Hasta Luego, Logroño

Well, it’s been awhile, hey?

I’ve finished my year of teaching, and had originally planned to spend the summer in Logroño taking intensive Spanish lessons. Due to some unexpected family circumstances, I’m actually in the process of moving to London/in with G! But worry not, because I have quite the backlog of travels to update on, and a three week trip around Eastern Europe I’ll be leaving for in just a few short weeks. Lots of writing to do before then!

So, how about a quick wrap up of my year in Logroño? I say quick, but I have no idea where to start, really. It was one of the best years of my life, but nothing like I expected. I was expecting something a bit more like studying abroad–a huge crew of friends, drinking maybe a bit too much, feeling like a real visitor. Instead, oddly, I felt at home immediately. I don’t think my schedule or life changed much from LA to Spain. You know, other than a daily siesta.

When I first arrived, at 1 am, jet lagged, lost, overwhelmed, and desperately missing Katie, I parked at Parque Espolon and walked from the beautifully lit park to my flat just around the corner. As I saw my new home and roommates for the first time, I immediately knew it would be an easy settling in process.

touching down for the first time

first night

last morning

Logroño, I hope, will always feel like home. I know the art store next to my flat, the chocolatier a few doors down. The grocer who always gave me a discount on fruit. The bus driver who would wait that extra 30 seconds as I ran from the school right as it was meant to be leaving. Seeing the pilgrims walk the camino I used to dream about, years ago in Boston. It’s a small city, and I know the streets well. I walk them and feel capable and happy. Even Spanish, which sadly I didn’t come close to mastering, stopped being a barrier. Stopped being anything I worried about. I went to the dentist for x-rays, I got my cat a pet passport, and then went back to get it fixed when it was filled out incorrectly, twice. I got a bike fixed, went to the doctor’s a few times, finagled myself a last minute regreso, filled out all my renewal paperwork, and then amended it twice. By the end, I even made some dreaded calls–no hand gestures or facial expressions to rely on. I don’t speak Spanish. But I survived in it. And I’m going to keep taking lessons here in London.

I made friends, but not how I expected to. Other than my roommates, my American/English friends were few. But the kids I taught? They were friends. After my last day all my students found my instagram and one messaged me saying her parents wanted me to know if I ever needed anything, they would try to help. The English teacher and I had plans to meet up and speak only in Spanish. She left me with pages and pages of worksheets the students had had to translate from Spanish to English. I have to do the same. My last days at school I had dozens of letters and gifts from my kids, and it was the sweetest goodbye. Sometimes they were monsters, but I came from a tough industry and luckily a bunch of 6 year olds did not have the ability to phase me. And when I had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency, one of the families I gave private lessons to helped me sort my paperwork and another looked after my cat for almost three weeks, just happy to help. I really met the best people.

 

I’m sad to have left, but so deeply, incredibly glad to have had the time there I did. Am I done with Spain? I don’t know. I want to explore the south so badly–had I gone back next year I would have been in Granada, and that I think will always feel like the city that got away. But I have other things I need to do. Start a life, a daily life, with my incredible partner. Also probably live in Italy, and Mexico, and maybe Amsterdam? But I know this… I’ll go back to Logroño, walk the streets and remember it as home. And I am definitely not done with Spanish.

Hasta Luego, Logroño!

 

 

 

 

Spain – 6 month update

Hmm, just maybe I fell behind on these? Well, what better month than to check back in than month six. Half a year in Logroño! As much as I have traveled in the past, this is the longest I’ve ever been abroad. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t miss Katie/LA, but overall this whole process has been much easier than I ever expected. I think a lot is due to how easy life in Logroño is, to the fact that I felt really ready to do some traveling, and to the close proximity to my friends in London and G.

I posted recently about the best and worst things about living here, and it’s all still accurate. The weather has finally turned and it’s been downright warm a few times already. I got a sunburn during my crazy bike ride adventure! I sat by the river in a t-shirt and ate ice cream! What is this Los Angeles?!

The shift in weather has also brought much more energy and motivation with it. Sometimes I wonder how I could accomplish so much or stay so happy in LA and I’ve decided it’s 100% the weather. I’ve also decided this is the last winter I’m going to experience for a while. Hopefully I’ll be getting that confirmed sometime soon when I hear back about my placement for next year.

Big events since my two month update include:

Thanksgiving in London

December trips to Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Wroclaw

My mom coming to Spain and spending Christmas with G’s family in England

An incredible New Year’s Eve

Lee visiting me in Spain and our trips to Pamplona and Belgium

The Super Bowl

Rachel visiting Logroño

Faye visiting Logroño


As for work, I’m still loving my private lessons and still struggling with the school placement. I’ll update more after everything’s over, but it’s hard being alone in a classroom! I have seven and a half weeks before my contract is up (but who’s counting, right??), and feel ready to not step foot in an elementary school for a few months.

