Top Reads of 2015

2015 was a big year for me in terms of reading. I had a lofty Goodreads goal of 40 books and I surpassed that by reading 42 books!

This accomplishment was indeed partially due to the 3 months I spent living in a small town in the middle of nowhere with no internet but a fresh library card instead. I read a mixture of classics, memoirs, non-fiction, paranormal, best sellers, and instructionals.

In no particular order, here are my favorite books that I read!


Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

I originally picked up this book because the cover intrigued me and the hardback copy I purchased had a review on the back by Michael Chabon, one of my favorite authors. That was enough to sell me on this whopper of a novel (591 pages!) and I’m so glad I read it. Starting at the end of story, we see Carter perform his greatest magic trick yet that could potential land him in prison. So, how does he get to that point? The book continues in his childhood and follows his follies, mishaps, and adventures into adulthood. I love any story that follows a lifetime arc and early Americana is a favorite as well. Taking place during the heyday of Houdini and the introduction of the first BMW motorcycle, the book is rife with references to persons well known to the reader but only just coming of age within the time period of Carter’s life. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and a book that can do both is a solid gem.


All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I kept seeing this book everywhere on social media and in bookstore window displays.The cover is eye catching on it’s own and with a back page blurb about the setting in WWII France and Germany, I knew I had to give it a go.

The story follows 2 central characters, Marie-Laure and Werner, and each chapter alternates back and forth between them. While the plot reaches it’s crescendo on one particular date, the rest of the book is non-linear, going between the days leading up to the event and the time that passes afterwards. A boy and a girl, on opposite sides of the war, leading oddly parallel lives meet in what is a moment of fate. What impressed me so much about this book was the detail put into the setting and props of the world. I’ve read that Doerr spent a year researching for this book and it’s obvious that it was a labor of love for him.


The Martian by Andy Weir

I decided to read this book for the obvious reason-FOMO-which was that so many friends had read it, loved it, and were eagerly anticipating the movie.

It is totally worth the hype. This book is chock full of complicated science and technology that is far beyond my realm of understanding. Weir is nothing if not a thorough researcher. He also has that special gift of writing about this material in a way that makes you believe him, that sets up the story world perfectly in your imagination, but without making it boring or agonizing to read. Instead, he introduces you to Mark Watney, a lovable astronaut turned galactic potato farmer with a cheeky sense of humor. I laughed out loud several times throughout this book and found myself invested in Watney’s plight. By the time I reached the 87% point on my Kindle, I had to skip ahead and read the final page (which I’ve never done before!) because I was so anxious about his fate.



The Shining by Stephen King

As a fan of the Kubrick film based on it, I’ve wanted to dig into this book for a while. I’d read in the past that King wasn’t a fan of the movie, as he felt it wasn’t true to the story and that too many liberties had been taken. We all know that the movie is never  rarely as good as the book and this was certainly the case with The Shining. 

The book goes into each character’s background much deeper than the film was able to convey. Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is far more subtle and within that, all the more disturbing. I found Wendy Torrance intolerable in the movie but found that she was a more sympathetic character in the book. Danny’s encounters with the evil lurking in The Outlook are more plentiful and unsettling and his connection with Mr. Halloran stronger. Similar to my experience reading The Martian, by the time I hit 67% on Kindle, I couldn’t read this before bed. It just spooked me out way too much!


Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I heard about this book while listening to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast. You can find the episode here! The book is co-written with sociologist Eric Klinenberg about the bizarre ways in which people meet, fall in love, and marry in the modern world. This isn’t 1967 anymore and dating just ain’t the same. This book is chock full of research and infused with Ansari’s sense of humor.

I absolutely inhaled this book over the course of 2 days. The statistics presented piqued my interest and I laughed along with Ansari’s dating mishaps. The dreaded  that we’ve all seen and felt taunted by while anxiously staring at the screen. To double text or not to double text? How to seem cool and available but not eagerly desperate? When do you start following someone on all their social media platforms? For anyone out there in the dating world of the 2,000-teens, this a must read!


A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I’ve wanted to read this one for a while, I can’t resist a Pulitzer winner obviously. A copy appeared in my living room in a pile of books given to my flatmates by a friend of theirs so I borrowed the copy.

