Economic turmoil in Europe over the last few years has led to economic, social and political upheaval. Several countries have been particularly hard hit; notably Spain, Greece and Italy which have all been forced to accept tough austerity measures and bailouts which have led to painful government cuts.
In Greece popular anger with politicians has led to the rise of extremist political parties, most worryingly the neo Nazi Golden Dawn. Over the last few years tourism has plummeted as street protests and turmoil kept visitors away. Spain, too, has experienced a shift in the political climate with the rise of grassroots political party “Podemos” (We Can), which may yet take many Parliamentary seats at the next election. Unemployment is running at over 24%, comparable to the worst days of America’s Great Depression.
Yet, in some ways, Spain is showing far more resilience than its peers in the face of a once in a generation crisis. The economy is rebounding, jobs are returning (albeit slowly) and citizens are not overly concerned about the prospect of a Eurozone exit. All of these factors have combined to mean that Spain actually welcomed a record number of tourists last year – welcome relief for a battered economy.
Spain’s tourism industry 2nd only to the USA, bringing in over $60 billion annually. Partly, of course, this is due to the country’s Mediterranean climate which makes the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol a favoured family holiday destination. But visitors are also attracted to Spain’s slow pace of life, passion and humour which have all survived the crash.
Even large Spanish shops will shut after lunch to allow for the afternoon nap, or siesta. The Spanish take their rest very seriously no hotel would dare offer a sub standard bed to a full blooded Spaniard! Napping in a hammock is all very well, but a bed is serious business. Even the Paradors, a chain of hostels built for pilgrims to holy sites, are famous for their soft, double mattresses for weary travellers.
However, as many travellers and expats have discovered, Spanish beds differ in style from their English counterparts. The British double bed is in general wider, thicker and softer, while Spanish beds tend to be a bit less supple. This helps support your spine but, more importantly, increases air flow round the body during baking hot Summers.
Spain is also famous for its religious festivals, with the town of Santiago de Compostela considered to be the 3rd most holy place in Christendom. Often these events involve fireworks, effigies, baby jumping and demon masks! During the Summer there’s the famous La Tomatina festival and Running of the Bulls in Pamplona which draws millions.
Displays of public anger, including rioting, in Greece have shocked many European citizens; some may even be put off visiting by fear. In Spain there is, of course, fury at the corrupt political tribes; but also a sense of hope that the crash will lead to positive change. While Spain faces many years of recovery and political change, the Spanish people are keen to return to life as ordinary – which includes playing host to millions of tourists each year!
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