Capture the Color: My favorite colorful shots of Spain

My mother recently asked me why I no longer had any hobbies. Um, sorry Nance, but doesn’t toting my trusty Canon, Camarón, around everywhere, eating my fill of tapas and following my favorite fútbol team count?

Spain is a country known for its natural beauty, colorful folklore and creative food scene, and it’s easy to feel inspired living here. As my friend Hayley said, ‘I’d sooner break my neck’ than leave my camera at home. What’s more, the colors I most associate with Spain – the pueblos blancos, the red jamón ibérico, the clear blue sky – are featured in seemingly every shot.

Last year I participated in Travel Supermarket’s Capture the Color contest, even going as far as to have an editor at Marie Claire Magazine send me a personal email about how much she liked my selection for my blue photograph. The premise is simple: you choose a personal photo in each of the colors selected, upload them to your personal blog and nominate five other bloggers. Winning is a longshot, but when you have this much fun looking for photos, who cares?

Amarillo // Yellow

Seville is immortalized in the song ‘Sevilla tiene un color especial.’ If Seville had a color, it would be the golden yellowish-orange. The sun sets over Triana to the west, sending a burning goodbye to the world.

Read more: Seville’s Golden Hour.

Rojo // Red

A loud, EeeeeeeeeH! erupts through the silent stadium, a life teeters on the fine line of death. Torera Conchi Ríos aims a curved saber at a one-ton bull, hoping her accuracy will result in a swift death for her opponent. The blood-red cape swishes, the toro lunges forward, and his artery is pierced.

The red in Southern Spain is characteristic of life and passion and death, represented by the capa and the crimson rings around the yellow albero of the plaza de toros.

Read more: Death in the Afternoon.

Verde // Green

The descent into Mondeñedo was difficult – the trail was muddy, causing my bad knee to slip around and cause problems. For the first time in 150 kilometers, I felt like I needed to take the bus to the next albergue. The pain was excruciating, and once we’d entered the small village, famous for its seminary and cathedral, I was showing signs of tendonitis. We walked along the perimeter of the pueblo, next to the rows of corn stalks and I remembered that physical pain was part of the experience and part of my Camino for Kelsey, a deceased friend. After a strong coffee, I walked up mountains, literally.

And the corn stalks reminded me of being back home in Illinois and Iowa.

Read more: Why I Walked the Camino de Santiago.

Blanco // White

Alright, I cheated – this one’s not about Spain or set in Iberia. In fact, this lichen-stained church is in the central plaza of Kotor, Montenegro, a UNESCO World Heritage city framed by bay and mountains. We visited Kotor on a road trip around the bay of the same night, marveling at the natural beauty of Europe’s youngest country and how amazingly friendly the locals are – we drank free beer all the time! One of the most memorable was at a smoky bar in the alleyway behind the church, out from a sudden rain storm and relishing in free wi-fi and strong shots of Rakia.

Read more: Road tripping through the Bay of Kotor.

Azul // Blue 

Walking through small hamlets helped mark our days on the Camino de Santiago, even if they did give us the false hope that we’d find an open bar before sunrise. While the scallop shells that mark the way are further between on the coastal route, townspeople often painted yellow arrows on their homes or taped small images of Saint James on their mailboxes to help us along. On our way to Sobrado dos Monxes, where we’d sleep in a 10th century monastery, this blue-eyed kitten stood atop an unofficial road marker.

Read more: Waymarkers Along the Camino de Santiago

I’d love to see your spin on the rainbow, expat blogging friends!

Kaley of Y Mucho Más

Trevor of A Texan in Spain

Christine of Christine in Spain

Kara of Standby to Somewhere

Alex of Ifs, Ands & Butts

Show me what you’ve got!

Camino de Santiago Packing List (and a giveaway!)

As I kid, I used to marvel at how my father could pack a bag, pack the trunk of the minivan or pack enough goodies into the fridge to keep us happy.

I may have inherited his travel hacking skills and his love of beer, but girl did NOT get his gift of packing.

Hiking the Camino de Santiago posed a problem: I needed to find a way to pack equipment for a 200mile hike across Spain through both rain and shine. As a rule of thumb, your pack should weigh around 10% of your body weight, which meant I had around six kilos to work with for two weeks and 12 stages to Santiago. The packing should go more or less like this:

Like always, it’s been a battle of packing, unpacking, moving piles, reducing wares, rationing pills. Here’s what’s in my pack and now on my back:

The Footwear

If there was one place where I wouldn’t skimp in preparation for 200 miles on The Way, it was with my footwear. I had just two requirements: as these boots would be strapped to my feet for 3 – 8 hours a day, they needed to be comfortable, and due to the tendency of rainy weather in Northern Spain during the summer months, they also had to be waterproof.

