Wednesday, August 28, 2013

4 Reasons You Should Know About Linares, Spain

Browse through the pages of any major travel guide for Spain and you’d be hard-pressed to find even a single reference to Linares, a city 61,000 strong in the southern province of Jaén. More people live in Linares than in the tourist hotspots of Segovia and Ávila, yet hardly anyone has heard about this place. This is a real shame because Linares is a decent-sized, typical Spanish town but without the hordes of tourists that mob Granada or Sevilla. Although a fairly anonymous, workaday town, Linares makes up for its lack of cathedrals or castles with a significant cultural heritage and an accessible setting. Find out why Linares should have its name on your map after the photo!

Linares, Spain
Plaza de San Francisco

1) Bullfighter Manolete died here

Linares, Spain
Monument to Manolete in front of the bullring
If you’re like me, you probably don’t know a thing (or care) about the history of Spanish bullfighting, but apparently The Most Famous Bullfighter of All Time was Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez a.k.a. Manolete. He died from wounds sustained in his last bullfight here in Linares on August 28, 1947. Manolete was one of the most important bullfighters who fought (played? worked?) in the post Spanish Civil War-era, and after he died at just 30 years of age, the city erected a monument to him outside their quite large, white-and-gold painted bullring.

2) Guitarist Andrés Segovia was born here

Linares, Spain
Terrace-filled street
Andrés Segovia was the man who probably single-handedly dignified the guitar as an instrument worthy of classical music concerts, who transcribed a ton of classical music for the guitar, and who taught many of today’s contemporary guitarists. Although he was born in Linares in 1893, he grew up in the nearby village of Villacarrillo and later moved to Granada where he seriously began studying the guitar. He returned to visit Linares for the first time in the 1950s having lived in Madrid for most of his professional life. Segovia died in 1987 and today there is an international classical guitar competition held annually in town.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Capture the Colour: Photos Across the Spectrum in Morocco and Spain

Last week, I came across a lovely photo post by longtime Spain expat blogger Cassandra Gambill. But because she was entering the annual Capture the Colour photography contest (sponsored by the British website Travel Supermarket), her blog post showcased five pictures from her travels over the past few years in which the colors (spelled without a U, thank you very much!) yellow, red, green, white, and blue featured prominently. For whatever reason, I was hesitant to throw my hat in the ring until Cat Gaa of Sunshine and Siestas “tagged” me in her entry for the competition this morning. Guess I don’t have much of a choice now! Anyway, I hope y’all enjoy these photos.

Yellow: Petunias at the Patios de Córdoba festival

Patios de Córdoba, Spain
Link to Flickr
I first visited Córdoba back in dreary December and, while I did enjoy the city, every Spaniard I talked to about it insisted it was “worth the pain” (vale la pena) to go back in May for the Patios de Córdoba festival, a decades-old competition to see who can decorate their traditional Andalusian courtyard with spring flowers the best. Taking their advice, I returned with my friend Leigh and we explored three neighborhoods in town. House after house was literally overflowing with flower pots and planters, and I was amazed at the beauty and variety of flowers the homeowners had curated.

Red: Candles in the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain
Link to Flickr
The first time I visited Barcelona was in a whirlwind layover on my way to Paris for Christmas break this year. Although I missed my night train (it’s a long story), I managed to enjoy a half-hour of calm amidst a day of go-go-go sightseeing at the Church of Santa Maria del Mar. This church is an austere yet beautiful Catalan Gothic structure built in the city’s touristy old town, but when you enter inside, you enter into a true place of peace: dim lighting accentuates the spacious naves while soft violin music plays quietly through the speakers. I took this picture of votive candles lit in one of the side chapels.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Answering Your Questions About Walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago

Between June 5th and June 9th of this year I completed a major life goal of mine by walking the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that runs across northern Spain and ends at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of St. James, son of Zebedee, (Santiago) are reportedly buried.

Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain
Me having finished the Camino
Although ostensibly a religious route, the Camino is as much adventure and traveling as spiritual exercise. I only hiked 115km of it, but trekking 25km+ each day was a pleasant challenge and introduced me to the beautiful countryside of Galicia, the northwest region of Spain.

