2014 in review, and a look toward 2015.

2014 was not the best year ever. Quite close to the opposite. It started out with the worst flight ever (lost luggage and delays), morphed into a breakup of a relationship that never was really defined as such, which lead to a snowboarding adventure with a sprained ankle that took 2.5 months to fully heal, which lead to a bad bout with depression and anxiety.

Got the negative junk out of the way, so now I can look at the good things of 2014.

I started SetMeravelles! I travelled to Ibiza, Ireland (Cork, Blarney, Cobh and Dublin. I missed all the amazing parts, I know) Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona twice, Cantabria twice, La Rioja three times, and all over the Basque Country. I made it to Nashville (entry coming Friday). Unfortunately, it was a rather quiet year for travels. I had a trip to Belgium planned that was postponed to February, and I got money back from Ryan Air as the flights ended up being cancelled due to the Belgian General Strikes. Pam Swynford de Beaufort got a good send off. I read 111 books and saw a lot of classic films.

In short…I survived.

I don’t believe in resolutions per se, but I do make a list of goals every year that I hope to accomplish. I don’t think I did so well in 2014, but I did manage to cross one that had been on there for about 12 years: go snowboarding.

2014 Goals Accomplished: Get down to 150 pounds/68 KG and develop muscle, snowboard, started the Camino de Santiago, continued the fight against depression and anxiety, slowly developing a social circle.

It was not the most successful year, but I have a feeling 2015 is going to kick 2014’s culo. Here are my goals.

1. Come out to my mom. It has to be done. Life free of lies and a meaningful relationship. (saved from 2014! Okay and every year since 2002!)

2. Submit my first two novels for publication, and get to 75% finished with novel 3. (saved from 2014! Oy.)

3. Eat healthy, learn to cook. Tuesday will be my cheat day, as it’s a day of hell for me. Every Sunday, I will learn to cook a new dish. For real.

4. Continue the progress at the gym. Lose body fat. Go to Body Combat at least once a week, go to Body Pump at least once a week, go to Body Balance once a week. Be able to do 100 pushups and ten pullups (at the moment I can’t do one) by the end of the year.

5. Try surfing again and go kayaking.

6. For the Camino de Santiago, I vow to make it at least from Zarautz to Santander over this year. It’s my Camino.

7. Work on developing a social circle and go out more. Maybe even find a steady boyfriend.

8. Work toward finding a permanent job and figuring out grad school. (Saved from last year). I am looking in Barcelona, Valencia and Bilbao. I’m open to coastal areas, and while I know I will probably have to teach, I would love to write full time. And grad school at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona or Universitat de València would be amahzing.

9. Continue the struggle with depression and anxiety and not let them get the best of me like they did in the latter part of 2014!

10. Be able to afford a studio apartment and a golden ‘triever dog.

11. Learn to relax and enjoy the moment.

12. Listen to every song on iTunes once and delete the ones I truly don’t like. This may take a while.

13. Learn yoga

14. Find my way back to God

Another tradition I do is list all the places I’ve slept in the year. I feel as this is supposed to be a travel blog, that this might be the best part of the entry for most!

Places I slept: Over the Atlantic, Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Ibiza, Madrid, Cork, Dublin, Pamplona, Zaragoza, La Almunia de Doña Godina, Valencia, Barcelona, Lawrenceburg

And a meme I’ve done since 2002 I believe.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?: Snowboarding, drive a standard transmission

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?: Some, and I always have goals for the New Year, as seen above.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?: A few people from high school.

4. Did anyone close to you die?: A guy I had just met committed suicide around the time Robin Williams did. RIP to both.
5. What countries did you visit?: Spain (and Basque Country and Catalunya), Ireland, France, United States

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?: Money, a boyfriend, and dogs.

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?: Nov. 8 for my date with Lady Gaga in Barcelona. I guess March 1 for my trip to Ibiza too.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?: Surviving. This blog!

9. What was your biggest failure?: Coming out, financial issues, social issues.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Two cases of food poisoning, a sprained ankle, a couple of colds, and depression-anxiety.

11. What was the best thing you bought?: Plane/train/bus tickets and bus.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Mariah Carey

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?: The Partido Popular. 99,9% of politicians, but the PP and Republicans really terrify me.

14. Where did most of your money go?: Travel, café con leche, books.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?: Traveling, my new iPad, Barcelona trips

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?: “Gypsy” by Lady Gaga and the entire album Me..I Am Mariah, The Elusive Chanteuse

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier
ii. thinner or fatter? thinner
iii. richer or poorer? about the same (poor!)

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?: Writing, travelling.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Procrastinating, being afraid to be who I am, worrying

20. How will you be spending Christmas?: I spent it with my mom in the States.

21. How will you be spending New Years? Eating grapes at 6 PM Eastern Standard Time (midnight Spanish peninsular time) and packing.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?: EZ. No.

23. How many one-night stands?: Even Americans living in Euskadi never kiss and tell.

24. What was your favorite TV program?: True Blood, Community, Fargo, Everwood, Nashville, Jack & Bobby, Veep, Happy Endings, Jericho were the ones I watched.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?: I try not to hate anyone.

26. What was the best book you read?: I have 111 to choose from. Crime and Punishment, Primera temporada de Enric Pardo, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding, Until I Find You by John Irving, La verdad sobre el caso de Harry Quebert, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (why I’m Pablo Supertramp on Twitter!)

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?: I finally discovered Queen at the age of 32. How sad is that?

28. What did you want and get?: An iPad, a start to the Camino.

29. What did you want and not get?: A boyfriend, various travels

30. What was your favorite film of this year?: Boyhood, Ocho Apellidos Vascos, Wish I Were Here

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?: 33 and went to Barcelona and the Pont de Diable. Yes, I know I’m the same age as Jesus was when he died.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?: Stability and less anxiety/depression/loneliness!

