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Showing posts from 2014

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Belvís Park

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A few months ago I talked about Santiago de Compostela’s Alameda Park on the blog: the city’s historic public park with great views of the old town and many beautiful old trees. It’s a great place to go for an afternoon stroll in, and the trails that run around the wooded hill are perfect for jogging. But it’s always busy with people at all hours of the day—be it tourists getting their pictures of the cathedral from the lookout point, a wall of grandmas stretching from one end of the path to the other, or packs of joggers careening around the corners. So it’s not surprising that the introvert in me and my inner hipster prefer Santiago’s Belvís Park, just to the east of the old town.

Pronounced “bel-VEES” [belˈβis] with the accent on the second syllable, I was told by a tour guide that the name derives from the Galician phrase bela vista or “pretty view,” which makes sense because from the highest point in the park you can get a lovely overview of the eastern side of Santiago’s old to…

The 4 Churches of Santiago de Compostela’s “Skyline”

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Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Spain’s northwesterly region of Galicia, is by no means a big city, barely reaching 100,000 on weekdays (and plummeting on weekends and school vacations when students go back home to mamá). Its monumental old town, while impressive, is often overshadowed by the cathedral’s west façade, and the ugly new town has buildings of perhaps ten floors at most. Because of this I put the word “skyline” in scare quotes in this post’s title.

However, if you can manage to escape the tourist (and pilgrim) madness along Rúa do Franco south of the cathedral, you’ll likely find yourself in Santiago’s major public park, the Alameda. Walking north along the grand, tree-lined esplanade called the Paseo da Ferradura, you’ll eventually end up at a wide, semicircular mirador, or lookout point. From this strategic location you can take in the whole old town as it sprawls from north to south. You’ll notice that there is a lot more going on in Santiago’s zona vella than ju…

Photo Post: Cruceiros, or Galician Crossroad Crosses

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The word cruceiro in the Galician language has a double meaning: on one hand it can simply mean the place where two roads meet, but on the other hand it can also refer to granite stone crosses that often accompany said crossroads. Pronounced “kroo-THAY-EE-roe” [kɾuˈθej.ɾo], these monumental crosses guard intersections but also show up in cathedral cloisters and on residential property in rural Galicia.

My Guía Azul guidebook to Galicia describes how cruceiros came about:
The cruceiros’ origin can be traced back to the lares (laribus vialibus) or gods of the hearth that magically protected the road and to whom the Romans dedicated altars with inscriptions, mainly building them by crossroads. Ancient Galicians would light candles on the altars because they believed they were connected with the underworld. As the Christianization of the region progressed, said altars were torn down and in their place the cruceiros were put up. (Translated from Spanish, p. 47) Today cruceiros add a nic…

5 Great Hikes from Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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If the region of Galicia were a state in the U.S., it would have to be Arkansas, if only for the state motto, The Natural State. Rugged, forested, and a little hilly, Galicia has in my opinion the most beautiful countryside in Spain. Not only does the region have gorgeous coasts and beaches, it also has simply wonderful interior landscapes. Living in Santiago de Compostela has given me a chance to get a taste of Galicia’s natural beauty by means of various hiking trails and mountain summits. You can see most of Santiago’s old town in around a day, so if you’re ever passing through here definitely take some time to leave the city life for the outdoors!

1) Monte Pedroso The “Stony Mountain” rears up directly northwest of the old town, and is even visible from the central Praza do Obradoiro, just past the Parador hotel. If you’re short for time but are looking for that panoramic photo shot, Monte Pedroso is the place to go. Starting from the cathedral, it only takes one hour to hike up t…

Photo Post: Hórreos, or Galician Countryside Corncribs

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Spend any time outside of the seven major cities in Galicia and you’ll quickly notice peculiar little sheds that are everywhere in Spain’s northwestern countryside: the hórreo. Not to be confused with Oreo cookies (though I love them so), they’re pronounced “OR-ray-o” [ˈo.re.o] and are simply the traditional corncribs or granaries that Galicians have used for centuries to store corn, grain, and other harvested crops.

Sided with wood to keep out the humidity and elevated on stilts to keep out the critters, hórreos are a common sight in rural Galicia—in fact, it’s estimated that there are 100,000 of them around the region. The most typical form is a small, rectangular construction with a granite skeleton, wooden slatted siding, and a roof of clay tiles. The further east you go, however, they become larger and more square-shaped, often donning slate shingles. Sometimes recently-built hórreos emulate contemporary Spanish housing and sport a concrete frame with brick walls.

If you ever ha…

What to Eat in Galicia: 10 Dishes to Try

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Hey y’all, I just signed up with Bloglovin the other day and I recommend it as a great way to keep updated when any new posts go live. Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and argue that the region of Galicia in the northwest part of Spain churns out the best food in the entire country. Give me some Galician food any day over expensive Basquepintxos, snobby Catalan cuisine, or the famine food of the central meseta. I realize I probably offended just about everybody out there, but exaggerations aside, I believe Galicia occupies a particularly special place on the peninsula that has allowed a rich cuisine to develop over the centuries: a rugged coast from which bountiful seafood arrives inland, a fertile, rain-blessed interior to grow anything from corn to peppers to greens in, and a climate friendly to raising dairy cows.

There’s a lot to see and do in this fascinating corner of the country, from Romanesque cathedrals and Roman ruins to glorious beaches and th…

Edible Creativity: Santiago de Compostela’s Tapas Competition

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This weekend Santiago de Compostela’s seventh annual concurso de tapas or tapas competition finally came to an end after half a month of exciting bites served on black slate tablets. I was disappointed that it was over, but my gut and my wallet were relieved. Organized by Santiago’s association of hotels and restaurants, it was a clever way to stimulate the local economy as it enters low season (and as the rain begins to keep folks at home). For a flat price of 2€, you could go into any participating café, bar, or restaurant and order their tapa del concurso—which made it a great way to explore higher-end restaurants that otherwise might be out of your budget.

At every place you could ask for a tapasporte, a “tapas passport” inspired not only along the lines of a travel passport but also on the credencial or “pilgrim passport” that people hiking the Camino de Santiago carry with them as they walk to Santiago. Inside, the participating restaurants were organized geographically into fiv…

Taking a Tourist’s Highlighter to Madrid

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I’ve been writing for two and a half years now, but a Madrid-shaped hole on this blog has been growing bigger and bigger ever since I first landed at Madrid-Barajas airport in September 2012. I’ve never really done a proper “city trip” to Madrid in my time here because it’s always been a convenient bookend for flights to and from the States. Consequently, I’ve never felt the need to put together a blog post about the Spanish capital—until now.

Approximately half a dozen mini trips to Madrid later, I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to get a true feel for this capital city and finally seen all the museums I’ve wanted to visit. And since my family is coming to visit me for Christmas, I think I ought to distill my impressions and tidbits into something I can share with them while I’m their unofficial tour guide for the week.

I’ll be up front with y’all right now: Madrid is not my favorite city in this country. Give me extroverted, Moorish-influenced Sevilla or Córdoba; subdued, Old Spain o…

Spain’s Cíes Islands: The Best Beach in the World?

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As last school year was drawing to an end, the weather was heating up and the sun had decided to come out, so a handful of friends and I decided to hop on the train south to Vigo to catch the next ferry for as Illas Cíes—the Cíes Islands, which are home to what was called the “world’s best beach” in 2007 by the British newspaper The Guardian. It was a glorious daytrip from Santiago and a much-needed break from the rolling hills and rain of inland Galicia.

The three Cíes islands form an archipelago that guards the entrance to an estuary of the Atlantic Ocean called the Ría de Vigo. From north to south, the three islands are named Monteagudo (“pointy mountain”), Montefaro (“lighthouse mountain”), and San Martiño (“St. Martin’s”).

Why are the beaches the best? Part of the reason the beaches on the Cíes Islands (pronounced “THEE-ays” [ˈθi.es]) are so wonderful is the fact that they belong to the Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, so they have been protected from the runaway touris…

Santiago de Compostela’s Cidade da Cultura: Fab or Flop?

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When you think of Santiago de Compostela, you usually think of moody Romanesque architecture, over-the-top gilded Baroque churches, and charming homes with glassed-in balconies and overhanging arches. So it might come as a surprise that the city is actually home to a huge project of contemporary architecture built on Monte Gaiás, a hill to the southeast of the city center. Called the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia or “City of Culture of Galicia,” it’s an ambitious arts and cultural center designed by the New York architect Peter Eisenman and constructed between 2001 and 2011.

