Tag Archives: Spain

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Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

I really like Spain. I think that’s abundantly clear, since I’ve happily lived here for almost four years and blog about it every week. However, I must confess that I was quietly celebrating as I watched La Furia Roja spectacularly cock it up on the world stage, and here’s why:

The boundless arrogance of many a Spanish football fan– whether genuine or tongue-in-cheek –has irked me to no end since Spain triumphed at Euro 2012, their third major international tournament win on the trot. This does, of course, warrant some degree of smugness, if vociferous pride– I know I would beat my drum very loudly had my home country managed the same feat (a laughable hypothesis) –but after four years of unbroken crowing and having to listen to how tiki-taka is ‘the best and most unplayable style of attacking football yada yada yada…’, it all becomes desperately annoying.

And then there is the incessant singing that inevitably takes place following a big victory:

“Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español. Yo soy español, español etc…”

Most. Annoying. Chant. Ever.

After three major tournament wins you’d think they’d have managed to come up with something cleverer than that.

5944162832 ed0b553632 b Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

Yes, yes we know you’re Spanish.

My next point, one that might get me into hot water, is that I’ve also become slightly at odds with what, exactly, it is that the national side, or rather the typical fan, embodies politically. I am neither a nationalist nor a separatist but I believe I am, as they say, ‘a separatist sympathiser’. To quote Jimmy Burns, author of La Roja, “you can’t separate Spanish football from its politics”, and– while not being the case in every instance –when I hear brutal insults hurled at FC Barcelona’s homegrown players from a white, gold and conspicuously Madrileño corner of the bar, I have to ask myself who my fellow supporters really are and whether I really want to be cheering for the same team. Still, it’d be thoughtless of me to tar all Spanish fans with the same mucky brush; most, thankfully, don’t let opposing political ideologies get in the way of the game, but sadly– at least in my experience –enough do.

All that said, I hadn’t wanted Spain to make such a premature exit from the World Cup; the atmosphere before and during international matches is always electric, and I know a bar here in Granada that hands out free shots to its customers each time a match is won. Salud to that.

Traditionally, at least for most of us, Spain are a side used to winning, so for them to be taken down a few pegs is probably for their own good. Everything has a shelf life, even La Furia Roja, and now it’s time to rebuild and redetermine what they are about, and for the fans to remember that they are not, in fact, invincible.

But let’s not forget that it could have been worse. They could have played like England.

englishsarcasm Why I enjoyed watching Spain fail in the World Cup

Were you surprised by Spain’s disastrous World Cup campaign? Who are you rooting for?

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Escuela Delengua, Granada

A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

I’ve lost count of the amount of classes, teachers, textbook and online practice exams that have contributed to my learning of Spanish.

I’d be lying if I said that these approaches haven’t helped– I owe a lot to the traditional method –but after three years it all becomes a bit of a bore. There’s only so much sitting quietly as the teacher explains yet another reason for using the subjunctive I can take, so I quite happily jilted Spanish classes a few months ago when I felt I could take no more.

Last month, however, I was invited by Escuela Delengua to participate in a week-long course, here in Granada, which offered an alternative learning approach– and here’s the best bit –outside of the classroom.

Fun Spanish! Yes!

The course content– environment and sustainability –appealed to me too. Although it’s not something I’m usually too proactive about, I still do my bit: recycling, cutting carbon emissions, taking 6-minute showers (is that quick?) etc, so I was sure I would find the course rewarding for both my Spanish and personal growth.

Further reading revealed that the course would involve educational visits to areas of the Albaicín barrio that I had never been to before and even a trip to La Cortijuela, the Sierra Nevada’s botanical garden. The schedule aligned perfectly with my regular working hours so accepting the proposal was a no-brainer.

IMG 3608 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

Granada, Spain

Our group was small– six in total –and someone was nearly always sick, late or lost, so we received close attention form the participating teachers and guides throughout the duration of the course.

