Explore the world from home: Spain

don quijote miguel cervantes

Buenos dias! Last week we explored Italy from home. We learnt a lot about its history, culture, people, geography and art. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and that you’ll accompany me on a new trip from the couch, this time to Spain.

Spain has its unique blend of traditions and influences: Latin, Iberian, Moorish on the background of Catholicism. It’s a surprising world, full of curiosities, with a long and fascinating history, customs and legends. Even if the best way to get to know it is to go there yourself, movies and books can also immerse you in the culture of Spain and prepare you for a real trip there.

Spain – short history

The most part of the Iberian Peninsula was inhabited from prehistoric time. Here lived  Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. After the Punic wars, the peninsula was occupied by the Romans, that rules the area for 6 centuries. They’ve left the Latin language and several cultural elements. After the fall of the West Roman Empire, in 5th century, Spain was occupied by the Visigoths, a Germanic people. Soon after, in 711, the Mussulmans conquered most pf the peninsula and stayed in the area until 1492, when the last Moorish kingdom, Granada, was taken back by the Christians. After that, conquering new areas and the discovery of the New Worlds by Colon made the Spanish Empire one of the most powerful empires. This was the most prosperous period of Spain. In the 17th-19th centuries, it was marked by wars with England, France, Holland and internal conflicts. It recovered only during the second part of the 20th century , after a four decades dictatorship, under King Juan Carlos.

There are four spoken languages in Spain: Castilian or Spanish as we know it, Catalan (in Barcelona and Catalonia, Valencia and Balearic Islands), Galician and Basque.

Books with their action set in Spain


Don Quijote Miguel Cervantes SpainTales of Alhamra Washington Irving

Spain Jan Morris

Don Quijote by Miguel Cervantes

This is a classic and anybody taking into consideration to read an opera of a Spanish writer will think about it. I also read it a few years ago and for a long time I was ashamed to recognize that I didn’t like it at all until I’ve talked to other friends that didn’t enjoy it either. The story is kind of absurd and difficult to follow. I was about to give up at some point, but I read it all in the end. If you have time and will, read it, but manage your expectations. Don’t do it just because you think you should or others say so. Cervantes was a great writer of his times (1605), but it might not be the novel you would look forward to read nowadays. This being said, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza are considered national heroes in Spain and there are statues of them in the entire country. It was also the second most translated book of all times, exceeded only by the Bible.

Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

Irving, the same person that wrote Rip Van Winkle and The Headless Horseman, spend quite some time in Spain, right in the interior of Alhambra, the last and most famous Moorish citadelle in  Andalusia. Most of the book was written during that period, on the grounds of Alhambra, while it was only a neglected ruin. The author combines legends, history and fiction in a series of stories and rings the city to life. Now I wish even more to visit Alhambra and Granada.

Spain by Jan Morris

The Independent called it the most beautiful book about Spain ever written. Morris presents the history of Spain, from Queen Joanna the Mad and the court intrigues to the Moorish occupation, Christianity and the period of glory when Spain conquered half of the world. In his book, the author explores several areas of the country and topics: agriculture, traditions, wish of emancipation, resources, castles, churches, bullfights and legends. I’d recommend this book to anybody that wants to find out more about Spain and its unique charm.

Movies set in Spain

Park Guell Barcelona Gaudi Spain

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky and Cristina travel to Barcelona for the summer holiday before Vicky’s wedding. Both fall in love with the same painter. The reappearance of his crazy ex-wife makes the entire situation even more tense. The images from Barcelona reminded me of my own city-break there years ago and the images of Oviedo were simply stunning. I wouldn’t watch the movie again in a few years, but I liked seeing both Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz on screen. The movie was directed by Woody Allen and won several prizes.

The Way

Dr. Thomas Avery goes to Europe in order to bring home the remains of his son who had died in the Pyrenees just after he started to walk El Camino. His son, Daniel, asked him to make the walk together, but Thomas refused. Initially he had no desire to do El Camino, but after getting to France, Thomas decides to incinerate the body of his son and walk El Camino with his ashes, sprinkling some of it from time to time on the way. On the path e meets all kinds of people that started the walk for various reasons and becomes friend with some of them.  I really enjoyed this movie. On one hand there’s an emotional story that makes you think about transiency. On the other hand, I was curious how the Camino was like and the reasons of the people doing it for some time now. I don’t know if it would ever suit me, but the natural and urban landscapes were beautiful.

Goya’s Ghosts

An interesting film that combines the history of Spain with the art of  one of the most famous Spanish painters. The story is told through the eyes of Goya and takes place at the end of the Spanish Inquisition and during the invasion of Spain by Napoleon’s army. Anybody interested in this aspects of Spain’s history should watch this movie.

Spanish style dinner

Bienvenidos a España! Seeing all these beautiful images of Spain I really wanted to try to cook something traditional. Luckily for me, the Spanis are great tapas fans. In some cities they are more like tiny sandwiches, while in other tapas refers to any appetizer, even some that you don’t need to cook. Put on several small plates chorizo, Jamon Iberico, Manchego cheese, marinated anchovies, olives, fried squids, mussels or shrimps, marinated shrimps with chili and garlic and you’re pretty much done. You can find all this in the shops and you just have to think about arranging them. If you prefer to have a Spanish lunch, you can easily cook a paella that goes well with a homemade sangria customized with your favorite wine the fruits.

Paella Spain travel from homeHomemade sangriaHow else can you explore Spain from home?

  • Learn some flamenco steps or grab your partner for a paso doble lesson. Staying home doesn’t have to mean lying on the couch all day long.
  • Listen to a Spanish guitar songs playlist. When I was in the sixth grade, my music teacher made us go to classical music concerts. One of the shows we had to attend was a Spanish guitar one. I still remember how refreshing and different it was. In school it wasn’t cool to recognize that you enjoyed those shows, but I truly loved this one.
  • Play Alhambra boardgame with your family. A few years ago we bought this game and still pay eat once in a while. I won’t lie to you and say that it transports you there, but the graphics are nice and you can pretend to be building your own citadelle with fountains, gardens and buildings. It can even be played with only two players.

alhambra boardgame

  • Learn some Spanish words. They’ll come in handy on your future trips not only to Spain, but also to Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Honduras, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Ecuatorial Guinea, Panama and Venezuela. Spanish is the second most spoken language on the globe.
  • Look for some paintings of Goya, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Juan Miro or El Greco. These are just some of the most appreciated painters in the world born in Spain.
  • Watch a documentary about Antoni Gaudi and his work. Sagrada Familia, the worldfamous church started in 1882 and not finished until now is not everything related to his name. There’s so much more.

Did you know that…

  • In Spain, the New Year starts with the traditional bells at the Porta de Sol in Madrid. Thousands of people gather there to celebrate and accompany each bell beating with a grape. Many do this also from wherever they might be at that time.

I hope you’re looking forward to your own virtual trip to Spain. Have a nice trip from your own couch! Olé!

Don’t forget to tell me in the comments what it was like!


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