Likes & Dislikes

Opinions


“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Spain, and about what the most unexpected surprises were. It isn’t easy, because there were so many. The fact is, though I’m a bit reluctant to share this fact, the country is about a thousand times more beautiful than we had ever imagined in our wildest dreams. I base this statement on our continuous exploration of Spain over the past four and a half years because the two trips we made to Spain before we moved here discouraged us more than they encouraged us. Life, however, gave us an opportunity to rectify our impressions, and I will describe, speaking strictly for myself, what have enjoyed most about this country over the past four and a half years.

Among the Balearic Islands, Ibiza and Formentera were the biggest surprises for me – maybe even my biggest surprise in the whole country, including Northern Spain! Mallorca is beautiful too – I think you need at least two weeks to get a really complete picture of the island – but the experience of Ibiza and Formentera were unbeatable for me!

On the Iberian peninsula itself, though, it’s got to be Northern Spain!!! This probably won’t come as a surprise to many people, but I was completely won over by Northern Spain, with its legendary landscapes and mystical places which are too dream-like to describe. The hardest part is having to choose between the four northern regions, but I would rank the Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria, and Galicia among the most beautiful places in the world! Then there are the mountain ranges of the Picos de Europa, which rival the wonders of the Dolomites – my other favorite mountain range in Europe. Perhaps Asturias and Cantabria are the two I would choose from the four, but I’m absolutely unable to narrow it down any further – both have completely captured my heart. In any case, it’s easy to visit both, since they’re right next to each other! It’s so much more beautiful in real life than in photographs.

We also love the Costa Blanca, on Spain’s eastern coast, which includes Moraira, Javea, and Altea – and that is shown by the number of times we’ve been there over the years – and besides Madrid, it could almost be our second home. In Southern Spain, the places we enjoyed most were the Costa de la Luz and Cabo de Gata. We have met few people in Europe as friendly and affectionate as the Andalusians, though the people of Asturias and Cantabria are just as friendly! From the beautiful triangle of Seville, Granada, and Cordoba, I think Seville just about wins it for us, though the Alhambra of Granada is so spectacular it deserves a page all to itself. As they say, whoever hasn’t seen Granada, hasn’t seen anything!! I repeat that this was a difficult list to formulate and I’ve cut a lot out – just because I’ve mentioned a few places doesn’t mean the rest isn’t worth visiting – these were just the places that really swept me off my feet! The last thing I would say is, if you’re visiting Andalusia, you have to go to Garganta del Chorrot – finding this place was a very unique experience!

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Madrid or Barcelona?

Those visiting Spain for the first time generally pick Barcelona as their first destination, which is extremely aggravating for Madrid’s citizens. According to the theories of linguists, the name Madrid is probably derived from the neo-Latin words matrix, matriz, matrizem, which means mother town or mother node – which is still the case, to the annoyance of Barcelona, because the big decisions are still made here rather than in the Catalan capital. Now I would rather not go into the economic or political differences, and I have no idea whatsoever about football, so what follows is very subjective.

Thanks to Woody Allen, even those who skipped geography lessons have heard of Barcelona. Gaudí’s genius, the ever-bustling beach, the bright sunshine, and the crazy popularity of Barcelona all mean it’s hard for other places to compete.

Madrid is not bad either, but while there’s the Prado Museum, the adored Reina Sofía where Guernica hangs, and 50% of the city is made up of parks and squares, its cultural attractions are still small compared to Barcelona. Oh yeah, and there's no beach.

Barcelona is a very multicultural, super-modern, ultra-fashionable metropolis, where the hipster, obsessive shopper, and culture-loving teacher alike will find what they’re looking for. Although Barcelona is very much sold as a city that belongs to everyone, I have a feeling that this is only partly true. Or only true for a day or two. Temporarily. You are allowed to come here and spend your money, buy your 20 euro tickets for the Gaudí houses, but there are inner circles in this city into which not everyone is invited.

Catalans often say of themselves that they are not Spanish, and this is so. Here, they won’t pat you on the back at the bar and mimic the movement of your mouth every time you toast when you repeat ‘to your health’. And if you’re blessed with Catalan roommates, they aren’t so likely to try to force you to hang out with them. There are definitely exceptions, of course. But not many. Barcelona is full of tourists day and night, from January to December, which is tiresome for the locals, and makes it is difficult to mingle with them.

