Spain Eats: La Coruña

I absolutely LOVE seafood. It’s no wonder then that when I got to La Coruña, Spain’s Northwest town in Galicia, I got straight to work tasting the market fresh goodness the town had to offer. As a narrow peninsula, the sea is paramount here- you look left, you see the harbor, turn your head to the right and you’ll see the beach.

Here are some of the things I ate:

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Tapas in Spain

As previously mentioned, I spent a couple of weeks in Spain this summer as part of a longer trip. I was there in late July and the weather was great, apart from a few humid scorchers in the concrete jungle (but fun city!) that is Madrid.

My FAVOURITE thing about Spain is the tapas- snacks or food of smaller portion that you can get at bars and restaurants. If you want something a bit more substantial to eat but not a full meal, you ask for raciones. Now, back to tapas… here’s how it works: You order a beer, you get a bowl of olives. You order another beer, you get some tortilla de patata, you order yourself another beer, you might get some croquetes, or calamari, or jamon, or homemade chips served with jamon, or a small sandwich with jamon, or whatever else the place is serving up that day- you get the idea.

Sadly, for me who hates beer, I only discovered towards the end of my trip that I didn’t always have to buy a drink to get tapas, I could’ve just ordered the the tapa. If you don’t mind the beer but don’t want to fill up on it- order una caña, it’s about a glass of beer… the expression might not be the same everywhere in Spain but they’ll most likely understand what you’re talking about.

All in all, I tapa’d my heart out in Girona, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Granada, and La Coruña this summer. I’d do it again too, yum!

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Beautiful Spain- Great for 1st Time Travelers

Over the summer, I had a wonderful time in Spain. Originally, I had the mistakenly thought that Spain was going to be a lot like Italy. I stand corrected. Spain is definitely in a league of its own and whatever shred of similarity I thought it had just because of a similar romantic language, it can’t be grouped in the same category. These are definitely two different places.

One of the things I first noticed upon arriving in Spain is the sense of relief I felt. As a North American traveler, I feel as though I can identify more closely with Spain, for some reason, than many other countries I’ve travelled to like France, Italy, or even Greece. The people are more easygoing than in, say, Italy. Italy for the North American traveler can be an overwhelming experience especially because of the TONS of tourists deposited there each summer and the fact that nobody waits in line. It’s nothing to get frustrated about- that’s just the way they do it there. But when I have to either wait in line for 5 minutes or fight tooth and nail to be recognized in line at the local gelto place even though the person behind the counter clearly saw me first but served the person who cut in waving a euro in her face… I’d rather not have the headache… and I’d rather not have the icecream.

Spain was the total opposite- everything is orderly and even in tourist hotspots like Barcelona and Madrid, I still felt like I had breathing room. There’s more signage, less schemers looking to get their hands in your pockets than in other places, and WAY better prices. Not to say that this runs rampant in other places…

If you’re looking to get away for the first time… or maybe the first time in a longtime, Spain is an amazing place to start. Beautiful landscapes, friendly and helpful people, clean, good for your pocket, great food, and you’re not falling over thousands of other vacationers. An added bonus is that the Renfe train system goes just about everywhere you need to be and has affordable prices, well kept, and comfortable too.

In sum- Spain: great people, great food, room to breathe, lots to see, relatively affordable

Viva España!

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Practicing the Language

Stop Sign- Meknes, Morocco

Every time I visit a new country, I always learn a few basics to the best of my ability- ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘I don’t understand. Do you speak English?’

Above all, don’t forget the importance of body language. You might not understand the thing but the face and body says it all. I learned as much when I was plucked off a bus at a border crossing into Serbia because the border guard wanted to see my papers (I had a separate slip I needed to show besides my passport). I dumbly just showed him my passport. He wasn’t pleased. ‘blah blah blah’ is all I heard, as he pointed to my passport. “I don’t understand…. do you speak English?” I asked, apologetically, in his language. “blah blah Ingleski! Ingleski!!! blah blah blah” obviously, mocking my ignorance, throwing his head side to side. What I’m pretty sure he said was “You don’t understand and you only speak English. Well, you’re in my country. What am I gonna do with you” I gathered all this from his body language. Oh well, at least I tried! Someone finally told me what he wanted and I was on my merry way.

