5 things you need to know about Spain

5 things you need to know about Spain

When you travel to a foreign country it’s easy to make mistakes because we don’t know how things work over there. It’s easy to assume that everybody does things the same way we do and this can lead to difficult or embarrassing situations.

So, what are the things you need to know about Spain? There are more, but let’s start with these 5:

1. It’s not siesta time!

I read a lot of comments about siesta in Camino forums: 

“Everything was closed because it was siesta time” 

“There were no people on the streets because it was siesta time” 

It’s almost like anything unfamiliar you experience gets blamed on the siesta. Sorry to burst your stereotypes but… siesta is not really a thing in Spain. At least not the way you think it is. If you go to a shop at 3:00 or 4:00pm and it’s closed it is not because it’s siesta time. It’s because it’s lunch time. 

Yes. Lunch time. But that’s way more than the usual one hour lunch break, you may say. Well, lunch in Spain is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. So, one hour is not enough. Also, traditionally, people would go home for lunch. Not everybody can do that these days, especially in the bigger cities, but many people still do. For more details about eating times, go to nº2.

And if you go for a walk around town at 6:00 or 7:00pm in the summertime and the place is deserted, it’s not siesta time. People could be either at the beach or pool or simply at home, staying away from el calor (the heat).

We don’t put our pyjamas on, get into bed and sleep for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the day, as many foreigners seem to think. Most of us don’t even take siestas at all. Those who do, it’s mostly a 10-15 minute nap on the sofa. So, por favor, if you find shops closed or streets empty, don’t blame it on the siesta. 

2. Don’t criticise our meal times. Try to adapt to them instead.

As I already mentioned, lunch is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. It is usually served between 1:30 and 3:30 or 4:00pm.

You’ll have trouble finding dinner  before 8:30pm. 

The picture shows average kitchen hours, although they may very from place to place.

Instead of complaining because dinner is too late, why don’t you try the Spanish way? Have lunch when you get to your destination for the day; shower, rest and and then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

3. Avoid criticising Spanish customs, even those that we, Spaniards, criticise. 

This is like family: you may complain about them but when an outsider criticises them, you feel compelled to defend them. Same thing here: I may disagree with that particular custom but if you, an outsider, criticise it, I may feel forced to defend it. How would you feel if we went to your country and started criticising what you do?

“Why do you not have a proper 3-course meal for lunch?”

“Oh, so you don’t eat tortilla de patatas? That’s weird!”

“Shops close at 6:00pm? Ridiculous!”

Not nice, right? For me, one of the beauties of travelling is to get to see and experience different things, eat different foods… Embrace the difference and enjoy it!

 

4. Manners, please!

Don’t go over the top with your gracias and por favor. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use those words, but we don’t use them half as much as in other cultures. Once or twice per conversation is fine. More than that is too much and you’re going to make the other person uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean we’re rude or don’t have manners. We just express it in different ways.

5. Yes, I’m greeting you.

We might not say please and thank you as much as you do, but we probably greet each other more, even total strangers: you go into a shop, you greet the shop assistant; go into a doctor’s waiting room, you greet the people who are already there; get into a lift with strangers, you greet them.

A simple hola is fine or, depending on the time of the day, you can also add buenos días (in the morning, until lunch time -Spanish lunch time), buenas tardes (in the evening) or buenas noches (later in the evening, from 9:00pm roughly).

 

These are just 5 basic things you need to know before you travel to Spain. There are more, especially around food, but they would make this post too long and we’ll leave them for another occasion. If, on the other hand, you would like to know whether it’s OK or not to tip and how much is appropriate, you can check this post.

 

 

Today’s words

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A conversation with Randall

A conversation with Randall

He was diagnosed with Stage IV Prostate Cancer in 2015. He fought it. Five years on, he walked the Camino with a mission: raise awareness about the disease and encourage men to get screened. Read my conversation with Randall to find out more.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hola amigos, mi nombre es Randy. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and went to Damien HS, an Irish Christian Brothers school –  namesake Saint Damien, the savior of the Lepers on Molokai. Moved to California in 1979 and attended Loyola Marymount University, run by the Jesuits. Stayed in California and attended USC School of Dentistry – not the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela  🙂

In 2014, at a too young age of 57, I had done the Long Beach, CA marathon. I had a PSA test at 555.2 (under 4 is normal) and my journey began.

