Sunday, April 19, 2015

What I Learned Walking the Camino de Santiago

This past fall I walked the Camino de Santiago for a month across Spain. (Interested in seeing my packing list + tips? Let me know in the comments, and a post will result sooner!)

While there was no huge life-changing moment, I did take away small bits of advice from my experiences on the Camino that I've been able to apply to my life post-Camino. I'd like to share these with you, because I think they can have a positive effect on your life as well.

Here it is: What I Learned Walking 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago

I wrote the post on Medium for a more beautiful and smooth reading experience. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Decathlon: Sporting goods in Spain

In preparation for walking the Camino de Santiago, I took a trip to Decathlon in Madrid back in September to pick up a few items I'd need for the trek.

Image Source

Decathlon: Sporting Goods Store in Spain

Decathlon is a sporting goods store of French origin, whose chains are found around Europe and in a few other areas of the globe. Think of it as your Spanish equivalent to Dick's Sporting Goods.

The prices are affordable, so these aren't top-of-the-line super expensive sporting goods, but the quality is good enough to warrant purchases.

Decathlon Departments

So what can you find at a Decathlon in Spain? Tons!

Here are the sporting departments listed on their website, with handy photos in case you're unfamiliar with a word:

Decathlon departments - in Spain

For those who can't see the image, here are some of the included departments:

  • Gimnasio, Yoga (Gymnastics, Yoga)
  • Ropa de Fitness-Danza (Dance/Fitness Clothing)
  • Ciclismo (Biking)
  • Running, Atletismo
  • Natación (Swimming)
  • Kayak-Surf-Deportes Agua (Water sports)
  • Buceo, Submarinismo (Diving)
  • Esquí y Snowboard (Ski and Snowboard)
  • Deportes Montaña, Camping (Mountain sports, Camping)
  • Tenis, Ping poing, Bádminton
  • Andar, Caminar (Walking, Hiking)
  • Golf
  • Fútbol (Soccer)
  • Caza, Pesca (Hunting, Fishing)

Basically any sport/outdoors/athletic thing you're looking for, chances are they've got it at Decathlon. You can browse their website to have a look (if your Spanish isn't great, you can still browse by looking at the pictures and prices of items).

Decathlon Stores in Spain

With 99 stores in the country, Spain currently comes in second to France for the most Decathlon stores per country (France has 260).

Here's a Google map of all of the Decathlon stores in Spain.

Map of Decathlon stores in Spain

Decathlon in Madrid

Most of the Madrid region Decathlon stores are in suburbs, outside of the city.

Map of Decathlon stores in Madrid

The one you see in the center of the map (right near the words "Ciudad Lineal"), is in Nuevos Ministeros. It's actually called Decathlon Golf Castellana, and specializes in golf, running, and fitness. So they only have a tiny selection of the departments I listed above.

That being said, you'll probably have to venture to one of the bigger Decathlons for a worthwhile trip.

When I've shopped at Decathlon in Madrid, both this fall for the Camino and years ago for some athletic clothing for frisbee, I've gone to the branch in Usera, which is on the south side of Madrid.

The first time I went via public transportation, and the second I was lucky enough to be driven by a Spanish friend. If you're taking public transportation, the nearest station is actually a Cercanías station, Orcasitas. You can also check for buses from your location, using this Google map (click "Cómo llegar" and then type in your address as the starting point).

If You Go...

What: Decathlon (Usera branch)
Address: Avenida Rafaela Ybarra SN, 28041 (294) Madrid (SN = sin número, meaning there's no "house" number)
Cercanías: Orcasitas
Hours: 9:00 - 22:00 Monday through Saturday, 10:00 - 22:00 Sundays
Phone: 913.410.080

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Back in Madrid: Spain is no Korea

I'm back in Madrid and it feels so great!

After a year teaching English in South Korea, I had to pop back over to Madrid for a visit before I return to the states to see my family. I'm actually going to walk the Camino de Santiago for about a month while I'm here in Spain - we'll see how long it takes.

