Travel tips for Spain

This guest post was written by our favorite French expatriate, Julie Duran-Gelleri. Julie has lived in several different countries around Western Europe, so we asked her for some travel tips in some of her previous homes.
Whether you’re walking in the footsteps of Hemingway or looking forward to the sandy beaches of the Costa del Sol, there are many reasons to visit Spain.
You might already be salivating in anticipation of some scrumptious paella: Spain is famous for its food. Be aware, though, that meal times are much later than in the US and can be quite rigid. Lunch is after 1 pm (more like 2 pm) and 8.30 pm is the earliest for dinner.
Tapas bars charge by the item: if the tapas you requested have piquelillos in them (wooden toothpicks, used as a “handle” to grab your tapas), don’t play with them or throw them away: leave them to rest on your plate, as the waiter will know from the number of toothpicks how many tapas you’ve had, and will charge you accordingly.
Spanish people have a more relaxed approach to nudity and sunbathing: it is quite common for women to sunbathe topless on the seafront. Be aware, though, that there is a clear divide between what is acceptable on the beach and in town. Always wear a top, shirt or t-shirt over your swimsuit when walking back into the city; this applies to men as well as women.
You might hear horror stories about pickpockets. Unfortunately Spain can’t seem to shake the stereotype. Crime levels in big cities, though, are no higher than those in the US. Usual safety guidelines apply: don’t store all your cash in one place, don’t EVER try to resist or fight back, carry a copy of your ID, rather than the original. Ask yourself : “If I was the victim of a pickpocket today, what would they take from me?” and accordingly leave in your room everything you can’t afford to lose.
The usual tricks – carrying your wallet in the front pocket of your pants, carrying a money belt – are not very effective when faced with surprisingly skilled pickpockets. Spanish police are very aware of the problem, quite efficient, and sympathetic with hapless tourists.
Siesta is still widespread and it’s not uncommon, especially in the countryside, for life to slow down quite a bit in the hot hours between 2 pm and 5 pm. This makes sense in a country where, until a few decades or even a few years ago, very few shops had air-conditioning. So don’t think you’ll be running errands in your lunch break.
Bull fights are fewer, as some cities have forbidden them thanks to campaigning by animal rights activists (and budgetary concerns as well). Expect the same level of seriousness and quasi-mysticism among aficionados as you would find among baseball fans.
And forget the flimsy battery-operated travel fan you bought at the airport. Get a real folding fan instead, one you can stylishly snap open and shut, just like the Spanish.
A good book can double up as a fan, too, so here are two that will immerse you in different, lesser-known aspects of Spanish history:
The Yellow RainM/a>, by Julio Llamazares, is a poignant novel about the last inhabitants of the famous “abandoned villages” in the mountains of Aragon. The story is set in the (real) village of Ainielle.
The Frozen Heart, by Almudena Grandes, explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and the weight that this murky past still has on present-day Spain. Delve with delight into this thousand-page family saga.
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