Thursday, 9 April 2009

final travels. for now anyway.

once through with barcelona,... i took a 6 am train to san sebastian, spain where i met alex (the american girl whom i took to lisbon some weeks back). we had a super time climbing the mountains, seeing the views of the city, eating exquisite seafood and picnics on the beach. the beauty there is sensational. the photos don't even do it justice. we climbed to the top of the mountain where you can see the entire city with the ancient architecture right along the beach. probably one of the simplest, yet most satisfying things i've done this whole trip.

we both trained back to madrid together and cooked our last dinner before i caught my flight the next morning. a 3 hour layover in london and the most turbulent flight ever - and i was finally back in new york. after an hour or so in customs, i charmed the security guard into letting me skip the luggage search line. i brought in serious amounts of tuna that i didn't feel like explaining. some of my favorite people were awaiting my arrival and it never felt so good to come HOME. i was welcomed by homemade cupcakes. it doesnt get much better.

i'm having a little trouble with the jet lag. and my internal clock can't figure out if it;s time to eat eggs or pasta.

see final mini-video below. but i'm hoping to complete "spain in 7 minutes" compilation video including candids with the fam. that's to come later.

hope you've enjoyed. thanks for stopping by!
bcn & san seb from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

second home

... and here they are. the loves of my life.

we had an emotional last supper together as a family. they were departing for their vacation, and i was leaving for final travels. after our feast, the kids surprised me with a card they made filled with pictures of us and memorable quotes. the whole family signed it and told me i always had a home with them. then they presented me with a gift... a small print of the famous gustav klimt painting "the kiss". we saw it together while in the south of spain. i taught them about the artist and told them that the painting was in fact hanging incorrectly. but we all shared appreciation for it. i was so touched. we were all a crying mess.

the next morning we hugged for about 20 minutes and said our goodbyes. then i trained it to barcelona where i met up a girl whom i met 2 years ago while backpacking. we were on the verge of peeing our pants all evening. half from drinking so much, half from laughing so hard. its rainy here today. me and some hostel mates climbed to the top of the city. tonight i have to stay up late so i dont miss my 6 am train to san sebastian. this should be interesting.

as for the family... i love you, i will miss you always. thank you for everything.

Friday, 27 March 2009

status update

i'm wrapping things up here in spain. i gots about 10 days til departure back to new york. and my upcoming week is pretty packed:

2 days in the mountains
2 days in madrid
3 days in barcelona
2 days in san sabastian
back for a few hours in madrid
then a few more in london
and then home sweet home.

i'm not sure when i'll get time to write about my upcoming travels, so bare with me. i should be able to make a few small ones here and there. and then one large concluding post upon returning home.

i heart spain, but i miss brooklyn. first thing i'm gonna do when i get home is purchase a big fat american cinnamon raisin bagel toasted and smoothered with butter. then i'm gonna inhale it.

and hopefully sometime i can find a job to be able to afford the bagel.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

family road trip: huelva, spain

located on the southwest coast of spain, there is only a short bridge separating these beaches with those of portugal. with about 6 hours in the car, the kids split their time serenading me with spanish sing-a-longs and american classics like james taylor. they really are storybook adorable. because the fam forgot their camera, i taught the kids how to use mine. we covered video, flash settings, and even shutter speeds. we took ghostly night photos and a ridiculous amount of beach pics. they had a blast and i've secured my reputation with them as 'cool'. when i tried to take a complete family photo, they insisted on using the self timer to include myself, as the photo would not be complete without their "older sister." i'm not gonna lie, i teared a little.

with 3 full days we did nothing except eat, drink, beach, eat, drink, sleep. repeat. we saw some cool stuff in between, like donkeys & flamingos & even a zebra. we ate exquisite dishes every night including black pig and something similar to squid. the family was greeted by local restaurateurs with hugs and drinks on the house. we even took home a complimentary pig leg the size of a turkey. the more sangria the parents made me drink, the more amused they became. i've never had so much fun being so unproductive. i somehow forgot to bring sunblock and now they call me their little 'langosta'. it's spanish for lobster.

fam road trip from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

for now i'm taking a somewhat impulsive mini trip to toulouse, france. remember the kansas boys via lisbon?...

