5 Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know about Spain

Spain, that beautiful country in Europe‘s Iberian Peninsula, attracts millions of visitors each year. With its amazing culture, food, warm climate and history, Spain has been loved by tourists for ages. However, here are some amazing facts you didn’t know about Spain.

Or maybe you do. We’ll see about that.

Today we’ll the talking about the top five facts you probably don’t know about España. Some of them might amaze you, but all of them are surely going to make you want to grab your bags, book your hotels, and head to Spain!

5 Amazing Facts You Didn’t Know About Spain

5 Facts You Didn't Know about Spain Different names of the country

Throughout history, Spain has had a lot of names — many of which you’ve probably never heard about. For example, its first North African inhabitants called it Iberia, which meant the “land of rivers.”

Many years after, the Greeks invaded the peninsula, and called the area Hesperia, which directly translates to the “land of the setting sun.”

Then, once again, Spain was renamed when the Carthaginians arrived and ruled around 300 BCE. These people named the region Ispania, which in their language meant the “land of the rabbits.”

And theeeeeeen, the Romans conquered the country and Latinized the name to Hispania. Over time, this name was tweaked to simply España.

random facts about Spain

Nudists’ beaches are the thing

Although naked bodies in public spaces are not that common, Spain has a few laws that actually allow people to, errm, showcase their naked bodies in public beaches.

That is pretty easy to understand: with more than 3,000 hours of sunlight each year, everyone will do everything to get that great full-body tan!

So, if you are a free spirit, you will certainly enjoy this carefree attitude towards nudity and the fact that on many beaches it is common to see other sunbathers (particularly women) flaunting what they got.

Spain weird facts

A pooping Christmas log

One of the oldest, and also one of the most religious, countries in Europe has one weird Christmas traditional you might actually love.

Or find it hilarious as heck.

The so-called Tió de Nadal is a popular Christmas custom among many Valencianos and Catalonians during the winter’s holiday season. It translates into “the Christmas Log in English.”

However, the Spanish tradition is also nicknamed Caga Tió (meaning ‘shitting log’ or ‘poo log’). The story behind it is pretty simple – children during Christmas beat the hollow log with various sticks until it “defecates” various treats out. You know, poo-looking edibles such as chocolate or dark candy.

Kids love it and tourists get weird about it. Either way, this is definitely one of the most unique Spanish Christmas traditions known to date.

Sagrada Familia interesting facts Spain

The never ending construction of an iconic church

I don’t know how about you, but when I was in school, we were taught that Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família Church is the record holder of the longest construction in the history of the world.

How much of this story is truth is hard to tell, but some facts are proving this for sure. Spain’s most iconic church has been in construction since breaking ground in 1882 – and it looks like the development is nowhere close to ending.

The expected completion date of Sagrada Familia is sometime in 2026, after some 140 years in the making. Despite ‘s ongoing construction, the church is open to the public and managed to get into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list due to its extraordinary beauty and unique architectural features.

cool facts about Spain

The oldest working restaurant in the world

Another one of the most unique facts you didn’t know about Spain (probably) is that the Mediterranean country is home of the world’s oldest restaurant.

In Madrid, you can find the Restaurante Botín. It opened its doors in 1725 and since then has set the bar for traditional Spanish cuisine.

Nowadays, you can still enjoy old Spanish dishes such as cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and old style roasted lamb there.

Dishes which will take you away to those golden Spanish ages when this fabulous European country was one of the most powerful empires in the world.

facts you didn't know about Spain

The following was a guest post. Please contact me to contribute!

Barcelona Free Attractions and Tips: My Favorites

It’s #ThrowbackThursday! Memory Lane has taken me back to fall 2009, when I visited several European cities while studying abroad in Morocco. A student budget meant this was only possible thanks to low-cost carriers and other budget-friendly activities I sought out. Namely, I had the best luck in Spain, so today I’m sharing my favorite Barcelona free attractions and tips.

Barcelona Free Attractions

Barcelona free attractions, Gaudi

Casa Batlló by KHYLAsophy via Trover.com

Walking Tours

I took some of Sandeman’s free tours and highly recommend them. Their guides are knowledgeable and witty. They only live off tips though, so I don’t like to promote the tours as “free” but rather “good value for your money.”