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?: Preppy-casual

34. What kept you sane?: Jordi, my iPod

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?: David Villa, Cesc Fàbregas, Mario Casas

36. What political issue stirred you the most?: La crisis and the ineptitude of the PPSOE.

37. Who did you miss?: Fallon Fey. Still.

38. Who was the best new person you met?: This will remain to be seen.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014: Once again, Mimi’s part to the Rent classic “Another Day”

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: No hay más que hoy…no day but today.
¡FELIZ AÑO NUEVO! BON ANY NOU! URTE BERRI ON! HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Common Grounds, the best little coffeehouse in the States.

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I’m visiting family in the States over Christmas. Although I’ve already written (in Spanish) about my home state of Ohio, I didn’t only live in Ohio in the days before I moved to Spain. I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a double major in journalism and Spanish (surprisingly, UK has one of the best Hispanic Studies programs in the States.) My mom is from Kentucky but lived most of her life in Ohio, and so I grew up believing that UK was on the level of Harvard, the Sorbonne or Oxford.

It’s not.

But we did beat the University of Louisville 58-50 this week, which is like Barcelona winning 4-2 over the evil Real Madrid.

During my uni and post-uni years, I spent all too much time and money sipping French kisses (vanilla lattes) and zebra mochas (a mix of white chocolate and milk chocolate mochas) as I studied for exams, read one of the 29382938298382 books on my never-ending to-read list, or worked on my novels (one day they will be published) at an amazing little coffee house known as Common Grounds.

The US has a major coffee culture with Starbucks conquering the world as if it were Hernán Cortés in the “New World”. While I will admit Starbucks has some tasty drinks, I would much prefer to support local places. In Spain, while I have been in Starbucks in all four of the major cities (airports don’t count Gran Canaría and Mallorca) where they are located (Madrid, Barcelona, València and Sevilla), I would much prefer to spend less money on a better café con leche at a local Spanish establishment. I will not admit how many skinny peppermint mochas I have drunk this trip to the States.

I have visited a lot of coffee houses, coffee shops and cafés around the States and world, and my favourite to this day is Common Grounds. They serve fair trade and generally have some of the best baristas I have ever encountered. On the weekends, they tend to have live music, and every Monday is open-mike night, where anyone who feels they have the talent can get up to perform a song or read poetry as if they were Phoebe Buffay at Central Perk on Friends. They were one of the first places to offer wireless internet (now wifi) in the early 00s. It is the one thing I miss about Lexington, Kentucky (other than being in a university in general.)

Basically…if you’re ever in Lexington, be sure to take a detour to High Street close to downtown and the UK Campus to check out Common Grounds. They also have new locations around town, but I prefer the original recipe.

Ohio…el corazón de todo (The Heart of It All)

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Pues, aquí estoy en EEUU para celebrar las Navidades, y he decidido hacer un cambio y escribir algo de los EEUU. Creo que la península ibérica es la mejor península del mundo, pero eso no significa que no hay nada fuera de la península. Al contrario. El mundo es super grande. Por eso, voy a intentar escribir una entrada sólo en castellano sobre los EEUU, como suelo escribir entradas sobre España sólo en inglés. Soy un bicho raro, ya lo sé.

Nací en Ohio en los años 80 en un pueblo unos 20 kilometros de Lago Erie, uno de los cinco lagos grandes y super cerca al parque de atraciones, Cedar Point, media distancia entre Cleveland y Toledo de Ohio. En este zona de Ohio, hay inviernos super fríos (aún más frío que Burgos y Vitoria) con mucha nieve. En los veranos, algunas tormentas y a veces tornados, aunque nunca he visto uno (tocando madera ahora mismo), y en el festivo famoso de Día de Independencia (el 4 de Julio), va a hacer 18 grados o 37 grados, y nada en el medio. Los Ohioanos (o Buckeyes, como nos llamamos en inglés, por un tipo de árbol que sólo hay en Ohio) podemos decir en inglés “Ohio is a good place to be from, far from” (Ohio es un sitio bueno para ser de…estar muy lejos de. No tiene sentido en castellano porque ser/estar son palabras diferentes en castellano, pero en inglés, es una mala broma).

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En Ohio, hay de todo. Hay ciudades grandes (Cleveland, la capital Columbus, Cincinnati) y pueblos super pequeñitos. Cada cuatro años, durante las elecciones, los candidatos de presidente siempre visitan Ohio porque en Ohio, es casí 50/50 izquierdas y derechas. Cualquier candidato que gana Ohio va a ganar las elecciones de presidente. (Ey ey ey todos que conozco votaron al otro candidato y no a Bush, pero lo siento mucho de verdad.)

Ohio tiene 88 condados y es un estado bastante plano. La cima más alto es Campbell Hill con 517 metros (1549 “feet” o pies). Por eso, aunque tenemos más nieve en el mes de noviembre que existe en España durante todo el año, no se puede hacer esqui o snowboarding. En inviernos super fríos, el Lago Erie sí, se congela (pero no intentaría caminar a Canada, ¿eh?

La capital de Columbus tiene unos 822.000 habitantes y es la 15ª ciudad más grande de población de EEUU. La ciudad de Cleveland está perdiendo gente, pero el Gran Cleveland (Cleveland metropolitian) tiene una población de sobre 1 milliones de personas…la ciudad de Cleveland sólo tiene 390.113 según el censo de 2013. (Eso significa que cuando mi profesora de nacionalismo español me dijo que Bilbao era parecido a Cleveland, tenía razón, como Bilbao tiene población de 350.000 y Gran Bilbao (Getxo, Barakaldo, Portugalete, etc) es más de un millon. Las dos ciudades eran super industriales hasta los 80 y están cambiándose a ser ciudades de servicio. Creo que Bilbao ha tenido más exitó en transformarse que Cleveland. Bilbao tiene el Guggenheim, y Cleveland tiene su Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

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(La foto es de Cincinnati)

El deporte es super importante en Ohio. Hay dos equipos profesionales de béisbol, Cleveland Indians y Cincinnati Reds, dos equipos profesionales de fútbol americano, Cleveland Browns y Cincinnati Reds, un equipo de baloncesto (NBA), Cleveland Cavs (que Lebron James se joda, aunque haya vuelta a jugar con Cleveland…tenemos memorias largas en Ohio) y un equipo de fútbol real (soccer), el Columbus Crew. También existen equipos varios de fútbol americano y baloncesto universitario, el más importante siendo el Ohio State Buckeyes (quien no apoyo nada. No me gustan los equipos de Ohio, pero sus fans son super leales).

