Alonsotegi.

     Alonsotegi 063

Last year, when I visited Deba for the first time, I found a pack of brochures advertising hiking routes in Euskadi (the Basque Country), and I’ve been trying to do all of them. I say trying, as I usually end up getting lost. The red and white Grande Recorrido aren’t as easy to see as the bright yellow Camino arrows. Oh, who am I kidding? I got lost in the first hour three times trying to follow those arrows in August, but whatever. (I’m picking the Camino back up this spring!) Anyway, since Lorenzo (the Sun) made an appearance, I decided to try the path from Alonsotegi to Las Peñas Blancas.

Alonsotegi 053

El año pasado, cuando visité Deba por la primera vez, encontré un paquete de folletos de publicidad para senderos en Euskadi, y estoy intentando hacer todas. Digo “intentar”, como suelo perderme por la ruta. El rojo y blanco (¡Ey! Son fans de Athletic!) que marca los Grandes Recorridos no son tan fáciles ver como el amarillo brillante de las flechas del Camino. Ok, ¿a quién estoy intentando tomar el pelo? Me perdí dentro de la primera hora tres veces intentando seguir esas flechas en agosto. Por cierto, ¡volveré al Camino esta primavera! Pues, Lorenzo (el Sol) ha decidido volver a Euskadi y por eso he decidido intentar el sendero de Alonsotegi a Las Peñas Blancas.

It was doomed/fue destinado a fracasar. 

Alonsotegi 060

I left the brochure at home, having brought one for Mundaka instead. I walked around the pueblo for a few minutes, finding an awesome bar with amazing pintxos, and found the trail I wanted. It took me through some beautiful countryside, and I could see SNOW in a nearby mountain. The views were incredible as I started hiking to Las Peñas.

Alonsotegi 067

He dejado el folleto a casa porque he llevado el de Mundaka en lugar de ello. Paseaba por el pueblo durante unos minutos, y encontré un bar DPM con pintxos DPM (traduzco como me da la gana) y después encontré el sendero que quería. El sendero pasa por pasiaje precioso, y pude ver NIEVE en un monte cercano. Las vistas eran increíbles como empecé a caminar a Las Peñas.

I had to make my trip short as I got a Whatsapp from my flatmate who had something come up at work and needed someone to let the poor dog out. I returned to the train station, admiring the FEVE map of the Caminos de Santiago as I arrived just a few minutes before the next train back to Bilbao. If the puppy were mine, I could’ve taken him with me. One day.

Alonsotegi 069

Tenía que cortar el día porque recibí un Whatsapp de mi compañero de piso, diciendo que le ha salido algo con trabajo y necesitaba alguien para sacar el perro. Volví a la estación de tren, admirando el mapa de FEVE de los Caminos de Santiago. Llegué con solo unos minutos hasta el próximo tren a Bilbao. Si el perro fuera mío, podría llevarle conmigo al monte…un día.

Alonsotegi 075

Alonsotegui is 8 kilometres from Bilbao and at one time was a part of Barakaldo. There are FEVE trens and buses to get there if you’re like me and without a car. It’s definitely worth a morning or afternoon, or an entire day for those of you with more time/when the sun isn’t setting at 6 PM.

Alonsotegui está a 8 kilometros de Bilbao y en el pasado formaba parte de Barakaldo. Hay trenes de FEVE y autobuses para llegar si no dispones de coche como yo. Merece la pena visitar durante una mañana o una tarde, o el día entero si dispones de más tiempo o cuando no atardece a las 18:00.

 

Advertisements

Badajoz…another trip to Spain’s Roman past.

merida 2

Badajoz is one of the two provinces in the comunidad autónoma of Extremadura (Extreme and hard if you translate literally two of the words) , which is one of the most surprising places to visit as the Spanish seem to ignore it or make jokes about it. Located in the southwest corner of Spain near Portugal, Castilla La Mancha and Sevilla in Andalucía, Extremadura was a joy to visit, even if it was one of the last comunidades autónomas I visited. I would love another chance to travel to Badajoz to know the province capital and more of the comunidad.

IMG_0112

I had stepped foot in Extremadura on the way back from a summer camp in 2011, but it wasn’t until March 2012 when I had a chance to spend a weekend. It was either the penultimate or the last comunidad I crossed off the list, depending on how you look at it, and I was already learning the value of “more time in one place is better than little time in many places” by the time I reached here. My time in the Badajoz province was short, only one day, and it was limited to the capital extremeño of Mérida.

