A different English village in Spain.

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Last week, I participated in another English village in Spain. This one, VaughanTown, happens to be part of the Vaughan English Learning Empire of Spain. From Sunday morning until Friday evening, I joined 21 other “Anglo” volunteers to help 21 españoles out with the English language by giving them an opportunity to use all that English grammar and vocabulary they have been studying ad nauseam for their entire lives but never actually use.

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The most popular 1-to-1 Spot

The location was in the heart of the Gredos near Barco de Ávila in the province of Ávila. The hotel was amazing, and the scenery was breathtaking. We arrived about 13:00, and after a brief introduction we had some lunch and time to check in and unpack. The rule is that two Anglos (English-speakers) and two Spanish-speakers sat at every table. At the beginning of the week, it was quite difficult for the Spanish-speakers to understand (especially the Scottish accents, but I had some problems with those myself). By the end of the week, their conversation skills had improved.

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The hotel/el hotel

After checking in and receiving more rules, we were off to our one to ones, which we spent talking to the Spanish speakers and assisting them as much as we could.  We usually walked on the many trails nearby, the most popular being to the Río Tormes (Lanzarillo de Tormes) Throughout the week, there were some group activities and three Entertainment Hours, which consisted of skits rehearsed throughout the day.

The Spanish also have to prepare a presentation in English. As a lifelong student of Spanish (and now Catalán), I understand the nerves of having to present on a topic not of your choice in a language that is not your own. It’s very difficult. I can barely do it in English myself if it’s not in the classroom.  Major props to the Spanish who participated.

One evening, there was a queimada, which is a Galician tradition to burn out the bad things in your life. Queimada is an alcoholic drink made from orujo (a Galician alcoholic beverage), sugar, lemon peel, coffee beans and cinnamon that is set on fire. It’s ready when the flames are a bright blue.

On Wednesday, we had a brief tour of the village of Barco de Ávila. On Thursday during my free time, I found another village, Los Llanos de Tormes, which had even more beautiful views of the Gredos mountains.

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Los Llanos de Tormes

There was lots of wine, even more water, lots of great meals, but most importantly were the memories I now have of these 42 people from all over Spain and all over the world who had gathered here this week.

I’m not going to make a statement as of which is better, VaughanTown or Pueblo Inglés    (now Diverbo). Both are unique opportunities, and both depend on the participants. You get out of it what you put into it. Either one will give you lifelong memories and a week with some fantastic people, and there are too many variables to say which is better.

If you’re interested in applying for a week with VaughanTown, their website can be found here.

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An English village in Spain.


The pig of La Alberca

Three years ago, I participated in a program called Pueblo Inglés (which is now Diverbo). The program offers a chance for Spanish students of English to be immersed for a week in English without leaving Spain. The locations are in beautiful mountain villages, and “Anglo” volunteers are there to speak English and create the surroundings of an all-English environment without leaving Spain. The volunteers do it out of the kindness of their heart, for a chance to see Spain, because they’re low on cash funds, for the experience, or for any of a plethora of reasons. There are probably as many reasons as there are volunteers. Just for speaking English, you are treated to seven nights in an amazing hotel and are fed breakfast, lunch and dinner along with water and wine. Not bad just for speaking your native English, eh?

The Thursday before leaving, the Anglos are invited to a tapas lunch and a flamenco show to get to know each other a bit. On Friday morning, they meet outside the headquarters to take the bus to their location. The bus arrives around lunchtime and we start meeting the Spaniards who we will be helping with for the next week. The Spanish (or their companies they work for) pay a pretty penny to attend this, so we want to make sure they get what they pay for.

It’s a lot of talking, which can be hard for the introverts out there like me (I made sure to get away during our free time after lunch to recharge), but it works well. There are 1-to-1s, which they change up so every Spaniard talks with every Anglo at least once, 2 to 2s, which you’re given some topics to debate, and many other activities. Every evening there are some skits or performances, usually on the comical side.

On one night, there is a “queimada”, which is a Galician tradition and drink of warding off evil spirits. The drink is alcoholic in nature and creates a fire during its creation. It did not ward off the evil spirit of anxiety for me unfortunately. Another night is party night, which is later followed by a tour of the nearby village the next day.

The three-course meals are amazing, and by the end of the week, everyone is exhausted and sad to say goodbye to the new friends they’ve made.

These “English villages” are held throughout the year and throughout Spain, although the most famous location is La Alberca in Salamanca. (This is the one I did. Amazing village). They recently opened up the opportunity in Germany.