Ahora voy a intentar decidir los Set Meravelles de Ohio. Viví en Ohio hasta tenía 17 años, cuando me fui a vivir en Lexington, Kentucky, para asisitir la Universidad de Kentucky, pero ya llevo casí más años viviendo en España que en Kentucky. Por favor, si us plau, mesdez, nunca decís que soy de Kentucky. (Prefería que me pensareis como euskovalenciano pero bueno.)

Set Meravelles

Cedar Point

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Cedar Point es un parque de atraciones en Sandusky situado en una península de Lago Erie. Abrió en 1870 y es uno de los parques de atraciones más antiguos del mundo. Tiene 16 montañas rusas y siempre busca abrir la montaña rusa más alta, más grande y más rápida del mundo. Ha ganado “Best Amusement Park in the World” de Amusement Today 16 años seguidos. Y es 26 milas (31,2 kilometros) de mi casa.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of Museum

El Museo de música Rock and Roll abrió sus puertas en el año 1995. Solo he ido una vez, pero me quedé super impresionado. El edificio es parecido al museo Louvre de París. Tiene muchas cosas de los mejores artistas del música del rock. (Venga, aunque Mariah Carey es más pop/R&B, ¡creo que ha contribudo bastante para ser iniciada en su 25 año en el mundo de música!)

Lake Erie

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Lake Erie es uno de los Grandes Lagos formardo de los glaciares. Es el lago con menos profunidad y el cuatro de tamaño de los cinco lagos. Me parece que siempre está en un concurso con la Ría Nervión de Bilbao para ver cual puede tener más contaminación. El año pasado ha vuelto tener algas tóxicas. Y nadé en este agua en los años 80. Puede explicar algunas cosas, ¿eh? Es el tamaño de un mar pequeño, pero tiene agua dulce y no agua salada.

Port Clinton Walleye Drop

La plaza de Times Square en Nueva York tiene su famoso “ball drop” cada Noche Vieja. En un pueblo en Ohio, Port Clinton, hace una cosa parecida pero distinta. No es una pelota de luces pero un pescado, el “walleye” (lucioperca americana). No es real pero creado de luces y  papel machel.) Es una tradición curiosa pero interesante.

Ohio River

El río de Ohio es uno de los ríos más importantes de los EEUU y es el tributario del Mississippi más importante. Ohio en la lengua de los indíos Seneca significa “great river” (río grande). Aunque el río empieza en Pittsburgh, Pensilvania y termina en Cairo, Illinois, le da el nombre al estado de Ohio. Es la frontera del sur del estado con Kentucky.

Amish Country

Ohio tiene una comunidad bastante grande de los Amish, y viven cerca a mi pueblo. Tenía un ex-Amish como profesor un año en el instituto. Mucha gente va al Amish Country (País Amish) para comprar y volver al pasado y un mundo sin electricidad, sin wifi, sin móviles, sin agua en casa…los Amish son cristianos que creen que todas esas cosas no son necesarios y viven una vida más simple. Su comida está rica y hay muchas cosas hechas por mano. Hay que tener mucho cuidado en la carretera si ves un “horse and buggy” (calesa con caballo). Van despacio y muchas veces no se puede adelentar.

Blossom Music Centre 

Blossom Music Centre es un anfiteatro situado en el campo cerca de Cleveland en el pueblo de Cuyahoga Falls. En el verano, los artistas musicales más populares y importantes pasan por allí para dar conciertos en director. Hay espacio para 23.000 espectadores. He visto Shania Twain, No Doubt y Blink-182 en directo aquí. Solo se abre en el verano cuando no hace un frío.

La semana que viene, una vuelta a España y escribir en inglés…si hay errores, avisa pero con cariño. Poco a poco todo el blog será bilingüe pero tengo un trabajo que exige mi atención…xé collons.

¡Feliz navidad!

As today is Christmas around the world, I thought I might take this opportunity to write about some of the various Christmas traditions in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I nearly laughed a few weeks ago when one of my students’ mother asked the innocent question “Is Christmas as commercialized in the United States as it is in Spain?” I wanted to be like “Spain has reached 1914 levels of commercialization compared to the United States” but instead explained to her the insanity of holidays in the States.

In Spain, Christmas Eve is equivalent to American Thanksgiving, minus the explanations of how thankful you are and how ready you are to fight to get more at midnight when Black Friday sales begin. Families and friends get together to have a big dinner. Thanks to the influence of American culture and the attempts to expand the knowledge of the English language in the Greatest Peninsula in the World, Papa Noel (Santa Claus) may bring a present or two for the children. The importance of the day is not presents but being with family. On Christmas Day, it’s not uncommon to see restaurants and bars open, although most people spend the day with family.

The presents come on January 6, El Día de los Reyes (The Day of the Kings, The Twelfth Night, Epiphany). On January 5th, the Three Kings (Wise Men) arrive to the cities, towns and villages in a huge parade, where candy, sweets and presents are thrown to children. Some children still put a shoe in the windowsill, although many weren’t aware of this old tradition, for the Three Kings/Wise Men to fill with presents and sweets. The presents opened on Jan. 6 almost always trump any present Papa Noel might bring.