As my first day back in the +34 goes on, I keep remembering those tiny differences that were once second nature. They still feel natural, but did take a second for me to recognize these Spanish life basics before putting them back into action.

Some of the thoughts I've had today include:

"Oh right, I must leave my shoes on in the apartment." - In Korea, shoes always come off at the door - and that's at home, at school, and often in many restaurants too.

"Ah, I can't use my card for tiny purchases!" - I didn't have cash yet and wanted to pay for Gregorio's coffee after lunch, but he was not keen on the idea of me paying with a card for just a few euros. Paying with some sort of card is done in Korea for everything, no matter the amount. Two dollars at the convenience store? No problem. I really got used to doing that, but quickly remembered that people will take the time to count out exact change here in Spain - especially at grocery stores.

"Is this where I need an ID to use my debit or credit card?" - I had left the house without it when we were heading to Decathlon this afternoon, but asked Gregorio in the stairway if this was the country where you needed to show an ID. Bingo. After two years without needing to do so, and taking on the Korean habits of a quick line for an electronic signature, that detail was a bit fuzzy.

And of course, "Yikes, I'd better be careful with my purse/phone/wallet!" At a Starbucks in Seoul I actually left my laptop out at a table while I went to the bathroom. That type of crime just isn't an issue in Korea, but pickpocketing and petty theft is huge in Madrid.

It's also been super refreshing to understand what people are saying around me, and to be able communicate with others! I ordered my own lunch without a second thought. I didn't need time to slowly read and translate the menu, nor practice what I was going to say. And it was such a relief when I put in a load of laundry tonight because I could actually read the washing machine! It's the little things.

Now I'm sitting here eating some simple jamón serrano with pan, and it never tasted so good.

Thanks for welcoming me back with open arms, Madrid.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Alcalá de Henares: That time I got locked in a bathroom

Every now and then I find myself in awkward situations.  When these situations occur in my non-native country and language, they're even more entertaining.

My last spring in Spain, Gregorio and I took an afternoon trip to Alcalá de Henares to get more information about the Franklin master's program.

Chilling with Don Quijote and Sancho in Alcalá de Henares

After the university meeting was done, we got some lunch in town.

We were late for lunch, even by Spain's standards, so we could no longer order the menu of the day.  We stayed anyways and were seated outside on the patio, since it was a gorgeous day out.  After ordering, I ran inside to use the bathroom quick.  Didn't need anything from my purse, so I left it at the table.

It was quite dark inside the bar/restaurant, and empty too -- just a bartender standing behind the bar.  It wasn't quiet though, since music blared in the background.  I really had to pee and wanted to wash my hands before eating too, so I found the women's bathroom in the back of the restaurant and went in.  There was only one stall, and since no one else was in there I could go right in.

As soon as I closed the stall door, I realize there wasn't a door handle on the inside of the stall door.  It looked broken, not how a handle is supposed to be.

This is what the handle should have looked like:

Image source
But the door roughly looked like this on the inside (it wasn't the same type of door/stall, though):

Image source

My mind flashed for a split second to the worst that could happen - that I would be locked in here - but I knew that wasn't probable. Of course I could get out, it was a bathroom stall. So the thought left just as quickly as it had come, until it was time to actually exit said stall.

I tried moving whatever was in the circle on the door. The door did not open, and the inner door handle pieces did not budge. Oh gosh.

I looked below the door, but the stall door was too low for me to fit underneath.

Okay, what to do, what to do. I tried again with my hands to move the inner workings of the door to release its latch. Didn't work. If only I'd had a credit card, or a screwdriver or something!

I looked around and sized up the materials I had with me in the stall. It was pretty bare, but I did notice an empty toilet paper tube on the upper roll holder. And then I had an idea: I was going to MacGyver my way out of this stall!

I ripped the toilet paper tube from the holder, and proceeded to bend it into a flat rectangle. Perhaps this would work in place of a credit card. I tried opening the door with the new tool, but it wasn't sturdy enough. The tube material kept bending whenever I applied pressure.

