Mark Twain said "Nothing improves scenery like ham and eggs" which means that Spain´s already spectacular scenery must be particularly fine. Jamon is the national dish and is visible everywhere, huge hams hanging in restaurants, cafes, delicatessens, even the service stations on the autopistas. There are jamonerias which specialise in ham, with dozens hanging from the ceiling. Eggs are not as visible, but just as omnipresent, poached in tapas, fried with steak and/or chips, hardboiled in salads, essential ingredient in omelettes, sauces and the ubiquitous flan (creme caramel).
It is surprising how much things change as you cross the Pyrenees from France. France seems rather staid, Spain has the feeling of a country full of youth and energy. There is a huge amount of construction work going on - blocks of high rise flats being built around major towns, and new roads everywhere with crash barriers so new they shine silver in the bright Spanish sunlight. We would cheerfully pay the road tolls on the autopistas just to see the road engineering: roads flung across valleys and bored through mountains take us to Vitoria via San Sebastian, where we stop for lunch.
On the downside our breathing is adversely affected by various forms of pollution. We are not sure whether France has stricter emission controls, or whether it is just because we are walking around in much larger cities and parking in under-ventilated underground carparks, or because Spanish drivers drive faster, ignoring speed limits. We are sure that smoking is still a way of life in Spain. In France restaurants are all non-smoking, and we encountered few people smoking in the streets. In Spain there are smokers everywhere, young and old, male and female, and only in Salamanca did we find a restaurant divided into smoking and non-smoking. We have just discovered another clean air haven: smoking is banned in internet cafes. We saw very few of these in France, and couldn´t find one in San Sebastian or Vitoria. Salamanca, being a University town, had a number, and we are now using one in El Barraco, a country town on a N-road on the way to Toledo.
We have also found fewer people who speak much English, and my pronunciation of phrases from the phrase book seems to be so bad that people aren´t even sure that I´m speaking Spanish. We´ve managed to get ourselves fed and accommodated through much pointing and miming, but it is improving: we are learning more words and phrases and finding it easier getting the message across, sometimes even at first attempt.
Restrictions of language meant for the first few days we ate rather boring food: ham rolls, fish and chips, steak and chips. We were getting desperate for greens and fruit. But we have now discovered the delights of the combinacion (a whole meal on one plate, possibly including a bowl of soup), and of course tapas. Spain is also big on fresh juices, so we are getting our vitamins again.