A Floridian in New York on New Year’s Eve

Cassidy, her mom, and her sister posing in front of the Rockefeller Tree on New Year's EveBy Cassidy Kearney

For the last few years, my family and I visited New York City to celebrate New Year’s Eve. This year, our celebrations will be strictly limited to our living room thanks to the pandemic. So, I thought remembering our first New Year’s Eve trip may fill up some of the wanderlust I’ve felt since this whole thing began. This trip inspired my family to start doing family vacations. The years after, my dad and brother joined us for another New York trip, and the whole family visited Ireland the year after. Unfortunately, any plans we had for this year had been diced. I’m just glad I have the photos and memories of these trips to keep me going!

New York on New Year’s Eve

During our first trip, it was just my mom, sister, and I. We were there for an extended weekend. We felt dead set on jamming all of the New York highlights into our trip. It was also the first time we’d been to the city during winter. Although it was milder than our following trips, we splurged at a nearby winter accessories store on 7th Ave. While my mom and sister picked up a pair of wool hats, I grabbed a pair of luxurious mittens (I could write a paragraph about how wonderful these mittens are — seriously, sometimes my hands get sweaty). Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the shop, but definitely keep your eyes peeled for extra-warm looking hats, scarves, and mittens near the theatre district!

We spent most of our trip finding unique breakfast diners and wandering around the city. In just a few days, we managed to squeeze in a horse-carriage ride, saw a peaceful protest in a local park, and took a long walk around Central Park’s lake. Our wanderings took us to Chinatown’s Columbus Park to find a vibrant community playing table games. Plus, we visited the then-brand-new Second Avenue Subway Station, a welcome reprieve from being on our feet.

Times Square on New Year’s Eve

Thanks to my mom’s employment at an NYC-based company, she had racked up enough Hilton points to get us a hotel a short walk away from Times Square. When we stepped out onto the streets on New Year’s Eve morning, the streetscape had been completely transformed. There were police everywhere, with news vans parked on every corner. Barricades blocked the street from any cross traffic. The closer we got to Times Square, the thicker the crowds got. There were people already staking their claim to see the Ball at 10:00am, making for a grueling 14-hour wait.

NYPD preparing for New Year's Eve

A Happy Coincidence

Although we had originally planned on seeing the Ball that night, my mom, sister, and I were completely disinterested in spending one whole day in New York just waiting around. We decided to try to figure something else to do that night. The three of us spent the day exploring Chinatown and LIttle Italy. We ended the night in an Irish pub with no clear plan in sight. With minutes to spare, we decided to return to our hotel to try and see the Ball from our room. 

As we got closer to our hotel, the barricades became increasingly more secure. By the time we had reached 7th Ave, we needed a police escort to cross the street to get to our hotel. As the officer led us through the crowds, he and my mom started chatting about how we were liking New York, what our plans for the evening were, and where we were from. As it turns out, he had visited our hometown quite a few times! Halfway across the street, he stopped us and told us he could try to get us closer to the Ball. 

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Chance

The officer led us behind the police barricade giving us the OK to the other police officers standing guard. Block after block passed as we sped by what must have at least been a million people crammed onto 7th Ave. My sister and I stole shocked looks at one another the closer we got. After a few conversations with his superiors, he got us a whole TEN BLOCKS closer to the Ball, the closest they would allow civilians to be! We were right there!! He got us so close we were able to see the confetti. We sang Auld Lang Syne and New York, New York with the crowd and danced in the snow, thanking the officer profusely the whole time. It was undeniably the most magical New Year’s Eve I have ever had, to this day. 

Confetti in Times Square on New Year's Eve

After the New Year broke, the crowds quickly dispersed, and our officer friend wished us a happy New Year and a good evening. Discarded New Year’s hats and streamers littered the street and passer-bys shouted “Happy New Year!” to the sky. We knew we had experienced something we would certainly never be able to again. The whole experience felt altogether surreal. Fortunately, I had been videoing our trip the entire time and was able to capture everything on camera. The video is attached below for those interested in watching!

The Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree, which Cassidy and her family visited before New Year's Eve

Be Kind

Although I don’t remember the officer’s name, he gave me and my family a New Year’s Eve celebration I don’t think any of us will forget. This year, if you get the chance, be sure to tell our public workers thank you for everything they’re doing. Remember to be kind and extend a helping hand whenever you can. Although we may not be able to celebrate like normal, the holidays can still be full of love and support. Happy holidays and warm wishes to all!

