Tag Archives: Baeza

Pasteleria Martínez

Pasteleria Martínez, originally uploaded by jhoolko.

It’s cold and rainy here in San Francisco, and whenever the temperature drops, I’m inevitably reminded of the winter I spent in Spain, the coldest winter the country had seen for many many years, and the coldest winter I had ever seen (yeah, yeah, So Cal wimp, I know). On a day like today, if I were in Baeza, I’d be settled comfortably into one of the cozy window tables at Pasteleria Martínez on the little town’s main drag, c/ San Pablo, watching the rain fall and listening to church bells. And stuffing my face with tocinillo de cielo.

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 3

More questions from a new Baeza auxiliar:

I was wondering if you could give me some insight into the area, living and teaching. I just received a placement in Baeza at the school CEIP Angela Lopez. I read that you lived in Baeza on the weekends and am wondering what you thought of the town and if you would recommend living there or if it would be a good idea or even feasible to commute from Linares or Jaen. How much is there to do in Baeza and are there many other auxiliares de conversacion in the area? Anything you can tell me about it would be great!

I would love to know about the actual teaching experience (what your responsibilities are, etc…) as well.

Thanks so much for any input!

So first of all, let me tell you that I only lived in Baeza four days a week…I was assigned to a SUPER tiny town about two hours from Baeza and I worked there three days a week and then spent my super long weekends in Baeza. I also was only an auxiliar for five months because I left the program early, having to rent two apartments and commuting two hours every week and being the only auxiliar within like an hour kinda took its toll!

The good news for you is that Baeza is adorable and there are lots of auxiliars there. I think there were twelve when I was there, plus another 6 or 8 in Úbeda, which is literally five minutes away by car, though they manage to drag it into 15 on the bus. You won’t find the bus schedules online, but they go very, very often, from about 7:30am to about 8:30pm.

Jaén isn’t as charming as Baeza, but it definitely has more going on. They have an El Corte Inglés, a RENFE station, and a university, as well as all the other things you associate with Spain, like the big chain stores for shopping, pedestrianized streets, etc. It’s not cute at first, but once you hang out there and learn where the good spots are, Jaén can be a lot of fun! I only went to Linares once or twice because they have a RENFE station (it’s actually a little outside the city) and a movie theatre, etc., but it seemed surprisingly nice! If I were assigned in Baeza, I would probably live in Jaén and then commute, and I would definitely make friends with the other auxiliars in town and crash on their couches as often as possible! That way you get to experience all the cute, charming, small-town-ness of Baeza, but you don’t miss out on other cooler things in Jaén. It’s also a LOT easier to travel from the capital than it is from Baeza. I would go early and visit Linares and Jaén and Baeza (and Úbeda too!) and decide what you like best. Keeping in touch with other auxiliars is key because you can find easy roommates that way and find places to stay as well. I think it’s important to see these cities with people who know their way around, either other auxiliars or locals or Erasmus students, because they are not all that touristy and it can be hard to see the best of them on your own. Use facebook, couchsurfing, and expatriate cafe to find people!

Baeza itself has a few good tapas bars (I can give you names if you want!) and on Fridays they have the most authentic, awesome flamenco shows you could ever imagine in this old wine cellar beneath a bar and they are totally free! It’s usually just guitar and singing, but it’s soooo cool. Not a tourist in sight! Tapas are free throughout Jaén province, which is awesome, and everything is ridiculously cheap. You can get 3 drinks for about 4 euros and each of them will come with a plate of food. Baeza has a great small market (like a baby baby version of La Boqueria, if you’ve ever been to Barcelona), and the locals are SO nice and open to foreigners, mainly because there aren’t many there! Life is cheap in Baeza, but it’s still pretty cheap in the capital and in Linares as well. Go in with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised!

I will ask a friend who taught in Baeza if he knows who worked at Angela Lopez, I can’t remember which school that was. At my school I worked 12 hours, spread across tues-wed-thurs, and I did a little of everything: made materials for class, taught vocab and led exercises in the elementary school, created lectures and activies in the high school. My experience was really different because I was working at two schools (one colegio, one instituto) in a really remote town and they changed my schedule so I could leave on the weekends, but everyone works pretty light hours and most people had three day weekends. I also worked in a year zero school, so I was the first auxiliar there ever and I think my responsibilities were a little different than most people. There are a lot of opportunities for private lessons in Baeza, too, which is nice for making extra money. There is a Guardia Civil academy where you can teach, plus lots of language academies and students who want tutors after school. Also, if you’re into the whole guy in uniform thing, there are seriously Guardias-in training EVERYWHERE. It can throw the guy-girl ratio off a lot, and sometimes you feel like everyone in the town is a police officer!

