Broken in Barcelona

I’ve always had pretty pathetic stories to go along with injuries.  Example: in middle school I broke my nose by colliding backstage during a play with the state wrestling champion.  I bounced off of him and my nose swelled up so quickly it didn’t even bleed.  I remember looking down constantly because I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t protruding off of my face like a balloon.  Another example: while the people in my office were shredding their ACL through stories of bombing down a double-black-diamond run on a snowboard, I tore mine by jumping off a swing.  Yep, that’s the kind of injuries I get.

This is no different, sadly.  I was walking home from a night out in Barcelona, stepped wrong and rolled my ankle, went down in an unceremonious heap (into a puddle of nasty water, no less).  I got up, limped for a while, flagged a taxi, and pretty soon collapsed in my bed back at the hostel.

The morning revealed a massively swollen ankle, but of greater concern was the tender and swollen outside / top of my foot.  I limped to the pharmacy nearby to buy a compression bandage / wrap thingy, then limped around the hostel and kept my foot elevated all day before finally admitting that something was more wrong than normal (I’ve rolled my ankle plenty of times, not sure why I’m so prone to this).

The people from the hostel called me a taxi and I limped my way into the hospital.  Now, having a language barrier is one thing when you are attempting to order, say, some fish and a jar of sangria.  It’s another thing entirely when you are trying to explain why you need medical attention.

“Tal vez me rompi el pie” (maybe I broke my foot)

“Como?  Que ha pasado?” (how?  what happened?)

“err…” <make twisting motion, pantomiming rolling ankle> “torcido… el…  errr…” <point to ankle>

“Ah, si.  blargetty blarg blarg blaaaaagh?”

“uh.  Mas descpacio por favor?” (more slowly please?)

“Neccessito un medico?” (you need a doctor?)

“si, por favor”

“blargitty blargh?”

“I, er, no comprendo…”

“el pasaporte?  Nombre?  Licencia?” (passport?  Name?  License?)

“ah, si, claro.  Estoy estadounidense…”  (ah yes, of course.  I’m from the US…)

I’ll spare you the rest of the details; you get the picture.  Now repeat with every person you come in contact with (admitting nurse, orderly, x-ray technician, finally doctor (who spoke decent English, luckily).  After the doctor explained that I had a fracture and I would have to have a cast made, she disappeared and a nurse who didn’t speak one bit of English put my foot in a cast and handed me papers explaining (in Spanish) what I should be doing.  We went back and forth on each line miming what it meant (keep your leg elevated.  No weight bearing on it.  Move your toes and leg often.  Come back if your toes turn blue.  etc).

The cast set properly and they wheeled me out to a taxi.  I asked about crutches but the nurse just mimed hopping around and said “Manana, a la farmacia, usted puede conseguir muletas” (tomorrow at the pharmacy you can get crutches).

Things I’ve learned so far:

  • Walking in a fully immobilizing cast is quite hard.
  • Hopping in flip-flops is tricky, I keep nearly kicking it off when hopping, making for much adjusting before the next hop.
  • Jeans don’t fit well over a cast.  I guess I’m all shorts now.  I have 3 pairs, I think they will get ripe quickly.

New vocabulary:

  • Muletas (crutches)
  • Hinchazon (swelling)
  • No camine (don’t walk)
  • eleve su pie (elevate your foot)

This morning my Aussie friend ventured out and obtained me crutches, so I’m now mobile at least.  However, I have no information about when to do a follow-up visit (the doctor said something about a cast for 2-3 weeks, I assume I’ll need a different device after that?)  Good thing the internet is full of information.  And I got lots of time to read now.

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My new luggage.
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Curse you foot, why you so fragile?

No trip goes as planned.  I’m going to see how I get along for the next day or two before deciding where I go next.  I’ve always said that life is about having good stories to tell. I think I’ll probably get some good stories out of the next weeks / months.

Sagrada Familia. Or: you are not ready for this.

Several years ago I took a road trip to see some of America’s national parks. I hadn’t been to any, and that felt like a horrible travesty. I camped in Zion. I hiked around Bryce Canyons.

But when I got to the Grand Canyon, I was speechless. Agog. Flummoxed, dazzled, and unable to properly fit into my head what I was experiencing. It remains a moment that sticks out in my mind like a signpost in my life: that was a defining moment simply because what I experienced was so outside of what I could have expected and what my mind was ready for.

The Grand Canyon stunned me with a work of nature that was profound.

The Sagrada Familia stunned me with a work of architecture.

Words just don’t work in this instance. You must experience it.  My friend Mimic and I stumbled around, necks craning to the ceiling, mouths hanging open, literally speechless.  We spent an hour waiting in line to get in, and over an hour wandering around inside.  After that, the rest of the day was devoid of anything that could impress or inspire me.  My beauty receptors had been filled and no more could get in.

When you go, a few tips:

  • Avoid waiting in line.  Get your tickets online ahead of time, which will give you a timeslot to go, and you won’t have to wait with the rabble.
  • If you plan to see any other stuff in Barcelona, see this last.  After this, every building you see, no matter how magnificent, will yield a response like “yep, that’s a building.  Whoopee.”

A quick summary of things to know if you know nothing about this place:

  • It is a basilica designed by Anton Gaudi and done in Gothic and “Art Nouveau” so it looks unlike anything you’ve seen.
  • Gaudi only finished one of the facades before his death.  The rest is being built according to his plans.
  • It’s still under construction, so the outside has cranes going at all times.  They aim to finish this by 2026 for the 100th year anniversary of Gaudi.  Locals think this is highly unlikely.
  • There is so much symbolism in the art and architecture that you could study the history and design for a long time, learning new facts and insights constantly.  At the least, give the Wikipedia entry and the main page a quick gander to understand what you are looking at.

