Granada…

I don´t have much time left in this Internet café, so I´ll try and type this as fast as I can. Granada. The name of this city is actually the Spanish word for pomegranate, and it´s evident everywhere … from the little posts lining the street, to some of the designs on the plates being sold in the small shops along the street.

I can´t believe how fast it´s gone.

I can you hear you say, get to the point, what did you do while you were here?

Truthfully, again, not as much as I´d hoped – and it was partially heat-related – but I got the highlights. I walked up into the Albaicín district, which was the old Arab area. Very winding, and it´s a bit of a hike upwards. I took a bus tour to see some of the other parts, both old and new. (This was only because after missing the walking tour two mornings in a row, this was the only other way to see the city.)

Today, I saw the Alhambra, the spectacular Moor palace which pretty much overlooks most of Granada city. I know I didn´t do it justice by just giving it – and the splendid Generalife gardens – only about three hours or so. But what I did see was insane. The architecture. The design. The pools of water. The landscaping. The views from just about every angle. Even if it doesn´t change your life, as some people say, it will leave some sort of impression.

After that, I hiked up the other side to the Mirador de San Nicolàs, where you can get the best view of the Alhambra, and the town below. This took me three consecutive tries on the three days I was here to find it. But find it I did. Thank God. I was getting tired of making the hike upwards. But it was worth it.

I also met two people, but not of my own doing. The first one was this guy named Manolo (think like Blahniks, the shoes), whom I met while out alone for tapas last night. He was nice enough. Not much to look at, and smoked like most people seem to do here in Spain, but he was all right. He was passing through Granada on his way to Almerià to see his dad. He is a musician, I think. Loves jazz. He gave me a CD of his and asked me to let him know what I thought of it. I lied and said I had to meet someone elsewhere, so I made my escape.

Today, while looking in shops for something to buy, I met this other man, Eugene. Older, originally from Switzerland, but lives here now. He took me to a local tavern for a drink and a small plate of something to eat, and some conversation. He´s a bit of a traveller himself, and said he had Canada on his list of places to visit. I kind of had my guard up as well at this time. But to his credit, he did point out the best way up to the Alhambra. He said I should call him later afterwards if I was free. I´ll just e-mail him back in Canada to thank him for his kindness instead.

So, here I am, my last night in the Pomegranate City, in an Internet café. Yes, I´m sad. But it´s been the first time since Barcelona that I have been completely by myself. No bumping into fellow travellers (´less you count Manolo). But it´s been not too bad. When I´m not walking around, I´m in my room sleeping off the heat. When I´m not doing that, I´m out at a restaurant by myself reading a book. It can be lonely (hence why I´m e-mailing or Facebooking daily), but that´s part of the journey, right?

Tomorrow, it´s up to Seville, where the heat will be even more intense, and there will be more people to meet. (Man, I hope I meet some attractive people my age when I get to Seville…)

And the best part? There will be a washer and dryer calling my name. My clothes stiiiink.

Scarberians are EVERYWHERE.

What´s the likelihood of meeting someone from your hometown on a train through a foreign country?

It happens, you´d say.

What about someone from your hometown, from the same part of town, who went to the same high school?

That´s exactly what happened last night (or early this morning).

I lugged my suitcase up into the train, and struggled to my seat. As I was trying to sort myself out, this guy plunked his backpack next to me. I noticed the big Canadian patch right away.

“Canadian,” I declared, more than asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “You?”

“Me too. Where from?”

“Toronto,” he said, looking at me as I also acknowledged it. “What part?”

“Scarborough!”

“Me too! Did you go to Ryerson?” he asked. I said no.

“Did you go to Campbell?” he asked, referring to my old high school. I nodded, incredulously.

Turns out he was two years behind me, which was hilarious. And he and his friends were apparently at the same hostel in Valencia the same time I was.

So I think we spent the first hour of our trip chatting, which was great.

The last time I saw him and his friends was at the train station, where we were all trying to sort out our travel tickets with little or no Spanish whatsoever. I think they were headed for Malagá, then Italy.

But it was so nice to be able to talk to someone from the same place, at least for a little while.

One Day in Valencia

It´s 20 minutes to 9pm here in Valencia. It´s been a fairly short stay, but contrary to Barcelona, I seemed to meet more people quickly.

The train into Valencia yesterday afternoon wasn´t too bad. And getting my ticket for Granada took no time at all.

On my way to finding the hostel I was staying at, I hit this small square nearby, and as I was trying to orient myself, this kinda sketchy guy with short dreads came up to me and started talking to me.

¨Hola,¨he said.

¨Hola,¨I replied, to be nice.

Then he started yammering away in Spanish, and then he asked me, ¨Castellano (Spanish)?¨

¨No, Canada,¨I said.

¨Ah,¨he said. I think he said welcome, then introduced himself as Bruno, and his Italian friend, Sebastian, who was standing nearby.

They got close (and this was when I thought, aw man, I´m a sucker who´s gonna get my bag snatched), and to my surprise, both gave me two-cheek kisses. Hoo boy, I thought.