Holiday Guide: Rest, Relax, Enjoy

By Dreams Abroad

Amidst a year like no other, we’ve all found new ways to bring people together, even when physically apart. The holiday season is for feeling grateful and giving to our loved ones. We are so grateful to our readers and writers for giving us their support. We asked the Dreams Abroad team which pieces they connected with this year. We’ve had new members, guest writers, many locations, and an array of professional tips that we shared over the course of 2020. Rest, relax, and enjoy our selections in our 2020 holiday guide. 

Our Holiday Guide

The Team Behind the Scenes: Dreams Abroad Ops

Our operations team is thinking of guests and professions this year, and here’s what Emma and Tyler have selected.

Emma Schultz

Emma Schultz picked two diverse but equally inspiring pieces on travel and on completing an internship abroad for our 2020 holiday guide.

Guest writer Lisa Mallett’s piece, Living In A Tourist Destination: Niagara Falls, Canada was one of Emma’s favorite reads this year. The guide offers incredible insight into the region and has lots of detailed tips on things to do in addition to admiring the falls! Emma hopes to travel there someday (hopefully sooner rather than later!) to enjoy some ice wine and a ride on the Niagara Jet Boat.

A photo of Horseshoe Fall

Emma also enjoyed Leesa’s interview with We Study participant Ajay Pfister, My L’Oreal Internship: A Dutch Workation. In this, Ajay details his experience interning for La Roche-Posay (L’Oreal) in the Netherlands during a global pandemic. He talks about navigating joining a new team while working remotely 50% of the time. Ajay’s comments on creativity, networking, and growth particularly resonated with her.

Ajay working from home for his L'oreal Internship

Tyler Black

Tyler Black chose two pieces that covered the difficult topic of coronavirus in Spain, where he lived for two years, and Mexico, where he recently visited.

Writer Edgar Llivisupa talks about teaching in Spain with Leesa Truesdell in his interview Living in Ontinyent, Spain While Social Distancing. This piece really hit home for Tyler because he was also an English teacher in Spain, and could really relate with the challenges that Edgar had to overcome. Tyler was also interested in hearing about life in Spain during the pandemic. Edgar’s positive outlook throughout the interview was reassuring during these difficult times.

A drinking fountain that Edgar noticed had been shut down as he started traveling again.

Tyler also relished Stephanie Vargas’ piece The Day of the Dead During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Tyler visited Mexico City in 2019 shortly after the Day of the Dead. Stephanie gave him an impromptu tour, so he was very interested in seeing how the city was dealing with the pandemic. Stephanie does an incredible job of detailing the changes that people have had to make this year in order to pay respects to their deceased loved ones. 

One More Edit: Dreams Abroad Editors

Our Dreams Abroad editors chose four very different yet equally great articles. 

Cassidy Kearney

Cassidy Kearney highlighted two very different pieces about traveling and studying abroad for our holiday guide. 

She really enjoyed reading about Emma Higgins’ month wandering around Vietnam. Emma saw so much of Vietnam, all while on a tight budget. From mysterious mountainscapes to towering skyscrapers, she highlighted everything that makes Vietnam an exciting destination point. Plus, the food looks amazing!

Hue Vietnam

Jiye Kang’s article about studying abroad in Haifa, Israel, was also a fascinating read. As someone who considered applying to a master’s program abroad, Cassidy found Jiye’s piece especially interesting. Plus, she’s studying archeology in one of the most archeologically-rich areas of the world. This is a great read to get to learn more about studying abroad, what living in Haifa, Israel is like, and to get some insight into the fascinating world of modern-day archeology.

A photo of Jiye brushing off an artifact at a dig site.

Matthew Hirtes

Matthew Hirtes recommends checking out two of our management members’ pieces.

While he is always drawn to Leesa Truesdell’s interviews because of the stimulating questions she asks interviewees to open up about their experiences, his first choice was this travel article from February. The colorful descriptions and expert photography transported him to Leesa’s epic birthday in Paris and he felt like he was actually there celebrating with her.

Champs de Elysse

October brought this superbly-researched guide to Pittsburgh from Tyler Black. Like Tyler, Matthew enjoys exploring a new city thoroughly upon relocating there. Tyler did so with gusto, which makes for an infectious read.

Explore things to do in Pittsburgh!

All the Way to the Top: Dreams Abroad Director

Leesa Truesdell

Finally, our Dreams Abroad director shares two pieces from Madrid, a place close to her heart, in our holiday guide. 