In the Basque Country, things are a bit different. The Three Kings may or may not visit on Jan. 6 depending on how Basque the family feels. The Basques have their own Santa known as Olentzero. Olentzero is a former miner who lives in the mountains somewhere in Euskadi (although it’s Mungia who has a house in his honour). He gives presents to the good children on Christmas Eve and coal to the bad ones. He is dressed in blue and still smokes a pipe in the 21st Century, and like Quijote, he has a burro (donkey) to move around on. Once upon a time, Olentzero used to kidnap bad children, but in the 20th Century and under Franco, took a more gift-giving and positive image. You will not see any Santa hats in Euskal Herria.

Catalunya has adapted Santa more than the Basque Country but continues with their own traditions. The caga tío is part of a trunk of a tree hollowed out to place presents in. He’s sitting on legs so on Christmas morning, he…how should I put this? “defecates” the presents. The Catalans like connecting Christmas to shit, as they also have caganers, or a Catalán figurine crouched on his legs with some human droppings on the ground below him that they place in their nativity scenes to bring luck. Today it is considered an honour to have a caganer made of you. All the cool Iberian celebrities and not-cool politicians have one, and important foreign politicians have one made of them too. Thankfully the one of Obama I bought for my uncle (complete with “Yes we can” written at the bottom) made it past TSA and American customs.

On New Year’s Eve, Spanish, Basque and Catalan families get together to have another meal, and at the first 12 strokes of the New Year, they eat a grape. 12 grapes in 12 seconds for each month of the year to bring good luck for the year. When I’m visiting family in the States, I always watch it on peninsular time and eat grapes with the Iberians. They wear red underwear for good luck in romance for the New Year and then leave to spend the night dancing at a disco or at a cotillion.

I’m sure there are a ton more traditions all across this great nation of nations that I haven’t discovered yet. Feel free to let me know about the traditions in your neck of the woods.

And a ¡feliz navidad! Bon Nadal! Zorionak! Bo Nadal!

And also…¡Prospero año nuevo! Bon any nou! Urte Berri On! I haven’t learned it in gallego yet!

 

Girona…a Catalán and Dalí experience.

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One of my favourite Christmases was the Christmas I spent in Girona in 2011. Granted, I left for the trip on the 26th, so I had spent Christmas in Madrid, but it’s the spirit of things. Everything was still decorated for Christmas, and Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) is an important day in Catalunya. For those who haven’t heard of this amahzing (I’ve been watching Happy Endings, so read that in a “Penny voice”) place, it’s the province between Barcelona and France on the Catalán coast, la Costa Brava. Girona is probably most known for its beaches, but it also has some incredible sites in the Pyrenees too that I’m dying to explore.

My first time in Girona (Gerona in Spanish, but officially it’s the Catalán spelling and pronunciation Girona) was actually in 2008 for a connecting flight to Italia. I was still getting a grasp of Spanish geography at that time and thought flying from Girona to Italia would be a good idea when I was living in Andalucía. I still can’t believe I was ever so naïve. I came to the conclusion that it had to be a popular place for tourist in the summer based on this brief time at the airport.

In 2011, I had the chance to return and explore both the capital city and the province. I wanted to ring in the new year in Barcelona in hopes that by being in the city at the stroke of midnight, it would make fate transfer me to Barcelona. No such luck. I digress. This is Girona’s time to shine. I spent a few days in the capital city and making day trips to explore the beautiful province. I arrived via the night train from Madrid going on little sleep. Excitement and café amb llet (café con leche in Catalán) kept me going as I found the hostal in the city centre and began to explore the beautiful city.

The capital city of Girona has some amazing views. It’s located at the heart of four rivers with a ton of bridges (with a lot of locks on the bridges from young couples wanting to demonstrate their forever love, it’s a thing) and you can see the mountains in the distance. I remember walking along the walls and watching the sunset from high upon the old town near the cathedral.

The next day I did the typical trip to Cadaques and Figueres. The Dalí museums were a bit expensive for my budget, but that doesn’t change the fact these places are incredibly beautiful. No wonder they attract so many tourists year round. I walked along the coast for a while before having lunch and catching a bus to Figueres. I’ll be honest, for Dalí’s home town, there is not much else beside his museum. It is well worth checking out, especially for fans of him. (He is the only artist I can truly say I admire. I’m a book, music and film guy, and art goes over my head. However, Dalí seems to have experienced the same weird nightmares I do, so I can at least appreciate him.)

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The last day of my Girona experience, I went to see one of the most beautiful bridges in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I am a great aficionado of bridges, perhaps because I love being around water so much. The bridge in Besalú is one of the coolest bridges, and the city has a medieval flare.

I have yet to return to Girona, but I am dying for an opportunity. The capital has a distinct northern European vibe going for it, and the sheer beauty of the area makes it a popular vacation destination. With so many interesting places, it’s easy to get off the beaten path. There are a lot more than just seven meravelles, but these are the ones that are sticking with me this morning.

Set Meravelles

Girona

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Girona, the capital city of the province with nearly 100,000 habitants, is one of the coolest (as in American English for superchulo and not cold) cities in Spain. Located 99 km or 62 miles from Barcelona, Girona is well worth a visit. There are several churches, including a Gothic cathedral and old Roman walls. The city wall walkway is one of my fave things about the city. Any word of Catalán is more than well-appreciate here, as it is probably the most Catalán of the four provinces of Catalunya.

Cadaqués

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Cadaqués has a population of about 2000 people, but in the summers, the population can be up to 10 more than that. Its location on the Costa Brava and proximity to Barcelona make it a popular tourist destination, and it’s no stranger to tourists. Salvador Dalí visited often as a child, and Pablo Picasso also spent time there. You can visit the Salvador Dalí House and Museum today and walk along the coast. Fun trivia fact: the Catalán spoken here is more similar to the variant found in the Balearic Islands than the rest of Catalunya.

