Search "Sundays in Spain"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Denmark vs. Spain

Denmark played against Spain in the semifinals of the European Masters in handball on Friday. It's hard to know who to cheer on when you feel a part of both countries, but the advantage in that situation is that you will be happy for the winner, no matter who it is. I don't think that handball is a major sport in Spain, but it is in Denmark. I learned about it even before I met the Dane who became my husband and adopted the country by default over the years--I had a Danish gymnastics teacher my freshman or sophomore year at college, and she taught us Danish handball. Everyone at the Danish club petanca games on Friday was talking about the upcoming match, and we curtailed our last game so that we could all get home and watch the match on TV.

But which TV? We get Danish television at our home in Spain and have ever since we moved here. Seven years ago we started paying a little less than 300 euros annually for the license for the two public stations in Denmark, DR1 and DR2. This is about what Danes in Denmark pay for the same service, though there are now a few commercial stations, with advertisements, that they get for free. Our service in Spain does not offer the commercial stations or the regional stations, and it would be nice to have those, but by and large, the two public stations are enough to help me maintain my Danish language ability, keep us informed about what is happening in Denmark, and provide a known European perspective on what is happening in the rest of the world. What started as an affordable luxury has become a somewhat more expensive necessity, however, as the charge has risen to over 350 euros per year and the dollar (which is what my income is paid in) has decreased in value. I would feel better about the increase if we had access to the main commercial channel, which is the one that was carrying the handball game, of course.

Spanish television also carried the match, but we are still "sorting out" our access to Spanish TV, as our English neighbors say. It has now been over a year since we were advised that by law, all urbanizations in Spain had to provide access to Spanish-language TV, even if only foreigners lived in the houses in the neighborhood and even if they did not want Spanish TV. We did want it, and we have been advised that the cable already in the street carries the signals. But something has gone amiss in the cable in our street or between the street and our house, and the person who can presumably figure this out is not coming until next week. So we get only a couple regional Spanish stations (of poor technical quality) through the main satellite we have, the one that brings us BBC World, Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC, and a whole host of German stations.

So we watched the game on German TV. You can understand most sports programs even without understanding the narration, but it was a little irritating to hear the German voiceover drowning out Danish and Spanish when the mike was allowed into the respective teams' strategy confabs. It was an exciting match, and very close. Denmark won by a single point. Later Friday evening, in a match that showed the evolution of the new Europe, Serbia won over Croatia. Denmark meets Serbia in less than an hour, and we will be watching again on the German station.

Postscript: Denmark beat Serbia in Serbia for the world championship of handball!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Great Perks

I am not in Spain on this second Sunday in 2012. I am on my regular January trip to the U.S. to visit family and attend the midwinter meeting of the American Library Association. Last Friday morning I left Alicante for Madrid, and then four hours later (only two hours after the scheduled departure) I boarded the long flight to Dallas. My  trip continued to Cincinnati, but in order to avoid arriving there at 15 minutes before midnight, I chose to spend a night at a hotel in Dallas. It seems like a good opportunity to reflect on the features of U.S. hotels that are particularly welcoming after such a long flight and such a long time outside the U.S.

Given the length of flights and complexity of connections, I have become a veteran of airport hotels in the U.S. and Madrid over the past several years. Free transportation to and from the airport is not unique to the U.S., but finding the right place for the pick-up is not always easy. When I came out of the baggage area and customs control in Dallas, I didn't know where to go to get the courtesy van. I walked by an information desk--it was unstaffed--and out to the curb. How many lanes should I cross over to find the courtesy van? Or should I turn left, or right and follow the same lane? I was a bit angry that no one had responded to my request on to inform me of how to get to the free transport, and that I myself had not followed up with a second request before leaving home.

But I did have an advantage in Dallas over Madrid--I speak the language "like a native." I returned inside, and now there was someone at the Information desk. I could tell as I approached, however, that the woman sitting there was just resting, waiting for someone to come out from behind the doors separating the arrival area from the baggage and customs area. No matter! Texas hospitality came to the fore. She borrowed a cell phone and called my hotel to find out where I should go to catch the limo, then directed me out to the appropriate place. I left, feeling confident that my driver, Jaime, would pick me up within fifteen minutes, and he did. Such proactive helpfulness would be unheard of in Spain. What a welcome home! Only in America, I thought.

