This blog post is my first foray back into blogging since we got back from our five weeks in Spain this summer. Apologies! with the chaos of school starting, working full time its been hard to write. But, I do have so much fun content to share about recent travels. I thought I would start with 10 of my favorite things about Spain.
If you get sticker shock at the cost of a glass of wine these days, Spain is the place for you. The wine in Spain is so good, and SO affordable. Every region from Catalonia to the Basque Country has their own special varietals and found them to be delightful – especially paired with regional cuisine. We went to Haro, the heart of the Rioja wine region and loved the wine and history. One surprise across all of Spain was the cost of a simple glass of wine which was generally between $1.80 – $3.00 – and it was good! The real cost added up when we let the kids have a Fanta Orange soda which was more expensive than wine!
Natural Beauty Standards
Living in Southern California, there is a lot of pressure on women to look young. Botox, fillers and augmented breasts are a pretty common sight. I’m not opposed to a little help when needed, but more and more I see women unnaturally stretched, filled in, with lips twice the size of their normal size. Why have we bought into these standards? Spain was such a breath of fresh air! Its not like the women are lax with their looks, just the opposite— they are incredibly fashionable and take great care with their hair and clothing choices (no yoga pants!). But what I did not see was the surgically and medically changed faces that are so commonplace now in America. I also saw a lot of topless women of all shapes and sizes and ages and I think I only saw 1-2 augmented chests. They simply seem to feel good in their own skin and accept what they have and work with it. I really want to age like a Spanish woman!
A Focus on Family and the Elderly
Everywhere we went in Spain we would see older people walking arm in arm with a middle aged child, or a grandchild. Whole family units were commonplace at the beach, restaurants and always seen going for strolls. There seems to be a a tremendous focus on having the family from young to old — together, and I loved the respect that older people have. I don’t see this type of family engagement in America. It was wonderful seeing the beauty of the family unit, and how the older generation is a valued part of Spanish society.
Europeans think Americans are funny because we marvel at everything old. It’s true, we do! Especially here in California where we have a rich native American history, but very few buildings or artifacts that have stood longer than several hundred years. Spain is an incredible epicenter of history, from the Romans, to the Christians, Jews and Muslims who conquered and lived sometimes together peacefully, and sometimes warring. in Spain, through the art and architecture you see the mashup of this history. A good example of this is the Alhambra in Seville. The palace is a mixture of traditional Muslim tilework, (gorgeous!), but it also has the Catholic influence, with Christian artifacts, symbols and art. We loved seeing Christopher Columbus’ tomb in the Cathedral of Seville, and in Barcelona we were fascinated by the (often gruesome!) history of the Gothic Quarter.
Wow, this took some getting used to. In Spain, as a society they put a lot of trust in their fellow man. For example, in grocery stores you weigh your own produce and put the weight sticker on the bag. You could easily stuff your bag with more after getting the weight if you really wanted to be dishonest. At gas stations you pump your gas and THEN pay – wow! What if you drove off without paying? Some rental car return stations are simply a parking spot without someone to review the car, or look it over with you before you leave. You just leave the car, put the keys in a container and you are done! We were so confused about these things at first, and then we were really impressed that as a society there is so much trust in the general population.
Iberico pork is famous for a reason – its amazing, salty, buttery, and unforgettable. Its made from a very special black Iberico Pig, and it feeds on the grasses and acorns of a special area of Spain that give it its unique flavor (very high fat content!) In the US, its also extremely expensive. While the Iberico meat is not cheap in Spain either, its MUCH cheaper than the United States, and is worth the price for a special treat. It IS a bit alarming to see cured pig legs dangling from every grocery store and cheese and meat shop. But you get used to seeing meat vendors carefully slicing paper thin pieces of the prized cured meat. Paired with a baguette and some manchego cheese, you have a perfect meal! Oh and don’t forget the Rioja!
I could spend hours wandering around the Mercado’s (markets) of Spain. Filled with fresh fish vendors, fruits and squeezed juices, cheeses and fried creations, along with olive oils, nut vendors and more you could literally stay all day filling your eyes and belly. In San Diego, I’ve noticed “Public Markets” pop up that offer a similar idea, but I have to say that the vibrant Mercados of Spain have them beat. Places to check out in Madrid include: Mercado de San Anton, (some great restaurant options on the top floor) and Mercado de San Miguel (more crowded but I liked it better)
One of the benefits of driving nearly the entire way around Spain was seeing the dramatically different landscapes. In the South, we couldn’t believe how many miles upon miles of Olive tree groves there were! As we drove North, there were miles and miles of sunflowers! So beautiful. Also, going from the dry, mountainous regions in the South, to the wet, rainy and VERY green Northern Spain, it was incredible to see the range of landscapes.
Spain’s beaches are amazing. We spent the most time in the North (San Sebastian area), but also went to Nerja in Andalucia region. Both were packed with people, but overall I was really impressed with the cleanliness of the beaches. In the North, most larger beaches have amenities like outdoor showers and places to wash your feet off. They are also really clean. If you want to rent a beach chair, most beaches also offered the ability to rent a chair. However, you might find it interesting in the San Sebastian area that all the chairs face AWAY from a view of the beach. Instead they face the sun. Spaniards LOVE the sun. I didn’t see a whole lot of people covering up (if you know what I mean! lol). We had to warn our nine year old son that he was going to see a lot of topless women, of every shape, since and age! (And we certainly did!)
Its kind of an odd thing to write about, but Spain is very clean. The highways were clear of trash, beaches were clean (despite rampant smoking), and even public and gas station restrooms were very clean. It made traveling with little kids (who put their hands on everything!) just a little easier!
OK – that wraps up my top 10 list. Have you been to Spain? if so, what were your favorite things? Comment below!