Saturday, June 28, 2008

3:21 a.m.?!?!

It´s 3:21 a.m. as I sit here at Oasis Backpackers´Hostel here in Sevilla. I´m awake!?!?

Today was quite the day. Woke to a "breakfast" of a brown toast called wheat and a warm, slightly sweet drink called milk. Hey, it was free, so who´s complaining?

Hooked up with one of my dormmates, Mary the ballet teacher from Calgary, Alberta, Canada...and we headed off to wander the streets of Sevilla, with the ultimate goal of seeing the Alcazar. The Alcazar is a fortress/palace/gardens of impressive proportions, influenced by a mixture of Muslim and Christian periods of rule here in Southern Spain.

It was AMAZINGLY hot here today...41 degrees Celsius...and as we wandered semi-lost through the Barrio de Santa Cruz looking for the Alcazar, it quickly proved that our brown bread and warm milk breakfast was not going to give us the stamina to make it through the next hour. We stopped at a little cafe and ordered salads. You see, everything so far has been fried carbohydrates so all we were craving was something NATURAL. You can imagine my disappointment when my seafood salad with the dressing on the side was a plate of pasta slathered in garlic mayonnaise with a thin slice of tomato and three kernels of corn as garnish, topped with four sticks of a very fishy "krab"-like nature. Yikes. But, I was starving...

The Alcazar was astoundingly beautiful, and the reward for our efforts was.....the rooftop pool at the hostel!! It couldn´t have come sooner. After the pool we rendezvous´d with another Canadian gal and walked over to the supermercado to buy some real food. I came home and absolutely gorged myself on a banana, a peach, and apple, and enough turkey breast-gouda "sandwiches" to go through the entire package of turkey (no bread). PROTEIN!!! YES!!!

After spending some talking with a few random people about hostelling around Spain, I decided to reserve a bed in a Barcelona hostel for next week since it´s getting to be the busy season and I wanted to make sure I got a decent room in a part of town close to all the cool stuff to see. I worked that out online and then a group of about 15 of us headed off to look for a rumored free flamenco show.

As we stood in a group outside of the hostel and everyone was asking everyone else if they knew how to get where we were going, no one was able to convincingly state that they knew anything about our destination or what route to take. Someone had to step up. Given a map of the spider-like network of Sevilla streets, I leapt up and took control. With an anxious group of folks all wanting to see their first flamenco show, which happened to start in only 15 minutes, I felt the pressure mounting. I knew I´d be a hero if I got us there on time, and that I´d be completely ostracized if I failed to find our location quickly...somehow I rallied all that directional instinct and map-reading prowess that I store deep inside...and we walked in at the moment it started.

This show was quite a find. Not only did it turn out to truly be free, it also turned out to be in a non-smoking venue, with great live music/dancing, in a tiny unmarked club on a tiny street, with mostly locals in attendance. It was a gorgeous performance and it was nice to see it in such a small venue, without amplification for the singer or the guitar player. The passion and intensity were astounding, as was the sweat dripping off of the dancer!

This show ended at 12:30 a.m., but in this town and this country, that is just when things are beginning. I was up for whatever...going home, going out...and since the majority of the group wanted to go out, we did. We walked about a half hour to a club that was supposedly a great place to dance your ass off. When we got in line, everyone quickly realized that most of us were severly underdressed for such a club, given the attire of the other folks we could see waiting to get in. Here it´s still 90 degrees and everyone is in full slacks, shirts, dress shoes, evening dresses, etc., compared to our flip flops, cargo shorts, tshirts, and halter tops. I knew that was likely to happen, drawing on my experience from other travels in which I was denied admittance to a club because I looked like a dirty traveler (looked like!?). As it turned out, one of our group knew a local girl and she met us in the line, which happened to be out the door and continuing about 200 yards up the street. She took one look at us and told us it wasn´t going to happen and that we were wasting our time waiting in line. We then found out it was a 30 Euro cover charge to just get in the door....that´s about $46 and change I think based on today´s exchange rate. Um, no. Dirty, POOR travelers don´t pay that to go dance in a nightclub. We walked on and found another place that was suggested to us, but they denied us because an invitation was required to be admitted. Of course, a couple of our women smiled really nicely and all of a sudden an invitation appeared out of nowhere. After a couple of hours and a couple of beers, the better dressed in the group headed off to then go dancing at what was now 3:00 a.m., while others of us hopped in a cab and headed home. Yes, I just said that they left to GO dancing at 3:00 a.m. Like I said, this country doesn´t even eat dinner until 10 or 11 p.m., let alone go out. Anyway, I am not dancing and, hence, here I sit at now 4:03, stone cold sober and somehow still strangely awake, writing until my wrists hurt.

