Chasing Don Quixote: a Detour through Castilla-La Mancha

Bueno, Castilla-La Mancha isn’t exactly known for its long, winding highways,” Inmaculada said, dragging her fingertip across the screen of her mobile phone six consecutive times as the car pointed towards Valencia. It had been nearly 100 kilometers since I’d had to even move the steering wheel for anything other than overtaking.

Literally called the scorch or the stain in Spanish, La Mancha may not be famous for its roads, but it is renowned for two things: Don Quixote and Manchego cheese. Resting comfortably on top of Andalucía and cradled between Madrid and Valencia, its size and its small towns have intimidated me. Everything seemed a bit archaic, a bit sleepy and, mostly, a bit unreachable without a car and an extra-long weekend.

windmills and Don Quijote

Stretching out on either side of the highway as I drove Inmaculada and Jaime to Valencia was land. Sand. Barely a glimpse of a small town. Like any other Spanish student, we were made to read Quixote in high school and made a point of paying homage to a fictional knight bound by the ideals of chivalry and true love. But the landscapes I’d read about in Cervantes’s greatest novel were nothing but  flat and brown. A literal scorch of earth, true to the region’s name.

Three days later, I left the coast, shoes and jacket blackened from Las Fallas, and tilted back towards the heart of Castilla-La Mancha. The great hidalgo‘s “giants” were only a few hours away. I took my old, tired car, an allusion to the old, tired steer, Rocinante, with me.

The drive should have been easy enough: the Autovía de Este until it met the Autovía del Sur and a few minutes’ drive west to Consuegra, where eight or ten windmills stand guard on a jagged crest of mountain, crowned by a medieval castle.

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.

Per Trevor’s suggestion, I wanted to stop first in Alcázar de San Juan, home to a number of beautifully restored windmills that wouldn’t be run over with tourists. Spit out from the Contreras Reservoir that naturally separates La Mancha from the Comunitat Valenciana, the radio frequency suddenly switched to a CD, and soon the Eagles (could there be a more perfect band for a road trip?) were running through my stereo.

I calculated I had enough gas and my bladder could make it the 200 kilometers to San Juan. It was an easy jaunt on the A-3 until Tomelloso, where I’d hop onto the CM-42.

Maybe it was the Eagles or the long, flat, endless journey down the motorway, but I turned onto the wrong highway at Atalaya del Cañavate. As someone who uses landmarks to mark the way, the names of towns, echoing old battlegrounds and ruined castles, began to seem foreign. Stopping in Alamarcha, my phone confirmed what I’d suspected for several dozen kilometers: I’d gotten myself lost.

But the giants were calling, and I wasn’t too far off the path. Monty-nante roared back to life, I turned up the music and rolled down the windows. We set off, a girl and her horsepower, to slay giants. Or, take some pictures of windmills before lunch. The allusions end there for a bit, lo prometo.

Like our Quixotic hero, I blinked hard to make sure I was seeing what lay ahead. As soon as I’d gotten on the CM-420, the long, straight highways became curls around hills, between cherry and almond groves and without a soul or engine in sight. The brown patches of earth were immediately lush and covered in alfalfa, dewey from the previous day’s rain, and full of low, stout grapevines. I pulled over and turned off my GPS, happy to sit in near silence as Monty’s tires shifted effortlessly around curves. After all, this was as adventurous as my Holy Week travels would be.

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

I began climbing a hill at what I believed to be halfway to San Juan. Just below the cusp, I saw the stationary arm of a giant – a set of windmills protect the town of Mota del Cuervo. We nudged our way towards them, standing in a solitary row of six or eight.

Windmills in Castilla

molinos at mota del cuervo, la mancha

Windmill landscape

The tourism office was closed and my car was the only one parked in the ample gravel lot. I had the giants to myself, and I practically squealed. Lately I’ve been feeling jaded as I travel in Spain, as if nothing else can ever impress me the way that laying eyes on the Alhambra or the Taj Mahal did; but feeling the wind whip by my ears as I looked across the scorched Manchego plain reminded me that, yes, there is still plenty of Spain to discover.