In Granada, I met the cutest waiter who picked up on the fact that I spoke Spanish better than I let on, as I had ordered in English but read off the Spanish menu perfectly fine. “Why don’t you tell me again in  Spanish,” he flirted “I heard you order… I know you know how to speak it, don’t be shy.” And so, from that point on, I tried not to be. It’s easy to take the path of least resistance sometimes (ie. not having to think of all your words and just using English when you know the person in that country speaks it) but it’s nice to make the effort, it’s appreciated, and it actually makes local people want to talk to you and figure out what you’re all about. 

Now, if you’re gonna put yourself out there and have an ‘in’ with the people, it’s not wise to overdo it… and it’s always good to keep in mind other people’s reactions and the way things work. Read people… situations… and read them well. You might like the newfound attention you have as a foreigner who speaks Spanish but seriously, don’t make a fool of yourself. Case in point: I witnessed an enthusiastic 20something year old American girl walk into a male dominated cafe/bar in her David Villa jersey during the time of the World Cup. Once she was in, I only HEARD the rest. “VILLA MARAVILLA!” she exclaimed, as the men greeted her and her short shorts with an “Eeeeeeeeyyyyyyyy!!!” I can only assume she was pointing furiously to her new jersey and tried to connect with them on a ‘world cup’ level. More shouts and hollers from the men.

“Ole ole ole ole…. oleeeee…. oleeee” from her. “Sube! Sube la camisa!!!” they egged on… “Si, la camisa! Villa Maravilla!” she engaged with them.  “Subela!” the men were still adament. I could only stand outside the place and marvel on. A waitress from across the way scurried to where me and a few other tourists who had been walking around with this girl for the past afternoon were waiting for her. “Dios mio! Do you know what they’re saying? They’re telling her to lift her shirt!” she laughed. I’m not sure if Ms. 20something realized it or not but surely their attitude towards her must gave given her SOME clue, even if she may not have understood 100%. Would she have gone in there back home? Probably not.

Oh and one thing to remember- a popular scam in Europe, or even other places for that matter, is when someone obviously recognizing you as a tourist comes up to you and asks “Do you speak English?” The best thing to do is shake your  head and walk on. Why? Because this person, once they have you in their sights, will either make you read a card explaining that they’re poor and want money, or  flat out ask you. They might even pester you, nothing violent, just more of a nuissance- watch your pockets!. It’s best just to keep going with no acknowledgement.

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Wordy Wednesdays

Wordle: hobby
Over the past little while, I’ve developped a hobby creating lexical fields. I don’t know if it relaxes me or what but whether im furiously typing notes on my cell phone or have a pen in hand, I tend to compile the most random yet thorough bits of info surrounding any given topic. Maybe I spent too much time in the shower reading shampoo bottles with fancy words like E3 complex, mineral essence, and hydra repair.

In any case, this same quirk of mine extends to how vacation destinations are touted. Throughout this blog, I’ll compile and share a few. It helps me understand the kind of image a place is projecting, what kind of promises it makes to the public, how it’s marketed…. and ultimately the discourse that revolves around it.

I found a cool site, www.wordle.net that creates word clouds with text you either copy/paste in or you can link an entire blog post in particular. Pretty cool! Let me know what you think. Click on the word cloud to enlarge it

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Convenient Travel Items 6-10

LED light
5. LED Light
An LED light is perfect for those moments when you’re fumbling for your keys, searching for lost underwear under the bed, or even walking through the occasional dark ruins like ancient tombs and caverns. The last time I used mine, I was making my way down a black well at the ancient Greek ruins of Mycenae while others groped blindly at the walls. This can usually be found at a dollar store.
6. Compass
The directions seem simple enough, “walk north on Main Street” but when you just got out of the subway, or you’re in a place where it’s literally all Greek to you, do you really know your ass fr-uh, never mind. A small compass, though you probably never use it in your everyday life, ensures that you don’t walk five blocks in the wrong direction on a hot summer’s day. Who doesn’t want to save time and energy? Of course, you can use it for hiking too. Here’s a Compass-Carabiner from Magellan’s Travel Supplies