IMG_0133

Mérdia is known for its Roman ruins and is the main tourist site of the province. I woke up early Saturday morning after the worst train ride ever (it was after this experience I discovered that Renfe refunds any ticket of trains more than 30 minutes late) to take the train to Mérida. I arrived, had my tostada con tomate and café con leche, and set off to explore the ruins. The Roman Theatre is the most impressive for me. I explored the town and had lunch before heading back to explore Cáceres, where I was staying. As it is prone to do at important places (The Alhambra, on the flight to Ireland, etc), my camera decided to stop working, so my iPod Touch (Jordi I. I am now on Jordi IV) had to suffice.

merida 3

Badajoz is the largest province in Spain and one of the least densely populated provinces. Its total population is around 700,000 habitants, smaller than cities like Sevilla and Zaragoza. For any New Mexican readers out there, there is a town called “Alburquerque” located in the province.

merida 4

Set Meravelles

Teatro Romano y las ruinas de Mérida

merida 1

Without a doubt, the Roman ruins (especially the Roman theatre) are the most important attraction of the province of Badajoz and one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in Spain. The capital of Extremadura (58,000 habitants) is well worth a visit for any history buff, and even those bored by history would most likely be impressed by the ruins that are still here today. The name comes from Ermerita Augusta, which is Latin for retirement home of Augustus’ soldiers. It was the capital of Lusitania province (The name Lusitania is more connected with Portugal today) and has more Roman monuments than any other Spanish city, including the theatre, the longest still-in-existence Roman bridge, an aqueduct and amphitheatre. Despite all of this, it remains more or less undiscovered by the masses, who opt more for Madrid-Toledo-Segovia, the Andalucía coast or the Catalan and Valencian coasts. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Alcazaba de Mérida

IMG_0135

The alcazaba (fortress) of Mérida is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is a 9th-century Muslim fortress which has fantastic views of the city and surrounding countryside, including the Guadiana River. It was the first Muslim alcazaba built by Abd ar-Rahman II of Córdoba.

Badajoz y su alcazaba (yet to be discovered)

Also located on the Guadiana, Badajoz is the capital of the province with 152,000 habitants. It’s located very close to Portugal. The main attraction of the capital city is its alcazaba, a Spanish national monument since 1931. It boasts a number of Moorish buildings and its cathedral is unique for having one Gothic window, one Renaissance window and one Plateresque window, which architectural geeks would love. It also has a replica of the Sevilla’s Giralda and the Puerta (Gate) Palmas.

Zafra (yet to be discovered)

Zafra is a medieval town of 16,000 habitants located between Badajoz capital and Sevilla. It had an important role in the Reconquista as it was important to the Moors for its location. Today you can still see the Torre de San Francisco and the old Puertas de Jerez and Badajoz. It also has a Parador.

Jerez de los Caballeros (yet to be discovered)

Another link to Spain’s Moorish past, Jerez de los Caballeros (Sherry of the Knights! This is why you should not translate names into English) is located in the south of the province about 12 miles/20 kilometres from Portugal. It is surrounded by Moorish walls and has six gates. It also has a castle. The local legend says that in Torre Sangrienta, condemned men were executed by having their throats slit. A bit of guts and gore.

Siberia Extremeña (yet to be discovered)

Located in the northwestern part of Badajoz, La Siberia is home of 20 villages near the provinces of Cáceres, Toledo and Ciudad Real. The villages are isolated and a step back into time and offer beautiful landscapes. They are a taste of Extremadura. Puebla de Alcocer is the capital of the comarca, and the comarca has 30,000 habitants.

Castillo de Luna de Alburquerque (yet to be discovered)

 The namesake of New Mexico’s most famous city (Breaking Bad is a series, not a city!) has an extra “r” in its name. Alburquerque supposedly comes from the Latin for “white oak”, and the village of 5600 people boasts a castle, Castle of the Moon, which was declared a National Monument in 1924.

Working in Spain.

So we all know I like to travel and explore the world. How exactly am I affording it? How exactly did I wind up with a visa to live in Spain as an American?

As many of you probably have guessed, I “teach English”. Or not even. I am an auxiliar de conversación, which means “be paid little to do little but have the legal ability to be in Spain.” Every comunidad autónoma has its own quirks with the program and uses people differently. I’ve been in small-town Andalucía, Madrid, Valencia and currently Bilbao with the Ministerio de Educación program. If you have speak English, have 3 years of college, have no criminal background and apply early when it opens in January, you’re practically guaranteed a spot. In theory, you can only renew once (up to four times in the Basque Country supposedly), but if you’re willing to move around, you can stretch it out even longer. In Madrid, they pay 1000€ a month for 16 hours a week; in the rest of the peninsula, they pay 700€ for 12 hours a week. In most places, 700€ is enough to get by, but most people supplement it with private English lessons.

