From the 14th of November 2005 to the 15 of December 2005, I traveled through Spain. I started in Madrid, headed down to Seville, and made my way up the coast to Barcelona. This is a day-by-day journal of my trip.
Day 1 - Leaving Mad-town
This one's for Zonk. Uneventful (and quick) check-in and ticketing. Passenger screening was quick and relatively hassle-free, particularly considering that I'm traveling with more electronics than I've ever tried taking on a plane before. I expected the plethora of wires and opaque metal bits to raise the hand-screening flag, but it did not. Got an exit row seat on the flight to Cincinnati - got two, in fact, so plenty of leg room.
Landed Cincinnati, took the shuttle over to terminal B, and asked for an exit row seat there too, landing in line just behind a very tall woman with the same request. Exit window. The third-best seats in the plane. Made a lunch of hummus and pita bread. Nothing says "I love flying" like garlic breath. Contemplated photographing the plane I'd be flying on. Empty seat beside me once again - score! Got into ATL an hour later, and my departing flight was in the same terminal, only 20 gates away.
Landed Atlanta, got a third exit row seat. I'm on a roll. Also, free wifi. By free, of course, I mean they neglected to block SSH connections, which after some tinkering and setting up squid on a far-away computer, means free web browsing. Yes! I'll have to go shortly, as the plane's boarding soon. More from Spain proper.
Landed Madrid 9:45 local time, about 40 minutes late because we took off late from Atlanta. I'd forgotten how much sleeping on a plane sucks. Wandered about the airport a bit, negotiating passport / customs issues, and then expertly navigated the metro to the nearest stop to the hostal (cheap hotel) I intended to stay at. That's where the expert part stopped cold. Streets in Madrid aren't like streets in the good old USA. For one thing, they have cars on them that are even less predictable. For another, they don't have signs. Even major intersections are barely labeled. I got off the metro maybe a half mile from the hostal, and about a mile and change later (I lacked the presence of mind to turn on the GPS receiver, so I can't say for sure) I arrived, after successfully asking a loitering cop where the hell the place was. Nobody home. I consulted the handy-dandy list of hostales given to me by the tourist information booth at the airport, and selected a nearby alternative. Which was full, but had openings tomorrow. Good to know; not going to get me un-jet-lagged. By the third or fourth try, I've gotten good at asking for a room. And good at understanding the various ways to say "we're full" over an intercom with a lorry idling nearby. A few miles later, with a deep and abiding understanding of why 20-odd pounds is too much for a backpack on one shoulder, I found Hostal Triana, which has a room for 2 nights. Score.
To get to Triana, you go in through a barely-marked doorway in the middle of a big-ass building, and take the elevator up to the first floor. I had, of course, forgotten that first floor doesn't mean what I think it does, which is why a nice lady found me wandering about the lobby with apparent confusion on my face. She tried to help me in Spanish, with little success. Then we switched to English, and had no more success. A few unfortunate homonyms and some gesticulation later, I got to the first floor. Through the door is apparently the person who buzzed me into the building, and I again ask for a room. She calls for Victor, who asks if it's just me, and quotes me a rate for a room "with private bathroom and color TV". After ascertaining that they'll accept one of the various monies I have available, I let him lead me up to the room. The astute reader will note that I now have a room. And they have nothing. No name. No credit card on file. Maybe a photo if they hid a camera somewhere. So I'm not sure what exactly prevents me from leaving and not coming back.
It's about siesta time (or 8am, according to the ol' body clock). And boy do I need a nap and a shower.
Day 2 - Madrid
Technically day 2, as it's after midnight local time. Hurray for geo-location of IPs! So Google and UPS by default give me pages in Spanish. That's kinda neat. But I can't buy the real version of the panorama software I'm using because they know I'm in Spain, so they want me to pay VAT, and then pay in euros so I can pay my credit card company or Paypal or someone to convert the currency for me. Blast! Anyway, that's why the text in the middle of currently-one-but-likely-more-later of the photos at the Spain gallery.
Midnight now. I got up this morning and question one was answered. Victor was supposed to take down my name and passport info, but forgot to do so, so we got that taken care of. After I got back from a few hours of wandering about the city and ineptly negotiating the breakfast situation, I discovered I was supposed to have done something different with my key. Apparently there's only one per room, so the maid couldn't clean. We got that straightened out. After a longer-than-intended nap, I headed back out to see the city at night. I should have brought by camera - there are some beautiful buildings all lit up. If I can convince myself that I'm not sore enough yet, I'll go out again and try to remember where I saw things to photograph.
On that note, things seen:
- Big modern building, very open inside, looked like a vaguely new-agey coffee shop. Church of Scientology building. With man inside, drinking coffee. And little study desk carousel thingies with timers or clocks or some such in them. I assume timers of some sort, as they were all at 12:00, not the correct time.
- Several Mc Donalds', a Burger King, a KFC, a Friday's, a few recognizable banks.
- UPS truck, in Spanish; DHL truck, in English
- "Ham Heaven". Actually, several different businesses with similar names. Look like restaurants / shops selling everything from ham omelets to various hard sausages.
Dinner at 22.00. I set out about 20.30 in search of food and wandered the glittering streets until hungry. Arbitrarily picked an Asian place of some sort. Looked Chinese, but served a variety of Oriental cuisines. In what I'm beginning to recognize as a Spanish (or at least Madrid) tradition, the outside was boring and vaguely grimy but inside was all shiny and clean and upscale. Ordered a beef curry thing which the waitress went to great pains to explain was hot, and I should order rice to go with it. The rice was appreciated, but not because the curry was that hot. The waitress looked vaguely scandalized when I declined an after-dinner coffee, but I got a steaming washcloth with the bill anyway. Mmmm, excellent.
Read online about AIM spamming everyone's contact list with bots. Sure enough, when I logged in, there's the annoying AOL system message thing extolling their virtues. I think it's safe to say yahoo movies or some such offers a better experience.
Day 3 - Madrid
Headed out - bought two delicious oranges at a fruit shop a few blocks from the hostal that I saw when walking back last night. Didn't know at the time that it'd be all I ate that day. Oh well. Had to leave noonish - I guess that's one of the benefits of early reservations, you don't have to flee. Anyway, I'm now staying somewhere cheaper. And it shows. I may have to hunt up alternatives. I think I can afford $14/night extra if it affords me a cleaner room and a bathroom. Yeah.
Went to the Prado today. Photos up when I get a chance. In the US, I think we consider museums vaguely sacred. You wander through, voice low, admiring the cool things dead people did that are all safely ensconced in their climate-controlled glass cases. Not so at the Prado. For one thing, about 90-95% of the paintings are just hanging on the walls, not in glass cages, not even in frames with glass. There's a low rope strung across about 12-18" in front of them that you're not supposed to wander past, and a few of the galleries have little alarm thingies that beep if you stick your hand too near the walls, but most don't. There are a ton of museum employees wandering about though, and there are chairs for them to sit in in every room. Even so, if you wanted to touch a 500-yr-old painting, you could. The guards aren't everywhere... There are a few cameras, in maybe 20% of the rooms. Very informal. Also, you can take pictures, and I saw maybe a dozen people painting. Most copying things there, but at least one person painting something completely different. The back of one of the easels had a Prado sticker or ticket or some such, so I don't think you can just wander in with your brushes and easel, but it's obviously not that difficult.
So you walk in, go past the metal detectors, and then buy a ticket. I walk in, take out my change, and wander past, setting off the alarms. Only it's hard to tell if it's me or not because there aren't the pretty lights that you get on the airport metal detectors and there are two metal detectors right next to each other. Anyway, I continue fishing, take out my palm pilot (oops), and a few other miscellaneous metal bits and wander through OK. I'm putting my change back in my pocket and the guard notices a plastic bag sticking out of my inside pocket, and asks what's in there. Oops again. Oranges are kinda contraband in an art museum (though there's a café in the basement...?), so I check that and get a little round sticker with the number 85 on it as my claim stub. I go to the ticket counter and ask if a ticket will let me leave and come back later. This seemed to be a nonstandard request (supported by the fact that when I got back, the ticket guy recognized me and waved me through), but there were stamps and such to put on the ticket for it, so I guess it's not all that strange. When I came back I brought my camera because I saw a bunch of people taking pictures, and this time took my palm pilot out without the beeping to prompt me. Got my stuff and continued on. Several hours later, I happened to notice I had my Gerber in my pocket, which happily went through the metal detectors. Twice. Apparently my ninja powers have improved.
Day 4 - Madrid
I intended today to be somewhat of a rest day. Partly because my feet were killing me last night (or more correctly yesterday afternoon after el Prado); partly because the tendons at the back of my knees are quite sore also and don't magically fix themselves overnight as my feet do; partly because I'd like some time to sit and read and goof off. The only task I have set for myself today is to eat something. And probably plan (or rather "plan") a trip elsewhere. It occurred to me this morning that the only thing I'd eaten in the past 30 hours or so was a pair of oranges and a granola bar. It's not that the food isn't good. Quite on the contrary. It's completely a psychological problem. The idea of going out to find something to eat when I know so little food vocabulary is a bit daunting, and I guess I'm avoiding it. Which is silly because ultimately it hasn't been a problem - barely a nuisance even, despite the fact that I'm often ordering what amount to mystery meals. *shrug* Anyway, I headed out for breakfast, and randomly selected a cafe serving what they called "English breakfast". Toast with tomato slices, some sort of not-quite-bacon ham thing, and a mild white cheese of some sort. And, of course, coffee. Not bad for EUR2.4, and tasty too. On a related note, that's how it's written. 2.4, not 2.40. Actually, "2,4" but on hand-written menus the comma essentially becomes a dot. And apparently tomorrow I should order the "Continental breakfast", which includes a fried egg, bacon, and OJ. Zumo de naranja. That's a better breakfast, particularly if I'm going to continue my habit of not eating lunch or dinner for various reasons.
Random notes: Black and white = B/W. In Spain, it's B/N, or white and black. Sudoku's big here too. On my rest day today, I've walked over 3 miles already, essentially to buy more oranges and have breakfast. The cafe started to clear out a bit as I was finishing breakfast at 10.30. That's probably why I'm always thirsty: too much exercise, not enough food, so I need water to metabolize fat. On the way out this morning, I passed a dried fruit place that I intended to return to but couldn't find it again. Next time I'll stop and just carry stuff around all day. Also, there's a bakery that had what looked like tasty treats that I saw a few days ago but can't find either. It's somewhere near the old hostal... Anyway, I also passed a bookstore on a corner with 4 or 5 displays in the windows. One: cookbooks, again displaying the ham / pig-product fetish Madrileños seem to have. Two: random best-sellers. Spanish copy of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, etc. Three: Sudoku books of all varieties. Apparently, as a non-Spanish word, they're allowed to butcher it as is convenient. Some say sudoku. Some SuDoku, some Su Doku, some Su Do Ku. The newspaper / magazine stands have them too, but then the newspaper / magazine stands sell everything short of clothing, it seems. Three: Narnia. I guess the movie's coming soon (though I haven't seen ads for it yet. Lots of Chicken Little ads though), but there was a whole display of Narnia books with catchy covers.
