I am still a member of the Spain auxiliares’ group on Facebook. Why? Good question. I like to take a peek in there every now and then, as the discussion can get entertaining. The latest comment thread I read (it was from November, I think) was highlights and how some poor girl was willing to travel “anywhere” to get them done correctly. I couldn’t really identify, as I’ve never really dyed my hair (that time with a slightly reddish-brown shade doesn’t count; it was barely noticeable), but it was an amusing thread nonetheless.
I joined the 2011–2012 auxiliares’ group back when I was still in Spain. I don’t live there currently, nor do I wish to sound arrogant, but I do know a thing or two about Spain. (Reasons include: study abroad in 2008, internship in 2009, being detained in the airport due to visa issues in 2010, chilling with Mario in Salamanca in 2010 for three months, and a year teaching English in Zamora [from 2010–2011].) Sometimes I felt qualified to answer their questions, so I did. When I was first applying, the group wasn’t that active, and I had approximately a zillionquestions, many of which I just had to find out about on the job.
One thing I notice(d), though, is the lack of love for some regions of Spain. Okay, I get it—you want to live on the beach in Málaga, walk Las Ramblas in Barcelona, eat the best pintxos of your life in País Vasco, live la vida madrileña in Madrid … I do understand.
But why no love for Extremadura? None for Castilla-La Mancha? Or, nearest and dearest to my Spanish-American heart, Castilla y León? I found these questions puzzling—still do. I know, I know: they aren’t glamorous and they aren’t near the airport and you most definitely cannot spend Carnaval on the beach like you can (supposedly) in Cádiz*. But I want you to know that, if you choose one of these regions (or other lesser known ones), there’s no reason you can’t have the best year of your life. Here’s why I love Castilla y León (and why you should too).
- The Spanish spoken there is, they say, “pure.” Now, let’s not get into linguistic debates about this because I know all accents have merit and if you can understand a Gaditano, you can understand anyone. But I’ll tell you one thing—these people speak like the people you hear on TV, the news announcers, the academics. I love the accent. (Mario has the best one.) I love the ceceo and leísmo. What’s more, this accent has become the neutral Spanish accent to me, much like the General American Accent is neutral to me in English. I know there’s technically no neutral, but to me, it’s the norm. And I like it.
- The food. Sure, San Sebastián gets all the good press with good reason. The food there is astonishingly good. Nonetheless, I believe wholeheartedly in the value of a good Castilian meal. I don’t mean what you get in a bar when you’re having a coffee—this is often rather hit or miss. What I mean is the food you get in someone’s home, someone who has taken the time to lovingly prepare a hearty, delicious, and almost always healthy meal. Mario’s mother, my suegra, is a marvelous cook. Her food is, without fail, fresh, delicious, homemade, and (most importantly to any good Spanish woman over fifty) filling. I can’t get through one plate without her asking me if I want more. There usually have to be two denials before she’ll stop asking. She’s introduced me to lentejas, cocido, patatas a la importancia, pescado a la plancha, solomillo adobado, aceitadas, roscón de reyes, pan de queso, menestra, potaje de garbanzos, natillas con un toque de limón, and many more. (Not to mention homemade salchichón, which is my favorite thing. Ever.)
There’s also meat and potatoes—more my dad’s style
- The Scenery. There’s much to be said about Barcelona, Madrid, and Galicia (all gorgeous places in their own right), but I’m partial to my adopted home in Spain (no duh, right?). I love Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, Zamora’s old Roman bridge, Ávila’s Lord of the Rings-style wall, Segovia’s aqueduct. I love the ancient feeling of it all, and this feeling was no strong than whehn I saw the Roman statue of Romulus and Remus in Segovia. Just thinking of the Romans—the Romans!—being there millennia ago gave me goose bumps.
- The Heart of Spain. Spain has been stereotyped as the land of bullfights, flamenco dancers, sun, and beaches. When the average person (not Hispanophiles) thinks of Spain, Castilla y León is probably not what comes to their mind. That’s okay because I truly believe what the Lonely Planet says when it states that CyL is “Spain without the stereotypes.” It may not be a place you go expecting to be wowed—and you probably won’t gasp in amazement too often—but it’s a place that will give you a peek into the heart of Spain. This heart of Spain is growing ever older, ever feebler with each passing year, and I fear that much of its everyday magic will soon be lost, forever hidden in the annals of the great libraries. Every year, it seems, there are fewer births—there are few children on the playgrounds, yet the park benches are full of ancianos. They too are a window to the Spain’s soul, a soul found everywhere, but, for me, most vividly in Castilla y León.
If my grandma can do it, so can you.
You should visit.