The main entry is under heavy construction, so you enter to the side, through the “Passion” façade, designed to show the horrors of the Passion of the Christ.  It’s meant to be gaunt and depressing.  Giant trunks (supposed to look like sequoia trunks) stretch to up to support the massive structure.

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Double doors with carved words leads you inside.

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Once inside, the impression is of perfectly clean and structured lines, and an overarching sense of geometric precision. It’s absolutely stunning.

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Structure

There is a lot of information about how important the lighting was for Guadi. During the day it is beautiful with natural light streaming in through the windows. During nighttime I understand the same care is taken for the artificial lighting to fill the area, but not overwhelm.

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Intended to be a forest canopy overhead
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One of four organs

Going through to the other side, you get a close-up view of the Glory façade. The detail is outstanding.

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The Glory façade, completed by Gaudi, showing celebration at the birth of Jesus.
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Three kings
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Details of the birth

Back inside there is a fully active church in the lower floor. There was a service going on while we were there.

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The center of the main floor is just mind-blowing in structure, lighting, and size.

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So, another must-do thing on your list if you visit Barcelona. But see this last. Everything else will not compare.

Out in Barcelona: Tibidabo

I originally set out to see Parc Guell. However, on getting off the metro I didn’t see signs for the park anywhere, but I did look up the mountain and see the spires of a large edifice that has taunted me from afar since I arrived.

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How to get there? Welp, one way to find out…

So, instead of a quick trip to the park, I decided to scale the mountain and find a way to… whatever this thing was. This made it difficult to ask directions as I didn’t want to say “Perdon, como llego a… Um, whatever that pokey, religious kind of building on top of the mountain is?”. Makes me seem like a little more of a dumb tourist than normal. But then, I was the one who decided to start out on this trek with no forethought, planning, or basic map guidance. So if the shoe fits…

On the way, I took several roads that wound around the mountain, and encountered more bikers and joggers than anywhere else in Barcelona. I took this as a good sign: at least I was still going in populated areas.

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Houses with good views.
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Even if I don’t find the way, the journey is pretty lovely.

Eventually though, I couldn’t follow roads anymore.

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End of the line. Time to go cross country.

Every now and then I would pop into a clearing and get my bearings

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Am I closer yet?

Walking through a forest that connects directly to such a busy city was pretty cool. It felt like a total break from city life, but I knew that the city was still walking distance away.

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Looking back on the path up.

While walking through the forest, I encountered mountain bikers frequently, other hikers rarely, and occasionally random things:

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Er… pants?

One has to wonder with the pants: did someone go skipping out of the forest wearing only their skivvies? Why leave them behind, they seemed perfectly functional? Did he have two sets of pants and just suddenly preferred to be rid of these? Was he running from a bear and left these as a decoy? Endless possibilities.

Eventually one of my clearings gave me very positive signs. This was after the 2nd hour of rambling.

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Okay, now we are getting somewhere.
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Closer…

Eventually I arrived.

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Arrival!

Turns out the mountain is called Tibidabo and is the tallest mountain in the area. Good to know. The church is Temple De Sagrat Cor. Turns out it was built at the turn of the century because there were rumors of a Protestant church or a Casino being build there. The Roman Catholics would have none of that so they promptly put this church right on the summit. It seems that didn’t stop an amusement park being built here as well, but I’ll save those comments for now.

The church itself is super clean and well taken care of; it looks basically new in most cases.

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Lovely parks.

Going inside, you get up close and personal with all the sculptures.

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What are you looking at?

And inside is pretty impressive as well.

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Inside, your usual happy images of burning in damnation while the holy look on.
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Jesus’ story told in the round.
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Say what you want about religion, it inspires people to create some pretty impressive things.

The real draw for me is the outside, and the views you can get. Turns out you can go all the way up to the top of this church.

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Torre de Collserolla. Basically a massive collection of telecom.
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On the way to the top.
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…and only a man whose ass be narrow, may ascend to the greatest of heights.
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You won’t be carrying your sofa up to the top, that’s for sure.
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…and ascend… and ascend. What are you doing?? Keep ascending!
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Whoa! Hey man, what’s up?
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This is narrow. And windy. And chilly. Here comes vertigo!
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So, yeah; Jesus has a pretty sweet view up here.
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The south of Spain. I think.
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Barcelona! I can’t see my hostel from here…

Now, the wisdom of putting an amusement park up here seems at best circumspect, and at worst idiotic. As proof of this, while I encountered many people going into and out of the temple, the amusement park attached was a ghost town.

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Note: complete lack of tourists. On a Friday.
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Yeah, I think an amusement park was TOTALLY the right call.
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Business is bound to pick up any moment now. Annnnnyyy…. moment.

So, yeah; holiness just doesn’t seem to mix well with rides that spin you around and make you puke. Or buckets of popcorn and hot dogs. Perhaps there are good holy amusement parks out there, but this isn’t one of ’em.

So, 2.5 hours of walking, wandering lost in the woods, sweating on the tallest hill in the region, followed by some of the most spectacular views you can have of Barcelona, equals a grand day out. I discovered at the top that there is a tram you can take from the city to spare all that walking and wandering, but on the balance I chose to head back down the hill on foot. More fun that way. Now that I had it somewhat figured out, it only took about 40 minutes before I was in front of metro stations again.  Tibidabo; you have a weird name but you are worth the trip.

