Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The 10 Types of Language Assistants in Spain

From 2012 to 2015 I worked and lived in Spain as an auxiliar de conversación, or a language assistant in public school classes taught in English. I wasn’t the only American in Spain, though; over 2,000 people from the States move across the Pond every year to do the very same thing. I interacted with countless fellow auxiliares over these three years, many of whom became housemates, good friends, and travel partners.

In this post, I’ll talk about the ten general categories I think 95% of all language assistants fit into, and to show I don’t take myself too seriously, I’ll show how I think I each type applies to me (if applicable, of course).


1) The gap year

The type: This person is having some fun after college to travel, speak Spanish, and broaden their world before they return to the Real World™ and land a full-time job, get married, buy a house, and have 2.5 kids. They essentially need to get things out of their system before settling down.

Me: I always wanted to travel around Europe on a Great Tour and see all the historic cities and sights, but I knew as an adult I would never have the vacation time or funds to be flying across the Atlantic every year for only 1- or 2-week stretches at a time. Backpacking on a budget from a European home base it was!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Photo Post: Dalí & Daytrippers in Figueres, Spain

Figueres, Spain
Dalí Theater-Museum
Surrealist paintings have fascinated me ever since first being exposed to them in my 9th-grade art class, especially the works of Spanish artist Salvador Dalí. Whimsical works like The Persistence of Memory and Swans Reflecting Elephants tickled my fancy, while spiritual pieces like The Sacrament of the Last Supper and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) inspired me with their mysticism.

Figueres, Spain
Dalí Theater-Museum
In the three years I lived and worked in Spain, I went on several pilgrimages to check out the works of some of my favorite Spanish painters, like to Toledo for El Greco and Barcelona for Joan Miró. The mid-sized town of Figueres, just south of the French border in northeast Spain, was the destination for my third painter-pilgrimage, as it was Dalí’s hometown, final resting place, and location for his personal Theater-Museum, a museum that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the frame of one of his own bizarre paintings.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Photo Post: The Riverside Market of Girona, Spain

Girona, Spain
Artichokes
When I visited the gorgeous city of Girona just north of Barcelona two Junes ago, I came into town expecting to stay just two nights before returning back to BCN and from there to Santiago. No, this isn’t one of those cliché “I just had to extend my stay!” posts—I literally thought I had only booked two nights in my hostel…but come to find out, I had actually booked (and pre-paid for) three!

Girona, Spain
Fuet sausage
Another happy surprise was that my (now-longer-than-expected) time in Girona overlapped with the biweekly (twice-weekly?) open-air market, as I found out while reading the hostel’s bulletin board. What better way to spend a Tuesday than by taking in the sights and smells of the building blocks of the local cuisine? It was a literal walk in the park to get to this market as they had moved the stalls that typically line the banks of the Ter River into a sprawling wooded park for the summer.

Girona, Spain
Tomatoes

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Finding the Essence of Catalunya in Girona, Spain

The handsome city of Girona in far northeastern Spain had long been on my to-visit list, becoming irresistible after a series of sensational blog posts and Instagram photos from friends I follow came across my feed.

After all, who could resist a city that gets festooned with an avalanche of flowers every spring, that boasts a strikingly-red Eiffel Bridge, and that is home to the Best Ice Cream in the World™?

Girona, Spain
Girona, seen from the Eiffel Bridge
You might think that Girona (pronounced “zhee-ROE-nuh” [ʒiˈɾo.nə]) would be totally overshadowed by its neighbor Barcelona to the south, but sitting a 40-minute train ride away lets this provincial capital carve out its own unique character and feel. And that personality is 100% Catalan, making Girona a perfect place to experience what makes the northeastern region of Catalunya so special.

As part of my final trip around Spain before moving back home, I spent three nights in this fabulous city and got more deeply acquainted with what makes Catalan culture unique than I would have otherwise as a tourist in Barcelona.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Gràcia Neighborhood & Giving Barcelona a Second Chance

I had a couple of bad first impressions of Barcelona that almost made me want to conclude the city was one big, loud, tourist theme park.