Although I managed to visit some really cool, very authentic bars and bistros, I didn’t get that feeling where you’re just relaxing and enjoying your coffee, and feel you could just stay there forever. I just couldn't find that feeling anywhere. And I swear to God, I walked on my own two feet all the way out into the suburbs to buy local fruit at greengrocers, and I visited a local bakery, too, but something was missing. I think it’s the directness of the people, which is something I take for granted in Madrid.

Now I can admit that I clearly feel closer to Madrid, where I have lived for two years, than to Barcelona, where I have only been three times, on short voyages of discovery, but I already felt the same way when I first set foot in the Spanish capital and I had no idea that one day I would end up living here. Madrid is also fashionable, with countless nationalities living here, and although tourist numbers are much lower than in Barcelona, the people are interested, open, and friendly. Even in one square, you can’t wait for your friend for more than 10 minutes without someone approaching you. They chat at the bus stop, and if you ask for a beer with a weird accent, they’re sure to praise your Spanish and to ask where you’re from. Bars and entertainment venues are not segregated between ‘tourists’ and ‘locals’, and it’s much easier to see into people’s everyday lives than in Barcelona.

The take-home lesson? If you’re thinking about moving, I’d recommend Madrid, but if you only want a short getaway, then it’s got to be Barcelona, and if you want to reach your own conclusions, you have to visit both, and many other Spanish cities as well. Happy travels!”

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“Let's say you only have 10-11 days in Spain. Or maybe even fewer. If you're just going on a beach holiday, a week is probably enough. But if you want a tangible impression of what life there is really like, and not just a flying visit, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. Still, even that’s hardly enough for a country this size, is it?

So you need to narrow down the region you’re visiting. Here I describe my own 11-day trip. It worked out pretty well, though I didn’t restrict myself to such a tiny range. It’s not about having to follow my route. But you can certainly draw from it if it helps.

Anyone with a car naturally measures time and distance differently, as well as their own energy. I bought a train ticket before I left home. It’s what I always do, and it worked out well. I got an interrail pass, with which I was able to travel by train as much as I wanted on five, six, or eight arbitrarily and spontaneously selected days. Of course, you have to plan ahead, but you also need to be able to deviate from your plans if something really interesting crops up. And most importantly, choose a city, village, or region as the center of your trip where – this gives you a good, familiar kind of feeling when you return from your adventures. You should spend at least 3-4 nights there, meaning that you’ll soon find your regular cafe spot, and the greengrocer will already be greeting you like an old friend on the second afternoon... It’s best if this is a beautiful city because feeling at home in a beautiful place is a great sensation. This time around it was Madrid and Salamanca for me.”





Spain - Casares - Krista photo

Practicals

Transport

“If I rented a car in Spain again, I would only do so from a big company. We rented it in Malaga maybe through expedia.com, and it was very cheap. We also took out insurance through the website, which of course they didn’t like at the rental because it meant they couldn’t sell us their own insurance. Naturally, after a lot of hard looking, they found a supposedly new scratch under the bumper and charged me €3-400 for it. The insurer finally paid out to cover it, but only after a month or two, so during that time, it was my money. Something to be very wary of.” (ba, 2019)


Spain - Renfe (Spain's national railway company)- Alexander S. photo

Food


“Time works differently here: Nothing opens before 9 a.m. At most one or two bars for early risers where you can have breakfast: coffee with churros or bolleria (pastry), or a tostada served with either olive oil or tomatoes, cafe con leche (a latte), and orange juice. In the morning there is already a bocadillo (sandwich), but it's worth noting that the bocadillo con jamon contains exclusively ham and nothing else. You don’t really get the kind of sandwiches stuffed with all sorts of things here unless you buy them at Subway or Rodilla. In Spain, they eat breakfast at noon. Meridiana – a Mediterranean sandwich, coffee or whatever, but no lunch. Lunch here is generally eaten at about 2. At 1 you can already order a lunch meal, but they look at you a bit strangely. There is no dinner before 10 pm. They may eat something before that, but not always. People usually go home around 2 in the morning. This is the Spanish timetable. They are even more relaxed on the weekends – there are only a few brave souls on the street before 11... After all, why hurry?”