Their three-hour Barcelona walking tour is the most complete of the bunch. It covers a good mix of the city’s history, Catalonia’s national identity, and famous characters. People watch at La Rambla; awe at Picasso’s paintings and Gaudi’s architectural legacy; learn more about the Spanish Civil War; and even visit Roman ruins.

Runner Bean also offers free walking tours in the city—the difference being that they are more targeted. Their Old City tour covers some of the most iconic plazas, churches, and other sites within the Gothic Quarter, highlighting Barcelona’s cultural past. Conversely, their Free Gaudi Tour exclusively focuses on the eccentric architect’s life and modernisme masterpieces.

Outdoor Events

Independent travelers will be happy to know that Barcelona’s free attractions are not limited to group tours. I love Cinema Lliure and its independent film screenings on Sant Sebastià beach Sunday and Thursday nights. Speaking of beaches, you can also visit crowded Barceloneta—or even wear your birthday suit at the nudist section of Mar Bella—gratis.

Barcelona’s vibrant scene is constantly sprinkled with free cultural events though, so make sure you check out For Free’s calendar during your visit.


As an art lover and history buff, I was thrilled to find out that some of Barcelona’s top museums offer free admission every Sunday after 3 PM.

The Museum of History of Barcelona is particularly striking, with a 4,000-square-meter archaeological dig, filled with Roman ruins. Also worth a visit is the Picasso Museum, highlighting the artist’s early work; the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona for a deeper look into Catalan culture through different exhibitions and special events; and the National Museum of Art of Catalonia for a good mix of both modernist and medieval pieces (free first Sunday of the month).

Barcelona Free Accommodation (and Food!)

Barcelona free attractions, tapas

Tapas by Chris Stevenson via Trover.com


Many bars throughout the city throw in free tapas when you order a drink—per Spanish tradition. Some spots that come to mind are Gata Mala (Gracia), Ambiente del Sur (L’Eixample), Bar Mingus (Gothic District), and Bar Atrapatapa (also in L’Eixample).


Even if you’re staying at a Barcelona hotel, check out the local Couchsurfing scene. Hosts are willing to show you around town, even if you’re not staying with them. One of the highlights of my trip to Barcelona was attending a free Catalan poetry reading, accompanied by live music. Afterward, my host took me bar-hopping with his friends in a district I cannot pronounce—and did not see another tourist the whole night.

Noche de San Juan history: Beach Thursday special!

What does Noche de San Juan history has to do with Beach Thursday, some of you may ask? Well, all of it! Through a fun photo essay, I’ll describe this exciting beach festival. And while it is also celebrated in Portugal, I’ll focus on Spain and Puerto Rico today. Good way to warm up before I go to freeze my butt in Canada this Saturday! 😉

Noche de San Juan history, Portugal beach

Bonfires as seen from a beach in Medeira, Portugal by zyberchema, Flickr

Noche de San Juan history

The original Christian holiday honors John the Baptist on June 24th. However, its eve (Noche de Fuego) is an adaptation of an earlier pagan festival, which paid tribute to the sun. FIRE and water take center stage, symbolizing the cleansing of sins.

In short, Noche de San Juan is a celebration of the shortest night of the year, used as an opportunity to “start anew” (+ party). And while the summer solstice is actually closer to June 21st, the church wanted to celebrate it by St. John’s holiday (night of June 23rd). So it stuck!

Noche de San Juan history, Night of Fire

Giant Noche de San Juan bonfire in Spain by Lumiago, Flickr

Whether we’re talking about it in Spain or Puerto Rico, the origins are the same. Conquistadors got here, traditions were passed on, you know the deal. When it comes to practice, though? Somewhat different!

Noche de San Juan customs, traditions, and superstitions

Naturally, Noche de San Juan customs and traditions aren’t the same in Spain and Puerto Rico anymore. While Spaniards focus more on fire rituals, Puerto Ricans simply like to have a great beach concert and splash into the ocean. Here are some examples:

– It’s believed that as soon as the sun comes up the morning of June 24, the waters of fountains and rivers are full of special powers to cure and protect people. Additionally, whoever bathes in the dew of that night will be protected for the rest of the year (only in Spain).

