After living in Spain for a month one starts to learn certain things about the culture that are different from American culture. While I am not an expert on the Spanish or Asturian culture, here are a few things I have learned about the both cultures:

1. Ham is a key ingredient

As soon as you step into a restaurant in Spain you will learn that Spaniards love ham. It was shocking yet amusing to see the multiple ways ham can be incorporated into a meal. When our group was in Madrid, we saw restaurants such as “Museo del Jamon” (the ham museum) where all that was sold were ham sandwiches. Unlike America, ham is cooked into almost every meal such as egg and potato omelettes, pizza, or served as a burger.

2. Drinking sidra is a pastime

As I previously mentioned, sidra is an Asturian hard cider that is made out of fermented apples. Asturias is very famous for sidra and the citizens of Oviedo can be seen drinking it at all times. The city has its own sidra street called Gascona where many sidrerias, or restaurants where sidra is served, can be found lined up throughout the street. Though the drink is served in a fancy way, drinking it is nothing out of the ordinary and is part of every-day life.


The lights that shine above the entrance of Gascona

3. The climb to Naranco

Every citizen of Asturias has done it at least once, and many do it multiple times. Climbing Mount Naranco all the way to the top is a must do if you are from here. At the top, a giant statue of Christ as well as a clear view of Oviedo. The statue resembles the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro, but of course this one is a lot smaller. The hike from the bottom to the top is about 3.5 miles and is very steep, but once you make it to the top you can enjoy the beautiful views of Asturias. On a clear day you can even see the ocean which is about 15 miles away.


We made it all the way to the top! Left: me and Godnere

4. Hospitality and assertiveness

Something that I love about this culture is that people are very hospitable. For example, whenever I had to ask someone on the street for directions, they were more than willing to go out of their way to take me to my destination even if it was completely opposite from where they were going. Hospitality also applies to language. Whenever I made a mistake when speaking, the people were more than willing to help me out and teach me how to say something correctly. At the same time, people are assertive and to the point, there is no beating around the bush. This can be taken as rudeness as first but that is never the intention. It takes a few interactions to learn that being assertive is part of the culture and that people really do want to help you out.

There is so much more to Spain than the four points I have made but just like any other culture, not everything can be explained through writing. The best way to learn is by immersing yourself into the culture, and it is also the best way to create amazing memories that will last a last time. Until next time Spain.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough


This past Saturday the group went on an excursion to three beautiful places: Cangas de Onis, the lakes of Covadonga located in los Picos de Europa, and Covadonga.

Cangas de Onis

photo 1

The famous medieval bridge with the Latin cross in the middle

Our trip started in the quaint town of Cangas de Onis, Asturias’ first capital located about an hour and a half from Oviedo. The town consists of one main road with narrow roads coming out of it. Though it was small, it was the perfect place to walk around and do some souvenir shopping. The town is famous for its still-standing medieval bridge and the Chapel of Santa Cruz. As soon as we arrived a small group of us went to see the bridge, which was built on top of the Sella river. A Latin cross can be seen hanging from the middle of the bridge. Next we walked to the other side of the town to see the Capilla de la Santa Cruz (chapel of the holy cross).

Picos de España

photo 2

Lake Enol, located in the Picos de Europa

The next stop in our excursion was the famous mountains and lakes of Covadonga. Breathtaking, beautiful, and astonishing are only a few ways to describe the views from the mountains. We took the bus all the way to the top to see the two lakes, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina. The roads the bus took were narrow, so it was nerve-racking when the bus made a turn and the road underneath us could not be seen. In the three hours we were there we hiked, ate lunch, and hiked again. These mountains are home to many cows, so they walk around freely and even on the roads with the cars. The driver had to be careful on the roads because the cows jumped over the fence once in a while.

photo 3

Post-lunch picture! Left: Lauren, me, Jenná, Wilder


Our last stop was to the small town of Covadonga which is located about 20 minutes from the mountains and lakes. Covadonga is famous because of the Virgin of Covadonga, who is said to have appeared to Christian soldiers to cheer them on and give them strength during the Moorish invasion. A small statue and shrine with the image of the Virgin are housed inside a small, outdoor chapel that is used for daily Catholic services. To reach the chapel one must go through a cave and to the end of it. Inside the cave is also the grave of Pelayo, the founder of Asturias.

