Should You Visit Spain? A Quick Guide

May 22nd, 2010 by admin Leave a reply »

Here are the things that everyone told us is wonderful about Spain, in order of frequency:

1. The speed (i.e., relaxed)

2. The wine

3. The food

4. The weather

Now, I’ll tackle our experience of each so far:

Fist off, the speed is quite agreeable, provided you are not trying to get something done on a timetable. While nobody being in a hurry sounds like something you’d want, consider this: among the people who are in no hurry are your waiter, your cab driver, the person blocking the aisle on the train, and others who you will get frustrated with if you are used to a modicum of hustle. New Yorkers, this means you. Type A people, you as well. Type A New Yorkers (e.g., my wife), this goes double. At least nobody is expecting a big tip.

Next, the wine. I am certainly not a wine snob, so here are our observations on the wine: it is almost universally Spanish Rioja (made with Spanish grapes); it is not very expensive; it is drinkable; it is nothing special on the palette. Like I said, I’m no wine snob, so they had me at cheap and drinkable. The beer is also drinkable, and even cheaper than the wine. We opt for beer at least half the time, and that is fairly often since drinking is a national pastime. The whole country would be drunk all the time if not for…

The food. I am much more of a food snob than I am a wine snob, so let me say this: the food is quite plentiful, and most restaurants are not very expensive (compared to New York, and factoring in the favorable conversion rate). Bars and restaurants in Andalusia will often give you free tapas (small plates) when you  order a drink. This is a nice custom. The idea of small plates is also quite lovely; you’re not always starving, but it’s nice to have something on which to nibble.

The problem with the food was a total shock to us: Spanish people dig bland food. Like, really bland. There is a national aversion to spicy food (BOOO! <whistle>) and the culinary staples, olives and potatoes, are not exactly bursting with flavor. I can count on one hand the number of dishes that didn’t have me reaching for the salt and pepper, and often that was the only option for flavor. The lone exception has been dishes with saffron or sherry, since these are also found locally. Even my wife, a connoisseur of bland food, has found the food to be overly bland. We have begun to fall into the routine of ordering items which we know will have flavor: gazpacho, paella, saffron meatballs, and cured meats. The cured meats (particularly pork products) are very prevalent, and I have contentedly munched on them during our stay. My wife finds them too fatty, however. Regardless, I don’t think you will find anyone saying: “Be sure to bring your sense of culinary adventure with you when you travel to Spain.” Consider bringing hot sauce instead.

Lastly, the weather. This aspect was not mentioned nearly as frequently as any of the above, but let me be clear: it is amazing. Andalusia in May is as good as advertised – hot, sunny, breezy, and clear. Make sure your hotel has AC though, otherwise get ready for some sweaty nights. Since AC is table stakes for us when we travel, we have been nothing but delighted with the weather. As I type this, I know the forecast calls for rain tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.

Update: it didn’t rain, and we had a nice meal at Enrique Bacarras. Best gazpacho ever. I am willing to soften my stance on the food somewhat.

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