Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Spanish Life {Swim Lessons}

Somehow I managed to become the Rota expert on swim lessons out in town at the local pool (or piscina).  I've been asked by so many people about the lessons we take and how to sign up that I figured it would be easier just to document it all here -- so skip this post if you aren't interested in learning all about swim lessons :)

Obviously this is our experience and everyone has a different experience.  What I am writing about here, is what I have experienced and learned by trial and error!  Hopefully this post helps those wanting to learn more about swim lessons at the local Rota pool.  And hopefully I covered everyone's questions -- feel free to message me or comment if you have any more questions!

How to Sign Up: Sadly there is no website for the pool -- you must sign up in person at the pool.  This seems to be the case for anything we have done in town such as registering for school or getting our certificate of residency paperwork.  Everything is done in person and no one seems to have a website!  And this means that you need some ability to speak Spanish since most of the people don't speak English.  There is one receptionist at the pool that speaks English but I could not tell you when she worked -- so just show up and hope for the best!  Everyone we have encountered has been super friendly and helpful, even with my toddler Spanish.

Cost: Lessons are much cheaper than those in the states or even on base.  We pay about 30 a month for 45 minute lessons twice a week (we paid this same amount when we did parent/tot class, so I am assuming twice a week lessons are all 30).  I do know that if you go three times a week, lessons are a little more, but not much.  There is usually a one time registration fee (most we have paid for the whole year is 9 if you sign up in September).  They will prorate the registration fee if you sign up after September.

How to Pay: Things are a little complicated when it comes to paying.  The first six months we did lessons, we were able to pay at the pool each month and it was great... then City Hall took over and you now have to pay using a Spanish bank account or at City Hall each month.  The bank account is the easiest way to go as the money just comes straight from your account and that's that.  If you don't have a Spanish bank account you have to go to City Hall (sort of -- it's not technically City Hall but right by the main building) and get a receipt/bill between the first and the firth of each month and then take that receipt/bill to any bank and pay it. 

Times: During the school year (September to June), lessons for kids are in the evening/after school.  Our lessons are from 6:15-7PM (when we did parent/tot class we went from 6:15-6:45PM).  I do know some lessons start at 5:30PM but I am not sure if any start earlier (my guess is no because most families are eating lunch until about 5PM).  During the summer (July and August), there are lessons during the day -- usually starting about 11AM or later and then an option for evening, starting at 7PM or later.  From what I have gathered all lessons are 45 minutes except the parent/tot class which is 30 minutes.  You can either take lessons Tuesday/Thursdays or Monday/Wednesday/Fridays.  There are no lessons on Spanish holidays and the pool is really good about putting up notices a week or two in advance when these days will occur.  There is also a Christmas break in December and early January -- usually the same two weeks that kids have off from school (so from right before Christmas to after Three Kings Day in early January).

Equipment: I talked briefly about what you need for swim lessons in this post.  But you will need a swim cap for anyone going in the water (so yes, if you are doing the parent/tot class, the adult will need a swim cap as well as the kiddo).  You will also need specific pool shoes -- these can be flip flops, crocs, whatever -- they just can't be shoes you where outside of the pool/locker room area.  We use the family locker room and some parents use bags or little shoe protection things while in the locker room.  But I have seen people get scolded for wearing dirty street shoes into the locker room, so I make sure to always bring my pool shoes too!  Everyone heading out on the pool deck does wear pool shoes -- I don't think I have seen anyone go barefoot (kids, parents or even the instructors).  The best place to get all the gear is Decathlon which has good quality items for fairly inexpensive.

