In just a few short days we will be departing Spain, and I am reflection on our experiences here as we prepare to leave. Spain has impressed me in a number of ways – some good and some not so much. Many of these impressions will become my memories of Spain, and I share them here with you.
The selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and the varieties of market-fresh meats, cheeses and fish in Spain are remarkable. Prices can vary a lot compared to what I am used to seeing in the U.S. and the U.K. The most inexpensive fruit is oranges. The flatlands near where I live have orange groves that spread as far as the eye can see. Restaurants and sidewalk vendors offer fresh-squeezed orange juice almost everywhere in the country.
The most expensive food item is ham, which is a story in itself. There is cured ham you can buy at a deli counter (jamón cocida), and cured hams sold as an entire leg (jamón ibérico and jamón serrano). A ten pound leg can sell for $100 at the local meat store or run as high as $500/pound for the gourmet stuff. These hams look remarkably similar to prosciutto, but they are not the same.
One of Spain’s major contributions to world cuisine is paella, a pan of rice cooked with spices, vegetables, seafood, chicken or meat. It is a staple on many restaurant menus and a good choice for a large group. I like to think of paella as comfort food like how Americans eat macaroni and cheese or a bowl of chili. It is not a gourmet dish, but it can be quite tasty.
I also have to mention tapas. Some have been quite good. Most have been mediocre. I think of tapas as better-than-average bar food – something to snack on with beer to take the place of preparing a regular dinner.
We have made a number of friends during our time in Spain, and every one is from another country – Portugal, Colombia, Cuba and England. None are native Spaniards. Although I live in an all-Spanish, non-English speaking neighborhood, only one person ever smiled or greeted me with a simple ‘Buenos dias’. One good thing is that people give us space and do not impose themselves. Still, I have to wonder if the locals are just not all that friendly. Perhaps the beach towns have been so overrun with expats for so long that the locals are numb to outsiders. Since joining the EU, Spain has experienced the flood of northern European expats and seen the cost of real estate soar. Most of the coastal areas of Spain are now a string of resort towns. Tourism dictates the local economy, and our city of Torrevieja is no different.
The Country and its History
Spain has played a central role in the history of civilization from the ancient Iberians to the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Moors, the Catholic monarchs, the global explorers, the conquistadors and the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire. Like other countries, Spain was built in layers, one on top of another. Most of the architecture in the cities now reflects the elegance of 19th century facades with many fine parks, plazas and pedestrian walkways.
We have enjoyed the quirky grandeur of Anton Gaudí architecture in Barcelona, the mosque cathedral in Cordoba, the Gothic cathedral in Seville, and the classic beauty of the Royal Palace in Madrid. We have seen the Roman amphitheater in Cartagena, the Alhambra in Granada and the fertile countryside filled with vineyards, olive groves, almond orchards and fruit trees. There is a sense of grandeur in Spain that rivals any of the Old World countries, and their culture lives on through traditional music, dance, bullfighting, art and a modern-day monarch.
Even with Spain’s rich history of art, culture, architecture and empire, I am left with gaps in understanding the country. For example, there are statues, monuments and tributes to Christopher Columbus throughout Spain. Why is there so little history told about Magellan, Pizarro, Balboa, Cortez, et.al., and the roles they played in building the Spanish Empire? I started reading about these explorers and conquerors in elementary school. One must understand something of their exploits to appreciate the history of all of Latin America, the Caribbean and The Philippine Islands.
Where is the energy and drive that keeps a country’s economy vital and strong? While most of the industrialized world has more or less recovered from the economic depression of 2007-2011, Spain seems mired in record high levels of poverty and unemployment. Young people with college degrees are leaving Spain in record numbers to find work elsewhere, creating a brain drain that will take decades to restore. I have listened to stories of the work ethic of Spaniards who are more focused on clock-watching than productivity. Spaniards still prefer to take afternoon siestas, which made sense when people worked outdoors. However, what do employees who commute to work do for three hours when their place of work closes its doors every afternoon?
I have read and viewed so many news stories about corruption in government in Spain at every level that I sometimes wonder how the the country has managed to build their wind turbines, high speed trains and solar farms. Then I read that energy rates and train fares continue to rise to cover expenses while economies of scale would suggest that costs should be coming down. Where is all the money going?
I came to Spain with high expectations, and I enjoyed my time here. I am a bit pessimistic about Spain’s future as I mull over these puzzling questions. Whatever happens with Spain, there is no denying its appeal. It is a beautiful country and we have taken in much of its beauty during our six months as you can see from this brief video Florence created. I hope you enjoy the imagery as much as we enjoyed experiencing it. Hasta luego!
© All photos are copyrighted by Florence Lince.
Interesting to read your review on Spain as an expat living there. Good luck with your next adventure.