It was a week I’ll never forget, and I’m not writing a lot of details to respect privacy. I have also recently volunteered to do a week with a similar program, which you’ll be able to read about next week.

If anyone is interested in volunteering for Diverbo’s Pueblo Inglés, here is the link.


La Alberca, damn my blurry camera that year.

Madrid, ciudad de Broken Dreams


Tío Pepe has returned…for now.

In 2003, when I was studying abroad in Toledo, I went to Madrid most weekends to walk the busy streets and dream. I dreamt of a life in Spain, of meeting the perfect guy, of the many adventures we’d have as my writing career took off. Walking into the bookstores in Chueca and seeing the rainbow flags everywhere was freeing to a deeply repressed and closeted boy.

For five years, I dreamed of a life in Spain, of those amazingly handsome, kind-hearted, caring, romantic españoles. Although I preferred Barcelona, I had been warned that the Catalán would be a major deterrent (I must say that now that I speak Catalán quite decently I love it as much but differently as I do my first love Spanish) and Madrid was the place to be. I wrote short stories about meeting my beautiful Spanish husband in queue at Starbucks (quelle horror now) and the adventures we would have. For five years, until my return in 2008, Madrid represented a land of opportunity, and my very own American dream that just happened to take place in Spain.

I had to wait a year, a very long year of working and living in small-town Jaén in Andalucía, to make that dream come true. And the dream became a nightmare.

Madrid de visita (on a visit) is very different from actually living in Madrid. The chaotic streets and nightlife make it a very lonely city, and although it’s quite easy to make a friend to go out to party with, it’s quite difficult to make a lasting friendship with someone you can count on. (The opposite is true in Bilbao. The Basques are very hard to get to know or for them to invite you out for a kalimotxo (wine and Coke) and pintxo, but once they let you in, they are incredibly nice, caring people. It’s just hard breaking through barriers in the land of eternal rain that Irish and Seattleites both have complained about.) The madrileños will invite you out with a big group of friends, but you’re quite often left at the end of the table drinking softly and listening to everyone else, especially if you’re an introvert like me.

And in the land of Chueca, where gay sex sells and every night is Pride Night, finding a decent guy even in plan amigo, let alone plan novio (boyfriend) is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I lived in Madrid from 2009-2010 and again from 2011-2013. I learned a lot about myself in those three years.

I find myself de paso once again in Madrid this weekend. A lot of memories are surfacing, mostly good but a few bad. I gave Madrid my all, but my job drained me a lot, and I was dealing with other issues. I did accept myself fully as a gay man in Madrid, and for that, I was grateful. However, Madrid just represents so many of my crushed dreams. I never had a relationship, never found that group of friends, and I found myself with more than one broken heart from unrequited love. I fought to accept myself while trying to fight to fit in with the muscle heads and bears of Chueca. I killed myself at the gym yet never could get a six-pack (tabla de chocolate in Spanish) or big arms. My personality and my intelligence were never enough.

I also find myself questioning Madrid, who yearns to host the Olympics (because Barcelona did in 1992), and how they are the capital of Spain. Yet browsing through the language books in FNAC, you’d be hard pressed to realise that Spain is a country with four official languages and a bazillion unofficial languages and dialects. I found a few books for learning Catalán, 2 for learning Euskera (Basque) and ZERO for learning Gallego (Galician). Everything is in brokenEnglish (and sometimes not even Spanish, just a lazy attempt at English). When I went to Brussels, I loved how both the French Wallonia and the Flemish Flanders were represented in the capital city despite the city being a French-speaking city. Imagine how far the little effort it would take to truly represent all the cultural identities of Spain (17 autonomous communities, some with stronger identities with others but all amazing in their own right) instead of pushing the Andaluz stereotype of flamenco and bulls as a Spanish identity. In Barcelona, every Christmas, the metro writes “Merry Christmas” in Catalán, Castellano (Spanish), Basque and Galician. The Metro de Madrid promotes their latest outrageous price hike as still being cheaper than Paris and London, all in Spanish. (This is a true story from 2011.) Spanish Nationalism is a tricky subject on a good day, but imagine how different it would be if the capital city tried to represent and include all parts instead of making people feel alienated. (And I’m not saying that many Catalans and Basques do their own things to make things worse. It just seems to me that in a multi-nationed country, it would be helpful for the capital city to try to include all nations. Nation does not equate country.)