I’m sure most of you have a lot of questions about this pilgrimage, so in this post I’ve tried to answer most of the basic questions you may be asking. I’m sure to have missed some, so ask anything not in here in the comments below!

So, what is this Camino?

Camino de Santiago in Galicia, Spain
An hórreo or granary, a very common sight in Galicia
The legend goes that in the 1st century CE, the apostle James “the Greater” came to Roman Hispania (i.e., the Iberian peninsula) to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and establish the church there. Returning to Jerusalem, he was martyred shortly thereafter but his body was miraculously translated to Galicia, washing up on a shore near Santiago, where he was ultimately buried. His grave, however, was lost over the centuries.

In 831, however, a Galician shepherd named Pelayo saw what looked like stars falling over a forest. He went with the local bishop to the spot in the woods and there they found the sepulcher of James. The king ordered a chapel to be built over the remains and the rest, as they say, is history. Today the stone coffin is housed below the cathedral of Santiago, and a pope declared the body within to be the real body of the saint, despite a serious lack of historical and even biblical evidence.

Putting things into historical context: James’ body was re-discovered barely a century after Muslim Moors had invaded the peninsula and dismantled the Catholic Visigothic kingdom. Christian noblemen had scattered to the mountains of the north, to places like Galicia, where they regrouped and began planning the Reconquista or “re-conquest” of Spain. This 700-year-long series of military campaigns would take on strong religious and nationalistic undertones, culminating in the expulsion of all non-Catholics in 1492.

St. James would frequently appear in battle and fight for the Christians (according to legend, of course) as Santiago Matamoros (“St. James the Moor-killer”), and ultimately became the patron saint of Spain. So the formation of what today we think of as Spain was intricately linked with this saint.

Map of the Camino de Santiago
800km from start to finish
In the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage to St. James’ shrine in Santiago became the third-most popular route for western Christians after Jerusalem and Rome. After all, James himself had been part of Jesus’ inner circle (“Peter, James, and John” are frequently found together in the Gospels) and now he was leading the charge against the heathen Muslims in Spain! Ra-ra-ra! Anyways, people were particularly driven to make the hike during a Holy Year, or whenever James’ feast day (July 25th) fell on a Sunday. This is because the church would grant plenary indulgences—wiping out temporal punishment, that is, time spent in Purgatory—for anyone who came to town and confessed.

For whatever reason, the Camino sort of fizzled out and only in the past two or three decades has it seen an immense jump in popularity. In the 1990s, barely 25,000 people walked it a year, but last year almost 200,000 pilgrims showed up in Santiago.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sevilla, Spain: The Heartbeat of Andalucía

I finally had the chance to visit Sevilla, the capital of Spain’s southern Andalucía region, in April of this year, and I don’t think I could have arrived at a better time: the springtime weather had made the city warm but not a frying pan, the long winter rain had finally let up, and a fragrant, floral air had invaded the streets and plazas.

Sevilla, Spain
Torre del Oro (foreground) and the Giralda (background) at the blue hour
Sevilla (pronounced “say-VEE-yah” [seˈβi.ʝa]) began as the Roman city of Hispalis, which served as a judicial capital within the province of Baetica. Over the centuries it continued to grow and was an important city during Moorish times. When Columbus “discovered” the Americas, Sevilla discovered a monopoly on trade between Spain and the New World, and subsequently became one of the richest cities in the world. The silting of the Guadalquivir River, however, effectively closed off its ports and pushed the center of trade south to Cádiz on the coast, and Sevilla foundered.

Its long decline began to reverse in the 20th century with two great fairs, first in 1929 with the Ibero-American Exposition—which brought together all American nations to Spain—and then with the Expo ’92—which celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s journey. One of the first destinations to come online Spain’s high-speed rail network, today Sevilla is a lovely Big City yet still retains its Andalusian charm.