What to Expect: For the most part swim lessons seem to be very similar to those in the states (or at least the ones I used to teach).  There is a lot of playing games to learn skills and the kids all seem to be enjoying themselves.  Swimmers are separated by age rather than ability as far as I can tell.  So Serafina is in a class with all 3 to 5 year olds.  The parent/tot class is for all kids under 3 and even though Serafina was ready to move up to the next class, she was not old enough so we had to wait closer to her birthday.  The swimmer to instructor ratio is different for each class -- our parent/tot class had one teacher and sometimes up to 15 kiddos.  Serafina's class has two teachers who are in the water with her class and I have seen as many as 10 kids in her class.  Most of the other age groups seems to have one teacher and they don't always get in the water with them.  You will also get a key card (like a credit card) that you will swipe to get through the turnstile to get into the locker rooms/pool area.  You card is registered to you and will only allow you to go into the pool on the days/times you have lessons.  You will need your card to get in and out so make sure you don't forget/lose it!  And obviously, all the lessons are in Spanish :)  We have met a few of the instructors and so far none of them speak much English, but they are so kind and helpful it has not been an issue for us at all.

Hope all of this helps -- we have absolutely loved our experience with the local pool.  Serafina looks forward to swim lessons and I love how much she has improved!  It also allows us to practice Spanish and be that much more immersed in our town!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Feria 2018

The best time of year to be in southern Spain has come and gone (sort of)... I am talking about féria season.  Féria means fair in Spanish but this is nothing like a county fair you'd see in the states.  While there are similiarities, there are many many differences but either way -- it is seriously the best party you will ever attend and the whole weekend is an absolute blast.  If you need to refresh your memory on what exactly féria is all about, including the food, drinks and clothing -- read my previous féria posts here (2016) and here (2017).
Féria seaon kicks off after Easter and usually with féria in Sevilla -- as the first of the season and also the biggest, most eleborate fair.  Then on following weekends most towns in Andalucia have their own férias, sometimes going all the way through the summer!  However, we usually consider our féria season over once our small town has had their féria.

This year my brother happened to be visiting the weekend of Sevilla's féria so we took a bus with some friends up to Sevilla for a day of experiencing the largest féria.  While Sevilla is a sight to see, sadly it is the most exclusive féria of them all -- all the casetas (tents where food and drink is served and dancing takes places) are all private.  You must know someone to be invited in or be a part of the club that owns the caseta.  There are a few public casetas but they can get pretty crowded, and with over 1,000 casetas on the féria grounds, it can also be a little difficult to find them.  Sevilla's féria is so big a map is needed!

However, the exclusivity of Sevilla's féria did not deter us from having an absolute blast!  We knew that the Calle del Infierno (Hell's Road) would be a great place to hangout for the day -- public places to eat and drink and also ride some rides!  Calle del Infierno is the name of the area (for all férias) where the carnival rides and games are -- and Sevilla's area was SO big -- easily the size of Rota's whole féria!  We had a little hiccup with our lunch being slightly more expensive than we had planned but overall we had a wonderful time -- drinking, eating and riding all the scary rides (which takes some serious talent getting into the rides with a féria dress)!

I know I have touched on the rides at féria a little in my first post from our first féria but I want to talk about them again.  On the ride up to Sevilla we were all talking about how excited we were about the pirate ship and other rides -- my brother thought we were crazy as carnival rides aren't usually the greatest!  But we tried to explain that the rides at féria are not ordinary rides -- they have the Spanish way of thinking attached to them: fun first, safety second.  The pirate ship where you stand in a cage and jump or the insane upside-down/flipping/holding on for dear life ride or the ferris wheel that lasts 10 minutes and moves at easily 25mph!  Féria rides are crazy and fun -- and last a very very long time, you most certainly get your money worth!
such a scary ride.... oh so fun and oh so scary
And then the following weekend we had our town's féria.  It was just as fun as it has been in the past.  We started out as usual going to lunch with Trevor's coworkers on the first day of féria in one of the peñas.  This could easily be considered my favorite day of the whole year -- we get all dressed up and eat and drink our way through the afternoon with some of our closest friends here in Spain!  We are then treated to an amazing dance show (flamenco dancing).  And once again, our sweet girl just loved the dancing and sat mesmerized for the whole show...  I now have pictures of her just in a trance watching the dancing for three years in a row (she is finally old enough to start lessons in the fall)!  It was such a wonderful afternoon and evening.

watching the dancing

We actually went all four days of féria -- Trevor and I were lucky enough to snag a babysitter for one night so we could enjoy féria just us (and of course with our friends).  We did take Serafina the other days to enjoy a carriage ride and some more carnival rides with friends.  She had an absolute blast and loved going to "the big party" every day!

