3 Must-Have Spanish travel experiences

After a looong hiatus, I’ve decided to start blogging again! So why not start with some summer vacation stories!

For fellow travelers thinking about hitting the south of Spain (Andalucía), I’ve got some suggestions for a unique experience!

1) Sleep in a Cave Cuevas el Abanico, Granada, Spain

I’m not a huge fan of experimentation when it comes to sleeping arrangements. My entire day can be ruined by a lack of sleep, and I am slightly murderous before my morning coffee, but this is something I highly recommend to everyone! Not only does it have a natural cool temperature (no air conditioning required!) but the bed is comfortable and the cave comes with a kitchen and living room area as well! I wouldn’t recommend a visit in the middle of winter, as it might get too cold inside, but it’s a perfect resting place for a summer visit to Granada!

Avg price/night – 60€ for two people. Reserve here.

  

2) Sleep in a castle – Hotel Castillo Santa Catalina, Malaga, Spain

Who doesn’t want to feel like royalty for a night? You can have a temporary fairy tale and prance around the beautiful gardens of this spectacular hotel. It is a REAL castle, mostly used as a wedding venue nowadays. Make sure to book ahead of time, as they only have 8 bedrooms available! My iPhone pictures don’t do it justice. 

Avg price/night – 140€ for two people. Reserve here.

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3) Eat deliciously fresh seafood – Pedregalejo, Malaga, Spain

Pedregalejo is a small fishing village outside of Malaga city. It features a series of restaurants right next to the water, where you can enjoy a romantic evening on the beach while the chef cooks your meal right in front you!

Avg price -dinner for two 30-40€

  
   
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An ode to Spain

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Hey Spain, come have a seat. I made some coffee for you, just how you like it –con leche.
This might be kind of awkward, I mean, we haven’t seen each other in a while, but I have to tell you something.
I’m still in love with you.
I remember when we first met in 2005. Things were different then..for the both of us.
You had me at hello, er, I mean “hola“.
You didn’t take too long to convince me to fall for you. In fact, you didn’t utter a word. We moved in silence together.
Your long, hot days and windy nights fill me with wanderlust.
I miss the savory oranges from the market on a Sunday morning, and your succulent tapas on a weeknight.
You gave me art. Masterpieces that I didn’t even know existed, painted by an eccentric man with unforgettable flair.
You gave me futbol – nights full of passion and rollercoasters of emotions.
I miss your men.
Your women too.
Overflowing with colour and life.
Don’t look at me like that! You know I had to go.
We were temporary lovers that fell into one another’s arms, living our moments to the last drop, just before letting go.
We went through so much together. From first loves to break-ups, exams and shitty apartments. Even in my lowest moments you managed to embrace me in your goodness.
I hope to find myself in the middle of Plaza España again, waiting for you and your endless surprises.
I’d never known love before I met you, and I haven’t felt it since.
Don’t leave just yet! I’ll get you another cup.
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What’s that smell?!

You know those 1950s commercials where the man comes home with a briefcase and melodically states “honey, I’m home!” He is greeted by his made-up wife in a polka dot dress and a warm apple pie in her hands.
Well, I am the exact antithesis to this young gal. I’m a disaster in the kitchen. I’ve been given advice from a range of people including an Italian chef and my Polish grandmother. I don’t know how people grow and nourish this type of talent.
In Italy, they’ve got a show called “Junior Masterchef”. Basically it’s about 9 and 10 year olds from different regions in Italy who compete for their winning dish. Their hometown masterpiece. I hate these kids because they make me feel even more embarrassed at my level of incompetence at 24. I’m the age of two of these kids put together, yet I sometimes burn my toast a little too much.
Last night, I tried to cook something, and as usual, it went horribly wrong. The Spanish omelette or “tortilla de patatas” is a combination of potatoes, eggs, and onions, that are fried together in harmony. I used to eat it on a regular basis while living in Spain. The YouTube video made it look easy anyway.
The instructions said to add a “substantial amount of oil, but to be careful not to make it too oily.”
I went a little bold with the olive oil, then started freaking out that the potatoes were drowning in it, so I poured a lot of it out. Then I realized that I was unable to flip everything over to fry the other side because there was too little oil and it started burning.
The result was a smell that surprisingly avoided an emergency call to the fire department. Unapproved for human consumption, I may have unintentionally discovered a new brand of dog food because the dog was all over it like a new box of kibbles.
I present you, my piece-of-shit tortilla that smells like burned fossil fuels. Here is a comparison between my “creation” and a real one from Google images. RIP.

