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Showing posts from 2013

Gathered Thoughts From a Trip to Italy

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Earlier this week I came back to Spain after spending ten days in its southern European counterpart to the east, the Republic of Italy. I am so grateful to have had both the means and the opportunity to travel around the central part of this country, a country I have dreamed about visiting ever since first studying Latin in 5th grade. I flew into beautiful Florence and spent three nights there, making a daytrip to nearby Siena on my way down to Rome. In my four nights in the capital, I hit up the Vatican City, many ruins, a dozen famous churches, and ancient alleyways. Heading south to Naples, I browsed this sketchy city’s significant archaeological museum, ate pizza, and daytripped to Mt. Vesuvius and the Roman ruins of Pompeii.

The trip was expensive and exhausting, but experiencing some of the art, architecture, history, ruins, and food that are so foundational to Western culture was everything I had hoped it would be as well as a peek into Italian culture. There was a lot to take …

22 Fun Facts About the Galician Language

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Galician is a Romance language (i.e., from Latin) spoken by about 3 million people in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia. Although it’s most closely related to Portuguese—which is spoken south of the border—it shares many similarities with Castilian Spanish, including sounds and spelling.

If you’re planning on spending any time traveling or living in this unique corner of Spain, or walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that ends here, even a tiny knowledge of Galician will help you get around and navigate menus, maps, etc. If you happen to speak Spanish, you’re already 80% of the way to understanding Galician, and I’m serious! Getting a grasp on the grammatical and phonological differences will turbo boost you up to 90%.

To whet your appetite (both literally and linguistically), here’s a little selection from the Galician Wikipedia’s article on empanada, or meat pie:
Unha empanada é unha preparación culinaria consistente nunha masa e un recheo que se frixe ou coce no for…

Photo Post: Meknes, Morocco’s Forgotten Imperial City

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Of the four major cities that have served as capitals in Morocco’s past—Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat—Meknes seems to be the most-overlooked Imperial City for most people coming to visit the country. It’s a mere half-hour train ride from Fez, yet many people pass it over on their way to Casablanca and Marrakesh. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot to see here and the real treat here are the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a half-hour grand taxi drive outside of town. Even Sufyan, a native meknassi I met on the train and who kindly guided me toward my hotel, assured me his city isn’t worth visiting and recommended I check out Marrakesh and Essaouira instead.

I myself would have skipped Meknes had I not wanted to see the Volubilis ruins, which are difficult to get to except as a daytrip from town. Thankfully in my hotel’s lobby I happened to overhear that a group of three Americans were trying to organize an intercity taxi to visit Volubilis, and when I asked if I could join them, they graciou…

6 Things to Do in Ourense, Spain: Galicia’s Best-Kept Secret

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In early November my flatmate and I took a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip to the city of Ourense. Pronounced “oe-oo-REHN-say” [owˈɾɛn.se], it’s the capital of Galicia’s only province without coastline. However disappointing that may sound to you, it shouldn’t be, because Ourense province is actually one of the most beautiful parts of Spain and even has its own Grand Canyon, the Cañon do Sil. I had little to no expectations about Ourense capital when I came, but I was very, very impressed by this place that no one (apart from my bilingual coordinator who is from the province) ever says boo about when talking about Galicia.

Ourense seems like a city that tourism is just about to uncover, but which is still relatively anonymous. I can expect that the arrival of the AVE (high-speed long distance trains) will bring many visitors from Madrid on weekenders, but for now, it’s got very few visitors so you’ll feel like you have the entire city to yourself. So what to do when you’re there? I rec…

On Saying “Bye!” to Say “Hi!” When Passing Friends in Spain

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When I first came to Spain in September of last year, culture shock really wasn’t that big of a problem for me, thanks in no small part to the plethora of resources available online—expat and auxiliar blogs, for example—and in print—books like Culture Shock: Spain, and even the back matter of Lonely Planet Spain. Reading about little (and big) cultural differences beforehand prepared me well for my initial few weeks in the country, from giving kisses when meeting women to eating dinner at nine in the evening instead of five- or six-o’-clock.

