Roman Malanke

The 5 Biggest Impressions of Spain

Hector Lavoe sang in his famous salsa song “todo tiene su final, nada dura para siempre”. So indeed my wonderful two-week trip to Spain has come to its end. Soon I’ll be back to fierce February colds of Ukraine diving back into work and day-to-day activities. But before that I’d like to record the things that impressed me the most during my stay in this beautiful country. To make it simpler I’ll nail it down to only five items.

1. Weather — A Sunny Paradise

It was incredibly warm for this time of year anywhere I went. In Barcelona I enjoyed sunny weather with average temperature of about +17° C. In Seville it was warmer, up to +20° C. Even in Madrid, which is far from the sea in the middle of the peninsula the thermometer didn’t drop below +12° C. What I noticed though is that this kind of weather is considered quite cold by Spaniards, because when I walked around in a T-shirt most of people around me were wearing sweaters and jackets with scarves.

2. Food — Menú Del Día, Tapas, Healthy Food Buffets

Before coming to Spain I’ve heard quite different opinions about Spanish food ranging from “it’s a gastronomical heaven” to “it totally sucks”. The traditional dishes known to me were limited to paella (which is basically what’s called in Ukraine “плов”) and tortilla (which is equivalent to Ukraine’s “омлет”). I also heard something about tapas but that was vague.

The most interesting findings to me were related not to specific dishes or recipes (although jamón with tomato bread and crema catalana were quite something!) but rather to the modes of taking food. Cafeterias, buffets and restaurants open not earlier than 12 p.m., oftentimes 2 p.m. During daytime there are two options available: eat “menú del día” or “comer de carta”. With the first one you pay fixed price of €10–16 depending on the place and can select from predefined set of dishes of the day: first dish, second dish, dessert and drink. The other option allows you to select any dishes from the menu, but pay for each separately, which will end up not less than 50% more expensive.

During nighttime, there are again two options: “cenar” or “ir de tapas”. The first one is a typical going out to the restaurant, nothing interesting there. The other one is much more authentic. Instead of just going to one place for the whole night you go to several places spending in each usually up to one hour drinking beer or wine accompanied by tiny plates of food. These small portions are called tapas and can be made of anything including bread, vegetables, ham, and most importantly seafood. I totally liked the experience of going for tapas because of its variety and, frankly I can’t seat over one plate for more than 20 minutes.

Another thing that I totally enjoyed in Barcelona and Madrid was all-you-can-eat buffets specialized in fresh and healthy foods. In Barcelona there are two chains operating: Lactuca and Fresc Co. Each of them has several restaurants in the city. In Madrid I was able to find only Fresco Cos. The concept is simple you pay €8.95 on weekdays or €10.95 on nights and weekends and can help yourself to as much food as you want in whatever combination you want, selecting from variety of salads, vegetables, fruits, soups, pizzas, pastas, desserts, drinks. To me it was like a vegetarian’s heaven: tens of kinds of lettuces, vegetables, olives, all local from Spain. Now, the most interesting observation related to these buffets is that most of the time they were half-empty, while at McDonald’s next door people stood in line to get their cheeseburger menu for about the same price. Indeed, people better value what they don’t have.

3. Cities & Towns — A Labyrinth Full of Tangerine Trees

All cities and towns I had a chance to visit are incredibly “user-friendly”. I would rate them by overall experience starting from the best one as follows: Barcelona, Toledo, Sitges, Seville, Madrid. Yes, the capital didn’t impress me much, maybe because it’s too big-cityish and very similar by its vibe to Kyiv. Seville I will remember forever as the only town where every single time I went out of hotel I got lost, so complicated are the labyrinths of its ancient streets. The tangerines trees planted all around full of ripe fruits were something new to me. And, of course, I couldn’t resist the temptation to tear one off and try it. Now, apparently the type of tangerine trees they plant in towns is different from those in gardens because despite its sexy look the fruit tasted, well, bad.

In Catalonia I was lucky to get both feeling of a big city (Barcelona) and a small town (Sitges). The last one is courtesy of my colleague, who invited me to spend a day there. Delicious lunch at open terrace next to the beach under clear sky and +20° C and surfers desperately trying to catch the wave will be my memories of Sitges for a long time. Now, Barcelona seemed to have everything a citizen might wish for: optimal population density, nice transportation system, modern infrastructure, historical center, beaches, parks, good restaurants, shopping districts, everything.

My last excursion was to the capital of Castilla La Mancha region wonderful town called Toledo. It’s 45-minute bus ride away from Madrid and I had serious doubts about going there. But after all I decided to go and now I don’t regret it at all. The whole town is located on a big hill with the most remarkable buildings being castle and cathedral. The interweaving narrow streets connect these two with a couple of cozy squares and gardens. It’s in one of these gardens where I had my best menú del día with sangría (local refreshing drink made of vine and lemonade) to the tune of Spanish music.

4. Lifestyle — No Going Out Before 10 p.m. & No Shopping on Sundays

So, do Spanish people really have siesta? The short answer based on what I’ve seen would be yes. I even got a couple of photos with people taking a nap outside at midday time. In small towns like Sitges most of shops are closed during 1—4 p.m. I also noticed the overall lateness of local people. They have their lunch not earlier than at 2 p.m. and go out for dinner starting 10 p.m. So if you’re an early-riser like me you can be sure you’ll always get the best table.

One of the big surprises to me was to find out that most of the businesses are closed throughout Sundays. I think this is because Spain is mostly catholic. But it was kind of illogical to see thousands of tourists wandering around and all shops and malls being closed. And it’s quite contrary to Ukraine where Sunday seems to be one of the most popular shopping days.

5. Nature & Land — Olive Trees & Mountain Roads

When planning my trip I intentionally wanted to use all possible means of transportation, first to just check them out and second to get the best feeling of Spanish land and nature. It’s one thing seeing it from a plane and quite different contemplating it in a bus window. So my transfer from Seville to Madrid was a 6-hour bus ride all the way from the south of Andalucía to the center of the country. On our way the view had changed gradually from green fields full of olive trees to rocky mountains with forests and snowy peaks. The look of green fields and gardens made me think that people working on them do care about their work, no wonder then that half of the vegetables available in Ukrainian supermarkets come from Spain. But most of all on the way I was impressed by roads in mountains, which sometimes curved around cliffs or hung up in the air at heights of 50-storey building. Needless to say, that through the whole journey the roads had at least two lines in each direction so no dangerous overtaking were necessary.

So these are in short my biggest impressions of long-awaited visit to Spain. I’m sure I’ll come back very soon already being fluent in Spanish by then. Next time I’ll definitely come with a good company and most likely choose dates in May or September to get the real feel of Spanish beaches and to have a couple of bicycle tours through Catalonia or maybe Galicia…