Ten Weird Things to Know About Teaching in Spain

As the school year winds down, I often think about how I ended up here. Not physically in Spain – after a summer drinking more Kalimocho than water, it was a given I’d be back – but how I turned down a radio news job in Chicago to come to Spain and be a slave to Cambridge exams, student reports and surly teenagers.

Must Know About Teaching in Spain

For someone who was set on being a journalist since age 11, it shocked everyone to hear me utter, “I actually like teaching.”

Having not gotten an education degree, I was thrown to wolves that looked an awful lot like bored fourteen-year-olds and told to teach past simple irregular verbs during my first week as a maestra. After eight years, I’ve taught a range of levels, from three-year-olds who refuse to take a pacifier out of their mouths to oncologists whose questions had me stumped. I’ve run daycamps and language schools. I’ve handed out detentions and failing grades. And I’ve survived working in the Spanish public and private school system.

If I say one thing, let it be that teaching in Spain is a lesson in hilarity and it’s a lesson in learning to just let it go.

Cursive Numbers and Letters

“My name is Miss Cat” I stated to the 27 kiddos sitting in front of me, turning from writing in colored chalk on the blackboard. Most were picking their nose, leaning into the kid next to them or fiddling with something. “Can you read that?”

During my trial lesson at a school I’d later be employed at, I was not having much luck rousing up the kids, who were just back from recess on a hot September day. They were sluggish and not impressed, and I was beginning to panic that I wouldn’t be offered a job. Try planning a lesson for five-year-olds when you have no idea if they can even put on their jackets, let alone follow a lesson entirely in English.

I switched gears, and they seemed to liven up, and after a three-hour interview and another class, I was hired as the bilingual preschool teacher.

letrilandia

And before I learned the names of my 150 new alumnos, I was introduced to the characters of Letrilandia and given feedback from my class: Your penmanship is terrible.

I’d never claimed to have perfect handwriting, but it’s legible (and by that time, I had three years of being a language assistant and had directed a summer camp). As it turned out, Spanish children learn to write cursive before they learn to print, and that not writing according to their system had my students confused my lowercase letters – the Bs became Fs, the Ss were Rs.

Additionally, my task of teaching numbers to 100 meant I had to start crossing my 7s and giving my 1s a bit of flair. Calling on the age-old “If you can’t beat them, join them,” I found it was easier to change my old habits than try to change theirs.

There are five continents, not seven, and Columbus is the President of America

Yes, what you just read. The entirety of the Americas are considered one continent, and Antarctic is just one big lump of wasted space.

As for the Columbus thing, there’s an entire day dedicated to the Spanish race on October 12th, the day the Italian-born explorer reputedly landed in the Bahamas. Working in a preschool for a very Spanish family, I was asked to dress up as a Native American (I opted for a sailor instead) and remind my students how Spain had done the world a service by “liberating” the natives during their numerous expeditions to the New World – all as the Spanish national hymn rung out for the whole morning. 

Spanish holidays are varied – from Peace Day in elementary school to Day Against Domestic Violence for the older lot, so embrace them. But please teach them that there are seven continents.

Lockers and Book bags

I came to teach in Spain right in the middle of the High School Musical craze. Apart from the folders emblazoned with Troy Bolton and endless questions about whether or not American high schools had glee clubs and pep rallies, I had students involve me in another plot: to convince the school’s director to install lockers.

Really, they had a point: high schoolers have a dozen subjects, some of which they have just once or twice a week. Backpacks sagged and kids would often turn up without materials. Lockers would have absorbed some of the noise in passing periods and helped correct premature stooping.

I got the last laugh when I played an April Fool’s joke on them, proclaiming there would be lockers for all.

As for school supplies: pencils come without eraser (evoking the endlessly hilarious, “Can I borrow a rubber?” request), kids like to doodle on themselves with sharpies and white out, and paper has a size. 

Lunchtime and Snack Time

When I taught preschool, my favorite time of the day was recreo, or recess. My zany babies could run and play while I sat on a bench getting Vitamin D, and they’d hand me their half eaten sandwiches, bananas and cookies. 

Midmorning snacks are far more common than eating lunch at public schools – in fact, my students were shocked when I told them that a part of my daily chores was making a brown bag lunch. Instead, students have a 30-minute recess that happens midmorning. Expect common areas of the school to be littered with wrappers and juice boxes. 

