Monthly Archives: May 2012

Things I love about where I live (Part 1)

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Hola! So I know I’ve promised to tell you about all my recent travels, but I think I’ll save those for when I’m back (which is in a mere 3 weeks!?!) What I’d like to do is just give you random travel/culture/Spain/whatever posts until I leave, although I”ll certainly have some retrospective posts as well. Enjoy!

Things I love about Spain/La Rioja/Logroño (where I live)…part 1 of I don’t know how many.

(In no particular order)

1. Everyone is outside and social. I live in a flat above a bustling cafe/street of cafes, and whether it is monsoon-ing, freezing, boiling or what have you, there are people under the umbrellas outside on the “terazza.” There is never a time (outside of the wee hours of the night, and even then, sometimes) that I don’t see people out for a “paseo” or walk, sitting at a café, or just chatting on a park bench. It’s wonderful, it’s healthy and it’s just plain better than sitting inside alone in front of the TV or computer. (Hint hint, America). From babies in strollers to dogs to cute little older ladies linked arm in arm–it’s simply the norm to go out, get fresh air and say hello to your neighbors/friends/strangers. I go a little deeper into my observations of this lovely cultural norm here.

2. Ridiculously amazing Rioja wine (arguably, well, most commonly/famously referred to as the best in all of Spain). From the young ones to Crianza to Reserva and Gran Reserva, I’ve been able to sample them all. Que SUERTE yo tengo! (How lucky I am!) Most conveniently, they are also ridiculously cheap. Oh dear.

Bodegas bodegas everywhere!

3. Tapas/Pinchos/Pinxtos. All of them. Mouthwatering. Scrumptious. We’ve discussed this before.

Pinchoooooooooos!

4. How people say “hasta luego” (see you later) instead of goodbye. And not just to friends–to pretty much everyone, at least here in Logroño. It’s just better that way, somehow.

Lovely cliff/butte things near Nalda

5.The gorgeous rocky/craggy/jutting-into-the-sky geography of La Rioja. Add that to the rolling, terraced plots of vineyards, the lush forests and the winding Iregua River and you’ve got yourself some pretty fantastic landscape-eye-candy.

6. Café con leche. You may say it’s just coffee with milk or a fancy name for a latte, but I maintain that it is a sublime creation unmatched by anything in the U. S. And I’m not the only one. (See what I did there?)    🙂

7. Kids speaking Spanish. Kids are universally cute, but gosh darnit they are stinkin’ adorable when they’re babbling in español, especially the tiny ones.

8. People making an effort to look nice, even if they are only taking a walk, or going to the market. High heels for the grocery store might be a bit much, but I can appreciate the good intentions/motivation.

9. The two air-kisses (besos) instead of a handshake. Seriously. Say what you want about personal space, but I consider this custom to be 1000% warmer and more welcoming. See more of my thoughts on this here.

Flamenco in Sevilla=heaven.

10. Spanish guitar. Call me cheesy, but wow those artists are mad-talented. I could listen to it all day. And don’t even get me started on flamenco guitar/singing/dancing? Madre mía….I’m in love.

The famous bulls! The fact that they began from an advertising effort for Osborne sherry makes me like them even more (what can I say, I was an ad major!?)

11. The giant silhouettes of bulls on random hillsides throughout Spain. So dramatic and theatrical and….Spanish.

Heladdddoooooo

12. Helado (Ice cream) from this one shop in off the main square in Valencia. I know that helps you very little, but if you go there, just get ice cream a lot. I had mandarin and papaya and it might have been one of the most incredible ice cream moments of my life.

13. Trilling of the r’s. Don’t really know why. It also is unimaginably cute when little 4 year olds learning English trill out the r’s in green and red when practicing colors in my class. GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREEEEN! RRRRRRRRRRRRREDDD!! Just picture it.

14. The laid-back “mañana” philosophy. (Which if you don’t know, means “tomorrow.” Which I bet you can guess what that philosophy means).

15. REBAJAS (Late winter sales). While it’s true that the weather is quite cold and not the most pleasant (at least in the north) from Jan-early March in Spain, at the same time there are also the most spectacular bargains you might have ever seen in the stores nation-wide. I definitely did my part to relieve the “crisis” during those months. And fill my suitcases.

15. The fascinating cultural diversity of Spain’s many distinct autonomous communities—1) the different languages other than Spanish spoken (Gallego (from Galicia); Catalan (from Cataluña); Euskera/Basque (from Basque Country/Euskadi); and other dialects. 2) the fantastically different geographic features…from forests to mountains to beaches to to plains to rich, green, lush Ireland-esque hills. 3) the vastly different cultures and traditions of every region and even some unique to each town.

16. Festivals. Fiestas. There is always a reason (usually a saint, pero bueno…) to celebrate, and I do not hold that against them. Also, the fact that any time is a good time to parade through the street with a marching band (even a few random dudes who just want an excuse to play their instruments), drumline, group of dancers, or giant statues. Or all four, as is usually the case.

San Mateo. Enough said.