Man. This was hands down the funniest book I read last year or even within the past few years. The protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, is so unlikable and a narcissistic looney and is constantly getting himself into haphazard situations. He is convinced he has the correct answer for everything and is unable to see himself as others do. The story is set in New Orleans, my favorite city, and that just made the book all the more enjoyable to read. Reilly: a medievalist, hot dog vendor, Levy Pants Company organizer (of files and protests), and a whale of a man who smells as bad as he looks. I loved reading his story but I’m so glad he’s not someone in my real life.


Yes Please by Amy Poehler

I picked up this book because I am a fan of Poehler as everyone should be. I was deep into my bingeing of her show, Parks and Recreation, so I just decided to roll with the idea of consuming all she had made. I read this book after reading Not That Kind of Girl with my book club and the difference between the two was astounding.

I enjoyed Poehler’s book much more than Lena Dunham for the fact that she wrote with so much more honesty and vulnerability. Poehler writes about her start in comedy, all the grunt work put into getting where she is, her divorce, co-parenting with her ex-husband, and having her two sons. This book is full of anecdotes, wisdom, humor, and is a full behind the curtain peek at the wizard herself. I loved this book and enjoyed every page of it.


Book Club: January // The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Happy 2015 folks!

Let’s kick off the new year in a literary fashion by checking out this month’s book club pick. I chose this month’s read (for the first time!) and it was “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. Choosing a non-fiction book was an out of the norm choice for myself and the club so it was a bit of a shake up.

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This book tells a story in the past and present of the massive effect cells taken from Henrietta Lacks had on the world of science. It all started in the “colored ward” of Johns Hopkins hospital back in the 1950s. When Henrietta was admitted for abdominal pain, it was discovered that she had a tumor growing on her cervix. A scrap was done on this area and cells were then taken to a laboratory in the hospital attempting to grow cells for research. What happened next changed the way science works even today. The cells began to multiply and couldn’t be stopped, a first in cell research. However, Henrietta was never informed of this and neither were her family, until they found out on their own decades later.


Reading this book, it’s easy to develop opinions on the treatment of the African American community in the U.S. in the 1950’s, the questionable procedures of hospitals and even legislation surrounding people’s rights in relation to their bodies. It’s plain to see that the treatment of patients, specifically African American, was terribly dismal at the time. I can definitely say this book opened my mind to think about ideas I’d never considered before. The author brings to the story into today by showing similar cases of people with special conditions or molecular makeup being taken advantage for “scientific advancement” *cough cough* profit. According to information presented by the author, all the parts of our bodies, from the tiniest of cell collections to tumors and cysts and anything at all removed from our bodies are indeed, most likely, NOT thrown out with the rubbish but instead, filling up space in storage somewhere in the world. Um, excuse me? So someone has pieces of my body that they’re experimenting on without my knowledge?


Here’s a collection of questions I took to the club to get the discussion rolling. CAUTION: If you haven’t read the book, this may give away some events.

1) Does the end – i.e., the immeasurable benefit to humankind resulting from those tissue samples – justify the means – i.e., removing tissue from a person without their consent or knowledge?

2)  Was it a good thing for the members of the Lacks family that the author wrote this book? Was this attempt different from previous attempts to write about the Lacks family and Henrietta in particular?

3) When the doctor of the patient, Mr. Moore, lied to him about the financial value of his cells, do you think the doctor behaved unethically, and the court should have ruled against him?

4) How realistic was the characterization, especially of Deborah and Zakariyya? Would you want to meet any of them? Did you like them?

5) How did you feel at the end when Clover was gone? Do you think this was an allegory for Henrietta’s family’s travails?

6) Discuss the medical breakthroughs from HeLa cells. Have your attitudes or ideas towards medical research changed in any way due to reading this book?

7) Consider Deborah’s comment on page 276: “Like I’m always telling my brothers, if you gonna go into history, you can’t do it with a hate attitude. You got to remember, times was different.” Is it possible to approach history from an objective point of view? If so, how and why is this important, especially in the context of Henrietta’s story?

8) As much as this book is about Henrietta Lacks, it is also about Deborah learning of the mother she barely knew, while also finding out the truth about her sister, Elsie. Imagine discovering similar information about one of your family members. How would you react? What questions would you ask?

Street Art in Spain

Spain has no shortage of world class art, especially here in the capital city, Madrid. The art triangle (Museos del Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen) is top notch and visitors come from all over the world to see them and the priceless works of art within them. I’ve been to all three and can certainly attest to their high quality but some of my favorite art in Spain has been the street art! Yes, that does mean graffiti. It varies from the politically charged to conscience mindedness to merely comical.