Ernest Hemingway once said that Madrid was the least Spanish city until you lived in it for  some time, then it became the most Spanish city. For me, in 2015, it has lost all trace of “Spanishness” when century old cafés like Café Comercial close down, yet there is a Starbucks on every corner. Several of my favourite haunts from even 2013 have been closed down for trendy gastrobars that don’t even offer Spanish cuisine. And in my afternoon walk tonight, I heard more English than Spanish in the Spanish capital. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t speak English for the tourists, but don’t lose your Spanishness in doing so. Madrid would do well to focus on representing all aspects of Spanish life instead of trying to turn itself into New York Clone. People can go to Starbucks wherever, but where else can they go to a Museo de Jamón for a cheap jamón serrano sandwich? What other country can offer paella, gazpacho, jamón serrano, pintxos, tapas, La Rioja, and relaxing cafés con leche?

I know I give Madrid a rough time. Many people love Madrid, but for me, the city represents so many broken dreams, not only my own broken dreams, but the broken hopes and dreams of both the city of Madrid and the entire country of Spain.


The end of an era

The Cliffs of Getxo

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Who needs the Cliffs of Dover or Moher? A few kilometres north of Bilbao, the cliffs of Getxo offers some fantastic cliff views for those who are in the Greatest Peninsula of the World and can’t make it to the more famous cliffs pertaining to Britain and Ireland. ¿A quien le hace falta los Acantilados de Dover o Moher? Unos 14 kilometros norte de Bilbao, los Acantilados de Getxo ofrecen vistas preciosas para los que se encuentran en la Mejor Península del Mundo y no pueden ir a los acantilados más famosos de Gran Bretaña e Irelanda.

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The Basque Country is home to some spectacular beaches, and Sopelana (Sopela as of 2014) is the most popular among the people of Bilbao. It’s only a 35 minute metro ride from the centre, and the beach has great surfing conditions. En el País vasco se encuentra algunas playas espectaculares y Sopelana (Sopela desde 2014) es la playa más popular de los bilbáinos. Sólo tarde 35 minutos en el metro desde el centro, y la playa tiene buenas condiciones para hacer surf. 

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There is also a sidewalk (pavement) path from Sopelana to nearby Getxo, the third largest city in the Vizcaya province, along the cliffs. (Getxo is the posh suburb of Bilbao). También hay una sendera de acera de Sopelana hasta Getxo, la tercera ciudad de la provincia de Vizcaya, por los acantilados. (Getxo es el barrio más pijo de Bilbao, aunque los bilbaínos suelen decir que Donostia también es el barrio más pijo…

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The path is quite easy and offers breathtaking views of the Cantabrian Sea and the cliffs. It’s popular year round during the three hours of sun every century.  ) La ruta es muy fácil y tiene vistas increíbles del Mar Cantábrico y los acantaliados. Es popular durante todo el año (durante los 3 horas del sol cada siglo, claro)     getxo 3

Netflix in Spain!

It’s true! This autumn, Netflix is finally coming to Spain! I miss receiving those DVDs in the mail, although I know they’re not longer really known for that service. I found some incredible Spanish films which helped me in my quest to become bilingual before moving to the Greatest Peninsula in the World. I fondly remember watching El espinazo del diablo, Jamón Jamón, La niña de tus ojos and KM.0 during those years of post university unemployed and return to university.

Now Netflix is known for binge watching television. I’ve wanted an excuse to make a list of twenty shows I think everyone should watch for quite some time now. These are only my random tastes. I know I will leave off some faves, and I know my list will not please everyone. Whenever I see people getting mad at someone internet list, I just say “shrug it off and write your own”. Life would be boring if we all agreed.

I tried to go with shows that stayed amazing (or close to it) during their entire run, which excludes some shows like Dexter, Weeds, and Gossip Girl. I also tried to spread the love between creators/producers, but Alan Ball, Aaron Sorkin, Bryan Fuller and Greg Berlanti are awesome. And while Breaking Bad was addictive television, the show didn’t stay with me much after the finale two years ago. I also didn’t include any current shows, so no Veep, American Horror Story or Fargo. (I know three on this list are coming back in 2016 or 2017 or whenever Netflix gets the cast together.)

Maybe a better name would be my favourite 20 shows. All trailers are fan made or from the producers of the show that I found on YouTube. I don’t know how many will be featured on Netflix in Spain.