Noche de San Juan history, Puerto Rico beach

The party starts early! Ocean Park beach, Puerto Rico by Amber Porter

– Going backwards (naked!) into the ocean, while looking at the moon, will give the bather special powers on Noche de San Juan (in Spain). OR you can simply jump backwards into the ocean, even if wearing a bathing suit, 7 times after midnight of June 24th for good luck (in Puerto Rico).

– Singles who look through the window of their home after midnight of June 24 will see the love of their life walk by (either Spain or Puerto Rico).

– A scary-looking ragdoll is burned by the ocean, while making a variety of petitions and promises (only in some coastal towns, Andalucia, and the Canary Islands).

Noche de San Juan customs and traditions, Canary Islands

Playa Jardín, Canary Islands by Carmen Fuentes

Noche de San Juan: modern celebrations

While the previous Noche de San Juan customs and traditions are kept by some, most youngsters simply go to the beach to party the night of June 23rd. To give you a taste of what this holiday is like nowadays in both Spain and Puerto Rico, here are some videos of the respective celebrations:

Noche de San Juan in Spain, also known as The Night of Fire:

Noche de San Juan in Puerto Rico’s capital:

I’m excited to be celebrating Noche de San Juan in Puerto Rico this year. PLUS my birthday is that same week (June 25) 😉 Mr. B and I have rented a studio by the beach, so will sure be taking great photos of the party by Ocean Park beach! Can’t wait for next month 😀

Yay for the good times and bye-bye to the gloomy days (I hope…!).

Noche de San Juan history, beach fireworks

Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas by JUAN RAMON RODRIGUEZ SOSA

Did you know about Noche de San Juan history? Have you celebrated it?

Canary Islands beaches: photos from Grand Canaria

It’s Beach Thursday! Today we are going back to Europe to visit some Canary Islands beaches. Specifically, we will learn more about the hot spots of Gran Canaria, where 40% of the Canaries’ population resides. Enjoy!

Canary Islands beaches, Las Canteras


Canary Islands beaches: Gran Canaria

I don’t know what intrigues me the most: the fact that one of its beaches is known as Europe’s nudist capital, the few dangers that you may encounter during your visit or that its most popular beach is called Puerto Rico (yup, just like the Caribbean island). Gran Canaria is definitely a destination for the adventurous, open-minded traveler.

Puerto Rico Resort

Of course I had to start with Gran Canaria’s most popular beach. Puerto Rico is the center of a popular resort area, sprinkled with several hotels and bars. As expected, it is quite crowded and not everyone’s piece of cake.

Canary Islands beaches, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria by Gran Canaria Go, Flickr

Amadores Beach

Just like out of a Caribbean brochure, it is hard to believe that Amadores is a man-made beach. Literally made from scratch, it is a 15 min. walk (or 3-min. cab drive) from wildly-crowded Puerto Rico resort.

Canary Islands beaches, Amadores Gran Canaria

Amadores Beach by Sergio Carriedo, Flickr

Maspalomas Beach

The biggest beach in Gran Canaria also happens to be Europe’s nudist capital. However, the only nudist zone is located at its center, so you may still visit one of the island’s most popular beaches without having to strip down. LGBT travelers: there’s also a special area designated with a Pride flag. Personally, I love this beach because of its spectacular sand dunes.

Canary Islands beaches, Maspalomas

Gorgeous sand dunes of Maspalomas Beach by Pedro Szekely, Flickr

Playa de Las Canteras

Want to go snorkeling? Coral sandstone barrier reef La Barra is right off this beach. As a bonus, it breaks incoming waves, making this spot perfect for families as well. Make sure you also spend some time by the paseo marítimo, the red-brick boardwalk that hugs the beach with several restaurants, bars, and shops. It is another popular spot in Gran Canaria, so definitely not for those who are seeking peace and quiet 😉

Canary Islands beaches, Playa de Las Canteras

Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas by JUAN RAMON RODRIGUEZ SOSA

Guigui Beach

Speaking of peace and quiet, if you seek isolation and relaxation, Gui Gui is your beach. While it may be reached by boat from the Puerto Rico resort or by water taxi from Puerto de Las Nieves. Adventurous souls might want to take the 3-hour hike from its closest road, though!

