Hasta luego Sevilla – hola Los Corrales and las chicas locas

I have so much to write but I am using the internet at what seems to be a public school program so it will be short, hopefully to be expanded up later. My last night in Sevilla proved to be a pretty wild one! I met 2 women at the hostel, one from Turkey and one from Denmark. The turkish woman is an interior designer and just wide open…definitely not modest! The Dane is a student studying Spanish intensely until December. We went for tapas and beers, and eventually met 3 geologists from somewhere in the north who are working on a dam project in Sevilla. They were out celebrating one of their birthdays (the youngest, who looked exactly like Ashton Kutcher and I totally wish I had a picture). We were hanging out in the street by the bar when the police came and almost gave everyone a ticket! I had thought it was OK to walk around with alcohol, but I found out its actually not allowed…sometimes. A grey issue, they say. So one of the geologists, Pedro, had just spent his August vacation hiking in Wyoming and did his best to convince me that the north of Spain is the prettiest (at least the greenest) and that I should visit there! He has a sister in college there, and we met up with some of her friends and ended up in a club until 6am. A side note on that is that her friends gave me tremendous amounts of crap for the Minutemen. They were laughing and pretending to shoot immigrants. I desperately tried to explain that it was only a few stupid old men but they were pretty skeptical. This is the first time I really been given a hard time, not personally, of course. I have many more thoughts on what Ive learned and observed here but they must wait.

I barely checked out of my hostel on time, feeling pretty rough! I got some, ummm, breakfast (eggs scrambled with shrimp and fish that looked like worms…it was actually really good), successfully rented my car and managed to drive out of Seville without incident. It is probably good I was hungover or I would have been much more nervous, as driving in Spanish cities is crazy! My car, a Ka, is so tiny that I have to use 5th gear at about 35mph. Which is good for the tiny roads in these towns. But the down side is at 120 kph (the speed limit on the highway), it struggles!

So I drove out of town, intending to go to the beach. But through a series of random decisions, I ended up in Los Corrales, a small olive growing town of 4-5000 in Andlucia. I stumbled upon a hotel that is just beautiful (http://www.turismoruralanareverte.com/Galeria.htm). It is owned by a famous singer (http://www.anareverte.com/inicio.htm) and the women working there took me out on the town. They are so fun and crazy – I love them! Most moved here for quality of life from other parts of Spain, plus one latina from Bolivia. Collectively, they know only a little english, but we got along just fine (with the help of my dictionario electronica and expanding vocabulary). We drank late into the night and danced…I was delighted to know that somewhere else in the world amigas dance and do theatrical Karaoke the radio after a few drinks!

They tried to teach me to dance flamenco (failure) and invited me to stay another day. So I did. Today I slept LATE, had my laundry done, had a delicious lunch with a few of them, took a nap, and now I am here. Later we will meet for tapas but it will be early night, we all promised. I plan to leave early-ish in the morning for the coast. To the left is a picture of my fabulous (25 euro/night) room. The biggest I’ll enjoy for a long while…

I cannot believe I have been here only a week (the apostrophe doesnt work the same so I’ll skip it sometimes) It seems like forever ago. I was worried about time passing too fast but the days are so rich that I dont think I will feel cheated! OK, time to give up the computer. ¡Hasta luego!

Sevilla (or Siesta – yes, bull fight – no)

Let me start by saying that I am having fun! Lots of fun, actually. I realize that my previous posts were all business and no fun details. So I am thoroughly enjoying my trip, despite the routine ups and downs. I’ve found myself subtly adjusting my pace and expectations, which seems like a normal process for someone who usually has her 2 week vacation 90% researched and scheduled for maximum efficiency.

I also quickly reached my saturation point for touring museums, cathedrals and the like. So for the most part, I’ve spent my days walking (and walking and walking), eating, drinking, resting, window shopping and generally soaking up the scene.
On the advice of someone I met in the Madrid hostel, I took an overnight bus Saturday from Madrid to Sevilla. I will try to avoid this in the future, as I didn’t get good sleep and also missed the scenery. It is a good way to economize time though. So I arrived at 7am on Sunday and there was nothing open except a few places selling bread and coffee. The local bus (to my hostel) didn’t run until ?? hours later (welcome to Spain, everyone told me, we don’t know exactly when they’ll start!) so an old woman sized me up and recommended I walk. I decided to wait until it got light so I had more ham and bread for breakfast at the bus station – I am now officially done with ham and bread for at least a week. An interesting tidbit is that, for either geographic or technical reasons, it’s dark in Spain until 8am. As in pitch-black dark. When the bus pulled in, there were still people on their way home! So arriving in Sevilla was challenging, although the bus was on time, clean and cheap. Thankfully things went up hill from there.

