Guides, Spain

How to Prepare for a Spanish Wedding

Photo by Emma Bauso on

Weddings are a special moment where two people begin a new chapter together in life. These events are unique in that they bring families, friends, histories, and traditions into one place for the sole purpose of celebration. I recently attended a wedding for my two friends Maria and David in Gijón, Spain. The setting for the ceremony was beautiful and the people who attended were full of life. This was the first Spanish wedding I had ever attended, let alone the first outside of the United States. I was honored to be included in their special day but also completely clueless about what a Spanish wedding was all about. It took actually going to the wedding to get a better picture of what takes place in such events. 

Here is a quick guide to getting a better understanding of Spanish weddings. 

My friends David and Maria getting hitched!

Typical wedding gifts in Spain
Unlike in the United States, where the bride and groom-to-be share a registry of potential gifts for their guests to choose from, the system in Spain is straightforward. Either a bank deposit or a card with a check will suffice. It’s not as personal as a registry gift, but it saves attendees time in thinking about the perfect gift. How much should you give? I read that between a minimum of 70-100 euros per person is the average.   

Who is involved in a Spanish wedding?
In Spain, the bridal party involves fewer people. There aren’t groomsmen, bridesmaids, a maid of honor, or a best man. David’s best friend, Fernando, created a special tribute video and gave a heartfelt speech during the ceremony. I later asked David, “So was Fer (Fernando) your best man?” David hadn’t heard of that term before. Fernando was just showing love for his pal. There are however padrinos, meaning the father of the bride and mother and groom. 

Religious or secular?
Similar to the United States, weddings in Spain are moving away from ceremonies being held in a church. The officiant isn’t always a priest, but rather a relative or friend. Maria’s sister, Silvia, was the officiant in their wedding and the setting for the ceremony was the rooftop of the Abba Hotel which overlooked the expansive San Lorenzo beach in downtown Gijón.

Fun times with great people.

Spanish wedding traditions 
A good way to understand the rituals a bride and groom may have at their wedding is to know the couple’s region of origin. Each autonomous community in Spain is rich in culture and strikingly distinct. David is from Asturias while Maria is from Murcia

The reception would abruptly pause at unexpected moments as crowds of people would begin singing “La Pelusa,” which was an invitation for a specific member of the newlywed’s family to stand up and do a dance called “La Pelusa.” The selected person would dance a series of moves in unison with the singing audience and at the end, everyone cheered and continued eating. This is a song that I learned is typical in most Murcian weddings. On the other hand, many guests opted to drink cider (sidra) during the celebration because this apple-based fermented beverage is a source of local tradition and pride. Asturias produces the majority of Spain’s cider and pouring this drink is a learned art. To properly pour cider in Asturias, one must lift the bottle above their head, lower the glass as far as the arm can reach, then attempt to serve. It can be messy but makes taking a sip well-earned.

At other moments, the wedding party would shout “Vivan los novios!” (Cheers to the newlyweds!). Another interesting detail I learned was that in Spain wedding rings are worn on the right hand rather than the left like in the United States. Engagement rings, however, are worn on the left hand.  

Dance dance dance
David and Maria’s wedding featured lots of dancing. Apart from “La Pelusa,” the most important dance of the evening was their first as a couple, or “primer baile de los novios.” After the first dance, all the couples in the room stepped onto the dance floor and the party got going. The DJ eventually stopped the music early in the morning, but not until after the Asturian members of the wedding party emotionally sang the anthem for Real Sporting de Gijón, the city’s local football (soccer) club and favorite of many at the party including David. Even though the DJ didn’t play my song request for 2Pac, he still brought out the jams and the crowd seemed really pleased. 

Have a coffee beforehand
Most weddings that I’d been to previously would either end at a decent hour or migrate to a different location. On average I would get home by 11pm or 2am at the very latest. Maria and David’s wedding reception ended at 5am and the dance floor stayed busy until the very last song. If you ever get invited to a Spanish wedding, be prepared to stay late and have a fun time. 


Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Also, thank you Maria and David for being my friends and for inviting me to your special day. Before going I’d like to hear from you! Have you been to a wedding in a different culture? What were the traditions that stuck out for you? Comment below!

Take care,


Ideas, Life, Short Story, Spain, story, Travel

Redemption in Alicante

Author’s note: This might have happened sometime a handful of years ago.



Shades of violet began to spill upward into the sky.

Rowed fields with the occasional farmhouse emerging out of nowhere became visible.

On this ALSA passenger bus it was too early in the morning to hold a conversation with strangers, but not early enough to feel bursts of frustration and personal disappointment. At this Lordly hour the only people I could imagine on the interstate between Murcia and Alicante were factory employees, contraband smugglers, and suckers late for an airplane.

As the sun started to make its morning cameo, a flash from two weeks ago came into memory.

The flight-booking website Skyscanner had an amazing deal from Alicante to London via Ryanair.

This deal was so good it was evil, so evil that I hastily purchased a roundtrip flight.

It was such a steal that I didn’t bother to see what time the flight left or to check ALSA’s bus schedule between Murcia, the city where I was living, and Alicante.

I told myself that everything would iron itself out in due time.

Fast forward to right now. The bus was on time but also it was becoming clear that I’d miss the plane. A combination of not packing the night before and a lack of hourly buses between the two cities had me in this undesired state of affairs.

I forcefully shut my eyes and tried to think of anything to distract my conscious from admitting that this outing was looking more like a day trip to Alicante than a weekend in London.

Bald eagles, vanilla ice-cream, Selena Gomez.

Nothing seemed to work, however opening my eyelids the flickers of sun reflecting off the vivid blue of approaching sea meant that we were close. In the distance, a solid streak of teal began to take shape, as if sneaking up on the rows of farmland and within minutes the blue took over the landscape. The tension inside my mind began to alleviate as we finally entered Alicante and eventually halted at loading bay of the cities’ bus station.

