Tag Archives: Spain

Climbing in Montserrat

We took a short break from our travels to meet up with our friend Lee who was in Barcelona, Spain on business.  We left the S&M Motel safe and secure in a campground in Budapest, Hungary and arranged for a taxi to pick us up there at 3 AM in order to make our 6 AM flight.  Diane and I had arranged to meet Lee at the Barcelona Airport at 9 AM where we were picking up a rental car.  Unfortunately, Lee was waiting at the Budget car rental desk at Terminal 1 while we were waiting at the Budget car rental desk at Terminal 2, but this misstep was quickly resolved with a phone call and a shuttle bus ride.

We spent our first day and night in Barcelona.  After some wine in our hotel room and a mohito at the hotel’s 360 degree rooftop bar, we headed to the tapas bar Quimet y Quimet highly rated by locals and traveling ‘foodies’.  It is small and crowded, standing room only, which is OK because there are no chairs.  The walls are stacked high with wine and other delicacies.  They specialize in tantalizing seafood, many of which have been preserved in tins.  Exceptional food.  Some of the best we’ve had in Europe.  Particularly memorable were the olives wrapped in anchovies.  A taste explosion.  My mouth is watering as I write this.

Crowded taps bar with bottle lining the walls

Quimet y Quimet

Completed food orders are passed through the crowd from the small bar area where the food is prepared. Like most tapas bars in Spain, the many small paper napkins used are discarded and accumulate crumpled on the floor throughout the evening.  We drank the house dark beer and then switched to some terrific red wine.  Afterwards we found our way to a nearby bar recommended by the woman serving us at Quimet, where we ate spicy olives and continued drinking.

Two tapas on white plate with sun-dried tomatoes, shrimp, and caviar

Amazing Tapas

Patrick and Diane standing in tapas bar with Patrick preparing to drop a white napkin on the floor

Enjoying ourselves at Quimet y Quimet

The next morning, nursing our hangovers, Lee and I ate at the hotel breakfast buffet.  Diane wasn’t ready to face a buffet, and stayed in bed until we returned.  We got packed, loaded the car, and drove about an hour to the village of Monistrol.  It is located at the base of Montserrat, a multi-peaked mountain formation that is well known as the home of Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine Abbey.  The sanctuary there is home to the Virgin of Montserrat, a statue of Madonna and child, one of the many Black Madonnas of Europe.  Diane and I had visited on a dark day last November, and were glad to see it again in better weather.

Black madonna in with gold clothing, seated with child on her lap

The Virgin of Montserrat

After a stop at the local climbing store where virtually no English was spoken, and at some local shops to get food for lunch, we drove up the winding road to the parking area, then caught the Funicular de Sant Joan (a funicular railway) up to the top of the mountain.  From here it was only a short walk to the base of the Gorros, a series of small peaks made of the pink conglomerate rock found throughout Montserrat.  We started to climb the 5-star route Bandalona on Gorro Frigi, but soon lost the line and ended up finishing on Opera Prima.

Lee wearing shorts, t-shirt, and white helmet balancing on side of Gorro Frigi

Lee climbing on Gorro Frigi (photo credit: Diane)

The climbing in Montserrat is predominantly face climbing, where purchase is gained on the many small rocks that appear to be stuck into the rough surface of the peaks.  The other climbers nearby were a group of young people from, of all places, Newfoundland.  They complained bitterly about the runouts between protective bolts, despite the fact that the routes on the Gorros are considered to be the most well-protected of Montserrat’s notoriously run-out climbs.

Small climber in the middle of a large grey wall

Patrick Climbing on Gorro Frigi  (Photo credit: Diane)

After 5 pitches we reached the top then climbed down the back side to join Diane who was waiting for us near the base.  After a celebratory beer, we walked down to the Monastery the long way, via the climber’s refuge at Saint Benet (another climbing area here).  There we met the refuge guardian Angel (not the kind with wings, but a real man named ‘Angel’ whose job is ‘guardian’ of this climber’s hut), who tried to be very helpful despite his limited English.  He told us that there are over 6000 climbing routes on the peaks of Montserrat, with only about 5000 published in one guide book or another.  A lifetime of climbing within a few square kilometers.

