SPAIN UPDATE # 6

Summertime… and the livin’ is most definitely easy.

Hello again, and welcome to the final installment of Mark’s European Vacation! When last we left him, our sophisticated yet still delightfully uncouth narrator had returned from the exotic isle of Ibiza and anticipated a successful and exciting end to a positively enthralling semester. Let’s join him now as he recounts his adventures on the other side of the pond…

What better place to begin then Ibiza. After months of exhausting mental exertion… okay, maybe not exhausting mental exertion, probably more like fast-paced and on the edge of out of control partying… anyway, after months of doing lots of stuff here, I finally got a chance to kick back and do not as much stuff on the beautiful island of Ibiza off the eastern coast of Spain. My comrades Pat, Jordan, and Luis helped me to enjoy some intense tanning and lying around, and even a bit of sand castle construction and cold sea swimming for a 3-day weekend of heaven on earth. Not to mention that we had a hotel with a postcard-worthy view for only 25 bucks a night, and it sat right on the edge of a beautiful cove and gorgeous beach with plenty of lovely half-naked women. Suffice to say, despite our expectations of going out to clubs and parties every night, we exhausted ourselves so much from the lying around all day that we ended up in bed earlier than we usually were on school nights. Fortunately, none of the clubs were open yet anyway (it was still off-season) so we didn’t miss out on anything. Just a chill weekend with some good food, good friends, and good times.

Back to school, and back into the hectic week of dance performances! For those who had forgotten, all of my friends and I were in a couple different dance classes where we were learning to woo the ladies with salsa, tango, flamenco, and the like. As with any class, the final exam was coming, but for these, the exam consisted of a 2-hour stage performance in front of an auditorium of people. Not only that, but the chorus class I was in also wanted to perform, so in one night I was lucky enough to sing my heart out with the chorus then bust a move—flamenco style—in a dance-off of epic proportions. Videos of both of these performances are forthcoming.

Finals came and went with little fanfare, and finally the end of the semester and my family both arrived simultaneously. They met my new friends, sampled Madrid, and then we all busted outta there and drove down to Toledo, where Daniel and Dad had a swordfight with their new toys. After the day trip there, onward to Málaga we drove, and to our resort on the beach. Except that the resort wasn’t in Málaga and it wasn’t on the beach, it was 30 minutes away from the city and across a busy highway from the beach. Not exactly paradise, but once we realized we were still in Spain, nobody really complained.

Due to the lack of things to do around the resort, several more day trips were in order. The first, to Sevilla, where we did the tourist stuff and watched a live flamenco show, proved breathtaking, but I gotta tell ya, after only a semester of flamenco dancing, I think I could give those dancers a run for their money. Erm, well, maybe not, but it’s fun to imagine, no? Other trips included some of the Andalucian white hill towns such as Rhonda and Zahara where we did some hiking and tried not to crash the car when driving through the über-narrow alleyways and ultra-steep roads. We also managed to make it out (and up!) to the rock of Gibraltar, where we were attacked by a pack of vicious monkeys with terrible plaque buildup and one with a bad case of the blues. And they were all named Jennifer. It was kinda weird, but fun in the way juggling flaming knives is fun (which I hear it is if you are good at doing it. I personally am not so I don’t know how much fun it would be for me).

Week 2 of vacation brought us to Alicante in Valencia, where the resort this time was at least within walking distance of a city and thus a bit more lively. Plus it was right on the beach, so bonus points for that. However, many, MANY points taken away for having tons of old, leathery-skinned, nasty women sunbathing topless all over the place. I don’t care what language you speak, that is not cool. No es frio. Das ist nicht kühl. We did most of our shopping and fine dining in the little town of Calpe where our hotel was, and Mom and Dad even got a little break when Daniel and I took a 3-day trip to Amsterdam. We had quite a time, sampling the local culture, enjoying pancakes and such, and watching old men, each with a cheering section, play gigantic chess games. They really know how to do it up—’Dam straight! After that ’Dam trip, we flew back to Spain and then all packed up and headed for Barcelona, where we partied like rock stars and guffawed at all the mullets and other 80’s hairstyles we saw. We also managed to take in most of sights I had already seen, and I firmed up my travel plans for the following three weeks. At the end of the vacation, we all had a tearful and hung-over goodbye (due to a joyful and drunken final evening) and the rest of my family left me to explore the rest of Europe. Next stop, Stockholm, Sweden!

I jetted out to Sweden for a few days of sleeping on a boat and ogling the women. All the stories you might hear about Swedish females are quite true, and they’re all super nice to boot. I had a relaxing couple of days there, did some more museums and such, then secured my rail pass and hopped a train to Copenhagen, or as those crazy Danes like to say, Købnhavn, where I took a gander at the little mermaid and checked out some more museums. (Those of you who read my plans in the last email should disregard what they read because plans have a tendency to change. Try not to get too confused in the coming paragraphs.) With one day left before I was to meet my friend in Amsterdam, I decided I’d take a day trip to Brussels. Here is where trouble began.

