If you think I’m referring to those steel structures that take you over rivers, gorges or deep valleys, guess again. A ‘bridge’ or puente in Spain is a long weekend when there’s a holiday on Tuesday or Thursday and you get the Monday or Friday off, ‘bridging’ the workday.
Next week we have a good puente in Spain, because Tuesday (December 8) is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday in predominantly Catholic countries in Europe such as Spain, Austria, Italy and Portugal.
Its international appeal was brought home to me by a message that an Italian friend posted on Facebook this morning. She said “aspettando il ponte” (looking forward to the bridge). Me, too!
A puente sets off a mass migration of Spaniards to their second homes in the mountains or the beach, sometimes hours away, complete with dire warnings from the police about the number of cars on the road, driving safely, increased patrols by unmarked cars, hidden radar and, sadly, a number of fatal accidents.
Here in La Rioja, the police have predicted that 300,000 cars will crisscross the region from today at 3 PM until midnight on Wednesday.
Sometimes holidays will fall on both Tuesday and Thursday, in which case many companies close down for the entire week. This happy circumstance is called an acueducto (aqueduct) and is a real cause for celebration in Spain, since everyone here is always complaining about work. One of the funniest jokes I ever heard here is a conversation between two men that goes like this:
A: “How many people work at your company?”
B: “Well, there are 75 people on the payroll but only five or six really work!”
An unpleasant consequence of any puente is the traffic jam, an obvious event because everyone is going everywhere at the same time. Spaniards, who consider themselves to be very clever (and I agree!) try to avoid traffic jams by leaving early or taking alternate routes, which never works because everyone does the same thing. I’ve found, after 38 years of puentes, that the best thing to do is to leave at the usual time and take the usual route. No matter what you do, your trip will take longer than usual.
Nothing is more frustrating during a puente than reading the newspaper in a bar with a torrential rainstorm outside and seeing pictures of others basking in the warm sunshine somewhere else in Spain while you’re soaking wet. The next year, you decide to go there for the puente and it rains all four days.
The next worst thing about a puente is the traffic jam on the way back. You arrive so upset that you’re more tired and frustrated than before you left home!
For me, the smartest thing to do during a puente is to stay home. The streets and bars are full of tourists who don’t know the best places to go, but I can smugly go to my favorite haunts, get spectacular service, and not worry about driving home!