Leesa selected Sarah’s Guide to Moving to Spain because it is one of the most comprehensive guides to moving to Spain she’s read so far. She has fond memories of living abroad in Spain. Leesa recommends reading Sarah’s guide to get you overseas and to Madrid. If you’re thinking of teaching abroad, check out Sarah’s article to see how this is possible. It’s not as difficult or daunting as you might think. Live outside of your comfort zone and chase your dreams abroad! 

Sarah at the Jefferson Memorial while applying for her visa in Spain

Timisha’s most recent article about celebrating the holidays abroad reminds our director of her own holiday experiences, but through a different lens. This heartfelt piece is worthy of recognition and a read. Be sure to break out the eggnog and holiday cookies before reading this article to get the full effect. 

Timisha spends the holidays abroad

We hope you have a happy and relaxing holiday season. Our Dreams Abroad family will continue to share their experiences in 2021. Would you like to share one of yours? Join us by sending us an email or refer a friend who might have an inspiring story. You know where to find us. Happy Holidays!

Spending the Holidays Abroad in Spain

In the eight years that I’ve been in Madrid, I’ve never fully loved spending the holidays abroad without my family. Many people have told me some horror stories about their families and why they don’t get along with them. However, that’s never been my experience. Although I come from a single-parent home, my mother’s family is extremely close. It didn’t occur to me that my family was a little different than others until I got older. My mother’s four brothers protected, guided, and spoiled me rotten. Instead of a “daddy’s girl,” you could definitely call me an “uncle’s girl.” Anyone that has known me for a significant amount of time can tell you that I can go on and on about my uncles and the bond that I have with all six of them at length, my dad’s two brothers included.  

Uncle Ricky

I especially love celebrating Christmas with my uncle Ricky. He’s my favorite of all my uncles and always has been. We’ve been close since I came into this world. It’s no family secret that Uncle Ricky has a favorite niece whom he affectionately refers to as Baby Love (and that’s definitely a reference to the song by the Supremes). 

A teddy bear in front of a Christmas Tree branch

I feel like the real reason I’m such a jet setter is that I constantly saw my uncle packing his things into a suitcase and traveling all around the world when I was a kid.  He did a semester abroad and has sung at so many places in Europe. Uncle Ricky has never truly revealed how many places he has been to and performed at, and I suspect he never will. He always brought me back something from his travels, whether a memory or a souvenir. I most remember admiring a teddy bear that wore a London T-shirt that used to sit in his bedroom. It really didn’t belong to me, but he never minded if I played with it when I visited. 

The Holiday Season

Christmases with Uncle Ricky were always the best because he’s the most cheerful of my grandmother’s seven children. He’d always stop by my grandmother’s house and put on the Christmas music. I remember the year that SWV came out with their Christmas album and he put on Coko’s rendition of Give Love on Christmas Day. It’s been one of my favorite Christmas carols ever since. 

Once Uncle Ricky purchased his home, he went all out and bought everyone stockings. He took special care to make the house, which is always well decorated, nice and cozy. All the art in my uncle’s home has a very special meaning. We would pick out a different piece at street festivals or cultural events. He’d always ask me for my opinion before he bought something. At eight and nine years old, it made me feel important. 

Family Dinner

Christmas at Uncle Ricky’s always has a full spread of southern soul food made by my mom, aunts, uncles, and grandmother. My mom’s mac and cheese and collard greens never fails to steal the show. My Uncle Bill is always responsible for the turkeys. He fries one and jerks and seasons the other to perfection. We all get together at Uncle Ricky’s in the evening because my Uncle Pierre and Aunt Belinda are both police officers and often have to work the holiday. After dinner, dessert, and cocktails, we open presents and share stories, memories, and laughs.

Some friends of the family sometimes join the immediate family. Even if a random person stops by, uncle Ricky makes sure that there is something under the tree for them to unwrap. We never discuss rules about gifting in my family. My grandmother and her children are very close. We buy a present for each person, no matter how big or small it needs to be. Because the immediate family is so large, each person walks away with at least six or seven gifts. I have brought friends home with me on occasion who have expressed the fact that their Christmas experiences hadn’t been the greatest. I have never failed to create a magical experience for them. Well, not me… but my family and our genuine love we have for each other. 

Holidays Abroad

Since moving abroad, every Christmas — except for my first two years — hasn’t lived up to the magic of Uncle Ricky’s house. I have since lost both of my grandfathers during December, a year apart from one another, eerily enough on the same day. It has never truly felt like the holidays without my family. I have always heard of the term ”Holiday Blues,” but had no idea what it truly meant. 

