There’s no place like Spain for the holidays

Well, they say that there’s no place like home for the holidays…it’s true, there really is no comparison to being home for Christmas. It’s the time of year to be with your family, practice traditions that you do every year, reminisce the memories of past Christmases, bake some cookies and pie, and watch some super cheesy Christmas movies.

I thought about going home around this time, but it just didn’t make sense to spend over $1,000 just on airfare when I’m going to have to go home anyway this coming year. So I decided to stay here for the holidays, and to be honest I haven’t regretted it! Madrid is beautiful this time of year, as the city hangs up lights on all of the streets in the center of the city.


Inside the Christmas tree at Puerta del Sol


A little Christmas store and tree set up at Callao


Spaniards also make amazing elaborate nativity scenes, which is called a belén.

This beautiful belén is inside one of the local school lobbies!

And what about those typical European Christmas markets? Yup, they’ve got those too. Typically, they have toys, Christmas decorations and trees, accessories for your belén, and crazy colored wigs that are traditional for people to wear this time of year.


Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor
The lit up Plaza Mayor


In the spirit of taking advantage of what we have nearby, we took a trip to Ávila in early December. This small city is known for its historical significance, a super cool, well maintained wall surrounding the city that dates back to the 11th century, its cathedral and basilica. We also enjoyed some really good food (including Spanish-American fusion).

We took advantage of the sunny patio
The beers came with a free tapa, delicious stuffed crepes

When going to Ávila, one must walk along at least part of the wall. It’s open to the public and gives some incredible views of the city.


The Basilica de San Vincente is beautiful too and worth a look. There’s Roman writing everywhere and the architecture is different from the usual Gothic style.

View of the basilica from the wall


We didn’t go inside the cathedral, but just admiring it from outside is enough to make you feel like you’re living hundreds of years ago, with a nearby doorway in the wall that has remnants of centuries old gates and hiding places to fight intruders.


The church itself was actually built into the wall!

The second week of December for me was filled with my wild animal class, and this month we focused on anatomy and surgery of snakes and turtles. Needless to say, it was very interesting and a ton of information was crammed into that week. The highlight for me was learning how to do sutures and stitches. Some veterinarians in my class helped me to learn a few different styles, which I practiced on a Gaboon viper (that had passed away months before). That week we also took a class tour of the natural history museum of Madrid. I was impressed! They even showed us their collection of cryogenically frozen samples of genetic material.

The natural history museum

I was also lucky enough to attend the veterinary department’s Christmas party, which wasn’t exactly like the Christmas parties we have in the states! There was a DJ playing music to dance to (not Christmas music), drinks, and a ton of veterinarians, professors, and students. The funniest part for me was dancing to American Idiot by Green Day and realizing that I was the American idiot. Just kidding, no one was calling me an idiot, although hearing that song again now makes so much more sense looking at my country from afar. Seriously though, it was a lot of fun and felt good to be taking part in “normal” Spanish society.

By the time Christmas eve got here, I had already gotten a gift for my “amigo invisible” which is like secret Santa. I also made an apple pie with my mom’s recipe and it came out pretty good!


We had a very fancy dinner at Diego’s parents’ house which included seafood, puff pastries stuffed with caramelized onions and cheese, some with quail egg and arugula, smoked salmon, and the traditional roscón (Christmas dessert).


Santa came to the house and gave out gifts to all the kids, who stood in awe and excitement. Christmas day, we slept in, I made pancakes, and we had another fancy meal with family.

There’s nothing like fresh pancakes!

I opened my gifts that had come for me in the mail from family back home, which were extra appreciated due to how far they had to travel! I also enjoyed getting some Christmas photos and letters in the mail from friends and family.

Now we’re in the pueblo for New Year’s Eve. The normal tradition is to eat 12 grapes at midnight, which is difficult especially because grapes here aren’t seedless (you have to search for those). Then people party until the sun comes up, at which point they go out for churros and chocolate. We’ll be going to the only bar in town to celebrate, and making churros and chocolate at home. It’s super cold right now in the pueblo, so I brought a billion layers to wear and I have to do my “jog in place” thing to warm up at random times. Today was amazing and I finally got to visit the wolf center here. And by stroke of luck, I had the opportunity to chat with the veterinarian! Post for another day!

This month, I made a point to call a lot of family and it was great to catch up a bit. Some family members asked me if I felt homesick, and I could honestly answer that I am not (surprisingly)! Of course I miss my family and friends back home, but I’m truly enjoying my time here and I feel like there is so much more for me to do and see here. I’m trying to take advantage of every day that I have, and I hope to continue that spirit into 2017.

Happy New Years!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Wieman says:

    I am so glad that you enjoyed Christmas at your home-away-from-home! It looks like it was wonderful. Madrid was just beautiful. Fun to experience new traditions celebrated by others. Your mom’s apple pie looked delicious. Not a tradition you want to give up! Avila looks amazing. It’s on my list for when we return – someday. I love your enthusiasm. You will certainly make the most of your time in Spain.


    1. Thanks Lisa! I hope I will look back on this time of my life and think that I did in fact make the most of it 🙂


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