Posts

Showing posts from July, 2014

Albarracín: The Most Beautiful Village in Spain

Image
Is it possible to fall in love with somewhere after seeing just a single photo of the place? If so, that’s exactly what happened to me when I saw a picture of the Spanish town of Albarracín in rural southern Aragón. I don’t remember when I first came across it, but at some point a few years ago as I was browsing the Wikipedia categories for all things Spain (#NerdAlert), I found this shot of the village’s old town snuggled up against canyon walls, with the buildings golden and ruddy in the warm, waning light, the church bell towers bright and colorful, and the whole atmosphere reminiscent of whatever “Old Spain” is supposed to mean. I was hooked.

Albarracín, come to find out, is one of the most isolated places in the whole country. Pronounced “ahl-vahr-rah-THEEN” [al.βa.raˈθin], this tiny village is a half-hour drive into the mountains from Teruel, the only provincial capital in peninsular Spain without direct train service from Madrid. Because my time teaching English in Spain has br…

My Updated Review of Spain’s North American Language & Culture Assistant Program

Image
Another school year in Spain has come and gone, and right now I’m back home in Texas with my family and working to save money while I get ready to return again this fall. Last summer, I wrote what I thought about the North American Language & Culture Assistant program, which allows recent college graduates like yours truly to teach English in Spain. That review was based on my experience working in an elementary school in rural Andalucía and living in an off-the-beaten-track, mid-sized town called Úbeda.

Having worked at another elementary school in coastal Galicia and lived in the regional capital of Santiago de Compostela this year, my opinions of the program have become more nuanced, although they are still generally positive. Since I’m going back to the same school in the fall, I find myself at the midpoint of my time in Galicia (northwest Spain): a perfect time to reflect on my experience in this program.

A quick refresher: the auxiliares de conversación program is sponsored …

Photo Post: An Ape-Free Visit to Gibraltar

Image
On my way back home from running around northern Morocco last spring, I decided to go out on a limb and check out Gibraltar on my layover between the sketchy port town of Algeciras and my train back to Jaén. Officially a “British Overseas Territory” (like Bermuda or the Falkland Islands), this slender peninsula that juts out from far southern Spain is as English as any place in jolly ol’ England.

It’s kind of hard to describe the culture shock I felt after crossing the border runway that separates Spain and, uh, the United Kingdom. I had recently re-emerged into Spanish-speaking Europe after a week spent in the Arab World, so I kind of felt a little whiplash now that I could speak English without blinking an eye. As I converted 30€ into £20, I uneasily spoke to the money exchanger in my native tongue despite having traipsed across from Spain just minutes before. It was really eerie…but also a refreshing change! Money in hand, I set out down Main Street in search of the crowd-free, un…

Another Day in the Life of a Language Assistant in Spain

Image
Last year on the blog I wrote a post about what a typical day in Spain looked like for me. Obviously, living in a completely different part of the country (Santiago de Compostela in the northwest) this past school year meant my life looked a little different than from two years ago. Following the same structure as I did in my original post, I’ve put together something to give y’all an idea of what life as an auxiliar de conversación is like—but reader beware: this is only my experience, and even people living in the same city can have wildly varying times in this program. Hope you find this interesting!

In the morning My morning schedule is surprisingly similar to the one I had my first year: I get up around 7am…sometimes later…have breakfast, shower, pack a lunch, and dash out the door not long after the nearby monastery’s bells chime eight-o’-clock. I always enjoy walking the quarter of an hour it takes to get from my apartment across town to the carpool pickup spot, as Santiago is …

Abanqueiro, Spain: The Village Where I Worked in Galicia

Image
Since October 2013, I’ve been teaching English at a rural elementary school on the western coast of Galicia, northwest Spain. Although I’m writing this back home in Texas right now, I’ll be heading back in the fall to renew at the same school for another year, so I thought this summer intermission would be the best time to share with y’all a little bit about the whole reason I’ve been able to live and travel abroad for this past school year.


The surrounding regionAbanqueiro (pronounced “ah-bahn-KAY-EE-roe” [ˌa.βanˈkej.ɾo]) is a small farming parish that belongs to the broader municipality of Boiro, a city of about 20,000 people in one of the many Rías Baixas or “Lower Inlets” of the Atlantic Ocean that flow into the region’s western coasts. Like most of Galicia, Abanqueiro is green and lush, and receives a lot of rain in the wintry months. But because the village is situated on a flat peninsula close to sea level, the weather here is generally more agreeable than further inland, where…

Boiro, Spain: A Typical Galician Coastal Town

Image
Before getting placed to teach English at a rural elementary school in a village called Abanqueiro, I knew very little about the western coasts of Galicia, Spain’s green northwestern region. Although I was going to work in Abanqueiro, the address my placement letter gave me included “Boiro” in parentheses, something that really threw me off; was my school in Abanqueiro or Boiro?

Both, actually. Come to find out, the population in Spain’s northern regions is distributed a lot differently than it is down south. Whereas in Andalucía you have a tight, compact urbanization that belongs to a single municipio (municipality) with virtually no “settlements” outside the city limits (that’s where all the olive groves are, silly!), in Galicia things are a lot more spread out.

The whole region is broken down into various concellos (municipalities) each with their own town hall in the main city center. But each concello is divided into several administrative parroquias or parishes since so many peo…

The Legend of the Lovers of Teruel, Spain: Fact or Fiction?

Image
I loved getting a chance to explore Teruel last March, one of the most off-the-beaten-track cities in Spain. My inner architecture nerd couldn’t get enough of the dazzling Islamic-inspired Mudéjar church bell towers, and the cheap but high quality jamón ibérico (Iberian cured ham) pleased my stomach and my wallet. I often felt like I was the only tourist in this extremely-isolated provincial capital, and I relished the chance to get to know the region of Aragón on my own terms, without hordes of daytrippers or menus that foist paella and sangría at me.

Some parts of the country have traditional song—Andalucía’s flamenco—others have dance—Catalunya’s sardana—but this city is unique in that it continues to retell its famous legend of the Lovers of Teruel. Called Los Amantes de Teruel in Spanish, this account of two star-crossed lovers draws from a tradition dating back 800 years and even today any elementary school-aged kid in Teruel can recite the story to you. Now, whether the Lovers …