It gets cold there, so be aware of that. I was shocked at how cold it got, and it snowed more than a few times. But it is also going to be hot hot hot when you get there and when you’re about to leave. I would say don’t worry too much about getting a piso before you arrive, you should be able to find something nice pretty easily! I rented a room with another auxiliar and a Spanish girl, and I paid 115 for my room….so cheap!

efully that answered some questions! Let me know if you have any more and good luck! You will love it.

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North American Language and Culture Assistants/Auxiliares Q&A Part 1

When I first found out about the North American Language and Culture Assistant Program through the Spanish Ministry of Education, I had a lot of questions. Frankly, their website is not super informative, and the Spanish have a reputation for not being very….organized? No matter how I say that it will sound bad, and even though I did feel like the program was kind of a disorganized disaster at times, I still love you Spaniards!

Anyways, I had a lot of questions about the program and no one to turn to. Especially being assigned to a small town that had never had an auxiliar before, I felt a little lost when it came to acquiring info since the most I could really get out of Google was a 1997 news article about a man being beaten to death with an iron rod in my soon-to-be-home  and a video of said town flooding.

That being said, I sympathize with the new auxilars being placed in far-flung pueblos that they can’t find any information on. Expatriate Cafe is a great resource for people who want to connect and get more info, as is Facebook and all the groups that people organize through it, and I have recently been answering some questions for people through those sites on what life is like in a small town in Jaén. This is the grossly long-winded first response, and I will post additional responses here as I send them out. I know some people have already stumbled across this blog looking for information, so hopefully someone out there will be helped! If anyone does find this and have more questions, leave a comment or something with your email and I will get back to you too!

These questions are from an auxiliar placed in a teeny tiny town about an hour from Granada capital and an hour from Jaén capital:

I keep hearing that the school will be able to help with housing and everything once I get there, and that’s great. But my main question is, how do I figure out how to get to the school for the first day? I have emailed the contact at the school and have not yet received a response. Our Andalucia orientation isn’t until October 4th, and we start at the schools on the 1st… Also, you said that it’s easy and cheap to rent rooms in these small towns. Is it like a room in someone’s house, or a shared apartment..?

The address of your school should be written on your acceptance letter. I google mapped mine and did all kinds of crazy research on it before I got there because no one responded to my emails before I left for Spain either, and I was a little nervous! A lot of schools have websites or at least some information online, so do some crazy googling if you have the time and energy. Knowing something about your town will be useful once you arrive. I also did receive a response from the school about two weeks before I was due to arrive in town. They sometimes don’t check the school emails during the summer, but someone should get back to you before you arrive since the schools start about a month before the auxiliars arrive.

The fact that orientation is after the first day of school is stupid, but it was the same thing last year. If your school has never had an auxiliary before (very possible since the town is so small), one of the teachers will be required to go with you, so you’ll have a ride to Jaén. If not, you will at least get a day or two off to go to the capital. Take advantage of groups like Facebook to meet other auxiliars in the province. I met some girls through Facebook who lived in the capital and was able to stay with them the night before orientation since my town was three hours away. It’s a great way to make friends/potential roommates before you go. You also get to meet everyone in the area at orientation, which is basically just a meeting where they give you your health insurance. Don’t expect anything fancy like training (though we did get free lunch!).

As far as what to do with housing goes, my advice is to not worry about it now if you’re not sure where to live. The small towns generally don’t have a large demand for housing, and with teachers commuting all over the place there are usually people with extra space that they’d love to rent out. This area of Spain also isn’t the most affluent, so there are plenty of people looking to make a little money by renting out an extra bedroom. In my town, La Puerta de Segura, I paid 105 to rent a bedroom in a two bedroom apartment with another teacher. It was a nice, furnished apartment, and utilities were about 30 each a month during the winter, when we used the brasero (an under-the-table foot heater you will become very familiar with) a lot. In Baeza, the larger town where I lived during the weekends, I paid 110 or 120 for a bedroom in a three bedroom apartment which I shared with a Spanish girl and another Auxiliar from the UK. It was in the center of the town, really nice, with a balcony with a view of the cathedral on the top floor, so it was’t like I was living in some terrible place. If you live in the capital, you can expect to pay a little more, but probably not over 300 for a bedroom. In Granada, it might be anywhere from 200-400 from what I understand, though I have never rented there. Bottom line is, it’s affordable.

