Getting to know Spain
Spain for the winter seemed the obvious choice, but as neither of us had really spent a great deal of time here, it was also a great choice! We were excited to explore this country and to get to know it like we got to know France on our travels. Travelling by road and moving around allows you get more intimately familiar with a country’s culture and quirks, and more quickly than you might otherwise.
Things we commonly notice first are the sounds of a country, a bit like a soundtrack, as well as familiar landmarks. Of course the landscape, flora & fauna, wildlife and domestic animals in different areas, as well as agriculture. Then there are the habits of the people; when certain activities take place and where, what times are best to go out, how and when to greet people and whether people appreciate being greeted by strangers, different types and shapes of café’s and eateries and the types of food served.
In this way, we start to learn about Spain. We’ve been in this country only a month but we learn a little every day. First in Catalonia, which we now know is notably different from Valenciana in almost every way. The Catalans are known to be business people and it shows; things cost slightly more here and more things are chargeable. The people are a bit more stern. Most notably, there is a lot of political activity which isn’t in the least bit surprising considering the events in recent times.
Now we’re in Valenciana, we’re starting to notice a slower pace of life. Things are a bit cheaper and the people are more likely to interact with strangers. The landscape has changed too, from red earth to more mountainous, rocky terrain and of course the vast expanses of orange groves. The landmarks often include ancient ruins, whether roman or templar or roman, turned into templar, turned into more modern forts used in the wars of the 19th century in Spain and even later. Although we continue to look for church spires to guide our way to town centres, these are often changed to lower dome-shaped churches. Often, the view is blocked by the many, many apartment blocks in towns, which tower over almost everything. Houses are found more on the edges of towns. Quite striking along the touristic coast, is the abrupt line where the development stops and the countryside begins. The ghost holiday towns are also quite a common feature; roads laid, street lights in place all around parcels of undeveloped wasteland, part developed apartment blocks or empty apartment blocks.
Art deserves a special mention. It seems all areas so far are committed to art in the way of sculptures and statues, ranging from smaller ones to the huge and abstract ones. It seems no expense is spared in installing such art. My favourite so far being by the planetarium in Grao de Castellón, yet I have no picture!
As for the soundtrack of Spain? So far, it has to be the barking of dogs. It is by far the most common sound we hear, constantly and everywhere! We wonder if they are used as guard dogs in the orange groves but even when we stay in residential areas, the barking never stops. It makes our barky Luna look like a very well-behaved dog indeed. Whilst in Sitges, we did also hear a rave, which seemed to start at 5am and continued well into the next afternoon, but luckily that was a one-off. Surprisingly, there is a lot less of church bells than we expected, although Tarragona certainly delivered on that one with bells every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day. Finally there is the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, one of our favourite sounds in the whole world.
The main thing we really have to learn is the language. There are quite a few official languages and we picked up some Catalan on our way south, but now we’re focusing on Castilian and slowly picking up words and understanding more of what the locals try to tell us. Several language apps are helping us greatly with our efforts.
Finally for now, we’re learning about the Spanish way of life, day-to-day. We read that Spanish days are long and so far, we find we struggle to keep up. A lot of exercise happens in the morning and on weekends. As in France, Decathlon does a roaring trade with large parts of the population sporting their gear for runs/walks/skates/rides etc. Some work gets done later in the morning and over what we would call lunchtime. After what we would call lunchtime, their siesta starts until 5pm. For us, this is the time to come home before dark and we start thinking about dinner. For the Spanish, the ‘afternoon’ starts then until about 9pm, when they go home for dinner and family time. So far, we’ve adjusted by sleeping later on account of it getting light later and some days we manage to have lunch later, but we haven’t quite managed to start our ‘afternoon’ around 5pm and by 9pm thoughts are most definitely turning to bedtime…
Safe to say, we have a lot more to learn, and I’m sure we’ll find more differences in regions as is the same in all countries. Although I have a funny feeling that the barking dogs will be a nationwide theme…