The rain in Spain...

It’s a dark, gloomy, rain-soaked day and my mind couldn’t help but wander back to the very first time that I travelled to Spain a couple of years ago in October, where it rained and rained and rained. My pink-sneakered feet were drenched as I jumped from puddle to puddle, seeking refuge from the elements.   It seemed like the sun was hiding behind the rain clouds and wasn’t budging anytime soon.  Nothing was going to rain on my parade and stop me from enjoying my vacation, and I was determined to explore the sights of beautiful sunny Spain (at least that’s what the picturesque travel books had promised).

One always has to be prepared and pack for all types of weather and once again, I had failed Packing 101 and had brought all of the wrong attire! Where were my chic Wellingtons, my all weather rain coat and my hat? Flip flops, shorts, tank tops and bikini were all that I was able to find in my over-stuffed suitcases. This is almost the reverse situation of when I travelled to Paris in April, attired in cold weather gear, only to be greeted by an unprecedented Parisian heat wave!

Needing to keep warm and dry, I was forced to purchase rain boots, a warm coat and an umbrella. My long-awaited European holiday was not going to be spoiled by a little bit of rain, so sporting my newly purchased rain gear I was now well equipped to battle this unseasonable weather.

Running up and down the rain-soaked cobble-stoned narrow pathways of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, my pink rain boots darted from shop to shop, seeking refuge from the torrential downpour. My travel buddy didn’t seem fazed by the rain, large golf umbrella in hand, standing outside of the shops, puffing on cigarette after cigarette. I, on the other hand, looked and felt like a drenched rat. Unable to concentrate and appreciate the architectural beauty of the medieval cathedrals, my only focus was on keeping warm and dry.

A long-forgotten phrase...the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, churned incessantly in my mind, over and over and over again. I seriously thought that we would have to start building that ark sometime soon.

Neither shopping nor touring the numerous museums or cathedrals would suffice today. The only thing that would be able to satiate me at this point was some home-made chicken noodle soup. We were only a few blocks away from our rental apartment, so we just needed to stop at the market, pick up some key ingredients and start cooking!

The closest store was El Cortes Ingles, Spain’s largest department store, selling everything from high end designer fashions to gourmet and supermarket foodstuffs in their basement level. The food hall boasted an impressive collection of spices, olive oils, Iberian hams, salmon, cheese, Belgian chocolates and wine... just a few of the tantalizing choices of delectable goodies on display.

Had I not been so utterly rain-soaked, miserable and wet, I would have been in shopping nirvana, content to have spent the rest of my vacation wandering from floor to floor, gleefully sampling the exquisite gourmet delicacies, ending up amongst the Carolina Herrera,  Armani and Gucci collections located in the upper echelons of this magnificent Spanish store.

Craving some comfort food, I decided that I’d also prepare a tomato and grill-cheese sandwich to complement my steaming hot bowl of home-made chicken noodle soup. Reaching for a bright shiny orange-red tomato that I had purchased at the market the previous day, I noticed that it seemed slightly squashed and more fragile looking than a tomato should be. Thinking that it was just a unique Spanish version of my favourite fruit, I sliced into the red glistening tomato and observed that the texture, seeds and consistency were somewhat mushier and jelly-like than the Canadian ones that I was accustomed to devouring. Hmmm. Perhaps the Mediterranean sun (or lack of) had somehow genetically altered these European specimens. Biting into a mushy slice, my taste buds were surprised to be greeted by an intensely syrupy sweet mango apricot flavour instead. It was only when I travelled back to Canada and boasted to my friends about having sampled a uniquely sweet Spanish tomato, that I was informed that I had been dining on not so unique persimmons instead. Ouch!

Maybe I will have better luck with the chicken noodle soup. Tearing open the bright yellow cardboard container, I started to pour the soup into the pot. Where were the noodles? Where were the chicken pieces? This was clearly chicken broth, not chicken noodle soup! Yikes! Had I misread the label? Grabbing the box, I inspected it a little more closely. The label showed a smiling chicken (the cluck, cluck kind) and the word “POLLO” (chicken in Spanish) was clearly labelled on the package. Yup, I had successfully purchased Spanish chicken broth!

Pink Sneaker Tip when shopping for food in a foreign land
Don’t look for eggs, milk and yogurt products in the refrigerated section of a store, which is where you would find them in North America.  On my recent travels to Spain, I knew to look for eggs in the non-refrigerated section, as that is where I had found them on my previous travels, but I forgot and spent at least a half hour desperately searching for milk and yogurt in the refrigerated section only to realize that they are displayed elsewhere.

Purchase fresh food every day from the local market, bakery or butcher shop. You are guaranteed fresh and delectable cuisine. Only buy what you need that day as that is what the locals do.

Wake up early and stand in line at the bakery.  There is nothing like the melt in your mouth taste of freshly baked bread.  Most definitely worth waking up with the roosters! I have wonderful memories of standing in line waiting for the patisserie to open, trying to converse with the locals. Just a smile, a nod of the head, a collective anticipation of savouring that delicious first bite of a freshly baked croissant.

Visit the local markets. Every city has a weekly outdoor/indoor market which is open to the public on different days of the week.  This is an integral part of the Spanish/European shopping experience where one is able to purchase in season fruits, vegetables, meats and produce.

At least I know where to purchase the vino tinto!!

Come seek refuge from the rain with me...enjoy chicken broth and persimmons with me...come travel with me....

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