I couldn't call Gregorio because I didn't have my phone with me. "How long have I been in here?," I wondered. Over five minutes for sure.

Maybe it was time to attempt to get someone to hear me. Why was that music in the bar so loud?! I could hear it - and nothing else - from my stall. But I had few other options, so I decided to try making some noise.

But then I got all caught up in what to say. What does one say in Spanish when they're in this situation? Should I say hola, hola (hello! hello!)? Should I shout for help (ayuda, ayúdame!), or is that too severe? What's the word for lock? How do I say I'm locked in? If you lock a door, you say "cerrar con llave" (literally: close with key), so do I use that term? Or is it encerrado? Wait, encerrada because I'm a female? Ah!

So, I'm not exactly sure what I shouted in the end, probably a combination of all of the above. I've tried to erase that from my memory because I was really embarrassed and felt silly during the whole thing.

"How could I make more noise?," I thought. Could anyone even hear me above the music? How long have I been in here now? How long before Gregorio comes looking for me?

So then I started to knock on the stall door - from the inside. While trying to shout things in Spanish to get someone's attention. I felt so ridiculous.

Sooo ridiculous.

As soon as I would hear footsteps or one of the bartender's voices, I'd be my loudest.

But no one came in.

I knew I wouldn't be in there forever - Gregorio would inquire about my well-being after an abnormal amount of time spent in the bathroom. (Though hadn't it already been an abnormal amount of time?!) I wanted out now! I didn't want to wait any longer in this tiny stall!

These new desperate thoughts made my knocking and random shouts even louder. Now that I'd been doing it for so long, I didn't feel nearly as foolish as at the start.

Finally, around 15 minutes since I'd first entered the restroom, some lady came in to use the bathroom. I got her to open the stall door from the outside and let me out.

After washing my hands I rushed back out to our table on the street and saw that both of our plates had been brought out ~10 minutes ago, based on what Gregorio had eaten already.

I immediately began recounting my tale to Gregorio, and also asked why he hadn't come looking for me.

He knew that I'd been struggling with IBS for a few years, and said that he thought I just needed extra time in the bathroom... Whoops!

Relieved to be out at last, my lunch tasted extra deliciosa that afternoon.

And that incident, my friends, is the memory that always comes to mind when I think of Alcalá de Henares. Not the neat Cathedral-turned-bar that we visited afterwards, nor the first time I visited with my study abroad friends and drank wine by the river.

Nope, I now associate Alcalá de Henares with that time I got locked in the bathroom.

Have you ever gotten locked in a bathroom stall? What other embarrassing situations have you found yourself in while living/traveling abroad?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Spanish siesta, as taught in Korean students' English books

I'm currently residing in rural South Korea, where I teach English at a public elementary school, but something that happened in class today that needed to be shared here. Yes, it directly involves Spain.

Near the end of a fourth grade class we had a few extra minutes to fill. So my co-teacher played the unit's "We Are the World", a short video clip from the textbook's CD-ROM that teaches various topics about world culture.

I hadn't seen the clip before we watched it in class. Although the speaking was all in Korean, I could tell what was going on by following the visuals and the brief English phrases interjected every now and then.

World culture lesson

It began with this family:

The boy says in English, "I like Spain". That's when my ears perked up. Oh cool, this will be about Spain!

All of a sudden the children are hungry, obvious because of the red squiggly lines coming out of each child's stomach area. 

The boy goes to tell his parents of their predicament. Then a clock appears on screen showing the time. It's one in the afternoon.

Next a picture of paella pops up in the top left corner. Time to eat lunch.

But when the family gets to the restaurant, they all have shocked looks on their faces! Oh no!

What could possibly be wrong?

Is the restaurant closed? 

No, that's not it.

Is everything in Spanish and the family doesn't know what to order? 


Perhaps they're vegetarians and are therefore shocked by all of the hams hanging from the ceiling.


What is it then?  

Oh right, the chef is sleeping. (Gasp!)

He's taking a nap because, as the pie chart next to him clearly shows, Spaniards take siestas (naps) from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. every day.