  1. Scrubs (2001-2009): Scrubs had eight fantastic seasons and an ill-conceived spin-off marketed as a ninth season. It tells the story of a group of medical interns learning how to become doctors as they learned about themselves and valuable life lessons. Dr. Cox was the reluctant mentor who taught us all it as okay to hate the world and breaking the rules was okay sometimes if it was for a good cause. The show blended humour and drama effortlessly, especially in episodes like “My Old Lady“, “My Screwup”, “My Lunch” and “My Finale.” They even had a musical episode, “My Musical“.
  2. Six Feet Under (2001-2005): Alan Ball’s tale of a dysfunctional family who ran a funeral home. David Fisher (played effortlessly by Michael C. Hall) showed us it was okay to be gay and be in an interracial relationship. The Chenowith family showed us it was okay to be 100% screwed up. And the show taught us that we are all going to die, so live life to the fullest. I found a fake trailer someone put together for it.  If you haven’t heard about the amazing finale…I’m not spoiling it.
  3. Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 201?): “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic.” “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You know, this is, excuse me, a damn fine cup of coffee.” Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives in the small town of Twin Peaks, Washington, to investigate the murder of Laura Palmer, a teenage girl. He instead finds a town full of quirky residents and even stranger happenings. With one of the producers being David Lynch, you know you’re in for a weird, eccentric delight. A trailer can be found here.
  4. Community (2009-2015). A motley group of community college students bond in a Spanish study group and then are forced to save their college from closure. You never know what might happen in the darkest timeline (six seasons NO movie?). The show brilliantly parodies almost every genre at some point. Be on the look out for paintball episodes, Troy and Abed in the morning and the darkest timeline. It will always have 5 million meow meow beenz from me. The Community Season 1 trailer.
  5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). Don’t dismiss this as another teen show, or another vampire show, or another superhero. Buffy warns us about the perils of real life while slaying vampires and other demons. Sure, some weird stuff happens, but the show is a metaphor for battling our own personal demons. Buffy is also a heroine who can kick ass and doesn’t need a man (human or vampire) to save her unlike other vampire show heroines. Sarah Michelle Gellar is superb as the title character. A trailer can be seen here.
  6. Arrested Development (2003-2005, 2013, 201?): The Bluths are a wealthy family in Orange County that may or not be a satire of the Bush family. Michael has to keep his family from falling apart and from going to prison, but most of the time he doesn’t really understand why. There’s money in the banana stand, Ann her? Mrs. Featherbottom, Mr. F, the inside jokes are plenty on one of the best sitcoms ever made. We should be getting Season 5, but until it’s confirmed we have four seasons of comic gold. Here are the top 10 running gags.
  7. Friends (1994-2004): The One That Is A Classic Show. The tale of six friends in New York and their misadventures in love and life. Best episode: The One With the embryos. It really is kick-you-in-the-crotch-spit-on-your-neck fantastic. For those who have escaped the phenomenon that is Friends, here is a trailer for the first four seasons.
  8. True Blood (2008-2014): So it has one of the most annoying protagonists ever in Sookie Stackhouse, but the gothic drama, often times a metaphor for gay and human rights vis-a-vis vampire rights, is an adventerous romp from the guy who brought us American Beauty and Six Feet Under. Who cares if Sookie ends up with Bill, Eric or Alycide the Werewolf? The secondary characters like Pam Swynford de Beaufort, Lafayette, Jason, Rev. Steve Newlin and his wife Sarah, Russell Edgenton, Arlene, Tara, Queen Sophie Anne, Antonia Gavilán de Logroño and others were what brought this show to life. Season 1 trailer. And as it’s for the first season, here is the special video for Sh** Pam Says.
  9. Sports Night (1998-2000)/The Newsroom (2012-2014) I put these two together because they are both brilliant, both from Aaron Sorkin and deal with a similar theme: The behind-the-scenes of putting together a sports/news show (You can probably guess which is which). Sports Night put together my fave actress Felicity Huffman with the awesome Peter Krause and added in a dash of Josh Charles, Joshua Malina, Robert Guillaume and Sabrina Lloyd. I don’t care about sports, but I cared about this show. The Newsroom took recent real life events and showed how a fictitious major cable news channel covered them. The news has never been so interesting. Trailer for Sports Night and for The Newsroom