Canary Islands beaches, Guigui beach valley

Valley leading to Gui Gui beach by Vijay Sikanda, Flickr


Want to hang out with the locals? Head over to Guayedra. Located on the gorgeous West Coast, getting there is just half the fun. Go on a weekday to mingle with Canarians hailing from Agaete, Galdar and Guia. Otherwise, go on a weekday and chances are you will have this slice of heaven all to yourself.

Please note though: this is a black sand beach with many pebbles, plus you may find the odd group of nudists from time to time. Bonus though? You may take a mud bath here! One of the most unique Gran Canaria beaches of the island IMO.

Canary Islands beaches, Guayedra

Guayedra Beach, Gran Canaria north coast by Ramon Sanchez Bruhn, Flickr

Have you visited any Canary Islands beaches? Which is your favorite?

Spanish superstitions: Part 13 of the World’s Superstitions Series

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday! After a 5-month hiatus, the World’s Superstitions Series is back. This week, we will learn about the quirky beliefs and traditions stemming from Spanish superstitions. Are the Spaniards guilty as charged? No doubt about it. Their superstitions list is so long, this post is merely an introduction.

Spanish superstitions, flag and fans

Spanish soccer fans (David Wilson, Flickr)

Spanish superstitions list

* Let’s start with a Halloween Spanish superstition: Never leave a chimney uncapped, as witches may climb down it (and into your house)!

* Remember how Latinos believe that both Friday and Tuesday the 13th are unlucky days? In Spain, only Tuesday the 13th is avoided like the plague for events or traveling. There’s even a saying that solidifies this belief: Martes 13: ni te cases, ni te embarques (literally meaning “Tuesday 13: Don’t get married nor embark [a ship],” it actually rhymes in Spanish ;)).

* Boys and girls: Watch your feet when mama is sweeping the floor! According to Spanish superstitions, if broom hits the feet of a single person while sweeping the floor, that person will never get married.

* Never you leave your purse or wallet on the floor — you’ll attract bad luck. Your money will run away (or someone will steal it)!

Spanish superstitions, water toast

NEVER do this. Why? Read on (Viren Kaul)

* Never toast with a glass of water: This is bad luck! In fact, it will get you seven years of bad sex. Bring on the sangria, people.

* In several Spanish households, moms preach to their children the walking barefoot will make them sick (specifically, catch a cold). Thus, it is prohibited to walk without slippers or shoes around the house. This superstition is not exclusive to Spain, by the way. Growing up in Puerto Rico, my mom used to yell at my sister for walking barefoot all the time! As for me, I would always get in trouble due to my constant encounters with the lethal Puerto Rican sereno

* Never take a shower after dinner. According to Spanish superstitions, you’ll have a heart attack!

* Hear or see a cricket? Rejoice: That’s great luck! And if you kill one? Go to church, for you have committed a sin.

Spanish superstitions, cricket

Crickets and Spanish superstitions: Great luck (Mark Robinson)

* On New Year Day, right when the clock hits midnight, one must throw a bucket of water out the window for purification and good luck. I love this one, especially because my family does it every year 🙂 Spanish superstitions and traditions, clearly, are deeply embedded in Puerto Rican culture.

* If a loved one calls you, don’t answer the phone with a “hello” — say bendición or bendiciones (“blessing” or “blessings”) instead. This is another lovely Spanish tradition that was brought to the Caribbean. Back in Puerto RIco though, it is mostly used to greet the elderly or your grandparents (out of respect).

* It is the Spanish belief, as is tradition, to name your child after the name of the Saint to which that day is dedicated. This one is close to my heart, as my grandfather (may he rest in peace) of Canarian descent named all my aunts and mom after the Saints of their birthdays.

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife, Canary Islands (Photo: BeeLoop SL)

That’s all for Spanish superstitions this week! If you would like a particular country featured, just contact me with a short blurb and list of unique beliefs and superstitions. Conversely, if your country has been previously featured (below), comment on that post to add on to the list!

Previously featured countries – World Superstitions blogs:
Puerto Rico
The Netherlands

Got more Spanish superstitions to share? Comment below!

Christmas traditions around the world PT 2!