I’m still finalizing it all, but I think I’ll be able to spend a few months here after the school year ends. I’ll take 3-4 hours of Spanish classes a day, and just enjoy the summer. I am a pretty big nerd and so excited to get to spend some time learning and feeling like a student again. Also after all that my Spanish better be at a place I can be proud of, I feel pretty plateaued at the moment.

I’m going to take a few tests this summer as well, probably the GRE as it’s good for five years, hopefully a DELE exam at the end of my Spanish lessons, and then a test that is the first step in a years long application for my dream job that I won’t be posting about until after it’s over. But basically I’m spending all my free time studying for it, hence the lack of updates here.

very serious student right here

As of now I’m still studying like crazy, working on a new cross stitching project, and will soon have a little more than two weeks off for Easter which I’ll be spending it in Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. I’m SO excited.

Logroño Bike Ride

There’s a tourist office in Logroño right down the street from my apartment. It’s pretty excellent, mostly because they let you rent a bike for free as long as it’s returned by 6:00 pm. What service!

(You also have to be willing to ignore that the bikes are huge, heavy, and sans kickstands, but you get what you pay for, right?)

The tourist office also publishes a handy little book of the best hikes and bike rides throughout La Rioja, and while I have done some pretty epic hikes in Spain so far, I’d been wanting to do the one bike ride that goes through Logroño for months. The weather changed a few weeks ago, and when my friend visited from LA we decided to give it a try!

We didn’t get far. At all. But it was still gorgeous and we had a picnic by the lake, so really, we won.

I tried again the next weekend with my roommate. The issues with this route were the following:

  1. The information packet didn’t provide a more detailed map than the below. The first part was fine as it was on the well marked Camino, and the last leg was on the GR 99, but we were totally on our own from Navarette to Fuenmayor. We ended up lost and on the side of a highway for a while. Not ideal.
  2. The bike ride was labeled “bajo” and estimated it would take 2.5 hours to finish. WHAT! Whoever wrote such lies has CERTAINLY not done this bike ride! It took us a full six hours. SIX HOURS. We got back at 5:51, just barely returning the bikes in time. And easy? The entire ride was uphill, until one very steep hill at the VERY end of the journey. And we live in a mountainous region, so when I say uphill I mean huge inclines.

That aside, it was a gorgeous ride. It was obviously great exercise, and if I were to do it again, I think I’d enjoy it more because I’d be better prepared (i.e. bring more than one bottle of water and ANY food/sunscreen). Also I would definitely ride in the opposite of the suggested direction. It would be one huge hill to start and then mostly downhill the rest of the way. Also when we arrived in Fuenmayor we found a dirt road with a sign saying it would go to Navarrete, and whatever road that was meant to be was not nearly so well labeled coming from the other direction.

I’d recommend this ride, but only going from the other direction, and only if you’re prepared to make a full day of it. If you are, it’ll be gorgeous!

Six Reasons You Should Move to La Rioja (and three reasons you shouldn’t)

When it was time to reapply for my second year as an Auxiliar de Conversación in Spain, I had some serious decisions to make. Second years get priority, so if all goes as it should you get your first choice. This year I was placed in Logroño randomly because my first three choices were full, and I feel so lucky for that. I love this city. My family loves this city. It feels like home. That said, I did feel a drive to explore a new area of Spain, and so was faced with a difficult choice. If you’re also struggling to figure out where to live in Spain, hopefully this list of the best and worst things about La Rioja will help you.

 

The region is so small that no matter where you work, it is possible to live in the city. You may have an hour commute, but at the end of the day you’ll be coming home to a decently sized city, and a gorgeous one at that.

And the people. Everyone is so nice. Like, extremely nice. The families I teach private lessons to have been my favorite part about this program. They are generous, patient, and want me to love La Rioja as much as they do. I have rarely met someone grumpy or unfriendly, and even the city bus drivers generally find a way to show their kindness.

The cost of living is insanely cheap here. My rent is 180 a month, a glass of wine is about .80, a night out with food and drink can easily be 10 euros or less. Yet the city itself is generally wealthy. People dress to impress, spend their money on classes and activities, and private lessons pay at the top of the range, 15 euros an hour for one student, or 20 for two. Living here as an aux, I’m paid the same as auxiliares living in Barcelona, San Sebastian, Palma, or Valencia, where the cost of living is much higher.

