6 things that I've learnt from the Spanish in 6 months

After moving to Spain in September 2019, here is a round-up of six Spanish values that I’ve learnt to incorporate in my life.

Keep calm and eat your jamon

Away from work, the emphasis in a Spaniard’s personal life is on slowing down and going with the flow. When hanging out with a group of people, you’ll never be given an exact time, or the venue might change last minute, or new people might join in. The dinner time might continue right up until 10pm on weekdays as families continue talking. When someone pushes into a really crowded escalator queue at a metro station, people barely lose their cool.

Observing this natural gravitation towards an easy pace, especially in personal life, and practising it myself has meant inviting a greater degree of tolerance and flexibility into my mind, which has ultimately led to a better control over my anxiety.

Every weeknight is a late night at Mercado de San Ildefonso in Malasaña, Madrid.
Focus on authenticity

Whether it is the women here wearing minimal makeup every day and embracing their natural selves, people being more expressive with their emotions or there being, in general, a strong focus on food that is less processed, I love how authenticity is such an innate part of the Spanish culture.

Observing all these Spanish habits has not only made me feel more comfortable about accepting my own self, but it has also made me look for authenticity in whatever I try to bring into my life- from people to consumables to experiences.

Quality over quantity

For the longest time, my formula for spending had been ‘the cheaper the better’. This meant being price obsessed and at times completely ignoring the quality, even if it was downright in shambles, or even a risk to my health. Whilst at times this has worked for me (*wink* K-Mart *wink*), many times I have simply wasted my money because that thing has completely fallen apart after literally being used twice. One habit of Spaniards that I have noted and implemented is to value quality over quantity, at least in terms of the items that I use very frequently. The initial upfront cost may be high, but because that item lasts for longer, the cost per use turns out to be negligible. Win-win.

Food without spices can be tasty (GASP!!)

Never though I’d say this, but yes, food without spices CAN be tasty. I have definitely learnt to harness the actual flavours of individual raw ingredients, instead letting the spice blends shine every single time. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my spices and use them very frequently, but I have also learnt to utilise different herbs, sauces and techniques, that have exponentially increased my culinary repertoire. I no longer have to feel like I need to rely on certain, very specific ingredients, in order to make a dish successful.

Freshly caught, roasted squid in Cádiz with a simple salad
Be opportunistic with travel

I used to always think that the only way to travel properly is to save $$$, wait for the perfect moment, book a long trip and cover a region in detail. And that was largely because travelling anywhere from Australia is generally quite expensive, unless your income bracket is in the top 5%. Due to this thinking, I missed out on a lot of travel deals and long weekend opportunities. To this date South East Asia, which is literally my backyard, remains largely unexplored by me.

Spain is a small country and travelling is comparatively inexpensive, which is great news. But due to working fewer hours and wanting to maximise my savings, I can only take 2-3 days off a month to travel somewhere inter-region. And whilst I love it, 2-3 days isn’t enough time to explore a region in detail. So instead, I have now learnt how to use weekends to plan a quick but efficient getaway, instead of waiting until Christmas or Easter or summer vacations, when everything is 10 times the regular price anyways. Some tricks include: undertaking long journeys overnight, focusing on smaller, lesser known destinations, and undertaking travel to a large region in two to three parts.

The point is: if you are passionate about something, try to find ways of doing it more frequently than you normally would.

Puente nuevo, Ronda
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions

Time and again I’ve been touched by the Spanish people as they have opened their hearts and homes for me over the course of these months. From inviting me to Christmas lunches and dinners, to reducing my rental expenses, to continuously asking about my welfare- their warmth has never ceased to amaze me. By far the biggest lesson I have learnt so far from them is to value relations and to take time to maintain them. Cultural differences aside, you should never be afraid to give that extra hug, send that extra emoji, smile a bit more, ask someone how they’re doing, and in general make someone feel a part of the community. If we reach out more frequently to those around us, instead of always thinking that we might be imposing ourselves on them, it will improve the quality of life of so many of the vulnerable. You never know who needs you but might be too afraid to ask. And you also never know the last time you might get to speak to them.

Madrid Carnaval 2020

These are the top six qualities that I’ve learnt from the Spanish. Are you someone who has had the opportunity to learn something from another culture? Are you an expat in Spain who has learnt some invaluable things during their time here? Let me know in the comments below, or in my IG 🙂

Cover photo: Calle Cuevas del Sol, Setenil de las Bodegas (Andalucía). https://www.instagram.com/p/B8lzlqloKAz/

A Travel Guide to Galicia: Spain’s Celtic connection

Picture this: Lush green land. Rain. Beautiful coast dropping abruptly as it meets the sea, while waves crash with abandon against steep cliffs. Somewhere far away you hear bagpipes. What comes to the mind? You would be forgiven to think that you are somewhere in the Scottish highlands. But you need to shift your focus about 2,500 kilometres south to Spain’s north-western autonomous community: Galicia. 

