Mulled Wine and Mince Pie

After a 6-hour final exam and many hours spent on my consulting project with Wharton, I was desperately anticipating the weekend.  The weekend was full of Christmas festivities and dinners.  Friday evening, my German friend, Svenja, and I decided to head to the city center to visit some of the Christmas markets and to see the lights.  For weeks, Christmas lights have been strung up on main streets through Madrid, but I had yet to see them lit up at night (read: I live at school).  Luckily, I’m not the only one who loves this time of year, so Svenja and I decided to head to the center to soak it all in.  Nearly every plaza, or square, has a Christmas market at this time of year.  Some are full of junk, some are full of Christmas trees and decorations, and others are full of food.  Along the way, we ran into Kshitij (another classmate) and convinced him to join us.  Our first stop was Ópera.  This was the plaza full of food!  Success!  We did a walk around and decided to pass on the turrones and bombones, and we went straight for the churros con chocolate (chocolate was given to us for free, score!)…which we subsequently dripped all over ourselves.

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We then walked to the next closest plaza where we found lots of gifts.  We didn’t really have the patience to shop, so we continued walking in the direction of the biggest plaza, Sol.  There was a massive amount of people, so we took a few pictures of the giant Christmas tree and wiggled our way to Plaza Mayor.  Here, we bought some decorations and a Christmas tree hat for the following evening.  I needed a Christmas-themed costume as well, but I wanted something a little more complex than a hat…I wanted to be a gift wrapped present!

I kept thinking and thinking about where I could find a cardboard box for my costume and then suddenly we came upon a store that had just done some restocking.  And then 5 more stores!  I had piles and piles of boxes right there in front of me to choose from, out on the sidewalks of Madrid.  So of course I recruited Svenja and Kshitij to help me find the perfect one.  They were good sports.

Svenja then headed home (as she is still recovering from a cold that she’s had for weeks) and Kshitij joined me for dinner plans that I had made with some ladies from another class: Anna, Katie and my roommate, Lydia.  We had some delicious Greek food and then visited some classmates that live in the neighborhood.  It was a short evening (only 1 am! – which is early by Madrid standards), but I was exhausted from such a busy week.

The next day, I did some school work then joined Kshitij to help him find a costume and to buy some gift wrap for my box.  To my surprise, I found Hallmark gift wrap paper!  I quickly ran home, made my box and headed to a mulled wine and mince pie party, hosted by my Londoner classmate and her husband.  Rachel and Martin don’t live very far away, so I decided to walk to their flat.  Walking down the streets of Madrid, standing inside a gift box, is quite a sight.  I had cars waving at me and little old ladies laughing at me as I paused at each crosswalk.  I quickly called Miko and Kshitij to join me, so that I didn’t have to go through that on my own.  So Miko joined in his elf costume and Kshitij in his Rudolph antlers and red nose.  Whew!

Once we arrived, I was chatting with Jungmin from South Korea.  She had picked up a mince pie and asked me what it was.  I responded, “I think it is filled with meat.  But I’m not sure.” She bit into it and gave me a face that I’ll never forget.  To her dismay, it was filled with fruit and spice.  I asked another American standing near me what they are and he thought they were filled with meat too.  Wow, were we wrong.  I think, in our minds, we assumed mince = meat and pie is probably similar to Shepard’s pie or pot pie?  I’m not sure.  But the Londoners had a good laugh at us.

Jake (Australia) taking a nose-less taste test.

Jake (Australia) taking a nose-less taste test.

I only stayed a few hours, because I was invited to a Christmas dinner at the home of my Northern Irish classmate, Lisa, and her husband, Andrew.  Andrew is also a student at IE, so he had invited some of his classmates.  It was nice to hang out with folks that I rarely see anymore.  We shared stories, talked business (you can never escape entrepreneurial discussions here), and talked about our goals for the future.

Next on my agenda is to study for the last 3 final exams of the term, finish packing my suitcase, participate in our end-of-term awards event tonight, and host a Love Actually watch party.  6 days and counting!

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Happy Birthday, Miko!

Miko’s birthday was on Friday, so a few of us went out for dinner on Thursday evening.  We headed to a Korean restaurant near Gran Via which is normally never full, but to our surprise it was 100% full!  The new November intake had planned a dinner there, so we decided to walk over to La Barraca to try their famous paella which Miko had not yet tasted.  The dinner and company were lovely, of course.  I even managed to fake a bathroom break in order to tell the waiter that we needed a birthday cake for Miko.  They turned the lights off, we sang happy birthday and Miko enjoyed his chocolate cake while I broke out some cupcakes for the others.  In most of the guests’ cultures, it is customary for us to treat Miko to the dinner since it was his birthday.  But for Miko, this isn’t an option because he is used to treating guests at his birthday celebration.  Needless to say there was a little negotiation that happened in order to get the bill from Miko, but apparently we need to keep honing our negotiation skills because it didn’t work.  We’ll make it up to him another time though. 😉

Here’s a link to his blog where he has some photos from the night.

