Over the past few months as we have toured and lived in Spain, from time to time things happen or we observe things that make us shake our heads in wonder. Here are just some of the things that we laugh, shrug our shoulders or shake our heads over:
Car parking: It seems that you can park your car anywhere you like; we’ve seen cars parked on roundabouts, over pedestrian crossings, double parked (standard) and even triple parked. You can drive down a narrow street and be caught behind a car parked (temporarily) to drop into the store or pick up a baby and car seat or pick kids up from a friends. You have to just sit and wait until they are done before moving on as there is no room to pass because of cars parked on the other side or traffic coming at you. Oh, and you can park facing which ever direction you like… several times I’ve wondered if I’m going the wrong way down a one-way street, but it’s only that all the cars are parked facing you.
Driving/speed limits: This is tricky – we endeavoured to keep to the posted speed limit as much as possible, but sometimes on the Autovia you see a sign reducing speed to 100 km/h and then realise that it has gone back to 120 km/h but you never saw the increase anywhere. You usually discover this when seeing that the limit is signposted on motorway exits to 100 from the normal 120, or by the cars passing you at speed… oh, that happens regardless. Same with road works, you will see the yellow signs advertising reduced speeds so you slow down, only to realise 5 km up the road there were no works and everyone is passing you at speed. Tunnels always have posted reduced speed limits, to either 80 or 100 and a few times Chris has been concerned that we will be rear-ended as he keeps to the limit and others race up behind with seemingly no intention of slowing.
However, we have been caught here, coming out of a tunnel after reducing our speed to the 100 limit we saw the 120 sign and increased our speed, only to receive a photo (yes, that’s us in the photo here) and fine in the mail for doing more than 100km/h. We revisited this same spot on a later journey (at the correct speed!) and felt a bit cheated as the speed camera was beyond the tunnel and in spitting distance of the open speed sign. If there are speed cameras in the tunnels, we think they must make a mint on fines! The other frustration is reduced speeds (100 or even 80) on wide stretches of road (3 lanes with sweeping curves) for many kilometres when other stretches of hilly or windy highway with only 2 lanes are still 120.
Restaurant hours: Spain is very different to the rest of Europe. Whereas in France many cafe doors shut at 9pm, in Spain you are lucky to find one open and serving food by that time. From time to time we have been very frustrated but generally have come to terms with this. We have learned that lunch generally starts at 2pm – the crowds of workers arrive
as the shops shut for afternoon siesta; you can get served from 1pm – but if you arrive around midday you get strange looks.
Several times we have checked the websites for a restaurant we want to visit and seen that they are open all day (WRONG!) – one or two we have even used the online booking system and got a table at 8pm (the earliest possible) to arrive and find the doors shut or staff mopping the floors looking at us with puzzlement as to why we are there so early… “come back later please”. Twice we have turned up after 8pm (as advised on the hours on the door) to find doors locked and staff sitting outside waiting for the boss to come and open up. We made the mistake of staying in a beach resort town out of season and expecting to find anywhere open before 8.30, not even tapas were available to tide us over. Or, deciding on a place to eat (in high summer) and turning up to find out the owners have gone on holiday and it’s closed. We generally aimed for 8.30, but even then the kitchen may not be open – when you are staying in hotel rooms and have done your dash for the day, it’s a long time to wait.
Tapas: In some places we are told that tapas come free with every drink, and in Granada and Cordoba we were assured this was standard. However, no-one tells us the etiquette of this. We have learned: order your drink and wait to see if something comes. Check out what is happening with other patrons. And ask if it becomes clear that others are getting complimentary tapas and yours haven’t arrived. Also, don’t start looking at the menu until you get your free tapa – we made the mistake one lunchtime of sitting and ordering a drink and asking for a menu. Our drinks came, as did those for tables around us. And the plates of tapas rolled out for those tables. Eventually we asked, and it was suggested to us that as we were thinking about ordering off the menu why would we need a tapa? (We found it amusing that we were going to pay for food, but not get a tapa, and those around were not and got free stuff…?) We were disappointed so many times and we still don’t think we’ve got this tapas thing sussed.