Here’s a tea shop in Granada where, during daylight hours, I did indeed purchase some fine green tea.


This reminds me of some sort of punk type cartoon you would find on cartoon network. This is the storefront for a skateboard apparel store in Granada.


Obviously, this is a pharmacy and I’ll leave it to you to figure out the art. 😉


This is one of my favorites on this list! Believe it or not, this is an entirely FLAT side of a building in the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid.


A flamenco singer in the Albaicin of Granada.


#1 of 3- This wall in Granada might be the coolest I’ve yet seen in my travels. Where there is a dilapidated, torn up building, someone has put faces all down the side of it using what leftover materials are dangling in pieces. In this instance, a piece of pipe.


#2 of 3 – Here’s a slight more robotic looking face from the first one, placed in the void left by what could possibly have been a door or window.


#3 of 3 – This one is hands down my favorite of all three. An intricate door piece found behind a gaping chunk of MIA concrete lends itself to the mouth of a man who has to yawn pretty gosh darn badly.


Looks like someone fenced in a triceratops in a patio in Granada.


Granda. Creepy. And yes, that is a wide and deep hole in the middle of that floor.

So, what do you think? Do you like this type of art?

High above Granada : Lookout points


For the first trip of the new year, I hit up Granada with a fellow auxiliar for a weekend trip to close out our Christmas break. We hopped on a train down to the city and were pleasantly surprised by what we found. By that I mean, absolutely gorgeously lookout points all over the city that allow you to see for miles! Granada is seated at the foothills of and within the Sierra Nevada of Andalucia. It’s most famous site is La Alhambra, an ancient palace enclosure sitting above the city, an amazing vantage point from which to see the Albaicin, the white gypsy village spread out beneath it. For our trip, we visited nearly every Mirador the city had to offer so here are some pictures from each one I visited.

La Alhambra: Generalife, Alcazaba, 

We visited La Alhambra early in the morning to buy day-of tickets since they’d all been sold out online. I HIGHLY recommend going there early in the day, watching the sun come up and enjoying the early sun rays washing over the ancient stone and fresh trees.

Torre de la Vela overlooking the barrio Albaicin.

The Torre de la Vela. inside the Alcazaba, overlooking the barrio Albaicin.

View from lower Generalife gardens

Late into the sunrise coming up over Granda as seen from the lower Generalife gardens

Emily and I atop the Torre de la Vela in the Alcazaba.

Emily and I atop the Torre de la Vela in the Alcazaba.


Mirador San Miguel Alto : 

Roughly located above Calle Verdera de Pinchos, this mirador is front of the church of San Miguel Alto. This is the last mirador you’ll pass before heading out to the gypsy caves.

Mirador San Miguel Alto

My travel buddy, Emily, and I up at the Mirador San Miguel Alto after a long “walk” with a tour from our hostel.

Mirador de San Nicolas 

This is probably the most popular mirador in Granada and is at the edge of a nice little plaza teeming with bars and some of the best tapas in town.

The sky above La Alhambra is just gorgeous from here.

The sky above La Alhambra is just gorgeous from here.

Mirador de San Nicolas

Mirador de San Nicolas


Google Map of the sites listed

Have you ever visited Granada? Would you like to someday?


Book Club // January : “Too Much Happiness” Alice Munro


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Click the photo to see my review on Goodreads.

Well folks, I’ve finally found every book lover’s dream right here in my home of Madrid, Spain. That’s right- a book club! Long gone are the days where I could discuss, tear apart, praise or scourge works of literature in my undergraduate English courses. It’s so nice to get together with like-minded ladies and talk about a book, that includes the good, the bad and the ugly, and share our thoughts.

For January, we read the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Alice Munro’s “Too Much Happiness”, which is a collection of 10 short stories all centrally focused on women and the people in their lives. While none of the characters reoccur in any story separate from their own, there’s definitely a repeating theme.

My thoughts: I didn’t like it.

Don’t be deceived by the title and let yourself think that these stories will be happy-they are not! I found most endings left wide open for interpretation as to the continuation of the character’s life but they were always left smack dab in the middle of misery. There’s not a sense of resolution or a hope for potential happiness. Nope, you just turn the page onto the next story and think, “That’s it? But…what happens?”

