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Tapas & Tales

In Granada, Spain, ordering a glass of wine brings a delicious snack free of charge.

It’s true. There’s no catch. Granada is one of the few remaining cities in Spain to serve a complimentary small plate with every purchase of alcohol. It’s a budget traveler’s paradise.

Tapas means “to cover.” Originating in Spain, its exact origins are unknown. The most common theory is from the Middle Ages. It suggests that bar patrons used slices of bread or meat “to cover” glasses to keep out pesky fruit flies. Another explanation states that bartenders served strong smelling cheese “to cover” the taste of cheap, bad wine. Serving food with alcohol helped curb rowdy, thirsty peasants as well. They filled their empty stomachs and in turn, slowed the effects of alcohol.

Today, modern tapas have evolved into a more civilized pastime.

Food that encourages conversation and savoring the moment. A ritual beautiful in its simplicity. We first tested out the tapas experience at Bodegas Castaneda, a traditional locals bar. Upon ordering an Alhambra beer and glass of Rioja wine, a plate of bread with Manchego cheese and a Tortilla Espanola (potato omelette) appeared. Success!

Next up: A new bar brought us more drinks, more tapas and more stories.

At La Nueva Bodego, we tried grilled octopus and fried rabbit with French fries. Yum. Bellied up at the bar, we met a couple, Emma and Joe, visiting from London. Emma’s parents, retired school teachers, had built a house in the Granada countryside. We were amazed her parents opted to live in a different country for this chapter in their lives. They had to adjust to a different culture, learn a new language and adopt to the local customs. We wondered what percentage of Americans would consider the challenges of an expat retirement? Even after numerous travels, it still takes us a while to feel at home abroad.

Our new friend Joe asked why we started traveling and we replied with a single word: curiosity. We didn’t want to spend our whole life wondering what’s out there. We wanted to see for ourselves. Joe’s face lit up.“You’re wanderlusts,” he said. “Once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug, it never goes away.”

More drinks and again, more tapas. This time, braised pork with gravy and a basket of fresh sardines. Emma and Joe brought up their recent trip to Glencoe, Scotland. On a weeks long respite, they camped out on the side of the road every night. They smiled as they recalled how liberating it was.

That notion of being free – truly free – is one of the most overlooked benefits of traveling.

We discussed how strange it is that experiencing life becomes your only responsibility. And how that independence is so empowering. Not being trapped by a routine. Or a job. Or all the things that come with a status quo lifestyle. Vagabonding allows you to live life moment by moment. It makes you feel alive.

Heading to a new bar, our conversations continued well into the evening. More drinks. More tapas. And yes, more stories. Nowhere else to go or to be. Just simply being present in the present moment.

Photo: La Nueva Bodego

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