Thoughts on (and many pictures of) Spain

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I have fallen – head over heels – in love with Spain. My three weeks spent there flew by, and I know I will return to this country. In fact, I’m on a mission to return to Spain as soon as I can, and to stay as long as I can. Something about Spain has gotten under my skin!

Some of the adventures I had in Spain included the following:

My original adventures in Spain took me around Madrid and Alcala, and on day trips to Segovia and Toledo. Learn more here. #Spain #EuropeTravel #Segovia #Toledo #Madrid #Alcala #TheProfessionalHobo
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This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Segovia

Taking a day-trip to Segovia with three Irish people, walking the streets, then sitting down to a fancy lunch that featured Segovia’s signature dish of Cochinillo (roasted suckling pig). As I had the most advanced Spanish language skills out of our lot (which isn’t saying much), I was relegated to figuring out the menu and ordering, which was an adventure unto itself.

eating cochinilla in Segovia Spain
Segovia's aqueduct
the aqueduct in Segovia Spain
the big cathedral in Segovia


Toledo

Taking another day-trip to Toledo (with the same Irish group plus one more). Both trips were made possible with high-speed trains, and Toledo is a large walled-city with mazes of narrow cobblestone streets that we enjoyed getting lost in for hours on end.

the high-speed trains in Spain, Renfe
Outside Toledo's walled city
getting lost in Toledo's streets
picture-perfect views of Toledo


Alcala

Staying with a family in Alcala (near Madrid). I met Elena during my first week of volunteering at Valdelavilla, and she immediately invited me to stay with she and her family any time. I warned her that she’s to be careful what she offers, since I’m the sort of person to actually take her up on it, and after reiterating her suggestion, I told her I had a week to kill between volunteer programs and would be on her doorstep!

Alcala's beautiful historical district

I had an unfortunate bout of food poisoning to contend with as I was arriving (thou shalt not eat kebabs in Madrid when tired after a long day of sightseeing!), but after that, I enjoyed integrating into “normal” Spanish life, having a chance encounter with an eccentric artist, playing with the three kids, and chatting in “Spanglish” with the whole family.

Alcala's historical district

So with two weeks of volunteering, one week in Alcala, and a few day trips worked into the cracks, my time in Spain flew by all too quickly. I must still see the south of Spain (which apparently has a whole different flavour again), and the 800km hike called the Camino Santiago de Compostella is also high on my list, as it has been for years now.

Random Observations of Spain

Although my visit was short (and most certainly sweet), here are some random observations from my time in Spain:

The streets are filled with energy and vibrancy. Although everybody generally has somewhere to go, nobody is in too much of a hurry. There is a relaxed (balanced) pace to the chaos.

random celebrations and dancing in a square in Madrid

Tapas culture is awesome! You arrive at a tapas bar, order a drink (a glass of wine can cost as little as 1 euro), and you receive a free tapas (appetizer). Enjoy your drink and tapas, then move on to the next bar and repeat. You may want to break up the “monotony” by sitting down at a café in the middle of a plaza for some more sustenance and people-watching. Either way, expect the night to escape you, as this revelry can continue until almost dawn.

wine and tapas in Spain
tapas bar in Madrid Spain

Spain has lots (and lots) of smokers. In Canada, smoking is banned in all public places, and is almost banned in the streets. In Spain, however, you can still smoke just about anywhere – inside and out. Be prepared for smoke to waft over from the table next to you in a restaurant, so if you are a devout non-smoker, choose your table carefully. Apparently smoking is being phased out and gradually banned from public places, but this movement isn’t without its share of resistance.

The Gran Via in Madrid is one of the most well-known streets, lined with majestic colonial buildings and being a thriving theatre district. However be warned, as many of the streets leading off Gran Via also are lined with a steady stream prostitutes, milling for prospects at any time of the day or night. Although I didn’t find it cramped my style in any way, many locals warn against staying in the area as they find it unsavoury.

