Valencia, Spain

After our quick stop in Toledo, Spain, we headed back to Madrid to take the high speed train to Valencia, Spain. Valencia is the city where Cedarville has a faculty member who spends 10 months of the year here to facilitate student experiences abroad. We headed there to check out the Institute of Spanish Studies where I would be teaching next year if students sign up for my courses! On Sunday evening my colleague Andrew took us on a walk down the “river” which is actually a central green-space for the city, a cultural attraction known as the garden of the Turia. After the great flood of Valencia in 1957, the river was diverted he Turia river was diverted and turned into this space to avoid future flooding in the town.

During our walk I discovered the valencian drink called Horchata de chufa which is a drink made out of tiger nuts (chufa). Tiger nuts are not actually a nut, but a tuber (think potatoes). They are much cheaper in Spain than in the US so I made sure to bring some home from the grocery store to make some Horchata at home! A great find for someone who can’t have dairy right now. 🙂 We saw the City of Arts and Sciences at the end of our walk. This is a entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex, they have an opera house, IMAX, aquarium and other museums. Afterwards we enjoyed a nice dinner with Andrew and his daughter at a fabulous Argentinean Steak House called Gordon’s. This was one of the best meals we’ve had in Spain!

On Monday Andrew and the Director of the Valencia ISS picked us up for a quick car tour of Valencia. They took us out of town a bit as well to Albufera. This is a freshwater lagoon with an abundance of fish surround by rice fields. We made a quick stop to take a few pictures of the Arenas and Malvarrosa beaches, and then we drove through the old city of Valencia. After the tour we had a meeting to discuss plans for next summer and then enjoyed lunch with one of our pre pharmacy students and her host mom. It was fun to be in a Spanish home and see what life looked like on a daily basis. Her host mom took us for ice-cream/sorbet at La Golosa. After lunch we walked back to our hotel and I took a quick siesta to try to get rid of a headache.

Then two Cedarville students picked us up for a walking tour around the old city and dinner. We climbed to the top of Valencia Cathedral in the Bell tower “El Miguelete.” The views were amazing. Thankfully the bad weather held off for us to be able to get back down and find a restaurant. It was about to dump buckets so we ended up at an Italian restaurant for dinner because it was an easy place to duck into. We enjoyed dinner with the students and learned about their experiences in Spain. We all headed our separate ways after dinner and it was still pouring buckets outside and storming.  We made a quick stop at El Corte Inglés the Spanish department store that has a grocery store in the bottom level. We got 4 bags of Chufa (tiger nuts) and a few snacks for the flight back.

On Tuesday Andrew picked us up for another meeting at the office and then he showed us another part of town that had a nice park. We also were able to spend a few hours at the beach before heading to the airport. We flew back to Madrid on Tuesday night to catch a Wednesday morning flight home to the states. The flight was cheaper than the high speed train, and then we just stayed overnight on Marriott points at the AC hotel near the airport with a free shuttle.  #travelhackers 🙂  We enjoyed our time in Spain and I am hopeful I will be able to use what I learned at the conference to modify my courses for Spain next summer!

Toledo, Spain

For a little weekend excursion, we took the metro to the main train station where the high speed trains leave (Atocha Renfe). We arrived in Toledo at 9:30am. It was only a 30 minute ride by high speed train from Madrid. We tried to get money from the ATM at the train station because we were running low on EURO but it spit out a slip saying it couldn’t connect with our bank. Thankfully we had just enough EURO to pay for the cab ride to our hotel which was across the river from the Old City of Toledo.

The staff at the hotel did not speak much English but we managed, thankfully they had a room ready for us even that early in the morning! Not sure if we just got lucky or upgraded due to our Marriott “gold” status but we got an amazing room that had a huge balcony and views of the town. We put away our things and headed out to town. The front desk told us it was a 20 min walk to the city centre or the bus comes every hour. Since at this point it was 10:10 we decided just to head into town on foot. We cross the Puente de San Martin and stopped on the other side to check out our Madrid guidebook for the Toledo recommendations.

The top recommended site was the Cathedral de Toledo (Sacristia de la Catedral). We stopped at a bakery Benipan for a loaf of freshly baked bread. When we got to the cathedral, they didn’t take tarjetas (cards) so we had to find an ATM. This was an adventure that would have been simplified if we new more Spanish. Turns out there was an ATM super close to where we were but we ended up finding another one not terribly far away. We headed back to the Cathedral and spent a few hours with the audio tour taking in the sight.