photo 5

Posing on Pelayo’s grave. Left: Max, Fionna, Jess, Megan, Rita, me, Professor Doyle

Underneath the cave there is a stone fountain with seven spouts. According to the legend, the person who drinks from all of these seven spouts in one breath will get married within the year. So far no one has been able to prove this legend to be accurate.

photo 2 (1)

Gray drinking out of the spouts

Espicha time


To welcome all the international students to Oviedo, the University of Oviedo ended a successful first week of classes with a trip to the nearby town of Gijón where an espicha was held for us. Traditional to the Principality of Asturias, an espicha is a celebration filled with traditional dancing, music, and sidra served from barrels. Sidra, a popular beverage in Asturias, is similar to apple cider but it has an alcohol component because it’s made like wine. The pulp and juice are squeezed out of the apples and these are left to ferment for a few months before they are ready to be consumed as sidra.

photo 1

Live-music being played from a drum and the bagpipes

As we settled into the restaurant we were welcomed with music and the ever-popular Spanish tapas, or mini appetizers. Typically served as family-style, the tapas we ate included a variety of hams, cheeses, breads, and cakes. The music was both playful and lively. Soon after we started to eat, the first glasses of sidra were poured and served to all the students.

photo 3

The proper way to pour sidra into a glass

Sidra in Spain is not only popular  because of its taste, but because of the way it’s served. The drink is poured from a height and into a wide glass which helps get air bubbles into the drink and give it a sparkling taste. A culín, or a small quantity, is served in a glass and drank right away so that it doesn’t lose that taste. When drinking sidra, it’s important to have some food in your stomach and to not mix the drink with any alcoholic beverages because the acidic components of the fermented apples will not mix well with other drinks.

photo 2

Enjoying some delicious food and sidra with other Temple students. Left: Max, me, Sarah, Gray, and Jess

As the night progressed, conversation was bustling, sidra was being poured, and the tapas were quickly disappearing. Everyone was having a great time but there was still one component missing to the night–the dancing. The night could not end without a performance of the traditional Asturian folk dance which is similar to Celtic dancing. A man and a woman dressed in Celtic outfits got on the stage and danced together to the sound of  a drum and the bagpipes. Since we are a group of students learning about the Spanish culture, it was important for us to immerse ourselves into it so the dancing couple decided to teach some students how to perform this dance. Two students joined the couple and they danced on stage in front of the student crowd. The espicha was a lot of fun and not only did we have a chance to enjoy each others’ presence and celebrate a successful first week of class, but we did so in an Asturian style.

photo 4

Two students being taught how to dance an Asturian traditional folk dance.

First Stop-Madrid


This week, our group started classes and became acquainted with the beautiful city of Oviedo. Before going to Oviedo, we arrived in Madrid for an orientation and stayed there for five days. We were introduced to the Spanish culture while taking advantage of what the city had to offer. Much like New York City, Madrid is home to millions of people and a popular tourist attraction. While exploring the city the first day, a small group and I went to Madrid’s version of Times Square, la Puerta del Sol (“Gate of the Sun”). La Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s busiest plaza and it has everything one could possibly need. One street alone is filled with cafes, bars, clothing stores, and restaurants. As my group and I explored the city, we quickly found ourselves lost because of the lack of street signs. Street signs in Madrid are either non-existence or are placed on the streets themselves. The streets also had a peculiar set-up. Streets in America are mostly perpendicular and parallel to each other but this is not the case in Madrid so it is easy to get lost if you are not paying attention to where you’re going. Our stay in Madrid consisted of exploring the city as well as visiting a few nearby towns, with Ávila and Segovia as my personal favorites.