I would say get there early and look around. Have you been to Granada and Jaén? Visit both of them and see if you like them. Stop in Úbeda and Baeza if you feel like you might be interested in a small-town experience. Try to get in touch with those teachers, but don’t freak if they don’t reply. My best decision was to not do anything until I got there. They will probably want to do a lot to help you out because you will be a bit of a rock star in such a small town, and they will want to keep you happy since you’ll be a very valuable teaching tool! Let me know if you have any more questions or if you want contact info for any of the auxiliars I knew who might still be in those cities. Also try the Facebook groups, they are the best for meeting people to stay with, etc.

Another random question for you: How good was your spanish when you arrived in Spain? And did anyone else in your school speak english? My spanish is not horrible, but by no means great.. I’m sure that I will pick it up fast, I’m mostly concerned with that first week or so of figuring out housing and transportation and such.

I had taken Spanish a LOT from second grade through the end of high school, but since that ended in 2004 I had only had four months of Spanish when I studied abroad in Barcelona in 2006. To say it was rusty would have been an understatement! The great thing about a small town is that you have no choice but to learn fast. It might be hard at first if your Spanish isn’t amazing, but you will pick up fast, just don’t get frustrated! The accents in the south are VERY difficult to understand, but the good part about that is that the Spanish you hear anywhere outside of Andalucía will be so clear, you will be amazed! But the accent will be a little difficult at first. I worked at two schools and one of my advisors spoke very good English, the other not so much. In such small towns they aren’t really used to speaking to non-native speakers either, so don’t be afraid to ask people to slow down when they are talking to you! Most people were just curious about why I was there, and the jienenses (people from Jaén) are notoriously friendly. Like, SO friendly! Also, as long as you speak basic Spanish, you will be fine getting around. Take a look at ALSA.com, that will become your best friend and worst enemy, but it’s the best way to get around that area. Brush up on your housing vocab and you’ll be fine. And you’ll be SO proud of yourself once you get it all taken care of! J

Any information you could give me on what it’s like living/teaching in a small town would be great! (People, transportation, basic shopping, etc… anything really) I most likely will try to live in either Granada or Jaen, if possible; but I am still very curious about the small towns. I’ve lived in cities my whole life, Chicago for the last 8 years. I did a semester in Sevilla in college, I think that’s the smallest town I’ve ever lived in haha.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll feel about the tiny villages… Hopefully I’ll love it! Who knows..

I am also a big city girl and living in a small town was a total shock for me, not gonna lie. I was in a town of 2600 three days a week, then spent weekends in the “big town” of Baeza which had 15,000 people, which is about 10,000 smaller than the undergraduate population of the university I went to in California. I went into it with a terrible attitude, which I do NOT recommend doing, mainly because being in a small town has some huge perks. Number one, you are VERY likely to be the only American/English Speaker/Foreigner there, and the experience you get in your town is likely to be way more in-depth and unique than the people who are living in the big cities. You have an opportunity to completely immerse yourself in Spanish culture if you want, though you also have great opportunities to travel and live with other foreigners in the bigger cities if you want. To me, a blend of the two was great. The authentic, traditional experience of the small town, while great, can be a lot to deal with on your own for 9 months, so just turn your weekends in a time to have fun and do what you want to do. Andalucía is GREAT for weekend travel, and you have everything from the beach to skiing all within a few hours. Take advantage of what’s around you!

Also, get to know your town. I didn’t do that nearly as much as I should have and I regret it. Become a regular at the town bar or café. Tapas are free with your drink in Jaén (just like Granada), so learn about the local food and take advantage of the fact that the people in your town will probably want to tell you all about how Jaén is the greatest place on earth (totally a lie, but it usually means you get free food, free tours, introductions to new experiences/places, etc). The teachers, if they are anything like my coworkers were, will want to show you the province, and get to know you, and you should totally do anything that you can with them! People in Jaén are so so so nice, even when you can’t understand them, and there are so many little towns with their own weird traditions all over that province that there is always somewhere to go, some festival to attend, etc.

