How I Write Blog Posts

A while ago—emmm, okay, almost a month ago—fellow Spain blogger (and in-real-life friend!) Trevor Huxham tagged me in a blog meme about how I write my blog. I wanted to write right away, but I got caught up in traveling and visits to Zamora and just never got around to it. Nonetheless, here I am, writing about writing. So very meta. So let’s get down to it and talk about my personal writing process. Then I’m supposed to tag three bloggers, but I’m not sure I’m going to do that just yet. We shall see.

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Me, in Puebla de Sanabria, back when I first started blogging

What am I working on/writing?

Let’s be honest here. I was a much more prolific writer during my brief stay in the U.S., when I was working in an office and had a lot of free time in which to sit at my desk, twiddle my thumbs, and want for my phone to ring. Meanwhile, I typed up blog posts in a Microsoft Word document so as to appear busy should my boss walk by while I wrote.

Nowadays, I wait for inspiration to strike. It usually does so in the most inconvenient moments, like in the shower or while I’m falling asleep. When it does strike me while I’m at the computer, I write in down in a notepad document. Often I’ll go back later and scoff at my idea, but there are some times when I do not, and I decide to write about that idea.

Right now I’m working writing about our recent trip to Asturias, and that’s about it. In the future (maybe January?), look for a big, mega write up about bureaucracy in the U.S. (I’ll leave it at that for now.)

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

My blog is, of course, less about the best sites to see in Madrid and more about my everyday life and curiosities about Spain and/or Spanish. I’m not very good at sticking to a theme, and I suppose that makes me not so marketable. That said, I like who I am as a blogger, and I don’t want or expect to make much money from this blog.

After having lived in Spain for five years, I consider myself something of an expert on expat life in Spain. I recognize that I have not lived here for that long, but I do know a few things. I am no longer surprised by the things that shock first year English Conversation Assistants, like the lack of dryes or the fact that Spanish customer service leaves much to be desired. I like to think I offer a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Spain and Spaniards.

Of course, I am married to a Spaniard, and while there are many like me, this aspect of my blog allows me to see a different side of Spain. I have been to small village celebrations (think 150 inhabitants!), eaten countless dinners around family members’ tables, been exposed to cultural traditions and subtleties that others just do not have the opportunity to witness. I’ve been to several Spanish weddings, picked apples at my husband’s family’s apple orchard, seen my in-laws making homemade chorizos and salchichones, gone to factories to buy discounted wheels of delicious cheeses, and learned the ins and outs of Zamora from the locals. I now walk along its streets, and as they say there, I am somebody, because I can’t walk down the main drag without meeting someone I know.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because I like it, I love it, I believe in it. I don’t want to write anything inauthentic or false. I love Zamora and Castilla y León, so I write about them. I don’t write a lot of how-to posts, mainly because they’re difficult, so I leave them up to the better-suited ones.

I write for my family and friends, who can keep up with me through this blog. I started blogging for them, and I always keep them in mind when I hit publish.

I write for myself. I like sharing my experiences with others and not feeling so alone. I also like having this archive of my life, of this special time in my life. I love to look back on my anniversary posts or the time my in-laws were just about to visit Indiana or my wedding day. I love to read and reread old entries. Perhaps I sound self-interested, but a journal is a journal, even if I do happen to put it out there for everyone to read.

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How does the writing process work?

What a great question! It depends on what the post is about. If it’s about a trip, and pictures are necessary, I first have to process the photos from the trip. We take pictures with my iPhone 4S and our shared camera, a Canon Rebel T3i. We’re not experts (yet!), but we take pretty decent photos.

I write using Windows Live Writer, which is much easier than using WordPress’ browser editor. From WLW, I can easily publish the entries or post the draft to my blog. It has all sorts of tools that I like, including automatic linking, spell check, word count, and many more.

After I publish the draft, I put it on WordPress’ preview mode to see it more clearly and examine it for typos. Of course, I’m not perfect, and I let one or two through from time to time. This is easily edited afterwards. I can choose to have my post automatically tweeted on Twitter and shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.

Who I’m Tagging

I’m just going to do a cop out and tag anyone who wants to do this! A lot of people I follow/would tag have already been tagged.

Thanks to Trevor for tagging me; it’s been fun!

Playa del Silencio

Where the roar of the Cantabrian sea becomes a lullaby, where the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks soothes you into silence. Time seems to stand still. The Playa del Silencio, with its cliffs and islands, is still relatively unknown, and it’s likely you won’t find too many people around (unlike with the extremely touristy Praia das Catedrais). You may find a few sea gulls, though. Perhaps even a nudist! (Be warned: This happened to us.)

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Continue reading “Playa del Silencio”

Hotel Posada del Valle in Asturias, Spain

Recently we went to Asturias, and we were looking for somewhere to stay. I found this hotel by happenstance, as someone tweeted a link to a New York Times article about it. They said it was like you were living in a cloud, and I thought, Okay. We’re going. I mean, who doesn’t want to live on a cloud?

We drove there from a nearby village, Ribadesella. At first I thought I had made some terrible mistake, as the roads were tortuous and there was a steep drop off to the valley far, far below. When we got there, it was nighttime, pitch black and with very little lights, as we were in the middle of nowhere. (Basically.) The driveway that lead down to the house was also a huge hill, and I was a bit apprehensive about driving down that hill, even if I wasn’t the one driving. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, and so we did.