But I had to press on, to not let perception or kilometers or a low phone battery squash my dream of seeing Consuegra when I was this close. I drove right past San Juan and its beautiful windmills atop an olive tree grove crawling up the hillside. As soon as I’d crossed the A-4 highway some 40 kilometers later, the giants at Consuegra began to come into view, huddled around a castle.

windmills in my rearview mirror

The town itself was dusty and sleepy, as I’d expected. Streets had no names, rendering my GPS useless. Monty chugged slowly up the steep, barely-meter wide streets as old women swept street porches and clung to their door frames. Images of the old hidalgo became commonplace – bars named Chispa and La Panza de Sancho, souvenir shops touting wooden swords and images of windmills and an old warrior atop a barebones steed.

Rounding the final curve, a man waved his arms up and down, pleading me to stop and flagging me into a full parking lot. “It’s International Poetry Day,” he said, “and the molinos are closed to car traffic.” Closing my eyes and throwing the car into reverse, I consulted the day’s plan. After getting lost twice and being pulled over by a Guardia Civil, I had to make a decision: resign myself to hiking 500 meters up to the windmills as the clouds closed in ahead, or drive back down towards Andalucía for a winery tour in Valdepeñas.

I chose to buy a bottle of wine in the DO and call it a day. I had dreams and bucket list items to chase.

The windmills were barely visible, save a few solitary blades reaching over the rock face. After an entire morning searching for them, it was like they had stopped spinning, as if the proverbial wind had been blown out of my sails. And coupled with a bus full of tourists, they just didn’t have the wonder that the molinos and my moment of silence at Mota del Cuervo had.

Even the clouds overhead looked menacing and about to burst.

Panoramica molinos de Consuegra

Windmills at Consuegra

I hiked to the farthest point from the castle, to windmills bearing less common names and without selfie-stick toting tourists resting on the stoops. These windmills were decidedly less picturesque but somehow more authentic.

A View of Don Quixote's Giants

panorama of Don Quixote's windmills

Maybe it was a pipe dream to think I’d have the windmills all to myself for an hour of reflection. Maybe I thought they’d be bigger, like the giants I’d read about in high school. But like all things in the chronicle of the hidalgo, not everything is always as it seems. Feeling a bit dejected and pressed for time, I climbed back into Monty-nante, a true warrior after 1000 kilometers over four days, and took the autovía south.

“Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.”

It’s been over a decade since I’ve studied abroad, and half a lifetime since we read an abridged version of Don Quixote junior year of high school. And it’s been just over four centuries since Miguel de Cervantes penned the closing chapter to a masterpiece that endures time and place.

Molinos de Consuegra

In high school, I remember thinking Don Quixote was a fool, a haggard old man with pájaros en la cabeza who should have listened to his trusted Sancho Panza. Feeling very much like a pícara myself at this moment, I had a car ride to reflect on things and my somewhat failed mission to fulfill a teenage dream.

After a few weeks that could very well change the Spain game, I couldn’t help thinking that the old man had a few things to remind me: about perspective, about the clarity in insanity and that failure is also a means to a happier ending.


Have you ever seen the windmills at Consuegra?

International Book Day and Seven MORE Books on Spain

Back when I was a floundering, wannabe guiri, I made two trips a week to my local library back home, checking out every book and DVD about Spain. Reading up on my future home made it easier to transition into the idiosyncrasies of daily life in Iberia – and it honestly helped me get on a plane when I had serious doubts about a year in Spain.

Nearly seven years on, my Kindle is stocked with travel memoirs and books on Spanish history.

Both Cervantes and Shakespeare, considered to be true purveyors of their languages, died on April 23rd, 1616. On the day when two literary greats perished, the UNESCO has declared this day, April 23rd, as International Book Day, giving me all the more reason to stock up on titles related to Spain.

