Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Sarela River Trail

Sarela River Trail, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Old stone bridge
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the countless parks and green spaces that surround Santiago de Compostela make the city such a great place to call home. From the Alameda, where you can see and be seen (or just go jogging), to Belvís, where you can lay out on the hillside and have a picnic, Santiago is truly blessed with pleasant public spaces where you can escape the noise and demands of the city and breathe in some fresh air.

Sarela River Trail, Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Spring flowers
No part of town gives you a better connection to the natural world than the footpaths that follow the course of the Sarela River. Trailblazed several years ago, the Paseo Fluvial do Río Sarela traces a tranquil creek as it trickles down the western edge of Santiago from the north to the southwest.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Where to Eat in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

This blog post has been literally years in the making. Although I’ve happily moved back home to Texas, the city of Santiago de Compostela in far northwestern Spain gave me two of the best years of my life. I spent much of that time drinking an expertly-pulled café con leche, indulging in a fresh butter croissant (or two), and going out for tapas with friends in the old town. I cooked most of my meals at my apartment, but that’s not to say I didn’t gain an intimate knowledge of the cafés, bars, and restaurants in the Galician capital.

Where to eat in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Churros and coffee at Churrería San Pedro Burguer
Whether you’re a freshly-arrived pilgrim weary of the Camino, or a visitor with limited time to spare, I hope these recommendations that I’ve curated below will help you avoid the tourist traps on Rúa do Franco south of the cathedral and instead get an authentic experience in one of Spain’s most alluring cities.


Alabama (Rúa do Hórreo, 21)
A clean, comfortable café south of Praza de Galicia with a large outside terrace for people-watching on the busy Hórreo street. Come here for good coffee and the morning paper. Their fresh-squeezed orange juice is the best in town.

Bicoca (Rúa de Entremuros, 4)
Tucked away in a side-plaza near the Porta do Camiño (where pilgrims first enter the old town on the Camino de Santiago), Bicoca serves a brunch every Sunday that is up to American standards. I love their Galician interpretation of eggs Benedict: a slice of toasted country bread with Spanish cured ham, plus the poached eggs & Hollandaise sauce.

Café Iacobus
With several locations around town, this local chain churns out quality pastries and fries their own churros in house, plus they have great coffee and loose-leaf teas. If you want tarta de Santiago, go here to try a slice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

5 Advanced Spanish Pronunciation Tips

I’ve talked some about Spanish pronunciation on the blog before, from how to speak Spanish like a Spaniard to tips on learning how to roll your Rs; in fact, they’re two of my most popular posts! Today I’d like to share a little bit of what I learned when I took a Spanish linguistics course in college. Don’t worry, I’m going to make sure to explain everything in layman’s terms, but these subtle, rarely-discussed differences between English and Spanish were transformational in getting me to lose my American accent in Spanish and have made me sound much more native. I hope they help you as much as they helped me!

Spanish pronunciation tips
Plaza de San Nicolás, Madrid

1) B, D, G are soft, not hard consonants

This was one of the first things I picked up on in my linguistics class and it totally blew my mind. At the beginnings of word or phrases, the B, D, and G sounds are “full stops” or are pronounced strongly, just like they are in English: vinagre, día, and gamba begin with clean, firm Bs, Ds, and Gs.

However, whenever you see a B/D/G in between two vowels, that’s your key to smooth things out, since they are pronounced much softer in Spanish in this position. The technical linguistic term here is fricative vs. stop; but to make things simpler, whenever the letters B or V come between two vowels, they end up sounding more like a V than a B; the D becomes a voiced TH as in the English word “the”; and the soft G is the lazy cousin of the hard G that doesn’t want to get out of bed (think of the modern Greek pronunciation of gyro).

In all cases where B/D/G come between vowels, the sound they make is never as forced and enunciated as an English V, TH, or G, but instead something a little smoother and softer. Your lips and teeth don’t touch when you make the soft B sound, your tongue just kind of hangs out between your teeth for the soft D sound; and for the soft G sound, you want to push air at the back of your throat in the same way you would with the Spanish J sound, only with voice behind it.

Here’s a few examples with pronunciation guides:

* complicado “com-plee-KAH-tho” [kom.pliˈca.ðo]
* preguntaba “pray-ghoon-TAH-vah” [pre.ɣunˈta.βa]
* la bomba “lah VOM-bah” [la ˈβ]
* la garganta “la ghar-GHAN-tah” [la ɣarˈɣan.ta]
* digo yo “DEE-gho jo” [ˈdi.ɣo ʝo]
* te lo digo “tay lo THEE-gho” [te lo ˈði.ɣo]

Monday, July 27, 2015

Where to See Roman Ruins in Spain

The land that we call Spain today belonged to the Roman Empire for nearly 600 years, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we can find countless relics dating from this time period across the country—not least the Castilian language itself, which derives from the Latin the Romans imposed on Hispania. Coming from a part of the U.S. where it’s a big deal to catch a glimpse of a truck that’s only half a century old, I naturally gravitated to places like ancient Roman ruins as I made my way from one region of Spain to another. This country has so much Roman heritage to offer—on par with Italy or France!—so read on to learn where to go in Spain for your ancient ruin fix.

