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Showing posts from 2016

Photo Post: Ons Island, Galicia’s Isolated Beach Getaway

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I’ve raved and raved about the Cíes Islands on this blog, an archipelago of pristine islands that form part of a broader national park on the western coast of Galicia in northwestern Spain. They’re one of the region’s true natural wonders, boasting everything from white sands beaches and impossibly cold clear water to rugged hiking trails and cliffside panoramas.

But I’ve been holding back a secret from: the Cíes have a little sister called Ons Island. This slender island is situated just to the north of the Cíes and is a natural breakwater that protects the ría or estuary from the worst blows of the Atlantic.

When a few of my friends and I visited Ons during the shoulder season, we shared a beach that was a 10-minute walk south of the docks with only two or three other people. There’s something so very refreshing about having an entire white-sands beach essentially all to yourself while also looking back out toward the mainland where all the noise, traffic, and stresses of daily lif…

How to Spend 24 Hours in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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During the two years I spent living and working in Santiago de Compostela, I hosted around half a dozen or so friends in this rainy northwest corner of Spain and showed them around the comfortable, lively place I had grown to call home.

Santiago is a wonderful city, but I’ll be totally honest with y’all—you can see the city in a single day. I usually took friends who visited me on daytrips to A Coruña or the hot springs in Ourense after we had gotten our fill of Santi-town. But that fill was almost always overflowing with endless tapas, walks through parks, and ancient granite churches.

I don’t live in Santiago anymore, having traded cathedrals for cactuses and tapas for tacos in Phoenix. But even though I can’t personally lead you on a jam-packed itinerary through the Galician capital, I’ve put together a guide you can follow to make sure you have a visit that leaves you dazzled, relaxed, and—most importantly—full.

Before we start our day, make sure you’ve got a good pair of comfortab…

Memories from Jaén, Spain: Andalucía’s Most Underrated City

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Of the eight provincial capitals in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalucía, Jaén too often gets short shrift in favor of historic cities that overwhelm you with their monuments—Sevilla with its gigantic Gothic cathedral, Córdoba with what remains of the Great Mosque, and Granada with the country’s crown jewel, the Alhambra palace—or in favor of coastal cities that entice you with their beaches and fresh seafood—Málaga, which needs no introduction, Cádiz, Europe’s oldest city, Almería, secluded away behind deserts and mountain ranges, and Huelva, where Columbus set off for the Americas.

I ponder this as I grow more and more impatient with the intercity bus I’m on…and more and more nauseated. The air coming from the A/C vents smells like a dirty bathroom, the advertised on-board WiFi has ground to a halt, and that hot summer sun is really bearing down on the windows.

I’m reminded of the bad first experience I had with Jaén (pronounced “khah-EN” [xaˈen]) when I moved to Spain and had t…

Fisterra, Muxía, and a Sunset at the End of the World

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If you happen to find yourself in Santiago de Compostela and have run out of things to do, I’d recommend going on day trips to check out more of Galicia’s beautiful cities and natural wonders, from the “Glass City” of A Coruña and Roman-walled Lugo to the pristine beaches of the Cíes Islands and the natural hot springs of Ourense. You can reach some really exciting places on a one-hour train ride, but if you know how to drive stick shift, it’s best to rent a car and head out west to hug the coastline until you reach the Atlantic Ocean.


The historic fishing villages of Noia and Muros will whet your appetite for Gothic architecture and seafood tapas, whereas coastal Carnota has kept an entire beach reserved just for you. Just around the corner, the Ézaro waterfall is the only point in mainland Europe where a river empties into the sea via a waterfall.

The cherry on top (the shrimp on the paella?) is without a doubt Fisterra, also called Finisterre, from the name the Romans used to descr…

All Roads Lead to Santiago de Compostela

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The Camino de Santiago phenomenon has completely taken Spain by storm over the past decade or so. This pilgrimage route originated in the early Middle Ages, fell out of popularity, and only recently has enjoyed newfound popularity with modern-day pilgrims, who are drawn to the trek by religious devotion as much as they are by adventure.

The Camino or “Way of St. James” terminates in Spain’s green northwestern corner, in the rainy city of Santiago de Compostela—the purported burial place of the Apostle St. James. While the most popular route—the French Way—trickles across north-central Spain from the Pyrenees toward the Atlantic coast, there are also around a dozen or so other trails that thread routes across the diverse quilt that is modern Spain.

Some are brief, requiring less than a week on foot—the English Way, for example—while others recall the great overland trips from Roman times—like the Vía de la Plata that starts in Sevilla.