The job is easy. At the moment, I take students out of English class and do a speaking lesson with them. In the past, I developed classes with whatever English grammatical point they were working on or something cultural about the United States. It’s not actually teaching per se as their main English teacher is, in theory, in the class the whole time for discipline issues and because it’s required by Spanish law. There are no papers to correct, no annoying parents to tell you how bad you’re failing their child.

I could go on a rant about how the Spanish government is ruining an already messed-up education system, but I’m trying to keep a positive vibe here. The program is supposed to be improving the level of English in Spain, but it has a ton of flaws, almost as many as the Spanish education system in general. There is the fact that the auxiliares in the Basque Country get paid the same as the ones in Andalucía when the Basque Country is the most expensive region in the peninsula. I’d be willing to work more hours to get a better salary instead of slaving my way with private lessons that pay my way and corrode my soul. (A zillion life points to anyone who gets that reference.) There is little to no organization whatsoever, and the schools aren’t instructed on how to use us. Everything is as hazy as the smog covering Madrid.

The program has been cut from many comunidades, including Comunitat Valenciana, Catalunya, Navarra, Castilla y León and las Islas Canarias, although you can still be one in those places with a British passport apparently.

When I was in Madrid, I worked with a different program, UCETAM, which I personally loved. Instead of being placed in the public schools, successful candidates are placed in concertados or private schools. (A concertado is a private school that also receives money from the state.) The school used me and my talents, and I was actually teaching instead of being a puppet. I was burned out from a commute and from Madrid and I not getting along. I loved my school. I worked 25 hours a week to make a decent salary, and UCETAM is organized. They are more selective, which means better candidates and a better system all around. However, as they say the law of la Comunidad de Madrid only permits a two-year visa, I couldn’t stay with them (and Madrid was giving me a nervous breakdown.) I found myself back in the MEC program, this time in Bilbao.

My application for next year has been “registrado” (which I was trying to translate as registrated, not registered, as I typed up this entry) for a third year in the Basque Country. I’m content with the school, but I will be moving on to a different next year to ensure a stay in Bilbao. However, I also have an application at a third program called BEDA, which is much more like UCETAM but places people in the Catholic schools. Most of the schools are in Madrid, but there are a few in other comunidades. We’ll see where I end up.

The thing is, I’ve now been in Spain closing in on 7 years. I am wanting stability (preferably in Països Catalans) and a real job, if not writing, at least teaching at a decent academy or school. Most academies don’t want to lift a finger to try to help an American get a visa, no matter how qualified and how good the teacher is. I don’t want to work illegally. So I stay in this holding pattern of instability (which sometimes even means of not knowing when I’ll next be paid!) and travelling as much as I can, as I never know when this beautiful rug called España will be ripped out from under me and I’ll have to leave.

With any luck, it’ll never happen.

Gran Canaria. 25º Celsius Year Round.

gran canaria 4

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere right now, you’re most likely freezing. I mean, it’s 50ºF/10ºC in Bilbao as I’m writing this. Brrrrrrrr. (I know in Ohio it’s -19ºC which is too cold for me to try to figure out Fahrenheit.)  I figure right now would be the perfect time to write about Spain’s version of Hawaii, the Canary Islands. As I have only been to one of the islands (meaning one of the two provinces of this comunidad autónoma) , I’m going to write about that one…Gran Canaría in the province of Las Palmas.

gran canaria 5

Located 100 km/62 miles off the coast of Africa, the Canary Islands (Las Islas Canarías) are indeed the Atlantic’s version of Hawaii as just like the Pacific paradise, these islands were formed by volcanos. They are an hour behind peninsular time and about a two-hour flight from the Greatest Peninsula in the World. The four biggest and most popular islands are Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. I had been dreaming about visiting the Canary Islands ever since my second trip to Hawaii at the age of 19 and learning about the twinned volcanic paradise. When the director of my study abroad program took off to the Canarias after study abroad time was over, I was ready to kick myself for not thinking that hey, the Canaries are part of Spain too. (I’m going to alternate between the English and Spanish spellings here, so I apologise/ze in advance. I’ve also been teaching the differences between American and British English this week, so bear with me if I feel the need to use more than one word/word. Oh, it’s the same!)

In 2010, I had a week between summer camps, so I found a cheap last-minute Ryan Air trip to Gran Canaria. I was only there for three days, and it was perhaps my laziest holiday/vacation ever. Most times, when I travel, I want to cram as much in as humanly possible without collapsing into those few days. This was a “less-is-more”. The camp was killing me, and I just wanted to stroll along the beach.

gran canaria 1

I stayed in the capital Las Palmas, unaware that the south of the island was the more touristic place. I did take a day to go to the dunes of Maspalomas. These impressive dunes were formed from the winds of the Sahara, so in case I never make it to the Sahara, I can at least say I’ve been to these Dunes. These were my fave part of the island. I was a bit blah at all the tourism, though, and ended up being quite happy to stay in the less touristy capital. It may not be as impressive as the Playa del inglés, but I feel I had a better experience in Las Palmas than I would have in Maspalomas. The third day I spent just walking along the beach and swimming in the Atlantic. Upon my return, I immediately regretted not going to explore some of the impressive rock formations. But I got to see the sun set over the Atlantic, something many Americans wouldn’t think about (as they would see the sun RISE over the Atlantic and set over the Pacific instead.

gran canaria 3

Being so green in my travels and having such a short time in this paradise, I missed out on what are really the Set Meravelles. But you live and learn.

Set Meravelles

Maspalomas

gran canaria 7

Maspalomas is the most touristy part of the island and the famous Playa del Inglés (Beach of the English man) is one of the most popular resorts in all of Spain. However, the most impressive part of Maspalomas are the dunes, which are a Reserva Natural Especial. The dunes are pretty impressive and were formed by sand blowing over from the Sahara, or so I hear. I can’t find the confirming source that I read in 2010. There is also a famous lighthouse. There are several “guiri gua guaus”, or buses full of tourists, that transport from here to the airport or the capital, Las Palmas.

 Las Palmas

gran canaria 2

Las Palmas is the capital of the island and province of Las Palmas, co-capital of the comunidad autónoma, and is also the largest city in the Canary Islands and 9th largest in all of Spain at 383,000 habitants. The metropolitan area is over 700.00 people. The city was a stop on Christopher Columbus’ journeys to the Americas (which remember, he thought were the East Indies). It has four beaches and, at least to me, is more reminiscent of Puerto Rico than some parts of Spain.

Catedral de Santa Ana

gran canaria 6

This photo is NOT the Cathedral, but I couldn’t find a good picture. This is the problem of waiting five years to write about a place! Anyway, the Cathedral of Santa Ana is an example of pointed architecture and was built in the 16-century. It’s one of the most famous and recognis/zed monuments of Las Palmas.

Arucas (Yet to be discovered)

Arucas is a small city of 36,000 habitants located on the north of the island. It’s claim to fame is a big botanical garden, La jardín de la Marquesa de Arucas, with over 500 plant species. There’s also San Juan Bautista Church.

El Roque Nublo y otros (Yet to be discovered)

El Roque Nublo is a volcanic rock (formed 4.5 million years ago) and the top is 1813 metres above sea level. There are many unique volcanic formations on the island (the famous Dedo de Dios was destroyed in 2005 in a tropical storm), and el Roque Nublo is one of them. It is one of the most famous natural parks in Spain.

Fuerteventura (Yet to be discovered)

Fuerteventura is the second largest of the Canary Islands but one of the lesser known ones (of the bigger islands). It’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as of 2009. It’s the oldest of the islands and has black sand beaches.

Lanzarote (Yet to be discovered)

Lanzarote is the eastern most island and the fourth largest island. It is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s known for its beautiful beaches. It also has the Tunnel of Atlantis, the largest underwater volcanic tunnel in the world.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe.

 IMG_1444

Located on a small island between Bakio and Bermeo in the Basque province Vizcaya (Bizkaia), San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (yes, that is spelled correctly and no, there is not a cat walking on my laptop keyboard!) is a church built in the 9th or 10th century that might just be the favourite thing I have ever seen ever. It’s becoming a tradition for me to hike there every Christmas (although this year it happened on Jan. 10, a bit late) break. The path crosses a small bridge that reminds many of the Great Wall of China and then takes you up 237 steps to the small church. It is said if you ring the bell 13 times and make a wish, it will come true.

gazte 3

Situado en un isolete entre Bakio y Bermeo en la provincia vasca Vizcaya, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (¡sí, es la ortografía correcta y no, no hay un gato pisando mi portátil!) es una hermita construido en el Siglo XX o XXI (según el fuente) que puede ser mi sitio preferido que he visto en la vida. Ya es casí tradición mía ir allí durante las vacaciones de Navidades (aunque este año era el 10 de enero, un poco tarde). El sendero cruza un puente pequeño que recuerda a muchos de la Muralla Grande de China y después sube 237 escaleras hasta la hermita. Se dice que si toca la campana 13 veces y pide un deseo, el deseo se hará realidad.