So then Bruno asked me if I had any questions. I asked them where the hostel was. Sebastian, who knew the most English between the both of them, pointed me in the direction, which was really close. And then we parted ways. Thank God.

Unlike my guesthouse in Barcelona, this hostel has been waaaay better, and waaay cooler. Situated in the same complex as a church, it´s four floors of backpacker bliss. When I got there, heaving my suitcase, rivulets of sweat running down my back and front, the front desk was kind enough to give me some water. My room, albeit for two people, really, was HUGE. The bathrooms and showers were communal, but clean. And there´s a kitchen and two rooftop terraces.

Within about 40 minutes, I plunked myself down amongst some Aussies in town for the Tomatina fest in neighbouring Buñol (and others just passing through en route to other places). After a while, I went off the supermarket down the street in search of food (´cause I hadn´t eaten in hours). And I just chilled for the first time in a while.

The rest of the night went fairly quickly. I cooked myself up an omelette, and got to talking to a dude from Philly, now living in Valencia. Went back up to the terrace and talked some more to the Aussies. And then the drinking games began. And then I wondered why I didn´t decide to stay another night.

It was all right, though. I also met a few people from Ireland, and one guy from Norway. After giving myself a hangover and sleeping it off in one of the two soft beds in my room, it was time to re-orient myself again.

I spent today wandering around. I walked up to the Cathedral of Valencia (I think that´s what it´s called), and after the guided tour, huffed and puffed my way 206 stairs up to the Miguelete (or ¨Little Michael¨), the belltower. The view was fantastic, but the wind was crazy. And the bell scared the snot out of me on the way back down.

I found a bus tour, and hopped on. Then I hopped off and went to the Science Centre for a bit. When I resurfaced almost two hours later, it started to rain, so I ran for the tour bus, and then hiked it back to my hostel, where I´m now killing time until I have to leave again for the train station.

So short, but it was decent. If I come back, I´ll definitely try to spend more than 31 hours here.

Now Travelling Really Begins

Just when I was getting used to things …

It´s my last night in Barcelona. Man, when I got here almost six nights ago, I didin´t know how I was going to cope, and I wasn´t sure how comfy I´d be with how different everything is …

Like, how an hour feels much longer in Spain than in Canada. As the Madonna song says, “Time goes by so slowly.” (Well, I guess not, since I´m leaving here.)

… Or how much noisier things have been around here … and how I´m finally sleeping through a lot of it. (And I´m a light sleeper.)

… Or how chaotic it is to cross the street. You think pedestrians and drivers don´t pay attention to traffic lights in Toronto? Try narrow streets here. It´s guesswork – or a game of chicken.

… Or how rich the food is here. It´s so good … but I don´t think I´ve seen anything vegetable-like in anything I´ve eaten in almost a week. The closest I got was maybe a couple bite-fuls of lettuce from tapas yesterday afternoon, and the spinach in my rolled chicken sandwich today. (Somehow, I suspect I will be gaining weight on this trip instead of losing it 🙂 .)

… Or seeing old Spanish couples hold hands as they cross the crosswalks or walk down the street…. Or listening to people to speak to other people in Catalan. Or Spanish. Or Italian. Or German. Or any other language we can think of.

… Or just weird it can be, in a city with just under 2 million people – and, it seems, millions more tourists – that you can sometimes run into the same people. It happened two days ago at the Picasso gallery, when I ran into the Canadian girl I met at the airport in Paris on the way here. I ended up walking down near the water with her that afternoon, eating dinner, and then going clubbing with a handful of her hostel-mates. (There was a drinking game and some piggyback rides involved, but that´s another post.)

And it happened again outside La Sagrada Familia, when I ran into a couple of guys from San Francisco, who were on the same Picasso walk as me the day before. We decided to hang out and tackle Parc Guell together. And it made such a phenomenal landmark that much enjoyable.

I don´t think I saw as much as I thought I was going to. But that´s okay. What I did see was good.

A few weeks back I read that, somewhere, there´s a fountain in Barcelona, and if you drink from it, that means you´ll return. But I didn´t get near it to know that I want to come back … hopefully with more Spanish, at least one other person around, and way more gusto to see other sights and maybe meet more people.

But I should go for now. There’s this tapas bar somewhere on Passeig de Gracia that I want to attempt to find and eat at before I have to head back to my room to pack for tomorrow.

From Solo to Surrounded and Back Again

It´s funny how things can change in the blink of an eye.

The first couple of days, I´d been adjusting to being alone. I´d also been adjusting to hearing languages other than English (and being frustrated at not being able to communicate as easily) …
And then, pow! All of a sudden it became sort of easy, because I was suddenly coming into contact with people who would speak English. Well, some, not all.

And I finally got to hang out with some fellow tourist/travellers. And it seemed to all be a matter of timing.

Yesterday, I made it over to Plaça de Catalunya in time for the Picasso walk (only three or four minutes more than the Gothic Quarter walk the day before) and got to talking to this older Kiwi couple while we waited for our tour guide (who were super nice).