Figueres

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Figueres, home of 45,000 folks, is also the home and birthplace of Salvador Dalí. 40 km or 25 miles from Girona capital, the small city is popular with fans of the surrealist artist. In addition to the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí, the city houses a castle and a Gothic church. It is also home to Spanish and Catalán gay icon Mónica Naranjo.

Besalú

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Besalú may only have 2000 habitants, but it is an awesome place to visit. It’s located 31 km (18 miles) from Girona capital, and its main attraction is the bridge. It is a beautiful medieval pueblo and a step back in time. It could easily be on my own top ten list of beautiful pueblos (villages) in the peninsula.

Puigcerda (to be discovered)

Puigcerdà has been at the top of my bucket lists of villages to visit for quite some time. It’s a three-hour train ride from Barcelona, so I keep saying “próxima vez, próxima vez, propera vegada” (next time, next time, Catalán next time). It’s a village of around 10,000 people located at the very north of Girona, high in the Pyrenees, almost in France. I saw the turn off on my whirlwind trip to Andorra and vowed once again to visit there. It’s supposed to have some of the most beautiful views of the Pyranees. It’s 144 KM (86 miles) from Girona capital.

Olot (to be discovered)

Olot, home of 34,000 people, is one of the rainiest places in Catalunya, so much that there is a saying in Catalán: Si no plou a Olot, no plou enlloc. (If it’s not raining in Olot, it’s not raining anywhere). Perhaps the reason for this is because it’s located in the middle of not one but four volcanos. The last eruption was about 11,000 years ago, so chances are, it’s not going to erupt any time soon. We think.

Costa Brava

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The Wild Coast is one of the most popular tourist places in the Peninsula due to its good weather and natural beauty. Although the North Coast is probably more beautiful, it also rains 379 days a year here. Not an opportune time to swim or sunbathe, eh? Blanes, Tossa del Mar and Llobregat del Mar are just some of the many villages and cities along the spectacular Mediterranean coast.

Taking flight.

For someone who lives and breathes flying like me, you’d think that I wouldn’t mind flying.

Para alguien como yo que le encanta viajar tanto como vivir, pensarías que no me importaría volar.

You think wrong.

Piensas mal.

I hate flying. I hate being trapped 36,000 feet/12,000 metres above the world in a closed-in space for hours at a time, at the mercy of the pilots and flight attendants. I hate the security lines at the airports and being treated like the scum of the earth just because I want to see the world. I hate the artificially high prices. I hate everything about it.

Odio volar. Odio estar atrapado 12.000 metros sobre la tierra en un espacio cerrado durante horas a la merced del piloto y los azafatas. Odio las colas para pasar seguridad en los aeropuertos y ser tratado como escoria de la Ría Nervión sólo porque quiero ver el mundo. Odio los precios altos artificiales. Odio todo sobre viajar por avión.

Today I’m going to be on a plane for 16 hours with two two-hour layovers. Lucky me. (I actually am scheduling this to post while I’m on the plane.) I’m worried about all the possible things that could go wrong, although things will probably be fine.

Hoy, voy a estar en un avión durante 16 horas con dos escalas de dos horas. Que suerte. (De verdad, esta entrada va a publicar mientras estoy en el avión.) Me preocupo de todas las cosas que posiblemente puede va mal, aunque siempre irán bien.

I’ve had a few bad plane rides throughout the years, and I’m not just talking about my flights with Ryan Air. Last Christmas, on my return to Bilbao, Capital of the World, my luggage was lost. We had a three-hour delay on the runway in Chicago, and whereas I made my connecting flight in Brussels, my suitcase didn’t. They brought it the next day safe and sound.

He tenido algunos vuelos malos durante los años, y no estoy referiendo de los vuelos con Ryan Air. El año pasado, durante la vuelta a Bilbao, capital del mundo, perdieron mi equipaje. Tuvimos un restraso de tres años en Chicago, y aunque no tenía problemas con llegar al vuelo de conexión en Bruselas, mi maleta no lo consigó. Me la llevarón el próximo día.

On my first trip to Europe in 2000, I had the fun of a six-hour delay in JFK on the return to the States. I’ve had a few more delays over the years. It comes with the territory.

Durante mi primer viaje a Europa en el año 2000, tenía un retraso de seis horas en JFK (Nueva York) en el vuelo de vuelta a los EEUU. He tenido más de uno retraso durante los años. Es una parte hay que aceptar con viajar.

The worst was on my flight to Puerto Rico in 2005. The first flight was cancelled because there was engine problems. I cannot believe people were complaining that they cancelled the flight. Maybe I’m weird, but I’d like to fly on a plane without engine problems. Then on the new flight, we had to circle Orlando for hours because of a storm, and the plane ran out of gas and had to make an emergency stop in Daytona to refuel. We barely made our connection flight to San Juan, but luckily they bumped us up to first class for our inconvenience.

El peor vuelo era mi vuelo a Puerto Rico en 2005. El primer vuelo fue cancelado porque había problemas  con el motor. No me lo puedo creer, pero había gente quejandose que habían cancelado el vuelo. Igual soy un bicho raro, pero me gusta volar en un avión sin problemas de motor. En el vuelo nuevo, tuvimos que volar en círculos sobre Orlando porque había una tormenta. El avión se quedó sin combustible y tenía que hacer una parada de urgencias en Daytona. Apenas llegamos al vuelo de conexión a San Juan. Tuvimos suerte porque nos cambiaron a primera clase gratis.

No matter what problems there are travelling, the best way to deal is to take a deep breath and relax. You’re travelling and on the way to seeing the world.

No importan los problemas hay mientras estás viajando, la mejor manera de manejar la situación es una respiración honda. Estás viajando y vas a ver el mundo.