The next day we decided to climb El Cavall Bernat, a huge free-standing needle that is the symbol of the area.  This monolith, standing over 700 feet tall, is a test piece, a right of passage for local climbers.  All those who climb it are considered members of Grup Cavall Bernat, an honorific climbers club founded in 1978 whose sole requirement for membership is having climbed the peak.  We chose to climb the most stunning profile of the mountain known as Punsola Reniu.

Large grey tower with orange line showing our route

El Cavall Bernat with Punsola Reniu route marked.

We got a late start since breakfast at our Hostel Guillemes, per the Spanish schedule, was not available until 9 AM and afterwards we needed to buy some food for lunch.  By the time we drove up the mountain to the parking area, racked our gear, and completed the steep hike to the base (about 45 minutes), it was late and it was hot.  We were baking in the sun as we started to climb around 1 PM.  I backed off the first pitch, not confident in my psych having not climbed outdoors in almost 2 years.

Climber part way up tower with rope running, up as viewed from base of tower

Patrick on the first pitch. Notice how steep the upper pitches are!

Lee was a rock star.  He led and we made short work of the first 3 pitches, gaining on the party of 2 who were high up on the face above us, the only other people visible.

Climber in sunshine approaching the top as viewed from the summit

Patrick on the last pitch of Punsola Reniu

By pitch 3 we made it into the shade, a welcome relief from the heat of the afternoon.  The difficulty of the climbing and the steepness of the route both increase steadily.  The final pitch leaves the belay station, turns a corner, and requires mandatory free climbing to the summit which is adorned with a statue of the Madonna and Child.

Metal status of Madonna with child on concrete base on the summit

Madonna and Child on the summit

Patrick on left in blue jacket with orange helmet. Lee on right with red jacket and white helmet.

Patrick and Lee on the summit!

Diane spent her day wandering the small town and enjoying lunch out.  After rappelling off the summit and completed the long down climb and hike out, we showered and then joined her for dinner at the same bar in the town square that we’d eaten at the night before.  Spanish beer with calamari, cockles, meatballs, potatoes, and bread.

On the morning of Day 3 we changed to a different hotel as our room was no longer available.  The next hotel wasn’t nearly as nice, but it was cheaper.  Lee and I rode the funicular up and climbed Magdalena Superior, another one of the Gorros peaks.  Another spectacular line of increasing difficultly and a great top out.  We rappelled the route and were back to the hotel before Diane, who we learned afterwards was getting her hair done at a local salon by a young woman who spoke almost no English.  Diane said she used a lot of hand gestures and pointing to communicate, which seemed to work well because her hair looked great.

That night we ate at the hotel’s restaurant.  Diane chose it after hearing from several local sources that it was good.  We shared a fine dining verison of patatas bravas (potatoes with spicy tomato sauce that translates as ‘wild potatoes’) and a succulent appetizer platter followed by an amazing pan of lobster paella.

On our last day of climbing, Lee and I still had the energy to climb a via ferrata (translates from Italian as ‘the iron way’), a style of climbing where the route is augmented with cables or rungs to make the climbing faster and safer.  The first such routes were established to allow troops to move through the Alps more quickly and safely.  Teresina ascends Sant Jeroni, the highest peak of Montserrat.  It was great to climb so quickly and freely and to finish by pulling over the railing of the viewing platform that hikers can only walk to.

The next morning we caught an early flight back to Budapest.  A very enjoyable 5 days.  It was great to be climbing again, especially in such a spectacularly beautiful location.  The warmer weather was fabulous; we haven’t had much so far this trip.  It was terrific to climbing with my friend Lee and to complete some outstanding routes, each of which topped out on a different peak.  A wonderful getaway during our extended travels.

A Room with a View (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post from Martin of the S&M Motel.  Thank-you Martin!  This is Martin’s second guest post on DreamBigLiveBoldly.com.  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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There’s a niche in the corner of King Charles’ palace in Alhambra, Spain, where you can look across an 800 year old building void, through some Moorish lattice work, into another world.

Alhambra, (Arabic meaning ‘The Red’) sits on a hilltop overlooking modern Granada in south-eastern Spain. This famous city fortress palace has a thought provoking history.

In 312 AD Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (i.e. most of present day Europe). By 390 AD Christianity was the only religion permitted in the empire. However, the 1000 year old empire could no longer sustain itself against external attack and internal decay.  In 476 the last Roman emperor sold his title and moved to his retirement home in what is now Split in Croatia.