The Cathedral of Avila, a church built with a Romanesque and Gothic styles

 Located an hour and a half northeast of Madrid, Ávila is surrounded by a  medieval-  style stone wall that was built between the 11th and 14th centuries.  Though its main  attraction is the stone wall, Ávila is also famous for the  architecture used to build    religious monuments. Most Spaniards are Roman  Catholic and because their religion  is important to them, they put a lot of effort  into creating churches that showed  reverence to God, even if these took many  years to build. An example of this is the  Cathedral of Ávila, which contains  architecture with Romanesque, Gothic, and  Baroque styles.


At 94 feet, the unmortared aqueduct remains intact.

After visiting Ávila our group drove to the town of Segovia which is located half an hour from Ávila. This town is most famous for its still-standing aqueduct which was built by the Romans around the first and second centuries. Its fame is due to it still being held together without any mortar hundreds of years later. Upon arriving to Segovia our group had lunch in a restaurant in which we were served chicken with french fries for the first plate, and a pork roast for the second plate. French fries and pork are a staple of the Spanish cuisine. In America we usually eat french fries as fast food, but in Spain it’s considered a side dish and typically served with a meat. The Spanish also love to eat pork and they will usually eat it as ham.

Alcázar of Segovia

Fun fact: the castle is one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.



  After lunch we walked to the other side of the town and ended up at the base of the aqueduct. On   it sits the Alcázar of Segovia, a castle that served as a royal palace, a prison, a Royal Artillery    College, and a military academy. It used to have a drawbridge but it was later replaced with  concrete bridge. After a long day, our trip to Segovia ended with a tour of the castle and a    relaxing nap on the bus back to Madrid.

Cabrales y los Picos de Europa


For our last group outing, we visited the mountains of Cabrales in Asturias, and los Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) in Cantabria, an autonomous community directly east of Asturias. Cabrales is a region famous for its production of cheese from unpasteurized goat milk, sheep milk and cow milk. The name ‘Cabrales’ is derived from the Spanish word for goat, cabra; the cheese produced in this area is also known as cabrales.


We visited one of the villages in Cabrales, and our tour guide told us all about the history of the region as well as details about each step of producing the cheeses.


After the cheeses are shaped into wheels, they’re stored in caves such as this one until they’re aged to perfection.

(Left to right) Ani, Nora, Vivian, Alisha, Lauren, Matt and Sophie take a quick break on the hillside.


After hiking around Cabrales, we had lunch at a restaurant in the village. We got to try some of the famous cheese; the blue cheese in particular was quite strong and somewhat spicy. Here Laly fills her cup with sidra that’s dispensed directly from the ceiling.


We left Cabrales and traveled to Potes, a small town in Cantabria, where we had some free time to explore the old streets and see the river that runs through the middle of the town.


We spent the night in Potes, and the next morning, we visited the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, which houses the largest remaining piece of the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on.


 Inside the church, the priest talked about the history of this famous relic, and then we all had the chance to touch the piece of the cross, which is contained within the golden crucifix at the center of the altar. tuspain13-7church

Our final stop was to visit a section of the mountain range known as los Picos de Europa. Here we waited for the gondola to take us farther up, towards the summit.


Lauren and Hannah decided to climb up some rocks on the side of the mountain.


Alisha managed to feed a piece of ice cream cone to this black bird.


Emily and I stumbled upon a spot where several people had written they’re names with stones, so we decided to add our names to the gallery.


At this height, the views of the mountains merging with the sky are truly amazing.


Weekend in Barcelona


Some of us took a weekend trip to Barcelona, which is the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous community in northeastern Spain. Barcelona and Catalonia as a whole, are quite distinct from the rest of Spain; it almost seems like a different country entirely. Catalans have their own language (Catalan), their own customs and traditions, and varying political opinions that are often in conflict with the federal government of Spain.


Another thing that sets Barcelona apart is its unique, modernistic architecture. This house, officially named Casa Batlló, was designed by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, who was born in a city called Reus, but later moved to Barcelona, where he created many public works of art.


This monument to Christopher Columbus is located at the end of a popular street, called La Rambla. Columbus reported to Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V in Barcelona, after returning to Spain from his first voyage to the Americas.

tuspain12-3flag Three flags atop a municipal building: the flag on the left is the Catalan flag, the one in the middle is the Spanish flag, and the one on the right is the Barcelonian flag; it features the cross of Saint George, who is the patron saint of Barcelona.


