Shopping in the south of Spain

In one of my day jobs, I am a college art gallery director. As a director, I have to hire students to guard the artwork so the gallery can be open. One of the first things I say to them in the interview is:

 “We have hours of business posted on the window. Consequently the gallery must be open during those hours. Whether hundreds of people come in or no one comes in we must be open when we say we are.”

That’s a good solid business policy here in the U.S. It is expected here.

However, if one were to take that attitude to Andalusia, one would end up a very grumpy traveler, indeed. After all, one does not wish to be the angry American with steam boiling out his ears bellowing: “Why can’t I find a #@!$% pastrami sandwich anywhere in this %$#@! country!!!!”

Now, I know one reason you travel is to experience new foods and new ways of being in the world and you would never behave like that. But to make your time in southern Spain more delightful, perhaps you would accept a few words of advice:

First, watch how others behave and then mimic them. For example, those women there in the dress shop: do they politely form a queue at the register? Or, is everyone out for herself, squeezing through to be the next person helped? Do not be alarmed or offended by this behavior — just do as the Spaniards do. It can be exhilarating!

In the tienda (shop) do the vendor and the customer greet each other and have a brief chat before business is taken care of? Or, does the vender ignore the customer until directly confronted.? Also, does the customer just make a purchase and leave with minimal interaction? (hint: It’s probably a good idea to say hello to the vendor.)

Second and most important: be flexible and be prepared.

Do not assume that just because the tienda you’re standing in front of is open right now (while you are not in the mood to shop) that it will be open 30 minutes later when you finally are ready.

Prepare your list before you leave the house, carry it with you, and if the shop is open make your purchase.

These days, siesta is observed with less frequency, even in the south. However, the shop owner just might decide a siesta is needed on the day you need some strawberries at 3 pm. So, shop from 9 am until 2 pm; or 4 pm to 7 pm — just in case.

Though more and more markets and department stores remain open on Saturday and Sunday, most small independent fruterias (produce shops) and carnicerias (butcher shops) will close at 2 pm on Saturday, and not reopen until Monday morning.

Insider Information

There are things that everyone living in Andalusia just knows, and so they are not mentioned.

Spain is a very Catholic country. You may not see many people at Sunday Mass but the holy days and Holy Week are a part of Spain’s cultural heritage.  And, as such, they are honored.

Just as in Italy, there are many, many holy days in Spain that result in shops being inconveniently closed the afternoon you need some oregano for that very special dish you are making for dinner.

In the grocery windows, holy days are not necessarily posted in an official looking way. If you see a handwritten note on the window (even if you can’t read what it says) that includes a date  (in day, month, year order) you can probably assume the tienda is closed on that date. During Semana Santa you are expected to know that shops will only be open mornings.

Shopping in Andalusia is great fun. There will be times that you will be confounded by the seeming arbitrary closure of businesses. There will be times when you will be unable to find a can of tomatoes for your stew because all the stores are closed. Save the stew for tomorrow or the next day and do as the Spanish do – go out with friends for tapás and a cerveza.


Tapas with Heather and Jonah Bailey, Sevilla, 2005


Walking in the sun

This is a reminder that while we are in Italy we will spend a WHOLE LOT OF TIME walking in the sun.


So, if you haven’t already begun your ‘getting in shape for Italy’ regimen start this weekend. Personally, I have been exercising to Gilad’s Body Sculpt on fittv. I am not enjoying it at all. But I want to be able to put my own suitcase in the overhead compartment on the plane and I want to be able to keep up with the tour guide on the walking tours. By the way, this is the perfect time of year to walk in the evening…

In the sun:

I choose my sun screen by smell: does it remind me of summers in Indiana (Coppertone, sweat, chlorine) or does it smell like coconut (mmmm, coconut cream pie). Needless to say, my skin is sun damaged.

Please share what sunscreen you plan on taking with you (and maybe why that brand) so I can make an informed decision on what sunscreen to take with me.

Here’s the scoop on getting around the ‘contact the booking agency’ rule

United has our flights from LAX to London Heathrow and returning from Dulles to LAX. The other flights are operated by Lufthansa.

To request special seating or special meals on United call:

Reservations 800/864-8331

Give them the reservation number, the flight number, your full name as listed on your itinerary. (Please note you may have a different reservation number on the return flight. I don’t think this matters.)

VERY important information after the extra legroom bit. Keep reading.

If you require extra leg room you want Economy Plus. That will cost you $109. I don’t know if that covers both flights or just one. Ask.

The other flights on our trip are with Lufthansa.  Any special meals or seating must go through them.

WHILE YOU ARE ON THE PHONE WITH UNITED tell them you want to request special seating/meal/whatever from Lufthansa.

They should give you a different  reservation number for the Lufthansa portion of your trip.

Lufthansa’s phone number is: 800-645-3880.

Lufthansa was able to change my seat and my meal for the Frankfurt to Dulles flight. They can do nothing for the european leg of the journey. But those flights are short anyway.

GOOD LUCK with your special requests!

Selecting a seat on the flights & special meals?