Murcia…somewhere between Valencia and Andalucía.

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Murcia is a little-known corner of Spain tucked away between Comunitat Valenciana and Andalucía, southeast of Castilla La Mancha, on the Mediterranean. It’s small but quaint and offers a lot to see and do.

My first time in Murcia was a quick day trip from Alicante when I was living in Valencia. Valencia was the hardest year I’ve had in relations to money, and I wanted to go somewhere new that was close by. I had been to Alicante but wanted to go back, and I combined that with going to Murcia on the same trip. I saw the capital city, which is the 7th largest city in Spain. The Cathedral is the most impressive thing that I remember from that too short visit. It was the 15th autonomous community I had been to, and at that period in my life, I was still ticking off the comunidades off a to-do list instead of taking the time to truly get to know and experience them like I do now.

Never fear, in 2012 I got a chance to return to Murcia for an extended 10-day visit while working at a summer camp with my school close to La Manga on Mar Menor. Mar Menor is actually a big lagoon with perhaps the warmest water in Spain (it’s known as La Costa Cálida in Spanish) separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow strip of land known as La Manga. I freaked out at the number of jellyfish that summer (I have a fear of them), but I enjoyed being on the beach for 10 days and exploring the area of Mar Menor as much as possible. I’ll never forget how I arranged for my campers to visit an ice cream shoppe with a Spanish-British owner so the students could practice their English, then when I went, only the Spanish worker who didn’t speak English was employed. I get an A for effort, right?

Also, the camp started out when Spain won the 2012 Eurocup! Why am I always working at camps when Spain whens fútbol cups?

There are a few more places I still have yet to visit in Murcia, most specifically Cartagena. The comunidad autonoma is one of the few that is a single-province comunidad after Albacete was made part of Castilla La Mancha in 1980. (The other single-province comunidades are Asturias, Illes Baleares, La Rioja, Madrid, Navarra,and Cantabria.) The capital city has a population of 443,000 habitants, making it bigger than Bilbao. It’s one of the places that keeps itself out of the news, except for that earthquake which hit Lorca in 2011.

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Catedral de Murcia

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La Iglesia Catedral de Santa María en Murcia, home of eternal resting place of Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise), is one of the most famous monuments in Murcia. Construction began in the 14th century but wasn’t finished until the 1700s, which means it boasts a variety of styles including Gothic and Baroque. The 90 metre/300-foot tall bell tower took over 200 years to complete.

Puente de los Pelígros

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After a flood took out the old bridge in 1701, Murcia had to rebuild the bridge that was the starting point to the road to Cartegena and crossed the Río Segura. The bridge was finished in 1742 and is the oldest permanent bridge in Murica today, having survived many more floods than it’s predecessor.

Mar Menor y La Manga

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The saltiest lagoon in Europe, Mar Menor (the Small Sea) is a lagoon separated by a very narrow strip of land called “La Manga”. It attracts tourists year round. The water is never deeper than 7 metres (a little over 21 feet or…about 7 yards) which makes it perfect for water sports. Bring your sunscreen.

Monteagudo

Located only 4 kilometres (2.4 miles) from Murcia capital, Monteagudo is formed by three villages and is home of a castle with a huge statue of Jesus at the top that can be seen for kilometres around. I want to take the time to visit and hike to the statue of Jesus. It may not be Christ the Redeemer in Rio, but it still is pretty impressive.

Cartagena

Cartagena, the second largest city in Murcia and one of the largest cities in all of Spain not to be a province capital with 219,000 habitants, is full of history and an important naval port. It has one of the most important Roman theatres in Spain (famously seen in Alex de la Iglesia’s La chispa de la vida). It’s at the top of my bucket list in Spain due to all the Roman Ruins. Too bad I’m at the opposite end of the peninsula!

Lorca

Lorca, a city of 92,000 habitants, made the news in 2011 when it was the epicenter of an earthquake that killed 9 people and destroyed a bell tower. It was only a 5.1, but the quake was so close to the surface it felt like an 8.0 on the Richter scale. The city was an important battle place in the wars between the former Kingdoms of Murcia and Granada. It still boasts a castle, although there was some damage from the 2011 quake.

Moratalla

Moratalla, a town of nearly 10,000 people, is the home of an important Castle, the Castillo Fortaleza. It’s also the home of the Arab castle in the Benizar neighbourhood and several churches and hiking.

Looking at all this information, I see that I have a lot waiting for me for whenever the next trip to Murcia will be.

Impromptu Weekend in Barcelona.

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Your regularly scheduled Set Meravelles entry this week is swapping places with Thursday’s entry (which may be up Friday instead of Thursday, busy week ahead!) to bring you an extra special crossing things off my bucket list report from this weekend.

Back in October, I had bought a Ryan Air flight to go to Belgium this weekend. However, that Spanish proverb is true. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Due to a strike (huelga general) in Belgium on Dec. 15, transport is going to be screwy at best, so I decided to postpone the trip until my week off in February and take off to the city that is calling my name, Barcelona, to celebrate my 33rd birthday in style. (Good thing, as my flight from Santander got delayed several hours and the flight back is all together cancelled, which means I might get the money back. With Ryan Air, it’s always cheaper to just book a new flight than changing the dates. Keep your fingers crossed!)

This weekend was exactly what I needed. On Friday, I visited the Pont de Diable in Martorell, crossing it off my Set Meravelles de Barcelona Provincia to do list. The village was meh, but the bridge was incredible. I crossed it and had a café con leche at a bar that took me back to 1980s Almodóvar films, then recrossed it. The views are incredible, and I could feel the spirit of the cat who gave its soul for the bridge’s original construction in the Roman days. Poor cat, but I am a dog person.

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Friday night, I went out to a great bar called “Museum” to celebrate the event. I so want to move to Barcelona even more now. Amazing ambiance.

