If you’re planning a trip to Spain, here’s some stuff I would’ve found useful if I had known before my trip to Spain for Thanksgiving 🙂
I didn’t know this but water is not free at restaurants like it is in the US. If you ask for water, the waiter will usually give you an opened glass bottle of water with a cup to pour it into. You also have the option of asking for it con gas o sin gas, where con gas is sparkling water and sin gas is just normal mineral water (if you get sparkling water they’ll also put in a lemon slice in your cup! :D).
The typical price for water was around 1~2 euros, which was pretty similar to the price of other beverages such as sangria or beer, so it’s your choice on if you want a drink or just plain water 🙂 !
In Europe, manual drive cars are more common than automatic, which you’ll see reflected in car rental companies. We made a mistake of accidentally booking a manual car and my poor dad had to do most of the driving during our trip because he was the only one who could drive a stick shift, but even when we tried to switch to an automatic car there just weren’t that many options available in the rental parking lot.
If you’re someone who can only drive an automatic (or going in a group of people who can only drive an automatic) then definitely double-check your car rental reservation to make sure that’s what you’re getting!
Menu del Dia
A lot of restaurants had this thing called Menu del Dia, which is essentially a course meal that usually includes 1 drink, a choice out of first course options, a choice out of second course options, and a dessert or coffee. These were really good ways for us to try a bunch of different kinds of foods because the options for the courses are usually pretty solid (around 4~5 options for each course). The best part was that they were really affordable too, usually within the range of 9~12 euros/pax.
A lot of restaurants, especially in less touristy cities, have some hours that might not be familiar to some people. The typical hours of operation would look like this:
Lunch Time: 1pm – 4:30pm
Closed for Break
Dinner Time: 8pm – 11pm
If you’re in a place that mostly has restaurants that operate on a schedule such as this, try to plan accordingly; it took us quite a bit of time to get used to the different schedules!
Cost of Traveling
Overall, the cost of things in Spain seemed a lot lower than they did here in the US. At grocery stores, the prices of produce, especially fruit, were significantly lower (ex. 1.5 euro for one pomegranate, 1 euro/lb of really really yummy oranges). Seafood was also super affordable; we bought 1kg of mussel clams for 2.5 euros and whole lobsters for 8.5 euros each, both total steals!
Eating at restaurants was also pretty cheap; the typical meal for our family of 4 would be in the range of 40~60 euros. The only thing that can get kind of expensive is if you’re at a tapas place – the tapas serving sizes are pretty small and difficult to get really full on unless you order a lot, which can add up pretty quickly. It is also not customary to tip at restaurants, but if you really enjoyed someone’s service then I believe it’s not an offensive thing to tip somebody :).
My family doesn’t usually celebrate Thanksgiving, but this year we used it as an opportunity to not only all get together at the same place but also to visit a place we haven’t been to before. This year we decided to travel together to Spain!
To start the trip, we all met in Madrid and were there for a few days.
Madrid is such a crowded and busy city! There were lots of people everywhere, even during the weekday afternoons, and during the nights all the restaurants and bars would be super full. It was kind of funny to see my parents being super paranoid about pickpockets, but in all seriousness it would suck to have things like a passport or credit card stolen o _ o .
The city was an interesting blend of historical architecture and modern brands/stores, and there were plenty of fashionably dressed people walking the streets.
To be honest, my family and I found the city to be a little too hectic for us, especially when we were out and about on a weekend night, but it’s the right place to be if you’re interested in shopping and enjoy Spanish-brand products and stores (ex. Zara, Mango).
Our next stop after Madrid was Toledo, a city that has a mix of medieval Jewish, Arab, and Christian influences (which, apparently, is very common in Spain since it’s had a long history of many different groups taking over different parts :0).
The city was reallllly amazing with all of its old old OLD roads (which, by the way, made it a huge headache to drive around the city since all the streets are cobblestone and infuriatingly narrow) and preserved buildings, but sadly we were only in Toledo for a few hours because we had to get to Sevilla in time to check in to our Airbnb :(.
We went to a restaurant for lunch and tried a dish called cochifrito, which is fried part of a piglet (I think it was the ribs? I can’t remember and there was a bit of a language barrier – _ – ). It was pretty good but I felt bad thinking about eating a piglet so I didn’t have too much of it :(. What my parents actually wanted to try was cochinillo, which is entire roasted piglet, but they’d run out of that which is why we had to settle for the cochifrito.
