Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Iznatoraf, Spain: (Little) City on a Hill

I step into my hotel’s elevator, hit button zero for the ground floor, and rub my eyes. I’m exhausted from jetlag, culture shock, and apartment hunting. When I open my eyes, I notice that a bullfighter has joined me. She’s a slim twentysomething sporting a bedazzled jacket and multicolored tights. The doors close and I ponder how in my first week in Spain I’ve already encountered not my first torero, but torera.

Telling the receptionist hasta luego, I head south down Villanueva del Arzobispo’s main drag and am immediately confronted by a white-and-goldenrod Moorish Revival bullring where it seems half the town is pouring into. Posters advertise a Gran Novillada—a bullfight where novices face off against young bulls. My elevator companion meets up with her family and heads beneath one of the horseshoe arches that support this modern-day Colosseum.

Iznatoraf, Spain
I walk against the current of bullfight attendees and soon my destination comes into view: an imposing hill outside of Villanueva, crowned by a town called Torafe.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Photo Post: Checking off Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
The Haystack
I had a couple of things on my Oregon bucket list when I flew to Bend over Labor Day this year. Obviously the first was to catch up with my roommate from college and best friend, Jonathan, and visit all his favorite haunts in Bend. But I also wanted to see the stunning landscapes (seascapes?) of Cannon Beach on the Pacific coast, make an appearance in Portland, and drive around Crater Lake National Park. That last item never happened, unfortunately, because roads were closed due to the smoke of raging forest fires, but I did make good on my goal to set foot into the Pacific Ocean in America.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach’s main draw is its collection of whimsical sea stacks, eroded columns of rock that float out in the water. Haystack Rock is the largest of these sea stacks. This conical mini-mountain commands the beach and dominates Instagram feeds, too. After several long hours of driving across the state of Oregon, choking on the smoky, ashy air, and getting lost in the farmlands of the Willamette Valley, it was so refreshing to emerge from the woods at Cannon Beach, walk barefoot on the wet sand, and breathe in the salty ocean air.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Weekend of Eating through Bend, Oregon

Now that I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona, it’s so much easier to visit the almost infinite array of cities, small towns, national parks, and hiking opportunities that America’s Mountain West has to offer. I’m just a 3 1/2 hour drive from the Grand Canyon, a 4 1/2 hour trip from Las Vegas, and half a day’s drive from the wonders of southern Utah.

Phoenix just so happens to have a direct flight to Redmond, Oregon—not too far from Bend, a central Oregon city tucked inside a meander (or “bend”) of the Deschutes River. My best friend and roommate from college, Jonathan, moved to Bend last year around the same time I moved out to Arizona, but since we had both taught English overseas, we hadn’t seen each other since graduating from college. I decided to fix that problem by booking flights to Oregon over Labor Day 2017, making my first foray into the Pacific Northwest.

Where to eat in Bend, Oregon
Drake Park
I used Bend as a home base for making daytrips across Oregon: the Detroit Dam, Cannon Beach, Portland, and Newberry National Volcanic Monument. But Bend itself was a relaxing, comfortable city that lent itself well to simply hanging out and catching up with my best friend who I hadn’t spent time with in five years.

Bend reminded me so much of Flagstaff, Arizona. Both are located among piney woods of the high desert, both attract an outdoorsy and hipster population, both have university campuses, both have housing crises, both indulge in suburban sprawl and are poorly laid out, and—most importantly—both are home to delicious restaurants and a plethora of coffee shops.

Below are the eateries and cafés Jonathan and his friends took me to on my long weekend in Bend. I hope their recommendations give you a good starting point the next time you’re in central Oregon.

Bad Wolf Bakery & Bistro

Where to eat in Bend, Oregon
Cardamom almond latte
Bad Wolf is at the top of this list because my friend Jonathan just so happened to work here at the time. The night before we had brunch here on his day off, I got to shadow him as he was doing prep work for the following morning—mixing chocolate chip cookie dough, baking sweet and savory scones alike, and even mixing up a batch of secret-recipe chai.

Where to eat in Bend, Oregon
Fried chicken eggs Benedict
This Doctor Who-themed breakfast-and-lunch joint was the perfect way to begin a long weekend in the Pacific Northwest. Here I tried my first cardamom latte, the first of many cardamom-infused items I would consume this weekend, pairing it with fried chicken eggs Benedict. Yes, you heard me right—fried chicken in this classic brunch dish. It was unbelievable.

Bad Wolf Bakery & Bistro
1133 Northwest Wall Street
Suite #100
Bend, OR 97701

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Confession: Why I Won’t Move Back to Spain

Teaching English in Spain, speaking Spanish, and traveling across Spain and Europe made up my day-to-day life for three years after I graduated college in 2012. June 2015 saw me go on a “farewell tour” of Spain before moving back to Texas at the end of the month, and it wasn’t until May of this year—almost two years to the day—that I would return to the country I called home for three school years.

I had the opportunity to co-lead a small group of ten public radio listeners on a cooking tour of Spain, making stops in Barcelona, Sevilla, and Madrid for cooking classes, tapas-themed guided walks, and winery visits. It was a lot of work planning the trip, photographing events, translating questions, and leading these adventurous, inquisitive travelers, but it was so, so worth it to share one of my favorite places in the world with this great group of people.

Reus, Spain
Streets of Reus
A question I was asked quite frequently while chopping potatoes or hurrying to a Metro stop was, “Would you ever move back to Spain?”