April 23rd also commemorates the Feast of Saint Jordi, patron saint of Cataluña, whose legend has made him an early Don Juan: Saint George slayed a dragon to save a princess, from whose spilled blood grew a rosebush. Nowadays, women receive flowers, and they give their loved one a book. Screw the flowers – take note – and get me a book, too!

Today, I present you with seven more books I’ve read about Spain since last year’s list, or had previously left off the list: 

Errant in Iberia, Ben Curtis

This is a book I really should have read before coming to Spain. Much like me, Curtis took a leap of faith and moved to Spain without much of a clue as to what he was doing (or speaking…or hearing). After finding a job and a Spanish girlfriend, the expat adventure begins.

This really sounds familiar.

Ben and his partner, Marina, explore the ins and outs of bicultural relationships, and are now the broadcasters behind Notes from Spain, which is a great way to practice your listening skills and learn a bit about Spain in the process.

Get it: Errant in Iberia paperback

Inside the Tortilla: A Journey in Search of Authenticity, Paul Read

I had the pleasure of meeting Paul, who goes by the alias of the Teapot Monk, during a bloggers meet-up in Málaga. As he talked about self-publishing several books and his want to break into the American market, I gleefully held up my Kindle and said, “JUST BOUGHT IT!”

In Inside the Tortilla, Read explores the deterioration of Spain’s moral conduct and the search for authentic Andalusia through the ingredients, preparation, layers and consumption of its most universal dish, the tortilla de patatas. Read is a seasoned expat who has lived all around Southern Spain, and his memoir is peppered with anecdotes of life in small-town Spain, long walks with his dog around the countryside and the frequent long meal that provokes questions like, What is tourism really doing to Spain’s cultural front?

I literally ate it up.

Get it: Inside the Tortilla paperback | Inside the Tortilla kindle version

Journey to a Dream, Craig Briggs

What immediately attracted me to this newcomer book was that it is set in Galicia, one my favorite regions in Spain. While most British expats choose to settle near the coast, Craig and his wife Melanie fall in love with the misty northwest corner (along with the wine). Joining lackadaisical real estate agent, the Briggs soon find that their dream house may actually ruin them.

The book is a delightful mix of expat pitfalls, cultural insight and laughable episodes as the family set to make a life in tierras gallegas.

Get it: Journey to a Dream paperback | Journey to a Dream kindle version

El Tiempo Entre Costuras, María Dueñas

I started this book nearly two years ago and have been savoring it ever since. This is the story of Sira, a young seamstress who flees Madrid on the brink of the Spanish Civil War with a man who soon abandons her in Tangiers. Unable to return home and in debt to those who helped her, Sira begins to sew garments for the cities well-to-do. The novel is heartbreaking, but paints a beautiful picture of Morocco, as well as Spain in one of its most tumultuous and fascinating times.

El Tiempo Entre Costuras has received a slew of critical acclaim, and it’s worth the hype – I can’t remember a book more beautifully written, and the Spanish prose rivals some of the greats. The book was also turned into a miniseries earlier this year.

Get it: El Tiempo Entre Costuras in Spanish | El Tiempo Entre Costuras in English

More Ketchup than Salsa, Joe Cawley

Joe Cawley’s book on setting up – or rather, saving – a restaurant and bar in the Canary Islands is a hoot, especially when you understand the bureaucratic mess that is Spain, the existence of Spanish mafia and those oh-so-reliable handymen who never seem to get the message. The read is light and humorous, it’s really a labor of love between a man, a bar, and a dream he refuses to let go of.

Cawley has published several other books in the series, as well.

Get it: More Ketchup than Salsa paperback | More Ketchup than Salsa kindle version

Chicken, Mules and Two Old Fools, Victoria Twead

The first in a line of successful books on expat life in Spain, Victoria and her husband Joe leave Southern England to settle in a ruined farmhouse in Southern Spain. 

Like Journey to a Dream, the Tweads’s transition into building permits and Spanish culture isn’t an easy one, but the book is laugh-out-loud funny, and if you’ve lived in Andalusia, you’ll likely be nodding right along with the plot and the mishaps that seem to plague them!