“Gaztelugatxe” comes from the Basque (Euskera) words “gaztelu” (castle) and “aitz” (rock) to mean Rock Castle. Things always sound cooler in a foreign language.

gaztelugatxe 1

“Gaztelugatxe” viene de euskera de las palabras “gaztelu” (castillo) y “aitz” (roca) para significar Castillo de Roca. Todo suena mejor en un idioma extranjero.

My first visit here came in 2010, when I was visiting a friend in Bilbao for Christmas and her friends took us there at sunset. I was amazed by this beautiful place. My second visit was last year, where I decided to make it an annual visit at Christmastime. Every time I’ve rang the bell 13 times, but I always forget my wish so I can’t say if it came true or not. This year, after starting my hike in Bakio through some beautiful countryside and forests, I continued my trek on to Bermeo. I found another trail up to a lighthouse I’ll have to take one day when I’m not racing against time before sunset.

IMG_1428

La primera visita mía era en el año 2010, cuando estaba visitando una amiga en Bilbao durante Navidad y sus amigos nos llevaron allí durante atardecer. Me quedó asombrado de este sitio precioso. Mi segunda visita era el año pasado, cuando decidí hacer una visita anual durante Navidades. Cada vez he tocado la campana 13 veces, pero siempre se me olvido que deseo he pedido y por eso no puedo decir si se hizo realidad o no. Este año, después de empezar el sendero en Bakio por pasiaje y bosques bonitos, seguí el sendero hasta Bermeo. Vi otro sendero hasta un faro que quiero hacer un día cuando no haya prisa para llegar antes de atardecer.

The Basque coast seems to be especially mad in this region, so there are often spectacular waves adding to the magic of the area. The church has caught fire several times, the latest in 1978 which destroyed it. It was reopened in 1980. It was closed this autumn for repair work on the stairs.

gazte 2

La costa vasca parece estar super enfadado en este región, y por eso muchas veces hay olas espectaculares para añadir a la magia de la zona. La hermita se quemó muchas veces, la última en el año 1979 cuando estaba destrozada. Reabrió en el año 1980. Este otoño estaba cerrada para obras en las escalaras.

I wrote about it when I wrote about the Set Meravelles of Vizcaya (there are more than 7 for sure), but this place is so special it merits its own entry.

Aunque escribí sobre ello cuando escribí sobre las Maravillas de Vizcaya (¡hay más de 7!), este sitio es tan especial que se merece su propia entrada.

gazte 4

Almería. Disney, Beatles and a female cat’s cape.

    IMG_2137

Gracias a mi amigo Rubén, un almeriense quien me ayudó elegir las maravillas. Más o menos, hemos coincindido en las maravillas/Thanks to my Almerian friend Rubén, who helped me pick the meravelles. We agreed on the meravelles…for the most part! 

Located in the very south of Spain, Almería is a forgotten about Andalucían province that boasts over 300 sunny days a year (the opposite of Bilbao in so many ways! Opposite side of the country, and it is sunny for every cloudy/rainy day in the Capital of the World). Much of the province is an arid desert, and many people skip over it for more touristy places like Málaga and Granada. They’re making a mistake. Almería is quaint and has a lot of beautiful places to see.

It also has a lot of mythology and rumours about it. There are rumours that Walt Disney was born in Mojácar and was adopted/his father died, his mother met a seaman who ran away with Walt to the States as a youth. Tom Hanks obviously did not play this urban legend up in Saving Mr. Banks. Another claim to fame for the province. Now immortalized in the 2014 Goya (Spanish Oscar) winning Vivir es más fácil con los ojos cerrados, John Lennon filmed How I Won the War in Almería province in 1966. It was here where he began writing “Strawberry Fields Forever”. A more current pop culture item is the sixth album from one of my favourite groups, Lifehouse. It was named for the province as the album has a more western theme and so many westerns were filmed in Almería.

My first and only visit to Almería came in 2011 during the Puente de Diciembre, that time of year that usually gives the Spanish 3-4 (some years even 5) days off from work and travel due to the holidays of el Día de la Constitución (Dec. 6) and an important Catholic Saint Day on the 8th. I caught a too-early Ryan Air flight on Thursday morning (the 8th). I slept the entire flight despite Ryan Air’s desperate pleas to sell electronic cigarettes and scratch-off lottery tickets and advertising another flight that actually arrived without incident on-time flight. I caught a taxi to the city (maybe 15-20€ if I remember correctly? It wasn’t too bad. I want to say only 11€, but it was three years ago and memory makes things better and cheaper most times.) and the taxi driver complemented me on my Barcelona wallet. It was nice being around another culé (Barça supporter) as I was living in Madrid at the time.