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“Tapas isn’t a specific dish, but any snack served with a drink, from salted peanuts to olives. Anything that comes to the bartender’s mind. If you want to be popular, round up the money you leave on the bar. If you’re hungry, it’s better to order the daily special, which is generally 8-12 euros. The daily menu consists of a first and a second course (usually each with 3 types of food), followed by a dessert or coffee, and the menu is accompanied by 1 glass of soft drink, beer, or wine. In Spain, it is completely normal for people to drink beer or wine with their lunch, then go back to work... the alcohol level tolerance is 0.04%, which you’d still be under. So far, this is the only country I've been to and where you can order a beer with your meal at McDonald's.”

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“The food culture in Spain is very different from ours. They regularly eat small courses, instead of our three big meals, so you may feel like you’re eating all the time. They get up and go to bed about 3 hours later than we do, and their diet is adjusted accordingly. Nothing happens in Madrid before 9-10 in the morning, which is when the first small shops open, so they eat breakfast later, and the whole rhythm of the day is shifted, so don’t be surprised at having dinner around 10-11 pm.”


Spain - seafood - k.h. photo

Shopping

“Between about 2 pm and 5 pm, the Spaniards relax, sleep a little, and regain their strength for the second half of the day (so no wonder nobody goes to bed before midnight).

This means that skipping siesta is not only unhealthy but also pointless because although some larger stores or malls are open at this time, there’s no point punishing yourself – most places are closed, and if you try to go out you’ll only perish in the heat.”


Fun

1. Don’t ask what kind of beer a bar has as most bars only have one tap. Makes things easy, and say: una cerveza por favor.

2. If you don't want to ridicule yourself, don't ask the tourist information offices in most parts of Spain where and when you can see a flamenco show. It is pointless to search for flamenco shows in Castilla y León,
in the Basque Country, Navarra, the Valencian Community, Cantabria, La Rioja, Asturias, Galicia, Aragon, Catalonia (except Barcelona and its metropolitan area), the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands. In total, three-quarters of the country.



Background

Spain - national flags - “rojigualda”

Destination in brief


Spain is in southwest Europe and shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal. Neighbors: France and Andorra (north), Portugal (west)
Spain’s northwestern and southwestern coastlines are on the Atlantic Ocean, its northern coastline on the Bay of Bizcay, and its southeastern and eastern coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea.
 
Spain has two enclaves on the African continent, Ceuta and Melilla, both surrounded by Morocco. 
 
The Spanish name for Spain is España.

Size: 505,990 km² (195,364 mi²)  - The Puerto del Sol (square) in Madrid is considered to be the geographical center of Spain.

Capital city: Madrid – 3.2 million in the city area and 6.6 million in the metropolitan area (2020) – Madrid sits on a 635m (2,083 ft) high plateau and is therefore the highest capital in Europe.

Population (in 2020): 46.7 million
Spaniards traditionally have two surnames: the first is the paternal surname, the second the maternal one. There are plans for the maternal surname to be mandatorily given preference.

Language: 74% of the population speaks Castilian Spanish (castellano), 17% speaks Catalan (somewhat more similar to French than Castilian Spanish)
 
Religion: 94% Roman Catholic - Catholicism is very deeply rooted in Spain’s history, so it is surprising that more than 30% of the population does not practice it at all.
 
Government: Spain is a parliamentary monarchy. The King has ceremonial duties, while the Prime Minister and his/her government exercises the executive powers.
The Spanish national anthem has no words. It was originally a military march ("marcha granadera"), composed in the mid-18th century, and wasn't composed as an anthem.
 
More than half of the olive oil in the world is produced in Spain.
 
Currency: Euro

Average net monthly salary: 1,240 Euro (2019)

Most common surname: Garcia

Safety: Spain is one of the safest European countries to visit. Serious crime is rare, but visitors need to be careful of pickpockets in Barcelona’s tourist hotspots.

It is mandatory for prostitutes in Spain to wear reflective yellow jacket while working along any main road.
 