The collapse of the Roman Empire left much of Western Europe without education, civil construction projects, employment, economic activity, law enforcement and, crucially, defence against attack.

One hundred years later, the tide of Islam that had been sweeping through northern Africa crossed the straits of Gibraltar into a vulnerable Spain. The invaders were ‘Moors’, relatively recently converted Muslim tribes from north Africa . They quickly occupied virtually all of Spain and stayed in charge for 700 years.

Alhambra architecture reflected in rectangular pool

In about 1250 the Moors began to build the fabulous fortified palace, Alhambra. For 200 years the palace grew in splendour; every inch of the staterooms, private apartments and bathing complexes was decorated with intricate carving, ceramics or gold leaf. Water features were installed everywhere. The latest technology was utilized to provide stunning pools, decorative fountains and cascades woven into stairs and walkways.

Mosaic of coloured tiles separated by white bands with small starsAn important aspect of Islamic art is its abstract nature. Muslims avoid images of people in order to avoid creating ‘graven images’ which are forbidden by their religion. As a result, abstract patterns using bold colours and shapes decorate the walls, ceilings and floors of Alhambra. These striking and original ceramics have inspired artists down through the centuries.

The period of Muslim rule in Spain is known for tolerance and cooperation between the three religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity). However, outside of Spain, the Christian world was not terribly happy with this state of affairs, and began to re-take Spain for their own faith.  Alhambra fell to Christian forces in 1492, ending Islamic rule over Spain.

The Catholics were now in charge at Alhambra.  The first thing the Catholic King (Charles the 5th) did was to build himself a palace within the existing complex.

Did Charles have his palace sympathetically placed among the Moorish architecture? Was he magnanimous in victory? Did he want to leave the previous palace complete for future generations to admire and learn from? Not really. He built his new palace right across the old one cutting off an entire wing, leaving just the façade of the south wing standing beside the central pool of the old Moorish palace.

In 1922 the artist M C Esher visited Alhambra and, like others before him, was inspired by the Moorish abstract ceramics. Escher’s art explores the space between objects. Characteristically he would fill a space between repeated images to form another series of repeated images, challenging the viewer with a choice of which series of objects to focus on.

Escher abstract with grey, white, and black repeated images

A sample of Escher's work

The viewer has to decide what to look at, the primary objects or the space in between which holds a significance of its own.

Today there is an exhibition of Esher’s work installed in King Charles’ palace. In the corner of the exhibition is a niche for those inquisitive enough to duck through its darkened entrance. In the far end of the niche is a window with a view into the building void between King Charles’ palace and the rear of the surviving south façade of the old palace. Through the lattice work in the façade can be seen the sunlit grandeur of the surviving Moorish architecture.

Looking across the void prompts thoughts of the time and space between the Christian and Muslim worlds, between medieval and modern Europe — thoughts of history, power and politics. It’s an interesting place to sit.  I’d recommend it.

Happy New Year!

S&M

El Gato Con Botas

We arrived in Madrid in mid-afternoon and booked into the only open campsite near the city. Although it was later in the day, it was only a short walk and metro ride to the center of the city. We arrived at the Plaza del Callao station after dark and ascended into a crowd. There were lots of people and bright lights. As our eyes adjusted, we saw a crowd barrier cordoning off a movie theatre that opened on to the square. Curious, we responded to that intrinsic human instinct to see what all the fuss is about, and made our way forward through the crowd. We were able to get within a few feet of the barrier with only a couple of people in front of us. Only then did we piece together what was happening.

Large screen above Cines Callao showing advertising for Madrid Premiere WeekWe had arrived in the midst of a movie premiere, part of the Madrid Premiere week. The crowd was gathering in anticipation of the stars walking the red carpet, which was right in front of us, just on the other side of the barrier. Television crews were forming up on the other side of the carpet.

Male & female flamenco dancers poised to begin a number on the red carpet

Flamenco dancers warming up the crowd

To keep the crowd entertained and the energy up, a large screen high on the front of the theatre showed clips from the movie. Music played on loudspeakers. Costumed characters from the movie walked the red carpet. Two flamenco dancers performed periodically. It was lively, but we really had no idea what to expect. As we waited we were able to sidle closer, within arm’s reach of the barrier, but still not at the front.

