Andalusia: A Love Letter in Photos

The immortal Amigos de Gines sing, Andalucia es mi tierra, yo soy del sur. Andalusia is my home, I’m from the South. While I can’t claim to be a full-blood sevillana, I have certainly grown to love my adopted home. My skyscraper-dominated landscape at home now has just church spires and the Giralda piercing the sky, my all-beef hot dogs replaced by acorn-fed ham.

Tomorrow is Día de Andalucía, the day in which Andalusia was ratified as an autonomous state within the newly formed Spanish Republic just 33 years ago (fun fact: Andalusia is six months younger than the Novio!!). We get a day off of work, and many private places open their doors to the public, like the Town Hall or the Congressional Palace.

And why not celebrate? This is the land that has given us the Iberian Lynx and Jerez Stallions, given rise to Antonio Banderas and Paz Vega, cultivated olive oil and sherry. García Lorca wrote homages to his native land, Washington Irving made the Alhambra famous, and Velázquez and Picasso left Andalusia to become two of the most famous Spanish painters in history. Steeped in history and architecture, folklore and culture. Columbus set sail for La India from its very shores, and the last Muslim emperor was expelled from Granada, signalling the reconquest of Spain. Camarón put flamenco on the map from his chabola in San Fernando, while David Bisbal rocketed to fame with the pop hit, Bulería. It’s a place where a si, claro because a ahi, aro illo!

My visual homage to lovely Andalucía:

The landscapes and cityscapes

Seville

Granada

Santa Cruz, Sevilla

Estepa (Seville province)

The beach at Bolonia and ruins of Baelo Claudia

The pueblos blancos, or white villages

Tarifa (Cádiz)

Iglesia del Carmen, Zahora de los Atunes (Cádiz)

The food and drink (and la marcha!)

The folklore and culture

La Manera de Ser

Have you ever visited Andalusia? What do you like about this region? Can you believe I’ve actually never been to Jaén or Almería?

Making the Choice to Live Abroad (and Stay)

My first steps in Spain landed in a big wipeout.

Armed with two suitcases, a carry-on and my laptop bag, I tried to hoist my backpack onto my bag, using a round, aluminum can as a platform from which to ease my arms into the padded straps.

Yes, I brought all of that with me. Two free pieces of luggage? Those were the days.

 

And I fell, right on my culo. I roared with laughter, falling over on my side and howling. That’s just kind of been my story in Spain.

After five years of living abroad, I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to live a life abroad in sunny Spain. The reasons that have kept me here are quite simple – ask any of my dozen friends who have been here to visit over the last few years, question my parents, read this blog start to finish in one sitting to really swallow the heartbreak of defeat, the uncertainness of a new relationship, crap work experiences. I have slowly made my life in Spain, from the first few shaky steps and the fall on my butt to establishing my version of happiness in my little burbuja in Seville.

—–

Studying abroad is what made me want to move away from the US in the first place. Perhaps after reading too many of those Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul books, I decided that living abroad was ever going to happen, it needed to be right after graduation.

 

Just days before commencement, the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program offered me  visa and the promise of a job in a high school somewhere in Andalucia. The summer before leaving was full of hurried preparations, tearful goodbyes, and a yo-yo like inner peace with my decision. I kept telling myself it was just eight months, and that no one would be mad at me if I messed up and came home.

My reasons were simple enough: to learn Spanish and travel during a second chance at studying abroad. DJ Yabis, the blogger behind Dream Euro Trip had similar intentions. He writes: I wanted to study and live in Europe so I applied for a prestigious full scholarship (read: tuition, roundtrip flights, insurance and monthly allowance for 2 years) sponsored by the European Commission and GOT IT! Similarly, Mariann Kun-Szabo of tiny girl with a big bag said: I was selected for a scholarship to spend my internship in Spain, with all the costs covered, then I could not stop traveling. Like DJ and Marianne, I had an opportunity fall right in my lap to obtain a visa, work and live in Europe for eight months.

