7 Common Words and Phrases Used in Spain

When you are first arriving to your term abroad in Spain, you may become quickly overwhelmed. Everyone is speaking fast, you hear words you do not completely understand, and it is difficult to keep up with basic conversation.

Trust me, this feeling is normal. I remember being confused with my first conversation with my landlady, when she asked me if I had a “bolí.” She then tried “bolígrafo” and I still did not understand. Eventually, she described it as a “pencil with ink” and it finally made sense. Bolígrafo. I had only learned the word “pluma” in school.

At first, I thought I had no clue about Spanish, but that was not the case. I did know Spanish, a lot of it, in fact. Yet, I was learning words and phrases more commonly used in Mexico. First step when going to Spain, learn typical words and phrases of the country.

1. Vale: One common Spanish word I learned before heading abroad was, of course, vale. I was instructed by professors that I would hear this word a lot, and I did. Upon landing in Spain, it was one of the first words I heard. Well, understood.

Vale is an interjection, which most closely means “okay” or “all right.”

2. Me cae gordo: I heard this phrase a lot during my time in Spain, and the only word I could really pick out  was “gordo,” meaning fat in English. I thought, why is everyone calling people fat?

I soon found out, through this phrase and others, that it is troublesome translating directly.  “Me cae gordo” means that someone is bothering you or you do not like a particular person.

3. Chaval: this word was confusing to me at first because I heard it in a variety of instances.

You can use chaval to describe someone who is naive and does not have a lot of experience. To me, it seems like something a baby boomer would use to describe a milennal. Y’know, those darn chavales.

Also, it is also used as a way to say “dude” amongst younger people in Spain. Another way to say “dude” (which confused me profusely) follows.

4. Tío/tía: I heard teenagers talking on the street, and every other word, I heard a tío or tía. Why are they calling each other uncle and aunt? Surely, they must mean something different in this case.

While these words do meant uncle and aunt when used formally, they mean dude informally.

Like vale, this is a very important word to add to your vocabulary.

5. Ser la leche: you will hear a lot of phrases related to milk while you are in Spain. This one is the most common. While it literally means “to be the milk,” it has a much more complex meaning.

It can either mean one of two extremes, “that’s awesome” or “that’s disgusting.”

6. Mono: I wondered why everyone was throwing the word “monkey” in the middle of their sentences, and simply put, they were not. Mono means cute or adorable in Spain.

Qué mono, ¿no?

7. Guay: I knew every possible way of saying “cool” everywhere besides, y’know, Spain. Quickly, I discovered the words I was using to say cool, awesome, great, etc., that I had learned from my Spanish classes were no longer cool in Spain.

In Spain, you use guay.

I hope you enjoyed this quick, little list of common Spanish words and phrases. I keep thinking of more to add, but decided I will split it up into future posts.

Do you have any funny stories from hearing certain Spanish words and phrases for the first time? I would love to hear your experiences with Castilian Spanish (and so I do not feel like the only one who was completely clueless with it, haha.)

Hasta luego!


6 Words to Master the Murcian Accent

I was honestly convinced that I didn’t know any Spanish when I first arrived to Murcia for my semester. However, I was also living in Murcia, a region known for its interesting (to say the least) accent. As for how the Murcian accent is interpreted, take a look at this tweet below:

In addition to having a very difficult accent to understand, there are also a lot of words that are unique to Murcian Spanish. I am going to list a few words that I heard and learned about during my time in Murcia.

1. Acho: one word that I was told I would hear a lot of in Murcia before going abroad was this one. I honestly heard it at least once everyday.

I heard it so often walking down the streets to university, particularly paired with “tío/a” (dude).

What does acho even mean though? There really is no meaning, but I have interpreted the word as a way to call to someone’s attention.

Murcians are so associated with saying acho, that they took it upon themselves to make a “pataticas fritas” (also, a super Murcian way of saying potato chips) brand called Acho.

2. Bonico: in the Whatsapp group for my classes, I would all too often see this word surface in the chat. I had absolutely no idea what it meant for awhile, but knew that it had to have meant something positive. My classmates always used the word in response to something good happening or a picture of a cute dog.

I later came to out that this word means nice, friendly, or cute.

It actually turned out to be one of my favorite Murcian word and was one of few that I adopted into my everyday vocabulary. It seems to be used across other parts of Spain, as well. If you are interested words that are commonly used throughout Spain, check out my blog post on that here!

3. Pijo: this one is a bit confusing to explain, because there are so. many. different ways this word can be used. This word can be used for just about anything.

By itself, it can be used to emphasis something, show indifference, express quantity or speed.