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All in all, awesome and worth the trek.

Montserrat

Many years ago, when I was working on Forza 3, we decided to make a “crown jewel” track for our game to use as a showcase of beauty, racing, and just general awesomeness. Since this track would be our visual showcase, we wanted it to be a fictional track so we could control how it looked, yet since everything in Forza is grounded in reality, we wanted it to be based on a real location. Spain was selected as the location, and more specifically: Montserrat. A crew of artists were sent forth to capture gigabytes of imagery to use as reference material to ensure it looked like the real place.

I already had the travel bug gnawing at me back then, but sadly I wasn’t required for the trip. Instead it was my job to stay in the office, herd cats, juggle spreadsheets, and do all that producery stuff.

Now I find myself in Barcelona, a mere 1-hour train ride away from Montserrat. I really have no choice, do I?

With my new-found pals (as usual, not real names) Mimic the Canadian and Ranger the Aussie, we hopped on the metro with only the slightest of clues how to get there or what to expect. The only things I really knew about Montserrat were:
1.) it’s beautiful.
2.) there’s a church built on the side of a mountain.
3.) it’s “rull purty” (bit of a repeat, but come on now: pretty)

We took the wrong metro once, almost got off on the wrong train stop once, and finally got off on the train stop that offered a cable-ride to the top and… nothing else.

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The view from street level
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Quaint, no? Not that you can actually get there from here….
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Classic Spanish City
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Yow
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Can’t get enough of these mountains.

I had expected to walk around the “town” of Montserrat before going up to the church.  Turns our you couldn’t get there without walking on some dodgy-looking freeway that was obviously not conducive to pedestrians.  So, there we were; nothing for it but to try the cable car up. As the crowd boarded I attempted my best “act like you belong” to just get in, but we ended up having to pay to ride up.

However, the conversation was a bit odd:
Me: “cuanto questa para tres billetos?”
her: “garbledyfloggle moug routyo blablabladdyo”
Me: Er… hables engles?
her: Yes, sure, it’s 6.50 on way to the top.
Me: how about for round trip?
her: you don’t need it, the train ticket you have will get you back down.
Me: err, so, I have a ticket that will take me back but not take me there?

Regardless we soon were on our way up.

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The ascension
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At the top, looking out.
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Freaking amazing

Turns out they built, not just a church, but a whole working town at the top of the mountain. It’s got shops. It’s got restaurants. It’s got a fully functioning hotel.

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Meebzilla attacks!
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There’s a tram!

The church, however, was really quite impressive.

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How did they haul all this material up here?
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At the top of a mountain? Are you kidding me?
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Inverted knight

However, you can get through all this in pretty short order. So what else to do after that? Well, turns out they have all kinds of walks you can do out to various scenic areas or religiously important spots. We quickly took assessment of our preparadness (Mimic in jeans and multiple layers, myself in shorts, Ranger in shorts and sandals) and wisely selected the longest route: an estimated 3-hour trip to a view point. Off we went.

The first thing we were surprised by was the stairs. So many, many stairs.

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The stairs. My god, the stairs. Quads = ouch.

We should have realized there would be SOME ascension needed, but we really had no idea how much. Sweat soon flowed freely. Mimic removed any layers that were non-essential. Ranger soldiered on in flip-flops bravely.

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Nice views, though.
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Pretty much awesome at every turn.
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Cliff caves? And some antennae-thingy? Who hauls this stuff up here?
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Looking back on the path we came up.

As we went up, dark clouds moved in, threatening rain. Which was a less-than cheery thought for us as we were over an hour in and really had no shelter. The weather cared not, though. It moved in quickly and we ascended into it.

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And by weather, I mean cold, clouds and wind.
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Random sub-church built near the top. A summer-house, perhaps?

Eventually, we arrived at the top, alternatingly sweating, shivering, and massaging our poor, surprised quadriceps. The view, even with clouds, was pretty stunning.

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The view from the top. I think I see roads?
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Yeah, maybe a road…
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Some wanker who shaved his head for no good reason.

Just as we were about the set off on down the mountain, the weather took pity on us.

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And then it started to clear.
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And the world opened up.

All the way back we had stunning visuals along the way. Simply gorgeous.

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cleared back down under clouds.
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You’ve come a long way, baby.
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I think I can see France from here.

Montserrat remains one of the most stunning natural places I’ve ever been. If you ever make it to this region, this is a must-see place. Don’t question. Do it.

Also, left a little message for visitors at the top. Rock on, Turn 10.

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Trippin in Barcelona

After my less-than-awesome introduction to Barcelona, I felt we should try again. Seeing as how we got off on the wrong foot, I allowed that perhaps Barcelona was just in a bad mood that day, and perhaps I was as well, so we both shook hands, put on our best behavior, and spent some quality time together.

A good thing, too. One can (and should) spend a lot of time exploring Barcelona. I started at the obvious place: the beach:

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Once again to the Mediterranean!

The beach scene is lovely, though it doesn’t really hold up well if compared to Playa Del Carmen (but what will, really?). There is a large and active beachfront with lots of restaurants and shops. There’s even a mall which sells all manner of things.  For example, maybe you need to get new hair?

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Yep. Hair.

Also, in this mall there is a for-pay restroom, which is pretty much the nicest example of one that I’ve ever seen. There’s a maid in there to direct you on which room to use, and you can use your receipt for 10% off something you purchase as a keepsake from their store. Yep, a bathroom with a store.

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The first restroom with it’s own giftshop I’ve ever seen.

