Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sevilla: A Week Left and I Finally Got My Story

It´s currently 1:00 am in Sevilla, Spain and I´m up for one reason - well, to be totally honest, it´s because of a couple of reasons but one in particular - I got my story...

Laying down on my bed restlessly reviewing the past 3+ weeks of my travels alone, I realized one thing, I had no motivation to write what I had intended to begin writing the moment I returned home.

I thought that I´d had it all mapped out. My characters were well described and thought out. Their nuances, habits, and quirks outlined and vibrantly clear, the plot itself with the underlying goal and motives were decided and all in all it would´ve turned out to be a decent story that made sense.

Except that my heart didn´t feel it. If there´s one thing that I know about writing, one thing that creates a story beyond all other stories that captures and captivates people is that it is written from the heart.

Although, I would´ve forced all the heart I could´ve put into this original storyline, I felt wary and knew the challenge that faced me to write something that I felt only a small spark of interest in and unfortunately, I felt more doubt than I did spark. I tried to ignore the trouble that I felt at this revelation.

Which leads me to my current situation...tossing and turning on my bed, still nursing a cold, far, far away from home with one week left before I returned.

I felt nervous and anxious. I was worried for the work ahead of me trying to force life into a story that I wasn´t sure of.

But as I laid there, thinking of so many other things; the past months of my life, the short stories I´d written, the comments people have been hit me...and the story that I´d once thought I shouldn´t write or couldn´t write, came flaring back to life. Except this time, there were so many additional aspects and inputs that I wanted to include.

So here I am. Past 1:00 am wishing I were home so that I could begin sketching the outline of the story. I´ve begun to, in my black notebook, but only enough to remind myself of the specific details that I absolutely did not want to forget.

I can safely say that this trip has given me the story that I was hoping to get. Even if the story isn´t really from my travels - except I´m sure certain characters and personalities will come through in the individuals that make an appearance in the book - this trip has given me not only a momentus motivation but the real story that I want to write. A story that I know I can write.

I thank everyone for all the support you´ve given. I wouldn´t be here without you - my friends, my family, and especially Chris.

Thanks for reading. My journey is far from over, here in Spain (in fact I leave for Cordoba tomorrow morning). But I´m happy to have found what I was looking for...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sevilla: Broken Train & is that Antonio?

Oh boy...

My train to Sevilla broke down yesterday. We were left in the middle of some forgotten city in a small neglected train station where the heat and humidity stuck to you like a warm damp cloth and the flies gravitated annoyingly to your face like a magnet and no amount of swatting provided any relief. All creating one heck of an environment that could only lead to some very irate and frustrated passengers.

Shouts could be heard in rapid fire spanish, spewing from the conductor who looked very much like a fearful cornered animal and passengers who were red faced emphasizing their words with furious hand gestures.

I found a small unoccupied space against the wall where shade provided only a small reprieve to the direct sun-scorching heat but it was enough that people were fighting for a piece of it. I politely asked those around me if anyone spoke English to give me some details of what was happening and when the next train would be arriving but unfortunately I could find no one until Zack, a fellow traveler from New York made his way towards me, noticing my distress and gave me the run down. I was confused. The ¨broken¨train didn´t look broken as we watched it zoom off and leave us all behind. Zack tells me, ¨They say that the train will come back and they will try to fix it here. But they can´t tell us any sort of time frame¨. I thanked him and was relieved to have someone who could explain and walk me through what was going on.

Needing to stretch my legs, I walked around and and spotted a well dressed man in a business suit who turned to face me as he pulled his sunglasses down. I gawked and nearly tripped over my luggage in surprise at the uncanny resemblance he had to Antonio Sabbatto Jr. Upon closer inspection, (okay, truth be told, I was ogling) he was leaner with a sharper aristocratic nose but without a doubt could´ve played Antonio´s stunt double. Hearing him speak spanish helped to confirm as well that it was definitely NOT Antonio who was a born and bred Italian. He confronted the conductor, who hurriedly tried to avoid him while several older women fawned all over him. It was a funny sight to see and I recall laughing quietly despite the situation we were all in.

Hours into our wait in the blistering heat and still no word on the arrival of a new train. The young University boys who sat directly across from me on the train came around to my side of the wall. I remember when we all first boarded and I pulled out my book to pass the ¨short¨3 hour train ride to Sevilla when I noted something peculiar. Several attractive young University boys were around me and though I felt lucky to be surrounded by what appeared to be a team of Futbol players (thinking, Man, I should´ve dressed better today), I nearly pealed into a bout giggles when I heard them speaking.