Monday, 16 March 2009

sunny days and cool nights

i've been hanging out with my spanish bff's and my new american buddy this past week. we've been having yummy dinners, going out to bars to see spanish bands play new orleans style music, and drinking all day in the sun. the warm weather allows for cuter outfits and more excuses to go out. yesterday we all went to a big plaza where hundreds of 20 and 30 somethings gather to hang out and drink from noon til nite. we were introduced us to the best tasting mojito, ever.

this week the family is taking me on vacation to their resort home on the beach, in huelva, located on the south west coast of spain facing portugal. i'm super psyched. we leave wednesday and don't return until saturday so be patient for the updates.

lalatina from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

the cat whisperer

this is my friends house

and this is her closet.

look again

drunken braiding

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

spreading the word

ok. i know this is off-topic, but it's incredibly important to me. so i've been obsessively researching and trying to get my head around my next endeavor: southeast asia. i've wanted to go since forever but i've had a different kind of vacation in mind. i've been contacting ngo's and other humanitarian organizations to try and find a place where my bff and i can donate our time and work. ideally we would volunteer in an children's orphanage. not knowing exactly how to go about this, i contacted a friend who's done this sort of thing before. she put me in contact with Barton Brooks, my new found hero. this guy started a non-profit from scratch, Global Colors, that goes around the world helping communities in need. he is truly inspiring and has done such an amazing amount of service. he is also really freakin' nice and has personally responded to my emails giving me advice on my upcoming mission. he keeps a blog documenting his work. he most recent post has really effected me. and i believe sharing is caring. so here it is.

his current project on tour is Guerrilla Aid. at the moment, they are in Uganda assisting a small village known as Batwa. these people are not considered human by their government. they have nothing. his minimum request is to buy chickens for the children to have eggs. 1 chicken costs $7. i bought 2 after reading the story and seeing the videos. then, as a multi-cultural english class, i explained the whole deal to my 14 yr old student. she then responded with "how many euro is equal to $7?" i told her around 5 euro. and dug into her allowance, handed me a bill and asked that i contribute on her half.

even if you can't donate. at least educate yourself:

Monday, 9 March 2009

the charms of lisbon

a weekend was hardly enough. first, our hostel was awesome. good vibes, good energy... great staff. a cute little portuguese lady even secretly made us free crepes. and my travel partner/fellow english tutor has turned out to be my new homie.

overnight trains there and back.. we spent most of the first day walking around, seeing cool shit, and taking it all in. we even tried Ginjinha, a typical portuguese cocktail served all hours of the day that consists of bitter cherries infusing some kind of smooth sweet liquor. later, we heard about a place to have a good meal and hear fado (traditional music of lisbon of which old fisherman's wives used to sing of longing for their husbands). this place was soooo what we were hoping for. not accessible by public transportation or even car, t'was a tiny hole-in-the-wall at the end of a very long, very narrow, very dark street. there were no more than 5 or 6 tables. the owners were an elderly couple, the husband being the waiter, the wife being the cook. we had a feast of Bacalau, a typical fish plate, and all the fixins. then entered grampa, the fado guitarist. then the grandson and other family members appeared to join in on the singing. they took turns for the remainder of the night and even encouraged audience participation. we had plans to eventually go out bar-hopping, but this place was just too cute to leave. they accidentally forgot to charge us for our bottle of wine, so we made up for it in the tip.

day 2 was without itinerary. we sort of wandered around hoping the wind would blow us in the right direction. and it did. we randomly met some fellow americans (kansas boys via france) on a bus and since their day plan sounded much more concrete, we decided to follow them. they turned out to be uber nice and quite adorable. superfun for everyone. they are on a mission to bring "that's what she said" to france. hilarious. one handyman even fixed an annoying defect on my camera. [i am forever indebted] we saw some great views of the coast, ate famous pastries, and played around on a beach in cascais. we topped it off with a meal of 'sord fish' (not to be confused with 'swordfish') and sparkling sangria. good people. good times.

lisbon & cascais from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

off the wagon

i think i finally have an official intercambio partner. we met at the language exchange meeting last week and we got along quite well. we met today for coffee and i taught him phrasal verbs and he gave me a geographical lesson on dialects in spain. i know what you're thinking, but no, it's not like that. he's a gentleman who's happily married. he just wants to better his english. [sidenote: he is easy on the eye. bummer.]

with plans to meet for coffee, i told him that i do not accept any caffeine in my diet. he gave me a look of absurdity and thoroughly encouraged trying the espresso. he explained that "the shit we drink in the states", otherwise known to the europeans as black water, does not compare. i caved. and he was right. not only was one of the best i've had (coming in close second to italy), but i also felt like a druggie who had been clean and just received their comeback hit. you see, i haven't had a caffeinated coffee in at least 3 or 4 years. same with caffeinated soda. and tea. i barely ever drink decaf coffee. and hardly ever have chocolate. i know, i'm slightly insane but it was originally to cure insomnia and once you clear your body of the routine of caffeine, you realize how unnecessary it actually is. until you're in spain having cafe con leche.

