Traveling and living in Spain for a couple of years, I experienced many things new and different to me. Some were funny and some weren't.
US Air Force Family
When I was in my early twenties, I lived for 2 years with my American military husband in Spain. We did not live on the US Air Base there, but in the little nearby town so I experienced many more things than I would have if we surrounded ourselves by only Americans. Only one of the many things we experienced was the travel.
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
— Saint Augustine
At the time of our marriage, my husband owned a little blue Volkswagen Beetle. Knowing that we would be in Spain for a couple of years, my husband decided to pay the expense of shipping your car to Spain with us. When it arrived we took the train down to the port town of Cadiz from Madrid to pick it up. This was the first time I had been on a train and I enjoyed the experience but found it hard to get comfortable for the four hours we were there. It was made for small people. The bench seats were padded (barely) and upholstered with red velour fabric. It was pretty but not too comfortable. The interior of the train was paneled in a deep dark maple wood, which must have looked very rich when it was new but now looked older and faded. I found the constant clacking of the wheels and the rocking to be somnolent but I couldn’t lie down to sleep.
In the US, our little Volkswagen was not unusual but it was small compared to the large and luxury cars most families drove. In Spain, our Volkswagen was very unusual. Most of the Spanish people who could afford a car drove the little Spanish Seat. Any other car meant you were rich enough to pay the high import tax and so we were immediately considered rich Americans.
There are no language barriers when you are smiling.
— Allen Klein
The speed limits were a challenge. In the US the maximum we were used to on the highway was 65 miles per hour. In Spain, the speed limits were in kilometer (of course) so we had to constantly do quick conversions or carry a chart with us. Most of the time the limits were much higher than we were used to, anywhere from 75 miles per hour to 90 mph. Then there were the roads, which were really not smooth like the ones we were blessed to drive on in the US. Sometimes we would get behind a truck piled high with junk or hay or whatever and it looked so rickety that we were concerned for our own safety should it topple over. The only time I ever saw any police on the road was when the king was doing some traveling. Then the Guardia Civil was stationed in intervals of a few hundred feet of each other standing on the side of the highway with their machine guns poised. It was alarming.
As soon as we picked the car up at Cadiz, we asked where we could find a car wash. My husband wanted to rinse off any saltwater that may have gotten on his precious car. You should have seen the horrified looks we got from the locals. The whole region was experiencing a drought and water was being rationed. It was for drinking and sometimes bathing only. There was no water for washing cars until we reached Madrid where the rains had been more plentiful. Who knew? It seems that the Rain in Spain does lie mainly in the Plain (central Spain).
Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.
— Maya Angelou
What we found very quickly was that many streets in Spain are not made for these larger cars. (It’s still hard to think of that little Volkswagen Beetle as a large car.) In many of the town streets, it was a tight fit between buildings to drive through, and often we opted to drive the long way around to avoid closer buildings. These old-world buildings were really made for smaller people and smaller carts. Also, the cobblestones were terrible to drive over. I have to admit; the smooth paving here in the states spoils me. Driving over the beautiful old cobblestones is like driving your grocery cart over the bumpy metal plates they put in parking lots to keep the carts from running away. You simply have to slow down or get shaken up like a cocktail.
This proved to be very problematic when my pregnancy reached the final trimester. I was sure the baby was going to be shaken out of me right there in the front seat of the Volkswagen.
I have also been spoiled by the existence of many public restrooms in the US. Being pregnant in Spain meant that I was forced to hide behind a tree or in an alley to relieve myself often. I simply couldn’t travel very far before I had to go again. I should have had a clue the first time we went to a public park in Madrid. It was a lovely hilltop view with trees and flowers and a paved walkway. We ambled along carefree when we came upon what looked to be a 6-year-old girl relieving herself beside the walkway, accompanied by her teenage sister with crossed arms ordering her to hurry up. At the time I blamed the parents for rude behavior but later I realized I should blame the country for not providing public restrooms. The second clue was getting lost in Madrid and coming upon a very smelly alleyway. My husband warned me that they probably used that alley for a toilet, but I thought he meant only homeless people. Not so. With all this in mind, I realized why you don’t see many pregnant women traveling in Spain. That would be self-preservation.
Traveling to the Farm
On early morning trips, we came upon long caravans of people leading horse carts and cows out of the town along a cobblestone road. I was told later that people did not live on their farms. They lived in the town and took their animals and farm tools every day out to the farm to work. Watching them lead horse carts along made me think I was lost in some anachronistic dreamland. It was an old-world vision you just don’t see in the states.
One of the things that struck me most driving along in the countryside of Spain was how much the landscape looked like California. I wonder if that is one of the reasons the Spanish colonized and stayed here in California. The weather is very similar as well.
I learned a lot from living in Spain for the short time I lived there. I will never take for granted all the luxuries and comforts that I have here in the US. Even now I feel I was blessed to be able to see how other parts of the world live. What do you think?