Saturday I made a return to Sitges, which I fell in love with all over again. I took the time to pass its quaint streets and absorb the atmosphere. The gays, as usual, have good taste. (Sitges is a gay summer destination for those of you who weren’t aware, but it’s not just for the rainbow crowd. It attracts artists, creative types and tourists from all over.) It was a bit cool to enjoy the beach, but it was still much better weather than Bilbao is offering (at this rate, I think Noah and his arc would drown.)

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I also made it the famous Santa Llucia Christmas market next to the Cathedral of Barcelona. I bought a special present for my uncle, a caganer of Obama. If you don’t know what a caganer is, it’s a Català tradition to include one in your nativity scene. A caganer is a Catalán figure of someone crouched down in the process of using the toilet (number 2). I just hope they don’t confiscate it from me next week when I travel back to the States for Christmas!  The Catalans also have the figure of the Cagatío, who is figure made from wood with a Catalán red hat that “defecates” the presents placed inside him.

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The thing about this weekend is it has rejuvenated me in a way I haven’t been rejuvenated by travels in a long time. I fell in love with Barcelona again. The city is magical at Christmas time, even with temperatures of 18ºC/upper 60s F.

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Barcelona remains my dream. Maybe next year I’ll be celebrating my 34th from the Barri de Gracia…

It’s the 33rd Season of my show!

It’s been a tradition to write a post on Facebook or my old Livejournal where I interview myself as if I were a headwriter of a show about plans for the upcoming season. So as today is my 33rd birthday, and I’ve taken off to Barcelona to celebrate the event in style, I think I’m going to carry on the tradition. Read ahead. (Warning, there are travel spoilers!)

SetMeravelles: So today starts the 33rd season of the Pablo show. Let’s look at the successes of the 32 season first.
Me: I’m okay with that!

SetMeravelles: You started me, this travel (and soon to be and film) blog, so zorionak and enhorabuena on that.
Me: Eskerrik asko, moltes gràcies!

SetMeravelles: Two days on the Camino of Santiago, you finally went snowboarding, despite that nasty sprained ankle, and trips to Ireland, Barcelona and Valencia along with a lot of daytrips around and close to the Basque Country like Cantabria, Logroño, Haro, Pamplona, Bergara, Gernika, Bermeo, Hondarribia, Donostia, Mundaka, Zeanuri, Areatza and Urdaibai, among others…and you’ve done a lot of hiking around the Greater Bilbao area. Anything on the agenda for the 33rd Season?
Me: Yes, a trip to the States for Christmas (and perhaps a coming out to the mother, I mean, we’ve tried for several seasons so I hope this season it gets taken care of) and another trip to Belgium in February. I’m looking at a German-Czech-Austrian Semana Santa, but that has yet to be seen.

SetMeravelles: Sounds exciting!
Me: And more of the Camino of Santiago. It’s something I gotta finish, ya know’

SetMeravelles: Totally, it’s one of the set meravelles of Spain!
Me: Stop the self-promotion!

SetMeravelles: Sorry. This season had a sprained ankle and a nasty bout with depression and anxiety.
Me: It’s like the writers of the last four seasons of Gossip Girl took over my life! I’m looking at the changes needed in my life. As much as I love Bilbao and the Basque Country, I’m not so sure it’s my forever home. I’m still struggling to meet people and make friends, ya know? I definitely forsee a change of location this upcoming season, whether it just be a new flat, a new city or even a new autonomous community. It’ll depend on where the jobs send me. I’d love to be a full-time writer in the Països Catalans, for example. But another year in Euskadi has not been ruled out yet.

SetMeravelles: Sounds interesting. Again, we feel like Entertainment Weekly talking to the writers of Will and Grace, but are you going to cast a boyfriend for Pablo anytime soon?
Me: (sighing) I really hope so. We’re sorry about that breakup of that not exactly divulged boyfriend we were in talks with last season. Things just didn’t work out. We’ll see what can be done. I think we’ve seen enough of the Pablo finding himself plots. He knows he likes writing, likes Catalán and Spanish, is sick of the rain, etc etc etc…how would he work as a boyfriend? We see potential in this storyline, and we hope to cast someone in the role very soon. I sound like a broken record though.

SetMeravelles: We know. Now that snowboarding has been tackled, will we get to see some surfing this year?
Me: I hope so! Surfing was so much fun in season 19, it’d be a shame not to take advantage of the Basque waves, ya know? We’re also looking at a yoga storyline and a return to the Body Combat storylines that were so popular in seasons 29-31. We got away from that in season 32, and I think the show suffered from that. P.’s a warrior, that one. We hope to have him back in Catalán for a B2 certificate.

SetMeravelles: Sounds great! Season 32 wasn’t so great, but I think great things are ahead in season 33. I hope some cooking classes.
Me: Cállate la boca ya.

SetMeravelles: Sorry again. You’re a bit testy.
Me. I know, I know, ya lo sé.

SetMeravelles: Well, thanks for chatting anyway! We look forward to everything Season 33 has to offer.
Me: It can only go up from here, right?

 

La Rioja, more than just wine/más que vino

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Throughout history, Spain has had a history celebrating wine. Even Quijote himself drank wine. (Perhaps that should be an anti-drinking campaign. If you drink wine, you will attempt to kill windmills, and we mean wind turbines, and not the ones Quijote tried to kill. I don’t see it working though.) Arguably the most famous wine in Spain is La Rioja, which now has an autonomous community celebrating its tradition.

Although Rioja wine is also made in Navarra (Rioja baja) and Álava in the Basque Country (La Rioja alavesa), a large portion of the wine is made in La Rioja. The region was once part of the Kingdom of Pamplona before being incorporated into Castilla. Today the autonomous community has around 330,000 residents, a lot of history, a lot of beautiful nature and, of course, the wine. Another thing to take note of: La Rioja is the communidad autonoma with the smallest population and the penultimate comunidad in size (only the Balearic Islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla have a smaller size.)

