Seville: Bebimos las Sangria Y Nos Perdemos

labyrinthine adj. intricate and confusing, of an irregular and twisting location

Sleeping in an airport always sounds so much easier than it actually is and for as often as I’ve done it, you would think I would know that by now.  But after four hours on the cold concrete floor of Stansted airport, wrapped in my collapsed orange tube of a tent, only one of which I spent actually in any form of what you might call sleep, I got up for my flight almost worse for wear then when I laid down.  While I still had almost four hours until my flight, the bustling of the RyanAir baggage check made any further attempts at sleep impossible, which my hip bones, already bruised from settling on the hard ground, did not really complain about.  After checking my bag and witnessing my first display of French rudeness toward a poor girl in line in front of me, I moved through security and into the gate area.  Unfortunately, UK flights are not like US ones that announce your gate right away.  Instead, you get to find out your gate right as boarding begins and thus gets to join a frenzied mob of people storming the gates hoping to catch their flight before it takes off.  By the time I finally pushed my way to my gate, I was already agitated.  Nothing has the ability to fill up my tolerance meter so fast as airports.  To clarify, I love travel but I hate the actual process of traveling.  Then to make matter worse, once we were in line to board the plane some young guy had the audacity to try to cut the queue.  Rather than confront him, I stared passive aggressively, suddenly realizing just how British I was becoming. 

I wish I could say the process got better beyond that but that would be a lie bolder than the disgustingly eye assaulting yellow and blue interior of the RyanAir flight.  After a fairly short flight, I landed in Madrid five fours before my mother was set to arrive.  I don’t know about you guys, but the first thing I want to do when I land in a foreign country is definitely not wait five more hours in the airport. To pass the time, I attempted to get a bit more sleep. While I had slept for short periods of time throughout my travels, the short bursts were far from enough to leave me with any rejuvenating feeling, especially after my considerable lack of sleep at the end of term. My mother may have been the one actually coming in jet lagged, but I wasn’t very far behind.  Thus, in the deserted baggage claim terminal, I curled up on top of pack and went to sleep. It’s a bit unnerving to go to sleep in an empty terminal to wake up surrounded by people staring and pointing at the girl with greasy hair, muddy hiking boots, and a pack with everything but the kitchen sink in it.  But my experience in travel has forced me to lose the ability to care about strangers think.  

I gave up sleep with three hours to go and sat reading for a while. With about an hour left until my mother’s flight arrived, I set off to find her baggage claim, as her flight was landing in the next terminal down from mine. It was at about this point that I began to worry A) that I wouldn’t be able to get into another baggage game claim after exiting the customs of my own, B) my mother would panic if I weren’t there to meet here where we had agreed, and C) that she had even made it here it all.  In regard to the first worry, thankfully all airport personnel seem to be just as incompetent as American ones and I was able to sneak into the baggage claim amidst a crowd of exiting people.  A short while later, my other concerns were dispelled as my mother came trudging out of the passport control area, looking significantly less exciting than I had for some reason pictured in my head.  Turns out, the last leg of her journey from Amsterdam to Madrid had not been kind on her motion sickness and she had spent the last flight with her head in a barf bag. Suddenly, my own discomforts seemed much more trivial.  But she had made it.  She had navigated foreign airports all on her own and for the first time stood on foreign soil.

Yet our struggles were not quite over yet. While we made it safely into Madrid itself from the airport via shuttle, the shuttle stop turned to be a great distance from our hostel. While two miles is not much for one who intends on doing nothing but hiking day in and day out for months at a time, for two people exhausted from travel, starving, and unaccustomed to carrying 30 lb. packs, it was a miserable distance. By the time we finally reached our hostel, we were practically dragging ourselves. The Way Hostel greeted us with bright neon colored maze-like hallways and a room with about ten other people relaxing in the bunks.  Neither of us in much mood for being social. We threw our packs (with perhaps a bit too much animosity toward an inanimate object) into the bunkhouse lockers and set off on a search for food, albeit a rather quick one.  We were lucky to find a very quaint little restaurant just a couple streets away where we shared a salmon salad and a salmon avocado tartar (which was incredible). They also served us water in these incredibly pretty blue glass bottles, so what did we do? Took one of course.  It wouldn’t be an adventure with my mother if we didn’t repossess (steal is such an ugly word) some sort of pretty antique item, despite the fact that neither of us had any spare room to carry it. I drew the short straw.