The Cidade currently consists of the following four buildings:

* Arquivo de Galicia: the “Archives of Galicia,” which stores the archives of newspapers and publications in Galicia
* Biblioteca de Galicia: the “Library of Galicia,” which is a repository of all books published in the Galician language or dealing with Galicia in other languages
* Museo de Galicia: the “Museum of Galicia,” which is supposed to house a …

Photo Post: Pizza & Roman Art in Sketchy Naples, Italy

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While traveling around Italy last December, I dipped out of Rome after Christmas Day and took the train south to Naples to do three things, and three things only: 1) Explore the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, sealed for ages under volcanic ash 2) Eat pizza in the city it was invented and 3) Check in to the archaeological museum, where all of the treasures and wonders of Pompeii were taken for safe keeping. I hadn’t heard great things about Napoli proper, so I (perhaps ignorantly) decided to crash in a hostel for two nights and focus exclusively on my hitlist rather than explore this sketchy city.

The pizza lived up to all my expectations. This dish beloved the world over was invented here in Naples in the late 1800s, so what better place to chow down on pizza than the source? My first night in town I had dinner at Pizzeria Trianon da Ciro, a joint that dates back to 1923. I ordered pizza margherita alla romana, which was your basic Margherita pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarell…

Padrón, Spain: Peppers, Pilgrims, & Poets

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Everyday on the way to and from school I pass through the town of Padrón, situated about halfway between Santiago de Compostela where I live and Boiro (on the coast) where I work. Just barely inland, Padrón straddles the Sar River before it empties into the estuary called the Ría de Arousa.

A small but proud village of almost 9,000, Padrón dates back to Roman times when it was known as Iria Flavia (which is still the name of a parish to the north of the city center). Today it’s known for producing peppers of the same name, for being a major stop along the Camino de Santiago, and for being home to two significant poets of the Galician language.

Peppers Even non-Galicians have heard of Padrón at least once, if only for the famous peppers that originated just outside the city center in the parish of Herbón. Brought to the area by Franciscan monks after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, these pimientos de Padrón have been cultivated for centuries and are now a part of the Spanish nati…

Culture Shock in Spain: It’s the Little Things

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Whenever you move to another country, you’ll invariably go through what’s known as culture shock, a roller-coaster of emotions that you experience while dealing with the obvious (speaking a foreign language, listening to weird accents) to the benign (nothing open on Sundays) to the bizarre (blackface Epiphany parade-goers). I’ve talked about culture shock before on this blog, from all sorts of little differences I’ve noticed in Spanish elementary schools and Spanish apartments to saying things like “see you later” in the street when you mean “hi!” or “enjoy your meal!” to complete strangers.

Although some people might complain about how everything here in Spain is sOoOoOo different from cultures in the United States or England or what have you, I believe there is actually a lot we share in common and the main cultural differences—i.e., those things that can wear you down and cause culture shock—are just a lot of little things that can build up over time. It’s not like in East Asia whe…

Why I Love Galicia in November

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While there’s probably no one here in Galicia who is excited for the changing of the seasons and all of the miserable rain and bone-chilling cold they bring, there’s something really special about November here in northwest Spain that made me really look forward to the month this school year. It may not replace that warm fuzzy feeling I get from spending Thanksgiving with the family (and Mom’s cooking!), but Galicia in November is still a festive month that makes fall a just plain nice time to be around in this part of the country.

All Saints’ Day November begins with the annual Tódolos Santos holiday. The Catholic Church has got a saint for every day of the year, but November 1st is the day to honor all of the saints. This feast day is also when Spaniards traditionally get together with their families to visit the graves of their loved ones and leave flowers. Because of this, cemeteries and mausoleums are busy places on the Día dos Defuntos or “Day of the Dead.” I don’t have any dece…

Thoughts from a Road Trip Across Spain’s Northern Coast

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This past weekend, my American housemates and I all happened to have the same four days off of school due to a fortunate overlapping of three-day workweeks and school breaks for the All Saints’ holiday. Taking advantage of some of the last non-rainy days in northern Spain of the season, we hopped in a rental car and drove from Santiago de Compostela out to San Vicente de la Barquera, a small fishing village on the Cantabrian coast about halfway between Galicia and the Basque Country.

