Monday, August 31, 2015

The Family Experience in Torre del Mar

I'm not very close to my family. Many of my Canadian friends are the same. It's the opposite in Spain, and sometimes people here feel sorry for me. They assume that I'm walking around sad all the time, because I'm so far away from my family. It actually doesn't really bother me, as I've been independent my whole life, but once in a while I attend family events here that highlight the divide between my family relationships, and families in Spain.

I visited a friend in Torre del Mar, a small "district" near Málaga, along the coast. Upon arrival, she announced that we were going to her aunt's birthday. All of the family would be there. She felt sorry for dragging me to the birthday, but I told her I didn't mind because I love being involved in intimate spanish family events. It's always interesting to note that, while there are obvious cultural differences in terms of language or food, families all over the world are the same. You have the cool uncles, the overbearing mothers, the caring aunts, and the incomprehensible grandparents. Adults laugh about their generation, while children roll their eyes. Nieces ask for only a tiny piece of cake and groan upon receiving the hugest slice ever. Younger cousins excitedly ask to join in on the adults' plans to go on a pub crawl, only to be shushed by their parents.

That night, when I thought we would go out dancing, my friend suggested a game of beach volleyball instead. At 10:30 p.m., which surprised me. Of course, I was in. I may be the shortest girl in Jaén but I LOVE volleyball. I was all over the place, in a very competitive way. Good thing only one cousin had B1 english and understood my swearing (“Oh my gosh, she said 'shit'!”).
Despite volleyball, I still had time to get my drink on.
The next morning, an aunt invited me to a morning of churros and shopping, while my friend was working. I heartily agreed, and we spent the next few hours talking and laughing while traversing the town centre.
This vacation was a nice quiet affair, in that I spent time getting to know my friend better, and getting to know her family. They treated me in a lovely way, so much that I hope to see them again. Who knows, could be another family reunion!

Monday, August 24, 2015

“You Bet Your...” Gambling in Spain

For my Dad's birthday, just like Father's Day last year, I decided to buy him a lottery ticket. This time I chose an organization that sells lottery tickets for a good cause.

ONCE is very popular here. The vendors, who almost all have a disability of some kind, walk around wearing chains of lottery tickets around their neck. The 5-digit numbers that passerby spot can lead to an impulsive buy if they contain one or any combination of their lucky numbers. My friend spotted a vendor so I seized the chance to buy her number, too. Our tickets cost 5 euros each.

Besides lotteries involving buying tickets, in Jaén there are umpteen Salon de juegos (Gambling rooms). I am the type that enjoys gambling once in a while; I once went to Las Vegas alone and ended up having a great time attending lessons on craps and blackjack. However, these Jaén salons aren't my thing. It's simply machines and televisions to bet on races, and of course, a bar. I prefer tables, dealers, and interacting with the crowd.

Some of my favourite nights in my Canadian hometown consisted of dressing up, going to the casino, and enjoying a drink and live music before hitting the Russian Roulette or craps tables. I never made large bets, but it was just as exciting to see my $20 grow with a roll of the dice or a spin of the wheel.

It was the same when my friend texted saying we'd won 6 euros on ONCE. Upon redemption, I walked from the ONCE booth looking forward to using my winnings on dinner. You can bet I'll be playing again soon!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lisbon: an Architectural Wonder

I fell in love a couple of weeks ago. She's older, but with lots of character. Sweet, too.

I'm referring to Lisbon. I literally couldn't walk one block without coming across an amazing facade of a building, or a cool store, or a museum, or... there was way too much to see in only a few days. With the sweetness, I'm referring to the amazing Portuguese desserts. I've said it before: Spain is lacking in baked goods. Portugal rules.
San Geronimo
After my last visit to Portugal, I decided to learn a few words before arriving. I'm not sure if it's because my Spanish fluency is extremely high, but I could slightly understand what the Lisbon people were saying to each other. Their level of English and Spanish is high too, so speaking wasn't too difficult.

Mercado da Ribeira, with 30 food stalls
When I left my hostel, which was located in a neighborhood so sketchy [Intendente] that a policeman told me it problematic, it would take me forever to meet my friends because I had to stop constantly and admire something: a building, pastry display, a cute Portuguese man... taking the symbolic tram once in a while helped me manage the hills and daytime heat. At night, it was so cool I had to put on pants and a sweater.

Fado in the street
Things I discovered:
  • bring your student card. My residency visa states I'm a student, and it garnered me half-price admission to museums and monuments.
  • Compare prices. During a hot climb to the castle of Sao Jorge, I popped into a fancy cafe called Belmonte for a juice. I almost paid 2E, but I didn't have change, so I waited until I'd bought my castle ticket and popped into Cafe Sao Jorge, where a juice cost 1.20E. F*** you, Belmonte.
  • Don't wear heels or shoes with a slippery sole. There wasn't a single piece of sidewalk in Lisbon that wasn't covered in dangerous, neck-breaking tiles. After a few close calls, I wore my ugly, but safe, suede boots.
  • If you thought Spain's eating and store schedules are weird, wait until you get to Lisbon: the stores open early but shut early, as in 8 p.m. Some monuments close at 6 p.m. Kitchens close at 11 p.m.

There were so many places I didn't see, that I've already started planning my next trip to see my lover; Lisbon, te quiero, y nos vemos pronto.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Crazy Vikings in Galicia

Sweaters. Blankets. Pants. Things I never thought I'd need until November. But there I was in my hotel bedroom in Santiago de Compostela, wishing I'd brought more pants, of all things. It's wayyyy colder there than in Jaén. I loved not only the temperature of Galicia, but also the events, the cityscape, and the food.

On the way to Santiago, I asked the driver what he recommended I do. This is why I love talking to locals; he mentioned a famous event that simulated the Viking invasions of Catoira, a small village that was a short train ride away from Santiago. Every first Sunday of August since 1960, the locals have put on costumes and ridden Viking-style boats to the shores of the ancient fort, and pretend-fight to the amusement of visitors.

My friend and I pilfered a spot by the riverbank and enjoyed the show. We had a laugh as the barbarians grabbed and embraced spectators, covering them unexpectedly with mud.

Back in Santiago, I was excited to meet fellow blogger Erin. She took us to a pulperia (a place to enjoy octopus) far from the tourists - again, a reason to befriend locals. It was cool to explore the old center and see in person the city that Erin and Trevor, another blogger, have written about. The old town looked mostly gray, which appealed to my memories of my Canadian hometown.

Another cool experience was attending mass in the beautiful Cathedral of Santiago. At the end, a group of men pulled a long rope that had a giant incense chamber hanging on the other end. It swung back and forth, spreading its scent throughout the church. 

Throughout my time in Santiago, I met amazing pilgrims and locals. It was a great experience chatting with them, and that feeling carried me onto the second part of my vacation: Lisbon, Portugal.

to be continued...