Showing posts from 2018

Is St. James Really Buried in Santiago de Compostela, Spain?

As you head down a curve of the busy San Pedro street, you catch your first view of the twin bell towers of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela—and you catch your breath. Petite hatchbacks rattle across the cobblestone as your feet seem drawn farther down the path, although that might just be gravity pulling you downhill toward the old zone. You cinch up your backpack’s sternum strap for the final approach of this multiple-night pilgrimage.

For not the first time on your Camino, you lose your sense of direction as you enter Santiago’s old town: granite flagstones at your feet, stone-and-graying-plaster houses on either side, and overcast skies above disorient you—yet your eyes eventually lock on to a spray-painted yellow arrow on the side of a building. Once you’re back on autopilot, you start to reflect on why you started this crazy, 70-mile-plus hike in the first place.

Maybe you hiked from Sarria farther inland as a cheap and healthy way of experiencing the beauty of the Galici…

76 Useful (Castilian) Spanish Conversation Words They Don’t Teach You in School

One of the hardest parts on your journey to fluency in a language is just that—having the language literally “flow” off your tongue in conversation. You’re always going to sound like you’re a foreigner as long as you use disjointed, robotic speech and hesitate from one phrase to the next, even if you manage to communicate whatever message you’re trying to get across with the correct vocab or grammar.

If you want to take the next the step toward having natural, fluid speech in Spanish, you’ve got to have a firm grasp on the kind of words that help you have a back-and-forth conversation with someone—words that you rarely get taught when taking formal classes in school.

I’ve put together a list of 76 extremely useful words, phrases, expressions, and interjections that Spaniards commonly sprinkle into things to show they’re interested in whatever you’re talking about. These words are crucial to have a conversation with someone, but they’re sadly not often touched on in Spanish classes in …

Mass Tourism Is Destroying Spain—Here’s Where You Should Travel

One of the best decisions I’ve made on Twitter recently was following Humans of Late Tourism, who shares images and stories that show how absurd and destructive modern mass tourism has become in Europe and beyond.

Browse their feed for a few minutes and you’ll see a photo of the hordes that make appreciating the Mona Lisa all but impossible at the Louvre, a news article from Mallorca about the latest death due to balconing, or a lamppost flyer in Porto accusing Airbnb apartments with causing massive increases in rent.

This (presumably) Catalan user’s account has reminded me of the phenomenon I was slowly growing aware of while I lived in Spain—and even participated in on my weekend jaunts from Úbeda and Santiago de Compostela. In short, mass tourism is destroying what we love most about Spain and turning the country’s biggest cities like Barcelona, Madrid, or Granada into theme parks for tourists.

I first learned about the negative effects of tourism in 2014 when I watched the documen…

Here’s 3,000 Years of Spanish History in 3,000 Words

You’ll be shocked at how much history is all around you the first time you visit Spain. Major roads follow the same routes the Romans first trailblazed; your hotel might operate out of a renovated luxury apartment block from the 1800s; and soaring cathedrals still stand today based on 800-year-old technology.

It can be overwhelming if, like me, you grew up in suburban America, where the oldest building dated back to the 1950s and Native American heritage was either scant or ignored. Coming to terms with the sweep of your country’s history is a lot easier when it’s only been around for a few centuries…versus a few millennia.

True to my history major roots, I’ve extensively studied the history of Spain, reading several books and visiting as many cathedrals, castles, and museums as I could in the three years I lived in Spain.

In this post, I’ve distilled 3,000 years of history down to around 3,000 words, saving you from having to read a 500-page textbook before you travel or move to Spai…

Hiking to Utah’s Toadstool Hoodoos in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

An impromptu weekend roadtrip last fall took me from Phoenix north to the Arizona-Utah border, where I split my time between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona. U.S. Highway 89 runs between Kanab and Page—two of the most isolated towns in the country—passing through some of the most desolate, stunning scenery on the way.