 

When did you first hear about the Camino? You had been running marathons for years. So, why did you decide to walk the Camino?

I had seen the movie “The Way” in the early 2000s and was, as many have been, inspired by that poignant story of a Dad walking the Camino in memory of his son.

A dental patient told me that she was going to Madrid to teach English this year and that sparked an idea about doing The Camino. I did some online research, contacted my son, who lives in London, and suggested that we do it together.

I found out that September tends to be cooler and less traveled. I knew that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and my almost five year survival with Stage IV Prostate Cancer was upcoming. 

 

This would be a perfect time for me to walk/bond with my son, spread PCa awareness, and maybe get a man screened. Since the diagnosis in 01/2015, I’ve had signs on my back at marathons (31 so far) telling my saga, urging men to get screened, and more recently – honoring those taken.

 

Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

I ordered hiking shoes online and walked four days per week either with my wife or up at my other dental office for over two months. My wife and I even did a walk, eat, walk to prep for 9 miles to simulate life on The Camino. I knew that marathon fitness (151 so far) would confer a base but I didn’t know how a backpack would affect me. Doing a marathon entails mental and physical discipline and I knew that would really help in the hike. 

 

A conversation with Randall

Tell us about your Camino. How was your experience? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

My son’s new wife and a friend decided to walk with us. The Camino was a wonderful contemplative, spiritual, bonding, and life affirming experience. We disconnected from the real world and connected with nature and each other.

 

I had a sign en español on my back and that sparked a conversation with numerous Peregrinos. I also placed Blue Ribbons on The Camino and a group of Spaniards in Portomarín asked why. I told them in my so-so Spanish “Tengo cáncer de próstata estadio 4 desde 2015” (I have Stage 4 prostate cancer since 2015).  They asked how I was doing and I communicated that estoy bien (I’m OK) and the reason for being out there.

 

At one point, my son and I had eaten possibly mejillones malos (bad mussels). One of that quartet below had not seen me one day on The Camino and left me an Instagram message Oye, ¿dónde estás? (Hey, where are you?). We caught up with them at another rest/sello/cerveza/tortilla stop and I told them I was fine, toasted them with a beer and took a group pic.

This was such a great experience; strangers on The Camino became friends/supporters all because of The Camino. She messaged me Me alegro que hayas disfrutado tanto aquí. Ha sido un placer conocerte . Mucha suerte y buen viaje” (I’m glad you have enjoyed it so much here. It has been a pleasure to meet you. Good luck and safe trip). 

conversation with Randall

 Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Do you think this had any impact on your Camino?

I had four years of Spanish in High School and one year in College, but still had to review quite a bit. Spanish for the Camino was so very helpful in refreshing my long unused Spanish skills. Knowing some Spanish is very beneficial on The Camino; you can engage/communicate, and bond better knowing key words or phrases.

Randall’s words

  • First, some general vocabulary such as greetings and other words you can use in many conversations.

Hola: hello

¿Dónde esta?: where is it?

Buenos días: good morning

Buenas tardes: good afternoon/evening

Muchas gracias: thank you very much

Por favor: please

De nada: you’re welcome (after someone says thank you).

Vale: OK.

Está bien: it is OK/fine.

Claro: of course

  • Some food and drink related words too:

Cerveza: beer 

Caña: a glass of beer

Vino blanco: white wine

Vino tinto: red wine

Tinto de verano: it literally means summer red and it’s a drink made with red wine and soda; very common in the summer (verano), hence the name.

Pulpo: octopus (and if you want to learn how to prepare it, check this post). 

Mejillones: mussels 

Pimientos de Padrón: Padrón peppers

Jamón: ham

Bocadillo: sandwich made with baguette-type of bread, not with sliced bread.

Tortilla: Spanish omelette, with eggs and potatoes (you can find the recipe here).

La cuenta: the bill (at a restaurant, mainly). 

More of Randall’s adventure on : #chinononcamino  / @Dockam57 on Instagram

 

I hope that my Camino adventure “makes a ripple” and maybe a man’s life saved. 

 

The Camino is a metaphor for your own life. The Fleetwood Mac song says “Go your own way”. We all have our own “Camino” that we are on; how do we do it, who do we meet and what impact can you make?