When “pijo” is combined with other words, it can mean something totally different.

Confusing? I remember my mentor who had gone to Murcia the year before me, telling me about the words I heard. She had no idea how to explain this one. After hearing it for myself, I do not either.

It is just one of those words you just have to hear for yourself to understand, or at least, pretend like you do. This one is also used in other parts of Spain, but sometimes, has a way different meaning.

4. Chico: you are probably thinking, is this not already a word in Spanish? You are right. It typically means “boy,” but of course, Murcians tend to use this word a little bit differently. What else would you expect with good ol’ murciano?

Chico in this case means “pequeño,” or small. Once you think about it, saying chico to describe something small does make a lot of sense, which is unlike other Murcian words. I am looking at you, pijo.

5. Fuste: if something does not make much sense to you or is not all that funny, you use the word “fuste” to express this feeling.

Fuste is a noun, so you use it in instances such as: “¡Qué poco fuste tiene ese chiste!” At first I thought it was a tú verb in past-tense, but nope!

6. Chuminá: another way to express an annoyance, but more murciano. How else would is you would say something bothers you?

Of course, the above list is not exhaustive. There are so many “palabras murcianas,” I could not even begin to possibly list them all.

If you have ever been to Murcia, what are some of your favorite Murcian words? Or, if you have gone to other regions of Spain, what are some unique words of that region? I would love to hear your responses.

5 Must-Visit World Heritage Cities in Spain

As someone who studies art history and Spanish, Spain has always been a place of interest for me in terms of cultural heritage. The country is filled with magnificent cities that hold so much cultural history. The art and architecture of Spain, as a result, is a delightful mix of the major cultures that were once active in Spain’s history. The following list will highlight five Spanish cities that are considered “World Heritage Cities.” They may not been at the top of your “must-visit” list before going abroad, but I certainly hope this adds a few places to your list.

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Photo credit: WikiImages, The Roman Aquaduct of Segovia


Segovia, a city located northwest of Madrid is known for the Roman aqueduct that runs through the heart of the city, shown in the photo above.  In addition to this, centuries of history relating to Segovia’s blend of cultures resulted in the beautiful architecture and monuments which are found in this city.

Must see places:

Alcázar of Segovia – a Moorish castle that overlooks the Spanish plains below.

Aqueduct of Segovia – one of the most well-perserved Roman aqueducts alongside the Pont du Gard in France.

Image result for toledo spainPhoto credit: WikiImages, Overlooking the Cityscape of Toledo


Toledo is a magnificent city set upon a hill above the plains of central Spain. This walled medieval city is known as the “city of three cultures,” as there are many Moorish, Jewish, and Christian monuments found within the city’s walls. There is definitely a strong cultural history in Toledo. If you’re interested in studying abroad in Toledo and are a University of Minnesota student, definitely check out my post on the Learning Abroad Center’s program in Toledo here.

Must see places:

Cristo de la Luz
– a former mosque later transformed into a Romanesque style Christian church.

Synagogue of El Transito – a well-preserved, fourteenth-century Jewish synagogue.

El Greco Museum – an art museum dedicated to the Spanish painter El Greco who spent the majority of his life in Toledo.

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Photo credit: Spain.info, View of Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compestela is a city situated in far northwestern Spain; it is known for being the final stop of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. This is a very well preserved historical city, filled with an interesting religious and cultural history.  If you want to learn more about this city’s fascinating history, definitely check it out. Santiago de Compostela is filled to the brim with museums, most relating to the city’s art and religious history.

Must see places:

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – this is a grand cathedral from the 11th-century and is marked as a World Hertiage site.

Praza do Obradoiro – the main plaza in Santiago de Compostela’s old town.

Museum of Pilgrimage and Santiago – a museum dedicated to sharing the history of Santiago de Compostela and its purpose in the pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago.
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Photo credit: WikiImages, Aerial view of the city of Jaén 


Most people have not heard of Jaén, but it is a great Spanish city. The city is located in southern Spain; if you enjoy other cities from the Andalusia region, it will be perfect place to visit. Jaén is mixed with Moorish and Christian cultural history, which you will be able to see from the architecture throughout. In addition to all of this cultural history, Jaén is the world capital for olive oil.

Must see places:

Villardompardo Palace – a palace built in the 16th-century that was later discovered to have concealed 11th-century Arab baths.

Alcázar of Jaén – a Moorish castle standing upon a mountain-top that overlooks the city.

