Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lessons learned in Spain: Tips and suggestions

So I have officially been back for 2 weeks and it seems like I am about fully adjusted. It took a surprising amount of time for my sleep schedule to actually get back to normal. 2 years ago after the trip to Germany I don't remember having that hard of a time adjusting once I got back, but I guess I might have, or else I have just gotten older :p.

Anyway, over the last couple of weeks I have contemplated Spain and the things that I learned. So in case people are interested these are some tips and suggestions, both random and maybe helpful, They aren't in any particular order since that would take probably to much time and I am not really a good planner when it comes to my blog entries, I just sort of type.

1. Sangria is great (for any meal) but the most cost effective way to drink it is by buying it at the store. The store sells it for a euro, and the restaurants sell it for about 10 euros. Don Simon may not be the best Sangria, but it is certainly more than 1/10 as good.

But the Sangria at restaurants can be a lot funner, especially when you get sugar on the rims!

2. If you are going to stay for more than a week in one town you should definitely look into getting an apartment. In general if gives you a bigger place and a kitchen and possibly a washer/dryer. It also gives a sense of home that can be nice.

3. Most of the hotels in Spain don't seem to do breakfast so unless you sleep as late as we did everyday you are sort of in limbo for breakfast. Actually, this may just be because we stayed in places that were on the lower end of the price spectrum. But regardless you should be prepared.

4. Menu del Dia is amazing. Whenever possible during the hours of 2-5 PM you should try to have Menu del Dia at a restaurant. It is usually a great deal, and unless you order the french fry omelet is usually really good.

Pictured: The only bad Menu del Dia that we had

5. Avoid at all costs restaurants that have huge colored signs. These places usually are huge ripoffs and are specifically designed for tourists who don't want to bother having to speak Spanish to order food. We went to one of these places (the first place we went to) and it was the most expensive meal we had. It was also (except for maybe the last dinner) probably the worst meal that we had. But at least we got to watch chubby spiderman work plaza mayor.

6. Speaking of Spanish. If you don't know Spanish or at least a little bit, I highly recommend stealing... er... borrowing a friends old iPhone and using it to help translate menu's and signs. This was very helpful, at least I thought so.

7. Dinner Roulette. While this is certainly not for everyone, especially for people who are picky about what they eat, or vegetarian, or.... picky? I don't know what else, it can be very fun. While translation programs can help, there are times when you won't be able to translate a whole lot on the menu. In these cases, I actually thought it was fun to order kind of randomly and see what happens. I certainly don't recommend doing this for every meal. But you can end up with something like this:

The proud winner of Toledo Dinner Roulette!

8. In a pinch a baguette is the greatest meal ever. But it is so so much better when you have cheese and meat. It is also a lot better if you can get it sort of fresh. However, you have to be careful as you can get tired of them after awhile. They gave out free baguettes at the conference, and I got one at every meal, but I never ate one. So yeah... baguettes = awesome, but if you eat too much of them over 2 weeks you no longer can eat you have to be careful.

9. Spain has very strange souvenirs. Seen while there: figurines that looked very much like KKK figurines, lots and lots of aprons, lots of magnets, cats that seemed like they were probably free, although I am not sure how you would take them home, lots of weird tile patterns that seemed cool enough except that every tile cost 8 euros, making them very expensive patterns.

10. Before you go, look up what the cities you are visiting are famous for. This will help inform your gift buying/purchases for yourself. For example, Spain in general is known for Olive Oil and Brandy, or Portugal is known for Port. This can be helpful if, like me, you don't know how to shop for souvenirs. (Thanks to Katie for this tip)

11. If you can travel with 2-3 friends. It makes the trips much more enjoyable, although you also need to be understanding with your travel partners as if you are with people for several weeks there are bound to be times when they, or you, may briefly snap. But, just know that they do like you for who you are. Because you're good enough, you're strong enough, and gosh darn, people like you!

12. Always try to speak Spanish. At least attempt it. We got a lot of people who rolled their eyes at us when we asked them if they spoke English first thing. A lot of people where very helpful, but if you can try to initiate in Spanish, and then if things don't really work you can ask if they speak English.

13. Try to remember if you agreed to get people gifts. And if you did agree, then you should get those gifts as soon as possible or you may forget them entirely.

14. Alkazars are, by rule, awesome. If there is one in the city that you are in, visit it!

15. Always thank the people who helped you out during your trip, and so without further ado, I would like to thank:
  • My Parents for supporting me and helping me finance my trip. For commenting on my blog and for sending me Spanish lessons before hand.
  • Eric and Allison for putting up with me and being great travel partners for our time together in Spain and for buying most of my stuff after I paid for the hotels. The trip would not have been as fun or as entertaining without them
  • Chris Bogart for translating for us and traveling with us for a few days and making the Granada trip a lot better. Also for making us breakfast almost every morning during the conference. That was amazing and deserves a lot of props.
  • Markus for hanging out with me during the conference, for letting me watch him play poker during the not so interesting talks, and for writing and presenting our paper on SheetDiff
  • My fellow graduate students at the conference that made the banquet amazing (the wine helped) and made the nights and breaks during the conference fun.
  • Katie and Will for watching and loving Sprinkles while I was gone. I could not have asked for better sitters for Sprinks, and I am sorry that she kept you guys up lots of nights. Also thanks to Katie for actually trying and completing my horribly difficult trivia quiz.
  • Allison's mom for being my biggest fan in Washington, for telling her friends about my blog, and for sending an email
  • All of my readers and friends for reading my blog. It was fun seeing how many people were reading and enjoying my writing... well maybe not my writing, but at least enjoying our adventures. It made it much easier to sit in hotel hallways fighting for internet signals to upload my photos and post the daily entry.
Thanks again to all of you. I hope you enjoyed our travels, and perhaps I can find something entertaining to write about in the future. Until then. Salud mis amigos.