Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Last post about our six month experience in Spain.

Photo: Nerja, Spain

Six months away from home is a long time, but for us, it felt like we actually were home in Spain. It is easy for a Canadian to feel at home in Spain because it is very easy going and the people are similar to Canadians in many ways. Here are the things we loved about Spain and things we liked less which are very few.

Starting with the positives:

More Sunshine: There is a lot more sunshine in Spain than in Vancouver. Even if it was the rainiest and coldest winter in 50 years we were told, we found the winter here like a sunnier version of May or June in Vancouver. The sunshine usually comes out at some point even on forecasted rainy days.

Longer days: In the depth of winter in December, the sun comes up at 8am and goes down at 6pm. Compare this to Vancouver winters where the sun comes up at 8:30am and goes down at 4:15pm, that is a major improvement for your mental health.

Milder winter: November and April are like summer in Vancouver at about 18 to 24 Celcius with slightly cooler evenings in November. You can still have 20 Celcius days in December and January but it generally hovers between 12C and 16C. February is the most unsettled month with a mix of overcast, rain and sunshine,  usually all in the same day. March is usually nice we are told but we experienced torrential rain and downpours like I have never seen, even in Vancouver. Everyone here kept saying, “no es normal”. Unfortunately, most of our guests came in March.

More outdoor living: you spend tons more time outdoors. Long lunches in the sunshine are a way of life in Spain. We loved our lunches sitting outside basting in the sun and watching people go by.

Dogs anywhere on terraces: For a dog owner, this is such a welcome change from Vancouver where you can’t have your dog on any terrace or café. We could have Amy Lou with us everywhere and she was a big hit for waiters and passerbys.

Cheaper food: Our grocery bill was 40%-50% cheaper than in Vancouver.

Cheaper booze: Beer and Wine is incredibly inexpensive here. Even fine wines are more affordable and there is plenty of good wine to have even in grocery stores.

Cheaper restaurants:  Spaniards go out to eat A LOT! And that is reflected in the restaurant prices. There are restaurants everywhere filled with people especially for lunch everyday and dinners on weekends. The big cities have the most excellent fine dining and international restaurants. But the small cities or pueblos also have amazing selections, all at discounted prices compared to what we pay in Vancouver. We found restaurant prices to be about 40%-50% cheaper than in Canada or the States. Also, you don’t see much fast food here. People prefer their privately owned restaurants to food chains which is so much more authentic to me!

Cheaper mobile phone service: Our cell phones plans in Canada cost us $140 per month with tax. In Spain, we pay 20 Euros or $30 Canadian.  WHY are Canadian mobile phone plans so expensive? This is a ridiculous difference.

No cable need w antenna: If you have a house, you can have perfect TV reception with an antenna. If you don’t care about cable, that is a clear perk.

Cheaper real estate: House prices are not cheap on the costa del sol but significantly less expensive than Vancouver. A nice 3-4 bedroom house and 2-3 bathrooms with a pool will cost about 600,000 to 800,000 Euros or $1m to $1.2 million. The same house in Vancouver would be 2 or 3 million if you could find it. A 2 bedroom condo would be about 300,000-500,000 euros compared to $700,000-$1.5million in Vancouver. This is oversimplified of course but it give you an idea. There are also more affordable detached homes with a view.

Cheaper rent: if you prefer to rent, a two bedroom apartment would be approximately 400 to 600 euros per month or the equivalent of $600 to $900 per month. Short term rentals cater to tourists and are more expensive of course. Apartments go for $75 to $150 per night in high season or $250 to $350 per night for a house. We rented in the winter months and paid $2000 per month which was a very good deal for a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with a pool and view of the Mediterranean.

Grow your own fruits & veggies year-round: the weather is conducive to gardening and growing your own fruits and veggies year round.

Fast and inexpensive travel in Europe: You can easily and affordably travel everywhere in Europe for weekends or longer getaways. Think about spending a weekend in Paris one month and Berlin the next! What a pleasure without the long flights and expensive tickets.

Here quickly are more positive to travelling or living in Spain:

Very good medical access and quality care

Easier to meet people

You will never get the restaurant bill until you ask for it.

