WHEN in Spain do as the Spaniards do: Rest in the afternoon and then stay up late.
I am a proud senior citizen of Australia who likes to be tucked up in bed with a book in hand by 8.30pm each night, not thinking of heading out the door.
But here we are, soaking in a Spanish summer, and we have napped our way through the afternoon and, after a small lunch at 2pm and a cocktail or two at 7pm, are ready to hit the busy streets.
ANN RICKARD'S TOUR DE EUROPE
- Eating, relaxing while barge cruising in France
- Pilgrimage to the resting place of Van Gogh
- French cafe the perfect spot for food and a show
- History, food, shopping: A tourist's dream in Avignon
Although it does seem strange at first, it really isn't a difficult routine to start heading out to restaurants at 10pm!
Shops, which have closed at 2pm (operators love a siesta) reopen around 6pm and stay open until 10pm. The small streets and narrow alleys are crowded: couples, families, babies and toddlers, grandads, nannas, trendy young things, gay couples hand in hand. Everyone is out late!
It's an atmosphere that makes you feel alive. Especially here in the coastal town of Sitges, a gay-friendly resort town that parties all night long. Brochures for dinner shows (starting at midnight), featuring entertainers such as Divine and Lady Bunny, line the streets. However, we have no plans to attend. Eating at 10pm is one thing, staying up very late for a drag show is another. Even us super-energetic and modern senior citizens have our time limits.
It is the tapas bars we have enjoyed most in Spain. We love the crowded atmosphere: the noise, the buzz, the squeezing into the crowded bars.
Some of the older, established bars have the best atmosphere: lots of wood panelling, tiled floors, ceiling beams, endless bottles of wine and never-ending rows of the most delicious and temping tapas imaginable.
'Tapas Frenzy' - a state of confusion as to what to choose first - hits hard when we look at the lovely treats.
You must take a plate and help yourself from the bar. They are all skewered with toothpicks and you pay at the end of your foray by the number of toothpicks left on your plate. It goes without saying we had a lot of toothpicks to cash.
Tapas toppings can be anything from chilli-hot peppers to pungent Spanish cheese and hot spicy sausage, or cooling crab meat and smoked salmon, red peppers and blue cheese.
The hot tapas come out of the kitchen with waiters who do the rounds of the bar, squeezing between customers with their croquetas and sausages and fried chicken bites. It is an ongoing feast. And not just for the palate. The entire atmosphere is charged with a buzzing fun, and as for this senior lady on tour in Europe with her senior husband - it is tapas heaven.
Off the Greek Islands next week.