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Showing posts from 2017

A Weekend of Eating through Bend, Oregon

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Now that I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona, it’s so much easier to visit the almost infinite array of cities, small towns, national parks, and hiking opportunities that America’s Mountain West has to offer. I’m just a 3 1/2 hour drive from the Grand Canyon, a 4 1/2 hour trip from Las Vegas, and half a day’s drive from the wonders of southern Utah.

Phoenix just so happens to have a direct flight to Redmond, Oregon—not too far from Bend, a central Oregon city tucked inside a meander (or “bend”) of the Deschutes River. My best friend and roommate from college, Jonathan, moved to Bend last year around the same time I moved out to Arizona, but since we had both taught English overseas, we hadn’t seen each other since graduating from college. I decided to fix that problem by booking flights to Oregon over Labor Day 2017, making my first foray into the Pacific Northwest.


I used Bend as a home base for making daytrips across Oregon: the Detroit Dam, Cannon Beach, Portland, and Newberry National …

Confession: Why I Won’t Move Back to Spain

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Teaching English in Spain, speaking Spanish, and traveling across Spain and Europe made up my day-to-day life for three years after I graduated college in 2012. June 2015 saw me go on a “farewell tour” of Spain before moving back to Texas at the end of the month, and it wasn’t until May of this year—almost two years to the day—that I would return to the country I called home for three school years.

I had the opportunity to co-lead a small group of ten public radio listeners on a cooking tour of Spain, making stops in Barcelona, Sevilla, and Madrid for cooking classes, tapas-themed guided walks, and winery visits. It was a lot of work planning the trip, photographing events, translating questions, and leading these adventurous, inquisitive travelers, but it was so, so worth it to share one of my favorite places in the world with this great group of people.


A question I was asked quite frequently while chopping potatoes or hurrying to a Metro stop was, “Would you ever move back to Spain…

The 7 Major Cities of Galicia, Spain

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Galicia in northwest Spain is famous for its lush green countryside. Standing in stark contrast to the dry, high plains of central Spain, Galicia’s wooded hills guard a landscape that reminds many visitors of Ireland or the Pacific Northwest, and its thousands of small towns preserve distinct accents, delicious dishes, and centuries-old festivals.

Yet today, most Galicians live in cities scattered along the Atlantic coast, a region that the train company Renfe refers to as the eje atlántico. This “Atlantic Axis” stretches from Vigo at the southern edge, through Pontevedra and Santiago de Compostela, and ends on the northern coast at A Coruña and Ferrol. Keep reading to learn what makes these big cities and others tick.

1) Vigo


Vigo boasts 292,817 residents, making it Galicia’s most populous city. Strategically situated along the Ría de Vigo, an estuary on Galicia’s southwest Atlantic coast, Vigo has Europe’s second-most important fishing port. Because of this, the fish canning industry…

How to Spend a Week in Galicia, Spain

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There is SO. MUCH. to see in Spain that you could live there for decades and still not manage to see the entire country. From beaches to mountains, big cities to villages, and national parks and monuments, Spain is home to a rich and diverse heritage of culture, history, food, and languages.

This can sometimes be overwhelming for folks who want to travel to Spain but who only have a limited amount of time. Cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, and Granada all beckon, yet so do cozy corners of the country like Asturias and Aragón…not to mention the 3,000 miles of coastline and myriad of islands.

My recommendation for this quintessential #FirstWorldProblem is to focus on a single region or part of the country and get to know that one part really well over the course of a week. Rather than a whirlwind tour where you spend 1-2 days in the biggest metropolitan areas that are scattered at huge distances across the country, traveling like this slows you down and saves you the stress of for…

The 4 Natural Wonders of Galicia, Spain

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Spain’s far northwestern corner is only a third the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, but it’s got a plethora of manmade sights that are truly astonishing, from the historic old town of Santiago de Compostela and the Tower of Hercules, a monumental lighthouse that has been in service since Roman times, to the slate-stone Roman city walls that encircle Lugo.

There’s a lot of monuments that nature has created as well. The region of Galicia sometimes feels a world away from the rest of Spain with its rugged terrain, rainy climate, and green forested landscapes. This unique setting has given us some jaw-dropping scenery that sets Galicia apart from the flat, high plains of central Spain or the overdeveloped beaches of the Mediterranean.