However, back to the beach! They are busy constructing a large sandcastle of sorts. I’ve been back here a number of times, and each day they make steady progress against it. There are intricate details carved in, and it’s all made from the sand on the beach.

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Construction of sand castle. What happens when it rains, though?

Walking around more, you get lovely views of the downtown port area.

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The port is rather nice.

And there are lots of cool buildings, both historic and modern.

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Not sure what the point of this building is, but it’s certainly got a lot of solar.
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Lots of cool buildings to see
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Like all good Spanish cities, they’ve got a lotta parks.

I wanted to see a really good view of the town, so I and a few guys from the hostel decided to take the cable cars off of Montjuic, and while we were there we might as well see the castle too. To get there, we had to walk through all manner of cool parks and buildings, including the old Olympic stadium:

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Olympic Stadium recovering from the X-games.

Once up in the cable car that takes you to the castle, you get a good view of how sprawling Barcelona is.

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The view
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As I’ve said: Barcelona is big.
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Really big.
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On the way to the castle

The castle itself is pretty fantastic. Reading up on it, you run into some very enlightening facts, such as this description from one of the tourist sites for Barcelona:

It was primarily used to repress the people during two centuries. Repression of the anarchists in the XIX century and prison for the political prisoners under Franco. In 1940 Lluis Companys was executed here.

So that’s fun.  Nowadays is seems to primarily be housing for many large cannons.

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Meebus declares war
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These guns look like they are still ready to do some damage
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The castle has a lovely view of the industrial park.
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Top o’ the castle to ya, laddie.
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Very well cared for castle.
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It’s a castle. It’s big.
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More guns. There are a lot of them here.
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Archery practice! At a castle! I kept waiting for jousting practice, but was sadly disappointed.
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Oh look, more guns.

Eventually we’d seen all we wanted to of castles and guns. So, you can wander down the mountain to a second cable car that will take you over the city and down to the port / beach area.

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Heading out on another cable car.
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Wheee
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Saves a lot of walking.
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Yet again, lovely views of the industrial areas.
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Now THAT’S a yacht.
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cruise
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Canoeing past the cruise ship.

So, say you enjoy all the cable cars, but you want to really see the city at the ground level. No worries, biking is EXCELLENT in Barcelona, and there are bikes everywhere.

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This town was made for biking.

That rack is for residents though. You need some form of electronic card, then you just take a bike from this station and (presumably) leave it at whatever station you are biking to. Since we don’t have these mythical cards, We opted to rent bikes from one of the many tourist bike rentals. Note: these bikes are not messing around. They are basically the 2-wheeled equivalent of a Sherman Tank. If you get hit by a car riding one of these orange behemoths, the car will be destroyed.

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The peloton gathers

Alternatively, you may want to visit many places that would be awkward by bike, such as places with many (many) steps. Barcelona is also excellent for meanderers.

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A great city for walking
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Random naked torch man

Also, there are many art museums worth checking out. One deserving of a special callout is The National Art Museum of Catalonia, housed in a giant freaking Palace.

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There are many fountains. Meebus approves.
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The Palace in front
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Palace from Behind

In addition to all the marvelous sights, you will run into a few questionable ones. For example, this item found in a back alley of the major shopping district called “Las Ramblas”:

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Jedi statue?

Regardless, at the end of the day, it’s best to unwind with a little sip o’ the local:

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Oh sangria, I don’t want to quit you.

One last thing to leave you with: the Sagrada Familia deserves it’s own post. A quick peek though:

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Holy moley of awesomeness.

Travel Karma may have run out

After a fabulous night out in Valencia, I slept until 10:30, checked out of my hostel on time at 11 am, and walked in the glorious sunshine to my car. I had already reserved a hostel in Barcelona, and I’ve been dreaming about spending time in Barcelona for literally years. This was the reason I had sped through the other cities: so I could spend some quality time in the land of Catalan. So, my plans were good, the day was beautiful, and all was right with the world.

On the walk to my car I noticed that streets were strangely empty, and soon realized why: there was a marathon going on! Very exciting, runners streaming past on the wide street leading to the park area I had run through just yesterday. Briefly I wondered if the road closures that are usually necessary for a large marathon in the middle of a city like this would hamper my exit. No matter, I’ve got all day, and it should only take 4 hours max to drive to Barcelona.

Upon arriving at my parking spot, I realized I had more urgent problems. Namely: my car was… missing. The entire block had been cleared of cars, presumably for the marathon, although the massive empty block didn’t look like it was being used for anything at the moment.

It’s a rather concerning moment when you realize that your car (which contains your backpack with all your worldly belongings) is missing, and you don’t really know how to go about finding it. I think I spun in circles, both mentally and figuratively, for a few minutes trying to figure out how to proceed. How do I know what towing company took my car? How do I explain in my meager Spanish what has happened? How much will this cost me? Oh, and dang it – now I have to go to the bathroom.

Eventually I found a police officer stationed at the corner, and explained to him: “mi coche fue remolcada” and “necessito el numero del officina”. He asked me, quite logically, what the license plate number for my car was.

Uh oh. It’s a rental. And all the documentation was in the car. What now?

I explained it was a White Nissan (Kashkai? Cash Guy? Kwaskay?) and luckily he said “ah, si, Nissan Qashqai, pero cual es el licencia?”. I boggled for a moment: they probably towed quite a few cars to empty the street, my car might be one of many Nissan SUVs, how would I track this down without the license number?

And then I remember that I took this picture back when I was documenting the silly name of the car:

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Maybe all is not lost after all.