The week began with a fascinating tour of my own hood, the Albaicín, with stop-offs at numerous but now disused Aljibes– traditional and canalised water depositories that were used during the Moorish era. We learnt about what materials were used to make them, cal (clay) and argamasa (mortar) for example, and the genius thinking behind the construction process. The day was capped off with a visit to Granada’s Centro de Interpretación del Agua– once the nucleus of the city’s water distribution network and now a museum festooned with a beautiful huerto a huge and extremely flowery garden.

On Tuesday we were taken to a presentation about the ecological damage in the Vega de Granada– a green area within the city –and various methods that have been initiated to help curb it and prevent even more. Then we were shown around a laboratory with a couple of massive microscopes, the purposes of which were explained in great detail, though I have to admit this part went straight over my head. I was far more interested in the ecological goods store we visited afterwards, where I stocked up on organic, dried apple and cinnamon cereal, ginger and lemon biscuits and my favourite Granadina cerveza– Mamooth –which until then I had no idea was brewed ecologically.

 

It rained on Wednesday, meaning our trip to the Jardín Botánico de La Cortijuela in the Sierra Nevada was regrettably ruined. Not that we knew it until we arrived, when the rain turned into cats and dogs. Juani, our guide, did his best to animate us and we managed about an hour before retreating back to the van but nevertheless took away some fascinating new knowledge of the Sierra Nevada’s botanical past.

IMAG1040 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

La Cortijuela, Sierra Nevada, Spain

The mountain range was formed by the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates during the Tertiary Period, and is really an extension of the Rif mountains in Morocco. Years after the continents parted, during the last ice age, more plant species emmigrated south in order to escape the colder climate in the north. When the climate grew warmer again, these new species were able to survive by taking refuge in the mountains. As a result, there are now around 2,100 plant species in the Sierra Nevada; more than are found in the whole of the British Isles. Typical then, that I can only recall one without researching them– the Barberry Plant, which smells like bubblegum.

On Thursday morning we visited the Diputación de Granada for a talk on renewable energy sources and how, if proper legislation were passed, we could save a colossal amount of energy through ‘cleaner’ and cheaper methods. The building showcases one such method: a solar powered installation comprised of 72 panels, generating around 10-15% of the building’s power.

IMAG1043 A Different Sort of Spanish Course at Delengua, Granada

The Solar-powered energy source of la Diputación de Granada

Friday was my favourite day by far. We began with a visit to the University owned Carmen de la Victoria, another outdoor garden filled with orchards, flowers and fountains. Next we were shown around a typical Moorish home, also in the Carmen style, by the Gitana lady who lived there. It was fascinating to learn how they still lived with the same insulation mechanisms as their ancestors did hundreds of years before them.

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Later in the afternoon we visited another lady’s home, this time one with a cave in it! This is not an uncommon household feature in Granada’s Albaicín barrio, and this one had been restored from ruins and converted into a bedroom and even a bar. I would love to say that I lived in a cave. It would be incredibly cool. Literally, as the temperature inside stays at around 17-18ºC all year round due to the clay coating of the rocks.

 

To finish the week in style, we, along with all other classes at the academy, were invited back to Delengua Academy for a tapa and wine tasting evening. The event was hosted by Granada-based José Mendez Moya, a sole wine trader who produces wine using only ecological harvesting and fermentation methods. Luckily for us, he brought about 40 bottles of the stuff with him, spanning five varieties. All were divine and 100% organic, and the fermentation process of each was explained in detail before being poured, though I must admit my concentration level began to falter as the night wore on…

 

By the end I had chatted to just about every other student and teacher in the room, and reached the same conclusion with every one of them: Delengua was a fantastic academy and not only taught Spanish in a fun way but went the extra mile to ensure students had a great time outside of class too.

Many thanks to Manuel, José, Juani and José Mendez for their contributions to a week that taught me more than a few neat things about my own backyard!

Delengua offer a range of intensive Spanish courses, ideal to get you off to a winning start if you plan to stay in Spain for a while. Courses last from one week to twelve months and take place all year round. Click here to find out more information.