CLICK HERE for pt 1 of Christmas traditions around the world! learn about the FESTIVE customs and traditions of even more countries.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions around the world, nativity scene

Presepe: Nativity scene in Italy (Photo: Davide Papalini)

Thought Christmas were longer only in Latin America? Think again! In Italy, Christmas officially starts on December 8th with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and then, families typically start to decorate their homes with lights. Gift giving, however, does not happen until January 6th or Epiphany, a tradition shared with many Latin American countries. That 12th day of Christmas is when it is believed that the Three Wise Men (aka Three Kings) visited Baby Jesus and showered him with gifts. As such, just like in Latin America, the main Christmas decoration is the Nativity scene, or as it is called in Italian: The presepe.

Christmas in Jordan

Christmas traditions around the world, beef and bulgur

Minced beef and bulgur, a traditional Christmas dish in Jordan (Photo:Wearenotmartha.com)

Christmas in Jordan is celebrated with great fervor by the Christian minority there. What surprised me the most, however, is the tradition of soaking dry fruits in rum, brandy, and cognac by women in early December! I can’t wait to go back to the Middle East an try those! 😉 Then on Christmas Eve, a cake is baked, while Christmas Day dinner consists of grilled eggplant, vine leaves in tomato sauce, stuffed turkey, and minced beef with bulgur

Christmas in Martinique

Christmas traditions around the world, shrubb

Clément Créole Shrubb, a popular one in Martinique (Photo:Scotlandstephenson.com)

Christmas in this creole tropical island is a mix of Caribbean and French flavors. Their most distinct Christmas tradition, however, is the making and drinking of shrubb, a fine liquor made of white rum, sugarcane syrup and dried peels of tangerines and oranges, which are abundant at this time of the year.

Christmas in Mexico

Christmas traditions around the world, posada

Posada procession in Oaxaca, Mexico (Photo: GoMexico.about.com)

Mexican Christmas (or “Navidades”) officially start on December 16th with a tradition called “Las Posadas,” which last all the way until Noche Buena or Christmas Eve. This tradition involves the recreation of Mary and Joseph’s hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, trying to find shelter to give birth. A different part of the journey is recreated every night, culminating with a party at a neighborhood. Children dress as angels, shepherds, and also as Mary and Joseph in such processions, with their parents following with lit candles.

Christmas in Morocco

Jemaa el Fnaa

Jemaa el Fnaa Square. Marrakech, Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is rarely celebrated in Morocco. Yet, due to the strong French/European influence in the country, along with a growing expat community, you will find Christmas lights and decorations sprinkled throughout the big cities. Days vary, however, depending on the faith and background of that minority. For instance, members of the Orthodox Christian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6th; while the Coptic and Armenian Churches celebrate the holy day on January 7th. Last, but not least, the Catholics typically attend a special evening mass on December 24th to start Christmas.

Christmas in Panama

Christmas traditions around the world, Panama

Left: A traditional pollera dress; Right: Light show during Panama City’s Christmas Boat Show (Photos: Family-christmas-traditions.com)

Christmas in Panama is quite lively and several great events are held, specially in the capital Panama City. Festivities kick off the 2nd weekend of December with a big Christmas Parade. Gorgeous floats pass by and women dress in very bright, traditional dresses called polleras. Also, at night, an amazing boat parade showcase a light show that is truly spectacular!

Christmas in Puerto Rico

It is tough to decide what’s your favorite tradition of a Puerto Rican Christmas. Is it the fact that they begin on Thanksgiving Day in November and don’t end until the end of January? Is it the party after party throughout the whole season and how virtually everyone decorates their homes with hundreds of lights? Or is it the food and plena music?

Coming from the Island of Enchantment, I can tell you that the most unique and fun Christmas tradition in Puerto Rico is the parrandas! In essence, they are drunken Christmas carols! Learn more about Puerto Rican parrandas here.

Christmas in Spain

Christmas traditions around the world, Pavo trufado

Pavo trufado: A traditional Christmas dish in Spain (Photo: Cocina.org)

Naturally, Christmas traditions in Spain are very similar to those in Latn America. Thus, I have decided to switch it up a bit on this entry and leave ya with a recipe of a traditional Christmas dish in Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad (Christmas Turkey with Truffles)!

1 turkey of 4 kg.
½ kg. minced lean pork
1 kg. minced veal
Salt and ground black pepper
1 glass of brandy
1 large glass of dry oloroso sherry
3 tins (of 90g) truffles (mushrooms)
150 g “jamon serrano”
200 g belly of pork in rashers
6 eggs [click here for the rest!]

