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Showing posts from April, 2015

Photo Post: Valença do Minho, Portugal

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After snooping around the interesting cathedral in Tui last November, my friends and I hopped back in the car and crossed the Miño River, and in doing so also crossed into Portugal from Spain. On the other side of the river, the town of Valença do Minho sits on a commanding hilltop and is just as Portuguese as Tui is Spanish: houses are decorated with pretty azulejos or colorful tiles, the locals speak indecipherable European Portuguese, and small parish churches show off their jaunty Baroque domes and whitewashed walls.

For Spaniards, especially those living in Galicia, the main draw of Valença is shopping. Portuguese-made linens, like sheets, towels, and blankets are both affordable and of high quality, so Spanish people dash south of the border, load up their car trunks and bus holds with bags of linens in Valença, and then head back home. It’s not uncommon for espanhóis (as they’re called in Portuguese) to pick up a bottle of vinho verde wine or a kilo of not-burnt natural, non-t…

Tui, a Cathedral Town on the Spanish-Portuguese Border

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When I began my second year teaching in Galicia, I knew I wanted to go the completionist route and hit up all five of Galicia’s cathedrals and all seven of the region’s historical provincial capitals. Some of them, like Pontevedra, were only a quick train ride south from Santiago, but there were others, like Mondoñedo, that ended up being in distant valleys far from home and required a car to get there. So naturally I jumped at the chance to explore the border town of Tui when two Spanish friends invited me to ride with them down there for a traditional autumn dinner in their village.

Outside of Tui’s city center (mere minutes from Portugal) we settled down at the Ribadelouro community center, where they were selling 10€ tickets for an all-you-can-eat cookout supper. My housemate and I were the only two non-Spaniards in attendance that evening; everyone else had probably grown up in the countryside or was married to someone who did. It was sometimes difficult to follow along with the…

Time-Traveling to the Dark Ages in Oviedo, Spain

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Out of all the places we had on the hitlist for our Roommate Road Trip across Spain’s northern coast, I was most looking forward to Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. This city’s pleasant old town, nestled between green mountains and full of restaurants that serve hearty traditional dishes like fabada bean stew, reminded me a lot of Santiago de Compostela’s.

Oviedo kept showing up on my travel radar because of its impressive collection of monuments that date back to the 800s CE—yes, you read that correctly; not 1800 but 800. My inner history geek couldn’t wait to check out three well-preserved pre-Romanesque churches, built in a style that blossomed in this part of Spain during the otherwise gloomy Dark Ages.

What does it mean to be “pre-Romanesque”? Also know as Asturian art, this architectural style was born in the earliest days of Spanish history, when the tiny Kingdom of Asturias ruled far-northern Spain. After Muslims from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 CE, Chri…

A Tapas Crawl in the Spanish Capital with Madrid Food Tour

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It can often be really intimidating to visit a new country, especially if you don’t speak the language, aren’t acquainted with cultural habits and customs, or aren’t familiar with the local cuisine apart from one or two famous dishes. Even the simple act of walking into a restaurant can be an anxiety-inducing feat: how are you supposed to greet the servers, when is it appropriate to eat lunch or dinner, and what exactly should I order?

This is exactly what happened to me when I was in Germany for a few days last week and Portugal last year; I didn’t do my research and was forever frustrated when it came time to eat.

I can only imagine that many tourists have similar experiences when they come to Spain for the first time. The three years I’ve got under my belt have made me feel so very comfortable in this country: I know the polite set phrases you’re supposed to say when entering a restaurant, asking for more food, or going up to pay; plus picture-less menus and unlabeled trays of food…