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RSE Spain

Welcome to Spain! Whether it’s your first or fifth visit, we cover a lot of new info on this tour… everything from history to art to current events. Sometimes the amount of information can be overwhelming, so I created this page to help you explore more & dig into certain topics that may have sparked your interest. Try not to read ahead too much though… we’ll be discussing everything in more detail on the bus or over meals.

The best part? All this information will remain available after the trip is over, giving you an opportunity to revisit Spain as well as engage with each other via the comments section at the end. I hope you find this useful & enjoyable. Let’s dive in…

Click on Rick for his personal travel tips (a PDF for your reference, same info posted by the first day’s schedule). Good advice to keep in mind!

This documentary from 2014 —more relevant today than ever— discusses the effects of excessive tourism on Barcelona… obviously nothing new for the city. Comes with English subtitles & is a nice opportunity to hear locals speak Catalan.

This Guardian newspaper article from June 2017 describes initial steps taken by Barcelona’s city government to try to control illegal Airbnb rentals.

Above report published on 17 Sep 2019. I can’t wait to see the Sagrada Familia rise above the skyline, even if the projected completion date of 2026 isn’t met.

Historical overview about the Catalunya independence movement titled Cause for separation? Written during the height of tension in 2013, I continued to update the post during the following year. But with the arrest & eventual release of several members of the movement + the flight of Puigdemont & the pandemic, this issue has grown too complex for a single post. Still, it’s a good place to start.

In the same vein of my piece above, this article about claims by Catalan separatists was published in 2017 by the largest newspaper in Spain, El País (in English). Even more interesting now that Pedro Sánchez had to make a deal with Junts & brought Puigdemont back into the picture in Nov 2023.

A map of Spain’s ever-increasing number of wine regions: 138 officially demarcated areas & growing! Fun fact: Spain has 13% of the world’s wine territory —the largest single country with France at 10% & Italy at 9%— but both France & Italy produce more quantity than Spain.

Article about government cover-ups that I mentioned in Atocha train station + a couple of my own photos of impromptu memorials that sprung up inside the station immediately after the attack.

Map of Madrid as it appeared in 1831… how times have changed!

Podcast about what makes those Stradivarius instruments we saw in the Royal Palace so special… or are they???

Spain doesn’t do US-style salads in restaurants… well, there’s always McDonald’s! We eat tons of veggies, but perhaps not the way you may be accustomed to seeing them prepared & more often at home than out & about. When we go out, we want something special & not the salad we have regularly at home. Many of the following options are available at tapas bars or as a course on a menú del día:

  • Cogollos: baby hearts of Romaine, often served with roasted red peppers & tuna… similar to what we had at our Madrid group dinner.
  • Pimientos de Padrón: skillet-fried, mini green peppers. You might get the occasional hot one, but most are not the least bit spicy.
  • Espinacas con garbanzos: cooked spinach with garbanzos in olive oil with garlic & a touch of paprika. Delish (my recipe here).
  • Pisto: basically a ratatouille, all vegetables cooked separately then mixed together & often served topped by a fried egg with a runny yolk to mix in.
  • Berenjena con miel: fried eggplant drizzled with honey. A classic in the south.
  • Gazpacho: a liquid salad, great on warm days. This chilled soup is made with tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic, vinegar & bread (my recipe here). A thicker variety made with more olive oil & bread is called salmorejo (my recipe here).
  • Parrillada de verduras: only available as a ración, but a large serving of nicely presented, grilled vegetables.
  • Espárragos: grilled, green asparagus or when canned, the meaty, white ones.
  • Ensaladilla rusa: potato salad often with peas & carrots, sometimes with gambas (shrimp) or atún (tuna).
  • Setas: oyster mushrooms served grilled, usually with chopped parsley & garlic.
  • Crema de verdura: creamy vegetable soup, a typical menú del día first course option.
  • Salpicón: raw, chopped onions, green peppers, & red peppers often with hearts of palm & some type of seafood like shrimp. Mixed with a bit of vinegar + olive oil & served cold.

Eating in Spain is an adventure with almost endless variety. Scope out what is offered by looking at the bar or see what other people are eating & point to order. Also, ask the staff questions if you see something tasty but don’t know what it’s called!