My advice, ultimately, is to give it a try and have an open mind. For me, I had five months in the south before I decided that I was a little too far from civilization. I had a long-term boyfriend about eight hours away who was also an auxiliary, and I let that get to me as well. In the end, I wimped out and moved to Madrid, quitting the program. I don’t want to discourage you in any way because I think your assignment will allow you to live in a bigger city and commute to your small town to get the best of both worlds, which is what I wanted. I just was sooooo far away that it was too much. The program had already given me my NIE though, so I was able to go to Madrid and work as an au pair and an English teacher and have a great last four months. If you absolutely hate the program for whatever reason, or if it’s just not a good fit, at least it will get you your NIE and you can move on to something that fits you better.

But honestly, the fact that you can live in Granada or Jaén is AMAZING. If you can do Granada, make it happen. You will love that city (if you haven’t been there). Jaén is not as cool, but don’t write it off completely. The first time I went there I was alone and I hated it, but somehow I think they totally get the best auxiliars there. The people I met in Jaén had such a great time and LOVED it so much. The tapas are free, everything is cheap, there is a university, and you even get free Spanish classes there! It’s a fine alternative to Granada if you can’t make that work.

So yeah, basically that is it. Wait to talk to your teachers to see if you can carpool from a big city each day to work. I bet that ends up working out for you. If not, try out small town life and see how it goes! You’ll only truly know your options once you get there and ask around. Plan to get to Andalucía about a week early so you can check everything out. You can also always look into buying a little car for 1000 euros or something and driving yourself. Gas is expensive, but as long as you can drive stick, it gives you another option!

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Amazing Eats of Andalucia, Part II: Baeza

Pasteleria Martínez

c/ San Pablo, 28 (953 74 82 19)

This Baeza institution is an excellent, excellent place to hang out and grab a café con leche and some dainty pasteles. The clientele is Baeza at its finest; all dressed up with nowhere to go—nowhere except here. During peak hours, there is an almost constant stream of older ladies in furs and doll-like toddlers flowing into the warm, two-story café. There is also a healthy population of young Baezanos and well made-up mothers enjoying their afternoon coffee.

The bottom level of the café is the main attraction. A golden bar serves coffee, cocktails, and a limited number of cold tapas (though I’ve never tasted any of their savory offerings). Some people stand and take their coffee at the bar, but those who plan to stay a while take a seat at one of the few tables that litter the bottom floor. The upper level houses the majority of the seating in wooden chairs with unexpectedly low tables. I’ve been here with friends and alone, but the atmosphere is definitely a social one, so it’s a better place to come in a chatty group than alone or with a laptop or book. They do have a big basket of old Spanish women’s magazines on the ground floor if you’re taking your coffee solo and looking for some reading material.

To the left of the bar is a large glass case showing off my favorite part of the café: their pastries. This is what Martínez is known for, and it’s what keeps me coming back. There are a few normal sized pastries; croissants (good, but very covered in some kind of sugary, apricot-ish preserve, so be ready), bread, and a too-flaky Baezan specialty covered in powdered sugar (which I do not recommend). Then there are the heavenly, colorful, beautiful, bite-sized morsels which I absolutely adore and get every time I come here. They each cost 60 cents and you can get as many or as few as you like, though I recommend a surtido, or selection of 6 on a little gold paper plate if you want to try a nice range. They have everything from cream puffs to little tarts filled with whipped cream and strawberries, to mini rolls of white cake filled with chocolate cream, and they are all very delicious. The tocino de cielo (a sweeter than sweet cousin of flan) is perfect, and looks like a perfectly structured cube of membrillo or flan. To be honest, I don’t really know what any of the pastries actually are and I haven’t cared to ask, but that just means I am delightfully surprised every time I order, and I kind of prefer to keep it that way. The woman at the counter usually is not super friendly and/or is on the phone, but if you wait patiently at the counter, she’ll come and help you sooner or later.