My first visit came in 2010 on a day-road trip from Bilbao, Capital of the World, where I was visiting a friend of mine. (I later moved to Bilbao in 2013, and I will probably leave in 2015, but that’s another story.) We took off to Logroño, Puente de la Reina Olite, Pamplona, Hondarribia and Gernika in about 24 hours, including a night in Olite, the most boring village to stay a night. Our time in Logroño is short, and I just remember seeing La Laurel, the street with a ton of restaurants and bars for both pintxos and tapas, and the Cathedral. It was a nice city, very typical of Castilla León, and easy to see in an hour on a road trip. Little did I know I hadn’t seen the half of what this city has to offer.

My next visit to La Rioja came earlier this year, in February 2014, when I had an unexpected day off and took off to Haro. Haro is a nice town, but I am sure it feels completely different during their wine festival in June, where instead of tomatos like in the more famous Tomatina in Valencia, people just fight with wine.

A month later, this March, came my third visit, and by far the worst visit. I went on a ski trip with my school to Valdezcaray to finally learn how to snowboard, something that has been on my bucket list since I was 20 or so. Ohio may have more snow than people (and it is the 7th largest state in population), but it is flat, so we don’t have a big tradition of skiing, let alone snowboarding. The mountain is beautiful (and the nearby village is now on my never-ending bucket list of villages I want to spend a day in Spain) and it was great being in snow. However, on my last slope of the day, someone was in my way and would not move despite my shouts of “¡Cuidado! ¡CUIDADO!”. I hadn’t mastered turning yet, and I sprained my ankle. This five-second event has had a bad effect on most of my 2014, as it took 2 months to walk normally again and another month to completely heal. I don’t hold the comunidad responsible for the incident, and my fourth visit just this month showed that it wasn’t just bad luck.

I’m currently working on a top-secret novel, and one of the characters is set to find himself in Logroño for a while. I’ve been wanting to take a trip to research, and I finally found the perfect combination of not raining, a day off *and* trips on BlaBlaCar (as the bus to Logroño is La Unión, the most evil and expensive bus company in all of Spain). I got to really explore the city and took the time to visit some cool cafés, see a free museum dedicated to the history of the walls (what barely exists today) and get a taste of the city. It’s quite similar to nearby Pamplona, and my initial judgement of being a typical Castilla León city stands.

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Except for one thing. I don’t know if something was in the air, but everyone I came across yesterday was rude. Even the woman at the Oficina de Turismo was “borde”. The waitress was short with me. I think it was a combination of bad luck and people not happy they have to work during a “puente” (long weekend). Another thing I was disappointed in was the fact that it was the 5 of December and yet none of the Christmas lights were turned on. I’m glad that I took a day trip. It was only about 8ºC, but the real coldness was from the people. I’m just going to say it was my bad luck and the timing.

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I did find some friendlier, more typical Spanish service at El Beso Café in la Plaza del Mercado with a great view of the Cathedral and plaza. Another great café-bar was Café Parlamento, next to the Parlamento building. Great atmosphere, and it looks like it would be a great place to go out at night.

I ended my day in an awesome book shop/store on Gran Vía. By the way, random trivia for everyone. Gran Vía is Main Street in Spanish. I’m looking forward to visiting a few more of these smaller towns and villages in the region. And, of course, trying more La Rioja wine.

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Logroño, sus murallas y iglesias

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Logroño is the capital of La Rioja with a population of 150,000 people and a metro of nearly 200,000, meaning it is the home of the vast majority of the population of La Rioja. Once upon a time, the city had walls, but today very little can be seen.  I was very impressed with the museum they have made out of the remains in El Cubo de Revellín. The city still has a lot of churches and a cathedral that are worth visiting. Logroño is also a major stop on the Camino de Santiago Frances, the most popular of the Caminos to Santiago.

El juego de Oca

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Near the Santiago Church is a sculpture/painting on the ground of the Oca game that is so popular and traditional in the north of Spain. Many claims have been made that the game is representative of the Camino of Santiago. Here you can see a live version of the game. The best things in life and in Spain are free.

El Ebro y sus puentes

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The Ebro is one of the most important rivers in Spain, and I think one of these days I’m going to write about the rivers of Spain. Even in one of the driest parts of the Greatest Peninsula in the World, the river is wide and swiftly flowing. Logroño has four bridges, most importantly the Puente de Piedra (Stone Bridge), which unfortunately was destroyed and rebuilt in the 19th Century. The Puente de Hierro (Iron/Steel Bridge) is more modern.

Haro

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Haro is a town of 12,000 people in the northwest part of La Rioja. It has a lot of bodegas, and strangely enough, it was one of the first towns in Spain to have electric street lighting. It has a wine festival every June that attracts a lot of people.

Ezcaray (to be discovered)

At the foothills of Valdezcaray’s ski resort is the beautiful village of Ezcaray. I’ve only seen it from the bus, but it looks like a place I would love to spend a morning or afternoon meandering the streets. It has 2000 people and a lot of beautiful nature.

Castillo de Clavijo (to be discovered)

The village of Clavijo only has 200 or so citizens; however, it has one of the most famous castles of La Rioja that unfortunately was cut off from public transport during this holiday weekend. There’s always next time. It’s 15 kilometres (9 miles) from Logroño and is visible from the Camino de Santiago Frances.

Calahorra (to be discovered)

Calahorra, the second-largest city in La Rioja at 30,000 habitants, is located on a hill across the Ebro from Navarra. It dates back to the Iron Age and fell to Rome in 187 BC. After it supported Rome during the wars of Pompeii, the Caesars gave it many distinctions. Today it is the most important city of La Rioja Baja.