¡Me encanta Granada!

Granada is really special. If you’ve been there, you know. I was sick the entire time I was there with a nasty cold. And while I was sad to be sick in such a beautiful city, I was glad to be sick there because I wouldn’t have enjoyed anywhere else in the condition I was in!

The city is at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, a physically beautiful spot. Architecturally, it has a very strong Moorish influence. The location has been inhabited since humans first lived in cities and eventually became an extremely important center for trade. Granada is commonly referred to as the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain but was always a multi-cultural city. For generations, the Moors, Jews & Christians co-existed in the city (some times more peacefully than others). But in 1492, same year as Columbus set sail for the new world, the last Moorish leader surrendered control of Granada to Isabel & Ferdinand. The Jews were immediately expelled from the city and the Muslims were forceably converted to Christianity. Of course, I am no historian and I cannot do the history justice. The point is that the Moorish influence is everywhere. Their structures were both beautiful and functional. At a time when most of Europe was mired in the dark ages, soaking in their own sewage, Granada had sewers and canals to control the water.
There is an obvious arab influence to the food, which was just dandy for me. Except for some tapas, I had ethnic food at every meal. I enjoyed huge, cheap (2.50euro) falafel wraps most days, Indian curries, even sushi (I hoped the wasabi would clear out my head…nope).

My hostel (Funky Backpackers, baby!) was in an excellent location (by Plaza Nuevo) and I lucked out having a room with only 3 single beds (in a hostel, the fewer people in your room, the less chance there is that someone will saw logs all night. In this case, ironically, it was me who snored…). It was easy to meet people and I went on a walking tour of the city my first morning. A group of us planned to hit the beach one day (1.5 hours by bus, over the mountains) but the bad storms they had wrecked the beaches for a bit.

So I did a lot of wandering in El Albayzín and a lot of eating and window shopping. For 2 days, I was pretty sick and it’s all I could really manage. There are fun shops at every turn, selling colorful goods from Morocco, Turkey, India, Nepal. I found the prices quite good, although I resisted buying things because i plan to head to Turkey myself. Plus my bag is way too small to lug a bunch of souveneirs. The streets are very steep – sometimes they turn from roads into steps – and narrow. There are a lot of buskers (street performers) and college students (Univ of Granada is very popular for Study Abroad) and some Roma and a smattering of colorful hippies who often live in the caves above the city and of course lots of tourists. It makes for some excellent people watching!

I also enjoyed an Arab bath – it was the cleanest I’d felt in about 2 weeks. There were 3 pools (one hot, one cold and one tepid). You showered before getting in, then just soaked yourself silly, bouncing between the pools and sipping sweet mint tea.

On Wednesday, I had my ticket to the Alhambra. It gets it’s own post. Thursday, an awesomely positive Scottish woman named Gillian and I went to Sacromonte, the Roma (gypsy) neighborhood, to an open-air museum high on the hill, where we learned how people did (and still do) live in caves. We really enjoyed the museum because it also addressed the natural history of the area. She had come from England where she taught English in the summers to visitors from across Europe. She is contemplating getting a job teaching English in Spain for the winter. I really do envy people from the EU – they can move to a different country the way we move to a different state. Obviously there are language barriers, but employment is possible without all the crazy visa hassles.

There is more I could write about Granada, but I’ll summarise by saying that I am pretty sure I’ll be back (hopefully with a lover since it is a very romantic city! 😉

¡Me gusta Tarifa!

Friday night, I rolled into Tarifa about 7pm. Tarifa is a mellow hippie beach town at the very tip of Spain, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet: It is just across the Straights of Gibraltar from Africa and the influence can be felt. You can see Morocco on a clear day, but it was hazy both days I was there and I barely made out the continent. Tarifa is blissfully high-rise free, which cannot be said of Malaga, etc (avoid avoid avoid). It is **very** windy and lots of wind and kite surfers go there. There are wind turbines everywhere. I had to pay for a double room because everything was very booked up (the next night I was able to move to a single in the same hotel). That night, around the corner from my hotel, there was a free festival put on by a local ecological and sustainable living coalition. They had free food (like couscous and other veggie options, which I jumped on after all that jamon!), local musicians and cheap sangria. It was quite nice.

Saturday, I went to the beach and also drove to some nearby towns. There are some very well preserved Roman ruins right on the beach (Bologna) where a town grew around the important fish salting industry. I could totally imagine living there. I stopped for the sunset at a shack on the beach where the ancient, mostly toothless owner (Jose Antonio – El Capitan – picture coming) befriended me. He sold me the hugest plate of tuna, which I really enjoyed (I forgot to ask for a half portion and the full portions are ridiculously sized). Later I gave him a ride to the town (5 miles away) and he tried valiantly to convince me to have a drink with him…but, uh, I insisted no. He was harmless but a bit persistant!

I decided to skip Gibralter since it sounded like lots of hassle for little payoff. Plus I hear they wont even stamp your passport, ha! I also skipped Morocco this time because I want to go to the interior, not just Tangiers (like Tijuana), and I really dont want to deal with it alone.

So Sunday, I slept late then returned to Sevilla with the car, stopping at yet another of the White Towns called Vejer de la Fontera. I also intended to stop in Jerez de la Fontera, where they make Sherry and were having a festival, but I hit a wall. I had seen too towns and just wanted to get back to Sevilla. Through some miracle of the Universe, I successfully found the rental car place again and took a cab to the same hostal I had stayed at earlier in the week. I told the driver my destination with a convincing enough accent that he began spewing Spanish at me. Yay but also a bit embarrassing when I had no clue what he said!