 

Buen Camino, Buen Viaje, y vive una gran vida


PS. I’m signed up for the Long Beach, CA marathon again next month. I’ll celebrate my unofficial five year survival then! (old data said only 28%). Also, doing the New York City Marathon in November (my 4th in a row, raising over $14,000 for ZERO).

To learn more about Randall’s story, you can check these:

 

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¡Buen Camino!

A conversation with Julia

A conversation with Julia

This week I’ve been chatting to Julia, a German pilgrim who walked the Camino Francés after she finished college. Read the whole conversation to find out how the Camino changed her life.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Julia, I am 35 years old and I am from Northern Germany. I’ve been living in Spain now for four years in a small town called Oliva, which is on the eastern coast, with my husband and our two children. I am a German teacher and I run an online language agency: www.milengua.com

When did you first hear about the Camino and why did you decide to do it?

I’ve always been up to traveling and especially to hiking and trekking. After finishing my university degree in German Philology I decided to go on a trip on my own and among all the different long distance trekking roads I chose the Camino de Santiago as it seemed to me physically not too difficult but very interesting. Besides, I wanted to get to know Spain, where I hadn’t been before. Also, I had a friend who did a part of the Camino and he highly recommended it.

 

Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?

Basically, I got prepared by hiking on every possible occasion. Moreover, I was into running and biking at this time so I found myself in physically good condition. Mentally?  I don’t know. I had a book with the single legs of the way. But to be honest, I just started the journey without thinking too much about it. I was just excited about being outside everyday and walking as far as I could.

 

Tell us about your Camino. How was your experience?

It was certainly one of my best experiences ever. I met a lot of wonderful people and even though you only shared a couple of days together until each one went on at her or his speed, it felt always like a lifetime. You get to know people that deeply in an incredible short time and I remember almost all of them now 5 years later.

Another deep impression that I will bear forever is the feeling of freedom and peace of mind. You only have to walk. That’s your only mission for several weeks. Enjoying the simplicity of life and the beauty of nature made me feel really “light”.

 

How did it change your life? Is there any particular anecdote you would like to share?

My anecdote is a romantic one: I met my future husband here, to be precise, in Molinaseca near Ponferrada. From there we went the remaining way together to Santiago and later to Fisterra, where we separated. More than 2 weeks together on the Camino, that’s like 2 years in real time. We stayed in contact ever since but it took us 18 month until we met again. Soon after that I decided to move to Spain  – and I stayed.

 

Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Did that have any impact on your Camino?

Actually I didn’t know any Spanish before. I learned quickly how to order breakfast, to ask for free beds and to wish a “buen camino”. But it was actually a pity not to be able to talk to the locals. One time I met an older man walking with his dog and as we went the same way for quite a while, we started a conversation. He didn’t speak English so we communicated with gestures, by pointing at things; he showed me photos he had in his wallet and we drew in the sand with sticks we found.  I wished we really could talk as he seemed to be a very interesting person.

Without any Spanish you stay mainly with other pilgrims but you will miss the option to talk with the locals which is basically an important aspect if you want to get to know a country for real.  Another point is the medical assistance, if needed. Whether it’s at a doctors or just in the pharmacy: Some basic vocabulary to explain what’s your problem is more than helpful.

 

 

Julia’s words

I usually ask my guests to pick 5-10 Spanish words or phrases: the ones they think every pilgrim should know before their Camino, the ones they knew, the ones they learnt… Julia chose what she learnt on the Camino,  mainly food orders and one phrase that the Spanish pilgrims liked to say when they had wine for dinner: El vino te pone fino, peregrino.
 
I must confess I’d never heard this phrase before and it can be interpreted in several ways, as it plays on the meanings of the word fino, as well as a couple of expressions that contain it. It could simply mean that wine makes you drunk. But it could also mean that wines makes you wittier!
 
 
If you would like to know more about either the menú del día or menú peregrino, check this post.
 
 
The word cigüeña means stork and Julia learnt it because she was surprised at how many of these birds she saw while on the Camino. According to her, there are not many storks left in Germany.

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¡Buen Camino!

Está cerrado

Está cerrado

You are planning to do some shopping when you get to the next town. You get there and find that everything está cerrado (it’s closed). And you don’t understand why… After all, it’s only the middle of the day.

 

Well, that’s exactly why everything is closed!