During the three years I spent working in Spain, I…

Photo Post: Watching the Ézaro Waterfall Empty Into the Ocean

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Northwest Spain continues to amaze me the more I learn about it. You’d think it’d be hard to top a region that happens to have coastal islands with pristine white-sands beaches, one of the most beautiful historic town centers in Europe, or the only city that is still completely enclosed by its original Roman walls. But Galicia’s got yet another stunning treasure: the only river in continental Europe that empties into the sea via a waterfall.

The Xallas River pours down the glossy hillside of Mt. Pindo, having trickled out of a dam that’s been generating hydroelectric power since the ‘60s. When friends both Galician and expat alike raved to me about the Ézaro Waterfall—pronounced “EH-thah-row” [ˈe.θa.ɾo]—I always imagined a river rushing over something like the White Cliffs of Dover before dramatically crashing into the ocean. The real thing is a lot more subdued, as the river merely rolls down an eroded hillside into a tiny estuary before it reaches the open seas. But knowing that th…

Photo Post: Deserted Beaches & Fresh Seafood in Carnota, Spain

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It’s not every day you come across a deserted beach that literally stretches for miles beneath a deep blue sky. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me one warm, sunny Saturday in April while exploring the far western reaches of Galicia in northwest Spain.

The town of Carnota (really just a collection of rural houses and small family farms) stretches across a flat tract of Galicia’s Atlantic coastline, tucked away in a bend of the Ría de Corcubión—one of many inlets of the sea that extend like fingers into the mainland. Five of these estuaries trickle down the region’s western coast, where steep hillsides contrast with white-sands beaches and where the economy depends on both fishing and white wine production.

But Carnota’s got more than just stunning, vast beaches and pretty rural scenery. This little coastal town is also home to one of the region’s longest hórreos or stone corncrib used to store corn and other crops after the harvest—a common sight across the region, but never as lo…

Muros & Noia, Spain: Two Charming Galician Fishing Villages

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Many folks visit Santiago de Compostela because they’re drawn to the medieval mystique of the Camino de Santiago, which ends in the city. A popular daytrip from Santiago involves heading out west to the tiny coastal town of Fisterra, the “Lands End” of Galicia, which many pilgrims consider the true ending point of this pilgrimage that runs across northern Spain. A mighty lighthouse guards craggy cliffs, what the Romans considered to be finis terrae, the ends of the earth.

Sadly, many people hop on charter buses that make express runs between Santiago and the Atlantic coast, completely bypassing the intervening countryside. It’s a real shame because there’s so much to see and do in between those two points, from charming fishing villages to secluded beaches and even waterfalls.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to spend some time on the blog sharing with y’all the best places to see on your way from Santiago to the End of the World. Today, let’s visit our first two stops: Muros a…

5 City Parks to Picnic At in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

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I fell in love with the northwest Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela for several reasons when I lived there for two years, not least the glorious granite old town and delicious tradition of free tapas. One big reason I renewed to teach English in the area for a second year—despite two consecutive winter months of endless rain—was the city’s attractive system of public parks. There’s just so many different places you can go to hang out with friends, people-watch, and enjoy a slice of empanada or some fresh local strawberries.

1) The Alameda Santiago’s grandest and oldest city park might seem like an odd place to lay out a picnic blanket; after all, who wants to sit down in the way of all those joggers and fur-coat-wearing old ladies? Yes, most of the park is one big promenade that offers impressive views of the old town and a lovely curated garden. But there’s a small parcel on the far eastern side of the Alameda near a busy intersection with a flat, grassy lawn that’s the perfect …

Betanzos, Spain: My New Favorite Galician Village

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As I headed back home to Santiago de Compostela after spending Good Friday 2015 in Ferrol, I took a cross between a pitstop and a daytrip in the coastal village of Betanzos, one of the hidden treasures of northwest Spain. Santiago will always be first in my heart, but Betanzos quickly won me over as my new favorite village in Galicia.


Welcoming locals The single-car diesel clunker I rode to Betanzos on dropped me off at what was more a clearing in the woods than a proper train station. Seeing a backpack-clad boy scrutinizing his phone’s Google Maps app, a dad who had picked up his daughter there offered to drive me in to the old town and save me a hike. In retrospect it probably wasn’t the safest decision to hop into a complete stranger’s car (sorry Mom!) but I trusted my gut and hopped in.

My leap of faith paid off, as these two kind betanceiros dropped me off in the central plaza and were fun to chat with for a couple of minutes as we circled around what were once the old town walls…

No Car in Dallas? But How?