The Spanish here is easy. Logroño isn’t a tourist town, to the extent that whenever I hear a native English speaker I don’t already know, I pause, and try to figure out who they are and what they are doing here. As a result, the people here are not accustomed to switching over to English whenever they hear someone with an accent, or struggling for a Spanish word. In Madrid or Barcelona, when I try to talk to people, pretty much as soon as I open my mouth they switch to English. That never happens here which was terrifying at first but I think the major reason my Spanish improved so rapidly.

Also Northern Spain is GORGEOUS. It’s mountainous, it has a beautiful coast, and the landscapes are to die for. La Rioja is one of the northern most cities that speaks exclusively Spanish, instead of Spanish, and Basque or Catalan or Galego. It’s also home to some of Spain (and the world’s) best wine. It is pretty much in the center of northern Spain, meaning I can get to Burgos, Pamplona, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Leon, and more for under two hours. It is a great base for weekend, or even day trips.

The size/culture is perfect (for me anyway). I’m a lot older than most of the people doing this program, many of whom are either just out of college or doing their year abroad now! For them, the small size and lack of crazy nightlife might sometimes be frustrating. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist–I live in the center of town and the noise outside my bedroom window lasts until 5 am on the weekends–but the main culture here isn’t discotecas, it’s a few pinchos with wine while entire families–babies, toddlers, grandparents, surround you. It’s relaxed, welcoming, and very chill. My kind of place. It’s also only got about 150,000 people, which I thought I would hate coming from Los Angeles, but as an introduction to a new country/language, it has been perfect. Also I’ve never lived somewhere safer. I have dropped my guard so much I’m a little terrified to ever live in a major city again.

So, how could I leave? Why should anyone pick a different region?

I asked myself that over and over, even though I knew I would. It was hard to shake the feeling that a second year in the program should be as adventurous as the first. By the time this year is over, I will be very familiar with northern Spain, and it’s really difficult to get from here to the south, which is apparently like an entirely different country. Another year exploring the same place felt like I was playing it safe, so I ended up requesting Andalucia as my first choice. My second choice was pretty random, Castilla la Mancha, but Toledo and the other cities in the area look gorgeous, and from talking to people it sounds like the area has all the things I love about Logroño, but in a very different location. Plus it’s also only 33 minutes by train from Madrid.

That is one of the main reasons I’d say you shouldn’t live in La Rioja. The lack of a nearby airport.

I generally have to fly out of Madrid (a 4 hour bus ride) or Barcelona (6 hours). And these buses never line up the way you want, meaning I’ve spent more nights than I can sanely handle sleeping in airports to catch 6 am flights, or arrived home at 5 am on a Monday and had to work at 9 am that same day. There’s an airport in Bilbao, but it’s much more expensive and really only cost effective to fly to and from London. And on my way back from London after the New Year, we had a terrifying landing experience that I have since been told is entirely common in Bilbao!

Another downside to the size and location is that it is SO Spanish. Great in so many ways, but on days where you are craving Mexican or Indian or Chinese, it can be so frustrating. Nothing is open during siesta and everything (even the grocery store) is closed on Sundays. I understand this is part of Spanish culture, but you’d probably have more variety in a larger city.

 

Last is the weather. I grew up in Boston and thought I could handle winter. But then I lived in LA for five years and my blood thinned or something, because it’s not even that cold here and it’s killing me. The darkness, the rain, and the constant chill wears on you, and I am so excited to (hopefully) live somewhere a bit warmer next year.

Overall, Logroño is an amazing city. I HIGHLY recommend anyone pick it, especially first years as I think it’s an amazing introduction to Spain and a good way to go relatively native, compared to Madrid or Barcelona. Ever since I sent in my application to renew, I’ve already been feeling nostalgic for this place. I love it here. I love my apartment. I love my street, the cathedral, the weird siren that goes off at noon every day and no one knows why. This feels like home, and it’s one I am so so happy I got to have. Maybe I’m making a mistake leaving, but at least I’ll have challenged myself, again, to try something, and somewhere new. I won’t be able to do that forever!

 

How to apply to teach English in the Auxiliar de Conversación Program in Spain

The application to be an Auxiliar de conversación in Spain for the 2017-2018 school year is officially open, and will close this April 18th. The number of people applying this year already feels so different than last–in 2016 I applied in late February and was around number 3500. This year, they had already hit 1,000 applicants within 24 hours of opening. I stayed up and applied right at midnight and am still nearly number 400. That’s crazy!

One of the hardest parts about the Auxiliar program is the application. Maybe as a result of being free (though there are other free government programs that are not the disaster this process is), it’s pretty poorly designed and explained. I’m going to try to make a step by step guide to help anyone who was as confused as I was. I have information both for first year applicants and renewals down below.

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