Hope wasn’t lost. There was still a tiny window of time to get to the airport.

Step one: Get to Alicante. Done.

Step two: Catch the shuttle that stops in front of the station and take it to the airport. In progress…

Clutching the black canvas straps of my backpack with determination I exited the ALSA bus and ferociously power-walked towards the street. I could feel a temporary gust of air as the glass doors of the station glided open and I hooked a hard right then one more at the intersection.

The outside was so bright that I had to rub the drowsiness out of my eyelids in order to focus on the bulky four-wheeled object directing itself towards me. This was the bus stop for the airport, and I was the only person standing on the corner.

I looked up victoriously, assuming that the mere presence of a human being standing vertically in the designated zone was enough to make the driver put on the brakes, open the swinging door, and invite the haggard looking traveler onboard.

It wasn’t.

The shuttle didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. It simply accelerated by me.

I turned my head to watch it disappear past a park with ficus trees and out of my life.

I don’t know why I didn’t raise my hand as it arrived to signal it to stop, nor why I didn’t make chase. I just let it go. It could have been that the Skyscanner deal was simply too good to put much effort into catching that shuttle, or maybe I knew that this would one day inspire me to write a blog post about it.

Either way, it was gone and the plan was ruined.

Standing on an empty street corner in Alicante with a backpack zipped full underwear and a couple shirts, I was hoping a bird would land by me to not feel completely alone.

If life at that moment was an arcade game, I felt like a guy with no tokens.

I didn’t worry about catching the next bus to Murcia, as I now had all the time in the world. I now needed food and coffee. Not knowing where the nearest sandwich or pastry shop was located, I simply took a defeated turn onto a random street.

The hunger became stronger, and for some reason not a single cafe was in site. A couple more blocks down the street and the only familiar view was San Juan beach and some distant seagulls as they flapped above. Through desperate eyes, I finally discovered signs of life.

A market.

Undernourished and under caffeinated I stumbled towards the entry and the whites of my eyes expanded as I gazed at what could have been a mirage.


Row upon row of small, vibrantly orange mandarines grouped in plastic crates right outside the market’s door. If I had the energy to count I would’ve guessed that there were hundreds just sitting there, waiting to be eaten. They looked so good that maybe they weren’t real; they could’ve been just for display and actually made of plastic.

I didn’t grab one, I grabbed four. I handed over a couple euros to the man behind the counter and walked out with my first meal of the day and a small bottle of water.

Citrus burst into my palate as I devoured the first one like a baby who hadn’t learned to chew. The skin peeled off in one piece. The next one had the perfect combination of sweetness and acidity.

The third mandarine was so easy to peel and tear off small pieces of it into my mouth that I almost got upset. At that moment I knew that I’d never again find a mandarine as delicious as the ones that were in my hands.

Scanning the blueness overhead, there was probably a plane somewhere in the infinite sky that had a vacant seat on it, but at this moment it didn’t matter anymore.

Brilliant sparkles of whiteness mirrored off the sea,

as I patiently undressed the last mandarine.

This one had a different flavor from the others…

…It tasted like redemption.

Europe, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, Teaching, Travel

Dear Murcia,



fullsizeoutput_26f5Hey, how’s it going?

Did you get a haircut?

We’ve met a few times but unless you’re regular of MuyBici stations, El Palmar, Esparragal, or various plazas that serve cheap coffee, you probably don’t remember me.

I normally don’t write letters to cities, but today I’m in the mood to get some things off my chest.

Since 2014 you and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship.

I’d crash in one of your pisos for six to eight months, work as an English teacher, then head back to the United States filled with good memories and ready to continue towards something else.

Each time I reunited with the place where I grew up, discovering what should have been that something else was quite a challenge.

Each summer, after saying farewell to you, I’d find myself in limbo and not really knowing what to do next.

This being said, my overall goals have never changed:

I want to challenge myself, to keep learning, and I also want to pursue as much happiness as possible.

Keeping this framework in mind, I have found myself gravitating into your city limits for four consecutive years.

Each experience has been different and the people who I’ve encountered, the bonds that have been created, and memories that have been shared are all things that I feel truly grateful for.

You’ve stood my side as I tried my first tapa, rode my first ALSA bus to Alicante, danced in Sala Revolver, drank my first Estrella Levante, and taught my first class of students.

You’ve helped me grow as a Spanish speaker, English teacher, salsa dancer, traveler, friend, and overall as a person.

I wouldn’t be the man I am right now if it wasn’t for your patience and willingness to accept me.

I’m saying these things because I want to say thank you for everything.

I’m also writing this letter to you because it’s time for me to say goodbye.

My contract for this school year has expired and for the past five day’s I’ve been enjoying temporary retirement.

In fact, as you read these words I’ll have already moved away from Murcia and taken a train to Barcelona, where a scheduled flight back to the US will take off on Thursday.

“See you later” has been said to friends, suitcases have been stuffed to the brim, and anticipation for seeing family and friends back home has been growing.

After being away for seven and a half months, it’s time to come back to California. It’s time to reconnect with my family, to catch up with childhood friends, and to create new memories.

It’s time to take what I’ve learned this year and apply it towards new things, and new challenges. It’s also time to start focusing on a new set of goals.

I can feel the limbo creeping back into the front page of my mind as I write these words.

Inside I can hear a song repeating in my brain.

It’s called “what the f*** am I going to do now?” and honestly the melody needs some fine-tuning.

I’m looking up at the sky to see if there’s a smoke signal or perhaps a carving in a tree that’s meant to point me in the correct direction.

Right now my future goals aren’t out of oven yet, and the ingredients I have at my disposal are lots of research, self-reflection, advice from loved ones, and frankly just living.

