Myth: Pretty much everyone in Europe under the age of thirty five speaks English. (I can't tell you how many places I've read this, or how many people have told me this. My German teacher told me it was pointless to learn German because everyone there spoke fluent English)
Fact: While most people can play charades and know enough English for you to order food, it's probably best if you just assume they don't speak any English and learn some Spanish. If not as a necessety, then at least as a courtesy.
I was expecting to have to play charades with people, but I guess the reality of that didn't sink in until I was trying to order food off a Spanish menu. Not that I was asking questions about it. I don't care what I eat as long as it's edible. I literally have just been pointing at stuff or playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo with the numbers, but asking for directions, or how much the bill is is just.. Well, it's not English. Considering this is the first time I've ever been anywhere that they don't speak English as one of the main languages, I'd say I'm doing quite well. I'm also pretty glad that they speak Spanish instead of Czech, because I can at least ask for sangria, beer, and the bathroom in Spanish. Which is a surprise when you take into account the fact that I've never studied Spanish. I can still barely count to ten correctly. I have a much better handle on German than I do Spanish, and I could actually get around in Jordan since I studied Arabic in both high school and college.. A lot of good that's doing me in Spain. Am I surprised at people here not knowing English? Not at all. Would life be much easier if I knew more than how to order booze? Yes.
Since Saturday my friend Dave and I have been driving around Northern Spain. I'm finding it hard to believe that there are places in the world more beautiful than this, but I can't wait to find them. I have what could be considered an unhealthy obsession with mountains, and Northern Spain has put every mountain I've seen in the states to absolute shame. If you only have a few days in the country and you like good scenery, there would be no better waste of time than to rent a car and drive around the northern coast. Bilbao, Gijon, Segovia, and Oviedo all have breathtaking scenery on the routes to get there. The cities aren't half bad either!
One thing you'll probably notice about Spain on a road trip through (or even just visiting the cities) is how clean it is. When I say clean, I'm not just talking clean like the main streets of Pittsburgh type of clean, where there's some trash but it's not quite overwhelming you. I'm talking clean as in you're driving through a tiny old town where buildings are falling apart, but you still can't find any trash anywhere. The type of clean where you're pretty sure you're in the slums, but you can't even find a cigarette butt on the side walk to affirm your speculations. It's the type of clean that makes you think, man... Americans are fucking dirty!
While you're stopped in a city somewhere, go in for a drink. It doesn't matter what time of day it is. Eight in the morning. Noon. Three. Seven. Midnight. Sit down and have a drink. Then, have some tapas. Apparently, the Spanish invented this idea, and I don't know if I can continue my life without tapas whenever I go for a drink now. Tapas are just finger foods. They bring you a drink, and they bring you some tapas. It could be some type of biscuit, fish, or whatever. I had some today that was almost like quiche. I honestly don't know why this isn't popular in the states. The night before I left for this trip, a friend and I were having drinks at an actual restaurant and we wanted finger foods. They had no menu and no appetizers to offer at the bar. At least give me a vending machine to hold me over until I crave America's drunk food - Waffle House! I think I might start a protest when I get back.
The last thing I think I've noticed about this incredibly beautiful country, is how weird the road system works. First off, it's expensive. Renting a car isn't a big deal, but petrol and diesel are both almost 2€/liter. To add to that, road tolls are insane! In the states, we have a couple rolls of quarters to get us through the tolls anywhere. Not here! One toll booth we went through was over 17€! That was just one. In the states, if you take the wrong exit and have to hop back on the freeway and pay the toll, it's maybe a $5 mistake. Imagine making a $30 mistake. Or getting off to fuel up and paying the same in tolls as you just put in your car. No. Thanks. And in cities, be careful where you walk. In the states we very clearly separate our roads from our sidewalks. Not so in the cities here. We were doing a walking tour of Madrid and were casually strolling between buildings when a car drove right through the crowd. In downtown areas, the streets and sidewalks become one... Don't get run over.