I'm finally starting to get on a proper Madrid schedule. It's easy not to because the city's bustling about 20 hours a day and if you're not wedded to the idea of breakfast food when you wake up, there's little need to mind the clock at all. After my all-day Prado trip punctuated by a mid-day 6 block move, I went to bed about 17.00, and woke up at 6.00 this morning. Much closer, at least on the waking-up side. Siesta or no, I don't know how you can stay up until 3 or later and still be at work at 8 or 9am every day. Maybe people sleep in really late on the weekends. We'll see.
I hear pickpockets are a big problem. I don't know if that's true only outside Madrid, or whether I just haven't been in the right part of town yet, but crime in general seems not to be a problem. I was sitting in the lobby of the hostal here, reading the newspaper (Enya has a new CD coming out...), and a woman came out of her room, locked the door, and then dropped the key on the counter. That's the custom - there's only one key per door, so you leave it at the desk when you leave in the morning so they can get in to clean. No worries that I could grab the key and steal stuff in her room. Or indeed, anyone could, as there are no locked doors between the hostal on the 7th floor and street level. Incidentally, the elevator in this building is nice. Small, but modern, with a LED display, a fast door (and a close-door button that actually works), and all shiny. Completely unlike the elevator up to Triana, which was essentially a steel mesh cage on cables with a stairway wrapped around it.
I have no idea where the star ratings for hotels in the US come from. In Spain though they're handed out by the government, and while they tend to track with niceness, they're apparently a measure of the amenities the hotel provides. So sayeth the guidebook I have, though of course it fails to follow that up with an idea of what those amenities would be corresponding to each star. Hotels and hostales have government-mandated signage which includes some symbols encoding the type of lodging, and the star rating. And, of course, what floor they're on. Buildings are sort-of numbered (it actually seems to be closer to doorways than buildings per se, as the buildings tend to take up a whole block and contain a half-dozen or more businesses on the ground floor with housing of various types above), but you don't see room numbers as such. You'll see signs such as "Hostal Triana 1°" meaning first floor. The doorway you go in won't take you to most of the building, it just services the various entities that are within 20 feet or so on either side, all the way up. So first floor is good enough, as there will be only 1 or 2 different businesses on that floor. Sometimes you'll see "1° Izda" for "first floor left".
Day 5 - Madrid
It really is about time to leave here. I washed my hair at the sink in my room because I'm afraid of the bathroom one door down. I don't say 'in the sink' because I wouldn't get my face that close to it. The water that comes out of the faucet seems clean, and I'm not worried about drinking it, but the basin's not not what you'd call spotless. Given the conditions, I'd say I did rather a good job. Random observation about Spanish water. No water softeners. At least not in the downscale places I've stayed so far. I vaguely remember when I first moved to Madison not liking softened water because I got out of the shower not feeling clean but rather slightly slimy. But now I'm used to it and don't like that soap and shampoo don't suds at all. Thus endeth the tangent.
Big breakfast today - I went to el Museo del Jamon for the spectacle. It's a cafe with room at the counter and a few tables, and dozens (probably 50+) cured legs of ham hanging over the counter. And indeed their bacon was tasty. Eggs approximately the antithesis of Ben-style though. Not over-easy, more like over-raw. But toast, marmalade, coffee, OJ, the afore-mentioned tasty bacon, about $4.75. Not bad at all.
Spain's big on plazas. I have a map of downtown Madrid (or maybe 90% of Madrid - I really don't know, but my multi-mile wanderings have taken me barely off one fold of the map, which is 1/8 of the whole). Plazas have the distinction of being wide open spaces surrounded by buildings, nearly all of which contain large numbers of people, because Madrid is big on mixed development. Large numbers of people = wifi. Neato. There are 3 APs at my current hostal, but they're all WEP-protected; here, a half block away in the plaza, there are 14+, only a few of which are WEP-protected. Score.
Day 6 - Madrid
Back to someplace more expensive but, not to put too fine a point on it, better. The credit card company probably thinks two charges from two different hostales in the span of an hour constitutes fraud, which must be nice for them, but made paying for my lodging a bit more exciting than I'd prepared myself for. I suppose that's what I get for finally staying someplace nice enough that they expect you to pay in advance. So there goes all my cash, and the Amex place where I got it is of course closed on Sundays, which is doubly disappointing because they gave me pretty darn good rates.
Ho hum. Killing time, vaguely searching for more free net access, waiting until my (new, nice) room's cleaned so I can stash my stuff and maybe take a real shower. That would be nice. Of course, if Windows could actually deal with the fact that there are multiple APs with the same name, that would be nice too. I'd probably be done uploading my photos already.
While I've got time to type, and nothing else to do with my time, I'll ramble about Madrid some more. The streets are, as you've probably heard, full of cars and people and such and it's pretty hard to get anywhere. People are parked on the sides of nearly every street I've walked down, often to the point of idiocy. Two cases in point. One: the huge number of people who park on corners. Not AT the corner, as in on one street as far up as you can go, but actually on the corner, often on the curb as well. Two: a little alley, that's really a 1-way street. Has room for people to park on one side, if the people driving go slowly and pay attention. There's a row of people parked on one side of the alley, which is perfectly reasonable. And someone parked on the other side of the alley, which is completely unreasonable. And then there's a delivery truck. Trying to make its way down the alley to put food in a bar or something. It actually made it through, and didn't even scratch the hell out of the cars, but it took 2 people directing and about 2 minutes to get past this car. Mirrors on both sides of the street tucked it, maybe 3 inches of room on both sides. Not each side, both combined. But back to what I originally intended to say when I started this paragraph. There's underground parking. Everywhere. I don't know where it goes. I could be under the streets, for all I know. But I've seen at least a dozen of these things. The signs say "residents only", and you have some sort of pass to present to the machine and it lets you down this steep ramp at the side of the road that clearly doesn't lead anywhere - there aren't parking ramps or anything nearby, so it's either snaking its way down to parking under the buildings, or they're stashing cars under the roads. I'll try to get pictures the next time I'm out and about.
Evening; out and about. Wandering about, vaguely looking for Hotel Asturias, which has a cool building all lit up, to take a picture of it. Also looking for dinner. Eventually I find my way to a Turkish restaurant on a little side street and am sitting near the doorway watching the people wander by, but not so close that someone can grab my stuff from the doorway - there are signs warning of pickpockets in the neighborhood. Munching on my falafel, I start paying attention to the radio they've got playing, and I hear the DJ announce that their next song comes from the Flashdance soundtrack. Hah. I finish dinner and head back out, not bothering to consult the map because the streets are well-lit, I sort of know my way around at this point, and I don't have to be anywhere. I know I left the restaurant going in the right direction. Thinking back later that evening, I was correct. I still managed to get very lost, heading towards what looked at the time like progressively brighter, wider, and more people-filled streets, I wandered farther and farther into this little neighborhood, in a maze of dimly-lit alleys. Maybe a half-hour later I managed to find myself on the map, over a mile away from the farthest east I thought I would be. Oops. It turns out I'm about 3 miles from the hostal, and while I'd love to take the metro I decide to walk because I still haven't found the brightly-lit hotel, and I know it's on one of the bigger plazas along the Gran Via. Or maybe Alcala. On the crap bed I had the past few nights I hadn't been sleeping well, so although it was still early by Madrid standards, barely midnight, I was pretty tired. So I'm walking home trying to find the hotel, and while I never found it, I did find a different, pretty hotel, which was cool. Then back home, and in to bed, where I slept until 10am.
Day 7 - Madrid
I did a pretty decent job getting clean considering I was washing in a sink at Jamic. Still, a shower this morning was more than welcome, especially coming after good night's sleep, not interrupted several times by waking up sore. I feel better than I have in days.
More putzing about. I bought a train ticket for Seville. The train station's enormous, and quite warm and humid because it's got a big semi-aquatic garden thing right in the middle, and a half-dozen restaurants or so. There's a taxi stand outside along one side of the building. But by taxi stand I mean a 4-lane road a hundred yards or more long packed with taxis. And this was in the middle of the day, and although the train station was fairly busy, it was mostly people leaving, not arriving. The train station's either under construction or a building nearby is, because to get to it you have to sort of snake your way through this construction zone and down a big ramp. It's a fairly long-term thing, I guess, because there are semi-permanent signs directing traffic to the right place.
So up I go to the ticket booth (one of just under 3 dozen) to get my eurail pass thing stamped or whatever it is the guy has to do before it's valid, and to buy a ticket for the train to Seville tomorrow. Along the way I stopped by the Amex place to get more cash because I spent most of what I had paying for lodging yesterday, and I don't know what the ticket's going to cost. The small print on the eurail propaganda says that because it's a high-speed train, I need to make a reservation, and pay some sort of "supplement". Turns out it's EUR10. I can live with that. I'm at the counter, and there are two women to my left negotiating their own Eurail pass nightmare, apparently disappointed that when it says "ride for free all day" it doesn't quite mean that, and that there's a new line that just opened a few days ago and therefore isn't covered by the pass. Their ticket agent apparently didn't speak very good English, and they didn't speak very good Spanish, so my guy was helping out in the English department. He's trying to explain, they're complaining, and the other ticket agent sort of stepped out of the way. Eventually he decides he's made his point and says they'll have to take it up with the customer service desk if they need more explanation. Then he comes back to me and is still in English mode, and I unconsciously respond in English too. And he's surprised; says "weren't you speaking in Spanish?" I said yeah, I speak both, I'm sort of here to practice my Spanish. Then he complimented me on my accent. w00t. Go me. ALSO, yet another person asked me for directions today, and for once I knew the answer to their question.
Day 8 - Madrid to Seville
Week 2 - off to Seville. I got to the train station early anticipating potential difficulties figuring out where exactly I'm supposed to go, and managed to get to the departure lounge before my train even had a platform assigned to it. I randomly picked a seat and sat down. As it happens, out of 16 or so platforms, I picked a seat one away from the platform my train ended up at. Go me. Windows were speckled with something and the camera was sort of buried so no pictures of the way over. Mostly just hills with fields anyway. A few sheep, a few orange groves. Why orange groves but apple orchards? They're the same thing. Anyway, it's a high-speed train. I could look up the official speed, but it managed >200km/hr over the trip, despite making 3 stops along the way. The ride's a lot smoother and quieter than the last train I was on, a low-speed local commuter in Berkeley. A little smoother and a lot quieter than a subway, and it's hard to tell how fast it's going because you don't realize at first that the scenery that's going by at a normal speed is actually a lot farther away than it looks. But when the clouds are rushing past, and you're passing highway traffic before even getting up to speed, it starts to sink in. Zoooom.
