Barcelona / 2

16/08/18 to 17/08/18

If you haven’t already, read the first instalment here.

The next morning we were up bright and early (minus Roy) for a walking tour of the Ciutat Vella (‘old city’), during which our Hungarian guide spoke about Catalonian unrest, and reasons both for and against independence. She also spoke at some length about Picasso, who I acknowledge had a revolutionary impact on art, but who I also can’t bring myself to support in any form for his blatant misogyny. That said, the tour overall was great, and the guide told me I looked like a famous bartender in Melbourne named Winnie. I tried to find her on social media so I could figure out whether to be offended, to no avail.

Somewhere in El Born.

After the tour, our guide gave us some insight into the different ‘quarters’ of Barcelona, which I’d written in my notes app as follows:

  • El born for local designers
  • El raval – techno, cheap shot bars
  • Close to beach – more commercial music clubs
  • Off passeig de gracia – intersections, cafes with silver chairs (such cafés are the cheapest in the area)
  • Go to bunkers for view!

Cadi and I then headed for lunch at Alsur Café in El Born, joined by the two other guys who had completed our small tour group that morning. One was American, and was not only keto, but also doing a form of intermittent fasting that meant he only ate one meal a day. The other was Australian – from Sydney – working as a PE teacher in London on a two-year working visa. Afterwards, some of us meandered around the Parc de la Ciutadella and similarly touristy spots, basking in the heat and taking photos to assure our families of our wellbeing.

Dinner was tapas on Rambla del Raval, and we were graced by Roy’s presence after he’d found (and messaged) me on Facebook. We ended the night scaling the large metal cat sculpture we’d spent the best part of the meal staring at, and scrambled to make it to the last showing of the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. I can substantiate the many reviews that attest to its brilliance, although the best picture I took of it doesn’t show any of the colour that distinguishes it from other ‘non-magical’ fountains. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Imagine this with coloured lights. Impressive, no?

The next morning marked the beginning of my last full day in Barcelona, and I’d quickly come to the realisation that the three nights I’d booked were insufficient. Having completely booked all transport and accommodation well in advance, however, I didn’t have the luxury of being flexible, although I did have the luxury of a guaranteed place to sleep. A fair trade-off, I’d say.

We (Cadi, Roy, I, the Australian) embarked on a Gaudi walking tour, the content of which was fairly self-explanatory. We ended at my sole recollection of Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, and I was somewhat unsurprised to note that it didn’t look much different to when I’d last seen it five years prior, although it remained equally imposing. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to get tickets to visit the interior, which is apparently incredible. I also didn’t have the time (or again, the foresight) to visit Park Güell, of which I’ve heard nothing but good things. This is a not-so-subtle suggestion to those of you planning on visiting.

We had lunch as a tour group, where I chatted to a twenty-year-old Colombian who enthusiastically rattled off a list of places to visit in Colombia (the notes app comes to the rescue, once again). For food, I chose one of the few vegetarian options, which was essentially fried potatoes with a fried egg and some sauce on top. It was fucking delicious, and at this point in my trip my body was screaming for nutrients. It was rewarded with more sangria.

Taste levels high, nutrition levels low.

After Roy and I strolled back the hostel, Roy for a nap (obviously) and me to put away some of my belongings, I headed to Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, conveniently acronymised as MACBA. It’s quite an impressive building; more so once you’ve navigated the plethora of shirtless skateboarders out the front.

The exhibits themselves were the degree of abstraction that I enjoy, which is to say that they were very, very abstract. I love happening upon a piece so totally bewildering that any artistic justification would seem far-fetched, and MACBA provided such moments in abundance. I should note, however, that some pieces were much more straightforward, so please don’t feel unsettled by my earlier descriptions. It’s well worth a visit.

Your guess is as good as mine.

The final hours of my final day in Barcelona were also my best, and the reason for my incessant reminders to those planning trips to Barcelona that they ‘visit the bunkers’. Said bunkers lie atop the Turó de la Rovira, a large hill which was home to anti-aircraft warfare facilities during the Spanish Civil War. Google tells me there were never actually any bunkers there, and I’m willing to overlook the inaccuracy in its naming for its breathtaking views.

