Ready to go to Spain
Living in Spain
For many people, Spain conjures up images of flamenco, matadors, El Prado, Don Quijote, the Royal Family, castles, aqueducts, beaches, Lladro porcelain, swords, olive gardens, Picasso, shoes, and siestas. Spain is all of this and more.
The population of Spain totals approximately 40 million. Madrid, Spain's capital and largest city is home to three million people. The next largest cities are Barcelona, Valencia and Seville.
You will quickly discover that one trait that all Spaniards share in common is the official language of Spain – Castilian Spanish. When traveling to the northwestern Spain however, be prepared to hear the Galician language spoken. The Galician language is a romance language which is similar to Portuguese. In northeastern Spain, you will find Catalan speakers. Catalan is a romance language also, dating back to the 12th century. In eastern Spain, the variation of Catalan spoken is Valenciano. Lastly, in northern Spain you will hear Euskera or the Basque language spoken. No one is sure of the exact origin of Euskera, but it has been hypothesized that immigrants from Asia Minor introduced the language to the region at the beginning of the Bronze Age.
During the Middle Ages, Christianity, Judaism, and Islamic religions were practiced in Spain. In the late 1400's, the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella declared Roman Catholicism the compulsory religion of the Spaniards. To this day, practically all Spaniards are Catholic, although few actively participate. Secularization of the State has been wide spread over the last two centuries and the constitution establishes religious liberty for all.
If you're a night owl, you'll love the hours the Spaniards keep. In general, Spaniards tend to get up later in the morning and stay out longer at night as compared to the rest of their European neighbors. Shops and businesses usually open their doors around 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and close for siesta around 1:30 to 2:00 p.m. Later, around 5:00 p.m., they open shop again and remain open until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. Sundays are a day of rest for many shop owners who don't open their doors at all.
If you aren't in the habit of eating breakfast, you might want to keep a snack bar handy. Spaniards usually eat breakfast around 8 am. But, they don't enjoy their main meal of the day until around 2 pm. The last meal of the day is eaten between 9 and 11 pm.
So, if you find yourself searching for a lovely outdoor café to eat the main midday meal, keep in mind that most restaurants serve lunch between the hours of 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. If dinner is your first priority, you will find that most restaurants serve food between 8:30 and 11:30 p.m. So, what should one do when hunger pangs are setting in around 6:00 in the afternoon? Take advantage of the wonderful world of tapas. Tapas are small appetizer sized portions of food that stave away hunger pains for the Spaniards who wait many hours in between eating meals. Eating tapas is popular pastime for Spaniards while socializing in cafes and bars with family and friends.
Looking for leather shoes, bags, coats, or gloves? If you answered yes, you are going to the right place. Spain is well known for its leather goods as well as lace, jewelry, pottery, antiques, embroidery, blown glass, toys, musical instruments, and furniture. So, if you love to shop, listen up: Pack light. That way you'll have some space in your suitcase to carry home your treasures.
If you are the type of person who prefers one stop shopping, you'll be happy to know that El Corte Inglés is Spain's major department store chain. You can find El Corte Inglés in every major city. One nice aspect of this particular store is its hours. This store doesn't close during the siesta. So, if it's siesta time, and you can't wait one more moment to buy a new pair of pants, chances are you won't have to wait for the store to re-open.
Although there are no special rules with respect to dress, nothing stands out more as being American than a baseball cap worn with shorts and a pair of sneakers. For the most part, baseball caps are donned by Spaniards only when playing sports. The same goes for shorts and sneakers. Most Spaniards will wear jeans, a shirt and leather shoes to class each day.
Fiestas and Traditions
The most important holidays in Spain are Christmas, Holy Week, and All Saints Day, which reflect the country's Catholic heritage. In addition to these important days are the feasts of patron saints. All towns and cities, some neighborhoods, even certain professions have a patron saint, which is celebrated on the saint's day. Other well known festivals include: the Festival of San Fermin, (running of the bulls) in Pamplona, Las Fallas in Valencia, Feria de Abril in Seville and the Festival of San Isidro in Madrid. Last, but not least is another important fiesta - the Fiesta Nacional. This Fiesta is actually a bullfight, where the new and young, and the experienced bullfighters demonstrate their talents.
