Of all the European countries I have been to, I think it is safe to say that Spain is now my favorite. I don’t even know where to start! I suppose I’ll start with Spanish coffee, since it is was my very first experience of Spain, and my very last. While in Spain I had three café con leches (equal parts espresso and steamed milk, no foam), one café solo (black coffee, but just espresso shots; I encountered no drip coffee while in Spain), and one café cortado (basically a café macchiato; espresso cut with a small amount of steamed milk). I ordered the café cortado last minute walking back to the ship, and I am so glad I did! It was one of the best coffee drinks I have ever had. I am on a mission to try coffee in every country I visit, and Spain was a wonderful place to begin my sampling of coffee around the world.
I did do more than just drink coffee in Spain. I ate food! I hit up tapas bars on multiple occasions. Bars in Spain are nothing like bars in the United States. They are family places, open all day, and they serve food—tapas—as well as drinks. Tapas are just small, bite-sized portions of different dishes. For example, I had salmon tapas, potatoes in some sort of brown sauce, calamares (squid), paella (a rice dish), tortilla (an egg and potato dish), and gambas (shrimp), just to name a few. My favorite dish in Spain, however, was one I ordered on a stormy night at a café along the cathedral square in Cadiz. The cathedral square offers wifi, and a couple of friends and I wanted to take advantage of the free internet on our last night in Spain. Unfortunately, it started raining on the way there and in order to sit underneath the awning of the café to escape the rain, we felt obligated to order some food as well. I am so glad we did! The dish was scrambled eggs with shrimp, boiled green beans, sauted potato wedges, fried garlic bits, pickled sweet and sour onions or turnips, parsley, amazing Spanish olive oil, and salt (a good friend of mine on the ship is an expert on food, so she helped me with that description a bit). I don’t even know if that is typically Spanish, but it was really good!
My first day in Spain I spent in Cadiz and went on a Semester at Sea guided tour of the city. We saw the town hall, the cathedral museum that supposedly houses a fragment of Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the cathedral itself, including a tour of the crypt below the alter. After finding a bocadillo (a sandwich on a baguette) for lunch, we also saw the architectural museum housing ancient artifacts from both the Phoenician and Roman periods of Spain’s history. Fun fact: Have you ever wondered why so many Roman statues are missing heads and arms? A person would choose a body from the wide selection of premade bodies and then have the head and hands custom made and added later. Also, looters found heads and arms better souvenirs because the bodies were too heavy. That night we went out to a salsa club and saw some authentic Spanish night life and salsa dancing.
The next day I went on another Semester at Sea tour to the smaller “white” towns of Argos and Ronda. All the buildings in the towns are white in order to stay cool during the hot summer months. Orange trees line the streets and grow on the rooftops. The oranges are too bitter to eat, but they use them to make orange marmalade, a specialty of southern Spain. Ronda was my favorite of the two towns. It was founded by the Celts as a fortress and built literally on cliffs. A giant bridge spanning the deep cavern that runs through town was once used as a prison. They didn’t even have to put bars on the windows or balconies because it was too far of a drop for the prisoners to climb out! The largest bull ring in Spain can also be found in Ronda. They now hold one bull fight a year. Last year, just one ticket could cost a buyer as much as 7,000 euro!
My third day in Spain was spent in Seville. A friend and I took an early train to Seville to meet a couple of our friends who were already there. We mostly just walked around, saw the outside of the cathedral and the Alcazar, an Arabic palace. We got coffee and tapas and did a little shopping before taking the train back to Cadiz. That night we spent in the rain at the cathedral square and went to bed early in order to get up early the next day and take advantage of our few remaining hours in Spain. That last day was literally spent eating. The whole time. We had a very popular Spanish breakfast—churros con chocolate! Deep fried doughnuts dipped in thick, melted chocolate. Yum! Alice, my food expert friend, is conducting interviews in every country about street food so after the churros she interviewed the owner’s son about the history behind tapas, churros con chocolate, and street food in Spain. Pretty soon after that it was already time for lunch! I have to admit, we did have burgers, but it was so different from American burgers! For one, they use pork instead of beef. The cheese was just like American cheese, but about ten times more flavorful. After burgers, we had our last tapas and I got my café cortado on the way back to the ship.
I was not ready to leave Spain, but the prospect of Morocco—and riding a camel—made it a little easier…