An open letter: 32 Reasons Why I Love Spain
I know our relationship has had its ups and downs.
You have your problems and I have mine. Neither of us is perfect.
And I admit that sometimes I don’t appreciate you like I should. We’ve grown used to each other. Sometimes I take you for granted…
So today I’m writing this letter to tell you how I really feel. It’s been a long time since I’ve told you these things… Have I really lived here for more than 10 years?
Well, here goes:
Spain, I love you.
And I’m sorry about the last couple of weeks.
Let me explain. Recently, I created quite a scandal over on an expat group on Facebook with one of my articles. It was the one about 4 things I learned about American culture while living in Spain.
Good thing I didn’t share part two as well.
Looking closely, most of the comments were positive, but a few people took it the wrong way.
Of course, if they understood irony, or were willing to read between the lines, they would have gotten the main point: I love Spain.
But it’s the internet.
So of course someone got angry at me, accused me of being ignorant and of generalizing, probably wrongly, about millions of people (something I fully admit to in the article).
And the main point of the article, sadly, was lost.
Today, I’m going to spell it out for one and all:
I… L-O-V-E … S-P-A-I-N
So, for the irony-impaired, for the unnecessarily defensive, and for those whose reading comprehension is less than ideal, here are, without further ado…
32 Reasons Why I Love Spain
These are, in no particular order, some of the things I love about my beautiful adopted country.
Of course, there are more. This is just a selection. Some of my personal favorites.
The people and diversity of Spain
There are 46 million people in Spain, and around 6 million of them (like myself) come from other places.
Here are some of the things I love about you all:
1. The beautiful women. If I had to give just one reason for staying in Spain so long… Well, it’s difficult to decide. If I had to give just three reasons, the beautiful women would be one of them. Those feisty females aren’t always easy to deal with, but they’re so stunning and fabulous that you can forgive them anything… usually. (Actually, I hear the men are pretty sexy, too, if that’s your thing.)
2. The social life. It might be the abundance of bars and restaurants, it might be the general laid-back attitude. I’m not sure what it is. But if you want to get together for dinner or drinks on a Tuesday night, you can probably find someone to come along. Spanish people are famous for being some of the friendliest in Europe, and they’re usually curious to meet foreigners.
3. Making friends from lots of different countries. In my usual week I deal with people from a couple dozen different countries. Not just Spain and the USA, but also the Philippines, Brazil, Russia, China, Romania, Germany, Colombia, Perú, the Dominican Republic, Chile and many more. Granted, a lot of people went home a few years ago due to the never-ending economic crisis, but that’s another story. One we’re not telling today.
4. People actually get dressed before leaving the house. In a lot of places in the US it might be acceptable to wander around in your pyjamas all day. In Spain you’d better not try it. Sweats? Maybe if you’re on your way to the gym, AND you look damn good in sweats. Other than that, people usually wear real clothes. This doesn’t have to be expensive or uncomfortable. Actually, there’s a word for it: civilized.
The language(s) – Castilian, Catalonian, Basque and more
5. The linguistic diversity. Not only do they speak Spanish with a wide variety of accents, there are also several regional languages. Galician, Asturian, Catalonian, Valencian, Aranese, and even a whistling language called Silbo Gomero that’s “spoken” on one of the Canary Islands. And of course, Basque, which I learned a bit of and talked about on Anthony Metivier’s podcast.
6. The expressiveness of Spanish. I love how absolutely obscene you can be in Spanish without anybody batting and eyelash. ¡Me cago en la leche! ¡No me toques los cojones! Even Spanish proverbs are wonderfully expressive, and much much sexier than our overly-puritanical Anglo-American folk wisdom.
7. The literature. Spain has some very good writers, and they treat authors as sort of celebrities. Some of my favorite Spanish books: La voz dormida by Dulce Chacón, La Reina del Sur by Arturo Pérez-Reverte and El Mundo (or anything else) by Juan José Millás. And if you can make it to a theatre, see a production of La casa de Bernarda Alba or Don Juan Tenorio someday. They’re good on the page, but better on stage.
Madrid – one of Europe’s top capital cities
A lot of times when I write about Spain, I’m sort of generalizing about Madrid. Yeah, I know, generalizing is awful and I’m a terrible person. But Madrid is where I live, and it’s the Spain I know.
If you’re reading this in a small town in Asturias or Andalucía, I’m sorry. But honestly, I’ve been to a lot of small towns, too, and they’re pretty cool.
8. The city. Madrid’s not the greatest city to visit, but it’s certainly a great place to live. Once I’ve shown visitors around the big sights – the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, and Gran Via, it’s not really clear what to do next. Because Madrid’s not really a city for tourists. It’s not as spectacular and monumental as some other places in Europe. But once you’ve settled in, the lifestyle is good.