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Thanksgiving

After the Alumni Forum was over, I invited some classmates and friends to a Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, La Gringa, which is owned by a family from Arizona.  They own several restaurants in Madrid, one of which has an awesome brunch.  So I thought their Thanksgiving dinner would be tasty and worth the price (30 euros or around $41).  It was great, and I was able to enjoy it with people that I care about a lot.

But that wasn’t my only Thanksgiving celebration…

Another American in my intake, Mallori, decided to host a small gathering for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  I was a bit overzealous in the things I signed up to cook, but I think they came out perfect.  The week before, I was rushing around town trying to find all of the ingredients necessary for pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole and green rice casserole (and cranberries and stuffing for my roommate to cook).  It was more difficult and EXPENSIVE than you might think.  This is what I came home with and can you believe it cost me over 60 euros ($82)?!  Can you guess what the most expensive thing on this counter is?  <Spoiler Alert: Answer is at the bottom of this post>  I know it is a lot, but I really wanted to make some tasty dishes for my classmates.  And it’s only once a year, right?

And here is the result.  I have to say, this was an amazing Thanksgiving.  All of the invitees really stepped it up and brought amazing food.  And it was very representative of where we’re all from.  Peter, the French American, brought amazing cheeses.  Mazyad, from Kuwait, brought couscous.  Marwan and Rayan, from Lebanon, brought the biggest dish of hummus I’ve ever seen in my life.  While the rest of the Americans covered the more traditional dishes such as pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn bread (with and without jalapeños), green rice casserole, turkey, stuffing (3 types!), cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.  AMAZING!

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Answer: Pecans at 7 euros ($10) per bag and those bags are only about 1/3 cup of pecans…I needed 3.  It kind of makes me sick just thinking about it, actually.

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Social Responsibility Forum

This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my school’s 8th Annual Social Responsibility Forum.  This year’s theme was “Social Means Business” to emphasize that social responsibility is no longer something extra that a company does, but it is now a critical and expected component of the business model.  I couldn’t agree more!

CaixaForum, Madrid

The kick-off began at CaixaForum, a really cool venue.  If it weren’t so chilly these days, I would have sat outside a bit to stare at the beautiful building covered in foliage.  But instead, I hurried inside to get registered and seated.  The keynote speaker for opening day was Nicolas Marang, Director of International Coordination of Sustainability & CSR at L’Oreal.  He shared with us the sustainability initiatives that L’Oreal has committed to for the next several years.  I was quite impressed and on a side note, I also found out that L’Oreal no longer uses animals to test their products.  That’s good to hear!

After a panel of social responsibility experts, we separated into smaller groups where we could ask questions of panels on specific topics.  I decided to head over to the panel titled “A New Perspective: Women Entrepreneurs Driving Change.”  Here, we heard about Cartier’s Women’s Initiative Awards and we were introduced to Womenalia and Enke, both are start-ups owned by women.  I was especially blown away by the founder of Enke, Pip Wheaton.  She had this idea to provide resources to youth in South Africa who want to make a change in their communities, but that wouldn’t normally have the chance.  She had many obstacles, one of which, for entrepreneurs, is typically a lack of cash.  She has persevered because of her passion and has managed to continue to grow the organization and help thousands of youth to make their change happen.  Really inspiring.  Then the panel opened up to audience questions.  This room was dominated by roughly 30 women with only 4 men.  One of the men raised his hand and asked what he can do for his daughter to encourage this entrepreneurial spirit which led to another man asking what men can do to help empower women.  I was blown away.  I wanted to hug them.  I haven’t heard questions like these in person ever.  It is perfect timing because I have been brainstorming activities and events for our Women in Business club at my school, so I might be contacting those guys for their support…more to come on that!  😉

The next day we went to our school for individual workshops.  I kicked off the day with a panel, The Tango of social Responsibility Projects with Brand Equity, which focused on the value that a brand gets when they do social responsibility work.  Then I went to a panel on Barriers to Distribution of Fair Trade Products.  I don’t know a lot about food products and fair trade, so I thought this could be a really beneficial talk for me.  We had several members of Oxfam and the CEO and founder of a start-up strawberry producer in Japan to help give context.  And lastly, I went to Addressing Poverty for the Bottom Billion, for Ethiopia: Beyond NGOs which was led by an IE professor, Gayle Allard, and some of her current students.  She and these students decided to take a trip to Ethiopia to do a research project on the sources of poverty there which include nutrition, education and health.  They worked with a Catholic mission since it was pretty well established and effective there.  They learned from the mission, the NGOs that exist there, and from the locals themselves.  Their findings were really impressive and they felt that this class and research trip gave them the best visibility and context of poverty, more than can ever be achieved solely in a classroom.  I’ve signed up for Gayle’s class as an elective, so I really hope I get in.  *fingers crossed*

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I’m embarrassed to admit….

…that I’ve already started packing for my trip home even though it’s a month away! Feeling homesick this week.

