There were a few experiences unique to Spain that I wanted to write up. They’re more observations than tips per se; or a little of both.
Beware the aggressive pickpockets. Having lived and traveled in many major cities, I’m a bit paranoid about getting mugged or pickpocketed, so I seldom carry much cash on me. The one time I did get pickpocketed (in New York), whoever took my wallet only got a payday of about $22. Take that, sucka. Surprisingly, whoever did it (or a good Samaritan) sent me back my wallet, credit cards, IDs, $100 gift cards untouched. But that’s an aside.
When J and I tried to get on the subway at Atocha Renfe, a girl got on in front of me and stood smack in the center of the train car, refusing to budge. I was trying to push her and/or get around her, but there was a lot of tussle going on behind me too. Once things settled down, J pointed out a group of three girls huddled together. One was the girl who’d blocked my path, and the other two had gotten in between me and J, cutting us off. The second girl hid her hand under her sweater while she tried to rummage through my bag. Acting fast, J pushed her hands off, which she then threw up in the air defensively.
When J explained the situation to me, I was surprised but unfazed. I’ve had worse subway experiences in New York (you name it: people vomiting, getting confrontational, following me off the subway, masturbating in front of me, trying to get handsy), but I’ve never been targeted for a premeditated caper quite like this! Being who I am—just short of confrontational, but not afraid of public shaming—I pointed directly at the girls who were standing about six feet away, glaring at us. “Who, THEM?” I asked loudly. “Seriously??”
One of the girls started inching towards us, and J suggested we move to the next train car because it was making him uncomfortable. When we did at the next stop, we saw the three girls get off the subway and walk off together. Better luck next time, ladies.
Lights out. The lights in many Spanish bathrooms are time-sensitive, not motion-sensitive. The first time the light in my stall timed out, I started waving like crazy, to no avail. I could hear a girl outside washing her hands, and I was sitting in pitch darkness thinking how mean it was of her to turn my lights out. I realized later that every stall has a light switch, so you just have to locate where it is beforehand, just in case.
Tipping. I amend what I said in a previous post about tipping in Europe. The 10% rule applies in the UK, but in Spain and Germany (where I was last week), rounding up to the nearest Euro or about 5% is fine. I still don’t mind tipping well for good service—particularly given that it can be a rarity in Europe—but great news! More money to enjoy other things while traveling. :)
Geography 101. I feel a little ignorant saying this, but I didn’t expect Spain to be quite as dry a climate as it was. Our host, P, said that Madrid is sunny about 300 days of the year; the climate is arid and desert-like, rather like Southern California. So it would be warm, up to the high 60s/low 70s during the day, and freeeezing in the wee hours! Luckily I had brought plenty of layers, but it was still tricky to manage summery weather by day and wintry weather by night. Not until our train ride back from Segovia did that famous line from My Fair Lady finally click: