Hola from España, where I have been practicing up on my Spanish. And what a place to practice!
Punk culture adds spunk to this country and somehow mixes with its hippie-type vibe, a unique mix of rocker clothes and dreadlocks. Tapas, sangria, and Spanish architecture soften the rough edges of this hard-core style and made this section of the trip a bit sweeter.
A 30 minute boat ride never produced such magical results as the trip across the Straight of Gibraltar, floating us from Morocco’s crazy city of Tangiers to the shores of Southern Spain.
Millions of dark, littered plastic bags that once blew in the wind like fall leaves, catching on weeds and shrubs on the hillsides were now transformed into neatly planted flowers set in the soil of manicured lawns. Raspy yells from touts and angry automobile horns gave way to gentle breezes and joyful screams from kids in the park. Spain offered clean, drinkable water, swept streets and normal business hours, unlike the Ramadan hours we had been accustomed to in Morocco. Stores hung signs in their windows to advertise sales and specialty goods, which seemed strange after being in a place where advertising meant holding out a basket of home-made goods from a squatting position alongside the road.
Above: Cadiz impressed us with its cleanliness and massive buildings after being in Morocco for a few weeks.
Besides the obvious differences I noted as I exited the ferry, Spain can best be explained with the use of a few important Spanish nouns. Tapas, sangria and paella summarize the country’s food category in the same way the Catalunyan and Adalucian lisps add flair to the places category. Barcelona and Montserrat top my chart for favorite Spanish tourist destinations just as Valencia’s architecture and Granada’s culture win the most unexpected award. A few notes and photos below exhibit my most memorable experiences and observations from España.
Spain is not Spain without the tapas culture, a unique idea that was implemented by an old king. When he started to fear that the people of Spain were drinking too much wine and beer, he set a rule that pubs were to serve a tiny bit of food to eat along with the drinks. This little snack was placed on the top of the glass, to keep flies and bugs out of the drink, hence the name tapa. This snack has come a long way from days of old and now has a whole menu of its own complete with Spanish tortillas and omlettes, hamburguesitas (You guessed it, tiny hamburgers) and cheeses and meats. My favorite part about this snacking phenomena is that for a little over $1 a drink and a tapa are placed at your table. With each drink you order, you can try a different Spanish treat.
As far as the drink choices go, one of my favorites was sangria, a mix of table wine, fruit, brandy and fruit juices.
Andalucia, pronounced Andaluthia by locals, is the southern area in Spain with many beaches. Here the Spanish accent has a lisp, or a “th” sound where a c would normally be pronounced. Gracias is “grathia” and Barcelona is “Barthelona.” When I first heard this I thought the person just had a speech impediment…then I realized the joke was on me!
Above: We crossed over from Morocco and visited Cadiz (not shown), Granada, Valencia, Barcelona and Montserrat (not shown.)
In Andalucia, we visited Granada and then hopped on a bus to Valencia. Our experiences there are highlighted in the next section. Then we hopped an overnight bus to Catalunya.
Visiting friends Xavi and Simone near Monserrat was a highlight of Catalunya, an area which is popular due to the fact that it hosts the city of Barcelona. Although Barcelona is beautiful we were more impressed with the village of Montserrat, which pops up in the middle of a valley, as it is truly breathtaking. Our visit of the town on the hill consisted of a well-led tour (by Simone) of the cathedral, where monks were singing in the daily mass, and a two-hour climb to the peak, which produced a view of the entire valley below.
Above: View of Montserrat´s monestery.
Above: A glance from the top of Montserrat.
Xavi educated us on Catalan’s history and the desire that many of its citizens share to once again become free from Spain. He also showed Jason how to drink from teh vase of wine, which they practiced throughout the whole dinner.
Above: Jason impresses Simone with his newly learned skills.
I have to admit that my Spanish from my Mexican vacations did not get me far here, as Catalunya has a complicated language, which is a spin off of Spanish. Xavi and Simone were excellent hosts, patiently translating Catalunyan Spanish into German so that I could translate German to English for Jason. Needless to say, we talked a lot.
Since we were in the area, we checked out Barcelona, complete with its Gaudi houses, Gaudi church called Sagrada de Familia, and beautiful harbor.
Above: Barcelona´s harbor at night, in the middle of a lightning storm.
We decided that although we have seen A LOT of churches and cathedrals all over the world, the Sagrada Familia topped the charts with its funky style and beautiful colors. The inside roof even was crafted to look like a forest.
Above: The Sagrada Familia, built by Gaudi, shows off his funky, unique style.
Above: Colorful photo of the church´s inside by J. Salmoral.
Because Granada is in the south, the tapas there are much more common and cheaper than in northern Spain. A nice surprise was the fact that for a little over 1 Euro, I could enjoy a beer or glass of sangria and be served a common Spanish dish, such as a small portion of paella or a ham and cheese sandwich. We enjoyed going out every night in Granada, “tapa hopping” as we named it. And because the portions are small, one does not stuff themselves before the next course. Maybe we should try to curb our obesity problems in the States with these tiny courses- do you think it would work?
Above: Ganada is full of tapas joints.
After an overnight train ride from Granada to Valencia, we exited the station at 6:30 am and were surrounded by the most beautiful Spanish architecture! Stone buildings towered around us, divided by parks and fountains.
Above: Spanish architecture of Valencia.
This city not only boasted ancient buildings, but also a wide, long beach with powdery sand, which was still hot in October. The water was refreshing and the rain did not follow us from Granada, so we enjoyed night time walks and day time beach visits.
From Barcelona, we hopped on a cheap all-night bus to Madrid where we caught an 11 hour flight to Ecuador, where there was a seven hour time difference. Ahh, the joys of being a budget traveler. Next up: Ecuador- The 1st stop in South America.