I was hit with a calmer pace of life immediately. I checked into the pensión and went for my fave breakfast, done better in Andalucía than anywhere else in the world, pan tostada con tomate (Baguette-style bread lightly toasted with olive oil and a tomato paste).

IMG_2098

Then it was time to explore. I went immediately to the alcazaba, which was free for being a Spanish holiday. It was a great visit with spectacular views of the city and Mediterranean. I later explored the city. I remember a little girl asking me why I was taking pictures of the city, and I told her I thought it was interesting. She was a bit shocked and thought I was “raro” (a weirdo). I saw the cathedral and had some cafés con leche in the plaza nearby (Ryan Air means little sleep and mucho caffeine, folks). I met up with my friend in the evening for tapas and mosto (a Spanish grape juice).

The next day, I really wanted to visit el Cabo de Gata. (Cape of the Female Cat for those wanting a translation) said to be one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. However, public transport to natural areas is not always the best, so with a sigh, I made a vow to return one day and made my way to Granada. Three years later, I would’ve found some way somehow to spend another night in Almería to have had time to get to the park. Hindsight is 20-20.

Set Meravelles

Cabo de Gata (yet to discover)

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Cabo de Gata  is the only region in Europe with a warm desert climate. It has high cliffs and Spain’s largest volcanic rock formation, El Fraile. Although I have joked that “gata” female cat here (it is), it’s actually named for the mineral agate that was mined here in the past. There are numerous coral reefs and small islands off the coast. It has many wildlife and plant life species and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

Alcazaba

IMG_2141

In the capital city (around 192,000 habitants), the Alcazaba and the ruins of San Cristobal castle are the main attraction. The Muslim fortress was began in the late 10th century and was expanded between 1012 and 1028. After the reconquista, King Carlos III added a wall and after the reconquista of the city, the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabel added a third castle. Today it offers some beautiful views of the city.

Catedral de la Encarnación de Almería

IMG_2101

The Cathedral of Incarnation of Almería is a Gothic/Renaissance-style cathedral built in the 16th century. It’s one of the most visited places in the capital city Almería.

Mojácar (Yet to discover)

Mojácar is a beautiful white village of nearly 8000 habitants boasting over 3000 hours of sun a year. (I’m going now. Agur, sirimiri!) Due it’s location on the sea, it has a bit milder weather than the interior of the province. A nearby village, Lucainena de las Torres, has recently been listed on “Los pueblos más bonitos de España” (The most beautiful villages/towns of Spain).

Calar Alto (Yet to discover)

The Calar Alto Observatory  is a German-Spanish astronomical observatory perched high on the Calar Alto mountain in Almería. It opened with a 1.2 metre/47 inches telescope and today has the largest telescope in Europe with an Equatorial mount, which is 3.5 metres/138-inches.

Desierto de Tabernas (Yet to discover)

The Tabernas Desert is a semi-desert located 30 kilometres/19 miles north of the capital. It usually has less than 200 millimetres of annual rain and offers 280 square kilometres of natural beauty. It was a popular location shoot for Western movies and is somewhat similar to the Badlands in the American Dakotas.

Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada (compartido con Granada) (Yet to discover)

I’m cheating as I know I wrote about the Sierra Nevada when I wrote about Granada, but the Sierra Nevada is impressive enough to merit a second mention.  It’s the largest national park in Spain and is popular with skiers and people like me, hikers/trekkers.

And now I want to return to Almería to pick up all that I have yet to see.)

Malmasín.

Malmasín 055

I was debating a return to Gorbeia to go to the summit, but as I am still recovering from jet lag after a week in the States, I opted for an easier option closer to Bilbao to inaugurate 2015 in the mountains.

Malmasín 033

Estaba pensando en una vuelta a Gorbeia para caminar a la cima, pero como sigo recuperando de jetlag después de una semana en los EEUU, he decidido en una opción más fácil y más cerca a Bilbao para inaugurar 2015 en las montañas.

Granted, the tradition is to climb mountains on the first day of the year, but I was spending that day on planes. So the first Monday of the year, after recovering from the trip back and taking advantage of a day off. I did some research of different routes near Bilbao on the excellent Basque hiking blog Bien De Altura (in Spanish) and found the perfect morning route: Malmasín, located in the Bilbao suburb of Basauri. I woke up late, but I made my way to Basauri via metro.

