Pride in Spain.

Although I’m usually not much of a Pride goer, this year I happened to find myself at two “Orgullos” in Spain with two very different experiences. Aunque no soy uno que suele ir a las manifestaciones de Orgullo, este año me encontré en dos Orgullos españoles con dos experiencias muy distintas. 

Orgull in València was on June 25. I went with Samarucs, the LGBT+ sports club and was on their float, hiding in the middle. The atmosphere was great, and for once in my life, I understood what acceptance felt like. There was a spirit of inclusiveness, and everyone was in a great mood. There were lots of people, but it wasn’t overly crowded. People of all ages and walks of life came together to celebrate Orgull (Pride in Valenciano). I went home with a feeling of happiness and belonging. Orgull en València era el 25 de junio. Fui con Samarucs, el club deportivo LGBT+ de Valencia y fui en su carroza, aunque me escondí en el centro. El ambiente estuvo genial, y por una vez en mi vida, entendí como era ser aceptado. Había un espíritu de inclusión y todos estaban de buen humor. Había mucha gente, pero no había demasiada. Todo el mundo se juntó para celebrar Orgull (Orgullo en valenciano). Volví a casa con un sentimiento de felicidad y ser aceptado. 

The next week was WorldPride in Madrid, and I happened to be passing through at the same time. It was a total coincidence. It was the complete opposite feeling of Valencia’s Orgull. People were gawking at the LGBT+ community as if we were animals in a zoo. On top of that, there were too many tourists and too much attitude from people. Unless you were a Greek adonis, forget about anyone wanting to talk to you. It truly represented the worst of the gay community in my opinion. La semana siguiente era WorldPride en Madrid, y coincidí con un viaje que tenía que hacer por la capital. Me dio una sensación contraria a la sensación después de Orgull València. La gente estaba mirando boquiabierto a la comunidad LGBT+ como si fuéramos animales en un zoo. Para colmo, había demasiadas turistas y mucha actitud de la gente. Si no eras un adonis griego, todo el mundo pasaba de ti. En mi opinión, representó el peor de la comunidad LGBT+. 

I would have pictures, but I am having a lot of problems (yes, I am aware of them!) with photo hosting. If anyone has any ideas that work with WordPress.Com, I am open to them. Me gustaría subir las fotos pero hay bastantes problemas (sí, ya me he enterado de ellos) con fotos en este momento. Si alguien tiene una idea de sitios de photohosting que funciona con WordPress.com, me gustaría saberla. 

Semana Santa 2017

Castelo do Lousã

It’s been a great week on the road, and I’m happy to report I am back from Portugal after a fantastic few days. Now it means I have to get busy writing about my adventures, which will appear in more detail over the next few weeks. This week, I have a tribute to the anniversary of the bombings in Gernika (Guernica) set to publish, but starting next Monday, the Semana Santa adventure of 2017 will be published with further detail! Lo he pasado bien viajando, y me alegro poder decir que he llegado bien a València después de unos días fantásticos en Portugal. Ahora me toca escribir sobre las aventuras con más detalle durante las semanas que viene. Este semana, tengo planificado un homenaje a Gernika como es el aniversario del bombardero trágico el 26. El lunes que viene ya empeceré publicar las aventuras de Semana Santa 2017 con más detalle.

This week, though, an overview. Esta semana, un resumén. 

The trip started out on Thursday the 13th, which is neither a bad omen in Spain or the US (martes 13/Friday the 13th). I caught a BlaBlaCar to Madrid and stayed with a friend. Empecé el viaje jueves el 13, que no es un día maldito ni en España o los EEUU (es martes 13 o viernes 13). Cogí un BlaBlaCar a Madrid y me alojé con un amigo. 

Friday I went back to Segovia to visit one of my two favourite professors who was in charge of a study abroad program there this semester. It was a great visit to the historic city, even if there were tourists everywhere (being Semana Santa, I knew what I was getting myself into though). Viernes, fui a Segovia para visitar uno de mis profesores preferidos de la universidad. Está en cargo de un programa de estudiar en extranjero este semestre. Era una gran visita a la ciudad histórica, aunque estaba llena de turistas. Como era Semana Santa, estaba anticipándolo. 

Saturday I caught the bus from Madrid (Estación Sur) to Lisboa (Oriente). I have now arrived to Lisbon by plane, train and coach, and I’ve also travelled across two of the cities bridges over the Río Tajo (Tejo in Portuguese, translated to Tagus in Portugal but left as Tajo in Spain. My Spanish soul says Tajo.) Sábado, cogí el autobús de Madrid (Estación Sur) a Lisboa (Oriente). Ahora he llegado a Lisboa por avión, tren y autobús, y he cruzado dos de los puentes de la ciudad por el Río Tajo (Tejo en portugués). 