The film was in Spanish so we figured the actors were probably not ones that we knew. Beautiful and interesting people in fine clothes started to arrive to the great interest of the media and excitement of the crowd, which began jostling about and pushing forward for a closer look. I didn’t feel comfortable mounting the person ahead of me, so I tightened my core and held my ground, holding back the people behind me. After a while, my calves began to burn as they resisted the leverage caused by the steady pressure from behind. By the time the main stars arrived, I was almost cramping. Who knew that star gazing would be such a workout!

It turns out we were wrong about not knowing the actors. Walking down the aisle, flirting with the flamenco dancer, came Antonio Banderas. He was taking his time, talking to the crowd and signing autographs.

Antonio Banderas with flamenco dancer on red carpet

Antonio Banderas flirting with flamenco dancer

Despite his short hair, which isn’t his best look, Diane was ecstatic.

Close up of Diane in crowd looking at Antonio

Diane did NOT approve this less than flattering picture!


She was close enough to touch him. A woman passed her camera forward to Diane, asking her to take a picture of Antonio..

Antonio Banderas on red carpet

Following closely behind Antonio was another star that I almost overlooked in the excitement. Salma Hayek waltzed down the carpet gracefully. Though not as flamboyant and crowd pleasing as Antonio, she looked beautiful.

Salma Hayek walking the red carpet with her handlers

Salma was harder to get a good picture of because she is vertically challenged!]

Head shot of Salma Hayek bing interviewed by young reporter

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the movie being premiered was El Gato con Botas 3D. This literally translates from Spanish as ‘The Cat with Boots’, but is known in English as Puss in Boots.

El Gato Con Boas advertisement showing on screen above the theatre

This unexpected little adventure was complete in less than 2 hours. As soon as the stars entered the theatre, the crowd dispersed and we moved on to enjoy an evening promenade through the town squares followed by tapas and wine for dinner. When traveling, one never knows when something interesting is going to happen. It’s great to be open to the opportunities that present themselves and to enjoy what life brings my way.

Mascot of El Gato Con Botas on the red carpet having his picture taken

El Gato con Botas himself!

Flamenco

Flamenco and bull-fighting are perhaps the two biggest symbols of Spain, the things that come to mind when people think of this country.  We knew that we wanted to experience flamenco, as most tourists do, and saved this event until the city of Seville in the south of Spain, the Andalusian region where flamenco originated.

After purchasing our tickets the night before, we arrived at the small Los Gallos theatre early to get good seats.  The maximum capacity is 120 people but this being a night in early December with the 2011 Davis Cup tennis tournament on television (happening right here in Seville), the audience was small, only about 20 people.  Our waitress told us that if it wasn’t for the tennis, there would be almost no tourists in town at this time of year.

The room was simple.  A small stage, about 5 meters wide by 3 meters deep.  On it, 3 wooden chairs with wicker and an anvil standing in the rear corner for decoration.  On the back wall of the stage was a course painting of a cock fight in red and black.  At the left rear of the stage, a tiny twisting staircase disappeared upwards.

We ordered Sangria, sweet and fruity, the first we’ve had in Spain, which sat on the little table in front of our small and closely packed seats.  They were lightly padded and comfortable enough given that there was nobody on either side of us due to the small crowd.

The lights dimmed.  A guitarist and two male singers dressed all in black took the stage.  It began with just guitar, only rhythm, with the strings muted.  Soon the men started to clap a tightly controlled rhythm, like a syncopated metronome.  Every clap was sharp, clear, and precise.  They emphasized certain beats by tapping or stomping their heels on the wooden floor. The guitar began to ring, alternating between pulsing strums and fast picking, always keeping to the cadence of the hands and the feet.

A beautiful young woman descended the stairs.  She was dressed in a long, green dress, tight down to the hips, then extending in a cascade to a ruffled train of over a meter.  She raised her hands in the air, assumed a striking posture, and began to move.  She was very controlled at first, with the smallest of arm movements and tiny pulses of feet barely visible beneath her dress.

Flamenco dancer in green dress on stage with singers in background

Her hands were posed, her fingers long and painted.  They transitioned meticulously from one beautiful position to the next, moving about her wrists independently.  Occasionally, her fingers would snap in rapid succession, as if she had more fingers and more snap than normal.