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el puerto de santa maria, feria, spain

Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Once upon a time, before my Granada days, I lived in a much quieter, saltier and crispier part of Spain:

El Puerto de Santa María. Land of sherry wine, fishy tapas and bewildering-to-beginners Spanish.

I arrived feeling completely unschooled yet blithely naïve and willing to embrace a huge change in my life. However, the language barrier obstructed my social life during those first few months, so I often had to look to my environs to remind myself of what a great decision I had made to come to Spain.

The beaches, for instance, are just gorgeous. All of them– unlike Granada’s icon sad Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María –are sandy, sunbathable virtually all year round and flanked by a thick-green, sweet-smelling pine forest. Then there are the countless freshly caught and fried fish tapas bars, stocked full of uh-mazing chocos fritos (larger calamari). It is a feast for the senses. However, it was the warmth of the people I met that really left its mark on me, despite the barely comprehensible Spanish which anyone I spoke to had to endure. Sadly, all but two have now moved on in search of work– la crisis has left them no other choice –but that doesn’t stop me from visiting when I am able to (only twice since moving to Granada!) I also have Meghann of Hola Matrimony to keep me adrift of what’s going on Puerto side.

IMG 3621 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Playa Muralla, El Puerto de Santa María

Last week I decided to make the trip for the annual Feria– a five-day long fiesta occurring each May, which sees the whole town show up at one stage or another, most dressed elegantly in traditional, frilly Sevillana dresses or chic shirt-and-tie combinations. It’s the busiest and noisiest period of the year for any Andalucían town, particularly those with their ferias just minutes away from the centre by bus, like El Puerto.

I took E along for the ride, eager to show her my Spanish ‘roots’. I’d been to Feria that first year and had spent most of it drunk off Negrito Ron y Cola (lethal stuff) and joyriding bumper cars in a sort of sad, older guy among children kind of way. I’d enjoyed las casetas (public tents with bars and music) as well, but had embarrassed myself horribly when attempting to dance Sevillanas, the traditional Feria dance. This year I was happy to let the Spanish boys do the dancing. I would watch.

IMG 3645 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Feria Lights

We’d arranged to stay with Pilar, a local lady advertised on Airbnb who’d apparently just turned 60, though you’d never have guessed; she was the prime example of how years of sunshine, a healthy Mediterranean diet and not smoking makes a life last years longer. She shared her apartment with her father, who was 88, but yet again, looked about fifteen years younger and was nimble enough on his feet.

Pilar would get on well with my mum, were either of them able to speak the other’s language. She never stopped to draw breath, and just sort of pottered about in that mother-like way, pouring us glasses of tradtional fino (sherry wine), mopping up after a leaky tap and drawing extremely detailed maps of how to find things that were literally five minutes away on foot. We decided that we liked her very much almost immediately, but could never have anticipated her most gracious gesture of the weekend: an authentic, bright orange Sevillanas dress that she had worn as a girl, laid out on the bed after we returned from our first night of Feria fun (presumably meant for E, not me– that would be a disturbing image, let alone catastrophic for the dress). It was wonderful and fit E like a glove, so was duly worn– with an enormous smile I might add –for our second night at Feria.

IMG 3633 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

E all dressed up and Pilar

IMG 3630 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Practicing our moves for Feria part 2

Quite by chance we stumbled into a caseta (none are private like in Seville) for a great big, rehydrating jug of rebujito– a traditional Feria drink made up of fino sherry and either lemonade or soda water –and were followed by a surge of Sevillanas-dressed women before a live Sevillanas band started playing. Judging by the dancing, popularity and quality of the music we hardly saw any point in moving on, though we eventually did, in order to meet the only two friends who had stayed since we all met there in 2011.

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We found them in a pop/reggaeton-heavy caseta– not really my thing but I can usually pull through providing that there is enough alcohol to hand, and since I’d managed to find a bar selling litres of rebujito for €2.50 this was not a problem. At least not until the Sevillanas started playing. The rebujitos had given me the belief that I was actually able to dance Sevillanas, so, grabbing E with the élan and tenacity of the bloke standing next to me, I attempted to copy his steps and sync my spins and twirls. However, in exactly the same way as I had done that first year, I banged, bumped, trod on and at one point almost flung my dancing partner to the floor– in this case E (sorry E) –before making my exit, horribly embarrassed once more.