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Teaching as a conversation assistant meant that I could break out of school and have a coffee down the street with other teachers, and now that I work in the evenings, I avoid shopping between 11 and noon, lest I have to claw my way to the Polvillo for bread when teens from the school next door are ordering bocadillos.

If you’re placed in a private or concertado school, your students will sometimes stay for lunch in the mess hall, called a comedor. Run from the puré de garbanzos and the palitos de merluza!

Gossip

Walking into a newly assigned baccalaureate class after a schedule switch, I quickly introduced myself and began a lesson. I could hear the students snickering and immediately felt my butt to see if I’d sat in a batido or something at recess.

One girl, probably named Mari Algo, raised her hand but blurted something out in Spanish before I could even call on her. I gave her my best side eye for interrupting and told her that if she needed something, it would have to come in English.

“Yes, erm, who is [Novio’s name]? Valle say us you are a boyfriend.”

Valle, my effervescent coworker and part-time spirit animal, just smiled and shrugged. On one morning commute, I’d confided in her that I’d met a guy I was interested in, and she mentioned it to her students. I took it in stride (hola, my name is Cat, and I have a blog!).

You know how lice is a thing in elementary schools? Liken that to gossip in Spanish schools – once it starts, it’s hard to stop. If you want something to be private, it’s best not to mention it around the brasero on a cold day. 

On a First Name Basis and You May Touch the Children

Speaking of Valle, I was also shocked to find that teacher-student relationships are a lot more relaxed than they are back in the US. I was called by my first name and asked personal questions about my age/sex/location. Students wanted to know if I’d buy them beer. I once ran into one partying who was hysterical, and I took her back to my house to settle down and dry out for a few hours.

Oh, and then there’s the end-of-year dinners where students drink the Spanish equivalent of Boone’s Farm, all under the watchful eye of their teachers from senior year. I had to embrace it and have a drink with my graduating seniors at a disco because, hey, drinking age is 18. Never mind that I was only a few years older than them!

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Working in an elementary school, I was once told the children found me to be cold and uncaring. I was wiping their boogers and reminding kids that the Reyes Magos were watching their bad behavior (which included hiding my winter jacket in a toy box overnight) – I was certainly caring.

In Spain, it’s totally fine for teachers to hug and touch students, and many are close with older students outside of school. Some have followed me on twitter and like to message me about what last week’s homework was. My response is always the same: get off of twitter and do your homework, lazy!

On Wednesdays, We Wear Track Suits

I was appalled to learn that my high schoolers only got two hours of gym class a week. They seemed to have more pep in their step when those special days rolled around (though I could usually smell them before they entered class. Teens and PE and Spring in Southern Spain is a torture worse than my allergy to olive blossoms). Plus, they came to school with a special uniform.

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Gone were the sheer shirts and the booty shorts – it was chandal day, a public service announcement that my teens who had been chowing down on Doritos at recess were going to be running a few laps around the playground.

Working in a private elementary school, my kids called it Tracksuit Day, or ¡toca chandal! I loved chandal day because they admittedly smelled better (their parents gave them tiny packs of cologne for their school bags because, pijos) and I didn’t have to re-tie 25 ties and dust off 25 tiny blazers.

ABCs and B1-B2-C1 (and Trinity-Cambridge-TOEFL)

Spain has what’s called ‘titulitis’, or a problem with requiring documents to prove anything. Can you drive a car? PROVE IT. Can you pick up a letter at the post office from your grandma? PROVE IT. And when it comes to speaking English, only a stamped letter from an official language assessment will suffice.

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Recently, the European government required all university students to present a minimum B1 level of English to even get the paper copy of their degree (ach-titulitis!). If you’re totally new to teaching, the system of level assessments and certificates is confusing, especially one against another. What does a Trinity Level 7 correspond to in Cambridge? What does CPE stand for? Try being in charge of academic development at a school and explaining that to parents whose first defense will be, “I don’t know, I studied French.”

Yeah.

The Takeaway – School’s Out for Summer

I often think back to my first days of teaching. I had a newly minted TEFL degree, teaching genes apparently in my blood and no idea what to do in front of 30 teenagers who’d rather copy Justin Bieber lyrics off of the blackboard (yeah, that’s how long I’ve been at it!).

