marcus and Callie, and we had a very unexpected and eventful night. Started out having a drink after work, then proceeded to Callie's place to have some wine and relax, then moved out into the city where we managed to keep ourselves occupied all night long.

Saturday night was spent with my friend Robin, who cooked yet another amazing meal (for proof of her food's amazingness, refer to my Thanksgiving post) and then we also enjoyed ourselves out on the town.

But as fun as the Madrid nightlife can be, once you're past the age of 18 it can be a bit hard on your body. So what happened? Oh yes, this week I got pretty terribly sick. What started as a cough became a wheeze became a full-fledged hacking chest cold.

I took Friday off because I could barely talk and spent all that day plus the next in bed. Finally on Sunday I started to feel normal again and was ready to get out of the house. Luckily, Lupe was also feeling some cabin fever, so we met and went to watch this movie:

English translation: "Even The Rain." Apparently it's up for some awards and it was pretty good. I don't know if I would pay 8€ to watch it again, but still not too bad. And it's always a treat when I watch movies in Spanish and realize that I fully understand what is going on.

Later on we went to a park in northern Madrid called "Parque del Capricho." Despite the freezing cold (great for my lungs, I'm sure) it was a really beautiful day, so I snapped a few pictures.

I love this one because there is such a contrast between the green grass and the blue sky. There really wasn't a cloud in the sky that day and it made the cold more bearable.

And here is shot of me and the beautiful Guadalupe. You can't really see me at all, but that's probably for the best. I still wasn't quite at 100% and wasn't looking my best.

Another beautiful shot of the park. And as proof of the level of coldness, note how the stream is frozen. According to the other Americans I work with (Marcus and Tom from Nebraska and Callie from Wisconsin) this weather isn't even remotely cold. But all I know is that this Oklahoman thinks it's FREEZING. Northerners. What do they know anyway?

Apparently the Spanish agree with me, though. As evidence, I present to you:

One of the many, many, many women who never leave the house without their luxurious fur coat. Even if they're in tennis shoes and going to eat at Burger King. Lupe and I actually laughed at this and it's such a weird Spain phenomenon. Spanish women love their fur coats at all times, even when it's not all that cold.

So anyway, 2011 has been treating me pretty well so far. And I'm always excited to see what else it has in store.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Update #3 - Christmas Across the Globe

And now....for the third installment of updates from waaaaay back in 2010.

Ah, Christmas. A time of perpetual happiness and joy. A time of giving and receiving. A time of goodness and laughter. A time of vacations from work.

Which of the above do you think I was most looking forward to? Cause let's get real for a second here....a teacher's life is neither glamorous nor rich (in the monetary sense). But the vacations make it all worth it, especially the two weeks off for the Christmas season.

But no, in all honesty, the Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. Everything from the Christmas lights and decorations to the hustle and bustle of the shopping crowds. It's really a great time.

As the countdown began to the big day, I was still in Spain because school continued until December 23rd. Which was fine even considering the fact that I would be cutting it close to get home in time for Christmas (cue Bing Crosby's "I'll be home for Christmas").

The last week of school was actually really fun. Instead of giving real classes, I mostly just talked about Christmas with all the kiddos, painted pictures, played games, sang carols, and just had a good time. And even though we teachers told ourselves it was having fun with the kids in the spirit of Christmas, we really knew that it was because we couldn't have forced them to focus on anything else at the time.

But the kids really were great, and seeing the kids sing "Frosty the Snowman" and "Jingle Bells" was pretty fantastic when you take into account that these are 6 and 7 year olds singing in their second language. It really is amazing to see the kids develop and grow and actually gain skills thanks to the work that I've done with them. Extremely rewarding.

So anyway, along comes December 22nd (I was leaving on the 23rd to fly to the USA) and I realized I still hadn't taken any pictures of the Christmas lights in Madrid. So I braved the cold and the rain and the massive last-minute shopping crowds just to get a few shots of the beauty of the city at Navidad.

Here is a shot of the massive tree in Plaza del Sol, right in the center of the city. And when I say massive, I mean several stories tall. Pretty incredible.

And what would Christmas in Spain be without the Three Wise Men? Kids here don't write letters to Santa, but to the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men) and parents take their kids to sit on their laps for pictures. Really strange for a foreigner like me who was raised in a Santa culture, but definitely cool.

And here we have the Plaza de Callao, not too far from Sol, with yet another massive tree and even a fake ice skating rink. Which is interesting, because instead of ice there was a plastic covering. Not sure how it worked, but hey, the kids loved it.

Here is Cortylandia, a favorite of all the little Spanish niños. El Corte Inglés is a famous store in Spain where you can buy absolutely anything you need. Every year they make this massive display for the kids and parents bring their kids to the store just to see the show. It may not look like it in the picture, but the stage and statues are several stories tall.

And one last shot of the Christmas lights over Calle Mayor. These are my favorite lights in the entire city because they stretch the entire length of the street. Really beautiful.

So after my stint walking around and enjoying the lights, I then realized that it was nearing midnight and I was leaving the next morning.....and still hadn't packed. Typical Jordan style. And basically that meant that I got home with a suitcase full of completely random stuff, most of which I ended up leaving at home.

But I was extremely lucky to make it home with no delays and no problems, which is very rare for me. I almost never make it home without delays and cancellations, so I'll just chalk it up to a Christmas blessing that I made it home on time as planned.

Now, one of the things I always look forward to upon arriving in the good old USofA is having my Mom there to greet me at the gate. Because it's always a guaranteed crying-fest and it warms my heart. haha But I was really looking forward to getting home and seeing everyone, because unlike many people out there, I'm lucky enough to have an awesome family who I love spending time with. As crazy and weird as we all are, it's always guaranteed fun when we get together.

Since I didn't get into Dallas until after 9 at night, that meant I didn't get home until after midnight. Which meant as soon as I got home, I went straight to bed to sleep off the nearly 24 hours of travel that I had just finished. But the next day, the festivities began.

Christmas Eve is when my family usually exchanges presents, so as soon as I woke up on the 24th, this little guy pictured above was waiting for me to help tear into some gifts. My nephew Colt it my little sidekick every time I go home and it amazes me how much he has grown over my time in Spain. When I first came to Spain in August of 2009, he was so small and still very much in the toddler phase. Now I can carry on a full conversation with the kid and it's always a guaranteed laugh. And teaching 1st and 2nd graders have left me equipped with just the right conversation topics to really fit right in with him.

Of course my Mom is a proud Nonni to the little kids. And she is always ready and prepared to pose for a photo. So here she is with my nephew and Mickey in the background.

And here we have my other nephew, Cade, who is around 9 months old with my Dad and my grandma in the corner. This is another kid that I'm shocked and amazed at how big he is. When I left just this summer he was still tiny and in that boring-but-cute phase. Now he's so expressive and developing his personality. I can only imagine what he'll be like when I see him in the summer.

And here I am jamming out with my brother and sister-in-law. The nightlife in Oklahoma might not be quite the same as the nightlife in Madrid, but it's still a good time.

And one last picture of Colt jamming out on the drums.

So, not to get too serious or sappy on here, let's just suffice to say that I had a fantastic time at home. And it went by WAY too fast. But as always, it just showed me that, although it always hard to leave, I always have a great place to go home to.