I hate to say these words, but there’s a chance that you won’t be part of these future plans, at least not immediately.

Maybe we won’t live together anymore. Maybe we’ll just visit once and while. Instead of generating income with you, maybe I’ll spend my generated income from somewhere else to come and say hi to you.

We met by coincidence, and honestly I couldn’t have ever predicted that we would have spent so much time together. Life can be interesting that way, and it’s as unpredictable as the restaurant service in your restaurants (sorry that was I low blow, I know).

Inside I know that we are destined to meet again. It’s just too early to know when yet. Right now the only place I want to be is back home.

I hope from the bottom of my heart to continue to learn, love, make mistakes, grow, and simply be alive with you again.

Until that day happens, thank you once again for everything.

Un beso and abrazo,

Daniel Catena

p.s. Thank you to everyone at IES Marques de los Velez, Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, and Vicente Medina for helping me be a better teacher. Thank you to Lola, Jesus, Pepe, Toñi, Elena, Marga, David, Paco, Lucia, Lindsey, Matt, Ambra, Lisa, Lieven, Estela, Asun, Rali, Maria, Jessica, David, Zamai, Maria del Mar, Isa, Susana, Jose Antonio, Maria Jose, Ascension, & many others for being great friends and for helping me be a better person. If your name isn’t mentioned here, I apologize and want you to know that you are still important to me too.

I hope to see you all again soon!

Advice, Coffee, Europe, Guides, Murcia, Spain, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Where to drink Coffee

Where to Drink Coffee in Murcia, Spain

A handful of posts ago I shared some insider information in regards to finding a decent a cup of coffee in Sausalito, California plus Missoula, Montana. Both posts came with years of coffee-drinking and, more importantly, cafe-questing experience.

It’s time to continue this series of posts with a city in southern Spain.

Murcia, Spain has been my other home away from home for four years now. Four hours south of Madrid and thirty minutes from the Mediterranean Sea, Spain’s seventh largest city is a haven for those who enjoy continuous days of sun and a stress-free pace of life.

Murcia is famous for not being famous, as the majority of travelers who arrive in Spain decide on stopping almost everywhere else. This lack of tourism is partially why I like living here. Another reason as why Murcia is an ideal place is because of something else:

Its limitless choices of where I can get embarrassingly buzzed from caffeine.

Compared to anywhere else I’ve visited or lived, Murcia’s coffee is dangerously inexpensive. There also exists a growing number of cafe’s where one can take a break, do some work, or have a conversation with a friend. Here’s my personal list of places where you should order your next cup of coffee in Murcia:


Cafe Haskell:

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Cafe Haskell was the first coffee shop I discovered in Murcia, and this arguably the best cafe in the city center. The owners are two very nice girls from Italy, Stefania & Giulia, and the inspiration behind their establishment came from a trip they took to San Francisco a few years back. The feeling upon entering here is quant, with memorabilia of San Francisco hanging on each wall. Their tostadas are arguably the best in Murcia.


Image result for socolá murcia

Socolá is an Italian bakery that has a surprisingly complete menu. They offer brunch and a variety of American delicacies such as pancakes. It’s easy to get trapped here because the atmosphere is welcoming and it’s great for getting work done.

El Gallinero:

Image result for socolá murcia

This small, centrally located cafe would be my favorite place in this list, except that they open at 4pm. I usually avoid caffeine at this hour unless I’m preparing for a long night. This being said, the music there is on point, and it’s a good place to enjoy a non-caffeinated tea or crisp beer.

La Terraza Verde:

Image result for la terraza verde

This is maybe the diamond in the rough selection here, in part because you have to technically leave Murcia in order to find it. The Terraza Verde is an outdoor lounge that shares a space with a hostel called La Casa Verde. This might also be one of the most heavily shaded places to sip coffee, as various plants and trees that hang overhead give patrons a junglelike atmosphere. Situated about fifteen minutes by foot away from the center, via a bicycle path that hugs Murcia’s Rio Segura, one can enjoy a Yakka beer or nice vegetarian style menu alongside their coffee.

Cafe de Alba:

Image result for cafe de alba murcia

Cafe de Alba is the most experienced member of this list. This cafe, bar, and music venue has been open since 1986, and boasts a varied clientele. Every time I walk through the door I feel like I’ve just been teleported to the 1950s, thanks to scores of vintage bar paraphernalia sprawled all about.

Cafeteria Centro Cultural Puertas de Castilla:

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This cafe gets my nod of approval for three reasons: It has 90 cent americanos (the cheapest I’ve found in the city), it’s connected to a cultural center that has a nifty little library, and on the outside of the building is a massive graffiti three story mural of the iconic Salvador Dalí. This mural is one of the largest in the world, and the artist who painted it Eduardo Kobra, who hails from São Paulo, Brazil.

Honorable Mention:

Cafe Lab: Cafe Lab is almost too perfect. In fact, it’s such a good place to go for coffee that the prices are nearly double everyone else in this list. If you want to learn a new Spanish word, here’s one: pijo. This in Murcia means posh, and Cafe Lab is absolutely this definition. That being said, the baristas are knowledgeable, the atmosphere gives a sense that you’ve just been transported to some mountain chalet in the middle of winter, and overall the experience there is quite nice.

Picaddily Coffee: I have to mention this place because it’s a Murcian company that’s been ballooning around Spain like Starbucks has in the USA. It’s overpriced, but the people who work there are friendlier than most places you’ll visit in Murcia and the openness of their Ronda Norte location is perfect for writing in a blog…

Coffee, Europe, Ideas, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain

The Smartphone App Purge

Author’s note: No phone applications were permanently harmed during the writing of this post, and everything you are about to read definitely maybe happened.

Sitting in Santo Domingo Plaza, under the protection of a dark tinted cafe tent, I was scrolling through the touchscreen of my smart phone when suddenly a crazy notion pinched me on the arm:

All of the apps on the phone are starting to stress me out.