I always swore I’d never be a teacher after watching my mom scramble on Sunday nights or having to manually put in all of her grades into a gradebook. The boss I had when I was an auxiliar once told me that I had vocación: I had what it takes to be a teacher. After eight school years, probably 2500 students and a million eye rolls later, I think she’s right. 

Teaching in Spain is rewarding, frustrating and hilarious all rolled into one job with pretty amazing vacation time.

Want the skinny on teaching in Iberia and tips on how to land and get situated in Spain? I co-penned a comprehensive e-book last summer on how to move to Spain and set up as a teaching assistant.

book pages preview

Read more about it here or purchase it for 10€ through eJunkie! We’re currently re-vamping the book and adding even more to it, so join COMO‘s FREE newsletter for more information on its release date! I’m also happy to recommend TEFL programs and teaching opportunities.

More on teaching in Spain: How to Apply to the Language Assistant Program | Paying Teaching Programs in Spain | What it’s Like to be a Language Assistant

Photo Post: La Hermandad Rociera de Triana and the Pilgrimage to El Rocío

“No, no, no,” Lucía shook her head fiercely as curls of white smoke escaped from her lips. “You shouldn’t be in Cerro de Águila by yourself. Crime is rampant over there.”

That following morning at the Novio’s new house in Cerro, I was woken up by the fourth-floor shaking as what sounded like a loud pop boomed throughout. I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me.

Turns out the potential guns from the ‘crime capital’ of Seville were actually noisemakers of the neighborhood’s religious brotherhood.

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Fifty days after Resurrection Sunday, those faithful to the Virgen del Rocío (which is practically all of Southern Spain) make a pilgrimage towards La Aldea, a small hamlet full of stately mansions and dirt roads. The striking hermitage – a grandiose white mirage set at the southern edge of la Aldea with views to the marshes of Doñana National Park – was first built on the supposed spot where Alfonso the Wise found an effigy of the Virgin Mother. Today, it’s popular for its most raucous fiesta in the middle of the springtime. 

Seville counts five hermandades – Savlador and Triana are the most famous – whose numbers are staggering. On the Wednesday before Pentecost Sunday, covered wagons pulled by oxen, horses or even tractors set out towards the Almonte and la Aldea, following a silver-laden carriage with an image of the Rocío known as a simpecado. For many of the devout, this spiritual cleansing, characterized by sleeping and eating outdoors, song and dance and prayer, is the most important part.

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When I worked in Olivares, many of my students went missing in the days leading up to El Rocío and the days surrounding Pentecost. I had a handful named Rocío or Paloma in homenage to the Virgin Mary who, quite possible, is the most revered in Andalucía. 

Few things get me out of bed before 8am, but today I was already out the door at that time, Camarón fully charged and ready to shoot (the cohetes would have woken me up regardless). Mass at the chapel on calle Evangelista began at 7:30am, and the simpecado, preceeded by horses and pilgrims, left shortly thereafter. In the past, the carretas that carry supplied for the ten-day pilgrimage were allowed to traverse Triana, but city ordinance now mandate that the wagons start from Plaza Chapina at the northern end of the neighborhood.

romeros ready for El Rocio

Devout pilgrims at el Rocio

Romeros on Calle Pureza Triana

I followed the crowd to Calle Pureza and the door of the Esperanza de Triana church. Here, in one of the most emblematic monuments of the barrio, the simpecado would pass, the devout would pray and the pilgrimage would truly begin.

Perched on the curb just opposite the gleaming white temple, itself a nod to its marisma counterpart 70 kilometers west, I watched as romeros – the name for pilgrims around these parts – flooded the streets. Men wear straw hats and women don flamenco dresses that are easier to walk in, all clutching medals that bear the Virgen del Rocío.

Rocio Fashion 2015

carretas of El Rocio

Gitanas El Rocio

A three-piece band led the procession. Sevillanas with a twist, rocieras use a cane and a bass drum instead of cajas and flutes in place of guitars, and singers belt out songs proclaiming the glory of the Blanca Paloma. Behind them came romeros on horseback and the image of the Virgen herself.

music of el Rocio

prensa en el rocio

Triana to El Rocio on horseback

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Romeros de Triana 2015

Calle Pureza during El Rocio

El Rocio passing by the Esperanza de Triana

Once the simpecado had reached the door of the church, pulled by two oxen, a man on horseback removed his had and, red faced, began to rally.¡Viva La Virgen del Rocío! ¡Viva la Blanca Paloma!¡Viva la Marismeña! Each battle cry was followed by a hearty ¡Viva! 

