I’ll be honest. Spain and I had a rocky start.
After my CouchSurfing host in Barcelona fell through at the last minute, the city misguided me all over its hot, pickpocket-lined streets with false promises of vacancy – and when the final hostel had an available bed, it was only for two nights.
Madrid apologized, offering the joyous challenge (and I mean that) of finding a hospital specializing in travel medicine and communicating with its staff, most of which spoke no English at all. (Many thanks to David, the Spanish attorney waiting for his own vaccinations who served as my translator.)
But Toledo won me over. The old-town architecture and tight, winding streets, the inexpensive castle hostel, the time spent drinking beer and eating tapas as I sat under water misters surrounded by Spaniards and little hopping, chirping birds. The endless stairs, experts at building anticipation for the incredible views waiting at the top of the town-on-a-hill.
– Enjoying Barcelona’s nightlife with some American and South American friends from the hostel; going to the beach where rhythms of dance music drifted over neon sand until reaching the ocean, where they crossfaded, overwhelmed by clapping waves.
– Seeing a girl lose 100 euros in a street game on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s main pedestrian lane, packed with tourists, merchants, performers and con artists.
– Being taken by two Norwegians to a Barcelonian-run Irish pub that played all Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen songs.
– Going on a mission to find authentic Spanish tapas with American and Canadian friends Elise, Ben and Sarah; stumbling accidentally into a Chinese-run tapas bar but having Elise order everything in Chinese before hurrying back to catch the night train to Madrid. Trying to negotiate in line for the train to get seats together; failing. Trying (in Spanish) to trade seats on the train; failing. Staking claim to a table in the train restaurant all night instead.
– Seeing Picasso’s Guernica and photos of the revision process he put it through: where he added and removed whole characters, rearranged their anatomy, and turned the sun into a light bulb at the last minute. The step-by-step series of iterations at first seeming to prove something about the overlapping realities of whim and meticulous planning, of accident and design — but then realizing that in fact, the finished work is not so much a creation as it is a revelation. Deciding that Picasso wasn’t making editorial choices; he was exploring the canvas for clues, discovering the truth of the scene as he fumbled his brush across the surface the way an archaeologist brushes dust away from ruins, pulling something solid and meaningful from a shapeless mass of sand and earth.
– Seeing disgustingly, beautifully decadent jeweled and painted interiors at the Royal Palace as well as violins, violas and cellos built by Antonio Stradivari in the late 1600s. Thinking it was okay to take pictures without flash. Getting yelled at in Spanish.
– Taking a day trip to Consuegra with my Austrian hostel-roommate Jacob to see Don Quixote’s windmills.
– Finding the fabled slow pace of Spain with CouchSurfing hosts Eda and Use; enjoying siestas, eating homemade meals of salad, gazpacho and Spanish tortilla, and waiting to go outside until late at night after the temperature dropped to 80 degrees.
– Gradually improving my Spanish, ceasing to rely on charades, getting comfortable enough to not only ask for directions and the costs of things, but also make jokes and haggle for cheaper ice cream. Complaining that the weather was spicy.