It’s even more common to see the Estelada, or the Catalan independence flag, which contains a lone star imposed on the traditional Catalan flag. There is a strong independence movement in Catalonia, with a self-determination referendum scheduled to take place November 9, 2014. However, the federal government of Spain has already stated that it plans to block this referendum because it would challenge the sovereignty of Spain. It’s estimated that a majority of Catalans would vote in favor of becoming an independent nation, separate of Spain, but many Catalans would still wish to rejoin the European Union after that.


The Arc de Triomf (Triumph Arch) was built in 1888 for the World’s Fair in Barcelona.


In an open market on the other side of the arch, someone displayed this sign, which criticizes Spanish president Mariano Rajoy in a mocking manner. The phrase literally translates to: “Spain is a state of right,” which could be a play on words, because Rajoy is a right wing politician, but Catalans feel that he’s not respecting their right to self-determination.


We also visited the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a market with various foods and other goods on offer; it’s quite reminiscent of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.


Park Güell is truly a must-see in Barcelona. All of the elaborate and bizarre structures in the park, including these two buildings at the entrance, were designed by Gaudí. Park Güell is considered the magnum opus of Gaudí and it’s also the site of the Gaudí House Museum.


(Left to right) Abby, Sophie, Jess, Ridge, Lauren, Mary, Chuck and Emily sit on a bench, decorated with tiled mosaics, at Park Güell.


Perhaps the most famous building in Barcelona is the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Holy Family). Commonly referred to as Sagrada Família for short, it’s a huge cathedral built in a neogothic style that fuses both old and new architectural elements. The Sagrada Família was designed by Gaudí, but it’s not expected to be completed until 2026.

May Day in Bilbao


On May first, I went to see May Day protests in the city of Bilbao, the capital of the province of Biscay in the Basque Country, an autonomous community east of Asturias. May Day is an international worker’s holiday that is celebrated on the first of May. The holiday was created in the United States to commemorate the Haymarket Affair of 1886 in Chicago, but these days few Americans are aware of the holiday; it’s recognized much more widely in Europe and elsewhere in the world. The holiday celebrates workers, the working class and the labor movement, and often involves protests regarding issues affecting the working class. May Day attendees usually include leftists, such as: socialists, communists, anarchists, labor unions, etc. Every year, Bilbao holds large protests in honor of May Day.

tuspain11-1plazaAt around 10a.m., protesters began gathering at the Plaza del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sacred Heart of Jesus). Here, members of the Eusko Langileen Alkartasuna (Basque Workers’ Solidarity) set up their stage to prepare for a speaker to address attendees. If the name of this organization seems strange, it’s because the words are Basque, not Spanish. The Basque people, who have historically lived in northeastern Spain and southwestern France, have their own distinct culture and traditions and a unique language that is completely different from any other language in Europe or the rest of the world.

tuspain11-2recortesProtesters hold signs that spell out ‘Recortes Cero’ which means zero cutbacks. Recortes Cero is a campaign to end government austerity cuts.

tuspain11-3flagsThe Basque flag has the same pattern as the Union Jack of the United Kingdom, but with red, white and green instead of red, white and blue. The red, yellow and purple flag, to the immediate right of the Basque flag, has the same colors as the flag of the Second Republic of Spain, which was established in 1931. Leftist organizations tend to identify with the Republic of Spain because its government was quite liberal.

tuspain11-4JohnAdamsA statue of John Adams decorated with May Day stickers. The plaque on the pedestal of the statue contains a quote which reads: “…this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government and manners without innovation, longer than any other nation of Europe.” This quote is taken from Biscay Letter IV A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the USA, written by Adams in 1787. 

tuspain11-5boyA boy wears the communist flag as a cape. The Communist Party of Spain currently has six representatives in the Congress of Deputies, which is similar to our House of Representatives, two representatives in the Senate, and one representative in the European Parliament. However, the Communist Party has never comprised a majority of the Spanish government.

tuspain11-6CNTThe Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labor) is a confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions that was founded in 1910. The slogan on the banner translates to “your fighting tool.”