Originally a sport reserved for the aristocracy, bullfighting was practiced on horseback. Only a vassal, who handed the spears to his master or helped the nobleman up if he happened to fall off his horse, assisted the bullfighter. However, bullfighting changed under King Philip the Fifth's reign. The King prohibited the nobles from bullfighting as he considered the sport a bad example for the population. From that point onward, common men began to fight the bulls unarmed by dodging them, pole-vaulting over them, raising small spears, small objects or rags to sidestep the bull. This pastime has become a very deep-rooted cultural phenomenon of today.
It makes sense that if your last meal of the day isn't eaten until 11 p.m., the night- life isn't going to get started much before midnight. Nightclubs start filling up around midnight with the largest crowds milling about around 2 a.m. The merriment lasts until 5 or 6 a.m. the following day. For the really energetic, you'll find clubs that will allow you to frequent the establishment until 7 or 8 a.m.
Dancing is a very important element in the lives of Spaniards. Dance is involved in every celebration. Folkloric dance especially has been revived by the younger generations. It is quite common to see Sevillanas executed on the disco dance floor. More and more, traditional dances such as the Muneira, Sardana, Aragonese, Castilian Jota and Flamenco are being revived.
The social consciousness of the dangers of smoking and the prohibition of smoking in public places doesn't exist in Spain the way it does in the US. The majority of Spaniards do smoke. It is very difficult to find a smoke-free bar or restaurant, and especially a smoke-free nightclub. If you suffer from asthma, or respiratory problems, please be advised that you will probably encounter cigarette smoke in your daily life.
Tipping is customary in Spain. While most establishments include a surcharge for service in your bill, it is still common to leave a small gratuity. It is customary to leave tips in restaurants, and bars and to give a token of appreciation to theater ushers, hotel porters, and taxi drivers.
Art in Spain
Must-see Museums in Madrid unique in the entire world, you will find the Avenue of Art in Madrid. The name of this famous avenue is the Paseo del Prado. On the Paseo del Prado you will find the world-renowned museums: Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía National Museum. This short avenue affords you the opportunity to see such quality art works as: The Meninas of Velázquez, Las Majas of Goya, Giovanna Tornabuoni by Ghirlandajo, Les Vessenots en Auvers by Van Gogh, and Guernica by Picasso.
The Prado Museum
This is home to the world's best collection of Spanish painting. Showcased in the museum, you will find masters such as: El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Ribera, Zurbarán, and Murillo. Van der Weyden, and Hieronymous Bosch represent Flemish painters.
The Prado Museum is located on Paseo del Prado. You can find your way to the museum by riding the metro to stop: Banco de España, or Atocha. Bus lines: 9, 14, 27, 37, and 45 also stop near the museum. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Sundays and holidays, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. With a student I.D. card, you can enter the museum at a discounted rate.
Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
This is a complement to the Prado Museum. While the Prado focuses on classical pieces, the Thyssen Bornemisza collection contains art from Italian and Dutch primitives, German Renaissance, Russian Constructivism, American paintings, Impressionism, German Expressionism and Pop Art. Thyssen Bornemisza is located across the street from the Prado Museum on the Paseo del Prado, 8. You can take the metro to Banco de España or bus lines 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 20, 27, 34, 37, 45, 51, 52, 53, 74, 146, and 150. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. If you show your student I.D., you will gain admission to the museum at a discounted rate.
Not only does the museum carry the name of the Queen of Spain, but the Cento de Arte Reina Sofía also houses contemporary painting and sculpture. Here you will find masterpieces of the great geniuses of the avant-garde: Picasso, Miró and DalÌ. The most famous painting, which occupies a place of honor in the collection due to its historic and artistic importance, is Guernica by Picasso.
You can get to the Reina Sofía via metro stop Atocha or bus lines 6, 10, 14, 18, 19, 26, 27, 32, 34, 36, 37, 41, 45, 47, 55, 57, 59, 68, 86, and 119. The museum is closed Tuesdays, but is open every other day of the week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Students may enter at a discounted rate provided they show a student ID.