Galicia is supposed to be one of the lesser known Celtic nations of the world, the more famous ones being Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Isle of Man. It is not a high priority for many foreign tourists visiting Spain- certainly not if they are visiting for the first time. Somehow, the absence of bulls, flamenco, searing heat or beach resorts with English speaking staff do not really entice your typical tourist into visiting this area. But if you do decide to venture off the usual tourist path, you will most definitely not be disappointed. 

Bagpipes, known in local language Gallego as ‘gaitas’ are an integral part of Galicia’s folk music. Pictured above is a man dressed in traditional clothing, playing music at Praia das Catedrais.

Itinerary and practical information

I based myself in Ribadeo and Santiago de Compostela, and from there I took day trips to the rest of the places.

In Santiago de Compostela, you can find a number of day tour operators who can take you on a guided tour along Rías Baixas. You can either enquire about them in Santiago’s Tourism Office, or often you can also see them giving out pamphlets in front of the cathedral in Praza do Obradoiro.

Recommended trip length and when to go

Around 1 to 1.5 weeks would be my recommendation, but that is easily modifiable depending on your circumstances.
Summer months (June, July, August) guarantee the sunniest weather and the coast is the best place to be. July and August are also peak months, so expect to splurge.
Spring (April, May) and autumn (September) are shoulder seasons, and you could explore the interior of Galicia, whilst still enjoying a good walk along the coast.
Avoid winter. The weather will be gloomy and so will you.

How to get to Galicia

  • By air: The cities of Santiago de Compostela, Vigo and A Coruña have international airports and serve as excellent bases to start your Galician adventure. They’re not the biggest airports in Spain, so you’ll need to double check if there’s a direct connection from your place of origin or not.
  • By land: Spain has an extensive public transport system, and you can get to Galicia using trains or buses from practically any part of Spain.
    • For trains, I use RENFE, but there’s also the option of FEVE trains that connect the northern coast.
    • For buses, I almost always rely on ALSA, when undertaking an inter-regional journey.
    • Use websites such as OMIO, Rome2Rio and Busbud to look at your options and book.
    • Another option is going to the bus or train station to check out the timetables and buying your ticket there. Depending on the day, you might even be able to reserve a seat for the same day.

How to move around in Galicia

The easiest way to access the best of the coast would be by using a car. Buses form another excellent alternative option. ALSA covers most routes, although there are a number of private bus companies that are especially good at connecting different villages to cities. Using Omio, Rome2Rio or Busbud should provide you with plenty of sufficient options. As mentioned before, an alternative option to buy tickets is to go physically to a bus station.

Where to stay

The top 3 websites that I use to book any accommodation anywhere are: Booking, AirBnB and Hostelworld. Keep in mind that smaller villages will not have AirBnb and hostels available, but you should be able to find hotels at very reasonable prices.

  • For my stay in Santiago de Compostela, I was able to book an AirBnb for 16 Euros per day, very close to the city centre.
  • For my stay in Ribadeo, I booked Hotel Santa Cruz through Booking.com. It’s a no-frills, basic hotel but quite clean and comfortable nevertheless. The breakfast is massive, the owner/ receptionist speaks excellent English and the staff is very helpful and always smiling! What else do you need?

Important links

Navigate the post

Page 2– Travel guide of the Galician coast
Page 3– Travel guide of Santiago de Compostela
Page 4– Travel guide of Galician food

The beautiful melody that is Sevilla

Sevilla (Seville) presents itself as a beautiful flamenco dancer, gracefully twirling to the rhythm of a guitar- the ruffles of her skirt flowing elegantly with each move. Sevilla lingers in one’s memory as a refreshing cirtus scent of orange blossom that permeates through the lanes of its old city. Sevilla is a fine Andalusian horse trotting its carriage along, against a backdrop of cheerful coloured buildings and lush palm trees. Sevilla is the modern Andalusian capital, whilst still retaining its glorious Moorish past. It is a city that is so richly endowed with beauty, poise and flamboyane all at once, that even with many legitimate contenders within Spain, Sevilla manages to rise to the occasion time and again and does it so effortlessly that it almost seems unfair.