The train wasn't very full, but I still managed to be seated next to an overweight man with halitosis and a penchant for yelling into his cellphone. The car I was in (and maybe others) had TVs in the ceiling and armrest-mounted audio. Jazz, Classical, pop, and movie. So I put my headphones on (they gave out free headphones too, but I have better ones) and watched the Thomas Crowne Affair. The one with Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen, and dubbed in Spanish. I saw the remake but this was the first time I'd seen the original. When the movie was over, I listened to jazz for a little while, and then we arrived. I'm not sure what the class distinctions are on the train, but the seat I had came with a little fold-out table thing between two sets of seats. Most of the other seats just went one after another. So maybe that's it?Somewhere there was a dining car - people wandered through and kept coming back with goodies - but I decided against it.
Once in Seville, the first order of business is finding a place to stay. The tourism office inevitably has maps and a list of hostales, but there was also a hotel / hostal office thing where they'll try to find you a room matching your various wants ("single room, private bathroom, TV and phone, near such and such museum" for example), and they'll call the place and make you a reservation. For free. Cool. Got myself this small but clean, colorful, and cheap room that way. In the happenin' part of town too:) I asked the person what the deal was with the star ratings. She said one star is a room. A two star hostal has to have private bathrooms. And we didn't get into 3 stars (I'd guess TV and possibly phone based on my stay in Madrid). But the regulations apply when you build or renovate, so there are older 3-star hostales that are outclassed by newer 2 star places because the rules changed so what once qualified for that third star now only merits two. Which of course makes everything that much clearer.
Day 9 - Seville
Although the room I'm in is tiny (literally about 6 x 9), it's clean and full of cheery colors. The "...con baño privado" isn't so much attached as a door down, and while I'm up on the top floor (my window looks out onto the roof where the laundry is drying) and am the only one up here, the bathroom doesn't lock so I don't want to leave too much stuff in it.
Within a block there's a laundromat whose services I'll be making use of tomorrow, and a great cafe serving virtually anything you might conceivably want that either contains or goes with coffee or tea. Although the glass of water I ordered to slake my thirst before my coffee somehow got lost in translation, I've decided I like the place. Besides, this way I have another excuse to come back here and relax for a bit, resting my feet and rambling at you guys while the caffeine kicks in.
My initial wandering about the city yielded sore feet but the best fresh-squeezed OJ I've had thus far (although the more familiar Tropicana and its ilk do exist, when you order OJ, someone grabs a knife, slices up some oranges, and runs them through the juicer. Yum.) and I found a bakery nook that sells a tasty ham-and-cheese-filled pastry thing, as well as other treats one might expect. I should point out (strictly to remind myself in January how lucky I was) that it's 65 in the shade here before noon, sunny, and the streets are lined with orange trees. I notice the forecast says Madison's going to reach a balmy 22 tomorrow. Nyah:)
Later. Headed out to take some pictures. After photo number three, the battery died. So, back to the hostal to get the other battery and set the first one charging. Got some cool pictures from a park, from the University of Seville (celebrating its 500th anniversary), and from the Plaza de España, which was having some big celebration this afternoon. I missed that part (I think it was officially for a church on the plaza), but there were huge booths with people selling paintings, kitsch, little animatronic doodads, carvings, etc. That led to the more people-friendly area of Seville, with cool little alleys and shops and such. Not as well-lit as Madrid, but much cooler architecture. I'll try to get pictures up soon.
For the second time I was accosted by a man holding a video camera and a woman with a microphone. Only this time it was on a quiet Seville street rather than a busy Madrid one so I could hear well enough to understand what they were talking about. So there's a very slim chance I'll be on TV tonight, but you'll never know because I'm staying somewhere without a TV.
Day 10 - Seville
I just spent 8 euros to get a load of laundry washed and dried. That's twice what it cost in Madrid, and I would've only paid 3 euros in Madrid if I had been willing to wait until one of the smaller and cheaper dryers was done. Eight euros, and my laundry came out wet. Not slightly damp in the thicker parts. Wet. Dryer than when it went in, but past damp. I probably should have complained, but I just took it back and hung it up to dry, which has mostly worked so far, and by tonight everything should be dry. Never going there again. But of course I never would have gone there again anyway. Emptying my pockets after my latest excursion, I discovered I have 4 distinct 1 euro coins. One's from Spain; the other three don't say but I could probably look it up.
Somewhat tired from my hours of walking yesterday, I take it easy.
Day 11 - Seville
On my way back from checking out where tonight's entertainment (a Flamenco) will be, I bought a chocolate pastry thing and a Sprite. First soda I've had in about 2 weeks. Very sweet. Nutrition information in grams, like in the US (why are carbohydrates and alcohol the only things we use metric units for?) and energy content in kJ. Neat!
Flamenco. Very percussive entertainment. Two singers; two guitarists; 13 dancers (maybe more - I could have missed one). The show was a mix of different flamenco styles, but they all have similar elements. Some clapping; a lot of foot tapping and stamping; some sort of small clamshell-shaped hand instrument I couldn't get a good look at that the performers could click in time with the music. The singing, although it was (barely) recognizably Spanish, reminded me of Greek folk music - a lot of long vowels.
Day 12 - Seville
I've been out walking for the past 4 hours, and I didn't consult my map once, despite going places I'd never been before. Clearly it's time to leave. I saw the Alcázar. Turns out the park I was at yesterday abuts it, and the church of some sort I saw yesterday is part of it. This photo from the other side of the wall shows the bottom half of the building too! Happened by a tourist info place, a big one, on the way back and it turns out there's a bus that goes to Gibraltar. In theory the info sheet I was given lists departure and arrival times, but I can't make it out. Seems there ought to be as many of the one as there are of the other. Should make for an exciting start to my trip tomorrow. Also, Gibraltar isn't part of Spain, despite having a Spanish area code. If you call from within Spain, you use an area code; outside Spain you use a country code. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Dinner. Supper. Whatever. 9:00 or so, before the rush. One of about 3 tables at the restaurant. Pesto-drenched (not tossed or coated. Drenched) pasta. Yum. An entire week's worth of olive oil in one sitting. With nobody to talk to, I'm alternately listening to the radio (Janis Joplin followed by Dido) and the two women a table over chatting up the junior waiter in French (or Italian. Hard to say. It was an Italian restaurant, after all). Italian words translated into Spanish, read by someone used to anglicized Italian. Very prompt though. I got my wine in about a minute, and my pasta maybe 2 minutes after that. Clearly they used fresh pasta.
Day 13 - Seville to Gibraltar
I'll know in a few hours if I'll be going to Gibraltar today or not. I'm told the bus station will get me there, but I'm told that by someone whose so-called bus schedule makes no sense whatsoever and who has indicated the bus I'm looking for is "Linea Concep." I will, for sure, be going to the bus depot. And I may be getting on a bus, which might be headed for Gibraltar, that may cost 18, or possibly 28 euros (one-way / round-trip?), and could leave at one of 7 times of day, 4 labeled departure times and 3 arrival times. Those numbers don't go together in any conceivably way, even if I ignore the fact that one of the buses is scheduled to be hijacked along the way.
Gibraltar. That was another adventure. When I got to the bus depot and asked about Gibraltar, I was given a different bus than the one the tourist office recommended. I figured I'd take the word of the folks that actually run the buses, and hopped on. At 14 something euros, cheaper than the tourist office quoted too. Victory. I get on the bus, which turns out to be reasonably comfortable, and we head out. There's one stop along the way, and then we're there. Only I'm not sure where 'there' is, only that it's closer than I was in Seville. Also, the bus stops in the middle of the port. I ask at the ferry office and the lady there directs me to the bus depot, where I ask again about Gibraltar and am directed to platform 1, where in 45 minutes there appears a bus. Also not going to Gibraltar, but "very close. Across the border". Whatever. We start crawling through traffic, roundabouts (roundabouts! Spain doesn't have frelling roundabouts! Or, I guess it does), and little neighborhoods, and I begin to wonder what I've gotten myself into. It's 7:30, dark, raining, and I don't know if "across the border" means walking distance, taxi distance, or you can't get there from here.
Eventually we arrive and I disembark, but by this point the bus depot is effectively closed. These are all local buses that you don't need a ticket for - you just pay the driver, so there's no need for personnel at the building. I decide to wait until it stops raining before I continue on. In the meantime, I'm accosted by a drunk (and drinking) Polish man with a fairly severe head wound. It's long since healed, but there's quite a dent in his skull. Between the head wound, his so-so grasp of English and Spanish, my so-so grasp of Spanish, and his slurred speech, we have a fine time. We talked for maybe 10 minutes, and all I understood of what he said was that he's Polish, and so is the pope, and something about Madrid. Hard to tell whether he'd come from Madrid, was going to Madrid, only wanted to go to Madrid, or had family there or what. But Madrid. As I was beginning to wonder how I was going to get rid of him, he held out his wrist, upon which was a watch many sizes too big for him, which he was having difficulty reading. "20?" ... "22?" "Well, the station clock says 8:17, but what the hell. 17. 22. Same difference." Turns out that's when his train to Madrid was departing, so off he ambled, apparently pleased with our little exchange.
Shortly afterward, I asked a cleaning person what the deal with Gibraltar was, and she said it's out there, head left, 5 minutes. I thank her, and since it had by this time stopped raining, head off. Out there, head left, maybe a minute and a half I see signs on one side of the road. "No admittance." Stuff like that. But there are cars going in there, and people, and the road looks deserted beyond that point, so I figure that must be it. Exploring further, I come across a sign saying passport control or some such, and head there. There's a uniformed guy looking at passports. By which I mean checking to be sure you have one. Or at least the cover of one. We never got as far as opening it. Same with the immigration &c building inside. Guy at a booth glancing at the covers of passports. Damn! I wanted a Gibraltar stamp! Mildly dejected, in I go. And sure enough, you get to Gibraltar by walking across an airport. Actually, the runway. Or, to be yet more accurate, runways. I saw a sign saying runway 3, so there must be at least 3 of them.
I see a sign saying all hotels straight ahead. I keep walking straight ahead, maybe 8 blocks, and there are all manner of signs, none of which mention hotels. Eventually I see a sign saying "city center", and follow that. Only it points down a little winding side street behind some houses with folks cars parked along it. I walk up a small hill, around a gradual bend, and I see a tunnel with a gate in front of it. About to turn around, I see a guy walking out, and ask him what's up. Turns out this is the way to the city center. "Through those two tunnels, you'll hit main street. Can't miss it. Go 100m up there, and there's a hotel." I thank him and continue on, finding the street, and somewhat more than 100m later, a hotel. Fifty pounds. I ask for that in euros, or dollars, or something. I have no idea what a pound is worth these days. "We have 1.7" "Excuse me?" "We have 1.7" "I'm sorry, I don't understand. 1.7 what?" Eventually it becomes clear he means 1.7 euros to the pound, meaning about $2. Bear in mind we're both speaking English, more or less natively. What the hell, I've been walking for a while; it's wet and dark; I can afford a nice hotel for once. But then he mentions that there's a hostel (yes, hostEl this time) up the hill, 15 pounds. Or, as it happens, 35 euros. But what the hell, I've been paying that for almost 2 weeks, and while I don't get my own bathroom, the room's decently large. And it has a 20 pence coin on the floor that nobody noticed before I did.