The Christmas Tree at Puerta del Sol, in Madrid Spain, a beautiful part of celebrating holidays abroad

In my experience, it just comes over you without warning. I believe it strikes as you watch people celebrate the holidays and talk about their holiday plans. The depression, or blues, comes about because you cannot relate. There is no dinner for you to attend, no relatives to expect. Even if someone chooses to take pity on you and invite you to spend the day with their family, spending the holidays abroad isn’t quite the same as being home with your family. 

Holiday Blues

I have been invited to Christmas and New Year’s celebrations with groups of friends and even friends’ families. There always seems to be a portion of the evening or day’s festivities where I’m just overcome with sadness. It’s inexplicable and has always happened to me suddenly. I had always excitedly anticipated these invitations, gotten myself all dressed up, only to feel so very empty inside the day of. It’s a very embarrassing experience to have to excuse your feelings. I always feel the need to put on the appearance of being content and grateful to be present. 

The Christmas Tree at Puerta del Sol, in Madrid Spain, a beautiful part of celebrating holidays abroad

At the beginning of this year, I lost my father’s mother, Grandma Linda, to cancer. Words cannot express the grief I have endured over the past few months. She was such an important figure in my life. We had a special bond because she never had daughters. I was the only girl she could pass on her legacy to. We shared so many special memories together. 

Making My Own Traditions During the Holidays Abroad

I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues, and I came to the realization that the reason the holidays have always been so pleasant before is that there were people making sure that I had memories to look back on. My mother, grandmothers, aunts, and uncles have had the reins for so long. I think this year should be my turn. I’m in my mid-thirties now and it is time to start making some of my own traditions. I have even decorated my house a little for the holidays, which I have NEVER done. 

making new traditions is the start of celebrating holidays abroad

This holiday season will represent reciprocity. I have been so fortunate to have the love and support of so many people who cared enough about me to keep the magic of Christmas alive. I think it’s high time that I return the favor. Although I’m unable to travel home this year, I’m going to make my presence felt by letting each one of my loved ones know how much they mean to me, even if it is just a small gesture or a hand-written card. This year, I’m making the most of the holidays abroad.

by Timisha Dixon

The Day of the Dead During the COVID-19 Pandemic

stephanie vargas profileLast year, I wrote about the famous Día de Muertos celebration. This year was different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all had to change the way we live. This includes our holidays and celebrations throughout the year, and Día de Muertos is no exception. Due to social distancing guidelines and quarantine practices, the Day of the Dead had to be celebrated more privately. This reminded me of the old-fashioned tradition, where we waited for loved ones’ souls to come home and “be” with us for a day. I am pleased to explain a little bit about how all this started.

The Best of Both Worlds

Mexico, like most Latin-American countries, is a mixture of two different cultures: Native American and Spanish. Within Mexico, native cultures, such as the Aztecs and Mayans, remembered those who had passed between October 25th and November 3rd by dancing, singing, playing some music, and offering them flowers. When the Spaniards arrived in what now is Mexico, they found the tradition very interesting. These native Mexican cultures had a polytheist religion in which they sacrificed human lives as tributes to their Gods. The Spaniards, who were predominantly Catholic, believed those religions were barbaric and decided to evangelize the native cultures. As a result, they built a church where Aztecs would pray to their Gods. The Aztecs eventually began praying to the Spaniards’ religious figures. 

November 1st and 2nd are Catholic dates to remember those who have passed. The Day of the Dead was born as a result of the Spanish and Aztec celebration of those who had died combining together. This combination became just another way to embrace our culture: a mixture of Spanish and Native Mexican. 

The “Old-Fashioned” Way to Celebrate

When I was a little girl, my family and friends would set up a table as an altar to remember those who had passed. On this table, we placed delicious dishes, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, fresh bread, ripened fruit, sugar skulls, and a picture of the person who had already left this world. Sometimes we even placed cigarettes on the altar! Some candles and papel picado (confetti) would join the party, along with cempasúchil (Mexican marigold) petals. Cempasúchil petals lined the path from the door to the ofrenda, so the souls knew what path to follow. 

In other parts of the country, family members and friends visit their loved ones at the cemetery. They bring their altar offerings to their loved ones’ new home so they do not have to make the long journey from their afterlife to their previous one.

