A Ferry Scary Night

I think I first got the idea to take a ferry from Barcelona to Italy because it came with a discount if you buy a Eurail pass. It was supposed to be almost like a cruise, with a casino and restaurants and cabins to rent. All that was true, although not at all what we were expecting. 

First we couldn't find the place to board the ship. We finally got a taxi and he drove all the way around the docks of Barcelona and crossed a bridge over to where the cruises dock. He took us about 2 miles out of the way before finally he turned around and got us to our dock.

Once we got there, we accidentally got in the truck drivers line. There was this huge fight between an Italian family and the woman behind the counter about something to do with their truck. I don't think it ended well.

Finally another American guy arrived and a couple from Australia and a couple who was backpacking. Then these three Italians dressed in rags with a dreadlocks, a guitar, dried flowers, their bags and a dog show up. Two of them leave and it turns out that the one girl was dumped by her boyfriend and kicked out. Of course she doesn't speak English well so she told us this with hand gestures.

The 7 of us are waiting in this huge room wondering where the boat is, because there's no boat near us. Eventually they send a bus and we have to drag the girl's dog and bags on in order to finally leave.

The boat left at midnight. We thought that the 7 of us were the only walk ons and everyone else had just driven on. But when we got on the boat there were hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of people camped out all over the boat already.

It turned out that the boat had started in North Africa and the boat was almost full of people with deck tickets and no actual reserved seats

There were whole families in piles on the floor. People had draped sheets over chairs to make tents. There were grown men just sprawled out in hallways on their prayer rugs sleeping. They pointed us into this weird little dark room to sleep. It had chairs kind of like on an airplane, and there were little children sleeping under them.

Then a party started above our heads. There was live music and dancing and a bar literally right above our seats where we were supposed to sleep. Eventually we gave up and went upstairs, but we could only go one at a time because we were worried about our bags. We slept with our bags clipped together and to us. I kept my phone under my clothes.

It was an old ship, I could tell because the sign showing that you had to wear clothes and not bathing suits looked like it was from the 50s.

We woke up and one at a time went to the bathroom. The floor of the bathroom was covered in 2 inches of water and there was no toilet paper.

We walked around the whole boat. Most of the chairs and couches had people sleeping on them but we found an "internet corner" to sit in.

There was no internet. There weren't even outlets.

It seemed like there were only African people on the boat until about 3 when all the Italians woke up.

Then things got loud and crazy. There were kids running everywhere. There was an empty pool on the boat and they filled it up and all the kids stripped down to their underwear and were playing. It was a writhing mass of little children.

I read my book then for a while. They had good espresso and my mom had 6 of them. Two Italian girls came over to talk to me and pretty soon there was a crowd of kids around us trying to teach us how to speak Italian. They kept giggling, and I'm not sure if it was because of our pronunciation or because they weren't teaching us the words they said they were.

We were started to get tired of being on the boat (this was at about hour 19) and so we packed up and met up with our Australian friends. It took about another hour to get into the dock. And then we couldn't figure out how to get off the boat. They announced everything in Italian and Arabic, neither of which I speak at all. My mom had booked a hotel just four blocks from where the boat was supposed to dock. But for some reason we didn't dock there.

We finally made it off the boat. I saw a line of cars and said "yay taxis!"

They weren't taxis. They were police cars. They were searching everyone to make sure we weren't trafficking drugs. Fortunately we didn't look suspicious so we got through okay. But then we were just standing in the middle of this dock at night surrounded by police. We asked them where a taxi might be and they pointed down the pier. There was only one taxi. And our hotel and our friends' hotel were both over 10 kilometers away in opposite directions.

They let us take the cab while the police and the taxi driver called them another one. My mom said "I've never been happier to get to a hotel room."

Home in Sada

After an amazing first week in Spain, I finally got to settle down for a while at Val's home in Sada. Val told me that my room would be on the third floor, and I'd have to climb down the stairs to get to a bathroom. I didn't realize she meant "climb" literally.

My creaky, scary ladder, I am really amazed I haven't killed myself falling down. 

My room is up on the third floor, which turned out to be an attic. To get to my bed I have to climb a creaky ladder, duck through four rooms, move four drape doors out of the way, and turn off three sets of lights. 

Up in the attic there's a nice little couch, a bed, tables and chairs and a dresser and rack for hanging clothes. There's also wifi (yay!!!!!)

The rest of their house is very nice, with a library office, a kitchen that is always stocked with fresh loaves of bread and a lemon tree in the yard. 


My lemon and book before Jazz showed up! 

I decided to pick a fresh lemon and peacefully read a book outside but the dog Jazz had other ideas. Apparently her habit of jumping up on my every time I'm near her means she likes me. Weird way of showing it, doggy!

We did a couple of day trips from Sada, heading to Santiago, A Coruna and the northern coast. The whole family welcomed me with open arms and I felt at home right away. 

 

 

Sailing in the Atlantic

I knew the family I'm staying with owned a sailboat and when my host sister suggested we go sailing for a few days I was slightly dubious. How could all of us fit in a little sailboat for that long? Would there be enough food? What about bathrooms? Would I have to duck every time the sail-thingy swung around? 