I didn’t find the character to be very engaging either, they just seemed one-dimensional, one and a half at best, and I never felt attached to a single one. I understand that with a short story there’s less time spent in a character’s world so you have to build them quickly for the reader’s imagination. Having clarified that, within the constrains of a short story, I still found the characters to be lacking. Sure, a little mystery is nice, wondering if they chose to do x or y because of an unknown component. Still, I found them to be as flat as the page on which they were written.

It was mentioned at the meeting, and I had already pondered the idea myself, that mayhaps Munro developed each character as an aspect of her own self. A mother, an academic, a wife, a daughter, a writer, etc. Throughout the 10 stories, each woman was entirely different from the previous protagonist in many aspects, such as, personality, career, and age. What seemed to be the overarching idea was that each woman seemed more or less powerless in her own defeat. Someone or something was consistently able to get the best of her whether it be death, betrayal, possession, control or any other unsavory power.

I found the one story I most enjoyed was “Free Radicals” with the protagonist being a recently widowed woman in her 60s. This is the one story that I found to give the protagonist not only control of her life, but in a believable fashion. I won’t give any spoilers but will say that “Nita” is a quick thinker and knows how to control herself and come out on top in a life or death situation. Yet, only 1 woman out of 10 in this book actually had the capability to make the decisions necessary for her own life to be made better.

Do you enjoy short stories? Would you finish a book even if you weren’t enjoying it?

A Tuscan Christmas


Well, January 2014 is here and it’s time to make resolutions we won’t keep and snuggle up under blankets to beat away the cold. Before moving forward, let’s reflect on something fun- CHRIIIIIIIISTMAS! This was my first Christmas to not be with my family at all and that of course made for a rough spot in my year in Spain. Fortunately, I got to tag along with a co-teacher to stay with a family in Siena, Italy whom she’s known for years. I’m so thankful that someone opened their home to me, a total stranger, on a big holiday and treated me like I was family. Even if I couldn’t fly home to my own family, it was still comforting to be with a family.

Enjoying spritz in Siena with my host, Marta.

Enjoying spritz in Siena with my host, Marta.

My week in Tuscany was so relaxing that it’s just plain crazy. We would sleep in until 10 or 11 each day, wake up without an alarm, make a pot of tea and sit around the kitchen table just chatting until we were ready to move on to the next part of the day, whatever that may have been.

"A house isn't a home without a cat."

“A house isn’t a home without a cat.”

Walks through the countryside were made with the neighbor’s dog and even in the dead of winter, the views were splendid. SO MUCH GREEN. Seriously. How is it even possible for so much greenery to be thriving in December?

This was when Marta said, "You will now see the most beautiful tree in the most beautiful field." She was right.

This was when Marta said, “You will now see the most beautiful tree in the most beautiful field.” She was right.

The food was beyond amazing and perfect and I think I gained at least 7 pounds from eating so much. Each meal was just so simply prepared and yet full of flavor. I’m fairly certain I consumed at least a quart of olive oil, the good stuff too, it was foggy, green, and heavy and served with everything. Oh, and pasta.

The table was beautifully set!

The table was beautifully set!

So much time was spent relaxing that I breezed through 2 books and we watched several movies as well. I didn’t know what day or date it was throughout the whole trip, other than Christmas day of course. Sometimes you can forget how nice it is to escape to the countryside and forget the calendar. We get so wrapped up in our day to day lives, work, errands, and moving forward in life that it’s nice to escape all that and just flow through the day at leisure.

A warm fire, good book, pjs, and a purring kitty, could you want more?

A warm fire, good book, pjs, and a purring kitty, could you want more?

The best part of Christmas day is all due to the technology from Apple as I was able to FaceTime with my family while everyone was gathered at my grandparent’s. Everyone had eaten breakfast, which is nothing but home made to-die-for goodness, and played Dirty Santa. My family is nothing if not comics so every year, the game gets out of hand with siblings and spouses secretly plotting to steal and swap post game and it’s the highlight of the holiday. Who knew people could get so competitive over a tool kit or houndstooth ball cap?

Please notice my cousin Doug holding up a decorative snowman. Someone didn't get what they wanted...

Please notice my cousin Doug holding up a decorative snowman. Someone didn’t get what they wanted…


Christmas markets of Madrid


It’s Christmas time now and Madrid has gone all out to celebrate the holiday! The city center, Puerta del Sol, is all decked out with a 15-20 meter high Christmas tree and the streets branching out from the center each have their own set of lights suspended above the road and often lead off to cute little Christmas markets.

