Sunday, April 11, 2010

Backpacking Across Europe (Spain)

John and I set out backpacking across Europe at the beginning of March, 2010. Okay I am exaggerating a bit as we only traveled through 3 countries in 2 weeks and even though we did have backpacks, it wasn't like we were roughing it by camping - no we stayed in hotels and traveled by train.

As it was our first time overseas, it was quite an experience. We flew from Saskatoon to Chicago (3 hours), Chicago to London (8 hours) and from London to Madrid (2 hours). It was a long flight and we literally had to run to each of our connecting flights as we definitely would have missed them had we walked to our gates considering how huge the airports were. The weirdest thing about our flight was on one of them, they served milk in a plastic tube that was approx. 2 tablespoons worth - odd. Just for your reference, Madrid is 7 hours ahead of Saskatoon.

Once we arrived in Madrid, it was literally the first time I felt like a true foreigner as I made the mistake of thinking everyone could speak English. Our backpacks, that literally had everything in it minus our credit cards and passport, missed the connecting flight from London to Madrid so after some discussion, we made a claim for our bags and tried to find our hotel (I was a bit more worried about my backpack as I had borrowed it from a good friend after finding out how much a new one costs).

The weather wasn't that great, probably around 0 the entire time we were there but we later found out we missed a major storm that was an anomaly so I was thankful for the 0 degree weather and it was still nicer than home (usually it is hot out around this time). As we didn't have our backpacks we decided to walk and explore the city. It should be noted that Madrid streets are NOT set up on a grid system, at least their main city area isn't, so finding our hotel was hard. We had a map but every street started with Casa. It was made even harder after realizing I wrote the address down wrong, oh well, at least I tried. We ended up going to a different hotel who was nice enough to phone the correct one to confirm they still had our room booked. Even after learning where the hotel was, it was still hard to find it. I even resorted in asking a local where it was and she spoke to me in Spanish and pointed the way.

We finally checked into our room where I had my first run in with a bidet :P The hotel staff were super nice and spoke a bit of English. They were nice enough to call on our behalf (in Spanish) to inquire about our bags which were delivered the next day at 10:00. The food in Madrid was awesome, Spanish people love their tapas, jambon (ham) and socializing. The city had numerous squares as a reference point when locating certain locations and the architecture was unbelievable (it makes Saskatoon look a bit dull) . I made John go to the zoo which was surprisingly huge and fun. We also went to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia where it was the first time I discovered you can take photos of certain paintings.

We stayed in Madrid for 3 nights and then took a train to Barcelona. The difference between Madrid and Barcelona was almost night and day. Madrid was much more conservative where people were fairly dressed up and Barcelona was more modern. We stayed in a hotel that was 5 minutes away from the beach but again the weather was not cooperating and rained off and on. We spent a lot of time walking around, exploring the Rambla street and huge seafood market. I had my first experience touring a castle and seeing the Segrada Familia which completely blew me away with all the details that went into constructing such an enormous church as well as Antoni Gaudi's other creation, La Pedrera. Photos of both Madrid and Barcelona can be found here.

In general, these are some of the differences I experienced about Spain:
  1. More conservative overall in general
  2. Bidets - do I need to say more
  3. Half glass shower partitions (no doors)
  4. Hotels are small
  5. Spanish people love their tapas and eating late; certain meals comes in a certain way without providing you other alternatives (ie eggs are cooked sunny side up)
  6. Naps are a necessity as shops open late in the morning and close for a portion of the afternoon
  7. Street are very narrow; people love their scooters and there are no trucks; there are numerous squares where street performers perform at
  8. A lot of people smoke
  9. Alcohol is cheap but they don't have pints or schooners of beer; Usually the selection of alcohol is limited as they just serve the best wines to begin with
  10. Metros are very easy to figure out and cheap to get around
  11. Tipping is low and not really done
  12. Pop still comes in bottles (no fountain pop) and people love to drink sparkling water
Stay tuned for a review of France and Italy.

2 comments:

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Tony said...

That was a very interesting and entertainingly candid review! I like the list of differences at the end.