Growing Spains

I’m leaving. It’s the long journey home.

After my short five-hour sleep, I was up and as enthusiastic as I could be at six in the morning. I managed to say my goodbyes to Emily and Dylan, who were both on their way within the next hour too. It’s difficult leaving some places. I mean, leaving Avignon was like that scene in 500 Days of Summer where Tom gets laid and he’s dancing through the streets to Hall & Oates, but leaving here was like a sad violin song.

Eventually getting to the bus station, my bus was delayed by ten minutes. Not the greatest thing to hear when you have to drag yourself from bed so early so that you’re not late, only for the bus to be late itself. At the time that I am writing this line, it has just gone half past ten and we have yet to reach Zaragoza. Love a long bus. Then again, it has chargers.

After a quick pit stop, I returned to Barcelona. Seven hours on the bus led me back to the place that sent me up north in the first place. I found the correct train to take me to my city for the night – Girona. Why here? Well, I would recommend it regardless. Lots of old parts of the city worth visiting and the food is cheaper than Barcelona or San Sebastian. However, here is where my trip ends. The day after this entry, I will be back home where I’m free to eat all the battered pizzas and drink all the Irn Bru that I desire. It’s the dream. You also forget that McDonald’s abroad (or in fact anywhere else in the UK) don’t serve Irn Bru as a drink. They’re missing out.

But Girona. It’s not far north of Barcelona, settling relatively close to Andorra and the French border. You can get from the Catalan capital to here in just under forty minutes, so it’s very close. I got to my hostel, a Bed in Girona (I know what you’re thinking, it’s an even more creative name than the last hostel I stayed in) and much like a few places I have stayed, this clearly used to be a house. There are two dining areas, a couch, a balcony with some cool old chairs, bedrooms, toilets, showers, kitchen…it’s just massive and beautiful.

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With 17 euros left to my name I thought about how I would spend it. I nearly blew a lot of it on a Menu Del Dia as a final treat for the trip, but that would have left me with six euros, and that would be considering the fact I would need to get the bus back to the airport. Too risky. I found somewhere that had lasagne for six euros and it was as good as you can expect for six euros. Could have been more, but not fussed.

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In the hostel, I spoke to a middle-aged woman from England. She’s a little kooky, but she’s kind-hearted. She gave me some of her wine and then I helped her understand how to work her smartphone – we’ve all been there. It’s always the little things in human kindness that are memorable. We have a couple of Spaniards too. They seem cool. Shame I can’t stay here longer than a night from a hostel point of view, but I am looking forward to being home. There is no place like home.

BUDGETING:
Dinner: 6.80 euros
Train reservation: 4 euros

Total: 10.80 euros.

Breakfast: Apple, water. Lunch: Lots of chorizo sandwiches. Dinner: Lasagne.

 

June 29

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Adios Catalunya

And then came my 7.30am train. Oh, the joys of waking up early before breakfast is even served to get on a train. Safe to say I have suffered. On the train I had to munch on some chorizo I had left.

My coping mechanism for these long trips (nearly six hours on this train) is all about mixing up activities. Recently my laptop has been acting very strange and the battery life is lasting two hours or so, compared to four hours only a couple of months ago. That was hardly an option for a whole train journey. Instead, I read one of my books The Virgin Suicides which is a pretty quick read. By this point, I had nearly completed the novel and decided to read another fifty pages or so prior to finishing the final 25.

Then, I remembered that I had downloaded a few albums on Spotify. Nirvana: MTV Unplugged. Yeah baby. Back to finishing the book, which gave me just over an hour to write some of the content for the blog as well as other odds and ends. Fun fact: even on reserved trains, Spain’s trains don’t have sockets. Or wifi. I never thought I would utter the words: “I miss Scotrail”.

I arrived in San Sebastian. First impression? Beautiful. It was almost eerily quiet at times, mainly because it was a Sunday, but it just had a much more laid back feel to it, unlike Barcelona. After a bit of an issue trying to find my hostel from the trusty Apple Maps.

But I arrived. A Room in the City is the name of the hostel. I mean they could’ve thought of a better name, that’s my only critique. The rest is brilliant. The rooms are bunk beds, but they are in a pod form. It looks really futuristic, but basic. You can sit in your own bed and do what you like with privacy. You don’t have to worry about disturbing someone with the glare of your screen – there is a curtain for that.

