Spain is the central hub for Europe's holidays and for good reason. Here, we talk through the best things to see and do across this beautiful country.
Life begins at 10pm. Yes, that’s when the Spaniards begin piling into bars, cafes and restaurants and most evenings are a celebration.
This is a country that believes in having fun and they are boisterous. In fact, many Europeans who move to Spain often settle there for life. The country is addictive.
A Bit of Background
Most of the peninsular part of the country has been populated since prehistoric times. Then came the traders from Lebanon around 1100BC.
This was followed by the Tunisians who ruled over a part of present day Spain after which it was the turn of the Romans and later came the Germanic people.
After that it was the muslims of North Africa who ruled over the country for 800 years. The Moors, from Maghreb who were thus called by the Christians were eventually pushed back to the south.
Granada was the last Moorish Kingdom and lasted through to the end of the 15th century.
Many of the exquisite Islamic monuments exist till this day and are well preserved. The Alhambra complex in Granada, which is in the autonomous area of Andalusia is thought to be the best existing Arab palace in the world.
This alone can be worth a visit to Spain for the splendour, refinement of design and architectural perfection.
The muslim influence remains to this day and can be seen in the Spanish cuisine and even the Flamenco dance, which really is an art form. Flamenco, as we know it today, happened thanks to various cultures including Gypsy, Arab, Christian and Jewish.
While we write about Spain it would be unmindful not to mention Christopher Columbus, who was actually an Italian, but explored the Americas under the flag of Spain.
It was his voyages across the Atlantic that created the way for Europeans to colonise and exploit the Americas.
Why else would more than 400 million people across the globe be speaking Spanish today?
After France and the US, Spain is the largest visited country in the world. It has 44 UNESCO heritage sites, next only to Italy and China. Of these, the Alhambra and the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona are the most famous.
Europeans did not know of oranges, avocados, cacao or even potatoes until the Spaniards brought them from their colonies in the Americas.
In fact, even sugar first came to Spain and from there to the rest of Europe. The Dutch might challenge me about who brought cacao but that’s a matter of debate.
As we mentioned earlier, the Spaniards believe in boisterous enjoyment and are the loudest spoken people in Europe.
As you’ve probably read in the news lately, street parties have broken out all over the country since the government announced the easing of restrictions against Covid.
Since about 30% speak English and they are quite helpful people there is a good one in three chance that someone will come to your aid if you happen to lose yourself.
There is no end to the variety of food, wine and sightseeing in this country. Almost every town has its own particular food, pastries and wine. Paella is the national dish.
Dos and Don’ts in Spain
- Everyone has two surnames. The first surname is from the father and the second from the mother. Women keep their maiden surnames after marriage. Usually it’s alright to use the first surname while addressing a person or you can use both just to play it safe. They’ll tell you which they prefer or it’s alright even to ask.
- Never gift a knife or anything resembling a knife such as a letter opener. It’s a sign of enmity.
- For business meetings, you’re expected to wear a suit. Preferably dark blue, a well chosen tie and black shoes. For ladies any tasteful attire will be fine.
- Don’t expect punctuality except mostly for business meetings. Reach on time though you may be kept waiting before the meeting begins. Your host might be late in meeting you/picking you up for dinner.
- Even a new business acquaintance will usually kiss you on both cheeks. Or a friend that you made at a bar.
- If you’re invited to a business lunch it’ll be around 2 or 3 pm.
- Day drinking is not an issue at all. In fact, it’s quite common.
- If you’re invited to a dinner, most likely your host will pick you up around 10.00pm. The dinner can last until two in the morning or even later. A social dinner will begin around the same time and can go on until even six in the morning.
- Bars, cafes, tapas joints are open all night and they are festive and crowded. Strangers will speak with you and will be friendly.
- At many tapas places you’ll be served free food with your glass of wine.
- Tips are not customary. Most Spaniards leave a few coins behind. The serving staff are usually fairly paid. Use your discretion if you want to be generous.
- There’s no such thing as personal space. People touch each other often. In fact, the Spaniards and the Latinos touch each other several times during a conversation and are the most touched people on the planet. Probably one of the reasons they are a happy lot.
- Tuesdays falling on the 13th are considered unlucky, not Fridays.
- Most shops are closed between 2 and 4pm – except for the supermarket chains.
- The famous siesta is no longer followed in the large cities because of traveling time and has been replaced with long lunches.
- If you can pick up a few key Spanish phrases before you go, you will be that much more appreciated and it surely will help you make acquaintances and friends.
- The Spaniards ask personal questions. They are just being friendly. Don’t be offended. In fact, participate. Ask them a few yourself and you’ll get along just fine.
From Spain to China, there are so many great places to visit.
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