Granada would be our first introduction to Spain, a genial University town surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountains. Being the only guests at our hostel, we received the “scoop” on how to live it up in Granada and it basically came down to one word. Tapas.
As defined by our friends Raul and Maria, Spaniards we met in Australia, the Spanish-style of eating is to have several small meals throughout the day, just enough to kill the hunger pangs but not to make you so stuffed you can’t walk. So much for the South Beach Diet, the modern-day idea behind portion control; Spain has been eating this way for centuries. So, off we went with an agenda of trying just about every tapas-bar in Granada. The beauty behind conducting this experiment in Granada, we would later find out, is that since Granada is a University town, you get a free drink with every tapa you order. Small paellas, sandwiches, crochettes, or just a chef’s specialty all washed down with beer at an average cost of $2 for each tapa/beer combo. And there really is no shortage of tapas bars in Granada as you can find at least one on just about every block. A typical day would be a bakery breakfast with coffee, followed by walking from church to statue and waiting until the pangs set in. “Oh lookie there, another tapas bar,” and off we would go. Our first beers of the day often came before noon and we were definitely not alone. Walking the streets you often see locals sitting at cafes sipping some kind of adult beverage, even for breakfast. Hey, it’s noon somewhere.
Off we went to Valencia, a major city with stunning architecture, and a series of enormous beaches to tempt you each and every day. It’s here that we fell in love with the Spanish wines, Crianza’s, Rioja’s and Tempranillo’s. And the truly beautiful thing about it, is you’d have to try real hard to pay more than $3 per bottle. Since we’re budgie travelers, our average price was $1.25 but at least we slept well. Except for one night, when I was suddenly woken by the sound of a dumpster full of glass bottles being emptied into the recycling truck. Conveniently, this took place right outside of our window. Once up, I’m up, so I grabbed my camera and walked the 3 blocks to the central market. I’ve never seen anything like the central market in Valencia. Every stand is set up perfectly, with every last detail meticulously covered. Vendors were trimming grapes, cutting off less-than-perfect ones and any discolorations before hanging up for sale. Sorting through peaches, apples and bananas to make sure that not a single bruise would be put on their shelves. Any type of food your heart desired could be found here; fruits, veggies, meats, fish and bread. And the truly beautiful thing is that it’s all locally grown and extremely cheap. I walked out of there with the ingredients for a gourment breakfast and lunch and it cost me less than $5. If I lived here, I would visit the market every single day.
Barcelona, the beautiful city pronounced with a lisp (Barthelona), was our next stop. We were to meet up with friends Xavi and Simone in a couple days so we made time to enjoy one event before that time, a cooking class consisting of tapas, paella and sangria. First things first, we made sangria using bourboun, cheap red wine, sugar, 7up, and chopped apples, oranges and lemons and within 15 minutes our entire group was feeling the effects. A full spread of cheeses and perfectly cured meats were awaiting us in the kitchen as well as tomatoes and sliced baguette’s. We were taught that both tapas and paella are my mother’s version of “mustgo night” because all of the ingredients used are the ones that “must go.” So, we took cut tomato and rubbed it vigorously on the bread before adding cheese and meat. Cheap, simple and delicious. Next, our instructor walked us through the steps of making paella using different seafoods and meats. The key ingredient is saffron and was the final step before digging in.
Simone picked us up the following morning and took us back to their house near Montserrat. Once we dropped our bags, Simone had to go to work, so after a much needed nap (thanks sangria!) we hopped the train back to the city to see the sights. We essentially did a tour of famed architect Gaudi’s works, including buildings, churches and civic structures. Gaudi is non-conventional and quite possibly was on a heavy dosage of LSD laced-absinthe when designing these structures. They are beautiful though and each individually peaks your imagination and lets you know that anything is possible. Truly inspiring. Simone took us up to Montserrat the following day and we hiked up the isolated mountain for a beautiful panoramic view of the area, including the Pyrenees in the distance.
Afterwards, we met up with Xavi and they treated us to an amazing Catalan-style meal, complete with a carafe of wine that, if brave enough and not wearing white, you pour directly into your mouth. Often times, we couldn’t help but laugh because of the language mix-ups. My Spanish was in the late stages of rust so I would talk to Xavi as best I could. Erin and Simone would speak German. However, whenever I didn’t understand something, the chain would go Xavi to Simone in Spanish, Simone to Erin in German, and Erin to me in English. After some wine and beer, my confidence picked up (imagine that!) and Xavi and I would get into full-fledged conversations. I learned so much from him on the history of Spain, namely the fact that he doesn’t even consider himself Spanish. Spanish is his 2nd language and Catalan is his first. Catalonya is the province that Barcelona lies in and would like to regain it’s independence from its conqueror, Spain. There are other provinces similar to this in Spain, all of which are actively protesting, or in some cases, violently protesting the Spaniards from staking claim to their land. The most interesting case of this is in the Basque Land, where the language spoken is not even remotely similar to Spanish and their culture is extremely unique and is estimated to be over 3,000 years old! It’s no wonder they are wanting independence. This battle has been going on for three centuries and the evidence is extremely apparent on graffiti throughout the streets that scream for “Independence,” as well as at the soccer games in Barcelona, where the flag of Catalan flies high and proud.
It seems to be the theme over and over again on this trip that the friends we stay with have given us everything, treated us to meals and drinks, and shown us some of the most amazing things we’ve seen. This was no exception as Xavi and Simone treated us like a king and queen and their hospitality was amazing. A big thanks to both of them for the great memories (and language lessons!) We miss you both already and hope to see you again soon.