Christmas in Switzerland

Christmas traditions around the world, Swiss ringli

Ringli: Typical Christmas treat in Switzerland

A special Swiss Christmas tradition is to await the arrival of Christkindli: A white angel wearing a crown full of jewels, which holds a face veil over its face. This angel is the one that brings the presents. These, by the way, come in a basket, which is carried by Christkindli‘s child helpers. Also, another Swiss Christmas tradition is  to eat ringli (homemade doughnuts) with hot chocolate.

Christmas in St Thomas (US Virgin Islands)

Christmas traditions around the world, St Thomas sweet bread

Photo recipe: VirginIslandsThisWeek.com (click to enlarge)

One event to look forward to when spending Christmas in St. Thomas is the Challenge of the Carols outdoor concert. It is infamously glorious! While at it, grab some Johnny cakes (traditional holiday sweet bread). Click on the image above for a traditional recipe to bake at home!

Christmas in Vatican City

Christmas traditions around the world, Vatican

Vatican Christmas Tree (Photo: Sunshine city, Flikr)

Naturally, the Pope delivers his traditional Christmas speech and directs mass to thousands of fervent believers. This service, called “midnight papal mass,” actually begins at 10 PM on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica. The papal speech, however, is delivered around noon on Christmas Day.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions around the world? Why?

Traveling through Spanish food (photo essay)

Traveling Through Spanish food on this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday! As you already know, on this mini series, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite ethnic foods and restaurants through educational (and quite yummy) photo essays. Let’s get started!

When someone utters “Spanish food,” what comes to mind? Typically, it is a misused term in America, where all kinds of Latin American dishes are called “Spanish food” indiscriminately by gringos and even American Latinos alike. Properly, though, Spanish food refers to cuisine that comes from that European nation that was once filled with Conquistadors heading West to discover (and dominate) the New World. Now, are you ready to discover some Iberian delicacies?!

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

AHHHHHH!!!!!!!! *runs inside*


First, I’ll start with bocadillos (or “mini bites”). Every time I visit Spain, I must visit El Museo Del Jamón (literally “The Ham Museum”) to eat a tumaca, crosán mixto and cañita at least 3 times a day. Daily. During my whole stay. Just ONE EURO each. My body basically requires them! Everyone at Museo Del Jamón knows me by name (and country) now: “La María, directamente de PUERTO RICO!” such a lovely thing to hear as I walk in =D

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

You have arrived to your destination: Museo Del Jamón

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

Me @ El Museo Del Jamon (Ham Museum) - Plaza del Sol, Madrid. Most bocadillos & cañita (beer) for ONE EURO. Naturally, the best Spanish place EVER.

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

My favorite Spanish snacks (from left): A half-destroyed tumaca, piece of bread with garlic, olive oil tomato sauce & topped with Serrano ham * Chorizo tapas, sweet and salty varieties * Crossán Mixto, elongated croissant topped with Serrano ham, your choice of Spanish cheese & olive oil. Lastly, cañitas (beers) to wash it all down. Can I go back NOW, please?

As you can see, I have a slight obsession with Jamón Serrano *grins* umm, yeah. It is basically one of the most amazing pieces of meat your mouth will ever touch. Savour. Enjoy. I chew each bite ever so slowly. It is one of those heavenly things that you just can’t explain, but rather have someone eat in order to understand

Spanish food Museo Del Jamon

Where the magic happens (Museo Del Jamón display)

Spanish food Jamon Serrano

Glorious, glorious ham (Photo: Hector Garcia, Wiki Commons)

Another important ingredient in most of my favorite bocadillos and Spanish tapas in general are cheeses: Such a delightful variety! Combine them with amazing Jamón Serrano or Ibérico and…

Spanish food - Serrano ham and cheese tapas

...transport your palate to the 8th Heaven (Photo: Juan Fernández, Wiki Commons)

Spanish ham and cheese

Spanish ham and cheese - ate them all!