Get it: Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools paperback | Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools kindle version

City of Sorrows, Susan Nadathur

This fictional look at the plight and marginalization of the gypsy population in Seville was based on author Nadathur’s own experience living in Las Tres Mil Viviendas, a gypsy enclave near my house. In her debut novel, Nadathur weaves together the lives of gitanos, sevillanos and foreigners who seek an understanding in the wake of an accidental death.

I interviewed Nadathur about her experience in Las 3000, the process of writing and how her upbringing led her to a career as an author early on SandS.

Get it: City of Sorrows paperback | City of Sorrows kindle version

I’ve got several books in my Kindle queue, mostly on expats in India, but I’m looking forward to living my Camino moments with I’m Off, Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago.

What are you favorite books about Spain or set in Spain? Interested in last year’s list? You can find it here.

The City Of Sorrows: Understanding Seville’s Gypsy Culture (part 2)

Where we last left off with Susan Nadathur, author of the novel ‘City of Sorrows’ about Seville’s Gypsy culture, she was telling us about Gypsy Culture as seen by outsiders. To research her book, Susan lived with a family in Las Tres Mil Viviendas, and what she found out was surprising.

How did you end up living with the Gypsies in Spain? And what sticks out most about their culture?

Living with the Gypsies has become part of my life story. But it sort of got fleshed out when as a young woman I traveled to Seville after graduating from college in 1982. While there, I met the man who is now my husband. Govind is a first generation Indian, which led to some interesting experiences in Spain—mostly because many Spaniards confused him for a Gypsy.

As you may know, the Gypsies trace their ancestry back to the Punjab region in northern India, whose people journeyed from India to Europe in the 15th century. If you look at the features of many Gypsies today, they share many common physical characteristics with East Indians, so the confusion is understandable. Anyway, after having lived through some interesting, and at times painful experiences with Govind, I became curious about the Gypsies. I wondered why there was so much negative energy surrounding the culture. Years later, I started to write the book that is now City of Sorrows. Because I felt it was my responsibility to understand the culture well, so that I could write about it with clarity and avoid the stereotypes, I returned to Spain in 2008 and found my way into a Gypsy home. How that happened is an interesting story which begins and ends with a Spanish Gypsy pastor, Pepe Serrano.

To make a long story short, I ended up in a Pentecostal Gypsy church called La Iglesia Dios Con Nosotros (God with Us), in one of the most sordid sectors of the city (Las Tres Mil Viviendas). But not once did I ever feel unsafe. The congregation embraced me, though kept me at a distance whenever I asked questions about their culture. Too many years of marginalization and oppression had made them wary of foreigners. But as the weeks went by, and they began to trust me, my experiences began to change. I was invited into people’s homes, into their lives. Finally, I was asked to leave the apartment I had rented in Seville and invited to live with Pastor Pepe and his family in their home on the outskirts of Seville. Once I moved into Pastor Pepe’s home, I no longer had to ask questions. I only had to live as part of a family to understand the people I was writing about.

As far as what sticks out most about Gypsy culture is the way that they are able to maintain their traditional values without being remarkably changed by mainstream Spanish society. For example, the Gypsies place a high value on two things: a woman’s “honor” and respecting the elderly. In a society where premarital sex is prevalent and the elderly are placed in homes to be cared for by strangers, this adherence to what might be considered ‘traditional values” is inspiring. I was also impressed with how children obeyed their parents, with no back talk and/or disrespect. While my Spanish friends endured all the “talking back” and disrespect rampant in modern society, the Gypsy children I met (from all ages from toddler up to young adult) obeyed their parents and did what was asked—even if they didn’t agree with what their parents were asking of them.

