Tag Archives: Jaén

A fería like no other

26 Oct

In a land not so very far away, there was a magical place where Cruz Campo flowed just as freely as the olive oil and the tapas were almost certainly free. It was a place where olives outnumbered the people, most of whom walked fearlessly through the streets, unafraid of the ghosts of bygone Lizard or Tranvia. Yes there, at the base of the Santa Catalina Castle, in the looming shadow of the cathedral, lay the city of Jaén. And every October people flocked from near and from far – from Madrid and Malaga; Ohio and New Jersey – just to observe what the locals fondly referred to as “la fería.” Yes, my friends, it truly is the most wonderful 10 days of the year.

At the fall of night on the very first day, the fair citizens of Jaén (and those from farther away too) descend upon the fairgrounds. The path marked with bright lights leads these citizens safely to the fairgrounds, much like the lit path of the airport runway guides planes onto the ground. And these fairgoers are about to have the layover of their lifetime.

Passing though the ‘big white castle’ of an entrance, the fair’s sights, sounds and smells assault the senses. You want a purse? a scarf? maybe some candied almonds for the trip down? how about a nice pair of shutter-shades with the Spanish flag?

– Why yes! I’ll take three, thank you!

And turning the corner, with the smell of sweet churros wafting from the nearby tent, the fair unfolds like a scene from a movie. Down the hill you go. Past the botellón spot on the left, where money-consious youth bring their own previously-purchased bottles (the country is in crisis, after all!). Down. Past the circus tent on the right. Down. Past the numerous carnival games. Down. Past the stands selling baked potatoes. Down. Pausing only for a mojito from the gypsy man. Down. Until you have arrived.

And you will know for certain when you have arrived because you will no longer hear the person standing next to you over the noise of the nearby tents. But alas, against the better judgement of your ears (which will be ringing for days), you follow that music into the nearest tent. And there it begins. From tent to tent you hop, pausing for food, for an occasional trip to the bumper cars or on the giant viking ship. You don’t stop until you can take it no longer and then it’s back up into the real world you emerge. Although, may it be advised that this trip is best made during the light of day as the sun slowly creeps up over the mountains.

And there it is. Much like the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle (wash. rinse. repeat.) Rather this time it’s more like: sleep. dance. eat. repeat. And repeat as many times as you can before the final Sunday. Afterall, the fair only comes once a year!

Word of the Day: basura (n.): garbage, as in “The fair is still a lovely place despite the fact that it often is covered in and smells like basura.


Un Mar de Olivos

13 May

As you climb to the top of Santa Catalina Castle in Jaén captial, the views are breathtaking. Below lies the compact city with its high rise buildings, nestled in between the sprawling hills of olive trees. The sheer number of olive trees engulfing the countryside, clinging to steep mountains and forming neat, clean lines for miles, is indescribable. And from this vantage point, it’s easy to see why Jaén is the world capital of olive oil. In fact, I’m not sure how I have spent nearly 8 months here in Jaén without commenting on what keeps the city thriving.

But in all reality, olives are more than a source of income here. They’re a way of life. There are olives for snacking as you sit around at the bar. There are stuffed olives, spicy olives, pitted olives, round olives, oval olives – more olives varieties than I knew existed. My body wash is olive scented, my lotion is made of olives and I even brush my teeth with olive toothpaste. (ok, just kidding about the toothpaste part, but you get the point.)

And most important is the product that comes from the olives: aceite (olive oil). What would Spanish cooking be without olive oil? For breakfast there is toast drenched with olive oil and tomatoes. For salads there is olive oil, not ranch or italian dressing. Your sandwich is a little dry? Why not put a little olive oil on it? And olive oil is essential to some of the best and most traditional Spanish food, like gaspacho soup, or the spanish tortilla.

But what struck me the most upon arriving was the sheer amount of oil that is used in cooking. Coming from the U.S., where olive oil is often tossed aside for more affordable products like butter, I used olive oil sparingly. A few drops on my salad, a few drops for cooking some veggies. However I watched on as my roommates dumped olive oil on everything – bottle after bottle being piled up in the recycling.