Wine, cheese and Serrano ham party, Madrid

Me (far right, red top) at a wine & cheese (and Serrano ham) party in Madrid, Spain

Other typical ingredients of tapas are olives/olive oil, garlic, onions, chorizo (hot, mild or sweet), almonds, chillies, parsley, basil, orégano, paprika, peppers and tomatoes.

Spanish food - tapa de patatas

Patatas (potato) tapas - by Tamorlan, Wiki Commons

Tapas: Not just appetizers

In Spain, tapas are not simply appetizers, though. In fact, it is quite common to group several tapas and make up a whole meal. Furthermore, the same items may be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or a midnight dinner! There’s a very blurred line of things to eat in the morning or at 10 PM, which is another thing I loved about Spain since I’m the gal that typically has pizza for breakfast because she is too hungry for anything less 😉

Spanish food - meatball tapas

Tapa de albóndigas (meatballs), typical on a cool autumn night or winter day (Photo: Tamorlan, Wiki Commons)

eggplant with salmorejo tapas

Deep-fried eggplant with salmorejo dip sauce (tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic, vinegar). Photo: Tamorlan, Wiki Commons

Another quintessential Spanish food is paella. This dish, a hearty rice concoction, is nothing short of amazing as well. There are many different types, so I recommend a culinary tour around Spain to sample them all!

Valencian paella

Valencian paella (Photo: Wiki Commons)

paella negra

Paella negra - black rice paella (Photo: Ralf Roletschek Marcela, Wiki Commons)

Shellfish paella

Shellfish paella (Photo: Manuel M. Vicente, Flikr)

Now that I have given you a broad overview of Spanish food, I will share my favorite dishes of Ceviche, a chain of Spanish restaurants in the state of Florida. Surprisingly, very very good chain! I have visited both the Tampa & orlando locations and my favorite tapas tasted exactly the same. I go there often and absolutely love their sangría, too!

piquillos rellenos

Piquillos rellenos: Roasted red peppers stuffed with ground veal and mild chorizo sausage, served with a Spanish sherry sauce. Photo not from Ceviche, but dish looks very similar (Photo: chefclaudianotebook.blogspot.com

Champiñones de Sevilla

Champiñones de Sevilla: Four types of mushrooms sautéed with sherry over goat cheese and toasted bread, which is not pictured (Photo: tiffanycsteinke, Flikr)

That shall be it for part four of the mini series, Traveling through food! Hope I piqued your interest (and appetite) for Spanish food further and you venture out to try something new.

Spanish sangria

have a Spanish sangría - SALUD! (Photo: Frank K., Flikr)

Have you ever had Spanish food? What’s your favorite dish?

CouchSurfing Review and Guide to get Started

So! I just came back from Couchsurfing in Orlando this weekend and was reminded, once more, of how wonderful is the community and how much spice they add to my travels, even locally! While I was absolutely exhausted from an all-day affair with NKOTBSB (VIP event + long freakin’ AWESOME concert!) and thus could not enjoy the city with my host as I usually would, it still put yet another smile on my face *grins* and so, I was inspired to write this post! Here you have a couchsurfing review and guide to get started =D (click on any picture to enlarge!)

Couchsurfing Rome

Tram party in front of the Colosseum organized by my Couchsurfing host in Rome, Italy!

Are you a CouchSurfing Virgin? I’ll take it! For the past 3 years, this community has dramatically shaped the way I see people, other cultures, and life in general. Honestly, I don’t even quite remember how I found Couchsurfing. I do know, however, that it has changed my life. Seriously. My travel tales would have never been the same without the wonderful Couchsurfer, as they call themselves. And as the veteran Couchsurfer that I am, today I will introduce you to this popular subculture, hopefully brushing away your fears and taking your Couchsurfing virginity in the process *wink* I have taken it from several of my friends and they are all glad they did it with me (twss lol…), so I’m hoping this entry will do the same for you!

First, let’s start with a visual (right-click, open new window): Click here for my Couchsurfing profile.

Now that you have my profile as sample on a different window, keep reading this entry and put this window side-by-side with my profile so I can guide you through it!