Spaniards are clean people; Garbage collection daily, Beaches swept daily, Sparking clean toilets, alley way, etc

You can drink beer on the beach

Less rules and regulations about everything

No obnoxious drunks

The best thing we liked about Spain is the Spaniards! They are chilled, polite, friendly, and happy people!!

Here are the things we liked less:

More expensive energy

More expensive cars

Not as good grocery stores

No shoppers drug mart, I miss our SDM!!

Not as good restaurants in Nerja but great in Malaga

Some owners leave their dog poo on the street but this is about to change with new regulations and DNA poo testing to fine the ones who don’t pick up after their pets! Wow!!

That’s it…we could not find more things we like less. As you can see, we loved Spain and can’t wait to go back for another winter in the sun!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Spain’s Semana Santa is all about tradition and devotion.

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Spain, the week which leads to Easter. This is a BIG event for Spaniards. Some say that it has been celebrated since the 12th century, for certain since the 16th century, in Sevilla.

At first, you might be surprised by such a display of religion but Semana Santa in Spain can truly be enjoyed for what it is. A wonderful tradition and display of devotion. Please take a minute to read on to find out what it is all about and why this tradition is an important one in Spain.

Photo credit: roomsevilla.com

My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

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My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, huge statues carried on floats called “Pasos”, some as old as 300 years, representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ take to the streets in processions that last up to 12 hours almost every day during that week and on the “Madrugá”, the Holy Thursday night, the processions run all night long through to the next day!

The people who carry the floats are devoted locals, performing an act of penance, repenting their sins. They are called Costaleros and wear a protective garment on their head to take the weight off the float. There are 20 to 40 costaleros per float and they practice all year long even in 40C August! That is devotion. Some of the floats weight a ton and costaleros can switch out every hour or two to take a break. I have read that each year a special section of the hospital opens up to treat costalero injuries.

Photo credit: Tío Spanish

My photo taken this Holy Thursday in Nerja.

The cone like head dress you see in all the processions are worn by “Nazarenos”. No, they are not members of the Ku Klux Klan. The attire is born from a desire to repent sins without revealing the identity of the person. There can be up to 3,000 nazarenos participating in some of the bigger processions in Sevilla. Kind Nazarenos will carry bags of sweets and give them to kids as they go by so they know they’re friendly!

Photo credit: Sevilla.abc.es

We are in Sevilla now for 3 days and could not be happier to have been here to experience the tradition, pride and solidarity this annual event is all about. Come to Spain during Semana Santa and feel the passion!

Some of photos were taken in Nerja on Holy Thursday, a smaller and more intimate event where you see the floats up-close. The others were taken by myself in Sevilla this weekend.

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

What happened to sunny everyday Spain?

Look at this Vancouver Canada style of rain we are having today!  As I have reported before, rainy days in Spain are rare. We have been here for 4 months now and only had a few days of rain. It rarely last a full day or 2 days at most before the warm sun returns. January and February are however cooler with more overcast days and showers. But again, this rarely last more than a day or two, until now.

A powerful late-winter storm, given the name Storm Emma, is bringing rounds of heavy rain in all of Spain, Portugal and France. Total rainfall through the weekend could reach 250 mm (10 inches) in the hardest hit locations of northern Portugal and western Spain. We are in the south, thank God!

The bad news is that as Emma lifts northward toward the British Isles on Friday, another storm will target the Iberian Peninsula with more rainfall and believe it or now, a third storm will then arrive early next week, bringing additional downpours and gusty winds.

I feel sorry for the visitors who are currently in Spain working their way to us in Nerja. It is always sad to leave rain or snow at home to come to a sunny destination and find bad weather instead. We are hopeful that things will turn around for your arrival next week.

One thing is for sure, the sun here is never far and when it comes out, it is incredibly warm and lovely even in winter months!!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Road trip to Barcelona: Should you drive or fly within Spain?

The nice thing about Spain and Europe in general is that if you drive half hour in any direction you are bound to meet a village, town or city to explore and discover. The land is populated by quaint white-washed villages called in Spain, Pueblo Blancos, beautiful seaside towns along the coast, spectacular mountain villages or majestic cities all different from one another. It would take more than a lifetime to see them all. It is simply impossible to get bored in Spain. One will instead either be charmed and seduced or intrigued enough to plan a second trip.