Protesters walk across a bridge, above the Nervión River, which runs through Bilbao.


A speaker from the Workers’ Commissions addresses a crowd in a park next to the river. The Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras in Spanish, abbreviated CCOO) was founded in 1976 and is now the largest trade union in Spain.


A crowd of protesters salute a speaker with raised fists in a plaza in the old quarter. Some protesters hold flags for the Langile Abertzaleen Batzordeak (Nationalist Worker’s Committees), a Basque trade union. LAB tends to support Basque nationalism and the Basque National Liberation Movement, which seeks independence and sovereignty for the greater Basque region.


Aside from protests, Bilbao is well-known for its unique architecture. The metallic building with the undulating curves is the Guggenheim museum, which was built in 1997 and designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. The museum hosts some very interesting modern art, and Yoko Ono currently has several exhibits on display here. The skyscraper in the background is the Torre Iberdrola (Iberdrola Tower), an office building that was completed in 2011; it’s the tallest building in Bilbao.

Semana Santa in Andalucía


Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week before Easter, which makes it a very important time for a traditionally Catholic country such as Spain. Universities also have their spring breaks during Semana Santa, so many students choose to travel around Spain or to other destinations in Europe or beyond. I decided to visit several cities in Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain, and I would say it’s quite different from the North.


My first destination was Granada, a city that was the last Muslim stronghold during the Spanish Reconquest. Today, Granada is a popular tourist destination, and it’s also home to many artists, musicians and street performers.


Granada is also famous for its beautiful palace/fortress known as the Alhambra. Muslim emirs once ruled from the Alhambra; it’s an impressive example of Muslim architecture that can be found throughout Andalucía.


After Granada, I visited Seville, the capital of Andalucía. One of its most famous landmarks is the Plaza de España, which was built in 1929 to host the Ibero-American Exposition. It’s said that the half-circle shape of the plaza is meant to symbolize a hug to embrace the countries in attendance, many of which were former Spanish colonies.


The Plaza de España also has murals on its walls dedicated to several different cities in Spain, such as this one for Oviedo.


While in Seville, I also witnessed some processions for Semana Santa. At first glance, these robes and hoods might seem to resemble those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan in America, but really these costumes have been part of Catholic traditions in Spain long before the KKK came into existence. In Spain, these pointy hoods are a symbol of penitence, and the giant candles they are holding represent the light of Jesus.


Andalucía is also well-known for its bitter oranges that actually taste more like lemons than regular oranges.


I also made a stop in Málaga, which is situated on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) along the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches are beautiful, and it’s quite nice to walk around the city as well.


The last place I visited in Andalucía was Córdoba, a very medieval-looking city with narrow streets and various plazas. The Roman bridge leading into the city offers a great view of the river that runs along the outskirts. Image

El callejón de las flores (the flower alley) is one of the gems that can be seen in the streets of Córdoba. The tower in the distance is part of la Mezquita (mosque) de Córdoba.


La mezquita de Córdoba is technically no longer a mosque because it was converted into a cathedral after the Reconquest. It’s another prime example of Muslim architecture in southern Spain. The views of both the interior and the exterior are quite breathtaking.

Wedding Bells


Last time, I talked about how my friends and I stood outside of a church in Gijón where a wedding was about to take place. I thought that this was going to be the closest I’d get to a Spanish wedding, but I was wrong! The host sister of my friend, Nora, was getting married which is something I knew ever since the beginning of the program. We would wonder every so often if imageshe would be invited. The day was approaching, and after a while we figured she wasn’t invited. About a week before he wedding, it turned out that she could go to the reception, and bring along 2 friends. How lucky!! So last Saturday, we spent the whole day anticipating what a fun night it would be at the wedding. Coming from an Armenian background, I have ever only experienced what Armenian weddings are like. Now, I know what a true Spanish wedding is like…at least the reception.