It’s hard to say “no” to that question as you sip on a two-euro glass of white Verdejo wine, or make your way on foot—rather than by car—through centuries-old cities, or confidently shift between Castilian Spanish and American English without blinking an eye.

I left the country in the summer of 2015 fairly unhappy with things, and I was so ready to get integrated back into American society. However, being back in Spain once again reminded me why I moved to the country in the first place: the low cost of living, a plethora of travel opportunities, a multitude of ways to practice my Spanish, history around every corner, and a delicious (if bland) cuisine first brought me to a place like Úbeda for Year One and kept me in Santiago de Compostela for two more years.

But it’s been over two years now since my initial re-entry, and today (brushing aside various quarter-life crises and associated drama that have now passed) I couldn’t be happier living in my home country.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The 7 Major Cities of Galicia, Spain

Galicia in northwest Spain is famous for its lush green countryside. Standing in stark contrast to the dry, high plains of central Spain, Galicia’s wooded hills guard a landscape that reminds many visitors of Ireland or the Pacific Northwest, and its thousands of small towns preserve distinct accents, delicious dishes, and centuries-old festivals.

Yet today, most Galicians live in cities scattered along the Atlantic coast, a region that the train company Renfe refers to as the eje atlántico. This “Atlantic Axis” stretches from Vigo at the southern edge, through Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela, and ends on the northern coast at A Coruña and Ferrol. Keep reading to learn what makes these big cities and others tick.

1) Vigo

Vigo boasts 292,817 residents, making it Galicia’s most populous city. Strategically situated along the Ría de Vigo, an estuary on Galicia’s southwest Atlantic coast, Vigo has Europe’s second-most important fishing port. Because of this, the fish canning industry is huge here—and the fresh oysters are second to none. Apart from good seafood, there’s not much to draw you to Vigo’s old town, and the newer parts of the city were built so quickly and haphazardly over the last century that they are, in a word, uninspiring. Fortunately, ferries depart multiple times a day for the city’s Cíes Islands, three pristine islands that float out at the mouth of the estuary and offer white-sands beaches and forest hikes.

Friday, November 10, 2017

How to Spend a Week in Galicia, Spain

There is SO. MUCH. to see in Spain that you could live there for decades and still not manage to see the entire country. From beaches to mountains, big cities to villages, and national parks and monuments, Spain is home to a rich and diverse heritage of culture, history, food, and languages.

This can sometimes be overwhelming for folks who want to travel to Spain but who only have a limited amount of time. Cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada all beckon, yet so do cozy corners of the country like Asturias and Aragón…not to mention the 3,000 miles of coastline and myriad of islands.

My recommendation for this quintessential #FirstWorldProblem is to focus on a single region or part of the country and get to know that one part really well over the course of a week. Rather than a whirlwind tour where you spend 1-2 days in the biggest metropolitan areas that are scattered at huge distances across the country, traveling like this slows you down and saves you the stress of forever catching that next train or flight; plus, it also lets you savor a region’s unique character.

Having lived for two years in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, I’ve put together a suggested itinerary for folks interested in spending a week in northwest Spain.

This circuit starts in A Coruña, where you could fly in via Iberia or Vueling, but you could just as easily start this trip in Ourense or Lugo as a road trip from Madrid.

Day 1: A Coruña

A Coruña, Spain
A Coruña
Arrive in A Coruña in the early morning and introduce yourself to Galicia at a local café-bar. A small plate of sugar-drizzled churros will get you started for breakfast. Spend your first day in Galicia by exploring Coruña’s old town, by checking out museums and military forts, and by strolling along the oceanfront promenade, where you can appreciate the beauty of the city’s galerías or glassed-in balconies that stretch from one house to the next. An essential part of any visit to the Glass City is the Tower of Hercules, a monumental lighthouse that has been in continuous use since Roman times. What to eat here? A mariscada, or seafood platter, that you can order at any of the restaurants behind the Praza de María Pita square.

Sleep in A Coruña

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The 4 Natural Wonders of Galicia, Spain

Spain’s far northwestern corner is only a third the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, but it’s got a plethora of manmade sights that are truly astonishing, from the historic old town of Santiago de Compostela and the Tower of Hercules, a monumental lighthouse that has been in service since Roman times, to the slate-stone Roman city walls that encircle Lugo.

There’s a lot of monuments that nature has created as well. The region of Galicia sometimes feels a world away from the rest of Spain with its rugged terrain, rainy climate, and green forested landscapes. This unique setting has given us some jaw-dropping scenery that sets Galicia apart from the flat, high plains of central Spain or the overdeveloped beaches of the Mediterranean.

1) Ribeira Sacra — Galicia’s grand canyon

Sil Canyon, Spain
Sil Canyon
Although nothing can live up to the majestic scenery and diversity of ecosystems that Arizona’s Grand Canyon offers, Galicia’s own “grand canyon” comes pretty close. The name Ribeira Sacra or “Sacred Riverbanks” has been applied to the Sil River Canyon that cuts deep into the granite massif of central Galicia because this austere, isolated landscape was home to no fewer than 18 monasteries from the early Middle Ages onward.

Sil Canyon, Spain
Sil Canyon
The human activity here only serves to make the natural surroundings that more stunning. Tour boats cruise the Sil as it flows through here, minuscule against the vast canyon walls. Weathered Romanesque monasteries hewn from the earth beneath them reveal the building materials that sustain the Cañón do Sil today. And a glass of rich red Mencía wine lets you taste the unique terroir of a wine-producing whose stair-stepped terraces were originally planted by monks.
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