By Andrew H., Auxiliar de Conversación in Madrid 2021-22
The Best City to Visit in Spain: Valencia
Valencia is one of the best cities to visit in Spain. I lived there with a family during the summer while working as an au pair. The town of Benicarló -located near Valencia- has a vast sprawling beach that stretches to the castle of Peñiscola, in the south. I loved going for long walks on the beach there. The sand is so fine that it sinks into your feet and hands as soon as you lie down. The climate is perfect, as it is frequently very warm and hot, similar to the south of Spain. My friend and I frequented the outdoor gym there, using the pull-up bars for training.
While living in Benicarló, I played tiburón -or ‘’shark’-’ with the family. It’s a pool game that consists on catching other people. Oscar and David were so good at swimming that they could hide underwater at the bottom of the pool; they were incredibly hard to compete against! During the evenings I tried lots of nice food: Miguel used to cut strips of jamón straight from the leg, a common Spanish delicacy. Another thing we would often eat is paella, usually we did this during the evening, by the pool. Paella can include meat, fish or both. I, however, never really eat fish so mine always had meat. The food in this country is exceptional and has such an enthralling flavour.
Another Great City in Valencia: Castellón de la Plana
Castellon is a beautiful area very close to the city of Benicarlo, in the region of Valencia. It is also one of the best cities to visit in Spain. The area leading to its major castle is a grandiose beach upon which one can walk in serene tranquillity for miles. It’s my favourite beach that I’ve experienced so far in the country. This is the area where I first learned how to properly swim, as the oceans aren’t too cold and, unlike further south, the sand isn’t so fine, so it doesn’t get caught everywhere between your feet and hands. The weather of this area greatly reminds me of the south, much hotter than other Spanish regions all year around. The climate is amazing and it’s a great place for sunbathing.
The castle area has a little more tourism attached, where one can find numerous gift shops hidden amongst the historical architecture of the fortified structure. Atop the castle peak, I have gone to a few restaurants and taken time to draw the scenery. Castellon is a wonderful place to be.
Cartagena, a Historical City in Spain
In the region of Murcia you can find Cartagena. It is a historical Romanesque city at the bottom of Spain bordering the seas toward the tip of the African continent. It is filled with archaic histories and designs and edifices inspired from numerous different artistic bygone eras. The city is notable for its large musical performance theatre, built by the Romans long ago, and standing today as a magnificent tourist attraction. It is an open space to reflect on the varying cultural histories of the South of Spain.
Cartagena and Murcia’s city have a long set of intertwined histories with the Romans and Moroccans from the North of the African continent. I have lived in the city of Cartagena, and many of my students were Moroccan. Even the youngest kids I taught while working in a primary school there had both a highly adept level of English and of Spanish alongside their native language. This helped to make the experience even more fascinating.
Southern Spanish Deserts
Cartagena is a very different city to most places I have visited across the country as it is essentially a city concealed within the southern Spanish deserts. It is very dry and humid, but despite my love of the city, whenever I speak to Spanish friends there, they all talk romantically about the north. Places like Galicia -in the north of Spain- have an extraordinary fondness in the hearts of the people of the south. This is due in part to the naturalistic, floral beauty of its landscape but also the sheer difference of the lands as a whole. I love Cartagena a lot in many ways as it is so dry, hot and is not green. It is, fundamentally, opposite to Ireland, the country of my birth and what I am used to.
Cartagena in its city only really grants access to one beach, Cala Cortina, a small shoreline a stone’s throw from the city. However, if one ventures further afar, they will find the larger beach of La Manga, a popular tourist destination, full of large hotels and shops sprawling across every inch of its landscape. This makes La Manga and cala Cortina fundamental opposites, as one is large and tourist friendly in its approach, whereas the other is very small and quiet, with opposing old and historical structures, such as some fortified unused military bases.
Visiting the South of Spain: Sevilla
Besides the area near Valencia and Murcia, me and some fellow auxiliaries travelled to Sevilla, in Andalucía. Since two of my US aux friends could drive and had a licence, they alternated between shifts taking the five of us all the way. Along the huge journey we saw all sorts of magnificent sights from green mountainous vistas with tiny pueblos to sprawling cities. Some of them we passed so fast that we couldn’t even name.
We met up with three fellow auxiliares upon arrival. Oddly, our first stop was at an Irish pub. It had a resonance for both me and my friend from Philadelphia, as we both are Irish in our ancestries. After navigating the narrow-cobbled streets, we arrived at our unassuming home. But looks can be deceiving, as upon entry the house expanded upwards by at least five levels. A twisting staircase guiding you from the sitting room to the top with the large ceiling windows gifting and propelling rays of sunshine down to consume the beautiful salon, awash with Sevillan heat.
Flamenco in Sevilla
Afterwards, we planned a visit to a traditional Flamenco performance. It was held in a Spanish bar. There, they explained to us about the tragic and melancholic histories within the beautiful origins of flamenco dancing.
We all soaked in the Spanish sunshine despite the cold wintery temperature and went on a guided tour of the castles and sights of the city. Once it was over, we watched sports in a bar: the heavyweight boxing match, and the Barcelona game.
Upon returning to the house, we met a band of Spanish high school students. They were much like a mariachi band playing guitars and other traditional instruments. We invited them to the roof of our home. At the very top, the floor was made of grass and was an amazing location to soak in the moonlight and scenery of the sky tops of Sevilla’s city. The band played songs for us and gave us great musical performances. It was a fantastic Spanish cultural experience.
Spain’s Heart: The City of Madrid
Madrid is the capital city of Spain and by far the largest city I have ever lived in. This one is, for sure, one of the cities you should visit in Spain. It is very much a hustle and bustle lifestyle if one wishes to visit or make a life there. It has a huge array of shops, businesses, theatres, cinemas, and extravagant restaurants. I particularly love the cafes and cinemas, both of which I frequent with my friends and fellow auxiliaries.
So far I have been able to see at least 5 different movies here in this city with my friends, and interestingly they have all been televised in English, just with Spanish subtitles. This relates back to a core theme and great difference with the city of Madrid to other places I have visited.
Madrid, a Cosmopolitan City
People across the city commonly speak English. This is not something I was used to at all, as I had spent most of my time living in Cartagena and the regions of Valencia. There, I would near never find English speakers. This makes Madrid noticeably more cosmopolitan and, to me, sort of un-Spanish.
It is so different of an experience for me to be entering a café and not be met only with Spanish responses. For me, I prefer living in lands that speak only Spanish as it is a great way to improve my ability to speak the language. In Madrid, even when I speak Spanish, I am met with English language responses. I would rather not comply as I don’t identify as a tourist in my life here. For meeting up with friends and going for a night out, you really cannot beat Madrid, as there is simply so much more on offer than what I have experienced in other regions. However, the lack of nature or beaches are a sore spot for me, as I miss them and are my favourite thing about Spain.
Other Spanish Cities to Visit Near Madrid
Some other cities you should visit in Spain are situated in the Community of Castilla y León. In this case, I went to Segovia and Salamanca.