To kick off my flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants trip around France in 2012, I took the trenhotel from southern Spain to Barcelona and spent a layover in the Catalan capital, intending to take a second night train to Paris that evening. I checked off all the main sights in the old town: the cathedral, the Boqueria market, Santa María del Mar, the historical museum, the Picasso museum, even a rediscovered synagogue. However, due to a combination of poorly-announced commuter train delays and poor planning on my part, I missed the night train to Paris by five minutes. Fortunately I was able to get a spot on the high-speed TGV leaving that morning and find a bed at a seven-euro hostel nearby…ah, the glory days.

Gràcia, Barcelona, Spain
Plaça del Sol, Gràcia
I returned to Barcelona a couple months later to attend a concert by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós on the top of Montjuïc hill. This weekend trip was all about the arts: in addition to music, I appreciated art at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Joan Miró museum, and I also checked off all seven of Antoni Gaudí’s scintillating buildings in Barcelona. But in between rushing from one museum to another Gaudí house, something felt…lacking.

That winter I was back in Barcelona for a layover, this time on my way to Italy. But I arrived in the evening and had to get up at 4am to catch the airport bus, so my only memories of this trip involve threading a path through the disorienting hellhole that is the Sants train station and wading through all the traffic and tourists in Plaça de Catalunya.

Gràcia, Barcelona, Spain
Plaça de la Virreina, Gràcia
It wasn’t until June of 2015 that I realized Barcelona wasn’t so bad after all, but not for the reasons that most folks visit the city in droves. The neighborhood of Gràcia, far to the north of the touristy core, totally changed how I felt about Barcelona.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

6 Daytrips to Take from Madrid, Spain

The Spanish capital of Madrid has enough to keep you occupied for years: a plethora of world-class museums, thousands of restaurants that serve up tasty local grub plus every cuisine you can think of, a handful of historical monuments, a clutch of unique neighborhoods that all have something different to offer, and one of the world’s largest collections of green spaces.

Daytrips from Madrid, Spain
Calle Sagasta
But it’s a rarely-talked-about fact that the city of Madrid has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites to speak of, even as European counterparts like Lisbon, Paris, and Rome all boast of this designation that honors and protects landmarks of cultural or natural significance.

What the city center of Madrid lacks in stunning monuments, it makes up for with no fewer than six World Heritage Sites that surround the metropolis on all sides. Each of these cities is no more than an hour away from the capital, which means you could spend a week hopping from one stunning Spanish city to the next yet never check out of your Madrid hotel. That, to me, sounds like a great way to spend some time in the center of Spain!

1) Segovia

Daytrips from Madrid, Spain
View from the Alcázar
This provincial capital is right on the other side of the Guadarrama mountain range, but it feels a world away from the big city life of Madrid. A Roman aqueduct spans a bustling plaza, still standing without mortar after nearly 2,000 years. The country’s most recently-built Gothic cathedral crowns the city center, not too far from the alcázar or castle that was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Don’t head back to Madrid without sitting down for a feast of the city’s signature dish: cochinillo asado, or roast suckling pig.

How to get there: Ride the 27-minute high-speed train from Madrid’s Chamartín train station. From the Segovia-Guiomar train station, catch bus #11 to the aqueduct.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Photo Post: Aranjuez, a Royal Escape from Madrid, Spain

Aranjuez, Spain
Royal Palace
It must be nice being a king, because you get to use the word “summer” as a verb. That’s exactly what the kings (and queens!) of Spain decided to do a few centuries ago when the intense summer heat of Madrid became too much for them. They constructed a royal retreat in Aranjuez, a small town to the south of the capital with a slightly-more-agreeable climate thanks to two rivers that run through it and a lush wooded landscape.

Aranjuez, Spain
Príncipe Garden
The main attraction in Aranjuez (pronounced “ah-rahn-KHWETH” [a.ɾaŋˈxweθ] is the Royal Palace, a kind of low-budget Versailles that’s dripping with over-the-top Rococo decorations inside—think gold leaf, porcelain wall embellishments, frescoes, tapestries, and ornate furniture. Spanish monarchs used this palace as their summer residence, but without air conditioning you can imagine the rooms would get rather stuffy, so I’m sure they spent a lot of time outdoors in the gardens next door, where there are plenty of shade trees that fight back against the oppressive summer heat.
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