It would be an understatement to say I love traveling. If ever fortunate, I would dedicate my life solely to travel, wandering from one continent to another. Of course, life isn’t as simple as that. Being a recent grad who is sluggishly trying to find a decent salary-based position, I must rely on credit card mileage points to take me places.
Last year, I toured parts of Western Europe for a month – London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Zurich, Lyon, and Paris – while this year I did a smaller journey to the Iberian Peninsula – mainly Lisboa and parts of Andalusia during the month of August 2006.
As funny as it may sound, one thing I absolutely despise about travel is the sheer physical travel aspect of traveling. I dread airports, airport security, airport fake-hospitality, jetlag, waiting in line, waiting in line in a train-station with an empty stomach, explaining to a foreign ticket-clerk in a foreign language how one gets from point A to point B using train X, carrying a 40 pound luggage across narrow cobble-stone streets and having the wheels on the lousy luggage break, having sweat run down your back as if you had ran the Los Angeles marathon two times and back, and finally, coming back to the States physically tired and with a much lighter wallet.
With all the negative aspects of travel aside, my two and a half week journey to Lisboa, Portugal and the several cities of Andalusia, Spain proved to be extremely pleasant and enjoyable.
Of course, I wouldn’t call seeing my traveling-partner almost naked every night sleeping in nothing but his tight little underwear briefs while farting and snoring all over the place extremely pleasant and enjoyable – nor would I call his incessant zoning out periods of travel in which I would ask him a question and it would take him about a light-year to respond and say, “Uh, what did you say,” extremely pleasant and enjoyable, but nevertheless, it was an experience to take and remember forever.
Getting to our destination was not the easiest of tasks. I knew what I was in for: 20-plus hours of hell. I prepared my headphones, took a couple tablets of Airborne medication, and made sure I got an aisle seat to allow my leg to stretch on the long flight. Window seats, I think, are highly overrated because they make me feel claustrophobic; not to mention one always needs to excuse at least two people just to get through the row and head to the toilet. Of course, my travel-partner did not mind the window seat considering this was one of his first major flights and took this opportunity to capture about fifty or more aerial sky shots – much in which I must secretly say were horrible shots – none in which were his fault since it is impossible to take a decent picture from an airplane window.
Three flights and four cities later we arrived in Lisboa, the capital city of Portugal. Dazed and confused, we hurried towards the taxi and told the driver – in our broken and jagged Portuguese in which we had learned in our Europe Phrasebook text – to take us to Hotel Botanico located in the Bairro Alto neighborhood.
Walking in the capital city of Portugal that evening was incredible. The city is set on a hill. If San Francisco was ever a city situated in Europe, it might as well have been called Lisboa. Incredible historic buildings. Incredible parks. Incredible nightlife. Incredible food. Every street had its own little story, its own little mystery, and its own little fantasy. Every block was filled with a myriad of Portuguese characters, with few tourists to go around. When in Portugal, I told myself the city certainly competes with Paris in being one of the most beautiful in Europe. After leaving the city, I concluded that Lisboa surpassed Paris in being the more beautiful of the two.
Having lost about a day of travel since the only international trains heading out of Lisboa were Madrid bound, we took a 10pm train from Lisboa to the capital of Spain – then again from Madrid to Sevilla, our second destination on the trip.
Sevilla was a wonderful surprise. I was always told – friends, family, literature, travel magazines – that the Spanish people were nice. I am happy to say that this premise can remain true.
Our hotel in Sevilla was called Las Casas De La Juderia. It was a tangle of about 80 rooms – some underground in a cave-like hallway, some high-above near a rooftop pool, some near a patio, some near Arabic-influenced corridors in the alley. It would be impossible for a newcomer to find his or her room number and thus would always need the guidance of the porter to show you around. As we learned the hard way by losing our guidance porter in one of the confusing hallways, we roamed alone in the damn place for about 10 minutes after finally giving up and asking a maid in Spanish, “Donde esta doscientos nueve” (Where is 209) and having her guide us through the overwhelming corridors and caves to finally take us to room 209. There, our porter was waiting for us with our luggage and a small grin on his face. I could tell he was thinking to himself, “These stupid Americans cannot even follow simple directions.”
Several beers, several smokes, and several sightseeing escapades later we found ourselves back at the train station ready to head to our third city: Malaga. Well, actually Torremolinos to be exact (It’s like saying Los Angeles, but visiting Glendale).
There isn’t much to say about Torremolinos. The place is filth. It is where the poor, shallow, superficial, culture-less, corrupt, dirty, moronic tourists of Europe go. It is the “We don’t have any money for Ibiza or Marbella so let’s go to Torremolinos” type people. No sexy ladies here; just a bunch of raisins if you know what I mean. Beaches filled with nude 57-year-olds were not something I flew six thousand miles to see. We had surely made a huge mistake.
