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/

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.
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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.

Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Ajoutez deux lettres a Paris et c’est le paradis.

Jules Renard, writer

Add two letters to Paris and it is paradise.

When Jules Renard uttered this famous quote, he could not have been more correct. There are very few places in the world that are able to justify the hype surrounding them. Paris not only justifies that hype but threatens to challenge it, mock it, as if describing its beauty and sophistication is beyond the realm of human intellect.

I found myself in Paris in April 2012- an unexpected and impromptu trip. This was a time when photography and the creative arts barely interested me. It was also a time of great, many personal tragedies and I credit Paris for coaxing me out of my shell, for making me believe at the time that beauty still existed in the world. 

I apologise in advance for the quality of photos, but I do hope they capture a sense of allure that Paris has to offer to any traveller lucky enough to visit. One day, I hope to go back again. 

Amidst Nature
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Jardin Des Tuileries
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Jardin Du Palais Royal
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Jardin Du Palais Royal
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Jardin Du Luxembourg
Parisian Streets
Casual shot of Parisian street life
As seen on Place De La Concorde
Cartier showroom...
As seen on Avenue Des Champs Elysees
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As seen outside Cite (Paris Metro): Hire a bike for 20 euros per day
French street signs lol.
Near Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris
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Unknown street, Paris
Architectural Details
Details of the fountain
Fontaines De La Concorde
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Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris
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Cathedrale Notre Dame De Paris: mass in progress
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Opera National De Paris
Iconic Buildings
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Palais De Justice
Me and sister posing lol.
Arc De Triomph
Grand Palais
Grand Palais
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Palais Du Luxembourg
Cathedrale de Notre Dame
Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris
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Le Tour D’Eiffel

So, what do you think? Does Paris sound like a good idea to you?

Cover photo: View of Pont Alexandre III and River Siene, Paris.

My Moroccan Adventure- a photo essay

Every country has a word that can be used to describe it. For example, Spain is passionate, India is colourful and Morocco…well, it’s unique. For a small country sitting on the western edge of Africa, Morocco offers plenty to keep your senses busy and happy. But it’s not just that. It’s the fact that anything that you will encounter in Morocco, you’ll be hard pressed to find it elsewhere in the world. Be it the type of architecture, the mouthwatering tajines and couscous, the cosy djelaba gown or the famed argan oil, Morocco just does things differently, and that is what makes it more alluring to its visitors. Oh, and did I mention the huge variety of stunning landscapes that are also on offer? If you’re asking me whether you should go to Morocco, well I’m asking you, why the hell haven’t you been yet?

Landscape

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Morocco offers stunning landscape to wander around. It has nice beaches too, but they were not a part of my itinerary. Clockwise from left: outside Ifrane;  sunset in Sahara desert; on the way to Merzouga; farming land near Volubilis; Skoura valley with date palm oasis; Tizi N’Tichka pass (highest motorable pass in Morocco)

Architecture

Mosques, madressas (Islamic schools), mausoleums

Mosques, madressa and mausoleums play an integral role in Morocco’s religious life and it is no wonder that Moroccans have traditionally invested a lot of effort in designing these spaces. The mosques range from very old and historic to very new; very grand to  very humble. Mosques usually stand on their own, although madressas and mausoleums can also feature a mosque within their compound. 

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Religion and architecture (clockwise from left): the famous Hassan II mosque, Casablanca; women’s section of mosque beside mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat; the inside of men’s section of a mosque at a highway restaurant; a village mosque; the famous Koutubia mosque, Marrakech
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Religion and architecture (clockwise from left): mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes; the famous Qarawayyin mosque, Fes; madressa in Chellah, Rabat; mausoleum of Mohammed V, Rabat; madressa Attarine, Fes; madressa Bou Inania, Meknes

Rural

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Rural- scape: Humble housing in villages. Houses are made of sun-hardened mud bricks, then additional mud is plastered over to increase durability.

Kasbah

Kasbah means either a fortified house or a village. Kasbahs are a reminder of Morocco’s rich history when different dynasties competed for power. The design of kasbahs placed more emphasis on practicality than aesthetics. Kasbahs provided protection against various adverse elements, such as an outside enemy, severe weather, and drought. 

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Kasbah living (clockwise from left): Kasbah Amridil (fortified house); Kasbah Amridil from inside; the oldest kasbah in Morocco; Ait Benhaddou (fortified village)- the site of filming of many movies such as Gladiator and Game of Thrones.
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Kasbah living: Kasbah Oudaia (fortified village), Rabat. 

The inside of this kasbah stores a very nice surprise once you walk in. The old, stoic exterior gives way to refreshingly chic interior and is a great example of Moroccan culture infused with European influence. These photos do not do justice to how beautiful a walk down the meandering lanes of this kasbah really is. 

Palaces

The Royal Palace of Fes, or Dar-el Makhzem, is a 17th century palace that is still used as the residence of the royal family when they are in the city. As a consequence, the palace is off limits to public. 

The word ‘bahia’ in Marrakech’s Bahia Palace means beautiful in Arabic. It was built by Morocco’s grand vizier Si Moussa in 1860s, although additional features were added by his slave (who later made himself the vizier) Abu Bou Ahmed.This final version of the palace was supposed to house Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines. 

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Palaces of Morocco (clockwise from left): Stunning brass door handle at the Royal Palace, Fes; Royal Palace in Fes (entry is not permitted inside); brass gate in full glory; Bahia Palace, Marrakech; ornate detailing on Bahia Palace’s exterior
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Bahia Palace, Marrakech
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Bahia Palace, Marrakech. Clockwise second photo from left: Riad, or courtyard, of the palace. A ‘riad’also means garden, greenery, or richness in Arabic and Saudi Arabia’s capital ‘Riyadh’ takes its name from this particular term.

Funduqs (Caravanserais)

A funduq was another type of ancient building frequently found in Morocco. It was used as a commercial as well as a residential property by merchants visiting a city. The bottom floor functioned as a store whereas the upper floors were reserved as residential quarters.

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The Nejjarine Complex (Funduq), Fes
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The Nejjarine Complex (Funduq), Fes

Throughout Morocco, the most stunning and unique examples of buildings I came across were from the Marinid dynasty. The Marinids were a Berber dynasty that ruled from 12th to 14th century in Morocco. Their buildings are distinguished with elaborate carvings in plaster, zellij (tilework) and generous use of cedar wood. The amalgamation results in a resplendent form of architecture that is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. 

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Madressa Bou Inania, Meknes
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Carvings in plaster are utilised lavishly, not just in Marinid architecture but even in buildings proceeding that period. 
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Exquisite cedar wood carving
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Madressa Al-Attarine, Fes
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Food

The mainstay of Moroccan cuisine is couscous and tagine, and they come in a lot of variety. Do try their harissa (chilli sauce), harira (chickpea soup), pastilla (sweet-savoury pie), and camel meat. FYI if you are a vegetarian, you will not be let down by the local cuisine. Moroccans are not raging meat eaters, despite popular belief. This is mainly due to the cost of meat being high and the average family size still being large by many people’s standards (around 5 children!)

Try these drinks: mint tea, nous nous coffee (means half coffee, half milk), avocado-orange juice, Hawaii® tropical juice (commercial drink with soda), panache tropical juice (freshly made fruit juice in restaurants)

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Morocco Feed (clockwise from left): vegetarian couscous; vegetarian appetisers spread; chicken pastilla; berber eggs; standard breakfast fare; harira (chickpea soup); chicken tagine. Centre image: camel meat burger
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Morocco Feed (clockwise from left): Homemade harissa paste (red chillies, lemon, garlic) from a Berber family in M’Goun Valley; mint tea; Hawaii tropical drink; street food with panache tropical drink on extreme left at Djmaa el Fnaa, Marrakech; cactus fruit (another street delight); orange-avo juice

Medinah and souqs 

Medinah refers to the old part of a city and souq is a market, which is commonly found inside a medinah. A stroll through the souq can be quite an experience, which will feel like a sensory explosion. A souq sells all sorts of things that are required in everyday Moroccan life- clothes, food, groceries, accessories, home items, you name it. However, each craft has its own section inside a souq, such as the brassware section, the leather section, the ceramic section etc. There are convoluted little maze-like lanes in which you can get blissfully lost (or frustratingly lost if you have less time on hands). You will get persistent shopkeepers calling you out in Arabic or French to look at their wares and if you decide to go in, there will be plenty of haggling involved. 

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Souq inside Fes medinah
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Souq inside Meknes medinah
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Souq inside Marrakech medinah

About

She wanted to travel the world…and so she did.

Anonymous (but describes me well)
About the blog

Hey there!
My name is Vrushali, and welcome to Navigating Without Borders! Having lived in five cities in three different countries, the desire to know various cultures was long planted inside me, way back in my childhood.
As a person with a constant hunger to travel, I found this blog with the intention of recording my experiences visually and in writing. Here, you will find photo essays with some of my best visual work under the ‘Inspire Me’ section, in case you are in need of some travel inspiration (don’t judge me- I’m still learning!). And for those of you who already know where they want to go, you will find posts related to some practical information about your next destination under the ‘Travel Guide’ section.
For other travel- related topics, such as my personal observations and reflections, be sure to check out the ‘Other Resources’ section.
I hope that through this blog, we are able to interact and inspire each other in equal measures.
My website is still a work in progress as this is not my full- time job, so just be sure to bookmark it, subscribe to it, visit it often and you won’t miss out on any new adventures!
Also, be sure to follow me on my Instagram as it gets updated more frequently than my blog.
See you soon!

About the woman behind the blog

Vrushali D is a travel enthusiast who is always searching for her next adventure. When not travelling, she likes to focus on writing, flexing her culinary muscles, practising yoga and exploring anything Spanish. Her Spanish exploration has led to her spending a year in Madrid, learning Castellano and rediscovering her passion for following her dreams.

Cover photo: View of the old city of Jodhpur from Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan.