Around the World a Bit at a Time

Travels: Past, Present and Future

Archive for June, 2010

A Very Spanish Taxi Ride

Posted by Leanne on June 29, 2010

It didn’t bode well for the journey back to the airport when the taxi started rolling away as the driver loaded our small, not very heavy bags into the boot of his car.  Should we really be getting into a taxi with a driver who didn’t know how to use his handbreak?  I thought.  But I didn’t know the Spanish for ‘I’m sorry, but your taxi looks a bit scary’ so I just said “El aeropuerto por favor” and got in.

Every time a car slowed down in front of us, perhaps  because it was trying not to crash into the car in front, or run over a pedestrian, or because it could see the traffic lights up ahead were on red so there was no point in moving towards them at top speed, he hit his horn at them.

“Do you think that Spanish taxis should just have the horn on as a default?” asked Paul once we were out of earshot and had breathed a sigh of relief that we were still alive. “Then they could just press it when they don’t want it to make a noise.”  Seemed like a perfectly reasonable suggestion to me.

Then we got on a plane and, after an hour of sitting still in uncomfortable Ryanair seats while we waited for the French to give us permission to fly over France, flew back to a land where meals aren’t all served in tiny portions, where the sun doesn’t shine quite so consistently, and where I understand more than 10% of what the people around me are saying.

Sevilla from above


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Plaza Español

Posted by Leanne on June 27, 2010

During my Spanish classes this year, I often sat next to Trevor who always had difficulty in retaining much of the vocabulary that we were learning throughout the course. There was one thing he did remember though: no matter what topic we were practising, he could always remember un bocadillo de jamón – whether it was that he wanted to order one during our café roleplay, or whether he liked them, or that he was going to eat one next weekend, or that he ate one last weekend, he’d always manage to slip it into the conversation somewhere. I thought about Trevor, and how many bocadillo de jamóns he would have eaten if he had been in Seville for the weekend as I ate mine for a late breakfast that morning.

One of the things I remember most about my last visit to Seville, was hanging out at the Plaza Español, watching the horse and carts circle around the fountain before proceeding on their merry clip-cloppity way back to the cathedral. Arriving there a second time, the first thing I noticed was that it looked a lot more building site-y than it did in my memory, since the main part of the plaza is being reconstructed at the moment.

Luckily we were still able to wander around the building surrounding the plaza, admiring the artwork built in ceramics on every wall, staircase and ceiling. It was a lot bigger than I remembered, confirming my suspicions that my brain must compress things into smaller files to save space for anything that might come later.

Plaza Español

On a Sunday afternoon in Seville most of the museums close, so it was back to the hotel for a siesta and this time, a few beers out on the patio, (to save the stress of having to remember to buy a screw top bottle of wine) before heading out into the night for a cruise along the River Guadalquivir. We hoped to learn about why there were padlocks fastened all along the Triana bridge and to pick up a few other bits of historical trivia all for the bargain price of €15.

Love Locks: a tradition whereby lovers fasten a padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the river to symbolise their love

Instead, we heard the names of several bridges read out to us in Spanish, English, French and German as we passed under them and I looked up the lock thing on the internet when I got home because the most tantalising titbits the boat commentary had to offer were things such as:

“The [very boring standard-looking] bridge ahead has been in the Guinness Book of Records.” Full stop. No additional information. As if no one had ever considered that the people on the boat might be more interested in why it might have earned its place in history…

So for 45 minutes of my time and €15, I had a breezy sunset trip up the river and learned absolutely nothing about the city I was visiting. Bargain.


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A Very Full Day

Posted by Leanne on June 26, 2010

The first task of the day was to find breakfast.

Mindful of the previous evening’s experience of wandering around for hours passing lots of different cafes and bars without being able to decide which one to go in, we headed straight inside the first one we saw and took our seat in the bustling café which appeared to be manned by just one waiter,  a fierce whirlwind of activity, crashing around at top speed, taking orders and delivering food to every table with an abrupt efficiency. To his credit, his waiting style allowed me to order in Spanish without him making any attempt to ‘help’ out by replying in English, making it my second successful entirely Spanish transaction of the weekend.

“He was quite fierce,” I commented as we left in search of tourist activity
“I liked him,” Paul replied “He seemed very… ‘Spanish’”
“I thought he looked more like Super Mario” I said
“Yeah, I suppose so – but he struck me as the kind of waiter who’d speak to you in Spanish regardless of whether you understood him or not.”

Since the cathedral wasn’t open yet, we wandered around some more cobbled streets, passing walking tours led by ladies holding flamenco fans and accompanied by men playing flamenco tunes on their guitars as the group walked from one stop to the next – ensuring that their customers got the ‘authentic’ Spanish experience.  To their credit, it made me want to join in…

It was a brief and happy interlude before entering the cathedral, the 2nd largest in the world to while away a few hours out of the intense sunlight with what seemed like every other tourist in the city. “There’s a room in Resident Evil that looks a bit like this” commented Paul as we looked inside one of the many rooms inside the enormous structure.

In one room, we listened to a tour guide point out the statue of St. Isadore of Seville – the Patron Saint of the Internet. Never let it be said that the church is behind the times…

In another room we found treasure, but it didn’t feel like much of an achievement:

If only all treasure was this easy to find

If only all treasure was this easy to find

And up in the bell tower we found sprawling views of Seville, from above.

Seville from above

Seville from the top of the Giralda Tower

After another quick tapas stop it was onto the Alcázar to wander slowly around the ornate buildings and immaculate gardens, to lie on a bench in the shade, watching the Peahen scaring the ducks,  stalking peacocks through shaded gardens and for a delicious lemonade in the cafe.

Alcázar of Seville


In true holiday tradition we went in search of a shop to sell us a screw-top  bottle of vino tinto to consume out on the patio which came with our hotel room.  And in true holiday tradition, we bought a cork sealed bottle and realised once we were far enough away from the shop to have forgotten where it was.  15 minutes later, with the help of a car key, a pair of tweezers, a pencil and a toothbrush, we were sitting outside on our private patio sipping Rioja and reading.

Flicking through the Spanish TV channels I saw a matador being knocked to the ground by a bull during the bullfighting broadcast.  I watched Julia Roberts and Richard Gere speak in strange Spanish voices in a film that was not Pretty Woman.

And then we went out to eat some more tiny meals, but not before making the journey through the zelda-esque corridors an up onto the hotel roof to check out the view – and what perfect, yet accidental timing:

Rooftop Sunset

Sunset on the roof

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Posted by Leanne on June 25, 2010

“Where are we going?” I asked that morning.
“Surpriseland” replied Paul
“Have I been there before?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
“Have you been there before?”
“How long does it take to get there?”
“Shall I just look it up on the airport website?”
“No – it’s a surprise.”

But once we had arrived at Liverpool airport, he had to hand me my boarding pass so that they’d let me through the security checks, and there, printed on the page, quite clearly in big letters, was the word “Seville”


Boarding pass

I don’t remember much about Seville from the last time I was there. My mind was a whirl after finding myself unexpectedly travelling solo and I was just happy to be able to find someone to talk to. At the time, I described it as being very much like my home town – York, with its cobbled streets, big cathedral, old buildings, etc, but with the addition of orange trees lining the streets and the sunshine making an appearance in October.

Following my second visit, I’m more inclined to describe it as like a level in Zelda. To find our room in the hotel, we had to go up some stairs, then choose another staircase of the many on that floor, to go back down to the same level we started at, but a different corner of the building, navigating around the twisting corridors in the hope of finding the door for which we had the key to unlock. As the porter led us to our room, via the second floor, I looked at Paul and pointed to the 102 clearly marked as our room number on the card holder I’d been presented with at the reception desk. He looked back and shrugged, but since I’d checked in using my limited Spanish, all of the staff were speaking to me in Spanish, and I didn’t want to revert to English to ask where we were going, so dutifully followed. I understood most of what they were saying, but couldn’t articulate any more than ‘si’ and ‘gracias’ in return.

