1. Describe Spain in 3 words
Loud. Tranquilo (calm, tranquil, chill) ¡Venga! (Come on, yeah, see ya, let’s go.. many meanings)
The obvious contrast between “loud” and what I will call “chill” begs an explanation: Imagine chill like having a glass of wine and a good snack or a coffee outside your favorite bar at 10:30 am… at 2pm… at 8pm… relax with your neighbors and friends… You discuss your day with exuberance, or the latest football (soccer) game or the financial crisis. You shout the whole time, even though they are 3 feet from you, because everyone else is shouting too.
2. What’s your favorite food in La Rioja? Where’s the best place to find it?
Tortilla de patata is my favorite Spanish food. Simple and tasty, ubiquitous, and the best place is a bar in a little street off of Calle San Juan, the older brother of the pincho streets in Logroño, called La Travesía. It has won various awards recently for it’s outstanding specialty. It’s so small that most people stand outside at the two-tier standing tables, but perfect for enjoying a nice night with friends in the old part of town. Chuletas al sarmiento (a regional type of barbecued pork chops or ribs, grilled over old vines) are a very close second.
3. What do you think is the most beautiful spot in La Rioja? Where can you find the best view?
El Acebal de Valgañón is an area near Ezcaray in the west of La Rioja. Holly grows wild here in giant bushes, among ancient tangled forests and pastures where sheep are watched over by herds of cows and sheepdogs. You might think you were entering New Zealand straight from Spain. Magical.
My personal favorite view of Logroño itself is on a bare-topped hill on the northwest of the city, across the river and past the parking lot where fairgrounds and the city pool are found. At the base are some vineyards, but this pure-dirt tall mound has a cement block on the top for a communications tower of some sort. Not romantic, but from here you can see well into the mountains of País Vasco, almost out to LaGuardia, over to Viana in Navarra clearly, and across the city, watching the Ebro flow through next to the old city and the expanse into Rioja Baja. It’s my favorite spot to take a break for a view during an exuberant long run.
4. How did you end up in Logroño? What made you decide to move to Spain? Why did you chose La Rioja?
I taught English as an assistant in the northern-most corner of France last year. During the winter, I was desperate for some sun, so I visited a friend in Madrid. I immediately fell in love with the warmth and light of the country. My friend was here as an auxiliar; he and his friends told me about the program, including that I didn’t need to speak Spanish to apply (though already knowing more Spanish than the names of the colors would have dramatically reduced the stress and culture shock of the first week). I thought: “Spain – why not?” The program randomly placed me in La Rioja, which at first concerned me, since not even the Spanish people I knew in France seemed to know much about it, but now I couldn’t be happier with their choice.
5. Name one thing to do or see in La Rioja that is not in any guidebook
Places and events, yes, but people you cannot capture in guidebooks. One of the highlights of my week is having a coffee in Alberite, a little pueblo where I teach twice a week. The bartenders are a Spanish-Portuguese couple and I am a devoted regular who doesn’t go to any other café in town. We have developed a relationship and I will be sad to not see them every week this summer. I originally chose to come to this bar because it had the best views of mountains outside of town while I had lunch and prepared for my next class. It also took me a while to figure out they were giving me discounts on my coffee.
Also, if you follow the Parque de Ebro around to the east side of town, you will find it continues around the city along a path that people love to walk. At any point in the day, you can find someone strolling, jogging, biking or relaxing along this gorgeous stretch of greenery. At some point, the path turns ever more right-ward, and you find you are no longer strolling along the Ebro, but a much smaller river: the Iregua. It is a small tributary that runs north-south in La Rioja instead of along the northern border. This park is a jewel of the city. There are paths for walking and parks that are full every afternoon. There is a bike path that goes between huertas. You would believe you are kilometers from any town, but you’re still just on the border of Logroño. There are many fewer people who come to this park north of Barrio La Estrella, so I loved to bike out there on the weekends with my housemate to have a picnic. We would always run into someone who would join us for a dip in the river (something you CAN’T do in the Ebro), football or game of tag, painting on one of the little bridges, just enjoying true peace. I pass this spot daily on my way to work, on a bridge overlooking a stretch of it. This will be one of my favorite memories of the city.
6. Name one thing you dislike about living in La Rioja
There are only two things that could make La Rioja better, and those two are either not drastic or amendable. The first: no ocean. However, the Bay of Biscay is accessible in a short two hours, and the Mediterranean in five to six hours. The second: Logroño is kind of a trek from anywhere. The closest airport is two hours away ( after you catch the bus from the station) in Zaragoza (which is TINY) or Bilbao (usually more expensive, depending on your destination). The four-hour bus ride to Madrid’s Barajas has gotten a bit tedious. On the other hand, four hours is not all that much, also being direct, rather inexpensive as far as buses go. The distance and change of scenery also serves to give La Rioja a special character for which we love it so much.
7. Name one funny cultural mishap, misunderstanding or downright silly moment that’s happened to you in Spain
I am lucky enough to live with a Spanish woman. We trade off language weeks, living one week in Spanish for me and one week in English for her. We’ve had quite a few confused moments and laughs about the difficulties and quirks of each language, beyond the daily little mistakes I make just being me, having been described as “a little silly sometimes”. A mistake I’ve probably made a dozen times is saying “cerveza” instead of “cabeza” – I have thoughts in my “beer” instead of in my “head”.
Another time, I was explaining what “epic fail” meant to my housemate. Meaning to clarify who could be the doer of this “action”, She asked “Can I have an epic fail?”. I cracked up. Later, I thought the name of a street in town to mean, directly translated, “Street of the single bald man”. WRONG. My housemate laughed and called me out on my error of pronunciation and word meaning: “epic fail.”
Life as a foreigner: Some days you get on and off the right bus at the right time. Some days you don’t, then have to find your way back with your still-lousy language skills. (Why are bus drivers always so hard to understand, in any country?!) Some days you try a food that looks doubtful but tastes GREAT! Sometimes, the thing that looks good is DISGUSTING and now it’s what you have to eat. Sometimes you have no idea what’s going on around you, and other days you can be proud of how much you can understand and interact. Any way, it’s an adventure.