Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh Shit!!: Spring Break Part II

Breakfast? Pain au chocola-ya-ya-ya-yait!!

I may have mentioned that, when travelling alone, your instincts of resourcefulness kick in very quickly. It happens because the second you leave home, your familiar elements fade from memory and all you can think about is what's happening right now. And that's the first thing you learn when you travel alone: you can't help but think on your feet. The second thing you learn: you have more balls than you previously thought.


Well, thank god it works that way, because the second I landed in Paris I needed those reflexes. All passengers on my flight had to turn off their mobile phones before take-off; so I turned off mine to comply with regulations and mentally prepared myself to leave Spain for the first time since arriving. Granted, I had only been living in Spain for 2 months, but I felt so at home that I craved my trip badly. The excitement of leaving Spain wore off within minutes, as I fell asleep on the 100 minute flight. I never fail to fall asleep on any mode of public transportation, and this moment was no exception no matter how highly anticipated.



When I woke up, the captain was in the middle of announcing that we were ten minutes away from our landing at BVA, 80 minutes outside Paris. As we landed, I took my phone out of my pocket to text my parents and let them know I was safe and sound in Frenchland. But my message wouldn't send. And when I tried again, it wouldn't. Again. And that's when I realized my phone was SIM locked.


That is to say, I was fucked.

With no working cellphone I had no way of contacting my parents, and worse, no way of contacting my lodgings for the night. Upon realising the possibility of having to sleep in the park that night, and that it was supposed to rain, anyone would have panicked. Not I. And I wish I knew why, but I was cool as a cucumber. Mayhaps I figured the local prostitutes would take me under their fishnet wings, or my limitted knowledge of French (read: Je voudrais du pain s'il vous plait) would protect me. I surprised myself, but I had this inner sense that things were going to work out. Because...they had to. I realised that getting robbed, sleeping in the rain, and trying my hand at sex work were not viable options at the moment. After all, I had very little cash and no umbrella. And I had neither enough pleather nor knowledge of product elasticity to break into a foreign financial sector.
Not sleeping in the park: Me greeting the rain at Versailles

So, I pondered my state of jodida (fucked) on the shuttle, as I chatted with a Spaniard sitting next to me. He was a student like me, very affable, and when he found out how stranded I was at the moment, he chuckled. The way you chuckle when you're surprised and awkward, and have no response more creative than to laugh.
"And you're not freaking out?" he asked.
"No."
He laughed again in shock. "Tu eres cojonuda."
"Cojonuda?" I asked him. "Like cojones?!"
"Exactly."

The man says I've got cojones. I was previously unaware of these balls I apparently had, but I'll take it. It was after all, thanks to said balls and some help from this kind stranger that I was eventually able to find my way. After an 80 minute bus ride, I was on the Paris metro on my way to my home for the next three nights.

Monday, April 26, 2010

There and Back Again: Donostia the Sequel

We interrupt this program to briefly update about my spontaneous trip to San Sebastian this past weekend.

I must say, I am quite proud of myself. The first time I went to San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque), I fell in love with it and immediately knew it was my favourite place in Spain. I explored the pubs, had my first tequila shot after several years, met some great people from my hostel, and pic-nicked on the beach. My last afternoon there, as I took my last look at the sea, I realised two things.
1. That peculiar shade of blue would be imprinted on my brain and
2. I had to come back.

Nearly two months later, I was having a bad time at school this past week (which is also why I haven't updated about my spring break). On Tuesday, as I stared blankly at my History of Spain notes in preparation for an exam about the second republic, I thought about how much I wish I could have been enjoying the sunshine that had finally hit northern Spain. And I thought: Fuck it, I'm going to San Sebastian. Just like that.

It amazes me how easy it has become for me over the past 3 months to just...leave things behind and go somewhere. It's something I don't get a lot of in America. I'm less restless here, because when I get that restlessness I can quench it so easily. I can literally run away from my problems and go sleep on the beach instead. Which is exactly what I did. The morning, I had a ticket and a bag packed.

Two days after that, I was sleeping on the bus. I woke up three quarters into the three hour bus ride, just in time for my favourite part. One of the many reasons Basque Country is my favourite part of Spain is the unexpected view. Contary to stereotypes of Spanish topography, northern Spain is emerald green and full of mountains and valleys. The last time I'd see something similar was southern Poland. The last few villages one drives by on the way to Donostia are plopped in the bottoms of the valleys, or scattered over river canals. If I could have taken clear pictures from the bus, I would have. The view is stunning.

But of course, it was not as good as being back in San Seb. The second I stepped off the bus, I got that "I'm on vacation" feeling again, except this time I knew my way around quite well. I knew where to buy the best fruit, where to get dinner, where outside to eat it. After it got dark, I didn't want to spend much time in my room because it had no windows. So I met up with friends, the very same people I met the first time.

It's another reason for my affection for San Sebastian: being one of the first places this semester to re-awaken my travelling itch, it was also the place where I learned the interesting mentality of people who like it as much as I do. People who live in hostels, couchsurf, or take off for the sake of taking off have such a weird and different way of relating, and I must say it agrees with me. They open up to you much more easily than in ordinary circumstances--even if or perhaps because they are aware you will not know eachother for very long. Your lives are only intersecting for a limitted time and everyone's so new to you that you don't stop appreciating them after a time, because...well, you don't have that time.

