February 22, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia

My trip to Dubai in summary: camel races, surprise boxes of baklava, and up-close-and-almost-personal sheikh encounters. Yes, yes, I might just have to stay.

More to come soon…

November 29, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions, Video

Before last week, I’d had two country line dancing memories: learning it during PE in high school (seriously), and then one very bored night in college. Little did I know that my third stab at shakin’ it western-style would be the most memorable and awesome line-dancing experience ever.

And that it would be in Spain.

And guess what? There’s a video.

Brace yourselves, people, this is going to be good. So, so painfully good.

A few months ago I discovered a country western festival taking place near Madrid – a discovery akin to gold, calorie-less chocolate and a winning lottery ticket. I went by myself and witnessed one of the most jaw-dropping experiences I’ve had in Spain to date, but having witnessed it alone, I felt a bit robbed. I would need to return with others to both verify and revel in its legendary-ness.

Good thing my friend Michella is all about country and all about America (and baking cupcakes, and decking out her entire house every time a holiday comes around – LOVE this girl). So when her birthday rolled around, her only request was that a group of us chicas from the US go line dancing.

So we did.

About 20 minutes north of Madrid, in dark fields at the end of a sketchy pot-holed road, is El Encuentro – scene of my original discovery a few months back. We arrived for what they claimed would be an “authentic American dinner.” We also arrived in a mix of flannel t-shirts, jean skirts, cowboy-ish boots and new names: Peggy Sue, Sara Beth, Marge and Lu Lu May (that’s me!). Go big or go home – am I right?

But you know who went big? Like, really big? The Spaniards. Cowboy hats, belt buckles, boots and button-up shirts emblazoned with “Wrangler” and “Rodeo Champion.” They brought their whole families, and also a whole lot of cowboy spirit.

Seated below a giant American flag (obviously), we selected our orders from the extensive menu: the Grand Canyon nachos, a round of random burgers, and a couple of Coors. OK, so the burger tasted more like meatloaf than burger, but hey, still American, right?

Then the line dancing began. And hot dog, these Spaniards knew their stuff. The four of us girls just stared and giggled in amazement – part impressed, part confused, and mostly just embarrassed that these guys pulled off American way better than we ever could. But we weren’t going to let that stop us. At the sound of Achy Breaky Heart, we skedaddled onto the dance floor to demonstrate our electric-slide skills (which I do have, believe it or not).

As the dancing wound down, one of the owners stopped by our table to say hello. We told him it was Michella’s birthday and about five minutes later they brought out a surprise birthday brownie while the entire farmhouse sang “happy birthday” in English. No joke. This was followed by us taking pictures with Spaniards like we were an attraction at Disneyland. Who’s this guy? Who knows. Who cares. (And yes, that’s a tipi in the top left.)

We eventually realized that all good things must come to an end and that it was time to call a cab – that is, see if a cab would actually journey out to the countryside to get us. Before we found that out, though, José the bartender had offered us a ride home. Stupid? Potentially. But really, who were we to stop such a historic night from taking its natural course.

As the three of us piled into the backseat, my man José turned on the ignition, and the car filled with the familiar beats of 50 Cent. Marveling at the dreamcatcher hanging from the rearview mirror of his VW golf, it became ultra clear to me that this night was one for the record books.

Back in Madrid’s Plaza Castilla, we parted ways – Marge and Peg mosied on home, while Michella – make that, Sara Beth – and I vowed to keep the night going strong. With that, we met up with her other friends at one of Madrid’s most popular bars, where people would inevitably stare at us and our ultra-American getups.

Having had a few drinks, I didn’t even realize the irony of the bar in Madrid that we ended up at that night. It’s called – of all things – Honky Tonk.

*It might be worth repeating from my previous blog – the Spaniards unfortunately don’t quite seem to grasp the meaning of a certain flag.

November 22, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Expat, Spain, Traditions

Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year travel community website for backpackers and gap year travellers.

Little over two months ago I packed my bags in London and prepared myself for one crazy ride abroad in Spain. It was to be quite the transition.

Winding up in the arid, wild lands of Extremadura, and ending up in the small-sleepy city of Cáceres, I quickly had to learn to leave all thoughts of the Big Smoke, Big Ben and all the bring-your-own-beer Vietnamese restaurants of East London behind. Adjusting to small city living? Quite the challenge!

But I survived. And you can too! Allow me to help you prepare and cast off the shackles of those big city lights forever. Start embracing small city living in Spain now!

Embrace the Fame in Spain
When was the last time someone said “hi” to you on those big lonely streets of New York, Toronto or even Madrid? Can’t remember? Hardly surprising.

Get yourself in shape for small-town Spain then. Stardom and all the trappings of a fame-filled lifestyle are just around the corner.

Here you’ll need to get used to being accosted in the street, screamed at by young kids and have panties thrown at you from apartment windows above (those flimsy washing lines are purely coincidental).

Ok maybe that’s an exaggeration. Being the new face about town probably won’t cause Beiber-like fever, but you’ll at the very least be a curiosity. Better do away with those cold city manners now.

Show some warmth right back at those neighbourhood greetings and you’ll slip right into community life without a moment’s trouble.

It’s no surprise “Buenas” is the most commonly used Spanish word after all! Let it be the first to slip off your tongue.

Embrace the Siesta Shutdown
Cast off of any expectation you have for those round-the-clock shopping sprees you had going on in that big city you used to call home. Here in Spain the siesta rules supreme.

In fact you’ll have to adjust your body clock too. Popping out onto the streets between the hours of 2-5pm is likely to lead you into believing you’ve walked on to the set of a zombie apocalypse film. It’s that quiet.

Start sleeping in the day and fit it around your work schedule. Living is for the evening in this part of the world.

And don’t expect to be able to buy anything on a Sunday either. We’re talking traditional Catholic towns here!

Embrace the Bus
Got into the habit of treating your tube or metro ride in the big city as a moment of peace and a podcast? You better think again with your move to small-town Spain.

Riding public transport is exactly, as its name suggests, a very “public” affair. Expect rowdy, noisy, laughter-filled carriages that no background-noise filtering headphones known to man could ever hope to block out. Not that you’d even want to try. People actually talk to each other on public transport systems in Spain!

Shirk off your cold city sensibilities, do away with your suspicion of strangers and get chatting right alongside locals as you hop around your new hometown. Fun!

Embrace the Poster
Gumtree, Craigslist and all those hyperlocal news sites may do the trick for snagging an apartment, selling old electronics or even finding a job in the metropolis you call home, but in Spain community networking works quite differently.

Long live the poster, the wall, the adhesive and small-town telephone boxes, public noticeboards and boarded-up shops. Here in Spain these are the true foundations of breaking neighbourhood news and the go-to information source of choice.

Get used to using them and putting your laptop down or your mobile away. The quickest and easiest way you’ll find out about what’s happening in and around town.

Embrace the (Lack of) Variety
Chances are if you’ve come from a city of over 500,000 people you’re pretty used to being spoiled for choice when it comes to kicking back in your leisure time. You better scale down those expectations for life in small town Spain!

You’ll be lucky to find a cinema in some places, let alone a bowling alley. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to find new hobbies and new ways of entertaining yourself of course. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

Make the most of this great country and engage with the culture. Learn how to cook Spanish style, work on your language skills, even choose a Spanish football team to support and show up in a bar wearing the colours.

Keeping busy isn’t the challenge you’d expect, there’s plenty to explore in even the smallest of cities.

In fact making the transition from big city to small town living in Spain needn’t be tough at all. Approach it with an open mind and you’ll slip straight in.

There’s no going back to London for me.

November 1, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Expat, Traditions

Carving pumpkins in Spain couldn’t make me feel more American. There’s just something about the way people look at me when I go to the grocery store and my eyes light up at the sight of a pumpkin – a pumpkin that is sadly small, has black stickers for eyes and a mouth, and includes attached directions on how to carve it. The look of joy on my face says only this: AMERICAN. And also perhaps: I miss pumpkin patches.

Good thing I’ve got my American amigas. Remember them? We’re holding down the Halloween fort here in Madrid. Our get-together last week was pure festive nerdiness (mostly thanks to Michella – teacher, decorator and chef extraordinaire). Somehow our patriotism (mostly related to awesome holidays) manifests itself in carved pumpkins, decorations, pumpkin-flavored cupcakes, pumpkin-shaped rice krispy treats, and multi-seasoned roasted pumpkin seeds. America is good, so so good.

I hope you all had a marvelous Halloween! I celebrated mine by further confusing Spaniards about my nationality (apart from when I’m perusing pumpkins at the local market) and dressed up as a beer wench (a classy one).

Here’s a little taste of America for you all, fresh from Spain.

*If you are an Americana living in Madrid, join our Facebook group here.

August 29, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Madrid, Spain, Traditions, Video

Every year, I’m drawn back to good old San Sebastián de los Reyes for another round of watching drunken teenagers narrowly escape angry bulls. Somehow, as I hide my face behind my hands, I can’t resist the urge to peek through my fingers and watch the train wreck of an event that is the second largest running of the bulls in Spain. But rather than tell you about it, here is some footage from yesterday’s run along with a few pictures.

plaza de toros, san sebastian de los reyes, running of the bulls, encierros
charging bull, encierros, san sebastian de los reyes, plaza de toros
bull fighting, dodging bull, san sebastian de los reyes
bull fighting, encierros, plaza de toros, san sebastian de los reyes