  10. Jack & Bobby (2004-2005) Only one season of the show about two brothers, one who would become president of the United States. No, not that Jack & Bobby. Their mom is a major professor with a pot addiction sleeping with her TA Bradley Cooper, and the brothers are maneuvering high school, all while some future documentary on the President gives hints about what will come. The WB was stupid and cancelled it after one season. The promo for the series premiere can be seen here.
  11. Jericho (2006-2008) The unthinkable happens. The United States is destroyed by a series of nuclear bombs. A small town in Kansas, cut off from the world, tries to rebuild and figure out what happens. A bit Lost, a bit X-Files, a ton of nailbiting suspense awaits in these two seasons. Skeet Ulrich from Scream plays the main character. The trailer can be found here.
  12. The O.C. (2003-2007) Oh Julie Cooper, thank you for making “cougar” a thing. Sandy Cohen didn’t know what he was getting into when he takes in a kid from CHINO. Ryan Atwood’s arrival to the upper class of Orange County makes waves and changes the lives of the Cohens and Coopers forever. And then there is the romance of Seth Cohen and Summer Roberts. The O.C. made teenage dramas cool. Here is the Season 1 Trailer.
  13. Undeclared (2001-2002) Another bungled Fox cancellation. Most people prefer Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, but as I was a sophomore in uni when this aired, Undeclared always spoke more to me. It’s the story of some misfit freshmen trying to survive their first year of college. Series trailer here.
  14. Wonderfalls (2004): Yep, Fox cancelled a wonderful show after only four episodes. The Bryan Fuller production told the tale of Jane Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), resident of Niagra Falls, Canada, begins to receive advice from inanimate objects that allows her to find solutions to the lives of friends and passerbys but unable to help her with her unrequited love for the recently married (and who already has problems in the marriage) Eric. It also stars Lee Pace and Traci Thoms. Here is a link to a fan-made trailer.
  15.  Daria (1997-2002). Daria is the animated story of a highly intelligent and sarcastic high schooler girl with a popular sister. For me, it’s the most accurate portrayal of high school life despite being a cartoon. It was how my friends and I communicated, at least. Everyone knew each other, but that didn’t mean we all had to like each other. As Daria says, “she doesn’t have low self-esteem. She just has low esteem for everyone else.” A 2010 DVD trailer doesn’t show much, but this clip captures the essence of the show.
  16. The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016): The show that showed us it was okay to have multi-season story arcs and that the government conspiracies were all around (it aired before the Bush Jr. administration!) Mulder and Scully (played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) were everywhere in the 90s. We all knew that the truth was out there, to trust no one and to believe the lie because all lies lead to the truth. The show will return in 2016.  Let’s try to forget the bad and remember the good, as this ad for 201 days of The X-Files does.
  17. Everwood (2002-2006): Similar to Northern Exposure in theme, the ongoing serial nature of another Greg Berlanti series improved on it. After the death of his wife, successful New York neurosurgeon Dr. Andy Brown (Treat Williams)  moves his family to the town of Everwood, Colorado, as the last request of his wife. It has some fish-out-of-water moments, but the heart of the show are the relationships, familial, platonic and romantic, the show’s characters find themselves in. It was marketed wrongly as a teenage soap. The Story of Everwood tells it better than I do.
  18. Pushing Daisies (2007-2009): Another Bryan Fuller creation. Ned  (Lee Pace) has the ability to bring anyone back from the dead with just a touch. However, if they continue to live more than a minute, someone else has to die. Ned uses this to solve crimes…until he brings back his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) back from the dead. Yet everyone wanted Ned to touch Chuck and hook up with Olive (Kristen Chenoweth). A fan made trailer can be seen here.
  19. Happy Endings (2011-2013): The best post-Friends pack of friends comedy. The jokes come a mile a minute, and the romantic complications make Ross and Rachel seem to have no obstacles whatsoever. The series preview is here.
  20. Desperate Housewives (2004-2012): The tale of not-so-quiet desperation of four women and their neighbours of Wisteria Lane blended humour, mystery and soap opera dram. (Wisteria Lane would’ve been a much better name as it was about so much more than the housewives). Every season had a season-long mystery, where as week-to-week built upon the adventures and misadventures of life in suburban anytown USA. (Seriously, would Bree ever be friends with Gabrielle or Lynette in real life?) The British trailer captures the essence of the series, as does the American trailer.