Although others were supposed to join Roy and I, they ended up not coming, for one reason or another. We went to the supermarket where we’d bought sangria that first night, and collected our necessary supplies: two bottles of wine, a large baguette, some cheese, a tub of guacamole, and a small box of tomate frito, the ingredient that makes pan con tomate the delight that it is.

Making your way up to the bunkers is fairly straightforward, as you can catch a bus from the city centre that stops near the top. This means that you have no excuse not to go, and although these pictures don’t do the view any justice, they hopefully give you some inkling of how incredible it was.

I eloquently described my time there in my physical journal as ‘chill music, chill time, completely un-chill view.’ Roy had put on one of his Spotify playlists, and I found myself starting every so often when I recognised something I loved. Some days later, I added what I remembered to my own Spotify playlist, as I’ve always been appreciative of the nostalgic powers of music.

Summer in Spain, Paris in the Rain. It works.

We watched the sun go down, talked, and worked our way through the picnic we’d bought.

He set an alarm for eight to say goodbye the morning I left, and it was sweet, albeit brief. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, and we haven’t spoken since. Part of travelling is coming to terms with leaving people behind, and the transient nature of the relationships that become surprisingly strong over the course of a few days. I don’t feel sad when I think about it, and I feel that forming attachments in circumstances such as ours would ultimately be unfruitful. Thus ends my Barcelonan story.

Aside

Before I publish this post, I want to make a note about pickpockets, as they were discussed endlessly both during my time there and before I’d arrived. I can’t say whether it was because I’d been the recipient of such incessant fear-mongering, but I wasn’t pickpocketed in Barcelona, didn’t witness anyone being pickpocketed, or know anyone in my time there who was. I’m tempted to say that it’s not as prevalent as others make it out to be, but perhaps I was just lucky, or am vigilant by nature. Spain as a whole is not a dangerous place, and as long as you keep your wits about you, I don’t see why you’d have reason to worry.

I’d also like to make a note about Barceloneta, the man-made beach of Barcelona. I didn’t incorporate it into my narrative as I can’t recall when I went, having clearly erased it from my memory. I do recall, however, that I didn’t like it – the sand was grainy and unpleasant, the transition from sand to sea was on a rather steep decline, and the waves were aggressive to the point that I struggled to stay standing. I also stacked it on the pavement, where they’d placed circular bits of metal at regular intervals. I haven’t figured out what their purpose was, but I still have a faint scar on my elbow from the fall. I wouldn’t recommend visiting.

And on that sour note…

Until next time,

x

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Barcelona / 1

14/08/18 to 15/08/18

I’ll preface this by saying that Barcelona was my favourite city of the ten I visited on my trip. Out of those, it was also the only one I’d visited previously, on that first trip to Europe where my priorities lay almost diametrically opposed to those I have now. I’d previously found it ‘nice’ (I haven’t looked through my travel journals from then – quite frankly, I’m a bit scared to – but I imagine that my impressions of the city would have been along those lines), albeit incomparable to my immediate love for London. Thinking back, I can’t readily recall anything I did on that trip, except for the fact that I saw La Sagrada Familia. That said, I don’t think anyone would ever forget having laid eyes on it.

La Sagrada Familia

I struggle to discern whether it was the city itself or the people I met that made my time there so special, but perhaps I shouldn’t be pitting them against each other at all. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a combination of the two – the relationships I formed against the backdrop of a beautiful city – that left such a mark on me, as so often is the case when we leave a place feeling like we’ve lost a part of ourselves. As much as I wish this could have been a guarantee for every place I visited as a solo traveller, chance insists on rearing its head. You never know what you’ll find when you’re by yourself, but I’ve come to accept this as part of what makes solo travel so great – even if it may seem quite terrible at the time.

My trip to Barcelona consisted of an eight hour bus ride, thrust from the uninspiring underground terminals of San Sebastián into blaring daylight (why didn’t the meteorological gods bless us with such cheery sunshine the day before?). I was seated next to a Spanish woman travelling with her family, who struggled with her seatbelt before looking warily to me for help, as I’d apparently managed to convey (without having opened my mouth) that I was most definitely not a native Spanish speaker. I’m pleased to report that she spent the remainder of the bus ride with her seatbelt safely fastened, and the only hiccup that occurred was for me, rather than her.