Terry, Amy Lou and I went on a week long road trip last week, up the coast to Barcelona. We stopped on the way to Valencia and were incredibly surprised at how beautiful this first class city on the costa Blanca is. Wow! What a beauty this city is with endless beaches, first class art and culture centers and a gorgeous old city core. This is a classy city renowned for its fine restaurants and art galleries. We must go back for an extended weekend next year!

We then drove all the way to Barcelona. This elegant city is bustling with life and energy. The architecture from the modernist days of Gaudi adds a different look compared to other Spanish cities.

You can also hear and feel the very distinct Catalan culture here. Barcelona is a huge and very busy city. You really need to take a bus tour, like the hop on hop off bus, to get an overall look of what the city is all about.  Here is a picture of Amy Lou on the Hop on Hop off bus illegally and incognito in our carrier bag.  We let her head out while on the bus.  Such a good traveler!

The city has so much to offer such as; the Gothic quarter, the eclectic and artsy El Born, the chic neighborhood of Eixample, a walk down the super busy La Rambla, the surrounding area, the locals call “Las Ramblas”, the Port and its amazing marina restaurants, the majestic and avant-garde Sagrada Familia, and the other Gaudi designed masterpieces, Casa Milà, La Padera, and Parc Gruel.

So much to see and do in Barcelona. One must also sample the delicious Pintxos, which are the Catalan version of Tapas but mostly on a slice of baguette bread like the picture below.

We will definitely go back to Barcelona. Four days was good but it deserves a second visit just to soak it all in and live the Barcelona lifestyle. A word of advice about Barcelona, it is incredible noisy. The World Economic Forum rates it as number 7 noisiest city in the world. Bring earplugs to sleep well!

Also, while there were no tolls at all to drive to Madrid or Granada, there were tolls as you approach Valencia and all the way to Barcelona. See the cost below. Not cheap!

On the way back, we stopped for a night at the sea side town of Altea. Wow! We were pleasantly surprised at this beautiful old village where you can also stay in a small hotel on the pebbly beach with stunning views of two mountains extending to the sea. This is a really nice little town to stay for a couple of nights.

The drive to Barcelona is a total of 9 hours. Stopping one night each way cut the journey in half and was perfect for us and our little dog, Amy Lou who by now, has got the hang of road trips.  She loves hotels as well because we get to all hang out together in the big bed!!

You may wonder whether it is best to fly or drive from the costa del sol to Barcelona. If you have time like we do, driving is fun and you get to discover other places you would not see if you flew. When you add up the time spent to drive to the airport and wait to board, fly and cab to the hotel, all in all, it took us two more days but these were spent discovering new towns. We really enjoyed this road trip and would do it all over again someday.

As far as cost is concerned, here is the tally:

Flying from Nerja/Malaga to Barcelona
120 euros x 2 tickets + dog fee 80=320euros. (You can do it cheaper with Ryanair but they don’t take dogs in cabin. This was the fare with Iberia)
Parking car at airport = 50euros
Cabs to and from airport in Barcelona = 100euros

Total approx. cost of flying: 470 euros or $714 Canadian dollars

Driving from Nerja to Barcelona
Gas: 90euros
Tolls: 11 euros x2 + 35 euros x2 + 15 eurosx2=122 euros
Parking 4 days in Barcelona: 60 euros
Hotel in Valencia with parking and breakfast = 120euros
Hotel in Altea = 80 euros
I don’t count the extra meals because we would have gone out to dinner in town most likely anyway.

Total cost of driving: 472 euros! Ha Ha!! About the same. Who would have thought.

We rented a beautiful little apartment in the chic Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. That was $675 Canadian for 4 nights. Contact me if you want the link.

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Christmas in Spain

How do the Spaniard celebrate Christmas?

The Holiday season in Spain spans from December 24th to January 6th and is refer to as Navidad.

The Christmas shopping season is officially kicked off on November 24th with the lighting of the Christmas lights.  Take a look at Malaga this year. Just spectacular!

Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve called the Nochebuena, the “Good Night”.  The Nochebuena is very similar to how French Canadians Québecois celebrate le “Réveillon de Noël”.  A large family dinner party is enjoyed until the early hours of the morning.  In Spain, I am told that it often lasts until 6 o’clock in the morning.  Gotta love those Spanish party people!!  The Misa de Gallo, Spain’s midnight mass, is now attended by fewer and fewer Spaniards.

Most homes, churches and streets display Christmas decorations, some nativity scene and a Christmas tree.

December 26th is Sant Esteve (Saint Stephen) day and is also celebrated with another family gathering.

Presents are given on January 6th morning, however, children usually receive one or two presents on Christmas morning, December 25, brought by “Papá Noel”, which is a non-traditional imitation of Santa Claus. There is a special Christmas dance called the Jota which has been performed for centuries in Spain during Christmas and many towns also have a Christmas Parade like this one in Nerja, our town, on Dec 23rd.

Terry and I will be spending Christmas like we do every year on Christmas Eve with Cava this year instead of Champagne and a few tapas I will be preparing such as olives, manchego, serrano & iberico ham, chorizo al inferno, albongidas, croquettas and langoustines Pil-Pil!

Feliz Navidad to everyone.  We wish you a wonderful Christmas with family and friends.  In the end, these are the most important moments in life!

Stay tuned for how the Spaniards celebrate New Year’s Eve! Another fun fiesta celebrated in their own special way!!

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Posted in Spanish life

Why do the Spaniards call red wine vino tinto instead of vino rojo and what the heck is Tinto de verano?

The color red in spanish is rojo but, for red wine, they say vino tinto, not vino rojo.  Why, you may ask?

It essentially relates to the latin origin of the word “tinto” and also to the process of wine making.  “Tinto” comes from the Latin word “tinctus”, which means “dyed”, “stained” or “tinted”.

If you know about the wine making process, you know that it is the skin of the grapes that gives the wine its color.  Green grapes for white wine, red grapes for red wine unless you only use the flesh of the grapes.  Therefore, red grapes tint the white juicy flesh and dyes it its distinctive color.  Therefore, it is not really “red wine” it is “tinted wine”.

In Spain, you can order vino tinto, vino blanco, vino rosado which is rosé wine and Tinto de Verano!  What the heck is tinto the verano?!!  Its literal translation is the “Red wine of summer”.  It is a refreshing drink Spaniards enjoy in the hot summer months made of vino tinto and a lemon sparking pop called Limón.  I know, it sounds terrrible but believe me, it is deliciously cooling and perfect for the boiling hot summer days of Spain.  Most tourists will have a sweet and juicy Sangria but Spaniards on the other hand,  will for the most part, enjoy an icy cold, not too sweet, Tinto de Verano!

Salud!!

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Posted in Spain, Spanish life

In Spain, you say going Tapas, not going to eat Tapas. Find out why here.

One of Spain’s true joys are Tapas.  These are the small dishes now so popular around the world who originated right here in Spain.  A Tapa is simply a small snack or appetizer traditionally consumed at lunch or in the early evening before a main meal. They are always enjoyed with a glass of wine, a beer or water if you don’t drink.  You never have a coffee or tea or cocktail with tapas in Spain.  It is just not done.  Also, the Spaniards will rarely drink without eating something at the same time.  The proper way is one tapa for each drink you order.

The word tapa means top, cover or lid in Spanish. The most likely legend is that the first Tapa was simply a slice of bread which was placed over the wine glass to keep the flies out.

The most interesting fact learn last night about tapas is that the Spaniards do not say, lets go eat some tapas.  They use the word as a verb.  It is an action to go Tapas, meaning getting together with friends for a drink, a bite and some fun social time.  Don’t you love how they live!!

In Andalucia and other parts of Spain, a tapa will often be given to you for free.  Yes, gratis!! when you order a drink.  How wonderful is that!!  And they are delicious, sometimes a culinary experience and source of pride for the bar.  Take a look at the feast we had on a night out with our wonderful Spanish school, La Escuela Idioma de Nerja.

Tapas are just another wonderful reason to come to Spain and enjoy its culture!  Salud!