Monday, 2 March 2009

falling in love with flamenco

my first weekend trip away was to seville, spain... in the southern region of andalucia. decorated with orange trees, moorish influenced architecture and traditions like bullfighting & flamenco, i found it quaint and stunning. it's a walking town which will test your patience as you WILL get lost. all the cobblestone streets and peach painted concrete walls look all too similar. our hostel was one of the better ones i've stayed in, with a rooftop terrace and large shower that actually had better than average water pressure with hot water. thanks to my travel partner/tour guide, we hit all the major sights including the royal palace, which was something out of a movie. this is us taking a peaceful break and enjoying the sunny weather.

but my favorite thing about spain thus far (besides the food) is the flamenco. i've collected a few songs on my ipod but nothing comes close to seeing it live. the name describes a genre of music and also a style of dance. when performed, flamenco is a music + dance combo featuring a guitarist, a male singer and a female dancer. sometimes they are accompanied by a flutist. they can play together or separate, but all tend to clap to keep the beat. authentic performances are not overly orchestrated. the performers play off of each other in a freestyle manner and when the chemistry matches, it can be incredible. generally, the male sings in a whaling fashion usually to the pain of a lost love. the female dances with a base of impossible foot work (stomping), twirling hands and a tragic facial expression. we paid for a professional show and we also saw a more underground version, which was free. both were more than enjoyable but had notable differences... the professional show had a more presentable costume and stage, a more physically attractive dancer and a more intimate setting. i preferred the free show which was bare-bones in the basement of a bar and had more soul. see clip below. (note: the discoloration and awkward angles in the video are not of artistic efforts, but mere evidence that i'm not completely coordinated with my new camera yet. apologies.)

once in the dancing mood, we went out to cuban nightclub where i accepted a dance offering with a short and pleasantly plump spanish gentleman. he taught me basic salsa and then did the same with my friend. after getting dizzy from all the turns and dips, we sat down and just enjoyed watching the pros from the sidelines.

it somehow slipped my mind that we would be there during palm sunday. being strict catholics, the spanish basically shut down the town, so i missed the big flea market day. t'was a bummer. but simultaneously it was some sort of andalucian holiday, where in celebration, the rich women dress up in custom tailored vintage fashions and adorn feathered hats and exquisite furs. so i got my fill of antique imagery.

i spent most of the trip taking lots-o-photos

Thursday, 26 February 2009

la la la

last night, i attended my first language exchange meeting. a girl whom i met through the english teaching program and i went to a bar to meet other foreigners interested in practicing and perfecting their second and third languages. the goal is to speak with someone who's native tongue is the language you wish to practice. i met a few spaniard transplants who were so concerned with using their english that we barely spoke in spanish. fine with me. they told me all the places i need to go before returning to new york. we lightly poked fun at other dialects and cultural differences. we touched upon politics and religious matters of which i quickly deflected. (note to self, and others: you're probably better off not knowing your new foreign friend's opinion on subjects such as these) interestingly, they love obama as much, if not more than we do. they also love new york as much as we do. funny, because they learn a remarkable amount of things only from watching movies and tv. CSI: NY seems to be a favorite here. as the night went on, the room filled up. and everyone, no matter what background, is gracious and thankful for the patience in others willing to help them. a clear and slow pronunciation is a requirement. it's such a cool idea, and i'm wondering, with all the foreigners in new york, why isn't this sort of thing more common? after some research, i found a few but they all require a fee. it's also probably not a big priority among the young and busy that occupy new york. i know of 3 groups in madrid and all are free and quite popular with late 20's-30's crowd. they meet every week at the same place same time. and most advertising is through word of mouth, or as of late - facebook. and this is why i love europeans.

the girl who i went with turned out to be awesome as well. on the metro home we were discussing the partying habits of madrileƱos and she said something to the degree of "i love going out and everything, but sometimes i just want to sit at a dive bar and have a pint." in other words, i found my new best friend.

tomorrow i leave for sevilla. i'm meeting my little blond american friend there. i'll be back monday and hopefully will have seen some flamenco to write about.

unfortunately, i don't have any photos from last night, so instead i give you my lastest fascination... trees.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

mountain biking, sort of.

the parents, the little guy and I went for a bike ride on the outskirts of the mountains this weekend.