Cheery sun turned to this as we rolled through the mountains.

Upon being let off the bus at one of many nondescript petrol-station-meets-24-hour-restaurants (i.e. ‘rest stop’) that populate continental Europe, I found myself chomping down on a slightly dry, microwave-heated (this is not an assumption, I saw him do it) bocadilla de tortilla de patatas on the tarmac outside the building. I hadn’t found myself a seat inside as I feared being left behind by the bus, and it didn’t help that the driver had given us his time of departure in accented Spanish. Some people hadn’t even left the bus, although presumably not for the worries I was nursing, and the driver was nowhere to be seen.

‘I think the bus is leaving without me’

As if in slow motion, I watched the driver materialise and clamber onto the bus. I then watched the bus start up, begin to reverse out of its parking spot, and continue running its engine. I’m convinced that during this time, I failed to take another bite out of my bocadilla. Instead of running after the bus and banging on its side, as any traveller wanting to reach their destination would do, I reached for my phone and sent my sister a message on WhatsApp, in a state of panic so intense I’d descended into serene tranquillity. I said something along the lines of ‘I think the bus is leaving without me’, to which she replied ‘are you sure that’s your bus?’ It was, because I’d noted down the serial number written on its back.

It was at this point that the bus rolled gently into another parking spot, one marginally closer to the restaurant, and came to a halt. Its doors opened, and I decided it would be best for me board the bus and stay put until we’d reached Barcelona. To this day, I’m none the wiser as to why the driver felt that was necessary. Perhaps he enjoys taunting nineteen-year-old first time solo travellers, or perhaps he really did feel the need to sidle into another parking space. I maintain that the former seems more likely. Q

Having successfully made it to Barcelona some hours later, I was rewarded with two things I love: heat, and the freedom to wander on my own. I’d marked some Gaudi buildings on Passeig da Gràcia that I wanted to see, and managed to do so in a short walk from the hostel.

Casa Batlló

Upon returning, I met Roy (not his real name), who poked his head out from the curtains pulled around his bottom-bed bunk while I was fiddling with my locker. I was immediately struck by how ridiculously cherubic his face was, and that was all I could really think about as he introduced himself to me. He was Canadian, eighteen, and had been solo travelling for three months after having finished high school. We agreed we’d go to the free hostel dinner together, and I made my way back out into the Barcelonan heat, presumably to collect myself. What happened instead was my getting hit on (in Spanish) by a smoothie vendor at La Boqueira, who, to my disappointment, still didn’t give me my smoothie for free.

In waiting for dinner to be served, we met Cadi (again, not her real name) from Basel, who’d recently passed her bar exam, and had decided to take an impromptu trip here. There’ll never be a time where I don’t envy Europeans for their ease of international travel, expect perhaps when I move there myself.

Dinner itself was uneventful, but we decided (or more accurately, coerced each other) to sign up for the bar crawl that night, for which pre-drinks were necessary. Enter the wonders of 1,20€ sangria (packaged in a plastic bottle, with a label that badly needed the work of a qualified graphic designer, or maybe just someone with eyes) and 0,95€ ice, and we soon found ourselves sitting in the common room getting drunk out of mugs.

The pub crawl itself consisted of entry to three bars and a club, and we didn’t make it to the latter (not because we were too drunk, we were just quite tired). Instead, we got patatas bravas in a small corner shop with two German girls who’d also been on the crawl, before heading back to the comfort of hostel beds with curtains (this isn’t sarcastic, I really do think every hostel bed should have this. Nothing more unsettling than waking up disoriented and staring into the face of a sleeping stranger). I should note that Roy and I had also gotten kicked out of the second bar – not because I’d done anything myself, but because Roy had decided to climb the ladder in the back room to get us bottles of water from the storage room. I should also note that this was the first time I’d ever gotten kicked out of any establishment, and I don’t plan on a repeat act.

The rest of my time in Barcelona will be continued in a subsequent post.

Until next time,

x

San Sebastián

12/08/18 to 14/08/18

A cool two and a half months have passed since I last wrote (on this blog, I did manage to scrawl some entries in my physical journal), my exchange semester has ended, and many things (and people) have been left behind. I’m back in Melbourne, for better or for worse, and I’ve decided that now is as good a time as ever to resume my reflections on what was perhaps the most eventful half-year of my life. I may be on the other side of the world, but back to Europe we go.

