May 26, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles for the Easter processions video that I promised ;). Finally, it’s here (phew!), however you might not rest any easier after seeing it. How does this peculiar tradition make you feel: Awkward? Spiritual? Humbled? Uncomfortable?

If you are having trouble viewing this video, please click here.
To see my blog post about the processions, click here.

May 24, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Spain

Can we talk about Spanish grandpas? I think we should, as I have a slight obsession with SGs. Not in a creepy, gross kind of way, but in an “I just want to hang out and chat about the good ol’ days” kind of way.

I’m reminded of this regularly as I make my way through Madrid’s streets. I tend to see a lot of the same folks – the vegetable seller, the doorman at the famous Sergi Arola Gastro, the gypsy hawking Kleenex on the corner as though every day is a must-need-tissue day. Obviously these aren’t the people reminding me of my love for SGs, though. Rather, it’s the grandpa that I see on Calle de Almagro who interrupts bench-sitting with slow laps up and down the sidewalk. He’s adorable, and I want to know his story. Desperately.

He’s one of a gazillion (seems like it anyway) Spanish abuelos who do this very same thing. For years I’ve oohed and aahed over cute grandpas in pueblos across the country. They’re always just chilling, watching the world go by. And while they’re chilling, I’m awkwardly following them around trying to capture them in their natural habitat.

I constantly marvel at the difference between the elderly lifestyle here versus in the States. In Spain, abuelos (and abuelas too!) dress in their Sunday best, no matter the day, only to hit the streets and pace to and fro by themselves, or sometimes silently in the company of another. It seems that no matter the age, no matter the ailment, they meander around town. I love this.

I’m always fighting the urge to join them and pick their brains – ask them what they’ve seen throughout their years of watching Spanish life unfold and evolve before them. A civil war, a dictatorship, technology….just imagining the stories they could tell sends me into a thought spiral.

No longer having grandpas of my own, I often wish I could adopt one of these darling little guys through some imaginary adopt-a-Spanish-grandpa program. I know what you’re thinking – what about your Spanish father-in-law? Love him, but unfortunately he doesn’t fit the crucial cute-SG criteria – a hat, a cane and a passion for aimless street wandering (although he does love to talk – and for that I do adore him, just not to the point that I want to take pictures of him hanging around the casa).

As a tribute to SG awesome-ness, I decided to dig up some pics I’ve taken of them over the years. Of course I came across boatloads of photos, confirming further that perhaps I need to tone down the SG infatuation a tad. Poor Jacobo, he’s well aware that a hat and a cane are most definitely in his future (because I said so).

So here you have it – some pictures of my SG sightings. What’s not to love about them?!

May 20, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Travel

This week, Puerta del Sol, Spain’s kilometer 0, transforms into Plaza Solución as citizens express their dissatisfaction with the Spanish government. From causes such as changing the voting process, to complete separation of church and state, to closing nuclear plants – thousands have come from far and wide to demand a total system overhaul.

I went to Sol to see the crowds and to understand their cause, which ultimately I learned were many. What I found most intriguing, though, was the peacefulness. Listening to one of the speakers, the colossal crowd cheered silently by raising their hands and shaking their palms. Among the protesters’ most important rules during the campaign: no violence, no alcohol and respect the press.

Walking through the impromptu tent city, I all but forgot that I was in Madrid, much less its “Time Square.” There were sofas, beds, recycling stations, and stands with food and beverages. Young protesters swept up the littered ground while Spanish grandpas, tourists and photographers meandered aimlessly through the organized chaos.

I’m not going to lie – I need to educate myself more about this cause to form my own proper opinion. What I can tell you so far, however, is that the manner in which this mass of people expresses their opinion is both humbling and inspiring. For that, they already have my respect.

Now I will let the pictures do the talking (be sure to view the live broadcast at the end of the post!). To see more photos, visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

The sign above states: “It is recognized the right to organize peacefully and without weapons” and “to exercise this right does not require prior authorization.”

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May 19, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

When I think of Chinchón, I think of the first time I met my husband’s sisters. Over four years ago, and on my second trip to visit Jacobo in Spain, we headed out to the pueblo with my future sisters-in-law for a lunch party. I was sporting an empire-waist dress I had gotten from Zara, thinking that my Spanish ensemble would help me to fit in. But then, as I sipped (chugged) my wine, some old doctor lady came up to me to say that I shouldn’t be drinking while pregnant. Say what?!? I may like my chocolate and tortilla española, but pregnant? Come on – not even close! Needless to say, I’ve never bought empire-waist anything since.