Soon I was checking in at my hotel, the Fairfield Inn in Irving. I was unprepared for the first question: Would I like a bottle of water? Well, sure, but I never expect to get that question when checking in at a Spanish hotel. The front desk clerk efficiently took care of me: I got the location of the fitness center and the fact that it was open all night, I set up a wake-up call and reserved the van to the the airport the following morning for my continued flight, I found out that I would have time for  breakfast at 7:00, and she passed me a paper with the login information for the Internet. Although most of the hotels I stay in in Spain now have Internet, they never offer this aging but frequent user the login information at check-in, and I always forget to ask until I get to the room, thus necessitating a phone call or extra trip down to the front desk.

I found my way to my room. U.S. hotel rooms are larger than Spanish, and most European, hotel rooms. There was an extra queen bed where I could spread out my few clothes, many papers, and several electronic devices. After sending an email, I went to the fitness center, which was conveniently located down the hall from my room. One of my goals in this trip is to compare fitness equipment with that which I usually use at my exercise center in Spain. I was surprised to find out that the treadmills in this center were the exact same brand that I use there. A few differences: I did not have to select a preferred language for programming my session, I entered my weight in pounds, not kilos, and when I entered my usual 5.5 level for velocity, I almost fell off the treadmill, since that was, of course, measured in miles, not kilometers.

After a short work-out, I was ready for a shower. I had forgotten how delighted I would be with a facecloth. Facecloths are not provided in Spanish, and most European hotels. When I forget to bring one with me, I often use the small hand towel that hangs next to the bidet. Not all bidets have a hand towel, but almost all hotel rooms have a bidet. No, I don't use the bidet itself, and I have not used the one in the guest bath in my own house. A better piece of bathroom equipment, in my opinion, is the grab-bar, a nice feature when you are jet-lagged and finding your way around a bathroom that is unknown to you, especially if you are dependent on eyeglasses. Grab-bars are non-existent in European bathrooms.

I didn't need the iron and ironing board that was a standard part of my room in Dallas, but which I would never find in a Spanish hotel room. It was now that I spied another unique offering: a package of microwave popcorn! Just the thing at 9:00 PM after having already partaken of four meals this day already. Unfortunately there was no microwave oven in my room--perhaps it was supposed to be on top of the tiny refrigerator? I knew that I would be welcome to use the microwave in the breakfast area off the hotel lobby, but i didn't want to leave my room now, not even for popcorn. I realized also that of course there was an ice bucket, and an ice machine outside my room. But I guess I have become enough of a European that I don't need ice, at least with the tetra-pack of red wine that I had brought with me from Spain.

So I settled down with the TV remote--and is every TV remote throughout the world on its last dregs of the battery so that it is tedious and almost impossible to change channels and operate the controls? Was it the remote or my ineptitude that prevented me from getting the digital selections to work, even though I was able to see the hundreds of possible programs? Fortunately Jay Leno was available on an analog channel, which I could get, and fortunately I was in the Central time zone, so I could stay awake for most of the program.

The next morning I was out for the complimentary breakfast a few minutes before the hour of 7:00, when it was scheduled to be open. It would have been 6:00 on weekdays, and it probably would have been 8:00 or later in Spain. Breakfast is more of a DIY affair in the U.S. than it is in Spain, where hot items are in steam trays and don't always stay hot. Here I was able to heat up a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich in the microwave myself, or, if I had been so inclined, make my own waffle.

But even before I went out for breakfast and told the front desk that my 7:00 wake-up call would not be necessary, I had partaken of the best of U.S. hotel perks. Jet-lagged, of course, I had been up for three hours already. And I blessed the institution of in-room coffee.  I don't ever expect that there will be coffee machines in hotel rooms in Spain. Coffee is not a DIY affair there. It is a ritual and ceremony, and I promise to write about it sometime.

There are those, of course, who say that the tiny percolators and pre-packaged coffee found in hotel rooms make a dismal swill. But when I happen to be in a hotel room, jet-lagged from time zone differences, and wake up far earlier than I need to, I consider in-room coffee one of the greatest of hotel amenities.

A great perk.