Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Spanish Exposition

However belated, I put together some final thoughts, observations and impressions developed during my recent trip to Spain. This was the first time I'd ever been to Europe, and the first time I'd really ever been to a truly foreign country (not counting Mexico and the Caribbean), so whatever I write may seem pretty obvious or self-evident to those of you who've had the benefit of traveling abroad, but this is my goddamn blog and I'll say what I want, alright?

The Royal Palace in Madrid

1. Pickpocketing is rife, especially on heavily-trafficked streets and plazas. Maybe I was a little paranoid, but anytime I walked through large crowds I'd casually put my hands in my pockets. But hey, I didn't get my wallet taxed, did I? I actually stopped on the side of Las Ramblas a few times to watch the people watching the pea game to see if I might spy a pickpocket on the job. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from these people is to know all their tricks and keep very aware of people around you. This isn't always easy, because...

2. The sense of personal space is VERY different than the U.S. I found myself saying "pardón" a lot when I'd rub against someone or nearly knock into them when I first got to Spain, but then I realized that they never said it back. People constantly bump into one another, cut each other off, and dodge in and out of pedestrian traffic. Aside from the obvious language barrier, this was probably the hardest thing to get used to.

LEFT: The Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, in Barcelona.

3. Some people in Barcelona know English well enough to communicate, but many in Madrid definitely don't. I found myself needing to use my Spanish far more often there than in Barcelona, though I always tried to speak Spanish regardless.

4. Servers at restaurants are definitely not very friendly at all, possibly because they're not really working for tips and thus have many more tables than they do here. It was actually kind of annoying dealing with unfriendly waiters constantly, I definitely enjoyed coming back to the States and having friendly service, even if it may be put-on a bit.

5. Madrid quite literally shuts down at 3:00pm for siesta, though Barcelona pretty much stays open throughout the day. This is probably because Barcelona is about 10-15 degrees cooler than Madrid.

The Toledo cityscape.

6. Traffic laws are more like suggestions, particularly in Barcelona. Rush hour in Barc. was an amazing site. In one cab ride home I saw two people riding a large ATV in the middle of the city, cutting back and forth across lanes, cleverly dodging the countless dirtbikes, motorcycles, and scooters. The whole scene looked like some sort of varied vehicle race.

7. I'd like to know why the DC Metro can't work the way it does in Spain. In both cities, trains came every ~2.5 minutes. I really never waited longer than that, and there's no such thing as off-peak. The trains just keep going and going and going.

8. Prostitution seems to be A.O.K. in Madrid, where you can find hookers lining the streets and sketchball Spaniards sidling up to them once the sun starts to go down.

9. The beaches are topless, which in my opinion is most triumphant. It's actually kind of interesting, too. Since Spain is such a vehemently Catholic society, you'd expect them to be more conservative, but of course my definition of "conservative" as an American clearly differs from theirs. Kudos to nudity.

10. I saw a lot of Yao, LeBron, and Iverson jerseys while over there, which was surprising.

11. As beautiful and awe-inspiring as the palaces and cathedrals are---particularly in Madrid and Toledo, respectively---I can't help but think the Monarchy and Church completely fleeced the people to build these things, forcing everyone but the elites to live in abject poverty.

The Cathedral in Toledo. Yes, that's all gold.

I guess that's about it. Now leave me alone.


Jessica said...

I really like the way you write, although I haven't read that much, (so far!) I actually just googled "poker sucks" in a brief moment of irritation when I wrote my own post, and your blog was among the first results. Isn't it loverly!

CJ said...

I lost both my sisters in the Cola Wars... In honor of their lives, can you please get back on topic?

Also, congrats on bringing the phrase "most triumphant" back. I heart Bill and Ted's excellent adventure.

Brice Lord said...

Jessica: Wow, I had no idea my "poker sucks" post would be floating on top of the google rankings. Now to hope against hope that my "Jimmy Buffett sucks" post gains similar notoriety... One can only hope.

CJ: Yar, the Cola Wars have claimed many a life. I did write one large
exposé on these tragic events
a few months ago, and how PepsiCo's corporate hegemony threatens us all with flagrant flavorcide. I suggest you read my post and then join my Cola-lition of the Willing.