 

Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. And, although things are changing in the bigger cities, it’s common in smaller places for people to go home for lunch. In addition to that, the weather (especially in the summer months) can be too hot in the middle of the day. It’s just safer to stay indoors during the hottest hours.

 

That’s why, for instance, it is not advisable to walk the Vía de la Plata during the months of julio (July) and agosto (August) and why you should still be careful in junio (June) and septiembre (September).

 

So, most tiendas (shops) will close for lunch. Yes, for lunch. Not for siesta, sorry!

 

Some shops have horario continuo, meaning they don’t close in the middle of the day. This is more common in the bigger cities and also in the case of bigger shops: big supermercados, hipermercados or grandes almacenes (department stores).

 

In smaller towns, almost everything will close a mediodía; a mediodía literally means at midday, but we really use this expression to refer to lunch time, which could be anything between 1.30 and 4.30pm.

 

 

 ¿A qué hora abren?

What time do they open?

Shops opening and closing times may vary a bit from one establishment to another. But they will be similar to the one in this picture.

First of all, in Spain, when writing the time, we don’t use am and pm, as you can see in the picture. We use the 24-h clock. But just in writing.

 

The second thing you can see in the picture is that shops have some hours for weekdays (lunes a viernes – Monday to Friday) and different ones for sábados (Saturdays). It’s common for shops to be closed on Saturday evenings.

 

Almost everything está cerrado (is closed) los domingos (Sundays) except for bars and restaurants. Panaderías and pastelerías (bakeries and cake shops) open on Sundays too, but in the morning only.

 

Los bancos (banks) open in the morning only, usually from 8.00 or 8.30am till 2.00 or 2.30pm. They don’t open in the evenings or sábados.

 

Las farmacias have an on-call system, so that at least one is always open. You can check how the system works in El botiquín. 

So, are you ready for some Camino shopping now?

 

For the pronunciation of supermercado, panadería and pastelería, check Shopping on the Camino.

 

For the pronunciation of junio, julio, agosto and septiembre, check Vía de la Plata. 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

 

Pulpo á feira

Pulpo á feira

Galicia has a coastline of close to 1,500 km. So it’s only natural that pescado (fish) and marisco (shellfish) are the stars of Galician cuisine.

From mejillones (mussels) and merluza (hake) to chipirones (baby squid) or the expensive percebes (goose barnacles), there is a wide variety of sea produce to choose from.

But if I had to pick one only, it would have to be pulpo (octopus). Pulpo can be prepared in different ways. But the most popular and best known octopus recipe in Galicia is pulpo á feira, a very simple yet delicious dish. Á feira literally means fair-style.

Nowadays, you can find pulpo in many bares and restaurantes. But in the past, it was something you ate on fair days. There still are people who specialize in cooking pulpo. They go from one fair to another, set up their stall and serve pulpo.

 

Here’s how to prepare pulpo á feira

  • If you buy a fresh pulpo, the first thing you need to do is to clean it very well and freeze it for at least a couple of days, in order to tenderize it. Otherwise, it will be too hard.
  • When you are ready to prepare it, take it out of the freezer and let it thaw.
  • Bring a big pot of water to the boil.
  • Hold the pulpo by the head and dip it in and out of the boiling water three times. This will prevent the skin peeling off.
  • After you’ve dipped it three times, put it back in the pan and bring it back to the boil. Cooking time depends a bit on the size of the pulpo, but it will take around 30 minutes. You can check with a fork if it’s tender enough (it should be kind of “al dente”, not too hard, not too tender).
  • Once it’s cooked, take the pan away from the heat but leave the pulpo in the water for another 20 minutes.
  • Then, cut it into pieces and arrange them on a serving plate (traditionally, it is served on a wooden plate).
  • Sprinkle with sal (salt) and pimentón (paprika), picante (hot, spicy) if you like. And drizzle with aceite de oliva (olive oil).
  • Finally, serve with plenty of pan and enjoy!

Pulpo can also be served with patatas. If you prefer it this way, here’s the secret to the perfect patatas. Take some of the water you used to cook the pulpo and use it to boil them. So much nicer than just boiling them in plain water!

Have you had pulpo á feira already? Did you like it? Share your experience!

 

Today’s Spanish words

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For more recipes and food info, download my free Camino Food Guide.

 

¡Buen Camino!