Afternoon in the Arena: Spanish Bullfighting

First of all, I just want to preview that there might be some graphic images sensitive to some eyes. It’s mostly informational and a look into a huge part of their culture.

Here are the basics.

Before the fight:

There are two types of corridas(bullfights):

  • Rejones: This is where the matador (main man) rides on horseback.
  • Normal Corrida: This is where the matador is on the ground running around the bull.

I saw my first bullfight in Madrid at the famous Las Ventas stadium and it was Rejones. It was a very good first experience and I enjoyed it because of the culture and the techniques. I don’t think anyone’s answer to why they like a bullfight is because the bull dies. It’s just the final act of the show. I didn’t really have plans to see another one, but when they opened the bullring in my town for the first time since 1908 and one of my previous students was the matador, I had to go. Yes, my 16 year old student killed a bull two bulls.

Things to know:

  • When you buy tickets you will have to pick a section sombra(shade) or sol(sun). The sombra tickets are going to be cheaper. The sunny seats aren’t terrible at all, just bring some sunglasses or a visor.
  • Bring a jacket or something to sit on. There are no comfy seats. In most cases, you are sitting on a cinderblock. Or you can buy/rent a cushion to enjoy the 2 hour fight more comfortably.
  • The bulls will die. And there will be blood. So if you have a queasy stomach, you might opt to see highlights on tv or youtube instead of the live time show.
  • Yes, I used plural bulls. Usually for each corrida, there are multiple bull fighters(mataderos) and they have two bulls each to kill.


1. Entrance. The bull runs into the ring and multiple fighters use the red/yellow cape to tire the bull out. Yell “Olé” when it’s a good pass. Or they run around on horseback.


2. Picadores. This is where they take a small lance and jab it right behind the neck to weaken the bull.

3. Banderillas. This is where they take larger lances with hooks at the end to further weaken the bull.


4. Tercio de Muerte (third of death). This stage, the matadero takes a red cape and a sword to do the final job. It’s not bing, bang, boom done. The matadero has to get a hold of the bull and find its tendencies. The bull does several passes under the red cape. When the matadero deems it ready, they plant the sword right into the back of the bull. Then they get the bull to do a few more passes with the cape to get it to fall down and eventually die. That part is fairly quick.

5. Waving of the handkerchiefs. When the bull takes it’s final breath, the crowd takes out their Kleenex or handkerchiefs and waves them in the air. Then the president of the bull association deems how good of a kill it was. They will signal with white handkerchiefs. If they put one, one ear is cut off the bull and the matadero throws it into the audience. If they put two white handkerchiefs, then two ears. And for three, they cut off the tail too!


Personal stories:

1st bullfight with my cousins. My cousins came in for the week and they surprised me with tickets to a big corrida in Las Ventas. Little did I know, my cousin’s wife didn’t know they killed the bulls. Much less that there were going to be 6 dead bulls at the end of the night. So we got some big glasses of tinto de verano and that soothed her a bit. Then a bathroom break for one of the bulls and we left early because it started to rain. But I’ll never forget my cousin’s commentary, we had great seats right up front, so he gave a play by play like we were watching a baseball game! Thanks Matthew and McKay for a first great bullfight experience!


2nd bullfight to watch one of my students be the bullfighter. Everything was going well and then one of the assistant older men was doing passes with the cape and the bull. There is a loud crash bang sound, the crowd gasps, and the man goes down. The bulls go back towards him and some other assistants quickly distract the bull to the other side of the ring. Four men pick up the wounded man and carry him out of the arena. I’m not sure who’s face went more pale: mine or my 16 year old student who had to continue to kill this bull. Probably one of the scariest things I’ve seen here in Spain or ever in my life. About 30 minutes later, the man walks back into the area and we can all see that he is fine. Thank the Lord! And with that experience, I think my bullfight days are done. I can successfully say I’ve seen two corridas and I’ve learned a lot culturally through the experience.


This kid is 16. BRAVO


La Sementera

Another year, another fería. Check out this cute promotional video-all filming is done in my town.

It’s a celebration in the whole town from Wednesday through Sunday. The Sementera is an old festival tradition in Torrijos. Today, people come from neighboring towns to enjoy afternoon beers and late night concerts. Families bring their kids to the fairgrounds to ride the attractions and eat some salchi-papas. In the old days, I like to think that people traveled on their horses to Torrijos to visit friends and family and similar to today, share a beer. I also think they had other motives like buying supplies for their farms or more livestock. Now the only things you can buy are pitardos (firecrackers), cheap toys, and counterfeit Nike shoes and fake Prada purses.

