Happy to be Home Again – Reflections from a Trans-European Road Trip

San Sebastian, Playa Gros

We just finished a 6,500 Km drive from Madrid, via San Sebastian (above) to the North of France, across to the UK, over the channel to Germany via Belgium, and back to Madrid via France and Catalonia again.

Here are some thoughts from the trip…

Collective Conscienciousness…

Every neighbourhood, town, region, city, and country, has it’s own feeling, a collective consciousness, based on many factors like standard of living, wellbeing of the population, employment levels, government, economic optimism and more…

Of all the countries we passed through this summer, including Spain, Germany far and away had the best street-level feeling about it. There was a sort of optimism in the air that you couldn’t help but notice, that wasn’t nearly as present in the other countries we visited.

In fact Germany seemed to be streaks ahead of the rest of Europe on many levels – prosperity, recycling, eco-friendliness, organic food, city streets clean enough to eat off! There was a palpable sense of industry, of forward motion.

After 5 days we were ready to abandon Spain and move there! But when we drove back across France, and finally crossed the huge mountainous divide at the Catalan border with Spain, the moment we passed the blue ‘España’ sign on the motorway, we smiled, and said ‘Home, at last!’

Back in Madrid things look very different to Germany. Apart from the grubby state of the pavements in our barrio, at least one more shop (a perfumería) has closed on our street since July, to add to the two (the photolab and the printers) that shut down for good at the end of June, knowing that with things as bad as they already were, they just couldn’t afford to make it across the empty summer divide to September.

The ‘feeling’ in our barrio though is still good. People seem to be happy. It’s nice to be back in a country where people hang out to chat on the street, where kids can make as much noise as they like and stay out late at night.

Where you can buy just one drink at a bar terrace table but sit there all night to chat to a friend if you want to, long after the waiter has taken your empty glass.

It’s nice to feel the hot afternoon air at the end of August, and the cool breeze at night. It’s nice to eat croquettas and tortilla, olives, calamaris, to not feel weird about ordering cerveza sin alcohol

I arrived in Spain exactly 13 years ago. After our long haul around Europe, it’s good to be back.

Other Things…

Read: The wonders of a downsized life in Asturias…

12 Replies to “Happy to be Home Again – Reflections from a Trans-European Road Trip”

  1. It seems like a long time since one of your posts came up in my google reader – I always love to read your blog. I also read your book and it was great! I don’t have a kindle so I just read it on my monitor.

  2. I wondered how the Kindle thing would work out. It’s good to hear about a Spanish growth industry.

  3. Que bueno oir de las vacacciones, y me parece muy interesante. A mi también me gustó mucho alemania y se siente muy limpio por todas partes. Me alegra que el libro esta vendiendo bien, ya dejé un comentario en amazon.

    Buena suerte con la routina ya que volvieron!

  4. What do you think is going to happen to Spain in the next few years? My Spanish is not quite good enough to read broadsheets so I am not sure what the long terms plans are to try and created jobs etc. It seems like Spain newly prosperous economy in the noughties was built upon a false system of temporary money from the EU and the construction/property industry that of course could not last forever.
    I would be interested to know as well Ben, if you can shed any light on the class systems in Spain and how the individual classes have been affected by the recession. Who are the remaining rich in Spain? Are the middle classes being affected as they are said to be in the UK?

    1. Hi Nicola,

      Sorry I can’t answer your question on the class system very well as I’m just not sure! I’ll talk to Marina about it and if we can come up with an answer I’ll let you know! As for what is going to happen to Spain in the next few years, I just don’t know… The government doesn’t make it that easy for new business to take off here (compared to say the UK), hopefully there will be changes on that front to spur on a bit of internal growth…

    2. Just off the top of my head, Nicola, I´d hazard a guess that many young people who moved into the professional middle class when the economy was booming are now being forced to downscale. And similarly the working class is suffering from unemployment – without a net! In many ways “class” is a matter of perception built up around certain variables – acquisitive power, education, satisfaction with one´s lot or expectations. If people have a new flat and car, does that make them “middle class”? I´ve a feeling that here in Spain the understanding is that it does and it´s precisely such people whose lifestyles are being threatened. Complex subject – hope someone can provide a good answer!

  5. I think the Spanish psyche is more suited to being happy than the British one. It’s the old ‘is the glass half full or half empty’ scenario.
    And congrats on the Kindle thing!

  6. Just forwarded your link to my husband, who might get a kick out of your comments about the roads in Germany.

    In regards to the picture, and interestingly enough,we plan on taking a family vacation in San Sebastian next summer. Our children have not been to Spain yet.

    Hope all is well for you and your family!

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