The living, on the other hand, eat pan de muerto (sugar buns) and drink hot chocolate. They give candy to kids who knock on the door. Trick or treating in Mexico does not happen on October 31st. Children are out in full force on November 1st and 2nd so it matches our celebrations and traditions. To me, Halloween is American. The Day of the Dead is Mexican. 

The Day of the Dead During COVID-19

It comes as no surprise to say that mass events were canceled this year in Mexico City. We did not have a parade, public ofrendas, Catrina costumes’ competition, or trick or treating. We were not even allowed to visit the cemetery because visitors could spread the virus there. What did we do, then? Families gathered in their houses and set up their altars together. We set the altar table for the ofrenda, made some hot chocolate, and ate pan de muerto. We played card games, talked about our memories, and remembered the people who have left this world. This process is part of life. Each of us will go through it just as our ancestors have. And, hopefully, our souls will go back to the place where we felt happy.

by Stephanie Vargas

Gran Canaria’s Dry Valley Cider: A Way of Life


“Higher, Mateo,” urges Ángel. “Raise the bottle in your right hand, tilt the glass with your left, and pour.” Mateo is yours truly, as I’ve found Canarians have a problem with pronouncing Matthew, mangling it in a Cockney-style way as Mafu. I’ve learned, therefore, to introduce myself as the Spanish equivalent. Ángel is Angel Rodríguez, a taxi driver by profession and cider producer when not behind the wheel. 

You’ll find Spain’s cider industry in the Iberian peninsula’s north. As acclaimed author Jason Wilson, the scribe behind Cider Revival: Dispatches from the Orchard, reveals: “In Asturias and the Basque Country, sidra culture dates back hundreds of years. As long ago as the 15th century, Basque fishermen set out to sea with hulls full of cider barrels. Many historians believe the wild apples in North America that the first settlers discovered originated from Basque seafarers.” 

Ángel wearing protective gear

Cider, A Way of Life

As a Brit who grew up with the potent scrumpy, I consider cider a summer beverage. Indeed, I fondly recall my brother and I bribing fellow Glastonbury Festival goers to help us put up our tent by sharing our supply of the amber libation. It’s the reverse in northern Spain as Wilson discloses: “During a Basque wintertime, the cider house (sagardotegi) becomes a way of life.” 

Unsurprisingly, a good deal of my sidra ends up outside the glass and that’s not because we’re in an Asturian cider house where spillage is so expected that sawdust sprinkles the floor to soak up the fluid. We’re in a different time zone altogether, over 2,000km south west of this mainland province’s Villaviciosa in deepest cider country. Our location is north-central Gran Canaria, Valleseco (Dry Valley) to be precise. I’m a novice pourer thrown into further ineptitude by the distraction of Ángel’s bizarre get-up of surgical cap, gown, wellies, and, well, not much else. 

Later, listening to Ángel describe the cider-making process though, I realize that he reminds me more of an accoucheur than a sawbones. Why? He’s helping to give birth. 

Barrels of cider

Cider Manor

Ángel’s babies are his ciders, which he produces in both still and sparkling varieties, along with sibling cider vinegar. Prompted to describe what sets his cider apart from others, Ángel replies: “Love. They’re prepared with my personal care and attention which isn’t possible for other, bigger producers to provide. I’m in this for the long term too, and short-term commercial gain doesn’t interest me.”           

El Lagar de Valleseco, Ángel’s family firm, sits proudly in the Doramas Rural Park. This area is named after a championed canarii warrior. The canarii were the Berber-descending people who occupied Gran Canaria or, more accurately, what they knew as Tamaran before the 15th-century Castilian conquest. 

This was Doramas’ manor. He used to roam the rainforest-like green interior before losing his life at 1481’s Battle of Arucas. Governor Pedro de Vera and his army spiked Doramas’ severed head for display purposes. They left it as a putrefying warning in the island’s three-year-old capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

A way to pack bottles of cider.

The Celebrations

Most of Gran Canaria’s twenty-one municipalities have a fiesta tied to food and drink. In adjoining Firgas, it’s dedicated to watercress, the key ingredient of the island’s signature stew, potaje de berros, and in Santa María de Guía, the Fiesta del Queso celebrates the flower cheese made by utilizing an artichoke thistle’s head to form a vegetarian-friendly rennet. In Valleseco, they party hard about apples with October’s Fiesta de Carmen, the patron saint of the municipality, held during the manzana-harvest season.  