I appreciated my time in Spain, and I am grateful to have seen as much as I did. I have tried to be honest about my concerns for the country. My biggest surprise was that I did not meet many Spaniards, a contrast with every other country I have visited. The friendliest local I met was the deli counter employee at our local supermarket. She always smiled and greeted me when I came in. Perhaps it was because I made it a point to communicate in Spanish. Thank you for your comments. – Mike
I’m sorry you haven’t made any friends. Our neighbours often refer to foreigners as allí aquí. And in fairness, many foreigners come, stay for a short while and go elsewhere. Or back home. Some treat Spain as their holiday home. And, as you’ve said Torrevieja is very touristy.
Productivity and Spaniards aren’t too words normally employed together. Although agricultural workers do put in long hours for low money.
Hope you enjoy your next adventure. Your six months went very quickly.
We made a number of friends during our time in Spain. It is just that none of them were Spaniards. Our local grocer is from Portugal. The owner of our favorite internet shop is from Colombia. He helped me with my Spanish during lively chats about politics and the World Cup. Our closest friends were Brits we met during our tour to Seville and Cordoba. Our host family when we first arrived in Spain are from Cuba. They are all acknowledged in the video which is linked from the story.
I was not sure about the accuracy of my perceptions, so I appreciate your comment about productivity. Like Latinos in the U.S., I understand that much of the farm labor is Spain comes from Morocco.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. – Mike
Sorry, I realised you meant no Spanish friends. My unclear reply.
The work ethos is a mixed bag. They are expected to put in long hours, so why bust a gut for such long days? I can see their point of view.
A lot of our field workers are local, sometimes South American. Not many Roccies.
Where will you be writing from next?
We are headed back to the United States to rest up, charge up and save up a bit. We have not decided on our next adventure yet. Until we do I will be writing from Olympia, Washington, which I call home and which serves as the standard by which I measure all the beautiful places I have visited. Thanks for asking. – Mike
Thanks for the insight Mike. Happy travels.
Thanks, Tom. I hope our paths cross one of these days.
Thanks for a most interesting article and video! I recently read a book you might like “Over the Edge of the World” by Bergreen. It told Magellan’s fascinating story. I look forward to your next adventure!
Thank you, Marilyn, for the book referral. I will check it out. And thank you also for following along on our adventures and sharing your comments. – Mike
MIke, the wonderful thing you and Florence have done is spend quality time in countries that fascinate you. Your 6 month strategy is fabulous and really lets you experience life from a local perspective – and consequently form impressions and opinions. I really appreciate the perspective that you bring to understanding a county, along with its people. You may even find at some point that it’s an approach you can use in the US someday. 🙂 Thank you so much for all the great posts and please promise that you two will keep writing – I know nothing about Olympia! 🙂 Wishing you all the best on your journey home. ~Terri
Terri, if there is one thing that has given me satisfaction from our time abroad, it is when the people we have met and become friends with have said, ‘You have changed how I think of Americans.’ I think we are all ambassadors of whatever values and beliefs we choose to project. I believe we live in a world of individual relationships, not groups of nations. Like-minded people have warmed our hearts everywhere we have traveled. Those who would exploit the good will of others are vastly outnumbered by good, caring, friendly people.
I have a few travel stories in me yet to write, and I look forward to sharing a bit more about my roots in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you for your comments and support. I will be following along with you and James as well, and I hope our paths will cross one day! – Mike
An interesting post Mike. Good luck on your move back to the Pacific Northwest. Thanks for including Cuernavaca in your adventures. There’s a lot of Mexico you missed so I hope you can make some short cross-border trips to places like Oaxaca, the colonial cities, the Mayan Yucatan, and more. Good luck to you both.
As you indicated, Jim, we have missed some highlights not only in Mexico, but also everywhere we have traveled. Also, the best of each place we have lived has been the friendship that has grown with the people we have met. You made our time in Mexico more special than it could ever otherwise have been. I hope we make it back to Mexico in addition to a number of other special places. We feel like we have barely scratched the surface of the things to see and enjoy that can only be discovered and appreciated through travel. Thank you for sharing your comments. – Mike
My favorite parts of this post, to be brief, were how you mentioned paella! I love the different ways it can be made, enjoy the aromatic scents and flavors in it, Mike.
I also wish to mention that your reminding us about Columbus and how Spain also appreciates his discovery, was meaningful to me. I am so glad you showed us the statues of the Queen and King, along with Christopher Columbus, Mike!
I am sure that you have taught me a lot about world traveling through the posts I read, along the way. I also believe we are meant to be ‘kindred spirits’ and good friends, whether you are closer or farther away in distance, from now on! You and Florence will be crossing my path one day… Smiles, Robin
Robin, I believe you and I are kindred spirits, as you said. As such, I also think it is inevitable that our paths will cross one day. In the meantime, our comments about one another’s lives on our respective blogs make for a fine connection. Just as you have learned about the various places in the world that we have written about, so have I learn about life in Ohio, a state I have yet to visit.
There is so much of our own country yet to experience that Florence and I will be planning our future adventures to include domestic as well as international travel. And it is with local insights such as what you provide that our travels will be enriched. Thank you for your great stories, your delightful humor, and your valued comments. – Mike