U.S. 89 also skirts the southern edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a national park that basically acts as a preserve of all the federally-owned land between Bryce Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. A roadside pull-off led me right inside the park boundaries to the Toadstool Hoodoos, otherworldly formations eroded from the rock by wind, rain, and snow.

Because the park spans so much of far-southern Utah, it’s difficult to grasp what exactly it contains. Most folks typically split it up into wedge-shaped thirds. The western section encompasses the Grand Staircase, a vast domain of successive plateaus that abruptly end in white,…

Photo Post: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab, Utah

Just outside the seasonal tourism hub of Kanab, Utah, stretches one of the rare sand dunes in North America’s Colorado Plateau. The first thing you notice when you step off the creaky, weathered boardwalk onto the sand is how incredibly soft it is. I’ve been on my fair share of beaches, but the sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes is so much more delicate and light; it welcomed my bare feet onto a vast, otherworldly sea and gently gave way as my feet left smooth depressions in the dunes. Silent trickles of sand spilled down the corrugated flanks of the dunes as I made my way to a lookout point in the center of this Utah state park.

Views from the top were cool, offering a comprehensive take on far southern Utah: the undulating fields of sand stretching from the southwest to northeast, the pines and junipers slowly encroaching on the periphery, and several cliff “steps” of the Grand Staircase rearing up in the distance, each a few thousand feet closer to Heaven.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon

I’ve been fascinated by volcanoes for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, I would pore over coffee table books about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, read storybooks about Parícutin (the Mexican volcano that formed in somebody’s backyard in the ‘40s), and marvel at my mom’s Ziploc bag of ash from Mt. St. Helens that my great-uncle collected in Spokane, Washington. My favorite culture chapter in my elementary Latin textbook had to do with the devastating eruption of Vesuvius that wiped Pompeii off the map.

Life in flat, flat Dallas—almost entirely geologically inactive—left much to be desired.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that Crater Lake National Park has long been on my to-visit list, an eerie lake that formed after a volcano fell in on itself 7,700 years ago. The caldera holds America’s deepest lake, but it’s also home to satisfying hikes and stunning views, especially of the beguiling Wizard Island.

I tried to make a daytrip to Crater Lake from Bend, Oregon, last September—but, …

Iznatoraf, Spain: (Little) City on a Hill

I step into my hotel’s elevator, hit button zero for the ground floor, and rub my eyes. I’m exhausted from jetlag, culture shock, and apartment hunting. When I open my eyes, I notice that a bullfighter has joined me. She’s a slim twentysomething sporting a bedazzled jacket and multicolored tights. The doors close and I ponder how in my first week in Spain I’ve already encountered not my first torero, but torera.

Telling the receptionist hasta luego, I head south down Villanueva del Arzobispo’s main drag and am immediately confronted by a white-and-goldenrod Moorish Revival bullring where it seems half the town is pouring into. Posters advertise a Gran Novillada—a bullfight where novices face off against young bulls. My elevator companion meets up with her family and heads beneath one of the horseshoe arches that support this modern-day Colosseum.

I walk against the current of bullfight attendees and soon my destination comes into view: an imposing hill outside of Villanueva, crowned…

Photo Post: Checking off Cannon Beach, Oregon

I had a couple of things on my Oregon bucket list when I flew to Bend over Labor Day this year. Obviously the first was to catch up with my roommate from college and best friend, Jonathan, and visit all his favorite haunts in Bend. But I also wanted to see the stunning landscapes (seascapes?) of Cannon Beach on the Pacific coast, make an appearance in Portland, and drive around Crater Lake National Park. That last item never happened, unfortunately, because roads were closed due to the smoke of raging forest fires, but I did make good on my goal to set foot into the Pacific Ocean in America.

Cannon Beach’s main draw is its collection of whimsical sea stacks, eroded columns of rock that float out in the water. Haystack Rock is the largest of these sea stacks. This conical mini-mountain commands the beach and dominates Instagram feeds, too. After several long hours of driving across the state of Oregon, choking on the smoky, ashy air, and getting lost in the farmlands of the Willamette…