We crashed at our housemate Rachel’s boyfriend’s apartment and used San Vicente as a home base to explore the northern coast of Spain, Asturias and Cantabria. On Friday, we spent our time in Cantabria, hitting up Comillas (for architect Antoni Gaudí’sEl Capricho de Gaudí house), Santillana del Mar (which did not live up to its slogan as “the most beautiful village in Spain”), two sunny beaches, and the Cueva de El Castillo, an impressive cave in its own right that also housed stunning prehistoric art.

Sat…

Colorful Coruña, Spain’s “Glass City”

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I’ll be honest: I’m not the biggest fan of A Coruña, Galicia’s second-largest city and the major metropolis along the region’s north Atlantic coast. Its residents have a reputation of being pijo (snobby), the city is sprawling and confusingly-laid out, and much of Coruña has all that Big City character Madrid is known for…without the charm.

But there’s something attractive about Coruña that I just can’t shake. Compared with Santiago and the rest of inland Galicia, A Coruña is bright and colorful. While I love the simple granite, whitewashed houses with green doors that are oh-so-typical here in Santiago, it can get a little repetitive when all the houses look the same. In most Galician coastal towns, however, people paint their homes a variety of colors, and A Coruña is no different. Here you can find red, pink, orange, and blue homes, and the town hall has pretty red roofs to boot.

While Coruña may not be my favorite city in Galicia, it’s got a lot going for it and is a pleasant plac…

Don’t Leave Spain Without Trying These 10 Dishes

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I haven’t announced it yet on the blog but I am getting more and more excited for my parents and brother to come visit me between Christmas and New Years this December. To get ready to be their personal tour guide and translator, I’ve been thinking about what places I want to highlight in Madrid, which restaurants I want to take them to in Santiago, and certain survival phrases in case we get separated (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen).

My family is only going to have six nights to spend in Spain, which is almost too little time to do this country justice—but hey, it’s better than nothing! It would be impossible to cover all aspects of Spanish food in such a brief stay, but I’m hoping that if we stick to the highlights they’ll leave having gotten a good overview of what authentic Spanish cuisine really is (hint: it’s not paella on a Tuesday evening in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor!). Below are what I hope to share with my family when we head out for lunch or dinner during their trip.

1) To…

Sintra, Portugal: Lisbon’s Romantic-Era Getaway

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While I was kickin’ around in Lisbon this April, I took a couple daytrips from the city center to some admittedly touristy destinations. A modern-day tram that shares tracks and wires with the creaky, classic Tram 28 took me to the coastal neighborhood of Belém, a World Heritage Site dripping with history, museums, glorious architecture…and pastries. The next day I hopped on a speedy regional train from the Rossio station to the nearby city of Sintra.

Inhabited since, like, forever, Sintra’s strategic location perched on a hill between the Atlantic coast and Lisbon has made it an attractive place for kings, the wealthy, and daytrippers alike. Famous for its mystical fog and pleasing natural surroundings, Sintra became a favorite retreat in the 1800s. Relics from the Middle Ages, like the Sintra National Palace, or from Portugal’s Islamic past (the Castle of the Moors) played in to the age’s prevailing Revivalism and Orientalism. And Sintra’s dramatic, rugged setting caused the emotion…

How I Write Blog Posts

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Last week fellow Spain blogger Cassandra of Gee, Cassandratagged me in a “Blog Hop” that’s been going around (although we both agree that’s a lame name so we’re not going to call it that). Basically you have to talk about your personal writing process and how you go about blogging, and then you tag/nominate/@-reply three fellow bloggers to write their own response to the Blog Hop meme going around. So let’s get started!

1) What am I working on / writing? I am the worst at getting around to doing write-ups of places I’ve been to; I’m just now finishing up talking about Portugal (April 2014) and there are several cities and villages in Galicia that I’ve got some (empty) drafts for, too. One of the biggest items on my blogging to-do list right now is simply to get caught up on travel posts.

This school year I’d really like to talk more about Santiago de Compostela, where I’ve been living for the past year. Now that I’ve uploaded 400+ photos of the town to Flickr I feel like I can finally…

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Alameda Park

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All across Spain you’ll often find that each city has their own principal public park, usually established a century or two ago and which functions as the city’s backyard. For example, Madrid has the Retiro Park, Sevilla the María Luisa Park, and Barcelona the Parc de la Ciutadella. Santiago de Compostela is no different; its Alameda Park—just to the west of the old historic core—is where the whole city comes out to go for an afternoon stroll or a late-night jog, or to simply get a breath of clean, tree-purified air.