As the music grew, she moved across the stage, twisting and turning, always maintaining a strong stance.  Her posture was exaggerated and dramatic yet continously appealing, like an athlete transitioning powerfully from one elaborate model’s pose to the next.  With curved back, extended leg, and raised arms she seemed like lion about to pounce.  Her dress swung about her, not haphazardly, but carefully managed through a series of kicks and spins.  Sometimes the full train wrapped around her feet tightly yet she always extricated herself gracefully.  Her face changed expression to match her movements.  Sometimes so strong as to appear angry and intimidating, the next playful or warm or contented.  Her carriage, poise, and attitude exuded passion.

Flamenco dancer in green dress twirling (blurry image)

The singers grew louder.  Their voices were strong, sometimes surprisingly so, and they pushed the pitch higher, straining each breath to the end in a plaintive wail, an aching cry tinged with longing and desire.

The rhythms were complicated in structure, mesmerizing in effect.  The performance was elegant and controlled yet shocked by periodic explosions in the dance, or the rhythm, or the voice.  It gradually built towards a crescendo.  The result was powerful, exotic, and passionate.

The other guitar players, singers, and dancers were equally impressive and enticing.  We were entranced and would highly recommend this experience.

Flamenco dancer in red dress with two singers and two guitar players in background

Christmas Festivities – Spanish Style (guest post)

The following is a guest post from Martin of the S&M Motel.  Thank-you Martin!  This is also the first guest post on DreamBigLiveBoldly.com.  If you’d like to be a guest contributor, please contact me.

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We are temporary inhabitants of the S&M Motel and I have so enjoyed the blogs from Patrick that I thought I would let you know what’s going on in Spain as the festive season approaches.

Like most places in the world with a Christian tradition, the towns and cities of Spain are becoming illuminated with decorations. Abstract swirly things suspended from lampposts, LED animals tethered to the roadside verges, along with traditional Christian and secular symbols (e.g. stockings, Santas and sleigh bells).  Nothing unusual there.

However. there is a tradition in Spain of building and displaying Beléns (Belén is Spanish for Bethlehem).  They look like an expanded version of a nativity scene. Their central focus is a tableau of the stable and its inhabitants, but from there the scene expands in time and space. Scenes depicting Gabriel telling Mary she was expecting, Herod’s edict to slaughter the innocents, the flight to Egypt, and Jesus at the temple are all somehow woven into a kitsch cardboard and plastic, seemingly fairly inflammable, toy town construction.

Municipalities compete for the grandest Belén.  In Malaga the city hall is open to the public.  Their 10 metre long Belén, guarded by the police, is admired by streams of people filing in to admire the display. This is not just for kids.  The crowds include courting couples, businessmen, and elderly people, photographing and discussing the arrangement of the little town (literally) of Bethlehem.

The 10 metre Belén in Malaga City Hall

The 10 metre Belén in Malaga City Hall

Beléns are big business.  Every home should have one. Stalls sell figurines, prefabricated stables, watermills, bushes, trees, and anything else you can imagine (and some you can’t) to build a mega model nativity. The most bizarre figure we saw for sale was a Boxcar Willy lookalike on a rocking chair peeling an orange. There are grown men out at night hunting through hundreds of shepherds, Marys, baby Jesuses, camels, wise men, and carpentry shops for the perfect addition to their own private Beléns.

Close up of Belén Figurines

Belén figurines, individually priced and ready to go!

The other odd thing about continental European festivals — I make the distinction because we are from a bit of Europe that happens not to be on the continent — is the liberal detonation by children of street fireworks. I don’t know what happens in Canada, but in the old country one has to hold a special licence, have a safe piece of ground separated from the public, and have a damn good reason to let off any pyrotechnic device, let alone the cheap Chinese ones thrown around by the children of the continent.

These things (the fireworks not the children) are for sale from street market stalls that also sell other festive novelties, for example, father Christmas costumes for dogs, fake dog poo (always a crowd pleaser), and the ever popular self-inflating whoopee cushion.

Although some of these novelties are taken home and presumably treasured by generations to come, many of the fireworks are for instant use. The kids are bought bags of sweetie-looking whizzers, rockets, bangers, and buzzers (along with a novelty cigarette lighter) by doting parents and immediately set to the task of lighting and throwing them as quickly as possible. The streets are littered with discarded wrappers and spent casing. Some older people object, particularly in the case of shock or injury, but it doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm for the sport among the young.

