Sunday, September 5, 2010

I'm a gypsy... are you coming with me?

Well it's been quite some time since my last blog, and now it's time to talk about Spain, which is where I flew to after Turkey. (Incidentally, did you know it was cheaper to fly from Istanbul to Barcelona than it was for me to catch a train from Barcelona to Madrid?) Anyway... Barcelona was a nice city, if rather touristy. So I did lots of touristy things... I did a "free" walking tour (hot tip, those things are never free; there is always an awkward moment at the end where the guide asks for tips and nobody knows how much to give) which covered the history of Catalonia (the state that Barcelona is in... they see themselves as separate from the Spanish, they even have their own language) and Picasso and Dali's absinthe drinking days. Then I went to see the Sagrada Familia, which is a cathedral worth seeing for it's unique architecture by Gaudi. I had a wander down La Rambla, a street full of pickpockets and street performers (I saw people doing the weirdest things for money) then bought a strawberry and coconut juice from "La Boqueria", a fruit and fish market that was as colourful as it was crowded. On the metro a lady pointed out that my handbag was unzipped... I always have my handbag unzipped, but she was Spanish and I am sure she knew a lot more about what the notorious Barcelona pickpockets were capable of, so I zipped it up. I also perused the Picasso museum before hopping on a train to Madrid, for which I paid an arm and a leg and a torso too for the privilege.

Madrid was a city with more character... I consoled myself after the expensive train trip by nabbing a room in an old University Residence for 9 euros a night. I got in late at night and went for a walk to find some food, only to find we were round the corner from prostitute central. There were also these Asian guys sitting on the footpaths with cardboard boxes in front of them selling cheap beer, soft drink, chocolate bars. I think they were probably illegal though, because as soon as a cop car drove by, they disappeared into thin air, like magic. These guys do come in handy, though, when you're walking from bar to bar... you can't beat a one euro traveller! The next day I went to the Museo del Prado, a fantastic collection of Spanish and Flemish art; even after all the art galleries I've seen, this one had a good variety, not just your typical religious paintings of simpering Madonnas and haloed Jesuses. I went to a restaurant for lunch and paid too much for what was basically battered eggplant. It sounded more fancy in Spanish, I'm sure. My whole time in Spain I have to say, I was not impressed with the food... tapas is good, if you're drinking beer and want something light, but they have no good dishes to speak of, apart from paella, which is basically saffron fried rice. So anyway, I met two friendly Indian guys at the restaurant who told me they were driving down to Granada in a few days if I wanted a lift. I got their numbers and said I would think about it.

That night I went on a "pub crawl" which was basically a group of us drinking in the basement of the hostel restaurant and playing drinking games. There was a very multicultural mix of people which was cool and one absolute moron who certainly didn't need to be drinking, but kept us entertained all night. We went to one "pub", then went to a Spanish fiesta where everyone drinks and dances on the street to some traditional Spanish songs that everyone seems to know. So then the moron spewed all over his shoes and I agreed to put him in a taxi and take him back to the hostel, as I was pretty tired anyway and he passed out in the back of the cab. So I took his last five euros, paid for the fare and went to bed. The next day I met Leah, a friendly Australian girl whose multilingualism made me insanely jealous... she could speak fluent German and pretty good Spanish and French. She asked me if I wanted to go to Toledo with her. We went to the train station and bought a ticket, then had an hour and a half to kill, so we went to the Australian Embassy to vote. They even had little cardboard boxes and a stunning view of Madrid. We went back to the train station, only to find it was the wrong station to get our train, so we missed it, then had a half hour argument with the meanie pants station workers in Leah's broken Spanish, but they wouldn't refund or transfer the ticket. So we had waited two hours for the privilege of not going to Toledo. We consoled ourselves over some greasy Spanish food, then as we were walking through the Plaza de Espana, I bumped into those Indian guys again. Madrid is a big place, so it was pretty uncanny. I took it as a sign and agreed to get a lift with them to Granada the next day. That night Leah and I stayed up until 3am talking to A South African and a Brazilian about the three things that you're apparently not suppoed to talk about with strangers; religion, politics and football. But it was one of the better conversations I have had with people in a hostel, considering you usually never get below the surface of "Hi, my name is Confucius, I've been travelling for this long, my favourite place has been...". I have even considered making up a whole new persona for myself because I get so bored saying the same thing all the time... "Hi, my name is Gertrude, I am a circus freak who can dislocate my own arms and I am currently on the run from the law because I robbed a convenience store..." then watch them back away!

