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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SCOTTY

What a bittersweet day. My final full day here. As expected, the rain was heavy once again, but only once we had already headed out. I bumped into Emily at breakfast and we headed to the beach. Despite being here for three days, I had omitted a trip to the beach because of the weather. I ended up going because I had to at some point. If I didn’t go now, I wouldn’t have a chance before going home. We arrived moments before the rain came on and thunder began to roll. It was heavy, but it didn’t stop me. Somehow, the sea was hotter than the sand, which only made me more enthusiastic towards swimming.

About 150m from land lied a floating platform with a diving board and a slide. Determined, I swam out to it, drinking many pints of salt water on the way, and reached the slide. Again! Again! As the rain got a bit overwhelming (but it didn’t dampen our spirits, eh? Eh?) we left, leaving behind our brief affair with the Bay of Biscay.

I headed back to finish up a blog post before heading to the train station to reserve my train for the next morning.

There were no trains with seats left.

I can’t lie, this for the most part is my fault. I forgot to do this when I arrived and I was now in a hopeless place. What annoyed me about this train however, is the fact you need to reserve seats and the trains are few and far between. So, for me with a free train pass, I could not get a seat. I said I’d be happy standing in the lobby area for the trip (it wouldn’t bother me too much), but I was told that was not possible. This is why I like Scotrail. You just get on a train and that’s it.

I was in despair and went back to the hostel in a mess. I looked at car sharing, even about renting a car and driving it to my destination, but it was too expensive. My only choice was the bus. I had to shell out 35 euros (money I could’ve done without losing) to get a bus from San Sebastian to Barcelona: seven hours. I thought that it couldn’t be much worse than what I had encountered so far, so reluctantly paid. Kick in the teeth.

After booking my travel, I met an older Scottish man who was cycling from the top of France, down to San Sebastian before a few trains would take him to meet his wife in the Valencia area. You forget how to appreciate your own country until you see the outside perspective from foreigners, or you get to meet a native abroad. Hearing a Scottish voice is really welcoming in a month where I have met a total of five.

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I remembered that I hadn’t drunk the wine from the night before, so I spent my evening making sandwiches for tomorrow’s bus and sipping wine. I was coaxed out for a while by the rest of the group for a quiet night. A lot of people were leaving in the morning or put off by the rain, so only a group of ten went, led by the ever-reliable Otto. I called it early (not that early considering I had to be up at half past six for my bus) and said my final goodbyes. I don’t know if it’s the fact I’ve known these guys for four days, or if everything was just generally better in this hostel, but I really am going to miss these guys the most. Otto, Jose, Michael, Ivan (glad you like the blog bro, thanks for the support), Dylan, Matt, Laura, SCOTTY, Emily, Aylin, Daniel, Camilla, Andrea, Nikki, Tess. Others too who I can’t think of off the top of my head, you’re all awesome.

 

BUDGETING:
Bus: 35 euros.
Groceries: 3.80 euros.
Total: 38.80 euros.

Breakfast: Apple, biscuits, water. Lunch: Pasta. Dinner: Noodles, lots of sandwiches.

 

June 28

San San

It’s always a pleasure to see that you’re not the only one suffering from the night before. Half of the hostel (the less sensible half) were left in a zombie-like state. Not only that, but I was in dire need of some food, with the kitchen only providing free fruit, biscuits and what I later found out was corn, and not massive peanuts.

A solo trip to the old city is always interesting. Most of it is right beside the beach and the rest is nestled along streets with similarities to Barcelona or Genoa. The crème de la crème is the street with the church, where we congregated every night, enjoying the mild night time weather under the amber lights that illuminated the street.

I bought some pasta, as well as a couple of beers and a bottle of wine to share.  Despite planning to go home at some point, I decided against. There was a big hill, and I wanted to climb it.

Up on the north-west part of the city is the castle, peaking out among the forest that surrounds it. At the top, there is a statue rising above the rest on the top of the castle. It’s certainly unmissable. You start the walk up on a stone staircase and disappear into the trees. It emerges you for a while, before the scenes of the sea bring the place back to life. There you see a view like nothing by the seaside. The sandy beach encircles the left side, with the sea filling out the horizon. In between is the other half of the sea enclosure where the hills are as rocky as the ones I was standing on. Acting almost as a buffer between the opposing hills lies an island with narrow but tall as the spiky cliffs gives the tiny spot a fierce look.