“¡Y Viva Triana! ¡Viva Triana! ¡Viva Triana!”

Salida del Simpecado Rociero

 

Everyone around me erupted into song as petals were thrown from the roof of the church. While El Rocío has a steady dose of hedonism, the true root of the festival lies in soul-stirring devotion. I felt moved in the same way that Semana Santa touched me. People stopped shoving and began to cry, crossing themselves as they proclaimed that only in Heaven is the Virgen del Rocío more loved.

Want to read more about the festival? I attended the Pentecost Sunday activities –¡vestida de gitana! – in 2012.

Three Reasons Why Seville is a Foodie Haven

“So we’re initially going to just be making plans for cervezas and tapas, correct?” One of my closest friends was just a few weeks away from his trip, and he’d planned the itinerary for me: a week of eating, drinking and catching up (and that’s just what we did!). 

Spain's best city for Foodies

When it comes to showing friends, family and even readers my adopted city, they see less of the city’s monuments and off-the-beaten track gems, and far more grubby old man bars and fancy gastropubs than museums. My heart is happiest when my belly’s been wined and dined, and I love sharing Seville’s food culture with them.

I’ve eaten my way through Spain, from gastronomic sweetheart San Sebastián to family farms in Málaga, and Seville remains my favorite food city in all of Spain for three very important reasons.

Variety of Choices

If variety is the spice of life, Seville can only be described as zesty. Apart from the serving sizes and types of eateries, the sheer number of bars is dizzying.

While it would be impossible to count the number of bars in the city, figures tend to land in the 4,500 – 6,000 range when it comes to establishments for a bite or sip. Even if I wanted to try every single one, from the hole-in-the-wall abacerías to the Michelin-lauded gastro experience, it would take me years. And the question I get most from my readers, ‘Where should I eat in Seville?’ is harder to answer than you’d think. 

Devour Seville Tours

Taking a mid-morning tapas tour with Devour Seville, a food tour company with operations in four Spanish cities confirmed that. In fact, Lauren and I mused about other places that Devour Seville could have included on their four-hour tour through Seville’s central neighborhoods. Andalucía flamboyant capital has no shortage of choices, and tour guides are even thrilled to make recommendations for dinner. 

So, choice is a factor, but it gets even trickier from there. Bar or restaurant? Sit down or stand up? Trendy gastrobar or traditional tavern? Should we split large plates, or have everyone get their own tapas? And just how hungry are we?

What sets Andalusian cities apart from their northern counterparts in many cases is the serving size options you’re allowed. Lauren explained that the word tapa – Spanish cuisine’s most global export – has several different origins, though the most common is that bartenders would plop a morsel of food on a thin-lipped sherry glass to keep out fruit flies. This practice, said to have come from Seville’s little sister city of Jerez, is one of the easiest ways to sample and share food. If you’re hungrier, choose a ración or media ración.

seville sandwich city

And, of course, then you have to pare down a menu and decide what to eat and what to drink. The tour had several Andalusian hallmarks but left behind the tortilla, huevos estrellados and gazpacho. After a morning of chowing down, we’d tried eight different dishes, each with a backstory of is origin and the establishment that served it.

Arabic, Roman Influence on Cuisine

In the middle of the morning, Lauren led us to a cluster of churches in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz. Once a pocket of the city where Jews, Moors and Christians mingled and traded freely, there are traces of culture on every block and hidden beneath the citrus fruit trees that perfume the city and the almond trees planted further east.

Their sugar and egg pastries are baked in convents around the city (many made with oranges, lemons or almonds!), and though Spanish baked goods don’t do much for me, the naranjines we tried were actually sweet with a touch of citrus!

Convent Sweets in Seville

Additonally, Seville was truly the gateway to the New World and Africa, with ships coming and going from the port and bringing products from far off lands. The city grew fat off of riches from its discoveries before the gold and silver was taken to Madrid on the Via de la Plata, but the gastronomic heritage remained.

After a pit stop for a few sips of orange-infused wine, we walked through the city’s historic quarter and into the once-gritty El Arenal neighborhood, where ships were repaired as they unloaded their goodies. The New World brought the tomatoes from your gazpacho, the chocolate you dip your churros into and the potatoes served with just about everything from montaditos to meat dishes.