They were loud and boisterous like all boys are but I found something very odd in their speech. At first I thought it was only the young man directly in front of me who seemed to have a terrible lisp. I remember thinking, ¨What a shame. I don´t know if any girl could ignore a lisp as terrible as that¨. But others began to chime into the discussion and I thought, ¨Wow, how can they all have a lisp that bad?¨I delved my face into my book but kept my ears perked. I noted how all the words that contained a ¨c¨, ¨s¨or ¨z¨where pronounced as ¨th¨. Words like Barcelona or Gracias were Barthelona and Grathiath.

In my curiousity, I brought this up to Zack who laughed as he explained to me that spanish was pronounced differently here. He told me how he´d learned spanish at an early age both EspaƱa and Mexican spanish that was more gutteral and how he spoke a strange mix of both. I couldn´t tell much of a difference until he´d pointed it out me.

Hours later we managed to grumpily get back on the same ¨still uncertain if it was truly ever fixed¨train and I was still a bit shocked at the unexpected heat when I stepped out onto the station in Sevilla. After a somewhat stressful experience taking the bus and getting off on the right stop, I dragged my tired self into my Hostel and was happy to find two very sweet female German twins in my dorm room bunking with me. We all had dinner together and while I watched them cook a warm meal of pasta, tomatoes and cucumbers, I cut up an apple and made a salami sandwich. They pitied my dinner but I didn´t mind, seeing as how it was an upgrade from McDonald´s. We had quite a bit of fun together in the evening. They also gave me a parting gift before they left to Barcelona. So sweet of them...

They gave me their cold.

It´s not a small, containable cold either.

Oh, no.

My head pounds, my body is sore, my nose runs, I´m sneezing all the time, and I´m occassionally coughing to alleviate the awful soreness in my throat.

I felt the start of the cold last night and had taken some Tylenol, thinking a good night´s rest was all I needed. I was probably just tired from the stress the day had brought on. I woke up in the morning to find myself in complete misery.

I tried to go out for a bit this morning but only managed to escape my room for an hour and a half before I trudged back home where I could comfortably blow my nose and rest my fatigued body.

Sevilla is a city that everyone who I´ve spoken to that has visited has told me how much I would love the city, how it was charming, beautiful and romantic. Zack spoke highly of it and told me it was quite safe to visit and tour at midnight. Which I plan on doing. Here is the heart of Flamenco dances and a bullfighting arena that rivals no other in Spain.

But instead of wandering around the city...I´m stuck in my bed. I still have one full day tomorrow and the rest of this evening to take advantage of. I´ll still explore, even if I have to drag my tired body, like I do my luggage, out of my sickbed.

I´ll post some pictures in a bit when the wifi gets fixed in the hostel. It always seems to be a problem here in Spain.

But for now, thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Granada: I'll Take My Chances

I can barely muster enough energy to give thanks to one of the most gratifying tours I've taken on this entire trip thus far; one that I would be willing to return to visit in the future.

Had I known exactly how fulfilling this tour would be, perhaps I would not have taken such a risk not making reservations prior to stepping foot at the front gates to the Alhambra. Ohhh, I was told both by Rick Steves (my handy guidebook) and by the receptionist who suggested that I call the night before to book a ticket reservation to inform me if any tickets would even be available the next day. According to Steves, should I decide to purchase a ticket the day of, it was recommended that I should find myself standing at the ticket booth line at 7:30 am where they would have an extra 700 tickets out of the 7,800 (the limit of persons that they allow into the Alhambra per day) available for last minute purchase.

Well, I got out of bed at 9:00...

Took my sweet time having breakfast and finally trudged out of the hostel at 10:30 to wait for the bus that would save me from climbing up the hill which I'm sure had I decided to walk and reach the Alhambra, I probably would've convinced myself that I'd done more than my fair share of sightseeing that day and promptly walked back down to take a nap.

How smart of me for taking the bus. I found myself waiting in line with the rest of the last minute ticket purchasers for about 45 minutes, relieved to hear that they had 160 tickets left for the day. I happily chatted with an older woman traveling from Canada who spoke so avidly about her desperation to see the Alhambra and how if she could not see it today, that she MUST extend her stay for another night. I merely shrugged, thinking that if I couldn't see it today, shame on me but my plans to head off to Sevilla tomorrow were practically set it stone and nothing could delay my departure.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I absolutely loved the Alhambra. Simply, it was exquisite. I spent around 3.5 hours here barely sitting down long enough to snap a few photos of myself along the way.

