The volley of explosions vibrated through our core. Smoke obscured the view of the streets ahead and the smell of gunpowder filled the air. A dark cloud of smoke rolled between the high buildings towards us. When the deafening noise stopped, a roar arose from the hordes of people in the streets. They were cheering. It was 2 PM during the Fallas de Valencia.
Table of Contents
Five Places to See in Spain
1) Experience Fallas de Valencia
For 18 days every year, fireworks and firecracker explosions can be heard all day and late into the early hours of the morning. Every afternoon the Mascletà diurna, a pyrotechnic display created to make as much noise as possible, is set off at 2 PM and lasts 10 minutes. We were a couple of blocks away one afternoon when it went off. We could feel the explosions vibrating right through us. It is a surreal feeling as brief thoughts of war reverberate in the mind. The sound reaches up to 90 decibels.
At the beginning of March, Fallas begin to show up all over the city.
Fallas are caricatures built by each community every year to celebrate Saint Joseph. Some believe this celebration began much earlier to celebrate spring but it coincided with the catholic celebration of Saint Joseph and the two were combined. The actual origin is unclear but the festival of the Fallas has been celebrated for centuries.
Millions are spent each year creating the Fallas. The biggest Fallas with the highest budgets can cost well over €100,000 each. There are about 10 in the largest category, but over 700 from all categories with different sizes. They are quite the site to see. The best artists in the city create colorful displays, and every display tells a story.
It all ends in Fire
On the final night of the festival, all the Fallas are burned. You read that correctly, they light them on fire and burn well over € 1,000,000 in created art, burned. One or two elements of the fallas are spared, by popular vote. We escaped Valencia before the burning. Breathing smoke and toxic fumes didn’t sound great no matter how much of a cultural experience it would be. The noise level after only a few days was enough for us lovers of silence.
Noise of Spain
The celebration of Valencia is memorable for our time in Spain. Not all of Spain was quite so noisy but the difficulty of navigating crowds of people who were either unaware of their surroundings or simply unwilling to make way for anyone else was indicative of our time here.
Our route through Spain and Portugal
Click Play above to see the route we took through Spain
2) Island of Mallorca
We started our trek through Spain by flying into Mallorca where we spent a beautiful week exploring the coast and the shades of blue in each bay.
3) Andalucia Splendor
Andalucia and its hiking trails turned out to be our favorite area of Spain. Time seeing natural beauty with very few people on the trails was a nice break.
In addition to the white towns of Andalusia, a quick stop at the Presa de Montejaque Dam and the nearby Cave of Hundidero is worth an afternoon of exploration.
The dam was dry but droughts are common in Spain. Over 1,000 years ago thousands of kilometers of irrigation channels were built to supply towns with water from snow melt to alleviate the effects of drought. Today the irrigation channels have fallen into disuse.
Southern Spain is an array of Olive Groves, all of them leave the soil between the trees naked allowing the infrequent brief torrential burst of rain to quickly drain to the sea instead of soaking into healthy soils, exacerbating the effects of drought.
Granada was one of our favorite stops in Spain. We stayed in an old part of town. Narrow cobbled sidewalks climbed up to our Airbnb where old stone walls were still exposed displaying their timeless beauty.
The Alhambra Palace initially started in the ninth century, but most of the structure was constructed by the Moors in the 13th and 14th centuries. Within the fortress walls are beautiful gardens, baths, and residences for the royals. It is beautiful during the day, but I especially liked the view of it glowing atop the hill as the sun set each evening. When we were there the mountains behind it in the distance were snow-capped.
Personally, my favorite part of Granada was hiking the ridgeline behind the Alhambra. Trails follow the ridge to the east of the city. The trails provide stunning views of the mountains behind the city and the deep valleys on both sides of the ridge.
5) Day trips from Barcelona
Downtown Barcelona has several cool buildings that are worth seeing including the Cathedral and the homes created by Gaudi. These are covered in most top things to see sites about Barcelona. They are cool and worth seeing but I enjoyed the nearby day trips much better.
Behind the monastery, a trail leads to the top of the mountain with fantastic views. Just a few moments on the trail and the bustle of the monastery is left behind. We were even treated to a show by three wild Ibex goats full-on butting heads on the trail.