A walk through the historical centre of Sevilla

The historical centre of Sevilla, also known as ‘Casco Antiguo’, is home to everything you ever imagined Sevilla, or indeed Spain, to be. It worth taking a slow walk through here, forgetting about your bucket-list for a while. You will be rewarded with stunning architecture, beautiful hidden lanes, spontaneous flamenco, a spirited ambience and some amazing views to devour the best of Andalusian cuisine.

Horse carriages can be seen all around the old city centre. Andalusian horses are a very famous breed, but I’m not sure if this is the best use of them.
The old neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, that is impeccably maintained
Although a modern city now, Sevilla traditionally has been an important religious centre of Southern Spain.
Abanico de pericón, or the Spanish fan. It is used to cool down from an excessively hot Andalusian summer, and is also a prop in the local dance form Flamenco.
Flamenco in Seville 3
A Flamenco performance in progress. Contrary to popular beliefs, flamenco isn’t the national dance form of Spain. It is actually a local dance form of Andalucía. In fact, there are three places where it is said to be originated: Sevilla, Cádiz and Jerez de la Frontera. A Flamenco performance in Sevilla, therefore, is especially not to be missed.
A glimpse into Plaza de España

Plaza de España was built for the Ibero-American Expo of 1929 in order to showcase Spain’s industrial and technological strengths to different participating countries. These days it houses various government offices. Nevertheless, it is a very impressive building that serves as one of the finest examples of Neo Mudéjar architecture. This style incorporates Moorish design elements (geometric patterns, extensive tilework, calligraphy, horseshoe arches) into more traditional European forms of architecture like the Gothic or the Renaissance style.  Tiny alcoves representing different provinces of Spain line the Plaza’s semi circular body, while its most distinguising feature is a circular moat that carries small boats filled with tourists around the Plaza.

Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (The Bullring of Seville)

Completed in 1881, the Maestranza de Sevilla is one of the most iconic structures of the city. A synchronised life and death dance between a handsome, feisty Andalusian bull and a ruthlessly fierce torero (bullfighter) comes out on full display for a total of 14,000 avid spectators to see. Inside, there is a bullfighter’s chapel (Virgen de la Caridad) as well as an infirmary, for obvious reasons. The entire complex also houses a museum detailing Spain’s passionate love affair with this sport.  Although now quite controversial due to its stance on animal rights, the sport nevertheless still enjoys popularity in many parts of Spain.

Catedral De Sevilla (The Cathedral of Seville)

Built on the site of Muslim (Moorish) Sevilla’s grand mosque in 1528, the Catedral de Sevilla is the largest cathedral as well as the largest Gothic church in the world. It is a major UNESCO heritage site, and is also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus (a claim contested by the Dominican Republic). Some structures of the old mosque still remain incorporated into the cathedral’s architecture, such as: the famous Giralda (former minaret) and Patio de los Naranjos (former sahn, or big mosque courtyard with ablution facilities).

La Giralda, which later became an inspiration for Hasan II mosque in Casablanca, Morocco
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View of La Giralda from Real Alcázar de Sevilla.
View from Patios de los Naranjos and Sevilla from La Giralda.
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Retablo Mayor (Major Altarpiece).
Considered to be the largest altarpiece in the world, this gigantic structure bears 28 different scenes from the lives of Prophet Jesus and Virgin Mary (peace be upon them both), as per the Christian tradition. The extensive use of gold for decorating significant buildings was possible due to Spain’s colonial control over Central and South America.
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The remains of Christopher Colombus (a claim contested by Dominican Republic).
Real Alcázar de Sevilla (The Alcázar of Seville)

The Alcázar de Sevilla was built in 913 AD by the ruling Moors as a residential palace for the royalty. In fact, the upper levels of this breathtaking UNESCO heritage monument still serve as residences for the current royal family of Spain, thereby making it one of the oldest functioning palaces. Interesting fact: the word ‘Alcázar’ derives from the Arabic word ‘al-qasr’, which means a castle, a palace, a fort.

Since its inauguration as a royal residence, the Alcázar has undergone several renovations under both Moorish and Christian kings to achieve its present day form. As a result, this palace is a beautiful amalgamation of Moorish, Mudejár as well as purely European architecture.

The imposing entrance to Palacio de Don Pedro within Patio de la Montería.
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Stunning roof detailing everywhere.
Patio de las muñecas.
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Arabic inscriptions along the walls of the doorways around Patio de las Doncellas.
Patio de las Doncellas.

So, what do you think? Has this post made you wanderlust enough to go get lost in Sevilla’s alluring streets? If so, then don’t forget to like this post, subscribe to my blog and also, follow me on my Instagram.

Cover photo: Plaza de España, Sevilla.