I ask the front desk attendant guy about this Gibraltar thing. It's not part of Spain, so what's the deal? It's not technically part of England, but it's English property or some such. So I guess sort of like Puerto Rico, or perhaps more like the Canal Zone, before we let Panama have it again, because it's a military outpost. I'm not sure how that works, England having a military outpost surgically grafted to Spain, but I guess they're fairly friendly, and there must be a couple treaties keeping things in check, because if Spain's territorial waters extend even 5 miles, they'd completely surround Gibraltar. Gibraltar uses pounds. They'll take pounds sterling, or their own pounds. England however won't take Gibraltar's pounds. But my impression is that the Gibraltar pound is tied to the English pound. I'll have to investigate these things further tomorrow. Most businesses will accept Euros too, but at a very hand-wavy rate. As in, 15 pounds for this hostel turned into 35 euros, when the actual exchange rates would suggest more like 25 euros. Also, they use English power. Or at least English sockets. Which means I'll have to keep things brief because I'm on battery power, and also means I don't get to listen to music tonight. On the plus side, as a proper youth hostel, this place serves breakfast, which is included in the price of admission. It could certainly turn out to be godawful institutional food but I'm guaranteed at least Mc Donalds quality, by the presence of a Mc Donalds a block and a half away. Further, they'll store my bags during the day so I can wander about the place (country? I doubt it. Protectorate? I neglected to ask the proper term) unencumbered after the rather early 10:30 checkout time.
Day 14 - Gibraltar
Touristy things. Photos, hopefully up soon. Fish and chips.
I actually wrote that last night, so it's more of a plan than an accounting of events, but it turned out to be fairly accurate. The photos are now up; I did eat a fish and chips lunch; touristy things were somewhat difficult what with most attractions being closed on a Sunday, but I did get in a 7-mile hike up into the mountain that forms the middle and eastern side of Gibraltar. For such a dinky not-quite-country (6.5 square kilometers), there's an awful lot to see, and I end the day tired and not happy about the prospect of returning to a place where I have to wander about 20 feet down a cold hallway to get to the bathroom, so I head up to the hotel I decided against last night. Because they'll take a credit card and thus give me a much better exchange rate than the hostel, it's not quite as big a price jump as the price in pounds would lead you to believe, but it's still the nicest place I've stayed thus far.
After three tries, about an hour apart each, I finally catch someone at the hostel where I'd checked my bags that afternoon (they were apparently all out back where the public can't go and where they can't hear the doorbell) and get my luggage back. Then back to the hotel for a nice hot bath. That brings up another advantage to a hotel over the hostel: towels. Three of them, in fact, and I don't even have to wash them myself. Totally decadent, I know.
Watched a bit of TV while waiting on my bags. Building demolition and submarines are definitely cooler with a British accent. I probably should have watched the news, as I haven't caught a paper in almost a week, but what the hell. If anything truly important had happened, I'm sure someone would have informed me.
Day 15 - Gibraltar to Seville
Last day in Gibraltar. Wandered about town a while, hit the local-artist gallery, bought some locally made chutney. For the first time, ate in a restaurant recommended by the tour book, the Maharajah. I was the first one there for lunch, but by the time my food arrived, almost a dozen people had come in for sit-down or take-out meals. Perfectly decent food, but not as good as the better Indian restaurants in Madison.
Headed down to the bus depot and most of the day's outgoing buses have already left, but there's one headed back up to Seville leaving just after 4. I didn't realize at the time that it was the slow boat to China, which would take over 4 hours to get there. But arrive I did, and went back to the hostal I stayed at when I was in Seville before. The desk guy put me up in a nicer room this time around, for the same price. Hurray for repeat business:) The room's a bit bigger, and has a closet, but more importantly the bathroom is larger and attached to my room so I can leave my toothbrush in it overnight.
Day 16 - Seville
Nothing much to report. Basically a rest day to figure out what exactly I should be doing with the rest of my time here. I'm going to stop off in Córdoba on the way to Granada, partly because there's cool stuff to see there, and partly because I can take the zippy fast train there.
Laundry again; wandered around in the afternoon; headed off to a Greek restaurant I'd seen and subsequently forgotten when I first arrived in Seville, but saw again during my afternoon wander. Very disappointing. For one thing, they weren't serving gyros, which I sort of had my heart set on, because it's not a weekend. If I were to be uncharitable, I'd say it's because they don't attract enough customers to warrant heating the broiler up for gyros except on special occasions because they're not a very good restaurant. The less rude way to put it would be that they're a bit far away from the usual night-time haunts so they only get a big rush on the weekends, when there are enough people who don't know that they're not a very good restaurant coming by. In any event, I wasn't impressed. Dinner was acceptable but arrived too fast to have come from anywhere but the microwave, and was way too small a portion to justify the price they charged. Foolishly, I gave them a second chance on baklava, which was cold and leaking and not very sweet. Possibly because of defrosting or some other abuse, my dessert was leaking water on to the plate. The temperature was conceivably a deliberate decision, but the wetness issue is indefensible. Meh.
Day 17 - Seville to Córdoba
After missing the train by about a minute and a half (long line + headed for the wrong platform at first), I managed to get my ticket changed to the next train, which was much less eventful. It brings to mind however a critical piece of information that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere about both trains and subways. They're labeled by the end of the line. So, for example, when I buy a ticket from Seville to Córdoba at 2:00pm, I actually go to the platform labeled "Seville, 14.00" because Córdoba isn't the train's destination, but rather a stop along the way. Of course, this isn't noted anywhere on the ticket, and the train number (akin to a flight number) doesn't show up until you're actually on the platform.
In any event, I zipped over to Córdoba in about 45 minutes, and arrived right in the middle of siesta time, so the tourism office at the train station was closed. I confidently set out anyway, trusting my tiny horrible map in the guidebook. Of course, I set off in the wrong direction (== off the map). Undaunted, I turned 180 degrees around and set off in another wrong direction. Having thus established a baseline of wrongness, I proceeded in the correct direction, desperately hoping to come across at least ONE street sign that matched something on my map. I figured the worst case scenario would be retracing my steps that afternoon; only slightly less bad would be walking until about 5 and hopefully finding the main city tourist info place. Eventually I found a recognizable street and began wandering toward the main tourist center, intending to get a good map of the city and a list of hostales, but shortly thereafter ran across a hostal that looked promising. By 'promising' of course, I mean not totally run-down, and right here. Sure enough, they've got a room. It's suspiciously cheap and I'm a bit worried as I climb the stairs to the third floor, but it looks fine. Decent bathroom, clean towels, not the smallest room I've stayed in. It only suffers from being cold and not having any good WAPs accessible from my room. The cold I can deal with, and I guess I'll just have to wander around looking for sidewalk chalk, or wait until I get to Granada.
Armed with a map the hostal proprietress kindly gave, my camera, and the last bits of afternoon sun, I'm going to head out to do my "hello, new city!" initial reconnoiter, hopefully setting up an action-packed day of sightseeing tomorrow.
Day 18 - Córdoba
Wandered some more. Went to the Alcázar here. Other than the Arab baths, it was similar to but less interesting than, the alcázar in Seville. The baths are these partially-excavated subterranean rooms. It's not obvious how to get there, so it was deserted, and absolutely silent. No footsteps, no cars, not even the sound of wind. And oddly warm too, without being moist or stuffy. The place is still an active archeaology site, like the one in Seville was, but here the area being excavated is bigger and it's easier to get a good photo of, which is why there aren't any photos of that aspect of Seville's fortress.
I'm staying just outside the Jewish Quarter. The travel book says something about quaint narrow streets and such, and in fact it is a nice area of town. Although the name itself is quite old, judging by the few examples of anti-Semitic graffiti, I presume it still holds true. I had lunch (and breakfast, and dinner last night, as it happens) at a tiny little restaurant with short little round tables and stools, and actually had something that might have passed as a typical Spanish lunch, in pacing if not in fare. Spent an hour and change there, appetizer, main dish, and coffee afterward. Seated just inside the front door, near a speaker playing traditional music, and just across from a group of three folks who wanted the waiter to take their picture with the huge plate of food they'd ordered to share. He wasn't entirely comfortable with a little digital camera, but made a better show of it than Graham, the Canadian gentleman who took my picture in Gibraltar. The music, quiet, traditional, instrumental, was all well and good until the speaker emitted what was clearly the Windows "new device connected" noise. The one you get when you plug a little USB keydisk in. And then shortly thereafter, the bing of said keydisk being removed. Rather spoiled the effect. Now I'm back here, slowly freezing to death but unwilling to concede defeat by grabbing a blanket.
Day 19 - Córdoba
I had planned to get a lot of exploring done today and make it my last day here, but the weather's not cooperating. There's a strong warm wind blowing copious clouds across the sky, which by itself would be a welcome change from the cold winds of the past several days, however these clouds have brought considerable rain with them, making it a good day to stay inside and listen to books on CD. In particular, Ngaio Marsh's Vintage Murder, which I tried to listen to once before but couldn't get into. Despite the rain, I headed out for a brief excursion to the archeological museum, where I somehow managed to completely miss the fairly obvious signs on the door prohibiting backpacks and photographs. I had no backpack, and was carrying the camera in an inside pocket, and so avoided the notice of the front desk personnel. Inside, I finally found some small interesting objects and was caught in the act of photographing them by the wandering curator, who clearly didn't believe that I could legitimately have not noticed the signage. Under his watchful eye, I deposited my camera in the lockers back at the front desk, which should have been free but weren't, and resumed my tour of the museum. Of course, from that point on, he always seemed to be hovering nearby, keeping an eye on me. Whoops.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll wander past a few of the lesser attractions in town, and buy some snack food for Sunday, as I'll no doubt be spending the lunch hour on a train.
Day 20 - Córdoba
Hit a couple art museums when I finally found the entrance after walking nearly completely around the building. Both no-photos places. Actually, looking back, the Prado literature says no photos too, not that anyone paid attention to that, curators included. These smaller museums seem to take themselves more seriously. It was an interesting experience, going to a religious-art museum. Lots of bleeding Jesi. The old (and some not-so-old) books of various officious Church verbiage are pretty awesome. Even the ones from the 1950s or so show remarkable similarity to the hand-written books from the 16th century, though the binding has declined precipitously in quality. Man, leather-bound, gilt-edged books with fucking LOCKS on them are just awesome. There's not enough metal in modern bindery.
I have a note here saying I should mention that I saw a segway. I saw a segway. Not a bad little transport for the random narrow streets here. The only problem would be a passing car on one of the narrower streets, but I suppose if you lived here, you'd have a good route mapped out. There are a good number of pedestrian-only areas in the Jewish Quarter, so you can probably get straight to a bigger road with proper sidewalks. On the subject of narrow roads, I saw the other day some workmen repairing (replacing, really), a street maybe a meter and change wide. No concrete - it's just a residential street. No asphalt either - the fancy machines for it couldn't get within a mile. No, they were laying brick, with a measuring tape and a level, and some sort of two-part sand-and-slurry mortar between the bricks.
