13 Mar Spain So Far: Food, Fiestas and Fire
It seems like there’s always a party on somewhere in Spain. We’ve been here less than a month and already we’ve accidentally found ourselves in the midst of a carnival in Leon and a full-on five-day fiesta in Barcelona. We have been amazed but charmed by the Spanish predilection for a lifestyle filled first and foremost with fun, food, fiestas and friends. This is a life we can definitely see ourselves warming to, even though one of those fiestas ended in me losing a clump of hair while watching some fire dancing.
Spain So Far: Rewind to León
Why is it that Andrew and I can never get the hang of moving slowly? Since arriving in Spain we’ve hit the ground running and our days have been filled with sightseeing in the Basque Country, Castilla y León and Barcelona. Time has slipped quickly through our fingers, but we’re now finally staying still with a beautiful house sit in Alicante while we begin the uphill task of applying for teaching jobs in Madrid at the wrong point in the academic year. For now though, let’s rewind to our week in León.
We planned a stop in León after our friend Patti, who discovered the city while taking the Camino de Santiago last year, recommended we visit. We’re glad she did. Having rented a room through Airbnb in a rustic village house some 20 minutes out, we made our first visit into the city after dark and immediately loved what we saw – a towering Harry Potter-esque cathedral, its illuminated spires and clock tower stretching into the night sky. Crowds of people bundled up in coats and boots against the sub-zero air choked the surrounding warren of medieval streets and plazas.
We spent most of our time in León in some of the hundreds of cafes, bars and restaurants which cram the winding streets. With every drink we bought we got free tapas, be it a tortilla, plate of hot crisps or sandwich; as is becoming a habit in Spain, we also gorged on Chocolate con Churros. It seems we did little but wander and eat while we were in León, but we also managed to get our NIE (foreign identity numbers) sorted and spent a few hours touring the gothic cathedral. We were awed by the extensive stained-glass windows, the tall arched pillars and elaborate carvings and paintings.
Most people, me included, automatically think of Spain as a beachy country, but so far I’ve found it has much more to offer; acres of rolling misty countryside and vineyards in the north, huge vibrant cities that stay awake all night, tiny traditional stone villages and craggy mountain ranges. While in León we drove out to the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) and spent a day hiking along a deep gorge in the snowy peaks as a river streamed beneath us and mountain goats trotted nimbly up the hillside.
During our last couple of days in León there was a fiesta; we stood out in the freezing streets to watch the carnival and were amazed when, as icy rain began to pelt down, people continued to dance their way along the road, while the crowd put up umbrellas and smiled along with them.
The Santa Eulalia Fiesta 2016 in Barcelona
We spent the next week in Barcelona, a city we promptly fell in love with and I have much more to write about our new city crush in my next post. By accident, our time in Barcelona coincided with the Santa Eulalia festival, a four-day celebration of the 13-year-old Christian killed by the Romans for her religious beliefs over 1700 years ago. Check out our short video of the festival, including the dangerous fire dancing:
Throughout the festival there were public events in the city squares; traditional dances, music, light shows and story re-enactments. Ceremonies took place in La Catedral Seu, where Eulalia’s tomb can be found and a giant puppet Eulalia, along with characters like lions and eagles, paraded through the streets, dancing to music. One day we crowded into Plaza Sant Jaume to watch the Falcones, human tower builders, create daring formations, the smallest children wearing helmets scuttling up to the very tips of the towers.
On our last afternoon in Barcelona we followed groups of people playing drums through the streets. As darkness fell we ended up in the square again, a path opened up in the crowd and kids dressed in hooded devil robes, facemasks and goggles came dancing through carrying giant spinning wheels of fire above them. Sparks flew into the crowd as the fireworks banged and spluttered. We pushed close to the front, lulled into a false sense of security by the lack of safety barriers, and got great views of the fire dancers and fire-breathing figures being wheeled through the street.
Then, as several dancers moved even closer and the air filled with smoke and sparks, I turned my back and shielded my eyes as fire rained down on us. Backing away, I felt mild heat on my head but only realised an ember had caught me when a man, with a look a panic on his face, began batting the top of my head, where the hair was flaming. I could smell my frazzled hair, as if caught in a hairdryer, as I frantically poured water on myself and watched as a small clump of hair fell away in my hand.
Suffice to say, after that I stood far back in the crowd with my hood up and sunglasses on. It was only then that I noticed other festival-goers decked out in hoods, facemasks and goggles. As fun as the festival was, I learnt a valuable lesson – there aren’t many health and safety rules in Spain. But hey, what did we expect when the Spanish have a festival where people are chased through the street and mauled by bulls?
After all the madness we’re glad to have some quiet time house sitting while we prepare for our move to Madrid next week. Still, I’m sure it won’t be long until we’re celebrating our next crazy Spanish fiesta!
Future Spain Plans – Our Holiday in Malaga
We’re looking forward to exploring as much of Spain as possible over the coming months. April and May will see us working with kids in English immersion camps around Madrid, including in historic Toledo, a UNESCO world heritage site. In June we hope to return to Barcelona for a more in-depth visit after we fell in love with the city on a recent week-long trip; there may be time for extra side-trips to Valencia and Seville.
Our nomadic lifestyle means we spend a lot of time away from our families, so the trip I’m most looking forward to at the moment is a family holiday I have planned in Malaga this August. We’ve rented a spectacular villa on the Costa Del Sol to share with assorted members of my family, including my gorgeous baby nephew. They’re flying in from the UK for a holiday packed full of eating, relaxing, swimming and sightseeing, I can’t wait!