Spain has taken the familiarities and comforts of language, food and culture, sliced them, diced them, and served them back to us as a colorful, tasty, yet exceedingly unfamiliar dish. Since being here, most of the time I have no idea what I’m eating, not a clue what people are saying to me, and even less of an inkling where I’m going. I call it travel vertigo – an ailment with slight side effects of emotional outbursts, frustration, and extreme fatigue of having to deal with the unfamiliar. This travelling thing takes some getting used to.
We started off in San Sebastian, a beautiful small-ish town situated on the north coast of Spain which might be my favorite city of Europe so far. It’s been geographically blessed with a perfect horseshoe beach cradling calm crystal waters and warm, sunny weather. The restaurants here were not the drawn out affair they were in France, making dining as simple as sidling up to the bar, grabbing what looked good and paying the server (very little Spanish language knowledge required). Plus we felt immediately at home with so many people just like us – travellers looking for a laid back, casual way to spend some time and ease into Spanish culture by testing out our pronunciations of “gracias” and “buenas noches” on the friendly locals. We rented some bicycles, lazed on the beach, ate (and ate, and ate), and enjoyed our first Spanish city with relative ease.
Then came the train ride to Seville. In the interest of planning ahead, we made reservations for the train from San Sebastian to Seville while in France. The reservation fees were an outrageous 92 euros (reservations are normally around 8 euros – I have a feeling by the end of this trip I’ll have a whole post dedicated to the “joys” of EURAIL). We had a connection in Madrid, our tickets indicating that we had exactly five minutes to make the connection. As she handed us our overpriced reservation confirmation, the agent assured us, “Zees is okay. Zee train departs from zee same platform. You will make your connection easily”. As our train eased into the sprawling Madrid station, we took our places like sprinters at the line waiting for the shot gun. We came to a stop, the doors opened, and we were off. Immediately, we found the nearest station employee, showing her our ticket. She looked at us with a confused expression, and pointed vaguely saying “Dos”. As in, platform two. We were on platform eight and this appeared to be the largest train station we’d come across so far. So we ran, sweat trickling down our backs in the 34 degree heat, backpacks swaying back and forth as we hopscotched and zig zagged through the crowds of people towards platform two.
When we finally reached it, the train was still sitting there, doors open – unfortunately not labelled with the destination we expected to see. We boarded anyway, waving our tickets like lunatics, eyes wide with the fear of two travellers running out of time. “Seville?” we asked to the sitting passengers. They looked around at each other and slowly began to shake their heads “no”. “Sevilla?” I asked again, hoping to improve my pronunciation enough that someone could affirm that this was, in fact, the correct train. “No,” one woman spoke up. “Atochas,” she said. I could understand well enough that Sevilla and Atochas did not equate. We stepped off, the doors closed, and the train eased away from platform two.
We learned soon enough that the French ticket agent had screwed us over. Our five minute connection was indeed from “zee same platform”. Unfortunately, the platform was located at a different Madrid train station. With no other choice, we forfeited our expensive reservations, re-booked for the next train and resumed our journey to Seville.
At this point, I am feeling woefully guilty that I didn’t get through the “Spanish in 30 Days” book given to me for Christmas by my co-worker Marilyn. I’ll admit that I cracked it: Tyler and I even put in the accompanying DVD one night over dinner half-heartedly maing our way through the first two lessons. As we continue our journey in the heart of Spain, a few basic words apart from “cerveza” and “por favor” would certainly be helpful. We also forgot a phrasebook (and try going into a Spanish bookstore looking for a phrasebook in English explaining how to speak Spanish – not going to happen. We tried).
But I’ve learned to walk on all manner of cobblestones (don’t ask me how they do it in stilettos), and am getting better at reading maps. I’m figuring out that even though I may not be able to read the menu, it can be exciting to try something new (Tyler and I are fairly certain we ate brains the other night). Though speaking Spanish is certainly not in my skill set, it’s become apparent that dramatic gesturing and pointing can be helpful in a pinch. Like a couple of fish with feathers, I’ll admit that it’s embarrassingly obvious that we don’t swim quite right. But I’m making my peace with that fact, because I know we’ll still get to see all the cool stuff in the sea. It just might take us a little longer and we might have to try a bit harder to do it.
Here are some pics of our foray into Spain: