Trade winds find Galleons lost in the sea
I know where treasure is waiting for me
Silver and gold in the mountains of Spain
I have to see you again and again
Take me, Spanish Caravan
Yes, I know you can
The Doors, “Spanish Caravan”
When we went to Spain for the first time, we didn’t know if there was any treasure waiting for us there. We didn’t know too much about country’s culture and customs nor could we communicate freely in the Castilian language. There is some tendency in Poland to put all Spanish-speaking cultures into on big pot, probably typical stereotype would be dark-skinned moustached guy watching bull fights while dancing tango, playing on his guitar with shot of tequila in one hand and fan in the other, repeatedly shouting OLE! Is our understanding of Spanish reality more profound now? Yes and no. Now we know more yet still there are so many treasures in the mountains of Spain to discover, and in its coasts, and cities, and small pueblos and green forests of the North and under the sunburnt plains of the South.
On the second day of New Year we were walking on streets of Pamplona’s oldtown when Spanish daddy got close to us and asked us a question about San Fermín’s bull run (the famous bull run of Pamplona). And then the woman who was with him (wife? sister?) said: “Can’t you see that they are guiris?”. Guiri is a colloquial word with which Spaniards call foreign tourists, it actually means “the one who is not of us, a stranger”. We tried to be as polite as possible and said “you’re right, we’re guiris, sorry”.
Interesting coincidence is, that with our painfully short visit in Pamplona we realized our goal of visiting all 17 autonomous communities (administrative regions) of Spain. It didn’t hurt us that in that very moment we were called strangers so directly, because it’s actually true. We like Spain because it’s different than Poland and in many ways we could learn from Spanish people (for example we think that they smile more than Poles!), even if we still think that Poland is the best place in the world.
So, to share with you some of our experience we would like to write very shortly what there is to see in each of Spain’s regionsThink of it like list of first sentences from various volumes of a beautiful tale. List of the autonomous communities, with their Capital city (the place where the government has its offices):
Andalusia (capital: Sevilla)
“Al-Ándalus” is he name with which the Muslim conquerors named territory of Iberian Peninsula. As the process of reconquering the peninsula by Christians took place from the north of nowadays Spain it is the south which preserved most of its Muslim heritage. Other cultures merged as well, such us Jews and Gypsies (Roma people). Because of this, it is mysterious and exotic place, with flamenco dances, fans, red dresses and bowls of red gazpacho. Moorish palaces and gardens waiting to be discovered.
We enjoyed Cadiz a lot, but we think with sentiment about getting lost in narrow streets of Cordoba, beer with friends at the Guadalquivir river, autumn landscape on our way to Alahambra in Granada, sightseeing sunny Malaga with Brazilian friends, conversations about traveling with Paraguayan in Dos Hermanas, tasty tapas in Almeria and foggy cathedral in Jaen. You may encounter small problem in this region – the language. While Andalusia lacks any language of its own, Castilian Spanish spoken there may be somehow difficult to understand! It’s like the sun makes them hungry and they eat the endings (and not only!) of words.. Well, try sweet wine from Malaga for a better mood! It’s delicious!
Aragon (capital: Zaragoza)
Aragon is one of two mayor parts that gave birth to Kingdom of Spain (other being Castile). It is famous for Jamon de Teruel (ham of Teruel), the first ham marked with the geographical index „denominación de origen”. By the way, we were thinking recently why Spaniards eat so much pork. One of our theories is hiding from the inquisition’s terror. How can you better prove that you’re not a Jew or a Muslim anymore than taking a bite of a pork chorizo?
Aragon is the fatherland of painter Francisco de Goya and film director Luis Buñuel. It is also known from the Fiestas del Pilar in Zaragoza, renowned for Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of Pilar. During the first of the festive days of Pilar, 12th of October, people dressed in the traditional costumes bring flowers to the Virgin. They put flowers in the pyramidal structure, and put Cross of Lorena at the top. Zaragoza also appears in the title of the book written by J. Potocki “Manuscript found in Saragossa”- one of the best Polish books ever written in my humble opinion. Besides this city, there are also great landscapes of Pyrenees and Romanesque castle of Loarre contemplated by Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven when he turned from elf into a knight.
Asturias (capital: Oviedo)
Kingdom of Asturias was the core of Christian resistance against the Muslims in the peninsula and its main historical symbol is the cross of victory. Later it became an important industrial and carbon mining zone and now it’s getting more tourist oriented. With Oviedo and Gijon, beautiful mountains and the coast it offers many opportunities for travellers. It is the land rich in milk and cheese (when you are in Spanish supermarket, always buy Asturian milk, it’s the best one!), but it may be most famous for its splendid apple cider.
When you drink cider, it makes you feel like eating. Why not trying a fabada – a bean stew which is delicious and nutritive but also a bit dangerous if you are planning a romantic date. We tried chorizo cooked in cider and it was surprisingly good! There was an acid smell around us, because the traditional way of pouring a cider is to pour it from a height (to get air bubbles) and some of it spills on the floor.
Balearic Islands (capital: Palma de Mallorca)
Balearic Islands are one of the places most visited by tourists in Spain – probably because of the sunny weather and Mediterranean beaches, although there are many other interesting places to see. Each island has it’s specific charm – Ibiza being more known for crazy parties and Menorca for beautiful nature. Mallorca is also a popular destination for its attractive climate – already in XIX century Frederic Chopin went there with his lover – French writer George Sand.
People from Balearic Islands speak a dialect of Catalan language, in ancient times they were famous as the best slingers in the world and nowadays they’re famous because of one of the best tennis players – Rafael Nadal. If you’re into philosophy Mallorca was home to Ramon Llull – famous thinker of medieval Catalan world. You can try there delicious delicious seafood, and sobrassada (sausage with paprika). For dessert try ensaimades, pastry made with pork lad. Tasty!
Basque Country (capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz)
Proud and mysterious Basques may be the most exotic element in the complex ethnic structure of Kingdom of Spain as their language – Euskera – resembles no other spoken in the peninsula. They are very famous for their berets (boinas), which we saw on the very first moment in Bilbao. Beret is just a peak of a Basque and under it there is a lot of rich culture to be discovered ;).
They live in a marvellous land of mountains and coasts dominating the Biscay Bay which make them fearless sailors (Basque whalers sailed far from home through the northern Atlantic). Lately the region was promoted by the popular Spanish comedy – Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Eight Basque Surnames or Spanish Affair) Basque Country consists of three cities-gems which are Bilbao, San Sebastian-Donostia and Vitoria-Gasteiz – the capital. There you can also find Guernica, bombed during the Spanish Civil War and commemorated by painting of Pablo Picasso.
Canary Islands (they have two capitals – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife)
Canary Islands geographically form part of Africa. It is the only autonomous community of Spain which lies in a different time zone (so Canaries new year’s party reaches midnight one hour later). The Islands are of volcanic origin and the landscapes and nature are incredibly fascinating, while the climate is very enjoyable. Canaries have their own history, with Guanche people and whistled language of La Gomera island.
Santa Cruz Carnaval is very popular worldwide. They are also famous for its bananas, mojo sauces rum and as starting point for people trying to hitchhike yachts to America – because Santa Lucia is the name of both town in Gran Canaria island of Canaries and other island far away in the Caribbean Sea you better make sure where your friends are going in their boat : ).
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