Moving to Úbeda, in the northwest corner of the southern Andalucía region, I expected the local accent to be rapid, consonant-dropping, and generally different from textbook or news reporter Spanish. I had studied what made the andaluz accent different from “standard” Castilian, and was ready to interpret what I heard as comotá to mean ¿Cómo estás?—“How are you?”

But already in that first week of getting settled in Úbeda I was hearing taló and tal…

Photo Post: Visiting Alicante, Spain, for the Friends, Not the Museums

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Some cities you go to for the sights, others for the fun, still others for the friends. When I went to Alicante on the Spanish Mediterranean coast back in March, it was for the friends, and I don’t regret it at all.

Also called Alacant in the local Valencian Catalan language, Alicante is one of the biggest cities in the country and a big home base for beach bums in the summer. For many years now, it has also been a popular study abroad destination for students at my alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University. So when I learned that a handful of acquaintances and fellow Spanish majors would be in Alicante the same time I was in Spain, I decided to try and have our paths cross at least once! That chance came the first weekend in March when I was visiting Valencia, two hours to the north. On my way back home, I swung by Alicante for two nights and had a great time simply hanging out in town.

Visiting college friends in Alicante was a nice change from the usual monument-museum-eating pace I…

Is It Blasphemy to Dislike Granada, Spain?

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(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware I’m about to step on approximately 11,920 toes with this post…)


Granada is: one of the biggest cities in the southern Spanish region of Andalucía…home to the Alhambra, a beautiful Moorish palatial complex built in the Middle Ages during the last Muslim kingdom in Spain…a center for generously-big free tapas with your drink…the burial place for the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella…a home base for going skiing in the snowy Sierra Nevada…a great place to study abroad in…the last city in Spain to be “re-conquered” from Muslim rule in the 1400s…full of interesting neighborhoods like the winding, hillside Albaicín…a popular place for the springtime Cruces de Mayo festival…and an essential stop for almost any trip to Spain.

Granada is nice and all, but… Don’t get me wrong, the first time I visited Granada back in November of last year I loved it. I had been very anxiously looking forward to wandering around the city’s Alhambra palace for years and it was merely tw…

Culture Shock at a Supermarket in Spain

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If you’re going to be spending any amount of time in Spain, chances are you’ll end up at a supermarket, whether for a late-afternoon snack or ingredients for dinner if you’re cooking for yourself. And when you do end up going to one, you’ll inevitably experience culture shock since some customs in Spanish supermarkets are a bit different from those you may be used to. You won’t be falling on the floor in shock over them, but if you’re aware of these small but significant differences in the way you go about doing things, your shopping trip will go much more smoothly.


1) Putting your bag in a locker before entering At the entrance to most supermarkets there are always a couple dozen cubbie-hole-sized lockers for you to stow your backpack/heavy belongings/shopping bag from another store in. This is nice because you don’t have to lug your crap around with you all over the store, but the lockers are probably there to prevent shoplifting, so make sure to lock up your large bags before shopp…

Photo Post: The Sierra de Segura Mountains in Eastern Andalucía

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There’s a lot to love about the province of Jaén, a cozy corner of eastern Andalucía in southern Spain. You’ve got the lovely villages of Úbeda and Baeza, graced with Renaissance architecture, as well as countless other sleepy towns scattered amongs the endless olive groves. There’s the capital city of Jaén, with its charming, Moorish-style old town and free tapas scene. Although there’s no doubt that people here talk with a thick Andalusian accent, it’s not nearly as difficult to understand as that of Cádiz, for example, on the coast. And who could forget that the best olive oil in the world is made in almazaras (factories) in every village’s industrial park?

But while I’ve expressed my love for the region in many posts on this blog, I haven’t written yet about the sierra, that unmoving wall of mountains that serves as the eastern limit of the province and the region. Countless sunsets seen from Úbeda’s eastern lookout point made me wonder what these hills were like up close and per…

Segovia, Spain: 3 Facets of a Castilian Gem

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Not even two days back in Spain in September, I had already hit the ground running after a summer home in Texas. The central city of Segovia was the only pitstop I made on my journey between Madrid and Galicia, where I’m now working for Year Two as a language assistant. Merely half an hour north of Madrid via the high-speed train that cuts through the Guadarrama mountains, Segovia is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to in the country so far.