It wasn’t quite lunch time by Spanish standards (they normally eat lunch around 1:30 or 2 pm). So we headed to see the Alcazar Museo, it is a is a stone fortification located in the highest part of  the city. It was used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century, it was restored in the 1540s. Now it has been turned the inside into a military museo so we were’t too sure we would know what we were looking at so we enjoyed the architecture from outside. We walked around a bit in the highest point of the city and then decided we needed some lunch!

We ate lunch outside at a resturant called D Diego Meson. Across Spain they have menu del dia (menu of the day) where you can get two courses, a drink, and dessert for 10 or 11 EUR. This was the case here as well. It was Dustin’s first experience with this since he got take out (para lavar) each day so it was quicker with his work group. Dustin had Paella for his first dish and Carcamusas for his main course which is a Toledo speciality. I had the Ensalada Mixta and Pollo asado. All dishes were very yummy, seemed more flavorful than the dishes in many of the places in Madrid. While the food has been very good, I’m am desparately longing for some steamed veggies or even just some green beans, ha! The sides here are mostly potato or rice based. Or peppers/tomatoes/eggplant but not very many greens at all.

After lunch we roamed the city a little bit, it started to get more crowded as tour buses from Madrid rolled in. We did some shopping on a Calle de Comercio and found the Calle de Toledo Ohio street! Toledo is famous for swords and gold/silver jewelry. Swords were everywhere, not sure how all of these folks are getting them home with TSA and customs, ha! We stopped in a store that has a craftsman making the jewelry. It was cool to see how much of an intricate process it is to appreciate all the jewelry we saw everywhere! Another thing Toledo is famous for is Marzipan. This is a confection of mainly sugar or honey and almond meal or almond extract. There is some controversy where it may have orginiated some history links it back to Persia but it previously was known as Postre Regio around 150 during the reign of Alfonzo VII. Almonds have to be at least 50% of the total weight and today under EU law marzipan must have a minimium of 14% almond oil. We sampled a few marzipan cookies in one store and it is yummy!

We headed towards El Greco’s museum but again we aren’t artists so without a tour telling us what we were looking at we weren’t sure it would be worth the money, later we found it out it was free after 2pm…should have gone in!  But instead we watched a tennis match for a minute, it was some form of tennis that was a cross between tennis and racquetball because they could play the ball off the wall. We went back to the bakery to get a loaf of bread for breakfast for the next day but it was closed so we added an an extra half mile to the day’s count! We took the escalator down from old town and walked around for a few minutes and then got a cab back to our hotel.

We relaxed for a few hours on our porch, chatted with Kenley and I took a bath! I got some bath salts in a store nearby and I think this helped me so much not be as sore from all the climbing on those streets the next day!

We probably could have gone out to sleep without dinner but we saw there was a restaurant within few minutes walk of us that had high marks on Trip Advisor called Restaurante Hiebabuena. Our server was such a sweet girl that knew about as much english as we knew spanish so that was fun, but it was cute especially at the end were we couldn’t figure out she was asking to see Dustin’s ID for the credit card, we had a good laugh! She was teaching us new words too. I didn’t do a great job here about telling them I was dairy/egg free so I probably had both in the course of this meal and didn’t feel so well in the morning, but oh well it was delicious. I’ll get back on track in a few days!

It was funny that the menu translated parts of the dish and not the whole name. For example Risotto de seats “deconstruido” was listed as mushroom risotto underneath in the english. Sounded good but then when it came out it was like mashed potatoes, gravy, and puffed rice on top. It was amazing but totally not what we expected we get the “deconstruido” part! We also had Crepes de puerros y gambas (crepes with leeks and prawns), Rollitos de carpaccio de presa rellenos de aceitunas negras, tomatoes secos, albahaca y parmesan con vinegreta de fresas (super yummy salmon type meat stuffed with black olives sun dried tomomatoes, parmesan, basil, and strawberry vinaigrette). Dustin choose the Brownie de Marzipan since we were in the town were Marzipan is famous! It was not at all a chocolate brownie, I had a few bites since I already busted my current diet restrictions. It’s been really hard to avoid some of the things I need to avoid right now to heal my gut!