The technicalities

Pasteleria Martínez is open 7 days a week (which is amazing!) from 9am to 3pm and then again from 4:30pm to 10pm. It’s busiest in the late afternoon and early morning and if you want the best selection and freshest pastries, come early, as they don’t restock the glass cabinet throughout the day much. You order your drinks and your pastries separately; drinks at the bar, pastries at the pastry counter. Pay for the pastries when you order, but pay for your drinks when you’re done. It’s located at number 28 on c/ San Pablo which is Baeza’s main drag. It’s basically a continuation of Paseo de Constitución so it’s hard to miss. The café is not too well signed but it is located directly across from the old church on San Pablo. Just look for the well-dressed Baezanos and you can’t miss it!

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A Fitting Farewell

I feel a little bad, because I didn’t actually think that my departure from La Puerta would usher in the floods, but that is kind of what is happening. La Puerta hasn’t really flooded, but LOTS of other towns have, and the river was absolutely raging all week long, lapping up over its concrete banks and depositing mountains of unbelievably orange muck all over the place.

When I arrived for the last time in La Puerta on Monday, my roommate greeted me by telling me that the river was about to overflow and that our upstairs had just contacted the police to find out what the evacuation plan was. The guardia civil told her that if the river overflowed that night, they would drive a fire truck down into the affected streets and blast the sirens to wake everyone up. My roommate moved her car up the hill out of harm’s way and we made plans with aforementioned upstairs neighbor to come up and stay with her if the water started rising. This was especially scary since we live in a ground-floor apartment three houses from the river. Our one window is about two feet off the floor and has sturdy iron bars over it. Our front door locks from the inside with a key, and can only be unlocked with a key. I made sure to keep the keys in the door that night.

In the morning I woke up alive. I packed up my backpack and left in on the bed just in case the water came up while we were at school. Then I learned we would be having a pizza party! In my honor! That night! I was thrilled because I had heard all about this pizza place which I guess is one of the only places worth going in La Puerta. Sadly, that night at the exact minute that the hot water AND power went out, my roommate got a call saying that the dinner had been postponed. Evidently someone’s roommate’s father had passed away (or at least that is what I had heard), and everyone decided it was better to postpone the dinner for one night. I had no problem with that, and some of the other teachers decided to go out for coffee.

We had a late coffee and  headed on our way…..somewhere. I didn’t really know where we were going, but I figured we would get there soon enough and it wasn’t worth me admitting that I hadn’t completely understood what was going on. I thought maybe another bar or cafe? It seemed weird to have food or drinks after coffee, but we had gone out pretty late, so maybe it was just a crazy day. We walked to an older part of the town that I had only walked through (it was the part with the kid with the bb gun and the creepy drooling man, so I have chosen to stay away). Anyways, I actually said “I’ve never been here before!” thinking we were going into a bar. We went inside the door and there was a casket sitting in the living room of what I at once realized was a Spanish house, filled with mourners.

Totally shocked, I quickly figured out what was going on. I had heard that someone’s roommate’s father had died, but it was really one of our coworkers. Compañero and compañero de piso kinda sound the same when you’re not paying attention. Well, the man who had passed away was 91 and while it wasn’t completely unexpected, it was still really, really sad. The son (my coworker), who is probably 60, had clearly been crying, as had his sister, and his aged mother, wrapped in a thick plaid blanket and sitting in a reclined wheelchair next to the casket of her husband, was still weeping. I realized we had to go around and offer our condolences to the family, so I did. Two kisses for everyone, and a few nice words. I felt really weird because the family had NO IDEA who I was, and frankly I don’t know why my coworkers brought me there. Then, as we sat under the brasero by the door and the entire town slowly trickled in, I realized that in a town this small, no one’s not invited to something like this. Especially when the person being honored had lived in the town for 91 years.

It was about that time that the power went completely out and the entire house was plunged into complete and total darkness. People slowly started getting out their cell phones until a mismatched collection of religious candles could be found to light the place. It was still pouring outside and we were literally right on the river, so you could hear it roaring by outside. We stayed for about two hours, and then headed home. It was honestly one of the weirdest things I’ve experienced yet in La Puerta, and something I don’t think I’ll ever see again.

So that experience felt like something out of an unfunny episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm for me since I thought we were going to the bar until the moment I saw the casket. The rest of the week proceeded with less excitement; the pizza party turned into a night of tapas, too many drinks, and some impromptu salsa dancing, and after a few tearful goodbyes and many, many kisses from my adorable students, I was back on the bus to Baeza. After a nauseating two hours, I got off, in the rain, excited to walk the 15 minutes home even with my bulging backpack and plastic bag stuffed with random bottles of spices and vinegar.  It was raining, but I was just excited to be done! Then I fell.

I fell hard. I haven’t fallen in at least a couple years, and I feel like I got what was coming to me since I think every human HAS to fall every once and a while. I was long overdue for mine, and I paid the price. I guess I was lazy, or tired, or stupid, but whatever it was, after successfully crossing a treacherous parking lot filled with mud and huge puddles and rocks and dog poo, I couldn’t quite get my foot all the way over the curb of the first sidewalk. I ripped my (new!) jeans, cut open my knee, cut open my hand, and my bottle of foodstuffs went flying. Driven by shame and adrenaline, I immediately got up and walked home, covered in mud, blood, and tears.

That was the end of my last day in La Puerta, which seems appropriate enough. My knee is now swollen and scabbed up like a seven year old’s might be after a tumble on the blacktop and my pride is equally wounded. At least I can rest assured that, at least for a while, I won’t be due for another big fall. And now, it’s time to pack. I have been procrastinating at one of my favorite Baeza institutions, La Nájera. They have free wifi and awesome tapas and sandwiches, and the best waiter I have ever had in my life. He sounds like a chain-smoking bullfrog and has a shiny bald head. He is awesome. I’ll actually miss this place, but as of 8am tomorrow, out of here! Wish me a safe journey!!

Café-Bar Nájera

c/ Acera de la Magdalena, 15 (Entrance on Avda. Andalucía)

607 562 353

Closed Mondays for “Personal Rest.” Typical!

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The Secret Backstreets of Baeza

So now that I am leaving Baeza, I realize that I have not done it justice in any way, especially in how I have described it to family and friends, and I want to make note of a few things about the town that really are just remarkable.

Compared to La Puerta de Segura and its 2,600 residents, Baeza feels huge, but in reality, it’s really a very small place. With only about 16,000 inhabitants and with Úbeda (population 30,000) as its only close neighbor, Baeza has an incredibly sheltered and somewhat isolated feel to it. Add to that the fact that it is perched on the edge of a cliff surrounded by miles of olive orchards and enclosed by the snowy peaks of the Cazorla and Sierra Magina mountain ranges, and it is incredibly easy to forget about the outside world and get caught up in the magic of Baeza’s oldness. The town is a radiant example of some of Spain’s finest Italian-Renaissance architecture, and if it were not for the bi-weekly bus rides I take out of here and the hundreds of compact cars that litter the streets, I would really feel like I had stepped back in time.

One of the most incredible parts of the city is the old center, whose name should in no way imply that the rest of the town is not old. Everything in Baeza is old, but the area with the greatest concentration of monuments (cathedral, ayuntamiento, etc) is so perfectly preserved and was so well designed that in 2003, it, along with the old center of Úbeda, was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

Baeza’s preservation and its status as one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in all of Spain is due to a string of historical successes and failures. Baeza, first known as Biatia or Beatia, has existed in some form since Roman times, maybe even earlier. But things really picked up for Baeza when the Muslims took over in the eighth century, renaming the place Bayyasa. At that time there were supposedly about 50,000 people inhabiting the city; over three times the number that now live here. But of course, the town was taken back by Catholic Spain in 1227 as one of the earliests victories for the crown in the southern region of the peninsula (then known as Al-Andalus, which is where Andalucía comes from), preceding Cordoba in 1236, Sevilla in 1248, and finally, the stronghold of the Kingdom of Granada in 1492. When I think of 1492 my mind unavoidably goes to Columbus and that Spain, and I think it is so interesting that Granada was still a Muslim kingdom that very same year. Anyways, Baeza was in a pretty important position being on the front lines of the advancing Ferdinand III and his like-minded successors, and the fact that it was perched on a cliff overlooking a large flat plain surrounded by perilous mountains made it a rather strategic post for the forward-marching Castilians.

