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,