1) Ribeira Sacra — Galicia’s grand canyon

Although nothing can live up to the majestic scenery and diversity of ecosystems that Arizona’s Grand Canyon offers, Galicia’s own “grand canyon” comes pretty close. The name Ribeira Sacra or “Sacred Riverbanks” h…

My 10 Favorite Cathedrals in Spain

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Eighty-seven—that’s the number of Catholic cathedrals in Spain today. Although I didn’t grow up Catholic (I’m a Southern Baptist turned Episcopalian), this church nerd managed to visit 26 of Spain’s cathedrals that span a multitude of architectural styles and layouts when I lived in the country from 2012 to 2015.

Why cathedrals? There’s nothing intrinsic about a cathedral that automatically makes them big and beautiful; they’re simply home to the cathedra or seat of a bishop. But from the Middle Ages onward, bishops enjoyed great social status, and the churches where they presided reflected this prestige with monumental works of architecture. (Fun fact: Barcelona’s soaring Sagrada Família is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of the bishop of the diocese of Barcelona).

With so many cathedrals to see in Spain, it’s hard to know what to focus on. Below I’ve composed a list of my top ten favorite ones, which includes crowd-favorites like the cathedral of Sevilla as well as off-the-rad…

Seeing D.C. Through a Local’s Eyes

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Earlier this spring, right around the time I was grudgingly turning my apartment’s A/C back on in hot, hot Phoenix, I got to escape a busy season at work for an extended weekend in chillier Washington, D.C.


I had already visited my nation’s capital five years earlier, getting to check off the Senate galleries, the Supreme Court, all the Smithsonian museums, and a hostel-sponsored pub crawl in Georgetown. So I wasn’t necessarily returning to do touristy things. Instead, I got to reconnect with one of the best American friends I made when I lived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain—Priyanka—and I got to see this exciting city through the eyes of somebody who has made the city her home.

I fell in love with D.C. all over again over the course of this long, low-stress, no-pressure weekend. We did a lot of walking, a lot of eating, but not a lot of sightseeing per se, and I am 100% O.K. with that. Sometimes when traveling we get so swept up in checking off a list of monuments and museums that …

Photo Post: Going Out for Vermouth in Reus, Spain

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When people come to Spain for a visit they almost always try to get a glass (or three) of sangría, but to Spaniards this comes across as bizarre, as sangría is typically only consumed at parties, big family gatherings, or Sunday cookouts. It’d be like ordering spiked fruit punch at a sit-down restaurant in the States…just weird.

Instead of sangría, to get that iced-wine fix, Spaniards often order tinto de verano, which is simply a tall glass of red wine with lemon soda, ice, and maybe an orange or lemon slice. Fast and simple, refreshing but not inebriating, it’s a great choice for those hot summer months.


An authentic pre-dinner option is vermouth, a beverage that has seen an explosion in popularity in just the past few years as the younger generation has rediscovered this traditional Spanish drink. But what exactly is vermouth? Simply put: fortified, aromatized wine. Vermouth makers take a neutral spirit and macerate it with selections of up to 70 different herbs, spices, and roots …

Ribeira Sacra: The Grand Canyon of Galicia

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I’ve been living in the state of Arizona for over a year now (more on that in an upcoming post), and in that time I’ve learned there’s really no topping the Grand Canyon—it’s the Grandest Canyon, in fact.


That being said, before I moved to Arizona I visited what you could call the “Grand Canyon of Galicia”—a canyon carved by the Sil River as it passes through northwest Spain. But whereas Arizona’s canyon takes the cake for majestic views and hiking opportunities, the Sil River Canyon stands out because it forms the backbone of a cultural landscape called the Ribeira Sacra, the “Sacred Riverbank” of Galicia.

Why “Sacred Riverbank”?

This region takes its name from the plethora of monasteries that were founded here in the Dark Ages in this most isolated part of the Iberian Peninsula. The steep, rugged terrain on either side of the Sil River served as a perfect setting for hermits fleeing the chaos and pleasures of the world, although the eremetic monasteries quickly became cenobitic or c…

Riverside Ribadavia, Spain

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Northwest Spain holds so many treasures along its winding Atlantic coast, from big cities like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela (okay, half an hour inland) to natural wonders like the Cíes Islands and the Ézaro waterfall. These are all fine and wonderful—I didn’t live and work in this part of Spain for two years for nothing!—but the further inland you go, the more cozy and comfortable Galicia gets.