As you know, pork is prized in Spain. All the different cuts don’t necessarily have US equivalents due to differences in butchering. And of course, nothing goes to waste. Here are a few translations that might help: lomo/solomillo = tenderloin · costillas = ribs · carrilladas = cheeks · tocino = bacon · panceta = pork belly · pluma & secreto are from the pork butt (which is actually the shoulder, used for pulled pork in the US) · codillo/jarrete = knuckle

People often ask what my experience has been like updating guidebooks for Rick Steves, so here’s a link about my June 2022 assignment in Portugal. In fact, I have an entire blog category titled “guidebook research” that covers many previous trips with a couple favorites: Italy in 2019 & Andalucía in March 2022. So much fun in spite of being exhausted!

The rain in Spain most definitely does not fall on the plain. While not the Alps, Spain contains some of the highest mountains in Europe. Our tallest peak —Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada (3,452 m)— is taller than any mountain in the Italian peninsula.

Antonio Machado poetry

Soledades, Verso XLI          

Me dijo una tarde de la primavera: Si buscas caminos en flor en la tierra, mata tus palabras y oye tu alma vieja.
Que el mismo albo lino que te vista, sea tu traje de duelo, tu traje de fiesta.
Ama tu alegría y ama tu tristeza, si buscas caminos en flor en la tierra.
Respondí a la tarde de la primavera: Tú has dicho el secreto que en mi alma reza: yo odio la alegría por odio a la pena.
Más antes que pise tu florida senda quisiera traerte muerta mi alma vieja.

Solitudes, Verse 41

A spring afternoon said to me: If you search for roads in flower on the earth, kill your words and listen to your old soul.
For the same white linen that you wear, could be your suit for sadness, your suit for good times.
Love your happiness and love your sadness, if you search for roads in flower on the earth.
I answered the spring afternoon: You have spoken the secret that resounds in my soul: I hate happiness because I hate sorrow.
Long before I step on your flowered path I would bring to you dead my old soul.

Here’s a comparison of the real Alcázar with Disney’s version in “Snow White”… what do you think? Did Segovia serve as inspiration?

Remember we passed by the Valley of the Fallen on the way to Segovia? Here’s a newsreel of Franco’s burial in 1975 (look for a young King Juan Carlos) + the removal of Franco’s casket in 2019… some 44 years later.

Excellent, award-winning documentary from 2018 about attempts to deal with Franco’s legacy: El Silencio de Otros. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, his latest full-length feature film from 2021 —Madres Paralelas— deals with the same topic.

Destruction of the Alcázar during the Spanish Civil War… the last photo shows what Plaza Zocodóver looked like before bombing.

Wildfires have always been common in the Iberian peninsula. But as global temperatures increase, so does the number of wildfires. 2022 was exceptional with more hectares burned than ever before. Although the perception of Spain is flat & dry, quite the opposite is true with 36% of the country forested… so we definitely feel the danger. Firefighters have done an exceptional job against great odds. 2023 had fewer fires but drought conditions continued, affecting crop yields. Many central & southern regions experienced drought, with water reserves for some river valleys (like the Guadalquivir) at their lowest levels since the 1990s. The figures below are from Oct 2023:

Fortunately this past winter has brought much needed rain everywhere except for Catalunya… look at the difference between Oct 2023 above & Mar 2024 below!

Reading list: I read Chapter 8 on the bus, but if you’d like the whole story then here are some recommended versions:

And proof that Quixote still resonates with Spaniards: giants appear in a 2017 PR campaign for Bankia!

And you thought gazpacho was the only way Spaniards found another use for day-old bread! Much of Spanish cooking is waste not-want not using simple, high quality ingredients. In fact, migas (literally “breadcrumbs”) uses only five common kitchen staples to make a classic dish. My particular recipe comes from the family of saffron harvesters we visited in Castilla-La Mancha, so they add a pinch of their local spice. For this traditional shepherd’s dish, saffron wouldn’t normally be on hand but its addition makes this version even more tasty.

Reading list: a 2011 exposé on olive oil industry that’s still worth checking out… especially as harvests decrease & prices increase.

Reading list: Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (1832). Not my favorite book of all time, but it inspired many generations of Americans to visit & fall in love with Spain.