Be aware that there are also two types of boots – those that are high and protect the ankle, and those that don’t. Had I known that I had weak ankles because of my years of gymnastics, I likely would have bought the higher boots to prevent twisting an ankle  – the Camino del Norte is also a bit more strenuous and full of hills, unlike the majority of the popular Camino Francés.

In the end, I settled on Quechua brand Arpenaz ankle boots with Novadry that weight 750g and have shock absorbers. I’ve been wearing them, along with my custom-made insoles from Podoactiva, as much as possible before the trek. I’ve also packed a pair of supportive Reef brand flip flops for showers, any stops at the beach and for exploring the stops in the evening.

Summary – hiking boots and flip flops.

The Clothes

The Camino is certianly not a fashion statement – I have left home my jewelry, my makeup and my hair products in favor of two-in-one shampoo/conditioner and a plastic comb, my cute rebajas steals for garments with built-in wicking

Decathlon, the French sporting goods company, is chock-full of outdoors clothing, but I was clueless – I’d rather spend my weekends in gastro bars and wandering around with my camera than climbing over fallen tree limbs. I went with the basics – t-shirts and tanks with built-in wicking for perspiration, anti-blister socks, pants that convert into shorts with just a zip, and a waterproof hat and a straw hat in case there’s sun.

Of course, I’ll need non-Camino clothes for when I’m not out walking, so I’ve thrown in a swimsuit (our first five days are along the beach), comfy pajamas, a lightweight cotton dress and a t-shirt from sponsor Walk and Talk Chiclana. Wicking be damned when I sleep!

Summary: Two Ts made of wicking, one tank, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, five pairs of socks, undergarments, a cotton handkerchief, a fisherman’s hat and a straw hat. I’ve also got sunglasses, since I’m hoping for some sun!

The Equipment

Not only will I need clothing (and likely a change of clothing due to rain), but there’s a lot of other things that will make up my pack weight. I have a lightweight sleeping bag and sleeping bag, an aluminum walking stick, a rain poncho and a flashlight.

I’ve also been told to bring a collapsable bag for evening time to carry my camera and wallet, or to shop or carry groceries, so I grabbed a cheap one at Tiger.

Summary – sleeping pad, sleeping bag, shammy, rain poncho that both Hayley and I can fit into, a water bottle and a walking stick.

The Traveling Pharmacy

Veteran pilgrims warn of road hazards – blisters are rampant, food doesn’t always sit well with stomachs (though I think mine is pretty well adjusted to Spanish cuisines) and there is always, ALWAYS someone snoring in the albergue. I spent a pretty penny on items at the pharmacy, and it seems that the pharmacists in Coruña seem to understand what a pilgrim needs much better than those in Sevilla. Behold, my traveling pharmacy:

Included here is Betadine (antiseptic spray), suncream, a needle and thread to sterilize any blisters, earplugs, 10 big safety pins, anti-bacterial hand gel, a Compeed anti-rub stick, anti-allergy eyedrops, micropore (tape), and various anti-blister pads and bandaids. Not pictured are the ibuprofen and allergy pills. From all accounts, pharmacies along the way are well-versed in pilgrim care, so anything else we need can be bought on the road. The contents are light with all of the casing taken away, and will get lighter as the days wear on. I’ve got my medicine cabinet packed at the very top of my bag.

The Extras

There were other things I just couldn’t travel without on a normal trip – a small, paper notebook and a few pens, my Kindle, Camarón. These three things will be coming along with me on the Camino, worth their weight in gold (or albariño wine) as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also got a clothesline, a waterproof watch, a jackknife, and my electronics, which included an iPod and my two cameras. I may regret the electronics…

Other pilgrims choose to bring little trinkets from home, like packages of instant coffee or a small dictionary to help with the Spanish. Two things you cannot forget is some kind of ID card and your pilgrim’s passport. I was forced to bring my American passport for my RyanAir flight back to Seville, and the pilgrim passport works like one that allows you to travel between countries – at stops along the way in churches, albergues or Pilgrim offices, your passport will be stamped as proof that you’ve done the Camino. I got mine sent right to me by Petersborough Pilgrims.