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A little over a month ago I finally gave in and bought my very first car, a brand-new Toyota Corolla. I first learned how to drive on a 2003-era Corolla, so I couldn’t pass up this familiar yet reliable model when I showed up at the dealership for the dreaded car hunt. But in between moving back home to Texas in July of last year and getting a car this past March, I had to make do without one. Fortunately my parents did have a car that they used for buying groceries and the like, but as far as getting to work, shopping, or having fun, I was basically on my own.

Now, America isn’t a country known for its public transportation to begin with, and the sprawling nature of Sunbelt metropolitan areas like Dallas makes walking utterly impractical when it takes 20 minutes just to walk from your house in a subdivision to the nearest convenience store. So you can imagine I was a little terrified trying to figure out how to make things work in my initial re-entry period moving back to the States …

Big in Big D, Y’all: What to See, Eat, & Do in Dallas, Texas

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When I moved back to Texas back in July after living in Spain for three years, I felt guilty that I could give people better food or sightseeing recommendations for cities like Madrid or Santiago de Compostela than I could for the city I claimed was my hometown, Dallas. Now, part of the problem was that I actually grew up in Plano, a suburb to the north of Dallas, but that didn’t excuse me from not knowing this place as well as I should.

So once I was settled in back home last summer, I made it my goal to see as much of the city as I could on weekends and the odd jaunt after work, relying on my own two feet and DART trains and buses to take me around this big, big city. I reconnected with a lot of folks from my high school days and did all the touristy things like going up top the Reunion Tower at sunset or hanging out at the State Fair of Texas with my dad. But I also got to know a whole slew of locally-owned cafés and restaurants (see below for recommendations), gained a deeper appr…

Ferrol, Spain: The Black Sheep of Galicia

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Galicia, tucked away in Spain’s northwest corner, happens to be one of the most densely-populated regions in the country. Major cultural and political centers include Vigo, A Coruña, Ourense, Lugo, Santiago de Compostela, and Pontevedra…and if we were to continue rattling off the region’s biggest cities, the coastal town of Ferrol would hold the spot for seventh-biggest, at 70,000 ferroláns.

Ferrol (pronounced “fair-ROLE” [feˈrol]) doesn’t have the best reputation among Galicians, as it’s kind of the black sheep of the region; many folks call this place “ugly” and say “it doesn’t have anything to see.” Of course, I was told the same thing about Almería on the Mediterranean coast and ended up really enjoying the city when I daytripped there three years ago.

Still, there’s a lot about Ferrol that makes it, uh, different from the rest of Galicia.

Military heritage Situated deep within one of Europe’s most strategic natural harbors, Ferrol’s economy has historically been linked to the sea…

Photo Post: Holy Week Processions in Ferrol, Spain

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When I lived in Spain and taught English, I always took full advantage of the annual Semana Santa vacation during the week leading up to Easter Sunday to go on a major international trip, since you use up half your time off just getting out of the country and flying back on weekend trips. For my first year, I rode a ferry across the Mediterranean and explored northern Morocco, while in my second school year abroad, I train-hopped from Santiago down into warm, sunny Portugal.

Although in 2015 I still planned on leaving Spain for a brief getaway to Germany, I wanted to be back in the country before Holy Week was over. After all, Spain throws one of its biggest, most unique celebrations for Semana Santa, and I would have regretted not experiencing this fascinating cultural tradition before moving back to Texas.

So I decided to check one off the ol’ bucket list and spend all of Good Friday chasing religious processions in the city of Ferrol on Galicia’s northern coast. Ferrol’s the oddbal…

Chasing Charlemagne in Aachen, Germany

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As a history major, I’m not one to subscribe to the Great Man theory of history. The way I see it, inventions, movements, religions, diseases, trade, and geography play a much more crucial role in human events than mere single characters do. And besides, there have been many Great Women! Nevertheless, some people are more influential than others: think Muhammad, Christopher Columbus, or whoever invented air conditioning.

When it comes to European history specifically, Charlemagne stands as one of the most significant actors in shaping what we know today as Europe. Following the countless barbarian invasions that had left the western Roman Empire in disarray, Charlemagne (who was himself a “barbarian” Frank) brought the West back together under a single rule, promoted learning amid the ignorance of the Dark Ages, and conquered so much land that he became the father of both France and Germany.