La Galicia profunda—Deep Galicia, as locals call it—contains lush, old-growth forests and thriving vineyards, dying villages and the region’s third-largest city, oppressive summer heat and fondant layers of winter snow. It was here that hermits fled worldly pleasures for lives of isolation and prayer, yet here today that Carnival celebrations are their most colorful. Sometimes, on dark rainy evenings, you swear you caught a glimpse of the Santa Compaña, the procession of dead spirits passing through the woods.

Ribadavia is one of many villages in this part of Galicia, one that will make yo…

Photo Post: Bummed Out in Besalú, Spain

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The small Spanish village of Besalú first entered my imagination almost five years ago when a fellow language assistant went on a travel blogger retreat here and, naturally, posted glamorous photos of this charming medieval town, complete with a striking bridge and stereotypical moat!

Later, the hit TV series Game of Thrones would use Besalú as a filming location for a recent season, and while I’ve never watched the show before, it felt like the world was telling me to check out this tiny town before my time in Spain was up.

Empúries: Greek & Roman Ruins on the Costa Brava

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Whenever I’m on a trip that involves taking a lot of public transit, I often think about how many “layers deep” I am in connections that have brought me where I currently am. A Travel Inception, if you will.


As part of my exploration of northeast Spain two years ago, I left my initial base in the Gràcia neighborhood (1) of Barcelona up to Girona (2), and from Girona I daytripped to Figueres (3), going further north from Figueres that same day to the tiny coastal resort of L’Escala (4).

I was seven layers deep, counting the shuttle to the airport in Santiago de Compostela (5), the flight from Santiago to Barcelona (6), and the commuter train ride into central Barcelona (7).

But if you also count one of the most ancient ruins in Spain as a time travel machine, it adds up to eight.

What is Empúries?

If the name Empúriesreminds you of a Victorian-era emporium, you’d be right on the money, as these ruins started as a Greek trading post in the 6th century BCE. Pronounced in modern Catalan as…

The 10 Types of Language Assistants in Spain

From 2012 to 2015 I worked and lived in Spain as an auxiliar de conversación, or a language assistant in public school classes taught in English. I wasn’t the only American in Spain, though; over 2,000 people from the States move across the Pond every year to do the very same thing. I interacted with countless fellow auxiliares over these three years, many of whom became housemates, good friends, and travel partners.

In this post, I’ll talk about the ten general categories I think 95% of all language assistants fit into, and to show I don’t take myself too seriously, I’ll show how I think I each type applies to me (if applicable, of course).

The Way to Fisterra, the End of the World 👣 // Santiago de Compostela is famous for being the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, but not many know that the Way of St. James continues on west to the coast after reaching the Galician capital. Just 89km away lies the fishing village of Fisterra, Spain's version of Lands End. // #camin…

Photo Post: Dalí & Daytrippers in Figueres, Spain

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Surrealist paintings have fascinated me ever since first being exposed to them in my 9th-grade art class, especially the works of Spanish artist Salvador Dalí. Whimsical works like The Persistence of Memory and Swans Reflecting Elephants tickled my fancy, while spiritual pieces like The Sacrament of the Last Supper and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) inspired me with their mysticism.


In the three years I lived and worked in Spain, I went on several pilgrimages to check out the works of some of my favorite Spanish painters, like to Toledo for El Greco and Barcelona for Joan Miró. The mid-sized town of Figueres, just south of the French border in northeast Spain, was the destination for my third painter-pilgrimage, as it was Dalí’s hometown, final resting place, and location for his personal Theater-Museum, a museum that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the frame of one of his own bizarre paintings.

Photo Post: The Riverside Market of Girona, Spain

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When I visited the gorgeous city of Girona just north of Barcelona two Junes ago, I came into town expecting to stay just two nights before returning back to BCN and from there to Santiago. No, this isn’t one of those cliché “I just had to extend my stay!” posts—I literally thought I had only booked two nights in my hostel…but come to find out, I had actually booked (and pre-paid for) three!


Another happy surprise was that my (now-longer-than-expected) time in Girona overlapped with the biweekly (twice-weekly?) open-air market, as I found out while reading the hostel’s bulletin board. What better way to spend a Tuesday than by taking in the sights and smells of the building blocks of the local cuisine? It was a literal walk in the park to get to this market as they had moved the stalls that typically line the banks of the Ter River into a sprawling wooded park for the summer.

Finding the Essence of Catalunya in Girona, Spain

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The handsome city of Girona in far northeastern Spain had long been on my to-visit list, becoming irresistible after a series of sensational blog posts and Instagram photos from friends I follow came across my feed.

