Although it’s already July 3rd, many workers finished out the week to start vacations this Friday afternoon. This fact is verified by 32 kilometers of traffic jams on all of Madrid’s (and in nearly all of Spain’s cities) out-going highways by 3pm. The outpouring of Madrid’s residents, it is said, should continue through Sunday, July 5th, leaving a shell of the otherwise bustling Capital City.
By Monday, 6th of July, the city becomes somewhat dormant until September 1st. Many say August is the more popular month for Madrileños to take their month-long holidays. So if you think July is quiet, just wait until August! You’ll never again have so much parking available as during this month. Sunday mornings in Madrid are usually quiet but a Sunday morning in August reminds one of a ghost town.
People NEED their vacations, that’s definitely true, but finding an open restaurant in Madrid in August – outside of the Puerta del Sol tourist center, that is – can be a challenge. Many times tourists come to Madrid during the summer months with the desire to try a new restaurant about which they’ve heard, only to find it frustratingly closed.
But terrazas abound! And the Madrileño masses – as well as their tourist counterparts – take advantage of the slightly cooler evening temperatures and pack those terrazas full. It’s usually at these moments, while you’re standing off to the side with the group of others waiting for a table to become free, when you ask yourself, “And I thought there was no one in Madrid in summer!”
Some of these terrazas – usually the fancier ones like those around the Plaza de Oriente – have incorporated a kind of water-misting-canopy system which sprays its clients with fine droplets of cooling water. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would appreciate having my glasses sprayed over while dining or having drinks, HOT OR NOT! These are usually the same terrazas which use these gas-powered tower radiators to keep their clients warm – during colder months (the clients patronizing THESE terrazas are almost always tourists because no Spaniard would be caught dead dining outside in the winter. It’s just not sensible!!). In my opinion, these gas heaters are just a waste of energy. I understand the concept that you can seat more people – and outside – if you have these heaters but come on!
So where to people go on summer holiday? The most popular destination is still “al pueblo” – to the family village to spend time in the old, family home. This destination is becoming less and less popular, however, as the elders die off and the family home in the village is sold. So apart from “the village”, many Spaniards travel to the coasts near Cataluña/Catalunya/Catalonia, Galicia, Cantabria, Valencia, and the Costa del Sol (those whom have the wherewithall, that is). The coastal beaches are PACKED with not only Spaniards but also with Germans, English, Dutch, and even some from the colder northern European countries. This year, what with the economic crisis, may be a sharp contrast to previous years occupancy, however. I remember complaints were made last summer about lower-than-expected hotel occupancy so I imagine things will be much worse this year.
Apart from Spanish coasts, more and more young people are using their summer time off to visit other worldly destinations like Russia, The United States, England & Ireland, Morocco, and some of the “newer” (i.e. newly accessible) Eastern European countries. Again, young people don’t usually tend to have much money so this year may be much different and more home-spun travel destinations may be chosen instead.
I have to wonder if, because of the economic crisis, the typically high hotel prices during this HIGH season will drop significantly or only slightly to entice more travelers – or, maybe, stubbornly, not at all. We’ll see how it plays out. But since Spaniards are passionate about big family vacations, expensive or not, (have credit cards will travel!!) I expect turnout to be high still.
Places mostly avoided by Spaniards during their summer vacations include, among many, the hotter summer destinations, almost all of which are in the southern region of Andalucia, like Seville, Córdoba, and Granada but also Salamanca, and Zaragoza will likely be excluded for the most part. Non-Spanish tourists, however, will drive themselves to these destinations no matter the temperature.
Ahhh… “The Village”. The village can be quite lovely (using a British expression). I too have been fortunate to spend a little time, one week or two, in a particular northern valley village with only 25 inhabitants and surrounded by tall yet gentle mountains. There, days can be warm but nights cooler, mosquitoes can be pesky but the natural beauty and its accompanying silence far out-shadows them.
In “The Village”, life is definitely simpler. In some of them, the smaller ones like the one I’ve stayed a few times, don’t even have any stores, bars, or restaurants. A van goes from village to village every morning, with their horn-a-honkin’, raising attention to their arrival. Of course, each van uses their own “style” of horn-honking so the residents know which horn belongs to which van. Different vans sell different things. There’s usually the bread van, the cheese van, and the meats-and-chicken van. Sometimes there’s even a fish van. Resident will often make minor, daily purchases from these vans, sometimes making once-a-month trips to the big stores to stock up on other things, frozen foods, canned foods, milk (non-refrigerated), soft drinks and the like. The days in “the village” are quiet except for the sounds of distant cow and goat bells, dogs barking, kids shouting while riding their bikes, neighbors chatting while walking the streets, and maybe the sounds of some traffic from the distant main highway. So if the days are quiet, the nights are totally peaceful, making every chirping cricket sound like a live orchestra. Village life is different from City Life. In “the village”, neighbors come over (unannounced) for coffee and a casual chat while you’re hanging your laundry or reading a book on the porch or patio.
I’ve yet to experience and entire “beach holiday” in the summer months but they certainly look like decadent fun, that which I see daily on Spanish TV news reports. All those people laying about on the sand, packing into the beachfront terrace restaurants for seafood meals, working on their tans, reading books and taking walks. It all seems so relaxing and, well, totally self-indulgent too. hehehe.. But every now and then, well, we have to take extra special care of ourselves, right? I’ll be sure to put that on my To-Do List.
I’m already looking forward to my week away this summer. Although I love the city, I don’t care much for the heat which gets absorbed by its asphalt, concrete, and brick. It’s amazing the notable temperature change just when passing by a grassy park or alongside a fountain.