During my weekend jaunt to western Germany last year, I made a daytrip from my home base in Co…

The Ups & Downs of Traveling to Cologne, Germany

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For the longest time, Germany never showed up as a blip on my travel radar, even when I lived in Santiago de Compostela, whose Ryanair airport hub has connections all across mainland Europe. I was focused primarily on getting to know northern Spain, especially Galicia, or neighboring countries like France and Portugal before finally moving back to Texas. Germany seemed so foreign and distant, even though it’s as close to Spain as Chicago is to Dallas. While my fellow language assistants hopped from Amsterdam to Hamburg to Berlin, I focused on places like coastal Portugal, southeastern France, or central Italy—all southern European countries.

It’s not that I had anything against Scandinavia, the British Isles, or central Europe…it’s just that I didn’t want to spend my limited savings and strategic vacation time going to places that I had almost no desire to visit. My true passions, the places that I longed to explore and made my heart ache with wanderlust, lay in the Mediterranean basi…

Alcalá de Henares, Spain: The College-Town Birthplace of Cervantes

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Something that’s always striking to me about Spain is that in one moment you can zip around beneath Madrid on the Metro, refresh your Twitter feed at a McDonald’s in between sips of espresso, and rub elbows with visitors from around the globe at some of the world’s leading art galleries…and in the next moment—a mere 40-minute train ride—you can emerge onto the sun-baked plains of Castilla where it seems as if a village hasn’t changed much since its most famous son, Miguel de Cervantes, was born here way back in 1547. Yes, that Cervantes, the author of Western literature’s first novel, Don Quixote. Some may call Alcalá de Henares a mere suburb of Madrid, but this “small town” of 200,000 is a world away from Spain’s cosmopolitan capital when it comes to architectural and cultural heritage.

One warm spring morning last year I was excited to check out what made Alcalá deserve World Heritage status—but first, coffee. At the venerable Café de Libreros in the city’s old town, I briefly dipp…

Mornings in Spain

Putting on my threadbare IKEA slippers, I shuffle into my apartment’s kitchen to figure out what I might have for breakfast. I open a cabinet and find no eggs left in the cardboard container, and it looks like the only tea I have is caffeine-free chamomile. Ugg. The kitchen window that looks out into the light well is ajar, and from it I can hear pigeons softly cooing, almost in derision that I have no food. I make a mental note of the things I need to go to the grocery store for and hop in the shower.

Waiting on the train 🚊 // #latergram #santiago #santiagodecompostela #fog #galicia #spain #travel #visitspain #vsco #vscocam A photo posted by Trevor Huxham (@trevorhuxham) on May 11, 2015 at 10:01am PDT
My hair still drying, I pull the house door shut behind me, in accordance with the handwritten “Mantén a porta pechada—Grazas” sign I see every day on the way out, and I quickly zip up my hoodie: it’s a little chillier out here than I was expecting. Four faint, almost-imperceptible ding…

Spain’s Controversial Valley of the Fallen

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It’s hard to believe but it’s already been almost four years since I first left the States to teach English in Spain. After a sleepless trans-Atlantic flight, I caught my first glimpse of España over the western coast of Galicia, in the northwest. Cities along the densely-populated Rías Baixas glittered in the soft baby blueness of dawn—beneath thick clouds; this is Galicia we’re talking about, now—and it wasn’t long before the plane had passed over rolling hills and entered the meseta central, the high plains of central Spain.

Ávila was next, still neatly enclosed by its medieval walls, but what caught my attention the most as we crossed over the Guadarrama mountain range was a striking monumental cross that seemed to emerge from a heap of granite boulders. This fleeting image would soon be replaced by the sprawl of metropolitan Madrid and the runways of the Barajas airport, but it was unmistakably the lightning rod of modern Spanish society: el Valle de los Caídos, the Valley of the …

Photo Post: El Escorial, Monument to Golden-Age Spain

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As far as monuments go, Madrid doesn’t have much to offer. Yes, the Spanish capital’s got a Baroque royal palace, a cathedral that was finished in 1993, and the opulent San Francisco el Grande domed basilica. But compared with other Spanish cities like Sevilla or Toledo, there’s not much for history nerds with a checklist to see in Madrid. That’s where daytrips to nearby World Heritage Sites come in, places like Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez, and El Escorial.