I like a seat on the aisle when flying. I get up frequently on a flight and it is very inconvenient for my row mates to have to stand  up every 45 minutes or so just to accomodate me. So, I checked United’s website to see if I could select a seat. (You can just click on the links below and go directly there.) I found that I could not choose a seat due to the ticketing agency we used. I will contact EF to see if we can get our United Mileage Plus numbers added to our itineraries.

If you haven’t already got a Mileage Plus account I recommend you get one.

(BTW, is EF aware of any special meal requirements you have? Let me know as soon as possible so I can make sure those are included on your itinerary.)

Here is what United Airlines has to say on the subject of seating:

To select seats after you?ve purchased tickets,

*log in to My Itineraries using your Mileage Plus number

*select View/modify for the itinerary you wish to change.

*Click Seat assignment to change your existing seat assignment.

* Click the seat you prefer,

*then click Next flight or Close seat map. Your new seat assignment will be saved.

You may also select your seats on United or United Express throughEasyCheck-in Online.

EasyCheck-in Online is available within 24 hours of your outbound flight.

If you forgot to select your seat when purchasing tickets through another website or travel agency

* please contact your booking source directly to have them add your Mileage Plus number to your reservation;

*you will then be able to use My itineraries to view your seat assignments or make changes if seats are available.

Stay connected while abroad

If you want to have a phone with you on our trip so that folks at home can call you EF sells a cell phone you can purchase cheaply. The phone uses a ‘sim’ card that can be easily recharged. There is no commitment to any kind of a contract, no credit check, etc. It is a ‘pay as you go’ sort of phone which you can use anytime you travel in Europe – so save it.

What you want is the $29.00 GLOBAL PREMIUM MOBILE.It will be loaded with a sim card that has a $10.00 credit on it. There will be sales tax on the purchase and there will be a delivery charge.

I believe the $10.00 credit gets you 30 minutes of use. After that you recharge the card (easy to do) and have a per minute charge.

If you get this phone make sure you read the fine print so there are no surprises later on. Personally, I think it is a good deal and I will get one for myself to use on this trip and on future trips.

So, if you are interested visit: or call customer service at: 1-888-513-8804.


60 days until we leave!

More on money and departure

First about changing dollars for euros at home. This is from Sharon Nold:

Regarding the bank and money exchange. I checked at my bank and they didn’t exchange currency, but while I was at my credit union I asked and they had a good deal. I could exchange any amount of US currency to Euros for $7.50 for the going exchange rate. They took my money, and I will get the Euros in the mail. It does take from 10 days to 2 weeks.

Those of us leaving from Los Angeles will be taking United flight #934 which departs LAX June 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm.

I will send your itinerary to you individually. If you have special dietary or seating needs you will have to contact the individual airlines. I tried to arrange seating via the internet on United and it looks as though it may be too early to do so. If you have a frequent flier number you may find it easier. I will probably attempt to call them directly in the near future.

The Language

According to just about everybody who travels for a living, and those who just travel a lot, it is important to know a few words in the language of the country you are visiting. It just makes things easier and you feel less like an infant who can’t do for yourself.

You can invest in a phrase book I suppose, but personally, I get so lost in those that they just become dead weight in my bag. It works better for me to just learn some words and do a lot of pointing.

No Money is No Excuse:

If you don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a whole language program try one of these options for FREE.

  • You can learn some Italian for free by borrowing good traveler’s Italian cds from the library. The Beale Library will let you borrow for 3 weeks.
  • You can sign up for one week of free Italian lessons at Italian pod uses text and audio. The lesson sets and learning resources are geared to your current language level. After your week you can sign up for as little as $9.00/month all the way up to $39.00/month. Of course you can cancel your subscription at any time.
  • The FSI program was used by the US Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats. It is old – from the mid-1980s but still useful. The course is so old it has entered the common domain and is free to anyone who wants to use it.

Gotta have these Words and Phrases:

‘Go Away’ is a very important phrase you will want to use when you encounter Gypsies. A few years ago, leaving the Bologna train station loaded down with luggage and an excruciating headache I was accosted by a Gypsie couple. They kept shoving a newspaper in my face and calling me kind lady. I think they said something about needing rent money. Anyway, I kept saying ‘Andiamo!!!!!” Andiamo!!!!’ and wondering why they didn’t leave. Later, in my hotel  room, I realised I had been saying ‘Lets go!!!!” not ‘Go away!!!’  I am still not sure what ‘Go away’ is in Italian but I will know by June 10. Here are some other phrases you will want to be able to use.

According to Rob Sangster, author of Traveler’s Tool Kit (pages 337,338), there are certain words and phrases that should be written down or memorized:
“hello, good day, goodbye, please, thank you, pardon me, my name is…, what is your name?
“yes and no.
“where is…,
“toilet.     (so very important!)
“Food related words (including ‘may I have the bill please?’)
“lodging related words
“transport words: airport, bus station, train station, subway station, gasoline, taxi, bus
“phrases for bargaining in the market place (‘How much is…?’, ‘That’s too much’)
“personal pronouns
“time of day
“verbs to be, to have, to go
“pleas for help such as ‘I don’t understand’, ‘Please speak more slowly’, ‘Stop!’ ‘help!’ ‘go away!’ and ‘I need a doctor’