Outside the hotel, the narrow meandering streets made it easy to get lost, yet also to keep stumbling across the same landmark, no matter which direction you thought you were travelling in – just like in Zelda…

Wandering the streets in search of extra hearts (err… I mean tapas) that evening, it struck me how little I actually remembered about Seville from my last visit here. I remembered Kev the Canadian, and Mia, the Swiss girl and Erin the American, but the actual place had shrunk almost to nothing in my mind – I remembered going into a traditional Spanish bar where a traditional Spanish man played traditional Spanish songs on the piano, but I had no idea where to find it. I remembered that there was a big cathedral, but was convinced that I didn’t know about the big river, which is quite hard to miss, if you’re visiting Seville. There was one moment where we walked past the hostel I stayed in the first time round, where I felt a tiny flicker of recognition, but then as fast as it emerged, it was gone again along with my bearings. Everything seemed bigger than it was in my memory – as if I’d compressed it to preserve space.


Statue on Plaza Nueva

So the first evening was spent familiarising ourselves with our surroundings, and checking out a tapas place recommended by the man on reception at the hotel. The waiter spoke to us in English, forbidding us from ordering more than 3 things at once from the menu, explaining that they served much bigger portions than other places, but conceded and let us (made us) order 4 based on the fact that our first too choices weren’t quite so filling…

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The Boyfriend

Posted by Leanne on June 23, 2010

I arrived home with a spring in my step, full of thoughts about getting this thing moving.  I’ve narrowed down where I’m going to just one country now. I know roughly when I’ll be going – now I just want to book stuff.

“Shall we book an Inca Trail tonight?” I said cheerfully to Paul.

“Are we doing the Inca Trail?” he asked.

“Well that’s just what you do when you go to Peru isn’t it?” I replied.  “Ooh and you’ll probably need to get a doctor because we’ll need some vaccinations before we go.”

“I didn’t even say I wanted to go to Peru.” He responded contrarily.

I’ve been asking him for months where he would like to spend his 3 weeks holiday this year.  I promised to go anywhere in the world that he chose, before moving on to my own plans if he wasn’t up for them, and so far, not had a single response.

“Well where do you want to go then?” I asked tetchily.

“I dunno.” He said.

“When will you know?”

“I dunno…”

At this point I was getting quite annoyed.  By my calculations, I had 10 weeks to organise a 10 week trip to another land with an alien (as in strange, not other-worldly) culture, and foreign, currently incomprehensible (to my ears) language, involving the extensive use of my bank account which I was hoping to spread out between a few different pay cheques.

“Well I need to know by this weekend – I need to start booking things.” I snapped, and stormed off in a huff.

As I went about my evening, I noticed him browsing through my travel books, searching for inspiration.

The next day, when I got home from salsa I asked again: “So, have you decided where you want to go then?”

“Hmmmm, Peru looks nice…” He replied cautiously.

“Really?  And what do you want to do while we’re there?”

“Sandboarding?” He said with a smirk. “Oh and there’s this long walk in the mountains that looks nice and… Inca-y.”

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The Boss

Posted by Leanne on June 11, 2010

So today I finally got round to telling my boss that I wasn’t interested in a 3 week holiday and filling her in on my intentions to throw in the towel so that I could go away for 2 – 3 months instead.

‘I’m not sure whether it will be possible,’ she replied, ‘but if it is, would you consider taking the time off as an unpaid sabbatical and coming back after your trip?’

‘No no no no no’, my heart screamed as loud as it could, after all, my heart saw this as a big chance to get out and find something new and perhaps even a little bit interesting to do on my return.

‘Shut up’ said my head curtly, ‘ you’re going to need the money when you get back and it will save you having to work in an underpaid job while you should be out enjoying yourself.’

“I’d have to think about it.” I said slowly…

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