I was having coffee recently with a friend who’s studying abroad in Valladolid and about to go home, and we were talking about different things we liked about the city. When I asked her what her favorite thing about the city was, she had a hard time choosing just one thing. I was teasing her about it, but then she flipped my question back onto me, and I realized how hard it was. I think I told her my favorite thing was shopping for food, but even after giving her an answer, I couldn’t stop thinking about the question, and I came up with a different favorite.
First I want to show you why I originally answered the way that I did. I finally have pictures of the amazing market in Santander, which is my very favorite place to buy food. The basement is a fish market, where they sell all types of fresh fish and shellfish. They’re generally displayed whole, but you can get the fishmonger to clean them for you, and even make them into filets. (I didn’t know about the filets at first. My first adventure with buying fish resulted in some really ugly filets that had a number of bones in them. Also, fish bones in Spanish are not called “huesos,” like other animals’ bones, but “espinas,” spines.) So far, David and I have cooked a type of trout, cod, clams, and mussels, and because we’re terrible food bloggers, we only took pictures of one of those things. Oh well, guess we’ll have to make them again!!
Upstairs, the indoor market has a huge selection of butcher’s shops and charcuteries, where you can buy cured meats and different kinds of cheeses. I’ve really only bought chicken (2 whole chickens, killed that morning, for our makeshift Thanksgiving dinner, if you wanna get specific) and a few different kinds of cheese, I still think it’s really cool to be able to just see so many different kinds of meat available. Once we saw a butcher cutting a cabrito (baby goat) in half; you could see the whole shape of the goat, and he took a giant cleaver and just hacked through the spine all the way down. It was really striking.
Outside, the building is surrounded by an open-air produce market, where you can also get fresh bread, honey, and homemade desserts (on occasion). This last time, we even found tiny thai chili peppers! It’s really hard to find spicy food in Spain, so this was a pretty significant achievement. Around the corner, still just outside the market, there’s also a little booth of sorts that seems to sell just about everything in the world. We’ve found canned chipotle peppers, fish sauce, fresh basil, and Lady Grey tea, all of which have been otherwise impossible to find. Still searching for some sesame oil, though.
Anyway, as you can see, buying food in a place like this is a joy. My market options in Valladolid aren’t QUITE as extravagant, but I still have incredible variety to choose from, and I get the wonderful experience of actually interacting with the owners of each stand. I’m building a relationship with my favorite frutería, Frutas Elisa. She knows I always want about a quarter kilo of coles de bruselas, brussels sprouts, along with other more variable things, like the incredible mandarinas I’ve been getting lately. And I do love it, no question there. But it’s not my favorite thing about Valladolid.
The best thing about this city, and Spain, and Europe in general, is the amount that people walk. During our orientation, a representative from the US Embassy said he thinks Spain is generally safer than the US simply because “the people of Spain consider the street an extension of their living room.” We all laughed, but honestly it’s true. If you happen to be outside between 6 and 9 pm, you’ll be sharing the street with the majority of the population. Some of them might be running errands, but many are just walking for the sake of walking. Older couples stroll arm in arm through the parks, or window shopping down crowded streets. (Side note: window shopping is HUGE here. How often do you see someone walk by a store, do a double take, and then TURN AROUND AND GO BACK to look some more? Here, that’s commonplace.) And bassinets, which have long since gone out of style in the US, are all over the place here! When it rains, people pull out the umbrellas for themselves, and plastic covers for the strollers. Now that it’s cold, most strollers have a sleeping bag-like insert for the child inside, so they stay warm while their parent(s) continue to just walk around everywhere. I think it’s amazing. I’m pretty bad at motivating myself to do most kinds of exercise; I hate running, and don’t like going to the gym. I enjoyed a water aerobics class I tried, but that’s not feasible (in Spain) or affordable (in the US). But walking? I love it! I walk at least an hour a day here, and usually more like two or three. I don’t usually even listen to music while I walk. I just immerse myself in this walking culture, join the masses ambling from place to place, and try not to think about the day I have to go back to the fast-paced commuter culture I grew up in.