Showing posts from August, 2014

Culture Shock in a Spanish Elementary School

Continuing my series about culture shock in Spain (I’ve talked about supermarkets and Spanish homes so far), today I’d like to talk about things that have surprised me or that are quite different from American elementary schools. I’ve worked at a big school down south and a tiny rural one up north now, so I hope that my observations are more than just one place’s idiosyncrasies.

Regarding teachers * When I first started working as a language assistant in Andalucía, I was shocked when the teachers would show up five minutes before school started and then leave as soon as the last class of the day was over. My mom teaches kindergarten and she always arrives an hour early in the morning and leaves an hour after the day is over to lesson plan, make copies, grade papers, attend meetings, etc., and she still has schoolwork to do at home! However, teachers at my schools do stay late for several hours one day of the week for meetings and whatnot and they somehow manage to do all their plannin…

Las Médulas, the Most Unique Roman Ruins in Spain

Usually when you think of Roman ruins—in Spain or elsewhere—usually things like crumbling arches, faded mosaics, and fallen-in house walls come to mind. Sometimes there’s a grand aqueduct, and maybe even an amphitheater, but all the sculptures, gravestones, and artifacts are on display in a nearby museum. In any case, you’ll most often see memorials to important dead guys or monumental ruins.

That’s why I was so surprised when I visited Las Médulas: all that is left of the largest gold mine in the Roman Empire. Although the modern Spanish word médula can mean “bone marrow” or “spinal cord,” the name for these mining ruins probably comes from the Latin metula, the diminutive form of the word meta, which meant “cone” or “pyramid”—which makes sense given the other-worldly rock formations that make up the ruins.

Hidden away in the rugged Bierzo region in northwesterly León province, the open-pit mine has sliced through whole mountainsides, leaving the stark orange clay faces we see today.…

Photo Post: Pinchos & Castles in Ponferrada, Spain

Tucked away in a mountainous corner of northwestern Spain lies the tiny sub-region of El Bierzo. Pronounced “bee-AIR-thoe” [ˈbjer.θo], this cultural area takes up the western third of the province of León and is a kind of “mini-Galicia” amidst the dominant northern Castilian region. Unique meats like cecina (cured beef) and botillo (chunky sausage) are popular here, the French Way of the Camino de Santiago passes through here, many folks speak the Galicianlanguage, and everything is generally greener (and rainier, too).

Ponferrada is El Bierzo’s main city, a bustling metropolis 70,000-strong in a sea of sleepy mountain villages. On my way back from León in March, I came here to visit my friend Laura who I met while working down south two years ago; she was one of the many auxiliares that the bigger city of Linares was home to, and we coincidentally both got placed in the northwestern part of the country this past school year.

What to Do on a Daytrip to Astorga, Spain

With my backpack’s sternum strap fastened snugly across my chest, I sped-walked down León’s main avenue at 6:45 in the morning. Although the city still slept, darkness had given way to dawn—albeit a gray dawn, as rain was forecast for the region. I hopped on a glossy-white Regional Express train and had only biking enthusiasts for seatmates, and their bikes. Half an hour passed by and the rain and the train picked up speed. Soon the ruddy twin towers of Astorga’s cathedral came into view as we went through a curve: decorated blocks topped with pointy, slate pyramids.

I left the train station at the bottom of the hill and set off to find breakfast on this drizzly, quiet Saturday morning. Almost no one was out and about, not even party-till-the-sun-comes-up types; however, this was a town whose population barely reached 11,000. Rain pitter-pattered on my polyester backpack cover, my meager umbrella, and my canvas shoes. I arrived at Astorga’s grand religious square only to find it deser…

The Architecture of León, Spain

It’s a little-known fact that the Spanish city of León’s name coincidentally means “lion” in modern Spanish; kind of like how Cork, Ireland, sounds like the word for the woody bottle stopper we put in wine bottles. Although this bustling provincial capital was founded as an encampment for Roman legions, the Latin name for this legionary town (Legio) converged with the word for lion (leo) over the centuries as Latin grew up and became Spanish. Apparently this distinction was also lost on the locals and a purple lion is now the city’s heraldic symbol. Cool!

I was excited to finally get the chance to explore this city on a cold, drizzly long weekend back in March. Following the Camino de Santiago, but in reverse, I left my apartment in Santiago and caught the train east out toward the broad Castilian meseta, or central plateau. The last major stop along the French Way pilgrimage that ends in Santiago, León is rightly famous for its French-inspired Gothic cathedral.

León is also a major u…

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in…Galicia

Last May, when I was telling everyone in southern Spain that I was moving up north to work in the region of Galicia, all the Andalusians I talked to would reply something along the lines of “OOOOOOOH it’s SOOOOOO rainy there!!! It rains SOOO MUCH in Galicia!!!” Not “watch out, they speak a differentlanguage there” or “the food is really delicious”—it was always something about the rain.

So over the course of the school year I diligently recorded whether it rained or not in Galicia—a simple “yes” or “no” tally of days with and without rain. People made things sound like it was perpetually raining in this northwestern-most region of Spain, so I set out to prove them wrong (or right).

I kept this tally from September 24th, 2013 through the day I moved out, May 29th, 2014. I didn’t check anything for the days I was outside the region while traveling, but during those eight or so months, it rained in Galicia 108 days and it was sunny, overcast, or not raining for 102 days. It’s hard to com…

An Afternoon Coffee in Huesca, Spain

It was a sunny afternoon and I had just gotten back to Zaragoza’s train station after a few days spent down south exploring Mudéjar-styleTeruel and the medieval village of Albarracín. My night train back to Santiago de Compostela wasn’t leaving until later that evening, so I decided to make the most of this layover and spend the afternoon and early evening exploring Huesca, an off-the-beaten-track provincial capital to the north. As I rode in the single-car diesel train, the Aragonese Pyrenees mountains came into view, the natural border separating Spain from France and beyond.

Huesca (pronounced “WEHS-kah” [ˈwes.ka]) holds a commanding position on the plains just outside the foothills of the Pyrenees—the historic core of the medieval kingdom of Aragón. In the surrounding region outposts like Loarre, Sos del Rey Católico, and Jaca whisper memories of a time when “Spain” was merely a collection of ragtag lordships based in the mountains.

Heading out from the train station along a warm,…

My 5 Favorite Places to Eat in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

This past school year I lived and worked in Santiago de Compostela, the capital of the region of Galicia in far northwestern Spain. I love the city’s glorious, grayscale, granite architecture, its many green, tree-lined parks, and its lively old town. But what I love most of all is the FOOD! I’ve had plenty of opportunities to get to know many restaurant-bar-cafés in town (the distinctions are rather blurred here in Spain), from spur-of-the-moment octopus get-togethers to a “special” breakfast before commuting to school.

Although I’ve got a separate list brewing of the best places to eat here, I thought I’d share with y’all my personal favorite haunts in Santiago, the places you’re most likely to find me at—the places where I’ve become “a regular,” from octopus-houses (if steakhouse is a word, then that can be too) to cozy cafés.

Bodegón Os Concheiros Officially a pulpería or “place that sells octopus,” Os Concheiros is the only place I will go in town to eat octopus. It’s just that …