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5 Strange Spanish Expressions

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Spanish is one of the most beautiful languages in existence. If you speak Spanish, you can agree that not only is it the language of love, it is the language of creative cursing and expression. If you want to sound more like a local on your next trip to Spain, try incorporating the following expressions into your conversation (the English equivalent is listed below).

These idiomatic expressions are in Castilian Spanish, meaning from Spain. They may or may not make sense in Latin American countries.

1) Tomar el pelo.

Literally: “Take someone’s hair.”
English equivalent: To make fun of, poke fun at, or pull someone’s leg.
Example: “Mis hermanos siempre me toman el pelo.”
Translation: “My brothers always take my hair.”

2) Poner los cuernos.

Literally: “Put the horns on.”
English equivalent: To cheat on, to be unfaithful.
Example: “El ex novio de mi hermana le puso los cuernos.”
Translation: “My sister’s ex put the horns on her.”

3) Tener mucha cara.

Literally: “Have a lot of face.”
English equivalent: To have nerve.
Example: “Hace falta tener mucha cara para hacer lo que hizo el ayer noche durante la fiesta!”
Translation: “You need a lot of face to be able to do what he did last night at the party!”

4) Ponerse las pilas.

Literally: “To put your batteries in.”
English equivalent: To get yourself together, get a move on, get your sh*t together. This expression was believed to be originally used in Colombia. The idea of having a “low battery,” and therefore being unable to complete a task, is used in various languages.
Example: Ponte las pilas! Vas a suspender el examen!
Translation: “Put your batteries in! You’re going to fail the exam!”

5) Tener mala leche.

Literally: “To have bad milk.”
English equivalent: To be mean, unkind, bitchy. The origin of this expression dates back to medieval times, where noble women often gave their newborns to women of lower classes so that they could be breastfed. Women of the upper classes didn’t want to be bothered with this task. The “host mothers” were usually of Jewish or Moorish origin and therefore thought to “have bad milk” that would be passed on to the child. The expression was generally used as an insult.
Example: La profesora de ingles tiene muy mala leche.
Translation: “The English teacher has really bad milk.”

The Tapas Phenomenon

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It’s 9pm in Spain, what does that mean? Dinner time of course! You’re off with your friends to go bar hopping (no, not for shots). You will try a series of “tapas” at various different bars, each having their own speciality. What is a tapa? It is best defined as an appetizer sized dish that varies from seafood to meat – mini sandwiches to a bite-sized dinner. You can wash it down with a caña (a small beer) or some wine. Almost every city in Spain offers a “ruta de tapas” meaning, a tapas route – a scavenger hunt for delicacies. Each bar usually has a speciality (some may have even won awards for their tapas).

Whats the best part about a taste-testing night on the town? Socializing. There is no better way to end a long day at work than having a meal with some friends. The Spanish have a word for this that doesn’t exist in English – sobremesa.

“Sobremesa”refers to the time period after eating where you stay out with your friends having great conversations. The joy of staying at the table once your food has been cleared to have a chat and catch up on what you’ve missed in one another’s lives.

Sometimes I feel like the Spanish solved a mystery that North Americans haven’t. We often get caught up in work, school, kids etc, and forget how important it is to unwind, have some regular downtime with your friends, meaning real human interaction. No texts, no phone calls, just a really good meal, and a little too much wine (but thats not always a bad thing, is it?).