Gran Via in Madrid

El Parque de Madrid is a beautiful respite from the chaotic streets of central Madrid. Similar to High Park in New York City, it is a massive park with endless paths, water features, ice cream stands, buskers, and beautifully manicured gardens.

El Parque de Madrid

I lost hours simply sitting on a bench in front of a beautiful large pond, watching couples row around the pond in boats, taking pictures of passers-by, and listening to a saxophone player pump out songs the likes of Besame Mucho, La Cucaracha, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Yellow Polkadot Bikini, and The Saints Come Marching In.

water feature in El Parque de Madrid, with rowboats and sculptures

Spain’s working hours and mealtimes are drastically different from what I’m used to in North America. Although I initially balked at what appeared to be even longer days than in our workaholic culture, I eventually came to realize that there is a much healthier balance to the mix.

Most people don’t eat much (if any) breakfast early in the morning, and instead simply have a coffee. Work starts at 9am, and I believe there is a break around 11am when people will often have a bocadillo (sandwich) and – of course – another coffee.

Lunch is at 2pm, and is generally the biggest meal of the day. People are free to linger over lunch, as the break is around two hours. (The break is intended to incorporate a siesta, but I doubt that many working Spaniards actually sleep during this time).

People return to their offices around 4pm, and work on through to 6pm. Dinner is served somewhere around 9-10pm, and sometimes even later. Even households with children keep to this schedule, which I found to be the most jarring difference, as I remember being in bed and asleep in my childhood before many Spanish children would have even sat down to the dinner table!

However it doesn’t take long to get into the Spanish swing of things, and now I find it odd to sit down to lunch much before 2pm and dinner before 9pm.

This post doesn’t even address the beauty and vibrancy of the people, their lust for life, and beautiful dispositions. Walk though a plaza, and you may find a group of people singing and dancing for no apparent reason, and the night-life in Spain really puts us North Americans (and many other cultures around the world) to shame! In France, we’d call the Spaniards’ attitude “joie de vivre”; in Costa Rica it’s “pura vida”; in Spain, it’s just a way of life.

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20 thoughts on “Thoughts on (and many pictures of) Spain”

  1. This is great, thanks for sharing your experiences. I’ve never been to Spain before but plan to live in Seville for six months next year. I was in Italy last month and it sounds like there are a lot of similarities between the two cultures. Looking forward to soaking it up myself.

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  2. So glad to hear you enjoyed Spain so much. Alas and sadly , ALL of Europe smokes so much more than North America, but that can be gotten around.

    DO spend more time in Spain as it just gets better the longer you stay and the more you see. It’s a very diverse country with wonderfully welcoming folks.

    We’ve spent the last 4 winters in Spain in lots of luxury on a tiny budget of 23 dollars a day per person, so check out our website or ask away if you have any questions. Head to the sunny south if you want to winter there and the north is lovely in the summer.

    If you haven’t seen these tips on designing a winter in Spain, check it out – http://www.soultravelers3.com/2009/11/lifestyle-design-a-winter-in-spain-extendedtravel-digitalnomad-miniretirement-4hww-travel.html

    We’ll definitely find a way to meet up if you spend longer in Spain as we will be visiting it every year for many more to come. 😉 We have seen much more of Spain than most Spaniards, but there is always more to see and learn. One of the few truly exotic countries in Europe!

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  3. LOVE Tapas! Will you take me to Spain with you? That was our first honeymoon destination idea but it changed to Hawaii…

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  4. This looks awesome. We’re headed over there at some point next year. But we still have a lot of South America to go through.

    My favorite part of your article was the lunch and work hours. I’m guessing people get way more done when they don’t feel like they HAVE to be at work from 8-5. And even if they don’t get more done, they’re probably generally happier, which is great for business!

    Can’t wait to see more.

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  5. I love the way you end this post. I heard that expression for Costa Rica, pura vida, listening to a Frommers podcast actually. I’ve never expressly had Spain on my list of places to try, but now it’s firmly on there. And that language exchange sounds like a great place to start- I’m all for traveling and working (or “working” if it’s really volunteering) I think it helps a person understand more than just the most popular sites to see.

