Alright, last one - I promise. Who knew that a trip could give me so much blog material? maybe I just don't want the memory to fade away so soon. *weeps* Nevertheless, here are some other random things that I found interesting in Spain.
Driving in Spain
Driving was a real adventure in Spain and I'm glad we rented a car instead of travelling by train or bus. It actually provided real insight into the spanish economy. For one, the highways are in mint condition. But why?
The roads were awesome but hardly had any traffic. To us, it seemed they were a result of erratic government over-spending. Brand new toll roads with no cars, state-of-the-art airports with no flights - it partially explains why a country rich in agriculture is wading deeper and deeper into a financial crisis.
It was also amazing to see the real country-side, the rolling hills studded with olive trees swaying in the wind. Tanker trucks cruised the highways labelled "Aceite de Oliva" and we passed dozens of oil mills getting ready for the new season's crops.
We also saw unexpected roadside attractions, such as the giant del Toro's (bulls) which popped up at unpredictable locations. Ryan also became an expert at parking on cliffs, parallel parking between vespas, and driving on two-lane streets about the size of a canadian bike path. Although neither of us could decipher some of the odd road signs such as "snow parking".
It's worth mentioning that our Garmin GPS totally kicked ass. When friends warned us of spending hundreds of dollars on tolls, we were prepared with lots of cash-on-hand. However, we managed the whole trip with just one toll-stop for 6 euros, and our GPS did all the navigating.
Dogs are king in Spain.
You'll notice that dogs are everywhere, walking in the streets, snoozing by their owners or playing in the parks. It doesn't matter the shape, size or breed - dogs are essential. One man brought his mini chihuahua into a pub, it sat on his lap for awhile, then jumped down as the owner put a tapa of fresh seafood on the floor for the dog to eat. This explains why their dogs look so healthy. They eat better than I do on most days.
Cats, on the other hand, are relegated to the streets. Lurking around bus stops, cliffs overlooking the water, or prowling the sidewalks - it seems they are left to their own survival skills with the exception of some stray cat dishes, filled with kibble, and scattered around popular kittie-hangout locations.
Are the spanish lazy, or are canadians overworked? The spaniards would watch in horror as we trudge into the office at 7 a.m. (through a snowstorm) settle for an hour lunch, or possibly even skipping it, staying until 5 and then making the commute back home (through the same snow storm, with transit likely not working).
The spanish, they do things differently. Stores and places of business seem to open at various times, some early, some late - and no one seems particularly concerned with making any money. At no point did anyone try to "up-sell" us, offer us a sales promotion, or even try to get our attention at a store. At one tourist office, the girl at the desk didn't even lift her head to look at us.
Of course, no one would dream of skipping siesta - a two hour affair. Almost as if it's choreographed, the sound of doors slamming echo through the streets, locks clack shut, and business is closed. Even during the sunday markets, sellers seem virtually uninterested while you flip through their merchandise, some look bored. The motivation to make a dollar just isn't there, and while that could explain more of their financial stresses, it doesn't appear as if the spanish equate money to happiness in any form.
It seems pretty obvious that family and friends are what make life in spain worth living. Consider the tapa, snacking and drinking while chatting with your mates - it's a spanish staple. On sundays, every bar was bursting at the seems with locals engrossed in conversation, hand gestures, smiles, laughs and hugs which filled the room with a happy energy. Heck, even the kids were in most of the bars, snacking on tapas and watching their parents, behaving like anyone else in the crowd. No tantrums, no time-outs, no potty meltdowns. I was impressed, an envious to say the least.
It seemed the spanish had a real passion for connecting with eachother, a genuine interest in their neighbour. Even in those packed to the brim bars, everyone shimming up to the bar for a drink, or patiently waiting for their tapa - there were no feelings of irritation. Even when I was standing in a super awkward spot near the kitchen, causing a waiter to send four wine glasses smashing to the floor, there were no outburst, glares or nasty looks.
It goes without saying that soccer to the spanish is like hockey to canadians. It's on every tv, in every pub, in every town. Ryan bought tickets online for the Real Madrid vs. Madrid Athletica game, which is a heated rivalry - although Real Madrid has won every game for about the last 50 years. So, Athletica fans must be eternal optimists. It's worth mentioning that when you buy tickets, it's for a general area, and your "exact" seats are labelled on your ticket - which arrive the day before the game. The date of the game isn't exact either, it can move, and won't be confirmed until two weeks prior. This was a total foreign concept for us and we were totally skeptical.
Thankfully our tickets arrived at our hotel the day before, and we started our trek to the stadium about two hours in advance. At night, the darkened building looms over the buzzing crowds. People scurry in multiple directions either navigating to their entrance tower, or taking a last look at merchants selling snacks and fake soccer jersey's just before the entrance.
It took us awhile to find our seats which were labelled "vomitorium" - essentially, the nosebleeds. We climbed up, and up and up - and because the game was outdoors, we were bundled up and sweating. It turns out, just before the anthem, overhead heaters flash on eliminating the need for multiple layers. This explains why the locals wore shirts and light knit sweaters, not parkas.
When you go to a game, here are some other interesting things to note: There is no one selling "official merchandise," there are no concessions or concourse for that matter, in fact most people bring food from home. There are some small stands in the stadium that sell beer and wine but, those are few and far between. The experience is also void of many of the traditions we are used to like million dollar contests, 50/50s or replays on a jumbotron. There's no music after every goal, no minor league games between halves, and no one wears a jersey to the game. You sit, you watch the game, you chant at random intervals, you go home.
Of course, because games end around 9:30 p.m. the locals go out for dinner AFTER the game. We walked for about an hour through swarms of traffic and landed at 100 Montadillos. Thank god for those.
On that note, I'll retire from my journey through spain and hit the books as usual. :) Many posts to come.