Santiago-going-gone…

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - San Sebastian, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 25-04-2010

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[Note – pix to follow – USB cable in checked baggage… doht]

Currently on an 11 hour train ride from Santiago de Compostela, along the north coast of Spain towards the final city this trip: San Sebastian.

Had a pretty fantastic week in Santiago though… The weather was nasty a few days which I took to lock myself indoors and catch up on work, but luckily the nice ones overlapped with Chris’ days off so we got to wander the city by day and go out at night.

Santiago’s centred around this massive stunning cathedral in the centre of town that’s unlike any other ones I’ve seen – it’s stone, but instead of looking carved from the earth, it looks like it’s of the earth itself. This cathedral is the final destination for a 30-40 day, 100km+ pilgrimage across Spain, so there’s a constant stream of eccentric and well worn travellers wandering into and trough town – my favourite was the surfer dude walking along with his donkey carrying his packs along a busy street.

The town is a university town, so there’s a huge young chunk of the population here to get educated and party, and it lent itself to a really neat nightlife in the old town. All of these tight mazes of streets come alive at night, and you find at least one bar on pretty much every block. The bars are small, and with that many people out, people just pour out into the street with their drinks chatting and being merry. The density and intensity of the partying was kind of unlike anywhere else I’d been – such a great and accessible nightlife that just lets you wander from bar to bar to bar popping into the ones that sound fun or that ya like the look of the crowd in the street our front.

During the day the old town’s windy roads made for good wandering, lunching, snacking and shopping. At one point we somehow ended up trapped and thought we could cut through a building under construction to get out the other side. No one stopped us from going in, so we just started wandering through this ancient giant building. Of course, even though we’re both normally pretty good with directions, we got even more lost than we started. After finding our way out of the maze of classrooms and halls and strangeness in the basement, we got back to the front desk, where the attendant who should have told us not to come in had returned from her break. We explained we were lost, and needed to find an exit and she laughed and started leading us down a hall and explained that the building was the second largest monastery in Santiago and is being renovated. She turned to go back to work and said the exit was straight ahead, but we couldn’t find it… ended up going even deeper into the monastery to a private square with a fountain, residential quarters and maintained gardens. We finally ended up having to pick a lock on a giant 30ft tall wooden door to escape. Interesting wander that it’s unlikely most people get the chance to see.

Otherwise, a pretty standard week… we both worked, wandered when we had the chance, ate together when we had the chance, and just continued loving the relaxed pace here and the feeling of getting two days in one… “I love it here” was repeated more than a few times 😛

Heard good things about San Sebastian, and looking forward to exploring it and maybe even getting some beach time if the weather holds (fingers crossed)…

Ciao!

Iceland is an ash-hole

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Valencia | Posted on 19-04-2010

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So, shortly after my last post was written, our bus arrived in Allicante… cab to the airport… check-in… pass through security… lunch… Everything was going super smoothly, up to the point we walked to our gate and as we were supposed to start boarding, the info screen switched our flight to match everything else on the board – a big red blinking CANCELLED. Thought we’d be clear in the south of spain, but guess they weren’t kidding when they said all of Europe was grounded due to Iceland’s spewing volcanic ash cloud.

As we were flying Ryanair (aka: ghetto airlines), there was no one on hand to help us, so the guy I was travelling with and I looked at the confused throng of fellow passengers, and just exchanged a look that we had to get something together as we had 1100km to cover. A quick call to Chris, then thankfully J had a USB internet key: train schedule = 10h @ 275euro, bus schedule = 15h overnight @ 75euro… Expedia car rental? 100 euro, no one way dropoff fee, and zero km charge = bingo. 15 minutes after the cancellation, we walked past the angry mob at the Ryanair desk, out to the car rental area, and past the lineup with our freshly acquired reservation number.

