Difference between revisions of "Spain"
Revision as of 23:54, 4 July 2008
Spain  (Spanish: España) is a diverse country in Mediterranean Europe, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. Among many places, Spain is the home of the thriving capital Madrid, the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona, the famous running with the bulls at Pamplona, and the city where flamenco was born: Sevilla.
Spain is now divided into autonomías or autonomous regions/ plus 2 independent cities. Some of the autonomías - notably the ones with languages other than Spanish as co-official (Basque Country or Euskadi -Basque language-, Galicia -Galician language-, Catalonia or Catalunya, Valencian Country or País Valencià, and Balearic Islands or Illes Balears -Catalan language-) and Andalucía - are historical regions. Travelers to these parts of the Iberian Peninsula will do well to respect their history and language. The Canary Islands are actually off the coast of Morocco and are properly in Africa and so are the two Autonomous cities: Ceuta and Melilla.
Spain has hundreds of interesting cities. In addition to its vibrant capital, Madrid, here are 11 of the most popular destinations:
With great beaches, fun nightlife, many cultural regions and historic cities, Spain makes a great destination for any kind of trip. A country of large geographical and cultural diversity, Spain is sometimes a surprise to people who know its reputation for great beach holidays. There is everything from lush meadows, snowy mountains, huge marsh and salines and deserts in the south east.
Once the center of a global empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa i.e. Equatorial Guinea, and Asia i.e. the Philippines, contemporary Spain has overcome civil war and fascism in the 20th century to stand proud and centered in itself.
Spain holds a historical attachment to its neighbors within the Iberian Peninsula i.e. Andorra, France and Portugal, to its former colonies, to its former citizens and their descendants, and to a special category of former citizens i.e. Sephardic Jews. Individuals from these categories may acquire Spanish citizenship in an accelerated fashion which may or may not require that the individuals reside in Spain, and residency requirements are as short as 1 to 3 years depending on the category. Citizens of countries in the European Union may acquire citizenship after residing in Spain for five years. Citizens of any other country may acquire citizenship after residing in Spain for ten years.
There are a number of ways to get into Spain. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride is feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
Spanish national carrier is Iberia.
The busiest airports are Madrid, A Coruña, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Murcia, Barcelona, Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante, Santiago de Compostella,Vigo. All are listed on the official site of the airports governing body: 
Low cost carriers operating to Spain are: ClickAir  (a discount subsidiary of Iberia; operates from Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia), Vueling , easyJet , RyanAir , Blue Air , Sterling Airlines .
For e-tickets bought from Iberia/ClickAir over Internet with a credit card, it is required to show original credit card upon check-in. Failing to do so, you will have to purchase another ticket with the same fare, and the original ticket will be refunded many weeks or even months later.
Train system in Spain is modern and reliable, most of the trains are brand new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe, the only problem is that not all the populated areas have a train station; sometimes small towns don't have one, in those cases you need to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish Rail network is that the lines are disposed in a radial way so almost all the lines head to Madrid. That's why sometimes traveling from one city to another geographically close to it might take longer by train than by bus if they are not in the same line. Always check whether the bus or the train is more convenient.
Bus travel in Spain is increasingly an attractive option for people traveling on a tight budget. Thanks largely to European Union funding, Spain's road network has vastly improved over the past twenty years, so bus journeys don't take nearly as long as they used to.
There are lots of private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities. If you want to travel around Spain by bus, the best idea is to go to your local bus station (Apart from Madrid and Barcelona, most towns and cities have just one) and see what is available.
Traveling by bus in Spain is usually reliable (except on peak holiday days when roads can be very crowded and you should expect long delays on popular routes), coaches are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay about 8 Euros per 100km.
Spain is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, which governs its visa policies. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of nations with whom the European Union has special treaties. There are no border controls between Spain and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated.
As of May 2004 citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Spain. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in any 180 day period in any country covered by the Schengen Agreement and they and must not work in Spain: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
For Latin American people, especially those from Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and in some cases Venezuela, Chile and Argentina you need to have a hotel reservation confirmed, and international insurance for at least 30.000 EURO; if your trip is from 1-9 days you need 514 EURO, for each additional day 57 EURO and a return air ticket.
Venezuelan credit cards are not accepted like funds for immigration due to the currency exchange control in this country.