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Barcelona

Right after dressing up for Halloween, I headed to Barcelona for two classmates’ birthday celebrations.  Hadi and Ghazal have birthdays in the same week and they wanted to go big.  They invited everyone to come to Barcelona for our 3 day weekend, organizing a birthday dinner and VIP table at a nice club.  I shared a 3-bedroom apartment with 6 other classmates which worked out really well.  We ended up spending less per person than we would have paid for a hostel all weekend.  So if you’re traveling in a large group, I highly recommend renting a vacation apartment.

Well, when we arrived there was a little hiccup.  The renters that checked out of the apartment that day had set the couch on fire and threw paint on the walls.  The rental company was apologetic and moved us to an equivalent apartment near the Sagrada Familia.  Because we felt inconvenienced, I decided to whip out my negotiation skills (we’re currently taking a Negotiation class back in Madrid) with Montaña’s help to work the rental company down in price.  We ended up getting 100 euros reduction.  Not bad.

The next day I woke up early (after a hearty breakfast cooked by Miko) and headed to the city center.  I walked around a lot just admiring the architecture.  Then I decided to walk into Casa Batlló which is a home designed by Antoni Gaudí, a modernist architect from Catalunya which is the region where Barcelona is located.  (Side note – Catalunya or Catalonia is officially recognized as its own nation.)  The home is breathtaking.  I think I spent 2 hours inside and it is only a few floors and a rooftop.  What is most fascinating to me about Gaudí’s work is its resemblance to nature.  The glass looks like water, the tile sometimes looks like animals, the windows look like faces, etc.

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Next I headed to the Gothic Quarter where I just roamed through the little streets.  I tried some macaroons, I did a little bit of shopping, met with my friend Miko for tapas and headed down La Rambla which is a wide street full of people at all times of the day.  Then I realized it was getting dark and I needed to head back to get ready for dinner.

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The next day, I woke up early again and headed to Montserrat which is a mountain approximately one hour by train from Barcelona.  The mountain is jagged or saw-like with multiple peaks which is how it got its name.  Buried in a crevice in the mountain is a monastery and sanctuary.  Some people hike up to the flat area, but I decided to take a cable car since I didn’t have a lot of time.  I wandered around the town for a few hours, going through the monastery, viewing the monuments and nature.  It was so nice to be outside of the city.  Very quiet, very tranquil.

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I then headed back to Barcelona and asked Miko if he would like to meet up to visit Parc Gϋell (where Gaudí lived) before dinner time.  We met at a subway station, then had to do a combination of walking uphill and taking escalators to reach the park because it is up on a hill.  Unfortunately, it gets dark at 6 pm right now in Spain and 6 pm it was…and to our disappointment, the park is not very well lit.  But we still enjoyed the walk and the architecture that we could see.  We could even see Sagrat Cor at Tibidabo lit up on the hill.  It was amazing.  Luckily, I had visited the park in the past so I was familiar with all of the beauty that surrounded us in the dark.

Next we headed to dinner with my friend from Barcelona, Thais, and our friend, Jungmin.  Thais knows that I’m vegetarian and she suggested a wonderful vegetarian restaurant near La Rambla.  I was a little worried because the others are all meat-eaters and I don’t like forcing my diet preferences on others.  But I think most all of us had really great dishes and everyone seemed to be satisfied with the meal.  For the first time in a long time, I was excited by all of my options on the menu.  That doesn’t typically happen.

The next day, yes you guessed it, I woke up early again, packed my suitcase, and this time I headed to the nearby Sagrada Familia before we had to check out and head to the airport.  (Tip for those of you considering a visit to the Sagrada Familia – buy your tickets online!  Otherwise, you’ll have to wait hours and hours because the line wraps around the block even by 10:00 am.)  For those of you that don’t know, this is another one of Gaudí’s architectural genius and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  However, it is not yet finished.  In fact, it won’t be finished until 2026.  You can read all about it here: Sagrada Familia information.

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Here’s a video that shows what the Sagrada Familia will look like when it is finished in 2026.

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Halloween

I don’t think I have ever been more excited about Halloween than I was this year.  I encouraged the American students (there are about 10 of us) to host a pumpkin carving party for us and the Canadians.  My encouragement worked and I was soon scouring the neighborhood to find pumpkins!  We also made a few nostalgic treats like Rice Crispies treats, homemade apple pie, chicken wings, crudites with ranch dressing and some beer cheese dip.

And let’s talk about the costumes.  My team at Hallmark always took this holiday very seriously and I felt that I needed to carry on that passion from overseas, to show my classmates “how we do it.”  I tried to get all of my classmates excited about the Halloween party that the USA Club hosted, but I think it was a little bit of a stretch to expect people to get as excited as the Americans.  But that didn’t stop me.

It was quite difficult to come up with a costume that all of the nationalities would recognize.  Wednesday Adams?  No.  Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice?  No.  So I decided to go with a painting: Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein.  I thought it would be creative, yet fairly simple.  I focused on the makeup, the word bubble and the blue wig.  It took me about 2 hours to do my makeup, but I was so proud.  Well, it turns out that very few people actually recognized me.  BUT, I still had a lot of fun!

roommies sriracha

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