Our night at the hostel was less than restful as we both curled up to sleep in the busy bunkhouse at about 9pm with the light still on and inconsiderate strangers making a a great deal of racket which lasted through the night.  Welcome to hostel life… for the next month and a half.  Yet both of us were so exhausted that not even the rude racket of our bunkmates could keep us from sleeping the greater part of 12 hours and we woke up ready to move on and leave the Way Hostel way behind us (ignore me, I think I’m far more clever than I am).  Our last stop was for breakfast at a cafe that would make most vegetarians cringe from all the curing pork hanging from the ceilings.  Thankfully I am not most vegetarians and make this lifestyle choice for health reasons not animal rights ones and thus we were able to have one of best breakfasts I have ever had- a greasy plate of scalloped potatoes topped with eggs and, in my mom’s case, ham.  Plus a cup of coffee so strong it almost made you cringe.  In other words, the perfect kind.

The train from Madrid to Seville ran about 2.5 hours and despite the high speeds reaching up to 250km/hr, we were able to see some lovely country along the way, mostly farms of orange and olive trees.  I was squirming in my seat by the time we reached Seville.  Four years ago nearly to the day, I was in Seville on a class trip through Spain and Portugal and it was there I fell in love with travel.  In the four years since, I have had the most amazing opportunities to see and do so many things but none of that would have happened had Seville not influenced me so much.  I owe much of my life philosophy to that beautiful city and thus, of all places, I wanted to take my mother there.  This time, however, I had several days rather than just several hours to see it.

Yet as all good things in life, it was prefaced by a bit of struggle. If I had to name a theme for my travels and this blog, it would be that.  Before starting this journey, I mapped out and photographed every single route from train stations to hostels.  While I am spontaneous I am also nothing if not organized and prepared for most things.   The map from the Seville train station to our hostel led me to believe it would be a simple 15 minute walk.  I should know by now that my life is anything but simple.  Somewhere right along the train station we got twisted around So much that we turned to several people for directions that only ended up confusing us more.  By some miracle, we finally found the street we needed and after a few more directions from strangers (one of whom called me “muy guapa”) the hostel.  The moment we walked into the Pension Catedral, we were already a million times more thrilled than we had been at the previous one.  The lobby of this one was decorated with ornate blue and gold metallic tiles, a common theme in Seville we would discover, and we seemed to be the only ones there.  I was even able to check in entirely in Spanish.  After taking three years of Spanish but rarely ever using it, it feels good to get back in practice and find that I can actually manage here in Spain.  While my Spanish if far from perfect, it does the job and impresses my mother if nothing else.  The hotel clerk let us into our room and we were thrilled to find it was a double, meaning we would not need to deal with any other rude guests, with quaint peach colored walls and a window that opened up into one of the cobblestone back alleys of the Jewish quarter of town.  It was perfect.

We once again threw off our packs as though they carried the plague and set off into town to do some late afternoon exploring.  Food became first priority, which is also a pretty common theme in my life.  Determined to have my mother experience Spanish tapas, I drug her into a little tapas bar which turned out to be quite literally a hole into wall.  The inside of Casa Carlos looked like someone had taken dynamite to mound of concrete and painted what remained white. Unique places like that are always my favorite because unlike many, I am not turned off by the sketchy but rather gravitate toward it.  For dinner, it was two pints of sangria, complete with bendy straws (because nothing says class like a bendy straws), and five different deliciously greasy tapas dishes… For a total of only 15€.  That’s another thing I love about Spain- It’s cheap.  And I can justify just about everything I eat on this trip by the fact that I am walking miles every single day, many of them with a 35 pound pack on my back.  