Seville is still quite warm – possibly the hottest place in Spain – and they definitely take things easy here. Pretty much everywhere but El Corte Ingles (the Wal-Mart of Spain) and the asian-run kiosks still take siesta. Today I was hustled out of the grocery while buying my lunch fixings because it was 2pm – time to close. Stores re-open at 5pm.

I bought some bread, cheese, salami (does not count as ham!) and – check this out in the picture- a juice box of red wine for my lunch, which I took in a park behind the Alcazar (palace built in moorish style). That wine came 3 to a pack and costs .97 euro…yeah baby!

It has been fairly cheap to eat and drink. The house wine is always tasty and I’m totally hooked on the way they make Tinto de Verano here. Generally, it’s red wine mixed with soda water, which is refreshing during the day. But most places in Sevilla mix it with a type of citrus soda so it’s sweet, like a wine cooler. It’s different than sangria, which is also tasty and inexpensive.
The tapas are also good, although I have not been particularly adventurous. I learned that the bull tail is actually a delicacy and can be a bull that was killed in a bullfight (a topic I wont go into but suffice to say that the 2 groups I talked to who went last night both left after about 15 minutes). Anyway, the wildest thing to me is the big leg-o-pig sitting on the bar that the server slices thin slices of ham from, right in front of you. Many places have their extra legs just hanging around off the ceiling.
In both Sevilla and Madrid I’ve enjoyed the excellent paseos – the evening tradition where everyone in town strolls on certain streets, window shops, grabs a bit to eat or drink or an ice cream. After walking all day, I’ll doubt my ability to walk any more, but somehow find myself returning after a 3 hour stroll.

The hostels have both been very nice. I’m on the older end of the age spectrum but everyone is quite social and nice. Last night they hosted a paella party on the rooftop and tonight there was a tapas tour. Tomorrow we see a flamenco show. It’s pretty easy to meet people to chat with and grab a bit to eat, but most of my touring I’ve done alone, which has been alright. It would be nice to share my thoughts with someone occasionally, of course. There were bars in both hostels, although the one in Madrid was definitely more of a party-pickup scene. Here in Sevilla, it’s primarily people sharing experiences. Believe it or not, I haven’t been truly intoxicated since I got here! I just end my day happily relaxed, full of wine and tapas. This morning I slept until 9am without stirring, as did my entire room (8 people total).

My spanish is definitely coming back, at least the vocabulary and the cadence. I plan to buy a primer because my verb conjugation is the next thing I want to tackle. Tonight I befriended a bartender at one of the tapas bar (he loves Texans) and he spoke so slowly to me that I actually understood 95% of what he said. I do recall when I was in Costa Rica years ago that my Spanish improved after my second drink, ha!

At any rate, I decided to buy a rather fancy electronic dictionary because a) it’s smaller than all the dictionaries I found, plus it has 12 languages, covering all the countrieds I expect to visit. So I’ve walked around typing words I see into it. Of course, many are idiomatic, especially the food and shops, but I still find it helpful. However, it doesn’t conjugate verbs.

So I have one more day in Seville and then I plan to hire a car to visit some small towns and hit the beach for a day or two. The bartender I met told me about his favorite beach (Bolognia?), which is deserted and near some Roman ruins. It has no rooms, so you stay in Tarifa, which was high on my list anyway. I need to get out of the city. I feel a bit apprehensive about driving, but at least they drive on the right side! My guide book (which has been spot on – Rick Steves) says the rural areas are supposed to be managable, even pleasant. There are 2 national parks in the area also, and I look forward to doing some hiking.

pray for the dollar (the USD and my own)


I try not to think about the conversion rate because I’ve set my budget (in euros out of necessity). I cannot really cut much more out of it anyway! But seeing the USD price on my ATM and credit cards is a bit painful.