Maybe the effects of caffeine hadn’t quite hit my system yet, but in that moment I felt that it was time to go back in time, back to the days when I hardly used applications. Looking at the screen, I felt overwhelmed by all of the programs that I’d been collecting like vintage Pokemón trading cards. Scanning a rough estimate, I counted about forty apps. In my mind most of them were purely used out of convenience, and not out of necessity.

I took a deep breath and hopefully it was only a lack of coffee that was making my index finger shake.

The first victims were my travel apps: Hostelworld, the ALSA bus app, and Skyscanner. Screen press, click, click, click, and soon all of my news apps disappeared into digital oblivion as well. The phone swamp was getting drained. Flashes of 2012 started flickering in my mind, or maybe even as far back as 2010. I was feeling lighter and maybe a little bit younger.

However, the sudden crowning of absolute power caught me off guard, and without thinking I deleted my Gmail app.

Shit. I probably still needed that one.

This cafe didn’t have wifi and my Vodafone data plan was running on fumes, so I wouldn’t be able to redownload Gmail from the app store until I found a hotspot somewhere.

I thought oh well, and continued weeding the crystal glass garden sitting in the palm of my hand.

I decided that Spotify and Whatsapp were two untouchables, but why not delete Facebook Messenger? One press and click later, I remembered that a lot of friends back in the United States exclusively communicated through Messenger. If they didn’t think I was dead yet, or at the very least trapped in a well somewhere, then now they absolutely would.

Shazam? Gone. Skype? Bye bye. Instagram? Gulp, let’s see what happens.

Oh wait.

Before I knew it, the display on my phone had downsized to merely one page. I didn’t need to scroll anymore, everything was right there in front of me. The trauma of a couple unnecessary deletes left me a little rattled, but a sip of coffee swished away the temporary grief. I could finally breathe, and the stress that these apps had for some reason caused me was starting to finally recede like a reverse lava flow.

Without having time to enjoy my recently achieved weight-loss, a really cool song started playing in the cafe’s background stereo system.

Damn, I would have liked to know who that was.

Now I’d never know because the space on my screen where Shazam used to raise its family was now occupied by a square-shaped icon of absolutely nothing. I could have asked some cafe employee, but pressing a blue button on my screen seemed more appropriate. Also, usually the people working there didn’t even know that there music was playing. I remembered a funny picture that a friend tagged me in on Instagram, and soon I felt like a criminal. Had the power been taken too far? What kind of calamity had I just committed?

I was inspired to vent about my brash burst of decision making in a blog post, but that wasn’t possible, either. WordPress and the Pages app were only memories.

Did I even have money to pay for the coffee? I could have easily checked my bank balance to make sure that I could pay by debit-card, but the BBVA mobile app wasn’t there to help.

Oh no, did I have a private English lesson this morning?

My Google Calendar app was gone, but luckily no angry Whatsapp messages had flashed on my screen yet.

Digging around with my non app-destroying hand and salvaging one euro from my front jean pocket, I paid a cafe employee and scanned the horizon for a place that might have a public wifi network. I needed to right these wrongs, and I had to do it quickly. If only I had Google Maps to guide me…

I stood up and sent my gaze around the plaza, accidentally making awkward eye contact with a lady who had just ordered a croissant.

Is she really going to put that much butter on that thing?

I decided the best option was to go to the library. I’d pillage their wifi and pretend to read books…

The End?


Europe, Ideas, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, Teaching

This is El Palmar

One morning at IES Marques de los Velez, in El Palmar, Spain…

As the door to the classroom opened, and a flow of sleepy students seeped through the entryway, I tried my best to give each person a smiling “good morning.”

It was 8:25am and English class was this group of twenty-something teenager’s first class of the school day. I was already two coffee’s into my morning, and not even the sweet nectar of caffeine could help me maintain a genuine smile. This indeed was early, and the fuzzy look on everyone’s face told me that this class was going to start slowly.

Chairs began to screech along linoleum floors, chatters of half-asleep El Palmar teens began to rise as backpacks flopped on the ground and people took their seats.

I brought my own chalk, had a powerpoint saved on a pen drive, and had already decided that today we would kick-off with a game that would wake them up.

“Everyone be silent please!”

The other teacher in the room gave the group an authoritative stare as she sat down with the rest of the group, leaving me the only person in the room still on their feet.

These four words would be everything that she would say for the next fifty-five minutes, and now her “assistant” (myself) was in charge to teach whatever the material was for the day.

My job title was on paper “English Language Assistent” however as the most powerful person in the room had just sat down to grade homework assignments, apparently I had just been knighted.

It was the end of January, and promptly being granted this promotion at the beginning of class was to be expected.

Back in November however, when I took a bus to IES Marquez de los Velez for the first time, this came as a surprise.

I paced into this same classroom for the very first time, on this exact day of the week, almost three months ago, with an expectation that I would be assisting a teacher in whatever activities or lessons that she needed.

On this fateful morning, after introducing myself, showing the group a quick powerpoint about where I grew up in America, and fielding a couple questions, I was looking at the teacher with a look of “ok, I’ve done my part now, you can come back up here.”

She didn’t stand up.

She didn’t do anything. She just looked at me like I was a penguin at the zoo.

I was in front of the class, now facing twenty-something blank stares. The comedian had just said his last joke, but the Netflix special still had thirty minutes left.

I felt like I had just been put up to a flame to be sacrificed.

I had to think of something instantly, to act like the sudden awkward silence was intentional and that this was all part of the class that I apparently was now fully responsible for.

There was a foam ball in my backpack, so we started playing a “get to know you” game where each person had to list three of their hobbies.

The fire started to die down and the lamb would live to graze grass a day longer.