On any normal trip across an ocean, like for instance from Denmark to Germany, one would assume riding a train the whole time just isn’t possible. After all, there’s not a bridge, so how might they go about driving a train across miles of water? These are some of the things I thought about when I missed the boat. You see, when the train made its last stop before the ocean, I assumed it was time to leave the train and get on the boat. Once off the train, I hurried to get on board the boat, only to be locked out as it was preparing to leave the dock. Panicked, I asked a German couple nearby and received my answer: “The train? Well, the train is on the boat!” Trains do not go on boats! I replied, angrily, in my head. People go on boats! People go on trains! Trains do not go on boats! Alas, it seems logic and reason were some of the many things that were lost in translation. I boarded the next boat out, made it to the Germany, and found out that mine was the last train out and I was stranded at the nearly abandoned boat station until morning. I set up shop, washed my hair in the bathroom sink, and spent a semi-sleepless night on a bench in a cold German docking station.

After that whole debacle I was ready for some good times, and I got them when my buddy Steve from Sacramento came to visit. We met up in Amsterdam where we did the Heineken Experience and saw an improv comedy show, hit up Brussels for a day where we bought 2 pounds of Belgian chocolate and ate lots of Belgian waffles, then took the night train to Berlin. In Berlin, we spent a great deal of time eyeballing the extremely attractive women there (for some reason, it seems 97.63% of the lovely German ladies have decided to live in Berlin… it’s like the Los Angeles of Germany). We did get a chance to check out the essentials—Checkpoint Chalie, the Berliner Dom, the TV tower, and heaps of museums and such—and we even hopped over the Berlin wall to take a trip to a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen about 20 miles out of the city. Sufficiently depressed from that side trip, we took the next train out to Munich where we drowned our sorrows in liter-sized mugs of beer at the Biergartens.

We next decided we had had enough of Germany and went on a whirlwind tour of Italy, starting in Florence. We saw some of the biggies like Brunelleschi’s Duomo and the tombs of several very important folk, and we also managed to eat gelati about six times a day not to mention before and after meals, which were also delicious. After an evening event seeing a strange but altogether quite amusing theater performance, we spent the night then took off for Venice in the morning, where we got hopelessly lost in the alleyways but still managed to visit Piazza San Marco and watch some bothersome Americans sing “That’s Amore” as loud as they could. No wonder the rest of the world dislikes us… I’ll never hear properly again.

Two down, one to go. Having already seen Rome myself, we stayed away from there, mostly because it was also way farther south than we wanted to go if we were still to be able to do Paris. So we did the next best place: Verona! We became Gentlemen of Verona, relaxing and enjoying the simple pleasures of small-town folk, eating more gelati and hanging out with Romeo & Juliet. Evening came and morning followed, and thus ended our Italian conquest. We hit the country hard and fast and left it wanting more.

We next found ourselves in Paris on the last leg of our journey together, where we managed to find a nice hotel with a balcony looking out over a slightly shadier part of the city, but it was cheap and clean and so we didn’t mind. First stop was the Eiffel Tower, where we got almost to the top only to stand in line for an hour waiting for the elevators. We thought about making a break for it and charging up the stairs but we didn’t want to give anyone a fright, particularly the three Spanish girls in front of us in line who had taken a liking to us and hadn’t realized that I could understand everything they were saying. We reached the top and stood in awe the appropriate 60 minutes, rested, then stood in awe some more. Awe-stricken and tired of standing, we ventured on to the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées, where we got our first taste of French food, and most importantly, chocolate mousse. Mmmmmmmmousse.

Over the following two days, we saw Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, La Madeleine Church, Place de la Concorde, the Pantheon, and Père-Lachaise's Cemetery, where we saw Jim Morrison’s, Oscar Wilde’s, and a whole bunch of other famous people’s graves. That place was definitely happening, let me tell you. Sarcasm aside, it was pretty much the only place that didn’t cost money to get into, so we hit it up all the same. On the final day, we bought some French beers and wines and had our own little party on the balcony of our hotel, being loud and obnoxious and furthering the ugly American stereotype by shouting down to people on the street. Luckily, they all seemed nice and fairly receptive, most waving to us with the full hand rather than the one finger salute. The following morning, Steve and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, he going back to London to catch his flight back to California, and I venturing down to Milan to catch a train to my last destination in Italy.

There’s not much to see or do in the small town of Parma, a 1-hour train ride from Milan. Not much, that is, except eat. So, I ate. And I had just about the best Italian food I have ever had and probably ever will. You see, the motivation to go to Parma was purely because this little town had created quite possibly the greatest food of all time—Parmesan cheese. So I spent a day and a half eating all the Parmesan cheese I could handle, only to pause now and then for a tasty morsel or two of delicious Prosciutto ham, another invention of this great city of Parma. And when I was completely full of ham and cheese, I washed it all down with a nice gelato or two. It would seem I was determined to fatten myself back up before returning to the states.

Barely able to walk after all that food, I finally made my way back to Milan where I caught the train to Barcelona and the bus back to Madrid to catch my flight to London and finally return home. As a nice going away present, my final flight home was delayed the good part of a day, forcing me to stay in Europe six hours longer than I was supposed to. It was almost as if Europe needed me. It didn’t want me to leave, and was desperately trying to cling to me like a girlfriend with whom I had broken up, using the old “It’s not you, it’s me.” Alas, she finally realized it was over, and we parted on good terms, each telling the other “Goodbye, good luck, I’ll see you again someday.”

And someday, I will.

Thanks to all who loved and supported me as well as emailed me throughout my travels, I truly count myself a very lucky young man to even be able to do all of this, and even luckier to have friends and family like you with whom I can share my tales.

All my love, cariñosamente, arrividerci, tschüss,
Mark
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