You might recall from our last post that our new apartment won’t be ready for us until June 16th. What better way to kill two weeks than traveling?
We will spend some time in Spain.
We will go there on a train.
First stop: Barcelona
Barcelona is an architectural banquet with a wide variety of styles and periods served up in generous portions. Antoni Gaudi’s architectural hot sauce adds zing to the city’s classical flavor. Dr. Seuss would have approved of the fantastical art nouveau forms of the modernistas.
The city’s wide boulevards are designed for people watching and we indulged in this pastime with Jane Goodall like zeal. We observed the curious interactions of super models, tourists, buskers and businessmen. Food and drink were at the center of the most puzzling behaviors. Outdoor cafes were popular but no one seemed to be eating anything. Further observation is warranted.
One delightful surprise was the ubiquitous sound of 80’s pop music coming from the cafes, bars, and restaurants throughout Barcelona. Who knew?
Second stop: Alcoy
On the morning of June 5th we boarded a sleek new high-speed train in Barcelona and continued south. Groves of orange trees zipped by at 100 mph and the Mediterranean made the occasional appearance off the port side. We switched trains in Valencia and continued south while making our way inland.
The new train was a bit longer in the tooth than the last and traveled at a more sedate pace but still glided along smoothly powered by the overhead electrical lines. An official at the Valencia station told us (via sign language) to be sure and switch trains at “Charier” or something like that… We attempted to verify the exchange point with other passengers on the train but had little luck acting out “What stop do we get off at to transfer to the Alcoy train?”
Diane deducted that the “Xavier” stop might very well be pronounced “Charier” about the same time I found a young man who spoke enough english to tell me he was going to Alcoy and that we should follow him. We didn’t really need to sweat it. Xavier was where the tracks ended. We followed everyone off the train and across the platform to an old diesel train waiting for us and we were off again. As we gained elevation the orange groves gave way to terraced hillsides with row after row of olive trees.
Our new train struggled up steep inclines toward Alcoy. We would occasionally stop at a platform (no depot, just a platform) and the conductor would lean out to see if anyone was waiting before continuing on his way. We again followed the tracks to their terminus which was well inland, high in the hills, and beyond the awareness of most tourists.
We feel like children trying to communicate in french. In spanish we’re more like Koko, grunting and pointing at what we want. It turns out that the one spanish phrase I’ve mastered “uno mas cerveza, pour favor” is useful in very few situations. Lunch at La Gruta was ordered via the grunt and point method and we still aren’t sure what we ate. The lunch began with bread and wine like any civilized lunch should. Two hours, three courses and a bottle of wine later and I wondered out-loud what people talk about for so long. Our dining companions had kept up a steady stream of chatter since we had sat down. “What are they talking about?” I asked, “even the men have been yapping for hours.” Diane replied, “Maybe they’re talking about their feelings.” This made me uncomfortable and I flagged down the waitress to order dessert.
We have established a typical spanish dining schedule based on further observations:
08:00 AM – Breakfast at home. If you find an open restaurant just point at a pastry. No one is going to bring you an omelette.
10:30 AM – Morning break with a coffee and pastry. A ham sandwich with a beer is also OK. This could last two hours.
02:00 PM – Lunch, the big meal of the day. Three delicious courses including wine and probably dessert. This could last three hours.
06:00 PM– Afternoon break with wine or beer and possibly a tostada (toasted bread with olive oil or tomato salsa). Another ham and cheese sandwich is also OK. This could last two hours.
10:00 PM – Dinner is served. Yes, at 10:00 PM there are entire families sitting at sidewalk cafes just getting started on dinner. Probably tapas with wine and/or beer. This could last two hours.
To the above schedule you can also add two to three cigarette breaks per meal if you are so inclined. If you are sitting at an outdoor patio you will enjoy several cigarettes whether you are inclined or not. If there is a football match and Barcelona is playing, cheer for Barcelona. If there is no match you can relax and enjoy the sounds of the 80’s.
Yes, in Alcoy too we were surrounded by American 80’s pop music. More proof that music reached its apogee in the U.S. in the mid 1980’s and has been in decline ever since. This conclusion now seems irrefutable.
Editors note: Diane wants to make it clear that only one of us has reached this conclusion.
We are not adjusting well to the spanish schedule. Our hunger peaks at the exact moment the kitchens close and we are sound asleep before dinner starts. The larger supermercados are open all day and we’ve been able to sneak some groceries up to our room. I fear the front desk people are on to us…
Alcoy spreads out across the valleys of several rivers. Steep narrow streets and numerous bridges connect the historic center and our neighborhood to the north. This area has been inhabited for a very long time. Natural caves sheltered neanderthal man tens of thousands of years ago and man-made caves sheltered families from Italian bombing runs during the Spanish civil war.
This is a textile town, or used to be. Globalization and automation have put the local industry into a decline since the 80’s. There are outward signs of economic contraction, large civic projects throughout the town appear abandoned. One can imagine this pool in Parc de Cantagallet full of laughing children. Now it seems to contain only graffiti.
Third stop: Alicante
If Alcoy is not on the tourist maps, Alicante is dead center. The Mediterranean beaches bring young women in bikinis. What follows is universal; young men, booze, and loud music. Alicante also has a rich history, beautiful architecture and a very cool castle (Castillo Santa Barbara) that lords over the town.
There was also some welcome linguistic relief. More tourists = more english. You might think that we, dedicated anthropologists and primatologists, would welcome the opportunity to learn as much spanish as possible. You’d be wrong. We theorized that any new spanish words entering our brains would displace an equal number of existing french words. Best not to take any chances. This new attitude gave us license to indulge in english wherever we found it. Such as a cinema showing a mediocre disney movie in the original english (we did our best to ignore the subtitles). After an ice cold soda and a bucket of popcorn we felt right at home.
In Alicante we contracted a rare disease called “Vacation Fatigue Syndrome (VFS)”. It’s as misunderstood and maligned as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and just as real. We’ve been living out of suitcases for two months now and that’s long enough. Diane is having dreams about washing our own clothes. I’m having dreams about making our own coffee, hot and in a big cup with a big fat handle. We don’t ask for your sympathy, just your understanding. VFS is real and we are suffering.
Next stop: TOULOUSE!