Your Essential Travel Guide to Spain
One of the gems of Europe, Spain is a beautiful country known for its beauty, culture and the hoard of otherworldly experiences that make it an essential stop for every tourist. Steeped in the embrace of history, culture and several entertainment outlets, Spain has something for everyone from its sprawling beaches to the architectural masterpieces. Here are some things that every traveler to Spain should necessarily make a part of their checklist.
Note the weather
Spain experiences diverse and varying weather conditions, despite what popular opinion says and the frequent imagery of Spain as the ‘Hawaii of Europe’. For example, in Madrid temperatures can drop down to even 40 degree Fahrenheit. Not to forget, the frequent snowstorms and hailstorms that happen with absolutely no warning or precaution, usually between December and February. Summers are not always pleasant and breezy, and the prime time can be really hot where even the locals and islanders escape to the coast and try to escape the heat. Therefore, as a traveler, you need to make sure you account for these dire changes in weather suitable planning and clothing as well as plan ahead to book your time during the season from May to June (see Galicia for 300 rainy days a year, Basque for the snow and Barcelona for a chilly fall and rainy winters), if you’re not too fussed about crowds, the prices during seasons and other demands of the time.
There are four official languages
Spain has four official languages that may be seen as dialects of Spanish but have key differences. Of course, you can still go through your trip with the basic Spanish that every language app or translation book teaches as well as with English. Apart from this, there is Castellano, which is Castillian Spanish. This form is majorly spoken on the Iberian Peninsula and differs from Español that refers to general Spanish. The various dialects of this form can be troublesome for the non-Spanish speaker. Then there is Gallego, a romance language that is more prominent in the community of Galicia that is located at Northwest Spain and finds more similarity with Portuguese. There is Euskera from the Basque Country of Northeast Spain. Credited as one of the oldest languages in the world, its origins are not very clear – this form of Spanish seeks familiarity with the Hungarian tongue in its sound similarity and phonetics. Finally, Catalan is another romantic language that has gained more press because of its speakers from the Catalunya community engaging in a constant struggle with the Spanish government for their independence. The language seems to have a hint of French accent to it.
Welcome to the siesta culture
Spaniards are world-renowned for their laid-back culture and socially (not legally) approved time-off at specific hours in the afternoon (12 noon – 3 pm) where people either actually take brief naps or take a break off from work. This laissez faire approach keeps stress levels low in the short run but for the long term, it results in struggles with the government on timely wages and monetary requirements. As a tourist, you need to plan accordingly to avoid these rest hours whether it be shopping or grocery needs. Of course, bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid rarely observe this siesta culture as they are more connected with the global community and cannot afford to sacrifice on productivity to meet with a standard that isn’t legally required anyway. The trend is more visible in smaller towns and cities, mom-and-pop stores and some grocery stores.
Spanish people are used to late dinners that range from 9 pm to 12 midnight. Some places even close immediately after lunch and open only by 9 pm when people get out with dining plans. Make sure you stack up snacks for those mild hunger pangs and prepare yourself for this schedule. Of course, you can always prepare your own dinner or dine at international food chains like McDonalds, which do not follow these timings or cultural habits. Most tourists go to Spain to experience the famed food culture as well – beware of restaurants that will advertise in too-good-to-be-true formats, this will result in watered down versions of the actual delight and a bad memory of the experience going down the drain, literally. For authentic experiences, follow the old tourist experience of asking the locals the underrated places and ones that don’t advertise with Stock images.
The national mode of transport is the train system Renfe that has a good form of connectivity between cities and towns but can turn out to be very expensive, especially if you book on the same day of your travel. Costs can run so high for a single trip between Madrid and Barcelona that a flight becomes cheaper. Another option then is a ride-sharing service called ‘Bla Bla Car’ that allows for savings up to a shocking proportion, sometimes even 80-90%. Much like Uber Pool, it brings together travelers moving to the same destination – this also encourages you to meet the locals and maybe practice your Spanish. Or, there is always Alsa Bus that offers affordable travel options.
Don’t forget the festivals!
Spanish festivals can go beyond the average person’s perception of normal, but it is a definite checklist item and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There is La Tomatina in Buñol (the tomato festival as anyone who saw the Hindi movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara would know), San Fermin in Pamplona (running with the bulls, also in the above mentioned movie) and Las Fallas in Valencia (includes beautifully designed floats and lighting lots of structures on fire). If you are looking for authentic versions of flamenco, firstly remember that it is not the national dance of Spain despite its rising popularity; also note that Andalusia has the most authentic version of the beautiful dance form in Granada, Sevilla and other parts of the region in small cave-like venues in traditionally intimate settings.