What is the Alhambra, you ask? It is the last and greatest Moorish palace and stronghold, highlighting the splendor of that civilazation in the 13th and 14th centuries; one of Europe's must see sights.

The Alhambra

The Gardens: The entire grounds were well kept and I found myself lost in the maze of tall hedges, square gardens with fountain centers, and flowers of all colors and species surrounding the pathways.

The Palace: Imagine the details in the photos below decorating every space of the walls, corridors, halls, doorways, and ceilings. Such beautiful detailing that it was breath-taking - artwork that must've taken ages to carve. Running water (flowing along the floors!) and fountains were everywhere, what had been a rare and valuable commodity.

Chocolate Festival and a Dried Nuts and Fruits Stand

I got a small bag of dried Pineapples, Kiwis, and Mangoes. YUM!

Wandering through the Plaza's near my hostel, I found it littered with people who were visiting the Chocolate Festival. OF COURSE, I spent quite a bit of time here. Even ordered up a dark chocolate crepe...double YUM!


Tomorrow I am off to Sevilla to spend three nights before I head off to another destination.

Thanks for reading! I can't tell you how incredibly homesick I am but it's probably best that I don't because the less I think about it, the less it hurts. Only 10 nights left before I fly back!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Granada: This is the Part I Hate

After a long 5+ hour ride on the train from Madrid to Granada, I am now comfortably settled in my room, as one can comfortably get in a hostel, called Funky Backpackers. My room is on the highest floor and although there were no elevators the helpful receptionist gladly carried my ridiculously heavy luggage up the long flight of stairs to my room where I will be staying with 6 other female travelers with a swanky terrace view.

One thing I've discovered and I'm sure many other backpackers share in this sentiment, is that one of the most challenging part of hopping to and from locations, is the hopping part. I got off the train and stared out on the circular driveway for a few minutes trying to find signs for the bus stop but to my disappointment, only found signs for the taxi.

Why not just take a taxi you ask? Well, it would probably cost almost €20 while a quick bus ride (that accomplishes the same feat - although, not as convenient) would only cost €1.20. Therefore, for a traveler on a budget the bus is a perfectly good form of transportation. Except of course sometimes it may not be due to the following: 1. you do not speak the language fluently 2. you have no clue which direction the bus is heading off to and 3. sometimes the hostel directions are a bit vague...

I decided to ask the man who was standing along the bus post in my best effort of broken Spanish (Mom, you'd be so proud). I can't recall what I said, sometimes desperation allows you to dig through 6 years of unpracticed Spanish courses which you were happy to leave buried and unused because you absolutely hated your highschool AP Spanish teacher for having given you so many nightmares during your senior year. Well, the man with his broken English and my broken Spanish managed to communicate enough to understand that I was trying to get to the Cathedral. Once the bus came I kept trying to shout out to the driver, "Para Catedral?" to which he ignored me...even after I'd shouted it 3 times. Guess I'm easy to ignore or maybe I wasn't asking right? But there were wonderously helpful others on the bus who chimed in, "Si!" and I smiled back in relief. This was not the end of my challenge, unfortunately. The directions after the bus stop, which I still wasn't sure was the correct stop, were a bit vague. After 10 minutes of dragging my luggage which I really almost felt like leaving at the curb after kicking it a few times - already forgetting the days I'd gone without it in Barcelona, when I decided to ask a store clerk. I had it in my head that if she couldn't tell me, I'd shameless concede that I'd done the best I could and happily flag down a taxi.

Someone out there must love me because she knew exactly where I was trying to go. Phew... Another 10 minutes later I was still dragging my luggage but it was towards the sign that said "Funky". I'd finally found it and I almost cried with relief. I always hate this part of traveling but mostly because I'm alone. It has a tendancy to make you feel even more alone combined with the emotions of panic and helplessness as you suddenly get overwhelmed by the stress of being lost.