Then suddenly, a week before my plane took off rumbo Madrid, I felt like Spain was where I needed to be. On the plane I went, waving giddily to my parents as I skipped through security at O’Hare and into the International Departures terminal.

My year was not without its ups and downs – I struggled to learn Spanish, had trouble making friends and tried to not think about the life I was putting on hold for a year. Facebook became my enemy, my Skype calls home barely concealed my homesickness. I felt that every label I’d ever used to describe myself had suddenly been stripped away, leaving me fumbling for some sense of self-awareness. But I met the Novio, and he was worth sticking around for. My Spanish Adventure began to take root.

—–

I have started looking at my life in terms of school years, just as I always have. After all, I’m a teacher and a student, and my worklife is measured in school years. My mother said, “Think of Spain as your super senior year of college.” Poor woman didn’t know I’d be on super senior year número six already, but giving myself a few months’ break in between keeps one foot in each bucket – one in España and the other in America. No one is really making my choose just one yet, but I’m sure that will come.

Seville throws me curveballs every other day it seems. If it’s not dropping my clothes out of the window when hanging them to dry (no tumble dryer), it’s the sting of not knowing if I’m always making the right decision. But the feel of the sunshine on my face, the fresh produce and the andalú that has kept me here. If I had to put it down in 25 words or less, I’d write that the folklore, the daily challenges and the blunders have kept me here, not to mention love.

—–

 

When I put the question to my readers, it was clear that moving abroad is a change that many have decided to make. Be it the draw of adventure or to try something new, the promise of fresh love, language learning and running your fingers along walls that have existed far longer than you have. Spain is the romantic realization of sultry Latin dreams and of wild jet-setter nights.

Many of them wrote that they, too, had been lured by Spain’s familiar, yet exotic traditions and the chance to live a new adventure. Jackie’s response that she ended up in her happy place, Shannon remarking “I’d love to live in a place where something centuries old is still considered new. I want the romance of history, culture and new adventures,” and Robin of A Lot of Wind just wanted the adventure: We chose to live abroad because we wanted to reach out and grab a bit of life that wouldn’t have dropped into our laps otherwise! And I just love how Marianne of East of Malaga summed it up: It’s a land of beauty, wine and dance – with always a hint of a little romance ;)

 

And I’m not the only one to follow my heart when it came to sticking around in Seville for more than just the sunshine and siestas. Four readers met their partner while on short-term stays in Spain:

Natalia’s husband danced right into her heart on a week-long trip to la Hispalense: Feria de Sevilla, 2009—I spotted a charismatic Sevillano in a caseta and asked him to dance. Happily married and still dancing sevillanas! while Kaley met hers after a pick-up basketball game in Salamanca while studying abroad: 2009 Salamanca. Basketball win. Hemos quedado. Spilled the wine. Climbed the cathedral. Fell in love. 3 years later: I said yes! And Steph of Discovering Ice uses her boyfriend as the perfect scapegoat for her wanderlust: I was in love with a Colombian who was literally half the world away…we just used travel as an excuse to be together! :)

I sometimes think how different my life in Spain would have been had I not accepted the invitation from Kate to go out the night the Novio and I met. Like Melanie: I met my Spanish husband on a bus traveling from Madrid to Cáceres. One seat away then could have meant a world of difference now.

—–

Travel Bloggers’s responses interested me, too. As I make connection with like-minded travelers, I find that we have much more in common than the T-word. When it comes down to it, an adventurous spirit and the will to do something about it. When I think back on the times when Spain almost didn’t happen because of my own fears or the unwillingness to miss a Hawkeye Football season, I cringe at being so stupid. Alexandra Kovacova of Crazy Sexy Fun Traveler said: I hate boredom and wanted to learn more about this amazing world out there and different cultures. Raymond Walsh of Man on the Lam confessed: I wanted to cover the earth before it covered me.

Some worldly parents, like Talon Windwalker of 1Dad, 1Kid, 1Crazy Adventures said he “wanted my son to see the world and be raised as a global citizen & I wanted to get more living into our life,” whereas Durant Imboden told me that he “didn’t have a choice” because his parents took him along. My parents encouraged my traveling – even if it was just running from one end of the house to the other when I was a kid – and I feel I owe them for instilling an adventurous spirit and apetite for me, and taking me abroad when I was just old enough to have it stick in my head and put me on a direction for life.

Ash of The Most Alive hit the proverbial clavo on the head: Decided to build my life on the principles of adventure, learning and justice – not the social norms of 9-5 mortgage and retirement…
 
…now there’s something to live and travel up to.
 
Lex of Lex Paradise had the mentality for why I came, seizing a pasing opportunity and fulfilling a dream. He wrote: Well, I am now living in Spain as well ;) never thought but it just happened as it suppose to be ;)” which is why I’ve chosen for him to win the $15 Amazon Gift Card. I loved this project and the responses, so don’t forget that Karen’s book, Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, full of loads of laughs and sage advice, is available on Amazon for purchase (in paperback and Kindle format).

PressReader Newspaper Application: A Review

When I was seven, my favorite place in the world was my best friend Megan’s farm. Even though she needed to shove her cats into the basement and vacuum the entire house so my allergies could be kept at bay, the farm and her mother’s cooking made for many happy memories. Among these were having her mother carefully split the comics section down the middle, serve us pipping hot pancakes and mason jars of milk and digging into two things I have always loved – newspapers and breakfast food.

I graduated from college 15 years later with a journalism degree.

While I’m abroad, my desire for news seems to be more acute. Even Spanish news programs are on at 3pm, the time at which most families are sitting down to lunch. I devour newspapers each morning over breakfast – this time with a cup of coffee instead of a mason jar of milk.

I recently took a test run of PressReader, the largest online kiosk for reading newspapers from around the world on a mobile device, tablet or computer. Over 2,300 newspapers in 54 languages are available for browsing, and my subscription started just before the 2012 Presidential Elections. I opened the application to find loads of information about the impending polling and last minute pushes in swing states, quickly saved a few English and Spanish language newspapers into my favorites and dove right in, cup of tea in hand.

They say no news is good news, but no news makes for a deprived Cat with nothing to do to keep her entertained in the morning. Here’s what I thought of PressReader’s application.

What I liked

The benefits of PressReader stuck out right from the beginning. I could easily move through titles, sections and languages and get a good feel for the applications and its capabilities.

Easy Navigation and Stellar Graphics – When each new newspaper is opened, found through a keyword search or by choosing a language, the front cover pops up and the sections can be found on the right hand side. Here, one can browse the sections that interests them the most, using either the table of contents or the thumbnails of the paper’s actual content. There’s also the option to download the paper to a mobile reading device or to send the article to an email address. The newspaper appears just as it was if it were in your hand, with crisp graphics and the ability to open a separate window with larger text and related articles. If anything, I’d prefer the icons for zooming in, turning the page and closing the article to be floating, rather than on the bottom.

Radio Option –  An automated reading of the piece is available in all languages, perfect for multi-tasking or downloading for later listening. The Spanish readings actually sounded better than the English ones!

The Price – After frustratingly trying to open articles to just browse and get my news fill, having to click to read through Facebook ro other social media was irritating. PressReader offers a close to unlimited number of views for a flat fee of $0.99 cents per download, or a rate of $29.95 a month. Considering you’ve got access to well over 2,000 newspapers and all of its content (including the crosswords!), it’s a great deal for keeping informed.

What could be improved

Small Type – The small type led to problems with me clicking on the wrong articles or links. I couldn’t find a magnifying glass to help me sort it out, either.

