The Hobo Guide to Travelling Spain
Unless you’ve been living under a Facebook ban (don’t scoff, it’s a twice yearly occurrence for old confrontational Keith over here), you’d know that we at Global Hobo are taking our travel writing workshops not only to a new continent (Europe), but to a new country within that continent (Spain) and with a new format (a road trip).
Maybe you’ll join us and hone your travel journalism craft with practical experience from industry professionals, all the while learning Spanish and immersing yourself in the world’s best shared cuisine (come at us China) and wine (eff you Bordeaux). Or maybe you won’t, but it’s a guarantee that at some point in your hobo career, you’ll be visiting Spain, and seeing as though I’ve been living here on and off for 13 years and still speak the language like a tongue-tied toddler, we figured I’m best suited to give you some insider tips.
Modern Spain is best defined as occupying most of the land that was conquered by, and then reclaimed from, the Moors, minus the kingdom to the west that wasn’t unified under the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon to Isabella of Castille. You know, everything south of Andorra but north of Africa that uses the squiggle over their ñ, but not their ã, obviously. Oh and not Gibraltar, unless this Brexit thing plays out, and then we’ll take Gibraltar as well.
British retirees who still voted for Brexit, British gangsters taking advantage of the weirdly lax extradition laws between the two countries, sunburnt Northern Europeans, Catalan, Basque and Galician separatists, bullfighters and their 17 fans, super hot short guys, grandmas who are just bristling for a big cuddling, a relatively new, but growing, cohort of immigrants from North Africa, South America and everywhere else, and like four Australians. There are 82 million annual tourists, making it the second most touristed country in the world.
Above we jest, because the beauty, of one of the myriad beauties, of Spain is its diversity. Like, yeah sure, the main language is Spanish, or Castillian as you should call it, because Catalan, Galician and Basque are all co-official languages (and if you think they’re similar to Spanish you’re… kind of right with Catalan and Galician. But Basque! Oh boy, that’s something else). In addition to the official languages, Spaniards, or better still, the wonderful diversity of individuals and nations that inhabit the part of the Iberian Peninsula currently known as Spain, may also speak Aranese, Aragonese, Asturian, Leonese and Silbo Gomero – a language made up of whistles that’s spoken (whistled?) on the uninhabitable inhabited rock off Africa known as La Gomera that is also a part of Spain.
Euros, otherwise known as about 13 Aussie dollars each. Smiling and saying “Hola!” to everyone will also suffice as currency in most bars.
Things to see and do:
You can’t go past the tourist hotspots of the Costa del Sol and the Balearic Islands, but you also absolutely must go past them. The best of Spain is found just off the beaten track, where the locals haven’t been tainted by the worst of mass tourism and are still happy to give you a decent meal for next to nothing, and a long conversation in a language you don’t understand a stitch of. Here’s a list of the best:
San Sebastian, or better yet the road between San Sebastian and Bilbao, and then Bilbao.
La Rioja, where the gods collude with the grapes to create vino tinto that will stain your teeth and brighten your morning. See also: everywhere almost.
Andalucia, inland, in the small villages, where it’s so hot that people live in caves and bar owners will fill your table with free tapas just because you ordered a €1 beer. Worst business model ever.
Galicia, where Spain meets Ireland in both rolling green hills, shithouse weather and Celtic heritage.
Extremadura, meaning either extreme and hard, which it does and which it kind of is, or the extreme reaches of the river Duro, which it also is. In any case, this rarely frequented land that borders Portugal is known for extremely hot summers, cold winters and featureless geography, two of which are completely justified. Pack a coat, or togs for a dip in one of the many natural swimming pools that dot the many mountain ranges and valleys.
The Running of the Bulls is all about the bull run.
It’s not! It’s all about the street party, the food, the grannies dancing in the streets, the culture and tradition. Fun fact, almost no young locals participate in the bull run, but still flood the city from all over Navarra, the state where it’s held, to party all night, drink kalimotxo (a delicious mix of red wine and cola) and dance in some of the literally hundreds of free concerts that pop up all over the city. Don’t miss out on this amazing city, region and party because you’re rightfully outraged about the animal cruelty it hosts, come and see for yourself, chat with the young locals, and see what a Spanish fiesta is all about.
That bullfighting is popular.
Yes, it is, amongst the elderly and conservative – a group that often Venn diagrams – and is only still going because the state subsidises the practice due to pressure from the aforementioned groups. Young people hate it, and they do way more to stop the slaughter than tut-tutting from afar. Bullfights are currently banned in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, parts of Galicia, plenty of local governments… Yes, it’s a shitty tradition, but also yes, most people don’t like it at all and are working on getting rid of it all together. Oh, and they have bullfights in Portugal and the South of France, too, but do I see indignant tourists boycotting Toulouse? Heck no! Join your Spanish brothers and sisters in the fight here on the frontlines!
Handy Spanish phrases:
Gracias: thank you
Me cago en ti: you’ve annoyed me (lit. I shit on you)
Me cago en la leche: something’s annoyed me (lit. I shit in the milk)
Me cago en tu madre: you’ve somewhat annoyed me (lit. I shit on your mother)
Me cago en tus ancestros: gosh dang you’ve really annoyed the heck out of me (lit. I shit on your ancestors)
Me suda la polla: I don’t care (lit. It makes my dick sweat – can be used by all genders)
Me toca los huevos: it’s stressing me out (lit. It’s touches my balls – again, all genders)
Relaja la raja: chill out (lit. Relax your pussy – you guessed it, everybody)
No me jodas: no way! (lit. Don’t fuck me)
Poner los cuernos: to cheat on somebody (lit. Put horns on them)
Que te folle un pez: fuck you (lit. go fuck a fish)
Vete a freir esparragos: fuck you (lit. go and fry asparagus)
Está donde Cristo perdió las chanclas: it’s pretty far away (lit. Where Jesus lost his sandals)
And a Stoke Travel favourite… Agarrarse un pedo: to get drunk (lit. To catch a fart)
Avoid embarrassment! Don’t ask for:
Una bocadillo de polla, unless you really want a dick sandwich
Anything with almejas, conejo, rabo, chorizo, pene… clams, rabbit, turnip, sausage, pasta – the list goes on for food and genitalia crossovers
Maybe just don’t ever ask for anything. Point and grunt.
Eating Out Tips
If they have photos of the food it won’t be good, except for the 1% of cases when it’s really, really good
Paella isn’t yellow. It also doesn’t traditionally come with seafood, but rabbits brains, chicken and beans isn’t too appealing on a nice, sunny day
The menu del dia is the best thing about Spain in general. Find a place between 1-3pm with lots of locals inside it. Order your starter, main and dessert, plus a quarter (sometimes whole) bottle of wine included. If you’re drinking the vino tinto get a bottle of gaseosa to mix with it, in case it’s not the best. Pay €8-15 for everything
There are so many amazing wines that come from Spain. Catalan whites can come from Penedes, or the Alella region right next to Barcelona. This is more of a red region, however, so try and stain your teeth with bottles from Priorat, Montsant, Terra Alta, or Emporda in the north of the region. Also, forget grape varieties, what you want is time in the cellar (a good indicator of a harvest’s quality). We prefer the crianzas, which have been in oak for at least one year. Reservas in oak for a year, and then a year at least in the bottle, and gran reservas should be reserved for your rich uncle to waste his money on.
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Ex-editor of Australia’s Surfing Life, current producer and host of 50 Fiestas, Barcelona resident and drinker of all the wine, every last drop of it.