Sevilla was my favorite city out of all of the places we visited in Southern Spain 🙂 ! It is so full of history and culture (ex. flamenco, bull fighting) while also being large enough that I didn’t feel suffocated at all like I did in Toledo.
There were so many things to do in Sevilla, such as revel in the beauty of the monuments and gardens of the Real Alcazar, marvel at the grandiose nature of the Cathedral, or enjoy the vibrance of a traditional Flamenco show.
Our Airbnb host in Sevilla was also super friendly and one of the nicest hosts I’ve ever met, which enhanced our overall Sevilla experience 🙂
The garden at Real Alcazar
The 8 pointed star is common in Islamic art
Tomb of Christopher Columbus
Horse carriage rides through town!
Plaza de Espana!
The Real Alcazar was modeled after the Alhambra’s Nasrid Gardens
Granada is actually the Spanish word for pomegranate, which I didn’t know until we went to Valencia and were buying pomegranates and the store clerk called them granadas, lol.
The focal point of our time in Granada was the Alhambra Palace, which was initially built as a fortress and later renovated to serve as a palace for the emirs during the Nasrid Dynasty. If you want to visit the Alhambra you can either book tickets in advance online or buy them at the ticket counter in person. We bought our tickets online because we’d heard that tickets usually run out pretty quickly, but I also saw a lot of people buying them at the ticketing windows the day of so it seems more of a personal decision :0.
The palace is a very VERY nice place and the typical visit is said to take around 3 hours; we were there for almost four and a half (and by the end of our visit were also super hungry)! There are 4 major parts to the palace, but the 3 people mainly visit are the Nasrid Gardens (which you can only enter within the hour of the time printed on your ticket), the Alcazaba (the fortress), and the Generalife (the summer palace for the rulers).
After our tour around the Alhambra, we went down to the city proper of Granada and tried some Moroccan food (lots of couscous and a tajin), which was a nice wrap to our time in Granada :).
The Fountain of Lions in the Nasrid Gardens
There were patterns and written art everywhere in the Alhambra!
The two main things I remember from Valencia are the beach and all the seafood we bought for super low prices at the supermarket and cooked for dinner back at the Airbnb, hahaha XD.
Valencia is a very relaxed city, and the vibe I got here was that it was mainly a holiday destination for actual Spanish people. There weren’t many tourists in the area and we mostly spent our day in Valencia walking around, window-shopping, and enjoying the nice weather.
My dad was initially pretty skeptical about going to Valencia because he hadn’t seen many Korean people write about it online on Naver, the Korean equivalent of Google, but after eating all of the seafood he could possibly want I believe he left Valencia with a very positive impression XD.
There was one very interesting thing about Valencia, and it’s their horchata. There was a pamphlet about Valencia’s horchata in our Airbnb, which I thought was funny, but the main gist of it is that Valencia puts in something called chufa in its horchata to produce horchata de chufa.Chufa is some sort of tuber that’s only grown in Valencia (at least, according to the pamphlet) and it’s supposed to add a nutty flavor to the horchata. I personally didn’t like it as much as normal horchata because it kind of tasted like a blend of vegetable juice and horchata :/, but fortunately my mom liked it and drank the rest of the bottle we’d bought from the grocery store, yay.
The cathedral in Valencia
Statues from Valencia’s Fallas Festival
Statues from Valencia’s Fallas Festival
If the tiny door is for people, I wonder what the big door is for?
Torres de Serranos
Valencia and Spain’s flag flying side-by-side at the beach!
Cuenca was an interesting town; we stopped here on our way back to Madrid from Valencia, but a lot of people seem to visit it as a day trip from Madrid since it’s only an hour and a half’s drive away.
The town is separated into two main parts: the new town which is at the base of the cliffs and where the majority of residents live now, and the old town which is the remnants of historical town founded by the Moors. The old town is famous for its well-preserved casas colgadas (hanging houses), which are houses that are built directly on top of the cliffside and have the appearance of “hanging” off the cliff.
Aside from that, you can also enjoy just strolling through the streets and imagining what it would have been like to live in Cuenca during older times. Personally, I was mostly interested in how the current residents who live in old town spend their days because life in the old town seems like it would be pretty plain and difficult since there didn’t seem to be a lot of modern amenities that I take for granted such as supermarkets or spacious living space.
One of the highlights of our time in Cuenca was the restaurant we went for lunch, called Raff. They were listed in the Michelin Guide for multiple years in a row, but the thing that initially drew us in was its super cool-looking interior. If you’re ever in Cuenca, I would highly recommend this place! : )