Of course, most of that past history was wiped out, with the exception of a few fragments of the Moorish city wall and a gate or two. What got UNESCO’s attention was the stuff that was built in Baeza’s second little golden age. In the 16th century, the people living in Baeza got rich. Way rich. They made textiles, and for one reason or another, they made them really well. The families all lived in palaces, which are still standing all around the city, and they supposedly had some pretty crazy feuds among themselves. Anyways, these rich people wanted really, really nice palaces, churches, and fountains and stuff, so they hired an architect who had trained in Italy named Andrés de Vandelvira, and it turns out that he was great at his job. He ended up creating two beautiful, excellently planned cities in Úbeda and Baeza, as well as a really nice (actually shockingly nice considering the rest of the city) cathedral in Jaén.

Baeza feels very clean, bright, and golden compared to other Spanish cities that I’ve been to, and I mean that in a strictly architectural sense. If you read about Baeza, you will read everywhere that it feels more like Italy than Spain, and it’s true (if you’re just considering the buildings, of course). When the weather is warm the stones seriously radiate gold. It looks like everything in the city is warm to the touch when the sun hits it. At night, the fog rolls in around the tower of the cathedral, the bats come out, and things get creepy. Like, I-feel-like-I-might-get-the-plague creepy. It doesn’t help that there are several people that travel by horse and/or carriage on a regular basis around town. Hearing the he sound of hooves on cobblestones is sure to make you feel like you are in the 16th century in this town. That is, until a Fiat hatchback driven by a guy with a mullet and plucked eyebrows blasting Pitbull out his open windows drives by after the horse. Happens.

Well, the 17th century brought about the collapse of the textile industry in Baeza and the golden age was over. So was the building boom. At the time, I am sure that sucked, but it worked out well for us today because that is precisely what kept the town so well preserved. No one had the money for new construction, so what buildings there are in the town today are all from the same era. Then the town  seems to have jumped directly into the 1970s for a year or two, during which a smattering of hideous buildings were erected. Luckily, you don’t notice these too much. Which brings me to my point. The confusing and semi-scary streets around the cathedral.

All of these photos were taken in the tiny little streets that wind around the backside of the cathedral. One section of these little roads is bordered by tall, windowless stone walls that extend straight up from the sides of the street. At intervals there are little bridges that are clearly made for moving from one side to the other , though you can’t tell where the bridges come from or go because you can’t see over the walls. The pictures below show the little bridges I am talking about. It honestly seems like they were made so that people (who, I do not know) could move around the different properties of the church without having to leave the grounds and enter the street. There is no explanation for them anywhere, and most of the surrounding areas that are enclosed by the walls seem to be undergoing some kind of continuous restoration, which is probably bureaucratically delayed in an attempt to keep things in line for the UNESCO status that they absolutely adore here. It’s a mystery that I would like to solve. Or maybe not.

One of the other auxiliars heard a cryptic, poorly translated explanation that involved Opus Dei, and since that is exactly the type of explanation I want to find for these little secret-looking passages, I have decided not to look into it further. Instead, I will keep it a mystery so that whatever boring, quotidian, explanation that might exist never ruins the magic for me. So if you know what they are, don’t tell me! Unless it’s exciting and magical, of course.

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FOOD

For the past two days it’s been rainy and chilly and horrible out, so my thoughts have turned from summer back to the best part of winter: eating. Winter means I get to stay inside and use the oven (at least when I’m in La Puerta since my Baeza apartment does not have an oven), and it also means soup, stew, and wearing lots of coats that cover my ever-growing body. I have been pretty lazy about cooking recently and I’ve been trying to buy easy, Spanish ingredients, but that has just meant that I’ve started every meal I’ve eaten with a lame version of a sofrito and somehow managed to include chorizo.

I decided I was bored with that and needed some new nutrients, so, inspired by Malaga and Marshal, I bought a big bag of mussels from Carrefour the other day and steamed them up in white wine and butter and garlic…and it was good! I felt bad killing all those innocent mussels, and after eating 15 of them or so I started getting concerned that maybe I hadn’t killed all of them, but by the end, I had not run into a survivor and I was feeling very impressed with myself. I’ve now decided that I should continue making foods that I actually enjoy eating because it is better for me and not that expensive! The mussels were only about a euro for the bag, which weighed over a pound.