At the end of the two-hour walk, we made into the Picasso museum, which had loads of art from his different artistic periods (and yes, there was some Cubism). I was supposed to meet up with my new Canadian friend Priscilla later in the day, and was trying to figure out what time to leave the museum to go back to the Raval to e-mail her when … there she was, in the exact same room, with two girls she met at her hostel. The timing couldn´t have been better!

After the museum, we went down near the water for a bit of shopping, etc. We did a LOT of walking! I was so tired after that!

But it didn´t stop there … we parted ways for a bit to rest, and then I took the metro back down to her hostel later on, and we went to dinner. The paella was decent (if a bit small) … and the mussels were good, too. But the sangria was friggin´HUGE! It was, like, a litre for each of us! But it tasted so good.

We finished it off with some gelato down the street, and back to her hostel to find out what some of her fellow guests were doing.

It was nuts. They started off with a drinking game (and it reminded me how much older I was than some of those) … then we went out. I thought we´d go down the Ramblas. We ended up walking the long way, along the boardwalk, down to the beach (and I got a piggyback from one of the Aussies in the group – good man, if too brave for his own good) .

The club was typical (although the front door staff gave us grief for not having flyers – those apparently work)… but it was loads of good harmless fun. I ended up having to crash at Priscilla´s hostel, rather than trying to get back to my part of town in the middle of the night, or trying to do the crawl of shame.

The next day, Priscilla and I managed to get ourselves up and we went shopping in my part of town. We also met up with another girl from her hostel, and we just went from place to place. We ended our afternoon with some tapas, as both of them were leaving Barcelona.

So both of them were gone, which is kinda sad. But it was good being around people I could relate to, at least for a little while.

Tomorrow´s my last day. I´ll have to use the time wisely, because Friday I´m going to have to re-orient myself all over again.

Gaudi 2, Headbumps 1, Mullets 0 (So Far)

I did waaaaay better today than I did yesterday, I think.

I got up early enough, but because I´m slower than a tortuga in the morning, I raced to the tourism office and made the Gothic Quarter tour by the skin of my teeth.

(Note to self: try NOT to do that tomorrow on the Picasso tour.)

I actually quite liked the walking tour. An old city wall here, the remainder of an aquaduct there … and lots of gargoyles. And I loved the narrow streets. (Well, it was during the day and there were lots of people around – what´s not to love, right?)

Then I wandered around … tried to get into this “museum” housing collections from whom my travel guide calls “Barcelona´s most celebrated packrat” (and as a fellow packrat myself, why wouldn´t I be interested?), but it apparently doesn´t open Mondays.

But after wandering around and going back the way I came, I got to the cloister of this church, Catedral, which has a fantastic garden, a fountain you can apparently drink from, and geese – if I understand, there are 13 of them (I think) and they “guard” the church.

So after having a lomo sandwich (tasted like chicken, but if someone could tell me what lomo is I´d appreciate it), I decided to make my way up the Passeig de Gracia to tackle my first Gaudi work – the Casa Mila, a.k.a La Pedrera.

It wasn´t too shabby. And the scupltures that have been haunting me the last few weeks (they´re famous … in pictures and postcards everywhere) – I finally found them up on the roof! I only had two dumb moments: one before the tour, when I went to collect my audioguide and couldn´t understand a word the guy at the audioguide desk was saying (because he was speaking too fast) and the other, when I was in the middle of my tour, and there was a dark room that was supposed to show a 5-minute movie about society in Gaudi´s time and I whacked my head on the far wall looking for a button, something, anything to start the movie. I quickly skipped over that, rubbing my head, and just headed into the Gaudi apartment … which was great.

After, I went back down the Passeig de Gracia and decided to do Casa Batllo, too. I figured, what the hell – I was already there. And besides, the humungous lineup I saw earlier was maybe half a dozen people by the time I got there. That was awesome. Gaudi was a genius. And I saw the chimneys too … a must-see if you´ve never been there.

So I think I´m going to call it a day. Supper awaits … and I have a feeling that´s going to be another sandwich :).

Tomorrow – hopefully a bit of Picasso, shopping … and tapas!

Day One…

So here I am.

I´m actually writing this from an internet cafe just down the way from where I´m staying in the Raval district (and man, am I glad I found this place – it´s WAY cheaper than the 6.50 euro pay-per-use set up in my hostel. Boo-urns).

I´m going through my awkward phase right now. My Spanish is barely passable, but I think it´s just because I´m nervous and really don´t want to use it just yet.

I had planned to get up early to try and catch a walking tour in the Gothic Quarter. I anticipated that might happen.

What I didn´t anticipate was the rain. And did it ever rain. It was like the heavens just opened up. By the time I got to Plaça de Catalunya, I was taking shelter under one of those patio umbrellas set up outside, lining one part of the square. By the time I got to the tourist office across the square, I was completely soaked and had to buy one of those cheesy, cheaply-made umbrellas for 5 euros with “Barcelona” written all over it. Could I LOOK any more like a tourist?

No matter. I managed to hop on one of the tourist buses and just rode it the whole time. Then I went back to my hostel, took a loooong nap, then went back out and got on the other route and rode that, too.

So now I have an idea of what Barcelona is like. But how to tackle all this old architecture and history in four days? Wish me luck.