So now my new quest is to embrace olive oil like a Spaniard and I’ve got just the thing to help me get started: a 5-liter jug of olive oil (about 1.3 gallons). A gift from the director of my department at school, the jug of olive oil came from his very own olive trees. After sending all the olives to a cooperative to be turned to olive oil, he had the opportunity to receive his payments in cash or olive oil. Lucky for me and my other co-workers, he chose olive oil.

My Lesson of the Day: For an olive oil to be labeled ‘Extra Virgin’ (the highest classification of oil) it must be able to meet more that 20 standards, including a taste test by the International Olive Council.

Good Reasons to Drink Beer (and other things learned on the field trip)

16 Feb

Last week I had the pleasure of going on my first Spanish field trip with my school. I had been wondering where one might go for a local field trip. Apart from the castle and the cathedral, Jaén has no zoo, no aquarium, no children’s museum. So it was off to the Cruz Campo Factory – the glowing red sign in the distance of the city that has been calling to me ever since I first stepped foot on my terrace 6 months ago.

Before you start to worry about the purpose of taking a bunch of students to a beer factory, I just want to remind you that my students are all of legal drinking age, which is 18 here in Spain. And the idea behind the field trip was to talk about computer science workings behind the large factory, but somehow that message got mixed up in transport and the trip ended up being strictly about the beer. Not that any of the students seemed to mind.

After the short bus ride from the school, we arrived to the factory. We quickly learned the main ingredients of beer – malt, water, hops and yeast – all natural (good reason #4 to drink beer). And took a quick tour through the main workings of the plant from receiving the raw materials all the way to bottling and shipping.

Then we headed back to the orientation room where the table was covered with yummy tapas and we got unlimited refills for a chance to try many of the different Cruz Campo labels of beer (well, unlimited until some of the students drank 4-5 in under an hour and then we were politely cut off!).

We each piled back onto the bus with a nice a buzz and a new souvenir mug to take back to school.

My Lesson of the Day: Beer helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, protects against alzheimer’s disease and contributes about 10% of the daily need for folic acid. (good reasons #1, #6 and #8 to drink beer)

Menu del dia (one of the many things I love about Spain)

30 Jan

I know it’s been a little while since my last post, but I thought I’d start back up with a pretty awesome concept to end January: the menu del día.

I know you’re probably thinking, “My high school Spanish class was enough for me to translate that,” and “What could possibly be so great about a menu of the day?” But let me tell you…

The menu del dia can be found at many restaurants and for about 9 euros, you can get a full 3 course meal – drink, dessert and coffee included. (Does the coffee count as a 4th course? possibly.) Could there be a better way to spend a lazy Saturday/Sunday/Monday??

Typically, you can choose from a list of some of the best Andalusian food possible, including some of my favorites: migas, salmorejo, and patatas a la pobre. Before you know it, you’ve been posted up at the restaurant, chatting and eating for nearly 2 hours. Then the only logical thing to do next is to return home for a siesta, or in my case try to walk off some of the olive-oil-soaked food that you just consumed.

My Lesson of the Day: Not only do you get an amazing meal, it’s also quite economical. The large lunch leaves you so full that you save money on dinner.

Just keep climbing up

13 Nov

Yesterday (Friday), one of my fellow auxiliares came to visit Jaén from her nearby town and we had one main goal in mind: climb up to the castillo. I’ve been up to Santa Catalina Castle twice before – once during the day and once at night – but I had always gone up via car. This time we decided to hike.

Lauren came over for lunch and then the three of us started out around 5pm from my apartment, aiming to make it up before sunset. We didn’t exactly know where we were going, but I figured that as long as we kept going up (the castle is on top of the mountain), we were bound to make it eventually.

So up we went. And up, and up, and up. About 40 minutes later, we had finally made it out of the neighborhoods and to the base of the woods/castle. We started to hike up the trail and I swear I felt like I was in a scene from Lord of the Rings – nothing but trees, rocks, and the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. I felt like we were miles away from any civilization as we kept climbing up.