Their boat was the biggest one at the docks. I was quite impressed. 

Luckily for me, they have a really nice catamaran. Compared to the rafts I spend weeks on while floating down Washington rivers, this thing is more like a sailyacht than a sailboat. 

The whole experience was like a dream. The boat has three bedroom cabins, two bathrooms (each with showers,) two tables with benches, a full kitchen complete with toaster and stove, and lots of space to sunbath. We were joined by two little girls and their mom for a day trip out into the sea. 

This is me on the boat in front of the little island. I've decided I need to buy a boat and go find my own little island in the Atlantic. 

We sailed out to the most picturesque little island you can imagine, with a white sand beach all around it. There was a raft attached to the end of the boat and I pictured all of us pitching in and rowing over to the island. But the raft had its own strong motor and we jetted over there in no time! I spent my island time collecting shells, swimming in the sea and wondering what I had ever done to get this lucky. I still haven't figured it out. 

Paradise. This is paradise. I am seriously going to buy a boat. Who needs college when you can buy a boat? 

 

 The water was so salty that you floated without even trying, much different from the river water at home. 

The water was so salty that you floated without even trying, much different from the river water at home. 

We took the boat back to the dock to sleep, and went to this local seafood restaurant for dinner. I tried calamari and mussels for the first time, right next to the sea where they were caught. They were both... interesting. We slept on the boat, which turned out to have wifi and outlets when it's docked. Seriously I need one of these boats. The next day we took a drive up to the top of a mountain for an amazing view of the whole area and then sailed out to another beach for the day.

By this time I'd gotten to know my sailing companions quite well. Val's dad was the strong and knowledgeable captain, steering the boat in the right direction and trying to communicate with me English. He has to read books in English for his job so he knows lots of words, just not how to say them. Trying to figure out what he was trying to say was always possible but a bit of a challenge! 

Lori, Mimi and their mom try to pose for a selfie and end up distracted instead. 

The two little girls we shared the boat with were both sweet and wonderful. They were also complete and total opposites of each other. Lori, the younger sister with fair hair and skin, is rambunctious and crazy and never slows down. In the first two minutes that I knew her, she declared herself to be a sexy beast, flirted with the man on the next boat over, threw herself into my arms and then ran away down the dock. She is around 8. Her older sister is dark skinned, calm and conscientious. Val has been teaching them both English lessons and she has to encourage Mimi to speak up while trying to get Lori to stop talking! 

No matter what we were doing, Lori always wanted to be doing something else. She wanted to swim if we were sailing or eat if we were swimming or head back if we were just relaxing. She convinced me to give her a painting lesson and three minutes in she was already on to the next thing! It was quite entertaining (and exhausting.) 

The only thing the boat lacked was fresh vegetables and fruits. Val is allergic to fructose so the typical Spanish diet of bread, meat, cheese and fruits is narrowed down even more. After two days of eating bread and ham for every meal, my stomach was starting to feel a little bit awful. I was quite happy to be on solid ground with a nice big salad once the trip was over! 



Castilla means CASTLES!!!

In my town of Leavenworth, you can tell that someone is a tourist by their fascination with deer. Visitors will stop on the sides (and sometimes in the middle) of the roads, excitedly leaning out of their windows with cameras and binoculars in hand to see the indifferent animals. After a few days, the tourists realize that deer are absolutely everywhere and stop getting crazily excited and blocking up traffic in order to see them. 

That was me with old buildings. 

 Our hotel had the most beautiful stone columns I'd ever seen! This lobby was also my first introduction to little European coffees, for which it will always be sacred. 

Our hotel had the most beautiful stone columns I'd ever seen! This lobby was also my first introduction to little European coffees, for which it will always be sacred. 

Our train pulled up to the little town of Avila and I immediately went crazy about the buildings. There was a giant cathedral and a wall around the town and an old looking tower and ANOTHER cathedral and our hotel was build into an old convent with stone columns from the 16th century! The view from outside looked almost like a castle! There were real paintings on the walls, a real bed, a shower with hot water, clean towels and, above all, WIFI! I may have been staying in a renovated nunnery but I felt like a princess! 

 

I took pictures of every old-looking structure I saw. And there were a lot of old-looking structures. Val and her mother laughed at me for that. They got an even bigger kick out of my habit of photographing every meal I ate. 

I don't usually take pictures of my food. My Instagram is full of art, not pictures of meals! But Spanish food is so beautiful I couldn't help it. 

Arroz con leche, lasagna, ensalada de queso de cabra, flan, gazpacho-  it was all delicious and beautiful! 

The view from the wall in Avila. 

We spent one night in Avila, touring cathedrals and walking around the walls of the city. Then we got in the car and drove on to the next city, Salamanca. 