This hotel, which cost a total of €60 for one night, was the loveliest place I’ve stayed in. Seriously. 100% the best place. It’s run by a British expat couple, who (I think) live nearby. It’s on an 18-acre organic farm with animals and such, including the sheep native to Asturias, the xalda sheep. They are interesting.

Oveja Xalda

 

The building was originally a priest’s farmhouse and was constructed in the 19th century. The owners bought it in 1995 and converted it into what it is today. Downstairs there’s a small bar area and a fireplace. The owners, Nigel and Joan, have written up walking routes that can take you all over the region, with varying levels of difficulty and time. They always point out the best place to get refreshments if need be!

The hotel has a restaurant, in which they serve local, organic food and wine. The menu changes daily. We chose to have dinner at the restaurant. On that day’s menu was a salad bar, a carrot-ginger soup, and a choice of a vegetarian or non-vegetarian entrée. I chose the vegetarian, which was a moussaka, and Mario got the roasted red peppers stuffed with hake (merluza). We ordered an organic white wine, and soon realized that the other two couples were British! It seems that this is a popular hotel choice for British people, which makes sense, as there aren’t as many English speakers deep in the heart of Asturias as there are in the big cities and on the coast.

After dinner, we relaxed with a copa on the terrace. Nigel set us up with a candle and offered us a blanket. It was wonderful to see the stars, as in Madrid the light pollution makes this impossible. There was very little going on, but it was the most peaceful night.

The next morning at breakfast was no different. In Spain, it’s common to have a pretty delicious breakfast spread. (Do not talk to me about U.S. hotels and their “continental” breakfasts.) Hotel Posada del Valle had the highest-quality breakfast I’ve had in Spain. There was the organic apple juice, made from apples picked nearby. We enjoyed two types of homemade bread with honey and butter. There was muffins made from various fruits, including kiwi, which I found delightful. And as we breakfasted, we saw the mist in the valley slowly rise to the mountaintop. The saying goes, “Niebla en el valle montañero a la calle; niebla en la cumbre montañero a la lumbre.” (Fog in the valley, mountaineer hit the road; fog at the summit, mountaineer stay at home by the fire.) It was a good day to be climbing! We had other plans, but we stopped to take some photos of the place.

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If you go to Asturias with a car, consider staying here, especially in the off season. You can’t beat the prices or the surroundings!

http://www.posadadelvalle.com/
HOTEL LA POSADA DEL VALLE
Collía, Arriondas, 33549 Asturias Spain
Telephone: 00 34 985 84 11 57

Ever been to Asturias? What was your favorite place?

Taking the GRE in Madrid

Or How I Took the GRE So You Don’t Have To

Wait … that’s not how it works, is it? Oh well. Yesterday I took the GRE in Madrid. Apparently this is a topic of some interest for fellow expats in Madrid, because I’ve seen several mentions of it on the Facebook groups. I thought I’d let all of you nervous guiris know how it went.

First of all, I went to their website to register. It’s a fairly simple process, and there are loads of test dates, in the morning and in the afternoon. (Actually an American-style afternoon, as my exam started at 1:30 p.m.)

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You choose your city, which for me was Madrid. So if you want to take the GRE in Spain, you have two options: Madrid or Barcelona.

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Search for Madrid, and then click on “Schedule an Appointment.”

There are two places in Madrid to take it, and then you just click on “Check Seat Availability” to find a time and a date. As I said, there’s morning and there’s afternoon. One starts at 9:00 a.m. and the other at 1:30 p.m. Keep in mind that this is a four-and-a-half-hour test, so if you start at 9:00 a.m., you’ll finish around 1:30 p.m., and if you start at 1:30 p.m., you’ll finish at 6:00 p.m.

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After you register with the GRE, you can schedule your appointment!

On Test Day

Read their email very well. You are supposed to get there thirty minutes before your scheduled appointment in order to do some paperwork and all that jazz. This center does other sorts of testing, so there will be people there doing assorted types of exams.

I was scheduled to take the test at Go English Communications, which is located at Avenida de las Filipinas, 1 Bis. To get there, you can take the Metro Line 7 to the stop Islas Filipinas. It’s a short walk from there.

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You should go into the right-hand doors. The center is located on the seventh floor of the building.

Once you get there, you will have to write out (in cursive!) a statement saying you are not doing anything illicit, blah, blah, blah. You sign that, and then you are required to turn off your phone, and put all of your belongings in a locker, except your identity document (passport or NIE will both work).

When they are ready for you, they’ll take you into a second room. There, you have to turn out your pockets so they see they’re empty. Next they scan you with a metal detector! (I have taken the GRE before, in the U.S., and this didn’t happen.) You also have to lift up your pant legs to show you’re not hiding anything there either.

Side note: I was wondering about all this, as it seems a bit extreme for Spain. Mario and I concluded that it might have to do with the cheating culture in Spain, as it is more prevalent here than in the U.S., at least in my experience.

They took my photo with a webcam, which was fun, because I couldn’t figure out where to roll my chair to in order for them to get the “perfect” shot. As I waited, I noticed there were cameras everywhere! Even on me at that very second! Finally, they chose a computer for me and took me to the computer. Once there, I had to confirm the information on the screen was correct, and the exam began.

You get a 10-minute break after Section 2 of the GRE, but you are not allowed to leave the premises, so don’t do it. You are also not allowed to get out your phone or look at any notes. This may seem obvious, but just be careful.

I’m sure that the books and the information you find online can help you to familiarize yourself with how the actual exam is. I just hope to help those of you who, like me, are taking the exam in Spain, and especially Madrid.

If you have any specific questions related to the GRE, please feel free to email me.