Ruta de los Pantanos (PR-BI 210)

pantanos 3 Even after two years of living here, Gran Bilbao still manages to find ways to surprise and impress me with its beauty. Después de dos años viviendo aquí, el Gran Bilbao todavía me puede soprender y impresionar con su belleza.

The suburb (which is a city in its own right, similar to Getafe in Madrid) has a bad reputation among the people who live on the other side of the Nervión, but the pantanos (ponds. They’re actually “embalses” or “reservoirs”) offer spectacular beauty. El suburbio (que es una ciudad propia, parecida a Getafe en Madrid), tiene mala fama entre la gente que vive por el otro lado de la Nervión, pero los pantanos (que son embalses) ofrecen belleza espectacular.

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Exiting the Bilbao metro at Ansio and walking past the BEC! (Bilbao Exhibition Centre! is in Barakaldo and also is named in English, because you know, we’re in Spain?), which is huge, I found myself on a very small portion of the Camino de Santiago, and I had fond memories of wanting to stop at the bar for wifi but wasn’t sure if they had it. I didn’t ask, but I did stop this time for a relaxing café con leche con hielo (ice) before beginning my quest for the pantanos. Después de salir del metro de Bilbao en la parada Ansio y pasar el BEC! (Bilbao Exhibition Centre!), me encontré en una etapa pequeña del Camino de Santiago. Tenía buenas memorias de querer de parar en un bar para wifi pero no sabía si lo tenía. No pregunté, pero esta vez paré para tomar un relaxing café con leche con hielo antes de empezar la Ruta de los Pantanos.

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I had tried last autumn but failed to find them. This time, armed with my trusty iPad Cesc (my Apple products all have Catalan names. My iTouch is Jordi IV) loaded with the information from Bien de Altura  and the informational sheet for the PR-BI 210, I…nearly found my way! Intenté el otoño pasado, pero no pude encontrarlos. Esta vez con la información de Bien de Altura bajada en mi iPad Cesc (mis productos de Apple siempre tienen nombres catalanes. Mi iTouch se llama Jordi IV) y la ficha de información del PR-BI210…¡casí encontré la ruta! ¡Casí!

Yeah, I got lost again. The trail is not clearly marked until you’re actually on it. And I had read something about not having to cross bridges. By the time I crossed the third bridge…and I wasn’t sure which way to go when I reached the end of the bidegorria (bike path). So I went both ways. One way I met a locked gate. The other way I met the bridge. I ended up deciding to cross it, and it was the real path. Pues sí, me perdí otra vez. El sendero no está señaldo bien hasta que ya estés en el sendero. También leí algo sobre el hecho que no tienes que cruzar puentes. Lo leí mal. Cuando ya había cruzado tres puentes…todavía no sabía muy bien en cual dirección ir cuando alcancé el final de la bidegorria (carril bici). Entonces probé los dos caminos. Un camino encontré una puerta cerrada. El otro me encontré con otro puente. Decedí cruzarlo, y era el sendero correcto.

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Unfortunately, all my confusion meant I wasn’t going to arrive to the end of the trail and make it back by nightfall, but I did make it to El Regato, a neighbourhood of Barakaldo located between the reservoirs.  It has a nice érmita, San Roque, and one sidería that was open on a Sunday summer afternoon. Dado de mi confusión y me haber perdido, significaba que no iba a llegar al final de la ruta y volver antes de anochecer. Pero sí, llegué a El Regato, un barrio de Barakaldo situado entre los pantanos. Tiene un érmita bonita, San Roque, y una sidería que estaba abierta un domingo de verano por la tarde. 

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Érmita San Roque

I returned along the highway, which offered views of the path I had taken to get there. Volví por la carretera, que tenía vistas del sendero que tomé para llegar a El Regato.

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I will return this autumn, when I am sure the fall foliage will be awesome, and armed for the full hike to the other reservoir. And now that I know how to get there…Este otoño volveré, cuando seguramente las hojas del otoño será preciosas, y estaré listo para completar el sendero al otro embalse.

Spanish Director Spotlight: Victor Erice

I’ve been debating for a long while now about dedicating some entries to some of the amazing Spanish cinema and literature out there. Don’t worry. I’ll still be writing about the infinite beautiful and intriguing places Spain has to offer. At the same time, I’d like an excuse to explore and re-explore some of the amazing directors and writers out there.

I could easily start with one of the more famous directors like Pedro Almódovar or Luis Buñuel, and I’ll probably write about both soon enough. However, I thought to kick off this series, I’d go with a lesser, important director: Victor Erice.

Victor Erice was born in 1940 in Karranza in Vizcaya. I never knew he was Basque until now.  He studied at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. Although he’s only made three major movies, his films are widely regarded in the world of cinema, especially Spanish Cinema. Whereas other Spanish directors like Almódovar, Buñuel, and Álex de la Iglesia are known for flashy, provocative productions often involving over the top imagery (and poisoned gazpacho. Never, ever drink the gazpacho!), Erice’s films are quiet, calm productions full of beautiful cinematography and metaphors.