They have somewhere you can chill downstairs as well as a rooftop space and an outdoor area. At first I went to find somewhere to exchange money. Nothing is open on a Sunday I discovered. No supermarkets, no currency exchanges. OK, McDonald’s is open, restaurants are open and the odd shop too, but pretty quiet. I walked around for a while before finding a place to eat. Va Bene is a popular burger restaurant in the area, so I checked it out. I had a Bacon Cheeseburger and fries for 7.20 euros. I mean, yes it was relatively cheap, but also the meal wasn’t as big as I was hoping. It was a tasty meal, but I could’ve done with some more food.

On the way back to the hostel, I found a shop that was open (praise the lord) and grabbed some juice and a big bottle of beer. If you’re unaware, Spain has 1L bottles of San Miguel for just over a euro. You’re welcome. Arriving back, I took a leap of faith and sat with a huge crowd of people in the space there. Safe to say, most of the people I have met have been in more isolated ways, or if I meet someone in a large group, I already know people in the group. This was a little intimidating. But obviously, everyone is really nice. Also, everyone here is Australian. Seriously.

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Clearly accidentally used one of the potatoes as a camera for this shot.

In a group of 15/20 people, more than half of them are Australians, all either in couples or individual people. Turns out there are a lot of waves in San Sebastian and the stereotype that Aussies are surfers is apparently true. Really, there are too many names to remember from the night, but I can remember speaking to a couple (Laura and Matt if I’m not mistaken) and a girl called Tess. All bloody Australians. We bonded over our mutual love/hate for how bad our politics is in both of our countries currently.

Then, the whole group were forced to leave the area for hostel curfew reasons and someone suggested going into the old town. I wasn’t keen on spending money on alcohol too much, but I went along anyway. Then something wonderful happened: someone had a carry out. A girl called Maddy had like three bottles of wine to go around the group and we just sat in the old town for a while. Maddy is basically Jesus, except she turns wine into more wine. It’s worth mentioning, that this is technically illegal in Spain, but the police don’t seem to mind too much as long as you aren’t off your head drunk. First night can be considered a success, looking forward to tomorrow.

BUDGETING:
LUNCH: 7.20 euros.
GROCERIES: 2.30 euros.

Total: 9.50 euros.

BREAKFAST: Chorizo. Lunch: Bacon cheeseburger and fries.

June 25

Housty, Michael, Barcelona

For any fans of the film I’ve paraphrased, there will be no passionate love triangles logged in this blog entry. Sorry to disappoint.

After a late night at the beach, I woke up just before our free breakfast finished at 10am off the back of five hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation when travelling is among the worst feelings because you never want to make a day to lazy if there is a lot to do in the city you are staying, like Barcelona. Elke from the night before, was at breakfast and we chatted over a poor knock-off coco pops and toast. Elke was supposed to be in Barcelona with her friend, but her friend had to get surgery and cut her trip short. Fortunately for me, Elke had two tickets to Casa Battlo (yes, the place I was too poor/cheap (take your pick) to go to yesterday) and said I was welcome to come. Considering how expensive many of Barcelona’s top attractions are to see, I couldn’t say no.

We left almost instantly after breakfast, giving me just ten minutes to get ready in a mad rush. We finally made it there less than an hour after I had risen from my slumber. *Insert joke here about me looking like an extra from The Walking Dead*

What can I say about Casa Battlo? It’s a warped building with a lot of interesting themes to it. It’s got a feeling of Alice and Wonderland to it. Something too weird for this world. The whole house has a nod to aquatic life, with turtles, fish and boats being used as inspiration, as well as mythical creatures such as dragons. It’s strange to think that 150 years ago, Gaudi was coming up with all these intricate designs. Also, thanks to Elke again for the ticket. I owe you!

From there we walked to the Botanical Gardens. The statues and structures there are very Roman-like, especially at the far end of the park where a great waterfall and fountain lay. Very chilled out part of town, even if I was internally and externally dying from the heat.

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We parted ways when I decided to check out some museums. I was going to meet with her and a few of the others at the beach later but I was too tired to think about it. I checked out the Picasso Museum first, or at least I tried to. It wasn’t open the day after the summer solstice celebrations. That museum passport I bought off Vanessa really coming in handy. Instead I walked to the CCCB, a contemporary arts museum. Contemporary art for me can be hit or miss, but this one was pretty good, albeit not the most riveting.