I dropped off my things, got relatively comfy and laid down in my toddler sized bunk (which I guess isn't so bad for someone my size - but I hate how you can't fully sit up without hunching over and dipping your head in like a turtle). I decided right away that I wouldn't waste what little daylight I had and would go venture out to see a couple sights and shopping areas before I called it a night. I'll only be here for two nights after all, which doesn't leave me much time to visit the Alhambra and the 3 other distinct religious communities that make up Granada, Moorish, Jewish, and Catholics.

It's an amazingly beautiful area. Where you can get lost in the maze of small alleys that are filled with tapestries of all colors, music sung in hebrew and spanish, plenty of unique art, lamps, and hookahs. Unfortunately, after an hour and half of walking my legs felt like heavy weights that felt similar to dragging my luggage around and after failing to locate an open market (unfortunately, most stores are closed on weekends - either that or it's Siesta. Don't even get me started on Siesta, people take it way to seriously around here) I decided to head back to the hostel to have a cup of coffee and a tuna sandwich.

I spent a better part of the train train ride reflecting the past couple of days. The time spent in Madrid was wonderful. I made a handful of new friends and we said a perfect adios with a hearty dose of a potfull of home-made sangria and paella. I ate so much paella just so that it would absorb what was otherwise a volatile amount of alcohol in such a small portion. We all toasted to my first alcoholic drink in Spain. Yes, I've been avoiding the activity for all the obvious reasons. But seeing as it would be in the kitchen of the hostel with a room full of girls and one guy (the magician cook who made the Paella) it couldn't have been a more safe setting.

There's so much yet to see; traditional flamenco dances, tapas (minus that bar hopping), and a bullfighting arena.

I'm missing home but with two nights here, there's more than enough to do to keep me busily planning my days.

Thanks for reading! Miss you all!

Making sangria with the girls

We ran out of we added more wine ;)

Cheers to an awesome group of girls

Me and the Sangria queen

There's Helen to my right with her salty dress...haha...because she spilled wine and apparently rubbing salt helps to get the stain out.

Me and Natalie - after too much sangria...for me...

Terrace view (only one side of it) of my dorm in the Funky Backpackers Hostel

This really is one of the most beautiful hostels I've stayed in.

So many hookahs

One of those alleyways that I loved getting lost in.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Madrid: Nostalgia

What a long and emotionally draining day.

It's hard to say goodbye to the friends you've made especially when you're returning to a now empty dorm room where only a bed away was a companion who helped to fill the silence with genuine warmth and friendship.

Sarah left earlier this morning and I spent a better part of the day pulling myself out of bed to manage a few things with my Train ticket issues and then went to see the Temple of Debod; which is an actual ancient Egyptian temple that was relocated to Madrid. Then I ambled off to a park that rivaled in size to that of Hyde Park in London - where I found a shady spot beneath a tall tree and rolled my maps out on the grass and slept like a bum.

The sun shone brightly and heat forced me to ignore my earlier encounter with the shorts insulted man and wear my favorite shorts to suit the dry Madrid heat - although, I kept a wary eye on any old folks who looked like they would be gunning for me.

I'm off to Granada tomorrow and I can't tell you how relieved I am to be moving on. I should've condensed my stay in Madrid to no more than 4 nights but due to some unforseen train issues (among all my other issues) I was forced to stay for 6 nights instead. So tonight I pack and with a relieved sigh I can dream some happy dreams of being one day closer to coming home?

Yes, I'm homesick. I want to come home and enjoy the first signs of Autumn. Although, I was blessed to see so many beautifully orange leafed covered trees, I'd still rather have seen it at home with a mug of coffee in hand and on my own porch. I thought about that all day as nostalgia hit me stronger than I expected. Autumn is my favorite time of the year for everything that it represents. I can't say enough about how much I love it. Not only do the trees turn to beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red, but there is a slight crisp chill in the air. Halloween marks the start of many exciting holidays to come. Holidays that bring family and friends closer together in celebration of life, love, and happiness.

Soon, I'll be home to enjoy the festivities but for now, I will continue to try my damndest to stay grounded and think happy thoughts of the wonder that it is, that I am in SPAIN.

Miss you all!

Here's Sarah and me just before she packed up to head out to meet her tour group.

Visiting the Temple of Debod

One of Madrid's many monuments


The marks of Autumn in Madrid

See me? I always gain a ton when I vacation.

Feeding the fishes

So many beautiful koi's. Amazing how many there were and all across the lake! a bit distracted. Lots of naked people around.

Isn't it strange how these birds sleep? I thought they were dead at first!