One of the most surprising things I learned while visiting Las Tres Mil was that the Gypsies lived far better, and in much cleaner environments, than I had imagined. To tell you the truth, I was at first skeptical about taking a bus into Las Tres Mil. I’d heard all the horror stories about the poverty and the crime. My first impression of the neighborhood supported my perceptions. Piles of garbage lined the streets, and the buildings smelled of urine and alcohol. Once off the bus, I found myself thinking that I was going to be entering a ramshackle, run-down apartment complex. What I found instead was a beautifully maintained, humble yet comfortable home.

And what amazed me most was the family dynamic I experienced inside that humble home. The women cooked and served, the men socialized and were served. That might go against what most of us modern women expect in our homes, but in reality, it was a loving, functional way to be. Everyone laughed and shared. No one felt imposed upon or used. After dinner, the women got to work again, cleaning up the pots and pans, sweeping the floors, and then finally, sitting down to watch TV, all together as a family. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had.

Can you describe the writing process for City of Sorrows?

The writing of City of Sorrows was an almost eight-year process which began in the year 2004, when I told my husband “I’m going to write a novel.” Little did I know then how difficult that task would be. For the first two years after making that energetic declaration, I devoured books on the craft of fiction, books like Stephen King’s On Writing and James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. I wrote at least ten drafts, cutting, editing and revising as I went along. Then I read more articles, books, and blog posts about characterization, style, voice, and every other conceivable topic. Then with all this new knowledge, I went back to rewriting. Several drafts later, I finally hired a professional editor. That was when I thought I was close to being done with the manuscript. But then I decided to revisit Spain, for research purposes, where I lived on and off between 2008 and 2011. Much of that time, I lived with pastor Pepe and his family. I thought I was going to complete the manuscript in the fall of 2011, but to my horror, I didn’t write a single word of my novel the whole time I was in Spain. I spent all my time hanging out with the families and writing all these wonderful experiences in my journal. Then in 2012 City of Sorrows was finally complete and published by a small, independent press in Puerto Rico.

What’s next for you as a writer? Any other projects planned or underway?

I am currently working on a young adult paranormal romance about the downside of temptation and desire, the fragility of being human, and the challenges of being different in the Hispanic Caribbean. It is set on the island of Puerto Rico and has the working title Dante’s Kiss.

Interested in winning your own copy? Susan is an avid follower of Sunshine and Siestas and has offered one copy, either digital or paperback, to another reader of this blog. We’re interested in knowing how you feel about Gypsy culture, regardless of whether or not you’ve lived in Spain.

rafl/display/ca3df24/” rel=”nofollow”>a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be randomly chosen from the entries on November 22nd, in honor of the Spanish celebration of El Día de los Gitanos Andaluces. Susan is offering City of Sorrows at a promotional price of $9.59 for the print book and $4.19 for the Kindle book, throughout the month of November. You can purchase on Amazon (City of Sorrows on Kindle or City of Sorrows Paperback) or via Susan’s author website. You’ll learn that it goes beyond flamenco and jaleo – Gypsy culture is passion, devotion, tradition.

The City of Sorrows: Understanding Seville’s Gypsy Culture (and giveaway!)

Driving past Las Tres Mil Viviendas, the notorious gypsy neighborhood on the southern end of Seville, is a daily constant for me. I’ve often wondered what life is like for the squatters who make their home there, where rumored jaleos stretch long in to the night. I’ve seen stray animals wandering around the stark grounds, nibbling on discarded garbage, from my car’s passenger side. Sevillanos consider it to be the most dangerous neighborhood in the city – so much, in fact, that policemen are said to not go there.

Gypsy culture is both revered and shunned, creating an interesting but sobering relationship between them and payos, Spaniards. Spain’s most celebrated artistis – from Camarón to Lorca to Falla – have gitano origins or influence, yet rejection, intolerance and marginalization continue to exist.

I recently read Susan Nadathur‘s debut book, City of Sorrows, about the difficult relationship between ethnic Gypsies, Spaniards and even outsiders. The fictional novel is a heartbreaking look at the misconceptions that exist in mainstream society, as well a message about overcoming tragedy in both cultures. Susan researched the book while living with a family in Las Tres Mil Viviendas, providing a powerful basis from which to understand Gypsy life.