Optimal timing for a tourist visit: April-October

Spain is the third most visited tourist destination in the world (after France and the USA) and gets an average of about 65 million visitors a year.
Spain has the third-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world (after China and Italy).
 
 
 


History

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Spain - History performance in Casares - Krista photo

Spain - she gives the glad eye - Elter photo

People

“What is the Spanish like?

Hispanic Women: My brother and my partner both insist that Hispanic women are very ugly. With Brezhnev eyebrows and a mustache and an unflattering dress sense. Oh, and their faces are a Penelope Cruz shape that they don’t find beautiful. On the other hand, according to my partner, over 40 something happens to Spanish women and they start to become dignified and attractive.

And in my experience? Hispanic women have very shapely figures. Seriously, the number of slender, svelte women per square meter has got to be the highest in the world here, in my opinion. And they usually have very beautiful, thick, real Mediterranean hair. True, there is some room for improvement in terms of eyebrow and mustache waxing, but I don’t see Spanish women that ugly at all. It’s well-known that they like to talk a lot, but this is true of Spanish people generally. It is also true that they don’t have an attractive dress sense: they wear clothes in any combination, which is astonishing because in terms of fashion there isn’t much you can’t buy in Madrid, and at a good price. The city has everything necessary to make you look good at little cost. And it’s also true that their voices are often rather masculine, but to be honest, it’s only really noticeable (or ear-splitting) at first, and not disturbing at all. Another thing that speaks even more favorably of Spanish women is that they don’t buy counterfeit goods. So if you see someone with a Luis Vuitton bag, you can be sure it’s original. Immigrants are exceptions in this regard: you can pick them out at once in 90% of cases. Not only because of their physical appearance (skin tone, hair type, etc.) but also because of their style. In most cases, you cannot exactly describe them as attractive, but there are exceptions.

Spanish men: Anyone who thinks they will meet a hundred and a hundred Antonio Banderas counterparts here will be very disappointed. Spanish men, though they consider themselves demigods, are unfortunately quite some distance from the ideal. Let’s start with the fact that most of them are under 5”6. Most start to let themselves go in their twenties, and it can generally be said that there are more unkempt men than groomed ones. And the same is true for them: they could dress both cheaply and well. The exception here are gay men, who dress very attractively, and the majority are very well groomed as well. Some Spanish men treat women extremely badly, these are the ‘machos’ – many women have been killed in the last year by their own partners, and domestic abuse is not, so to speak, an unknown phenomenon. (obviously, some women can and do perpetrate abuse themselves, but that’s a subject for another post). There is, however, a Spanish type (I call it the "Urdangarin type" after the Prince of Mallorca) who are tall, well-proportioned, and look after themselves. Fortunately, you also encounter them. And luckily there are also cops – the minimum height requirement to enter the Spanish police is 170cm, so they can look around. The good news is that today more and more men play sports regularly, dress attractively, and pay some attention to grooming.

Character: The Spaniards are extremely open and very helpful. They can talk for hours with anyone, about anything, and if you need help with anything, feel free to just ask. They are not the sort of people who expect something in return for a favor, or who would say one thing to your face, then stab you in the back. If there’s something about you they don’t like, they’ll tell it to your face. Do also be aware that there is a certain level of reserve in Spanish society: you have to be very good friends with someone for them to invite you to their apartment, and they are reluctant to make their private sphere public. but they are always ready to sit down with you for a drink, a cup of coffee, or lunch. Their sense of humor is not very developed: anyone who likes that British style of humor, or something more off-the-wall, or even satire or sarcasm, will have a hard time finding a person here who ‘gets it'. They are no champions in terms of punctuality, and nor is it expected of you. It’s natural for people to be five or ten minutes late here, and no one ever complains. It’s also true, especially of Madriders, that they’re rather lazy.

Nationalism: honesty isn’t always the best policy – better to say that Spanish food is the best, Spanish wines are the best, Spanish olive oil is the best, Spanish women are the most beautiful, not to mention football (well, here they might have a point...), etc., etc. What is shocking to me is that they always prefer local products. So people buy Spanish goods even they’re more expensive because they trust the Spanish brand. It’s an extremely respectable characteristic, and I don’t think it would hurt to learn from them... but they still prefer the domestic brand if it doesn’t happen to be the best.

