Spain

At the risk of sounding like a real jerk…

Can travel stop giving you butterflies?

The plane goes through its ritualistic grumbling while flight attendants on a screen remind me to put my own oxygen mask on before helping others around me. I’ve just departed San Diego for Madrid by way of Chicago – my ninth flight this year. It all feels very easy and routine. Even my ears know the drill and I’ve stopped needing to chew gum during take off. 

I’m hyper-aware that I’m extraordinarily fortunate to be able to see so much of the world and go on so many adventures. But is some of the magic gone?

I don’t get nervous about hurling through the sky in a bulky flying machine; I have a routine mostly perfected to speed through security with a smile; I remember to bring a sweater because I’ll always be cold; I know exactly which utility purse to bring and which pocket houses my headphones.

Rest assure that I still screw up. Regularly. But having turned into a relatively experienced traveler has made the whole processes easier and leaves me wondering if the jitters and road blocks that used to thrill and terrorize were part of the fun.

I’m hoping that I’m just entering an in between stage of travel transcendence where I become skilled at the basics and get to enjoy a new level of the experience.

Have any of you seasoned travelers out there gone through the same thing? I’d love to hear about how you’ve evolved as an explorer and how you dealt with the growing pains along the way.

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Your plan isn’t going to work – Stay calm (19/100)

Sometimes you screw up, don’t leave enough time to get a long-term visa, sign up as the last person on the last day for a short program, and end up meeting some of the best people.Segovia, Spain
I was devastated when I botched my plans to take time off University and spend 9 months living in Barcelona, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.

Spending just the summer in Spain allowed me to do less school and more travel, graduate college a semester early and end up with a killer job. Not to mention meet a few of my favorite people.

Don’t be discouraged if your original travel plans end up nothing like your actual experience. If you have a good attitude and stay flexible, you’re sure to have a good time.

Being Vegetarian in Spain Means Tiptoeing Around Ham (18/100)

Jamon iberico in spainHam is an unavoidable component of Spanish life. If you’re lucky enough to end up in someone’s kitchen, there’s sure to be a leg propped on a special wooden stand and covered with a cloth; leaving the hoof and hairy ankle exposed. The American in me questions how sanitary this could be, but Spaniards won’t hesitate to cut off a slice straight from the block. A Spanish teen once told me that adept ham-cutting skills are a point of pride and assured me his mother slices the best, thinnest pieces of jamón.

I was in El Tigre getting tapas with a gaggle of Americans and used my then-limited Spanish to ask for something “vegeteriano por favor. No carne por favor.” The waiter thought he had just the thing for me and brought out a big plate of cheese croquets. One bite confirmed my suspicions that Spaniards don’t 100% understand my lifestyle. Apparently the little flecks of ham in the cheese don’t count as meat, right?

The World’s Largest Cathedral is a Hot Mess (17/100)

Seville Cathedral, biggest cathedral in the worldSevilla (or Seville for us non-Spaniards) is home to this hot mess of a cathedral. It was added to for ages and clearly they took some stylistic liberties along the way.

I didn’t go inside but the exterior is having a wonderful identity crisis. I kind of like it. Maybe it’s a more realistic house for spirituality. Because whose inner-life actually looks the Basilica Di Santa Maria?

Grungy hostel, Great View (15/100)

San Sebastian, SpainI left Barcelona the day my good Catalan friend got on a plane to visit her  boyfriend in New Zealand (these are the kinds of sentences you get to write when you and your friends are travelers -it’s pretty great).

Her family dropped me off at the bus station and I was on my way north. Except I missed my bus because I was trying to meet up with a cute Columbian boy who I ate tapas with for eight hours in Granada. Yeah… We didn’t meet up or fall in love, or anything interesting like that, I had to wait a few hours for another bus AND (more…)

In Madrid, Everyone Drinks (14/100)

Old lady drinking beerI was getting lunch down the street from Universidad Antonio de Nebrija when I spied an elderly woman eating a sandwich and drinking an afternoon beer.

The best part was she looked like my Mexican grandma.

The Spanish propensity to drink at anytime of day will always fascinate me.

Read more about my Madrid adventures and that one time a Spanish dog peed on me.

Respect – Barcelona Art (12/100)

Respect, graffiti, Barcelona, SpainI took the train from my friend’s house in Mollet de Valles into the city to go to the Picasso Museum.

Did you know the Picasso Museum is free on Sundays? If you’ve done any research on it I’m sure you do because every tourist and their mother was queued up in line extending down the street when I tried to capitalize on the free deal.

Do yourself a favor and pay the few euros on any day but Sunday.

I wandered the area instead and stumbled upon some great street art.

Barcelona was a series of unexpected finds for me. Like that time a random family took me in for a week.

Spiritual Graffiti in El Retiro (10/100)

god id big dios es grande

Dios es Grande – God is Big

All my friends were gone from Madrid and I was killing time in El Retiro until I could catch a bus to Lisbon.

There I stumbled upon a really interesting (and free!) museum, The Crystal Palace, and groups of Spaniards enjoying the park.

I was exploring part of the park that looked like a little horseshoe hub, when I found this spray painted on the back of the sign.

I’m not religious but there is something really beautiful about this. I think it unintentionally describes my philosophical ideolgy.

 

You have to love hidden graffiti gems. Check out some of my other street art finds:

Tourism Terrorism – Barcelona

Berlin Wall – Berlin

Mother Earth -Granada

Moms are the Best (8/100)

Parc Guell Spanish Mom

I was sitting in a Barcelona hostel -sick- while my friends explored the city. We only had two days in Barcelona before we had to take a train back to school in Madrid, but I knew I’d be back in a few weeks to visit friends. I took advantage of the free WiFi and skyped my mom for the first time in ages.

While catching up with her and my sister, she mentioned a Catalan student would be coming to my house in America to stay as my brother’s exchange student for the month. Interested, I emailed the kid’s family, told them I was in Barcelona for the weekend, and the next thing I knew they were making plans to pick me up at my hostel and take me to their house outside of the city for Sunday lunch.

They were so incredibly nice and hospitable. We ate lunch for hours, I told them and their son what to expect from my family and America, and they drove me back to my hostel. A few days later I got an email from them saying they would love me to come stay with them for a while. Score!

After backpacking on my own for about two weeks, I went back to their house and they took such fantastic care of me. They gave me a bed, made vegetarian food for me, drove me all over the place, took me on a day trip to the beach town Sitges and adopted me into their family life.

There are so many good people out there. Travel, find them, accept their hospitality, and return the favor some day.

Shout out to the little old lady in Madrid who took care of me and my other Barcelona mom Maria!