The easiest way to get around most parts of Spain is by bus. Most major routes are point to point, and very high frequency. There is a different operator for each route, but usually just one operator per route. At the bus station, each operator has its own wicket. The staff at any of them is usually happy to tell you who operates which route, however.
Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy gorgeous scenery and distance yourself from the inevitable crowds of tourists that flock to these destinations. May is a particularly pleasant time to charter in the regions of Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands as the weather is good and the crowds have yet to descend. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and tend to have lighter winds. There is no low season for the Canary Islands, as the weather resembles springtime all year round. If you would like to bareboat anywhere in Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard License is the only acceptable certification needed by Americans to bareboat. For everyone else, a RYA Yacht Master Certification or International Certificate of Competence will normally do. Although a skipper may be required, a hostess/chef may or may not be necessary. Dining out is strong part of Spanish custom and tradition. If you are planning on docking in a port and exploring fabulous bars and restaurants a hostess/cook may just be useful for serving drinks and making beds. Extra crew can take up valuable room on a tight ship.
Having a driving map is essential - many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable).
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities.
Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one--so you can both choose any turn and to start driving in an opposite direction there.
Green light for cars about to turn is frequently on at the same time as green light for pedestrians: every time you turn, check if the pedestrians pass you cross doesn't also have green light for them.
Between cities, drivers are required to have some rest every 2 hours they drive--there's a fine if you don't follow. It's unclear how it's enforced, however.
Filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill the tank yourself, and then pay inside the shop.
Renting a car
If you plan to move around large cities, consider renting a car with GPS navigation--it will be even easier to drive than having an automobile map.
Consider having full-coverage insurance instead of franchise: other drivers are not always careful parking near other cars, especially when parking space on a street is limited.
Avis accepts payment in US dollars when you pay by a credit card. If you need to pay when you return rented car, payment is made from deposit you provided by credit card in the beginning--so you don't pay extra money upon return, waiting for weeks for deposit to be unblocked.
Spain is heaven for cycling, judging by how many cyclists you can see in the cities. Cycling lanes are available in mid-sized and large cities. It must be taken into account that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe, and the mountains and hills are from coast to coast. For example, Madrid is between 600 and 700 meters above sea, so if you travel through it by bicycle you have to be in a good shape.
Unsurprisingly, the official and universal language used in Spain is Spanish (español, castellano), but it's more complicated than that, as it differs in pronunciation and other details. It is part of the Romance family of languages (which together with Portuguese, Italian, French, and Romanian constitutes one of the main branches of that family), and is more properly called Castilian (castellano).
However, there are a number of languages — Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, Valencian, Balear, etc — spoken in various parts of Spain. Some of these languages are dominant in their respective regions, and following their legalization in the 1978 constitution, they are co-official with Castilian. Except Basque (whose origin is still discussed) the languages of the Iberian Peninsula are all associated with the Romance family of languages and are fairly easy to pick up if you know Castilian well. Learning a little of the local languages where you will be traveling will help endear you to the locals.
In addition to the native languages, English or French are commonly studied in school. If you are visiting a touristic area you will find people who are fluent in several languages. You won't be so lucky in other places as most Spaniards speak English rather poorly. Your best bets are young urban people. Speak slowly, use simple words and don't hesitate to use gestures or a notebook to be understood. Chances are people will understand words more easily if you write them down.
Locals will appreciate any attempts you do to speak their local language. For example, "Good morning" and "Thank you".
Spain has a lot of local festivals that are worth going to.
To call home cheap you may opt to buy prepaid calling cards which are widely available in newspapers or groceries stores around the city. Simply ask for a "tarjeta telefonica".
Another convenient alternative is to use call-through services such as http://www.chollofon.com or http://www.reducitel.com. By simply dialing an access number before the number you wish to call you will enjoy pretty cheap international calls. For example you can call US and most European countries for only 2ct/min by dialing 901 888 020. You can use it directly from any landline or payphone. Please note that these are different companies so their prices could differ.
Euro: Spain is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced Spanish Pesetas(symbol: pts) with the Euro (symbol: €) in the year 2002. Since it has been only a few years since the introduction of Euro cash, a few people will still use the old national currency conversion. For example, it is entirely possible that a Spaniard would still refer to pesetas (166,386 pts = 1 €, 1.000 pts = 6 €) to convert into Euros later. This is much due to the huge presence of peseta, and "her" many nicknames in colloquial Spanish.