After the first hour had finished, I told myself that this was a one time thing, and that the other teachers who I was supposed to “help” would work with me, and I would be their “assistant.”

Sit down. Nothing. Peguins.

I learned last November that I wasn’t going to be an assistant. Not even a co-teacher. I was basically now the teacher.  I would prepare every lesson, and I would be the person in charge for fifty-five minutes while the seven teachers of the English department would grade papers.

Since November, with thirteen different groups, and about three hundred different students, I suddenly had a role that had previously been something from imagination.

I didn’t have time to wonder whether this high school in a town called El Palmar, Murcia had decided to take advantage of the foreigner by making him shoulder all of the responsibilities.

There was only time to to prepare lessons, and to get to work.

I came to Murcia to learn, to make mistakes, and to become a better teacher. This was now my stage. If teaching wasn’t my goal, then things would maybe be different. Maybe I’d be upset or maybe I’d hold a grudge.

This was a secret blessing, because now I got to mess up on a daily basis and more importantly I had been given many chances to build my confidence in the classroom.

Three months later I found myself alone again, in front of a group of the same sleepy teenagers, while the main teacher had just done her job and told them to calm down.

The imaginary spotlight was back on the comedian again.

Perhaps the sun had started to rise already, and maybe somewhere in the city center of Murcia there were people enjoying a tostada in a cafeteria at some random plaza.

In January the training-wheels were officially off my imaginary teaching bicycle. In fact, perhaps some of these young English learners needed a quick refresher of what the word “wheel” even meant.

Warm-up, sliding projector screen, chalk stains on my jeans, workbooks, group speaking activities.

This was how the morning was going to go.

I was ready, and honestly being ready didn’t feel good, it felt great.

These kids didn’t know what they were about to get themselves into.

It was a secret between me and the people eating tostadas.

I could almost smell how delicious breakfast might be as the silence in the room became interrupted by the cracking of my weak vocal chords.

If the warm-up I prepared sucked, I had another in my back pocket. If the projector decided to not turn on, there existed a plan B.

“Alright, everyone…”

Smiling, making eye contact, ok if I did something wrong, this was me, Daniel Catena, doing his best to try and help Murcia’s youth learn English.

Welcome to El Palmar.

Europe, Spain, story, Travel

Torrevieja Bus Stations

At 10am in Torrevieja the sun was already hindering my eyesight and all of the layers I was wearing began to feel highly unnecessary.

If the bus that I’d been waiting before decided to be delayed by a few minutes. I would have considered shedding my winter jacket and throw it in the garbage. I didn’t feel like standing up, nor exerting more energy that would cause more temperature induced discomfort. Blocking heavy sun rays with my right hand, I decided to instead sit out my final handful of minutes in this southern coastal city next to a vending machine.

A grey haired security guard shifted weight between soft strides as he compared the knots of his shoelaces.

The taste of a slightly overpriced black coffee lingered in my palate as I pulled out my moleskin notebook in an effort to distract myself.

There wasn’t anything I wanted to write and soon the huffing from a Costa Azul bus line coughed it’s way into a nearby passenger loading platform.

The lady at the ticket counter told me to wait in front of platform number six, and this bus that just perched itself was waiting at number nine.

“Go ask the driver where it’s going.”

An elderly man with short white hair and a plaid button down shirt leaned forward in the seat next to me.

I stood up and tried to make eye contact with the driver, in an attempted Jedi mind trick to find out where his bus was going. It didn’t work and my hesitation prompted the old man to cajole me forward.

“Just ask the driver. Maybe it’s going to Alicante.” I smiled and nodded at the guy, as he seemed to be knowledgeable about the workings of Torrevieja buses.

I clutched my backpack and approached the driver. He confirmed that this indeed was my bus, seven minutes early and docked at the wrong platform.

Before handing the Costa Azul employee my ticket that cost four euros, I turned back to the elderly man.

“Thank you! You were right.”

The bus’ ignition was still running as I felt a sudden urge to initiate small talk.

“Where are you going to?”

In a half smile he did his best to glance up at me for as long as the pestering sunlight would permit.

“Me, well, I’m not going anywhere.”

Looking at the old man, the weight of my backpack felt a little heavier.

In a pretend laugh, “You’re just having a rest.”

He continued the half smile and gave me a one word “yes.”

This was probably a good time to leave so I said farewell and boarded the waiting bus.

The old man kept leaning forward as other travelers shuffled around the terminal.

The now crumpled up ticket of paper read “Alicante” but as the transport reversed away from the platform I didn’t really know if I was going anywhere, either.

California, Europe, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, United States

Last? week in Murcia

Today is Sunday.

While sitting in Piccadilly coffee, a Murcian version of Starbucks, I am enjoying the feeling of air-conditioning while organizing a jungle of papers in the form prior private English lesson plans.

Outside the sun is shining and the mid-afternoon temperature is sitting at about 95 degrees Ferenheit. Back where I grew up in the Bay Area of California this number would sound quite extreme, however in this part of Spain this is more like an appetizer for three months of a summer scorcher that happens every year. A common conversation topic is commenting about how hot it’s going to be here in August, probably reaching temperatures of 120 degrees on certain occasions.

As I organize my lessons the idea of experiencing such roasting heat isn’t crossing my mind, because in four days I won’t be living here anymore.

At the crack of dawn this upcoming Thursday I’ll be taking a train seven hours northeast to Barcelona, and then the following day I’ll be flying directly to Oakland, California.

In less than a week I’ll be changing my place of residence. Today I live in San Basilio, a neighborhood of Murcia, with Emili and Eva. On Friday I’ll be back in Sausalito, California and living with my parents. Instead of hopping on a public ride-share bicycle or simply walking between places, I’ll be driving everywhere or requesting a Lyft ride. The circle of friends who I’ve established through teaching English, dinners at Lola’s house, salsa dancing, and language exchanges, will be replaced with a close group of people who I’ve known since middle school, high school, music festivals, and from various jobs. Instead of planning lessons and teaching people English, I’ll be returning to Napa Valley Burger Company to work has a food service mercenary. If this was the first time that I’ve made a transition of this scale then I’d be a little bit terrified and anxious, however this isn’t so much the case. I have made a strange habit of changing scenery and moving back with my family after an extended time away.