9. There’s always something happening. I work on the computer a lot, and so I sometimes lose touch with humanity. But then as soon as I walk out the door, I find that the streets are teeming with people going about their (offline) days. Want a real trip? Head down to Gran Via at 2 AM someday to check out the traffic jam. Yeah, that’s right. The 2AM traffic jam!
10. If you’ve been here for over a year, you’re not a foreigner anymore. When I go to the provinces, a lot of times people treat me sort of strangely. They look me up and down (Wow, never seen a guy with a red beard before!) or talk extra slow because they assume I won’t understand them otherwise. In Madrid, nobody gives a shit. Got a metro pass? You’re a local! Welcome to the club. Since everybody (except for cuatro gatos) is from somewhere else, it really doesn’t matter.
11. The weather. They have a saying about weather in Madrid (well, actually a lot of sayings). My favorite is 3 meses de infierno y 9 meses de invierno. And yeah. It gets cold, and it gets hot. But neither is too extreme. Except for a few days brushing freezing in winter, and a few days over 40 degrees (that’s around 100 for you fahrenheit people) in summer, it’s pretty good.
12. Museo del Prado y Reina Sofia. For some reason, two of the world’s best art museums are right here, in Madrid. And they’re free for a couple of hours every afternoon. El Prado has thousands of works by Velázquez (including Las Meninas), Goya, Rubens, Titian, and many more, as well as several masterpieces like The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, The Triumph of Death by Peter Bruegel. Reina Sofia has Guernica by Picasso, a bunch of paintings by Salvador Dalí, and more.
13. The parks. Retiro park is a beautiful formal garden, with everything laid out according to a plan, full of people relaxing, doing sports or having a drink on one of the terrazas at any time of the year. Casa de Campo is one of the largest urban parks in Europe – 5 times larger than Central Park in New York. And Madrid’s newest major park, Madrid Río, goes along the Manzanares River for several kilometers, with all kinds of fountains, walking paths, playgrounds and bridges.
Of course, living in Madrid has a couple of cons, too. But the pros are far bigger and more convincing, to me.
Spanish food and wine are amazing
Spanish food is great. Even some magazine in Australia thinks it’s the best country in the world for food. And while I’d have to visit a lot more countries to make that call, here I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite culinary delights:
14. Rioja. I seriously think Spanish wine is the best. I’ve had wine in some other Mediterranean countries and was unimpressed. Maybe they do have great wine in France, Italy and Portugal, but it’s certainly not as good a value for your money as in Spain. I dare you to compare a 6 euro bottle of Rioja with a 6 euro bottle of anything else in the world. C’mon punk. Make my day.
15. The meat. Go to the mountains around Madrid, or really anywhere else in Spain, and you’ll find that they’re full of free-range cows. Well, guess what! Those cows can later be grilled and served a la piedra–and they’re delicious! Some even consider a place called El Capricho out in León to be the best restaurant for meat in the whole world.
16. Morcilla, in all it’s forms and manifestations. Call it black pudding or call it blood sausage: I call it wonderful and full of energy! A bit of morcilla achorizada in the morning with some black coffee and you’ll be ready to conquer the world like a viking warrior. Or, try scrambled eggs with morcilla de Burgos and a bit of paprika on top. Heaven!
17. Chorizo. Occasionally I get some email about job offers in Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates or something. The salaries are jaw-dropping, compared to what I’d earn around here. But then I think: “And just what would I do in a country without pork?” Life would lose its meaning! I didn’t call this blog The Chorizo Chronicles for nothing. Give me chorizo, sir, or give me death! (Actually, nevermind, I’ll just take the chorizo.)
18. Albariño. Rioja reds are great, but so are Galician whites. So cold and fruity and refreshing, especially if you get a good one in a restaurant overlooking the beach. I recommend anything in the port in Vigo, around sunset. Just trust me.
19. Bocadillo de calamares. Don’t like eating things with tentacles? It’s probably because you’ve never tried battered and fried squid. Go to one of those places on Plaza Mayor and have a drink and a squid sandwich. Ask them for extra tentacle. Better yet, go to two or three places. Real madrileños (like me) have tried several of them and have a favorite.
20. Cocido montañés and fabada. These two are technically quite similar white bean and pork stews. The first time I had cocido montañés was in a tiny slate village (about 14 people in winter) with some friends from Cantabria. Fabada is the Asturian version which uses a bigger type of bean. Fatty and delicious.