17. Also on the note of fiesta-ing, the fantastic social life/night life in this country. As in you’re having dinner at 10, drinks at 11 or 12, out to the actual bars at 1, then to the discos at 4 or later. They go big or go home around here. One can even spot older men and ladies (I’m talking like 70s age here) out with a vino or a beer at 11 or 12!

Viva la vida Española.

The Art of Lingering

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Hola folks!

It’s a rainy Saturday, and thus I have found myself FINALLY with time to sit down and write a bit. Forgive me for the long absence (again)!

It has been so fascinating learning about and experiencing Spanish culture during the time that I have been here…sampling the food and wine; hearing new music; learning about the country’s history, its many unique regions and their respective cultures,  family roles and norms, the environments in the workplace and in schools, etc., but one of my favorite things has been simply observing the way people in Spain live their normal, day-to-day lives.

While living abroad, you often find yourself comparing, consciously or unconsciously, the country where you’re from to the one you’re in. Depending on your feelings about both countries, this can be a wonderfully mind-opening and thought-provoking experience, or it can just make you yearn for/despise one country or the other. For me, it’s been interesting–I’ve had my eyes opened  to a lot of the flaws of my own country and ways we could improve life for our people, but I’m still proud of some things we do perhaps better, but at least differently, than they do here.

That said, among the many things I love about the Spanish people, their  remarkable ability to “linger” is one of my favorites. Coming from a country of fast-paced, lunch-at-your-desk/in-the-car/as-you-walk/etc, coffee in your to-go cup, there’s-a-drive-through-for-anything, run-run-run culture, Spain was a lovely change of pace. While I get that “moderation is key,” and there are times when this impressive talent might be the source of some problems (and certainly frustration to those who aren’t used to it), we Americans have a thing or two to learn from the Spanish about slowing down and enjoying things. 

To me, an ubiquitous image in the U.S. is that of someone sipping from a “to-go” coffee cup. Now, it is true that I don’t live in Madrid or Barcelona or another bustling metropolis of Spain, so if you do, I’d love to hear if this phenomenon is the same there. However, here one simply does not see ANYONE drinking their coffee anywhere but at a table in cafe (or on la terrazza, more likely) or in their home or basically anywhere but “on the run.” It’s just not done. Coffee is for drinking, enjoying, lingering over…usually while having good conversation or at LEAST reading the morning paper. I recently found out that to-go cups (“para llevar” in Spanish) do, in fact, exist, but NO ONE uses them. I got a fair amount of stares when I grabbed a quick café solo “para llevar” on my way to work one morning and have never done so again since. Same goes for eating an apple or a cereal bar while I´m walking somewhere. Super normal in the U.S., evidently very strange here.

But the lingering-mania doesn’t stop there. It happens over tapas (quite an accomplishment, as these don’t really take long to devour), over a glass of wine, over ice cream, over chocolate con churros, certainly over meals (I’ll get to that in a sec) even over a Coke! (That one is strange on my part. To me, the most common mental image I have of drinking a soft drink is in a paper fast-food cup with a plastic lid, or in a resealable plastic bottle at a desk or in the car, not opened fresh from a glass bottle and poured over ice into a glass-made-of-actual-glass, to be enjoyed by itself or with a small dish of potato chips, as is often how its served here).

Don’t get me going on their lingering-over-meal abilities. Whether its a barbacoa (BBQ), a multi-course sit down meal (which are definitely more common than in the U.S., I think), or even snacks brought to the workplace celebrate a colleague’s birthday, it is never an eat-and-go affair. You sit. You talk. You enjoy the food. You comment on the the excellent ability of the chef.  You actually TASTE the food (as opposed to the way some Americans wolf things down). You enjoy some wine (I would say in 8 of 10 meals, for adults of course, wine makes an appearance. Ok maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems that way). You have dessert or coffee. Usually both. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing several traditional Spanish dinners with my colleagues at one of the schools where I teach, and I delightedly discovered the way a “simple” dinner unfolds: wine and bread or a bit of something small; small appetizer/tapa type things—sometimes vegetables, other times complicated, but snack-sized creations; the “primer plato” of light-ish fare, the “segundo plato” of usually a meat or fish with a few vegetables; a dessert; a shot of liquor or a small cocktail (I once lucked out with a fruity, spiked sorbet); and finally, coffee (which one certainly needs after all that food). And that’s just the food! The conversation continues far longer than the food lasts, which is quite a while. Goodbyes (and the general deciding-to-leave/leaving process) even are a full, drawn-out affair.

While I’ll admit I’ve had a moment or two of impatience with this practice on occasion, as a rule, I have to subscribe to this way of doing things over the more concise, time-effective American way. We need this reminder more often. We´re too far gone it seems to even “stop and smell the roses.” Baby steps…How about “stop and taste that apple,” or “stop and enjoy your coffee”? (Maybe we would be more cognizant of what we’d eat, then, and not eat so much, haha).

This is a lot of rambling on a very trivial detail, but to me, this little characteristic of Spanish culture is a very telling one. It speaks to their ability to drink in the moment, to truly appreciate food and drink; and to really savor time with the people around them. We could all take a leaf from their book.

