Winter in Spain. The days are shorter and the beaches are largely empty. What do visitors to Spain do in the darkest months of the year?
There are fewer events in Spain in December and January than at other times of year. Christmas in Spain is a big deal, so a lot of what happens in December is in anticipation of the big Christian event. Check out what's happening this year for Christmas in Madrid, including the locations of all the big Christmas markets.
Other events in December in Spain include the famous El Gordo Christmas lottery, a flamenco festival in Malaga and an odd event featuring a man dressed as a bear. Take a look at these December Events in Spain.
After New Year's Eve comes Three Kings Day in Spain, when the kids get even more gifts. Check out the procession on the night of January 5, when the three kings will visit the cities of Spain and hand out sweets to onlookers.
Other events in January in Spain include a winter motorcycle rally in Valladolid and the San Sebastian festival: January Events in Spain.
Christmas will officially begin tonight in Madrid, with the switching on of the Christmas lights taking place later on today.
The best lights are in Puerta del Sol (with its centerpiece - the giant Christmas tree, sponsored by the State Lottery), Gran Via, Paseo de la Castellana and the Salamanca district (around Calle Goya and Calle Ortega y Gasset).
This week also sees the opening of several of the city's Christmas markets. Read more about Christmas in Madrid to find about the locations of the markets and other festivities in the capital this holiday season.
See also: Christmas in Spain
I found an interesting article on The Local today, about the problems even Spanish people have with their own language.
Ten Spanish Mistakes Even Spaniards Make points to some interesting mistakes, including one that has always bothered me - the blurring of the difference between 'hear' ('oir') and 'listen' ('escuchar') - and a few I can smugly say I have never had problems with myself!
Check out the article if you're currently struggling with what people always dismissively describe as one of the easiest languages to learn and take heart in the fact that people speaking the language have problems too.
It is true, though, that Spanish is relatively easy, compared to learning German, French, or any Scandinavian or Slavic language. A few weeks at a language school in Spain should put most people well on their way to some level of competency. I studied for 12 weeks at a school in Seville and went from the beginners class to the advanced class - and yes, I worked incredibly hard, but I would never have said I was particularly adept at learning languages.
If you're currently struggling at evening classes in your home country, I can assure you that there is no substitute for total immersion in a language you are trying to learn.
Check out these resources on choosing a language school in Spain:
Finally, after years in development, the non-stop high-speed train from Barcelona to Paris will finally begin in time for Christmas.
These difficulties have now been ironed out, meaning the new train service will cover the route in just six hours and twenty minutes, half an hour faster (and a whole lot more convenient) than the current journey with its change at Figueres.
This new route makes the Eurail Spain-France Pass a lot more worthwhile.
A 'brutal' restaurant with a kitchen so small that the waiters have to finish the dishes in the dining room, has become the latest restaurant in Spain to be awarded three Michelin stars (the highest accolade in fine dining), the first in Madrid since 1995.
DiverXo, run by mohawked David Muñoz, has a menu from under 100€, making it one of the cheapest three-star meals anywhere in the world.
Read more about Three-Michelin Star Restaurants in Spain
An early cold snap has hit much of Europe, allowing Spain's ski resorts to open early.
Ski resorts have opened in the Sierra Nevada near Granada, Masella near Girona in Catalonia, Madrid, as well as two resorts in Aragon (Huesca and Teruel).
Skiing is not something most visitors to Spain associate with the country. but Spain actually has numerous resorts.
Check out which resorts are open, with links to their official websites.
Some Catalonia ski resorts are closed during the week but will be open next weekend:
Europe's most southerly ski region, in Granada, Andalusia, opened its Borreguiles piste last weekend..
Yep, you can ski near Spain's capital. The Navacerrada resort in the Sierra de Madrid opens from next weekend
Ski resorts in Asturias will open from next weekend, as long as there is enough snow.
Next weekend, the following ski resorts in Aragon will be open:
Read more about Skiing in Spain
No country in Europe has two cities with so much tourism and business interest as Madrid and Barcelona. So, naturally, travel between the two cities is a big deal.
For years, airlines such as Iberia and Air Europa had the monopoly and efficient travel from Madrid to Barcelona (and vice versa). Then RENFE, the state railway company, rolled out the AVE high-speed train between Spain's biggest cities, cutting travel times and avoiding the hassle of checking in at the airport.
But Iberia responded with the Madrid-Barcelona Air Shuttle, with its open ticket that allows you to board the next available flight quickly and easily.
The two services have different pros and cons, but they both offer a level of convenience only dreamed of before.
Read more about Madrid to Barcelona by Plane or Train?
A Spanish law passed earlier this month to protect bullfighting in Spain may have the effect of forcing Catalonia, which banned bullfighting from the start of 2012, to resume the practice within the region.
The governments in Barcelona and Madrid have been squabbling over bullfighting for years. Unfortunately, the arguments for and against bullfighting in the two cities rarely focus on animal rights or the interests of genuine bullfighting fans. Instead, it has been used as ammunition in the ongoing petty nationalist squabbles between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.
Why Do Catalans Opposte Bullfighting?
Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, banned bullfighting at least in part due to animal cruelty concerns, but largely as a further tool in its desire for independence from Spain. Catalonia feels its interests would be better served if borders were placed between it and the rest of Spain and they feel that by banning bullfighting they can make the non-sequitur jump from cultural separateness to the need to set taxes that only benefit Catalonia.
Why Does the Rest of Spain Still Support Bullfighting?
The Madrid government, on behalf of the rest of Spain, meanwhile, supports bullfighting, but not out of a heartfelt passion for the art of bullfighting, but out of tradition for tradition's sake. Just as Catalans distance themselves from the 'Spanish' act of bullfighting, a sizeable proportion of the rest of Spain advocates bullfighting because it is an important part of the country's heritage, not because they themselves enjoy a bullfight. Bullfighting advocates want bullfighting to exist for others to see - it makes them feel more Spanish - even though they might never go to a bullfight themselves.
Sensible Perspectives on Bullfighting
So without a sensible position from either side of the debate in Spain, it is up to you to decide for yourself whether you support bullfighting or not. Arguments that focus on it being 'wrong' that people should get satisfaction from the killing of animals is a subjective judgement on the actions of people and not an objective concern for the life of the animal. Focussing on the number of bulls killed is a weak argument when viewed in the light of the vast numbers of animals killed painfully and needlessly in the meat industry. Only militant vegans who actively combat all killing of animals can claim any moral consistency on opposing bullfighting, and they have been largely discredited as fringe wackos, haven't they?
Personally, I find bullfighting pointless, boring and, yes, cruel. But that is a personal judgement that sits at odds with the fact I eat meat and wear leather. But emotions don't have to be logical, unless you're trying to convince others that your emotions are empirical facts that others should subscribe to and that anyone who doesn't agree with you is heartless or stupid.
Where Can You See Bullfighting Near Barcelona?
If you want to see a bullfight when you're in Barcelona, there are a few options in the regions around Catalonia. Check out this page on Bullfighting Near Barcelona.
If you're visiting in November or December, chances are you're not heading to Spain's Beaches. Though the weather in Spain in November will be better than in much of Europe, actual sunbathing will be unlikely.
But that's OK, because there's plenty to do!
November in Spain is a month of jazz and film festivals. The Madrid Jazz Festival runs for a month, while there is also the shorter Granada Jazz Festival. And there are eight film festivals, covering experimental film, documentaries, Latin American cinema and alternative cinema.
As we move into December, events in Spain slow down as everyone prepares for Christmas. There are a few events in Spain in December, but not a lot.
Where is the best wine in Europe? If you have a lot of money and a refined enough palette, many would argue that French wine is the best, not least the French themselves.
But for the rest of us, with a less extensive experience of wine under our belts and fewer euros in our pockets, I would argue that Spain makes the best wine on the continent. Its wines tend to be very drinkable at lower prices than their counterparts across the Pyrenees.
To explore the world of Spanish wine, just go up to virtually any bar in Spain and ask to see the wine menu (carta de vinos). But for a more in-depth look, why not do a wine-focussed day trip (or longer) from Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao or San Sebastian.
Check out my new page on wine tours in Spain, for more details.