 

There was only one thing for it: bumper cars.

I drove, E watched, I drove again, E watched again. E started to walk home. I decided I better go too, but not before buying and devouring a sticky white chocolate gofre, which I deserved for driving so well.

Next day we spent a few hours lazing on Playa de Muralla–my favourite of  El Puerto’s beaches –to conclude a wonderful weekend before driving back to Granada (no bumping this time) high on nostalgia:

Pilar had reminded me of the goodness of El Puerto’s people, the beaches had reminded me of the long lazy days we spent there, the fino sherry of the bodegas we frequented in the summer and I had reminded myself of how terrible a Sevillanas dancer I truly am.

Next time I will stick to the bumper cars icon wink Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

IMG 3632 Feria and a blast from the past in El Puerto de Santa María

Have you ever been to a Feria in Spain? What was your experience like?

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valencia, art, science, spain, contemporary, modern

Valencia: Modernity over Antiquity

Years ago, when I first had the idea of moving to Spain, I set my sights on Valencia. I’ve no idea why– I was just drawn there for no apparent reason. Perhaps it had something to do with a video I’d seen of La Tomatina, or a microwavable paella from Sainsbury’s that I’d bought and lovingly devoured on numerous occasions. In any case, I ended up in Cádiz, and quickly forgot about any irrational fixation I’d had with Valencia.

Since moving to Granada– a few hundred kilometres closer than Cádiz –the thought had restored itself, often surfacing each time one of our beloved puentes came around and, with that, the prospect of wandering and discovering yet another Spanish city.

Earlier this month I decided I’d waited long enough, so off we went– me and the one who we shall from herein call ‘E’.

map valencia Valencia: Modernity over Antiquity

What struck me almost immediately about Valencia was how distinctly more contemporary it is than what I’m used to in Andalucía. I’d had the same realisation in Lisbon, the previous month, and left feeling as unexcited about Granada as I’d ever been, despite its numerable assets. Flanking Valencia’s city centre are the Jardines de Turia– a long stretch of green (formerly a river bed) littered with ponds, bridges, sculptures, sunbathers and drunken yet surprisingly talented buskers. We don’t get much grass in Andalucía, so it was lovely, if not a little strange, to be surrounded by so much of it.

The Turia Gardens lead to the resplendent Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias– a quite breathtaking assembly of ambitious, alien spacecraft resembling architecture. I doubt there is a better contrast to Spain’s overwhelmingly traditional demeanour– there’s El Parasol in Seville and Bilbao’s Guggenheim but neither reach the immensity of Valencia’s city of art and science in my opinion.

The exterior will keep you gawking all day long, unless you are distracted by one of the many enterprises on offer within the city. Ever fancied a go at zorbing? Or kayaking, perhaps? Thanks to the moat-like turquoise water that filters through the site, activities like these are perfectly possible. And they look like fun! Though I’m not really sure I fully understand the purpose of zorbing just yet. For information on prices, opening hours etc, visit the City of Art and Science website.

 

It is possible to spend the entire day at the City of Art and Science, given that it is divided into six parts: The Hemisféric, The Science Museum, Oceanográfic Aquarium, Palau de Arts, The Umbracle and The Ágora. All offer something different, in the name of of modern art and science. We chose to see the Oceanográfic– Europe’s second largest Aquarium –and The Hemisféric– an enormous IMAX dome that shows visually thrilling documentaries all day long.

We spent almost half our time in the Oceanográfic watching Dolphins obediently jump and splash about in a 24 million-litre and 10.5m deep tank. For this we were later berated by friends in Granada, since, according to them at least, all dolphins held in captive pertain in some way to the baiting and mass-slaughtering of dolphins in East Asia. I’m not sure I agree, given how the Atlantic has its own multitude of bottlenose dolphins. The aquarium also appears to be actively involved in the prevention of ‘finning’, a process whereby sharks’ fins are hacked off to make soup while the rest of them is thrown back into the sea where they will drown or be eaten alive, so I struggle to believe that there would be any dark dealings going on behind the scenes.

