Spain Costs: $98 a Day

Ah, Spain. When we were there we felt like euros were just seeping out in every direction. Then we went to Australia and realized what an expensive place really is. With some patience and self-control, you can fit quite a lot in to a $100 USD a day budget. Our favorite aspects of Spain – the wine, olives, jamón, and flamenco – don’t have to cost that much at all.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

That $100 budget may preclude a some sights, restaurant meals, and all-nighters out at the discotheques, but overall we found it pretty affordable by European standards. As you can see from my handy-dandy pie chart at the bottom of this post, our transportation costs took up an inordinate amount of our daily budget – if we had it to do over again we’d probably spend even less. (Incidentally, we found that renting a car in Europe might not be the best idea…more on that later.)

To save money on food, try sticking with the menú del día (the menu of the day, normally around €10/$14) and tapas. The bread and olives that come with the meal are almost always free in Spain, which is a nice added bonus. Wine and beer aren’t badly priced either – you can buy bottles of good Spanish wine for only €1-2 ($2-3) at the market. With regard to jamón…if you plan to eat as much as we did, you might want to stick to the southern state of Andalusia (it’s much cheaper there!).

[ptcPhoto filename=”BudgetPaella.jpg” title=”Paella” caption=”Paella in Barcelona. If it doesn’t take them at least 30 minutes to make it, you aren’t getting the real thing!” position=”center”]

If you’re into flamenco, there are usually free shows at flamenco bars later in the evenings. You may have to ask your hotel or locals to find out where they are. You can pay €35 ($48) to go to a fully choreographed performance but we were really happy with the free shows.

As far as daytime entertainment goes, Spanish cities are full of stunning architecture, quirky street performers and public art installments – all of which are free to enjoy. Museums do tend to be on the expensive side, so keep an eye out for free days (unfortunately you won’t be the only one, though – the queues on these days are dreadful).

[ptcPhoto filename=”DaliAbeBudget.jpg” title=”Abe” caption=”From the Dali Museum. What do you see?” position=”center”]

In terms of lodging, we were limited to a lot of dorms – one of which was probably the worst we’ve ever stayed in (ask me about Bronchitis Boy sometime). The upside to dorms is that they usually have kitchens so you can forego a few restaurant meals.

Back to transportation costs: For the two of us, renting a car just wasn’t cost effective. I didn’t conduct a thorough cost analysis on car rental until after we’d already rented one, having just assumed that since we found a great deal at only €13 ($19) per day, a car would be a better deal than taking public transportation.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainCarBudget.jpg” title=”Car” caption=”Our trusty rental car in Spain.” position=”center”]

The problem with a rental is that while it might seem like a great value compared to the train or bus, you still have to pay for it on the days you aren’t driving it. If you travel really quickly you might find that it’s a better value, except for the fact that fuel is extremely expensive. Plus, parking can cost up to €10 a day in the cities, and Spanish drivers…well, they can be terrifying. For a while there it looked like the cost analysis would be a close call. Besides, we were going to out-of-the-way places that we wouldn’t visit otherwise – there’s an added value, in kind, for the freedom having a vehicle can provide.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CadizBudget.jpg” title=”Side Trip” caption=”A side trip to Cadiz, which may be the oldest European city.” position=”center”]

So how did we do? Based on my research, going to all the major places (cities and sights) via public transport would have cost us around $550 USD. The total cost of the rental (including the daily fee, fuel, parking costs, and tolls) came to $893 USD. This figure even incorporates some offsets that we received by offering rides to other people. Have you heard of blablacar.com? It’s a website where you can pay to carpool, and it’s extremely popular in Spain and Portugal. It’s a good way to save money, meet people, and cut back on your carbon footprint.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainBarbie.jpg” title=”Shopping” caption=”Shopping in Granada…Flamenco Barbies.” position=”center”]

A final word: Be careful with money and valuables in Spain, especially in Barcelona. We sat and watched a drunk guy try to unzip someone’s backpack on the metro (we yelled at him and he slinked away). This is also the second time in three trips to Barcelona that Eric’s had his wallet stolen there! Thankfully I carry the cash and passports, so this just cost us a lot of headaches in getting the fraudulent charges reversed and new cards ordered.

