A “closed for vacation” sign hangs near the Torres Blancas
Summer in Madrid is the perfect time to open a bank account and stock up on stamps–the city tilts closer to a ghost town than a European capital. Perhaps because I’m living in a neighborhood outside of the center now, this year I have been struck by the sheer number of boarded-up businesses. Mom and pop shops hang a homemade sign in the window bluntly stating that they are–if you haven’t yet deduced by the heavy padlock and shadowy interior–cerrado por vacaciones.
Coming from a culture where vacation time is paltry, European holidays are the stuff of dreams. On average, Spaniards have 34 days off a year. (That’s 12 holidays + a minimum 22 days for vacation!) Suffice it to say, shuttered-up establishments are somewhat baffling to this americana. The corner kiosk, an iconic meeting place, closed? And for more than a month?! Another example: anxious to see photos from my friend’s June wedding in Gijón, I asked her when the couple would receive the photos. It has been two months, after all! Her response? “I don’t know–but it’s August and we live in Spain!”
I was shocked the first time I realized that pharmacies could (and do) close in August. Likewise, last summer I made an online reservation at a nice restaurant for my birthday–only to arrive and find a cheery “We’re on vacation!” sign. Always call before you make the trek to a specific locale; even if they’re open, many businesses offer fewer hours or a different schedule.
Of course, it makes sense: the employees behind these storefronts crave summer vacations like the rest of us. Perhaps it isn’t profitable to pay someone to take care of your tienda while you get your tan on in Valencia. Or maybe, because of the neighborhood exodus, there aren’t enough customers to keep rolling out the welcome mat. (However, if you make your living selling ice cream, WHY oh WHY you would choose to go on vacation in August is beyond my comprehension.)
The “cerrado de vaciones” image is one to associate with August. To give you an idea of what they look like, here are some shots I snapped on my weekly walk. Some are hand-written, others typed. A few are taped inside the window, while most brave the elements outside. A month-long vacation or free afternoons in August? Let’s hear it for that Spanish work-life balance!
This kiosk–near the heavily trafficked Avenida de America, no less!–includes directions to the nearest open kiosk
This store has summer hours: open in the morning, closed in the afternoon