We rolled out of the restaurant and into the heart of the historic district of Seville, armed with only my camera and a map.  Let me tell you, that map became our best friend because I have NEVER seen such a confusing street layout in my life.  The historical section of Seville is amazing: cobblestone alleys lined with orange trees, the Smell of orange blossom and jasmine permeating the air, narrow streets lined with tall colorful clay buildings, unique little shops, outdoor fruit stands, cathedrals, bustling squares, restaurants with outdoor tables, and just about anything else you can imagine.  But it is also confusing as all hell.  Just about every 20 feet of street collides with three others that all contain similar elements listed above to make a labyrinth worthy of Daedalus himself.  Even the map didn’t always help as its portrayed angles didn’t exactly align with the reality of the streets but nevertheless we would have been lost without it.  

That night, we wandered streets through the misty rain, wet cobble stones glistening off the street lamps, our noses pressed into the map trying to decipher how on earth to get back to the hostel.  We must have walked in circles I don’t know how many times as just about every street led my mother to say, “We passed that before!”  Nothing says déjà vu like the complete helplessness of being lost in a foreign city at night.  Yet I am one to relish in such opportunities and take them not as misfortunes but as adventures in and of themselves.  There is a reason I titled this blog McDaniel MisAdventures. I don’t believe in getting lost.  Even in the mountains, my motto is, “I may not know where I am but I know here I am going.”  My attitude here was much the same, though after a while, not being able to properly follow the map began to feel like an insult to my intelligence and thus i was more annoyed at my own wounded pride than our situation.  But we were finally able to make our way to hostel, collapse in bed, and get a proper night sleep on perhaps the most comfortable mattress ever.

The next morning, we reluctantly crawled out of our warm cozy beds into the chilly air of the hostel, realizing there is reason there provide you with about four heavy blankets for each bed.  After dancing around the cold tile in bare feet, we managed to get dressed and headed off into the city, confident that we wouldn’t get lost again.  Oh how naive we were.  The day actually began great and we navigated toward the main historic landmarks with each.  We passed cute little shops and street performers, more orange trees (which hold the fruit tauntingly just out of reach) and massive trees that appear to be rhododendrons.  One bonus of traveling with my mother is that she is equally as fascinated by plant life as me.  I am quite used to getting eye rolls and disinterested “uh-huhs” when I say things like, “Ooh look at that nice hosta!” My mother, however, also gets just as excited by the huge lantana plants as she does by the ancient buildings they decorate.  The dangers of working in a greenhouse for years I suppose.  

Such were things we noticed as we a took a spur of the moment carriage ride through Maria Luisa Park and past the Spanish Square.  Another demonstration as to to why I love Spain: while stopped in the carriage waiting for traffic, a waitress from a nearby cafe came up and gave us free sample cups of sangria.  Any place that gives you free sangria is right by me.  While the carriage ride was a bit spendy, at least in terms of my usual low budget lifestyle, my mother and I are making a point not to miss out on opportunities for budgetary reasons.  For us, this trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are going to treat it as such.  I can go back to my thrifty ways once I am on my own again.  

After the carriage ride, we entered one of my favorite places in the world- La Catedral de Sevilla, which is odd to say to considering I usually expect the ground to open up and swallow me the minute I step into a church.  Yet I appreciate them as aesthetic marvels.  It was in this cathedral that I experienced the singular gravitational moment four years ago that hooked me travel indefinitely.  As I stood inside the building, I can distinctly remember the gravity of my situation crashing down on me.  I was standing in a building inconceivably older than my entire country.  It even holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus who “discovered America” (at least if history were written by white people which it unfortunately is).  Nevertheless, all of those elements led me to really understand my place in the stream of time and culture and it became an addicting feeling for me.  Returning four years later was no less amazing. 