Tolerance: Everything I’ve described above? Well, I’ve left out the most important part. This is because the Spanish are not at all interested in how you dress, how your hair or skin looks, or what your sexual orientation is. I think the greatest virtue of the Spanish is tolerance. Here, they are simply accepted as you are, no matter how you look or how you dress. That’s why these people are so lovable. Because they don't want to change you.

P.S.: I was in Barcelona for a few days as a tourist, and I didn't even see any beautiful Spanish woman there. Even more surprisingly, we didn’t see any young woman at all – by which I mean, say, about 30 or under – (the few young and beautiful exceptions were all foreign tourists – mainly Italian, French, or Latin American). Of course, the paradox, as in Latin America, is that on TV and in video clips you can see almost only beautiful white women. It’s really interesting that most Spanish women have a deep, hoarse voice, but this is not true of Latin Americans. I’d be very interested to know the reason for this, but I didn't find an explanation for it anywhere (I read somewhere that it’s ‘because they smoke’, but that’s true in many other parts of Europe, and there most women still have a ‘normal’ voice, so that doesn’t explain it. I think it’s much more likely to have a genetic-climatic cause).

Sense of humor: Hispanics generally don’t. They don't understand jokes, and their own jokes are pretty primitive (about the level that our first- and second-grade kids tell each other and us) – that's my experience, at least.”


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“Life here revolves around eating. The famous hora de comer, or time to eat, is a precise hour, and it doesn't matter whether a Spaniard is hungry or not, has time, or even wishes to eat, he or she will sit down at the table. Between about two and three in the afternoon, then between nine and ten in the evening. God forbid that someone should organize a get-together at 8 in the evening! If you do, you’ll have to say whether there will be dinner, because if there won’t be, then that throws everything off – so should we eat now, before going out? Goodness gracious, what to do? OK, let's eat first. But that’s impossible, it completely upsets the rhythm of life here.

I don’t recommend eating in any restaurant across the whole of Spain at either lunchtime or at dinnertime! What else should a regular Spaniard concern him or herself with, if not what they’re going to have for lunch today, what to buy at the market, whether the fish is fresh and the tomatoes are ripe enough for the gazpacho, and whether Angela Merkel is eating our cucumbers yet?

They are familiar with my homeland – Hungary. Sure, that’s just personal experience, and others have reported less success, but I like to comfort myself in this belief. So far, everyone I have met has brought up the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and I have even been described as an ‘Austro-Hungarian’. Most people I’ve met have either been to Budapest and loved it or want to go because they think they would love it. Two things are possible: Spaniards are either very good liars or they’re really telling the truth. I don’t want to know the truth!

They love to chat. Standing on the street, in the market, in the cafe, on the bus, in the elevator, or at the red light – it doesn't matter, they just like to interact. Here, if people want someone to make some room on the bus, they don’t say ‘pardon’ or ‘excuse me’ but ‘sorry to bother you, but there’s only one seat there, and I’ll be getting off in three stops. Goodness, but I have a big bag, I see you were shopping too. Thanks!’ (Now imagine old Maria, 80, who doesn't talk to anyone all day, so she's taking a bus and looking for a way to chat to anyone – and literally, anyone will do). They chat about the heat, about how hard it is to shut the bus door, whether this is the longest red light in town, how they’ve had the same wallet for 20 years… Oh, and do you have a boyfriend? They love to flirt.

No man, whether he is 15 or 95 years old, would ever pass up the opportunity to look at a women’s buttocks/other/etc... If the opportunity arises, he also whispers guapa (beautiful). it doesn't matter if you have way over a zebra crossing, or holding your boyfriend's hand, or just won first place in a minesweeper race. Girls/women don't have to be afraid either, most men lay their cards on the table pretty quickly, and if they really like someone, they don’t beat about the bush.

Courtesy: This is mainly for people who have already experienced life in a Scandinavian country. Because here if they accidentally bump into you or knock you off balance at a party (very rare, even though there are eight times as many in the nightclubs), they immediately apologize, looking you straight in the eye. If you go somewhere and greet their neighbors they greet you back, also looking you in the eye, and even throw in a qué tal? which they don't expect an answer to, but it’s something. It’s sad, but in two years in Denmark, I almost forgot to say hello, and I found it awfully awkward when I realized it. You never get stuck with two people trying to go through the same door, either, but rather linger there for five minutes, both saying ‘no please, after you…’ that's almost funny. On the bus or the train, they help old ladies with their bags and don’t ignore you if you fall down the subway steps.