The decidedly subpar experience I endured at Stansted Airport landed me in Biarritz, which was one of two ways I could easily reach my first destination, San Sebastián. I’m pleased to report that the flight itself was uneventful (one of the few instances where you’d be pleased by such a description), the legroom was sufficient, and I didn’t even mind the blatant advertisements they had on the back of the headrests.

Upon arrival, I was hit by something I hadn’t quite experienced in London: heat. It was humid, the sun was beating down, and I was rather disoriented. After heaving my backpack off the baggage carousel, nervously glancing at the families reunited around me and reminded that I was very alone, I trudged out of the airport towards the bus terminal.

« Est-ce que ce bus va a San Sebastián ? »

« Ouais. »

« Et ça coûte combien ? »

And just comme ça, I had successfully navigated my first transfer of many.

I’d completely forgotten that France and Spain were part of the Schengen Area, meaning you can pass between borders without any inkling that you’ve just entered a country with a completely different language, culture, and way of life. As such, it was only when I glanced down at my phone after having spent the good part of an hour peering at the rolling hills of France (or were we already in Spain?) that I realised we’d gone international. A text from RateAdvice informed me of this, with a cordial ‘Welcome to Spain’ preceding a list of numbers and slashes that I paid little attention to.

I wish I could tell you what country this was.

I found my hostel with little difficulty (Google Maps has my gratitude), and after carefully arranging my ‘important documents’ in an unnumbered locker, I set off to explore. Without any specific landmarks in mind, I chose a direction instead: head towards the beach, and then across the river that splits the city in two.

On the way to my unspecified and unknown destination, I stumbled across an art gallery staging an Andy Warhol exhibit.

At Sala Kubo-Kuxta, San Sebastián.

There’s something about art galleries that comforts me – the clicking of shoes across wooden floors, the lowered voices that people adopt when faced with art, the silent observation of gallery staff. It’s my universal safe space, and perhaps that was what drew me to it in the first place: when confronted with the unknown, seek the familiar. It also helped that the exhibition texts were written in English, as I’d been feeling quite alien when confronted by the abundance of Basque signs and menus in the city. The woman at the cash register asked me if ‘hablas castellano’ when I was purchasing a tote bag. I did speak some, technically, but my poor knowledge of Spanish political history meant that I was thrown by the word ‘castellano’. I’d never come across it before in class, because of course, it’s more widely referred to as ‘español’. I’d failed to realise that in the country of España, formed of disparate kingdoms each with their own distinct culture, ‘español’ is perhaps not the best name for the language. So, she ended up speaking to me in English.

The rest of my stroll proceeded as I’d wished it to: in a leisurely manner, and against the soundtrack of my ‘español’ playlist. For those interested, this largely consists of reggaeton, with sprinklings of the acoustic croonings of the likes of Pablo Alborán (‘Solamente Tú’ may just be my favourite Spanish song de todos los tiempos). Despite my having only been in Spain for a few hours, I felt myself being lulled into the slowness of their way of life – with nowhere to go and nowhere to be, I had all the time in the world.

I had two nights here, and only one full day, so I’d planned to head up Monte Igueldo via the funicular the next morning. Unfortunately, the meteorological gods weren’t in accordance with this plan, and they decided to do this:

There’s no light at the end of this tunnel.

Which was lovely and considerate of them. As a result, my pictures from the top – ones which my sister had replicated (well, not quite) when she’d visited two years prior, look quite ominous. Nothing like the sunny oasis suggested when you Google Image the city.

Not sponsored by the San Sebastián tourism board.

I should also note that there was what appeared to be a theme park up the top of the mountain, albeit a rather sad one. There were so few people that the workers outnumbered the guests, and I spent some time watching the rollercoaster rumble sadly out of sight to the mix of reggaeton and American music blasting from the radio. The entire situation felt a bit surreal, and I decided it would be best for me to seek shelter before the skies opened up.

As they say, there’s no better shelter than a shopping centre, so to the nearest shopping centre I went. Disinterested in the chain stores that populated every floor but the basement, I went down to the supermarket for my first true exploration of the day.