The current exhibition focused on photobooks (think regular books, but lots of photos) and their historical meaning. Many were political, some were cultural to a certain part of the world, and some were just downright awful and that was their reason they were being shown. Compared to the other contemporary art I have seen so far on my travels, it’s not the greatest thing I have seen, but it’s worth checking out. Plus, there’s currently a Bjork exhibit on too, but you need to pay more for it.

I grabbed some food (a small pasta Bolognese, a pasty of some sort and a can of fanta) from a local café for 6.95. I was a bit disappointed in how little it filled me up, but I was heading home anyway and I had some pasta to look forward to. I started walking towards the metro through the squares near CCCB where children through firecrackers for some reason BECAUSE THEY’RE MENTAL and apparently creating loud explosions is cool. Sure there’s a few suitable jobs for that kind of thing worldwide. Then through La Rambla, the place where you would have no trouble buying marijuana because you will be asked at least five times by random street vendors on your way down the street. It might be the hair.

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I had a lazy night after that. I applied for some more jobs and sorted out a few errands from back home as well as having some time to relax. I was up too early in the morning to be having a night out. Pasta was cooked, jobs were applied for, but surprisingly, I forgot to do my blog. My bad. You get a double instead today. You lucky thing.

I’ll try and remember not to hit the snooze button in the morning.

 

BUDGETING:
LUNCH: 6.95 euros.

Barcelona Total: 56.95 euros. It can be done on a budget. Just a little difficult.

 

BREAKFAST: Cereal, toast, orange juice. LUNCH: Pasty, Bolognese, fanta. DINNER: Pasta.

June 24

Mi Espanol es Bastante Mal

After my usual mulling around in the morning, my roommate asked me what I was going to do to which I had no idea. I really don’t seem to plan these trips out very well. Anyway, the Colombian guy from the night before turned out to be my roommate called Sebastian.

One of the most interesting things about hanging out with him was realising how poor we are at speaking each other’s languages. It was a great learning experience for me as I worked on my Spanish for a day while I taught him how to swear in English because my teaching is clearly more useful. We travelled uptown via the main train station (I had to reserve a ticket for a future train before, which took forever) before grabbing another McDonald’s, again out of convenience and because Seb wanted one. Culture.

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Once we boarded the train, we checked out the Sagrada Familia from the outside. This was due to you needing to buy tickets for the grand, incomplete building, a day in advance. It’s a shame we couldn’t see from the inside, but we moved on to the Casa Battlo, another architectural masterpiece by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi.

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Again, we couldn’t see it. It was 25 euros to get in. Nah.

Again it was a great place from the outside, but we decided to move from there and to someone that was at least free. Parc Guell. It’s one of the city’s largest green spaces, but also a long way up a hill to get to. One saving grace to exhausted tourists who wouldn’t know what 35 degrees felt like if it hit them in the face, is the outdoor escalators that aid you to the top for the most part.

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Once up there, you can see the whole city. The views at Parc Guell are unrivalled. You can see La Rambla in its Central Park-esque form surrounded by looming trees. You can see the busy cranes at La Sagrada Familia and you can see the beach stretching for miles along the Mediterranean Sea. Just down from this viewpoint were a few more. Seb and I walked up to the top before he stopped for a smoke. We befriended a bunch of German girls, all from Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds who were heading to the top as well. I feel like I tell a tale like this often where I just chat about life in their native country, but it’s always cool to meet total strangers and leave them feeling like you gained something out of the conversation.

We took the long walk back down towards the city centre once again. There we bought some food and drinks and got the metro back to the hostel, ready to go out at night.

It was a Friday night, and so came the Summer Solstice Fiesta. It’s basically a big party on the beach to celebrate the longest day of the year (even if a couple of days out on this occasion). Myself and Seb were heading there, along with our new roommate from Italy, Mohammed. Just before we left (my pasta was taking infuriatingly long to cook) we met more people from the hostel going. Two more Italians in Rikhard and Jose as well as a German girl, Elke. Is there a version of the Fantastic Four, Fabulous Five or Magnificent Seven for a sextet? Because we were certainly that. The Splendid Six? The Sexy Six? The Sick AF Six? All the newbies are cool. Good mix.

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I was pretty buzzed at first when down at the beach. I had a couple of drinks, danced around and jumped into the ice-cold water like many people there. Then the tiredness kicked in and I needed my bed, despite being five miles from home. Matters were not helped by Seb’s friend hanging out with us, with a whole bunch of Spanish-speaking people.

My Spanish is decent when I can concentrate, but I really just needed my bed at three o’clock. The late nights are catching up. I got the metro myself (they run all night on the Summer Solstice night) and crashed heavily to my bed. Buenas noches.