Wednesday is the first day of the celebration and it starts with the coronation of the town queen. PSA: She’s 15 and in one of my English classes. It’s a pretty big honor to get crowned or to be one of the accompanying ladies. My friends said they would nominate me for 2017 Torrijos Town Queen. The campaign starts now.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all have a pretty similar agenda. Sleep in, because there is no school! 1:30pm Meet up with friends in the main plaza for afternoon beers. €1 bottles!!! Then grab a sandwich for lunch from one of the tents set up around the square. Enjoy the afternoon listening to some music, catching up with friends, and of course–drinking beer. The brave stay in the square all day and all night. Some (cough, cough, me) go back to their apartments around 7:00pm, take a quick nap, maybe a shower to refresh, and head back out! Grab another sandwich for dinner and switch to coctails. Mojitos are the big thing in Spain. I prefer a classic, vodka-lemonade. You can take the girl out of college, but you can’t take the college-age-appropriate drinks out of the girl. There’s a concert in the main square for the adult crowd. In the fairground area, there is a giant party for the adolescents. I didn’t dare step foot over there because on Monday my kids would have never let me live it down.

And yes, you must be thinking that publically drinking all day in the town square might give your students a bad idea. I thought the same thing last year until a student bought a round of teachers some drinks. The key for Spanish drinking is patience. We aren’t pounding shots at the bar and a few beers a day just might keep the doctor away. That’s the saying, right?!

Special shoutout to my friends this weekend (JF&S) who always made sure my stomach was full and I always had a cold drink to cool off with. They are some of the nicest people I’ve met here and I am so thankful for these wonderful friends.

The Spanish Wedding

It started off as a joke that I wanted to go to a Spanish wedding, but when one of the teachers at the school got engaged, it became a reality.  How lucky am I that I can check Spanish Wedding off my cultural bucket list?!  It was such an incredible night with all my colleagues at school and I’m so happy that I could share this day with the newlyweds.

So here’s a break down of the wedding day.

1:00pm Hair appointment.  Because everyone who goes to the wedding goes to their favorite hair stylist to get a nice up-do.

6:00pm Meet outside the church for the ceremony.  Take pictures (obviously) and give/receive immense amount of compliments.  Forget Paris Fashion Week, just go to a Spanish wedding.  People get dressed like they are going to the Oscars.  And those fancy little feather hats are worn for afternoon weddings, so I didn’t wear one.  Also don’t forget your paper fan, because old Spanish churches don’t have air.



Teachers and the bride on the right

6:30pm Ceremony starts.  Ceremony is very similar to ones in the US.  Bride walks in with father, everyone stands up.  Here are some differences: no bridesmaids or groomsmen.  The only people at the alter are the bride and groom and their respective parents.  And the final, “You may now kiss your wife” isn’t included.  A bit anti-climatic if you ask me.  The priest just said, you are now married.  Good thing I was paying attention or I would have missed it.

8:00pm Reception Hour and Tapas.  We all drove to a nearby farm where the reception was held.  Now I know what you’re thinking *a farm*???? Let me just say the bride is a granddaughter of the founder of Navidul Jamon and the reception was on their personal family farm.  Some of the pre-dinner tapas included JAMON, sushi, mini hamburgers, kebobs, grilled veggies, etc.  PS.) My future wedding will have a professional jamon cutter even if we have to import him and the ham from Spain. 🙂




wedding selfies with the bride and groom

10:00pm Dinner time.  We all went to our assigned tables and dinner was served.  Or more like we served our dinner.  It was a buffet station dinner where there were different tables set up to go get whatever you liked.  Stations included: soup, salad, cheese, fish, meat, pulpo (octopus), and dessert.  No big wedding cake like in the US, we could choose from an assortment of mousses and flans.

12pm-1am. I’ve actually lost track of time but it was probably around midnight when everyone made their way to the dance floor for dancing and more drinking.  I LOVE DANCING at weddings.  All the teachers grouped together and were goofing off doing silly dance moves.  I surprised all of them when I knew almost every Spanish song played.  And then I took control when Mambo no. 5 came on! We also had fun in the photo booth taking silly pics.

6:00am The sky is getting brighter and we are still dancing away.  The crowd has dwindled but they are going strong.  However my friend and I decided it was time to leave because we had blisters on our feet.  I heard later that some people stayed until 8:00am dancing!!  Spain knows how to party!


This was honestly one of the best nights here in Spain and a great way to wrap up my first year in Spain!

5 things Spain is doing right

Awhile ago I posted about some things that I missed about America.  This is the follow-up post talking about some things that the US could learn from Spain.