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The Hemisféric provided me with my first ever experience of an IMAX cinema. Until then I had found it difficult to imagine exactly what would happen, and how it would differ to regular 3D cinema screenings. There was an X-Man style headset, which was ultimately a bit of a letdown since all it did was provide sound via one headphone– E’s didn’t work at all –but the visuals were incredible, purely just for how gigantic everything was.

Valencia077 Valencia: Modernity over Antiquity

L’Hemisfèric, Valencia

Valencia’s city centre bears more of a resemblance to the usual landmarks in any given Spanish city; the Plaza de Ayuntamiento is its focal point, and the cathedral plus several other intricately carved buildings– including La Lonja de Seda, a 15th century silk exchange –are all within walking distance. Beyond that though, is the happening barrio of El Carmen. This is where Valencia comes alive at night, as we were later to discover, but I was far more interested in another draw: street art (surprise).

Yes, by now you might have noted my growing fascination with street art, especially if you are a reader of my other blog, where I write about and post photos of it regularly. Prior to my inevitable and directionless DIY tour of El Carmen’s backstreets, on which E was remarkably patient I must say, I had contacted fellow Spain and Valencia-based blogger Zach, of Not Hemmingway’s Spain, who, given his superior knowledge, was kind enough to give me some idea of where to look. That was a good starting point, but naturally I was lost within minutes, and probably gave up on the map a little too easily. Along my way, I encountered several pieces of seriously impressive street art, including this masterstroke from DEIH, who I featured in a recent post on some of my favourite street artists.

Valencia117 Valencia: Modernity over Antiquity

Work of DEIH, Valenciano Street Artist

There are evidently many artists defined by their own individual styles at work in Valencia. One image that we saw on virtually every corner was the sneaky ninja man, whose creator I cannot find on Google. El Carmen is bursting with fantastic street art, adding yet more of the modern touch to an already unconventional Spanish city.

 

If I keep visiting cities like Valencia and Lisbon I fear I may end up falling out of love with Granada;  its awesomeness in the traditional sense (and the close proximity of the Sierra Nevada) has always quietly atoned for a general lack of newfangledness, but now I’m not so sure. I want to stay in Spain– that I am at least sure of. It’s certainly time for a change though.

Have you been to Valencia? Do you live there? What impressed you about the city?

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Alhambra Palace Granada Spain

Make Savings on Your Trip to Andalucía

Andalucía, the second largest and most visited autonomous region of Spain, is a rich haven of fascinating landmarks and monuments. From Granada’s illustrious Alhambra Palace and Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Picasso museum of Malaga and the world’s third largest cathedral in Seville, holidaymakers are never short of things to see and do.

Quite predictably, it can be rather difficult– and often costly –to cram all these sights into an already jam-packed itinerary, especially when tackling it all solo. Buying online is the best way to ensure things run smoothly and setbacks such as sold out ticket offices and language barriers are avoided, even though buying online usually means paying over the odds.

However, with TicketBar.eu, not only can you buy online beforehand and save yourself a few headaches but you actually receive discounts, group offers and the chance to jump the often snaking queues at all the major attractions. Spain For Pleasure has teamed up with ticketbar.eu to help bring you the best attractions Andalucía has to offer at the best possible prices.

Granada

img 28091 Make Savings on Your Trip to Andalucía

Granada seen from the Torre de la Vela – the highest point of The Alhambra

A guided tour at The Alhambra Palace typically costs €43, but with TicketBar you will pay €37. You’ll also make a saving of €6 on a regular tour with audio guide and be able to skip the queue.

Other options in Granada include the Alhambra + Flamenco Show + Dinner package, Hop on Hop off City Bus Tour, Historic Granada Tour and even a day trip to the Costa Tropical and Nerja Caves– all at discounted rates.

Seville

3013499034 aa6b51a3cf b Make Savings on Your Trip to Andalucía

Sevilla (Source)

TicketBar offers even more discounted tours in Seville, from Classic Sevilla, Historic Sevilla, Hop on Hop off Bus, Guadalquivir Cruise and a ‘bike tapas’ tour. There are even day trip packages to Cádiz, Jerez, Doñana and Córdoba.

Malaga

2613907598 09546213d2 b Make Savings on Your Trip to Andalucía

Teatro Romano, Malaga (Source)

Although not quite as luring on historic and architectural merit when compared with Granada and Sevilla, Malaga still boasts its own selection of sights. TicketBar offer four cut-price tours in Malaga: The Hop on Hop off Bus (including a stop-off at the Roman Theatre), The Highlights Bike Tour (including a stop-off at Picasso’s birthplace), The Malaga Tapas Bike Tour and Bike Tour of Malaga FC’s stadium for visiting football fans.

TicketBar operate tours in more than 30 other cities around the world. Visit their website here to book your discounted tour in Andalucía, whatever and wherever it may be.

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spanish red wine, rioja, spanish rioja, vino tinto

10 must-have home essentials in Spain

A key expat skill is packing light but there’s another important art to master – knowing the essentials to buy for your new home once you arrive. Fitting it out in truly local style will help you not only to fit in with your new neighbours, but also to impress the flock of eager visitors who will no doubt soon be arriving as your guests, lured by the prospect of a moneysaving holiday.

Here’s our top 10 list of items for living in Spain and kitting out a sunny Spanish pad:

One: Olive Oil

Spain is the world’s top producer of olive oil, and, if you’re planning to embrace local cuisine as well as culture, bottles of high quality olive oil will soon become a cupboard staple.

Two: A clothes line

Tumble dryers are rare in Spain – why use further electricity when the weather is so good? Even if you don’t have a garden, stringing up a line on your apartment balcony is more than acceptable, and many apartment buildings have an internal patio where laundry can also be hung.

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Spanish Olive Oil, Source

Three: Napkins

Not just for restaurants or special occasions, Spanish guests will expect to have a napkin handy while eating.

Four: Una Cafetera

Good coffee requires a cafetera, so banish that jar of instant coffee and wake up and smell the real coffee!

cafetera1 10 must have home essentials in Spain

Una cafetera in its three parts. You’ll figure it out when you get here…

Five: Blinds or shutters

Blinds and shutters aren’t anywhere near as common in the UK as they are here in Spain; ask any Spaniard who’s gone from here to there– it’s a big shock for them! Curtains just don’t keep out the hot summer sun (or the light when indulging in a siesta), so which will it be – Venetian? Roller? Made from esparto grass?

Six: Bombonas

Plenty of Spanish properties don’t have access to a mains gas supply, so you may need to get bombonas (bottled butane gas) delivered and get used to changing the cylinders as needed.

bombonas 10 must have home essentials in Spain

Lovely aren’t they?

Seven: A mop

Carpets are rare so housework is no longer dominated by the whirr of a vacuum cleaner. Instead tiles (often decorative as well as practical) are most common, along with wooden floors which can require waxing and varnishing. And apparently the mop was invented in Spain, so even when cleaning you’ll be following a local tradition.

Eight: Vino

This should be red and plenteous, and, with the highly affordable local prices, your home should always be well-stocked!

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Red wine is often served in glasses like this at home… (Source)

Nine: Side plates

Serve bread with EVERYTHING. Even meals which are already carb-heavy.

Ten: Un brasero

Not strictly necessary (central heaters will do) but worth having just for the novelty of it. This ingenious, electrical contraption is placed, or sometimes even fitted, beneath the tableclothed dining room table and serves to keep your legs warm during the cold winter months. This is about as Spanish as it gets!

brasero 10 must have home essentials in Spain

El brasero, hiding beneath the table. Pure genius (Source)

This is a guest post by Expat Explorer. If you feel that you represent a brand that can work with Spain For Pleasure, feel free to get in touch via my contact page.

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