The daily average cost for our visit was $98.27 (or $49.14 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we flew into Portugal and drove over).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 28 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $768.64 $27.45 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $17 at a dorm in Barcelona to $42 at a hotel in Burgos.
Food $689.40 $24.62 We ate a lot of meals in, although you can find great deals on tapas.
Transportation (within country) $932.21 $33.29 Our rental car was $19 a day.
Entertainment $90.15 $3.22 Includes the Baelo Claudia (Roman ruins), Jerez Alcazar, Mezquita, Alhambra, and Dali Museum.
Alcohol $204.27 $7.30 1 liter bottles of beer usually cost about $1.
Incidentals $66.97 $2.39 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $2,751.64 $98.27 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”SpainPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of a sit-down dinner for two – €30 ($41)
Entry ticket for the Alhambra in Granada – €13 ($18)
A metro ride to any station in Barcelona – €1 ($1.40), if you buy a 10-ride pass.
A 1GB SIM card for your phone – €15 ($20)

Photos from the Alhambra and Mezquita

You may or may not know this about me: I’m kind of a religious studies buff. I remember, waaay back a long time ago, when I first learned about the Moorish conquest of Spain that began in the year 711 as the Moors made the journey up from Morocco. I remember reading about the Mosque they built at Cordoba and hoping that one day I’d make it there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-12.jpg” title=”Mezquita” caption=”The Mosque (Mezquita) at Cordoba” position=”center”]

Really, the Moorish conquest of Spain and the spread of Islam were all I knew about the country’s history. I had learned that Mezquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada both stand as testaments to Moorish power, architectural and artistic ability. This period of Spanish history still simultaneously draws me in and takes me back to those days as an undergrad when I first contemplated how religion has changed and shaped the world over the centuries. So here was my chance to see if these places lived up to the hype I’d built in my mind.

But enough talking. This time I really just want to show you photos (with some information in the captions).

The Alhambra

[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-1.jpg” title=”Looking out” caption=”The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex first built in the ninth century.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-2.jpg” title=”Arches” caption=”The Muslims held control of the fortress until 1492 when they surrendered it to Ferdinand and Isabella.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”AlWindows.jpg” title=”Windows” caption=”Catherine of Aragon lived here until she moved to England to marry Henry VIII.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Alhambra-3.jpg” title=”Reflection” caption=”Pools throughout the complex reflect the architectural elements.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Alhambra-4.jpg” title=”Columns” caption=”Marble columns in the Court of the Lions support delicate and detailed filigree carvings.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-3.jpg” title=”Flowers” caption=”Images of people are forbidden (shirk) in Islam, so they create symmetrical patterns and calligraphy instead.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-5.jpg” title=”Verses” caption=”Thankfully the monarchs spared the Islamic art and intricately carved verses from the Qur’an.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-6.jpg” title=”Tiles” caption=”The tile work at the Alhambra served as inspiration for the artist M.C. Escher.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-8.jpg” title=”Generalife” caption=”Located on an outlying hill, the Palacio de Generalife overlooks the Alhambra fortress.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-9.jpg” title=”Fountain” caption=”Pumping in water for the many fountains was a remarkable achievement of engineering.” position=”center”]

The Mezquita

[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaOutside1.jpg” title=”Outside” caption=”The mosque is considered one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaMary1.jpg” title=”Cathedral” caption=”The building was converted to a Cathedral in 1236, with a church built in the center.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MezquitaWide1.jpg” title=”Corridor” caption=”Spanish Muslims have recently lobbied for the right to pray here again, but their requests have been rejected.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-11.jpg” title=”Tunnel” caption=”Striped arches form a tunnel effect.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”MoorishSpain-10.jpg” title=”Forest” caption=”The forest of columns attracts more than 1.5 million visitors each year.” position=”center”]

So the question remains: Did these places live up to the hype after all? Yeah. Yes they did.

Five Highlights of an Andalusian Road Trip

Ah, the road trip. Endless miles of asphalt sprawl out in every direction, all kissed with the thrilling prospect of unwrapping a country’s hidden gems one by one and on your own time. Nothing but speed, the wind in your hair, and Tom Petty’s greatest hits pouring out from the speakers and into your ears like a heady 80’s cocktail. This, my friends, is what freedom feels like.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SevillaHendrix.jpg” title=”Hendrix” caption=”A little Jimi in Sevilla.” position=”center”]

Our Spanish road trip began in the country’s southwest corner, where olive trees cloak every hillside and the streets seem to grow more narrow with each ancient city you pass. Andalusia makes up the most largely populated autonomous community of Spain, offering its guests a vast array of sights, tastes and sounds. Here are five that have stayed with us, long after the wine was drunk, the music sighed a breathy diminuendo, and the sun set on our time in Spain.

1. Tapas

One version of history tells us that tapas – small plates of food – originated in Andalusia during a time when sailors frequented the small towns along the coast. They would just stop in for a drink or two and some R&R, but you know how it is.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SevillaTapas.jpg” title=”Tapas” caption=”A fish tapa in Sevilla” position=”center”]

Before long, the tiny winding streets of the villages would be flooded by inebriated and boisterous seamen. So the innkeepers decided to start providing small plates of food along with the drinks in an effort to keep the noise levels down. Not sure how effective this strategy was, but the idea stuck and the tapa was born.

[ptcPhoto filename=”RinconOctopus.jpg” title=”Pulpo” caption=”Dinner in Aracena – in our expert opinion, the best octopus in Spain.” position=”center”]

In some cities like Granada, tapas are still provided free of charge with a drink order. In most places, though, they cost between €1-5 and come in a wide variety. From cool cups of gazpacho to piping hot plates of unctuous pork jowls, there’s something for everyone. Bowls of fresh, oily olives, crusty warm bread and plenty of vinho tinto de la casa round out meals that are eaten slowly over the course an evening with friends.

2. Flamenco

Like tapas, flamenco originated in this part of Spain. The early history of flamenco is not well-documented, but the major styles come out of the triangular region between the towns of Jerez, Cadiz, and Sevilla – each still vying for recognition as the birthplace of this style of music and dance.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SevillaFlamenco.jpg” title=”Flamenco” caption=”This dancer was beautiful. And fierce.” position=”center”]

Flamenco is made up of four elements: Voice, dance, guitar, and something called jaleo, which roughly translates as “hell raising” and involves the clapping of hands, stomping of feet, and shouts of encouragement. If you go to a show, also listen for the duende, a mysterious and despondent element that often comes through in more intimate performances.

At this performance we felt like we’d just showed up to a family’s home where they were singing and playing together as part of Sunday dinner. It was a large group of men who seemed like a family that spanned several generations. This type of show is more familiar and less polished, and while you’re less likely to come away with great photos of the performance, you’ll feel like you’ve experienced authentic Spanish flamenco.

3. History

Throughout southern Spain you’ll witness a flourish of influence from bygone eras. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, and Christians – to name a few – have all ruled over the Iberian Peninsula at some point during its 32,000 years of human history.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-15.jpg” title=”BaeloClaudia” caption=”Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia” position=”center”]

Every town will have a castle or a fortress, a cathedral, old stone walkways, and wrought-iron balconies on which artists and musicians have whiled away days of brooding or reflection. And most retain some mark of the Muslims and Jews who carved out their own place and space – an old Jewish quarter, perhaps, or remnants of a minaret from which calls to prayer were once sounded out to the Muslim shopkeeper, to the Muslimah mother who pointed her children towards a faraway Mecca.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-4.jpg” title=”Jerez” caption=”Looking out over the Alcazar of Jerez, a former Moorish fortress.” position=”center”]

This sense of amazement at a place so laden with history often profounds those of us from the New World, where our recorded history and influence can seem simple in comparison. If nothing else, noting the storied history of a place like Andalusia is both insightful and humbling.