In any case, between seeing a few really great people I had genuinely missed, meeting a few others that made an impression, and the following day on the beach, I could not have been more satisfied. My Saturday was what I needed to take out the stress of the past week: a book, the beach, and that blue water in front of me. As I napped and listened to music, I would hear the tide coming and going between songs. And I could feel a slight sunburn and, I daresay, a nice tan developing.

As last time, I was sad to get on the bus back to Burgos. Perhaps this time, a little sadder. (this face is appropriate ;D) But as I sat in my classes all morning, I was certainly glad that I had such nice things to daydream about instead of listening to my professor.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Spring Break 2010

Like most college students, at the thought of spring break, I had pictured at least one trip to Mexico, some sunshine and adventures best not remembered. Like a word association. You say "peanutbutter", I say "jelly". You say "spring break", I say "Cancun, anyone?" Or at least I would have any other time. But this year, when school let out for two weeks, I was in Spain. And I was itching to leave.
As much as I love living here, Burgos can get a little too Spanish for me sometimes. It's a small city and it's not nearly as diverse as Boston or New York, for example. It can--and does--get a little monotonous sometimes. So when the itch to get out hit me, it hit hard. And I didn't want to go just one place, everywhere appealed to me.

So one late night, the following itenerary laid itself out:

April 2nd to 5th: Paris, France
April 5th to 8th: Brugge, Belgium
April 8th to 10th: Amsterdam, Holland
April 10th to 13th: Copenhagen, Denmark
I bought airplane and train tickets, I made a couchsurfing account, and I began a slapdash quest for housing, tourist attractions, and the kind of adventure any jaded university student loves watching indie films about. April 1st came round and I had my suitcase packed with acceptably clean clothes, my camera, and my bible:

The Beach by Alex Garland


My copy of The Beach is five years old, stained and dog-eared becuase I bought it at a garage sale when I was 15 or so. I remember being overjoyed to pay a quarter for it, because it had affected my 14 year old self so much the first time I had read it. It told me that there were things out there for people as bored and sarcastic as I was back then. And since the moment I purchased my own copy, I have never left home without it. From university to family trips to the Caribbean and Europe, The Beach has always had its own pocket in my suitcase. And I fondly re-read it every time and find something that I hadn't noticed the last time. I've always liked how the story seemed to grow up with me.

So at 20, the one thing I knew I had to pack and read on my own trip was this book. And how god damn fitting it seemed to be reading it on my first time travelling alone. Alone and farther than the 4-hour bus ride from Boston to New York. Little did I know I would very soon say goodbye to my copy, but that's another story and shall be told another time. But then, there were a lot of things about my trip that surprised me.

And the first of those things was you get a little funny in the head the second your airplane leaves the ground. You very quickly learn that things will never go remotely as planned or pictured, and you have to stay cool and think on your feet. At 4 a.m. on the 2nd I took a bus to Barajas Airport in Madrid. I arrive at 7 a.m. and promptly got myself lost within its large complex. Great, I thought. My flight's at 10 and I'm going to miss check-in. I looked at my cellphone for the time: almost 8.

Mierda.

I had taken a shuttle from the bus station to one of the terminals, and of course, it was the wrong one. Now I needed to figure out how to get to Terminal 3. After some running around with my suitcase strapped on my back and my scarf choking me, I found the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited for another shuttle, silently cursing this country's inability to ever do anything at the appointed hour. Finally, the right bus came and as I rode it to the right terminal, I silently willed it to go faster.

I found the Terminal and made a beeline for the check-in desk only to find I was the only one there.

Where the hell is everyone? Have they all checked in?

I turned left and right, looking for someone who looked like they worked there and zeroed in on a young man in a suit. He was giving someone directions. Since he looked like he knew what he was saying, I approached him. At worst, I figured, he was Spanish and I could wave my blonde hair in his face and beg him to let me on the plane. Faced with the possibility of being stranded in Barajas, I was desperate and silly things were ocurring to me.

"Has check in occured?" I wheezed, panting from running at him.

"No," he said, looking at his watch. "It doesn't start for 30 minutes."

I gaped at him.

That's when this think-on-your-feet talent kicked in for the first time. As I gaped at my little Spanish bullfighter, it came to me: Time for a drink. I hadn't had breakfast yet, and suddenly coffee with Bailey's (or vice versa) seemed a brilliant decision.

Twenty minutes, two drinks and about 10 Euro later, it was. With my body feeling slightly like jell-o, I swaggered back to the check-in to find I was one of the first in line. I picked up my boarding pass, found a quiet corner, and sat down. With time to spare, I pulled out my book. I opened its crumbling paperback cover. And as the narrator Richard began talking about the pros and cons of travelling alone, his words more than the Bailey's Creamy had a tranquilizing effect.

Spain stopped existing. I was calm, collected, and on vacation.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I feel guilty for not having updated for so long, but I've spent the last two weeks touring northern Europe. And that's something I need pictures to be remotely able to describe. My bum hurts from biking around Brugge and Copenhagen. Things could be worse, I guess.
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