Went to Burger King. Curious about differences, mostly. Also, it's right across the street from a lit-up old church. I'm curious what the behind-the-scenes differences are. Up front, the menu's the obvious difference. Its content is approximately the same, but it's presented differently. The various meal options are much larger and take up the entire main menu area, as well as one side (the menu forms a sort of U shape around the ordering area), presumably so you can order with a Spanish vocabulary of 10 words and a bit of gesticulating, located as it is in about the middle of the tourist area. The all-text listing of the various less-popular items, add-ons, etc. is below that on the left, and isn't even back-lit. Perhaps due to Pulp Fiction, I'd expected more cultural differences. As it was, the most obvious one was that the requisite rowdy teenagers can smoke. The Whopper was, as far as I could tell, identical to one you'd get in the States, down to the craptacular December-in-Wisconsin style tomatoes. Which probably means they're not sourcing even their vegetables locally, but rather are getting them shipped in. Even the seediest street-side fruit vendors have better produce than that. Perhaps I just haven't been to a BK in a while, but the fries seemed weaker than usual. No ketchup dispenser robots, but packets. This afforded me some brief reading material, and an opportunity to further reflect on the differences in food labeling laws.
The concept of a 'serving' doesn't seem to exist - items sold by weight list their nutrition facts and such per 100g; items sold by volume list them per 100ml. So, for example, my ketchup packet says (in English, Spanish, French, German, what looks like Greek, and perhaps Hebrew. There may in fact be more, as the ingredients list in all these languages is significantly longer than the ketchup packet itself, so you may or may not get your preferred language on your packet) "Tomatoes (126g per 100g ketchup), Spirit Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Spice and Herb Extracts (contains Celery), Spice, Garlic Powder". I presume they mean wine vinegar, but the Spanish text (and other decipherable languages) say literally "vinegar of alcohol"... Now, this brings up a number of other points, chiefly how they get 126g of tomato into 100g of ketchup. Presumably they're not weighing the tomatoes and then seeding them. For one thing, that's an expensive way to make ketchup, and for another I'd assume anything that doesn't actually go into the big ketchup pot (seeds) doesn't get counted. So the other option is that about 1/6 the mass of the original tomatoes is boiled off in the process, which also seems expensive. I am awash in a sea of confusion. Perhaps that's just the price you pay for sourcing your ketchup from Holland, via a British branch of Heinz Co. That ketchup packet is definitely the high point of my Burger King experience.
Day 21 - Córdoba to Granada
What am I, a god-damned rain dancer? I swear, as soon as I touch my luggage it starts raining. Cripes. Headed out this morning and up to the bus / train station. It's amazing how much faster that trip went with no rain and knowing where the hell I was going. In fact, it was a fairly short journey. Quite unexpectedly so, given how long it took and how arduous it was, when I arrived in Córdoba in the rain. Checked in at the train station, on the odd chance there was a train to Granada that somehow slipped through the cracks in my train schedule from Eurail. The info guy said there isn't a direct train, but I can go via . . . by the third intermediary, I thanked him and left. Checked out the bus station next door, and got a ticket for an hour and change later. The travel guide says 160mi / 260km to Granada, but it lies. It's 160km / 100mi, so the trip went more quickly than I anticipated. Along the road for the entire distance to Granada, the surrounding farmland was planted with olive trees, and the dinky rural towns were all dominated by olive presses and associated equipment, much like rural Wisconsin towns tend to center around the milk plant / bank / general store triangle. Shortly after we left it started raining. That didn't last long, but after a brief hiatus, it started up again. This too stopped, but the third time it started raining, just before we arrived, it kept at it. So once again I'm in a city I don't know, walking around with no map (the free map place in the bus station was out, of course) looking for a hostal, in the rain.
Score! 30 euros a night for my room here in Granada. Hostal Atenas. That's slightly below the average price, but rather above average accommodations. As a two-star hostal, it's guaranteed to meet the minimum requirements: bed, bathroom. The room is average-sized, but has a closet, a night stand, a small but sturdy desk to put my luggage on, with a good chair. Also a television and phone, which I don't personally care about, but they're generally signs of quality. The room is warm. It may actually be heated, or it may simply benefit from not being on the top floor on a corner of the building. The bathroom is positively spacious. Even by US hotel standards, it's good-sized, and I get 3 towels, which is a bonus. In fact, the only thing this place conspicuously lacks is an unsecured WAP that reaches my room. Highly recommended.
Out for my initial getting-lost wander. Starts when it's still somewhat light out, and ends in darkness after dinner, by which time all the landmarks I've vaguely picked out look completely different. Of course, this is sort of the point, seeing things in both daylight and darkness, on a day when I'm not trying to get anywhere before some place closes. Saw a unicyclist. Or at least, that was my inference. He wasn't actually riding the thing, but rather pushing it ahead of him. It was in good enough repair to be ridable, so I assume he was just put off by the particularly crappy cobblestones. Alas.
Something I forgot to mention earlier. Saw windmills on the way from Seville to Córdoba. Actually quite a few of them, covering a good portion of a valley we went through. It was a fairly calm day so most of them were still, but a few were catching a breeze from somewhere and twirling merrily away. Dad would have gotten a kick out of that.
Day 22 - Granada
The Alhambra is open today, but the associated museum and possibly other accouterments aren't, so I put that trip off until tomorrow. Besides, I need clean clothes, and that always takes way too long. In fact, laundry and a lot of additional wandering is all I get done today. Not all that bad when you consider that I couldn't get to sleep until about 4 this morning, and woke up at 11:30.
I saw a Sony World or something like that. Absolutely packed with electronics gizmos. It was a tiny corner shop so it got twice the window space, and the windows are full from bottom to top with glass shelf after shelf of little consumer electronics. Cameras, PDAs, MP3 players, etc. Inside there are TVs and stereo equipment and such stacked in boxes along the interior walls, on tables, on the floor. If I had my camera, I would have taken a picture. There was barely enough space to walk in, let alone pass someone coming out too. And while the store advertised its Sonyness, the products for sale came from just about everybody. I also saw on a little side street a store with a glass storefront and a big vertical Canon sign out in front of a Canon-Canon-Canon banner along the wall. I looked in. The store is mostly empty space, with about 4 copiers, a printer, a little revolving display of inkjet ink, and some promotional material. Sadness.
Day 23 - Granada
I must be getting the hang of this Spain thing. Not only did I get here with no map whatsoever, but this morning I headed out and got breakfast at a nearby cafe / bakery and was perfectly comfortable. I've been kind of nervous about food because I know so few of the words and don't like holding up a waiter or cafe attendant person trying to work around the holes in my vocabulary. But today I knew what I wanted - I'd seen the bakery yesterday and it displayed tasty-looking things in the window, so I earmarked it for breakfast today - and walked in this morning and got a tasty apple puff-pastry thing and coffee, perfectly comfortable despite the crowd. w00t.
Off to the Alhambra. The guidebook says something about a long, steep (but worthwhile) walk up the hill. The signs say 850m, plus the rest of a mile to the hostal, probably. But of course, that's not all that long. I can do better. All it takes is a mile-long detour up the wrong hill, and then back down again. Whoops. Anyway, I got to the Alhambra hill and walked in an exit or some such - I ended up maybe 200m away from the so-called entrance pavilion, which is to say a big line for tickets. Despite several ticket windows being closed, the line moved reasonably quickly, and before long I had my ticket. The Alhambra is divided into several different parts. Three of them are ticketed, and the rest (about enough to make another part and change) is public space. While I was standing in line, they sold out of their 3300 morning tickets, and started selling afternoon tickets, which gave me about an hour to wander around the public area, bookstore, etc. before I headed into any of the ticketed areas. From the outside, it's not all that spectacular, and the walk up the hill wasn't anything special either - bad guidebook. However, the inside, especially the Nasarid Palaces with their copious carved stonework, are pretty awesome. Photos don't really do the carvings justice - they come out looking more two-dimensional than they really are. They're carved almost an inch into the surface: geometric designs, calligraphy, etc.
I was walking up to the Alhambra complex, and as I rounded a corner about 40 feet away from one of the gates, I saw a guy with a big studio-type video camera on his shoulder walking around and getting into position to film someone coming through a little doorway nearby. I couldn't see who he was filming, but he apparently got his take and wandered back inside. As I went through the archway in the fairly thick outer wall, I saw a small crowd of people and noticed someone had a camera and a big flash mounted on a frame. Huh. That's odd. As I got closer, I looked again and noticed that one of the people there had a big Canon 1D or similar. Hang on. What exactly is happening that warrants $20,000 worth of camera gear? A bit more walking, and I look back at the doorway. Aha! A wedding. I didn't see a wedding party, so I assume the wedding itself wasn't held there, but it's a cool place to get photos afterward, no doubt about that.
There's a garden too where the obligatory cats hang out and where I got a few also-obligatory flower photos. I came across a not-standoffish cat (a rarity!) that a guy was scratching while his friend took a few pictures. After he left, I sat down a few feet away, preparing to take my own cute cat photo when some woman wandered up to scratch the cat's head too. It immediately sauntered off. Straight into my lap, where it sat down. So I pet the little guy for a few minutes, and got a passing kid to take a picture. She wanted to know if it was my cat, it was that friendly. Go me.
Lastly, hurray for a big-ass external flash. As a general rule, I try to avoid flash photography whenever possible, but there were several places in the Alhambra where it was very nice to have. There's a shot of a broken decorative ceiling where the nearest part is 10-15ft away, and the farthest part is 30+ feet away, and the flash did well. Also a few photos of some very dark (as in, several minutes later, I can still barely see) little corners where I'm guessing on the manual focus and the flash is blinding the people who, attracted by the camera, came near to look past the bars they'd otherwise have walked right by. Photos up probably tomorrow, depending on my willingness to sit outside to get them posted.
Got a few night shots of the city after dinner, but mostly walked home, delightfully stuffed with tasty tasty calzone. Definitely bedtime now.
Day 24 - Granada
Breakfast, and then some quality time spent in the chilly shade here uploading pictures for my legions of fans:)
Later, headed out to the Lorca museum (free today - w00t), but they were full or something and weren't letting anyone else in.
More to file under random. What's a deck of Pall Mall cost in the US, anyway? It's EUR1.30 here, which is about US$1.65. No clue what a carton costs - I just saw a bus stop ad. Second randomness. Spain's very pro-civic-responsibility, with signs everywhere exhorting public trash can use, condemning spousal abuse, listing 5 things to change about the world (well, Spain anyway) by 2015, just to name a few. There are trash and recycling bins everywhere, with both segregated. Paper / cardboard, plastic, glass; organic refuse, regular trash, canine feces. On the subject of dog shit, there's a sign that says "dog humor" and shows a picture of a guy about to step in a pile of said humor element, asking pet owners to make use of the provided bins. Third randomness. Yesterday's entry touches page 20. And I've got a week to go. Yikes.
Getting from Granada to Barcelona kind of sucks. Almost 13 hours on a train. Instead, I'm going to head to Seville and then to Madrid. There are two daily trains from Granada directly to Madrid. One leaves at 8am, and the other arrives at 11:16pm. The trip is 6 hours long. Instead, I am going to take a train from Granada to Seville, which leaves at the much more reasonable quarter to noon, and then hop on a high-speed train from Seville to Madrid that will arrive at 5:30. Takes just under 6 hours but has a half-hour break in the middle which I can arbitrarily extend, an hour at a time. Also, I don't have to get up at 7am, and the only downside is that it'll cost me $25. Totally worth it. I'll spend the night in Madrid, hopefully using my 10-ride metro pass to get me to a hostal that's got wifi, and catch another quarter-to-noon train to Barcelona that should deposit me there just after 5pm.
Day 25 - Granada to Madrid
Grrr. Get to the train station. It's closer than I'd anticipated when I was planning last night, so I get there nice and early. I head on over to the ticket counters. Of 3 counters, 2 are manned, one with two people buying tickets; one with one; nobody else there. I stand behind the one, waiting my turn. No point taking a number - there's just me in line. About 5 minutes later, a pair of fellow travelers shows up and takes a number. My guy's ticket agent has gone back and forth to consult 2 different binders and a cabinet of stuff already. About 5 minutes later, a few more people show up, and the ticket agent has spent the time consulting one of his binders and the computer. He takes the guy's credit card, swipes it, and I'm thinking I'll finally get to buy my ticket. Five minutes after that, the asshole's finally done. I excuse the two people on the left, because they were buying what looked like about two dozen tickets, and I can see that taking a while. But if you're spending 15 minutes asking questions and having the ticket agent look stuff up for you, do you belong at a ticket counter, or at the information booth conveniently located 10 feet away? Finally in line, I buy my ticket. Used time: maybe 75 seconds. Wasted time: over 15 minutes. Efficiency: 7.7%
Of course, I'm now waiting for my train to arrive, essentially wasting time. However, it should be noted that I'm spending this time intellectually occupied and sitting down, a far cry from bored standing in line. There's a limit to the number of times you can read a sign asking you to tell the ticket agent ahead of time that you'll be paying with a credit card.
Apparently we have a slight misunderstanding. My train schedule, and the one in the train station unless I misunderstand it, both say there's a train to Madrid leaving in 5 minutes, but the ticket guys say no, and the departures board says no. So I've got an hour to kill. Oh well. I get lunch then, so it's not all bad.
Train travel totally beats plane travel. For one thing, there's a lot more space (at least in first class). For another thing, it's quieter and cheaper. For another thing you get a movie even on short trips, and they give you water or OJ and a snack free. I'm not sure why they gave me the seat they did, but when we get to Córdoba in about half an hour and let on the next batch of passengers, if the seats in front of me are still empty, I'm moving there. The trip from Granada to Seville hit a top speed of just over 100MPH, with an average of about 65. Before leaving the Seville city limits, we've already hit 130MPH or the zippy fast train. I'm not sure how the Eurail people manage to classify every train but one that I've ridden so far in Spain (or even looked at riding) as a high-speed train. A train that tops out at 100MPH on the straightaway is not, in my book, in the same class as a train that's currently cruising at a sedate 150MPH, and from experience will be speeding up once we truly hit the countryside.
A note about GPS receivers. I brought a Garmin GPSmap 60 on the trip, on the theory that it would be amusing and/or useful. It's turning out to be more amusing than useful, but I've no objection to that. I was told, both by the product literature, and by the tech support monkey I got via email that the tracks feature, which stores a list of where you've been on a configurable schedule (from every second to once every few hours), uses up the 1000 waypoints the device supports. Seems these waypoints are used for just about everything, and are shared. Also, despite the fact that one of the major distinguishing features between models is the amount of memory the device contains, this memory is usable only for storing maps, and the number of waypoints is fixed. I have found that this is not true. The device will store way more than 1000 points in its tracks database, which I have setup to record my position every 15 seconds. After several hours of train travel, it tells me it's 14% full. Since I haven't purchased any maps, I'm not sure whether the tracks data is being stored in the same memory that stores maps, or whether the specs pages simply lie about how much waypoint memory there is. I'd rather get the truth from companies I deal with, but I suppose if I must be lied to, I'd rather they understate their device's capabilities than the reverse.
I've been asked to put up on the web some maps of where I've been. I should note that I haven't had the unit on for most of my time in the various cities because it often loses me on narrow side streets. I also haven't had it on during all of my inter-city trips, for a variety of reasons. But within those constraints, I'll see what I can do. If I'm particularly bored at a wifi-enabled hostal, I might even look up some niftier software to munge my lists of locations. Something that would draw a line along my path whose width corresponds to speed, for example, would be fun. Or perhaps not. We'll see what the GPS-interested free software folks have come up with. I'll bet though that between a decent SVG library and some Perl, you could do cool things.
Is today a day of obscure religious importance? I mean obscure in the Judeo-Christian sense. Because when I got into Madrid at 6:30 this evening, downtown was absolutely packed. When I headed out for dinner at about 9:30, it was even more packed, and the whole downtown was lit up like it's the last city on earth. At 11:30 when I'd dined, gotten hideously lost, found, lost again, and found a metro station to put an end to all this walking, things had thinned out a bit. On the way saw a mobile phone ad at a bus stop featuring two women that looked like Jenni.
Day 26 - Madrid to Barcelona
I have a correction to make. Yesterday's train ride, while faster than today's, wasn't nearly as cushy. First of all, we left 10 minutes early. I guess all the ticketed passengers had checked in already. Not spending 10 minutes sitting at the station is a good way to start any trip. Then an actually tasty meal. With a hot towel. And glasses. And metal flatware. Two sets, for some reason. Not a mistake either. Beverage: water, OJ, soda, beer, wine, etc. Coffee / tea / "caffeinated infusion" - whatever that is. After-lunch liquer. No, you don't pay extra for the alcohol. Choice of dinner roll. A screaming baby two rows up couldn't even spoil that. And now I have my headphones on, so the little chimp can wail away until he throws his electrolytes completely out of whack, for all I care. I'll bet I even get a hard candy as we're rolling into the station in a few hours. That's completely worth the extra EUR12 or so that it cost over the regular first-class accommodations. Also, I got a newspaper, so I have some idea what's going on. The cops caught a Croatian war criminal in his hotel yesterday with a false passport, it seems. And various disappointing news re the PATRIOT act, and Condi continuing to talk. Half-way through, and no news about the French riots. No doubt they've been stopped for weeks now and I just haven't noticed.
So I tried to stay at Hostal Triana again last night, but they were full up. I didn't take note of what floor they were on and mis-guessed, so I ended up going past another hostal in the same part of the building, which I stopped by after my strike-out at Triana. They were full too, but had someone leaving at midnight to catch a plane if I wanted to wait. Otherwise there's another hostal on the top floor. I said thank you, and I may be back. Heading up the elevator to the top floor, I decided the place was a bit below even my requirements, but saw a fourth place along the way. That's where I ended up staying. It's run by a woman who must be at least 60, with a hearing aid in one ear, who was fairly full too, but had a double available. EUR35 - good by me. I'll enjoy the extra space and a second bed (== table). The downside was the bathroom. A bit scary, but ultimately workable, though not some place I'd want to stay more than a day or so. She was friendly though, even though it was clear she wasn't catching a lot of what I was saying. Apparently she'd just had someone from NYC there. And she brought me a penny along with my passport this morning. "This is American money, isn't it?" *looks* "Yeah." "Here. The New Yorker must have left it." "er, thanks". I neglected to mention that while it's US currency, it's worthless US currency whose only apparent purpose is to introduce valuable copper and zinc into the trash stream.
Got my laundry done this morning, hopefully for the last time this trip. Decided against going to the art exhibit thing, mostly out of laziness. Didn't want to stay with the scary bathroom again, and the other places in the building were full. If I'm going to go to the hassle of moving, I'm moving to Barcelona. So off I went to the train station, where the ticket woman's amusing brain-fart about the change caused me to forget my intention to ask what the ticket would have cost without the Eurail pass. I'm curious how good a deal it is or isn't. It cost about $500, and I've spent almost EUR70 on reservations and the like. I'd guess it's saving me almost $100 / trip, but that's not based on a whole lot of data...
Too bad the GPS unit can't get a signal in this train. I may try again in a bit, but near Madrid it completely struck out. Too much metal, I guess. Also, no convenient place to hang it near the window like there was on the trip in from Granada, which means I'd have to hold onto it the whole time. The TVs in this train aren't playing a movie (at least, not yet), but they do have a new-airplane-style display showing current position, terrain, speed, temp, and estimated arrival time. Not the really zippy train, but 200km/hr isn't anything to sneeze at. Probably the movie will start after everyone's had time to finish their meals and relax a bit.
Arrival time in Barcelona is a bit after 6pm. By which time, no doubt, the tourism office will have closed so once again I'll be in a new place with no map and no sun. Good thing by now that rates as just a nuisance, rather than cause for mild panic, as it would have been when I first arrived. Though I suppose it won't help that people will be speaking Catalan... So, I looked at the map of Barcelona that's in the tour book. It's not useful for much more than finding the 6-block area where you want to be, but that's not my point. As you may have guessed from some of the photos I've put up, these cities are all old, built long before the concept of highways and other long, wide, straight roads was fashionable. Barcelona (at least downtown) could've been laid out on graph paper. I'm not yet sure how that works, as Barcelona's older than Madrid by a comfortable margin, but I'd guess that the city grew such that a newer part of it became the new downtown and the old city now rates as more of a suburb, but we'll see. It probably still has crosswalks irritatingly located 50-100 feet back from the intersection though.
Comment about time. The EU is GMT + 1hr. Windows calls this "Romance Standard Time". If the time zones were based on longitude only, the EU would span 3 time zones. Spain and part of France would be GMT; most of the EU would be GMT + 1, and the eastern edges would be + 2hrs. The effect of this is that it stays lighter later in Spain (what Britain, directly north, calls 6pm is instead called 7 in Spain), and gets light in the morning later as well. But since no self-respecting Spaniard is up and about before 8 at the earliest (and many businesses don't open until 9 or 9:30), that's not a problem. Moving to Barcelona will make it seem to get dark almost half an hour earlier, if my memory of the map is accurate.
We're in Zaragosa now. It's a stop part way to Barcelona. From the train, in the middle of the station, there are 6 APs visible, all WEP-protected. Pooie, no mid-trip email fix. Movie's on. "Be Cool". Hah.
Ok. Got to Barcelona. The tourism office was actually open, so I got a map and a list of hostales, and headed for the metro. After an "am I just stupid?" moment with a machine that beeped with the best of 'em but wouldn't do anything else, I got a ticket and hopped on. Got off in the middle of the Gothic Quarter, where the streets are comfortingly non-rectilinear, and started looking for hostales. The first one (two, actually, since there were several in the same building) were full. Well, the second one wasn't entirely full - it had some big rooms for EUR60/night, but that's a bit overkill. Headed back down the street and midway there was accosted by a woman asking if I wanted a hostal nearby. The true answer of course is yes, as she could easily see by my backpack and luggage, but I said "No, thank you." and continued on. A few steps later I heard her say, confirming that my response was the correct one, "Are you sure? It's got an elevator, like a hotel." Now, elevators are nice. Where I'm staying right now doesn't have one. But I don't really think it should be the first thing you advertise. I continued down the street and asked at a hostal that the tourism office said wants about EUR60/night for a double. Sure, they've got a room. The guy asked if I wanted to see the room first. I said sure. What's the price range? He said "come look at the room first". Not usually a good sign. Up we went, past some painters, and he showed me a room. A double, but no bathroom. That's maybe 30 feet down the hall. Only EUR25 "just for you" though. Just as I was about to ask if he had a room with a private bath, he showed me another room, this one a triple, with attached bath. EUR35. I'll take it. What I didn't immediately notice, and now have noticed is that it has a private bathroom in the Hobbit sense - that is, a room with a bath in it. Also a sink. But no toilet - that's the afore-mentioned 30 feet down the hall. Oops. Hopefully not a major inconvenience.
Now, the real inconvenience is that this room comes with a moral dilemma. There are three visible WAPs here, one of which is unlocked. It doesn't give me an IP at first, but a little jiggering gets me one. Then I try to get on the net - no dice. Curious, I ping the WAP, and it's happy and dropping no packets. I fire up a web browser and hit apple.com, in case it's feeding me a captive portal or some such. No dice. I hit up the WAP itself. It says it's a 3Com OfficeConnect ADSL firewall router, and asks for a password. Says the default is admin. I type admin. It lets me in, and asks what country it's in. Seems the owner hadn't even gotten that far. It wouldn't let me past without answering, so I told it it's in Spain. Then I got a normal web interface. Poking around told me that it's not connected. There's a connect button. Therein lies the moral dilemma. Should I connect this guy's WAP? It's possible he pays by the byte, or by the hour, or some such. But then, wouldn't he have at least gotten as far into the web interface as to tell it what country it's in? Maybe it's USB-connected to a computer and he uses some cheesy desktop app to control it? Yep, looks like that's the problem. Well, one of them. Having solved the other problems, I'm stymied by a lack of username and password for the ADSL connection, which the Windows app probably provides in such a way that it doesn't get stored in the AP. Oh well. I should be out eating dinner, and not puttering about on the computer anyway.
Watching TV. There's a Spanish version of who wants to be a millionaire. Not dubbed - a clone. Same setup and set, down to the shape and colors of the on-screen graphics. Not Regis though, someone more annoying.
Spent about 10% less on dinner than on my room for the night. Italian, again, because I hate disappointing people, and a waiter type guy came out to explain the menu I was looking at so I felt compelled to go in. Also, they had a tasty-looking Margarita pizza, though I ultimately ended up ordering fish. Not a place that sells wine by the glass, so I was forced to order a bottle. "small", meaning 375ml, or 37.5cl, because for some reason the Spanish like their centi-liters. A glass of wine during dinner isn't something I even really notice. A (larger) glass on an empty stomach plus most of the rest of my half-bottle during dinner means I'm glad I don't have to drive even a little bit to get home. Additionally, I do believe I've bested my previous record of 3 simultaneous languages / cultures. Ordering Italian food, in Spanish, from a cute German waitress, while listening to Olivia Newton-John. That's 4. At least I assume she was German. Why else would you be speaking German (and looking vaguely like Franka Potente, though I wouldn't have noticed had I not herd her speaking German) in Spain. Or perhaps all young German women with a similar figure and red accents in their hair look vaguely like Franka Potente. Geography has severely limited my sample population, alas.
Continuing that line of thought, I've noticed that my housing expenses and dining expenses don't line up. The travel book conveniently rates restaurants and lodging from $ to $$$$, with sometimes a C category for even cheaper food/digs. Last night's lodging is in the $ category (about average); last night's meal in the $$$$ one ($$ is more typical).
Day 27 - Barcelona
Slept late; wandered around the neighborhood. Since it's a Saturday, there were political parades. I'm reasonably certain these are well-organized because there tend to be cops there keeping order; in this case a police car leading the protesters, and cops keeping pedestrian traffic moving at the big plaza as they came through. This group was louder than most, with what sounded like some type of large firework to generate noise. I wandered into a couple free art galleries, past the usual assortment of cafes, bakeries, etc, and came upon a large cathedral in the process of renovation. That's a lot of scaffolding, comparable to the Madison capitol renovations. Spread out in the plaza below was a good-sized outdoor market that I slowly slogged through. Wandered up some random side street and found the Frederic Marès museum, which looked interesting. Subconsciously I probably remembered the name from the tourist guide, which says "...you can browse for hours among the miscellany assembled by the early-20th-century sculptor-collector Frederic Marès." And that's certainly true. In its own way, it's the most impressive museum I've been to thus far. It's 4 stories high, 5 if you count the few rooms in the basement, absolutely packed with stuff. The first floor has old statuary, pieces of old stone architecture, and the like. The second floor starts getting to Medieval stuff, and has an enormous collection of bleeding / crucified / otherwise Jesi and other religious art, primarily statues as well. The first floor is fairly crowded, but everything's in nice glass cabinets or on big pedestals, or whatever. The second floor is a bit more crowded with stuff, but still within the bounds of what springs to mind when you think "museum". The third floor is an absolute madhouse. The map lists 15 rooms (all the floors are about that big), which are jam-packed with 19th and 20th century stuff. There's an entire room full of keys. Little keys, middle keys, wee keys and huge keys, keys with standard straight teeth and keys with 2D patterns in them. There's a large display of nut crackers and a few display cases of scissors and combs. There's a glass cabinet taking up an entire wall with fans, and a few tables and other areas with closed fans as well. There's a small glass-topped table of old cigars, with a display of over a thousand cigar labels above it. There's a mosaic of old train tickets, a stamp collection, and a whole room of huge old cameras and pictures on metal plates that disappear if you're not looking at them from the right angle. Another room has nooks in the walls holding big bell jars with dried flower bouquets in them. Only when you get close enough you realize they're not dried flowers, but flowers made out of little seashells that from more than about 18in away look completely lifelike. No photographs allowed, alas, or I'd have some awesome pictures.
Finally found a Greek restaurant. My wanderings this afternoon were all to the east of the main road on which my hostal is located, so I decided I'd check out the west side this evening. It's less popular, but still all lit up and with good traffic flow, so I wandered around, promptly getting lost. Shortly after reaching the point where I'm concerned about not knowing where I am, and was in the process of identifying roads big enough to show up on my map, I came across the restaurant. Gyros on the menu. Score. Not exactly gyro meat - they used the same meat I'd seen in numerous other middle-eastern restaurants advertising themselves in any number of ways - but similar, and tasty. Had myself a gyro plate and watched pedestrian traffic / people coming in to get take-out and to use the cigarette vending machine in the back. Then headed back out to figure out where I was and get home. Although it's still early, I've been walking a lot and would enjoy spending time off my feet, reading.
Unfortunately, the process of consulting my map and such apparently marked me for a special kind of crazy person, who's been stalking me. "Hello, friend" is never a good way to start a conversation, but I never learn, so I say hi. To "do you speak Spanish" I reply that I speak a little. This keeps expectations about my vocabulary low, and gives me an out in case the person is weird. Initially the conversation is banal, but it's odd that this guy's following me around for no apparent reason. And then he mentions sex, just like one of those strange stilted conversations you have on IM sometimes when the random Egyptian guy says hello. I politely decline his advances and move off. He follows. I continue the conversation politely, but make it increasingly bluntly obvious I want him to go away. He asks where I'm staying. I'm deliberately vague, and shortly thereafter stop responding to him at all. Maybe that's what it'll take for him to get the picture. I turn the wrong way when I get to street my hostal is on. He follows. I duck behind him onto the plaza in the middle of a wide boulevard. He follows. I stop at a touristy shop and look at post cards. He wanders up and alternately tries to keep talking to me and look nonchalantly at the shop's wares. Eventually he gets the picture and wanders off. I pick up a couple postcards - a bit overpriced, but good photos as far as I can tell, and head back to the hostal. As I'm fumbling with the key to get in (the front door's lock is abused, or my key's old, or something, but it never works right) he shows up beside me. Damnit. The bastard followed me. Now what? The proprietor opens the door for me, aware of the lock problem, and I duck in. Figuring he's going to follow me in and try to pretend he's my friend, I pause, trying to think of how best to tell the owner that this strange guy needs to be locked out. He comes in and asks if there's a room for the night. I take the opportunity to go upstairs to my room while stalker boy is talking downstairs. Now I have a problem. He's not a prostitute. I've dealt with them before, and they move on when it's clear you're not interested. I doubt he's just desperate because he'd likewise have moved on; it's not hard to find available gay guys in Barcelona. And if he did get a room here - I didn't hear whether the place is full or not - he's willing to spend not just half an hour but $30+ on stalking me. This could start to get very aggravating.
(later) Well, stalker dude's not sitting in the not-quite-lounge here on the second floor, and he's not wandering the halls, so maybe I'm safe after all. Also, some new photos up, starting on page 13.
Day 28 - Barcelona
Hit the Picasso museum, which the guide book says closes at 3 on Sundays, so I headed in, skipping breakfast. Turns out they're open until 7:30, so I could've rested my feet over coffee. Sadly, photographs not allowed, as there were many cool things to take pictures of. The museum was in the middle of renovation, so some sections were closed off and the signs were inaccurate. Fortunately, there were a bunch of employees directing traffic along the convoluted path through the museum. After the museum, I grabbed a strawberry / kiwi / pineapple pastry thing, that was delicious but messy, and a loaf of french bread to snack on. Alas, no coffee. Headed down to the port end of La Rambla and saw an IMAX theater. There was a show on 45 minutes later, so I wandered through the vaguely carnival atmosphere a bit and ducked into a mall where I foolishly passed up the opportunity to grab a smoothie in favor of wandering followed by watching two people run a store with no walls in the middle of a big mall hallway. Saw a short film that posed as a mini-documentary about the body's response to danger, but was really an excuse to show footage of people jumping off cliffs and out of planes. Then a movie about an almost 4 month long trip by raft down the Blue Nile from its source to Cairo, which was interesting.
It's looking like no Andorra. I could probably make it work, but if I left tomorrow morning, I'd get there in time for a bit of wandering and dinner, and then I'd have to leave shortly after breakfast the next day to get back here to spend the night, and then head back to Madrid Wednesday (a trip from Andorra to Madrid directly would take, I estimate, almost 18 hours). Three days in a row of bus or train travel followed by 16 hours of plane travel doesn't sound fun, and since I haven't seen most of the attractions here yet, I think I'll just stay a few extra days. Andorra's probably really cold anyway. 90 Euros; 3.5 days, excluding lodging, but including 10-25 euros for a train to Madrid. Can he do it?!