Cash euro: €500 banknotes are not accepted in many stores--always have alternative banknotes.
Other currencies: Do not expect anybody to accept other types of currency, or to be willing to exchange currency. Exceptions are shops and restaurants at airports. These will generally accept at least US Dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate.
If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some may require that you have an account there before they will exchange your money), where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule; other exception is touristic districts in the large cities (Barcelona, Madrid).
Credit cards: Credit cards are well accepted: even in a stall at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, on an average highway gas station in the middle of the country, or in small towns like Alquezar. It's more difficult to find a place where credit card is not accepted in Spain.
Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that. Many Spanish stores will ask for your passport, driving license or ID card before accepting your credit card. Although somewhat awkward for people from Eurozone countries that do not have an ID Card, this measure is declared to help avoid credit card robbery (although it doesn't help that much).
Most shops and public offices close from 1:30pm to 4:30pm or 5pm, excluding those located in large malls or belonging to big stores. If you plan to spend whole day in shopping, a closed shop should remind it's also time for your own lunch. And when you finish your lunch, some shops will be likely open again.
Сlothes and shoes
Besides well-known mass brands which is known around the world (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper), Spain has many designer brands which are more hard to find outside Spain--and may be worth looking for if you shop for designer wear while travelling. Some of these brands include:
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs, here are some things that are hard to find elsewhere, or even unique.
The Spanish are very passionate about their food and wine and Spanish cuisine. Spanish food can be described as quite light with a lot of vegetables and a huge variety of meat and fish. The Spanish cuisine does not use many spices; it relies only on the use of high quality ingredients to give a good taste.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times
Spaniards have a different eating timetable than most people are used to.
The key thing to remember for a traveler is:
Normally, restaurants in big cities don't close until midnight during the week and 2-3am during the weekend.
Breakfast is eaten by most Spaniards. Traditional Spanish breakfast includes coffee or orange juice, and pastries or a small sandwich. In Madrid, it is also common to have hot chocolate with "churros" or "porras". In cafes, you can expect varieties of tortilla de patatas (see the Spanish dishes section), sometimes tapas (either breakfast variety or same kind as served in the evenings with alcohol).
The entry level to Spanish food is found in bars as tapas, which are a bit like "starters" or "appetizers", but are instead considered side orders to accompany your drink. Some bars will offer a wide variety of different tapas; others specialize on a specific kind (like seafood-based). A Spanish custom is to have one tapa and one small drink at a bar, then go to the next bar and do the same. A group of two or more individuals may order two or more tapas or order raciones instead, which are a bit larger in order to share. Tourists are easily spotted when they load their plates full of tapas.
Fast food has not yet established a strong grip on the Spaniards and you will find McDonalds and Burger King only in bigger towns in the usual places. The menu can be a surprise since it has been customized to appeal to the locals and beer, salads, yogurt primarily Danone, and wine are prominent. Pizza is increasingly popular and you will find some outlets in bigger towns but it can be their own homegrown franchise, TelePizza, as well as Pizza Hut.
Seafood: on a seacoast, fresh seafood is widely available and quite affordable. In the inner regions, frozen (and poor quality) seafood can be frequently encountered outside few highly reputed (and expensive) restaurants. In coastal areas seafood deserves some attention, especially on the north Atlantic coast.
Meat products are usually of very good quality, because Spain has maintained quite a high percentage of free range animals.
Soups: choice of soups beyond gazpacho is very limited in Spanish restaurants.
Water is frequently served without a specific request, and is normally charged for--unless it's included in your menu del dia.
Tipping and VAT
No service charges are included in the bill. A little extra tip is common and you are free to increase that if you are very pleased. Obviously you don’t have to tip a lousy waiter. You would typically leave the small change after paying with a note.
VAT is-not-included is a common trick for mid-range and splurge restaurants: always check in menu whether VAT (7%, IVA in Spanish) is included in menu prices.
Menú del día
Many restaurants offer a complete lunch meal for a fixed price – "menú del día" – and this often works out as a bargain. Water or wine is commonly included in the price.
Typical Spanish food can be found all over the country, however top tourist destinations such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol have turned all existing traditions upside down. Meaning that drinks are generally more expensive (about double) and quality is at its lowest. It is difficult to find proper Spanish food in the tourist centers.
