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I’ve been thinking for some time about writing one more post about Spain. There are so many different impressions made and experiences had that I couldn’t pick one topic. There were the incredibly friendly people, hearing people talk about their shopping experiences in the US, suddenly having the ability to use a credit card again, suddenly adjusting from using dari as my second language to speaking in spanish, or my enjoyment of just walking winding streets, hearing the bells from the town church. I was thinking about this as a rounded a corner yesterday, and it hit me that I had to make this post about something that recurred so many times that I stopped counting after around the 9th time, despite my initial surprise and curiosity.

I lived outside Washington, DC for 4 years. Since it is the capital, it’s not surprising that a lot of protests and demonstrations are staged there. People want to have their voice heard by the people setting policy and create visibility. And the range of topics vary from pro peace, anti tobacco, pro tea, anti bankers, to pro abortion. One time I saw a group of people get on the metro with t-shirts indicating that they had just been at a rally to support “grandparents rights when raising their grandchildren.” (It made me think of my parents who did just that.) The topics are just that diverse.

In Kabul, I was always aware of any demonstrations happening in the city, and there were lots of them. Our security team made the area of any demonstration out of bounds, and if there was enough concern, we would be restricted even further. While these seemed a bit excessive, there were plenty of reasons why my security took a hard stance. I still remember the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident with Afghan fatalities in Kabul.

Yet, given all of this, I was so surprised by the people in Spain protesting. At first I would try to figure out from the signs or chants what the issue of contention was, but after seeing 5 different protests about 5 completely different topics within 2 weeks, my tactic switched to avoiding them (the noise of whistle blowing really is obnoxious).

Maybe it’s Spring-Protest-Season, or maybe this is an atypical year, but whatever it is, the people of Spain definitely participate in their right to demonstrate no matter the size of the city or town.

Last week was, putting it mildly in this overwhelmingly declared Catholic country, a big deal. Many people had the entire week off, and almost all had Friday-Sunday off. Like with most holidays, hotels increase prices, and the only stores that appear to be open during the day are candy stores maintaining a brisk business. (Bakeries are also doing very well as every family picks up a couple traditional cakes, but their hours seem to be restricted to mornings.)

So what is there to do besides sitting around eating sweets? Well, not much really. Mostly people are visiting friends and family and hanging out in the streets. Each day there was a procession (more below), sermons, conducting certain rituals, and potential music. All of these start or happen at the various churches around town. And it all culminates on Easter Sunday with the biggest procession.

I’ve seen processions in South America, where a group of people walk around with a drum and a huge depiction of something (usually gory) on their shoulders. They didn’t impress me much, but I was curious what would happen in Spain. Full disclosure: I used to be quite a fan of parades in the US, but when they stopped throwing candy (for “safety” reasons) I never quite got over it.

So here are a couple pics (taken in a dark cathedral or outside in the weather).

Getting ready to leave the church…

And those women on the right side are wives of important people of the church/town who follow behind the people carrying Mary.

Los niños carrying the implements…

The biggest Easter procession (different town from the other 2 pics)

My guidebooks says that the KKK “borrowed their look from the hoods worn by the brotherhoods during the processions of Semana Santa. However, I couldn’t find solid evidence supporting this, despite the eerie similarity.

The only thing about the procession I enjoyed were the instruments: drums, trumpets, and bagpipes (this last one is only in the parts of the country with Celtic traditions),

Fun trivia

Most common outdoor toy for children in Pontevedra, Spain? Over 60% of children polled were playing with…an umbrella. It rains (or mists) so often and so unpredictably (minimum of 30 minutes to go from blue skies to rain) that every family carries a couple around with them. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that one.

The second most popular outdoor toy of children (and probably the most common across all of Spain)? Put your guess in the comments! (Seriously, you should know this one.)

For the 2 months that I’m in Spain, I’m doing some combination of traveling and squatting. I just finished 2 weeks of almost exclusive traveling. And while the time wasn’t what I would call frantic, finally sitting at my computer to work, pay bills, respond to emails, and just generally catch up feels quite welcome. And I’m so glad that I arrived at a hotel with consistent, reliable internet yesterday. (High speed internet is found across Spain, but internet access at the overwhelming majority of hotels is downright crappy, leaving you searching for tapas restaurants, bars, or other attractions with the WiFi sign posted.)