Lisbon was fantastic as always, and I was left wanting more as always. However, Sunday afternoon, after my BlaBlaCar cancelled on me, I went to the Sete Rios bus station to head to Coímbra. I saw Fátima from the bus, and I am glad I didn’t go there in the end as it appeared to be a huge tourist trap. Lisboa era fantástico como siempre, y me dejaba con ganas de más, como siempre. Sin embargo, después de una cancelación de BlaBlaCar, fui a la estación de Sete Rios para coger un autobús a Coímbra. Vi Fátima desde el autobus, y me alegré no lo haber visitado como parecía un gancho para turistas. 

Sunset over Coímbra

I stayed two nights in Coímbra, which is a university city filled with history and gorgeous views. On Monday, I went for a hike in the Serra de Lousã through the Aldeias do Xisto (villages made of slate) before discovering more of Coímbra’s magic. Me quedé dos noches en Coímbra, que es una ciudad universitaria llena de historia y vistas preciosas. Lunes, hice una ruta por la Serra de Lousã por los Aldeias do Xisto (Aldeas de Pizarra) antes de descubrir mejor la magia de Coímbra. 

(O) Porto

Tuesday was a return to Porto, where I had been in 2009 and is one of the most amazing cities the Greatest Peninsula in the World has to offer. It was my second visit, so I thought I’d be okay with only a night there. Turns out, I wanted more time for this beautiful river city. Martes era una vuelta a Oporto, donde fui en 2009 y es una de las ciudades más impresionantes de la Mejor Península del Mundo. Era mi segunda visita, y pensaba que estaría contento con solo una noche allí. Bueno…quería más tiempo por disfrutar de la ciudad por el río Douro. (el Duero en España). 

I obviously survived another on-time flight with Ryan Air, the one company grateful to United Airlines for making them look better! (Everyone in Europe has a love-hate relationship with the airline. OMG 20€ FLIGHTS oh wait Ryan Air how much can we fit in this hand luggage?) Sobreviví otro vuelo que llegó a tiempo con Ryan Air, la única compañía agradecido a United Airlines porque ahora Ryan Air parece mejor que alguien. Todos tenemos una relación de amor-odio con Ryan Air en Europa. Oooh, ¡Un vuelo por solo 20 Euros! Espera…es Ryan Air. Bueno, ¿cuánto cabe en este equipaje de mano? 

A great trip, and I look forward to reliving it here. Stay tuned! Un viaje genial, y me da ilusión vivirlo otra vez aquí. A continuación. 

Madrid, the cheapskate guide.

madrid first two days94

I could’ve created some controversy and said the “catalán” guide to Madrid, but for those outside of Spain, they wouldn’t catch the hidden meaning of the Catalans’ reputation for being cheapskates. And after my last entry about Madrid was so negative, I wanted to reset the karma by writing a more positive entry about the capital city. Pensaba en si quería crear polémica por decir “el guía catalán de Madrid”, pero para los que no son de España, no entendrían el doble sentido del fama de los catalanes por ser agarrados y tacaños. Después de la entrada negativa sobre Madrid, quería equilibrar el karma y escribir una entrada más positiva sobre la capital española.

Along with Barcelona and Catalunya and Bilbao and San Sebastián-Donostia in the Basque Country, Madrid is one of the most expensive cities in Spain for living. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to enjoy Madrid as a tourist or even living there. Madrid, con Barcelona y Catalunya y Bilbao/San Sebastián-Donostia en el País vasco, Madrid es una de las ciudades más caras de España para vivir. Eso no significa que tienes que gastar mucha pasta para disfrutar de Madrid como una turista o incluso vivir allí.

I was in Madrid a week ago on a very tight budget due to some unforeseen circumstances that are continuing (which has also caused me to postpone the Camino until…?) and had one of my better visits. After a stroll down memory lane, I shook off the bad memories and remembered the good as I strolled down the streets of Madrid. Meandering the streets in any city is always free and is a very Spanish thing to do. I only took one metro trip on my weekend in the Spanish capital. Those days on the Camino aren’t for nothing. Estaba en Madrid hace una semana en un presupuesto pequeño dado que circumstancias que no pude controlar y que siguen (que también me ha causado posponer el Camino hasta…?) y tenía una de las mejores visitas. Después de mi nostalgia, me olvidé de los recuerdos malos y pensé en solo los recuerdos buenos. Pasear por las calles en cualquier ciudad siempre sale gratis y es algo super español. Solo cogí el metro una vez durante este fin de semana en la capital española. Esos días en el Camino aún me sirven de ayuda.

I found a new-to-me museum across from the Tribunal metro stop (Lines 1 and 10) on Calle Fuencarral.  The Museum of the History of Madrid, formerly known as el Museo Municipal, reopened in December 2014, so I wasn’t completely oblivious to it. I had always noticed it under construction. Entrance is FREE and visitors can see art, paintings and pottery through Madrid’s history since Felipe II moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Encontré un museo nuevo (al menos para mí) enfrente de la salida del metro Tribunal (Líneas 1 y 10) en Calle Fuencarral. El Museo de la Historia e Madrid, antes el Museo Municipal, reabrió sus puertas en diciembre de 2014 después de unos 10 años de estar en obras. La entrada es gratuita y visitantes puden ver arte, cuadros y cerámica durante la historia de Madrid desde Felipe II se trasladó la capital de Toledo a Madrid. 

