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Showing posts from November, 2014

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…