Celebrating 22 in Spain

February 2, 2009


            The past four days were the most tiring and exhilarating of my life. Four days is not much time to experience an entire country, but I managed to stretch time by ignoring sleep. Here is my experience of Spain and the 22nd birthday I will never forget.


            Spain was finally here. Waking up to land out the window felt so good. On my way out, I ignored the ship’s breakfast in order to experience some Spanish cuisine. I flew down the gangway steps and leaped onto the ground. I danced around on the unmoving earth before scurrying into Cadiz.


            From the second I arrived, I felt an ancient ambiance flowing from the city. The streets were cobblestone and the skyline was cathedrals. The buildings were made of pale stone and looked to have been beaten by the elements. Still the city looked rustic, not rundown.



            Our first stop was food because of our skipped breakfast. Four friends and myself stood outside a cafe confused, unsure if we needed to go inside or just sit down. As I went up to investigate, I awkwardly hesitated trying to think in Spanish. I muttered a few words and the employee’s confused look showed he did not understand. Then I tried English and he shook his head while smiling. As would become a trend, I was forced to resort to hand signals. I pointed outside and said neccisitamos comida (We need food). He gave a thumbs up to confirm my grunt of Spanish worked.


            My friends and I deciphered the menu for the next 15 minutes. My three years of Spanish were not helping me as well as I hoped. The waiter laughed along with us as we ordered unknown dishes. At all places we went the servers moved at a ridiculously slow pace. Apparently you’re supposed to enjoy each others company and chat rather than getting fast food and running out. How un-American!  I would have given the idea a chance if I wasn’t so hungry.


            When the food finally came, it was worth the wait. Mine was a colossal breakfast/lunch combination. There were three pieces of French toast with eggs, ham and chicken salad between the layers. It was unlike anything I’d ever eaten.


            Energized we began to walk around. We had no specific place to be, so we just wandered taking in as much as we could. Surprisingly few people spoke English. I expected a lot of people with at least basic English knowledge but I was wrong. My primitive Spanish and barbaric hand gestures would have to guide us.


            Our day was filled with fun random explorations. We checked out a 500 year old fort and played with sea cucumbers on the beach. Then we drank coffee and laid back to rest our feet for a moment. As I sipped my coffee, I was hypnotized by the beauty of the area. The beach sparkled in front of me and I could taste the ocean’s salt in the air.


Trying to take it all in

Trying to take it all in


            Stomach grumblings woke us from our trance so we headed into the center of town for more food. Most places were closed because they don’t eat lunch until 3:00 and it was noon. We managed to find one that was willing to open the kitchen for us. Our waiter didn’t speak any English, but we had a lot of fun with him. Often times it felt like I was playing charades as we tried to communicate. We picked some mystery items on the menu and waited.


            Our food was unexpected to say the least. The first mystery dish was olive oil with potatoes (there was more olive oil than potatoes). The next was octopus tentacles and the last was a platter of squid, shrimp, fried fish, and anchovies. Some exotic foods, but they were delicious. Eating the heads and tails of anchovies was the weirdest. I felt the bones crunching as I chewed. You could tell the food was straight from the ocean by the fresh taste. Also it was cheap, only about eight Euros a person for all this and a glass of wine.


            The next stop was a cathedral that we earlier noticed from outside the city. We climbed to the top, which was the highest point in the town, and enjoyed the surrounding landscape. The stone architecture was especially gorgeous from this vantage point. This cathedral was excessively large. I see no reason why they would ever build one this big; much more like a monument than a church. I could fit at least 15 of my hometown churches inside of it. I thought the crypt was the most interesting part, lots of dead people from hundreds of years ago.


            The rest of my day was spent eating every few hours and meeting Spanish people. In my conversations with locals, I spoke in a mix of charades, English and Spanish. That night I went to a discoteca (club), and stayed until 4:30 am. May sound excessive, but I was actually one of the first people to leave! People in Spain don’t go out until about 1-2 am.


            To get to Barcelona, we went through a frenzy of public transportation. We saved a lot of money, but created a lot of hassle. We first rode a train partway to the airport and  caught a cab. Then we flew to Barcelona, rode partway in a bus, then the subway and finally we had to walk 30 minutes to get to our hostel. So we went train, cab, plane, bus, and subway over a three hour period. Although it was stressful, we made it there without any significant problems.


            Barcelona was nothing like Cadiz. It was a sprawling city and there were few stone buildings. Comparing Barcelona to Cadiz is like comparing New York to Iowa City. Strangely, there was still almost no skyscrapers. Most of the businesses were smaller and had artistic designs.


On a bad note, it is supposed to be a really dangerous place. Local people I befriended warned me to not pull out my blackberry, to not carry my wallet and to keep my hands in my pockets when in a crowd of people. Luckily I only had a minor run in with a criminal (ill describe it in a bit).


            A few hours after arriving in Barcelona we went to a soccer game. The stadium was electric. It was like Kinnick on steroids. There were 100,000 fanatical Spaniards surrounding us, chanting who knows what. I yelled as if I was one of them. I’m sure I sounded like a fool yelling gibberish.  FC Barcelona, the home team, won the game 3-2.