Malmasín 054

Bueno, la tradición es para subir montes en el primer día del año, pero como estaba pasando el 1 de enero en aviones, no pude. Entonces, el primer lunes del año, después de recuperar del viaje, he aprovechado de un día libre. Hice alguna investigación de rutas distintas cerca de Bilbao en el blog de senderismo vasco genial Bien De Altura (en castellano) y encontré la ruta perfecta para una mañana: Malmasín, situado en el suburbio bilbaíno de Basuari. Me desperté tarde, pero al final fui a Basauri en el metro.

The instructions on the web site were excellent, and I had no problem finding my way to Parque Montefuerte where the trail to the peak left off. It gave me some amazing views of Bilbao, Capital of the World and a chance to disconnect and get the year off to a great start. Sunny weather is hard to find in Bilbao. Any time we’re blessed with it, I have to take advantage and discover more of the beautiful place that is Euskadi (Basque Country/País vasco).

Malmasín 028

Las direcciones del blog eran excelentes, y no tenía ningún problema encontrar el camino a Parque Montefuerte donde el sendero a la cima empieza. Me dio vistas preciosas de Bilbao, la capital del mundo, y una oportunidad para desconectar y empezar el año en buen pie. Buen tiempo es raro en Bilbao. Cuando tenemos buen tiempo, hay que aprovechar y descubrir más del pasiage bonito que es Euskadi.

Tarragona. Where Rome and Catalunya collide.

   Nadal 2012 119

It used to be a tradition to go to Catalunya every Christmas break, so when I went back to the States in 2012 for my first Christmas with family since 2007, I wanted my flight to be from Barcelona. I was adamant about that, despite living in Madrid. On my way back, I gave myself time to tick another province off my to-do list…Tarragona.

Tarragona is a city of 138,000 people located an hour or so from Barcelona. The province is the southern most of the Catalan provinces, and the capital city is famous for its Roman monuments. Most people think of Salou and Port Aventura when they think of Tarragona, but me being me, I think of the Roman monuments. I love the Roman theatre that is right on the sea.

Nadal 2012 087

I only had one day in Tarragona unfortunately. These things happen when you’re rushed for time and jetlagged from the flight back from the States (like I am writing this entry two years later!). I caught a morning bus from Barcelona, where I was staying. My first impressions were that it was a typical city of the Greatest Peninsula in the World, nothing too exciting. That’s the problem with the areas around the bus and train stations. They’re interchangeable in most cities. When I got to the casco antiguo (historic centre), I fell in love with the city and its history. I bought a combined ticket to visit the most important monuments and had time to see 5 of the 6. I tried to practice my catalán, which at the time I was in my first year of studying; however, they responded in castellano (Castilian Spanish) so I went with the flow. There are also various old houses worth visiting. The day went by fast, and I had gotten the return ticket for too early. I could’ve spent a few more hours or another day exploring. As it is, there are many places in the province I would like to visit one day.

One thing worth mentioning, Tarragona is said to have the most expensive taxis in all of Spain.

Set Meravelles

Tarragona Romana

Nadal 2012 125

Known as Tarraco to the Romans, Tarragona still has many Roman ruins that can be visited today. I missed seeing the aqueduct 4 km (2 miles) north of the city and the Tower of the Scipios 6 km (4 miles) away. I also didn’t have time to see the Forum. I was able to see the amphitheatre on the sea, the circus, the capital/citadel, the walls and the Pretorium tower. Tarragona is one of the most important Roman ruins in the peninsula, along with Mérida in Extremadura and Cartegena in Murcia. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Catedral de Tarragona

Nadal 2012 069

The Cathedral of Tarragona blends Roman and Gothic styles and was declared a national monument 110 years ago in 1905. Construction began in 1154 and the “new” cathedral began in 1331. It was restored in the 1990s. During the restoration, they discovered a temple to Augustus.

Reus (yet to discover)

The city name Reus (population 101,000) is said to come from the Celtic word “red” from “reddis/redis” which meant crossroads, or from the Latin word for prisoners, which meant it was a Roman prison. Choose carefully which tale you believe! At one time, Reus was the second-most important city in Catalunya until Tarragona and Lleida overtook it in the 20th century. Today it is the 9th largest city in Catalunya and has an airport popular with Ryan Air flights, making it a popular tourist destination. One of the sites of interest is a centre for the famous Gaudí.

