I love Spain. Well actually, I can only say I love the parts of Spain I visited. I love Madrid, Sevilla and Granada. Okay, I suppose, the truth is I only visited a small part of each town so I can’t say I love all of Madrid, Sevilla and Granada. That would be like saying you love New York City after only having been to Manhattan. Wait, I’ve done that, so -
I love Spain.
And more appropriately for this post, I love the people of Spain.
Before I start telling of my Spanish journey, let me talk a minute about communicating in Spain. I had a few years of Spanish in high school and college, in Texas, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so the language barrier was no concern. And it wouldn’t have been a problem if they would have slowed down a bit. Again – from Texas. I have trouble understanding people from the Northeast. But seriously, we had few problems communicating. At least one in our party of four would have the sense to understand instructions being conveyed in Spanish. Patience and hand gestures go a long way.
The only time I felt completely clueless was in a bar watching football (okay, soccer). The game was tied when the bar owner turned down the set. People begin to leave and I was positive they went out for a smoke. Surely a game in the Euro 2012 tournament would not end in a tie. In America we would play on until a winner was declared. Only when the local tv coverage ended did I realize it really was over. Thank God I didn’t ask a local. I do believe this might have caused some eyes to roll and the phrase, ‘Stupid American’ to be uttered somewhere in the bar. Europeans take their football seriously.
Madrid is my kind of town. I could spend hours writing about the museums and churches but others already have done this with more eloquence than I possess. In this little post, I’m writing about the people. We got in town on a Sunday and we were leaving Madrid on a Tuesday. The Prado Museum is not open on Monday so we hurried over to see what we could before it closed. We arrived at the time when the museum is open to the public for free. When we got there hundreds of locals were waiting in a line halfway around the enormous building. Did I mention it was 90+ degrees? No one cared. We immediately noticed that the people were talking to each other. There were probably cell phones around but I didn’t see any texting or playing games. No one had ear buds in to drown out their neighbors. Children were talking to parents. Grandparents were talking to friends. I’m a little sketchy on what was being said, but, by golly, it was friendly talk. No one tried to cut in line. No one kept checking their watch to make sure they weren’t being cheated out of five minutes. The incredibly patient people were enjoying each other as they waited for the privilege of viewing art of the ages representing their past.
The next morning, we visited the Royal Palace and again we were faced with a line and 90+ degrees. Spain in June can be warm. To the side of the line was a man playing accordion with an open case for donations. Instead of people scurrying by and avoiding eye contact, the crowd circled around him. Two older couples started to dance. We were entertained as we waited. I didn’t see a lot of donations go into his case but I saw a lot of love flowing through the crowd.
Our Spain trip wasn’t long enough (what vacation is) and we left on Tuesday for Sevilla. My son and his girlfriend are Studying Abroad in Sevilla so, as sad as I was to leave Madrid, I was excited to board the train. Sevilla, like Madrid and Granada, has incredible architecture. You walk around constantly looking left, right, up and down. Our feet (sometimes blistered feet) trudged many miles everyday.
We ate most of our meals with my son, his girlfriend and my daughter’s friend, also Studying Abroad in Sevilla. I was fascinated at the rapport between the waiters and my son. He had a few favorite restaurants and, in less than a month of living in Spain and less than a month of learning Spanish, he was communicating beautifully with the servers. The communication may not have been as extensive as if he were a local, but each understood the other. And trust me, he’s a student, they weren’t being overly kind to him because of the tips. They were being kind because they genuinely liked him and his girlfriend and vice versa. At that point, I was most pleased he had chosen Sevilla for his overseas studies.
My favorite part of Sevilla was getting a gelato in the evening and sitting in the square. Local families sat in the finally cool air and shared their days (okay I’m guessing). The children played football (okay, soccer) in the square with their friends and were having the time of their lives. Abuelos watched the young ones on the playground equipment as they conversed with other men. All this was happening at ten or eleven at night, a school night, and no one was bothered by the time. Again, not a cell phone or laptop to be seen.
Granada was a day trip to visit the Alhambra. It is a must see in Southern Spain, thank you very much Mr. Steves. Yes, it’s easy to spot Americans because we all have the same ‘Rick Steves’ Spain 2012′ book in our hands. (I wonder if he needs a people watching companion?) We met still another Study Abroad student from my hometown studying in Granada. Crazy, huh? I loved all the familiar faces and Spanish comprehending ears. We stopped to talk and have a quick drink on the main square before we had to run catch our train back to Sevilla. Here we learned that the people don’t disappoint, even if they aren’t originally from Spain. George, our host, was from Colombia, working in Spain, and learning English. He humored us by telling us he was learning phrases like -
“My name is George. What is your name?”
“The girl is pretty.”
“Where is your mother?”
Sound familiar to anyone who has taken first year Spanish in the states? Not only did he make the hot afternoon bearable by sitting us under a handy water mister, he also entertained us with his minimal English and his huge heart. We hated to leave for the train but we were ready for our much-needed siesta. This is one of my favorite Spanish customs.
If you want to know about traveling in Spain, I strongly suggest a book by Rick Steves but as you follow his traveling guidelines, take time to enjoy the people. Be pleasantly startled, as we were, when a ‘gang’ of roller-bladers filled out favorite square in Sevilla one evening. And then, as quickly as they appeared, they skated off to their next square. Be patient as you wait for the Flamenco dancers to appear because I guarantee you’ll never again see more passion displayed by a few dancers and musicians. Spain is about Art and History, eating and dancing, and so many other things, but most importantly, Spain is about the people.