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Showing posts from May, 2014

4 Things Spain Can Learn From America

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A month ago on this blog I talked about what I thought my country could learn from Spain, having lived here for nearly two years now and gotten a chance to experience the good and the bad of Spanish culture. It sparked a lively discussion on the differences between the U.S. and Spain as well as the areas where America could stand to grow. I intended to write a follow-up talking about what I think Spain could learn from America, so here is that post, as promised.

1) Less bureaucracy and paperwork When I say Spain invented red tape, I literally mean Spain invented red tape; you can read an enlightening history on the use of red ribbon for official forms and documents as well as Spain’s long tradition of bureaucracy here. This uneasy relationship the country has with el papeleo (paperwork) bears itself out in the countless trámites (processes) foreigners have to go through to apply for residency.

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the United States is far from innocent when it co…

Photo Post: Celtic Ruins & Atlantic Views in A Guarda, Spain

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If you chase the western coast of Galicia all the way south to the Portuguese border, you’ll end up at the mouths of the Miño River and the compact fishing village of A Guarda, too. I took a daytrip to this remote corner of northwest Spain while exploring Vigo back in January and really enjoyed this quiet—and historical—taste of coastal Galicia.

After a glorious seaside lunch of croquetas and steamed mussels, I left the city center and began hiking up Monte Santa Trega. The footpath passed through eucalyptus and pine woods, and even a terrifying brief rainshower. But after a brief, 45-minute climb I had emerged at the summit, the site of some pre-Roman ruins. Called a castro, these walled, Celtic-era settlements consisted of circular stone huts capped with thatched roofs, and they endured throughout the Roman period. The castro de Santa Trega is one of the most famous in all Galicia simply because the archaeological work done over the centuries revealed such a gigantic inhabited area…

What’s Big in Vigo, Spain?

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The region of Galicia in northwest Spain is known not only for being green, rainy, and full of good food but also as a rather rural part of the country. Countless hamlets, villages, and small towns cover the countryside from the western coasts to the mountains in the east. But you might be surprised to know that the 14th biggest city in Spain is found right here in Galicia: Vigo. An important port city on the southwestern coast, Vigo is one of the two major metropolises in the region (the other being A Coruña to the north); nearly one out of every ten Galicians live in Vigo. So what’s the big deal about Vigo? Read on to find out!

Seafood from the ría North of the city flows the Ría de Vigo, a narrow estuary or inlet of the sea of the same name. Galicia is famous across Spain for its fresh, high-quality seafood, and Vigo is no exception. Like most of the western coast, mussel farming is a big deal here, but Vigo is especially famous for oysters that you can buy fresh at the market in t…

Culture Shock in a Spanish Home

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Back in November, I wrote a little blog post about some significant differences between American and Spanish supermarkets—culture shock at the supermercado is a frequent occurrence for foreigners living in Spain. But there’s an even more important place you might experience culture shock after setting foot in the country: the home.

Doors Let’s start outside. One major difference that can be a little disorienting is the fact that the handle on the main door to an apartment or house is often centered; i.e., it’s in the middle rather than on the right-hand side where the keyholes are. This is because most locks in Spain completely open the door rather than leaving another lock in the handle for you to turn: when you unlock the door, the door swings open, so the handle is there for you to push or pull, not turn.

Even though intercoms might seem like a fancy feature for American residences, they’re standard on virtually all Spanish ones, from homes to apartments. To one side of the door th…

20 More Fun Facts About the Galician Language

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Last year I wrote up a little blog post called 22 Fun Facts About the Galician Language in which I talked about what I’ve observed of Galician after a few months of contact with the language. Half a year later I’m still learning galego (mainly from my preschool English students who exclusively talk to me in the language!) and picking up on the language’s subtleties. So here are 20 more fun facts I’ve collected over the past several months:

* One of the most distinctive parts about the Galician accent on the western coast (i.e., where I work) is the gheada phenomenon, where the G sound ends up being a throaty KH or H sound. For example, whenever my preschool students finish with a worksheet, a lot of them will ask me, “¿qué fago?” which means, “What do I do next?” but the way they pronounce it makes it sound like “kay FAH-khoe” [ke ˈfa.ħo]. Galician comic artist Luis Davila often depicts characters speaking with a gheada accent, and uses the Spanish letter J to represent the sound (thi…

Photo Post: Antequera, Deep in the Heart of Southern Spain

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Antequera—an hour north of the Mediterranean metropolis of Málaga—is a mid-sized town smack dab in the middle of Andalucía. I came here for a daytrip around this time last year en route from being a beach bum in Málaga to taking in the beauty of the Alhambra in springtime. Since I had to catch the seven-o’-clock bus from Málaga, I had to dash from my hostel to the bus station without sitting down for breakfast. That ended up not being a problem, however, because I got to try a typical local treat to start off the day: molletes de Antequera. I first learned about these large, round, spongy bread rolls thanks to an article by Lauren of Spanish Sabores she wrote before I left. Slathering these toasted molletes with grated tomato, salt, and olive oil, I chowed down and slowly woke up, sipping a café con leche in between bites.

The city of Antequera has pretty, whitewashed streets, a handful of centuries-old churches, and a warm, inviting atmosphere just like you would expect from any vil…

My #NerdAlert Pilgrimage to the Roman Ruins of Pompeii, Italy

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In case you haven’t picked it up from reading this blog yet, I’m a big supporter of Doing What You Want when traveling, of seeing and doing things that you like rather than feeling obligated to mark things off your guidebook’s Top 10 Must-See list. I’ve got a couple of separate blog posts along these lines in the works, but suffice it to say that I think you end up enjoying your travels the most when you focus on the things that interest you—even if that means skipping an “unmissable” sight somewhere else.

I say all this to say…I went to the ruined Roman city of Pompeii in December because I am the biggest nerd ever. Granted, Pompeii is hardly an obscure or unique place to visit when compared with others that Italy has to offer, but when I made my “Grand Tour” of Italy over Christmas Break, I passed over Venice (which is typically considered an essential stop, and which I had zero desire to visit) in favor of Pompeii, a place I’ve dreamed for years of seeing one day in person.

Studyi…

Los Patios de Córdoba: The Courtyard Decorating Competition of Córdoba, Spain

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You can find one of my favorite cities in all of Spain down in central Andalucía: 2,000-year-old Córdoba. The otherworldly Mosque-Cathedral with its endless rows of striped horseshoe arches…the medieval web of whitewashed, flowery streets…the savory emulsion of tomatoes and olive oil that is salmorejo…the endless season of spring festivals…the feeling of history you get while watching the Guadalquivir River flow by beneath the Roman bridge…the lost convivencia of Christians, Jews, and Muslims visible in the old Jewish quarter…all of this combines to create an amazing atmosphere that I keep going back to.

But when I first visited Córdoba in December 2012, I left the city feeling a little let down, almost disappointed. Perhaps it was because I had built up too many expectations having studied the history of Islamic Spain in college, perhaps it was the cold weather, perhaps I stuck to the touristy side of town too much. Before coming to teach in Spain I had originally wanted to be placed…