Castells de Valls (yet to discover)

Catalunya is famous for its “castells” or human towers. The small city of Valls, population 25,000, is famous for both the castells and a green onion known as calçot. Although the castells are a staple of festivals throughout Catalunya, the ones in Valls are rather famous. At a calçotada, you can try recently harvested calçots and maybe see a castell.

Montblanc (yet to discover)

Located close to the Prades mountains, Montblanc is a medieval village of around 7400 people. The village is famous as the Legend of Saint George (known around these parts as Sant Jordi) and the dragon is said to have occurred here. Today Sant Jordi is celebrated in Catalunya by giving books and is connected to Día del Libro (Day of the Book) as it’s also the same day Shakespeare and Cervantes were said to have died. Today you can still see the walls of the village and take a stroll through the medieval streets.

Tortosa (yet to discover) 

Located on the Ebro River, Tortosa, home of 34,000 habitants, is the home of the Castillo de la Suda, an important castle dating back to Roman and Muslim rule. Tortosa was recaptured by the Christians during the Second Crusade. Today it is part of the Camino de Santiago del Ebro, one of the lesser known caminos. It also has a cathedral and magnificent views.

Salou (yet to discover)

 Located 10 kilometres from Reus and Tarragona, Salou is a major vacation destination for much of Spain (especially the Basque Country. I hear you can hear more Euskera (Basque) on the streets than Catalán during peak holiday seasons!) It’s home to many beaches and, most famously, the Port Aventura theme park.

Nashville.

     Nashville 055

My last visit to Nashville was in the year 2000. I was on a trip with my uni’s Honor’s Program to see the Parthenon as we were studying Greek mythology. It was a fantastic trip I remember fondly as it was my freshman year and my first roadtrip that wasn’t with my mom. I remember eating out and walking around downtown Nashville on a Saturday night. It was a short trip but well worth it.

I had previously been to Nashville when I was around five to go to the country music festival known as Fan Fair. I remember being mad that my childhood fave The Judds were nowhere around and old ladies with blue hair. I vaguely remember some things here and there, but most of it is in that childlike haze.

As I’ve been wanting to go to back to Nashville ever since that freshman year trip, and my mom wanted to see the Parthenon, we took off for a day trip during my 10 days in the States. I did all the driving, which I do admit I miss being behind a wheel. (I learned how to drive a stickshift this trip, so with a bit more practice, Spanish driving may be feasible in the not-so-distant future!) It was about a three-hour trip from my mom’s house. We met with some construction on I-65 South, but nothing too bad. After a stop at a very informative Tennessee Welcome Centre and a breakfast at Waffle House, an American classic,

Nashville 005

we arrived at the Parthenon about 10:30 Central Standard Time.

Nashville 024

After my 2013 visit to Athens, the Nashville replica just wasn’t the same. I was happier playing with the German Shepherd outside. I liked seeing the history of the building and the Athena Statue inside. It is an impressive replica, and Centennial Park, where it’s located, is a great place to visit too. The entry fee is $7, a bit expensive, but for anyone wanting to see the exhibits and the Athena Statue inside, you might as well pay.

Nashville 027

The next stop was the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. $25!!! Highway robbery. We had coupons from the TN Welcome Centre, but I still think it was really expensive. Even the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Capital of the World, is only 13€ and has exhibitions of stacked plates. (I think it was a temporary Tapies exhibition, but still.) I sort of quit listening to country, but I was still hoping to see SOMETHING of Shania Twain. I saw The Judds’ Grammy and a lot of Tanya Tucker’s outfits, but Shania Twain, who did so much for women country singers in the 1990s, was conspiciously absent. I may have missed it somehow, but as Shania was such a big part of my life in high school, I missed seeing her. Taylor Swift has an educational wing…do with that as you will.

The actual hall of fame was nice, and I hope The Judds, or at least Wynonna, will be inducted some day.

Nashville 050

I let my mom rest a while as I explored downtown Nashville on my own. This was my favourite part of the day. I just love walking around cities and getting a feel for the town, finding restaurants and cafés. They were preparing for some American football bowl game and the New Year’s Eve celebrations downtown, so I missed out on a lot, I’m sure, during my brief foot-tour. I did find an excellent coffee house someone recommended me instead of Starbucks called Dunn Brothers. Fantastic coffee and friendly baristas.

Nashville 066

Nashville has a lot to see and do, even if you’re not a fan of country. I could spend a weekend there easily getting lost in Music Row or the Gulch, neither of which I had time for today. Living in Spain the Basque Country means I may not get to go back to Nashville soon, but I’ll be able to have a better picture of things when my guilty pleasure primetime soap comes back from winter hiatus. (Die Scarlett Die!)