These were not only delicious, but also only cost a little over 1€.

Visiting supermarkets is something of a hobby for me, because they vary so widely from country to country, and even between different chains within the same country. I like looking at the items they stock, how much of each item they stock (as this reflects what residents typically consume), the brands they have, the kinds of items they sell home-brand, where the items are placed in the store, and so forth. It’s really a lot of fun if you go into it with an open mind. As for what I learnt about the residents of San Sebastián – not to stereotype, but there really were fuckloads of olives. They also had these cool ‘weigh it yourself’ machines that I’d previously seen in Lyon, where you press the number code associated with whatever produce you’d picked out, and it prints a label with the according price to be stuck to your bag and scanned at the register.

After this, I resumed my stroll, having decided that the threatening skies wouldn’t act on whatever it was they were threatening. I walked past the cathedral (one of many that I would walk past and decide not to enter), and back in the direction of the hostel in search of some carbohydrates. After a quick text consultation with my sister and the use of some questionable (but workable) Spanish, I was rewarded with this:

Un bocadillo de tortilla de patatas: potatoes in an omelette (freshly cooked), sandwiched between thick slices of bread. I ate this sitting on a bench overlooking the beach. It sounds idyllic, and in retrospect it was, but I was bothered by the not-quite-blue skies.

Revived and rejuvenated, I headed back towards what seemed to be the city centre, where I stumbled upon some celebrations for La Semana Grande. This was a festival I was unaware of prior to landing in Biarritz, where I was enthusiastically informed of its occurrence by passport control staff when they learned where I was heading. I’m not going to pretend I know what was being celebrated, although knowing the Spanish it was probably nothing at all (I was told that Spanish people will find any excuse to have a party. Not my words). I was, however, quite bewildered by what I saw, which was men (or women) in full head masks chasing children down the street, and hitting them with what appeared to be large, slightly deflated balloons. If anyone knows what the rationale behind this is, I’m all ears.

I later found myself in front of a fountain at the end of a pedestrianised street, shielded by trees from a sky that was now clearing. An elderly woman came and sat on the opposite end of my bench, and I got the sense that she wanted to talk. Not wanting to be rude, but also feeling insecure about my conversational Spanish skills, I glanced over at her to acknowledge her presence. She said something which I didn’t quite understand, but which I assumed was about the beauty of the fountain. ‘¿Es muy bella, no?’ I said, and she seemed content with my response. After a few minutes, the fountain abruptly stopped spouting water. The woman looked at me and said what I presume was Spanish for ‘finished’, before smiling and hobbling away.

I continued bumbling around the streets in the area, stopping to take in a Mariachi band and starting to recognise stores and squares I’d walked past before. What I learnt from my time in San Sebastián is how much you can do and see when you travel on your own – with no one else to consider but yourself, you have complete and utter control of how you spend your day. Admittedly, this is somewhat helped by the fact that I walk very quickly (as verified by frustrated friends and family), but I stand by the efficiency of the solo traveller. Looking back on pictures I took of that day, I’m really quite amazed at what I managed to fit in, and how familiar the city was already beginning to feel.

That night, I found myself in cordoned off area, waiting for the fireworks to start. The International Firework Competition is an integral part of La Semana Grande, the festival whose object of celebration remains elusive. While we (myself and other disgruntled tourists) were waiting, the sky decided to act on its earlier threats of rain, complementing it with claps of thunder and flashes of lightning. I stayed for the fireworks because I’m not a quitter, but I booked it back to the hostel as soon as the last spark fell from the sky.

I’m not sure if I expected anything less from my first International Firework Competition, but these really were the best fireworks I’d ever seen.

The next morning I marched to the underground bus terminal, direction Barcelona. My time in San Sebastián was spent largely alone (I didn’t find my hostel particularly social, and a solo traveller I met later in Barcelona shared this sentiment) and marred by bad weather, but I don’t regret my time there. That said, hostels were more expensive than what I’d found in other regions of Spain, which is something to bear in mind if cost is a deciding factor for your travels. I wouldn’t spend more than two nights there as I didn’t find a wealth of activities to do, although this obviously depends on how you like to pace your own travels. I also imagine that a slower pace would be likely if you were travelling with others, meaning more nights might be needed.