One can only wonder at the number of times that a wayward firework has resulted in the devastation of a lovingly created Belen…… still they all seem to be having a merry time, bless.

Have a safe Christmas,

S&M

Impressions of Spain

    • The central part of the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain is situated, is a large, open, wind-swept plain dotted with small hills. It looks like Nevada in the old Westerns. Between the major cities like Madrid, located in the center of the country, there is a lot of open space between the farms and truck stops. This region is called Castillo because there are many ‘castles’ located on the small hills, a legacy of the 800 years of fighting between Catholics and Moors in Spain. The southern part of Castillo has small windmills on the plain, and was home to the fictional man from La Mancha, Don Quixote.
Patrick driving RV in Castillo

Man from Surrey tilting at Winnebagos

    • Much of Spain has poor soil, rusty coloured or dry and rocky. This is good for growing olives and grapes, but not great for other crops. There are some regions, like Galicia in the north-west, that are green and wet, more like our Pacific Northwest.
    • Spain has greatly varying regional cultures. Like Quebec, some parts of the country (e.g. Basque Country in the north and Catalonia in the north-east) barely consider themselves to be part of Spain. In these regions many people would like to separate, resulting in periodic protests and acts of violence. The European Union, which Spain is a part of, encourages regional diversity, and so separation from Spain is less of a priority recently since the countries formed by separation would presumably all belong to the EU anyhow.
    • It was a surprise for me to learn that although Spain has only 1 official national language (Español or Castillian), it has 3 co-official languages in certain regions (Basque in Basque Country, Catalan in Catalonia, and Galician in Galicia).
    • The Moors were Muslims from Northern Africa who invaded Spain in the year 711 by crossing the Mediterranean from Morocco. For 800 years they occupied portions, sometimes the majority, of Spain and Portugal, and even parts of France. Other Moors from Turkey had pushed as far as Eastern Europe (e.g. the former Yugoslavia, some parts of which remain Muslim today). It took many years of crusades by Catholics from across Europe to finally expel the Moors from Spain in 1492, the same year that Columbus (born in Italy) sailed from Spain to re-discover North America (the Vikings were there first). Under Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain entered a period of intolerance when many Jews and other non-Catholics were expelled or persecuted as part of the Spanish Inquisition.
    • Apparently only 20 percent of people here go to church on a regular basis, but it definitely feels like a Catholic country. There are large Catholic churches everywhere. The largest Cathedral in the world is in Seville (Sevilla) and Christopher Columbus is buried there. He died in poverty thinking that he’d discovered a Western route to Asia.
    • Seville Cathedral

      Seville Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See

    • Spain is very different than Mexico, the Spanish-speaking country that most influences North Americans’ perceptions. The food and water are safe to drink and Spanish food is very different than Mexican food. It is not particularly spicy. There are no burritos, no tacos, and no enchiladas. They do have a tortilla, but is an omelette, usually made with potatoes, and not a round, flat bread.

    • Madrid and Barcelona, the two largest cities in Spain with over 4 and 1 million people respectively, are very clean and cosmopolitan. Although there are many museums, historic sights, and narrow streets in the older parts of town, these cities are very modern with clean efficient subway and tram systems (nicer than Vancouver’s), elegant shopping, and fine restaurants. We did however notice some slums by the river on the outside of Barcelona.
    • The major cities of Spain all seem to have great places for strolling, whether they be large squares, pedestrian-only streets, or tree-lined boulevards. At night there are thousands of people of all ages walking the streets enjoying the night air, and just recently, white Christmas lights have been erected in all major public places, suspended over the streets like stars.
    • McDonald’s restaurants in Spain have automated kiosks where you can order directly, without waiting in line. You then proceed directly to a separate area at the end of the counter to get your food. It’s basically the same as the automated kiosks at movie theatres, self-check-in at airports or self-check-out in large stores. In general I’m against these self-serve options, but it’s handy for us because the kiosks allow you to switch the language to English. Expect to see this coming to a McDonald’s near you in the future. Will there be any service jobs left?
    • Also at McDonald’s in Spain, they have flush-less, water-saving urinals (which I’ve seen before), but these ones have advertising on the top that lights up when you get into position. Something to do while you wait.
    • In Spain, for the first time in 6 weeks, we’ve noticed more heavy people (more than in France or Italy).
    • Spaniards love to eat jamón, pronounced ‘ham-own’. It is similar to Italian prosciutto but is better than any ham I’ve ever eaten. It is carved directly off a cured pig’s leg (cloven hoof still attached) in very thin slices and sells for outlandish amounts (as much $5 or $10 a slice). The best Jamón Iberico de Bellota (also known as Jamón Iberico de Montanera) comes from free-range, acorn-fed back Iberian pigs and has been cured for over a year. We had jamón flavoured ripple chips the other day (much cheaper!)
Patrick slicing Jamon from a whole leg of pork