BUDGETING:
MCDONALD’S: 7 euros.
GROCERIES: (4 beers, chorizo and croissant): 4 euros.
TRAIN TICKETS: 16 euros (reservation and metro pass).
GIFTS: 2 euros.

Total: 29 euros.
Barca Total: 50 euros. Decent all things considering.

Breakfast: Cereal in hostel, Lunch: McD’s. Dinner: Homemade pasta.

June 23

I woke up at half past seven, but I was more enthusiastic arising from my slumber than ever before. It was the day I left the hellhole. I survived the night. I slain the beast. I overcame the odds. If you think that staying in a crack shack for a night is impossible. Let me have my moment.

The train I was planning to get was at 8.45am from Avignon Center. I just had to reserve my ticket prior to boarding. At the ticket office, it turns out the direct train would only take four hours. But it was also at the other station. I had failed to check the tiny details and just assumed it would be the one and only. Crap.

Then the next one from the station I was at would was fully booked. It certainly looked like I would be spending hours waiting on my next train, but something wonderful happened. The ticket man would find me a stopover in Perpignan, near the border, before it would take me to my final destination from there. I would call him my saviour, if something better hadn’t happened just before my arrival.

As I planned the mile-long slug to the station with Wheel, a man saw me take a break and offered to help me. Turns out France isn’t all bad. William, from Metz, was also going to the station and helped me out with the suitcase. My arms were on fire by the time we arrived so he really was my saving grace. I really cannot thank him enough.

Back at the station, I received my ticket three minutes before the train was due to leave and made a mad dash for the platform. Again, like every time I board a train, I was sweating from every pore of my body, looking like a complete tool. I showered that morning and an hour later I was sticky once again. The train to Perpignan is a pretty affair, albeit in flashes. Some parts of the journey make massive lakes and mountains, while other parts are literally fields and outskirts of towns. I’m not complaining. I’m just glad I found a half-decent way of getting to my next destination. That destination would be Barcelona. We had to change carriage at one point which was a bit crazy as I only found out from an English-speaking Frenchman moments before. Once we stopped in Perpignan, I grabbed a sandwich and waited for the next one.

On the train to Barcelona, I get to sit first class. As the kids say these days, yeeeeeeah boiiii. It was my only option when it came to this train as second class was booked, meaning I had to pay 15 euros to reserve my seat. Eventually (after crossing the border realised that I was in the wrong seat and that the charger actually worked in my seat meaning I’m not completely bored for the rest of the trip. There is only so much reading you can do before you get tired.

From just north of Perpignan, the views have been great. Delta-ish lakes take up a lot of the French coast south of Montpellier. And this train has been pretty fantastic too. Lots of mountains in the north east of Spain. Turns out when I moved seat, I still wasn’t in the right seat and had to move for a final time.

My hostel was a vast improvement on the place i stayed in the night before. Clean, relatively basic, but royalty to me. I headed out for a wander for some food and a bit of late-night sightseeing. La Rambla is a little overhyped, but it’s still pretty wild at night. The real secret is the side streets nearby. You have a number of alleys with niche fashion shops dedicated to all sorts of culture from around the world including the UK and Japan. I walked home from there and grabbed a McDonald’s for convenience. Little did I know that I had to walk for two miles once I had left the famous fast food chain. Yikes.

Once I arrived back at the hostel (Alberguinn Hostel) I sat down to finish my “meal”. At first I sat alone, before speaking to a couple of guys speaking Spanish. One was clearly a native speaker, while the other was a learner. One was Julian from Germany who was more fluent than I, and the other Guillermo – an Argentinian, shaming us with his incredible linguistics.

After a few hours of failing to keep up in conversation with them, a Colombian joined us at the table who again could speak Spanish. At the end of the night, I felt inadequate, but great that I was able to speak anything, The highlight of the night was a group of British girls approaching me speaking in broken Spanish (I know the feeling) asking me where I got my McDonald’s. All because I was able to speak about two words.

I went to bed feeling overwhelmed at how crap I was at being a bi-linguist and got ready for my first full day in the Catalan capital.
BUDGETING:
SANDWICH: 3.50 euros
MCDONALDS: 7 euros
ICE CREAM: 2.50 euros

Total: 13 euros

LUNCH: Sandwich, DINNER: McDonald’s.

 

June 22

(Apologies for the lack of photos here)