I brought this picture up on my phone and showed it to him, and based on this partial number, he called someone and then gave me an address and advised I flag down a taxi.  Once again I found myself at the mercy of strangers: I simply handed the taxi driver a small piece of paper on which the officer has scribbled something, and he took me on a 20 minute drive out to an area of town that I didn’t recognize, and dropped me in front of a decrepit looking building with a dirty glass door in the side.  Entering that, I saw a large bullet proof window and a chart explaining fees for towing.

I paid my hefty fine, and soon was reunited with not only my car, but Meebus as well.

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Nice of the towing company to keep the prostitution ad presumably placed on my car at night when they took my car.

Me: Good to see you Meebus, where have you been?

Meebus: stuffed in your backback, locked in the trunk of an SUV.  Thanks.

And with that, Meebus and I hit the road, northward bound.

Now, without wifi access, I had no idea how to get to Barcelona, or once there how to get to my hostel.  However, after the rather frustrating, expensive, and slightly nerve-wrecking experience I’d just gone through I was eager to just get out.  Driving around a little I quickly saw signs pointing to Barcelona, and within minutes was on the right road.

Now one thing I have not heard mention of in travel blogs about Spain is tool booths.  Tool booths are normally a nuisance, but not a complete hazard.  Turns out my unexpected fees today were not going to be limited to the towing.  I hit no less than 4 tool booths between Valencia and Barcelona, one charging 30 Euros to get through, for a grand total of 42 euros in tolls alone.  I’ve never heard of anything even remotely this expensive before.  Rather shocking.

So I rolled into Barcelona without a map, and far poorer than I expected.  I didn’t waste much time wandering around on the way so it was around 5 by the time I arrived.  However, Barcelona is a BIG city, and without even a map to go by, I was very much shooting in the dark for where to go.

Another note: when looking for a place in Spain that has wifi, you should note that it is not pronounced “Why-Fi”.  No, asking for this will get you scrunched up looks from the proprietors, and attempts in English, Spanish and even Catalan to find out what you are actually looking for.  However, if you ask for “wee-fee”, you will be greeted with “ah, claro, si!” and you will be in business.  Thus armed with a map to my hostel and turn-by-turn directions on my computer, I set out again.

Finding my hostel was relatively painless, but returning my rental car was far more pain than it was worth: the map to the Enterprise rental office turned out to be wrong, so I drove in circles for 30 minutes trying to find a non-existent place.  On trying Google maps, I finally got an accurate location, but misnamed streets, so through a combination of Bing and Google maps I was able to get there (all this necessitating trips back to the hostel to use the wee-fee).  By the time I got to Enterprise, it was verging on sunset, and clouds were threatening.  To make matters worse, there is no signage at the “Estacion Sants” (bus station) where I was returning the car, so only by driving to the top of a parking garage and looking out over the surroundings could I see a small office saying “Enterprise” across another building to know where I should take my car.  By the time I handed the car off (more fees: I hadn’t found a gas station so they charged me 18 euros convenience charge, plus a hefty markup per-liter on fill up), the rain had started.

Now, being from Seattle, I’m not scared of rain.  So I set out to walk the estimated 1.5 miles back to the hostel.  The clouds seemed thin and the forecast called for light rain (40% change of precipitation).  I had forgotten that Seattle weather was hunting me, and had some vengeance in mind.  So while I happily put in my headphones and set off on my way, the clouds gathered and schemed.

I ended up walking 1/2 hour in the wrong direction, finally turning around as the rain set in for a good serious soaking.  I stopped at a cash machine to replenish my depleted funds, only to have the machine tell me that my code was wrong and I needed to contact the bank.  So, I’ve got 2 euros and some change.  Not good.  I keep walking, now soaked thoroughly as the rain doubles and re-doubles in strength.  I ponder taking a taxi to get out of the rain, but I don’t think I have enough money.

So I walk.  And walk.  An hour later, I finally find the turn off to my hostel, just one side of my headphones shorts out, presumably from the massive amount of water running through every part of me.  I think the specter of me outside the door of the hostel, drenched, angry, tired, and ready to snap was a sobering experience for the poor lady working the front desk, as she quickly found other things to be busy with as I stalked to my room.

My entry to Barcelona, which I have been dreaming about for 15 years, was less than ideal.  But hey, it can only go up from here, yes?

Valencia

I rolled into Valencia about 7pm. Now, I was feeling rather confident this time because my computer-acquired directions showed that my hostel was on a main road smack in the middle of town, unlike before when it was in some back alley with no name. In addition, the directions show that I just need to stay on some large, main thoroughfares and go through a couple roundabouts to get there. Easy! This time I won’t get lost.

When will I learn?

So, I’ve mentioned before that Spain loves their one-way roads. Well, Valencia embraces this with a passion, and in addition won’t hesitate to throw six lanes of traffic into a roundabout. When your directions tell you “take the 7th exit off the roundabout” you know you are in for a good time.

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Doesn’t look like a lot of traffic. Trust me, it was worse being in it.

Thus, in pretty short order, I found myself far off from where I needed to be, and as I tried to find streets that would return me back the way I came, I got more and more lost. After about 2 hours of this kind of tomfoolery, I finally parked the car (again an exercise in frustration due to how people here just seem to make up parking spots), and walked on foot to the hostel. Turns out I was 45 minutes away on foot. So by this time it is dark, almost 10pm, and from being on the road all day, I’m very tired. I just want my bed.