Ultimately, San Sebastián was a pleasant (if not rather grey) introduction to the Basque region, and of my trip in its entirety.

Until next time,

x

Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi could best be described as somewhat of a revered figure, having composed several bestselling cookbooks, opened successful restaurants, and amassed an ample Instagram following (all of these accolades are of equal importance). Given my absence from Instagram, I heard about him first through word of mouth. In discussing my love of London with a friend from back home, as I so often do, she gasped and declared: ‘you have to go to Ottolenghi’. And so, a little over a year later, go to Ottolenghi I did.

I should preface this by noting that I’ve previously ‘dabbled’ in Ottolenghi, having tried his recipes myself, and sampled some cooked by others. I’m an avid fan of Middle-Eastern food (being both vegetarian and an unabashed fan of chickpeas, as apparently most vegetarians are), so it seemed only natural that if I couldn’t go to Ottolenghi back home, I could at least bring him to me. Or have him bought to me, as I did at my hostel in Seville.

I apologise for the objectively poor photography. I had only known the people around me for an hour at best, and presumably didn’t want to give them the wrong impression. The wrong impression being, of course, my true self.

Prior to trying the melange of spiced couscous, homemade hummus, fresh vegetables and pita bread crafted by the hostel staff, I must admit that I’d only vaguely followed the Ottolenghi recipes I found online – and when I say ‘vaguely’, I mean ‘omitting about half of the spices as I couldn’t be bothered buying them.’ To give myself some credit, I did think they turned out quite well at the time, and felt satisfied with the flavour profile I’d constructed. This all changed, however, that evening in Seville, and was effectively turned on its head when I went to Ottolenghi (the Ottolenghi. Specifically, the one in Spitalfields).

My sister had told me to try the shakshuka, one of the recipes I’d ‘vaguely’ attempted. Yet when I plopped myself down at the bar, having rather unceremoniously stuffed my foldable umbrella into an oddly shaped pot behind me, I found myself faced with neatly printed copies of the lunch menu. In a bit of a panic, as often happens when events don’t unfold as I expect, I quickly scanned the options listed. They sounded delicious, but there was no shakshuka.

As part of my Panic Plan, I texted my sister with a picture of the menu, asking a) how the menu worked, and b) what I should get, then proceeding to c) suggest a combination of dishes according to my (completely correct) understanding of the menu, and d) order that combination without waiting for her response. To be fair, those messages did take an awfully long time to deliver.

Today’s menu, in all its glory.

I ordered the smoked aubergine, confit garlic and feta tart, with two salads: the roasted aubergine, and the roasted butternut squash. I won’t make you wait.

I don’t really need to describe this, do I?

Upon having this deftly placed before me, I gingerly picked up my knife and fork and searched for a place to start. Should I pick apart each component? Should I slice everything into a delicate mouthful, so I could taste it all together? How are there so many colours? Eventually, I decided to begin by sampling the vegetable that always seems to call my name – the smoked aubergine.

I didn’t know vegetables could taste like that.

When it touched my tastebuds, I’m quite certain my mind blanked. I was no longer entirely sure how to process what was happening in my mouth, and I believe I sat unmoving for a little longer than one should when eating in a public space. The best way to describe it – and the roasted squash, and the tart – is that I didn’t know vegetables could taste like that. This is coming from someone who loves the taste of vegetables by themselves, and has devoured them in the context of many cuisines. This, though, was nothing like I’d ever had before. There’s no adequate way to describe how impeccably the flavours melded together, how well the textures complemented one another, and how artfully crafted every element was. The crispiness of slightly charred herbs bringing out their flavour, the way the centre of the aubergine melted in my mouth, and the sweetness of the confit garlic (there was a sharp intake of breath just thinking about this) giving way to its distinct aroma. Service, too, was lovely, and I appreciate that the staff seemed to acknowledge when I was having A Moment with the food.

Ottolenghi was worth everything it’d taken to get there, including my rather idiotic decision to walk half an hour in the rain and bitter cold that have recently graced London. If that doesn’t convey how overwhelmingly positive my experience was, I’m not sure what will.