After the Game

After the Game


            The game ended at 1 am, but our night was just beginning. By this time I had drank so much coffee I didn’t even feel my body’s pleas for sleep. We went out to a discoteca on the beach that had a 20 euro entrance fee for guys. Luckily, I had met someone earlier who told me I could get in free saying I knew him. So I walked past the line, said I knew Kiki, and was ushered in for free with all my friends. Never actually saw Kiki inside, but he made my night a little easier. Not too much drinking because we had a big next day (plus they cost $12.50). I finally fell asleep by about six or seven am.


            It hurt to hear my alarm clock go off at 1030 am. I rolled out of bed and quickly had an espresso shot to jolt some life into me. Luckily the espresso is really strong here, it’s the only reason I could still move. We had some breakfast and set off to explore Barcelona.


            We headed off towards one of the most famous sites in Barcelona, the Cathedral of the Sacred Family. Remember the other gigantic cathedral I talked about in Cadiz? Well this church is its bigger brother. It towered above the city. From almost anywhere in town you could see its peaks reaching towards the clouds. Even more impressive than its immense size was the intricate art covering every inch. There were serpants, lizards and sorcerors next to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Gaudi's Cathedral

Gaudi's Cathedral



            It was designed by Gaudi, who is a crazy 19th century architect/artist/city designer. Underneath the cathedral there was an entire museum dedicated to him and others who helped build the church. Apparently Gaudi designed most of the famous things in Barcelona. I still don’t exactly understand how he had the money or time to do all this.


            The next thing we visited was a really abstract apartment done by Gaudi. The building was wavy and filled with strange statues and arches. It looked to be straight out of Dr. Seuss.


            The last Gaudi work we saw was his park and house. It was on a hilltop overlooking the city. Twisting through it was paths transformed into tunnels from heavy vegetation. The park was so big it took us hours to explore. By the time we got done we had been walking around Barcelona for six hours. We needed to rest for at least a few minutes.


            We stopped by the hostel long enough for it to tease us with sleep. I threw down another few coffees to numb the tiredness and fought my way out of the hostel. At dinner, which they eat at like 10pm, I had a few birthday drinks and made my way to the disco again. The night was a great time. I met a bunch of people who I convinced it is customary in Iowa to buy drinks for the birthday boy.


            Next thing I know, its 7:00 am and we’re getting kicked out. Somehow I had lost my friends earlier when I was talking to some people from Amsterdam and Russia. This is where life gets interesting. I was alone, deliriously tired and my phone was dead in Barcelona at the end of my birthday night.


I decided that given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be the safest to go wandering for the subway station. I briefly talked to a hilarious 30 year old Scottish guy and found out he was going to the same area. Since it was a long cab ride we decided to ride together. Our cabbie spoke no English, so I told him that this Scottish guy and myself were amigos and pointed where we needed to be taken.


            This Scottish guy was straight out of the movie Braveheart. He actually brought the movie up and told me how much he loved it. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was drinking or his accent, but I only could understand one out of every three sentences he said.


At one point he asked the cabbie if we could stop for him to buy cigarettes. The moment we stopped he flung the door open and took off sprinting! My cab driver starts yelling like crazy in Spanish. Not sure what he was yelling but it was not PG rated. Then he starts yelling at me. I was so confused. He pulled out a Spanish-English dictionary since he couldn’t understand my pleas that this guy was not my friend.


I ended up sitting there talking in Spanish with the cabbie for 30 minutes. The driver was 23 years old and named Fransico. By the end of our conversation we were exchanging high fives and laughing hysterically. Fransico only made me pay $12 for a $30 taxi cab ride when we got back to the hostel!


I walked into the hostel at 7:30 in the morning, surprised to see a few of my friends still awake. We exchanged stories and slowly gathered our belongings to go to the airport. I was writing in my journal and fell asleep mid sentence on the flight home. I slept for an hour on the plane. After getting back in Cadiz, I showered and went to celebrate my bday again with about 15 people from the boat. Finally, after only several hours of sleep over three days, I passed out at 7pm. I was comatose before I finished lying down. My hibernation lasted 15 hours.


As fun as all the sightseeing was, my favorite experiences in Spain involved talking to random people from around the world. I met people from Russia, Denmark, Austria, Georgia, England, America, Poland, Morocco and Scotland to name a few I can remember. A girl I was talking to from Georgia got really upset I didn’t know what countries were around it. How ironic of a role reversal from me on the boat.


             Hope I didn’t drag on too much; I experienced so much I could write a novel. Still, I didn’t give anything the detail it deserved. My time in Spain was one of the best of my life. Keep in mind I am writing for a very diverse audience, its a little difficult. They range from a 5th grade class, to my grandparents, and to my friends in Iowa city.


Right now we are outside of Gibraltar and almost in Morocco. I just did my laundry by hand in a trash can. Now I’m going to orientation meetings to see what Morocco has to offer.Who knows when pictures are coming to the blog. One of these days they will be here to brighten up the page. My friends I traveled with and I combined pictures and I now have 1200 total!



One Response to “Celebrating 22 in Spain”

  1. dad said

    Exciting and so far no real pain. Can’t wait for the pictures.

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