It will be hard to say goodbye the life I’ve made here, but it will be equally as joyful to be with my parents and longtime friends.

This summer in California will be devoted to working as much as possible, being part of three important weddings for close friends (Sebastian & Megan, Kyle & Charlie, Mike & Peggy), and making up for six months of not being around by being as good of  a friend/son/employee as possible.

I only have three days left in Murcia, but I already know that our separation from each other will only be temporary because I’ve already accepted an offer to come back as an English Language Assistent in October. Barring any issues with immigration, visas, finances, or random life-changing events, I’ll be back here in four months and staying for the 2017-2018 school year.

Back in 2014 when I moved to Spain for the first time I didn’t know what Murcia was, nor could I have imagined that I’d keep moving back. It’s now midway through 2017 and I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this place.

One thing that I’ve learned, with help from my parents, is that you have to do what makes you happy. Murcia makes me really happy, the work I do here is gratifying, the life I have created here has been crafted through prioritizing things that I feel passionate about, and I feel fortunate to have made lifelong friends here.

California, and life in the United States, also make me very happy, so coming back will be a much-needed breath of fresh air. My roots will always be in the Bay Area, and the people there whose life I’m a part of are irreplaceable. This being said, I have to follow my heart, and right now it’s telling me that another school year in Spain is something that has to happen.

Maybe one day the tapas won’t taste that good, the women won’t be as beautiful, Estrella Levante beer won’t be refreshing, and the wonderful people here won’t be as welcoming. Maybe I won’t feel like a role model for local primary school kids anymore, Spanish will become a boring language, and possibly there won’t be room in Murcia to keep learning and to become a better person.

I feel slightly scared because it’s hard to imagine that day ever coming.

With a lot packing that still has to be done, cleaning, some last private English lessons, and a lot of pending farewells still hovering in my mind, the next three days will be busy with a side of emotional.

I feel grateful to have had another experience here, and to have shared memories with old and new friends. A lot more words could be said, but I’m sure you have more important things to be doing.

Cheers to you for making it this far in this blog post, you are awesome. Thank you for your time and reading comprehension skills.

To everyone in Murcia who is reading this, I hope to see you before I leave, but if we don’t get a caña before Thursday then we will share one together in October.

To friends or family reading this back in the states, I hope to catch up with you this summer!

To everyone else, I’m sure you are cool and worth meeting one day.

Have a great day/night/life 🙂

Lots of love from Murcia,

Daniel Catena

Asturias, Europe, Gijon, Guides, Life, Spain, Travel

Visiting Gijón

Visiting Gijón:

In the fairly recent past I found myself sitting with forehead against bus window, watching tall, green sloped mountains pass along a highway that seemed to bend in one continuous spiral.

I was somewhere in Asturias, Spain and the steep inclines that were visible from my window seat were parts of the Cantabrian Mountains. Despite knowing that this was still the same country, it was difficult to distinguish any similarities between the landscape around me with that of my home in Murcia.

Tall, green, and spacious.

The ALSA bus was continuing along a windy northbound trajectory until it reached it’s final destination of Gijón, the largest city of this region of Spain.

One of my best friends in Murcia named David is from Gijón and he happened to be up there visiting his family during the same time that I was planning a trip for Semana Santa. With a week off from work and a desire to see something new in Spain, Gijón seemed like the perfect place to visit. David invited me to crash at his families’ house and since I’m English teacher who charges very low rates it sounded like an ideal option.

In total, the journey to Gijón took about thirteen hours by bus. Luckily, I made a two-day stop over in Segovia beforehand because this picturesque medieval town is nearly half-way between there and Murcia.

Upon arriving into Gijón the sun that was following the ALSA bus through the mountains had now disappeared above a blanket of fog. This was something I hadn’t seen in nearly five months, since last being home in Sausalito with my family. David picked me up at the station and we immediately started touring throughout his home city. Within minutes I started to like Gijón. Traffic was less chaotic than in Murcia, fewer people were seen crossing the street, and the flow of life in the downtown area was visibly more relaxed.

Green, less people, less sun, clean, quiet; maybe this could have been a city in Denmark, but certainly in my brain this wasn’t the Spain that I was accustomed to experiencing.

Gijón is a city of a quarter-million inhabitants, hugs the northern coast of Spain, and has expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean. Gijón has Celtic, Roman, Visigoth, and Moorish roots ever since a settlement was established there over 5000 years ago.

Modern day Gijón is known as being one of Spain’s largest port cities, nestled between numerous beautiful beaches (La Costa Verde), the home of Real Sporting the football club (soccer) who have the countries’ oldest professional stadium called El Molinón, a destination for delicious ciders, tapas that come with each beer you order, and a wholesome stew called Fabada Asturiana.

There are many things I would like to say, and to go into more detail about certain aspects of the trip to Asturias, but this might honestly take too long and whoever is reading this post might start thinking about unicorns rather than the name of a certain really cool restaurant where we ate at. To save you time I’m just going to go into the highlights of what I thought was particularly great about the experience in Gijón.

During the morning of each day of my stay I had time to wander myself because David was busy preparing for important exams. This allowed me to see some of the sights within his home city and also find as many coffee shops as possible.

My favorite part of the city was San Lorenzo beach, a wide spanning natural barrier that separates Gijón’s downtown center from the incoming swells of the Bay of Biscay. Instead of having a central plaza like in Murcia where everyone congregates, Gijón has a massive boardwalk above San Lorenzo. People of all shapes and sizes could be seen migrating towards the beach.

