I glided into this large coastal city on a Sunday afternoon, and caught the entire town enjoying siesta. It is not a bad way to enter a new place, especially a large new place. I walked the sunny streets from the bus station to my hostel, which was a bit of a curiosity. Situated on one of the main streets, it’s perfectly located and unbelievably classy. When you arrive, your backpack singling you out as a student traveler, you cannot believe that the chic-linen-napkin-two-wine-glasses restaurant at 33 Passeig de Gracia hides a backpackers’ haven. Then you breathe easy, because it doesn’t—there are two number 33s. I never expect that much from a hostel, but between location, marble staircase, view of Passeig de Gracia, and cleanliness, I was stuck again in unbelief that anyone had ever thought to turn this into a hostel…but mostly thankful that they had!
Traveling alone was certainly never lonely. That first night I met up with
“And you’re traveling alone?” people at the hostel would ask. I wasn’t sure if it implied I should be embarrassed or afraid to do so, so I tried to make my affirmative response as noncommittal as possible. Then we would become friends, though I hesitate between attributing that to pity or genuine like. I met two British girls backpacking during their “gap year” (a year between high school and university which many European students decide to take off to work and/or travel); a hard-core Canadian girl backpacking on a two-month tour of Europe; another, softer Canadian taking time off from his job to see Spain and southern France; and a New Zealander teaching PE classes in England, whom no one understood half the time because of the difference in accents. A strange group, to be sure, but somehow cohesive and relaxed and fun. We spent a few days sight-seeing all together: the Cathedral, the Sagrada Familia and other works of Gaudi, the Arc de Triomfe, the arena, a few parks, and the Gothic Quarter. The most impressive, of course, was the Sagrada Familia, which has been in construction for about a hundred years and will continue for at least the next twenty. According to Gaudi’s wish, the “temple” (as it’s not yet been blessed by the Pope) is being built only on private donation, and the architecture is already demanding enough. Looking at Gaudi’s houses and structures, I just couldn’t help wondering why in the bland world of 19th and 20th century architecture, no one stood up and told him “YOU are MENTAL”; imagine Gaudi building his modernist, non-standard creations in YOUR gray-and-beige-please-keep-the-grass-at-half-an-inch suburb! I did enjoy his work, though, as did my fellow travelers. We’ve tentatively planned a reunion in
But before I left, I visited the
A night bus took me to my next stop, and I woke up in the early morning to the hilly olive country of southern
I visited the Mezquita, a very clearly-termed cathedral in what was formerly a mosque which was formerly half-cathedral half-mosque. The gardens at the alcazar (palace) caught my attention, as they were filled with orange trees in bloom. After all, that’s what I went to
My residence in
On Monday I got up early to get in line for one of the 2000 day-of-public-issued tickets to the
This is a view of the Albaycin as seen from the Alhambra; it’s a neighborhood where all the Moors were chased to when the Catholics took over Granada (did you know that the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic Monarchs, are in the Royal Chapel in Granada?!). It’s windy streets gave me a perfect morning’s worth of wandering, ultimately reaching Plaza San Nicholas, was boasts an amazing across-the-valley view of the
So I got on a bus to my last stop, the capital of
Yes, I saw all the “biggies”: Zurburan, Velasquez, El Greco, Bosch, Breughel, Titian, and special exhibits on Goya and Picasso. I like standing in front of paintings I have studied…I like walking into a room and zapping each subject of Christian iconography with its appropriate name (“Ecce homo, St. Stephen, Adoration of the Magi, YES!”). To the professor I have to thank for that: you know who you are.
In Madrid on my last day I met up with Adlyn, the Puerto Rican I met with the Quebecoises in Rome and whom I visited in Lille (got that?), who was in town for a view days visiting her friends. We had a wonderful tapas meal together, then were sucked into shoe stores (
And back I am. It was a good plan, to come back Friday. It allowed me to leave again Saturday!
About noon on Saturday I headed to a village called Ste. Marie-aux-Mines, close to Selestat, where one of my friends lives and where he was directing a play this weekend. The play raised money for an association he belongs to, which is renovating a house in town and turning it into a tea room and venue. Everything started at 2pm with skits, mimes, songs, dance; continued at 6pm with a marionette story; then at 7:30 with dinner and entertainment; then the music and dancing about 10:00. FANTASTIC! We didn’t return home (I stayed with my friend’s family in their mountain house: nothing to hear but birds, nothing to see but trees, and *gasp* no cell phone reception) until 3am. Then all started (or at least a shortened version of it) again Sunday afternoon. Sunday I helped in the kitchen and taking tickets at the entrance, then stayed on after for the cast meeting. I have seldom been so exhausted and have certainly not felt so involved for a long time. It was a happy place to be and I enjoyed it very much. Except getting up at 7am on Monday to come back to
I’m still recuperating.
And that’s the story, folks.