Friday, August 22, 2014

Notes from Spain

Here are some observations from my August, 2014 trip to Spain

Crazy parking in Gijon
Few people around here speak English so I have been unable to learn how the locals can park their cars on streets bumper-to-bumper and still get out. Here are two photos that illustrate. The first shows how close people park. Sometimes the bumpers touch!

The second photo shows the actual distance between cars. And the one pictured here is not an isolated scene — you see the same thing all over the place!

Would someone please explain to me how the car sandwiched between the other cars gets out?

And here are a couple more photos. The top one shows how people park right on street corners, in this case with the rear end of the vehicle extending onto the street. The photo below it is another example of a pinned car. The amount of room in front and back of the trapped car is less than two inches total. Houdini couldn't get out of that space.

Marlboro Man alive and well
People smoke here, a lot of them. All ages. The American tobacco companies must like Spain, and probably the rest of Europe, too, because as far as I can tell, smoking is still popular in most of the countries. Marlboro cigarettes seem to be the most popular from my observations. I'm not sure if you can smoke inside businesses, but at outdoor cafes people light up all around you. If you want to dine outdoors, be prepared for smoke.

Do not invest in a clothes dryer company
All over Europe, not just here in Gijon, Spain, the local folks dry their clothes the old fashioned way — they hang them up. In the apartment where I am staying in Gijon, residents hang their clothes out windows on a rack that rotates so you can reach all the lines. My apartment is four floors up, When you hang over to attach a piece of clothing to the line, it's a long ways down. I think people who were afraid of heights would have a hard time dealing with this setup.

In most places I have visited in Europe, there's a clothes rack inside the house. I assume you would need to use it on a rainy day. I bought one of these for my own home and use it often instead of my electric dryer.

Oh, some houses in Europe have clothes dryers. But they are usually combined with a washing machine, most of which are much smaller than our behemoth machines. Clothes take forever to dry. It think it must be difficult for a family with two or three kids to keep up with the washing and drying. But maybe we are spoiled in the USA with our big ol' washers and big ol' dryers. They probably do just fine here. And they save power, too.

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Coffee. No bottomless cups here
In the USA, it's still common at coffee shops to get free coffee refills. Your waitress comes by every so often and asks "A little more, hon?" And you say yes. And she fills up your cup. This can happen over and over. It's a very good deal. But not in Europe. You pay for each cup. Luckily, here in Gijon, a cup of coffee is reasonable. Even with the crummy exchange rate, it costs me less than $2 for a "cafe con leche" (coffee with milk).

And speaking of coffee, while there are Starbucks cafes all over Madrid and Barcelona, there are none that I have seen in Gijon, a city of 275,000 people. When you do find one in Spain, it will be just like one in America except you must order in Spanish. I wonder how Starbucks missed this town. I thought Starbucks was everywhere.

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Topless women at the beach
A lot of women in Spain go topless at the beach. Women don't do that back home, which I think is good. Most women look better in clothes — the more the better. Men, too. The women who you see topless here are both young and old. I will be perfectly candid by saying that I have enjoyed keeping an eye out for the topless women, who number perhaps one in 100 to those with tops in place. It's like playing the game "Where's Waldo" except instead of looking for a weird guy in a striped shirt, you look for women with missing clothing. To me, it's a more interesting game.

One thing I quickly concluded is that topless women on the beach are not sexy. Most the time it's the opposite because few are in great shape. I have a feeling they go topless because it feels good to be free of their clothing. And, really, nobody stares at them. It's just business as usual.

Eating baby pig
This is a picture of me in Segovia a couple of weeks ago. I was eating a baby pig. It's the signature dish in this historic town. It's called suckling pig. I think that's because its mother is still breast feeding it when it is snatched away, killed and then shipped to Segovia where tourists can eat it even if, like me, they really don't want to. But you know. . . when in Rome do as the Romans do.

The second picture is the scene at the outdoor cafe. The camera is pointing the same direction as I was looking as I ate the pig. It was a gorgeous night.

All around town, souvenir shops sell pig things. Piggy banks are popular. The toy pigs are smiling and happy. If the pigs involved in the suckling pig industry — mamas whose babies got snatched and little piggies who gave their lives — knew what was going on, they would invade Segovia and destroy every restaurant and every piggy bank.

As you can see from my photo, the suckling pig arrived at my plate complete with one of its ears. It was a grotesque sight. I ate some of the pig. But it did not taste good and I will never eat suckling pig again. I'll get pizza.