Another trip to the past is the Estación de Chamberi. The former metro stop Chamberi closed in 1966 and remained intact, a buried secret, until 2008 when they converted it into a museum. The station, Andén 0 (Platform 0, like the mystical Platform 9 1/4), is located between the actual stops Bilbao and Iglesia (Line 1) in the Chamberi barrio (neighbourhood), and entrance is free. I remember finding out about this museum when I looked up from my book and saw an old man looking at me, truly giving it the effect of a ghost station. Otro viaje al pasado es la Estación de Chamberi. El antiguo parada de metro cerró en 1966 y se quedó intacto, un secreto, hasta 2008 cuando abrió como un museo. La estación, Andén 0, está situado entre las paradas de Bilbao y Iglesia (Línea 1) en el barrio de Chamberi y tiene entrada gratuita. Recuerco que descrubí de este museo cuando miré arriba de mi libro y vi un señorito mirándome, dando un efecto verdadero de estación fantasma.

My next trip to Madrid will include a visit to the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), which is free and has a copy of every book published in Spain. How I never went in three years of living in Madrid, I will never know. It’s located near Metro Serrano (Line 4). En el próximo viaje a Madrid, quiero ir a la Bilbioteca Nacional, que es gratis y tiene una copia de todos los libros publicado en España. No sé porque nunca fui durante los tres años que viví en Madrid. Está cerca a la parada de metro Serrano (Línea 4)

Madrid’s most famous museum, el Prado, is free between 18:00 and 20:00 (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.) Monday-Saturday and on Sundays between 17:00 and 19:00 (5 p.m. and 7 p.m.) The Museo Thyssen grants free admission to the permanent collections on Mondays.  And the third museum of the Art Triangle, Museo de la Reina Sofía, has free admission daily the last two hours of the day (it is closed on Tuesdays) and on Sundays from 15-19 (3 p.m.-7 p.m.) El museo más conocido de Madrid, el Prado, es gratis entre 18:00 y 20:00 días laborales y sabados y los domingos entre 17:00 y 19:00. El Museo Thyssen también tiene entrada gratuita a las colecciones permanentes los lunes. Y el tercer museo del triangulo de art, el Museo de la Reina Sofía, tiene entrada gratuita durante las dos últimas horas del día (cerrado los martes) y los domingos entre 15 y 19. 

And then there are always parks. Parque Retiro is a nice place for a walk, but I always preferred the Templo de Debod and the Parque de Oeste, which offers the best sunset (in my opinion) of the city. Adémas hay muchos parques. El Parque Retiro es un sitio bonito para pasear, pero siempre prefería el Templo de Debod y el Parque de Oeste, que ofrece, en mi opinion, la mejor puesta de sol en la ciudad.

Just because Madrid is super expensive compared to the rest of Spain doesn’t mean that a visit in these times of eternal crisis has to break the bank. Aunque Madrid es super caro en comparasion del resto de la península no significa que una vista durante estes tiempos de crisis tiene que ser caro. 

 

Madrid, ciudad de Broken Dreams

tiopepe

Tío Pepe has returned…for now.

In 2003, when I was studying abroad in Toledo, I went to Madrid most weekends to walk the busy streets and dream. I dreamt of a life in Spain, of meeting the perfect guy, of the many adventures we’d have as my writing career took off. Walking into the bookstores in Chueca and seeing the rainbow flags everywhere was freeing to a deeply repressed and closeted boy.

For five years, I dreamed of a life in Spain, of those amazingly handsome, kind-hearted, caring, romantic españoles. Although I preferred Barcelona, I had been warned that the Catalán would be a major deterrent (I must say that now that I speak Catalán quite decently I love it as much but differently as I do my first love Spanish) and Madrid was the place to be. I wrote short stories about meeting my beautiful Spanish husband in queue at Starbucks (quelle horror now) and the adventures we would have. For five years, until my return in 2008, Madrid represented a land of opportunity, and my very own American dream that just happened to take place in Spain.

I had to wait a year, a very long year of working and living in small-town Jaén in Andalucía, to make that dream come true. And the dream became a nightmare.

Madrid de visita (on a visit) is very different from actually living in Madrid. The chaotic streets and nightlife make it a very lonely city, and although it’s quite easy to make a friend to go out to party with, it’s quite difficult to make a lasting friendship with someone you can count on. (The opposite is true in Bilbao. The Basques are very hard to get to know or for them to invite you out for a kalimotxo (wine and Coke) and pintxo, but once they let you in, they are incredibly nice, caring people. It’s just hard breaking through barriers in the land of eternal rain that Irish and Seattleites both have complained about.) The madrileños will invite you out with a big group of friends, but you’re quite often left at the end of the table drinking softly and listening to everyone else, especially if you’re an introvert like me.