I’ve personally counted 4 Christmas trees each breaking the 15 meter height and are all totally gorgeous! The tree in Sol is actually a metallic frame covered in a pattern of ornaments lit up in gold. 


The tree in Puerta del Sol!

Being a girly girl, I’m also a fan of the trees in Atocha since they are all pink and silver. They sit in the center of the Glorieta de Carlos V.


A Barbie’s dream Christmas in Atocha!


In addition to all the gorgeous decorations, there is of course my personal favorite part of the festivities and that’s the Christmas Markets! Inspired by the famous Christmas markets of Germany, these have become popular in all parts of Europe and major cities are all setting up their own markets full of goodies. You can find toys, jewelry, hats, scarves, all kinds of gifts and my personal favorite-sweets!


The gorgeous Christmas market in Plaza Jacinto Benavente (closest to Tirso de Molina metro stop) The lights make you feel as if you are in a tent!

There is a small Christmas sweets market set up right outside of the Opera metro stop and oh boy, that’s my favorite. I seriously love eating and any market that celebrates Christmas treats is bound to be my favorite.


Piles of Turkish Delight.

I seriously, friggin’ love Turkish Delight. I think it goes without saying that I made a beeline for the Dulces Arabes cart to oogle and drool over the stuff. I can’t even explain why but I could make myself sick eating that stuff so having it easily accessible could be quite dangerous. I think I lingered around contemplating the flavor I wanted for so long that the vendors struck up a conversation with me and now know me by name. If that’s not an indicator that I’m an addict, I don’t know what else is!



What are your favorite holiday treats? Do you have a favorite Christmas tree to visit where you live?

Hooray it’s Turkey Day!

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It’s Thanksgiving, y’all! This was my first major holiday in Spain to have missed with my family. Consequentially, this was also the first Thanksgiving in 8 years in which I did not have to work at my restaurant job and let me tell you I LOVED it this year. The trade-off was missing the big day with my family but thanks to technology I was still able to send iMessages back and forth and share photos.

I may have managed to get out of working at a restaurant that day but that didn’t keep from cooking dinner for the holiday! May I present to you my Spanish friendsgiving? A few fellow expats and I myself in an attempt to swat away homesickness joined together for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Being the social gals that we are and mostly because we had enough tables to seat everyone, my roommate and I hosted the dinner in our apartment.

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As the hostesses, we were of course responsible for the turkey! Believe it or not, you can indeed find a whole turkey here in Spain! It just takes a while to get it all together. My roommate found a grocery store in the northern part of the city where she tutors in the evenings which advertised their pre-order deal for Thanksgiving turkeys. This put her in charge of bringing home the beast, a 10 pound bird by our estimates. I then prepared it by giving it a full body massage with butter and herbs and stuffing it’s gut with chopped and seasoned apples, onions, and carrots. At this point, it had to leave our apartment because our tiny convection oven was not going to hold this bird! That put me on a 5 minute walk across the plaza to the apartment of my co-teacher, Elle, who indeed had a full size oven and graciously let me use it for 3 1/2 hours. After his time in the oven, I needed some help carrying the bird back to my place. This thing was heavy, sloshing with butter and steaming hot. I enlisted the hands of our friend Andrew to help me tandem carry the roast bird back to my flat. Thankfully (see what I did there?) no problems at all were encountered either way with the in transit feast.

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Of course, a turkey isn’t enough so I made a pot of corn and cornbread dressing to set out on the table. Look at that butter, y’all. When in doubt, just dump a bunch of butter on your food and hope for the best. That’s my theory and it seems to have worked out all right.


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Everyone who came to the dinner brought something to share and all of the food was so dang good. I made the cornbread dressing and while it’s nowhere near as good as my grandmother’s, it got the job done. I think that everyone there, or maybe just me, could have eaten the entire pan of sweet potato casserole that my roommate made. It was a lovely, cozy evening to sit around with everyone at a big table, eat the comfort foods of home, and talk and drink wine. It just goes to show that no matter where you are, you can still enjoy your own culture’s traditions and share it with new friends.

Everyone gathered in my flat for the big meal.