Recommended Tapas Bars:

Los Zagales, Valladolid, Spain

Las Tres Bellotas, Valladolid, Spain

Txirimiri, Madrid, Spain

Bar La Eslava, Sevilla, Spain

Bar Dos de Mayo, Sevilla, Spain

Please comment or add your favourite bars to the list, I’m heading off to Spain for a visit again soon, and need some new suggestions!

I “get myself off” in Spain.

Mastering a language is always a difficult thing, especially when you suddenly find yourself in a foreign country and nobody speaks English.

My first few days in Valladolid, Spain, were filled with hand gestures and online translators in the fall of 2011. I was about to begin university, and I didn’t know anyone yet, so obviously I had to embarrass myself in someway or we wouldn’t be talking about me.

Once you get into the higher level classes (year 3-4) at the university, the classroom sizes are greatly reduced. So obviously, the first thing they do to welcome international students is to have them present themselves.

On the verge of peeing my pants, I kept going over the few sentences I memorized. “I’m from Canada, I love football (soccer), and running. Running is my favourite thing to do, and I do it every day.”

Now, reflexive verbs are a tricky thing for English speakers. In Spanish you would say “me ducho” o “¿te afeitas?” literally meaning “I shower myself” and “do you shave yourself?” In English, we don’t have this distinction between the regular and reflexive verbs. We say, “I shave” and not “I shave myself”.

So the professor says, “next” and I’m up. “Hola me llamo Aleks, soy canadiense, me encanta el fútbol y me corro todos los días. Me corro porque es mi cosa preferida y lo hago todos los días.”

The problem lies in the “me corro”. If I wanted to say “I run everyday” it would be “Yo corro todos los días” or “corro todos los días”. If you say “me corro” it means “I get myself off everyday” meaning…I masturbate.

I told the class I get myself off everyday and it’s my favourite thing to do. I’d say it could be worse, but no, it really couldn’t be.

The real problem was that NO ONE corrected me, so I repeated this in ALL of my classes. THANK YOU FELLOW PEERS. Finally, a guy who spoke English fluently leaned over and stated, “you told everyone you like to orgasm.”
Surprisingly, except for a few smirks, no one really reacted to my bold statement. The Spanish are pretty liberal so, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing, right?

**if you want to share your athletic abilities with the Spanish, it’s always YO corro, never ME corro, unless of course, you do want to share that part of your day with your new foreign friends.

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5 foods you must try in Spain

Ok so before we start, it’s important to clarify that in terms of cuisine and fine cooking, I am about as inexperienced as they come. My cooking skills are to limited toast, and maybe cereal. However, I love to eat! Whenever I find myself in a new country, it’s the first thing I want to do! So here are some of my favorites in Spain, bearing in mind that I haven’t travelled to Galicia yet, which is in the north of Spain, and famous for its fantastic seafood. Here are my winners so far:

1) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – In English, this is called “acorn Iberian ham” and it’s the higher quality of cured ham that you can order. It’s usually served with small breadsticks, on a platter with different cheeses, or with some bread. A tapa (appetizer sized) will cost an average of €5-10 euros. If you wanted to buy a larger portion you would pay around 20-30€, the entire pork leg would be a pricey souvenir ranging from 150-300€ depending on quality. You can find it in restaurants around the country, and it’s not specific to a certain region.  The pigs are raised eating only fine grains and acorns, and it’s how it gets it’s name.

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2) Patatas Alioli – Potatoes with Alioli – These may look like regular fried potatoes with some dressing on them, but you have to realize that alioli is the Holy Grail. It is used on seafood, like calamari and sepia (see below) or with potatoes. When you try alioli for the first time, it will change your life. If it were socially acceptable, I would eat alioli on top of more alioli. So what is this fantastic gift to humanity? It’s a sauce made if garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and egg yolks. It has many variations with other ingredients. They sell a version of it in supermarkets, but if you can get it freshly made at a restaurant you will definitely enjoy it.  Oh and you will have nasty garlic breath afterward that goes away only after you brush your teeth six times in a row, but it’s totally worth it.