To get your history fix, you’ve got to head northwest out of Madrid toward the Guadarrama mountain range to reach the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Conceived primarily as a royal mausoleum by King Felipe II, it was constructed between 1563 and 1584 and is one of the purest (and largest) examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe. But El Escorial isn’t merely the burial place of all Spanish monarchs since the 1500s; it also contains a still-active monastery, a soaring basilica, a library of old books, a small ar…

Ordes, Spain: Galicia’s Street Art Mecca

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You might get the impression from reading this blog that the region of Galicia happens to be one of the most beautiful in Spain. It’s true, this northwest corner of the country is blessed with white-sands beaches, dramatic coastline, Roman ruins, and charming medieval town centers. Modern architecture from both the turn of the century and the early aughts adorns cities like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela. And you’re never too far from well-kept-up public parks and the green countryside.

Loved this street art mural by @nanako_nene done for the village of Ordes' "Desordes Creativas" festival in 2012. It depicts the wildfires that affected the region's Fragas do Eume national park and Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, who is seen here protecting the animals. // #streetart #desordescreativas #ordes #acoruña #galicia #spain #travel #snapseed #latergram A photo posted by Trevor Huxham (@trevorhuxham) on Feb 20, 2015 at 3:41am PST

But many of the rural areas that ha…

Scenes from the Last Stage of the Camino de Santiago’s “Portuguese Way”

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When I lived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and taught English, my bilingual coordinator, Fran, and I would carpool every day out to the small town of Boiro on the Atlantic coast. After leaving Santiago, we would exit onto a two-lane highway and pass through one farming community after another on our way to Padrón, where we would pick up the coastal expressway and blast through wooded hillsides to the school where we worked. That first leg of the commute never really sat right with me, as it involved a lot of stop-and-go traffic, steep hills, sharp curves, roundabouts, and low speed limits, and I was always eager for us to finally get out of Padrón and onto the autovía.

But these days I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to get to know this small slice of rural Galicia (albeit from the passenger window of a car) since the two-lane highway we would take each morning merged with sections of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. We would see pilgrims trudging along on the shoulde…

Photo Post: The Pont du Gard, Europe’s Tallest Roman Aqueduct

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It’s no secret on this blog that I’m a big fan of Roman ruins—see my posts on the aqueduct of Segovia, the lost city of Pompeii, and the amphitheater of Nîmes, just to name a few. So it was only natural for me and my traveling friend Melissa to make a daytrip last year from Avignon in southern France to one of the most emblematic of all French monuments: the Pont du Gard. This Roman site’s elegant name (pronounced “pon dew gahr” [pɔ̃ dy gaʁ]) belies the fact that it simply functioned as a bridge to carry spring-fed water over the Gardon River to the Roman city of Nemausus (modern Nîmes).

This feat of Roman engineering left Melissa and me astonished at just how huge it was: 48.8m high (160 feet) and 275m long (902 feet) on the upper deck. Dressed limestone blocks still hold the structure together without any mortar at all, almost two millennia after construction, while the aqueduct’s channel imperceptibly drops an inch in altitude from one end of the bridge to the other. The same gravi…

Exploring the University of Santiago de Compostela’s Historic Buildings

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As I began my final year teaching English and living in Santiago de Compostela, I decided I had better get workin’ on my “Spain bucket list” before it came time to move back home to Texas. One of the items on this list involved going on a guided tour of the historical buildings that belong to the University of Santiago de Compostela, the major university in northwest Spain. Although most folks know of Santiago as simply the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route (and home to a pretty fine cathedral), the city also has a tradition of higher learning that dates back to the 1500s. This guided tour gave me a more complete look at buildings I walked past every day in the old town while giving me access to spaces normally off-limits to casual visitors.

College of Fonseca The tour starts at the cradle of the city’s university, the Colexio de Fonseca. The college began as university founder Archbishop Alfonso de Fonseca’s family mansion but was converted into the first permanent …

Nîmes, France: Can I Have a Raincheck, Si’l Vous Plaît?

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I wanted to like Nîmes. I really did. The day before, my traveling buddy Melissa and I had made a daytrip from Avignon in southern France to the neighboring city of Arles, famous for its Roman monuments and twice-weekly market. Rain showers in the morning gave way to late-winter sunshine in the afternoon that illuminated the Roman arena and theater that once again host shows and performances, as they did 2,000 years ago.

Enter Nîmes, another mid-sized southern French city bestrewn with Roman ruins. Pronounced “neem” [nim], this city was high on my bucket list for its Maison Carrée, an exquisitely-preserved Roman temple, and its Arènes, or Roman amphitheater. But frustrating our daytrip plans were the relentless winter rains; we felt as if we had simply caught Nîmes on a bad day, when all it wanted was to hide in bed with a good book and a cup of tea.

Nevertheless, after our high-speed train pulled into a grand, two-story train station that dates back to the 1840s (!), we opened our um…