Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hola. We're home from Spain

We're home from Spain after a wonderful 2 week trip for our 55th anniversary. Home. Where the big stories when I turned on the TV were a new Oreo flavor (Cinnabun) and a stolen dog instead of the visits of Xi Jinping, Pope Francis, Putin, millions if refugees pouring into Europe, and the richest province in Spain (Catalonia) trying to secede because they pay too many taxes and don't want to speak Spanish. Ah. Finally. Important stuff.

Your post cards should arrive in a week or two, but it's probably not worth it (if you're planning a trip). It costs one euro (about $1.12) to send a post card to U.S. (less in Europe), and you don't even get a pretty stamp for your trouble, only a label. Generally, things in Spain are a very good buy for people with Euros, just not at the post office.

In Spain we were hosted by our Finnish friends, Martti and Riitta Tulamo, who are friends from 1979-81, their years in Columbus as students, and are now a retired horse surgeon and architect, enjoying the good life, and the most fabulous tour guides ever. An added bonus was seeing about 600 photos of Virve's wedding in May at a castle in Estonia plus the places we visited in 2006 in Finland when we visited there. They provided the apartment and all the driving to special tourist spots, plus critical information we needed. 

I'm a news junkie, so in Spain every accommodation we experienced had different cable channels we enjoyed. In our Madrid hotel (Sidorme) we watched American series reruns of Monk, Closer and Castle along with spaghetti westerns in Spanish with Spanish subtitles; in Torreviaja our apartment cable selection was different than our hosts’ selection, and was primarily international news channels in English--China, BBC, Russia, Arabic, Algeria, France, Japan, Korea--great coverage of business and international events, wonderful documentaries with revisionist history (from our view point), and zero criticism of their own countries' government and policies. Hmm. We could learn from this. Oh, and the women journalists were lovely but well covered--very modest by our standards.

During our two wonderful weeks in sunny Spain, we encountered rain only one day on tour. Our umbrella and rain gear were back in the hotel (of course), so we were soaked while I was attempting to use a cane on slick stones. So one of my souvenirs is a new pink umbrella purchased in the village San Lorenzo de El Escorial at the monastery El Escorial, NW of Madrid.

I didn't gain a pound in Spain despite the fabulous meals which included very few vegetables (unless chocolate counts). After virtually no cheese or bread in 6 months, I had them at least once or twice a day. Perhaps walking with a cane on cobble stone streets takes a lot of calories? Our cat, who lived for 2 weeks with our daughter and her tiny Chihuahua, seems to have gained some. Little beggar.

I had no Facebook or e-mail, and really, didn't miss it. We made conversation the old fashioned way—face to face.  We met many wonderful people waiting in line for various tourist spots like cathedrals, mountain castles, Roman fortresses, Moorish architectural wonders, and great restaurants. Belgium, Holland, England, Finland, Montreal, Colombia, Poland, Philippines, Japan and even Bellefontaine and Marion, Ohio. Tourism is enormous and critical to the economy--and snatching a few minutes in garbled English about best places to visit was fun.

We almost couldn't find bad food, and the supermarkets were fabulous with very reasonable prices and great variety. Always look for "Menu del Dia" a mid-day special usually with 2 or 3 courses including bread, wine and dessert. Super highways and secondary roads put ours to shame.

Except for waiters and hotel staff and the ubiquitous China stores (Chinese immigrants thrive in Spain), we met few Spaniards, but Spain seems the most monochromatic, ethnically similar place I've ever visited. Spain, except in the southern most regions of AndalucĂ­a and Valencia near Morocco, must be about 98% white. Really handsome people, with gorgeous women and great flair for fashion. Only after 50 do the women pack on the pounds. A few gypsies, and some Africans, but TV and employment opportunities seem entirely Caucasian. Each province and state and city has its own culture, language, fiestas, and regional food, but in skin tone, not much difference.

The worst problem we saw was graffiti--it's everywhere from high rises, to highway overpasses, to ancient ruins, to construction sites. Very ugly and I never got used to it.

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