Celebrating Like a Local: New Year’s Eve in Andalusia

Guest Post by Yvonne Schnoor

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Three years ago, my husband and I left Germany to run a bed & breakfast in Andalusia. We opened Cortijo El Sarmiento in late spring and had a good, but exhausting, first season.

Related: Free Downloadable German Language Cheat Sheet

When the last of our guests had left, we had to face our first Christmas and New Year’s Eve away from home. My parents, Reiner and Marlene, came over to join us. It was not the best time: we couldn’t find any of the food we were used to eating at Christmas; the weather was far too warm for us back then; and the only Christmas tree we could find was puny and quite ugly.

We decided we needed to embrace the Spanish way of life.

For our New Year’s dinner, we all went to a restaurant. It was nice enough, but it was full of expats, who, although very friendly, couldn’t offer us the new Spanish lifestyle we craved. Our first Christmas and New Year’s felt like a bit of a let down.

We decided that we would have to plan the holidays much better for the following year. But, as you can imagine, with all the work at the B&B during the summer, we completely forgot about the disaster of 2014/15! The season ended, the holidays drew near, and we had nothing planned.

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Then something fantastic happened. Apparently, some of our new Spanish friends had felt sorry that we had spent such a miserable first Christmas in their country. So, they invited us to join their News Year’s Eve party! We were happy to accept, but had no idea what to expect. We were informed that traditionally everyone brought food, but that we didn’t have to, because we were their guests. However, we just couldn’t go empty handed, so together we prepared some Spanish food and a very typical German dessert. We all got dressed up for the occasion.

When we arrived at our friends’ house it was a lovely surprise. We were greeted by their relatives, all thirty-six of them, which turned out to be less then half of their family. There aren’t that many family members between my husband’s and my family combined!

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At first, we felt quite alien, especially as my parents spoke very little Spanish. But everyone welcomed us warmly and made us feel completely at home. One couple had lived in Germany, which was great, because they were seated beside Mum and Dad! The table was crammed with all sorts of wonderful food and they put our dishes right in the middle.

The evening started out typically Andalusian: tons of food and wine and very noisy conversation. I worried my eardrums might not survive the night. There was lots of laughter and tempered discussion, which never got out of hand. It’s just the Spanish way; they are so passionate about everything.

Midnight drew near and our friends’ daughters set a champagne glass in front of each person and filled them with Cava – Champagne is never drunk in Andalusia; there’s too much local pride. There was also a small bowl for each person containing twelve grapes.

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At the countdown on TV – Oh, by the way, I should mention that the TV is always on in Spanish houses; they are mad about their TV – for the twelve strokes to midnight, everyone has to eat a grape and make a wish. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But you try chewing, wishing and swallowing between the strokes of a church bell! We all felt really stupid, but it was great fun. It is very important to the Spanish people to eat the Uvas de la suerte (lucky grapes) and wish Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) before the completion of the twelfth chime. Then come the three kisses for everyone in the room. By the end of it, your Cava is flat and warm, but no one cares.

When everyone eventually returns to their seat, they find a bag filled with confetti, paper-streamers and hats. Then someone puts a wig on your head – so if you weren’t embarrassed choking on the grapes, you are now. Replete with wig and paper hat, the serious drinking can begin.

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Most of the youngsters head off to meet their friends to celebrate, away from the oldies, in the local bars or at a disco.

Another, more recent custom, to bring luck for the coming year, is for a man to buy the love of his life red lingerie. The woman should never buy this for herself; it has to be a gift to her. It’s the reason there is so much red lingerie for sale in Spain from the beginning of December.

When I inquired about the tradition of taking a dip in the sea on New Year’s Day, my Spanish friends looked at me as if I were mad. “Only the strange foreigners do this”, they said. “The water would be far too cold!”

So we didn’t.

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My name is Yvonne and I’m what you would probably call a true European. I was born in Gemany, grew up in Belgium, and, after a long journey through several other European countries, decided to live in Spain, where I run, together with my family, a beautiful, luxury bed and breakfast in Mojácar, a lesser known part of Andalusia’s Costa de Almeria. The B&B is dedicated to adults only, especially those who are looking for peace and tranquility. As I’ve owned a wine shop in Germany for over 13 years and have done endless tastings to become a Sommelière, you can be sure that you will always be served the right wine wherever you meet me. Living in Spain supports my hobby (for now, at least!) a lot – everything here is about eating and drinking!

