Spain Inspires

With a flamenco beat just around the corner, wine abundant during late night dinners and laughter being heard in the streets, it’s hard not to feel inspired by Spain. Whether you’re in a small town or busy city, there is a line of rich culture and tradition that winds its way throughout the county. Spain has long been a place of inspiration for artists, writers, musicians and actors alike, both foreign and native, who each share their experience in the way they know best.dj

Gwyneth Paltrow

When she was 15-years-old, actress Gwyneth Paltrow stayed a small town near Talavera de la Reina in the region of Castilla La Mancha. She’s been back to Spain every year since.

“They seem to enjoy life a little bit more. They aren’t running around as much as in New York. They enjoy time with the family. They don’t always have their Blackberries on.”

A more recent inspiration for the actress has been Spanish cuisine. Paltrow along with Chef Mario Batali, writer Mark Bittman and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols completed a TV series on Spanish cuisine called “Spain…On The Road Again.” The foursome take off on a road trip throughout the different regions of Spain to experience the country’s culinary traditions and history. Paltrow also helped write “Spain…A Culinary Road Trip,” the companion cookbook to the TV series.

Paltrow’s love for Spain and it’s varied gastronomy wasn’t very well known until “Spain…On The Road Again” was broadcast. (She is also fluent in Spanish!) The show’s mouthwatering foods and beautiful scenes are enough to inspire anyone to try the delicious dishes of both new and traditional Spanish cuisine.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway once wrote in a letter that Spain was “the last good country left.” The American writer spent manyyears of his life here and the Spanish influence is evident in his novels. Hemingway first traveled to Spain as a young reporter during the Civil War and the experience inspired his famous novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
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He also had a passion for bullfighting and wrote two nonfiction books on the topic, “The Dangerous Summer” and “Death in the Afternoon.” The fictional matador in “The Sun Also Rises,” was actually named after a real 18th-century torero from Ronda, Spain named Pedro Romero. But the character on one of Hemingway’s contemporaries, another bullfighter from Ronda known as Niño de Palma.


John Lennon

The Beatles hit, “Strawberry Fields Forever” was inspired by John Lennon’s time in Almería, Spain while he was filming the movie “How I Won The War.” During his stay he lived in a small apartment in the beach city of El Zapillo in Almería where he was photographed sitting on a the bed with a guitar and a cassette recorder writing the song. The first demo recording was actually done in Almería, although it was just one verse at the time.

No matter what your profession, you always leave Spain with more than what you originally came with. And I’m not talking about souvenirs and pictures. An unidentifiable inspiration, like a spark being lit inside you, stays with you for years after.

This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside.

References: Spain…On The Road AgainThe Washington PostPRLOGLet Me Take You Down To Almería

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Siesta, A Necessary Luxury

SiestaAhhh, the siesta. That romantic, pastoral image associated with long ago and the ultimate example of a laid back culture. Surely in today’s modern, fast-paced society, full of Blackberry calendars, such a glorious time designated for relaxation couldn’t exist.

Oh wait, it does.

One of my first questions when I came to Spain was, “So, the siesta…is that actually real?” It may have sounded dumb, but for someone who just chugs another cup of coffee mid-day to keep going, I was looking forward to this possible change of pace.

Historically, the siesta was considered a physical necessity and a relaxing way to avoid the hottest part of the day for 2 hours. Today, with a more rapid pace and coffee, the biological need for a short nap in the middle of the day has been turned into a luxury. But as much as we try to fight that afternoon drowsiness, it would be much more effective (and enjoyable) to take a 20-30 minute nap, rather than keep going like the Little Engine That Could.