Another interesting note: buildings in Spain start at floor zero, not floor one. Floor one is when you go up the first set of stairs. To my computer engineering compatriots, this is the logical and correct way to do things. However, when one is a tired American looking for one’s room, you might forget this, and you might try your room card on a door, find it doesn’t work, knock on the door to get in as you just want your bed, and discover you are on the “girls only” floor. Sorry to make you get out of bed, girls, my bad.

Now, I’ve discovered that a great way to see a new city is to go for a run in the morning. Advantages: you cover a lot of ground quickly, you are getting a good workout in while sight-seeing, and you will invariably get good and lost and thus put in much more of a run than you initially intended. Valencia proved to be a great example of this.

To start with, my hostel was right next to a massive park that runs the length of the downtown, so that’s a fine place to start. On the 2 blocks it took to go from the hostel to the park, I ran across yet another lovely Spanish arch:

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Paris thinks they are so cool with their “Arc de Triomphe”. I’ve seen more arcs in my time in Spain, and they are all purty.

The park is in the center of town, so it has many overpasses. These are not just simple bridges, but beautiful works in their own right.

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Awesome bridge. Not over troubled waters.
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Giant park, sport courts, and more.

As I ran through the park, the views of the city were pretty stellar. The weather was perfect.

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Not sure what else to say. This place is just stunning.

In short order I came to a place called (translated) “The Arts and Sciences City”. And it was awesome:

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Cylon helmet
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Coneheads. Buried in the ground for some reason.
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Absolutely beautiful.
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This building was strangely completely empty inside.
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Doesn’t quite convey how HUGE this structure is.
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Overpass on the park.
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Ooooo, artistic shot.
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The lake.

I ran to the end of the park, and found a stream that I think leads to the ocean.

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Even their waste water looks clean.

Also in the park is a climbing / play structure called Gulliver, for obvious reasons. If you have kids, you MUST bring them here. You can’t get a good view of this from the ground, so if you want to see what this really looks like, try a satellite view.

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Kids dig Gulliver.
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Big.
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Hair.

The city itself is fabulous, but I didn’t take nearly enough pictures to accurately show it.

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More big city views.

More Picasso. The dude is following me.

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Dig the negative space.

The hostel turns out to be similarly fantastic. At night they made a huge Paella, served beer and sangria, and basically just provided a great way for all the travelers to come together and meet.

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Community Paella.

This led to a late night out on the town, from which I can attest that the nightlife in Valencia is pretty top notch as well. I need to come back to this city and spend a week or so. There are museums to see, beaches to explore, events and aquariums and F1 races and oh my too much to possibly take in for the short time I was here. Valencia might be my favorite so far. Maybe. Dunno. Tough to say with so much competition.

Granada, and Seattle catches up with me.

Granada.  The big thing to do here is the Alhambra.  Due to how I’m doing my traveling (making it up as I go) I didn’t buy a ticket in advance.  Turns out that is somewhat required.

Well, there’s always a way, right?  Turns out if you get up very early, and get in line before the ticket box opens, you might get a chance at one of the few tickets released that day.  Okay, plan acquired.

Now, the previous night I was out getting tapas with the crew of other travelers.  This means you go to one place, order a drink (beer, wine, cocktail, whatever), and tapas will come with it.  It’s fun; kind of like rolling the dice with your food; you have no idea what will show up.  That night we hit 5 places, I tried 5 different drinks, had 5 kinds of tapas, and fell asleep in my clothes because in the dark at 1 am I couldn’t make the lock on my locker work so I couldn’t get at my backpack.  Bleagh.

So in the morning I wake up at 6:30 and quietly sneak out of the hostel, trying not to wake the other 7 people in the room.  I’m far less successful than I hoped for.

Once I step outside, I discover that Seattle’s weather has finally found me.  I managed to give it a slip for quite a few weeks in Mexico, but when it did find me it arrived with a vengeance nearly flooding the place.  Now it has found me in Spain.  Nothing for it but to trudge to the Alhambra embracing the fact that I’m a Seattlite, and rain ain’t no thing.

I get lost once, backtrack to the street I’m supposed to go on, and head up to the castle.  Now for those of you who don’t know, this is an impressive beast of a place.

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Note: not my picture.

By the time I get to the entrance I am well and truly soaked.  Turns out zero-drop running shoes are not a great barrier to small rivers running through the road, and a light jacket gets pretty well saturated in minutes.  It took me 15 minutes to get here, and now I find that the ticket office is at the FAR END of this behemoth.  Well, I’m here, I gotta try.

By the time 8 rolls around, I’ve found the ticket office, the morning line is gone, as are the tickets, and I’m pretty much swimming in my clothes.  Defeated, I head back to the hostel.  I had considered touring the town on foot, but with the rain and low cloud cover (thus terrible visibility) this seems unlikely.  Granada is very unique, being situated right up at the base of mountains, so the climate is cooler and the weather is unpredictable.  I would love to spend time here, but today is not the day.  I head off intent on reaching Valencia by dinner time (it’s a pretty fair distance, so I’ve got my driving cut out for me).

Driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains is stark and beautiful.  Note, as mentioned in my last post, the advantage to driving is you can stop in places that look interesting.  The first place on the trip that struck me is a place where there are hundreds of seemingly natural caves in the sides of the hills.   Turns out this is a place called Cortes.

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Holes. Lots of ’em. Everywhere.
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Place is full of ’em!

Now, it turns out that people here build their houses right into the sides of the hills! From the front, they look like normal Spanish houses, but on closer inspection, that’s just a front: it actually goes right into the earth.

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House / Cave
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House / Cave complex.
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Parking garages? Storage? I have no idea.
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Kind of a hobbit hole idea. Wish a Spanish Façade.