  1. Jamon.  Need I say more?! Rumor is that God didn’t rest on the 7th day, he created jamon Serrano.
  2. Walking.  Everywhere. This is why everyone in this country is so skinny. It helps that I live in a small town and I walk to every one of my private classes, but I average 8 miles a day.
  3. Commercial breaks during television. They don’t occur every five minutes or every change of scene; however you will have a 5 minute break halfway through the show. It’s the perfect break during a show to run to the bathroom or grab an ice cream from the freezer.
  4. Dryer racks in the cabinets. I don’t mind washing the dishes but I really dislike drying the dishes. Spain genius engineers have designed cabinets above the sink where you leave the dishes to dry on their own. I guess we don’t need this in the US if we have dishwashers, but it’s one of my favorite things about my apartment.


And possibly the most ironic thing about this country is the division between old and new; modern and old-fashioned. This is best demonstrated through chip-pin-credit cards and bank books.

  1. Europe is more advanced than the US with their credit cards. Every card here is chip-pin, which means that you insert your card in a machine and enter your pin. Cards like these are now just being introduced into the US. On the contrary, when I go to the bank to make a deposit or transfer money for rent, I have to present my bank book. It’s a little book that tracks all the transactions from my account. Also there is one man who works at my bank. ONE MAN. Talk about old fashioned-he knows me by name when I walk in. Now that’s customer service.

bank book

So, there’s a glimpse into my simple happy Spanish life. Come on over and visit anytime

la fería

In Spain, there’s never a reason not to party.

Torrijos holds it’s annual festival during the weekend of September 23-27.  During this time from Wednesday to Sunday, the entire town pretty much shuts down and just celebrates.  School let out early after afternoon mass on Wednesday and there wasn’t school on Thursday or Friday.  It’s clear to see the “work to live or live to work” cultural differences between Spain and America.  (I’ll save that for another post) Needless to say Torrijeños might say that La Fería is the happiest time of the year.  Think American 4th of July festivals and that’s what Fería looked like.  The celebration is centered in the main plaza with a giant tent in the center for dancing and concerts and surrounded by mini food/beer tents.  Mostly just beer tents-€1 beers.  🙂

The festival started Wednesday night with the opening ceremony including speeches and the crowning of the queen of the festival.  My new dream: be queen of a festival! I actually have the queen in one of my english classes so that’s probably as close as I will ever get to be a queen.

Thursday through Sunday had a similar schedule of events.  Everyday started with cañas (beers) in the plaza, lots of dancing, and lots of tapas.  I spent Thursday and Friday with Monica and Ana.  It’s amazing that when I am with them I don’t get treated like a tourist or a foreigner.  I feel like I fit in when we are together, it’s a great feeling to have this special Spanish family of mine.

Saturday I spent the day with some of the other teachers from my school.  They have all been so welcoming and supportive, I couldn’t have imagined it any better.  We ate lots of jamón iberico.  (It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with spanish jamón-when mama Ana and I walk into our regular bar, Martín the bartender, has two beers ready for us and a plate of freshly carved jamón for me)

There’s a lot more to la fería than just beer, or maybe not.  JUST KIDDING.  It’s a party for the whole town, and in a small town, it’s the ultimate block party.  People travel from the surrounding towns to celebrate in Torrijos with friends and family.  I felt like the most popular teacher in the world because all of my students would come up to me and say, “hhhhhello Gabby!” And it’s even acceptable to drink with your students.  I think that was the biggest cultural shock for me when one of my students bought me a drink and my boss said it was totally normal.  OK Spain, I could get used to this.

It was an incredible weekend and I am glad that I was here to celebrate it.  Here are some pictures that can’t justly capture my happiness that I am living a dream come true.


only in spain can teachers be photographed drinking beer


teacher friends


hey mom, I have friends


spanish sisters are the best


spain knows how to party

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This is exactly where I’m meant to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do.

Where to even start, I’ve been in Spain for exactly two weeks and it already feels like home. Here’s the short list for those who don’t want to read this very long, but necessary, blog post: moved into my apartment, my landlord’s mom adopted me, I celebrated my birthday with my new Spanish family, lots of afternoon cañas (beers) and siestas, visited Avila-Spain, ate like the queen of Spain.

Home sweet home


Who can say they signed their first apartment contract in Spanish? Me. I officially have a place to call home for the next nine months, or maybe more?! My cute little piso is about 100 meters down the street from the school where I’ll be teaching. It has all the necessities, including a washing machine in the kitchen-typical Spain.