Federico García Lorca poetry

Romance sonámbulo

Verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas. El barco sobre el mar y el caballo en la montaña.
Con la sombra en la cintura ella sueña en su baranda, verde carne, pelo verde, con ojos de fría plata.
Verde que te quiero verde. Bajo la luna gitana, las cosas la están mirando y ella no puede mirarlas…

Sleepwalking romance

Green, how I want you green. Green wind. Green branches. The ship out on the sea and the horse on the mountain.
With shade around her waist she dreams on her balcony, green flesh, her hair green, with eyes of cold silver.
Green, how I want you green. Under the gypsy moon, all things are watching her and she cannot see them…

Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
at five in the afternoon.
A trail of lime already prepared
at five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone
at five in the afternoon.

The wind carried away the dust
at five in the afternoon.
And the rust sowed crystal and nickel
at five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard fight
at five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolate horn
at five in the afternoon.
The bass-string began to sound
at five in the afternoon.
The bells of arsenic and smoke
at five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
at five in the afternoon.
And the lonely bull with heart high!
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat of snow was coming
at five in the afternoon,
when the plaza was covered with iodine
at five in the afternoon.
Death put eggs in the wound
at five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon.

…At five o’clock in the afternoon
The bull does not know you, or the fig tree,
or the horses, or the ants in your own house.
The child and the afternoon do not know you
because you have died forever.
…Nobody knows you. No. But I sing of you.
Forever I sing of your style and grace.
Of the great maturity of your understanding.
Of your appetite for death with its taste in your mouth.
The sadness of your brave happiness.

It will be an eon, if ever, before there is born a person from Andalucía so bright, so rich in adventure.I sing of his elegance with words that moan,and I remember a sad breeze among the olive trees.

Reading list: Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild (2016).

New York Times article about the last surviving member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who passed away in 2016.

Semi-documentary narrated by Ernest Hemingway… the clip starts by saying Reel 1 of 6, but they’re all spliced together here (about 60 min total).

Reading list: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940).

Much like Washington Irving, Ernest Hemingway brought Spain to the forefront of American interests. But was it all hype? This May 2016 Vanity Fair article talks about the inspiration behind The Sun Also Rises.

And to see where it all began: Hemingway’s first published article about bullfighting, in the Toronto Star, 1923.

Recipe for that wonderful dish that Josefi made for us: sopa hervia. A great alternative to stuffing!

Yet another recipe… this one for that classic chilled soup that’s a thicker version of gazpacho: salmorejo.

Amazing change in the reservoir’s water level in Záhara de la Sierra. For decades it managed to stay fairly constant… until the last few years of almost drought conditions.

Horses truly are a way of life in southern Spain & not just something that tourists enjoy. Here are a selection of my photos (along with a brief explanation) from the Exhibición de Enganches in Sevilla in April 2017.

PDF containing all you need to know about the main varieties of sherry. It’s not just your grandmother’s dessert wine!

Your very own private map of the Jerez de la Frontera city center! Our meeting point is Plaza del Arenal… X marks the spot. Jerez is a great place to use all your tapas skills that you’ve acquired since the tour began. There will be enough time to sample several sherries… remember: get your group together, have one bite & one drink, then move on to the next. I’m sure I’ll see you around town!

Conce & I talk quite a bit about Semana Santa, but that’s because the festivities are such an integral part of our identity in southern Spain. From the misunderstood significance of penitent hats to the idea that Holy Week transcends religion. This first post gives a few practical tips on how to enjoy the craziness, while the second post highlights some of my own favorite moments.

A LOT goes into making the type of panel we’ve seen in the Alhambra & the Alcázar. Just watch. The technique is called alicatado in Spanish.

For over 15 years I drew & wrote by hand all our schedules like the one above; too much info to do that now! But regardless of format, the message remains the same. Hope you enjoyed the extra info here, stay in touch, & hopefully we’ll meet on the road in the future again!! Use the comments section below if you like.

And if you’re sticking around in Sevilla after the tour is over, then have a look at my blog for additional things to see & do. I loved living here for five years & got inspired by all the Regionalist architecture still present in Sevilla. Take care!

2 thoughts on “RSE Spain”

  1. Hi Robert

    Thanks again for the incredible tour!

    We couldn’t find the recipe for the pork that was served at the olive oil tasting. Can you direct us to it?

    Get a 100 on your test!


    Martha and David

    1. The stuffing or dressing recipe is here:, but if you’re referring to the slices of pork then unfortunately I don’t have a recipe for that. Yet. It’s called lomo de orza & is marinated, fried, then stored in oil. We usually buy it at the grocery store since it takes awhile to prepare.

      I’ve been studying all afternoon!

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