Image resultPhoto credit: WikiImages, Lovely View of Salamanca City


Salamanca is located in northwestern Spain and is known as the “golden city” of the country. The foundation of this city dates back to the Celtic era. Salamanca is known for its rich cultural history, as well as being the location of the country’s first university, the University of Salamanca. The city is loaded with wonderful architecture from several style periods. If you love architecture and its history, this is definitely an awe-inspiring place to be.

Must see places:

Escuelas Menores – a beautiful cloister near to the historic University of Salamanca, where the Cielo of Salamanca is also nearby – a painted ceiling of the night sky constellations from the Middle Ages.

New and Old Cathedrals of Salamanca – unlike most Spanish cities, Salamanca has two cathedrals and both are incredible places in terms of style.


[This post has been adapted from the information provided Spain.info’s list of destinations of historical World Heritage cities in Spain. For more ideas places to visit while in Spain, check out Spain.info’s website and Facebook page.]

Art Museums to Visit in Spain

Spain is full of culture heritage, throughout the whole of the country. You will never be bored while living and studying in Spain, as there is a historical monument to admire or a museum to wander through, always within walking distance.

The following list will include the most obvious and commonly visited Spanish museums, but also, the ones you might not think of straight away.

1. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain
This is one of the most famous Spanish art museums, since it specifically is the main Spanish national art museum and located in the capital city of Madrid. El Prado contains one of the greatest and finest collections of European art in the world; the museum itself has art dating from 12th to the 20th centuries and holds several masterpieces. The best-known work on display is Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas, though there are also many other paintings from master artists such as Francisco de Goya, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and more.

Interior of Museo Nacional del Prado

2. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao, Bilbao, Spain
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao houses a comprehensive collection of art from 12th century to the present. There are not only paintings from masters from in Spain and throughout Europe, but the museum also contains art originating from the Basque Country, as well. The museum’s extensive collection contains over 10,000 works, such as 1,500 paintings, 400 sculptures, and more than 6,500 works on paper. These works are spread over 33 rooms, ordered chronologically.

3. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
This incredible museum is in the magnificent Palau (yes, palace!) Nacional of Montjuïc, which was originally made for the International Exhibition of 1929. In addition to this, the museum contains several masterpieces from the 11th to 20th centuries. Their most important and prize collection in the museum is their collection of art from the Romanesque period, most noted by the the series of mural paintings it includes.

I stopped by this museum when I was in Barcelona. During the first Sunday of the month, the entry was free. If you are in Barcelona during this time, take advantage of the free entry to MNAC. The museum is quite expansive, and you will probably not be able to get through everything in a single day, but it is worth entering free.

4. Museo de Arte Abstracto Español, Cuenca, Spain
This museum of modern art is located in the city of Cuenca. Although the collection here is much smaller than the previously mentioned museums, its primary focus is on Spanish abstract art from the 1950s to the 1960s and provides a decently-sized collection of  around 1,500 paintings and sculpture.

800px-Museo_de_Arte_Abstracto_CuencaInterior of the Spanish Abstract Art Museum in Cuenca

5. Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain
Finally, the Museum of Fine Arts in Sevilla contains a collection ranging from the Medieval period to the early 20th-century. One of the largest series in their collection is from works from the Golden Age of Sevillian painting in the 17th century, or the Baroque period, which includes works from artists such as Murillo, Francisco de Herrera and Zurbarán. Even though the museum primarily focuses on that of Baroque art, it has been adding a greater variety of art to the collection since the 20th-century.

Where on this list are you most interested visiting? Or, if you have a favorite museum that is not on this list, what is it? I would like to hear what you think.

Traveling for One Day in Granada

Granada is one of my favorite cities, and  I absolutely loved visiting it during my study abroad semester in Murcia. I went during a long weekend, and it was quite relaxing to walk around and discover Granada at a slower pace.

If you are a foreign exchange student, you probably would like to take advantage of all the travel opportunities you can outside of class. Though, you will notice that you might be a bit strapped for time, and you are limited to discovering new places on the weekends. This series, I hope, will help study abroad students make successful day trips. Therefore, they can see the most they can of a new city, but keeping note of the limited time frame.

Of course, you do not need to do all of what I have listed below in a single day. If you have more time than a day trip available, then definitely stretch out the itinerary I have below — or, even add a few new items to the list!

Here we go!

Arrival in Granada & Visiting the Alhambra, about 9/10 am
I would recommend eating a quick breakfast before arrival, in order to get to the Alhambra as soon as possible. If you can’t eat on the bus/train, I would recommend stopping by Dulcimena Coffee & Go. It is close to the Alhambra, about a 10-minute walk away, which makes it easy to arrive to the palace after a quick bite to eat. Plus, it helps that the coffee is delicious (with plant-based milk options!) and organic pastries. After a quick breakfast, it is time to head to the Alhambra.