Our féria season was amazing and of course we are already looking forward to next year!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Spanish Life {School Registration}

I wrote a little about Spanish school registration in  this post but it was more of a brief overview of the Spanish school system.  This time around, I wanted to go a little more in depth about the registration process for the public school system.  Serafina will start public school this upcoming September and so recently we had to register her for school.

The main registration period is always in March and all the paperwork is always due on March 31st.  The paperwork is due to your first choice school (more on that in a minute) by March 31st, but it is really due the last school day in March because if March 31st falls on a weekend/non-school day, the schools are not open.  And the front office of many schools isn't always open during the school day, so it isn't uncommon to have to go back a few times to see if the office is open!  This year Semana Santa (spring break for all Spanish schools) fell on the last week of March, so paperwork was due before the schools closed for holiday, so March 23rd. 

The first step in registering is to get a certificate of residency to prove that you do in fact live in the town where you are applying for school.  The Spanish do not have to do this as they have their family passport (which proves who is in their family and where they live).  I talked about the process of getting the certificate in  my first post about schools.  Getting your certificate can be quite the process, so I recommend starting early.  However, I did learn you can pick up the certificate in person -- which would have saved me a lot of nervously checking the mail last year!  And it will also greatly speed up the process, so if you are short on time -- highly recommend this route!

Then you have the actual school registration paperwork to fill out which is seven full pages.  You can go to a school to get the paperwork or you can find it online ( go here, you want the Anexo III paperwork).  Everything is in Spanish (obviously) so get a friend to help you fill it out.  Or I went to our local tourist office and had the lovely ladies help me fill everything out.  The tourist office is used to Americans coming in and asking for help, so they are kind and patient and will even fill it out for you if needed!  

Most of the paperwork is pretty standard -- students name, age, birthday, parents information, address, etc.  There are also questions about any other siblings, where they go to school, if you have any family members working for the schools, if the child (or anyone in the family) has any disabilities, etc.  These questions do not apply to Americans as we cannot get government assistance.  So much of the paperwork was left blank.  

The trickiest part of the paperwork is figuring out which school to put as your first choice.  The forms require one school as your top choice and then spots to put up to four more choices.  Spain does not have neighborhood schools like the states does, your address does not necessarily dictate where you will go to school.  Everything is a lottery/point system -- you get points for various things such as how close you live to a school, if you have other children at the school, if you have relatives attending or working at the school, having a large family, etc.  Those who have the most points, get into their first choice school and then everyone else follows until all the spots are filled up (using a lottery system for those that have the same amount of points).  Being American, our only way of getting points is by living close to a school.  And I have learned that for us (Americans), you either get your first choice school or whatever school has spots left over.... which may or may not be on your list of schools (that you put on the paperwork).  So you need to pick wisely for your top choice!

The good news is that you only have to go through this process for your child's first year at Spanish school -- so for us, this is the only year we have to do this lottery system.  Once you are in a school, you are in until you move or graduate to the next school.  If you miss this March registration period, you can register later, but you are left with whatever school has spots available.  

Our small town has eight school that Serafina could go to (not all schools have infantil classrooms -- the classes for 3-5 year olds).  Six are public and two are semiprivate*, but all eight require the registration and the lottery in order to get into them.  My first choice would have been a semiprivate school that our Spanish neighbor sends his kids to -- however, it is not easy to get into, especially for Americans.  So I went with the closest public school to our house, where some of Serafina's current classmates will go as well.  