Clothesline
7. Travel Clothesline
When you’re staying at a resort, there are only so many doorknobs on which to hang your wet undies and bathing suits on. A travel clothesline is small, peg-less, and can be hooked and extended from almost anything. It also comes with suction cups. Great for families spending a week at the beach!

 

  

 

8. Tissues and Wet Wipes
Not all toilets have paper and not all birds poo on trees. Similarly, hold on to those extra napkins from the restaurant.
 

 

10. Two-in-One Clothes
Get the most out of your wardrobe by having clothes that can be worn in different ways. It’s rare to find a reversible top but if you get your hands on one- buy it! My favourite item is American Apparel’s ‘bandeau’ dress which can be worn more than 10 ways, including as a top and skirt. http://www.americanapparel.com

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Convenient Travel Items 1-5

The worst part of taking a trip is lugging around a heavy suitcase or realizing you need something you never thought you would. I’m not here to tell you to pack socks, underwear, and a few nice t-shirts- you already know that. What may not have occurred to you are my personal lifesavers and knick knacks:

Microfiber Towel via Microfiber Usa

1. Microfiber Towel

There is nothing more disgusting than having to haul around a heavy, smelly, wet towel. A microfiber towel is the best option: it’s thin, light-weight, absorbent, and best of all, fast-drying (on sunny days, in under 15 minutes)! Before you stock up on Shamwow, please note that you can find microfiber towels of different sizes at any good ‘outdoor’ store.

Lush Solid Shampoo- Karma featured

2. Solid Shampoo and Conditioner

If at some point in life, you’ve sealed a shampoo bottle in a plastic baggie wrapped in a plastic bag for fear of it bursting in your luggage, or grumbled at airlines’ policy on liquids. Fear not! A solid shampoo or conditioner is compact and fits into a small metal tin easily stored in a luggage or carry-on. When used in the shower, these two work just like the liquid kind but you lather it up just like soap. As an added bonus, the solid versions can be placed in a carry-on while liquids usually cannot. Lush is a good brand for this. A bar usually lasts me 1.5-2 months if I wash my hair every day www.lush.com

Advanced Healing: Blister- by Bandaid

3. Blister Bandages

If you’re on vacation, chances are you’ll be walking more than you’ve walked all year during your 9-5 job. For some, blisters are inevitable but they don’t have to be painful. Specially made bandages feel like a second skin and not only protect your blisters but cushion each step. A good choice is from Bandaid’s Active-Flex line. Trust me- you need this! PS. Don’t pop blisters, the liquid you see is meant to heal your wound faster. www.bandaid.com

Clip watch

4.  Clip Watch

While a pocket watch stirs up images of the Victorian Era, a modern adaptation, the “clip watch” can be clipped to belt loops, packs, or purses. An out of sight watch will not only free you of tan lines, but also from the constraints of time itself when it’s not an obvious reminder. Bonus points if you find one with an LED light. The obvious question is- Why use a clip watch when I have my cell phone to tell the time with? I’ll answer that with a question… Have you ever left your phone at the top of a beach bag in the blazing 40C (104F) sun? What about those moments when you just want to bring a bag, a towel, and a water bottle to the beach just like the Europeans do and not have to constantly worry about someone stealing your #$^&! See?

FM Radio

5. Mini FM Radio with Headphones

Sure, you have your iPod but does it probably doesn’t play the latest Korean pop unless you’re really into that sort of thing. When travelers listen to their MP3 players, they are missing out on a whole chunk of local culture: music and language. You don’t need to understand it to enjoy it. An inexpensive one can be purchased at a dollar store. Some phones also have FM Radio so check it out!

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