And in the land of Chueca, where gay sex sells and every night is Pride Night, finding a decent guy even in plan amigo, let alone plan novio (boyfriend) is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

I lived in Madrid from 2009-2010 and again from 2011-2013. I learned a lot about myself in those three years.

I find myself de paso once again in Madrid this weekend. A lot of memories are surfacing, mostly good but a few bad. I gave Madrid my all, but my job drained me a lot, and I was dealing with other issues. I did accept myself fully as a gay man in Madrid, and for that, I was grateful. However, Madrid just represents so many of my crushed dreams. I never had a relationship, never found that group of friends, and I found myself with more than one broken heart from unrequited love. I fought to accept myself while trying to fight to fit in with the muscle heads and bears of Chueca. I killed myself at the gym yet never could get a six-pack (tabla de chocolate in Spanish) or big arms. My personality and my intelligence were never enough.

I also find myself questioning Madrid, who yearns to host the Olympics (because Barcelona did in 1992), and how they are the capital of Spain. Yet browsing through the language books in FNAC, you’d be hard pressed to realise that Spain is a country with four official languages and a bazillion unofficial languages and dialects. I found a few books for learning Catalán, 2 for learning Euskera (Basque) and ZERO for learning Gallego (Galician). Everything is in brokenEnglish (and sometimes not even Spanish, just a lazy attempt at English). When I went to Brussels, I loved how both the French Wallonia and the Flemish Flanders were represented in the capital city despite the city being a French-speaking city. Imagine how far the little effort it would take to truly represent all the cultural identities of Spain (17 autonomous communities, some with stronger identities with others but all amazing in their own right) instead of pushing the Andaluz stereotype of flamenco and bulls as a Spanish identity. In Barcelona, every Christmas, the metro writes “Merry Christmas” in Catalán, Castellano (Spanish), Basque and Galician. The Metro de Madrid promotes their latest outrageous price hike as still being cheaper than Paris and London, all in Spanish. (This is a true story from 2011.) Spanish Nationalism is a tricky subject on a good day, but imagine how different it would be if the capital city tried to represent and include all parts instead of making people feel alienated. (And I’m not saying that many Catalans and Basques do their own things to make things worse. It just seems to me that in a multi-nationed country, it would be helpful for the capital city to try to include all nations. Nation does not equate country.)

Ernest Hemingway once said that Madrid was the least Spanish city until you lived in it for  some time, then it became the most Spanish city. For me, in 2015, it has lost all trace of “Spanishness” when century old cafés like Café Comercial close down, yet there is a Starbucks on every corner. Several of my favourite haunts from even 2013 have been closed down for trendy gastrobars that don’t even offer Spanish cuisine. And in my afternoon walk tonight, I heard more English than Spanish in the Spanish capital. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t speak English for the tourists, but don’t lose your Spanishness in doing so. Madrid would do well to focus on representing all aspects of Spanish life instead of trying to turn itself into New York Clone. People can go to Starbucks wherever, but where else can they go to a Museo de Jamón for a cheap jamón serrano sandwich? What other country can offer paella, gazpacho, jamón serrano, pintxos, tapas, La Rioja, and relaxing cafés con leche?

I know I give Madrid a rough time. Many people love Madrid, but for me, the city represents so many broken dreams, not only my own broken dreams, but the broken hopes and dreams of both the city of Madrid and the entire country of Spain.

cafecomercial

The end of an era

Two Madrid icons close in a week.

I was saddened to read about the closure of two Madrid icons over the course of a weekend.

Last Saturday, the Mercado de Fuencarral closed its doors after 17 years. Located between Bohemian barrio Malasaña and gay barrio Chueca, this shopping centre had many unique shops full of trendy and crazy clothes and goods. I don’t believe I actually ever purchased anything here, but I would often go here to look around and wish I had money to buy things. I would often pick up fliers to the gay club that was in that week or just to sneak on their wifi when I was travelling through Madrid. It seems hard to believe that the next time I travel through Madrid, I won’t be able to stop here and look around.

Then on Monday, Café Comercial said “adiós”. Located down the Fuencarral street a few blocks in the Glorieta de Bilbao (The Bilbaínos would say Madrid is so jealous of Bilbao that they had to name a Glorieta after the “capital of the world”.) , Madrid’s oldest café closed its doors after over 100 years of service. I only had two cafés con leche there, as it was super expensive, but the atmosphere and history of this place alone should have kept it open. Antonio Machado never wrote at a Starbucks.

Everything is change, but I always feel a bit of sadness when iconic locales shut their doors. History is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t remember our past. I think both closures are related to financial issues (the family that runs Café Comercial just posted a message saying

Después de tantos años de actividad del Café Comercial nos dirigimos a vosotros para comunicaros el cierre con fecha del día 27 de julio de 2015. Es una lástima tener que escribir un mensaje como este, pero ha llegado el día del cierre y, por ello, queremos agradecer de todo corazón la confianza que nos habéis brindado durante estos muchos años llenos de maravillosas experiencias.

which means “After so many years of Café Comercial activity we regret to inform you of its closure July 27, 2015. It’s a shame to have to write a message like this one, but the day of closure has arrived, and for this reason, we would like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for the trust that you have given us during so many years of wonderful experiences.

