We decided to go visit Spain in February to avoid some of the dreary Minnesota winter. We were incredibly lucky – we missed -30F weather with 30MPH winds!
I think I could make a habit avoiding winter in Minnesota.
Terrible Minnesota weather aside, Andalusia in Spain was pretty incredible. The sights were pretty fantastic, the food was amazing, everything was super laid back, we chatted with some incredible people, and we had a couple of wonderful cooking classes! We had a brief stop in Gibraltar, a British colony, and it turned out to be a super strange experience. All-in-all, we had a fantastic visit and we were happy with our visit.
It was neat to tour around Spain and see an area where Muslim Moors conquered and set up shop for 700 years. The architecture and artwork of this period is similar to what we saw in India, Singapore, the Middle East, and the Balkan areas conquered by the Ottomans. It was strange to think the Iberian Peninsula is so far away from India yet shared a similar architectural language because of a shared religion! Besides Muslim architecture, we saw some oppulent churches and cathedrals. Spain hit it’s stride right after it drove all the Muslims out (1492) and soon found itself as a major world power and owner / ruler of the new world. All the gold taken from the Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous peoples ended up lining the walls of huge churches and cathedrals in Spain. Of our all travels, the cathedrals were unlike anything we’ve seen. The blend between Christian and Muslim architecture was a bit schizophrenic – a lot of the buildings looked like the car Homer Simpson designed with all sorts of different styles and features just mashed together.
We probably ate our weight in tapas. It seemed like everywhere we visited we found extremely delicious food. I’m not huge in eating meat and it was surprisingly easy to find delicious vegetarian / vegan food wherever we went. We learned some new favorites, like paella and pisto, while engorging ourselves in olives and bread. If nothing else, Spain is 100% delicious.
No one really seemed to be in a hurry in Spain. In fact, we had to modify our typical eating times slightly to accommodate the issue of a lot of restaurants closing between 2PM and 7PM. We are not really night people so it was a bit strange to eat a large meal early and then try to find a snack in the evenings. In many ways, it was helpful the culture was so laid back. We were able to get around easily and see a lot of sites without being surrounded by people since folks were busy eating at times slightly different than what we were used to!
We had great conversations with folks but there is one experience which stands out – our English paella cooking instructor located in rural Spain. We had an incredible cooking class with her, paella is amazing, but most of all we had a great conversation about traveling, immigrating, Spanish culture, the Brexit, and all sorts of other topics. It was an incredible experience because she and her family went a step further than Jac and I when we were traveling: instead of returning to their home country they decided to lay down roots somewhere a bit more laid back. Anglosphere culture is pretty similar so it was extremely educational to get her perspective on Spain. She informed us of a side of Spain we couldn’t possibly know unless we lived in Spain.
Gibraltar was an extremely strange place. We’ve been to a handful of places that used to be British colonies where driving on the left is the rule and the areas still have a lot of ‘Britishness’. For whatever reason, Gibraltar is right-side driving yet feels very British. This is different than Hong Kong where there is left-side driving there is a giant ‘unweave’ interchange between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to accommodate right-side driving on the mainland. Gibraltar is super tiny and has their own currency to boot so it was weird to pay cash for things and get Gibraltar pounds back. I guess regular UK pounds are valid currency in Gibraltar on a 1:1 basis but Gibraltar pounds are not really valid anywhere outside Gibraltar.
The cities were pretty neat and the Seville Cathedral Roof tour is one of the amazing things we’ve done but I think our favorite area of Spain we visited was the rural areas with the tiny white villages. We had a fantastic night in Zahara de la Sierra and enjoyed visiting the tiny white villages strewn across the countryside. The small towns were a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city centers of Madrid, Seville, Granada, etc. The mountains were absolutely stellar and the countryside just smelled good! The streets were super narrow in the small villages. I ran into a building in Arcos de la Fronteria while trying to back out of a bad situation – the directions I received from a local would have required me to drive down some stairs so I decided maybe that I shouldn’t do that in a rental and ended up driving into a building. We had a new, black, VW Polo with 500KM and ran into a white building. Not great.
Aside from driving into buildings it was very easy to drive around Spain. Drivers were very courteous and pretty much everyone was driving below the speed limit. We were surprised with the narrow ‘highways’ in the mountains. It was incredible to see buses traversing the mountains knowing the road was barely wide enough for two small vehicles let alone a huge coach bus.
Spain was surprisingly cheap. Meals weren’t that expensive and lodging was a bit on the pricier side only because we picked some great views / great locations for lodging. Our rental car was super cheap and it was, in general, just crazy to see how far our dollars went. We were a bit surprised to learn Spain is kinda poor by American standards, especially the rural areas. Average wages are quite low to match the cost of living. There’s a lot of agriculture work and tourism seems to be the big industry in Andalusia so I guess it’s pretty logical wages are lower.
We were lucky to visit Spain when we did. It was neat to see ripe olives on the trees, see almond trees blooming, and enjoy local festivals like Christians & Moors in Madrid. Traveling in shoulder season is truly the best – all sorts of festivals and the earth is active with changes for the upcoming seasons. We also caught a Flamenco show in Seville and were completely floored with what we saw – the music, dancing, and singing was incredible.
We’d happily go back to Spain to eat tapas and hang out in the many white villages in the mountains :).
Enjoy the photos!