You might also catch a glimpse of the Eurasian griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus). They are a large Old World vulture in the bird of prey family Accipitridae. It may also be known as the Griffon vulture. They glide above the canyons owning the skies above.
Estrecho del Parrizal National Park
About an hour south of Barcelona is Estrecho of Parrizal National Park. We followed a trail along the Rio Matarrana that wound through canyons and along waterfalls. The water in the river was clear with hues of blue.
Three Experiences in Spain
Share a Uni-pillow with your Partner
Unique cultural find: The Uni-Pillow.
Many of the places we stayed in Andalucia had what we came to call the Uni-Pillow. Double beds had one long hard pillow across the top of the bed. Sharing a pillow and not being able to conform it to personal needs was an “interesting” cultural experience.
Get Pushed around on Public Transportation
The Public Transpiration in Spain is good but expensive.
High-speed trains are a killer on the ears. The pressure increases to a level of pain through each tunnel, but then again so can simple conversations from a crowd of locals nearby.
On the metro be prepared to be pushed around. I use the handrail on the side of the door to get out of the train as the step is very high. On our last day, I used the side rail again. It was obvious that I needed the handrail to get out. Evidently, I was in the way of a woman who wanted to get on so she pushed me out of her way. It wasn’t atypical of our experience in Spain. Before the train left the station she spat at me.
Savor the Tapas
We loved the tapas in Spain. They are small portions of about anything that you can order to go with a beer. It allowed us to try many dishes without having to go out to eat that often. Pintxos, the Basque counterpart of tapas, are also popular.
Most tapas places have the selections on display with a large toothpick in each one. We just go down the line like a buffet and fill our plates. The cashier will count each colored toothpick for our total at the end.
Our favorite dessert was the Torrijas, a sweet Spanish version of the French Toast.
How much did it cost us to travel Spain
We spent almost three months in Spain and spent a total of $5,405.
We took one flight from Mallorca to Seville for $24 each, a total of $48 in flights. Flights to Spain and out of Spain are not included in these costs. International flights are included under “Europe” in our total cost of world travel article.
When possible we like to take public transportation. In Spain and Portugal, this includes buses, Metros, and trains. We rarely ever take a taxi and didn’t need any in Spain or Portugal. Our total Public transportation cost was $298.
BlahBlah Car is a great alternative to public transportation. It is often slightly cheaper than a bus or train and it is usually much more comfortable. BlahBlah Car is a site where individuals can post their commute or personal travel to another city. We look for someone going our way and ask to join paying the fee that they request to help out with petrol. We spent $77 in total on five different BlahBlah Car trips between cities.
We rented a car four different times in Spain for a total of 23 days. Our Rental Car total came to $382.
Rental car days tend to be very busy for us as we try to fit all the sights in during a short time. The week following a rental we will take a few days off to catch up on everything else and relax.
- The average cost of the car rental was $6.60 a day. Off-season rates are great!
- We spent an average of $10 a day on fuel.
- The total average per day over the 23 days was $16.60.
Circling the island of Mallorca, touring the villages of Andalucia, driving up to Monseratt, and doing a few special things on my birthday would have been far more costly using public transportation, in addition to being difficult to get to. Plus, setting our schedule and not having to time buses made it so much nicer.
Our paid accommodations in Spain were booked through Airbnb and Bookings:
- Airbnb: 19 homes for a total of 57 nights
- Booking/Agoda: 2 rentals for a total of 10 nights
- Friends: 2 homes for a total of 15 nights
We had four different couples to meet up with in Spain having met them first in Bolivia, Poland, Scotland, and North Carolina respectively. Five days were spent in Coin with a couple we met in Bolivia. Eleven days were spent in Barcelona with our friends from North Carolina. We were friends with them before we left North Carolina and they have since moved to Spain, there was a lot to catch up on.
That means we did not pay accommodation costs for 16 of the 75 nights in Spain. So the average cost per day in accommodation minus our friend’s homes was $41 per night.
Average spend per day:
- Five days in Coin with friends: $27 a day (free accommodation)
- Eleven days in Barcelona with friends: $65 a day (free accommodation)
- Remaining 58 days: $67 a day (includes accommodation costs)