Day 29 - Barcelona
Went to the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. I didn't notice any no-photographs language or pictograms, and I saw a few people taking pictures in the museum, but of course I hadn't bothered to bring the camera after so many strike-outs in a row. What I love about modern art museums is that I don't feel compelled to consider each piece. These aren't venerated works, selected by a winnowing process involving 500 years of opportunity to fall into disfavor and obscurity such that only those whose appeal is constant and timeless remain. They're the product of perhaps just two people's fancy, the artist and the gallery owner / curator / whatever. The art is often incomprehensible, evoking no emotion but perhaps a slight puzzlement as to what the artist intended. It's not that I reject the notion of abstract or non-representational depiction as art. I'm willing to accept the fact that not only does each person see a slightly different thing, but in fact some people see deep meaning whereas others see simply a random collection of welds and joints, or merely a piece of plumbing slowly rusting in a bowl of water. I do reject the notion that purely mechanical output can be art (such as 10 years' accumulation of dust on a canvass); if no conscious decision was made in the production then by definition it is not art, however beautiful or enchanting it may be (dust: not). When I stop to consider it, I must admit that I leave unresolved the question of two identical objects, one created by man, the other by machine; I deliberately leave unconsidered the question of whether the act of selecting a subset of machine-generated output itself imbues the thing with artistry, whether the purely mechanical can be transformed through human intervention (yet not alteration) into art.
The other thing I like about modern art is the richness of medium available creates the possibility of new and startling forms. The Prado doesn't have mirrors in it. It doesn't have a dozen video projectors, or an old 8mm film projector playing a continuous loop of the initials M. B. being drawn. There aren't DVD players showing English interviews with the artists charmingly subtitled in Catalan. Of course, there also aren't auditoriums showing a video of a German artist kneeling in his studio, threading a needle through his penis and urinating on his leg as the dot at the end of an exclamation point made of a long German text or texts of some sort illustrated with drawings of surreal sexual torture and disfigurement displayed on a series of artfully tall thin tables spanning the adjacent galleries at the Prado, so one should not read this as a condemnation of the static portraiture the Prado contains.
Feeling light-headed / dizzy this evening. Not dehydration. I lay down and listened to music for a few hours and felt better, but missed dinner. Oh well. Not feeling that hungry anyway.
Day 30 - Barcelona
Dizziness better. Headed out to the city history museum on the odd chance the guidebook got its hours wrong too - no such luck. I'll go back when they re-open at 4, and bring gloves this time; it's chilly today with no sun. Planning my exit from the city and the country. There's an overnight train that is tempting. It leaves at 11pm and arrives in Madrid at 8am. I could spend all day tomorrow touring the city some more, hop on the train to Madrid, get off the train and directly onto the subway from the train terminal, get off at the airport, and be there 2.5 hours before my flight leaves. I think though I'd rather not take chances on not getting a good night's sleep before a long day of dealing with airport hassles, so I'm going to leave at 1:30pm tomorrow and get into Madrid a little before 7. I'll try to find a hostal near a subway station so I can get up Thursday morning and hop on the train to the airport with a minimum of fuss.
I just got back from the city history museum, which I'd seen near a museum I saw a few days ago. What attracted my attention was a basement you could see through windows that had old ruins with walkways going through them. Turns out you can go down there, though the museum was closed that day. So today I went back, and it's 4000 square meters of old Roman ruins. Clothes washing / dyeing; wine making; weaving; a big Roman house; part of a church; etc. I counted at least 3 layers of ducts carrying water this way and that, one often crossing right over another. Alas, no pictures allowed. That was the highlight of the museum trip, though for an extra 50 cents I added on their temporary exhibit of photography in Barcelona, which was interesting as well. Early photographs of the city, from the late 19th century; exhibits on different aspects of city life; an interesting exhibit where 100-year-old panoramas were displayed atop modern panoramas taken from the same point in the city showing mostly new buildings but some that are still standing, and some that were old even 100 years ago; and one building that I noticed got 2 extra floors added sometime in the past 100 years, which was initially somewhat confusing. Though this exhibit too was covered under the no-photographs policy, there was a rooftop garden thing where they were exhibiting large photos from various Barcelona rooftops. The rooftop granted access to several areas not containing museum exhibits, which I unilaterally decided weren't covered by the camera rule, particularly since I wasn't taking pictures of the museum itself. Hopefully I'll get some of the better ones posted soon.
Illustrating my mysterious ability to get myself into trouble, I came up from the subterranean portion of the museum and followed the stairs up into part of an old cathedral that was apparently part of the museum. A large room leading to said cathedral was roped in half, and on the other half there initially appeared to be another part of the museum, but getting to it required leaving and re-entering from the courtyard. Looking further revealed entirely too many lights, microphones, video cameras, and smartly-suited men (not to mention news vans outside) to qualify. Then I remembered that this building is shared with some branch of the Barcelona government - apparently there was some sort of meeting going on. But I digress. Rather than exit, I went back to the stairwell and continued up to the next floor. There was a museum guide thing on the wall listing attractions by floor, but not what floor I was presently on, and I'd lost count, so up I went. I got to a small room with a bunch of seated musicians warming up, and stood looking around in bewilderment for a moment, when a man on the far side of the room noticed me and hurried over. "Is this part of the museum?" I asked dubiously. "No; you're not supposed to be here; wasn't it closed off?" Of course. I saw two poles with rope between them, of the sort that you'd use to close off a stairway, but they were both on the same side of the stairs as if it was a recently-opened area. Naturally, someone had just moved them to go upstairs and forgot to put them back, leading me to interrupt a rehearsal. Fortunately they were just warming up, and not actually in the middle of a piece.
On my way back from dinner, I saw what must be the most pro-pedestrian thing ever. The main drag here is a wide street with cars on both sides and a large pedestrian / outdoor merchant stand area in the middle. It's crowded with people probably about 18-20 hours a day. There's a street that abuts it - very few actually cross it - and it has the expected light and crosswalk and all that. However, when the light turns red and the crosswalk light turns green, a pair of 15cm-diameter metal plugs slide out of the road to a height of about 50cm to stop traffic, just in case the light and the pedestrians don't sink in. That's one light you don't want to try to run.
I'm putting off packing, but I should do it tonight so I can wake up that much later tomorrow morning.
Day 31 - Barcelona to Madrid
Packed this morning; left a few minutes to noon and grabbed breakfast at a cafe on the way to the metro station. At the metro station, I discovered something amusing - the two sides of the station are connected via street level - you can't go back and forth within the subway station. That took a few pointless minutes of wandering to figure out. Hopped on the metro to the train station; got a ticket; waited a bit; headed for Madrid. The first part of the trip hugged the coast, and it was like driving highway 1, only without the turns. Speaking of turns, because the train can't go left or right or up or down very fast, we ended up going through a lot of hills. GPS tells me there was more than one long (10+ miles) section of track where we spent more time underground than above ground.
Now I'm in Madrid, staying near a subway station so I can get up tomorrow morning and head directly to the airport. If I'm really lucky I'll find a snack store (they advertise dried fruit, but invariably they're snack stores) that's either still open when I head out for dinner tonight, or is open early tomorrow and is on the way to the subway. Otherwise my only sustenance all day will be airline food, and I'm not willing to risk it with those tightasses. I wonder if Cinnabon has made it to Spain. That would be excellent - a sugar high to get me through the bureaucracy, and then crash when I get on the plane...
Day 32 - Madrid to Madison
Up early. Left at 8 so there'd be time to grab a quick breakfast and still make the airport by about 9. Or, as it happened, about quarter after, because the trains were so damn full, and I had two connections to make. Then I spent 15 minutes walking through the airport to the check-in counters. There's no Delta counter - instead, there are possibly hundreds of check-in counters (numbered 100 to 300-something, but possibly not all numbers are used, though numbers 100-118 were all used, and that's all I saw near my counters), and each flight gets a range of about 5 assigned to it that you can check along with the departure gate and all the normal info on screens. Then I spend 45 minutes in line there. At least it's a bit more efficient than the US system - there are people who come down the line and ask you the baggage questions (when/where did you pack your bags; where have they been since then; always under your control; etc), so the ticket counter actually goes pretty quickly - show passport, hand off luggage to be checked, get ticket and leave. The passenger screening is about the same as in the US. Then there's a desk where some cops deal with customs stuff, stamping passports and the like. Then before you can get into the waiting area for the gate your flight departs from, they ask for your ticket and passport again, and go over the baggage questions again (this time in Spanish. Vague surprise that the person didn't switch to English upon seeing my US passport). Then you can wait for a while until your zone is called to board. Blah blah blah. Got on the plane. My GPS unit is happy to sit on the seatback of the row in front of me near the window, so I should have amusing data from that as well. OK, not that happy - when the guy moves, it falls off. But I can wedge it into the tray table of my flying companion David, who's apparently returning to the US after spending a year illegally teaching English.
Oh boy. Apparently because the Atlanta airport sucks, I had to take my bags off one baggage claim and drop it on another one on the other side of Customs, even though Customs didn't look at my bags, they just collected paperwork from the airplane. Which I can sort of understand based on the possibility of agricultural materials needing screening being in my checked baggage, but there's got to be a better way to handle that. However, because I've had contact with my bags, I may have taken things out of them, so I have to be screened again. And this time by TSA agents beholden to braindead regulations in the US. So I have to take my laptop out of my bag (the Barajas airport apparently has better equipment). Then it was "recommended" that I take my shoes off. "Recommended?" I said. "Otherwise it automatically triggers secondary screening." Fuck that, says I (not out loud), and I walked through. The guy on the other side of the metal detector glanced at my feet and motioned me to the secondary screening area. Where I sat for about 4 minutes until they could find someone to wand me down. Those wands are damn sensitive - they picked up the CDROM ejector paper clip I keep in my wallet, and the metal clasp that my pants have in lieu of a button. But now I'm curious. So I don't take my shoes off. I can trade a scan that picks up way more than metal for a highly sensitive metal scan via wand. So why wouldn't I put the explosives in my shoes and the electronics elsewhere? In the tangle of equipment in my backpack, even without the laptop, I'm pretty sure I could sneak in some good stuff, particularly since the GPS receiver I have would be about 90% of what you'd need. At least nobody tried to steal my backpack - that would have gotten messy really fast.
Oh, by the way - guess what the weather's like here in Atlanta? Raining. Right in one.
Jesus the Atlanta audio situation sucks. They have the timed recorded messages about not letting people put bombs in your luggage. Then there are announcements that pertain to specific gates, and are broadcast into the gate's waiting area, which of course overlaps nearby gates. And there are messages paging individual passengers for various reasons. The paging messages properly override the security warnings so you can hear them, but the gate announcements use different speakers and often overlap. To make things worse, adjacent gates have no coordination, either technical or human, as regards when announcements will be made. In fact, the people making the announcements don't even realize they're competing with the next gate over, so you have two messages going on at the same time in the same place, just a moment ago with the security drivel in the background as well.
Day 33 - Home sweet home
I made it back home at about midnight local time, or 7am Madrid time, and promptly fell asleep. After a long hot bath and breakfast, I'm feeling mostly human again.