Not personalized enough from the beginning – Largely due to the enormous number of newspapers availble, the front page is a big jumble of popular articles, my saved newspapers and a dashboard. Trying to find articles that interested me was tougher than I expected, so I would have liked the application to begin with a short questionnaire about my preferences, geographic location and preferred language, along with the look of my homepage.

Overall Value

While PressReader is great for the traveler and the digital minded, I miss the slight weight of a newspaper and the smell of ink on my hands. Regardless, PressReader offers travelers an easy way to stay in touch with no pesky “two clicks a day” limit and a reasonable price to have it all at their fingerprints, no matter where or when they’re having their coffee and paper break.

PressReader generously offered me a multiple-month trial of their application for my desktop. As always, all opinion are my own.

How a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be as lucky as playing partypoker.es at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading acriss the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

Thanksgiving Turkeys and Triumphs

Can I admit something, at the risk of sounding like a bad American?

I never liked Thanksgiving as a kid. My mind keeps going to the hours of preparation at my grandmother’s house, clipping off the ends of green beans and trying to ignore bickering. I’d eat far too much, fall asleep watching football and feel groggy for days straight. Aside from the long weekend, I didn’t see the point of spending a whole day eating and watching TV, all in the name of spending time with family and glorifying a bird.

Then I moved away from America, to a land where cranberries, pecans and even turkeys are scarce (after all, pavo is the Spanish way of say a buck).

All of the sudden, Thanksgiving became a good excuse to get together with those closest to being my kin.

Our Thanksgiving celebrations in my ever-changing group of friends has never been just about us Americans and our traditions – we teach Spaniards about the hand turkey while drinking the garnacha-based wines (which, according to Ask.com, are the best matches for turkey!) and chattering a half a dozen languages.

Yes, I am thankful for my amoeba of culture in Seville – something that is just as much Spanish as American with a smatter of German, Mexican and everything in between.

But this year, I promised Kike a turkey, cranberry sauce and everything that my grandmother made him as breakfast last Christmas in Arizona (he no longer scoffs at my weird breakfast choices – mine is the type of family that eats waffles for dinner and cold leftovers for breakfast). He played his part by bringing back over a few cans of pumpkin and gravy mix and urged me to call on a turkey from a neighborhood carnicería. I began gathering recipes and making a rudimentary plan for how I’d make a full-on Thanksgiving dinner with one oven and two hands.

Then his dumb job sent him abroad nine days earlier than expected, effectively missing Pavo Palooza.

Still, the turkey show must go on, I thought, and I extended the offer to his mother and friend Susana again, not wanting to have to eat turkey bocadillos alone until Reyes.

I was not without challenges, from the lack of a microwave to last-minute changes in the menu due to no  fresh green beans, sage and evaporated milk in the supermarket or even a can opener from the American goodies I brought back with me. There’s a reason I’m the go-to giuri for plastic forks and wine at our parties.

Menu:

Pumpkin Pie. Stuffing. Cornbread. Carrots and Garlic Green Beans. Mashed Potatoes. Gravy. Cranberry Sauce. Turkey. Tinto and Beer.

Turkey: 18,40€

Groceries not at home: 51,59€

New can opener: 5,15€

Total: 85,14€

Even the Brits I work with suggested that I start preparing a schedule ahead of time, and I did: cleaning, pie, vegetables, cornbread and stuffing on Friday, turkey and potatoes on Saturday. I was up before the sun on Saturday when I realized that the evaporated milk I’d refused to buy out of principle was going to be necessary for the pie I was too lazy to make the day before.

I wrote on Kike’s Facebook wall for our anniversary, stating that he would have enjoyed watching me fight with a ten-pound bird more than consuming it. For four hours, I set my alarm every half and hour to give the turkey a little broth bath, nervous if I hadn’t gotten all of the gizzards out or I didn’t let it cook enough inside. When my guests – Carmín, Alejandro, Susana and Inma – showed up right on time, I offered them beer and wine, and they marveled at the sudden transformation of an anti-housewife as I shooed them out of the kitchen. The only person I’d let in was Luna, my friends’ two-year-old daughter, who chowed down on cornbread and checked the status of the turkey.