My introduction to Erice came in my Spanish Cinema class in 2007. My first viewing of the film El espiritú de la colmena (“The Spirit of the Beehive”) (1973), I thought “This is the most boring film I have ever seen.” I’m pretty sure that before I went to class, I drank a large cup of vanilla latte or white chocolate mocha to stay awake to discuss it. However, our class discussion was so interesting I needn’t have drunk the extra caffeine. The film is a Pandora’s Box of metaphors about the Franco Regime. Made during the last years of Franco’s dictatorship, El espiritú de la colmena had to be told with metaphors to escape the censorship of the time.

The desolate, isolated landscape of the movie could easily represent the isolation of Spain during the early part of Franco’s dictatorship before he decided to exploit Spain as different for tourism pesetas, dollars, pounds, francs and marks and the desolation represents the bleakness of his government. Frankenstein’s monster (note the Frank in this name) plays a major role in the unfolding of the flick. Was this his subtle way of calling Franco a monster? Were the Spanish citizens the bees trapped in the beehives yearning to escape this oppressive regime? The wind blows through the film quite often. Perhaps even a scene where the smoke from the train hide a women might show how hidden women were during the Franco regime. Or perhaps my Hispanic Studies degree is making me see things.

The film takes place in the years right after the Spanish Civil War. Elsewhere in Europe, World War II was wrecking havoc as Spain struggled to reconstruct. In a small village in a place in La Meseta whose name Erice didn’t want to reveal, we find ourselves witnessing the story of two sisters, Ana and Isabel. (All the principal actors use their real-life names because it confused young actress Ana Torrent to call them by two names, according to Erice and IMDB’s trivia.) When the sisters experience the traveling cinema version of Frankenstein, young Ana is scared the monster is real. Although Isabel tells her the film is fake, Ana communicates with the spirit of the monster and believes he is living in an abandoned sheep shed. In reality, a Republican soldier returning from war has made it his makeshift home. Ana brings him food and her father’s coat. However, the returning soldier is shot by Franco’s soldier’s one night.  Ana’s father is a beekeeper, and her mother is remembering an old love. I won’t reveal the end, but that mushroom her father points out on a Sunday stroll, along with Frankenstein, come into play.

It’s important to note that the family is never shown together. (To show how broken Spain is under Franco?)

This isn’t a film for anyone who needs a lot of action or dialogue in their movies. It’s a very quiet, introspective film that stays with you a long time after viewing. It was voted #2 in 1996’s list of 100 Spanish films.

Here’s a link to the trailer in Spanish.

His next film, El Sur, (The South) (1983), didn’t suffer the censorship of the Franco era, and Erice could’ve gone wild. This was the time of the infamous movida Madrileña and the time Pedro Almódovar was starting to become the star of post-Franco Spanish cinema. However, he stayed loyal to his art, making another slow film set during the early years of Franco (this time the 1950’s). While it’s much more accessible to viewers (more explicit than implicit storytelling), it still features stunning cinematography and a great story about a small family living in the north of Spain. It was filmed in Estella, Navarra and Ezcaray, La Rioja and is based on a short story by Adelaida García Morales.

Estrella (Star in Spanish) is eight when her family relocates from the south of Spain to the north. Her grandmother and a family friend visit her for her first communion, and she falls in love with the South. Her dad has a secret, an ex lover who is now a small-time actress, although Estrella doesn’t come to understand this until later. She just wonders who “Irene Ríos” is. The movie skips a few years with her riding her bike into the distance with a puppy, and then returning with the adult dog. She learns the truth about her father and the film ends with her decision to visit the south (Sevilla).

If the ending seems abrupt, it’s because Erice orginally had planned to film her visit to the South. The producer decided the film worked as it was, and the second half wasn’t filmed.  It was voted the sixth best Spanish film in 1996’s celebration of 100 years of movies.

It’s not the official trailer, but here is a short montage of scenes from the film.

He also completed a documentary in 1992, El sol del membrillo (Dream of Light) about a painter’s (Antonio López) quest to paint a quince tree. Perhaps a metaphor of this film would be watching a man paint a tree for two hours is similar to watching Spain try to emerge victorious from the “catastrophe of 1898” and still trying in 2015. [/end internet sarcasm font].

Erice’s films speak volumes about Francoist-era Spain and offer an alternative to the typical Spanish film one might have in mind after seeing Almódovar, de la Iglesia, Buñuel or Ocho Apellidos Vascos.

Camino Alternativo. The alternate way out of Bilbao.

At the moment, all my Camino plans are on hold for various reasons. That doesn’t mean I have given up on arriving to Santiago nor have I lost my love and interest in the Camino. It just means good things come to those who wait. This is where I complain about how tired I am of waiting and admit that my dream of doing the Camino may never come true.

