Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sevilla and Ronda. Boiling, and beautiful.

How exactly did a week and a half go by without my posting a blog? Maybe it´s the 41 degree heat (what´s that, 107 Fahrenheit??). Well, I guess it´s really a combination of having a great time and having limited internet access as well. When I last posted I was in Sevilla, having just gone out for the flamenco show with a big group of other hostelers. So much has happened since then that I will have to give the abbreviated version as best I can remember. :)

Also while in Sevilla, Spain played Germany for the Euro Championships in soccer...and WON!! It was mayhem here, as you might imagine. It had apparently been 44 years since they´d won so the entire country was one gigantic fiesta. I watched the game with a fellow hosteler (an Argentinian lawyer named Madeline) in an outdoor plaza on 2 big TVs with a big crowd of mostly locals. It´s amazing how they wrap themselves in Spanish flags, wear team jerseys, or really wear anything red. It was a noisy, red sea of people chanting, singing, yelling, and drinking. The Spanish are a very passionate people, yet somehow very calm and tranquil at the same time. But, when futbol comes on the tele, watch out! I can still hear in my head the singing..."Ole, ole, ole, ole, ole......"

Have I mentioned yet that Spanish here in Andalucia (the Southern region) is completely and totally different!? It´s totally frustrating for me because they don´t pronounce all the letters of all the words, leaving off s's at the end, and speaking really quickly. They also pronounce some letters differently so words I know well sound like words I´ve never heard before! Generally, while not fluent, I can get by with my Spanish and they tell me I´m pretty good...but here, I can´t understand them, they can´t understand me, and we have to repeat things five times in five different ways at five different speeds before we get the jist of what each other is saying. Slowly my comprehension and speaking are improving a bit, but not much. Anyway...

Sevilla´s cathedral was pretty spectacular and I took a bazillion photos. There was a super high tower that I climbed, taking cool photos from the inside as I ascended. The view from the top was was something like 35 levels high! The cathedral was so big and ornate, full of amazing gold plating, wood and stone carvings, and oil paintings, that somehow I missed one corner of one room that has the tomb of Cristobal Colon...that´s Christopher Columbus - when I learned of this later, I felt like I´d lost some of my American-ness, although Spain is so enchanting that it seems that´s happening to me a little bit anyway.

Sevilla´s Plaza de Toros was also really cool. Mary the Canadian hosteler and I took a guided tour of the bullring and its museum. It was mega-hot that day and it was nice to get deep inside the dark, old, arched hallways of the stadium. Our Spanish tour guide was insanely beautiful and did the tour in both Spanish and a difficult-to-understand English. I didn´t understand all of it, but got enough of the history to satisfy me and got a sense of just how important bullfighting is to the Spaniards. I bought a really cool poster to mail home and put on my wall, if/when I someday own a wall...

Sevilla´s quaint maze of streets and mellow vibe was intoxicating, but it was time to move on. I chose to visit Ronda, a town of only about 35,000 people situated dramatically on either side of an incredibly steep river gorge. I did this one on faith, having read it was nice, but not meeting anyone that had actually been there, and not having any hotel reservation. I was not disappointed. It was great because it was off the tourist track, it was less expensive, the gorge was just that...gorgeous, and it had really cool, old Arabic walls/fortresses to view. The only bad part was the bus ride there from was a million degrees and I was in the back of the bus on a really curvy, hilly road. It was a recipe for disaster and I don´t know how I managed to not lose my lunch on the back of the seat in front of me! But I don´t recommend a two and a half hour bus ride largely spent choking back your own vomit. Ugh.

I only had one day/night in Ronda so I made the most of it. I walked all around the city taking amazing photos, rested in my air-conditioned room during siesta (I had sought out my own hotel room that night as Ronda does not have a hostel), and just generally relaxed and took in the Spanish life. If you walk just 2-3 blocks off the main tourist street here (and in a lot of other cities), you get a much more realistic view of local life. You can eat in local restaurants, drink in local bars, shop in local stores, and pay local prices; in fact, the first thing I generally do when I get to a new town is find the touristy place, and then try to walk straight out of it.

In Ronda I had a really cool local experience. Thus far, I hadn´t connected with any local people, but I ended up making friends with the bartender, server, and cook in a little bar/restaurant I sat in that night in Ronda. The cook was really friendly with me and came out from the kitchen to sit with and talk to me. Turns out she was actually Romanian but has lived in Spain for 10 years. Her Spanish was quite fluent. When she introduced herself, she shook my hand and said that in Romania, that´s the way they do it...with a handshake. Then the server came up and explained that in Ronda (and most of Spain) they do the kiss-on-each-cheek thing so we did that. The cook asked what we do in America and I demonstrated/said that we hug and they all laughed as the cook and I embraced...and then she started making jokes about how her breasts get a nice little press when she gives hugs and she came in for another one. Hilarious! Then they pointed out the bartender, who was across the room and they said that in Madrid, where she´s from, they kiss on the lips to greet. I didn´t believe it, but the bartender came out from behind the bar and planted a kiss right on me. Ok. I´m all for cultural exchange, right?! Anyway, they all turned out to be super nice and I hung out there for a few hours, watching the TV (the Spanish football team was arriving back in Spain after their victory), eating dinner (delicious marinated chicken breast), and drinking (crappy Cruzcampo beer). Yes, mom, I went home alone.

The next day, after waiting in line 30 minutes at the correos (post office), I found out they don´t sell tubes in which one can mail posters. So after walking all over town looking for someone to sell me a rigid tube in which I could mail home my bullfighting poster from Sevilla (and finally finding something decent), I hit the train station to head to Granada...

Oh yeah, I forgot...while in the correos, I had a seat and an older Spanish guy came in with his wife. There was only one seat left and he took it, leaving her standing. I stood up and offered her mine and she took it. He said, a bit smirkingly, "Que caballero", which means "What a gentleman", I believe. Anyway, an hour later, as I walked to the train station, I saw the same couple many blocks away across town and he was opening her car door for her. I walked by and she smiled at me in recognition and I said "Que cabellero" to her and smiled...she laughed, as did he, and I continued on. Guess he learned a lesson from the grungy, American traveler.

On to Granada....mmm.