The café opened in 1887, and the Mercado de Fuencarral in 1997.

I think this afternoon I may frequent Café Iruña in Bilbao and thank heavens that Bilbao’s oldest café isn’t closing. I hope it, nor the Café Iruña in Pamplona where Hemingway wrote, aren’t faced with similar closures in the future. ¡Viva la historia!

Finding a Spanish home.

After deciding to move to another country, you have to find a place to live. After the rainiest winter ever, I am about to start the look for a new place to live in Bilbao, munduko hiriburua da (Capital of the World in Euskera de Bizkaia, surely something more rude in Euskera de Gipuzkoa) due to the amount of “humedad” (humidity) that my current place has. Después de decidir trasladarse a otro país, hay que encontrar un sitio para vivir. Después del invierno más lluvioso de historia (exagerando), ya estoy a punto de comenzar otra busqueda de un sitio para vivir en Bilbao, munduko hiriburua da (Capital del mundo en Euskera de Bizkaia, seguramente algo más maleducado en Euskera de Gipuzkoa) dado de la humedad en mi piso durante el año pasado.

This frightens me, considering some of the places I’ve lived in Spain. Usually it’s been more a problem with the flatmates, but a lot of times it (like right now) has been a problem with the actual flat. (For Americans (and Canadians?), flat is “apartment”, but my brain translates “piso” to “flat”, not “apartment”). Eso me asusto, tomando en consideración algunos de los pisos donde he vivido en España. Suele ser más un problema con los compañeros de piso que el piso, pero también muchas veces ha sido el piso.

The first place I lived was a recently renovated piso in the heart of Linares. It was a good walking distance from the school, and it had nice wooden floors and new appliances. However, they were unable to install Internet in the place due to the lack of a phone line. (This was 2008-2009). There was also a round sink whi ch created problems whenever we tried to wash the dishes. There was also no heat, typical of Andalucía. Why install heat for the three days of “frío” that they have a year? Also, about halfway through the year, we discovered mold in my roommate’s room. El primer piso donde viví era un piso “recién renovado en el corazón de Linares. Estaba cerca al colegio donde trabajaba, y tenía suelos de madera y todo del piso era nuevo. Sin embargo, no podían instalar internet en el piso dado que no había una línea de teléfono. (Este era 2008-2009). También había un fregadero circular que causó muchos problemas cuando intentabamos fregar los platos. Tampoco había calefacción, que es típico de Andalucía. ¿Por qué hace falta calefacción cuando solo hay tres días de “frío” durante el año? (Recuerda que soy de Ohio, que hace más frío que Burgos.) Además, en febrero, descrubimos un hongo en el cuarto de mi compañera de piso.

The first time around in Madrid, it was a problem with the flatmates. The kitchen was very small, and my roommates were big jerks who would find Monica Gellar’s apartment on Friends filthy. I made the mistake of living far away from the centro (about 25 minutes on the metro). And it was a horrible commute to my job that year. And then the bathroom sort of exploded, which jerkfaces blamed entirely on me. I was so glad to leave that place. And the one never gave me back my English as a Second Language book either! Mi primera vez viviendo en Madrid, el problema era con los compañeros de piso. La cocina era muy pequeña, y los compañeros de pisos eran gilipollas que pensarían que el piso de Mónica Gellar de Friends era sucio. Hice el error de vivir lejos del centro (unos 25 minutos en el metro). También tenía mala comunicación con mi trabajo. Y después, el baño desarrolló muchos problemas, y los gilipollas me echaron la culpa. Que feliz estaba marcharme de este piso. Encima, presté un libro de aprender inglés a uno de los compañeros que nunca me devolví.

Learning from that experience, when I moved to Valencia, I wanted things to be perfect. The temporary flat was okay, but lacking a shower curtain which I bought. No major problems until I was kicked out two days before the end of the month due to one of the people returning from holidays early. I then took a piso from an ad on Couchsurfing. Aprendí de esta experencia cuando me trasladé a Valencia. Quería que las cosas sean perfectas. El piso temporal no estaba mal, pero faltó una curtina de la ducha que compré yo. No había problemas hasta que me echaron dos días antes del final del mes porque uno se volvió de sus vacaciones pronto. Tenía que elegir un piso de un anuncio de Couchsurfing.