Pre-London, Pre-Spain

Prior to moving to London, I set off on my first solo backpacking trip (‘first’ applying to both adjectives) around Spain and Portugal. I was rather nonchalant in choosing to do it this way; none of my close friends were going on exchange to Europe, and the time I was leaving coincided with the beginning of the second semester at my home university, meaning none of my other university friends would be available (assuming they’d have been willing). So I quite adamantly decided, despite my mum’s concerns, that I’d just ‘do it myself.’

Along with Pret A Manger, this is one of the many comforting things I saw in London during that short pre-Spain stop. In all seriousness, this is one of my favourite artworks of all time – Reverse (2002), by Jenny Saville, seen in the ‘All Too Human’ exhibition at the Tate Britain.

I will admit, however, that as my departure neared I felt a growing sense of dread. This was somewhat alleviated by the few days in London I spent before leaving for Spain – a city I loved and was comfortable with, having visited a few times before. Yet as I passed shakily through security at Stansted Airport, having been forced to throw away (and then later repurchase in Boots, for criminal prices) some of my liquid containers, and having been treated rather dismissively by airport staff, it hit. I had no clue what I was doing here, let alone in San Sebastián, Barcelona, and the eight cities that would follow.

I’ve always been quite reliant (and sometimes embarrassingly so) on my older sister to guide me through what I like to refer to as ‘admin stuff’, which, in my mind, includes things like ‘how to get through the airport’, ‘which door am I supposed to go through’, and ‘help, what you said would happen didn’t, and now I don’t know what to do.’ I’m aware that this is not really ‘admin stuff’, but I’m not particularly keen on labelling it as what it really is, which is ‘normal life skills’ and ‘learning to adapt’. The time difference meant that she was now asleep at hours when I might need her help (which, if we’re being honest, is most of the time), so I was now quite wholly independent, in a way that terrified me. I had casually plunged myself into a pool of general discomfort, and I only had myself to blame.

I like to star food places on Google Maps, and place green flags on ‘other’ attractions. This makes it not only easy to find food/things to do when I’m in a certain area, but also serves as a nice reminder of my travels. It’s also great to show people, and then have them ask why on Earth you have so many food places starred.

I would like to say that I embraced that independence whole-heartedly, in a rather heroic (albeit unrealistic) show of character overhaul. I suppose, in a sense, I didn’t really have a choice, yet I would argue that Google Maps became my new crutch. How do I get to the city centre from the airport? Google Maps. Where should I eat? Google Maps. Where am I? Google Maps. I would, however, turn off my location if I wasn’t heading towards a particular destination, leaving myself to wander quite aimlessly around the area my last target had been in. I’ve always found this to be the best way to get to know a city, although this is probably unadvisable from a safety perspective.

I should note that prior to going to Spain, I had a fair grasp of Spanish. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons I was going there – to ‘improve my Spanish’ – as well as it being lovely and sunny. The last time I’d been, I was thirteen, with an ‘interest’ in travelling founded on there being shops overseas that weren’t available in Australia. Perhaps, then, I also felt obliged to return in an effort to redeem my thirteen year old self.

The stars and flags also come in handy in helping me mark out my route, although you’ll later note that I ‘forgot’ to put flags and stars on my first two destinations, for some unfathomable reason.

With only a vague idea of Spanish geography, I’d pulled up RoutePerfect at the recommendation of my sister, and mapped out a ‘geographically logical’ route around Spain, then into Portugal. The cities I chose were largely guided by the advice of Reddit (I’m aware that this website has a tricky reputation, but I swear that only certain parts of it are undesirable), as well as the activities I had listed for each.

I maintain to this day that booking travel is only straightforward in theory, assuming you’re on a budget of some sort. Flipping between tabs in an attempt to find the cheapest mode of transport, and then coming to the realisation that yes, a thirty euro bus would be the only way to get to this city, even though it was really close to the previous one, is maddening. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is why people seem to spend so much time discussing their plans to travel, without ever doing it (that, or they can’t get time off work. Definitely an equal probability of it being either).

It took me days (actually, weeks, but only because I was waiting for Portuguese train tickets to be made available sixty days in advance) to finish booking all my transport and accommodation. Quite frankly, this took longer than it should have, given that it was university break and I had minimal responsibilities. But alas, it was ‘tiring’, and my brain already felt on the verge of collapse after all the information it had been stuffed with during the semester.

