I spent ten days in Spain visiting Barcelona, Valencia and Ibiza and noticed that Spanish culture welcomes food and music as huge parts of their identity. I realize that Barcelona and Ibiza may not be the best examples of Spanish culture, being highly popular tourist destinations, but my experiences with both places were enjoyable.
It was a lucky coincidence that I visited Barcelona in early June, which gave me the opportunity to witness the Whit Monday, also called Second Easter, festivities. The narrow streets of Barcelonetta (the old part of Barcelona) were packed with tourists and locals enjoying bands performing on the sidewalk and parades where locals dressed in bright colors and danced to the music. Yes, there is a religious background to the carnival, but the occasion has turned into a comical and celebratory affair. I’m not sure if the whole festival was a competition, but the music expressed passion and the mood was infectious.
The street music scene in Barcelona is filled with talent; from quartets in the metro system to soloists on street corners, even inexperienced ears found pleasure in different artists. The one I enjoyed the most was Los Sobrino, a four-person band nestled between rocky pillars in the free portion of Parc Guell. The skeletons of two violins, a cello, and a guitar were used to performed instrumental covers of pop songs. The gentle music serenaded tourists on the various paths that snaked around the area. Listening to the music had an intimate feel and you see awe in the faces of the listeners.
On to another pleasure that Spain offers: food! Tapas are small dishes, typically eaten as snacks or appetizers, that can be found throughout Spain. I feel that tapas are especially catered towards tourists. Restaurants that serve tapas can be found on most streets with the majority being concentrated around the popular attractions. I would avoid chain tapa restaurants and the ones closest to tourist sites. Tapas are perfect to enjoy as a mid-afternoon meal or a late-night snack. I especially enjoyed patatas bravas (fries with some sort of sauce) and fried cuttlefish. Many places have deals on pitchers of sangria (~11 euros) which goes perfectly with some tapas.
Valencia is a lesser visited city in Spain, a four hour bus ride from Barcelona, and emits an entirely different feeling. Even though it is the third largest city in Spain, Valencia still holds a small town sort of feeling. One of the pleasures of the city is the unique dishes that are offered. I visited Horchateria Santa Catalina to try some of the local delicacies. This place was decorated with tiled walls and floors, depicting various patterns that seemed like they would clash. The chairs and tables were ornate and there were mosaic designs on the steps. It seemed like the many elements in the cafe would clash, but I got a warm, homey feel to the place. I tried horchata, a cold drink made from tiger nuts that tasted a little like long an. I can’t say I liked the drink too much, but it had a very peculiar taste. The churros and chocolate exceeded my expectations. I am used to American churros: soft, chewy, and sprinkled in cinnamon and sugar. These churros were crisp, thin, and when dipped in the semi-sweet chocolate sauce (it really is a sauce) made a satisfying dish.
Spain truly is a feast for the senses.