We began our northern road trip by trading in the mini we have been using all year for a regular size car. Although a mini is the prominent car in Spain and has served us well for our short trips and school pick-ups, it is difficult when you have one child that is bigger than both parents. So, to everyone's relief, we upgraded for our 8 hour drive to northern Spain. We began with a drive through the La Rioja Wine Region. The land is still flat for the most part, and the colors of the earth are brown and light green.
There are wineries along the main road and the orange orchards change to grape vines, although they are still in the early stages of growth. My husband has been trying to sample a wine from each region. A bottle is usually around 5 euros, as it is cheaper to buy a glass of wine than a coke in Spain. And, when my children mistakenly ask for a drink with alcohol in it, it has been brought out to them with no questions asked. Wine is just part of the culture.
Then we entered Basque country and the capital of Bilboa. The countryside is greener and hillier, with small villages nestled amongst the hills. Different than the Pyrenees, where small towns are on top of every mountain, these villages are in the valleys, leaving the mountain tops untouched. Bilboa is very large and industrial. It sneaks up on you because it, too, is nestled in a valley without any suburban sprawl. It is refreshing, even on the outskirts of big cities, to never see a billboard or fast food restaurants around an autopista exit. Each exit is unique. Gas stations are always attached to a sit down cafe with ceramic cups and typical Spanish fare.
It is hard not to compare places that are new with places you have been. Some day we will say to each other, "this reminds me of northern Spain." For now, I said that Basque country reminds me a bit of West Virginia, looking more like the mountains of Colorado as you near the regions of Cantabria and Asturias. My son, Carson, replied with, "Mom, I think it just looks like Spain."
"What are the differences?" I asked.
He answered, "Well, it still has compact towns, no signs, crumbling stone buildings, and graffiti."
All of this is true. After a while it is easy to become immune to the narrower roads, the sheep and goats, the terraced fields with stone fences, and the rural lands directly abutting a town. Sprawl is really not common.
Another thing that a road trip reminds you of is how people have maintained their specific cultures. The United States is so big. Sure, people in the south can be very different from people in the west. But, in Spain, people have maintained very different traditions, foods, and even languages when only living 100 km apart. The Basque region is very different from Asturias, despite each being as small as a US city and right beside each other. Asturias has only about 1,000,000 residents in the whole region. Our innkeeper, Ivan, told us about structures we see that are square and raised upon 4 legs. They are used to store produce so the mice can't get to them. He told us that these structures in Asturias have 4 legs and are made of wood, but in the neighboring region of Cantabria they are made of stone and have 6 legs. It is hard to remember that these differences are only several miles away.
Many people in Spain stay near where they grow up. They may go to a bigger city for University, and many have taken trips to English speaking countries. However, most people we talk to live near their parents and even share a business with them. Perhaps this keeps the roots deep and the traditions from wandering.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.