That night, I shared a paseo and tasty Italian meal with my new friend Pedro, the geologist. His English is very good so he was able to answer my laundry list of questions on the geography and culture of Andalusia. After our evening, I am about convinced I should do a tour in Turkey (versus tackle it solo). When I travel, I tend to have so many questions and it is almost impossible to get in-depth answers from someone who doesn’t speak good English. I think Turkey has enough history and unique geography and culture that I will get more out of it with some kind of expert guide.

As for me and Peter, except for technical discussions, we actually spoke in Spanish the whole night (albeit entirely in the present tense)! He is very patient and also able to understand the random english words I dropped, so the conversation flowed smoothly. Honestly, this was a relief after days of “stop and think” chatting. At the end of the night, he pronounced that I do indeed speak Spanish (¡Gracias Pedro!) and prescribed a two-tiered program of studying my verb conjugations (hmmmm, still need that workbook…) and reading novellas for vocabulary. I think these are very good suggestions and I will get right on them!

This morning (Monday), I took an rowdy 3 hour bus ride to Granada (lots of old deaf Spanish women…seriously, it sounded like a freaking nightclub on the bus). I found my hostal (Funky Backpackers), had a shower and a drink and am about to explore the paseo scene here. I love the paseo (evening stroll) and think we should import it, along with siesta. But more on that later.

La Ruta de Los Pueblos Blancos

My second night in Los Corrales was spent at the cafe counter where one of the women I met worked. I had ice cream and tea, eventually transitioning into a few cervezas, including one called Desperado (ha) that had a tequila flavor. I had to try it (not bad) as it was the first time Ive had the option to drink a beer that isnt Cruzcampo (very light). People from the town came and went all night. Sweet Angeles introduced me to each one and we chatted. It was very mellow and again, good practice. I got a good nights sleep and headed out in the late morning. I want to add that my room was only 25 euro a night. Lodging in Spain can be quite cheap for a simple room. I prefer hostals in cities for the companionship but in smaller towns, I soaked in a bit of privacy by choosing a single room.

Overnight there had been a tremendous storm. There seems to be mostly limestone there so the roads had been severely flooded. All day I ran across big machines moving earth off the roads. Honestly, a lot of Andalusia reminds me of the Hill Country of Texas, with scrubby tress and the very dry soils and limestone outcroppings. Plus olive trees everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.

So that day (Friday), enroute to the coast, I drove through a couple of towns on La Ruta de Pueblos Blancos (the route of the white towns). These are whitewashed villages and towns that probably represent a lot of peoples image of Spain. I had lunch in Rhonda, which is a rather large town high, high up on a hill where there is an insane bridge spanning a gorge. Lots of tourists but very worth it. Driving in these towns was pretty intense since the streets are ancient and narrow cobblestone lanes with traffic flowing both ways. And often they require stopping on steep hills so I am very glad I learned to drive standard in the mountains!

In Europe, they primarily of traffic circles to change roads (versus a left turn or merge or cloverleaf here). They take some serious getting used to — and it the busier places, some serious balls. People change lanes randomly and you have to whip your head around while looking for the sign of your hopeful direction. With the driving, I do wish I had a companion to play navigator. It would have been much easier, although I managed just fine in the end.

ps Here is a picture of my car:

la machina no sabe (or the machine doesnt know)

OK, so I bought that fancy electronic dictionary, right? Overall it has definitely been useful. But there seem to be a lot of idiomatic sayings or ways of using words here and often it just doesnt know. Especially pertaining to food and shopping. Sometimes it offers suggestions or phrases. Other times it will just say “Sorry, can´t help”. So my new friends in Los Corrales and I had quite a few laughs at how the machine tried to “correct” my request for a word. I taught them how to use it so they spent quite a bit of time typing in spanish words to look at the english equivalent. The phrase “la machina no sabe” was frequently uttered.

Getting out of the cities and out of the hostels (where English is the dominant language) for a while has done wonders for my comfort level just conversing with average people. I don´t know that I´ve learned a lot of new words, although alguiler (to rent) is certainly one, as I´ve had to explain that I have a rental car many many times. But since heading into the countryside, I´ve found myself interacting much more comfortably with people. I am less likely to walk by a place because I have a question about it and I am more likely to strike up a conversation. I have also run into several people vacationing and taking spanish language classes, all of whom are eager to talk. Of course we speak slowly to each other, which is wonderful! The older people seem to speak more slowly as well. I briefly considered staying for a week somewhere and taking a language class, but decided that isn´t really my goal this trip…just a side benefit.

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.


Oregon is beautiful. I’ve been here for 5 days now and it’s more geographically diverse than I realized. Yes there are lots of big beautiful trees – in fact, driving on country roads at dusk, I feel like Little Red Riding Hood barreling through the forest! There are also lots and lots of UGLY clearcuts, at least in the northwest corner of the state. The logging is insane and sad.

But back to the beautiful things – there are beautiful mountians and rivers (my favorite). The coast is just crazy-pretty, almost unapproachable. You have to rewire yourself for “beach” when you come from the southeast/TX, where you can swim half the year. The Pacific is cold, wetsuit cold, so I wandered down the beach in pants and a parka. In fact, the coast was thoroughly socked in the first few hours I was on it, I was forced to wear every ounce of warm clothing I’d brought. But both my friends have settled just west of the Cascades in high desert places they claim are sunny much of the year (Sisters & Ashland). Coming over the mountian pass, you can feel the air change from the moist coastal air to dry, desert air. I think I like the moist air. At least right now. It made my skin soft and my nose clear.

I am still getting a feel for the scene out here but I like the vibe so far. There is some edgeiness to the folks out here – lots of environmental non-profits and people who are passionate about their causes. Of course, I may have a skewed view, given the company I keep and the towns they would choose! Still, it definitely has a different feel than the southeast and from Austin, although I can’t articulate why yet.