The wedding was in a hotel in Oviedo, and it had a balcony where people would come back and forth from to get some air and catch their breath between all the dancing. The banquet hall it was in was rented until 8AM! Unlike many traditional weddings in the U.S, at least the ones I’ve been to that end around midnight or 1AM, they celebrate all night long.I got a chance to meet the rest of Nora’s family, which was interesting because I could really see how different they are from mine.

Traditional dance!

Traditional dance!

They are much more open and outgoing from what I’ve seen from my family. Sometimes I think that it might have been better for me to be a family like that, since I am pretty shy myself. But, I wouldn’t take back my time and experiences with my own family.

When trying to think of the differences between this wedding and the ones I’ve been too, I came up with a few things. For the most part, it was a typical celebration, but one thing that stood out to me was one type of dance that they did. The bride, groom, and whoever else wanted, sat in a line on the floor and scooted back and forth. It was unlike anything I had seen, but really interesting! Another thing was that after a few hours of dancing, we all went back to the tables and had appetizer-like food… Basically fancy tapas. They also cradled the groom in a table cloth, swinging him back and forth! I didn’t see them cut a cake, but that

Vivian and I on the balcony overlooking some of Oviedo.

Vivian and I on the balcony overlooking some of Oviedo.

might have taken place at the lunch earlier in the day. Since lunch is their main meal of the day, it is more likely that they had it then. Like some weddings have in America, there was a candy station and a “photo booth” area where you could take pictures with some props. This wedding was another setting where I could practice my Spanish as well. I’ve realized that it is easier to speak in one setting than it is in another. In school, I feel as if there is more pressure to speak in a structured way, whereas in more social and laid back settings, there isn’t as much pressure. It’s 100% true than when I’m thinking about what I’m going to say and worried about making mistakes, I don’t speak as well.

What an unforgettable experience!


Gijón and Fútbol Game

Vivian, me, Nora at the game

Vivian, me, Nora at the game

Gijón is a beach town about 30 minutes away from Oviedo, and a little escape for those of us (like me) who are itching to be by the water. My friends and I went last Saturday, crossing our fingers that we would not get caught in the rain. Luckily, it ended up being a sunny, but windy, day. A few months ago, the coast was in terrible condition: broken rocks all along the coast, and other damage that badly affected the town. Saturday was the first time that I had been there since. Unfortunately, we were not able to go onto the beach (at least from the part of the coastline that we were walking along) because it was all gated off due to construction. But, the views were just as good from afar. Unlike the grimy, grey and questionable waters of the Jersey shore, the water was the bluest I have ever seen, and clear enough to see to the bottom from a distance.

After that, we were walking the streets and got some delicious helado (ice cream). We passed a beautiful church on our way back to the bus station, and there was a wedding about to happen! There were dozens of people sitting outside of the church, waiting for the novia (bride) to arrive. Standing outside the church were some bagpipers who were also waiting for the bride’s grand entrance. We decided to watch as well, because how many times



will an opportunity like this pop up again? After half an hour of waiting simultaneously being fashion police to those strolling into the church in their fancy attire, we saw the car pull up into the center of the square. The bride stepped out in her beautiful wedding dress and the bagpipers made a little walkway for her to pass through them. It was an unexpected and awesome thing to be able to witness!

On Sunday, I finally went to a partido de fútbol. I´ve been itching to go ever since we got here, but I was waiting for the weather to be decent enough since the stadium is open at the top. Jaime got us tickets to the game against Gijon. Before the game, there was a tailgate that I’m assuming was similar to a Phillies one. I didn´t go, but I saw the aftermath…

The stadium was pretty full, which was understandable because Gijon is a big rival of Real Oviedo. Unfortunately, Oviedo lost…big time. Nevertheless, it was a good time, and I know I wouldn´t have been able to forgive myself if I didn´t go to at least one fútbol game. Some of the fans are so crazy that they were harassing the Oviedo players as they were walking out of the stadium because of how poorly they played. Apparently the fans get as mad when their team loses as they do when they win.

Tomorrow is a holiday for us, called Día del trabajador. It is basically the equivalent of Labor Day that we have in the United States. We’ll see what tomorrow brings