After a week in Barcelona, we drove south down the coast a few hours to a town called Peñíscola. We intended to stay a few days and move on, potentially driving all the way to Seville.
But the kids act like 2 hours in the car is torture, and our air BNB in Peñíscola was great, and there was a lot to see in the area, and our rental car was due back in Barcelona (so we would have to return north anyway), and the thought of not having to pack up our stuff for a few weeks all combined to keep us in this beautiful little town.
We made a lot of excursions but were still able to take it easy so it worked out great.
Despite being the first Western European country on our trip and arguably the most expensive, our daily expenses (Ashley keeps a detailed log) in Spain proved to be lower than almost all the other countries we’ve visited except Lithuania. Because it was the off season, our lodgings and car rental were significantly cheaper than other times of the year. Our car was only $15/day.
Because we had a car to drive to a decent grocery store and because our Air BNB had a decently equipped kitchen, we ate out relatively little and prepared most meals at home.
And so despite the higher cost of gas, museums, parking, and other services in Spain, we did alright. Even including the speeding ticket I got in Spain, which could have been higher had there been a fine for driving without an international driver’s permit–which was a little bit of a scare when the officer had to call in to find out what to do with an American without the permit. “So many problems” he kept saying and told me several times “I don’t know how it is in your country, but we have rules here.”
But in the end, he discounted the ticket from 300 to 150 Euros and had me pay with a credit card on the spot, so I thanked him and shook his hand and we were on our way (this was still much more expensive than the ticket I got in Georgia for a more serious infraction).
A few more things learned about Spain these few weeks.
Ham (jamon) is a big deal. A really big deal. It does not resemble what Americans refer to as ham at all. It’s dry cured and resembles but is far superior to prosciutto. The most expensive varieties are from a breed of pig called Iberica that is fed almost exclusively acorns. The finest ham can sell for over $200 a pound. Jamon is everywhere. I made sure to eat some every day.
The Spanish take a different approach to business. Many businesses, even large chains shut down for a few hours every day and have much more limited hours than businesses in any country I have been in. So if it’s 7pm and you need some groceries, you might be out of luck until 9am the following day. Or if your want to eat a meal in a restaurant, you better plan to be there between 2 and 4pm or after 7pm.
Although we call the official language of Spain Spanish, Spaniards call it Castellian, and there are several other languages spoken in Spain. For example, although you can speak Castellian with anyone in Barcelona, all the street signs are printed in the local dialect, Catalán, and it is much closer to French than to what I learned in my high school Spanish class. In Valencia, all the signs are printed in Valencian, which looked to me to be equal parts French and Spanish.
Here’s a quick rundown of the towns we visited after Barcelona.
Peñiscola–a town a few hours south of Barcelona right on the Mediterranean. The castle and old town sit on a small peninsula projecting into the sea. Sometimes called the Mykonos of Spain due to its similarity with the famous Greek town. Clearly a summer resort town, the miles and miles of hotels and condos were nearly empty. The highlights in this town were many days spent taking it easy on the park and on the beach and walking through old town.
Tirig–famous for it’s UNESCO site, Les Coves Dr la Valtorta,a series of cliff side shelters with ancient cave paintings. Highlights were hiking to the caves and exploring the old stone homes and shelters among the terraced fields with almond and olive trees.
Sant Mateu–a town like so many in this part of Spain with a beautiful central plaza and church and a castle on the hill.
Valencia–the third largest city in Spain, located right on the coast with way more than could be seen in the day we spent there. But we did experience three of the highlights of the town: paella (people here say Valencia is the home city of this dish and still does it best), beautiful modern architecture, and the Valencia cathedral where you can see (from a small distance) the stone cup that according to tradition is the Holy Grail or cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper.
Morella--on the list of “nicest towns in Spain”, we arrived in Morella after a few hours of slowly winding our way through miles a miles of olive groves. Although it was quite cold and windy, the town surrounded by castle walls was one of the prettiest we’ve seen on our whole trip.
Prat de Cabanes-Torreblanca–a nature park where Ashley and I took turns walking the beach while the other sat in the sand and watched the kids catch a dozen or so hermit crabs and put them in the “hermit crab sanctuary” they constructed.
Vilafamés–built into and from the local red sandstone, this town’s castle and stone walls were built by the invading Moors with architecture different from most of the local castles.
Castellón--the provincial capital. We mostly played in a park and walked around admiring the old buildings and the Christmas decorations. We also enjoyed a meal at a tapas restaurant.
Vall D’uxó–took a boat ride on “the longest navigable underground river in Europe” in Coves de Sant Josep (no photography allowed).
Tarragona–another provincial capital that we visited on our drive back to Barcelona. This was one of the larger towns we visited and we didn’t spend much time here, but we did enjoy the few hours we spent wandering the old town. At least tied with Morella and Peñíscola in our minds for the prettiest towns we visited.
It would have been nice to see more of the various areas in Spain, but we had a great time and I’m glad we stayed at a home base for a while. Constant travel is hard on us all and it was nice to change it up a little.