Sunday, 10 April 2016

Plane-train-Spain: Sights, bites & insights from my Spanish roadtrip

One thing I discovered: it gets cloudy in Canarias too


In February, I visited nine out of 17 regions of Spain. Madness for 4 weeks, but it really reminded me how diverse Spain is. Each autonomous region has its own government, with the possibility to modify certain centrally-set laws, and the ability to introduce others. Several also have their own regional language, and they all have a strong identity which distinguishes them from each other. A short distance can mean a lot in Spain, but the most marked differences were when I visited 2 or 3 far-flung regions in one week. The cosmopolitan whirl of Barcelona contrasted sharply with the slower pace and wetter climate of Galicia: as did the average price for a meal.

Four weeks on the road allowed me to fuse business and pleasure, and as well as working I had time to take in a few sights and try out a few local dishes.


Sights


My visit to Gran Canaria may have conicided with the worst weather in the Canary Islands for the past couple of years, but this did little to detract from the beauty of Playa de las Canteras (above). Located in the capital, Las Palmas, the bay is protected from big waves by a sandbank, making it a calm stretch of sea. With a sweep of sand stretching just over 3km, Playa de las Canteras is vast. No doubt it heaves with suncreamed bodies in the summer months, but on damp February days it was almost deserted.

Inside La Sagrada Familia


In Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia was a rather more crowded sight. I first visited Gaudí's masterpiece in the making aged 21, and my return 10 years later saw plenty of progress to the interior in particular. The sense of height inside is astounding, and the level of intricacy and detail in the architecture means you could marvel at the craftmanship for hours. Unfortunately we didn't have hours: if you're booking a ticket, I'd recommend you don't opt for the last slot as you only have an hour to enjoy your visit.In addition, what you can see on with a standard ticket is now limited: last time I'd been able to climb the towers, but the €14 basic admission now excludes this. A complete visit will now set you back €29. This disappointment aside, it was well worth checking up on the builders' progress a decade on.

Bites


Solo dining can be dull. Not so in Alicante, however. I dropped into cosy wine bar  Alioli for a pre-dinner drink and came out hours later with a bunch of new friends and a tummyful of tapas. The best part was that my new friends invited me to most of the drinks. So if you're looking for a vino and a tapa in Alicante, check out Alioli. I challenge you to leave after just one drink.

In Gran Canaria, our hosts shunned the tourist traps and took us to cute cantina La Bikina. Right by the beach, this little spot serves up fusion food, including Mexican and Thai. After a few weeks chowing down on menú del día and deep-fried Spanish grub, their veggie take on Pad Thai went down a treat. We also had the chance to try some more typical Canarian cuisine such as papas negras (black potatoes) served with 2 types of mojo (sauce), and grilled smoked cheese sprinkled with herbs. Dessert was a hit too: creamy polvito uruguayo is very popular in Gran Canaria, and if you've got a sweet tooth you'll love this confection of crumbled biscuit, cream and dulce de leche.


Papas negras: a typical dish from the Canary Islands




What was on offer varied from region to region. Being winter, there were more stews and hearty dishes on the menu, particularly in the centre and north. These menus were also the most meat-heavy, while on the coast and down south, there was plenty more fish on offer. Alicante, Barcelona, Valencia and Murcia also boast lots of rice dishes, while Sevilla has a sgood choice of tapas.

Insights


The limited time available on a business trip may not allow for deep reflection, but region-hopping to certainly highlights superficial differences between Spain's comunidades autónomas. Beyond the landscape, one thing that varies wildly is price: a menú del día costs anywhere between €9 and €13 in the areas I visited, but the biggest difference is after dark. Dinner for one rounded the €20 mark in Alicante, Barcelona and Gran Canaria, while I dined out on the cheap in Murcia and Sevilla. Food at transport termini is almost universally expensive; only Bilbao airport could offer me a reasonably-priced coffee and sandwich. Taxi fares also differ from region to region: the 20-minute ride from Gran Canaria airport set me back an eye-watering €40, while journeys in Andalucía and the Comunidad Valenciana were much more reasonable.

Valencia's Estacio del Nord train station

The welcome from hoteliers and waiters varied too: solo travellers don't always get the most effusive of greetings (looking at you, Baleares), but in general everyone was polite and amiable. Everything's a bit more reserved in the heartlands of Madrid and Valladolid, but on the coast and in the south, the friendliness scale shot up. It's not just the professional reaction that you notice either, it's how the locals respond to you. Let's just say they don't get many blonde business travellers in Playa de las Canteras – I was breakfasting with the socks & sandals brigade before heading off to deliver a day's training.

In terms of local languages, I heard no Euskera or Galego spoken in the cities; while Catalan was very much in evidence in Barcelona. In Alicante, my ear didn't tune into any Valenciano, and in Valencia itself I heard very little. I imagine that outside the cities, regional languages remain more widely spoken. The regional differences are still very much in evidence though, in terms of the local character, what's on the menu and the topography of the areas. This taster tour has whetted my appetite to return to areas of the country I know less, such as the north, to see more of what Spain has to offer.

Have you travelled around Spain? Do you have any sights, best bites and insights to share?

2 comments :

  1. You were really unlucky in Gran Canaria with the bad weather. Maybe next time you'll have better luck. I'm glad I've discovered your blog Kate!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Mary, thanks for your comment! I definitely hope it'll be better next time I go. There was snow on some of the other islands while I was there!

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