When in Spain, do as Spaniards do, or you might be too early for breakfast or too short on cash for a toll.
1. If you plan to travel by car in Europe, check not only for the distances, but also try to find out information about the tolls. My boyfriend and I were driving from Barcelona to Valencia (480 miles) and it cost us more than 100 Euros in tolls alone.
For more on the distances in Europe, visit Mapcrow.
2. Even the most “non-traveler” knows that Europeans using a different metric system. Just about anything you might need conversations for, you can find here.
3. If you are traveling on a schedule and need to wake up at a particular hour (to catch a tour and/or a flight or a train), make sure you have an alarm clock with you. It happens often in Europe that hotel attendants forget to make a wake up call you have requested with them. (It happened at least twice to us in Spain.)
4. When traveling in Europe, in Spain and Italy in particular, make sure you have a portable soap and hand towels in your purse, it is very likely there won’t be any soap and towels in a public and/or in a restaurant bathroom. And before you sit down to eat at a restaurant; I’d strongly suggest visiting their bathrooms – as nice as a restaurant might look in the dining area, check out the condition of their bathrooms. You can tell a lot by how the patrons of a restaurant keep their bathrooms. If it’s dirty and/or lacks the hygiene essentials, like soap or towels or toilet paper – most likely same chaos is in their kitchen.
5. Don’t wait in-between meals too long, the service is very slow in most of Europe (Europeans are known to enjoy each meal they have, be it a breakfast or a dinner – does not matter – they take their time to sit down and enjoy a meal). So if you are about to get very hungry and are planning to have a plate of food in front of you at in between noon and 2:00 p.m., guess what – most likely you won’t. Get to a restaurant at least one hour before you need to swallow the first piece of your food, because that’s how long it could take to get your order (unless it’s a fast food joint.)
6. And it does make sense (based on my personal experience in most of the Europe) to check when the locals usually have their meals. When we were in Spain, Spaniards would have breakfast in between 9 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. – so don’t hold your breath for a cup of coffee before 9 a.m. – lunch at 3:00 p.m. and dinner at in between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. And most restaurants are closed during other times.
7. Do know that you can bargain with every street vendor, does not matter if you are buying a jewelry or a bag of roasted chestnuts. Walk away if a vendor does not except your bargaining price and see what happens – most likely a vendor will change his mind on a price and ask you to come back for the good.
8. If travel by car, buy essential snacks (food & drinks) at a supermarket or a convenience store that you can find in any city (even in a village). It will cost much less then buying it at a gas station.
9. Expect 99.9 percent of the population in Spain to speak no English.
10. If you find a pleasant welcome at a restaurant in a form of an aperitif and/or an appetizer, don’t worry – it will show up on your bill. Nothing is that welcoming in Spain, even a few roasted salty nuts that come with a beer will be charged to your card. So, before you open your eyes wide and smile in the sight of a pleasant ‘surprise’, ask the waiter and/or bartender if that is free.
11. Don’t expect to find soap and paper towels in public bathrooms (I think it just does not exist.)
12. Zara store chain dominates all other stores’ presence, and while there is no real difference in the assortment, the Spaniards will still have two Zara stores within 50 meters from each other.
13. Don’t count on restaurants to be opened for lunch earlier than 2:00 p.m. (and if it is open, then most likely it’s a touristy place, so avoid it all costs.)
14. Don’t expect any business offices to operate earlier than 9 a.m. and later than 5:00 p.m. (they only start their breakfasts at 9 a.m. and it’s tapas time at 5 p.m.)
15. Even on a workday, it feels like siesta all day long – Spaniards drink beer and wine throughout the day.
16. Don’t expect many stores open on Sundays (first of all, Spaniards are very religious and almost all of them attend Sunday catholic messes. Second of all – it’s Sunday, that says it all.)
17. By all the means, double check when booking a hotel how far it actually is from the center. It might say on the description of the hotel that it is close to the center, but that might mean that it is close to the center via metro or a bus, not a walk. So, check to see how far it is by walk – not many people would like to waste time on studying metro and bus maps while vacationing in a foreign country.
18. Make sure you eat tapas freshly grilled in your presence, otherwise it will be micro-waved. (Inside tip: the best tapas bars are at a city market, where all the ingredients are from the market, such as fresh meats, seafood, vegetables and bread. Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia all have city markets and they are open through the week, from morning to early evening.) I can promise you – it will be your best tapas experience ever!
19. Do expect to pay more than 100 euros in tolls within 500 miles, but it all depends on roads – expect to pay more on highways with the tunnels and bridges (common sense.) So, do have cash with you, most tolls won’t accept foreign credit/debit cards.
20. What might look like a Spanish restaurant might end up being a Pakistani and/or an Arabian joint, so don’t expect tapas, most likely they will have hummus and kebabs.20. Don’t expect that every local will know their home town by heart; Spaniards might not even know where their historic places are, so your best bet is still to rely on a map.
21. Expect to eat behind a bar, literally, if you’re grabbing a drink at a restaurant.
22. Valencia might be the heart of paella, according to all guide books, but to tell you the truth – their paella is as good as in any other places in Spain.
23. For Spanish: beans with chicken are a much heavier meal than potatoes with a whole partridge. So, do order what your heart wishes, don’t rely on the waiter’s advices (unless you do speak Spanish as fluent as the locals and understand the description of all ingredients.)
24. If you are hoping to find any fashionistas in Madrid or in Spain in general, you might be surprised to find out that the most fashionable person in Spain was Victoria Bekham, and she has left for Los Angeles.
25. On most of the questions, expect to hear “No”. “May we sample this flavor of gelato? – No”, “May we borrow this chair for our table? – No. ”We requested a wake up call and you didn’t make it. – No.” “What’s “No”? – No.”
26. In most tapas bars don’t expect to seat, there are very few tables and chairs available. You might score some before 9:00 p.m., but most likely that would mean that you’d eat all alone.
27. If you wake up early on a weekend day, you are then better off to eat breakfast at Starbucks or McDonalds – Spaniards open late for coffee and breakfast on weekends.
28. Forget about parking in a city. Just forget it. (Public parking is available, but only in very few places. Ask your hotel clerk to point on the map, where these parking places are.)
29. If you decide to request a wake-up call, do set up your alarm as well – it is 50/50 that you would actually receive the requested wake-up.
30. Avoid restaurants in touristy areas at all costs – not one Spanish waiter will make an effort to please a tourist in a touristy restaurant. Don’t expect to be very impressed with the local authentic cuisine. Only locals know where to get quality food worth your euro – and it ain’t to be at a place where one speaks any English. That’s the beauty of a very cultural experience.
31. What comes for free in USA, like roasted peanuts with your beer, is charged for in Spain. So, think twice before digging into the nut mix – yes, those local roasted nuts are delicious – but they also come at a cost of anything between two and four euros for a handful.