24 Hours in Toronto

Toronto is Canada’s largest and busiest city, the 7th most populated city in North America, one of the world’s most liveable, multicultural, cosmopolitan, diverse, and accepting cities, and the place I’m proud to call home. This itinerary is perfect for you if you’re in Toronto for 24 hours or less, as it hits a mix of major tourist attractions and local hideouts for a comprehensive experience.

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Toronto is Canada’s largest and busiest city, the 7th most populated city in North America, after Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston (man, those Americans know how to multiply!), one of the world’s most liveable, multicultural, cosmopolitan, diverse, and accepting cities, and the place I’m proud to call my home. It’s also the city that most other Canadians love to hate, but we’re not going to go into that here!

If you’re flying into other parts of Canada or the USA, I highly recommend that you take a few hours or even days in Toronto to go exploring. This itinerary is perfect for you if you’re in Toronto for 24 hours or less, as it hits a mix of major tourist attractions and local hideouts for a comprehensive experience.

When to Visit

Foliage in the autumn, turning orange-gold
In Ontario, autumn is the best time for viewing foliage in all colours of red, gold, and orange.

In my opinion, the best time to visit Toronto is late spring (April-May) or mid-fall (October). The summers here are quite hot and the winters can be frigid (my cousin calls our weather inhuman). In April and May, the weather tends on the warmer side of comfortable and the city is gearing up for the summer, which includes a bunch of food, music, and pride festivals. However, October comes with many advantages as well; the weather is cooler, the air smells beautiful, the leaves turn beautiful colours of red and gold, and there’ll be a bunch of Christmas fanatics excited about the holidays already. TIFF happens in September, so that’s the perfect time to visit if you’re a film buff, though flights and accommodations may be more expensive. Nuit Blanche happens on one night in early October so if you’re up for an incredibly exhausting intense 24 hour experience, this is your time. Pride, Caribana, and Taste of the Danforth, as well as numerous other festivals happen in the summer, so if food, music, pride, and fun are your thing, I would advise you to go then.

Related: How to save more, so you can travel more

Getting Around

Toronto commuters boarding a streetcar downtown
Toronto has a deep love-hate relationship with its transit system. Source: http://www.cp24.com/polopoly_fs/1.1212417.1420668025!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_960/image.jpg

Taking the TTC in Toronto is your best bet for getting around. It’s convenient and easy to learn, especially in the downtown core, where most of the exciting stuff happens. A day pass costs $12 but is only available on weekends and holidays. Single fares cost $3.25 for adults, $2 for students, and nothing for children 12 and under (I’m just gonna take a moment and express the collective displeasure of Toronto’s residents that free rides weren’t available when we were younger).

The city also offers an express train running between Pearson International Airport and Union Station (in the heart of downtown). It’s convenient but the price can be quite steep ($24 for an adult return ticket). If you want to do as the locals, take a TTC or GO bus from the airport to the subway. It’ll give you the genuine local experience of anger, frustration, and overall displeasure at the transit system.

The Itinerary

Morning

Rise and shine, wanderers! I love to get up bright and early, so that I have a head start on exploring. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, make sure to avoid setting out on the TTC between 8-9 in the morning on workdays. This is often when the subway and buses are clogged with people and backlogged with delays.

The interior of the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, filled with any food vendors
The St. Lawrence Market is a Toronto institution, and many still come here for its farmer’s market. Source: http://wpmedia.news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/st-lawrence-market4.jpg

Head to the St. Lawrence Market to grab breakfast. The building is gorgeous, both inside and out. The building was constructed in 1820, on the site of Market Square, where public markets were held since 1803. In 1831, the original wood building was torn down, and a brick building was constructed. That building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1849. The market was rebuilt two more times, in 1904 and 1968, so the moral of this story is that you should probably go see the market before it’s torn down and rebuilt again.