A lovely picture of Córdoba, for no other reason than to break up the text (and to build some anticipation for that post, I know how psychology works).

Nevertheless, I finally had my itinerary: San Sebastián, Barcelona, Valencia, Córdoba, Granada, Cádiz, Seville, Lagos, Lisbon, and Porto. For those of you who are geographically challenged (I’m not saying this to shame you, as I fall partly into this category myself), the latter three are in Portugal, and the rest in Spain.

I began this post with the intention of beginning to detail my experiences in Spain, but it appears we haven’t yet left London (or Australia, for that matter), although I can say with certainty that this will be achieved in the next round of posts. I did say in my first post that I wanted my blog to reflect my life with some integrity, and this is exactly the kind of faffing about that took place during my travel planning. So it appears that I’ve achieved at least one of my goals, for which I’ll give myself a well-deserved pat on the back.

Until next time,

x

Hello

I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a blog at many points in my life: initially a ‘beauty blog’ to validate the makeup addiction I developed as a teenager (although this infatuation has fortunately waned), and later a ‘food blog’, to validate the addiction I seem to now have developed to eating food, and photographing it.

I’ll make more of an effort to photograph food aesthetically from now on, even if it means standing up in the middle of a restaurant. I won’t get a tripod though, I’m not willing to go that far.

It’s not so much that I no longer nurse such an addiction, given that I did eat five donuts yesterday (in my defence, I did take a donut workshop in the morning, and it would be a crime to let the boxes of donuts they gave us go stale), but rather that I didn’t feel as enthused as I should have about blogging around one theme. Obviously, I could change this at any point, but the neatness I prefer in my environment also applies to my social media, and change felt decidedly messy.

So here I am, with what I’ll label as a ‘personal blog’. It’s really a rather clever (or perhaps lazy) way of allowing me to blog about whatever I fancy, and will likely end up being a ‘mish-mash’ of subjects, with a variety that hopefully reflects my life with some integrity. Having never properly written a blog before, and being quite adverse to ‘too much social media’, I imagine there’ll be some kind of learning curve that I’ll encounter. Knowing me, this will likely manifest itself in something silly like my not being able to hyperlink something properly, forgetting to put tags on a post, or managing to write three paragraphs without having properly introduced myself.

London’s sunsets, among other things, are unrivalled.

I’m Abigail, a 20 year old Melburnian (Australian, not Floridian. Not that anyone ever mistakes me for the latter, but you’re not hearing my accent while reading this) studying Biomedicine. I’m currently living in (and frolicking around) London, where I’m nearing the end of my exchange semester. I suppose, too, that it’s been my time here in London that has provided me further incentive to actually start a blog, given that I do want something to look back on. I’ve been journaling quite erratically in the time I’ve spent travelling, but decided I wanted a more refined medium, that would allow me to put in pretty pictures at regular intervals. I like pretty pictures, and other people like pretty pictures, so I figure that everyone wins this way.

I was asked (and continue to be asked) why I hadn’t yet created an Instagram account to chronicle my adventures overseas (or my ‘food adventures’, noted friends who caught glimpses of the food folder in my phone photos). Despite my aforementioned aversion to social media, I will admit that I did entertain this suggestion for some time. So much time, in fact, that I accumulated a backlog of pictures so large that I would, at this rate, be posting far too many pictures from months ago for it to be any accurate reflection of what’s now happening in my life. Yes, I could do many ‘throwback Thursdays’, but I would realistically have to do throwback ‘every day of the week’ to have any hope of getting through them all. And so alas, here I am, where I feel it’s more acceptable to be so retrospective.

Have I mentioned how much I love London? 

I did claim earlier that this blog would be a bit of a ‘mish-mash’, but I realistically see it having a vague structure (do recall my neatness), up until a certain point. As I’ve taken a fair few trips since moving and before moving to London, I intend to make a post on each, in chronological order. In between, there’ll be scattered posts about daily life happenings, how much I love London, some food I ate, how much I don’t want to leave, etc.

Now that I’m content you know who I am, and have probably formed some opinion of me, I’m off to learn my language flashcards and maybe get out of bed (language flashcards having, of course, been learnt lying down in bed).

Until next time,

x