After all, who could resist a city that gets festooned with an avalanche of flowers every spring, that boasts a strikingly-red Eiffel Bridge, and that is home to the Best Ice Cream in the World™?


You might think that Girona (pronounced “zhee-ROE-nuh” [ʒiˈɾo.nə]) would be totally overshadowed by its neighbor Barcelona to the south, but sitting a 40-minute train ride away lets this provincial capital carve out its own unique character and feel. And that personality is 100% Catalan, making Girona a perfect place to experience what makes the northeastern region of Catalunya so special.

As part of my final trip around Spain before moving back home, I spent three nights in this fabulous city and got more deeply acquainted with what makes Catalan culture unique than I would have …

The Gràcia Neighborhood & Giving Barcelona a Second Chance

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I had a couple of bad first impressions of Barcelona that almost made me want to conclude the city was one big, loud, tourist theme park.

To kick off my flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants trip around France in 2012, I took the trenhotel from southern Spain to Barcelona and spent a layover in the Catalan capital, intending to take a second night train to Paris that evening. I checked off all the main sights in the old town: the cathedral, the Boqueria market, Santa María del Mar, the historical museum, the Picasso museum, even a rediscovered synagogue. However, due to a combination of poorly-announced commuter train delays and poor planning on my part, I missed the night train to Paris by five minutes. Fortunately I was able to get a spot on the high-speed TGV leaving that morning and find a bed at a seven-euro hostel nearby…ah, the glory days.


I returned to Barcelona a couple months later to attend a concert by the Icelandic band Sigur Rós on the top of Montjuïc hill. This weekend trip wa…

6 Daytrips to Take from Madrid, Spain

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The Spanish capital of Madrid has enough to keep you occupied for years: a plethora of world-class museums, thousands of restaurants that serve up tasty local grub plus every cuisine you can think of, a handful of historical monuments, a clutch of unique neighborhoods that all have something different to offer, and one of the world’s largest collections of green spaces.


But it’s a rarely-talked-about fact that the city of Madrid has no UNESCO World Heritage Sites to speak of, even as European counterparts like Lisbon, Paris, and Rome all boast of this designation that honors and protects landmarks of cultural or natural significance.

What the city center of Madrid lacks in stunning monuments, it makes up for with no fewer than six World Heritage Sites that surround the metropolis on all sides. Each of these cities is no more than an hour away from the capital, which means you could spend a week hopping from one stunning Spanish city to the next yet never check out of your Madrid hotel…

Photo Post: Aranjuez, a Royal Escape from Madrid, Spain

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It must be nice being a king, because you get to use the word “summer” as a verb. That’s exactly what the kings (and queens!) of Spain decided to do a few centuries ago when the intense summer heat of Madrid became too much for them. They constructed a royal retreat in Aranjuez, a small town to the south of the capital with a slightly-more-agreeable climate thanks to two rivers that run through it and a lush wooded landscape.


The main attraction in Aranjuez (pronounced “ah-rahn-KHWETH” [a.ɾaŋˈxweθ] is the Royal Palace, a kind of low-budget Versailles that’s dripping with over-the-top Rococo decorations inside—think gold leaf, porcelain wall embellishments, frescoes, tapestries, and ornate furniture. Spanish monarchs used this palace as their summer residence, but without air conditioning you can imagine the rooms would get rather stuffy, so I’m sure they spent a lot of time outdoors in the gardens next door, where there are plenty of shade trees that fight back against the oppressive …

Modernista Architecture in Barcelona NOT By Gaudí

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There’s some places you visit for the food—San Sebastián in the Basque Country comes to mind, with bars that are literally overflowing with tiny bites of pintxos—and then there’s others you visit for ancient ruins—think Arles in southern France with Roman amphitheaters and sewers.

And there are other cities you spend time in for the architecture. Many of us live in a world of formulaic McMansions, soul-crushing strip malls, big box stores with 30-year shelf lives, and cold glass-and-steel office towers. We travel to cities with excellent architecture because these cities have a sense of place and because they remind us of the beauty in the world.


I think this is one of the big draws Barcelona has on many visitors. Yes, the cozy medieval streets in the Gothic Quarter are nice and all, but the gridded Eixample district, where the city expanded around the turn of the century, is where Barcelona really shines. Grand apartment homes were constructed by the new Catalan middle class, many of…