The seashell I bought on my first trip to Santiago five years ago will also be affixed to my bag. Let the buen camino piropos roll!

The Pack

Apart from the importance of footwear, the backpack you choose will likely be one of the most important purchases you make before taking on the Camino. Meet my mochilita, who I will name Santi in order of St. James and his inspiration for this walk:

If you’re not a trekker, look for a bag that has a weight distribution that will put everything on your hips. This Forclaz 60L bag has meshing to help my back breathe, loads of extra pockets to put important things and a divider that separates the heavy things from the lighter ones further up my back. Santi will be, for better or worse, my closest friend on the hike, and like many pilgrims I’ve seen in the Plaza del Obradoiro at the end of the Camino, I’ll be resting against him, staring up at the spire of the cathedral.

Then it’s onto the spa to scrub all of the Camino grime off of me and massage out all of the knots!

The Giveaway:

Our official sponsors, Caser Expat Insurance, are treating Hayley and I to a few experiences once we arrive to Santiago on August 11th. We’ll be able to relax in the beautiful ancient city, enjoy the local cuisines and even get a massage, and Caser Expat wants to extend that to one lucky reader of Sunshine and Siestas, too. You’ll have the opportunity to choose a ‘La Visa es Bella’ experience, valued between 50-100€, to be used in Spain. You can choose accommodation or a spa/relaxation experience of your liking. This giveaway is only open to residents (or future residents!) of Spain, and the winner will be announced when I arrive to Santiago on the 12th and notified through email.

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Don’t forget I’ll be tweeting and instagramming here and there over the next 14 days and 200 miles, so follow along at @sunshinesiestas and @caserexpat with the hashtag #CaminoFTK. Thanks again for all of your support, and buena suerte!!

Sleeping in Spain: A Guide to Accommodation (and 30€ Voucher Giveaway!)

If there’s one thing that’s weathering the Spanish economic downturn (no doubt tied to the weather itself), it’s the tourism industry. Accounting for nearly 11% of 2012’2 GDP, Spain constantly pushes the envelope within the tourism industry and has grown to be the second-largest in the world!

Where will you be pillow hugging tonight?

One aspect that sets Spain apart is its ample offering of accommodation and luxury brands. Iberostar, Melià and Bareclò hotels are considered some of the best brands in the world, and backpackers can find a haven nestled on cobblestone streets or just steps from a private beach. Still, in an ever-changing industry, there’s quite a bit of confusion as to each type of accommodation, and sometimes where to find it at an affordable price (don’t worry, there’s an entrance to a voucher at the end of this explanation!).

The view from the rooftop bar at Seville’s Hotel EME.

Hotels, like in any country of the world, are plentiful and of varying quality. There’s also been a recent surge of new hotels offering boutique accommodation, quirky decor and plenty of character. Spain’s tourism board has instituted a nationwide ranking, using the Q of quality and between 1 and 5 stars. Hotels are marker with a white H and the ranking below. High season is during the summer months, local festivals and Christmas time, so expected steeper prices and less availability.

The Spanish government now controls a network of historic buildings converted into luxury hotels, called paradores. From castles to convents, a night in the sumptuous lodging will typically run you more than an average hotel, but booking during the low season can ensure a one-of-a-kind experience in a historically important building.

Tiles on the outdoor terrace of the parador in Carmona, Andalusia.

Hostels and Albergues  are often considered a common type of backpacker accommodation, they are as varied as one could imagine. Typically, they can be found in city centers and offer beds in shared or private accommodation, shared bathrooms and common areas such as living rooms, rooftop terraces or kitchens. Most beds in a shared dorm are less than 20€ a night, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers through free events and walking tours.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

Slightly nicer than hostels, pensions (pensiones) are more budget-friendly than hotels and are typically smaller, too. Most similar to boarding houses, one can expect loads of hospitality and often meals!

Thanks to Spain’s varied landscape, rural accommodations are becoming popular, particularly for families wishing to escape city life.

A bed at Almohalla 51, a luxury rural house in Archidona, Spain

Apartment Stays are also becoming a popular way to live like a local in larger cities. Available for days, weeks or months, a piso turístico will allow travelers the privacy of their own space while having access to amenities. Typical rates for a month can be between 500 – 800€, depending on the season.

Camping remains a cheap and popular option for staying in Spain, particularly on the coast. Rates are low, even during the summer season, and most offer on-site food and washing facilities.