So perhaps that’s not what you wanted to know about Chinchón, but it’s virtually all that comes to mind when I think of the place (followed by laughter, and then perhaps forced reassurance from Jacobo that I in fact don’t look pregnant). Indeed there’s more to the pueblo than just this. Spanish-ness oozes from every crevice of the teeny town – from its picturesque plaza, to its crumbling castle, and the church that overlooks the village and its olive orchards. Only about 40 minutes southeast of Madrid, it’s the perfect place to have lunch, then go for a stroll (and pick up local pastries – obviously). And so last weekend, that’s just what we did.

Here are a few pictures from our mini-viaje:

“Donkey taxis,” which I desperately wanted to ride. Too bad I was wearing a dress (again) and didn’t want to scare the little kiddies.

The Plaza Mayor, which dates back to the 15th century, has been used for a variety of purposes over the course of time, some of which include: royal events, executions, a movie set, and a bull ring (which they still do to this day).

My husband and my apparently pregnant-looking self.

I also wanted to ride this bull, but again, the dress.

In conclusion, there’s something about dresses and Chinchón that really don’t go well together – am I right?

To see a few more pictures from the excursion, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

May 17, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Expat, Spain, Travel

I’ve come to the realization that learning a language is like going on a diet (profound, right?). You try a million different tricks, and while some might work for a select few, in the end, seeing results can be difficult.

Since I get a lot of expats and prospective expats asking what has worked for me, I thought I’d share my potentially ridiculous POV. It’s entirely unscientific, but after trying every approach in the book, and watching others do the same, I suppose I know a thing or two about the whole process.

But first a big fat gigante disclaimer: Sombreros off to anyone even attempting to learn another language – you rock! Everyone obviously learns differently and any attempt at it is impressive! So if you’re happy with what you’re doing, close your eyes and don’t listen to a thing I say.

OK, language learning as diets – here goes:

CDs, books, podcasts, etc.

They’re like diet pills. They make you feel really good, especially right when you buy them. You feel like you have the magic cure right there in your very hands. You start taking them and it seems like any day now the effects are going to kick in. But after weeks of popping pills with very little result, you forget about them and don’t touch them anymore. Sound familiar? CDs, books, etc. promising to teach another language surely have benefits – yes, you can learn how to say basic phrases, and yes, you will learn some vocabulary. But if you’re looking for conversation and fluency, you better double (triple, quadruple) up with some other approaches.

Intensive courses

They are the Atkins diet of language learning. You eat, drink and sleep Spanish for a relatively short period of time and should finish being fluent, right? Not so much. The thing about this approach is that it is pretty much humanly impossible for a person to apply the things learned in an intensive course to real life at such a fast rate. These courses can of course be helpful, just be sure to set your expectations appropriately (particularly because they cost an eye from your face – Spanish saying!). You will make improvements, but probably won’t be able to retain or use a big chunk of what you are taught.

Occasional classes or intercambios (language exchanges)

Kind of like replacing those sodas with big glasses of water. Hey – it’s definitely a great start! Basic conversation, grammar and vocabulary are all at your fingertips. But if you’re looking for more than the basics, then I hope you’re super patient…it may take awhile.


It’s kind of like being a vegetarian – one that doesn’t get enough protein or other key nutrients to have a balanced diet. Immersion is fabulous – you speak, you listen, and you speak and listen some more, and before you know it you’re chatting it up with every Tomás, Ricardo and Enrique! Sweet! When it’s time for pen to hit paper, however, grammar and writing might be a whole other story. But hey, if conversation is your objective, then immersion alone is fantástica!

Ongoing, frequent well-rounded classes

The square meal, three times a day of language-learning. If my classes in the States were a Slimfast milkshake swallowed in one gulp, then my classes here in Spain are the perfect meal with four basic food groups (and maybe a glass or two of wine!). They serve up listening, reading, speaking and writing several days a week and over the long haul. To read more about the classes I’ve taken here in Spain, pop over to Guiri Guide where I’ve written a guest post about my beloved Escuela Oficial de Idiomas.

Ongoing classes, immersion, intercambios, reading, listening…

A square meal, three times a day, with regular exercise, meditation and no smoking. Duh, right!? You basically need to do all of them – exhausting, I know. In my experience, a good diet – ehem – effective language learning involves a little of everything: watching movies in another language, going to class, putting yourself in situations where you have no choice but to speak the language, reading books, listening to the radio, marrying a Spaniard…OK, that last one might be a little unreasonable, but not altogether a bad idea ;).

Surprise, surprise. Just like diets, there’s no miracle method – in the end, it’s all about time and dedication. And also like diets, there are exceptions – you know, those who have abnormally high metabolism or an incredible knack for running hours on end. The language exceptions? Those under the age of 20 (man, kids soak things up so quickly!!!), those that already speak at least two languages (they pick up another language like it’s their job – simply not fair!), and phenoms who perhaps spoke Spanish in their past lives (but hey, that could be you!). I’m severely jealous of you all (the runners and metabolizers included).

Ok, folks who learned a second language as an adult – what worked for you? Have I missed any other methods?