Spain on our minds

Spain trip mapSpain has been on our minds a lot lately. The food, the culture, and the encouragement of good friends in Spain prompted us to spend time this spring exploring the country. We had a direct flight to Madrid and then hopped on the Renfe AVE high speed train to southern Spain, visiting Malaga and Granada. We then rented a car and drove north through miles of endless olive groves into the wine region of Valdepenas in Castilla-La Mancha. After a few days of wine tasting, we drove back to the beach for a day in Denia, a small town on the Costa Blanca. Finally, we drove up the coast to our final destination of Valencia.

Spanish culture presented some new challenges for us. Would we be able to navigate the strict restaurant hours? Could we adjust to the notoriously late Spanish lifestyle, eating lunch at 2:00 pm and dinner at 10:00 pm? With our limited Spanish language skills, could we actually order food?

In other words, could we learn to eat like Spaniards?

An empty restaurant – The usual scene when eating on American time

To prepare for the trip, we attempted to tackle the immediate issue of time adjustment. One of the biggest challenges of traveling east across time zones is adjusting your biological clock to the local time. You are asking your body to wake up when it feels like the middle of the night and to go to sleep midday. Jet lag causes unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, and digestion problems. Not ideal when arriving in a foreign country considering that it can take a full day to recover per time zone.

We would be crossing five time zones, but moving six hours ahead. Thanks to dictator Francisco Franco, since WWII Spain has followed the Central European Time zone to align with Germany rather than the Greenwich Mean Time zone that it physically occupies, putting it an hour ahead of its neighboring countries.

The week before the trip, our schedule afforded us the opportunity to gradually sync with Spanish time before our flight. We reasoned that it was better to feel jetlagged at home than during our first few days in Spain. Information that I found online confirmed that this was a good idea.

And so we changed our routines by thirty minutes a day until we were going to bed at 7:00 pm and waking at 3:00 am, turning on all of the lights in the house to simulate day light. We had lunch at 8:00 am and dinner at 4:00 pm, fitting perfectly with Spanish time. We were ready!

Our nine hour flight was a red-eye, arriving in Madrid the following morning. Here was the wrinkle in our plan – neither of us could sleep on the plane. While our fellow passengers snoozed away, we were entertained with movies and a consistent stream of food and coffee. By the time we arrived in Madrid, we were caffeine buzzed, dazed and confused, with a full day ahead of us. We felt lousy. It was nearly a week before we returned to normal. In the end, our preparation couldn’t make up for losing a night of sleep. Who knows? Maybe it helped in the long run, but we probably won’t be doing it again!

Calle De Las Huertas, Madrid

Luckily, Madrid was kind to us. There were countless restaurants and bars within a short walk from our hotel. We realized this might be easier than we thought and practiced our tapa skills, sampling Iberico ham, octopus, and the most delicate croquetas that we’ve ever tasted. That evening I looked forward to filling my journal (and this blog) with the details of the flavors and experiences ahead of us. We tucked into our comfortable room for a good, long sleep before our morning train to Malaga.

Over the next few months, I will be digressing from the usual DC area food crawls and expanding this blog to cover our trip to Spain. Coming soon…Highlights from Malaga, the friendly little city by the sea.

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