Most people run up on that high-speed train from Madrid and make a daytrip out of the city, but I ended up staying two nights here and really enjoyed taking it all in at a relaxed pace. Although Segovia is well-known for its massive Roman aqueduct, its impressive Gothic cathedral, and fairy-tale castle, I think the city deserves more credit for its Romanesque churches and tasty food.

It’s the only major city I’ve traveled to in the vast north-central region of Castilla y León, but if Segovia is any indicator, I can’t wait to see more of …

How to Drink Coffee in Spain: 8 Ways to Order a Cup of Joe

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Confession: I’m not that big of a coffee drinker—tea is really more my thing. But I do enjoy the occasional cuppa joe about once a week, and after living here in Spain for a year I’ve figured out how to add some variety to my morning injection of caffeine beyond the standard café con leche. Most of these are just variations on a shot of espresso and steamed milk, but there’s a few surprises, too. Get your coffee pot started and join me as I explain the basics of drinking coffee in Spain.

Café solo “Only coffee” (or more literally, “coffee alone”) is simply a shot of espresso, the coffee beverage that is made from forcing hot water at a high pressure through ground coffee beans. It’s served in a short, tiny glass or ceramic cup with a saucer, spoon, and a bag of sugar. A good café solo will have a thick, almost bitter body capped with thin layer of foam. This is coffee at its rawest.

Café cortado A café cortado is called so because the shot of espresso is “cut” with some steamed milk—b…

Photo Post: The Medieval-Renaissance Village of Sabiote, Spain

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Just a short 10km from the southern Spanish city of Úbeda, the village of Sabiote offers a lot despite its small size. You might be surprised to find a Renaissance-era castle and well-preserved set of medieval walls in this passed-over corner of Spain, but it’s no wonder; after all, the province of Jaén is the region with the greatest number of castles in Europe!

I would have never even given Sabiote the time o’ day had it not been the hometown of my bilingual coordinator, Pedro. One afternoon after school, he took me and a group of teachers out for lunch to his pueblo and afterwards led us on a tour of town in which we got to explore the inside of the recently-restored castle. Standing upon the fortress’s battlements at sunset, I really enjoyed getting to survey the whole countryside, which was covered, of course, in gridded, green olive groves.

While training for the Camino de Santiago, I would later come back to the city—this time on foot with one of my fellow Americans-in-Úbeda, …

On Saying “Enjoy Your Meal!” to Strangers in Spain

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It’s taken me about a year to pick up on this little cultural idiosyncrasy of Spain, but after talking with some fellow expats who have also noticed it, I’ve decided to put together an exposé of this fun part of Spanish culture.

I’m talking about complete strangers telling you they hope you “enjoy your meal!” as they walk by. Yeah, it sounds kind of weird, but it is a Thing here in Spain that everyone from your server to your housemate to casual acquaintances will wish you as you’re chowing down on dinner. Let me give a few examples:
1) I’m munching on my chorizo-and-olive oil sandwich during recess/morning break in the teacher’s lounge at my school in Andalucía last year, minding my own business and just chilling out at the table. A teacher pops in, looks around for something, sees me with a foil-wrapped bocadillo, and offers a ¡qué aproveche! before dashing back out.
2) I’m having dinner in the living room at my apartment one evening, just me and Harry Potter, when my flatmate comes ho…

How to Apply for Your NIE in Santiago de Compostela (and Get Your TIE)

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LAST UPDATED OCTOBER 2014

One of the most annoying parts about living and working in Spain is cutting past the red tape to get residency, albeit temporary. You have to wake up super early, go to a godforsaken office that’s only open mornings on weekdays, wait for hours until your turn is called, and then cross your fingers that you’ve brought all your required documents (and multiple copies, too). If everything goes correctly, you have to just…show up…in 30-40 days to pick up your ID card.

Although it can be intimidating to undergo this months-long ordeal to get your NIE (número de identidad de extranjero—“foreigner’s ID number”) and corresponding TIE (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero—“foreigner’s ID card”), it doesn’t have to be. If you show up early and prepared enough, however, you can beat Spanish bureaucracy at its own game.

In this post, I’d like to explain how to go about applying for your number and card if you happen to be living in Santiago de Compostela, the capital city …

How to Get Empadronado (Registered) in Santiago de Compostela

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One of the least-discussed aspects of living abroad in Spain is getting empadronado whenever you move to a new city. Oh, everyone will have their (horror) stories to tell you about dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy—don’t get me wrong!—but I’ve barely heard boo about this simple act of going to the town hall and registering as living in the city.

In Spain, the padrón is a registry office that is coordinated by the local council for people who live in the municipality. When you move to a town in Spain it’s a good idea to go and register yourself (empadronarse) at the town hall, because you need the certificate of residence—the empadronamiento—to sign up for a library card among other things, but also because you need it to prove you are actually living in Spain when you go to apply for your NIE and TIE (residency). Not all provinces require that you present your empadronamiento, but many do.

If you happen to be living in Santiago de Compostela, the capital city of the Galicia region,…

Photo Post: The Cozy Renaissance Village of Baeza, Spain

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I talka lot about the Spanish town of Úbeda on this blog, and for good reason—I lived there for eight months, after all! But I have no reason for barely even mentioning next-door Baeza here; forgive me! Pronounced “bah-AY-thah” [baˈe.θa], this village of a little over 16,000 is often thought of as Úbeda’s little sister mainly because of its shared Renaissance heritage. During the same time that idealized, stately palaces and churches were being put up in neighboring Úbeda, similar buildings were constructed in Baeza as well.

For example, the soaring local cathedral (which shares a bishop with the cathedral in Jaén) seems almost out of place in a village of this size, but its ethereal, light-filled interior will shoo away any misgivings you may have.

Like any good Andalusian city, its old core will make you feel like you’ve gone back to Moorish times—tortuous alleyways and quiet, arched streets make Baeza a true historic pueblo of the south.

The local university’s administration is ho…

Tearing Down 6 Spanish Stereotypes

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Except for three months home for the summer, I’ve been living in Spain for one year now. After reading countless blogs about the country, running into my fair share of tourists, and sharing my experiences with friends and family, I’ve gotten a sense of the sort of stereotypes that Spanish culture has in the minds of the rest of the world. In this post, I’ve gathered six of them that I find particularly annoying and have tried to break them down, giving more accurate examples of what Spanish society is really like. Let me know what you think of them in the comments section once you’ve finished reading!

1) Paella is the national dishPaella (pronounced “pah-AY-yah” [paˈeʎa]) is a famous rice-based dish that originated in the Mediterranean region of Valencia. Saffron gives the rice its warm, golden color, and the savory rice is usually cooked with vegetables like artichokes and meat like rabbit, chicken, or various crustaceans and shellfish. It’s a big part of the culture of eastern Spain…

A Guided Tour of Úbeda, Spain

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So far, I’ve written an homage to Úbeda—the city where I lived for eight months while teaching English in southern Spain—as well as a post outlining my favorite restaurants in town. To conclude Úbeda Week on the blog, I’d like to present a (free!) Guided Tour of this really nice village I once called home. Famous for its Renaissance architecture, its tradition of pottery that dates back to Moorish times, and its bottles that overflow with high-quality olive oil, Úbeda is a small city but with plenty to keep you occupied.

So I’ve put together three itineraries in this post that you can follow, combine, or rearrange if you like. Obviously, opening and closing hours may not always correspond with the given path, but hopefully these routes give you an idea of what there is to see in town so you can put together your own personalized plan of attack.

I’ve also drawn up a map of Úbeda (thanks Google Maps!) with the routes through town highlighted in red, brown, and blue, so you can follow al…