Until next time, amigos–

Besos!

Doing our best to embrace the “lingering lifestyle” over coffee and tortilla at our favorite cafe in Parque del Carmen.

Travel lessons/truths learned…(Vol. I)

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I don’t claim to be the most seasoned traveler out there, but I’ve had the marvelous fortune of being able to travel sporadically throughout Spain and Europe during the last 8 months of living in this beautiful country. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned….some gems from fellow travelers or friends that’ve saved my skin; some learned on my own—more often than not, the hard way.

In no particular order (and my apologies for the utter randomness…also, some of these photos are related to the post below, others are just randomosity):

1. Umbrellas. You will never regret bringing one along. Maybe you can really rock the drenched-cat look, but as for me, it’s not a pretty picture.

Don’t hate the rain…just be prepared. Umbrellas can turn into fun photo-opps!

2. A smile, a laugh, a small act of kindness—they transcend language and cultural barriers. We’re all people. Despite our differences, there are some things that most everyone understands.

3. Layers. You read this all the time, but it really is a tried-and-true travel “clothing” tip. Wear ’em, pack ’em, do whatever you need to do. My favorite trick is to bring a fleece jacket along in my backpack wherever I travel during the non-summer months, as it does triple duty: extra layer of warmth under a jacket or raincoat; pillow on the plane/bus/train; cozy hang-out wear in a chilly hostel or hotel at night. Also leggings. They might be my very best travel friend. Wear ’em as long underwear (under jeans), under a long shirt for bed, throw ’em in your purse for under your skirt or dress when the night turns cold. And they take up SO little backpack/suitcase space. (Obviously girl-tips on clothing topic. Sorry dudes. You get it easy in this area, so you don’t need my help).

4. On the packing train of thought….my mantra? Five words: pack light and be creative. Tanks, basic t’s (long-sleeved and short, fitted), one or two pairs of neutral pants, a dress/skirt, one or two scarves, one or two pairs of shoes and your outfit combos seem endless! Another favorite mix-and-match packing item is a short-ish black cotton skirt. I can wear it with nearly every top I bring and in nearly every weather. Scarves are fantastic, functional and can mix up any outfit. They also happen to be my favorite souvenir….and/or travel purchase addiction.

5. No matter what you hear about this city or that country, there are good and bad people everywhere. Just like in your city/country. You might get swindled, or you might just experience the most incredible hospitality/warmth/generosity you’ve ever known. Call me an idealist, an incurable optimist or just plain naive, but the good people are a lot more common. Just sayin’.

Tip number 6,a : Seize the moment (and/or opportunity). If Spanish guitarists ask you to join them in a tapas-bar-serenade, do so.

6. That said, it’s never good to be oblivious to your surroundings. Be smart. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and look confident in what you’re doing/where you’re going (even if you’re not). Don’t wave your map around in the air like a flag with your purse hanging open and your passport sticking out of your back pocket like a gibbering idiot. Then you’re just asking for it.

7. If you ever have the choice of eating at a restaurant or having a meal at someone’s home, ditch the restaurant. There will ALWAYS be restaurants. Never pass up the opportunity to receive the (offered) generosity/hospitality of another human being.  You have the chance at getting to know another person(or getting to know him or her further); warm conversation; an insight to their lives/culture and an experience that is completely and utterly unique. Not to mention the food is most-likely going to be unbelievably good, and if you’re in another country, different than what you’ve ever tasted before. Some of the most wonderful memories I’ve had this year have been while enjoying a simple meal and good conversation with friends (old or new).

8. For those of you weekends-of-intense-spurts-of-traveling-at-a-time folks (like those of us on this program in Spain): It can be tempting to go long and hard every day you’ve got, trying to make the most of every moment in your exciting new location with the time you have. But sometimes you just need to sit down and have a coffee. Or sit in a nice square and enjoy the sun/shade. Or go back to the hostel and nap. You might feel like you’re wasting precious time at the moment (like I always seem to) but you’ll thank yourself later when you are fresh and ready to go later on (and happier/drier/with less-aching-feet/etc) and not crabby and wanting to collapse. Plus, you’ll get to thoroughly enjoy your city/location by night, which is nearly always as interesting/beautiful or moreso.

Coffee breaks=wonderfulness. Especially by the sea!

9. Don’t be THAT tourist. Don’t get me wrong: when you travel, you’re a tourist, no matter how well- traveled you are. But there are ways to be good ones, and certainly ways to be bad ones. The list of how to be the bad ones is endless, but one in particular stands out continuously to me—if you’re marveling at a church, temple, mosque, burial ground or other holy place…show some respect. It’s easy to get excited about the grandiose features, awe-inducing structure or what have you, but loud talking/shouting,  flippant comments and otherwise disrespectful behavior are just plain rude. Come on, folks. You’re better than that.

10. Use the bathroom before you leave. You learned this when you were 5. It is even more important now. Finding (decent) restrooms while sightseeing but not having to buy a sandwich every time you use one=skill.

More (a lot more) to come as I think of them/discover them.

Much love to you all & safe travels!

Besos,

Brianne