So once the paperwork is filled out, you gather together the packet of paperwork, copies of everyone in your house's passport, copy of your residency certificate and also copies of your NIE paperwork if you have it (this is for adults only and is your Numero de Identidad de Extranjero -- which is your Spanish identity number as foreigners).  You take this nice packet of papers to the school that you wrote down as your first choice and turn everything in to the office.  I was lucky and the first time I went to drop off our paperwork, the school's front office was open and the sweet secretary was so nice.  She went through every paper to make sure I had it filled out correctly and corrected things as needed.  And of course all of this was in Spanish!  The schools take the paperwork and sent it all to Cadiz where it is processed by the government of Andalucia.

The secretary told me that in mid-April, the schools would post the list for next school year -- those who were accepted into the school and those on the wait list.  This is the only way you are informed of what school you got into, from what I understand -- there is no letter that is mailed, no phone call or email, you must go to the school to find out if you got in or not.  Luckily for me, we have friends whose son attends our top choice school, so she is on the look out for the list for me!

So there you have it -- the whole process!  I will update once the lists come out as we are still just waiting at this point!

Lists came out today and it was CRAZY!  The few days leading up to today, there was a flurry of messages being sent in my group message chat with all the moms/parents of Serafina's class -- rumor had it that lists were being put up about 12:30.  A few of the mothers volunteered to go to some of the schools to check for the rest of us and send pictures of the lists.... so between 12:30 and 1:30, I easily had close to 200 messages coming in -- pictures, questions, answers, more questions, confusion.... It was wild.  If I translated everything correctly (both text messages and verbal conversations), Serafina got into our top choice school!!  The final list comes out May 14 as some schools now need to do a lottery for those with the same number of points... one school has 6 spots but 21 kids are going into the lottery!  Why they just can't put out a final list without this extra waiting period -- who knows!  It just adds to the cultural experience, I guess!

*The two semiprivate schools are considered semiprivate because you have to go through the lottery system to get in.  Both of them are Catholic (although, it is my understanding that all schools teach religion).  Both of these schools require a small tuition fee each month -- we are talking like 50 a month, nothing like the thousands for private schools in the states. And all schools have a small fee at the beginning of each school year that pays for all the supplies and such for the classroom.  This is genius -- it means that teachers get what they need for the classroom and don't have to pay out of pocket!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter 2018

Easter.  Holy Week.  Semana Santa -- doesn't matter what you call it, this is hands down one of my most favorite times to be in Spain, especially in Andalucia.  Starting on Palm Sunday and every day leading up to Easter (except the Saturday before Easter), and of course on Easter as well -- there are processions throughout the town that depict the biblical stories leading up to Easter.  If you need a refresher on the background and history of the processions, read this post.

The week before Holy Week, Serafina learned all about the processions -- she kept telling us "shhhh... Jesus is coming."  (She goes to public school but there is no seperation of church and state in Spain -- and we love it)!  She learned all about Jesus and Mary.... and drums!  Serafina loves the music (aka drums) associated with the processions.

We had every intention of going to the processions quite a few times throughout the week but sadly, our toddler had other ideas -- poor girl was in full blown threenager status all week, but we did get to see one procession with her.  And I was lucky enough to go to the Palm Sunday procession (my personal favorite).  As a family, we went to Monday's procession -- this was the first time we had seen this one and the Mary paso was simply amazing and carried by women.  Remember, these pasos weight a ton (or more, literally).

We were blessed with mostly sunny weather for the week -- we have had awful rain and wind for well over three weeks lately (which is unheard of in southern Spain) but the weather managed to clear up just in time for each processsion.  Only one procession was affected by the rain and had to end early.

On Saturday we went to the base Easter celebrations and had a blast.  We ran the color run (just the one mile kids run) and did the egg hunt.  Serafina loved every minute of it -- running around throwing the color at her friends, being "painted" in colors and then grabbing all the eggs she could find!

And on Easter, we had a low key morning playing with our Easter basket goodies, having a yummy breakfast and then going to a friends house for an afternoon of fun (no pictures because the kids were too busy running around and bouncing in the bounce house)!

It was a wonderful Easter (week) -- and we hope everyone else had a wonderful Easter as well!

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