Spain: general impression

20 Oct

After 2 weeks spent travelling around Spain we built a first impression on the country and the people.

FOOD

¿Tu es vegetarianos? ¡No hay problema, tenemos jamon!

Vegetarianism is an unknown concept in Spain. Vegan is unthinkable, actually considered a homosexual behavior. Spanish life revolves around jamon, chorizo and bocadillos.

Life starts in the morning not earlier than 9 (mostly 10) with a bocadillo of jamon.

At 11 the first break from work: the breakfast is generally not heavy so Spaniards have a long coffee break with some addition of jamon.

At 14 lunch (also known as siesta). You can find the menu of the day in every restaurant (it seems that by law all restaurants must offer a menu of the day). During this break of at least 2 hours the typical Spanish feeds himself with some more pig meat.

At 17 another break with chorizo and/or jamon.

Around 22 dinner. Since the cheap menu of the day is not available, some tapas will fill the Spanish till the morning after. Tapas are not cheap though and you end up paying like a full meal. But this does not matter, as long as it is in line with the great national tradition of jamon.

Needless to say the most popular tapas are with jamon. (Did you know that tapas were invented because workers had only money to pay for food or drinks and they were inevitably choosing drinks, getting back to work after the siesta completely drunk and with empty stomach. The industrial production became so poor, that the government had to intervene and they obliged restaurant to offer always a bit of food with each drink that was served).

But what could you expect from a country that built its fame from bull fighting. For Spaniards watching a bull fight is like watching a football match. And since they watch the fight late in the evening, they watch it while eating tapas. Guess with what? Right, some jamon. Eventually to the Spanish it is just another game.

When trying to explain to a Spaniard that we are vegetarian (we did not even try the word vegan), we received a common answer: “Why would you be vegetarian? Animals have a happy life! You can make an exception…”

We tried to explain what we do not eat in Spanish: “Nosotros comemos no carne, no pescado, no leche, no mantequilla, no huevos, no mel”. The answer: “Ok, ok. Jamon!” Our reply: “No jamon”. The waiter: “Ok, ok. Chorizo!” and so on.

And that’s when we decided not to even try eating in a Spanish restaurant. Which of course is a pity, since local food should be part of the trip. (Did you know that in Madrid there are several stores selling only jamon. They are called “Museo del Jamon?. In these stores pig legs hanging from the ceiling are replacing the lights).

In the big cities we eventually ended up eating Chinese and Indian food. We have not been so lucky in the smaller towns, where we fed ourselves with cold beans spread on a hard piece of bread.

The dust of an empire

17 Oct

Portugal is the example of a country with great potentials but ruined by a corrupted political class. On the streets you can feel the presence of an empire which is now just dust: empty stores are trying to survive between the rubbles of broken buildings, endless queues of doors once leading to local shops are now replaced by bricks with graffitis, the wooden doors long gone to heat the cold evenings of the Portuguese nights. The people try to survive the best they can, with an unemployment rate of almost 20%. Many went look for a job in the nearby France (not Spain of course, where the unemployment rate is almost 30%), some are lucky enough to find job as cashiers in a supermarket at the minimum rate of 650 euro per month (480 euro after tax), but the university graduated are not so lucky, a special law protects them from a low salary: they must be paid at least 3 times the minimum salary. So nobody hires them unless they hide their studies from their resumes. And in the meantime the politicians that created this situation receive a salary of 10.000 euro per month and have no intention to renounce their privileges. Our landlord in Coimbra finds himself lucky, he can live with his family and kids (university students) inside one of the empty rooms of his 1 star pension. He says the conditions of the working class (benefits, job security, pension, health) went back 25 years. The country became an investing heaven for Angolans who became rich with businesses of highly doubtful morality and 2 persons need to work to pay the rent of a modest apartment. The time of Salazar are far, but many see him as an inspiration for ending this dark period: at least when he left after 40 years of dictatorship, his pockets were empty, just as when he got to power.

Arrival

23 Sep

The first thing i felt as soon as i stepped out of the airport was a nice warm feeling: the temperature was over 30 degree and it looked like summer here never ends. The second thing was: this is not a poor country. The media in Holland wants to show that Spain is a country on the verge of collapse, unemployment skyrocketing and people sleeping on the streets. I soon discovered this was once more propaganda by the state run media: the government tries convincing people to remain in Holland describing in negative way the other countries. Holland has bad weather, incompetent government, criminal tax rates and corporations running the country. But the Dutch always say that other countries are worse, with bad health care, criminality and poor welfare. Madrid is instead quite a rich city, very clean, with modern public transports and very safe (did you know that Spain has the highest population/cops ratio?).

A short ride by train brought us to the city center. After 30 minutes walk we reached our hostel, where we will be spending the coming 3 nights.

Departure

23 Sep

Life is abdurate. And we’ve seen it from the beginning of the day.

Our plane was leaving from Rotterdam to Madrid at 13:00. Considering the distance of 15 km, we decided to go by bike. So at 10:30 we left home. However immediately some unexpected problems happened to us: not a flat tyre, but heavy construction work on the road.

The indications to the airport were removed without providing any replacement. We found ourselves lost in the country side (as much as Rotterdam can have a country side). However after some delay we decide to proceed cycling on the country road next to vehicles driving 80 km/h.

It did not go that bad after all: sweaty but safe (safety first of course!!!) we reached the airport. Sweaty because was the first day of decent weather in 2 weeks of constant rain.

The flight was delayed for indefinite time. Suddenly the memory of Nairobi popped into our minds: 3 long hours waiting on uncomfortable chairs, with nothing to eat. Rotterdam at least had a quite comfy couch and when they eventually called us for the flight, I was almost about to sleep.

We discovered that the delay was actually caused by a bird who was sucked inside one of the engines of the airplane when it landed. Firemen had to clean the engine.

A deep sense of sorrow and guilt surfaced in our heads: we were the cause for his death. Few days before we found a little bird, a swallow, on the street. His brother was dead and he was too weak to fly: he was walking near the street trying to fly. We could not find his mother around. A woman coming from a nearby house advised we should kill the bird to relieve him from the pain. I wished I said: “why don’t you kill yourself and relieve all of us from your stupidity”. Unfortunately these were not the words that reached my mind on time.

We decided to bring the unfortunate creature to a nearby petting zoo. It was one hour before closing time and the employee did not want to cooperate, he was not interested in the poor animal and was just focused on leaving his job on time to start his dinner at 17:01. He eventually advised to put the creature on a branch.

This is Holland: everybody is damn selfish. How much I hate that country.

We eventually called the animal ambulance (which is a paying number, since the state is not supporting this organisation, but choose to give money to corporations).We brought home Fonzie, this is his name, we gave him some water, and he slept for the following 2 hours in the warmth of our hands, with his beck turned into his feathers.

Eventually the people from the animal ambulance arrived and took care of Fonzie. We discovered that they have people on duty 24/7 to help little brave creatures like Fonzie.

Anyway, back to the airplane, we felt this immense sense of guilt: we pride ourselves of saving a bird, but our actions killed another one.

I started wondering if actually animals are able to decide to suicide themselves. Why would we be the only one able to take our own lives?
Maybe he was depressed, weak, in a bad relationship or simply tired of this life. He could not take pills, he cannot jump from a bridge, starving to death might take long. So why not this fast way, maybe also in the hope of destroying one of the symbols of human dominance and pollution of the planet?

Preparation

18 Sep

On Monday we will start our second long tour.

Six years ago we traveled through Europe by car. It was a horrible experience.

It is now time to give the old continent one last chance. Do not delude us.

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