Scroll down the page until you find a highlighted (light yellow) box saying “References.” I’ll start with that, as it is (in my opinion) the most essential feature of the site. Basically, you can “trust” the site as it has this feature, which happens to be similar to eBay’s feedback system. Here, you may read detailed references left by other Couchsurfers about your potential host or guest. They are categorized as positive, neutral or negative. This section is one of the deciding factors on whether I stay/meet up with the person or not. Not only do I look for positive references, but I also read them to make sure the Couchsurfer and I will be “a good fit” or so to speak. Needless to say, Couchsurfing is NOT a dating or free accommodation site. You stay or host people with the purpose of “traveling further” (if surfing) or “traveling without leaving home” (if hosting). This is a way of seeing and learning about a place from a local’s perspective, or a way of learning about a new culture from a traveler’s perspective. So, you want to make sure not only this person can be generally trusted, but also that you guys have some things in common so a connection is likely. See it as finding a travel buddy: While you may want someone different in order to learn new things, you also want to have certain things in common so you can connect. With all that said…

Couchsurfing Rome

My couch in Rome, Italy!

Read a person’s profile thoroughly before accepting or sending a couchsurfing request. This will further confirm whether you have things in common or not with this potential host/surfer. Also, if surfing, read the Couch information section carefully. It can be found on the left side of the user’s profile, right under the picture and Couchsurfer’s general info/interests. Read the rules, understand them. If you don’t agree with them, it isn’t a good fit, so don’t stay with that person. This is where house rules are usually displayed, so make sure you agree with them prior to sending a request.

So! Read this far and think you are up for it!? Want to get started!? Let’s do it!

Step 1: Register on Couchsurfing.org and fully fill your profile. Add a picture, talk extensively about your travel style, your personality and interests (specially if you haven’t traveled much yet). Many CSers will not accept a couchsurfing request or request your couch (if you wish to host) if your profile is empty and without a picture. So be sure your profile is presentable and a bit of a reflection of your personality prior to exploring the site further.

Step 2: Once your profile is dully filled, hover your mouse over the “Surf / Host” tab, then click on “Tips.” Read this section carefully and understand the community.

Couchsurfing Iceland

Oskar, one of my CS hosts in Iceland, his gf, and me at a local rave concert they took me to. I look tiny!

Step 3: While you could go straight to waiting for surfers to request your couch or go to “Couchsearch” immediately, I recommend you gather some references either from friends of yours that are already CSers and got references on the site or by joining Couchsurfing events on your community. You can simply go to the “Community” tab and browse through groups in your area. If traveling, see what CSers are doing in that city. This way, it is more likely to get surfers or have CSers accept your couchsurf requests, as you will already have some “credibility” in the community by having some positive references stacked up. This is how I started in Egypt and it helped me not only with getting CSers to host me, but also for me to trust the community and understand it a little better prior to surfing.

Step 4: So you got some nice references decorating the wall of your Couchsurfing profile? Then start Couchsearching (found under the same Surf / Host tab) or wait for the surfers to start requesting your couch!

Step 5: If you are a surfer, this is for you! Once you click on Couchsearch, fill in the appropriate fields. The form is quite self-explanatory and the site easy to navigate, so you should have no problems. Now, once you submit this form, follow the advice given by Couchsurfing under the “Tips” section and what I told you about references and couch requests above.

Couchsurfing Madrid

with my CS host Angel in Madrid, Spain! Me on left

Step 6: Now let’s get to writing a Couchsurfing request! So you followed the tips? Read the couch information? Agree with the house rules? Now write your couchsurf request as personable as possible. Maybe comment on something you found funny on that Couchsurfer’s profile, or how you also visited Australia and loved it, or how you love dogs and can’t wait to meet his/hers. You get the deal! Also, read the couch info carefully more than once, as some Couchsurfers love to put “passwords” or keywords that you must insert into the couch request or else your request will be declined! For instance, I may say “please put ‘COLA’ on the title of your request so I know you read this section and my profile–or else I will not respond your request!” Some Couchsurfers go even further and hide this “password” somewhere in between their interests or even caption of their profile picture. So what’s the morale of the story: READ the profile and couch information carefully, more than once! Not only for the passwords, but this will simply let you know your potential host (or surfer!) fairly well so it is a blessing in disguise, really.

That should be enough for our Couchsurfing 101 course! I shall write some tales of my couchsurfing experiences worldwide later on, so stay tuned for more!

Have you ever gone Couchsurfing? If yes, tell me about an experience! If not, what else would you like to hear about Couchsurfing!?