(Copyright 1999. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

 

December 27, 1999


The Tattoo

Volume 6, No. 3


Seeing Spain's old world charms

By HILA YOSAFI
The Tattoo

If only we could have the best of both worlds. While
vacationing in Europe, at times I would think to myself,
"Wow, I wish we could have it like this in the States."

But by the end of the trip, I was grateful to be heading back
to a land I'm familiar with. This was mainly due to the eight
hour flight in the coach section, not Europe.

I went on a trip that only lucky teens -- or those who work
two jobs during the summer, like me -- get a chance to go
on. Five girls from Bristol Eastern High School, along with
our chaperone, Eastern Spanish teacher Roy Taylor, six boys
from Fairfield Prep and 13 teens from 
Massachusetts went on a nine day trip to Spain and Portugal
during April vacation.
 
I have seen beauty throughout the cities and towns I've
visited in Spain:  Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca; and
in Portugal: Fatima and Lisbon. 

I asked my friend why we can't have this kind of beauty
where we live. She gave me a common sense answer that our
country is not as old as Europe. "OK, this is our NEW
cathedral built 400 years ago," said our tour guide for
Segovia, Maria.
 
There's a balance of city and country in the capital cities.
Fountains every 10 meters (and not a penny in them -- they
don't throw away their money like Americans!), pigeons
everywhere (you can't miss those), beautifully carved
Renaissance, Gothic and baroque buildings. While there were
lush greens and ancient buildings in Madrid and Lisbon,
there were also subways!
 
Everyone was dressed nicely no matter where they were.
There was not a pair of blue or baggy jeans in sight. Most
people were in great shape probably because they walk
everywhere. They were intelligent too. Most natives could
speak more than one language. 

Everyone I encountered was polite. I got lost through the
snaky streets of Salamanca, twice! 

This was a great Spanish lesson for me. If I knew French, I
could have gotten a French lesson as well because most of
the natives could speak it. Each time I got lost strangers took
the time out to walk me all the way to the front of my hotel! 

We got by the language barrier in Spain easier than we had
expected. With four years of Spanish class and one week of
Spanish camp under my belt, I got by well. I understood
directions and signs for the most part. I even had several
conversations with natives. 

However, Portugal was a different story. Most of us could
make out a few similarities with Spanish. Thankfully, most of
the natives there spoke some English as well. 

Life seemed so much more relaxing there. Sure, I was on
vacation, but in the Spanish culture, there is a siesta time
every afternoon, where all shops close so families could eat
together. So they don't have our excuse for lack of family
values -- no time!

It seemed to me that there were family values, however.
There were many families gathered at in the city's beautiful
parks. 

Our main tour guide, Sean, a graduate of Oxford Uaiversity
in England, and speaker of six languages, said while in Spain
you have to see a bullfight (I strongly agree), flamenco
dancing, and eat tapas. 

There is just so much for entertainment where I went. Night
life is from midnight till the break of dawn, but there is
plenty of shopping, bars, cafes, restaurants, movies (granted
they are dubbed), and arcades.

OK, we have this in the States (maybe not in Bristol, but in
the rest of the country), but every week, there is a bullfight
for all of Madrid to view for the price of an American movie
ticket . 

Although natives take it for granted, the bullfight every
Sunday in Madrid is best tourist attraction, in my opinion.
The entire group that came for the bullfight left in the
beginning of the fight, all except me and a friend of mine.

Like Hemingway, I have become a lover of the bulls. Those
who left claimed it was more disgusting and cruel than they
had expected. They did not expect the bulls to get killed.
Now, I am a vegetarian, but the fight was a thrill for me. It
was sheer entertainment  Plus, the meat does not go to waste.
It is eaten.
 
The bullfight I happened to attend may not have been a very
clean one. At every fight, there are five rounds. The goal is
to kill five bulls. Two of them just wouldn't die! Two of
them injured the innocent horses that are used to transport the
matadors. They dug their horns right into their  sides.

The matadors must have these qualifications: athleticism,
flexibility, speed, agility and, equally as important, good
looks.
 
Bullfighting is big business in Spain. Vendors make a lot of
money off the tourists in just souvenirs. You can buy your
own pair of spears, a program, and even personalized posters.

 And there's a guy walking around with a cooler, trying sell
us ice cold beer every two minutes. 
Flamenco dancing is kind of like Irish dancing, with men and
women and live instruments. Women wear long, frilly
dresses, while men wear blouses and pants. One must be in
top physical condition to do this fast-paced dance. 

Tapas, which are a variety of appetizers that make up a
dinner. They are not for veggies, however. I lived on bread
and Coca-Cola that night. 

If you like rolls, you will get plenty of them at restaurants.
They are crusty on the outside, yet  soft in the inside. Unlike
in America, there is no butter on the table.