I was so interested in this I walked around this small community in the hills for a while, getting a fair distance from my car. I noticed that there were a lot of stray dogs. I can’t overstate this enough: a LOT of stray dogs. Most digging through garbage, or laying the road, or just generally milling about.

As I walked to the end of one road, looking for more cool houses, on mangy, long-haired, dirt-ridden mongrel took it on himself to decide that I was an interloper. Well, he’s right: I was.

So he starts barking at me and making small runs towards me to scare me off. Now I learned when I was very young that you just stand your ground when a dog charges, else he’ll think you are running and will chase you. This works fine with this one dog, and he backs off and barks from a respectful distance.

However, his barking has roused the neighborhood. Soon I find that I’m being approached from several directions by all manner of dogs; small scrappy lean things, tall gangly hairy things, all of them barking and darting at me and scampering to get a better approach at me.

Not good. Or to be more precise: no bueno.

So I do my best to stand my ground when any dart at me, sending them curving back around to get some distance, but trying to do that from several sides while also backing up without seeming to back up is tricky.  Dogs are now standing on the tops of houses, behind fences, all of them barking and yelping at the stranger.  I manage to edge my way to the corner of the street and back up the hill, finally getting all the dogs in one direction: downhill from me.  From there it’s pretty easy to keep an eye on all of them while walking backwards.

Once in my car I decide I’ll be taking the rest of my tour from behind glass and steel.

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Distant caves on the hill.
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Not fully developed caves.
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Another hill littered with them.

So that was Cortes. Interesting, though I could have done with a few less dogs. Which is strange ’cause I’m normally quite fond of the beasts. Ah well, moving on.

As the road angled back towards the Mediterranean, I spent another couple hours driving. The countryside remindes me at times of Northern Arizona, or parts of Nevada. Dry, but with cool rock formations. Eventually the earth turns from rich brown to a light, almost white color, and then you know you are near the Costablanco (white coast).

Here I tried to see another major coast town, Alicante. This didn’t work out so well either.

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Also not my picture.

Now, I think driving in a foreign country is akin to trying to speak a foreign language in that country: you are going to make some mistakes and look like a fool at times. As long as you accept this and don’t let it deter you, then you’ll be fine.

However, I think that barreling the wrong direction down a 2-lane road into both lanes of oncoming traffic with no safe turn off is the driving equivalent to calling someone’s mother a prostitute when you only meant to say “good day”.

In my defense, I think I handled the panicked “throw it into reverse, drive onto commuter rails, and dive out at the next possible driveway” with grace and aplomb.  Upon exiting this disaster scenario I couldn’t see any marking that would inform the casual visitor that the exit they were taking was destined for failure and remorse.

I ended up not staying long in that town.  When I finally did find a place to walk around, it had a very menacing feel, like being in the Bronx in 1983.  I hastily left, but judging from pictures I’ve seen now I think I just got off on the absolute worst exit possible.

However, I did stumble across a place that I have never heard of, which turns out to be some giant vacation / resort spot: Benidorm.

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Rendering of a monstrous building currently being constructed in the center.

For being a place I’ve never heard of, this place is massive.

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One of many giant buildings downtown.

This is also one of the strangest places I’ve run into. First off, it has a massive water park, a roller coaster theme park and an aquarium. There are high-rise buildings (presumably condos and hotels) everywhere. But your entry and exit from the place is tightly controlled through toll booths, and the town itself was pretty much a ghost town when I was there (disclaimer: it is “low season” here).

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My attempt to find a place on a hill to see the whole city. Thwarted by fences.
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A somewhat crap image taken of the downtown area.

I had some late lunch in a restaurant that informed me they stop serving food after 4 (???) but managed to rustle up a sandwich for me. It was probably the worst sandwich of my life.

While driving around in Benidorm I found an all-English radio station (Bay Radio) hosted by a UK DJ, and the news they read was all about how to deal with the recession, what the government was doing about the bank failures, and what was to be done about this financial crisis. It sounded eerily like news in the U.S. 3 years ago.

So, an odd / interesting town.

I again opted to not spend too long, instead hopping back in the car to reach Valencia before dark.  In the end I’m marginally successful; I reach the city before dark, but get more lost then I ever have been before, and don’t reach my hostel until well after dark.  I’ll save all that for a post about Valencia though.

Malaga, Granada.

Leaving Sevilla was much easier than getting there (meaning I only got lost and turned around twice, and didn’t end up in any scary narrow alleys). In short order I was on the road to Malaga.

One of the benefits of driving instead of taking a train or a plane is that you can stop at places that look interesting.  And so it was that I ended up stopping in a town that bursted with odd parallels for me.  I initially stopped to try to get a picture of the massive fields of olive trees that march from horizon to horizon across the rolling hills here.  I ended up just taking pictures of the town.

So, the odd parallels: turns out the town’s name is Estepa, which reminded me of my friends Note and Arta Estapa (note: first names changed ’cause, well, internet).

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Estepa, Purdy no?
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Victoria Tower. Near the top of the city. Also pretty.

So, I travel steeply up tiny, winding alley-like roads (it’s Spain, you come to accept this), and I eventually get near the top only to discover there is a place here called Church of Carmen. Having just come from Playa Del Carmen, that rings a bell for me.

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Church of Carmen. Doesn’t sound quite as fun as Playa

Not only that, it’s on top of “San Cristobal Hill”. You may recall I was in San Cristobal, Mexico not so long ago. Spooky.