In the end, the meat was cooked, no one cared that the stuffing was a bit cold and I didn’t end up with too much leftovers. We spent the afternoon laughing, telling jokes and finding places in our stomach to fit more food in. Wanting to do everything al estilo americano, I had to teach them the gravy volcano, explain that they’d probably fall asleep after consuming the turkey and look for American football games on YouTube. I felt lucky (thankful, if you will) about having friends and family who were open to trying out my holiday and easing the ache I sometimes feel for being so far away.

What Kike has got is mala suerte, heaved my beloved Doña Carmen. This food is making me think twice about American cuisine!

The One Where the Novio Carved a Pumpkin

When I made my little trip to Spain four years ago, I was determined to do what any expat does – immerse myself in the culture. Eat, breath and sleep flamenco, siestas and tapas.

Then I realized I am just too American for that. Who says you can’t live in Spain and have your hot dog-flavored cake, and eat it, too?

I don’t necessarily have to redeem myself when it comes to exhibiting my Americanism with pride with the Novio, as he is ten times more Spanish than I am guiri. He eats, breathes, sleeps cerveza, Betis and juerga. But one really beautiful part of a bilingual, bicultural relationship is being able to share another culture with someone. Had I not met Kike, there’s a lot that would remain a mystery to me, and a lot of places I would never know.

So, in my opinion, it’s only natural I’d try to do the same. since Halloween is my second favorite holiday, second only to Fourth of July (for the beer and fireworks, not the patriotism!), and this is the first time he’s actually been in Seville for Halloween since we met, it was high time I taught him about All Hallow’s Eve.

Turns out, he’s too Spanish for his own good.

My friend Kelly hosts a pumpkin carving party yearly, but I missed out this year to go to Madrid. Last Tuesday, I finished work and, feeling in the spirit of Halloween on the first cold and blustery day of the Fall, went to Lidl to buy spider webs for my classroom and a pumpkin for the Novio and I. Lidl is the German equivalent of Aldi - mega cheap, charges you for bags like most places in Spain, has carts of random crap in the aisles. But Aldi has a rotating international week, meaning I can get cranberry juice and marshmallows during American week, Croque Monsseiur during semaine francaise, and beer brats and Haribo gummis any given. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, witches hats and packaged candy fangs adorn the aisle displays next to the register. I snagged the last two pumpkins, paid for two bags and took them home.

Since the pumpkins came with stickered-on faces, The Novio perched them on the mantle above the TV, laughing in a spooky voice. “Sunday,” I announced, “¡Al ataque!”

The weekend drew to a close and I dropped Hayley off at the taxi stand and went to make chicken stock and wait for Kike to come home from having lunch with friends. Three hours later, he arrives home. I told him I wanted to do Halloween stuff, like carve our pumpkins. He walked into the kitchen, took out a knife, and I had to lunge forward and yell NOOOOOOOOOOO, because he assumed I wanted him to cut it up so we could make a crema, a type of thick soup, out of it. He asked the purpose of carving it before All Hallow’s Eve, as today is merely the 30th.

I told him I was giving up, not really willing to fight about a tradition he knows very little about. Venga, he coaxed, we’re already doing Halloween things! He made a scary face and tried to pop out at me from behind the open fridge door. I took out the carving knife and commenced slicing off the head of his pumpkin, scooping out the goopy innards and placing them in a glass bowl.

As I tried to peel off the sticker, the Novio protested, saying he didn’t know how to make a scary face. I gave up. He did, too.

Replacing the top, he snickered and put the jack o’lantern back on the mantle. Within ten minutes, the time it took for me to carve my pumpkin and place the seeds pn a baking sheet, he was out cold.

There’s always Thanksgiving, Novio. Who doesn’t like a holiday based around food and sports?

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