(*eye roll*) Ah!

I was waay more shocked than the family ever was when I saw what was happening in the video clip.

Once it finished my co-teacher turned to me and said, "Oh wow, so in Spain they nap every day?"

"No!" I said immediately. I didn't care if it was best to keep it simple for the children's sake - the children whose English level is very basic. I was not going to let this misconception be spread to fourth graders in Korea! (Though for every other fourth grade class in the country, I wasn't able to stop it. My apologies.)

Here's what I'll say about the often misunderstood Spanish siesta.

The Spanish "siesta"

Now, most shops and stores do close from about 2:30 to 5:00 every afternoon in Spain. Why? Go to Madrid in July and you'll see one reason: it is so incredibly hot. Hardly anyone will be out in the streets because the heat at that point in the day is simply unbearable.

The other reason is that it's Spanish tradition to eat meals together as a family in a calm, relaxed fashion, which usually means a long meal. I'll never forget the day in Madrid that I met a friend for lunch at three, and we had to be asked to leave by the owners because it was six thirty, and they'd closed a half hour ago!

If businesses close during that late afternoon break, workers can return home for a lunch together with their families. If they're lucky perhaps they can catch a few minutes of shut-eye afterwards, but that's really not the case for most Spaniards nowadays. The number of people who go home for lunch is also declining, as many businesses are adopting the half-hour or hour-long lunch break.

Why Spaniards eat late lunches

But why do Spaniards eat lunch so late in the first place, usually at two or later?

I just read a great post earlier this week by Erik at American in Spain, that answers this very question. Surprisingly, it has something to do with Nazi Germany. Erik's explanation is fantastic, so go there and read it first, then come back here.

What it comes down to is that Spain is in the wrong time zone. Spain eats lunch the same time as other European countries do, but for the Europeans the time is one o'clock, but in Spain's time zone it's two o'clock.

This also explains why Spaniards on average get the least amount of sleep among European countries. They're up just as early as everyone else, but dinner isn't until nine or ten at night, with prime time television following.

There has been recent discussion to change Spain's time zone back to what it once was. Here are two articles published within the last year about attempts to change Spain's time zone and "end" the siesta:

"Adiós, siesta? Spain considers ending Franco's change to working hours" (The Guardian, September 26, 2013)

So the next time you find yourself teaching a class of Korean fourth graders, and their English book teaches that Spaniards sleep for three hours every afternoon, you'll know what to say!

Had you heard of the Spanish siesta? Did you know the real reasons behind the afternoon "break"?

Friday, June 20, 2014

New king in Spain: King Felipe VI crowned on June 19, 2014

Spain's King Felipe VI and Queen Latizia
King Felipe VI and Queen Latizia
Photo Source: J.C. Cárdenas (EFE)

Pictured above is Spain's new King Felipe VI, crowned on Thursday June 19, 2014, with his wife Queen Latizia. Didn't know who the last king was? Here are the basics:

King of Spain

  • King Juan Carlos, age 76, has been king of Spain since two days after Dictator Franco's death in 1975.
  • In the 1978 constitution, he gave up all powers except ceremonial ones.
  • King Juan Carlos's abdication was announced on June 2, 2014.
  • On June 19, 2014, his son Felipe (46) was crowned king of Spain.
  • King Felipe VI is married to Queen Latizia and has two daughters: Leonor (born 2005) and Infanta Sofía (born 2007).

Photo Source: J.J. Gullén (EFE)

What does the king of Spain do?

Spain is actually governed by the Prime Minister, who has been Mariano Rajoy since December 2011. The king of Spain holds a more symbolic role, with much less power. Some duties include: 
  • Head of State
  • Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish Armed Forces
  • President of the Ibero-American States Organization
  • Represent Spain in various international organizations

King Juan Carlos and King Felipe VI of Spain
King Felipe VI with father King Juan Carlos
Photo Source:

News Articles About Spain's New King

Here are a few news articles to read if you want to learn more about Spain's new king, Felipe VI.

Articles in English

Articles in Spanish