Speaking of ATM, the fee is outrageous from Bank of America. $5USD for a withdrawal. Plus the bank in Madrid charged a fee of about 2.50euro, which I was not warned about. So I paid almost $9 to withdraw about $400. Ouch – UFCU must be better! I’ve found many places will not accept the card for the 20-50 euros I want to charge (I’m just living, not shopping). This means I need a fair amount of cash so I am faced with the unpalatable choices of a) making frequent but small withdrawals and paying lots of fees or b) making infrequent but large withdrawals and carrying lots of cash. The paltry 300 euro I carried around earlier this week burned in my pockets (despite the money belt) so I think I will end up paying the fees for peace of mind…we shall see.

On another money topic, my Discover card was stolen – IN THE US! They emailed me saying to call them immediately. I grudgingly did so, only to learn that my card was used for almost $2000 worth of purchases at grocery and drug stores in Maryland. I find it odd that they have the physical card, not just the numbers. I suspect they got my replacement card (the current one expires in November) but that means they snagged it from the mail, which is bad if they get caught. I used my card the night before I left and believe I stashed it safely at a friends (I didnt bring it to Europe)…unless I was pickpocketed at Fado, which is possible! Anyway, the purchases were obviously out of character and their fraud detection center did a commendable job. The card is cancelled and another one is being sent to my parents (thanks mom!). I face some minor hassles regarding my auto-debits, but much better than paying for someone elses junk!

¡Hola de Madrid!

I made it to Madrid without incident. The flight went by much more quickly than I expected and after a 2 hour siesta, I feel like I will at least make it until midnight tonight. Sadly, this will not come close to matching the rest of Madrid, where one of my dormmates tells me they really do party until the sun comes up.So far, the biggest challenge has been language, which is no surprise. I´ve hauled my overstuffed bag, got ripped off on my first currency conversion (thankfully only $100), took the 3 required metro stops to my hostel, and have bought a few random things without much trouble. But my ¨listening¨skills are not nearly as good as my speaking skills, so I can already tell the language difference will be an issue. One problem with knowing enough to ask standard questions with a semi-legit accent is that the answers come flying back at warp speed! Anyway, I am aggressively seeking out a more comprehensive english-spanish dictionary that is still travel sized (the one I brought isn´t comprehensive enough) so I can look up all the new words I can´t extrapolate the meaning of. So fingers crossed the immersion will help my vocabulary improve quickly. It´s been frustrating to see words I knew when I visited Argentina but can´t quite put my finger on the meaning. I had to give myself a pep talk after the shopping excursion, reminding myself that I won´t learn new words if I don´t use them. I need to get over my fear of looking like a tourist (which I soooo obviously am) and bust out my dictionary anytime I see or need a new word.

I was able to successfully help an older couple who live near Madrid while in the Newark airport! They didn´t speak much English and were trying to use a pay phone. Well, I couldn´t help them figure out the pay phone (it´s been so long…:-) but I was able to communicate easily with them and ultimately loaned them my phone. They gave me their number in case I get into trouble, which I gratefully accepted.

At any rate, I decided that for today I´ll just ease in, as I am still quite brain tired and I´ll be back through Madrid on the way home. So I reorganized everything for living (versus transport), shopped for a few things and ate. Tomorrow I´ll do the Prado (famous art museum), walk the tourist circuit and hopefully find someone to eat tapas with. I´m ashamed to admit that today I ate primarily jamon y queso (ham and cheese). I suppose I am craving simple comfort food. Then again, perhaps I shouldn´t be ashamed as hams and cheeses are both huge here. There is even a chain restaurant called Museo de Jamon (museum of ham)! I bought a snack from an artisan shop with ham shanks hanging everywhere and about 15 types of ham tostadas (thin sandwiches with the crust cut off…kid style). Oh and I just had a huge helado (ice cream). The helado here seems to be similar to Argentina – more creamy like gelato. Tomorrow I´ll feel more adventurous, I´m sure. But probably not adventurous enough to try baby squid in it´s own ink…

A quick technical note: you have to be registered user of blogger or google to post comments. I apologize for that inconvenience, but this blog is open to anyone (for now) and I don´t want a bunch of nasty spam comments.