The Travel - on the whole, the travel has been relatively easy - the sleepless Sleepers notwithstanding that is! The trains have been very straightforward and largely a painless way to travel, although the bizarre airconditioning on the train from Seville to Granada that made the carriages warmer than the toilets was a bit puzzling. And after 3 hours, very uncomfortable.
My final bits of travel will be by bus and plane. Not having checked my intinerary before booking it all, I am left in Granada without a workable train connection to Malaga airport. But apparently the buses are good here, so bus it is. And then another new experience, EasyJet home to Scotland. I'm intrigued to see just how 'easy' it actually is!
The Food - Travelling on my own and, to be honest, still not entirely comfortable eating on my own in the evenings, the food hasn't been that gastronomically spectacular this trip. That said, it has been good with only a couple of duff choices in there. And the Spanish style of eating a main meal in the middle of the day and lighter tapas in the evening has suited me well.
Highlights? Well those would be
- churros this morning at Cafe Futbol here in Granada.
- berenjenas con meil in a bar in the Juderia in Cordoba. A heavenly way to eat aubergines. Their olives were pretty good too!
- the gazpacho has been universally good and incredibly refreshing (and no, I didn't once ask them to heat it up)
- tortilla and arroz con leche at the Bar Santos, also in Cordoba. A simple meal in a simple place, all eaten standing up, but so good that I had it 2 days running. Highly recommended.
- the whole Mercado de San Miguel experience in Madrid. Browsing the stalls for snack-ettes and then plonking down at a high bar to eat them. Great fun. People watching thrown in for free
- the sopa de ajo in the vegetarian restaurant in Madrid, although my other choice of Huevos Revueltas was one of the duffers
- and finally tonight, the homemade limonade con hierbabuena y yoghurt at my teashop in Albaicin.
The Language - I've definitely had fun trying out my Spanish and getting a real kick out of being understood - even if it is at the second time of saying. To be fair, I've not done much more than order food or buy stuff, but the camera charger adventure and all the train ticket buying have been real accomplishments in my book.
I'm much better at reading Spanish now too and managed to get round a whole exhibition on Piracy in the Carribean reading only the Spanish boards and understood it (I checked my translation against the English versions that were available too!) Incidentally, it was really interesting seeing history from 'the other side'. Much of the exhibition was about the Armada and the Spanish/English wars. Needless to say England was the aggressor and Spain was just acting in self defence. Very convincing it was too. It really does depend how you look at something as to what you end up seeing. Strangely enough, there was no mention that the lands that Spain was defending were ones they had first invaded and conquered. History is written mainly by the victors, it's true.
Whilst my food ordering and exhibition reading skills may be passable, my conversational Spanish most definitely isn't. I still struggle to understand what's said to me and as a result I haven't felt confident enough to strike up any conversations. I'm not great at that kind of thing at the best of times, but when it's in a language I don't really know...
The Weather - I admit it has been much hotter than I thought it would be, but not unmanageable. Everyone said, when I told them I was going to Spain in August, it will be hot. And all I thought was, that's exactly what I want. But not 40+ degree heat. It's a long time since I've been this hot and while I know all the right things to do to survive, it's still hard work. I'd forgotten how tiring the heat can be. Or how much I swell up in the heat! The feeling of sweat trickling down your legs is not a pleasant one, and nor is walking outside and being hit (almost literally) by a wall of heat. I'm so pleased that all the hotels have had airconditioning, otherwise I'd have got no sleep this holiday.
I am pleased to report, that despite the scorching temperatures, I have managed to avoid getting sunburn. I suspect that's as much to do with having to stay in the shade most of the time as it is to do with my suncream applying abilities. Hopefully I will have picked up a bit of healthy colour, however, and may return home having changed from Rich tea to Digestive biscuit colour?
The Places - each of the places I've visited has had its own character and I don't know why that surprises me so much. Madrid was the only I placed I actually liked at first sight. For a capital city it was much less frenetic than I expected, although that could be to do with the infamous August effect, when all sensible people leave the city to escape the heat. Maybe because it's a bigger city and therefore there's more space for the rougher areas to be more distant, but I got much less of the feel of 'raw' life in Madrid than in either of Seville or Granada. And that's even with having found the Red Light district which, to be fair, isn't that hard to find in Madrid since it's pretty much in the middle of the main shopping area.
Cordoba was a whole different place and very olde worlde. I didn't actually venture outside the old city precinct so that might be why, but I really liked what I saw there. To begin with I thought it was way too touristy and a bit tacky, but it didn't take long to get away from the tat and enjoy the relative peace of the place. Just a few streets was often all it took to escape the madd(en)ing crowd. And looking back on my 'Food' reflections above, the eating was probably best in Cordoba. The hotel is right up there too, both location and character.
Seville, on the other hand, was quite a shock to the system and first impressions weren't good. It probably didn't help that I arrived at siesta time and while there were lots of tourists around, the place had a 'closed' feeling. It was also at the start of my visit to Seville that I got fleeced by the gypsies. They earned their 2 Euros they got from me, but not the paper money they were demanding for the fairly dodgy and completely unsolicited fortune telling they did. But once I got used to Seville, I really grew to like the place. I felt entirely safe there, even in the evenings. And it was where I saw my amazing flamenco after all!
Granada, like Seville, didn't make a good first impression. The guidebooks are right, it's a bit edgier than both Seville and Madrid, but it's also more blatantly a tourist town. I guess that's what happens when you have the Alhambra as your main attraction. I suspect there wouldn't be much to Granada either without tourism, so maybe it's just the price you pay. And the Alhambra is truly stunning. It's also very busy and almost spoiled by it. I'm really glad I was there at the end of the day and was able to have the occasional bit of it almost to myself. It must have been a wonderful place to live. The Albaicin, on the hillside opposite, has changed my impression of Granada. Those white washed mazes are the real heart of the city and a place you can lose yourself, both literally and figuratively.
Overall - it's been an amazing and wonderful adventure. Probably the most interpid I've ever been. Any other solo holiday I've taken has either been with a group (and so not really solo), as part of a package (and so not really an adventure) or in the UK (and so not really intrepid). This has been none of those things - I've come here entirely on my own, to a country where English isn't the first language and I've arranged everything myself. I've got myself safely from A to B (and C and D, and hopefully E too on Wednesday!) all on my own and using mostly public transport - the occasional taxi thrown in. I am very proud of myself!