View of San Lorenzo

Looking out into the tides of the Atlantic it was easy to spot surfing schools as sunshine reflected off of their multicolored boards. I took a stroll along the fine grained sand and people’s dogs gave me weird looks as I neared the shoreline. Being there brought back many flashes of California and the only thing missing, besides friends and family, was a cup of coffee.

This was when I found one of my favorite coffee shops of all time. On the opposite end of the beach, a small meeting place called Café San Pedro was beckoning me to order a pitch black Americano. It didn’t have a sign, just an open door and various metallic chairs placed along the sidewalk. I’m not sure why this became my favorite cafe, but the need for caffeine was so great and finding it by surprise added to the allure of the memory. The coffee was more expensive than in Murcia, but as I left with a hot cup in hand and made way to picturesque Iglesia San Pedro, it was in my mind the best decision ever.

Another part of Gijón that was quite amazing was the neighborhood behind Iglesia San Pedro called Cimavilla. This was the first official neighborhood of Gijón, before the town sprawled into a city. Here is where you can find Elogio del Horizonte (Eulogy to the Horizon), built by Eduardo Chillida. This is the most important monument in Gijón, and the neighborhood of Cimavalla is filled with Siderias (for cider) and restaurants where you can try Fabada.

Iglesia San Pedro

Eulogy of the Horizon

Asturias is famous for the way they make, and serve cider. This is typically made from fermented apples and flavors range from slightly sour to bitter, but after a couple tastes this becomes savory. David introduced me to this interesting beverage in El Faro De Piles, one of the cities’ oldest places to get a cider buzz. When you order a bottle of cider, the bartender takes your pint glass and lowers it towards the floor with one hand. In the other hand he or she raises the bottle as high as possible and slowly lets the cider pour down into the glass, in an odd stream that makes one get an urge to use the toilet. This is called “escanciar” and it’s said to help improve the taste of the cider (sidra). When you get served a small portion of cider you have the drink everything in your glass in one try. It’s an easy way to spend an afternoon and also an easy way to get tipsy before 3pm.

David and I took a couple afternoon trips away from Gijón. One was to the mountains between Gijón and Oviedo to check out some impressive views of the landscape. We then continued to Covadonga, a mountainous village that houses a beautiful sanctuary with the same title, and the grave of Asturias’ first king named Don Pelayo. It was in Covadonga where the Iberians defeated the Moors, sparking the beginning of the Spanish Reconquista. Asturians have a famous saying which I thought was great:

“Asturias is Spain, and everything else is reconquered land.”

Another highlight was visiting the small fishing town of Cudillero. About 50 kilometers along the coast away from Gijón, it was one of the places high on my list to visit during my time back in Spain. The town itself was very quiet. The main purpose for visitors is usually to try fresh seafood and to walk around narrow streets that boast views of colorful houses sitting along all sides of gradually declining hills.



Beers accompanied by massive plates of tapas, watching Real Sporting on TV in Maya’s Cafe with David’s family, and enjoying lots of ocean views were some other great moments in the North.


Sky Bar view of San Lorenzo

Free Tapas with Beer

Me after three cups of coffee

My time in Gijón lasted four days, not enough to see everything, but enough to know that this is one of the best places to visit in Spain. A very big thank you to David and his family is necessary because they were great hosts. Hopefully one day I can pay back the favor if they ever decide to visit California.

If you want to know more information about other coffee shops and random things we visited, then feel free to send me an email! Have a great day and thanks for reading.

-Daniel Catena


Europe, Guides, Spain, Travel


In the not too distant past I embarked on a nine day loop through a handful of cities in Spain.

The first stop was Segovia.

The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia

This medieval Castilla y León town of roughly fifty thousand inhabitants sits above the natural foundation of stone cliffs, between currents from the Eresma & Clamores rivers. Tall stone walls protect the old part of the city and standing guard above layers of ancient rooftops are towers from a gothic cathedral called Santa Maria.

Endless green hills can be seen sprawling between plots of farmland and in the distance one can see snow capped peaks from the Guadarrama Mountains.
A 6am BlaBla Car from Murcia to Madrid followed by a LineCar bus brought me to Segovia a little before one in the afternoon. Without stops it takes about six hours to get there from Murcia, the place where I currently sip inexpensive coffee on a daily basis.

View of Santa Maria Cathedral

Friends who have been to Segovia  unanimously suggested it as a place to visit, and immediately upon walking into sunshine from outside the bus terminal I could easily notice why.

Three words about this place came to mind as I landed feet upon Spanish concrete towards the city center: old, walkable, and photogenic.

While searching for the address of the Airbnb that I rented, there were scores of other out-of-towners congregating in the streets taking pictures of not only the cathedral that was relaxing above us, but of everything. There isn’t a single thing in Segovia that isn’t worthy of an Instagram post.

After meeting Genoveva, my Airbnb host, I took a quick nap then ventured out to gain a better opinion of the town.

Genoveva’s Airbnb is affordable and has nice views 
Segovia is as small as it is beautiful, and within about two hours I had accomplished my goal of taking a picture of early everything in the old part of town. As mentioned before, there’s a large cathedral that acts as the centerpiece for the old town. The most important site in Segovia is its famed aqueduct which was originally constructed by the Romans while they were ruling Segovia. Other points of interest are Segovia’s luminous Alcazar, Plaza Mayor where you can sit and watch tourists taking pictures of things, and a small but interesting Jewish neighborhood. Taking random streets one can discover beautiful and peaceful gardens, perfect for taking a moment to relax. As the town sits above tall cliffs, there are numerous lookout points where you can catch impressive views of the countryside. Mirador Del Valle del Clamores and Mirador Del Valle del Eresma both were my favorites.

