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Traveling in Spain

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.

Me and George in Spain

Me and George in Spain

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

The Aquaduct at Segovia.  Cars can drive through the arches at the ground level.

The Aquaduct at Segovia. Cars can drive through the arches at the ground level.

Our Car

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

My little blue Volkswagen beetle with my daughter in front.

My little blue Volkswagen beetle with my daughter in front.

Speed Laws

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.

Car Wash

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

Cobblestone streets

Cobblestone streets

Cobblestone Streets

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.

Windmills in the county of La Mancha

Windmills in the county of La Mancha

Public Bathrooms

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.

Horse carts

Horse carts

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.

Bull fight tickets

Bull fight tickets

Final Thoughts

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?

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 19, 2020:

Abby Slutsky,

It was an awesome experience for me. The cars surprised me also. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 14, 2020:

Devika Primić,

I am glad I didn't need to live there permanently. We were only there a little over 2 years but still, it seemed a long time since my baby was born there. She had a duo-citizenship until she turned 18 and gave one up. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Abby Slutsky from America on October 14, 2020:

I was in Barcelona and Madrid a long time ago, but I was a student. It sounds like you had a wonderful experience. I didn't realize that certain cars were considered rich person cars there.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 14, 2020:

Denise that is life in a foreign country that makes appreciate what you have than needing more than you have. I too learned how to appreciate what I have through my experiences from having left a good life to live in a foreign country permanently. I have seen that over the years living in my adopted country that I took everything I had for granted.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 13, 2020:

Dora Weithers,

Absolutely. It is kind of funny, isn't it? Things we take for granted like washing the car and bathing, they looked on a luxury. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 13, 2020:

Thanks for sharing these experiences of life in a foreign country. I enjoy reading them. The car wash was funny with the locals watching you splash water over your car during a drought. They must have retold that same story in a mood different than yours.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 13, 2020:

Kalpana Iyer,

I agree. I remember once I had to go into a bar just to use a restroom in Madrid. That was very unpleasant for me. I don't drink alcohol at all. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 13, 2020:

Mary Norton,

That is very good to know. I was pretty distressed being pregnant and not finding a bathroom. It made traveling even a few miles from home very uncomfortable. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 12, 2020:

Linda Crampton,

It was very interesting and something I never would have dreamed that I would be able to experience before it happened. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 12, 2020:

Interesting travel story! Yes, it is kind of sad that many places still lack public restrooms. It is the most basic thing a government should provide, especially when you are paying taxes.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 12, 2020:

Linda Lum,

Oh, I bet that was a beautiful sight. Isn't that an awesome experience to see how other countries do it? I loved the experience myself. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 11, 2020:

I can relate to your experiene having lived in other countries. Your experience though was earlier so much more inteesting. There was still now much development then. Now, many cities already enjoy good roads and other facilities we enjoy in North America.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2020:

Raymond Philippe,

I'm glad you liked my adventures. I have never been to the Netherlands but would love to visit there someday. It was a great thing for me to see another country and culture. I don't take my own country for granted because of it. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2020:

Lorna Lamon,

Toilet facilities are unusual and unexpected in other cultures and countries. I never gave a thought to how hard it would be to find clean available facilities. Now I'm so much more grateful for my country and the facilities. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 11, 2020:

Liz Westwood,

I was blessed to get to have that experience. And who would have thought of a Volkswagen as a "luxury" car? But having our own transportation was helpful in Spain. There are more Spain experiences coming. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2020:

I enjoy reading about your travels in Spain very much. It's fascinating to learn about customs in different countries.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on October 10, 2020:

What an adventure! Your observation of the farmers is repeated in many other parts of Europe. I have a cousin who lives in Slovenia and a few years ago I paid him and his wife a visit. Every day began with and every day ended with the sound of cowbells clanging as the milkmaids would guide their cows to the hills (ala Heidi?) and back again.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 10, 2020:

Unless having access to luxury hotels, the toilet facilities are quite different. I remember standing over a hole in the ground in Switzerland one time. The flushing apparatus was over the entire floor. At least there was a barrier for privacy.

In Germany, many of the toilets are not on the ground level, so one has to walk up or downstairs for access. At least that was my experience.

Travel can be such an eye-opening experience and education.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2020:

Rosina S Khan,

Yes, I had hoped people would get the reference to Pygmalion and My Fair Lady with the rain in Spain lying mainly in the plain. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2020:

Eric Dierker,

Well, I know it doesn't hold a candle to all the places you have been and all the languages you have under your belt. I admire you for that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 10, 2020:

Bill Holland,

Yeah, that's pretty funny to me too. I'm so glad we didn't have come big luxury car at the time. It wouldn't have fit down any streets in Spain. It would have been a useless hunk of metal parked on the street. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 10, 2020:

I'm jealous of anyone who has traveled to Europe, but no worries, I still like you. :)

A Beetle as a symbol of wealth? I'm still laughing at that observation.

Sounds like quite an adventure, my friend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

Blessings always

bill

Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on October 10, 2020:

That was nice to read the experiences of americans visiting and living in Spain. Public toilets are not only a scarce commodity in Spain but in many other european countries as well. I do recognize that. What fun to see those personal photos on top of the artikel!

Lorna Lamon on October 10, 2020:

I think that travelling is an education in itself and your time in Spain highlights the differences in the cultures. I spent time in Andalusia in Spain and often marvelled at the little homes cut into the mountainside. On visiting these homes I was amazed at how spacious they were. I was also shocked by the toilet facilities in the countryside which consisted of a hole in the ground. Thank you for sharing your adventures in Spain which I enjoyed reading Denise.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 09, 2020:

This is a fascinating article. It gives a great insight into your time in Spain. My mother worked in Africa in the 1950s and had her car shipped out there. I think she left it when she came back to the UK. I would be very interested to read more about your experience in Spain. I remember travelling in Europe as a child when we took our car over by car ferry. As I got older I got used to doing the maths to figure out how far we had to go in miles to our destinations. Your time in Spain sounds like a great adventure. Differing or nonexistent toilet facilities abroad can definitely be challenging.

Rosina S Khan on October 09, 2020:

This is a great article where you demonstrate how living in Spain would look and feel. The line "It seems that the Rain in Spain does lie mainly in the Plain" reminds me of a movie starred by Audrey Hepburn in the main role where she lives in the slums and has the opportunity to learn perfect English from a gentleman who picked her up from the slums.

Thank you, Denise, for this experience-rich and enjoyable article.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 09, 2020:

Thank you so much for this wonderful account.