No joke, I spent a night here in the Islas Cies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a tent on the pristine Playa de Rodas in Galicia, an ancient piso in front of the Basilica Santa María del Mar in Barcelona and a friendly pensión within earshot of the tingling churchbells of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. My head has rested in sumptuous hotels from Toledo to Valladolid, as well as old fortresses, which is why I’m excited to present you all with my newest giveaway.

I’m teaming up with Your Spain Hostel to offer a giveaway of a 30€ voucher to be used on Your Spain Hostel on any property in any city you’re interested in visiting in Spain. Simply enter by leaving your email address and telling me in the comments where you’d like to travel to in Spain should you win the voucher (extra points if you send a postcard!), or otherwise!
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From a bungalow on the beaches of Ibiza to a casa rural in Cangas de Onís, Your Spain Hostel is your one-stop destination for unique and quality accommodation around Spain. The site also provides discounts on tours, entrance to sites, food and even taxi pick-up! You can win extra entries by following both Your Spain Hostel and Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy travels for 2013! Where are you headed, and where do you like to rest your head at the end of a long day of tourism and tapas? Got any great recs?

 

Seville Snapshots: Librería Babel and the Joy of Books

As anyone who has lived in Spain will know, a shop that carries the -ía at the end is a place that sells a certain kind of product.

A carnerceía sells meat, a papelería sells paper goods, though as Lisa hoped, a bar is not called a beerería, but a cervecería. Among my favorite -ias? The liberería, a place where books are stacked high and hours can be lost among the pages. I tend to avoid the big chains, like FNAC or Beta, and head to the small, musty, off-the-Avenida shops. Some of my preferred stops are Un Gato en Bicicleta on Calle Regina for its workshops and mountains of books, La Extravagante in the Alameda for its array of travel books and memoir and La Celestina near Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid.

When I can’t travel, books become my companion. I’m nearly finished with my 20th book of the year, and books about travel line my bookshelf, products of giveaways, the American Women’s Club sales and the evil one-click button on Amazon. This picture of Librería Babel, a forlorn little place right off the main tourist drag, still far enough to go unnoticed, reminds me of the Old World book, long before TV, Internet and e-readers became mainstays.

One great travel memoir I’ve read recently is Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad by my fellow sevillana Karen McCann. She’s been gracious enough to give me a signed copy of the wonderfully breezy and fun book for my readers. Visit the original post for easy entrance, and be sure to follow her here.

What types of books do you prefer? Got any other scoops on bookstores in Andalucía? What are your prefered -ías in Spain?

Dancing in the Fountain: Enjoy Living Abroad Book Giveaway

I’m five minutes early, and there’s just one table left. It’s in the sun and cramped between two groups of German travelers. Karen strides in with just a moment to spare, wearing her signature animal prints. While there’s a gap in age between us, Karen is the type of friend you can have who personifies “Age is just a number.”

I’m eager to catch up with Karen over coffee and talk about her new book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. I devoured the book on a trip this summer though the Eastern seaboard, often subjected to gut-busting laughter and the wise head nods. The book was, in short, delightful.

As someone who loves travel books, Karen’s story of how she and her husband, Rich, moved to Seville is what Maria Foley calls a “love letter to the Andalusian capital.” Indeed, Karen captures the essence of Seville – its people, its food, its quirks that drive every single one of us crazy, all while deepening our love for this enchanting place. The perfect book for dreaming about getting away, of starting over in a new country and making it all work. 

As we are getting ready to part ways, I reach into my bag to find my wallet is empty. In an oh-so-Spanish move, Karen shoes my hand away and offers up a five euro note. “This will more than take care of it,” she says with a slight smile.

After getting back home later that day, I write my friend to apologize again about the coffee. Her reply is quick and telling: It’s happened to all of us.

Photo by the man in the hat himself, Rich McCann, at Karen’s book party

Just like your friend from toda la vida might say on any other sunny day in Seville.

The Contest

Karen has graciously agreed to donating a paperback copy of Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad to one of my readers, and I’m willing to ship it anywhere.

In order to win, I’d like you to tell us, in 25 words or less, why you’d like to live abroad, or why you chose to if you’re already here. You can earn more chances to win by following Karen and I on twitter or liking our Facebook pages, but we’re both interested in hearing what you have to say about packing up and moving to unknown lands.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest begins today and will run two weeks. I’ll send the winner, who will be generated randomly, the signed book to any corner of this great big Earth. But wait! I’m also going to give away a $15 Amazon gift card to the reader with the best answer, judged by and agreed on by both Karen and me.