I found out I’m not too keen on the actual practice of Couchsurfing, though I still like the idea of it. There was one bathroom for four people (two Italians and a German), and the one Italian constantly complained about how gays were disgusting and ruining the world. There was a constant parade of Couchsurfers, and I was never really informed of when they would be coming in or leaving. It wasn’t the nicest place, but it had a nice, sunny living room. Not that I ever had the chance to watch television in Spanish like I wanted. There was also a nice gaping hole between the window and wall that I didn’t notice until it started getting cold. I got out of there after three months and lived with a friend who then got a job in Paris, so I was paying the same rent to his parents for having the place to myself. Best place ever! (I really need to live on my own now, or at least find a nice principe azul to move in with!) Descrubí que no me mola mucho la práctica de CouchSurfing, aunque todavía me gusta la idea de Couchsurfing. Solo había un baño para cuatro personas (dos italianos y un aleman). Uno de los italianos siempre estaba quejandose de los gays y como los gays somos asquerosos y responsibles para destruir el mundo. Siempre había Couchsurfers llegando y saliendo, y nunca me dijieron cuando uno de los CSers iba a llegar o marcharse. No era un buen piso, pero tenía una sala de estar soleado. Nunca tenía la oportunidad para aprovecharlo y ver la tele en castellano como quería. También había un agujero grande entre la ventana y pared que no noté hasta que empezó a hacer frío. Me fui de este piso después de tres meses y viví con un colega que después se marchó a París. Estaba pagando el mismo aquiler a sus padres para tener el piso para mí solo. ¡Mejor piso! (Ahora me hace falta vivir solo o al menos conocer mi principe azul y vivir con él.))

Then it was back to Madrid. The first year was another old place, but I had a nice big room with a big bed and what, at first, was two calm roommates. The one moved in with his boyfriend, and the new one was also nice and probably the one I’ve gotten along with best due to our interests in television shows and film. When he moved out, the problems began. A Brasilian party boy moved in, and they decided to convert the study into a fourth bedroom to pay “lower rent”. Like 10 Euros less a month, and I had to pay for the renovation of this room and a new refrigerator. I found a new place to live after two months of this hell where they made me feel like the odd one out. I just felt like an intruder in my own house. Después, volví a vivir en Madrid. El primer año era otro piso antiguo, pero tenía una habitación grande con una cama grande y, al principio, dos compañeros tranquilos. Uno se fue a vivir con su novio, y el nuevo también era majo y probablemente tenía mejor rollo con él que cualquier otro compañero de piso dado de nuestro interes en cine y series. Cuando se fue para vivir con sus padres, los problemas empezaron. Un brasileño fiestero entró, y sin consultarme, decidieron convertir el estudio en una cuatra habitación para pagar menos en aquiler. Como 10€ menos al mes. Además, tenía que pagar para un frigorífico nuevo y para renovar el estudio. Encontré otro piso después de dos meses de aguantar este infierno donde me sentí como un bicho raro. Siempre me sentí como si fuera un intruso en mi propia casa.

I moved in when a gay couple who were nice people, but I felt weird living with a couple. My schedule was so weird, but I still had my fave gym and my Catalán classes within walking distance. The place was a bit small, and the washing machine kept breaking down. However, Pedro Almodóvar and the late Duchess of Alba lived in the same barrio. It was also a ground floor flat, which meant having the caretaker enter the patio every single day. I also didn’t quite have room for all my stuff, which meant a very messy room. Después, viví con una pareja gay quien eran super majos, pero me sentí un poco raro viviendo con una pareja. Mi horario era complicado, pero todavía viví cerca a mi gimnasio y mis clases de catalán. El piso era pequeño, y la lavadora siempre se rompió. Pero mis vecinos incluyeron Pedro Almódovar y la Duquesa de Alba (D.E.P.) Otro problema fue el hecho que estaba en el piso bajo, que significaba que el portero siempre entró el patio todos los días a las 8 para fregar y limpiar.

My current flat is in a decent location, close to the Casco Viejo, Zubizuri and Moyua. The location is quite nice, and the German Shepherd is a bonus. But I’m not convinced by a room where we can’t turn on the heat in the winter (this isn’t Andalucía. Bilbao, sí, hace frío y LLUVIA), the dampness, the bed that broke, the lack of writing space, no television, and oh, crap internet. Ahora vivo en un piso centrico, cerca del Casco Viejo, el Zubizuri y Moyua. El hecho que viene con un pastor aleman es genial. Pero no me convence de un piso donde no podemos encender la calefacción durante el invierno. (No es Andalucía. Bilbao, yes, has cold and rainy winters), la humedad, la cama rota, la falta de espacio de escribir, la falta de televisón, y internet de mierda.

It’s time to move again in September (as I get along with my flatmate, I know that there’ll be more people looking then and more places for me to choose from). I need a non-smoking gay-friendly flatmate (who respects INFP style introverts like myself), affordable housing, heat, internet, television, a washing machine that won’t break down, an adequate number of cooking utensils and dishes, a balcony of some sort would be nice. If it came with a dog, perfect! I’d love to live in the Casco Viejo itself where I could just walk to work in 20 minutes or so next fall. Ya me toca trasladar a otro piso en septiembre (como tenemos buen rollo mi compañero de piso y yo, no quiero dejarle plantando y sé que habrá más gente buscando en septiembre y más pisos para elegir). Necesito un compañero que sea NO fumador, gay-friendly, quien respete los INFP introvertidos) y un piso que tenga un precio asquesible, calefacción, internet, una tele, una lavadora que no se rompa cada dos por tres, un numéro adecuado de cosas para cocinar y platos, y un balcón si posible. Si viene con un perro, ¡perfecto! Me encantaría vivir en el Casco Viejo donde podría caminar a trabajo en unos 20 minutos en el otoño.