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3) Carrillada – Pig’s Cheeks- The carrillada ibérica is usually served with potatoes in its own tender juicy sauce. The meat is very soft as it is slow cooked on very low heat for several hours. A traditional dish from Sevilla, and the best usually comes from acorn fed pigs. Try it at Bodeguita Romero, a restaurant found in the heart of Sevilla, in the south of Spain.image

4) Sepia – I didn’t even know the name for this in English until I googled it, and it’s cuttlefish. It’s usually fried, served in small marinated pieces with alioli on the side (yay!). In the south of Spain, it can also be served breaded before it’s fried. My favorite restaurant was Las Tres Bellotas, in Valladolid, Spain. I’m not a huge fan of seafood, but I thought this was great.

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5) Lechazo – This is the meat of an unweaned lamb and is a famous dish from the region of Castilla y León. Unlike the other “tapas” above, which are served in smaller portions, this is a full course meal, served with potatoes, salads, and wine. The price range is about 30-50€, but once again, definitely worth it. It’s roasted in a wooden stove, and the meat is soft and juicy (I know the baby lamb thing is sad, just don’t think about it). This is a dish served on special occasions, especially Christmas.

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Five things you should know before moving to Spain

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Alright, so you’ve decided you’re ready for a big change, un cambio bastante grande, and you are heading off to Spain, or, are planning to do so anyway. Spain is a hotspot for people for people like myself, meaning English teachers. Considering the fact that Spaniards speak English muy mal, English speakers have a pretty good employment rate. Seriously, if you speak English and it’s your first language, you are already halfway there. In terms of other employment info, I would suggest you stay away unless you are entering the tourism sector, as Spain’s current unemployment rate is something crazy high like 26-27%.

1. Visa Problems

I am Canadian and European. Meaning I’m an E.U national, so I’ve got half the headache. If you are North American or belonging to any of the countries outside of the Schengen Area (Google), you need a work or study visa. This visa must be attained in the country of origin. Before I applied for my new Polish passport, making me a Canadian citizen only, I had to apply for a student visa in Canada. This process took about 2 months after I provided the information to the consulate. I’m not sure how it works for Americans, but my friend had a similar experience in terms of waiting time. When you arrive in Spain, you MUST go to the local police station and get your fingerprints taken so they can give you a special card. This card must be with you at all times (especially when traveling), otherwise, you’re going to have some explaining to do, especially in customs offices in England or Ireland.

2. It’s not sunny like you see on postcards

The further north you go, the colder it gets. I lived in Valladolid, which is about 2 hours north of Madrid, and let me tell you, I froze my ass off some nights. It does go below zero degrees (Celsius obviously), and the winds are STRONG.  I travelled to the south in December (Granada), and the snowy mountains left me with a nice Canadian frostbite. If you are anti-winter, perhaps choose a city like Barcelona.

3. Your nights out will change

Spanish people eat supper at 10pm. They eat these amazing appetizer sized dishes called tapas, and you usually go from bar to bar at night, trying different specialties, and you eat STANDING UP. It’s really hard to balance your beer in one hand, and your fried octopus in the other, but hey, it gets easier. For those who are into the nightlife scene, get ready to leave at midnight and come home at 6am. If you try to leave earlier, your Spanish friends will make fun of you.

4. Spanish people aren’t rude. Most of the time it’s a language barrier.

If you can’t speak Spanish, and the waiter/bartender/bus driver/ can’t speak English, how jolly is the conversation going to be? If you’re intimidated by someone speaking in a language you don’t understand, it’s really hard to come across in the right way. In major cities, most people will speak English, or at least, they will be able to take your order. However, in smaller cities, they don’t. So make an effort to say something in Spanish, or be patient.

5. They have a great healthcare system.

If you work in Spain, you are automatically entered into the healthcare database. Hospital visits, regular visits, many prescriptions, and even invasive procedures will be FREE. Even if you aren’t working in Spain, many times you can still go to emergency for free. I was in the hospital for 4 days and was treated very well by the staff.

 

This was a boring list in terms of all the amazingly fun things to do in this great country, but they are all things I wish someone had told me before I left. If you are still debating about your move, my advice is: YES, GO. NOW.STOP.HESITATING.

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