[ptcPhoto filename=”CadizBuildings.jpg” title=”Cadiz” caption=”Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe.” position=”center”]

4. Pueblos Blancos

The Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, or “route of the white hill towns,” can be easily overlooked by visitors without private transport. Marked by their uniformity of whitewashed facades tumbling down steep and slender cobblestone streets, the towns are strewn throughout the hills in and around the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-13.jpg” title=”Arcos” caption=”Arcos de la Frontera, the largest of the pueblos blancos.” position=”center”]

The towns themselves were mostly built during the Moorish occupation of Spain, and weren’t whitewashed until the early twentieth century. Many of the names are followed by “a la frontera,” which reflects their place on the front line of the Christians’ centuries-long fight to reclaim the land and slowly push the Moors back into Africa.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-8.jpg” title=”Details” caption=”Dictator Primo de Rivera had the towns painted white in a quest for a ‘politically engineered appearance of normality’.” position=”center”]

While you can drive through most of the white towns in a day, we wish now that we’d have spent more time lingering in the town plazas, soaking in the sunlight, and watching evening unfold as the tiny tabernas lit up the streets.

[ptcPhoto filename=”WhiteTown2.jpg” title=”Grazalema” caption=”The town square and church in Grazalema” position=”center”]

5. Spanish Countryside

Andalusia is about the size of Maine, meaning that there’s a lot of ground to cover. You’ll see dramatic shifts in scenery, from fields of olives that seem to go on forever, to mountains of limestone reaching up into the sky, to ribbons of rocky coastline where the sea air billows over the land in salty gusts.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-12.jpg” title=”Green view” caption=”A vista from the roadside.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Andalusia-11.jpg” title=”Sheep” caption=”Sheep grazing in Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park” position=”center”]

Maybe it was just that the year-round Andalusian abundance contrasted sharply to the harsh winter we saw during our visit back home, but the green knolls, red fields of fertile soil and bright blue skies seemed hyper-vibrant there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”OliveGrove.jpg” title=”Olives” caption=”Puffy clouds float over an Andalusian olive grove.” position=”center”]

These first couple of weeks in Andalusia have imparted on us the nostalgic romance of the rolling hills, the deep rosy notes of the wines, the throaty, mournful soul of the music – some essence of what it means to be Spanish.

But the road stretches further after this, through the mountainous passes of the Sierra Nevada and up to the imposing medieval bastions of Granada and Cordoba. There lie more of Andalusia’s charms, waiting to draw us deeper into the Spain of the Moors and of Ferdinand and Isabella. Stay with us as we put the car in drive and continue the journey north.

A Little Ditty about Wine and Jamón

You’ll hear the accountant in me complain a lot about the high prices in Europe. But there’s some good news for boozing carnivores who visit southern Spain: Wine and jamón are pretty affordable there. And they complement each other just perfectly, and they’re absolutely delicious.

Jamón: What Do We Know?

Jamón is dry-cured ham from Spain. There are two primary types: Jamón serrano (meaning ham from the sierra), and the more sought-after jamón ibérico, made from black Iberian pigs that hail from southwest Spain. It’s kind of like prosciutto, but there’s a longer curing process that lasts for at least twelve months – and sometimes for up to three or four years.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FirstJamon.jpg” title=”First” caption=”Our first sampling of jamón in Spain.” position=”center”]

We started our journey through Spain in the southwest and quickly became accustomed to high quality jamón at low prices – around €4 for a tapa (small plate), and €5-8 for a full ration. When we left Andalusia for Madrid and Barcelona we were shocked at how high the prices are up north – upwards of €12-14 for a small plate in some places! The best of the best iberico varieties sell for around €70 ($96) a pound.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Jamon-2.jpg” title=”Best caption=”The best ham of the trip: Iberico in Jerez.” position=”center”]

