Jul 15, 2008

Facts on Spain

Area: 504,780 sq km

Population: 40,341,462 (approx)

Capital: Madrid.

Currency: The Euro. Previously the Spanish peseta (€1=166.66 pesetas)

Language: Castilian Spanish (Castellano) is the national language though visitors who have learned their Spanish abroad find regional accents difficult to cope with, especially in rural Andalucia. Other important language groups include Gallego in Galicia, Basque in the Basque Country and different forms of Catalan in Catalunya, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

Visa: No visas are necessary for EU nationals staying a maximum of three months.

Geography: Spain is Europe's fourth largest country after Russia, Ukraine and France. It consists of the Spanish mainland, which occupies most of the Iberian peninsula apart from Portugal, the Balearic islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, Gomera, Fuerteventura and Hierro in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Morocco.

Religion: Over 98% of people are Roman Catholic, the rest being made up of a few Protestants, Muslims and Jews. There are also around 500,000 gypsies living mainly in the larger cities.

Time: Central European Time = GMT + 1 hour.

Emergency numbers (dial toll-free from any phone):
Emergency services Tel: 112
Ambulance/Ambulancia Tel: 061
Fire service/Bombers/Bomberos Tel: 080
National Police/Policia Nacional Tel: 091 (for serious trouble)
Municipal Police/Policia Municipal Tel: 092 (for larger towns and cities)
Civil Guard/Guardia Civil Tel: 062 (for smaller towns and villages)

Telephone: To make an international call from Spain, dial 00 and then add the country code (UK 44; USA 1; Australia 61; Canada 1; Irish Republic 353; New Zealand 64) and the rest of the telephone number minus the first zero if there is one. To call Spain from abroad, the country code is 00 34.

Business hours: The normal opening hours for shops are Monday to Saturday from around 9am or 10am until about 1.30pm. After siesta they reopen from around 4pm until 8pm or 9pm. Large stores usually stay open all day. Most places are closed on Sundays. Many businesses including restaurants and bars (especially in Madrid) close for holidays in August.

Many museums are closed on Monday and on public holidays and are open on Sunday mornings only. Hours change with the seasons. Check a recent guidebook to make sure you don't miss anything.

Banks generally open from 9am to 2pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9am to midday or 1pm on Saturday. Hours may vary in summer.

Taxis are easily identified in the cities by the green light on the roof which is lit when they are available. Prices are reasonable but make sure the meter is reset when you start your journey. Supplements exist for airport pick-ups, items of luggage, journeys outside of city boundaries and after 10pm and at weekends.

Internet and e-mail: Just about every town has an internet café with very reasonable prices.

Tipping: North Americans tend to overtip in Spain. Typically Spanish people leave a few coins after a meal but wouldn't have any "15%" rule in their mind. If you're happy with the service, leave a tip, it will be appreciated.

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