March 25, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

If you thought Enrique was breath taking, his birthplace will suckerpunch the air out of your lungs.

In Spain- good food, good wine, good looking people and good naps are a birthright.

It’s hard, to summarize six months of an experience into one blogpost, but as my Spanish professor wrote on my mediocre (HKU professors would call that an overstatement) performance on a “Comportamiento del consumidor” exam, “ánimo-keep trying.”

Spain is a twelve hour flight from Hong Kong. Apart from that imperative fact,  it’s located in the Iberian peninsula in Western Europe, populated with 47.27 million people and divided into five main regions. But the country is really torn into two main types of people, your type determines the service you get, the openeness of the people around you and of course, whether or not you’ll live ninety more minutes of your life.

Real Madrid supporters and Barcelona fanatics.

Pick your battles wisely.



 Here’s my cheatsheet for the modern history of Spain. Remember the name Carlos- if anyone throws a question at you about the Spanish kings, play it safe by saying Carlos, if you’re feeling daring, throw in a number.

Before that, Spain was home to the Celts, Iberian, Basques,Romans, the Germanic tribes and  the Moors. It was once one of the most powerful empires in Europe but following the war of Spanish succession it’s power went downhill. But the loss didn’t end there, in 1936 the Nationalists announced their intentions of overthrowing the government and so began the Spanish Civil War.



Today,“Por la crisis” is rolling off the tongues of every second Spaniard you meet. The economy is still recovering from the devastating effects of the 2008 economic crisis. Lots of educated youngsters have strong opinions about the high levels of unemployment (which they’ll be happy to explain to you in their fervent, hard to follow, rapid Spanish). In perspective, however, everything in Spain closes from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., but honestly, my flatmate and I struggled for a month to find the internet shop open,(or well any shop except the supermarket) at any time.

Life is a siesta…

…which brings me to my home for my exchange- Pamplona. A sleepy, quaint, picturesque town that served as a muse for Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises” and even today, draws millions of people from around the world for the rush of adrenaline in the San Fermines. Narrow cobbled streets, abundance of greenery, absence of traffic lights, and savoury pinchos will give you a chance to slow down, hold the hand of the person next to you, look up at the vast universe of stars and learn.

Learn what it is to walk without bumping into someone looking down at a phone, learn what speaking only in Spanish everyday is like, learn what speaking to a complete stranger and being invited to their home for wine and a three course meal is like. It takes you away from the noise of Lan Kwai Fong every Friday to the friendly banter and delicious enticement of juevintxos- 2 Euro pinchos with a glass of wine. It doesn’t have the AIA carnival or rugby sevens, but it does have the Medevial market with a spot to pet goats and lambs and gigantic paper mache figures running around.

Like every city, Pamplona has its own charm. It’s worlds apart from Hong Kong, but there’s no saying its better.

Whatever floats your boat, really.



Pamplona lies in the Basque region of Spain, a region at the border of Spain and France. Four languages spoken, with the predominant one being food. I visited a few other cities in the Basque region of Spain. The shining city of Bilbao (literally, the titanium Guggeheim, with its curves that capture light left me and my friend Shant, blinded for a good two minutes), the delicious food the capital of San Sebastián (highest number of Michelin star restaurants in one city) and the convenient town of Vitoria (only place where you can get a train to Lisbon.)

I always seem to go against the current though. In Bilbao I found a haven of food- a 10 euro all you can eat, much missed, Asian food buffet. In San Sebastián I spent two hours waiting for my favorite piece of art- Antonio Bandaras (who was supposed to be at the film festival) and in Vitoria, well, I caught the train to Portugal.  But I guess with the guidance of a few people, I got one thing right; My venture into the Basque country on my first weekend in Spain and the introduction of pinchos and tarta de queso (cheesecake) by friend Lukas is probably the main reason I’m now going to the gym everyday.

img_0890  The Guggenheim, Bilbao


10930120_10205747914647196_3095104022289903174_nPinchos in San Sebastián

Moving South from the Basque Nation, are two very important cities.

Logrono- the home of la Rioja wine and a celebration of the wine that encapsulates the uplifting spirit of Spain (my friends can vouch for the aftereffects of that).

Then there is Zaragoza- say that out loud with the lisping Spanish. Many parts of Zaragoza are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sights because of its Aragonese architecture. It houses the Fiesta de Pilar and the Alifaejeria castle. Moreover, Zaragoza is the resting place of the most delicious churros I’ve ever tasted and it’s the sole reason I was introduced to pensions. (Kindly google the accomodation, it deserves an in-depth exploration.)

Move lower down (yes, we’re still going with the Enrique analogy) to Barcelona:

Barcelona deserves a whole blog post on it’s own. Dotted with the architecture of Gaudi, invigorated by the beach bars and clubs that energised by the Catalan culture, Barcelona is fabulous. You can walk to the beach, the gothic quarter – to listen to the echoes of a street musicians’ songs – or walk to the museum, all in the matter of a few kilometres.  Barcelona really deserves it’s own blogpost (hint: I write my own anonymous blog, good luck finding it if you’re interested.) Arguably, Barcelona should be the capital city of Spain. But really, Madrid is.

I’ve been to Madrid four times in six months and honestly, the fast babble of Spanish and pickpockets dominate one’s experience. But then again, the second time I was there, I lived with a local family who showed me their city – a city that really knows how to live. Be it the picturesque old streets, the bustling plazas, or the five-storey nightclub Kapital. Then of course, the museum geek in me can’t help but mention that Madrid has the Prado and the Reina Sofia, which have magnificent collections of art. In all, Madrid brings the old and the new together in perfect harmony.  (In Kapital, don’t be surprised if you find the “elderly” partying just as hard as you are.)



Lastly comes the South of Spain, an area I covered in the company of myself and the new friends I made along the way.  Seville and Granada have nose to nose competition.Seville puts up a spectacular fight with its amazing Flamenco performances, Alcazar (where this season’s Game of Thrones was shot – I may have caught a glimpse of the show’s stars) and the world’s largest cathedral. But honestly, Granada is the place to really be, with the beautiful, enormous Alahambra- the last fortress of the Moors, the free tapas, the late night bar brawls over soccer matches and the delightfully friendly people who will walk you to your destination whenever you find yourself lost, and then continue on their path.



The Spanish words “guay” (cool) and “súper” (well, super) are apt additions to any sentence to make it superlative. If I had written this post in Spanish, those words would dominate it. Spanish people are reputed for being the most friendly, helpful and open in Europe. They don’t speak too much English, but will still attempt to help. Well, them, and Google Translate. Spaniards are funny, loving, zestful people who reassured me that  most people are good, if you only give them a chance.

Spain is the sweltering sun on the beach in summer, it is the party that starts at 3 a.m., it is the beautiful architecture that makes you put your camera away, it is home to one of the most spoken languages in the world, it is the evening stroll in the park with Enrique’s, “Bailando” passing by in a car full of teenagers. It is “Vale!” in every sentence.

Spain was a surprising blow to the normal routine of life.

And honestly, I’m still gasping for air.

Vale, venga!

-Kanika Bali