With a “heat wave” on the north coast (the rest of Spain is wishing they only had 34 degrees), I decided to check out the alternative Camino that leaves Bilbao, the one that snakes around the right bank of the river this weekend. As it was not a real Camino day, I went with my smaller backpack and had my iPod cranked up and had no plans on reaching Portugalete. I just went as far as I felt like it.

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This route goes along the Nervión  estuary, la Ría de Bilbao and passes many bridges, the Guggenheim, the Torre Iberdrola and through Deusto.

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For those not familiar with Bilbao, I’d recommend not going along the sidewalk that goes along the ría, as this will make you apt to make a mistake and go to the island of Deusto, which is a dead end. Instead, follow along the other side of the street, and you should be fine. As I knew of this, I went along the river. I was happy to see an arrow by a private albergue, meaning that this alternative stretch is Camino.

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Torre Iberdrola

As you finally leave Bilbao (it takes about an hour from my flat to the end of San Ignazio and where Erando begins), the sites of the ría become quite beautiful.

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All I do is soñar.

This part of Gran Bilbao has a bad reputation, but I really liked the views of the river. In fact, so much that I ended up deciding to stay a while on a bench and read while the sunset before catching the metro in Erando back to Bilbao.

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That meant I went back the next day to finish this part. I only had an hour or so until I reached the Areeta metro (which I took to avoid the crowds coming back from the beach on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon.)

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The stretch from Erandio to Getxo follows the ría for a bit more before going in to walk along the metro. A few nice views of the ría, but nothing spectacular. The day would normally end by crossing the famous Puente Colgante to Portugalete and looking for their albergue (it’s not too hard to find, but the last time I crossed the bridge I went in a different direction.)

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Puente Vizcaya/Puente Colgante

Which would I take? It depends on a lot. If you’re doing a longer day from Lezama or something, I’d recommend this alternative route as it’s shorter and no hills to climb. It also avoids having to walk through that shopping centre.  You also get to see all the sights of Bilbao (and I honestly feel that the outside of the Guggenheim is prettier than the inside any day!)

If you’re a Camino purist or doing a shorter day, the traditional Camino does have some nice scenery, like the Puente de Diablo and the park in Barakaldo. It’s a bit more strenuous walking, and again, that walk through the mall past Ikea is a nightmare.

Either way you leave Bilbao has its pros and cons, just like every decision. For the indecisive like me, flip a coin.

Camino alternativo

A renewed Basque Bucket List.

As my final year in Euskadi approaches, it’s time to revisit that Bucket List I wrote last winter and add a few more places to it. For those wanting to remain spoiler free, I’d advise not reading this entry 😛 Como es mi último año en Euskadi, ya es la hora para revisitar la lista de cosas que quiero hacer en el País vasco el invierno pasado y añadir aún más sitios. Para los que no quieren spoilers, os aconsejo no leer esta entrada del blog. 

-Bosque de Oma
-Nacimiento del Nervión
-Aquarium de Donostia
-Gorbea otra vez
-Iparralde (San Juan de Luz, Bayona)
-Laguardia y La Rioja Alavesa
-Elizondo/Valle de Baztan
-Ruta de los Pantanos
-Portugalete por la ría
-Érmita de San Pedro

And places close by/y sitios cerca de:

Burgos/Pancorbo, Frías, Covarrubia
-Picos de Europa (Fuente De)
-Santo Domingo (La Rioja)

And some trips I am hoping to make this year/Y algunos viajes que me gustaría hacer este año.

-Lagos de Covadonga
-Return to Andalucía

And if I win the lottery/si me toca la lotería…

-Vienna/Prague (Viena/Praga)

And, of course, FINISH THE CAMINO. Y claro, termino el Camino!

This will be the last time I mention this as I don’t want to come across as one of those needy people constantly begging for money, but if anyone would like to donate to my GoFundMe so I can finish the Camino this year, you can do so here . All donators will receive a postcard from along the Camino and/or promotion from me, and of course, will be able to read about me achieving a dream. Será la última vez que voy a mencionar eso como no quiero ser el chico que siempre está pidiendo dinero, pero si alguien quisiera donar a mi cuenta de GoFundMe para que pueda terminar el Camino este año, se podría hacerlo aquí. Todos que donan dinero recibirán un postal desde el Camino y/o promoción de mí, y claro, podrá leer sobre un sueño mío realizado. 

Happy Monday/Feliz lunes/feliç dilluns.
Happy summer/feliz verano/bon estiu.