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On top of San Cristobal Hill

I didn’t stay too long, both for fear of uncovering even more parallels, then turning a corner and running into my future self who would divulge the exact day and time that I would die. I’ve seen the movies, this is how these things go.

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Also: Santa Clara convent
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Another view.
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Picturesque. The whole town is like this. Quaint.

So, after bailing out of there, the next stop was Malaga.

Now, nobody told me about Malaga. I mean, other than to say: “oh, hey, while you are in Spain, you should see these 47 cities” (of which Malaga was one). So, I arrive with expectations that this will be a sleepy little coast town and give me my first glimpse of the Mediterranean.

My expectations were a bit too low:

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The beach proudly proclaims itself.

So it turns out to be a major vacation town with a fantastic tourist center.

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Malaga. Not a sleepy beach town.

Downtown all the streets are wide and clean, with marble sidewalks and palm trees.

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These streets were made fer walkin’…

The beach, however pretty, doesn’t really hold a candle to the Maya Riviera in Mexico. The sand is more like dirt, and there’s crazy winds that blow up huge clouds of dust. Also: water was a bit chilly and there are no waves to be seen.

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The wind was something else though.

However! The town itself is stellar. I started by discovering stairs that slope and zigzag up the side of a hill:

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They were made to be climbed. You really have no choice.
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The steps go on for quite a while. But with lovely views.
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The views get better as you go up.

These steps lead you to the base of Castle Gibralfaro, which is a massive castle that affords you amazing views of the entire town since it is perched at the top of the highest hill smack in the center of the city.

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The castle dominates
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Did I mention the views?
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Walkin’ around the castle.
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Castle. City. Yep: awesome views.
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Well, it’s Spain, you HAVE to have a bullfighting ring, yes?
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One hill not covered quite yet with houses.
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So, yeah. City is big.
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Hotel at the top of the hill. Spendy? Probably.

So, once you come down off the hill and the castle, you’ve got a huge city to walk around and see. I didn’t take nearly as much time as one could to explore this place, mostly ’cause I had no idea what I was in for and had already reserved a hostel in Granada for the night. A few more things I was able to fit in:

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Down from the castle, you’ve got a theater. Not in use, apparently

Apparently some famous artist was born and grew up here:

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Picasso’s building.
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Picasso’s pad
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Picasso chilled here.
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Picasso’s dad worked here.

So yeah; there’s museums (one devoted to Picasso), a massive cathedral, and a bunch more about this town, not to mention all the restaurants, a huge shopping walk along the pier, and more. One could (and probably should) spend many days here. But I was off to Granada.

I rolled into Granada about 7:30, and experienced a new level of confusion: the hostel I was to stay in was on an alley so narrow and small it didn’t show up on maps. So that’s fun. Turns out to be a fantastic hostel though. In the previous hostel I was surprised to be the youngest one there. This one turned out to be a real “youth” hostel, but the kids took the old man in regardless and we went out for tapas on the town.  Good finish for the day.

Next up: Granada and the journey to Valencia.

Seville. No barber in site

I’ll be honest: I had hoped to have some Bugs flashbacks in Seville. No dice.

What I was greeted with first thing in the morning, was a lot of bulls. Bulls pulling carts.

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Not exactly the running of the bulls. More like plodding.
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What they lack in speed they make up for in numbers.
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People ride on these 2nd story wagons.

Turns out this was a parade of sorts. People were dressed in traditional garb, the procession went for many blocks, and there were bands playing on the street corners. I, however, needed to get to my car so I could get a change of clothes and some toiletries, so I didn’t stay to appreciate the festivities.

On returning to the hostel, and after getting myself some breakfast, I set out to explore the town.  This was immediately thwarted by a massive deluge of rain.

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Nice building, so pretty. Wait, are those clouds about to do what I think…

So it was that I only got out to see the city after about 6 or so.

But what a city. Yow.

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The walkway on the river.
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Old naval tower along the river. Sadly you can’t go in it.
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Plaza del Toros. No bullfight today.

The city has recycling bins set up all over town, which helps explain its cleanliness. However, they weren’t content to just set these bins up, they had them decorated by artists:

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Hungry for your bottles.
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Not sure what this has to do with recycling, but it’s pretty.
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Close-up of my favorite one along San Jacinto.

There is a super impressive cathedral in the town center. It’s the third largest church in the world. I would have loved to go inside, but it is closed for renovation.

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The front.
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The architecture is amazing.
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Impressive cathedral.
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Sweet tower. Can’t get into the courtyard due to renovations.

Further on in the town center, is the Plaza Mayor. I can’t overstate how awesome this thing is. I was completely unprepared to run into something so modern and curvaceous in the middle of historic Spanish architecture. The juxtaposition is impressive and outstanding.

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Errr. Awesome.
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I could spend hours here. I think I may have.
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Scale model. Guess what, you can go up in the hollow parts!
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So I did!
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View from the top.
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More from the top. Seville is pretty flat, so this lone skyscraper they are building in the distance really stands out.
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Pedestrian walkway on the roof.
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Also: it’s built on top of ancient ruins.

So that’s my experience of Seville. I wandered around and took more pictures, but I get the feeling that I’m going to be seeing the kind of streets, alleys, and shops all over Europe, so I won’t spew them up here.

Although this amused me:

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Spanish for Free Willie?

Okay, so I’m a dork. But we knew this.  Also, I had no sleep last night due to the symphony of snoring.  Tonight I am armed with earplugs.  Bring it, people.

So: Seville. Beautiful. Would love to spend more time here. But now I’m off to Granada and Malaga. Adventure awaits! Farewell Seville.

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