Frankly, I do not eat much meat these days, but I'm not a purist. I do eat fish, as I don't think they know what's going on anyway. I think God put them on Earth for you and me to eat.

Siesta Time
Businesses close in Spain from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Siesta time. It seems crazy to me to lose all that business. But I guess it's working out. Spaniards have been doing it for a long, long time. I'm not sure what the business owners and employees do during this time off, whether they play or snooze. But at 6 p.m., they come back and keep their doors open until at least 9. Most anyway. Personally, I would not like such a schedule. Once I left for the day, I would want to be gone. No coming back. No siree Bob!

Happy couple

The van with this advertising on its side was blocking the sidewalk in Barcelona. So, it got my attention. While I was waiting for the walk sign to change, I decided to take a photo of the happy couple. They are about as happy a couple as I've ever seen. I am hardly ever that happy.

Dinner plus tapas
In Gijon and other Spanish cities, when you order drinks, a bonus will arrive, tapas. The snacks differ from eatery to eatery. If you order a second drink, more tapas will arrive. If you are just a little bit hungry, not famished, you could make a meal of these tasty treats. The photos here are tapas that were served at my table along with two drinks at two different restaurants.

According to Wikipedia, tapas are designed to encourage conversation because people will not be distracted by the large meals set before them.

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I will add to this posting as I get time.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Will I fly into Space?

I photographed this toy box at a toy store in Gijon, Spain. As you can plainly see, it's supposed to be a model of the Space Shuttle. In the small print below "Space Shuttle" it says "Model of the Real Style." 

Under the first row of windows, you again see the words "Space Shuttle." But on the back tail is "757" which would indicate a Boeing 757, which just so happens to be the plane I flew to Europe in from Seattle. I'm thinking now that maybe I'll enjoy a trip into Space on the return trip. I'd like that, but me thinks that will not happen.

Sometimes the toys you see in foreign lands make you laugh.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Traveling in Spain

An RV passes the ancient Roman Aqueduct in Segovia.
“The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.” The phrase keeps going through my head. For now, as I begin writing this, I am aboard a high speed Spanish train, crossing the dry plains between Madrid and Gijon, at about 200 miles per hour.

In the last two weeks, I have visited Madrid, Barcelona and beautiful Segovia, with its magnificent castle, cathedral and 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct, under which each day a thousand Spaniards and foreign visitors sip Sangrias and dine on Suckling pig at outdoor cafes. In Spain, dinnertime begins at about 10 p.m., after the sun has set and heat subsided. Shopkeepers close between about 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., for their “Siesta.”

Independence Square in Madrid
Barcelona is a gorgeous city, with narrow, winding streets unsuitable for all but the smallest cars and motor scooters, which are the vehicle of choice for many of the locals. Outdoor cafes are everywhere. Mom and Pop shops sell everything from fine goods like jewelry and clothing to tacky souvenirs — tee shirts, refrigerator magnets and snow globes featuring animated flamenco dancers.

Madrid, the nation’s capital and largest city, is also magnificent, but not nearly as lively as Barcelona nor as crowded.

Dining by Roman aqueduct in Segovia
Half of my trip is over. Now, I'll spend the last two weeks in Gijon on the Altantic, where the pace will be slower. Frankly, I need to slow down. I am worn out. My iPhone app “Moves” reports that I have been walking about six miles day, which is a lot for me.

Lodging has been challenging — an non-air conditioned room in Madrid arranged through, on a noisy street where the nightlife was loud until 3 a.m. and sleep therefore nearly impossible. In Barcelona, my hotel room's shower was smaller than in my motorhome. It barely dripped water, and not always warm. Only in Segovia, was the hotel wonderful — right in center of the ancient, walled city with a view out the back patio of the castle Alcazar.

I have kept my eye out for RVs but seen few. A half dozen were parked together outside Segovia, but I was unable to find them later to talk to the owners. However,  as I saw later today, there are plenty around as I witnessed in a packed RV park in Gijon.

While most restaurants and shop keepers know some English, they are not fluent, and often know almost none. My high school Spanish has come in handy.

RV park along the ocean in Gijon.
I believe that everyone should travel abroad given the chance. It is important to see how the rest of the world lives. To me Americans who have never left their home country lack an appreciation the World and its cultures compared to those who have explored it.

That said, after a trip like this, I always am happy to return home. And even now, as I explore this wonderful part of Europe, I dream of being in North America in my RV, where there are no tickets to arrange or timetables to observe, no security checks and no suitcases to pack and unpack.

I love my trips abroad and plan many more. But if I had to choose between traveling the World or traveling my country with my RV, I would chose my RV.