Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Confession: Why I’m Renewing for Another Year in Galicia

It’s that stressful time of the year again: the Spanish Ministry of Education has now begun assigning native English speakers from North America to work in public elementary and high schools across the country. First-timers anxiously (and impatiently) wait to hear back from the government to see where they will be spending the next eight months of their lives, and veteran language assistants have their fingers crossed, hoping to get placed in their preferred region.

Placements are already rolling out this early in the spring, which inevitably means fellow teachers, expat friends, and family are asking, are you going to renew?

Galician countryside
Instagram link
Even before I first came to Spain two years ago, I knew I wanted to stay here for two years: one in the south and one in the north—mainly to make it easier to travel around each half of the country but also so I could experience both the lively, extroverted Andalusian culture and the cozy, introverted Galician one. Maybe I would make a “victory lap” and spend a third year in the Basque Country or Aragón out east, maybe not. This radically-regional country basically begged me to hop around from corner to corner, getting a different taste of Spain two-thirds of a year at a time.

Last year I was extremely fortunate to get placed in my desired region—southerly Andalucía—and live in the World Heritage-listed town of Úbeda for a year while working in a friendly, accommodating school and traveling every so often. Yes, I did get lonely in my average-sized town; the winter was cold, rainy, and dark; and my allergies and I barely survived the Olive Tree Pollen Release of May 2013. But my first round with Spain was, overall, a positive introduction to the country; it’s hard to go wrong with castles, Renaissance architecture, olive oil, and a laid-back attitude. Still, the north was calling.

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to Recycle in Spain

Like any responsible society should, Spain has a well-developed system of recycling used materials like paper, plastic, or soda cans. You can find recycling bins, receptacles, and containers all over the country, from the biggest metropolises to the tiniest villages. However, these bins usually come in multicolored troops of four, and unless you know the specific vocabulary surrounding, uh, waste, it can be a little confusing the first couple times you have to throw stuff away.

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikipedia)

Green: trash (residuos)

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikipedia)
Okay, I know this isn’t really recycling, but you always find green-colored bins for all your trash alongside the other recycling containers. Throw your trash bags in here. Often they’re labeled with residuos orgánicos (organic waste) but it means the same thing as basura (trash).

Blue: paper (papel)

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Throw your loose paper, cardboard (cartón), newspapers, and magazines in here. Although this might seem like the most logical place to throw your cardboard milk boxes into, they’re actually supposed to go in…

Yellow: containers (envases)

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The yellow bins take in the broadest selection of recyclables: everything from plastic bottles or containers, to soda cans and tin cans, too. Don’t forget that the envases ligeros category also includes the Tetra-Brik or brik: a thin, cardboard box-construction that is lined with plastic to hold liquids like milk, orange juice, soup broth, or boxed wine.

Round & green: glass (vidrio)

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Finally, throw your all your glass containers, broken cups, wine bottles, beer bottles, and empty olive oil jars here. These containers are usually round, igloo-shaped things and shouldn’t be confused with the square trash bins.

Miscellaneous

Recycling in Spain
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
They’re not nearly as ubiquitous as the trash, paper, plastic, and glass containers you can find all over Spanish cities, but every so often you’ll come across metal bins for giving away clothes and shoes (recogida de ropa y calzado), used olive oil in closed bottles (reciclado de aceite usado de cocina), and even batteries (pilas).

Clear as mud? Ever accidentally thrown glass in the plastic container like me? Comment below!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Photo Post: The Street Art of Zaragoza, Spain

When I was gallivanting around the region of Aragón in east-central Spain a month ago, my first stop was the huge capital city of Zaragoza. I’ve got a proper “travelogue” post in the works, but today I want to highlight an attractive draw to the city’s old town: the street art. Having been tipped off to Zaragoza’s strong street art “scene” by Lauren Aloise’s blog post, I was on the look out while in town and managed to come across some beautiful and intriguing pieces throughout the historic core and the neighborhood to the west, El Gancho. The next time you’re passing through Zaragoza, keep your eyes out for some surprising graffitied walls!

Street art, Zaragoza, Spain
Singing houses near a music center
Street art, Zaragoza, Spain
Splotches of color
Street art, Zaragoza, Spain
“Undying Love”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Photo Post: Colexiata de Sar, the Leaning Church of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Colexiata de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Central nave
Most days of the week I end up passing through Santiago de Compostela’s Praza de Galicia, a major hub for traffic and city buses traversing the northeast-to-southwest sprawl of this regional capital. On my way home, I usually head east along the city’s main loop, a road that changes its name about eight times as it circles Santiago’s small but stately historic center.

Colexiata de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Right aisle
Before I reach the sidestreet that leads down to my apartment, I pass by a large, bold magenta sign informing drivers of a “Colexiata de Sar” down to the right. Walking past this intriguing sign nearly every day for a month after I moved to Santiago made me think that there had to be something pretty significant for there to be a tourist sign put up for it.

Colexiata de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Left aisle
So, one day I descended down, down Santiago’s central bluff, under the highway and train tracks, to the edge of the Sar River. Here, in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, I came across a simple church that dates to the Romanesque era of architecture (think medieval times), but with six great stone buttresses flying out from either side of the church. The buttresses seemed kind of odd, as that architectural element came into vogue centuries later when the grand Gothic cathedrals needed them to prop up their soaring walls.