Few minutes later we were packed tight into our Toyota IQ (smaller than a smartcar) and rollin out on our impromptu road trip! 1100km of impeccable spanish highways [seriously – unexpectedly better than any canadian/american hwys], junkfood, wonderfully lighthearted road chatter, castles perched along roadside bluffs, toll booths, small villages behind ancient walls, and bipolar weather that would switch from sun to wall of flash-flood waterfall rain and back to sun again every 10 minutes. Avg milage = 6.8L/100km, avg spd = 120km = vroom! Rolled in around 130am just in time to meet the rest of the tour who’s charter flight wasn’t cancelled…

Fingers crossed that the volcano chills out a bit before it’s time to roll home in a couple weeks, and in the meantime it’s a strange feeling to know that you’re stuck on a continent (albeit, t’is a rather fine place to be stuck)…

Back in spain…

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Valencia | Posted on 18-04-2010

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Currently on a bus from Valencia to Alicante to catch a plane to Santiago de Compostela. Been back in Spain for a few days now, and am falling back into the rhythm I so fell in love with in Barcelona back at NYE.

Travelled from Tuesday morning and arrived Wednesday afternoon (very luckily the day before the whole volcano plume ash cloud madness grounded flights in all of northern europe!) In the battle against jetlag, I forced myself to stay awake until Chris got home from work around midnight. Grabbed some groceries, settled into hotel, and went for a nice walk along the old riverbed park that runs through the whole of Valencia – after a flood back in the 70s they rerouted the river around the city and converted what used to be the city centre into a brilliant series of sports fields, walking paths, and siesta knolls.

We slept in till 2ish on Thursday, and then went out in search of lunch and had a fantastic day wandering the little streets of Valencia. Beautiful old city surrounded by ancient gates, marble streets and sidewalks, and the constantly shifting perfumes of budding spring flowers coming from all directions. Lunch, coffee, more wandering, siesta, and then back out around 10 for a fabulous dinner and bottle of wine before sleep around 2.

Friday, my travel caught up with me, so after some morning work and a wander for lunch through the old city, I came back to my room and just chilled out and read (Hippopotomus by Stephen Fry — a cheeky book!) until Chris got back from work around 11. He chilled out for a bit, and then we rolled out to a staff party around 1:30… great food, open bar, plush couches and as always interesting conversation kept us there until just after 4 when it was time to head home.

Woke up around 1 on Saturday, worked for a while, and then grabbed one of the loaner bikes the hotel had on offer and went out on a mission to see a few of the interesting buildings I’d wanted to check out in Valencia. All I had to do was leave the hotel, ride into the riverbed park, and head to the end. Of course, I managed to turn the wrong way and instead of ending up at the beach ended up in a nature reserve north of the city. Turned out rather well though, as I just traversed some residential neighbourhoods until I rolled into the old city where I ran into some friendly faces on a patio and joined them for a drink and some ice cream. Rode the bike back to the hotel, and headed over to the venue for dinner with Chris before returning to the hotel to pack and crash out early to catch this bus.

The rhythm here feels really natural to me – wake up late, work, nap in the late afternoon, go dinner for a couple hours around 9 or 10, nightlife is fantastic and doesn’t start picking up till 2, and then fall asleep as the birds start to sing… It’s the natural rhythm I’ve always fought against back home, since it’s nearly impossible to get food out after 10 in Vancouver and people scoff at you if you sleep until noon, and napping is a sign of weakness to be countered with caffiene. It’s surreal to wander around on a sunny afternoon and see every single grassy space full of people just laying out having a nap, snuggling with friends and loved ones, picnicking a snack… I wish people back home were confident enough to allow themselves to relax and enjoy life as much as the Spanish.

I was thinking about the difference between Italy and Spain, and as much as I loved the food and drink and style in Italy, I feel more comfortable in Spain… It’s just more relaxed. It’s like Spain is a well lived in and warmly worn kitchen where friends sit around a table after a good meal drinking wine and laughing late into the night, whereas Italy is a grandparent’s livingroom where the couch has a plastic cover on it – it’s old and elegant, and holds the promise of a comfortable place to relax, but is more about looks than being lived in, and the old-timers will tut-tut you for insinuating that it is anything but. Not that Italy wasn’t a fantastic place to spend a month, but it was shiny synthetic fabrics, where Spain is a lot more organics, and to me feels a lot more relaxed and comfortable.

Two weeks more of Spain to come, and I’m rather looking forward to it…

Seat selection

Posted by jswt | Posted in General | Posted on 12-04-2010

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Picking my seats for my flight to Spain tomorrow, and this scrolls through the datasphere… Life as RSS feed 😛