Valle de Eresma Valle de Clamores

For taking a break to have a refreshing beer, I really enjoyed Bodega de Barben, which has a small open air patio situated upon a narrow flight of stairs. Bon Appetit was my favorite place to get a cup of coffee, and for a quick pincho the Meson Don Jimeno was ideal.

On Sunday I spent the entire day walking, however instead of repeating the same route from Saturday, I took advantage of the circuit of hiking paths that encircle the city. Passing a Jewish cemetery and through lightly forested hills, the views from some of the lookouts reminded me of being back in Montana which felt very nice. Two of my favorite parts of Segovia were located down in La Valle de Clamores: the tiny yet impressive Iglesia de la Vera Cruz stood watch in front of the city and El Santuario de Fuencisla was possibly my favorite place of worship that I’ve ever seen. Perhaps it was dehydration after walking for a couple of hours in hot weather, but a heavy sensation of inner peace was present as I sat down on a bench. 

Overall I would highly recommend Segovia as place to visit in Spain. You could probably make it a day trip rather than a full weekend because there isn’t much nightlife nor is there much to do besides take pictures.

I wanted to try a few dishes that were typical in Segovia like el Cochinillo or Cocido, but the prices in each restaurant were inflated to make money off of tourists. Since I was on a budget it felt better to not overpay and opted to make some bocadillos at home instead. The money saved was immediately used for buying a bus ticket to my next destination: Gijon.

Thank you for reading this blog! Have a great day.

Life, Random Thoughts, Spain, Travel

Logroño Bus Stops

“Have you been saved yet?”

Uh oh, here we go..

Pardon me?”

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know you didn’t speak Spanish!” The elderly Logroño woman with faintly blue hair blinked at me through her soft tinted sun-glasses.

“No it’s ok, I speak Spanish. What did you say to me?” I already know, I’m not sure why I’m asking.

“Oh ok, I asked if you’ve been saved yet.” 

I’ve been sitting in the Logroño bus station for over an hour, the last shower I had was a couple days ago, and it’s been a while since my last coffee. She probably sees my borrowed yellow travel pack and thinks that this talk is necessary. 

I hope someone saves me right now..

“Well I don’t think so…” 

“How long are you staying here in Logroño?”  

Looking at my watch, “Not long, I’m going to Gijon in a couple of hours.”

“Let me give you something to read, it’s about Jesus. By the way, do you believe in evolution or creation?” She sat down on the bench next to me, handing me a pamphlet with images of people smiling on a beach. 

I looked at the pictures as she pitched her reason for joining me. 

“How interesting.” I lied. “Well, to be honest I guess I don’t know what I believe in.” She blinked again, deciding to open her bag to give me a second brochure.

“That’s too bad you aren’t staying here much longer, we have a really interesting meeting coming up.”

“Yeah, too bad..” Maybe I could start being a jerk, but I have two hours before the bus arrives and maybe this conversation is helping her practice for someone who is genuinely interested. 

“What’s your name?” She stood up.

“My name is Daniel!” 

“Daniel! Did you know that your name is biblical? In the Bible a king sent Daniel to an oven, but he didn’t die because he believed in God. The king converted to Christianity because of this…” 

“Oh wow, no I didn’t know that. Thank you for telling me!”

If that piece of information didn’t convert me, then maybe nothing else would. She smiled and fatefully zipped up her bag.

“Your welcome, have a great trip.”

Europe, Life, Murcia, Random Thoughts, Spain, Travel

The Virgin of Wonders in San Basilio

I’m sitting in the house where I used to live.

Blustery Murcian breeze sends ruffles within the undercarriage of outside patio plants as I stare blankly through the glass of Lola’s living room window.

She is my friend and used to be my landlord up until about three weeks ago.

The room where I once slept, prepared lesson plans, and secretly watched Youtube videos of angry cats is now being resided by Teresa, a very nice woman from Brazil.

I don’t pay rent here anymore, however Lola and the rest of the house has welcomed me as a guest for whenever I happen to be in the neighborhood.

It’s hard to distinguish whether the noises I’m hearing are wind-induced or ghosts from over a year of calling this house home.

I want to still live with these great people, yet it feels exciting to be mixing up the everyday scenery.

In Murcia my address was named after the late Spanish poet José María Pemán, an Andalusian novelist who was one of the few artists to publicly support Francisco Franco in the 1930’s.

Living now in a neighborhood called San Basilio, you can send me mail to Calle Virgin de la Maravillas (Virgin of Wonders), named after a Virgin Saint for the Murcian pueblo of Cehegin.

With an Ecuadorian market that sells frozen bags of aji, a small deli, a coffee shop that offers espresso for less than a dollar , and access to public ride-share bicycles within a short walking distance, I feel very comfortable with the fresh residence. This combined with friendly new roommates (Eva and Emili) has made moving a pleasant experience.

If you get lost looking for me in San Basilio you can find the entrance to my apartment building simply by looking for a dangling Santa Clause mannequin that someone has forgotten to take down since the holidays.

Listen for the sound of rollerblades with overused breaks or a strong American accent and you might bump into me on the corner.

Train your nostrils to the smell of cooking garlic or sound of passively aggressive hip-hop music through a third floor window.

As stated earlier I’m taking a break in my old house.

In a short while it will be time to hit the road and try my best to teach a couple of Spanish kids some common English verbs.

With one private and another academy lesson completed for the day, a strong desire to drink a beer is hovering over my head, however responsibility must linger around until the final class is wrapped up in a little over two hours.

There is more I could say in this post, but after skimming through it once, I guess there is also a lot less I could have written as well.

Only time and internet scientists for literary nonsense will be able to answer that question..

It’s time to go, so please remember to review your idioms and phrasal verbs 🙂

Thank you for checking out this blog! Have a nice day and have a great start to the year!

-Daniel Catena