Coffee… We are not coffee snobs, but living in NZ we are spoilt by having a range of roasters, and excellent baristas who make delicious coffee. Spain was very hit and miss, more misses than hits, so we definitely celebrated when we got a cup that was over the norm. Almost every bar and restaurant will have an espresso machine, but sadly, very few know how to work them… cafe con leche (coffee with milk – latte) was the go-to as a cappuccino often came with a strong espresso in the bottom of the cup and a lot of fluffy milk on top and they
didn’t really mix together. Once we ordered, we would sit and wait for the sound of the coffee machine starting up, and cringe as they heated the milk. Generally, the milk jug would be sat under the steam nozzle and we would hear it going and going and going and….! There was no cradling of the jug to check that the temperature was right and the texture of the milk was silky. No! Many coffees were delivered in glasses, so hot you couldn’t pick them up for 5 minutes and, even then, had to wrap a serviette around the glass so your fingers didn’t get burnt. The actual coffee roast varied too, sometimes it was very bitter, but other times there would be a pleasant aftertaste. We did find a few places on our travels worth returning to and we did!
Failed Construction: It saddens us to see so many houses and developments started but never finished. The downturn and economic crisis seems to show its ugly face in every town, not just the large resort areas. We have seen partly completed blocks of houses, stand-alone mansions and huge resorts, in so many areas, abandoned. Some look almost
complete but are now covered with graffiti. Alongside a huge occupied condominium complex will stand another one almost as huge, but with empty windows and even cranes abandoned on the site. Other areas have all the infrastructure of roads, footpaths and lighting, but nothing ever started to be built there. And yet, just down the road, a new complex will have been started and building work is going on. One very sad sight is on the road from Mojacar to Carboneras where a huge hotel (?) stands half-finished in the most stunning site with views over the Mediterranean Sea – but now it stands abandoned, a visual blight on this beautiful coastline.
Even more than the buildings, we have seen road or railway construction that would have cost billions, empty and unused. Driving towards Mojacar from Almeria, we spotted a dual carriageway with tunnels and viaducts alongside the Autovia – we have now been told it’s a high-speed railway line, but has never been completed due to poor planning about its entry to Almeria. They have tarmaced the surface, which is why we thought it was a road, but once again Eurozone money has been poured into infrastructure that lies incomplete. There have also been highways constructed and left unopened and unused. It seems that the Spanish do not like to use toll roads and so these roads have never been opened, but stand there as testament to poor planning and wasteful use of money and resources. We drove one toll road for almost 100km and saw about 10 other cars going in our direction.
Google maps: This is not just a Spanish problem, I suspect if you use Google maps you will have found yourself at some stage wondering why Ms Google is taking you on such a
strange route. We have ended up on farm tracks, being asked to turn down non-existent paths, driving up and
over a very steep and narrow mountain road when we could have driven around the mountain in half the time, taken on shortcuts that end up at a dead-end or crossing a ford over a river when a bridge lies up the road. Ms Google isn’t up to date on road works and when a tiny town has closed roads due to roadworks (and the Spanish direct you with one arrow and expect you to know the rest of the detour), she tries endlessly to get you back to the original route, so you have no idea where you are heading.
In all of this, we have loved Spain. It was a wonderful experience and we believe that we made the right choice about which country to base ourselves in for the majority of our time in Europe.
♥ The Spanish people are friendly and laid back, welcoming and patient with our lack of skills in the Spanish language.
♥ The cost of living here is so good, we were amazed at the prices of groceries and also of eating out. It meant that our savings for the year were not depleted as quickly as they could have been in France or the UK.
♥ The food is wonderful, we loved the choice at the markets and supermarkets of fresh meats and vegetables. We are particularly missing the “chuletas” – pork chops that we can’t replicate anywhere else.
♥ The landscape is wide and varied and we enjoyed exploring almost all of Spain.
♥ The roads are very good (mostly) with wide shoulders for cycling and the Spanish motorists have a great respect for cyclists.
♥ We’ve appreciated the generous pour of gin in a G&T glass too, it has surprised us just how much alcohol they give you and then plonk a can or bottle of tonic for you to top up the glass.
All in all I can say that we’ve loved Spain far more than we were frustrated by it. I’d love to return one day and enjoy all of what it has to offer. The weather, the beaches, the people, the scenery, the value for money… I could go on, so don’t let my observations of its failings put you off at all.