You must be asking yourself why in the world we chose to visit Torremolinos. Let’s just say that our Spain travel guidebook failed to inform us about the present situation and state of Torremolinos. As a recently published and well known travel book, it stated that Torremolinos had some of the best nightlife and young hip crowd in Southern Spain. What it failed to mention is the fact that that sentence was once held true over 30 years ago!
Torremolinos is now a poor, deserted, and depressing beach resort town where the old lay and burn off whatever is left of their crispy rotisserie fried skin. It is the European version of a Venice Beach with no added culture. It is the European version of Los Angeles’ very own sweatshop district in Downtown LA where fake Dolce belts and burned-DVD copies of United 93 go for ten bucks a pop. It is a town that looks much like it was once a happening place in the 70s and 80s. A place where Al Pacino once roamed with sparkling champagne and sexy ladies. Now, it’s hell.
In light of all this, the time we had spent in Torremolinos was still well spent. We luckily found a little nine-room four-star Japanese hotel on the hilltop called La Luna Blanca with excellent service, excellent food, and an excellent swimming pool. There were a total of about four workers in the whole place and our stay was very intimate with the staff. We even had to tell the chef – named Massa – that we were planning to eat at their hotel restaurant that evening so that he had enough time to go out and buy and prepare the sushi for the evening.
After four days, a well-defined tan, and a killer European looking Lacoste swim-trunk purchase, we departed on the 6AM train from Torremolinos to Granada, the fourth of five cities on the trip.
Remember when I said that Lisboa had surpassed Paris as being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe? I lied. Granada is definitely the most beautiful. More than Paris. More than Lisboa. More than Zurich. You can’t help falling in love with Granada. Because Granada was once a Muslim kingdom in the 13th century, it enjoys a vast Muslim culture and influence. Kebab and shawarma sandwiches are abundant, as are tea-houses, hookahs, mosques, and belly dance clubs. Granada is arguably one of the finest settings in all of Europe.
On a Saturday night in Granada, we hiked the narrow streets and found ourselves in the beautiful Albaicin neighborhood of Granada. Perched high on top of a hill across the dainty faÃ?Â§ade of the famous hilltop attraction known as The Alhambra, The Albaicin neighborhood is where one goes to let it all loose. A few beers, some flamenco guitar, attractive locals, and beautiful views are all one needs to be taken by the beauty that is Granada – and this is no travel book hype.
The next night we went to a local bar near our hotel. Unfortunately I forget the name; however, it did have a Zorro ring to the name – or something like that. No customers at the Zorro bar on that late Sunday night. The bartender and his pal – Alberto and Jose-Carlos – were sitting on the patio speaking a ridiculously fast Spanish and laughing the night away. My friend and I walked into this trendy bar – so trendy it could compete with West LA – and found ourselves having a conversation with Alberto and Jose-Carlos, some in Spanish, but mostly in broken-English as they were practicing their English. We spoke about the city, the culture, the Spanish Mexican comparison, pro basketball, and the Spanish national basketball team in which Alberto happily claimed that Spain would win the basketball gold medal. I told Alberto he was crazy and that the United States basketball team was far more superior than any other nation. One week later Spain won the gold medal. In any case, it was 3AM and I was drunk as a drunkard can be – since Alberto kept making me free exotic cocktails – and we decided to head out to an after-hours club at the edge of the city.
Spanish ladies, said Alberto in a drunken slurred-English, “Need at least 20 minutes sweet talk in order to open up to you.” Oh was he ever so right. After being accidentally poked on the cheek by the lit end of a cigarette from a beautiful dancing Spanish girl and taking a few pictures with a couple sexy Spanish ladies, we decided to end the night.
By this time, we were burnt out. We took the afternoon train to our final destination: Madrid. We really only had a day in Madrid and made the best of it. We checked out some of the city’s sights and shops near the Plaza Mayor and engaged ourselves in the wonderful artwork inside the world famous Prado Museum. Of course, I am no art history scholar nor did I ever study a single piece of art so all the drawings in the museum looked the same to me, but I’m sure my friend can highly contest that.
That evening in Madrid, our final evening in Europe, we celebrated. However, the celebration was not limited to a final-evening in Europe theme. It was my friend’s 25th birthday. I told him he was getting closer to being 30, gave him a pat on the back, and took him to a trendy little tapas hotel restaurant. We ate our hearts our, had a bottle of wine, and took in the vibes of the Madrid nightlife. We made our way to The Glass Bar, another trendy and fashionable bar in metropolitan Madrid where one goes to see and be seen – an Armani suit highly recommended. A few more drinks and chats followed by some more drinks defined our final evening. Madrid is the place to be. Sometimes, when one is drunk in the streets of Europe, he always asks himself this question: Can life possibly get any better?
On the morning of August 31st, we packed our bags and headed out to the Madrid airport just outside Madrid. We unloaded whatever Euro currency we had in our pockets and headed for the states. It was a travel well worth every penny.