And I think that’s what I love most about Sevilla: it’s the heartbeat of Andalucía and truly epitomizes the region’s distinct character, cuisine, and its past.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Villanueva del Arzobispo: The Town Where I Worked in Spain

Well, it’s been almost a year since I moved to Spain and worked for eight months as a language assistant, yet I still have not written (almost) anything about the town where I worked, the town responsible for me being abroad in the first place! So in this post, I would like to share a little bit about Villanueva del Arzobispo, a village of a little under 9,000 people in the middle of Spanish olive oil country.

Villanueva del Arzobispo, Spain
Church of San Andrés

The surrounding region

Villanueva del Arzobispo, Spain
Villanueva seen from above
Like I said above, Villanueva del Arzobispo (that nine-syllable mouthful referred to hereafter as simply “Villanueva”) is located in the heart of Spain’s olive oil country. Pronounced “bee-yah-NWAY-vah dayl ahr-thoe-VEES-poe” [ˌbi.ʝaˈnwe.βa ðel ˌaɾ.θoˈβis.po], the city belongs to the province of Jaén, which alone produces a third of Spain’s annual olive oil total. Because of this, virtually all non-urban, non-mountainous land is devoted to endless olive groves that carpet the landscape in a muted, warm green.

The city is found on a plain to the west of some lovely mountain ranges (like the Sierra de Las Villas) and sits on a plateau between the Guadalimar and Guadalquivir rivers, the latter of which flows through Córdoba and Sevilla further west. Jaén is the fifth-most populous province in the Andalucía region, behind Sevilla, Málaga, Cádiz, Granada, and Córdoba, and most people live either in the big capital, Jaén, or in villages of varying size along the Guadalquivir river valley—like Villanueva.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

3 Spanish Words for “Castle” That Come From Arabic

If you spend any amount of time in the south of Spain, you’re bound to come across some monuments that are essentially castles but aren’t actually called castillos in Spanish. Instead, they’ve got some exotic-sounding name that begins with al-, like “alcalá,” “alcazaba,” and “alcázar. Why not just stick with the native word for castle—castillo—and leave it at that? Well, during the Middle Ages, Arabic-speaking Muslims from North Africa ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula and countless Arabic words entered the Spanish language, words like algodón (“cotton”), albañil (“construction worker”), and aceituna (“olive”).

Alcazaba castle in Almería, Spain
Alcazaba de Almería
In addition to leaving a healthy amount of words in modern-day Spanish, the Arabic language also left lots of place-names across the country. Because of this, many castles you’ll run into around Spain will be called by their Arabic-derived term, usually because they are Moorish in origin or were built on an original Muslim fortification.

Below I have tried to demystify these very similar-sounding words, shown you how to pronounce them, and given a handful of examples each. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

5 Ways to Speak Spanish Like a Spaniard

If you’re like me, you’ve probably learned Spanish as it’s spoken throughout Latin America. Now, I know there is no one single standard Latin American accent, but there are a few things I’ve noticed when listening to Spaniards speak that distinguish them from Spanish speakers in, for example, Nicaragua or Argentina. Since living here for the greater part of a year, I’ve both consciously resisted and unconsciously picked up on many features of the typical Spanish accent. After thinking about it for a while, I’ve decided there are around five characteristics that most distinguish the Spanish of Spain from the Spanish of the Americas. These five sounds, when spoken in the Castilian way, will bring you much closer to sounding native.

Cazorla, Spain
Streets of the village of Cazorla

1) Pronounce C before E & I and Z like TH

In the Americas you’ll hear the words ciudad (“city”), cereza (“cherry”), and zorro (“fox”) pronounced as “see-oo-DAHD” [sjuˈðað], “say-RAY-sah” [seˈɾe.sa], and “SOE-rroe” [ˈso.ro]. However, in Spain, you’ll pick up on something a bit different—“thee-oo-DAHD” [θjuˈðað], “thay-RAY-thah” [θeˈɾe.θa], and “THOE-rroe” [ˈθo.ro]. This is because in most of Spain, instead of using the “S” sound /s/ for C when it comes before E or I and for Z, they use the “TH” sound /θ/ as in the English word “thin.” It’s a really long story as to why they do it that way, but it’s safe to say this dialect feature is neither a lisp (since they still can make the “S” sound, see #3), nor an imitation of some medieval king’s speech impediment.
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