You may be wondering – what the hell does “callejear” mean? It’s one of those wonderful Spanish words that defies translation. The closest we can get in English is “to wander down streets” – in Spanish “calle” means “street”; hence “callejear” is the verb. (Unfortunately this doesn’t apply to all nouns—I’ve tried to make “fiestaear” legitimate, but to no avail.)
The act of callejear, or callejeando, is essential to life in Spain, where the city streets are so tangled it would take a lifetime to sort it all out. Yet part of the country’s charm is that the very fact that the old cities and towns go this way and that pay no mind to your poorly marked tourist map. It’s all about disorganized chaos; the city plan doesn’t appear to make any sense, yet everyone knows how it works. Spaniards spend a considerable amount of their social time out of doors, strolling around and meeting up with friends. Therefore, if you find yourself either visiting or living in Spain, it is key that you master the art of the callejear.
I have been blessed with the sense of direction of a migrating goose (read: I can always find North) and can confidentially say that there has only been one Spanish city that has ever confounded me (curse you, Jerez). Here are a few survival tips to help you start navigating the barrios like a pro:
- Take your map with you everywhere
I can assure you that Cindy, Matt, or Alyssa is not longer your best friend; Map is. Your map is your lifeline and most trusted guide. Keep it close and at the ready. But be careful…sometimes in Spanish cities, you’ll find yourself on random little streets that conveniently are not marked on the map. If this happens, don’t panic—usually if you just keep walking, it’ll dump you back onto a road with a name.
- Pay attention
Chances are you’ll be walking down narrow streets, most of which have “sidewalks” that feel more like walking the plank than safely avoiding traffic. It is important to pay attention for I would definitely not recommend listening to music, unless you want to be flattened by Hot Wheels on his Vespa.
- Get lost!
When I lived in Seville, I would purposefully walk into the most confusing part of the city (Barrio Santa Cruz), and take as many turns as it needed to become completely lost. At that point, I’d whip out my map and callejea my way back to civilization. I’m employing the same method here in Córdoba, and so far I’ve found about three short cuts from the city center to my house. The more lost you get, the quicker you remember the streets.
3.5. …Well, I forgot/lost my map
If you find yourself horrifically lost, it’s time to do the unthinkable—actually talk to another human. If you don’t speak Spanish and they don’t speak English, you’d be surprised how much excited hand gestures and emphatic noises suffice as directions. The bottom line is that if you are polite and patient, people will be happy to point you in the right direction.
Above all else, remember, you’re in Spain! To callejear is to explore, and you never know what you’ll find around the next corner.