A gallery entry of my eight hour bus ride from one coast of Spain to the other.
Driving along the road of life, sometimes you’re going and going and then you fall into a ditch. A stubborn ditch that you treat as a minor annoyance you’ll be out of in a few minutes until you gradually discover how deep and wide the ditch really is and only then, when you grasp the true magnitude of the situation, do you realize that you’re stuck. That could describe my visit to Torrevieja.
When I set out from Barcelona I was imagining a few days of beachside relaxation in a little town full of young Spanish people inviting me out to bonfires every night and then walking back at dawn to my own private condo with a rooftop patio and fast Wi-Fi.
Never has reality been farther from fantasy.
Barcelona was one of my top cities to see. I wanted to devote a good long time to it to give it a thorough exploration. Now, I was just passing through for a night on my way to Torrevieja, where I could recoup at my mother’s condo, get new glasses, and buy a backpack that wouldn’t kill my back. Somehow it had escaped me what a proper backpacking backpack looked like, and I toted a huge black cube, which I counterbalanced with my daypack slung opposite over the front.
This is how I looked stepping off of Barcelona’s main station, vigilant about pickpockets as I’d been warned the city was rife with them. But, I never had any trouble here. Maybe because I was hypervigilant and looked especially paranoid searching every face around me on the metro as if to say, “yeah, my hands are blatantly jammed inside my pockets.” Anyway, the one horror story I heard was of a woman who left her camera in the backseat of a taxi while getting out and, when she turned around, found it gone. As a rule I avoided taxis on this trip.
After being miserable enough times on the road, I learned that instead of falling into heavy introspection over what my problem was, a much better solution was to GTFO. I wanted to see more of France, so I did some research on France’s different regions (France is big :-/) and picked Avignon because I liked its name and, well, why not?
I’d hit a rocky road since boarding that ferry and it was one blunder after another, but I felt optimistically that in Avignon I would again find my groove. Indeed, minutes after the train was out of Paris and rolling through the countryside, I was overcome with relief and leaned back in my seat, idly watching rural France roll past. At last, I was the person I wanted to be: the lone train traveler “en route” with no past and no tomorrow, just a backpack, watching a new countryside out the window. It was very romantic.
The scenery was beautiful and idyllic, with low, colorful mountains, plentiful fields, the cutest country houses, and – at last – tiny, beautiful villages that looked like they were out of time. Imagine the village Belle grows up in in Beauty and the Beast (only now do I realize how much Disney likes France…).
Paris was the only city where I was really excited to do all the typical touristy things. There is so much to do, you could easily stay in Paris for a week as the world’s densest tourist with the weakest knack for discovering anything interesting or unusual. I’ve heard the Louvre alone takes three days for a comprehensive tour (assuming you’re not just there to see the Mona Lisa).
In my four days there I spent so much time wandering aimlessly around the city and so stubbornly refused to spend money on metro fare unless my feet were absolutely killing me that I saw only a handful of these, and much like in London, I missed some crucial ones, such as the inside of the Louvre and Sacre Coeur. But I will describe the ones I did see.
Paintings of Paris from the early 1900s depict it as a quaint but bustling city full of ornate statues and stately buildings connected by cobblestone streets utilized by horse-drawn carriages. Today “quaint” would hardly be an appropriate description. From the top of the Eiffel Tower it is an endless sprawl of white-gray triangles comprised of cloistered apartment and office buildings extending toward the horizon.
On ground level, the ornate old buildings, endless cafes, and bridge-crossed Seine decorated with gilded statues would still make it quaint, if it weren’t for the huge, busy roads and masses of Asian tourists whose numbers are second only to Prague’s masses of Asian tourists. Each with a high-end camera, they swarm through the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame every July and August day, addressing the Parisians selling tickets in broken English.
Waking up early-ish in Caen, I crossed the street and bought my tickets for Amsterdam, surprise reservation fee and all.
“Why a reservation fee!? I didn’t need one to get to Caen!” I must have looked less than endearing saying this while pulling back my cash. I even got out of line because I thought they were ripping me off (which they still might’ve been) before I got back in line, seeing no alternative.
Leaving Ireland, I acutely felt myself standing at the end of one era (if one and a half weeks is enough time for an era) and at the beginning of another. I remember the odd combination of sadness and excitement, not so much a mix of the two as the emanations of two separate parts of me focused on very different things. We people are divided creatures.
What a feeling of freedom, though, to look out along the distant waters waiting for a new country to appear. You stand on the railing at sunrise fighting the chilly breeze and straining to catch a whiff of so many new stories you know lie beyond the horizon, too far as of yet for your senses to begin molding into comprehensible shapes….
With a few days left, I went to Killarney and met up with Alix again. Killarney was the perfect place to see natural wonders such as the Ring of Kerry and Gap of Dunloe that are written in as musts in a tour of Ireland. Well, it rained both afternoons, so there was none of that. Nonetheless, I still had an enjoyable time walking around Killarney and doing another castle visit, this time to the more ruinous Ross Castle.
I returned to Galway the next day to do it all over again and soak up more of this enchanted town, which was beautiful and crowded as ever.
The first order of business was to begin deployment of the money saving travel strategy of cooking in places where you stay more than a night by visiting a grocery store. If you’re not following, I got to Galway and went to the mall.
Adventure ahead; when I walked inside the Eyre Square Centre I found myself looking up at rough stone walls and turrets with tiny windows supporting a modern connecting bridge to the JC Penny and Dunnes Stores on the other side. Unhesitatingly, I betrayed my tourist identity and took out my camera to snap a few photos.
Virtual Tourist says, “Eyre Square Shopping Centre: ‘Historic Landmark and Shopping Centre Combined!’” What a selling point! That medieval part is some of the old city walls that they’ve worked into the building. Here was another moment when I realized not only how old Europe is, but how young America is; too young to have city walls.