Humans are bi-phasic (meaning we need two periods of sleep every 24-hours) and research shows that our energy levels drop during the mid-afternoon. It becomes difficult to focus, think clearly and be productive. But with a 20-30 minute nap, your mind and body have been refreshed and the rest of the day is easier and certainly more productive. What do you think I was doing before I sat down to write? Yep, napping. Believe me, it took a while to submit my stubborn, “no-I-need-to-stay-awake” mentality to a nap, but when in Spain… On the days I do take a short nap I’ve noticed a significant difference in my energy levels, my overall mood and productivity. Like olive oil, the siesta experience is something I will incorporate into my routine when I am back home again. images

In Spain, the siesta takes place after lunchtime, in the later afternoon. Even if some Spaniards don’t fall asleep, it is a time for relaxation, family and friends and a general break from work. Shops and offices close for a few hours and restaurants and bars grow to full capacity. If Spaniards eat at home, many of them will doze on the sofa for 20 minutes or so, TV remote control in hand… This healthy disconnect from the more mundane working world is one of the many reasons Spain has such a liveliness and spontaneity. (It also allows for the more late-night tapas culture!) In Spain, sitting down and savoring a lunch with friends or family members, rather than spending it hunched over a computer, tends to be the priority. A café con leche isn’t just used for the caffeine, it’s used to simply put everything else on hold and enjoy a moment to yourself.

Whether you’re at home or traveling in Spain, leave time in the warm afternoons to indulge in this underrated necessity. And some olive oil. And red wine.

References: Siesta Awareness

This post was originally published on Andalucia Inside.

Quick facts: Spanish Dining

A typical Spanish eating schedule tends to be much different than the traditional three meals a day in the United States and is usually an hour or two later than other countries in Europe. It took me a little while to adjust to the late-night dinners, but now I don’t think twice about ordering tapas at 10 p.m.!

The Spanish breakfast is usually very light, with toast or a ham sandwich (often made with cured Iberian ham, tomatoes and drizzled in olive oil- it’s delicious!) and coffee. This is typically eaten between 7-9 a.m., and sometimes a “second breakfast” or snack, with coffee and toast, is eaten around 11 a.m.

Lunch is the main meal of the day. Eaten between 2-3:30 p.m., it consists of a couple larger dishes and a dessert. A short siesta, or nap, after the midday meal is common, particularly during hot summertime months.

Dinner tends to be a lighter meal of soup, fish or fruit around 9-10 p.m. Since dinner is served so late, Spaniards often go “tapas bar hopping” between the time they leave work and eat dinner. This is where small meals with drinks come in handy!

References: Giralda Center, Photo credit: Christopher Chan

Tiny plate, big flavor: The delicious world of tapas

According to legend, while King Alfonso X traveled through the southern region of Spain, he stopped to rest in a small town in the Andalucian province of Cadíz and ordered a glass of sherry. Cadíz is known to have strong gusty winds throughout the year, so the inn keeper placed a slice of ham over the sherry to prevent it from getting dirty. Upon finishing his drink, King Alfonso X ordered another and this time he specifically requested another tapa or “cover,” to come with it. And there, in a small, dark tavern in the middle of the 1200’s is where Spanish tapas were born. (Or so they say!)

Other stories claim that King Alfonso X ordered taverns to serve food with their glasses of wine, so the alcohol didn’t go straight to the drinker’s heads on an empty stomach. Some come from a simpler reason: to keep the pesky Spanish fruit-fly out of beverages.

Regardless of which story you believe, Spanish tapas have become famous throughout the world and can be enjoyed in almost every bar and restaurant in Spain.

Tapas can can consist of almost anything: meat, vegetables, fish, cheese, bread, olives, hot, cold…the list goes on. In my mind, I consider tapas to be about a “quarter” of a regular meal size. In Spain, most restaurants offer a racíon, a full-sized plate of food, media racíon, a half plate and then a tapa, what I consider to be half of the media racíon. 

These small meals range between 1€ and 3€, so you can order a couple of them at one restaurant or go “tapas bar hopping” and not do too much damage to your wallet. Add in a couple drinks, either wine, beer, sangria, or tinto de verano, and you’ll be enjoying the typical late-night Spanish dining culture!

References: Giralda CenterWhat are tapas? Photo Credit: Christopher Chan,Freddy