We headed back to our hotel and caught a glimpse of the old city all lite up! Toledo was a fun place and a great place to go for the day. Highly recommend a day trip or an overnight stay here if you are going to Madrid!

Madrid Part 3 (Dustin’s View)

Since I like to travel and I can work from anywhere that there is an internet connection, I was excited to join Melody on her trip. A few weeks before our trip, I found out that I have a co-worker that lives in Madrid!

We chatted a few times before we left and Javi was able to find two extra desks at his friends’ co-working space. It was basically an office about 30 minutes away (by walking) that had a solid internet connection and ergonomic desks.

Each day around 9:30am or 10am we would meet at the coworking place in Madrid. Javi and I are on different teams, so we did our own work once we got there. Around 1:30pm or 2pm we would break for lunch. They kept asking me if that was okay to eat lunch that late, since most Americans aren’t fans of eating late meals like the Europeans. When breakfast isn’t until 9am, I could certainly wait four hours for my next meal 🙂

During the mornings, I would watch the Cavs playoff games from the night before, as they started at 3am, Madrid time. I’d record the games on our DVR at home and would watch the game on my iPad, as I worked in the morning on the high speed wifi at the coworking place (yes, very geeky).

Lunches varied from Italian Calzones to Spanish Tortilla to Döner Kebab sandwiches to half of a roasted chicken. It was all delicious! We would get take out and bring all of the food back and eat at the large table in the space. The place also had a small kitchenette so a few of the guys made a fresh meal while there. We talked about the differences between Spain / Europe and the States and some of the cool things to do in Madrid, Toledo, and Valencia. Personally,I think they enjoyed working on their English, since my I only know a little of Spanish.

Depending on Melody’s conference schedule, I’d normally stay there until 5-6pm and then walk back to the hotel. It was definitely weird wrapping up my day when my coworkers were just starting theirs, since there is a six hour time difference.

On Friday, I decided to explore the city a bit and went on a Sandeman’s Walking Tour. These are free tours that are held in large city’s across the world. The guides know an incredible amount of history of their city and they deliver the 2.5-3 hour tour for free. They do work off tips, though 🙂

During my tour, I saw:

  • Royal Palace
  • Teatro Real (The Royal Opera House)
  • Plaza Mayor
  • The oldest restaurant in the world
  • and a lot of other things I don’t remember 🙂

We also learn about the Kings of Spain and how Tapas originated. If you are ever in a large European city, I highly recommend checking out to see if they have a tour available. My guide did an amazing job of telling the story of Madrid which made the statues, monuments and other buildings much more interesting. Here are a few pictures from the day:

Some evenings, Melody had activities as part of her conference, so I caught up on some of my personal project on my computer or walked around the city to explore / grab dinner. And of course, one of the evenings I had to take a tour of my favorite store, the Apple Store in Madrid. It was neat because the Apple Watch wasn’t for sale in Spain yet, so the Apple Genius’ were asking me about mine 🙂

Apple Store Madrid
Apple Store Madrid

One night when walking home from work, I decided to stop and get a bit more cash since we were running low. Our bank had a much lower fee to get money out of the ATM than using an exchange service. I saw an ATM and stopped and put my card in and after a few minutes, I realized that the machine had eaten my card! I couldn’t get any money out, nor could I get my card back.

The bank was closed already so I wasn’t able to get it back. I knew that Melody had a card that worked, so I was okay with leaving it there and going back to the hotel to cancel the card. Thru amazing technology (Google Voice on my computer), I was able to talk to a representative at our bank and she promptly cancelled the card. Whew!

Madrid Part 2

Wednesday morning started with a seminar on cultural differences, the goal was to better understand some of the ways in which cultures differ or are similar, and consider how to introduce frameworks that can help students understand, recognize, and appreciate differences. We discussed cultural value patterns such as individualism and collectivism, high-context vs. low context cultures, how cultures or individuals view time (poly vs. monochromatic), and power distance. I learned that I am a very low context person and tend to tell people how it is quickly! 🙂

After the morning session we got on a bus to head to Chinchón, a pueblo outside of Madrid. The purpose was to experience another way of life in Spain and to observe the cultural patterns discussed in the morning session in action. This was by far my favorite excursion of the program. I love small european villages, it’s such a slower pace of life and I love all the history and architecture that is present. We had lunch here together, then walked around the small pueblo and interacted with the people. At the monastery, there was a small bakery where they sold cookies to help with funds that were made with local products.