Colexiata de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Flying buttresses
Come to find out, the Colexiata de Santa María a Maior e Real de Sar, or the “Royal Collegiate Church of St. Mary Major of Sar,” was built on some rather, uh, swampy land on the riverbanks, and so by the 1700s things had gotten so bad that the walls, columns, and vaulting were buckling outward. Oops. Thankfully, authorities had some granite buttresses built on either side to prop up the church, saving it from collapse. Today it’s a fun building to explore—not only for being an architectural oddity in Santiago but also for holding a simple yet well-preserved example of Romanesque architecture, both inside the church and in its calm cloisters.

Colexiata de Sar, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Gallery of buttresses
What other “Leaning Towers of Pisa” can you think of? What was your favorite photo from this post? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Confessions of a Texan in Spain

Alright, guys, it’s time to take off the rose-colored glasses that too often get put on when I talk about traveling or how amazing Spanish food is, and time for some #RealTalk. As an American living in Spain, trying to speak Spanish, and living to tell the tale about it on this blog, I’ve got some thoughts and reflections that I’d like to share in a confessional-style post, touching on the subjects of life, travel, language, and blogging.

Life

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Instagram link
Almost two years since graduating college, I’m still not sure what comes next in terms of a career or job. This point is a major source of anxiety for me: do I sell out for the ever-elusive 9-5 desk job, attempt to make ends meet by pursuing writing full-time, or attempt to teach high-schoolers some combination of Spanish and history? Don’t get me wrong—I’ve really enjoyed teaching English but I can’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life, which is one reason that…

I can’t see myself living in Spain long-term, making the transition from temporary expatriate to permanent immigrant. I love this country: it has some of the most fascinating history and architecture, tastiest food, most beautiful languages, and most gorgeous countryside I’ve experienced in the world. But literally one of every two Spaniards my age is unemployed, job prospects for English-speaking foreigners are mostly relegated to ESL, and American teachers are often sidelined in favor of EU residents like Brits or Irish. I’m also not dating a Spaniard, either, which is often the most common stepping stone to gaining residency.

Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Instagram link
It’s really pathetic how much the weather here in Santiago affects my mood; these past weeks have been full of glorious sun, warmth, and blooming flowers…yay! But the wintry months of January and February were long, dark, cold, and extremely rainy: it literally rained every single day for over fifty days straight! While the sun has banished any lingering Seasonal Affective Disorder I may have caught, this year has made me wonder if it’s really worth enduring the terrible months of winter.

Although praised by some of the most popular writers in the travel world, the idea of long-term travel, of being a “digital nomad” and having a “location-independent” job or career does not appeal to me at all. I get cranky and exhausted after ten days on the road, and as a major homebody I enjoy having a bed to call my own, a dresser for my clothes, and a stovetop I know how to operate. Although I’m almost never homesick, more and more I’ve been feeling this strange urge to settle down and put down roots, making local friends and giving back to the community, and I like I said above, I don’t want to do that in Spain. America is on my horizon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Photo Post: Monte Pedroso in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Monte Pedroso, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
View of Santiago de Compostela
Lots of famous Spanish cities are relatively flat and easy to walk around, from Barcelona to Sevilla to Córdoba. Santiago de Compostela, in the country’s northwest corner, however, was built on a series of hills and bluffs on the high ground between the Sarela and Sar rivers, so you tend to get a good workout going to work and getting the groceries here.

Monte Pedroso, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Sunset
The surrounding area is rather hilly as well, with the distinctive, pointy Pico Sacro rising up to the southeast and Monte Pedroso looming right outside of town to the west. You can enjoy the best views of the city from the summit of this mountain just an hour-long hike from the Praza do Obradoiro in front of the cathedral.

Monte Pedroso, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Trail
Crowded neighborhoods give way to rural mansions and farmland, which in turn surrender to the fragrant forests of pine and eucalyptus trees that cover the falda or foothills of the mountain.

Monte Pedroso, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Trees
While Santiago is by no means a huge city, it’s always nice to go up to the summit and relax away from all the hustle and bustle. Plus, it’s fun to try and figure out where your favorite haunts in the city are from hundreds of feet up. Too bad my house is hidden by the bluff that contains the historic core of Santiago, but I can at least see my second home, the farmers market!

Monte Pedroso, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Dusk
What was your favorite photo from this post? Do you enjoy taking a break from sightseeing and eating while traveling to enjoy nature and public parks? Tell me in the comments below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Mercado de Abastos (Farmers Market) of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I haven’t written much yet about the city I’m currently living in this year—Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the northwestern Galicia region—mainly because I have a backlog of 300+ pictures to edit and upload. Hopefully this summer I’ll have everything put up so I can start talking about what has become one of my favorite cities in the country. For now, at least, all I’ve got are some shots of the city’s mercado de abastos or farmers market, which is one of the premier markets of its kind in all of Spain but still small enough that you don’t feel lost inside.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Cabbage and carrots
Santiago’s market is one of my favorite places in the entire city, mainly because a huge part of Galician culture is its famously-delicious food but also because I love eating, cooking, and supporting local producers rather than big chain supermarkets.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Tetilla cheese
Although the current collection of eight granite naves or halls was built in 1941, the farmers market has been held almost daily since the late 1800s in a location due east of the cathedral on the edge of the historic old town. Bounded by the huge Church of Santo Agostiño to the north and the tiny Church of San Fiz de Solovio to the south, the market grounds house dozens of family businesses offering every kind of local meat and produce you can think of.

Mercado de Abastos, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Nécoras or velvet crabs
The stalls generally fall into one of the following categories: seafood (mariscos), fruits and veggies (frutería), meat (carnicería), chicken & eggs (pollos), cheeses & sausages (quesos/charcutería), bread & pastries (panadería), and salt cod (bacalao).