Patrick fondling about $300 worth of ham

  • Spaniards seem to be crazy over lotteries. Tickets are for sale everywhere, even from private sellers on tables on the street. Some nights there have been large lines at lottery outlets. Perhaps there is a big draw coming up?
  • In Castilla, the central region of Spain, they pronounce what would in other dialects of Spanish be an ‘s’ sound as ‘th’. Even with my limited ear for Spanish, it clearly sounds like they’re speaking with a lisp.

The Spanish Schedule

On the whole, Spanish people wake later than North Americans. They don’t eat a big breakfast, perhaps coffee and some toast, before beginning their work day around 9 AM. Later in the morning, around 11 AM, they take a break and have a snack, often accompanied by some wine. They stop work for lunch at around 2 PM, returning home if possible for a heavy lunch (2 or more courses) followed by a siesta. The siesta is a short mid-afternoon nap usually taken on a couch rather than in bed, for a maximum of 20-30 minutes.

Most Spanish adults (about 80 percent) keep with the custom of having a siesta in the middle of the afternoon. They then return to work around 4 PM and work until 7 or 8 PM. Dinner is eaten around 10 PM and is less filling than lunch. It is often followed by a walk. So they Spanish stay up late. Spanish prime time television on week nights does not begin until midnight! The average Spaniard sleeps about 40 minutes less per day (in total) than the average European. Perhaps this is why then need a nap!

Some people don’t follow the tradition of the siesta. Children have school hours similar to those in North America, returning home in late afternoon around the end of their parent’s siesta. But they stay up late like their parents, eating dinner at 10 PM, and can often be seen playing in the street after this time (on a school night!). Also, people working for multi-national corporations typically keep the American work schedule.

The siesta developed in an age when most people worked close to their homes. Those who commute long distances to work today are often without a place for siesta. They can be seen wandering about or napping on park benches while they wait to return to work. Apparently beauty salons and day spas are popular as people go there after lunch for a manicure or pedicure and a quick nap while receiving it.

As a result of the siesta, shops and government offices typically open at 9 or 10 AM, close for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon, and remain open until about 7 or 8 PM.

Restaurants don’t usually open for lunch until 1:30 or 2 PM. Any restaurant serving dinner before 9 PM is strictly for tourists. The staff don’t even sit down for their pre-work meal until after 8 PM. If you want to eat before 9 or 10 PM, a good option is to eat several tapas while enjoying a drink in a bar.

Although both the Italian and French take long lunch breaks, the Spanish are the only ones to make a habit of the siesta. It’s perhaps a natural by-product of the hot summer weather — rest when it is hot in the afternoon and be more active in the evening when it is cooler.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
Indian Proverb

If I’m going to eat a big meal, I think that it’s probably healthier to have it in the middle of the day (but when I’ve tried this, I often end up eating a big late dinner also, so that kind of defeats the purpose). I think it also lowers stress to take a break in the middle of the day, step away from work (even for a short while), and relax.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
From the Latin “si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi” meaning, “if you are in Rome, live in the Roman way; if you are elsewhere, live as they do there”.
Advice given by St. Ambrose to Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century, AD.

So, how have we adapted to the Spanish schedule? We’ve found that we’ve naturally started to stay up later and sleep in later. We’re also eating our meals later. It’s 10:15 PM now and Diane is just serving our supper. When we went out for lunch the other day in Barcelona we had a 3 course meal, and even though it was vegetarian, we were stuffed for hours afterwards, requiring only a light dinner. So far, we haven’t retreated back to the S&M Motel for a siesta, but perhaps that’s next.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

Proverb

I think I’ll go take a nap.