Fun fact: La Catedral de Sevilla is the third largest church in the world and the largest cathedral.  It’s no wonder you feel incredibly small when you walk inside a cavern with vaulted ceilings 138 ft  in height and support by concrete pillars the size of redwoods.  The double pipe organ that stretches that entire length is impressive alone.  What I would give to hear that thing being played.  The vacuous cavern is lined with various ornate shrine rooms and stained glass around its outer edges, with the pipe organ and the main alter wall constructed entirely of solid gold in the center.  From the inside, you can climb up a 344ft tower and overlook the entire city of Seville, miles and miles of orange, pink, yellow, and white clay buildings.  If possible, the city of Seville is even more beautiful from above.  My mother and I spent probably a good 40 minutes in the tower alone (as signaled by the fact that we were scared to death twice by the ringing of the bells right above our heads) and another hour in the main body of the cathedral.  I was happy to see her just as taken by the place that made such an impact in me so long ago.  

After we finally pulled ourselves away from the cathedral, we stopped briefly at a streetwise cafe for some beers and some complimentary olives then wandered in the direction of the Plaza del Toros, which was surprisingly hard to find considering it’s a giant circular arena in the middle of the city.  Disappointingly, we could not go inside but it was still neat to see.  Then the real challenge came: finding dinner.  For as many restaurants as we had passed the previous night and ever lied that day, do you think we could find a single restaurant to eat in? Not a chance.  It was as if we had entered some alternate reality that functioned entirely under the philosophy of “you’ll find something when you aren’t looking for it.” While I am all for unexpected discoveries, when it comes to food, I want to be able to find food when I need to.  My stomach essentially rules my existence and thus when I get hangry, it isn’t good for anyone.  I’m usually a really laid back traveller, but that night brought out the worst in me as we wandered for over an hour, completely lost and unable to find a single place to eat.  The fact that the temperatures had dropped to an uncomfortable low did not help and thus when we finally found ourselves huddled around a restaurant heat lamp chewing on bread and shellfish soup, it seemed like the best thing in the world, despite our really grouchy server.  In Spain, it is not customary to tip, which is a really unnatural thing for me to do consider I wait tables for a living.  I am used to being perhaps overly kind to serving staff because I know first hand what it is like to be in that position.  Not tipping feel wrong to me, but that night, I had no problem not tipping the grouchy young kid who seemed like it put him out to even bring us our food.

Another fun fact about me: my self control functions much like mana in that it has a set amount.  After suppressing my hunger for hours while trying to even find food, I was in no mood to deny myself any other desires so when I passed a small little almacen with chocolate bars in the window, of course I stopped to buy some.  One of the infinite things my mother and I share is our love for chocolate.  On that note, I want to make a brief note of how similar my mother and I are.  I am often told by friends that my mother and I could be twins but what even they don’t know how similar we are in mindset.  In just the few days we have been reunited after over six months, we have had numerous instances of saying the same thing at the same time, or one of us thinking something while the other says it.  The apple did not fall far from the tree in my case.  Many people my age don’t understand how I can get along so well with my mother, but when you spend twenty years essentially only having each other to lean on, you becoming unavoidably intertwined.  My mother is my best friend.  She is the strength in my bones and the passion in my blood.  Only we could manage to get lost so horribly two nights in a row and yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything because such roadblocks not only strengthen the memories of a place but act as a metaphor for our ability to find ourselves no matter how lost we might get.  And even in most confusing scrawl of streets, we always have each other.

Our last night in Seville was spent in our lovely hostel eating chocolate, warming up with hot showers, and laughing at the fact that only we could get so hopelessly lost even with a map.  This morning, after a lovely American breakfast and fresh orange juice that rivaled even that of the Echo Lake Cafe, we said “so long” to Seville and boarded a train to Malaga, which is where I now sit, watching the Spanish countryside roll by in a beautiful blend of bright green fields and white clay houses.  Spain is beautiful in every aspect, whether it be the cities or the countryside.  As we approach the southern coast, mountains have sprouted up around us and the train now darts in between sharp canyons and gorges, often disappearing into dark tunnels as its tracks are carved into the mountains themselves. Malaga is coming into view.  I’ve never been to Malaga before and I am anxious to see what kind of adventures await us there.  Knowing my mother and I, it is anyone’s guess.