Typical Taverns in Seville

Another fascinating tidbit of local history lies in the twelve city gates that once punctuated the walled city. As we walked under the Postigo del Carbón, Lauren gave us a run-down of other food-monikered doors to the city, like meat and olive oil. By this time, we’d snacked and tried several sorts of drinks, but we’d worked up enough of an appetite for the main course: tapas.

Walkability

I felt like we walked less on the Devour Seville tour than my previous taste tests with them in Madrid and Barcelona, but Seville is the longest tour! Even after winding through the streets of Encarnación, Santa Cruz and Arenal for four hours, I felt strong enough to have one last beer with another tour-goer at primetime on a sunny Friday!

Walking in Central Seville

All of my guests are surprised at how easy it is to walk around Seville – even if getting lost in the winding, cobblestone alleyways is part of the experience. The city sits at 11m above sea level and there’s one ‘hill’ in the whole place! 

Besides, Seville is beautiful, between the tucked-away plazas and tiled entranceways, so it’s easy to be entranced.

How to Tapear in Seville

A true tapas tour doesn’t just settle for one eatery – it’s quite normal for the hungry to go from bar to bar, ordering one drink and one plate before moving on to the next. And don’t expect to sit down at a table. Most tapas bars allow you (or force you if it’s that popular) to eat at the bar itself, giving you the chance to bark your order to the waitstaff without flagging down a frazzled waiter. Bonus points for the bar if they tally your tab in chalk right next to your plates.

Seville Food Tour Samplings

The bars clustered around the city center should be your focus if you’re visiting Seville – check out the bull meat entrées served in El Arenal, choose international dishes and Spanish favorites around El Centro, and opt for al fresco dining in La Alameda.

Be aware that many bars will not have English translations, and if they do, they’ll often leave you just as confused (seriously, I once saw ratatouille listed as ‘tomatoes attacked by angry vegetables’). Start by ordering a few plates – you can always get more if you’re still hungry.

On a Food Tour in Seville

If you’re overwhelmed, leave it to the experts at Devour Seville. This four-hour tour will have you sampling eight dishes, which is enough to feel satisfied without being stuffed. The guides are knowledgable and personable. Prices start at 65€ for their Tastes, Tapas & Traditions tour.

Devour Seville allowed me to tag along on their inaugural tour, though all opinions are my own. I’m a big fan of their mission – to use local vendors and provide customers with a taste of Spain – and their excellently assembled tours!

Have you ever eaten in Seville? What are your favorite places to chow down?

I’ve got loads about food in Seville, from Tapa Thursdays, which highlight foods and restaurants, to recommendations on where to eat in town. My instagram is also full of food and beer photos with fancy filters – follow me!

My Top Tips To Stay on a Budget While Traveling

It’s officially summer when I’ve had my first granizada, a lemon slushie synonymous with the sweltering season. Summer means freedom from work, from alarm clocks and from all of those ‘adult’ things for two blissful months. And, if I’m lucky and have applied for unemployment, a trip!

Saving Money in Europe

Many ask me for tips on staying on budget when traveling around Spain and further afield, which I’ve rounded up into seven quick travel tips:

Timing is Important

Even if you are visiting a swanky destination, you can stay on a budget if you time it right. You should visit your preferred destination after high season times if you want to save while you travel. Prices skyrocket in Spain in July and especially August, so if you can, travel outside of these periods, particularly if you’re headed to the coast.

Plan your meals

If you know that the restaurant around the corner is expensive and the food served isn’t really good, you should look for options and save money. For this, it is important to do some research and find some economical restaurants that taste great, too! Search blogs, Trip Advisor and newspapers for the skinny on where to chow down (or, check out my section on Food in Seville).

wine on the table in spain

Another alternative is to cook while on vacation. Spain is truly Europe’s fruit basket, and shopping locally and spending an evening in cooking with a glass of wine could mean more money for an experience or day trip.      

Rentals

It is important to be specific with car rentals and look for car rental coverage. Take advantage of insurance and credit cards that have car rental coverage. Here in Europe, the size of the car even matters. Choose the smallest car possible because it will help you save money when refilling gas, and note that automatic cars are generally pricier.

If you are traveling around with kids, you might think of bringing the car cheap and adding it to your luggage. However, it is advisable to ask the car rental company about their rental prices for the same and compare them. Choose an alternative that is cheaper. Remember, if you are adding it to your luggage, you might have to bear the charges for extra luggage.

Transportation

Rail, metros, and subway are often the best alternative because it is quite cheap, especially if you are traveling to Europe. However, it is better to choose a slower mode of transport if flying is too short. This gives you an advantage of sleeping while traveling, too.

Learning in India - Riding the Train

Even while moving around, it is better to avoid taxis and use public transport instead. For travel between cities, consider Bla Bla Car, a car sharing program in Western Europe that will automatically calculate your fuel charge.  

Currency

Watch out for the exchange rate and keep checking it regularly. Avoid exchanging dollars from such exchange centers, and instead exchange money at home to have cash at hand, or take from an ATM. Most big banks will have a partner in Europe from which you can withdraw at no charge. If they don’t, take larger amounts to cut down on silly charges.

The dollar is quite strong against the euro, so now really is the time to travel to Europe!

Mark the tourist spots

If you know where and when are you planning to travel, you will spend less time wandering around. This will help you save time and money on touristic sites, transportation and maybe even a pair of walking shoes!

bring a map on a trip

Always make the local tourism office you first stop for free maps and discount codes. Many museums in Spain have free days or afternoons that you can take advantage of, thus significantly reducing your spending.

Plan in advance

Air tickets and hotel bookings should be done in advance when possible. There are a number of sites that offer exclusive packages that can help you get the best prices on your bookings. Expedia is one of the best options available for you, and you can even use discount coupons for Expedia.

Note: If you are booking your tickets in advance, check your airline’s site regularly for updates or set up a price tracker.

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Budget travel is possible in Europe, even in the peak summer months. Your main ammunition is research, planning, and price comparison! Spend those American dollars here in Spain, please!

If you wish to contribute with a tip or two, please post them in the comments!

Spain Snapshots: the Monastery of Yuste in Extremadura

When I announced that I’d won a writing contest and had a free weekend’s stay in a luxury apartment in Trujillo, the Novio had one condition: that we could also explore the Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste, the place where Holy Roman Emperor Charles V went to die.

Ya sabes,” he said, not looking away from the TV, “that’s my plan, too.” To die in the countryside, that is, away from civilization with nothing more than warm air and mountains in front of him – NOT in Yuste.

Visiting the Monasterio de Yuste

For a history nerd like my boyfriend, the monastery where one of Spain’s most important rulers spent his final years was a must-see on our pilgrimage through the extremeño countryside. We’d been wowed at the Guadalupe Monastery after being lost for several hours, and I was enchanted by Trujillo’s medieval streets (and its stinky torta del casar cheese), but Yuste was not as thrilling as we expected.

I mean, the place has a ton of history: built in the 15th Century by Hieronymite monks and nestled between almond trees and rocky mountain peaks, the monastery has both renaissance and gothic architecture, quiet patios and allegories in classical literature.

inner courtyards of yuste

Yuste Extremadura

In fact, it was here that the Holy Roman Emperor chose to retire after abdicating the throne to Philip II (my favorite royal Spanish personality, thanks mostly to his silly hat and stockings), seeking peace and prayer in his final days. Ceded to the Spanish government after the Civil War, it was restored in the 1950s.

As the monarch that spearheaded Spain’s globalization of language, religion and culture, Yuste would be a must-visit for anyone who loves Spanish history.

Right from the beginning, I felt corralled as guides asked my to move along from the ticket counter (and, ouch, 9€!) through a small gift shop and to the first interior patio, which stood on the northern side of the chapel. As I snapped pictures, a blue-clad security guard cleared his throat behind me and motioned for me to move into the sanctuary.

gardens yuste

monastery at yuste

If Carlos V was looking for peace and quiet, he certainly wouldn’t have found it in the modern day monastery, and I couldn’t help feeling cramped during our brief visit. 

Perhaps the most interesting part were the royal apartments, built just a few years before Carlos V’s death so that the Emperor would have a view to the altar and feel the fresh afternoon breezes blow through. The torture device-looking chair that he was carried in on his final journey was also placed in the corner of the room facing expansive gardens to the south.

It was hard to imagine the tranquility he felt with so many families around chattering, so we beelined out of the bare rooms and into the warm March sunshine.