If I can rouse my ass out of bed in 4 hours, I will head to the local market with a group of folks. I love going to "the market" in other see such a great part of the culture at such markets. Other than that, I plan to see the cathedral tomorrow, relax in the hot mid-day sun either in the pool or in some little air-conditioned pub, and then head out for the finals of the European Football Championships in which Spain meets the mighty Germany to decide this year´s winner. This country is already buzzing since Spain even made the final, as they apparently are always good but perenially underachieve. If they win, I may have to be prepared to walk home through rioting in the streets. If they lose....I wonder.... :)

Buenas noches, people. I´m having fun, but I´m still thinking aboutcha.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Portland to Atlanta to Madrid to Sevilla

Wow. What a whirlwind. What time is it anyway? What day is it? I feel completely discombobulated at the moment, so I apologize if my ramblings that follow seem a bit detached. (And, as sit here, I am drinking a "tinto de verano", which apparently is a red wine with splash of some kind of lemonade and a lemon wedge. It feels mildly refreshing, but I'd rather have a raspberry lemonade of yours, Clint!)

The flight from Portland took off at 610 a.m. and went uneventfully...that is until we landed and got to the gate in Atlanta. We were stuck on the airplane for an hour because they couldn't get the jetway to move out to the door of the jet. Finally, we all had to restow our carryons, and sit down again while we taxi'd to another gate. I was not really affected since I had a 5 hour Atlanta layover, but many others on the plane missed their connections both within the US and internationally.

In the interest of the overall organization of my trip, my plan was to try to get immediately down south to Sevilla after my plane landed in Madrid. If you take the high-speed train (the AVE), it only takes 2.5 hours to go, uh, really far. The train goes something like 280 km/ do the math. The bus takes 6.5 hours. From the US, you have to reserve a spot on the train 5 days in advance, but here in Spain, you can go to the train station and see if there are any open spots. Once I landed in Madrid at 930 a.m. (the next day!!), I figured out which subway/metro to take to get from the airport to the train station (I had to transfer twice and it was confusing), figured out where the ticket office was, and was able to get on a train leaving in 20 minutes. Fortuitous! The next open train was for tomorrow!!

The train ride south was interesting. I was quite tired and dozed now and then, but when I was awake, I saw countryside that really reminded me of a combination of central coastal California and Eastern Oregon. It was arid/semi-arid in appearance, somewhat desolate, with frequent farms, and we sailed through rolling hills spotted with many trees which looked a lot like nut or olive species. The mix of old farm houses and the occasional really old castle-looking dwelling was interesting...and it was startling to rapidly roll into a town now and then chock full of new construction of large apartments/condos and big box stores. Fortunately there weren't many of those. The roofs became redder and the dwellings whiter the further south I got, presumably as it gets hotter and hotter in climate. Buildings are primarily out of stone and red or sand-colored brick. Many of the buildings look exactly the same...much like Chicago where they were all rebuilt after a catastrophic fire. From the looks of it, it seems many more people in this part of the country live in large apartment/condo buildings than individual dwellings.

After arriving in Sevilla at 3:30 p.m., I decided to walk to the hostel I had chosen rather than try to take a bus or taxi. By my partial and incomplete map, it appeared to only be about 1 to1.25 miles. Well, that was right, but since the map sucked and the street markings and layout can only be described as chaotic at best, I ended up walking in circles for 2 hours to go that 1 mile. I finally found it, and did exactly as I suspected I would. I got to know a large part of the city before I even did anything in it. I swear the best way to get to know a city is to get lost in it. Now, from my past travel experiences, I have learned that is is NOT, in fact, pleasant or useful to get lost in a city after dark - and as a result, I strive to arrive in a new city with at least several hours of daylight left just to avoid such an occurance.

I arrived at what appears to be an AMAZING hostel...clean, friendly, well-located, with a rooftop terrace/pool, free internet 24/7, and a separate key card-controlled personal safe for every dormitory bed. Wow. It costs 21 euros (34 dollars on today's conversion rate). I just got back from wandering the streets, drinking Cruzcampo beer (nothing special) and eating tapas (I guess I didn't yet find the good ones). I did have an interesting ham and crackers dish at Bar Alfalfa, where the guy had smoked ham hocks hanging from the ceiling, and he carved me off some slices from one of the while he held the hoof to keep the hock from moving around on him as he cut.

The streets here in Sevilla are very tight and run all different directions. There is no grid and it impossible to not get lost it seems. I am going to check into seeing a bullfight if I can, as well as see the Cathedral and the gardens here. This hostel is full of Americans, which is really odd as I'm not used to meeting many of them when I travel the world. I see...they're all in Costa Rica and Spain. Now I'm going to go for a swim. It's 10:20 p.m. and still about 90 degrees or so, so why not?

Love to all,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey everyone!!

I'm going to Spain in 3 days and am psyched!! Right now I'm in the middle of mad, last-minute preparations/packing and trying to tie up loose ends at work before I go.

Interestingly, Spain beat Italy yesterday in the quarterfinals of the 2008 European Football Championships (soccer!!), and therefore they are now in the semifinals. They play Russia on the day I go over there, and the game will be over when I get off the airplane in Madrid. I have no idea if I'll be walking into a countrywide party, or if it'll be like a funeral. From what I understand, they take this more seriously than we Americans can even fathom.

I will write regularly on my blog during my trip (in place of emailing, most likely) so feel free to check back every couple of days if you want to know where I am and what I'm doing.