13 observations from Spain

20Dec08

Spain is a fascinating place, with rich culture and excellent food. During our travels there, we made several interesting observations, and I thought I’d share them. As a caveat, these thoughts are specific to the time, interactions, weather, places we experienced, so YMMV. Still if there are any mischaracterizations, please correct me in the comments.

  1. We loved Sevilla. We thought it’ll be another big city we had to visit, but it charmed us after just a day. We loved the Barrio de Santa Cruz, where we stayed, the Plaza Truinfo, with the cathedral on one side, and the Alcazar on the other, the pedestrian — and light rail — only Avenida de Constitucion, and the just the overall soul of the place. 4 days would’ve been ideal here, rather than our 2.
  2. The pueblos blancos or white towns in the Andalucia were nice and picturesque, but we liked Sevilla better, based on those we did visit (some briefly): Arcos de la Frontera, El Bosque, Grazalema, Ronda, Cesares, and Gaucin. I’m sure our view was tainted by the fact that it was a little rainy while we were touring the villages, which hindered our interactions with the locals and made the villages a little drab. In any case, we didn’t get that “man, I wish we had a house here just to live here for a while” feeling that we had in certain parts of Tuscany.
  3. We liked Madrid the least. Not that we DIDN’T like it, but it was mostly OK. The city felt a little distant and cold (rainy again) to us. We walked around most of the old city, from the Plaza Major to the Palacio Real to the Prado, yet it didn’t charm us like Sevilla or Granada did. We did like the museums though!
  4. We liked the small touches and attention to detail. In particular, we especially liked how many patios use colorful tiles underneath the patios facing down. We’ve not seen this anywhere but here. Cool!
  5. We came when Sevilla oranges trees were bearing fruit, and they were everywhere. We definitely liked how the oranges added a nice color to the otherwise dull grey due to the weather.
  6. Southern Spain is covered with olive trees. I bet over 3/4 of the land is olive groves. This explains why even their cheapest olive oil, the ones in the small disposable packages, are better than the midrange stuff here in the US. They keep the good stuff for themselves, and ship the crappy stuff to the people who don’t know better. Too bad we don’t have the good stuff back here without paying a bit for them.
  7. We visited the Alhambra both by day and by night, just ‘cuz I thought we’d get a different view of the place — great for getting a different photographic-perspective on the same place. I don’t think it was worth the 16 Euros per person. Sure, it was in a totally different light, literally, it was a lot of walking and we didn’t find it as illuminating, pun intended. Certain parts weren’t illuminated sufficiently, such as the Courtyard of the Myrtles, with the long pool, and you only get to see a part of the the Alhambra. We visited when it moon was only a quarter-full, so maybe it would’ve been better with a full moon, but I’m not so sure. My recommendation is to skip the night tour if you’re already doing the day one, but if you can’t get into the day one, the night option is better than not seeing it.
  8. People generally didn’t seem as warm as some of the other countries we’ve visited, even in the smaller towns. They were more likely to get the information across in a business-like fashion rather than deal with the pleasantries and smiles. This might have something to do with the fact that we’re Asian and only knew a basic level of Spanish, but we’ve always been Asian, and we did try to use Spanish all the time and only switch to English when we reached the limits of our knowledge. Actually, we know more Spanish than we did other languages on the other trips. The friendliest people we met were the front desk folks at the Hotel Plaza Major in Madrid. They were very courteous and helpful in all ways. Based on that, we cannot recommend that hotel enough.
  9. People seem to smoke a lot where we visited. Most places we ate allowed smoking, and we don’t smoke. It’s a little surprising the amount of smoking that goes on. Just having breakfast, we saw this gentleman go through two cigarettes over a small cup of coffee in the short time he was there. It’s hard to eat anywhere without the majority of the people there smoking. Maybe it’s the cold… Also, we not sure what age you can buy cigarettes, but we did see many teenagers smoking openly.
  10. The tapas were incredible. I got recommendations from TripAdvisor, and several guidebooks, and if you’re going there, don’t miss these (I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones that are the most memorable for us): Las Columnas (try anything on the board) in Sevilla, La Casa del Abuelo (gambas al ajillo (prawns in garlic and olive oil) and gambas a la planca (grilled prawns) are wonderful) in Madrid, and Los Diamantes (any fried seafood or their fried eggplant (berenjena) is great) in Granada. They all were wonderful.
  11. Food was rather expensive compared to the US. We could’ve gone cheap and just get meats and breads from the grocery stores, and we did sometimes, but we wanted to experience and taste the good food. I’d say meals are generally about 30-50% more expensive for comparable meal as here in the US.
  12. Beer and wine is cheap and good. They seem to be the same price as Coke. The sangria was good as well and a little different than what we’ve had in the US — they add carbonation to the drink, either by using Sprite or club soda, and it definitely added to the taste.
  13. Ham (jamón) is a religion here. I bet there are as many words describing cured ham as there are words for snow in the Eskimo language (kidding). But it seems the best stuff is meat from black Iberian pigs fed on acorn (jamón ibérico de bellota). The cheapest of this we found at the supermarket for about 15 Euros (20 USD) for 100g (3.5oz). We ordered some at a bar in Granada (and paid for it). It tasted great, but we didn’t have anything else to compare to, so can’t tell if it was worth it.

Yep, we had a blast.

Still no photos I’m afraid as I restore my dead hard drive. I should have some up mid-next week.

Cheers!

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