Mamá Ana


There aren’t enough nice words in English or Spanish to describe this woman who has adopted me and treated me like one of her own daughters. (I am renting Monica’s old apartment, and Ana is Monica’s mother.) From the moment when she called me after I had put a down payment on the apartment to tell me that she’s giving me one of the tv’s from her house, I knew I hit the jackpot. She has done so much to make me feel so comfortable so quickly. In Ana’s words, “If you had a car, you could just come live with me”. She has quickly become one of my greatest role models because of her unconditional love and caring nature. I know some of my fondest memories will be going out for afternoon beers before lunch at our ‘regular spot’, her teaching me Spanish cooking recipes, and having lazy days watching telenovelas and siesta time. She’s the best and I love her so much

23rd birthday




No one should have to celebrate their birthday alone and I don’t think I ever will. Ana and Monica picked me up early in the afternoon to take me to Ana’s house. (she lives in the next town over, 10 mins away) And much to my surprise there was a grandiose meal, champagne cider, cake and candles! Oh I am so lucky and fortunate to have met these amazing women!! After the best meal I’ve ever eaten, it was time for tv and siestas. Later that day for dinner Ana and I met up with Monica, her boyfriend and his family. Lots of beer, wine, and jamon iberico later, best birthday celebration I could have imagined.

Feria de Fuensalida


Ana called me up Thursday morning telling me to pack a bag and that I’m going to spend the weekend with her at her house. I could never refuse her company or the delicious food that she cooks so of course I said yes. Our favorite afternoon ritual is to start prepping and cooking lunch then head to the bar across the street for a few beers. Being that she has been a long time regular at the bar and now I am too, we order two beers and then the following two are ‘on the house’. It’s these small town relationships and connections are what I love about spain. So we hear that the next town over is having parties to celebrate their patron saint. Ok-imagine fourth of july festivals, lots of kids rides and attractions, food, and music. Ana and I decide to go to the concert that was recommended and arrive an hour early because we expect it to be crowded. After asking a few teens to give us directions to the concert venue, we arrive to the plaza with two stages set up and Ana says, “Que cosita más fea” <what an ugly little thing>. We were two of 8 people in the entire plaza waiting for the band to come on. She just kept saying, “If it’s bad, we will just leave and go eat churros and chocolate”. The first band started playing around midnight and when they opened by singing the famous Disney Frozen song, Let it Go, I knew it was going to be an interesting night. After meeting a couple of Ana’s friends, we all started dancing and it turned into an incredible night. We had so much fun dancing till 4am when we decided it was time to head home.  It was a blast signing to all the songs and dancing around with her.





IMG_5989Sunday morning I took a day trip to Ávila with Monica, Sergio, and his family. It’s a small medieval town and home of Santa Teresa de Ávila. It’s a beautiful city that gives any visitor a view into the past. In times like today where we anxiously await announcements about advances in technology, it’s incredible to see technologies of the past. I could have spent all day in the church exploring every nook and cranny of the incredibly intricate design and handiwork of artisans. Chasing three kids around the town was fun but after a long morning of walking around and a delicious lunch, naptime in the car ride home was much needed for me as well as the kids. I am constantly amazed and humbled by the generosity of my new family to take such good care of me and show me all around Spain.

chasing the sun

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and it all became so real.  I arrived in Madrid about 36 hours ago and it’s been such a wonderful whirlwind of an adventure.  Too much has happened so I’ll summarize the main points.

Sunday 8/30 cabin door closes to aircraft and no one is sitting next to me.  WIN

Monday 8/31 I arrive in Madrid and check into my adorable B&B right on the Gran Vía. All I can say is that I didn’t trip carrying all my bags and thank goodness there was an elevator to my hotel on the 8th floor! My friend, Alex, and I walk around Madrid and hit all the sights, Palacio Real, Plaza del Sol, Mercado de San Miguel, and Plaza Mayor.  I was completely in awe of seeing all these incredible sights for the first time.  I’m so happy to see things that I’ve looked at in textbooks all my life finally in person.  Other important life events include obtaining a spanish phone number and data package.  How crazy is it that about 15 euros a month will get me almost more that I use in the US and have to pay 50$?! I love it here

Tuesday 9/1 I made some appointments to look at apartments in Torrijos where I will be teaching.  First one=LOVE.  Got it! I totally forgot to take pictures but will take some when I officially move all my stuff over there.  It’s a super cute little flat with one bedroom, bath, kitchen and living room complete with all furniture.  It’s right across from the school where I’ll be teaching and near all the amenities (grocery, shopping, bar, etc.) Big shoutout to my spanish house words vocabulary list from high school, although I have a few more to add.  Very excited to now officially have a place to live and call home!

It’s absolutely amazing here and I love the city of Madrid, so much to do all the time.  Oh I could go on and on with a list of things I already love about Spain but I’ll save that for another time.