If you have not ever heard of the Alhambra before, it was originally a Moorish citadel built in the 8th-century, later to be renovated in the 13th and 14th centuries into the palace you see today. The palace is wholly magnificent, and one of the greatest tourist destinations throughout Europe. I definitely could not take the Alhambra off my list of must-see places when visiting Granada, it’s one of those places you must-see. Also: I would recommend to buy your tickets in advance if you are able, so you can skip the long line and go straight in after breakfast.

Tip: Don’t skip over the Alhambra or the Generalife (the gardens) too quickly. While you can get through the palace in less than an hour, stop for a moment and take in the absolute beauty of this palace. When I visited, it took about 2 hours to make my way through. Even on a cloudy/drizzly day, the Alhambra was still breathtaking, and I could have easily spent my entire day wandering the halls of this magnificent palace.

Heading Towards the Albaicín & Lunch Break, about 12:30/1 pm
Depending on when you are complete with the tour of the Alhambra, you can make your way towards the Albaicín. After touring the Alhambra, you may feel tired due to all the walking. Unfortunately, you will still have to walk a bit to get to where I recommend you to relax and get a bite to eat, but trust me, it is well worth it. Because afterwards, you will be close to the Albaicín. So, if you need a quick break or something to eat, do stop by the restaurant (if arriving after 12:30, when they open!) Restaurante Marroqui Marrakech.

O-M-G! How I felt about Marroqui Marrakech when my friend and I discovered them. We stayed in Granada for three days, and this restaurant was pretty convenient, since it was right next to our hostel. Plus, with a big craving for falafel, we walked in with only the mission to soothe our falafel cravings, and let me tell you, it was the best falafel we have ever had. Also, the atmosphere of this restaurant is so relaxing. After having such a positive experience the first time around, we returned to eat here every day we were here. Seriously.

Interior of the restaurant: this place was so relaxing with limited lighting and comfy seating.

After a bite to eat, head uphill (I know, it is hard!) to walk around the Albaicín. If you aren’t entirely familiar with the Albaicín, it is an old neighborhood which built on a hill, most notably across from the Alhambra. Do you remember looking out the windows of the Alhambra to look at everything below, and you saw a neighborhood with all white buildings and very winding streets?

You’re heading there!

Ideally, you’ll make it up to the Mirador de San Cristobal, a lookout at the top of the hill. This lookout provides a view over the entire city, but also a wonderful view of the Alhambra. If you are ever wondering where people take selfies in front of the Alhambra, it is here.

View from the Mirador looking on at the Alhambra: I could stand here forever, probably.

Final Stop: Alcaiceria (Markets of Granada) and Cathedral, about 3:30/4pm

Now, time to begin walking down the winding roads of the Albaicín and start heading towards the marketplace,  Alcaiceria. To arrive to the markets, the walk will be about 20 minutes/2 km. Trust me, your feet will probably hurt by this point (mine do just writing about it). This walk, on the other hand, will be mostly downhill, which makes it feel like it is not a 20-minute walk at all.

Once you get to the markets, do realize that a lot of the shops here offer similar items. Everything is fairly priced, and if you are looking at something long enough, the shop owners will even offer a lower price. At these shops, I primarily bought small trinkets such as magnets or key-chains. I didn’t want to spend a ton of euros (but whoops, still did), and also, I wanted simple gifts to bring back to family and friends, without taking up a huge amount of space in my luggage. Also, I had to buy one of the scarves.

Nearby the markets is the Cathedral of Granada. It does cost a few euros to enter, which I avoided at the end of my trip from spending too much money at the markets. However, it is only 3.5 euros for students and 5 euros for adults. It is also free on Sunday during certain hours. Entering the cathedral  gives you access to a free audio tour, which is helpful for understanding everything you will see inside.


Exterior of the Cathedral of Granada: I regret not paying the 3.5 euros to tour the inside.

If you’re like me and spent too much money at the stops before, or if you are just simply running out of time, then just looking at the exterior of the Cathedral is sufficient. After you are finished wandering through the markets and looking at the Cathedral, it should be around 6/6:30pm. You can stop by a cafe quickly to grab a quick snack before heading to public transport to return home.

If you only have one day to travel, I hope this guide provides you with a good itinerary to discover the city of Granada. While it personally would not be enough time for me, it is possible to see the”must-see” monuments in a day.

For those who have been to Granada, where are your must-see places in this city? And for those who have yet to go, what are you most anticipating?