Intrigued by what I’d read, I asked Susan a few questions about her research and experience living with a gitano family. This is the first part of our interview:

Your novel challenges the idea that Gypsies are all fortune tellers, thugs and thieves. What should mainstream society know about Spanish Gypsy culture?

Mainstream society – both in Europe and the United States – has been at odds with the Gypsies since their migration from India in the 15th century. The Gypsies have lived most of their history accused of being different, non-conformists, and problematic. They have been marginalized, stereotyped, persecuted, glorified, and under-appreciated. But, no group can be lumped into one neat package. Yes, many Gypsies are fortune tellers, con artists, and thieves. If you are a tourist in Spain, you will certainly run into Gypsy women working the streets surrounding the cathedrals, offering a sprig of rosemary in exchange for a generic palm reading.

You may find others begging in front of the cathedral door. But you will also see many other hardworking Gypsy merchants at local outdoor markets. In Seville, they are at El Charco de la Pava on Saturdays, selling everything from shoes, boots and women’s stockings to children’s clothing and luggage. These merchants are serious vendors, with permits and taxable income. They are not thieves but hardworking groups of families who are out on the streets every day, rain or shine, in the bitter cold and the oppressive heat of summer, selling the merchandise that will feed their families. If we only see the negative of a group of people, we see only half the picture.

You’ve often said that your childhood being bullied has contributed to your empathy toward Gypsies? Can you draw any comparisons to their plight with the bullying you felt as a child?

I sincerely believe that if I had not been bullied and ridiculed as a child, I would not have developed the empathy that gives me the deep awareness of the suffering of marginalized groups like the Gypsies. In any society, there is the mainstream and those who live outside of it. I grew up in New England, which has historically been harsh on people who don’t fit it—on those who are “different.” In my case, being different meant looking different than my peers. I wore thrift shop clothes in schools where plenty of kids had plenty of money to buy new ones. I was the only one in my elementary school classroom to wear glasses—and the kids let me know how ugly those glasses looked on me. I was the classic school-yard victim, bullied because I looked and acted differently.

Because of where I come from, because of having endured acute feelings of intolerance and isolation, I can identify with the Gypsies—who are not necessarily bullied, but are certainly marginalized and misunderstood. Nobody wants to get too close to people they don’t understand. It’s easier, and safer, to make fun of, slander, or simply stay away from people who make us uncomfortable. My peers were uncomfortable with me because I looked different from them, acted differently from them (I was a loner who enjoyed reading and favored solitude in the village cemetery over jeering in the school courtyard). Many of my friends are Spaniards, who have all expressed very strong opinions about “not wanting to get too close to the Gypsies.” While I understand that some of their fears are justified, I wish they could just try to understand that beneath the surface of these enigmatic people lays the same common, human experience.

What gave you the idea to write City of Sorrows?

The seeds for City of Sorrows were sown long before it grew into the complex novel it is today. When you take a shy young girl and make her feel like a lesser human being—for whatever reason—a story is formed. When that shy girl takes refuge in books, a reader is made. And when that reader turns to journaling, a writer is born.

If as a child I had not been bullied, picked on, and humiliated, I would not have developed the keen sense of empathy I have for people who are marginalized. Without that compassion, I would not have been profoundly affected by a racist remark targeted at my Indian friend (now husband of 27 years) when we lived in Seville. “Gypsies and Moors are not served here,” a surly waiter said to my friend while refusing to serve us a cup of coffee. My friend was neither a Gypsy nor a Moor, but because he came from India, was dark skinned and looked like a Gypsy—that was enough to label him “outcast.” That one statement, spat out decades ago in a bar in Seville, became the catalyst for this story of love and loss in the vibrant world of Gypsy Spain—a world I would never have penetrated if I had not felt the sting of isolation, humiliation, and rejection that gave me the unique, unspoken connection to this group of persecuted people.