For more information about Karen and her book, visit her webpage or follow her on twitter at @enjoylvngabroad. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, let her know! You can also find the book in both Paperback and Kindle version here: Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad.

Learning a Language for Love

Ven, gorda, que te voy a dar un beso. Enrique held his arms outstretched as I let the words slowly formulate a sentence in English in my head.

When they did, I pivoted and strode into the bedroom, pouting as I sat on his unmade bed. Masked between a coax and the promise of a kiss, my new boyfriend had just called me fat.

When Enrique and I had met several months before, I was having a friend over for dinner at my flat. The smell of burnt tortilla de patata – and the smoke that accompanies it – wafted through my small place as I rushed to pick up a roommates’ notes and textbooks, cursing myself for deeming Arrested Development more important than cleaning. As I used a wet rag to dissipate the smoke, a buzz came from the telefonillo.

“Um, hey, hola,” I said clumsily into the speaker. The voice that came from the other end was masculine, not that of the other girl I’d invited.

Kike knocked on the door twenty seconds later, wielding a bottle of whiskey and a half-drank bottle of Coke. “This is for the party,” he quipped.

As we ate burnt tortilla, potato chips, cured meats and cheese that night, I marveled at how he could partake in conversations with me in English, my Spanish roommate in his native tongue and German with my other roommate.

“Yeah, I’m also learning Arabic,” he told me later that night.

Over the next few months, our bilingual texting and tapas grew more serious. I learned pillow talk in Spanish and corrected his preposition use in English, confessing to him that I didn’t think I’d ever get a good handle on castellano or even start learning a third.

Don’t word, guapa, practice is the one thing that makes a tongue perfect, he said in his smooth Spanish. Leaning in close, I kissed him hard. Pulling away, he laughed. “No, no, no,” he said in between belly laughs, “I mean that practicing speaking Spanish will help you improve!” The word  lengua means both tongue in your mouth and tongue that you speak.

Was it any surprise that the first time he told me he loved me, he did it in English so that I wouldn’t get confused? Those three little words were shouted over the pumping music of a discoteca, but I got the message loud and clear.

I often ask my students why they’re studying English. Most say to be able to travel and communicate, or to have better job prospects. In coming to Spain, I would have answered the same. But after falling for a Spaniard, it was clear: I would learn a language for love.

After fuming over the gorda comment, I finally got tough and confronted him. Um…tú eresmuy mean. He laughed and between breaths said, “This laugh? It’s called a carcajada!”

Always quick to point out a new word.

When he calmed down, he explained that gorda was a pet term that people give to one another often, the same as feo (ugly), rey (king) and pequeño (small one). I had a lot of studying to do.

As our relationship has evolved, so have my tastes for Spanish food, the destinations on my Been There list and the number of experiences we’ve been able to share together – often in two languages. His handle of English and willingness to learn more has allowed him to entertain my best friend while I had strep throat during her visit, understand both football and baseball and say hello to my parents on Skype each weekend.

At an American’s friend’s wedding to her Spanish mate last year, she read her vows in Spanish for his family to hear; he did the same in English for hers. I was too busy wiping my tears away as gracefully as possible to remember exactly what he said, but it was to the effect of, being in a bilingual relationship means giving you twice as much of everything: friends, foods to try, vocabulary to say “I’m sorry,” holidays to celebrate together and laughing at the other’s language blunders.

Nearly five years later, Kike and I are now in a unilingual relationship: Castilian Spanish is the only language that we ever speak to one another. I love you is te quiero, kiss has become besito and baja la basura de una vez is as common for him to say as jó, haz la cama de una vez is for me.

Our one exception? Our pet name for one another is no longer in Spanish.

Has learning another language helped you to travel? Fall in love? Get a promotion or pay raise? Sound off in the comments!

 

Writer’s note: Sending lots of abrazos for those of you who gave my page a like, both on Facebook and through the competition page. Sadly, tons of great writing went unnoticed when Kaplan International, the sponsor of the contest, decided to make the spamming more important than content. While I ended up with over 200 likes and within the Top Ten, there were posts with 6,000 likes that had little to do with what the contest asked. Reagrdless, you guys mean the world to me, and I greatly appreciate your shares and great feedback, and I likely wouldn’t keep blogging like a maniac between a new job and a master’s program if it weren’t for you guys. Mil gracias!!

 

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