Ángel’s previously strange brew (he was the first to produce cider on Gran Canaria back in 2010) has been garnering positive publicity because of its organic roots. There’s a real commitment to KM0 here, with apples sourced from the family’s 700 trees, and at the nearby EcoValles market. Ángel’s still cider is essentially boozy juice, as it doesn’t contain water or chemical additives. He’s keen to stress that you can’t over-press the apples as you risk damaging quality. 

The average Canarian will tell you they don’t get drunk like the Brits who holiday on Gran Canaria (although carnival season seems to be the exception, which proves the rule). They certainly produce enough in the way of alcohol to create a stinking hangover. The dark and white rum in north-coast Arucas and east-coast Telde, vodka (the purest in the world) in the south-east’s Ingenio, and wine, primarily in the north east’s Bandama are all well-known. Then there’s the coffee of the north-west Agaete Valley (the only one to be made in the Northern Hemisphere) to help with that morning after the night before. 

Bottles ready for cider

Ángel’s Cider

Despite his outfit, Ángel is very much a showman. He talks about his cider as if delivering a Ted Talk. But then, when seemingly in full flow, Ángel interrupts his presentation to show me his mobile. 

There’s a new botellín (20cl bottle) in production and Ángel enthuses about the logo. It’s half apple, half wolf. I can’t help but agree it’s very striking. 

Then he becomes more animated. “Lobo,” he almost spits, speeding up. “Two syllables are perfect. Easier to order. Think a-gua, vi-no.” 

Ángel returns to the cellar from the everybar his bubbling brook of enthusiasm has conjured up. “Look at these barrels,” he gushes like a proud parent. “Oak. Many use American, but French roble is superior.” 

The apples have a Gallic connection too. They’re of the highly-prized Reinette (French for little queen) variety planted in the mid-1800s to replenish Dry Valley land gone to waste. The tree takes pride of place on Vallesco’s coat of arms.

This is green Gran Canaria, a world away from the Sahara-like Maspalomas dunes. The local Tourist Information Office’s Carmen Angulo accentuates the appeal of breaking out of the all-inclusive bubble with a trip to the island’s interior: “Valleseco’s home to Gran Canaria’s only completely ecological market with local, organic fruit and vegetables sold alongside bread made from various cereals.” 

A bottle of cider with the labelA Cure-All?

I chew on this both literally and figuratively with a late lunch at the nearby Mesón Los Chorros. Where the bread’s matalauva (peppered with punchy aniseed) style and the traditionally salted wrinkled potatoes (papas arrugadas) come paired, as always, with mojo, which is almost as fluorescent as Indian restaurant curry sauce but not quite as spicy. I wash it down with a bottle of Gran Valle cider which, whilst drinkable especially due to the current heatwave, tastes more artificial than Ángel’s product.

Ángel swears by his cider. And by his cider vinegar too. “It’s part of my morning ritual, Mateo, to drink hot water with lemon and vinegar as it cleanses the colon and (many believe) prevents cancer.” 

This is news to me. Before my visit with Ángel, I consumed cider vinegar on a regular basis, allied to an intense fitness routine, all to prevent middle-age spread. Many believe it suppresses appetite and lowers blood sugar levels. 

We’re back to more sane than manic street preacher Ángel, as he steps up onto his soapbox to proselytize: “It’s all about controlling the pH. The perfect balance between acid and alkaline should be around pH 7.4, as in slightly more alkaline. Acidic cider vinegar becomes alkaline once consumed. Diseases such as cancer, and some have also suggested COVID-19, are no fans of alkaline.” 

The Cider Prophet

Ángel has been in full flow since bumping elbows. Which explains my later-than-normal lunch (my UK-reared stomach’s still timed to remind me to eat around midday no matter how much cider vinegar I’ve spoon fed into my system). He’s in tour-guide mode from the off, pointing out the feed he grows for goats one minute, the confusingly-named cidra, which has nothing to do with apples but is in fact a pumpkin whose angel-hair exterior, when combined with sugar, lemon peel, and cinnamon makes for a popular not-quite-sickly-sweet jam and pastry stuffing, the next.


The Ángel gabbier is an incredibly open individual who loves showing people around. There are the certificates on the wall, a testament to the courses Ángel’s completed on the mainland. He returned to his island with Asturian glasses. Nonetheless, he says he’s more interested in producing a stronger Basque-style cider than the more well-known classic from Asturias. 

“Look at this, Mateo,” exclaims Ángel as he admires the clarity of his product. “In Asturias, they prefer a cloudier consistency. But I like the simplicity of a Basque sidra which is as clear as chicken soup.”

