Spain: The Epilogue.

So I’ve been home now for about eight, almost nine days.

This week was was my first week back at work. And for whatever reason, it’s been half-crappy. I’ve started getting those rashes that mysteriously cleared themselves up when I was away.

And it’s made me miss Spain immensely.

I miss not knowing who I’ll meet next … and when I do meet those people, what stories they have to tell.

I miss the fact that time actually slowed down, so that a day actually felt like a day. There was more length, more weight. I didn’t blink and have the day evaporate. I didn’t have to rush anywhere if I didn’t want to.

I miss not having a routine or people asking things of me.

And most of all – especially today – I missed the heat.

When I go back in my mind and try to think of images that stand out for me … there are so many.

Like the tiny, snowy-haired nun who looked up and smiled at me as I let her pass on a narrow sidewalk in Granada, when I felt at my loneliest.

Or the cute little kids who were with their parents everywhere I went.

Or the views of cities from belltowers, or parks high up.

Or the design and architecture of the buildings in the south.

Or the palm trees. Ah, the palm trees.

If I had the language and the gumption, I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I would go to smaller towns to explore and to beaches to sun myself. Maybe I’d write more and Facebook less. (Wait … who am I kidding?)

I know that, if I had the option, I would have kept going, at least for another week. I wanted to wander and explore, just like all those other backpackers.

This has probably been the first time in the longest time that I haven’t felt complacent about something I’ve done. When people mention travelling, I get excited. I want to hear their stories, and I love it when I pick up pieces of advice for travelling amidst it all.

Now I have to wait until at least next spring to wander again. Maybe this time I’ll get to go with a friend.

But who knows what the next six months will hold?

Anything can happen, right?

Madrid, Concluded.

Tonight´s my last night here.

I seriously can´t believe it. I don´t *want* to believe it.

It almost feels like that time when I was six years old and went to Jamaica for the first time, and at the end of the three weeks when I was told we had to leave, I cried and cried the night before we left, saying how much I didn´t want to leave. (I won´t cry. Promise.)

But things have been so good. I gained a friend and a sightseeing buddy from the States named Jesse, and we´ve out for the last few days. We´ve been to art galleries, cooled our heels at a park, taken in bullfights and flamenco, and had tapas with fellow travellers.

Today, we became a trio, joined by a guy from Vancouver, named Jeremy. We went to the Royal Palace, where we went from room to room, making jokes and snickering to ourselves. Then we walked on in search of gelato, which we eventually found. SO. GOOD.

Next was shopping … which was kinda short-lived. I did get a cute sweater from H & M, though.

And we decided between the three of us to cook a huge pasta dinner, so we went supermarket shopping.

Vancouver Dude (Jeremy) and I then accompanied Jesse from Portland to Chamartín train station, but not before having one awkward moment on the metro. A Spanish man, who´d been eyeing our American friend from his seat, approached us, and asked him, ¨Are you American?¨

Sensing a confrontation, Jesse instantly said, ¨Canadian.¨ I didn’t get what was going on at first, but later it became clear this man wanted to rant, and when he ¨discovered¨ we were all Canadian, his demeanor changed … and his ignorance of Canada – based on whatever stereotypes he picked up – showed loud and clear. We just smiled and nodded until he got off at his stop.

We talked about it afterwards, and reflecting on it, I have to shake my head at how much that must suck for genuinely nice people from the States who get harrassed travelling.

Jeremy also experienced an awkward moment trying to buy a couple train tickets. He asked a security guard for help, and asked if she spoke any English, only to have her respond in perfect English that (a) she didn´t speak any, (b) the travel centre was closing, and (c) he could buy tickets either by phone or the Internet. (Hmmm … you know, if she came to Canada and was in the same situation, no doubt the person she was asking for help would be waaay nicer about it.) In any case, he somehow worked it out and got one of them.

Meanwhile, Jesse is now on his way to Portugal. I think he´s uneasy about the unknown, travelling through the night in a sleeper car, not knowing what he´ll see when he wakes up tomorrow. But I think he´ll be just fine, especially when he gets down to the beach and dips his feet in that Atlantic water.

And now, with a minute to midnight Spanish time, my turn approaches. I am so not ready to return. But perhaps what I return to will be better than what I expect.

And besides … I´ve already reserved three guidebooks from the library on South Africa. So that might keep me busy when I get back :).

Lost in Sticky, Sweet Seville

Sorry I´ve not been blogging lately. I´ve just not had the motivation over the last couple days. The intense Andalucian heat here probably has something to do with it.

I guess you could say the theme for my time in Seville was that I got lost, literally and figuratively. The first afternoon when I arrived, and I tried to find the place where I was staying (which was a bit separate from the main hostel), I got a bit lost trying to find my way back. Same with my expedition to and from the grocery store. (And after getting lost so much in Granada, I was getting weary of going in circles.)

I also felt kinda lost at the hostel at first, too. Trying to adjust from being in my own room to a dorm room with bunk beds (and dealing with construction noise at 7am in the morning, on top of the crazy heat) …

Even trying to fit myself into a crowd of fellow travellers didn´t seem to come as easy as it did in Valencia. This felt like a bit more work involved. I actually almost asked myself, ¨why did I pay the whole amount for this place? It´s not as great as people are making it out to be …¨

But things slowly started working themselves out. I actually also got a few decent nights out, out of it, and met some interesting people. Two Canadians from Kelowna making a Spanish pit stop in their year-long travels around the world. A Nigerian who lives in Barcelona and decided to vacation in Seville. An guy from Belfast who´s a former journalist but is now a writer (and has a black but wicked sense of humour, to boot). A handful of Australians and a couple Kiwis. And I also ran into a small number of Americans – some living or about to return to the States, others new or recent expatriates.

spain-2007-240Sightseeing-wise, I managed to redeem myself in Seville a bit for not seeing as much in Granada. I got to see the enormous Catedral and Giralda (the belltower which was a former Muslim minaret from the Almohad mosque of Seville), and the Alcázar (the royal palace – beautiful!) … I walked past the bullring, went down to the Guadalquivir River, walked around the Torre de Oro (literally – I couldn´t figure out how to get in!) … walked in and out of streets covered by these huge canopies to keep the heat off … saw the Plaza de España … I could go on.

Two things I didn´t do, even though I said I would:

1) A boat tour of the Guadalquivir River. It would have been nice, but I just didn´t feel like I had the time, or enough energy to tackle it …

2) I broke the vow to myself to see some real flamenco. The hostel I stayed at had a tapas and flamenco night, but they were all local places, very small. And last night – which would have been the night I would have gone – I spent most of it in the pool on the roof terrace of the hostel, then napping, then out for tapas. I think the travelling and pushing myself to try and do as much as possible finally caught up to me. I couldn´t help it, though. It was so nice just to sit there and feel the sun on my back and legs. Oh well. Can´t win them all, right? I hear there might be flamenco I could try and take in while I´m here in Madrid, so maybe I can fit that and a bullfight in there somewhere. But I have to do at least one of the two, otherwise I won´t forgive myself.

So that´s all for now, kids. I´ve now reached my last destination before home, and am in my new hostel (which is in the city centre, brand new, and really nice from what I can see so far). I really didn´t want to leave Seville just yet, and now I´m trying to process that this trip is almost over for me and that I´ll have to return to reality and all that entails.

Hopefully I can end this trip with a big bang.

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.