Is that too much to ask for? ¿Es demasiado pedir?

Mmmmm…we’ll see! ¡Ya veremos!

Madrid City. Chaos and nightlife.

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View from Vallecas

Madriz. For many, this city is the bane of my existence, and when I wrote about the province of Madrid (which has little to do with the capital city as the province has so many beautiful towns and villages and mountains and the city is a chaotic whirl of chaos where the only peace and quiet you can find is at 10 in the morning on Jan. 1st when everyone is sleeping away their hangover) back in September, I had no intention of writing about the city. I find the city vastly overrated, but different strokes for different folks. So I wanted to take the time to write about the city as there is a ton of things to do and see there. And there are, of course, more than SetMeravelles in a city of 3 million. For the record, Madrid is the third biggest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin.

On my way back from Italia, I spent a day in Madrid. I originally had planned a trip to southern Spain before heading back to Bilbao when I booked the flight from Madrid, but unfortunately financial concerns are way too real for me at the moment, so it was cancelled. This one day reminded me of how, as a closeted twenty-something, my dreams of Madrid revolved around Chueca and falling in love with a dream guy, mi media naranja (soulmates in Spanish are half oranges. Today I find that I’d rather find a whole orange as I am a whole orange and two oranges would be better than trying to mix halves that have been separated.). My Madrid dreams were crushed by the reality of living in a big city when I was just not cut out for it. The stress of living in a city that never slept, where the people constantly are badmouthing anything not from the city (especially the Catalans, and as a fan of Barcelona and Catalan culture, I definitely did not fit in Madrid outside my Catalán class!) and a million and one niches and still not being able to find the niche for you? It got to me. The madrileños are said to be friendly, but I was more alone in Madrid than I have been since I was a closet case. In one of the gayest cities in the world, I was unable to feel okay about being gay as I was not (and am not) a Greek god who models for Abercrombie. In the gay world of Madrid, unless you are a Greek god modeling for Abercrombie, you’re the radioactive scum at the bottom of the Ría Nervión in Bilbao (an infamously polluted river). I suffered a lot of panic attacks from the masses of people everywhere I went.

Also, it really irks me that the city concentrates on being bilingual in Spanish-English when they fail to recognize that the country of Spain has four languages. Every Christmas, the Metro of Barcelona writes “Merry Christmas” in the four languages: Bon nadal (Catalán), Feliz Navidad (Spanish), Bo Nadal (Gallego) and Zorionak (Basque). In Madrid, you might see Happy Day Nativity or however they might attempt to translate “¡Feliz Navidad!” because they think by translating something into a language that is not spoken in their country they are doing a good job. I think if they acknowledged the fact that there is more than one language spoken in their own country they would be doing a lot more to smooth over high tensions.

It’s obvious from the above paragraphs I have a lot of pent-up feelings about the capital city and my feelings are still pretty raw nearly two years after making my escape. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I have learned that I am just not a big city person, and another large part of it is the fact that there is no coast anywhere near Madrid.

Now that I got the negative out of the way, I can focus on the positives of the city. The city is constantly reinventing itself and there is something to offer everyone. Parks, museums, a well-functioning metro system (sometimes) , fountains, shops, nightlife, and its central location in Spain means there is a ton of opportunities to travel throughout the Greatest Peninsula in the World! For city lovers, Madrid is a must-see place. It has a vibe similar to New York City with the bonus of being the Spanish capital.

I will also give the madrileños credit for at least always saying “¡Hola!” when coming across one while hiking, unlike the Basques who sometimes will offer an “Hola/Aupa/Kaixo” and sometimes will just glare at you. Granted, I’m likely to glare at you too, but whatever! I appreciate friendliness.

And with that, without further ado…

Set Meravelles

Templo de Debod y el Parque de Oeste

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Originally a give from Egypt, the Templo de Debod is located near the Plaza de España in the centre of Madrid and offers the best sunset of the city. The temple was originally located near Aswan, Egypt and the first cataract of the Nile and was dedicated to an important Egyptian goddess whose name I won’t type for fear of what types of Google searches would come up for this blog (yes, this groups shares the name with an Egyptian goddess). The temple was under threat of floods after the construction of the Aswan High Dam, so to show their gratitude to Spain for helping them out with saving the temples of Abu Simbel, the Egyptian government gave it to Spain in 1968. Today there is a museum that somehow is almost always closed whenever I go. Next to the park is the Parque de Oeste, which in my opinion, is better than the Parque Retiro but not as famous. For the life of me, I can’t find any of my photos of Templo de Debod.

