Friday, May 31, 2013

May Monthly Update: Last Month Edition

Well y’all, my last month as a language assistant in Spain has come and gone; the end is here. It’s been a fun yet challenging year, and I’m ready to do it all over again in Galicia this October. Here’s what I’ve been up to since my last update four weeks ago:

La Malagueta neighborhood, Málaga, Spain
La Malagueta neighborhood, Málaga

Traveling to Málaga

On Wednesday, May 1, we had the day off for Día de los Trabajadores—“Day of the Workers” or Labor Day—but my school decided to put two of its free placement holidays on the following Thursday and Friday to give us a crazy-long weekend. I didn’t go traveling for the whole five days, but I did spend a few days going down to south-central Andalucía. First stop was Málaga, one of the oldest cities in Spain, where I was a beach bum despite the chilly weather and did usual touristy things like explore the cathedral, appreciate Picasso paintings, and hike up castles. Spit-roasted sardines, popular along the coast, were some of the best food I’ve had anywhere!

Peña de los Enamorados, Antequera, Spain
Enamorados Rock, Antequera
Taking an hour-long bus ride north, I spent a day in Antequera on my way to Granada. In Antequera I explored this mid-sized city that, in fact, reminded me a lot of Úbeda. Weaving my way in and out of German tourist groups, I went up to the local Moorish castle (castles will never get old!) and simply took in the views of a typical Spanish city from above. On the outskirts of town were two dolmens, or massive stone-and-earth caves built by neolithic peoples about 5,000 years ago—an eerie link to the very distant past.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

7 Ways to Discover Almería, Southern Spain’s Best-Kept Secret

Having planned a week-long trip across northern Morocco for this year’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) Easter vacation, I next had to figure out how I would actually get there from southern Spain. Some people recommended flying, but that seemed impractical given the circuit I would be making. Another option was taking a ferry—a boat designed for *ahem* ferrying cars across bodies of water but that also carries people—from Spain’s Mediterranean coast to the coast of North Africa. Ticket prices were reasonable, and there was even an overnight option to get to the eastern side of the country. So I bought a seat on the night ferry from Almería, Spain to Morocco Melilla, Spain—but more on this geographic oddity in a forthcoming post.

Alcazaba de Almería, Spain
Alcazaba de Almería
To make a long, missing-the-train, getting-pissed-off-at-the-bus-company story short, I was left with a half-day layover in the city of Almería, a provincial capital on the Mediterranean coast a few hours southeast of Granada. Spending the afternoon and evening in this little-visited (albeit isolated) place was the best way to start off a week of go-go-go travel. Most people have never even heard of Almería, but after visiting I realized it’s one of Andalucía’s best-kept secrets. Here are seven things you can do to experience this really cool city.

1) Drink Moroccan tea at Tetería Almedina

Almería, Spain
Old town
After hopping off the train at the end of the line, I wandered across the sunny, breezy old town in search of one of Almería’s teterías, or Moorish-style tea houses common in southern Spain serving all flavors and combinations of teas and decorated in gaudy designs that are often a caricature of Morocco.

Friends had told me good things about Tetería Almedina, and my high hopes were met when I came for lunch. I ordered a cuscús dulce de pollo (sweet chicken couscous), a flavor explosion of almonds, dried fruit, juicy chicken, and light, savory couscous grains. To finish things off I got some Moroccan tea (green tea brewed with fresh spearmint leaves and lots of sugar) as well as some pastelitos árabes (“tiny Arab desserts”). It was a great introduction to Moroccan cuisine before getting it non-stop the next week.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Valencia, Spain: A Pretty, Tasty City Worth Visiting

Flags of Spain & Valencia
Valencia: Spain’s third largest city but hardly its third most-visited one. Perhaps passed over by tourists on their way from Barcelona to Madrid, Sevilla, or Granada, or skipped in favor of other Mediterranean beach towns, Valencia sadly doesn’t have as much fame as Toledo or San Sebastián might for people traveling around Spain. I have to admit, I wasn’t even planning on taking a trip here until I ran across Zach Frohlich’s blog Not Hemingway’s Spain, a website where he not only tries to break down stereotypes about Spain but also introduces readers to his adopted hometown of Valencia. His many blog posts about the city convinced me it was worth going to, and besides, I had some friends from college studying abroad in a town two hours south (Alicante), so I thought, what the heck, why not? It ended up being a great decision and I realized Valencia is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.

City of Arts and Sciences
In case you haven’t picked it up from this blog already, I’m a big architecture nerd, and Valencia’s is simply lovely. A series of plazas from the train station to the northern edge of the old town take you back in time from Modernista to Renaissance to Gothic styles, and closer to the beach you’ll get a taste for the exciting world of contemporary architecture.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

April Monthly Update: Happy Spring Edition

Seven months into my stay here, and I am both happy and homesick. Happy, because it’s finally stopped being cold and rainy every day—which means you can smell the flowers and wear shorts—and homesick because I miss my family and I’m simply weary of all the annoying things Spain does. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here! But when June 21st rolls around, I’ll be ready to go home.

It’s finally springtime!

Wisteria in the gardens of the Real Alcázar of Sevilla
My joy at spring’s arrival has never been so great. From November or December all the way through March it has been cold and rainy, often for weeks at a time. Talk about demolishing the “warm and sunny” stereotype of southern Spain. I couldn’t go outside without wearing at least three layers and bringing an umbrella, and the bitter wind made the simple act of buying groceries a challenge.

But by April, the winds shifted and we changed our clocks: spring was here! The weather finally decided to cooperate, I wore shorts for the first time on April 12, and all across Andalucía the fragrant orange trees were in bloom.

Monday, May 6, 2013

I’m Going to Galicia Next Year!

I know I’ve already tweeted about it twice now, but I would like to officially announce on this blog that I will be a North American Language and Culture Assistant at an elementary school in the town of Boiro, Galicia, for the 2013-2014 school year.

Location of Galicia in Spain
(Source: Wikipedia)
Galicia is a little-visited region of Spain in the northwest corner of the country, just to the north of Portugal. The language they speak there is very closely related to Portuguese, although everyone speaks Spanish as well. Like the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., Galicia is green, lush, and rainy—and it’s the last adjective that everyone here down south always uses to describe the place, even though it’s been really rainy here, too! Famous for its seafood, the region is well-known to the rest of Spain for pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus) and mejillones en escabeche (canned marinated mussels). Perhaps infamously, the naval town of Ferrol is the birthplace of dictator Francisco Franco. Finally, the Camino de Santiago (“Way of St. James”)—the ancient pilgrimage route running across northern Spain—ends in the regional capital of Santiago de Compostela, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists pilgrims every year.

Boiro beach
Even though this year in Jaén province has been wonderful, I’m really excited to be moving to the complete opposite side of the country, where I’ll be closer to places like León, Salamanca, and Asturias. There is just so much to see and do in Spain, but to get to places like Cantabria or Castilla from Andalucía would involve an entire day of transit. Hopefully Galicia will be a strategic location for such travels. Also, Portugal’s right next door!
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