Ahem, anyway. So I sadly said farewell to Leah and met up with my Indian friends, Reuben and Umesh. It turns out they couldn't hire a car without me anyway, because neither of them had a credit card, so they needed me (or my credit card) as much as I needed them. Oh, and we stopped at Toledo on the way to Granada, so I got there in the end. It wasn't that much chop anyway. It took about five hours to get to Granada, most of which I slept. Granada was a cute little University city, with the massive Muslim fortress of the Alhambra looming over the city night and day. But getting inside that thing was more complicated than it seems... you have to get up at 7am and queue for two hours to even get a look in. It took me four or five mornings of turning off my 7am alarm before I finally made it up there, but it was pretty amazing. It was the last Muslim fortress in Spain at the time when Queen Isabella was killing anyone who wasn't Catholic, and what a beautiful fortress it was. The palaces were ornately carved and mosaiced on every square inch and the view of Granada was amazing. I also went to see a fantastic flamenco show in the gypsy quarter, where the gypsies used to live in caves. I had a chat to the barman who told me a brief history of the gypsies and how flamenco originated, then sat down with a glass of sangria in a front row seat. There were four female dancers and a male guitarist and singer/clapper. I liked that the women ranged in age from 20 up to about 45 or older, and they each had their own style as they furiously stomped, clapped, clicked and twirled their way across the wooden stage. I actually thought they were going to stomp a hole in the floor. Each one would sit down afterwards, dripping with sweat and then I realised why flamenco dancers always have those polka dot fans. The musicians were also fabulous.

After Granada I caught a bus to Seville, which is the home of flamenco. It is a beautiful old town with little cobblestone streets and flowers hanging over every balcony and a long history. I went to a museum about Spain's discovery of the Caribbean islands and all the piracy etc. that went on during the 16th-18th centuries. It was very interesting and I walked out thinking that maybe I was born in the dullest century in history... why couldn't I have been born in the 1500s when there were still undiscovered corners of the globe waiting to be explored? Well, every day I went out and explored the little nooks and crannies of Seville anyway, even if they had already been discovered by thousands of feet already, but it was so hot I could only manage a few hours before I wanted to lie down underneath an air conditioner and not budge. I swear the mercury never went below 35 degrees the whole time I was in Spain. I went to see another flamenco show (it's addictive) which wasn't as good as the Granada one, but still fantastic. There was a guy and a girl dancer this time. After Seville I caught an overnight bus to Valencia, where I was meeting up with two other Aussie girls I met in Italy for LA TOMATINA, a big tomato fight. We had booked a hotel because everything cheaper was booked out, but it turned out to be a good decision, as you get a little sick of hostels after a while. We all put on our whitest clothes and caught a train to Bunol, where the fight was to begin. We were well prepared with our money in ziplock bags and tucked into our bather tops (or strapped to my arm) and we bought a disposable camera on the way to capture some priceless shots. So, the festival kicks off with people trying to climb a greasy pole to get a leg of ham. Yes, a greasy pole. When someone gets the ham, you hear a loud BANG and then a few minutes later the ominous sound of trucks. About five trucks come through and dump a whole load of tomatoes in the street, and then it is bedlam. Tomatoes are flying everywhere, you're trying to stay on your feet, people are rubbing tomato in your hair and guys are trying to rip your clothes off, everyone is pushing and shoving, guards are trying to move people so they don't get run over by trucks, the smell of off tomatoes makes you dry wretch and basically it is just crazy. Both the girls I was with lost their thongs in the fray and one had her top ripped, but miraculously the camera and our money survived. We pushed our way to a side street at the risk of being suffocated, then got a whole bucket of water on our heads by the friendly locals on their balconies. And that was it. All over. We went back to the top of the hill where a DJ was playing some tunes, so everyone got half naked and started a dance party in the street... I felt like I was in the Real Cancun or something. Then we were exhausted and took our stinky selves home for a much needed shower and I said farewell to my trusty Dunlop Volleys which was indeed a sad moment. The next day we got our photos developed on the way to the Aquarium in Valencia, from the disposable camera that was covered in tomatoes and the cardboard covering the open holes had become soggy and fallen off, so we were sure the photos wouldn't turn out. But they did, and we sat on a deck chair in a department store crying with laughter over some of the photos we had managed to take amidst the battlefield.

Wow, this was a really long blog, so I might finish there. Next destination: London. Watch out Queen, here starts the Dortmans invasion!

Thanks for reading,


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