Southern Spain and Portugal are dream destinations. Centuries old traditions; breathtaking beaches; inexpensive eats; Gothic, Renaissance, Manueline, and Moorish architecture, sometimes all in one palace or church; scrumptious pastries; and warm, friendly people await travelers in both countries.
Our family of four has been home from our three week trip about a week now and I'm still sorting through the 6,188 photos we took with our four cameras. (Oh, and there's lots of video, too.) Without the restrictions of the cost of film and developing, nowadays we're almost tortured by TMI. Too many images. Which one of the 203 photos we took of the Alhambra will I send to my family? put in the photo album? post on my blog? It's mind-numbing. But as my daughter so sweetly said, "It's the picture in your memory that's most important."
I made some general observations about Spain and Portugal while there. Thought I might pass them along:
• Taxis are cheap. Most of the time cheaper than the bus or metro fare for four.
• Spaniards love ham. Smoked ham, baked ham, fried ham, any kind of ham. Ham bocadillos (sandwiches) are just about the cheapest meal you'll find anywhere in Europe. Made me wonder where all the pig farms are, since we never encountered one.
• Food and alcohol is relatively inexpensive. A beer at a restaurant is only 2€ and a tall glass of sangria (yum!) only 3.50€.
• Not "everyone speaks English" as is so commonly proclaimed by Americans. In Holland or Belgium, yes, everyone speaks English, but not in Andalusia or the Algarve. In my opinion, this adds charm to a place.
• The countryside in these regions of Spain and Portugal reminds me of the drive up Interstate 5 through California's Central Valley. Dry, brown, and hilly. Only California doesn't have even the occasional castle or white hill town along the way.
• Much to my mother's relief, we saw no evidence of restless, unemployed youth gangs, even in the big cities.
• We were not financially inconvenienced by any PIIGS crisis.
• Be prepared for the occasional power outage. This has absolutely nothing to do with any PIIGS crisis, but with the fact that Spain and Portugal are southern European countries.
• I was disappointed by the lack of fresh fruit in Spain. Corner fruit stands are rare and the local supermarkets have only sad, old fruit. Maybe we just never found the right market square. Portugal was better.
• Like most old cities in Europe, the cobblestones are severe, and make pushing a baby stroller difficult. The steep hills in Spain's white hill towns as well as in Lisbon make pushing a baby stroller practically impossible.
• The Spanish and the Portuguese are tremendously friendly. Shopkeepers, tour guides, restaurant servers, locals on the street - all were kind and helpful.