Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Memories from Jaén, Spain: Andalucía’s Most Underrated City

Of the eight provincial capitals in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalucía, Jaén too often gets short shrift in favor of historic cities that overwhelm you with their monuments—Sevilla with its gigantic Gothic cathedral, Córdoba with what remains of the Great Mosque, and Granada with the country’s crown jewel, the Alhambra palace—or in favor of coastal cities that entice you with their beaches and fresh seafood—Málaga, which needs no introduction, Cádiz, Europe’s oldest city, Almería, secluded away behind deserts and mountain ranges, and Huelva, where Columbus set off for the Americas.

Jaén, Spain
Flickr link
I ponder this as I grow more and more impatient with the intercity bus I’m on…and more and more nauseated. The air coming from the A/C vents smells like a dirty bathroom, the advertised on-board WiFi has ground to a halt, and that hot summer sun is really bearing down on the windows.

I’m reminded of the bad first experience I had with Jaén (pronounced “khah-EN” [xaˈen]) when I moved to Spain and had to come to an ugly part of town to process my paperwork for residency. Having to deal with government bureaucracy would make anybody hate a city, and I initially wrote off Jaén for months until I returned as a tourist rather than a hapless foreigner. But by the time I warmed to Jaén, my sojourn in southern Spain had come to an end and it felt as if a budding friendship were cut short by a move.

So here I am in Andalucía again, making a “farewell tour” of my old haunts before I move back to Texas after teaching English in Spain for three years. I’ve already gone out for snails and shandies with my friend Cat in Sevilla and caught up with my former English teacher colleague in Úbeda (my adopted pueblo in Spain), so now it’s time for the finale: Jaén.
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