Carlos V apartments yuste

yuste monastery extremadura

The Novio, even more disappointed that it took us twice as long to get to Cuacos de Yuste and the monastery as it did to tour it, had one suggestion: let’s find the nearest town and the nearest bar, and enjoy the almond blossoms on a terrace.

If you go: The Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste is located in the village of Cuacos de Yuste in northern Extremadura, making it accessible from Cáceres and Madrid. The site is open every day but Mondays from 10am, and tickets cost a whopping 9€. For more information, check the Patrimonio Nacional’s website. Carlos V has been resting besides his son in San Lorenzo de El Escorial for centuries, and that monastery is definitely worth a visit.

Want more Extremadura? Trujillo Villas | Guadalupe | Garganta de la Olla

Prefer to read about places I’m iffy about? Barcelona | Setenil de las Bodegas | Luarca

Have you ever visited a historical site in Spain? Or a place that fell short of expectations?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Murcia

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collage

 The ride out to Murcia is a long one – close to six hours and all across Andalucía – and it took me five years in Spain to make it there. Taking advantage of the Novio’s training course in Cartagena, I braved a six-hour solo bus ride back to be able to tick this far-flung region off of my list. Wedged between Andalucía, Valencia and Castilla-La Mancha and with poor connections to larger cities, Murcia is often an afterthought for tourists.

Name: Murcia

Population: 1.4 million, nearly a third of whom live in Murcia capital

Provinces: Just one, with the administrative capital located in the city of the same name.

When: 16th of 17, May 2012

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 bandera-murcia

 

 

 

About La Región de Murcia: The Carthaginians put the region on the map, founding the city of Cartagena, which would become a strategic naval city and home to the production of the world’s first submarine. Known as Cartago Novo, the city’s influence diminished under the Roman occupation of Iberia before the Moors introduced large-scale irrigation.

Nowadays, Murcia has more than earned the moniker of Spain’s Fruitbasket (La Cesta de España), due to its high production of fruits and vegetables.

Once the caliphate of Córdoba fell in the 11th Century, Murcia – then called Todmir – became an independent taïfa, or self-governing state. A century later, the Moorish king surrendered the area to Ferdinand III, making Murcia a part of the Castillian kingdom and therefore protected from the Moors in Granada and the Aragoneses. In turn, Castilla has a Mediterranean port.

Murcia cathedral

Still, this treaty was not met without strife, and small battles broke out between the descendents of the Moors, mudéjares, and Christians. At the end of the 13th Century, revolt had been squashed by Jaime of Aragón, and he took possession of the Kingdom of Murcia. Oh, but then the Black Plague reached Spanish shores, but thanks to Castilla and Aragón uniting under the matirmony of the Catholic Kings, population – as well as agriculture and ship building – again surged.

The Rennaisance, Golden Age and Baroque periods were relatively peaceful, and arts and sciences flourished. After the Guerra de Independencia and a heavy favor towards Madrid, Murcia became an independent region, encompassing parts of Albacete, Almería and Alicante, and finally an autonomous community in 1982 under the current constitution.

Even today in Spain, it’s widely unknown and thus a budget traveler’s dream (and you get free tapas in many cities!).

Must-sees: Murcia capital is a bustling university city and Spain’s seventh largest urban area. It has Moorish and Baroque flavor, a tangle of lovely streets and plazas and braised octopus dishes on offer in its bars. 

Wine Tasing in Jumilla

Winos will appreciate the region’s budding wine industry, which shares a DO with Madrid. Jumilla, Yecla and Bullas feature family-run bodegas with cheap and plentiful tastings.

Tourism in Murcia is largely outdoor draws – the Costa Cálida and its beaches, golf resorts, hiking and the Vía Verde. 

Holy Week processions in the capital and Carnaval festivities are huge draws for tourists, particularly in coastal Águilas. The Veracruz de Caravaca also highlights the skirmishes between the Moors and Christians during the Reconquist. And, who wouldn’t want to see the birthplace of Charo?!

My take:  Should Murcia be on your must-see list while visiting Spain? That depends.

pulpo

If you’re looking for monumental Spain, this is not it: a handful of crumbling castles dot the landscape and Murcia’s university presence runs deep, but Murcia is most attractive for its cheap and unspoilt resorts and low cost of living. Still, I’d like to see more of the region and eat more baked octopus!

Have you ever traveled around the Murcia province? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid

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