They love spontaneity. Sobre la marcha (we’ll see how it turns out / cross that bridge when we come to it) is a common expression here. We'll figure out where we're going, what we're doing, where we're staying… Until then, let’s just be here and not worry.

They often put sugar in hot chocolate for breakfast. Or sprinkle it on the churros (an elongated donut-like sweet) and spread jam on the magdalena which is a bit like a muffin, but twice as sweet, while our breakfast of ‘buttered bread with a slice of cheese and ham and maybe a couple of slices of tomato’ would make them grimace. If I mentioned that for breakfast I’m partial to scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon, they’d definitely call for a doctor. Though they can handle heavy food too, for breakfast they only snack on some sweets with their latte. The most remarkable thing about this is that, if possible, they also do it in a cafe.

They are not ashamed to laugh out loud. They let it out where and when they feel like it, and no one looks askance, or ask what’s so funny. So, instead of getting dirty looks for laughing and giggling with my friends back home, I’ll come to Spain instead.”


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“It’s perfectly acceptable here for people to sniff or spit. And they sneeze, cough, and yawn without putting their hands over their mouths. It’s interesting to see a lot of yawning people in the morning – a dentist would definitely enjoy it ... of course, it’s natural for both men and women. My colleague told me that until a few years ago, public urination was also allowed, and men did their number ones wherever the urge took them. Today it is forbidden, but in parks, it is best not to be surprised by anything. Speaking of women, the paper fan is practically a must-have here. Its color and size are incidental, but even in the full air-conditioned subway women fan themselves. I also bought one for myself, a white one, and I’m going to test it today :)

Good habits include order. On the escalator out of the subway station, everyone stands to the right side, to let those in a rush climb quicker. There are no exceptions. Either you stand to the right and don’t climb, or you climb the escalator steps on the left. If you stop, the person behind you will ask you to step aside. Many people are prepared to queue for minutes at the bottom to get on the right side, so as not to have to climb…

Their other very good habit is providing free newspapers on the subway or train. If you’ve finished reading them you can either leave them in the empty seat next to you or put them in the hat rack above your head. If you do neither of these, leave it in the papelero (paper holder) when you disembark, so others can read the newspaper. I think it's a very good thing. One less good thing is that kids can do whatever they like: they can yell, run anywhere anytime ... do what they want, and don’t ask anyone’s permission. they are the emperors of life. TRANQUILITO – just calm down: here there’s always plenty of time for everything, and nobody ever hurries. This is the hardest thing to get used to.”
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“The Spanish are really stupid. No, not like ‘crazy Spaniards’, just plain stupid. Every single cliché you hear about the Spanish – that they’re lazy, unreliable, stick-in-the-mud dopes, is absolutely true. And it just makes them all the more lovable. I always find it funny, when my undereducated friends watch their show about a Torrente detective and think that this xenophobic, endlessly nationalist, Franco-fanatic idiot is just a sort of exaggerated caricature of the Spanish character. Oh, sure it is. And what about the approximately seven million Catalans, who resent that this nation, which has just sunk ever lower since the days of Cortés and Pizarro, has ruled over them for half a millennium?”

Gastronomy

“The Mediterranean diet is understood here to mean that 60% of the food is vegetables, 20% meat, and the remaining 20% carbohydrates, and they manage this without any stress or effort to eat healthily since this has been their diet for centuries. So this is the secret of the Mediterranean diet. And besides this, mass sports are hugely popular here: every adult and child do some kind of sport, be it walking in the park or road biking. Not that everyone here is healthy – the fast-food effect is clear in today's children, and of course, those who aren't Spanish don't follow the Mediterranean diet.”


Attractions

Tarifa to Tangier

On a previous occasion, I was in Tarifa and I failed in the attempt. The attempt is to get the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier. Not you might think the most difficult thing to do. At the first attempt: I racked up at the ferry port with its little booking office with four or five […]...

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