After we visited there, we walked around to observe the town. I talked to the pharmacist at the Farmacia, he spoke pretty good English and was able to tell me about the process of becoming a pharmacist in Spain, how much he made as a pharmacist, how the process of dispensing went in their stores. I learned the government regulates how many pharmacies can be open which is based on population in the geographical area, so you won’t find them across the street on the same corner anywhere. I also learned that you can’t even buy Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) without going to the pharmacy. Currently there is a law potentially being changed to allow purchases like those in other stores, but the profession is fighting it.

I was spending most of the day in Chinchón with a small group of ladies, we had been told by a few others to check out a bakery in the main square.  So Gina, Sarah, and I went into this bakery. We found a women there eager to have us try her sample cookies and show us her products. I got a few honey pastries to bring back to Dustin and Sarah bought a cookie.  We probably spent 1.50 EUR, if that. You could get a loaf of bread decorated for almost any occasion. (see picture below). We were heading out and the woman handed Gina a half eaten bag of pistachios and told her to have us sit outside. Gina is a Spanish professor so she was our communicator! We sat outside in 4 plastic chairs with this women as she told us about her life. It seemed that the bakery was handed down to her from her father, her brother left the village and become a translator, and this women seemed to feel like she was stuck in this place.

She told us we were smart for exploring the world. She told us a few other crazy stories and asked us to stay while she helped a few customers and then came back to chat. We did need to leave because our bus was headed back to Madrid, but before we left she went back in to get some cookies for us and bagged up some bread. She was a sweet older women who seemed lonely and stuck. This was one of those moments where I wish I could communicate with her in her language to share the gospel and love of Jesus. There were multiple other times that week where I felt the same way. I’m working on my Spanish but life keeps moving faster than ever!

Dinner was on our own when we got back to Madrid which was about an hour’s bus ride away. Dustin and I had dinner at a restaurant called Vi Cool which was a new contemporary take on Spanish Tapas. They also had some fun pizzas and I was able to get an all goat cheese one. The Tapas dishes looked good that were coming to the other tables, but it was a little bit pricey.

On Thursday we headed to the Las Ventas, (Madrid’s bull ring). The purpose of this was to gain a deeper understanding of this iconic aspect of Spanish culture and to consider how controversial topics can be an opportunity to practice cultural bridging techniques. This was quite the experience because we got there and the tour told us they couldn’t do it for another hour, so we split up to grab some coffee/tea and then came back to the ring. During this time it started to rain fairly hard and we got a little wet, ok more than a little wet! The bull ring staff finally opened up a gate so we could stand under a roof in an alcove, and while were in there, it started  to hail with the pouring rain. The Spainairds thought this was crazy and kept saying how it never happens! Must be my luck, the only time I’ve traveled to San Diego where it is supposed to be 70’s and sunny all the time it hailed too!

Once we got all the group back together (some were still hiding out in the cafeteria across the street), we got the tour of the bull ring, then we had lunch, and our afternoon/evening workshops focused on cultural bridging practices, where we learned and practiced processes for bridging between ourselves and others who are culturally different. We discussed the skills involved in cultural bridging, the personal leadership model, and spheres of intercultural competence.

Dinner was on our own. Dustin and I grabbed a few bites of food from a Tapas place at the Mercado de San Antón. The market had some grocery places at the bottom but not like a typical open aired market. Apparently the markets were causing a stench in the city especially when it was hot from the meat that was being sold. So they turned many of them into more touristy/restaurant style places. The second floor was all tapas restaurants & bars that each had a stand. And the third floor was a full sit down restaurant with a roof top lounge. Lots of tapas dishes included dairy and eggs, I desperately wanted cooked veggies that weren’t peppers/onions but we ended up with chicken wings!

Friday was the last day of the seminar and the focus was Re-Entry and Creating an Action Plan for students. We learned about factors that impact re-entry and how to support students through that process. We spent a lot of time on Friday morning reflecting on our own seminar experience and developing an action plan for how will we incorporate concepts into our project we are implementing at home. I enjoyed lunch with some of the amazing ladies I got to know during the week at Dionisos a Greek Tapas restaurant, and I must say it was one of my favorite places to eat that week! I can’t wait to get to Greece someday! The afternoon was free to explore a bit so Dustin and I walked around and ended up at the Mercado de San Miguel for some fresh squeezed juice! To finish off the seminar on Friday I got to attend dinner and a Flamenco show. This is a form of Spanish folk music and dance from the region of Andalusia in southern Spain.