1) City of Mérida

Roman theater
Today the capital of vast, lonely Extremadura in western Spain, Mérida was founded as a settlement of emeritus (veteran) soldiers along the Guadiana River. Emerita Augusta would become the capital of Lusitania province (which included modern-day Portugal and Extremadura) and was graced with an amphitheater, a theater, a circus “speedway” for chariot races, monumental arches, a forum, temples, a mile-long bridge, and, of course, an aqueduct, all of which you can still marvel at today, 2,000 years later. It may sound like I’m just listing things off, but there really is simply so much that has been preserved here!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The 7 Craziest Things I’ve Eaten in Spain

Despite what many Spaniards may tell you, the food here is not spicy at all. But that hardly means Spanish cuisine is boring! I’ve broadened my palate and tried so many new things since moving to Spain in 2012, picking up a taste for everything from sardines and anchovies to cured beef and cheese. During this culinary adventure I’ve had throughout the country, though, I’ve come across some pretty crazy stuff, most of which I actually enjoy eating now! Read on to see some of the exciting dishes you can try in Spain.

1) Octopus

Pulpo á feira
No, this isn’t like those little fried calamari you get as an appetizer sometimes; pulpo á feira is adult octopus, tentacles and all, slow-boiled under tender. After the octopus is finished cooking, apron-clad women (the pulpeiras) snip the purple tentacles into little medallions with scissors, discarding the mantle or “head.” Garnished with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pimentón (smoked paprika), the white tentacle cross-sections are often served with boiled potatoes.

2) Snails

Weird food in Spain
Caracoles a la andaluza
Not even Spaniards who live up north will touch these little guys, but they’re still hugely popular in the southern region of Andalucía in the spring and early summer months. They’re nothing like the saucy, high-brow French escargots you might be familiar with, though; Spanish snails are fun finger food slurped down by the cup-full. The little ones are slow boiled in a broth of garlic, fennel, cayenne pepper, spearmint, and bay leaves, and the bigger ones (cabrillas) tend to get cooked in thicker, tomato-based sauces. Both are usually served in glasses or bowls with their broth, which is uncharacteristically spicy by Spanish standards.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Photo Post: The Galician Resort Town of Sanxenxo, Spain

Sanxenxo, Spain
Silgar Beach
My weekend trip down south to Vigo back in January took me to a few new places I hadn’t explored before in the area: a legit Mexican restaurant in Vigo, the monumental old town of Pontevedra, and the granite-paved fishing village of Combarro.

Sanxenxo, Spain
Fishing boats
My last stop took me west of Combarro and Pontevedra. Hanging out on the north side of the Ría de Pontevedra estuary lies Sanxenxo, a resort town whose population (and rent) doubles in the summer as out-of-town folks flood the apartments that sprawl across the south-facing beaches.

Sanxenxo, Spain
Apartment ad
Pronounced “sahn-SHEN-show” [sanˈʃen.ʃo] (probably the funnest Galician place-name of them all to say), this town was unfortunately rather dull in the cold of winter, despite the unusual January sunshine. The friends I daytripped out here with and I all wished we could have just laid out on the beach, but instead we buttoned up our coats and tightened our scarves when we got out of the car.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Combarro, Spain: Galicia’s Most Beautiful Village?

Combarro, Spain
Two hórreos
Early on in my first year teaching English in northwest Spain, my bilingual coordinator told me there was one place I absolutely could not miss before returning back to the States: seaside Combarro, Galicia’s most beautiful fishing village. She’s never made such a recommendation before or since, so I took her local advice to heart and daytripped out here while I was in the Pontevedra area this January.

Combarro, Spain
The historic Rúa do Mar
I am all about that village life, and Combarro did not disappoint. This viliña mariñeira or “little mariner’s town” mainly draws folks to stroll down its historic, granite-paved streets that date back to the 1700s, where you can appreciate traditional Galician houses, their covered porches, wrap-around balconies, and tiny gardens and flower planters.

Combarro, Spain
Combarro’s also a great place to get to know two of the most emblematic structures you’ll run into in the Galician countryside (or on the coast). No fewer than eight cruceiros or monumental granite crosses dot this tiny town, and every other shorefront house will have a grand hórreo granary (or three) out back to use for drying corn or fish in.