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The castle itself is rather insignificant. It’s a lovely place to visit, but don’t expect anything too excessive. It’s a modest place, despite the huge statue that is perched on top of it. Then the rain came down and extinguished my chances of enjoying the castle for an extended period of time. The walk back down is even better. There are multiple ways to get back into the city, including a windy path through the trees, sheltering me from the hard-hitting showers. Returning drenched to the hostel in a wet vest and shorts, some of the group were already having a beer under the canopy.

The group always gets bigger by the time it gets to seven or eight o’clock, but at this point, it was colossal. Some people splintered off into their own sub-groups while newbies joined and shuffled the chairs over to create a proper circle. One of the newbies we met was Scott from New Zealand, who was travelling with a mate of his, but she was out exploring the city at the time, but we would meet her later. Emily, from Australia (another one), had one of the funniest introductions. She had been drinking Sangria all day because a family saw her eating by herself and asked if she wanted to join them and kept buying her drinks. Because of the Sangria, her voice was hoarse as someone quipped she sounded like Batman. After speaking to me, she told me that she studied in Glasgow on exchange which was great to hear (apart from the part where she told me she studied at Glasgow University, Caley boy for life) and we just talked about the best and worst parts of the city. Including the Garage. No one likes the Garage. Or for that matter, Kushion.

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As with every night, there was a revisit to the steps. The crowd was so big, we could’ve filled out a full eleven-a-side football match. In such a large group, you find yourself finding out more about everyone. Matt for example is a huge fan of British sitcoms like Toast of London and the IT Crowd. Daniel is a huge fan of The Clash. So many people there watch Hot Ones. Lots in common. Slowly throughout the night, people left before it was just myself and Dylan, a Canadian that joined us that day. Like the majority of the time that we stayed here, we walked around in the heavy rain and retreated. I had one more day left in what is an amazing place.

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BUDGETING:
Groceries: 6.50 euros (bread, chorizo, water, 2 beers, wine)
Breakfast: Apple, biscuits, water. Lunch and Dinner: Chorizo and Tomato Pasta.

June 27

Basque

After a late night, you feel like you have to take it easy. So I did.

Wandering aimlessly around the city, I went on a quest for food and somewhere cheap. The latter is nearly impossible here. That’s the only real downside. Probably more expensive than Barcelona. Don’t expect this post to blow you away, my day mainly consisted of searching for a place where I could eat for under a tenner. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I settled for 11 euros. For three courses. How could I refuse? In many restaurants in Spain, there is a “Menu Del Dia” or Menu of the Day. These are used to attract workers who are free for lunchtime, allowing them to eat something large for a cheap price. These are also great for tourists with not a lot of money, like me.

There, I had paella in my first dish, expecting a Tapas-ish size of plate. It turned out to be massive. I was so shocked by how much food I was getting, that I had to double check that it was 11 euros. Paranoia kicked in. The paella had chicken and chorizo and I think I can safely say that chorizo is among my favourite meats. The chicken is still on the bone, which isn’t my cup of tea, but the dish as a whole was nice. And I sat and watched The Simpsons in Spanish. So all was well.

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And so was the second dish. A humongous tortilla de patatas, a.k.a. Spanish omelette with potatoes. By the time I finished it, I was completely full, but only eating for the sake of getting my money’s worth. You know what the old saying is, there’s always room for ice cream.

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Chocolate ice cream and a free beer would do the trick. I left in a zen-like state. I checked out parts of the beach in between dodging some bad weather, and came back to a familiar group in the courtyard at the hostel. There were some new faces, but some that I had met already. And even more Australians.

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It’s difficult to remember particular moments from the night if I’m completely honest. The only thing I can completely remember is recreating the life scene from Dirty Dancing. I weigh less than ten stone, so you could probably tell who I was playing. We hung out at the same place as the night before, the steps at the church. It’s worth mentioning that it’s illegal to drink in the streets of Spain, but the police really don’t care. As long as you aren’t being too crazy, they will leave you alone.

And there’s a guy with the same name as me. That’s cool.

BUDGETING:
Groceries: 7 euros.
Dinner: 11 euros.
Gifts: 5 euros.

Breakfast: Apple, biscuits. Lunch: Spanish omelette, paella, ice cream. Dinner: Homemade pasta with chorizo.

June 26

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