Interested in winning your own copy? Susan is an avid follower of Sunshine and Siestas and has offered one copy, either digital or paperback, to another reader of this blog. We’re interested in knowing how you feel about Gypsy culture, regardless of whether or not you’ve lived in Spain.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be randomly chosen from the entries on November 22nd, in honor of the Spanish celebration of El Día de los Gitanos Andaluces. Susan is offering City of Sorrows at a promotional price of $9.59 for the print book and $4.19 for the Kindle book, throughout the month of November. You can purchase on Amazon (City of Sorrows on Kindle or City of Sorrows Paperback) or via Susan’s author website. You’ll learn that it goes beyond flamenco and jaleo – Gypsy culture is passion, devotion, tradition.


It’s not everyday that the book you’re reading mentions that bar/coffeehouse/pub where you’re reading it at. The words screamed off the page: COLD DRINKS WITH THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VIEWS! My bottle of Ožujsko wasn’t that cold, but glancing out over the pristine Adriatic coastline and the plush electric green island of Lokrum and could coincide with at least one of those statements.

The word buza in local tongue quite literally means hole, and the place was advertised in our hostel as literally being a hole in the wall – a hole in the famous city walls, that is. The city center is extremely small – you can see everything in a day or so – so we figured a leisurely walk around the city center with cameras in tow would eventually lead us to one of the only bars that’s open in the off-season. Traipsing around the beautifullly restored fortifications, we quite literally ran into a wall – we could see the bar, but we couldn’t actually access it.

Wanting to check out the COLD DRINKS after walking around all afternoon and enjoy them with THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VIEWS, we wound our way up the streep staircases on the western side of the city. The bar was sparse, just some chipping and rusted handrails and some plastic chairs with rickety tables. Our beer came with plastic cups and cost a whopping 35 kuna, or about 5€, each.

The day was clear but beautiful for a late March day, so we pulled out our e-books and sipped our Ožujsko as slowly as possible. When the words of Beer in the Balkans, a tongue-in-cheek quest for cheap beer throughout the Ex-Yu, jumped out at me, I signaled the waitress for another round. Who can say no to a Croatian sunset and a warm beer?

Have you ever been to Buza Bar? Do you think it’s got the MOST BEAUTIFUL VIEWS IN THE WORLD? For more information and seasonal opening hours, check out the bar’s website

Dia del Libro: Barcelona’s Yearly Homage to the Book and my Favorite Books About Spain

Well known fact about me: I’m a huge proponent for books. I average 20 novels a year and nerd out at bookstores in Seville (and online – damn Amazon’s one-click for my Kindle!). In Spain – particularly in Cataluña – the International Day of the Book is celebrated as a day for lovers, even if only for lovers as books.

The UNESCO has delegated April 23rd as the International Day of the Book, owing to the fact that both Cervantes and Shakespeare, considered to be true purveyors of their languages, died on this day in 1616. What’s more, the feast day of St. George, the patron of Cataluña, commemorates his death and falls on April 23rd. This holiday is revered in the region, and I actually first heard of the celebration reading one of my favorite books set in Spain.

According to local legend, Sant Jordi heroically saved a princess on the outskirts of Barcelona by using a spear. From the slayed dragon’s spilt blood grew a rosebush, and Saint George pick them and gave them to the princess. Since the Middle Ages, men have been giving roses to their sweethearts on this version of Valentine’s Day, and women gift books to them. Results are a massive sale of both in the days leading up to the 23rd.