21. Sherry – fino, manzanilla, oloroso. You haven’t lived till you’ve drunk half a bottle of ice-cold sherry on a summer afternoon, and then stumbled home (ideally with someone attractive and of the gender of your preference) to “sleep the siesta” for a couple of hours. Trust me, you haven’t. In Madrid, go to Almendro 13 or to La Venencia… or just head for Andalucía to tour the wineries in Jerez or Puerto de Santa María. Bottoms up!
22. Campo Real olives. Cured with thyme and garlic, these make a perfect accompaniment to that half bottle of sherry, or a great tapa to go along with a beer anytime. And it turns out they’re from Madrid! I don’t care if you don’t like the olives your mom used to buy WalMart back home, these are different. They have denominación de calidad and everything.
And finally, Spain itself is an amazing country
Spain isn’t just Madrid, as I mentioned earlier. There are a lot of other places that are worth visiting (or even spending some serious time). Here are some of my favorite things about the country as a whole…
23. Like Italy, but better. I’ve been to Italy several times. My opinion? It’s overrated. Beaches in Spain are better. Italian food is good, but Spanish food is great (and a lot cheaper). And the idea that Italian people have more fashion sense than people in other countries is quite exaggerated. Which leads us to our next point…
24. Want Roman ruins? We got Roman ruins! Italy isn’t the only country with archaeological finds. Check out the aqueduct in Segovia; the Roman amphitheater, National Museum of Roman Art and a dozen other things in Mérida; and then take a look at this whole long list of other ruins. Apparently, even 2000 years ago the Italians were jumping all over themselves to GTFO of Italy and come to Spain.
25. A bar on every corner. You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when you find a town with only one bar – but in fact, it almost never happens. You can find bars in the most random places: on mountaintops, in the middle of the forest. Really anywhere. In Spain, a lot of your social life takes place in a bar, and there’s nothing weird about it at all – just don’t tell your mom back on the farm that you’ve started drinking before lunch.
26. A great lifestyle, even if you’re not rich. I spent several years here living well below what would be considered the poverty line in the US. And guess what? They were some of the happiest, most exciting years of my life. I could do all kinds of cool things, travel, eat good food, and have a lot of fun – and all with nobody telling me I was a loser for not earning more money.
27. Some of the best transport in the world. Have you ever taken a Greyhound bus back in the US? What about an Amtrak? I have. No comparison. Spain has one of the best transport systems in the world. I know, I know, if you want to split hairs, a lot of it was paid for by EU subsidies, government corruption and porkbarrel politics, and a lot of those high speed train stations and international airports have no real raison d’etre, but damn is it nice being able to use them!
28. So many beautiful places to see. Here in Madrid, we’re spitting distance from Toledo, Ávila, Segovia, Salamanca, and some kick-ass mountains. If you’re willing to spend a couple hours on the bus or the train, you can also get to other awesome places like Cuenca, Trujillo, Cáceres, Burgos and León. And if you have more time, the coast isn’t much further (depending on which way you’re going).
29. The beaches. I’m not a huge fan of beaches, but Spain has some of the best in the world. Islas Cíes up in Galicia have actually been voted best beach in the world and there are a ton of other beaches all around the country that are amazing, too.
30. Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. I have friends in the north, and most of the time I’ve spent travelling in Spain has been in that direction. And there are a few cities up there that are jockeying for the coveted position of my favorite Spanish city: Vigo, A Coruña, Gijón and Santander are my big four. All beautiful places, with great food, reasonable prices, and nice scenery.
31. Walking paths all over the country. I’m a big walker, and I love finding GR and PR walking paths anywhere I go. The Camino de Santiago is just the beginning – there are (more or less) well-marked paths connecting every town across the Iberian Peninsula, and the population density means you’re usually not more than a few kilometers from the next town.
32. It’s close to everywhere else in Europe. Want to take a special someone for a romantic weekend in Paris? It’s right around the corner. What about London? Turns out, that’s just a little bit past Paris. Actually, there are a few dozen countries you can fly to in just a couple of hours. And since Spain is a major tourist hub, flights aren’t that expensive.
So that’s 32 reasons, but I could keep going. For the sake of brevity (and to leave myself the option of writing a part two) I’ll stop there.
But before I go, here’s the brutal truth about my love for Spain…
Spain, I’ve thought about leaving you many times, but no other country I’ve been to can do what you do for me.
No other country comes close to you in beauty, in friendliness, and in making me feel… all fuzzy inside.
Love you, Spain! Thanks for everything you’ve given me, over all these years.
P.S. I love Spain. But do you love this article? Do you hate this article? Either way, please share it with your friends, and be sure to leave me a comment!
P.P.S. Eventually I followed up this article with a newer one about the 4 things I hate about Spain. But notice the discrepancy: 32 things I love, and only 4 things I hate. Pretty good ratio, right?