Built on land that the Counts of Altamira donated to the city in the 1500s, the park’s three main gravel avenues trace around a small hill, upon which hundreds of ancient oak trees have taken root. While the Spanish word alameda literally means “a place with álamo trees” or poplars, the term has come to mean any sort of grand, tree-lined promenade—which Santiago’s Alameda definitely fits.

The Santiago tourism board describes the park aspacego (adjective applied to the …

Lisbon’s Historic Neighborhood of Belém: What to See & What to Skip

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Before getting off the train in Lisbon’s magnificent Gare do Oriente train station, I was most looking forward to visiting the Portuguese capital’s historic neighborhood of Belém. Six kilometers west of Lisbon’s historic center, Belém (pronounced “bih-LANG” [bɨˈlɐ̃j]) has a concentration of museums and monuments a lot higher than the rest of Lisbon—or any city, for that matter.

The area of Belém gained significance as an important harbor for sailors departing from and arriving in Lisbon during the Age of Exploration, when Portugal dominated the seas. Today, with the advent of modern tourism, Belém is a great daytrip away from the city center; a great place to moor your ship for a spell and take in the wonders of this World Heritage Site.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) This sprawling, gargantuan complex owes its creation to King Manuel I, who ordered a monastery to be built here in 1501 to minister to Atlantic-bound mariners and pray for the souls of the kings of Portugal…

Photo Post: Impressions of Lisbon, Portugal

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Ah, Lisbon—the Portuguese capital. Before visiting Portugal, I had always had this image in my mind of the country as warm, sunny, and kind of dreamy. Lisbon lived up to all those preconceptions, but the actual, living-and-breathing city itself turned out to be much more interesting than I thought it would be when I was there in April.

First of all, I was really struck at the similarities between Lisbon and its southern neighbors in Spain, such as Sevilla, Málaga, or Córdoba. The hilltop Moorish fortresses, the red-tile roofs, the winding, whitewashed streets, and the warm, refreshing atmosphere all reminded me so much of Andalucía—and it really shouldn’t be too surprising because it wasn’t until the 1200s CE that southern Portugal was separated politically from Spain. I thought it was too good to be true, though, when I happened upon some orange blossoms by the cathedral. Their delicate springtime fragrance became synonymous with springtime in Andalucía for me, so to smell it again …

My 5 Favorite Overlooked Cities in Spain

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So many people coming to Spain tend to focus on checking off the country’s Big Four touristy cities: Madrid, the city that really never sleeps; Barcelona, with its medieval and turn-of-the-century charm; Sevilla, the beating heart of Andalucía; and Granada, whose Alhambra is the finest expression of Islamic art anywhere in the world.

I’m not trying to encourage people to avoid visiting Spain’s major touristy centers; obviously if there wasn’t anything worth seeing and doing they wouldn’t be the popular places they are today! I’ve had wonderful experiences in all four cities and believe they give a great cross-section of Spanish history and culture. Don’t get me wrong; I will go back to the Prado Museum every time I pass through Madrid, and the Alhambra will always be my favorite spot in the country.

What I’m trying to say here is: there is so much more to Spain than just Madrid or Granada! Even though it’s only the size of Texas, Spain is an endlessly varied country where most folks i…

A Taste of Spain in Dallas, Texas

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Since the auxiliares de conversación program only lets English-speakers like me stay in Spain between October and May, I have inevitably come back home to Texas in the summers to work and save money and to spend time with my family.

But to hold me over from my last menú del día meal in Madrid and to satisfy my love of Spanish painters, Dallas thankfully has a lot of Spanish-themed offerings, all within the same general area.

Meadows Museum On the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas’ elite Park Cities enclaves, the Meadows Museum is probably the premier collection of Spanish art outside of Spain. It opened in 1965 as a result of countless donations from the private collection of oilman Algur H. Meadows. As head of the Dallas-based General American Oil Company, he frequented the Spanish capital of Madrid in the 1950s since his company was searching for oil reserves there at the time. While in Madrid, Meadows got to spend hours browsing the world-class Prado Museum and gain…