On this Catalan version of Valentine’s Day, I leave you some of my favorite books set in Spain:

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruíz Zafón

Celebrated young adult novelist Ruíz Zafón jumped into adult fiction with this superb work of mystery and intrigue, set in Barcelona. Youngster Daniel’s father takes him to a place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a forlorn library stacked floor to ceiling with obscure books. The one he chooses, the Shadow of the Wind, is subsequently devoured. When his father warns him that he must protect the book forever, a sinister man tries to destroy it, throwing Daniel into a struggle to save a book and the legacy of an author called Julián Carax. Set in post-war Spain, I had an insatiable thirst for this book, relishing in the intricate story lines and well-drawn characters. I’ve subsequently read many others by the author but not the prequel to Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game.

buy it: The Shadow of the Wind Paperback | The Shadow of the Wind Kindle

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Am I the only one who felt tortured reading Old Man and the Sea? I was convinced I was anti-Hemingway, but my English lit teaching sister has set me straight. Bullfighting’s biggest proponent and the one who put Pamplona and the San Fermines festival on the map, troubled Hemingway was a Hispanophile in his own right. After having a coffee in his haunt in Pamplona, Cafe Irún, I grabbed a copy of the book with a torero emblazoned on the front. Set in 1920s Paris, a group of socialites travel to Pamplona to attend the San Fermines bullfights and running of the bulls. The book explores love, lust, masculinity and death against the backdrop of a Spanish town.

(The Paris Wife is a painful but beautifully written biography of Hermingway’s first wife, reconstructed from letters and journal entries by Paula McClain. Hadley divorced him just after the publication of The Sun Also Rises and took all of the royalties for it).

Buy it: The Sun Also Rises Paperback | The Sun Also Rises Kindle

Dancing in the Fountains: How to Enjoy Living Abroad, Karen McCann

Back in the Fall, I was thrilled to give away a copy of a laugh-out-loud tale of expat life by my friend and fellow Seville inhabitant, Karen McCann. Exploring the canny and kooky, the ups and the downs, Karen’s account of swapping brutal Cleveland winters for the eternal sunshine of Spain with her husband, Rich, is spot-on. I chuckled, recognizing several of the bars Karen and Rich frequent or the characters I’ve also come to know. This delightful recounting of the dreaming to the doing is one I’ve recommended to anyone who years for the sunshine and siestas lifestyle Karen and I enjoy.

Buy it: Dancing In The Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad Paperback |  Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad Kindle

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, Giles Tremlett

For a country know for its exuberant and open people, talking of the Civil War and the Franco years remains taboo, even fourty years after his death. Journalist Tremlett sets out to discover the dark roots of one of Europe’s more open and inviting countries. There’s talk of sex and the boom of the tourism industry, of midnight firing squads to eradicate those who cried out against El Generalísimo, of flamenco and gypsies. To truly understand a country whose history spans more than 2000 years is difficult, but Tremlett’s book about modern Spain and its secrets sheds light on modern society.

Buy it: Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past Paperback

 Winter in Madrid, CJ Sansom

My second post-war novel is a spy story set in Madrid with strong, British characters who make a life in the capital under the new Franco government. Madrid itself takes on a persona as if it were a character, and it made me look differently at several barrios that I’d come to know and enjoy, and the story of lost love made it an enjoyable read.

Buy it: Winter in Madrid: A Novel Paperback | Winter in Madrid: A Novel Kindle

Zen Khou, Maestro, Jeremy Joseph Dean

The most recent book I read is a story that mirrors my own in many ways. Jeremy Dean left his comfortable job as a teacher in England after over twenty years to teach at a bilingual immersion school in the Comunitat Valenciana. What he finds is a school that is poorly organized, the kids not quite bilingual and his own teaching styles no match for Spanish niños. Like I said, mirrors my experience at a bilingual immersion school. Dean complements his experiences at school with the day-to-day dealings of bureaucracy and language issues, though his students (the Marias, the Jaime/Jaume and the effable Macarena) steal the show with their ganas, their progress and their gut-busting pronunciation that kept me in good spirits during my two years teaching.

One of these days, I’ll actually get around to reading Don Quijote. After all, I did by a 400 anniversary edition and threw out half of my clothes after studying abroad to make room for the 800-paged brick!

Do you celebrate Día del Libro? What are you favorite books about Spain? Like books themselves can be, these are subjective views and by no means a be-all, end-all list. I’d love to hear your suggestions – I’ll need to download onto my kindle for the Camino anyway!

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