Getting Carded in Madrid

Ok, ok…it’s not what you think! As a matter of fact, the legal drinking age in Spain is 18 so I’ve never been asked for I.D. nor have I ever seen anyone else been asked for theirs. I’m talking about all the other cards we need in our lives. Library, debit, and public transit. If you move to Madrid you’re gonna need to know how to get all of these cards and since I’ve (surprisingly) succeeded in doing so, I thought I’d share with all y’all how I did it!

Library Card 

Getting a library card was super easy! I went to the library closest to me, in Puerta de Toledo, and went up to the circulation desk under the sign that said “Carnes” (I think) and said I would like to obtain a library card. I had to show them a copy of my passport and provide them with my local address here in Madrid. The great thing is that the card is valid in ALL libraries which are part of the Comunidad de Madrid network and the Bibliometro! To locate one near you, click here. You will not be wanting for libraries! Once you are given a card, you can log in to “mi biblioteca” by using the number on your card for the “numero de carne de la biblioteca” and the password “contrasena” is the exp date on your card, which will be the day you opened it. Once you are logged in, you can check the availability of a book and also reserve books to pickup later!


Abono Transporte

This will be SUPER important if you’re going to commute out of the city or even to get around in town. To obtain one, you must have your passport, a copy of it, and a card sized I.D. photo.

Keep in mind, these photos are much smaller compared to the ones we get in the U.S. You can easily get one in any Metro station at a photo booth with the use of the machine plastered all over it. It’s 5€ to get 8 photos (6 small and 2 large) which will be plenty for just about everything you’ll need to get done in Madrid. Watch out though, the booths can be pretty sticky and your photos may come out bizarre…for example, the screen had a smudge of dirt on it so it looks as if I have a Cindy Crawford beauty mark. There was bad lighting in the one my roommate used and so it appears she has a 5 o’clock shadow mustache! It doesn’t matter though, just push the button, center your face, and get yo picha! I’ve been told that in most official documents in Spain, they prefer for you to not be smiling (something about your face being more natural) so I just kept a blank face for mine.

Ok! So you have your passport, a copy and your mugshot  glamour shot so now what? Go to a Tabaco or Estanco shop, you’ll see them everywhere all over town and tell them you want an Abono Transporte. You’ll be handed a form to fill out with the basics- name, I.D. number ( your U.S. passport is sufficient) address, and contact info. After you give the clerk your application they will enter your information into the system and ask which zone you want and then you will have a unique Abono number written on your card. The number is used to identify your zone so each time you recharge (whether in the machines in the Metro station or at another Tabaco or Estanco shop) you’ll pay the correct amount for your zone. For example, my school is in B3 and I have to pay 82€ a month! It’s pretty steep compared to other zones. That’s all there is to it! After you pay the 1,50€ for the card itself, you’re all set to go.

If you’re under 23, you can get an Abono Joven! Being young really does pay off…you can use an Abono Joven up until June of the year you turn 23. So if your birthday is in February, you’re in luck! You can keep paying the youth price until June. However, if you’re birthday is in October, sucks to be you because you’ll get cut off in June! At that point, you’ll have to get an Abono Transporte like all the rest of us adults. Keep in mind that it can take at least 10 DAYS to get your Abono Joven. The average wait period can be anywhere from 10-20 some odd days. So if you’re moving to Madrid, plan accordingly and get this done early and you can save some moolah.

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Debit Card

This was probably the most daunting task I had to do out of all the things listed in the post. WHICH BANK DO I CHOOSE?!?!? There are a lot of banks to choose from in Spain so to help with my decision making, I did what any modern gal would do and went to the Facebook groups! I’m a member in several Auxiliar groups on Facebook and used the search box to look up terms used in posts and comment threads like “banks, banking, Spanish banks, debit card, bank account, etc.” and read so many I can’t remember the count. The unanimous opinion was that one should avoid Santander, Bankia, Sabadell, and any with “caja” in the name. The banks with the most positive comments were ING Direct, La Caixa, BBVA, and Evo. I really REALLY wanted to bank with ING Direct as they have a lot of positive reviews and it is a Dutch company with headquarters in Amsterdam. I wanted to avoid a Spanish bank due greatly to the financial crisis on the off chance the company should go under. The only issue was that ING Direct can be difficult to get without your TIE and since I won’t get that until at least December 15th(more info on that later) I knew I needed something sooner. I went with Evo after a friend recommended them to me, greatly because they are open until 8:00 pm! Most Spanish banks are only open 8:30-2:30 so this was a luxury I found all too enticing. I got the Cuenta Corriente and so far have been pleased with them. No fees, commisions, nada at all and the account includes a checking account, savings account, debit card and credit card all gratis. I am not using the savings (have one in the U.S.) or credit card (because, duh) and there is no charge to leave them untouched, it’s just a package deal. The best part? EVERY ATM in the WORLD is FREE. You will not be charged at all to use your debit card in an ATM anywhere. I did some research on Evo before opening and found out they were recently bought out by an American financial firm so I liked the insurance of a foreign hand as well.





