Showing posts from September, 2015

Living Like Popes in Avignon, France

Y’all. I am SO behind in blog posts. I’m just now getting to travels from way back in February…so ashamed that I’ve let tumbleweeds roll all over this blog but I’m trying to get back up to speed, so stay tuned!

It was mid-February and my friend Melissa and I were not amused with how the Galician winter had been treating us. Dark skies and rainy nights kept us indoors most of the time, and because of high humidity, the cold temperatures were particularly bitter despite never dropping below freezing. Simply put, we needed to get out, and sunny southern France seemed like a great place to escape from Santiago for a long weekend.

We took a similar path that the Roman Catholic popes did in the 1300s, who were also fleeing an unsavory (political) climate. They left chaotic Rome for the security of Avignon, a major city along the Rhône River not far from the Mediterranean coast. We scored (and later endured) super-cheap Ryanair flights to Marseille’s airport and looked forward to encounterin…

Moving to Spain, 3 Years Later: My Spain-iversary

Now that I’m back home with my parents in Texas this summer, I’ve recently been leafing through all the old travel journals that I kept when I moved to Spain and traveled around Europe. They’ve put me in a real emotional mood remembering how excited I felt to be moving to a foreign country. At the same time, all my old anxieties came flooding back: what city would I live in, what apartment would I choose, how would I get to work, would I make any friends, and what the heck comes next after all of this is over.

It’s now been three years since I landed on the tarmac at the Barajas airport in Madrid, giddy and jetlagged and naïve all at once. I thought it would only be appropriate to commemorate this anniversary—or Spain-iversary, in Cat’s words—with a retrospective blog post looking back on my first day in España, the journey I’ve taken since then, and some of the lessons I’ve learned while living abroad.

I may be back in the very same place where I started over 1,000 days ago, but today…

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Bonaval Park

I know, I know, I’ve been on a big city-parks-of-Santiago kick lately on the blog. Last year I talked about the Alameda (the main public park) and Belvís (basically my backyard), and in the past few weeks I’ve highlighted the Sarela River Trail and Galeras Park. These green spaces amount to one of Santiago de Compostela’s greatest assets and give folks who live here a way to exercise, relax, and meet up with friends and family.

Today I’d like to turn the spotlight on Bonaval Park, situated just outside the old town to the northeast. For centuries, the land here belonged to the monastic community of San Domingos de Bonaval, but in 1837 it was confiscated by the Spanish state during the anti-clerical desamortización de Mendizábal. The Baroque monastery then passed to the city government. Today, Bonaval is anchored by the Museo do Pobo Galego, which offers an ethnographic look into Galician culture and traditions. The museum’s star attraction is a bewildering spiral staircase in which t…

Trying Out Inkly, a Handwritten Postcard App

It’s never been easier to stay in touch with your friends and family back home while you’re traveling or living abroad. Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest help keep people updated on what you’re up to, while messaging apps and video chat are always there for meaningful, one-on-one conversations.

There’s honestly no way I would have survived longer than one school year in Spain so far away from home had I not had so many accessible and affordable ways to keep in close contact with my parents, the rest of my family, and my friends from college. I salute those all who have bravely gone before me with only snail mail or expensive calling cards as their sole means of communication. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here furiously updating my Instagram.

Still, there’s something about travel that brings out the old-fashioned side of me. I try to dress up for the occasion whenever I catch a flight; I prefer the romance of civilized train travel over slow, nauseating buses; and I enjoy sending handwri…

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Galeras Park

Like I said on my earlier post about the Sarela River Trail, I think Santiago de Compostela is uniquely fortunate to have its older part of town surrounded by parks and green spaces rather than by sprawl, as happened to countless other European cities in the past century. Built on a bluff between two small rivers, Santiago only became the administrative capital of Galicia in the 1980s, so much of the World Heritage-declared historic core has been protected.

With the Alameda Park to the southwest and Belvís Park running along the east, Santiago has plenty of places to go running, have a picnic, or just breathe some fresh air in. Joining these quality parks is Galeras Park, situated just to the northeast of Santiago’s old town. A tranquil meadow dotted with willows and fruit trees, Galeras straddles both banks of the Sarela River as it meanders southwards.

A Crash Course in the Galician Language

Galicia, located in Spain’s northwestern corner, ranks as one of the country’s greatest regions. When I lived there from 2013 to 2015, I couldn’t get enough of the glorious, fresh food, the green, lush countryside, and the grand, granite architecture. But I could only take canned sardines with me back home, we’ve got enough humidity here in Texas, and sadly the oldest buildings in suburban Plano date back not to the 1070s but the 1970’s.

But what has stuck with me the most has been galego, the Galician language that I quickly picked up on after being immersed in it from day one at the elementary school I worked at. Closely related to Spanish (and even closer to Portuguese), you can think of it as a de-nasalized Portuguese, pronounced like Spanish, and with an Italian intonation. Its endearing musical (some might say whiny) rhythm has infected my accent in Spanish, and I can rattle off more seafood and rain-related terms in Galician than I can in English.

So, what if you’re going to Ga…

Photo Post: Santiago de Compostela’s Sarela River Trail

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the countless parks and green spaces that surround Santiago de Compostela make the city such a great place to call home. From the Alameda, where you can see and be seen (or just go jogging), to Belvís, where you can lay out on the hillside and have a picnic, Santiago is truly blessed with pleasant public spaces where you can escape the noise and demands of the city and breathe in some fresh air.

No part of town gives you a better connection to the natural world than the footpaths that follow the course of the Sarela River. Trailblazed several years ago, the Paseo Fluvial do Río Sarela traces a tranquil creek as it trickles down the western edge of Santiago from the north to the southwest.