However you will get Schnitzel, original English breakfast, Pizza, Donner, and frozen fish. However, if you are prepared to look a little harder, then even in the busiest tourist towns, you can find some exceptional traditional Spanish restaurants. If you are on the coast then think fish and seafood and you wont be disappointed.
Please note that Spaniards will never eat at the same places foreign tourists do.
In most cities you can also find international cuisine such as Italian, Chinese, French, Japanese, etc. The bigger the city, the more variety you can find.
For the past decade there has been a surge in the number of Irish pubs and Japanese restaurants to be found in most cities.
Specialties to buy
Typical dishes are:
Tea and Coffee
Spanish people are very passionate about the quality, intensity and taste of their coffee and good freshly brewed coffee is available almost everywhere.
The usual choices are solo, the milk-less espresso version; cortado, solo with a dash of milk; con leche, solo with milk added; and manchado, coffee with lots of milk (sort of like the French cafe au lait). Asking for caffee latte will likely result in less milk then you are used to--it's always OK to ask for adding extra milk.
Starbucks  is the only national chain operating in Spain. Locals argue that it can't compete with small local cafes in quality of coffee and only visited by tourists. Can be found only in larger cities: Barcelona (18 outlets), Madrid (20 outlets), Sevilla (7 outlets) and Valencia (3 outlets)--as of Oct 2007. It is not present in smaller cities.
If you eat for €20 per dinner, you will never be served a good tea; expect Pompadour or Lipton. It takes some effort to find a good tea if you spend most time of the day in touristy places.
The drinking age in Spain is 18. People under this age are forbidden to drink and buy alcoholic drinks, although enforcement in tourist and clubbing areas is lax (lacking firmness).
Probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain is in bars. Everyone visits them and they are always busy and sometimes bursting with people. There is no age restriction imposed to enter these premises although children and teenagers often will not be served alcoholic drinks. Age restrictions for the consumption of alcohol are clearly posted at bars but are enforced only intermittently. It is not uncommon to see an entire family at a bar.
Bars are mainly to have drink and a small tapa while socializing and decompressing from work or studies. Usually Spaniards can control their alcohol consumption better than their northern European neighbors and drunken people are rarely seen at bars or on the streets. A drink, if ordered without an accompanying tapa, is normally served with a "minor" or inexpensive tapa as a courtesy.
Size and prize of tapas changes a lot throughout Spain. For instance, it's almost impossible to get free tapas in big cities like Madrid or Barcelona while you can eat for free (just paying for the drinks), with huge tapas at cities like Granada or Badajoz.
The tapa, and the related pincho, trace their existence in Spain to both acting as a cover ("Tapa") on top of a cup of wine to prevent flies from accessing it, and as a requirement of law when serving wine at an establishment during the middle ages.
The Spanish beer is not too bad at all and well worth a try. Most popular local brands include San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ambar, Estrella Galicia, Keller and many others, including local brands at most cities; import beers are also available. A great beer is 'Mezquita' (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! In Spain, beer is often served from a tap in 25 cl ("caña") or 33 cl ("tubo") tube glasses. Bigger servings are rare, but you can also ask for a "corto", "zurito" (round the Basque country) or simply "una cerveza" or "tanque" (south of the country) to get a half size beer, perfect to drink in one go and get quickly to the next bar while having tapas.
If you're in Zaragoza (or Aragon, in general), the best beer available is the Pilsner-type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.). Ambar 1900: Its production began in 1996. The system of fermentation to room temperature is used. Marlen is a beer of traditional manufacture using malted barley and hops.
Locals in Aragon often add lemon juice to their beer.
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and was invented after a long lasting dispute with the French about the right name for the sparkling wine. The Spanish called it for a long time champan, but the French argued that champagne can be made only from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. Nevertheless, Cava is a quite successful sparkling wine and 99% of the production comes from the area around Barcelona.
Sangria is drink made of wine and fruits and usually is made from simple wines. You will find sangria mainly in touristy places prepared for tourists. Spanish prepare sangria for fiestas and hot summer, and not every day as seen in touristic regions like Mallorca.
Sangria in restaurants aimed for foreigners are best avoided, but it is a very good drink to try if a Spaniard prepares it for a fiesta!
The wines around Jerez are very high in alcohol and they produce the famous sherry. If you would like to have one in a bar you have to order a fino. Manzanilla is bit salty, good as an appetizer. Amontillado and Oloroso are sweet, good after having a meal.
Spain is a country with great wine-making and drinking traditions: 22% of Europe's wine growing area is located in Spain, however the production is about half of what the French produce.
Regions: The most famous wines come from Rioja region, less known but also important comes from Ribera del Duero. The latter are becoming more and more popular and are slightly more expensive than Rioja wines. White, rose and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important ones.
Grapes: The primary red grape used is Tempranillo, the primary white grape used is Albarino, and the privary Jerez grape used is Pedro Ximenez but others can be found. The grapes used are quite delicate and thus there is a reduction in yield.
Specific names: Valdepenas is good value for money. Whites: Belondrade Y Lurton regarded as greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is good as a mass product, with fruity taste.
Grades: Spanish quality wines are produced using an aging process and they have been in a oak barrel for at least one year before they can be labeled Crianza and then spend another two years in a bottle before been sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas are aged for 10 years.
Prices: Spain has seen a tremendous rise in wine prices over the last decade and Spanish wines are not as much of a bargain as they were a decade ago. However you will still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices especially when compared with similar quality wines from Australia, Chile, France, and the US.
In a bar: For red wine in a bar, ask "un tinto por favor", for white wine "un blanco por favor", for rose: "un rosado por favor".
Wine-based drinks: Young people in Spain have developed their own way to have wine. When having botellones (big outdoor parties with drink and lots of people), most of them will be mixing some red wine with Coke and drink such mix straight from the Coke bottle. The name of this drink is calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) and is really very popular... But don't ask for it while in an upper class bar, or among adults, since they will most certainly not approve of the idea!
Besides the coasts, Spain is rich in tourists-friendly inland small villages, like Alquezar: with narrow medieval streets, charming silence and isolation, still good selection of affordable restaurants and accommodation.
Casa Rural, the B&Bs of Spain
For a more homely sort of accommodation consider Casa Rural. A Casa Rural is the equivalent to a Bed and Breakfast or a Gîtes. Not all houses are situated in the countryside, as the name implies. Some are situated in the smaller towns, and available in virtually every province.
Casa Rurals, throughout Spain, vary in quality and price. In some regions, like Galicia, they are strictly controlled and inspected. Other regions are not so though in their regulations.
A Parador ("inn")  is a state owned hotel in Spain (rating from 3 to 5 stars). These are a chain of hotels founded in 1928 by the Spanish King Alfonso XIII. The unique aspects of Paradores are their location and their history. Found mostly in historical buildings, such as convents, Moorish castles (like La Alhambra), or haciendas, Paradores are the exact opposite of the uncontrolled development found in coastal regions like the Costa del Sol. Hospitality has been harmoniously integrated with the restoration of castles, palaces and convents, rescuing from ruin and abandonment monuments representative of Spain's historical and cultural heritage.
For example the Parador in Santiago de Compostella is located next to the Cathedral in a former royal hospital built in the year 1499. Rooms are decorated in an old-fashioned way, but nevertheless have modern facilities. Other notable Paradores are in Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, Santillana del Mar (Altamira cave) as well as more than 100 other destination all over Spain.
Paradores will serve breakfast (about €10) and often have very good local cuisine typical for their region (about €25).
Accommodation prices are a good value, when you consider that the hotels are often found in the heart of scenic areas, varying from €85 for a double room to €245 for a twin room (like in Granada). Two of the most beautiful paradors are in Léon and Santiago de Compostela.
There are some promotions available:
The promotions do not always apply, especially in August they are not valid. It's not possible to have a discount at the parador of Granada, which had no vacancies, unless you book at least 6 months before your arrival.
There are plenty of hostels in Spain, mostly in Madrid. Prices can vary from €15 to €25 per night.
There are four kinds of police:
All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing ("reflective" jackets) while directing traffic, or in the road.
Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions encouraged the entire world:
Some people could try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.
Other things you should know
In Spain illegal drugs are prohibited, but possession and consumption at private places is not prosecuted. Taking drugs in public and possession, for personal use, will be fined from 300€ to 3000€ depending of the drug and the quantity that you carry on, you will not get arrested unless you have large quantities destined for street sale.
Some international brands you may be used to are not available in Spain: Blend-a-Med toothpaste or Dirol ( Stimorol chewing gum has been available for years) Bring in enough for your whole trip if you can't live without it. But Spanish brands are of good quality.