At this point my inability to communicate in Spanish was becoming painfully obvious. I had spent a few days in Spain and was starting to get the lisp in "grathias" down but my vocabulary was pretty much limited to verbs, adjectives and farm animals. I could communicate with my exchange student Val just fine because she speaks English, but her mom speaks less English than I speak Spanish! Trying to order food was an interesting challenge but fortunately some farm animals were on the menu. I guess that's how I ended up with goat cheese salad so many times. 

On the drive to Salamanca, between exclamations of "muy bonito!" and "increible!" I saw my first real castle. It was a run down old thing on the side of the road that Val and her mom barely looked at. But I was jumping up and down in my seat yelling "mira!" and pointing out at the castilla! Val's mom promised we could see more while I was there, and she sure kept that promise. 

Eventually we arrived in Salamanca. It took about an hour to find a parking spot, but pretty soon we were wandering around the two giant cathedrals that it's famous for. Val has an old friend in the town so I walked around with her mom. We managed to communicate through basic phrases, hand gestures, and a translation app on her phone. The app was set to British instead of American English so she asked me "are you fancy?" instead of "are you hungry" quite a few times. 

One of the cathedrals at Salamanca, as seen from a balcony halfway up it. 

 The spiral staircases were deceptively difficult to walk on. I'm amazed none of us fell and were added to the crypt below! 

The spiral staircases were deceptively difficult to walk on. I'm amazed none of us fell and were added to the crypt below! 

There were these secret stairways leading to bell towers, rooftops and little museums all around the cathedral. I had too much fun climbing up all of them and ignoring the signs telling us to wait in, as Val's mom would say, "typical Spanish" fashion. 

Salamanca is also famous for its university, which is over 800 years old. By the end of our short visit there, I was already planning my semester studying abroad among the ancient cathedrals and beautiful cafes. They do have a really good program for learning Spanish as a foreign language... we will see if I end up back there some day, I certainly hope so! 

And with that we were on our way to one more city where we spent the night and went to see a castle the next day. By this time, old little cathedrals and churches had lost their earlier thrill. They were still beautiful and amazing, just not so novel. Just as the deer are still beautiful after the tourists have gotten used to them. But castles were still a thrill! I'd never been in one before, so we wandered inside the ruins of this one. 

 This is a REAL LIVE CASTLE! 

This is a REAL LIVE CASTLE! 

After this quick castle visit we hopped back in the car (with some cheese and chocolate) and drove up to Val's home town in Galicia! 

 

 

Madrid

 Val's apartment, which she shares with another girl. That couch was my bed for the time I spent in Madrid.

Val's apartment, which she shares with another girl. That couch was my bed for the time I spent in Madrid.

After Val picked me up at the airport, we made our way back to her apartment. It was a cute little flat on the first floor that had two bedrooms and a comfy couch. I quickly claimed this couch as my own. 

After over 24 hours of traveling I was somehow still standing (and rearing to go) so we set out to find some wifi to buy our train tickets out of Madrid a few days later. 

That is why the very first store I went into in Madrid was a Starbucks. I'm not proud of that.

The differences between our cultures was perhaps most obvious at chain restaurants. Lemon tea had actual lemon, jamon sandwiches were sold instead of bagels and everything came with a little bottle of olive oil. 

It amazed me how many "American" chains were in Spain. Burger King, McDonalds and Taco Bell restaurants could be spotted in 300 year old buildings and next to authentic jamon stores or tapas bars. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find a book in English or the right brand of face wash but I shouldn't have been- in Madrid, Dove is just as common as anything else. 

After our little walk to find wifi, I lay down to "take a nap" and ended up sleeping for around 8 hours. My little habit of falling asleep in the middle of the day lasted the entire time I was in Madrid and greatly impacted my sight seeing in the light. Fortunately, Madrid never seems to sleep. 

My two goals in Spain were to drink a beer and try jamon, the famous Spanish ham. Both were extremely easy to come by. Val and I walked around the city, getting familiar with the metro and the loud clatter of these flashing toys that flew up into the air in all the big squares.

The one day I managed to stay awake past noon, we ventured over to the Royal Palace in Madrid. I gawked at the price (just a few euros, I'm cheap) and almost didn't go in. I'm so glad Val convinced me otherwise. 

 The Royal Palace of Madrid. I swear it was even bigger on the inside. 

The Royal Palace of Madrid. I swear it was even bigger on the inside. 

The Royal Palace was exactly how you would picture a palace- ridiculously decadent, extravagant and downright royal. There was a room for eating breakfast, a room for writing letters, a room for greeting guests, a room for receiving questions from citizens, a room for praying, an actual cathedral room and another room for worshiping. (Keep in mind that there was also a giant cathedral on the other side of the square. These people took building places to worship very seriously!) 

 This cathedral was directly across from the Royal Palace. It was equally impressive, although it didn't have signs in English (unlike the palace) so everything in the cathedrals museum was lost on me. 

This cathedral was directly across from the Royal Palace. It was equally impressive, although it didn't have signs in English (unlike the palace) so everything in the cathedrals museum was lost on me. 

After a few days of exploring (lots of walking) and sleeping (mostly at odd hours,) Val and I got on a train and headed into the Spanish country side.