Are you contemplating moving to Spain? Studying abroad? Or just curious what life in Spain is like? Well then continue reading because I have some tips, tricks and lessons learned. Let’s go!
Driving in Spain:
Driving in Spain is pretty similar to driving in the states. Cars are made similar to those in the United States and with just the basic knowledge about street signs, you will be okay. When traveling to Spain, your American drivers license is good for up to 90 days. After 90 days, you will have to get a international driver’s permit. You will need to have some type of insurance with the rental car company or personal insurance just in case of emergency. Additionally, like other countries in Europe, Spain favors manual transmission so it’s a good idea to learn how to drive stick before coming. There are automatic cars that you can rent or buy but they are usually much more expensive. You also don’t want to have a very big vehicle because outside of residential areas, streets are very narrow and you are likely to take out a chunk of your side mirror if your car is too big. Also, the Spanish tend to park crooked in order to keep people from parking next to their car so don’t be surprised if you spend a while looking for a parking spot.
Blue paint on the curb means paid parking, yellow is usually reserved for a driveway, and green or no paint is usually a safe bet. There are also a lot of scams in the touristy areas where people will approach you and charge you money to park there and you just have to be careful and do your research.
Eating in Spain:
Spain has wonderful culinary creations and you can literally eat your way through out the country. The food isn’t necessarily spicy like Latin American or Mexican food and usually focuses on spices or olive oil. Tapas, especially in bigger cities like Barcelona or Madrid, tend to be more expensive as opposed to smaller cities like Cadiz or Seville. More traditional Spanish restaurants will offer you a tapa with your drink or for a very cheap price. Wine is very cheap and you can usually get a good bottle for 2 or 3 Euro. Paella is a rice dish that Spain is known for in the best place to get paella is Valencia. Seafood can be found in most of the coastal cities like Cadiz and is often caught the morning of. There aren’t very many vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Spain as the staple diet often consists of meat, seafood or bread. Also, waiters and waitresses in Spain tend to avoid bothering you too much and will often need to be waved down if you need something or want to pay the bill. Also tipping is not mandatory but a couple of Euros for a good meal is a decent tip.
Also, when planning your meals in Spain consider the fact that Spanish have a very different timeline compared to Americans. For example , breakfast in Spain usually isn’t served until 10 a.m. and usually only consists of coffee and a pastry. Lunch is usually served around 2 or 3 p.m. and dinner can be served as late as 10 p.m. The majority of restaurants you find will either be closed during siesta hours or closed on specific days for religious reasons. Also, most nightclubs in Spain don’t really get the party started until 1 in the morning and usually last till 7 a.m.
Dining with kids:
Dining with kids is pretty easy in Spain and you can usually find a good restaurant that is also kid friendly. The Spanish are all about family time and restaurants are very accommodating for kids. Sometimes restutants will have playgrounds or play areas for the kiddos to enjoy while the parents sip on some wine or beer. Waiters and waitresses are very understanding and will often bring out the kids meals first or bread to snack on during the meal. Don’t worry about your kiddo losing it during the terrible twos because most Spanish people are very understanding and will ignore the disruption.
Spain has certain hours of the day where shops, restaurants and businesses will shut down. This is known as siesta time. Spain is a very laid-back country and therefore the people here like to enjoy a little bit of relaxation after a big lunch. Siestas can last anywhere from an hour to 3 hours so plan your day accordingly.
Spain has everything that the United States has including shopping malls, supermarkets, department stores, etc. Some of the best stores are Ikea, Carrefour (the French equivalent of Target), Mercadona, Aldi, Decathlon (similar to Dick’s sporting goods), El Cortez Ingles (like a Macy’s or Nordstrom) and many, many others. Some of the best shopping that you will get to experience in Spain is at the Gypsy markets or farmers markets. There you can get the freshest produce, fish, handmade goods and more. My favorite market by far in Spain is La Boqueria in Barcelona. You will not only find a variety of produce and seafood but also several five star restaurants.
Spain has some of the friendliest people you will meet in all of Europe. Everyone greets you with a smile and they are extremely helpful. When out with kids, older women or men will often come up and complement your child or joke with them. There is rarely any judgment when your child is freaking out in a grocery store or on a train platform.
Most people in the larger cities like Madrid and Barcelona will speak English or have someone nearby who speaks English. It gets a little harder in the smaller towns but they are still extremely helpful and will go out of their way to help you. The police and security guards are also extremely helpful and very nice as long as you’re not causing trouble. (My car broke down on the side of the freeway and the two police officers helped me to helped me to call a tow truck, took me to a taxi and followed up with me the next day to see if I was okay.
Spain is beautiful country to live in and once you get over the initial culture shock you’ll never want to leave. Whether it is the topless beaches, siesta hours or the late night dining and party scene, it can be quite a shock when you first arrive. As long as you adjust your mindset to the idea of living in a foreign country different than America, you’ll be okay and grow to love it.
Enjoy! Hasta luego!