A cold wave swept across Spain in the last two weeks and temperatures dipped dramatically. I was travelling in Almeria and Jaen in southern Spain, which are supposed to be among Europe’s warmest regions in winter. It rained incessantly. The skies frowned with dark clouds. My summer wear went deep into my backpack. Many cafes remained shut. Many people remained indoors. It was still beautiful, but in a dull, gloomy way. So two days ago when I arrived in Cordoba and saw uninterrupted sunshine for the first time in what felt like eons, I knew I had to share what that brief stretch of freak winter had taught me!
Never take the sun for granted.
I could never understand why Europeans like baking themselves on the beach every chance they get. I met a Russian girl in Spiti who refused to use sunscreen in a region where the sun can literally burn you, because she liked sunshine. I couldn’t comprehend the fascination with the onset of summer in most western countries. Life in India and sunny Singapore has definitely spoilt me. Then came my brief tryst with winter in Europe, and as I walked the cobbled streets with the chill in my face, I understood why summer was so revered in this part of the world. And this wasn’t even half the cold that engulfs most other European countries.
Wine is your best friend.
While traversing the wine countryside of Catalonia, I had heard about the hardships of monks centuries ago and how they were each allowed two litres of wine a day to keep warm in winter. I could hardly fathom their hardship as my hands and feet went numb with cold despite being well-layered and indoors. One-Euro wines, better labeled wines, wines blended into Sangria; their warmth was the reason I could still hike through the desert of Tabernas, experience the cliff-side beaches at Cabo de Gata, and fall in love with the gypsy quarters of Granada.
The weather forecast is your second best friend.
I religiously checked the weather forecast each morning, hoping to see a hint of yellow in the icons of dark rainy skies. There were days when the predicted thunderstorm engulfed the night to reveal a beautiful autumn day. There were days when the sun battled with the dark clouds for fleeting moments of sunshine and warmth. But largely, the predictions of the weather department were spot on; it rained when they said it did, and I awaited sunny day predictions like a kid awaits holidays.
You can’t survive on winter clothes bought in India.
Or those bought at Wintertime in Singapore. I learnt that the hard way of course. I layered clothes over clothes and put on my boots, and yet the wind tore through and nearly froze me! I envied people comfortably equipped to brave the cold in their very warm-looking overcoats and boots, and shelled out part of my daily budget to buy me some.
Life goes on.
The most important lesson of all; that no matter the cold and the chill and the rain, life goes on, people still step out to go to work, get their breads, and run their errands. Of course, there are a lot less recreational outings, and it was delightful to see the town out and about in Cordoba, soaking in the sun, window shopping in the old town, and having a beer at the local Tabernas (tavern) hangout.
Have you had your own tryst with winter in Europe? Or would you like to experience it first hand?
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.