Jamón iberico comes from acorn-fed free-range pigs. It has a unique aromatic taste that’s much less salty and more savory than the ham we’re used to back home. Speaking of back home, up until 2005 no jamón was allowed in the U.S. because none of the Spanish producers met FDA approval.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SevillaJamon.jpg” title=”Healthy?” caption=”They say the acorn-rich diet makes the meat high in the healthy kind of cholesterol.” position=”center”]

How can you tell what kind you’re getting, other than by price and taste? Iberico varieties of ham will come from legs with black hooves, while the hooves of serrano pigs are white.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Jamon-7.jpg” title=”Black” caption=”Serrano in the back, iberico in the front.” position=”center”]

The ham is always prominently displayed so that you can see the product. The few legs of jamón that make it to the U.S. are required to have their hooves removed before import, so I’m not sure how you’d verify the type in the States.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MuseoDelJamon.jpg” title=”Museum” caption=”The ‘Museo del Jamón’ in Madrid.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”BigPlateJamon.jpg” title=”Serrano” caption=”A large portion of serrano.” position=”center”]

Fun Fact: Although the process of curing of ham goes back to at least the Romans, Spanish jamón took on special importance during the centuries of Moorish occupation that lasted until the 15th century. Spanish citizens ate ham as a symbol of religious and political independence from the Moors, whose Muslim religion prevented them from consuming pork. This means that curing and eating jamón has been a marker of Spanish identity for over a thousand years.

[ptcPhoto filename=”WallJamon.jpg” title=”Wall” caption=”An entire wall of legs.” position=”center”]

So it’s no surprise that Spain has the second-largest per-capita consumption of ham in the world, coming in just behind Denmark at 123 pounds per person per year. If you order a hamburger (hamburguesa) in Spain, you’ll likely receive something made of pork instead of beef.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Jamon-3.jpg” title=”FP” caption=”I believe this is what they call ‘food porn’.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”Jamon-5.jpg” title=”Sad” caption=”And this is what they call sadness.” position=”center”]

Wine: We Could Know More…

We don’t know a ton about wine, apart from when it’s there, we like to drink it. What we did learn is that along with being ham paradise, Spain is also the world’s third-largest producer of wine after France and Italy. The two go together like song and dance – throw in some cheese and it’s a party.

[ptcPhoto filename=”BarcelonaWine.jpg” title=”Barcelona” caption=”A bottle of wine in Barcelona.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”GranadaWine.jpg” title=”Granada” caption=”Wine in Granada.” position=”left”]

Vineyards throughout the country grow over 600 types of grape. Most popular is a white grape called Airén that is used to make Spanish brandy (it should be noted that brandy, sherry, and cava are three entirely different worlds in the Spanish wine repertoire).

The most widely-grown red grapes are Tempranillo, which are used to make delicious full-bodied red wines.

Every market you visit will have a huge selection of wines ranging from the €.80 boxed varieties to types that are scandalously pricey – and all seem pretty good. We were glad to enjoy many Tempranillos and Garnachas in the €1-4 range that suited us just fine.

[ptcPhoto filename=”StoreWine.jpg” title=”Store” caption=”Wine selection at a market.” position=”center”]

So while there are countless types of extremely high quality Spanish wine, the nuances are lost on those of us who are less educated. In writing this I realize how sad our wine ignorance is, so we’ll have to do further research when we get to Australia in a few weeks. Shucks.

Until next time, happy eating!

Snapshot Sunday: Graffiti Gone Wild in Barcelona

[ptcPhoto filename=”Graffiti640.jpg” title=”Graffiti” caption=”Graffiti Wall in Barcelona, Catalonia – Spain” position=”center”]

The world is a canvas for graffiti artists in Spain; it seems you can’t walk a block without spotting a vibrant flourish of spray paint. This piece near La Rambla street in Barcelona is a good example of mixed media doodles. Notice the many layers which indicate it hasn’t been painted over in quite some time.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.