And in most restaurants, the tip is included, something I
didn't find out until later. If you order steak, order it a little
more cooked than you'd prefer because the Spanish idea of
"well done" is different than ours.
 
In the restaurants we went to we were entertained with "tuna"
players. These are men in tight, elaborate costumes, singing
and playing stringed instruments. They walked from table to
table, selling their CDs and collecting tips.

As for food, even with all the bulls being killed, beef is not
big there. However, veal was served. But even more popular
were porkchops and shellfish.

Being a vegetarian, I lived on bread, omelets, lettuce, and
asparagus. A friend of mine had to miss our day in Toledo to
throw up in bed all day due to runny eggs.  Apparently there
aren't too many vegetarians in Spaln, because we can eat
more than that. 

Although most European tap water is safe to drink, there is
bottled mineral  water everywher, in restaurants and even in
vending machines. When you order water, it comes bottled
(so they can charge you for it) unless you specifically ask for
tap water, which, again I didn't learn until the end of the trip.

The legal drinking age in Spain and Portugal is 16. You can
order a beer with your value meal in McDonalds, or buy one
from the many vending machines.

Although I didn't see too many teens chugging a beer, many
were smoking. They still have cigarette vending machines
there.  There's hardly a place where smoking is banned,
except,  of course, cathedrals, palaces, and museums.

These places are the sights that cannot compare to any that
I've seen in America. We toured amazing, humongous
cathedrals, palaces with more than 1,000 rooms, and the
famous Museo Del Prado.

In El Escorial there is a room where one could whisper to the
walls in one corner, and it could be heard by someone
standing in the opposite corner. Everyone got a kick out of
this.

There are rooms full of elaborate caskets of deceased royalty.
Some are even reserved.

Flash photography is not allowed in many of these tourist
attractions. We were told to buy postcards instead. 

We got the opportunity to visit the sword factory in Toledo,
a city famous for its steel. Many students bought swords
there, which did go through customs easily.

One student bought four different weapons in Spain: a sword,
ball and chain, knife, and spears, and still got through
customs without a problem.

Europe as a whole is Americanized in some ways, though.
There are McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts everywhere.

While the prices are about the same as here, the look is not.
McDonalds in Europe is palatial: marble floors, ceilings, and
walls, three floors, and PACKED during dinner time, which
is typically around 10 p.m.
 
While the counter girl at the Dunkin' Donuts in Madrid had
never heard of a Coffee Coolatta, they did serve freshly
squeezed orange juice, which they squeezed right in front of
you. And if you were eating and drinking there, they served
you with porcelain!
 
There was porn everywhere and sex shops on many corners -
- obscene magazines filling an entire side of the news stands,
prostitutes, and porn on every other channel.
 
Girls had to watch out, because there were guys leering on
practically every street corner. We were told to ignore them.

However, a couple of girls from Massachusetts foolishly
responded to the calls. The men followed them for a little
while, but luckily the girls were in a large group.
 
There are street vendors, similar to New York City. I was
interested in a beaded vest, the vendor was so desperate, he
put it on over my head for me! 

Hotel rooms are different than ones in America. There are no
alarm clocks in any of the rooms. You have to depend on the
wake-up calls. There aren't any Bibles in the drawers either.
The key to the rooms is a card, which is very useful because
the electricity only runs when you have the card in a slot.

Bathrooms there are different as well. There's a bidet in each
one in the hotels and even in some public facilities (we had
to explain to one of our roommates three times what a bidet
is). There is no water pressure in the shower. 

The city streets are crowded yet clean.

With all the smokers, I was surprised that there weren't even
cigarette butts littering the streets. That's because there are
trash cans about every 10 meters that say, "Madrid, limpic, y
verde" (for those of you aren't bilingual, that means, "Madrid,
clean and green."
 
However, there is a lot of graffiti, such as don't vote for so
and so.

Once you get to the small towns, the streets are very narrow
with cobblestone roads, and no sidewalks. You have to watch
your back or you might get run over. There are also
musicians on every corner, playing for money.

At a strip of night clubs and bars in Lisbon, a woman was
handing out red AIDS ribbons for a small fee.

The subway systems are much better in Europe. They are
cleaner and easier to use than the ones in New York City.

Don't get me wrong. There are your typical big city crimes.
There are homeless in the big cities, just like in any other big
city. Two women were mugged early in the trip one night in
Madrid. A teenage boy took all their money and passports.

Another student got "groped" on the metro. A mugger tried
to steal his wallet out of his back pocket.

To keep in touch, I used the Internet cafes in the big cities. It
was just a few dollars for a half hour of use. This was much
more economic than $10 for a four minute phone call to
Connecticut.

With this trip, I witnessed a different culture. Although it was
costly, it was well worth the expense to have experiences I
couldn't get in America.

This edition of The Tattoo also included a number of photographs by Hila Yosafi. The entire page in the newspaper was devoted to her story. Copies are available by contacting The Tattoo.


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