Spaniards bridge crisis with long weekend splurge

Fri Dec 3, 2010 12:35pm EST
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By Tracy Rucinski

MADRID (Reuters Life!) - There may be a gulf between their incomings and outgoings and a debt crisis sweeping through Europe, but that won't stop Spaniards from making the most of the "puente" this long pre-Christmas holiday weekend.

Despite news of tax rises, austerity budgets, soaring unemployment and a euro zone crisis, most Spaniards will take a "puente" (bridge) day in between Monday's Constitution Day and Wednesday's Feast of the Immaculate Conception to create a five-day weekend of shopping, eating, visiting and spending.

Madrid hotels are fully booked by people from across the country coming to gawk at the Christmas lights and take in the shows, despite the government's announcement of a new tax rise and a speeding up of pension reforms to combat a euro zone sovereign debt storm that threatens to undermine the euro.

"We're fully booked in Madrid this weekend, and reservations are looking much higher than last year," a source from a leading hotel group said.

Spain's own economic problems stem from a decade-long debt-driven construction and property boom that left Spaniards up to their ears in debt when the bubble burst two years ago.

The good news for the economy is that demand hasn't waned for Christmas knick-knacks from the Plaza Mayor square or discouraged queues along the busy Gran Via for lottery tickets from Dona Manolita, famous for having sold many winning numbers for the "El Gordo" Christmas draw.

"When you look around right now, it seems as if people still haven't learned their lesson about over-spending," said 39-year-old Madrid resident Ana Lumbreras.