The Toronto Distillery District on a cloudy day, with buildings in the background and busy shoppers in the foreground
The Distillery District houses an incredible collection of Victorian style architecture. Source: http://cdn.narcity.com/toronto/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/07/distillme.jpg

Next, take a walk to the Distillery District. The Distillery District is home to the former Gooderham & Worts Distillery, once the largest distillery in the world, providing millions of gallons of whisky. Today, the booze is gone (darn!) but the Victorian architecture still remains. Many of the tenants in the distillery buildings are studios, art galleries, restaurants, and boutique shops, but there are also numerous events and festivals that happen almost every day in the area. The most well known of these is the Toronto Christmas Market. Don’t forget to snap a photo with your sweetheart under the heart-shaped arch!

Afternoon

A street corner in Kensington market, with a fruit stall in the foreground
Kensington Market is a quintessential hippie neighbourhood for Torontonians. Source: http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/photos/2006/01/kensington_market_st-andrew_corner_01.jpg

If you’re looking for a place to have lunch, check out Chinatown. Located along Spadina Avenue, a bit farther west than the downtown core, there’s a bunch of delicious ethnic restaurants for hungry travellers looking to relax and enjoy their meals. After lunch, consider checking out Kensington Market, just west of Spadina. It’s known (and sometimes bashed) for its hippy-dippy feel, but is also a favourite among locals. Food, postcards, potted plants, and healing crystals can all be found within the small stores that make up Kensington. If hippy-dippy doesn’t sound like your thing, why not check out a museum or art gallery (but not both at once!) You could easily spend whole months immersed in the art galleries and museums in Toronto, but for a visit of a few hours, I recommend heading further uptown to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum). There’s nowhere better to spend a rainy afternoon, with some ancient Chinese pottery or Egyptian mummies. On a separate note, it’s really kind of cool (or depressing, depending on your point of view), knowing that your body just might become part of a museum exhibit in a couple thousand years.

The modern portion of the Royal Ontario Museum architecture
The ROM: quirky or eyesore? We’ll let you decide. Source: http://www.e-architect.co.uk/images/jpgs/toronto/royal_ontario_museum_daniellibeskind010507_7.jpg

For an afternoon snack, why not try eating at Tim Horton’s, the fast food chain synonymous with Canada? If it’s cold out, try out our local slang by asking for a double-double coffee, a coffee with two creams and two sugars. Alternately, if it’s warm out, get an ice capp (or iced cappucino, for you non-Canadians out there), so that you can drink a day’s worth of calories in 15 minutes! Timbits (donut holes) are another quintessential treat at Tim Horton’s.

The Toronto skyline as viewed from the ferry terminal on Centre Island
Centre Island is a great place to have some fun and have a gander at the Toronto skyline. Source: http://www.torontosnaps.com/p3/m/Toronto-Island-Park/Centre-Island-a-view-10011.jpg

In the late afternoon, go to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal downtown (a five minute walk from Union Station) and catch a ferry to Ward’s Island or Centre Island. You’ll notice that the CN Tower is conspicuously absent from this itinerary, and it’s because I just don’t think the tower is worth going up. You don’t get a sense of how beautiful the city is from the tower, the wait times are long, and it’s just a tourist trap. However, from the Islands, you get a great view of the Toronto skyline as the sun is setting, plus, who doesn’t like water and beaches? Make sure to check the ferry schedule so that you can pick the optimal time to go.

Evening

Two houses in the Annex, Toronto's historic neighbourhood
The Annex, one of Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods. Just look at those houses! Source: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/03/bd/7f/a8/the-annex.jpg

Get your dinner in a mom and pop shop in one of TO’s neighbourhoods. My favourites are the Annex, perfect for people more interested in trendy food, and Koreatown, located around Bloor and Bathurst.

People clubbing at a live music event
Toronto has many different options for party animals. Source: https://studentwire.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Clubbing-Anna-Omelchenko.jpg

Queen St. W. and Ossington are some of the currently hip places to go dancing or have a drink in the city. Though Toronto is a bastion of diversity, you can head to Church and Wellesley for a more historically LGBTQ+ experience. If partying isn’t your thing, try out a board game cafe. There are a bunch in the city, and they’re open pretty late.

Hopefully, with all these tips, you’ll be all set to have the best of times in Toronto! Let us know where you want to visit in Toronto in the comments below. Happy travels!