I just came back from the local market in Baeza with a huge paper cone filled with a half kilo of strawberries, some lovely little tangerines, and two baby artichokes, which cost exactly three euros. I think the artichokes will be my next victims. I absolutely love the little market in Baeza because the people who work there are so helpful and patient, and it really is just like Baeza’s version of La Boqueria (meaning much smaller, less variety, and cheaper!). I always, always want to buy a pumpkin or squash to cook while I am there, but alas, I have no oven in Baeza, so all of the squash just taunt me daily. Having no oven has actually proven to be quite the inconvenience. I never realized how much I used it at home, and I have never wanted to bake so badly in my life! Aside from the lack of oven, the Baeza kitchen also has nearly no counter space, pretty much no bowls, and completely lacks anything more technically advanced than a vegetable peeler, which I had to add to the kitchen drawer myself. One of the things I am most excited for upon my return to America is a kitchen! I just can’t wait. I’ve started making a list of things I want to make as soon as I have the tools:

1. Beet and Ricotta Gnocchi: Marshal and I tasted a version of these from Angelini Osteria (I think!!!) at the LA Times Travel show last year, and I have wanted to make them ever since. They are so pink! If I had an oven, beets, money, and some clean counter space, I would be making these right now.

2. Sweet Potato Gnocchi: Ok, more gnocchi, but how good do they sound?!

3. PANINI! I miss my George Foreman grill so much more than I ever thought I would. I know there are other ways of making panini, but I just want the plug in and go kind. Preferably with some heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and some kind of tangy balsamic dressing. And hold the olive oil/butter, please!

4. Marinated Grilled Tri-tip: I ate this so much with Marshal when we were in Newport Beach and I miss it and the whole possibility of just lighting up a grill on the balcony quite a bit. I wish the Horseshoe hadn’t eaten my Weber before I left L.A.

5. Spinach in Puff Pastry: Or anything in puff pastry for that matter. It is very easy to trick the people that you are feeding into thinking you worked a lot harder than you did when you employ puff pastry. Plus, Ina Garten has yet to steer me wrong, though she does dote on Jeffrey entirely too much.

6. Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting: Cliché, I know, but they are so good that I don’t care. It makes me a little sick to put so much food coloring into something I’m about to eat, but I forget about that once I can smell them baking.

And sadly that is the end of my feeble little list. I would also like to add an appetizer of toasted baguette slices and/or those multigrain wafer-y rectangle crackers covered in seeds with herb chévre and Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper and eggplant spread. I MISS TRADER JOE’S!!!!

Ok, end rant. Next time I talk about food I will try to actually make it about Spain. Maybe a list of all the restaurants I’ve tried in Andalucía! ¡Hasta luego!

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Bowling!

Yes, there is bowling not only in Spain, but in Baeza of all places. I was surprised that a town of 15,000 would have its own bowling alley when it doesn’t even have a movie theater, so I guess I should have been a little less shocked by the quality of the alley itself. We were initially lured in by the promise of bowling and a 4.50 menu (which is, in one form or another, a very generously portioned meal, usually with drink and/or dessert), but I can’t say that it was anything like an American bowling alley. Here are the major differences that stood out to me:

SIMILARITIES

1. Extremely odd-looking but friendly man stationed at the front desk. I feel like this is a fixture in every bowling alley around the world, though at the moment I can only speak for Spain and the U.S. I do not have any interest in further tests of this theory.

2. Gross selection of unhealthy food.

3. Bowling balls, bowling shoes.

4. Screaming children.

DIFFERENCES

1. While they also have hideous bowling shoes, they have velcro instead of laces, which is not really weird, but they also force you to wear plastic bags on your feet inside of the shoes, which I found extremely weird. And a little slippery.

2. 98% of the clientele were not wearing their plastic bags and hideous shoes, including a very well dressed woman to our left who was bowling in pointy-toed, black patent leather heels. Stiletto heels. I was actually a little jealous.

3. Six lanes. That’s right, six lanes total. It was oddly quiet, and they managed to separate our group into two lanes on opposite sides of the entire room.

4. The collection of the pins was also a little disappointing. Instead of having that weird machine come down, grab the pins by their necks, and yank them out of sight, all of the pins were constantly connected to some kind of lifting device by strings. This looked cool when the pins were lifted up, but it also completely ruined the best part of bowling–the crashing sound! Every time you knocked a pin over it just kind of silently slouched over to the side and fell gently to the floor. It sounded like bowling with toilet paper tubes. No satisfaction.

All in all, weird. Worth the 4 euros but not exactly life changing. Also I still suck at bowling.

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