After a loosing our way slightly and ending up at the pool of the accompanying parador hotel, we finally made it up to the castle. It was about 6:30 and we had made it just in time for sunset.

But something was wrong. They were closing the gates to the castle and there were a bunch of construction workers coming out. We knew that the castle had been under construction, but we had wrongly assumed that it was finished.

Then followed a short conversation with the construction worker, which went somewhere along the lines of:

“Is the castle closed?”



“Because we’re working.”

“When will it be open.”

“It’s closed whenever we’re working.”

Woah Mr. helpful! We finally got it out of him that the castle will be opening on the 25th for celebration of Santa Catalina (the saint). Then we retreated to the cafe of the hotel parador for some coffee. On a side note, Jaén’s parador hotel has been voted one of the top ten paradors in Europe. (A parador is an old castle that has been converted into a luxury hotel.)

But the trip wasn’t completely a bust. We got to spend some time at the top of the mountain, we got a good workout on the way up, and on the way down we were rewarded with this beautiful view of the cathedral:

I love that Jaén still seems to have little surprises that I’m still discovering 2 months later. But today, we’re laving the city behind and heading off to our friends pueblo for a night in the country.

My Lesson of the Day: Sometimes the best things appear when you’re not actually looking for them.


6 Nov

Move over Facebook! Watch out Myspace! And Twitter, I’m sorry, but there’s a new social media site on my radar. Yes, in case you were ever worried that there weren’t enough social media sites to mindlessly waste my time, the Spanish have their own version: Tuenti (think twenty).

Much like Facebook, Tuenti is open to residents of Spain by invitation only. How exclusive! But thanks to my roommate Isabel, I have been the proud owner of my very own Tuenti page for approximately 20 minutes now. I think my favorite part about the site is that it’s almost identical to Facebook – even down to the color. But a lot of spaniards swear that it’s easier to navigate and all around better than Facebook. We shall see. So far I’m a little irked that it won’t recognize Ohio University as my school. I guess it makes sense seeing as it’s not in Spain?

Well, I would write more, but I’m off to go waste my time on Tuenti.

My Lesson of the Day: Having a tuenti = cool. Having only 1 friend = not.


Una excursión al Quejigo del Amo

26 Oct

This past Sunday, instead of staying in and sleeping until the afternoon (like I have on previous Sundays), my American friend Lauren, our Spanish friend Luis and I decided to do something a little more adventurous – we decided to go on a hike to see a tree.  Yes, we really hiked 10 km (about 6.2 miles) to see a tree.

This marked my first real trip outside of Jaén city since my arrival a little over five weeks ago. Most people find it hard to believe that I haven’t traveled further away to bigger cities, but I have to say that I’ve been so happy living in Jaén that I haven’t wanted to travel very much.  But for my first trip outside of the city, we didn’t travel too far.

About 20km south of Jaén city, but still within Jaén province, lies the Quejigo del amo, the tree which we went to see. But this isn’t just any tree, it can even be found on the map of Jaén province as a natural monument of interest.  I have to say that the tree was pretty cool, but the adventure was more in the trip than in the actual destination.

We had to travel up gravel roads that wound up and down the various mountainsides. The sometimes treacherous road was big enough for only one car at a time, but that didn’t pose too much of a problem, seeing as we only passed the occasional land rover during the journey. This definitely wasn’t a major tourist destination. In fact, I think we saw more sheep than people during our hike.

After reaching the tree at last, we had lunch underneath and hung out for a while to enjoy the scenery and take some pictures before heading the 5km back downhill to where we parked the car.

On our trip back, we made a stop in Valdepeñas de Jaén – a small pueblo south of Jaén city. In the town, we found a hiking trail that wound around the river and up into the forest, passing waterfalls and bridges along the way.


All in all, it was a pretty successful and adventurous Sunday. We returned to Jaén with just enough time to go out for Chinese food with some of the other auxiliares (language and culture assistants – like me). All the fresh air and food put me right to sleep!

My Lesson of the Day: It’s not always about the destination, it’s about how you get there.