For the next few days, I will be squatting in the amazingly green town of Santiago de Compostela. It’s in Galacia, a region culturally quite different from the rest of Spain, due to the geography (north of Portugal and mountains) and history (Celts settled the region). The region gets a lot of rain, similar to Ireland, so all of the rocks and buildings are covered with moss, grasses, and ivy, giving the whole place a very old, homey feeling.

Most people associate the town with St. James, who lived in the region (although I think all of the other references about his body being returned and found years later were part of a marketing campaign, at the time to convince the christians to kick the Moors out of Spain). And as part of the association with St. James, the town is the end of El Camino de Santiago (or Way of St. James). It’s a big pilgrimage for Catholics.

This makes the place perfect for getting some work done while having some small things to see and do.

Random tips and observations about food in Spain:

  • At the grocery store, which resembles a medium-sized 7-11 to me, I’m the only person in line with more than 4 items in my basket. This feels odd since I’m only picking up a few things…
  • It can be very expensive to eat out for all of your meals. I always carry some snacks around (from a mini-mart or outdoor market). More importantly, be prepared to eat tapas as meals. This might be tasty cheese, sausage, ham, anchovies, deep fried fish, olives & capers, or croquettes. Order 2 or 3, and then see if you need any more.
  • Often you will pay different prices if you sit at a table versus the bar. I prefer to sit at the bar, mostly to see the tapas and watch the food being prepared. However, be aware that many, many bartenders are very busy, difficult to flag down, and generally seem discontent to bother with you.
  • Waiters will bring you bread (or rolls or some crackers), which will be billed to you if you eat it. Typically, it’s a Euro, but at one nice place, it was 3 Euros!
  • If you ask for water at a restaurant, expect to pay for it, unless you specifically ask for tap water (“agua de grifo”). And don’t be surprised if they look at you funny when you ask for this.
  • Don’t tip in Spain, although you can always round the bill up to the nearest Euro if you get good service.
  • Expect to make mistakes when ordering food. At one restaurant, while I was out of sorts, I asked for 2 eggs and ham. I thought the waiter was confirming the order by questioning the number of eggs, but instead he brought me 2 plates of eggs and ham…
  • The typical times for eating will throw you for a loop. Most places close for several hours during the day (siesta). Those timings vary by the region and the establishment.
  • Be prepared for pig, and lots of it! Coming from a Muslim country, where I only had pork 3xs (bacon for two brunches and ham at Christmas), it has been a salty adjustment.

After being confined by security for so long, I have really come to appreciate just walking around. Here are some pics from my walks around town and the surrounding countryside.

The best chocolate-filled croissants! (Not to mention the crazy streets)

Flowers and other decorations fill almost every window.

Beautiful view.

Wild flowers fill the spaces between rows of grapevines.

Orange trees (and lemon and almond) line the roads. The fruit is a little sour but so fresh.

Beautiful water off the coast of Moraira, and what I didn’t take a picture of is all the families out enjoying the beach. This place is Kid Central.

It took 3 planes, 2 subways, 1 train, 2 trams, and a lot of walking to get to my current destination.

I looked into quite a few different options, but with only 4 days to buy tix out of Kabul, I had to go with my back-up plan. Don’t feel bad; it’s a highly ranked back-up plan.

It just so happens that my buddy owns a condo in Spain, where he and his family vacation. He was kind enough to offer it to me as soon as he heard about my situation. So I am located in a rather quaint Spanish town about 10 kilometers from the beach. I’m decompressing entirely – reading, journaling and doing other writing, watching tv, researching, walking around town, getting to know some of the friendly shopkeepers, trying to figure out what I used to do in the kitchen, taking walks in the countryside, doing a little work and training for my company, and just spending time thinking and planning. I’ll hang out here for 3 weeks and then travel around a bit of Spain for 2 more weeks. This is my first visit to Spain so I’d love to hear suggestions for where to go.

 

Amusing fact – I tried to get some friends to go to Spain with me last Spring when I saw some particularly cheap plane tix (this was well before Afghanistan was on my radar). That never came together, but here I am only a year later how a much longer visit.

 

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