me. on a bike. (i know)

but i was ok until we hit a hill that (since i don't know how to calculate percent grade) i would guess to be a 45 degree angle or steeper. me and the mom walked it instead. at the top, we found a nice little church in the middle of nowhere. i think it only had 6 pews. then we decided it would be a cool idea to climb some of the large rocks up there. after the father propped me up, i got stuck on the edge of the rock, ripped a hole in the jeans, my knee was bleeding, and then i had to figure out how i was actually going to get down. not so cool. i have video evidence but i'm too lazy to edit it. (i'm nursing a cold right now) plus, i have to save some goods for the finale video i'm working on. here are some highlights.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Monday, 16 February 2009

church by accident

this weekend at the village house, the middle child brought 4 of her girlfriends to stay the night. the parents also had a few family friends over. a very generous amount of paella was distributed among all 13 of us. you see, it's customary to have seconds or thirds, and they make ample supply to abide by this regulation. when i declined to have a 3rd plate because my jeans were going to split, i was playfully called something equal to "wimpy new yorker." i made up for it when dessert came out. the family and i agree, the language exchange organization really did a fantastic job when it came to placement of matching personalities: i love food, and they love feeding me.

later that night, the 5 little chicas and i gathered to watch a spanish dubbed 'sex and the city'... which they refer to as 'sex in new york.' it was a good old fashioned sleepover including popcorn, dressing up and taking photos, doing each other's hair, and exchanging boy stories. there was also a lot of singing, which is common here. they begged me to sing a solo, but i couldn't bare to break their big expectations. or the surrounding glass. i was able to sneak my camera on while one girl was going. i had to block her image due to security reasons. and also because she has no idea i was taping her. have a listen. she is only 14.

la chica sings from Amanda Scuglia on Vimeo.
on the way back to madrid, the family was running late and didn't have enough time to drop me off at home before going to sunday night mass... and so it is. i will admit i wasn't the most excited, as i haven't stepped foot in a catholic establishment in years... but it was quite an experience. located in a suburb on the outskirts, a fairly large, very beautiful terra cotta colored church contained it's entrance holy water in seashells rather than silver bowls. it was a 9pm service and it was packed. every pew was filled to the max. the standing room had no standing room. and there were crowds of people from the doors to the parking lot. there were speakers so they could hear the service. one priest was sent outside to give communion. and throughout the whole service, people were waiting in line for the confessionals. to my surprise it wasn't limited to senior citizens and Jesus freaks. the majority was young, hip but not tragically, twenty and thirty somethings. the father even subtlety suggested that i come back next time in hopes of meeting a proper spanish gentlemen. hmmm.

Friday, 13 February 2009

a picnic in the park

probably my favorite place in madrid thus far, retiro park. maybe because it was 60 degrees and sunny. so pretty, so serene. its so big, we didn't get to cover even half of it. we set up on the green and had ourselves a little picnic. bread, cheese, olives, grapes, avocado and cava , which is a champagne type wine. the guys next to us smoked pot, the group of girls on the other side had siesta, and some guys pugs tried to sneak a treat from our smorgasbord. after our feast, we passed out. next time we're doing the rowboats.

and yesterday i met some more americans, other english teachers living with spanish families. we bonded on the pros and cons. it seems i got lucky with my fam, but i already knew that. here are other visuals from earlier this week.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

happy birthday bacon

a retrospective of over 70 paintings, inspirational photos, biographical facts and remnants of his studio to commemorate his birth in 1909, as well as his death (which happened to be in madrid - 1992). absolutely brilliant.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

el rastro...

... arguably the largest flea market in the world. or at least in europe. it was like christmas morning for me. :D it was definitely the most crowded i've ever experienced. it's only on sunday mornings, so the eldest sister and i stayed home from the village house this weekend so we could attend. and we found this guy in the middle of the chaos.

man plays glass from Amanda Scuglia on Vimeo.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

a method to the madness

the reason for ending festivities after sunrise?.... the metro closes at 1:30 and re-opens at 6am. this becomes a problem if you are shot before then. so you stall and continue until you have an accessible ride home. most of the night's leftovers will wait in the subway station anxiously awaiting the train, trying not to pass out.
last night, my new found sisters and i went to a houdini style magic show recommended by them (which didn't even start until 1 am and required reservations). it was at first a little cheesy and over performed. fast card tricks and making doves appear... you know the routine. then they brought in the grandfather. the audience was even forced to move from the upstairs stage to the downstairs basement. he entered the room in a t-shirt and jeans, unlike his previous performers in the standard black tux. he spoke soft and husky (think demi moore) and very unassuming. he waited for the doubtful audience members to leave and they did, only leaving us with a more intimate space. i'm quite skeptical when it comes to magicians, but this guy was the making shit disappear into thin air. he bent spoons and then selected random people from the audience to bend spoons. he hypnotized them and accessed their childhood memories. i think he might be the real deal. we discussed it over drinks and then went out dancing. after leaving the discotheque at 7am, we went out for "breakfast". pork tenderloin sandwiches. in a crowd full of starving twenty-somethings. by the time i got home, the sun was already breaking the clouds. and this is why "siesta" was created.