A bottle

Cider Pairings

A Q-and-A session follows Ángel’s presentation. What effect does organic production have on the cider-making process, taste, and price, I ask. “It slows it down with the still cider taking around two months and the carbonated variety between nine and twelve months,” he answers. “Ecological apples are punier and uglier than ones grown with chemicals, but they’ve got far more flavour. In terms of price, not much. I sell as cheaply as possible because, as I’ve already told you, I’m not motivated by profit.” 

Ángel turns sommelier when I quiz him about the optimum temperature to drink and what food to pair it with. As he generously pours me yet another generous glass. He adjusts his glasses, which only serves to make him seem more authoritative. “It’s best served cold but without ice. You should treat it like a white wine. For that reason, it goes well with fish.”

Indeed, the Basques marry cider with a renowned cod omelette comprising the expected egg and fish with the less familiar purple garlic and red onion. Ángel offers me olives by way of sustenance, not noted for their soaking-us-booze properties. I make my excuses and leave, not before receiving an invitation to the Rodriguez family’s Fiesta de Carmen celebrations.

Read about Matthew’s experience studying abroad on the Canary Islands!

Christmas in Madrid, Spain


Christmas tree Plaza Mayor
Christmas tree at Plaza Mayor.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that Christmas has always been not only one of my favorite holidays, but also one of the most memorable holidays we celebrate in the States. People string lights, hang stockings, and set presents under ornamented Christmas trees, of course. But the overall environment of the season is, depending on where you are, so much more than that.

It can be brisk winter air, the scent of cookies and pies baking, candles on the dining room table with the lights dimmed, all while A Charlie Brown Christmas plays on the TV. Maybe it’s unfinished Monopoly games, ice skating on a frozen lake, Christmas markets, and hot chocolate. Maybe there are traditions like opening one present on Christmas Eve. Perhaps you grew up with the advent calendar and little chocolates counting down the days to Christmas. Almost every child leaves cookies and milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Listening for reindeer hooves on your roof are memories that countless people share. Maybe there are family traditions that don’t exactly fit the stereotype, like naughty Secret Santa gifts or taking a new family photo with Santa at the mall every year even when you and your siblings are in your 20’s. 

But have you ever thought about how other countries celebrate the Christmas holiday? Have you ever wondered about both the differences, and the similarities? The Christmas season is a big deal here in Spain, just like in the United States. In fact, given that Spain obviously doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas begins just after Halloween and lasts until early January! 

Christmas Traditions Abroad

For many in Madrid, the official holiday season begins on December 22nd. It goes all the way to January 6th, a Christian celebration known as Epiphany. Thanks to globalization and popular culture, Spain celebrate several of the same traditions as in the States. Take Christmas lights, for example.

There are, however, some key differences. For example, December 22nd is El Sorteo Extraordinario de Navidad, also called El Gordo de Navidad. This is one of the most popular loterías, or lotteries, in all of Spain. There are five large or important prizes, including a monetary prize of 400 million euros, and then several additional smaller prizes, such as cash prizes of €1000. 

christmas spain iluminadas valence

Many families have adopted the tradition of putting up Christmas trees. Nativity scenes, called belén, are highly popular in this traditionally Catholic country. A huge Christmas Market called El Mercado de Navidad takes over Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, perhaps most easily translated as their main square. It’s a tradition that, in the event that you accidentally break a figurine from your belén, you pick up the replacement from this market. 

Santa Claus and Christmas Day in Spain

There are also many places in Spain which have adopted the story of Santa Claus, also known as Papa Noel. Other places in Spain have their own versions of jolly Ol’ St. Nick. For example, the Basque Country has the legend of Olentzero, a man who comes down from the mountains on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to good children.  

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day themselves find themselves as fairly relaxed occasions. Children rise at the crack of dawn to open their presents. Families and friends dine together, sing carols, and exchange gifts. Given that the country is a peninsula, seafood is a popular Christmas food all around Spain, even in areas that aren’t coastal. These can include things like gambas a la plancha, a shrimp, or some type of seafood soup. Fish like lubina (bass) or dorada (gilt-head bream) are also very common Christmas meals. A bigger second course like cordero (lamb). Other typical foods include embutidos, or dried, cured ham. Another popular Christmas or seasonal food is called turrón, which is a sort of nougat-meets-fudge-type sweet made with honey, sugar, egg white, and typically some kind of nuts like peanuts or almonds. 