We haven’t posted many travel posts recently because it’s been a little hard to get away with baby K in the last year. (Not sure when I have to stop calling her baby!) But thankfully Grandma was willing to watch her while I enjoyed a few days in the sunshine! Dustin’s team at work meets somewhere to work on projects and this time they were meeting in Belize specifically on the island of San Pedro. Since I normally try to make it to the beach a few times a year, I jumped at the chance to join him for part of the week. Right now I really needed some sunshine and relaxation.

Belize is just South of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. The people here even travel to Sam’s Club in Mexico for groceries/supplies sometimes (seems crazy they have Sam’s Club in Mexico!). Belize hasn’t quite hit their tourism potential but the island of San Pedro does have quite a few tourists. Once I landed in Belize City, I then had to take a small 12 passenger plane over to the island. This was very low key, my boarding pass was a hand written slip of paper. The flight took about fifteen minutes. Once on San Pedro, I took a short taxi to the Coastal Xpress which was a water taxi. I could have walked there, but it was easier to just be dropped off since I wasn’t with a group and didn’t quite know where I was heading. Thankfully I was able to get an early flight to the island which put me at the water taxi only 10 minutes before it left. It took about thirty minutes to get to the resort with the other taxi stops. But once I was there it dropped me off right on the dock and Dustin was there to welcome me. The place they rented was a small resort that had 12 rooms. They catered to groups from companies like this or people taking a yoga retreat or something similar. It had a central kitchen/dining building, two other buildings with rooms, and a pool in the center. It was right on the water, but there was a lot of seagrass which made swimming a bit difficult right there. But you could hear the waves and the breeze of the ocean was on us at all times!

The rest of the day on Wednesday I enjoyed the sunshine and the pool while the team worked until dinner. On Thursday was their “fun” day on their meet-up. So I was able to join them on their snorkeling trip. We left in the morning after breakfast, boarded a boat that took us back to the main part of San Pedro. There we got on Lady Leslie the snorkeling tour company. This was a very nice sail boat. The staff was very courteous and took care of everything during the day. I would highly recommend them to anyone traveling to this area. We first headed to an area of the reef called “ Hol Chan.“ In this area we all got out and swam around the reef for about thirty minutes. We saw all kinds of fish, sea turtles, beautiful coral and a few sharks! The next stop was “shark alley.” I thought our captain was kidding when he said we would be shark bait, but he wasn’t. The boat crew fed the sharks fish while the group got in the water to snorkel with them. I thought to myself, “I need my hands and feet to take care of the little babe I left at I think the view from the boat is just fine.” These were nurse sharks, which are a little different than other types but still dangerous in my mind! Their mouths look like catfish but they still bite then twist whatever they are eating.

After the sharks, the boat took us to another island called Caye Caulker where we walked through the town and had lunch. The lunch was amazing, we had lots of veggies, fish, chicken, and shrimp. It was all cooked in traditional Belize style. We still had a little bit of time, we found a restaurant right called the Lazy Lizard on the water that had some shade and tables actually in the water, so we were able to get in and cool off for a bit before heading back to the boat. The restaurant was at the edge of the inhabited part of the island, the other half of Caye Caulker is across the water way, it used to all be connected but was separated by a hurricane.  It was a 2 hour sailboat right back to San Pedro and then another fifteen minutes to our dock. We enjoyed the pool back at the resort and dinner in the evening. Friday and Saturday I enjoyed the resort while the team worked. They worked a little less on Saturday to finish off the trip. Dustin and some of the team did some kayaking on Saturday.  Saturday night we had dinner outside enjoying the ocean breeze before we headed back to the states on Sunday.

Overall Belize was beautiful and it was great too see. It’s not very commericalized at all, so if you are looking for a remote place to dive or snorkel, it’s a great place! If your looking for a big resort with all the ammentities and lots of beach..probably should head north to Mexico! 🙂   It was a short trip for me, but I was able to get a little tan (no sunburn for me!) and some relaxation. Until next time…