Hopefully everyone had a relaxing holiday season. Reality and work had to continue eventually, right?
When I saw that flights home would cost about 1,000 euros I decided to stay for my first Christmas and New Years in Spain. This was the first year I spent Christmas without my family, but I really enjoyed my time here, so this holiday season was a bit bittersweet for me. Some things were exactly the same in Spain as in the United States, but other things (such as an extra holiday) were completely different. The length of holiday vacation was much longer than I am used to having. It began the afternoon of December 20th and I didn’t have to go back to work until January 8th. Of course, this is also because my holiday period is the same for school children, but when I was working in the U.S. I only had two days off; Christmas and New Years Day.
I spent the first part of my vacation and Christmas in Alicante, Spain. Even though I didn’t have very much time to relax, I really enjoyed being there! Also, the weather there was much warmer than the normal Maryland temperatures for December.
At Christmas in the United States I normally devoured cookies and egg nog (every student thought this sounded disgusting). In Spain some popular sweets are polvorón and turrón. The national lottery is huge in Spain during the Holidays. On the 22nd of December, many people tune in to watch children “sing” off the drawings and prizes. Now, in the United States, I don’t believe children could play a role in the lottery. I guess it’s seen more in line as something like using children to promote tobacco or alcohol. Even though it seemed unusual to watch children take part in the national lottery, there doesn’t seem to be anything “wrong” about it to me. In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t win anything.
I rang in the New Year in Tarragona, which is in the northeast coast of Spain and a bit south of Barcelona. The city wasn’t very big, but there were some interesting spots to see such as the Roman amphitheater from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
We stopped for some food at a place called Lola Tapes Platillos & Gins. I tried ortigas, a type of sea anemone, for the first time. They also had delicious small fried shrimp which you could eat whole and like chips. At night we watched the New Years Eve celebration in Sol and ate 12 grapes. The tradition is you must eat one grape for each midnight bell toll or you will have bad luck for the year. My students were shocked when I told them, in the U.S., we don’t eat grapes or anything special on New Years Eve.
On the first day of the new year we traveled to Andorra in the north. Before the trip a few people mentioned that Andorra was a great place for cheap electronics because there is no IVA tax there. I was sad to discover the prices seemed just about the same in Andorra and Spain. I thought the food would end up a bit cheaper, but that also seemed the same price. Restaurants seemed hit or miss. The places near the more touristy areas had horrible service. We were tired from the trip and just wanted a fast and relaxed dinner and a couple of beers, but we waited in two different places for at least 40 mins and were never offered to order food. The next day we picked up our ski rental equipment and made our way to Grandvalira. The place is huge and ski passes were 44 euros a day. I was surprised by the amount of Russian tourists in Andorra. Those of you who know me probably know I’m accident prone. Towards the end of the first day I took a “heavy metal” spill/tumble and ended up spraining my wrist which put me out of commission for the rest of that day and the next.
The second night in Andorra we tried a pizzeria listed as #1 in the town. L’Escenari de Pizzes was good but expensive for what it was. A plus was that almost all of their products are ecological. The wait times were a bit long and they only had one woman working as waitstaff.
My favorite restaurant we found in Andorra was Borda del Tremat. When we arrived the family was finishing their dinner. Then, the whole family pitched in to set up the restaurant for the night and they gave us olives and bread with garlic, tomato and meat. We ordered onion soup, salad, filet mignon, sirloin steak, apple pie for dessert and wine for only 70 euros. I really loved how it was decorated. It seemed to be an old barnyard or farmhouse.
A more luxurious, but expensive, place was Celler D’En Toni. The meat was delicious and tender, especially the mignon with cognac. The quality was a step up from Borda del Tremat, but it felt more cold and distant. There was a delicious chocolate coulant dessert for 9 euros.
The day before leaving we made a stop in the caldea, a giant thermo spa. The general admission for 3 hours was 37 euros. There is another ticket for 46.50 euros and 4 hours which gives you access to the top floor of the spa. Paying a bit more may have been worth it to escape the crowds. It was a bit difficult to relax with all of the people and children playing, but I enjoyed it.
Spanish children have a holiday that I didn’t have when I was growing up. Reyes Magos is a holiday on January 6th where the three wise men of the nativity bring gifts instead of Santa Claus. Many people eat some Roscón de Reyes, a round cake with a surprise hidden inside, and hot chocolate on this day. There are parades where the wise men throw candy to the children. I polled several students and They told me Christmas is becoming more popular in Spain. Most received gifts on either Reyes Magos or Reyes Magos AND Christmas. Few students only received presents on Christmas.
What holiday traditions did you celebrate this year?