The Twelve Days of Epiphany

christmas parade madrid

Another important and diverse element of Madrid’s Christmas celebration follows Christmas Day itself. It carries over into the New Year and is known as the twelve days of Epiphany. Epiphany ends on January 6th. This holiday showcases and celebrates three Christmas characters that North America’s Christmas holiday tales mostly skim over: the Three Wise Men, also known as the Three Kings, or in Spain, Los Tres Reyes Magos — the Three Magician Kings!

The Celebration of Epiphany

As the story goes, these three kings — Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar — came bearing gifts after Jesus’ birth. And while these three kings get just a little bit of airtime in Christmas sermons at church or as figures in nativity scenes, Spain has gone the extra mile and given them a full parade, called a cabalgata, on January 5th. There are several cabalgatas across all of Spain in major cities and bigger towns. Madrid’s cabalgata alone typically draws over 100,000 people. The cabalgata, like any other parade, features extravagant floats, candy-throwers, and in Madrid, a children’s choir. People even bring umbrellas to shield themselves from all the sweets thrown into the crowd. 

Similar to Santa Claus, the Three Kings bring presents to children on January 6th, the end of Epiphany. Some churches celebrate it as the day of Jesus’s baptism. And just as children and families hang stockings and set out cookies and milk for Santa, Spanish children will sometimes leave shoes outside their doors or under the trees for the Three Kings to fill with smaller gifts in addition to the larger ones left under the tree. They also leave out, in place of milk, cookies, and carrots, biscuits and water for the Three Kings’ camels! And on the morning of Epiphany, Spaniards typically eat a breakfast of a special treat called el roscón de reyes, which is a circular and decorative pastry. 

madrid spain parade

Christmas Controversy

In recent years, the Three Kings have also been the subject of a bit of controversy. Given that the kings were traditionally played by Spanish councillors, the country has a history of using black-face during this festival, both for the black king Balthazar and also for his gift-bearing page boys. With a less explicit history of racism in the country, many Spaniards, particularly traditionalists and those of the older generation, still don’t fully understand why this is seen by other countries or cultures as problematic. However, in recent years, some areas in Spain have hired black actors to play the part instead. 

Celebrating Christmas in another country is a wonderful time to experience other traditions first-hand. For your next holiday, come check out Christmas in Madrid. The holiday is one of the biggest celebrations of the year, and the cabalgata is one celebration you wouldn’t want to miss.

madrid spain

by Dreams Abroad

How Mexico Celebrates Día de Muertos

The Day of the Dead has gained international recognition, especially over the last four years. There was a scene in Spectre, the James Bond film, that gave the world a glance of our culture. Disney also gave a pretty insightful, (and also fantastic) look at the family reunions of Día de Muertos with the film Coco. Spectre gave Mexico City a parade we did not use to have. Coco showed how important family is in our culture.

Traditions of Día de Muertos

Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican celebration that takes place on November 1st and 2nd in which we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. This tradition is as old as pre-hispanic culture. The Aztecs dedicated some days to remember the dead and the journey they had to go through to be one with the universe. When the American conquest happened, this tradition combined with the Catholic holiday, All Souls’ Day. As a result, we now have a hybrid holiday of pre-hispanic culture and a European religious celebration. It is a mix that perfectly represents Mexican history.

Tradition of Ofrenda

When I was a child, the way to begin commemorating those two days of November was to put an ofrenda (altar) in a place that faced the main door of a house. This is so the spirit of the person visiting could find the food and drinks or whatever they loved while alive. This offering, most of the time, is bread, food, fruits, cigarettes, water, alcohol, flowers, and pictures. During the first day, it is a tradition that the children are the ones to visit their relatives. Adults come during the second day.

The Community and Día de Muertos

The school I work at is traditional in itself; this is because it is around 250 years old, making a contribution to education in downtown Mexico City. The Day of the Dead is an important celebration for the institution. Every year, a specific group of the school puts together an ofrenda. Just as in a household, the altar is dedicated to somebody; this year it was for the Basque community that founded the school. The participation of students is vital, for the ofrenda is open to the public.

Día de Muertos Carries Deep Traditions

For those who might not know, in September 2017, Mexico suffered a terrible earthquake. After having experienced an event that brought the entire city closer to death, the students proposed holding a parade at school in which they would dress up as Catrinas or Catrines. These characters are a representation of death. We like to make them familiar to our reality because, at the end of the day, everybody is going to die. One does not know how or when, but it will eventually happen. The parade is a celebration of life. It is a reminder that we can die any day at any time. However, we choose to embrace the fact that death is part of life and we are happy to be alive.

by Stephanie Vargas