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  6. @Niall – I’ll be there are many similarities between Spain and Italy, as I’m finding many similarities between Spain and southern France. I can’t wait to get to Italy and do my own comparison! And enjoy Seville….everybody I spoke to said I MUST get there, but sadly I won’t be able to…this time. 😉

    @soultravelers3 – I’ve soaked up many of your posts on Spain, and now I understand your own love of the place! Indeed – hopefully we’ll connect there soon!

    @Kate – Spain is yummy! Although maybe I can’t exactly take you there with me, maybe we could meet here someday???

    @Julie – Thanks! And yes – volunteering at Vaughan Town made my Spanish experience all the more “authentic”. I think without it I might not have come to love Spain quite as much as I did in such a short period of time.

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  7. @Taylor – It’s actually the working hours that I had the hardest time adjusting to, since I’m so used to the notion that you go to work, “get it over with”, then go home and get on with the part of your day you truly enjoy.
    I would like to surmise – in contrast – that the Spaniards, with this different balance, can enjoy their workdays as much as their time after work as well.

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  8. I totally agree to you about Spain! I discovered Spain long time ago, and it is a beatiful place to live in…. I recommend you to go to a very tiny region, where eating, dancing and drinking good wine it is like a religion…. It’s call Rioja!
    I am from Viena, but working in a hotel close to Rioja, so if you want to come, you are invited to discover the region,
    Enjoy Europe!
    (On of my favorites cities in Europe it is Edinbourgh, go if you have a chance)

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  9. Me encanta Espana! It’s my fave place in the whole wide world for so many of the reasons you listed above, mostly b/c of the people, the food and the beauty of the language and country. The Spaniards find an incredible way to work to live, not live to work as we Americans/North Americans so.

    Sigh…I have drooled reading all your posts about Spain. Have lived there twice in my life, the best 18 months of it and am happy to be going there, to Barcelona with my boyfriend, continuing our travels in Sept. Perhaps our paths will cross en Espana?

    Johanna

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  10. Wow, sounds like you’ve had an amazing time, I think the experience is always more special when you’re welcomed so warmly by locals, it can make it feel like a second home so quickly. Haven’t been to Spain since I went to Barcelona when I was 17, your post makes me want to go again 🙂

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  11. @Karin – You’re absolutely right; being invited into somebody’s home makes a destination feel familiar and friendly. I’ve found this with Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, Germany, and even Thailand….and counting!

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  12. You have a delightful way of writing that keeps me interested all the way to the end of some of the longest posts and your photos are great! Thank you for sharing your lovely experiences in Spain. I hope to get there some day.

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  13. @Tracy – Thank you so much! I know that I tend to “go on” a bit in some of my posts, breaking the golden rule of keeping blog posts short and sweet, so it warms my heart to know that somebody reads them to the end! 🙂

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  14. Lovely pictures !!! Nice to know about Tapas culture ..

    Thank you for posting your sweet experiences .. can’t stop myself to visit this website atleast twice a week ..

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  15. Hi

    I’m glad you enjoy Spain so much. As Spaniard I am looking for a similar volunteering experience in Canada, using my Spanish skills. Do you know if there is anything like Vaughan Town in your country?

    Many thanks

    Maria

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  16. @Amaresh – Thank you so much for your kind words! I try to post twice weekly on a pretty standard schedule, so it’s easy to know when to check the site!

    @Maria – I don’t know of anything quite like Vaughan Town in Canada, but I did take some Spanish language courses when I lived in Toronto. It’s an adult-language school, mostly conversational-style courses, for a few hours each week. So although it’s not quite the same, it might fit the bill….who knows!

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  17. Nora,

    What a wonderful thing to discover your blog today. I’ll be visiting it quite often. Qué vida tan maravillosa la tuya – you have balls …

    Regards from Valencia, Spain.

    Saludos,

    Ana

    Reply

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