Evaluating what I want in Spain

I’ve been in Spain nearly two months now and have just now realized that much time has passed. I guess it’s safe to say that I’m settling in, getting used to a routine, becoming more comfortable teaching in front of the classroom, planning lessons, getting around Madrid and just living life in a new country. At the risk of sounding cliche, this has become an opportune time for self reflection and to evaluate what I want to accomplish and experience during my time in Spain and Europe. I’m here until the end of June 2014 at the minimum and will have substantial breaks for travel during Christmas and Easter holidays but in between those free times, how should I pass my time? Sure, I could jet set off to a different country on the weekends if I wanted since Europe is so easily accessible by cheap flights but now I find myself leaning more towards the idea of spending weekends throughout Spain and truly getting to know the country that I am calling home for now.

Hanging out on a sunny Saturday by the lake in Retiro.

Hanging out on a sunny Saturday by the lake in Retiro.

I stumbled upon this idea in a way that was quite surprising which was through my students. One way to really get Spanish students of ESL talking is to get them to talk about Spain; the food, travel, must-dos, etc. This goes for my middle school kids as well as the adults! When leading an adult conversation class, I asked them where I should visit in Spain and what I should do there and that took up the entire 1 hour 15 minute class! Spanish people are passionate about their homeland and are so eager to talk about it and share with other people. You had best believe I’m taking notes.

My co-worker Elle and I all pumped up for Halloween at high school!

My co-worker Elle and I all pumped up for Halloween at high school!

This past Thursday, my flexible group of 2nd year students were learning how to talk about “going on a school trip” and to get the conversation started, the teacher asked them “Where have you gone on a school trip?” and wrote down all their responses on the chalk board. She then asked me if I had been to any of those places and when I said no, the kids got so excited! “OH! Amanda! You must go! You must go and see it! My favorite thing to do there is…” and that was the most animated they’d been all week! They were so excited to share their stories with me that for our next class period together, they’re going to bring photos of their field trip to show me. Who knew 12 and 13 year olds could be your best travel guides?

So now that I’m getting an idea of how I want to travel, when will I do this?? Well, no news of that just yet, I’m having problems with my bank not wanting to give me my debit card so I’m kind of forced to be sedentary until then so it looks like it’ll be late November or early December that I will get to travel outside of Madrid. Fortunately, this city is completely massive and overwhelming with so much to see! The history of this grand place interests me seeing as some parts of the city date back to the 1200s and to think, these places are a few blocks walk from my front door!

Jorge Borges


In trying to evaluate my time here, I realized I was approaching blogging in a way that wasn’t suiting to who I really am. Thus, the name change from “Eat Well Travel Often” to “Books and a Backpack”. It may seem trivial and it’s NOT that I don’t love to eat because trust me, I do, it was just that I realized I found myself more focused on reading and books than I have been on food. I’ve been a bookworm my whole life and carry an English degree so why shouldn’t I write about books and literature if that’s what I find myself most passionate about in my day to day life?

My best friend Jenna and me at the home of my literary learning.

My best friend Jenna and me at the home of my literary learning.

I’d already decided before making it all the way to Madrid that I definitely wanted to read A LOT more while here. I mean, I only work 16 hours a week and have a few private classes in the evening so given the copious amounts of free time, my first response was that I was free to SOOOOOOOOOOO much recreational reading. I no longer need to follow a syllabus (not that I didn’t enjoy all my English classes!) but now I get to read what I want in my cornucopia of free time. Another perfect component of this plan is that Madrileños read on public transportation all the time. I commute by train to school almost every day, that is if I don’t ride with another teacher by car, so that gives me substantial time to read daily during time that would otherwise be spent staring out the window at grafitti and dry land.

This was my room back in the spring of this year. I kind of think it's wonderful.

This was my room back in the spring of this year. I kind of think it’s wonderful.