If you have the chance to visit Alicante you must try the local dishes. One of my favorites is caldero which is made with fish and rice served separately. The fish is served in a large dish with potatoes and caldo (broth) and the remaining broth is used to cook the rice similar to a paella. Caldero is well-known on the island of Tabarca just off the coast of Alicante. If you aren’t able to visit the island (which really deserves a trip) in Alicante there is a restaurant named El Caldero owned by the family of one of Tabarca’s restaurants which prepare them in the same way as on the island.
I know I’ve been nonexistent this summer, but hopefully I’ll be able to share some exciting info soon. Now that it’s September, it’s back to the real-life grind in Madrid. The next few posts will be about the different cities I visited this summer.
A good deal of the summer was spent in Alicante. A group of us decided to spend a weekend on Tabarca which is a tiny island a short 15 minute water taxi ride from Santa Pola. The island has an interesting history as a refuge for Barbary pirates and a prison for Genoese sailors. The island is a popular tourist spot during the summer, but in winter, most families leave the island.
Tabarca is well-known for its squid and rice dishes. Since it’s an island it isn’t surprising that most of the food involves some type of fish or seafood.
When we weren’t eating we spent a lot of time snorkeling. The water is incredibly clean and not as cold as in other parts of southern Spain. Part of the island is on a nature reserve so we were able to find many interesting things such as starfish and octopus.
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?
I’m so happy to share that today marks the one year anniversary of my life in Spain! I think I’ve got things pretty good after one year. I have a job/income, a roof, good friends, and I’ve seen and done many new things. Every day is another learning opportunity and I’m incredibly thankful!
When I look at this list of some things I’ve done in one year I just can’t believe it.
- Two trips to Sevilla (one was for la feria)
- Valencia for las fallas
- Casablanca, Fez, Tangier and Chefchaouen, Morocco
- Trips to Alicante (one for Hogueras)
- Florence and Rome, Italy
In addition to the places visited I completed a half-marathon and finally began to like children. For any close family and friends who read this…you know what I mean. I’ve improved my horrendous Spanish a bit and also found out that I can live on my own without starving to death.
I can only hope the next year and years following continue to get even better. 😉