Gran Vía

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The Spanish Broadway is the connecting street between Calle Alcalá and Plaza de España. It’s the busiest street in Madrid, runs close to Puerta del Sol and passes Callao (FNAC!). It has a few theatres, more than a few Starbucks (I can think of four Starbucks alone on this street) and many shops. It also features a lot of Madrid’s most famous buildings. It’s undergone many names over the year (especially during the Spanish Civil War and the years of Franco), but has been named simply Gran Vía since 1981. Construction on “Main Street” began in 1910 but wasn’t finished until 1929. The incredible Plaza de Cibeles is also found along Gran Vía.

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Nightlife (Chueca, La Latina, Malasaña)

Madrid is famous for its nightlife. Chueca is the neighbourhood taken over by the gays (although lately La Latina has been becoming a more popular place), La Latina has many tapas and other bars, and Malasaña is the alternative-Bohemian neighbourhood. No matter what your scene is, you’ll be able to find it in Madrid.

El Prado y los museos del arte

The Prado Museum is one of the most important museums in Spain and houses some of the most important Spanish art in history. (Picasso and Dalí are not well represented here, if at all, but Goya, El Greco and Velázquez are. It is home of the famous Las Meninas by Velázquez. Very close to El Prado are two more important museums of art (which I have never visited to be honest as art’s not my thing unless it’s Picasso or Dalí and even then…), the Museo Reina Sofía (which does have Picasso’s Guernica) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which has Italian, English, Dutch and German works of arts. I was just informed by a friend that this triangle of art has more art per square metre than anywhere else on the planet and that there is more art in the basements than they have room to showcase. You learn something new every day!

Plaza Mayor y Puerta del Sol

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Plaza Mayor

“A relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor”. So before soon-to-be ex-mayor Ana Botella’s speech, no one went to Plaza Mayor for a cup of café con leche. It’s more typical to have a bocadillo de calamares (fried squid and the only seafood I can eat without gagging), people watch or visit a Christmas market. The rectangular plaza was built during Felipe III despite its orgins going back to Felipe II and is modeled on the plazas in Valladolid and Salamanca (Valladolid is my fave of the three, but Salamanca is the most famous). A stone’s throw away is another important plaza, Puerta del Sol, which is home to Kilometro (KM) 0, the center and starting point of all Spanish roads. It is more or less Madrid’s Times Square, and it is the busiest place on New Year’s Eve to eat the 12 grapes. It’s Spanish tradition to eat 12 grapes, one for each month, at the first 12 strokes of the clock of the New Year for luck, as one year the farmers had too many grapes and didn’t know what to do with them. Puerta del Sol seems to reinvent itself every two weeks or so. Originally it was a gate in the old walls of Madrid. Another important site in Puerta del Sol is the Oso y el Madrono, the bear and the tree. Tío Pepe is still there, despite the Apple Store’s temporary removal of the iconic advertisement.

Palacio Real

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Palacio Real

The Royal Palace is “officially” the home of the Spanish King and his family, but they actually reside at the Palacio de la Zarzuela. The current palace is on the site of a former fortress which burned to the ground in 1734. Felipe V ordered a new one built. Alfonso XIII was the last monarch to live here, although the president of the Second Republic, Manuel Azaña, also lived here. It has over 3000 rooms and is the largest palace in floor area in Europe.

Atocha

 While Antwerp might have the “most beautiful train station in the world”, Atocha is one of the most beautiful train stations in the Greatest Peninsula in the World. It’s definitely one of the busiest with connections all over the peninsula. While waiting for a train, one can visit the Bosque del Recuerdo, a forest of 192 olive and cypress trees in memorial of the 192 people who died in the terrorist attacks on March 11, 2004. I swear I remember seeing this forest in 2003, but my memory must be playing tricks on me. They also have a separate memorial for those who died that day where visitors can live a hand silhouette in memory of those who died that day.

Fitness. We keep fit in Spain, too.

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Me with Body Combat guru Dan Cohen in Nov. 2012

Once upon a time, I weighed 265 pounds, or 120 kilos.

Yep, you read that right. Between the years 2005 and 2007, I lost 100 pounds (45,5 kilos) by walking a lot, situps and pushups and giving up pop/soda/refrescos/fizzy drinks/etc. During my six years in Spain, I’ve weighed as little as 65 kilo (145 pounds) and as much as 78 kilo (171 pounds), but I’ve never gained much more than 20 kilos back. I would much rather be drinking Coke than water, but I know it’s not good for me and one Coke is a slippery road, so I just abstain all together.

2010 was about as rocky of a road as 2014 has been, and at the end of the year, I was at that 78 kilo edge. By no means fat, but I sure felt fat. After reading A 3 Metros Sobre Cielo by Federico Moccia and reading about the main character’s obsession with the gym and then seeing Mario Casas’ abs in the film that December, I made a New Year’s resolution of joining the gym. I was in Valencia at the time, and when I finally got paid for January, I went ahead and signed up for the gym.

My first gym was Abastos in Valencia, and it is one of my favourites. It has an incredible price (I think now it is about 35€) with top-notch instructors and top of the line facilities. What’s more impressive is it’s not a private gym but a polideportivo, a city-sponsered gym. The price is high for a polideportivo but you get so much more than many private gyms here.

That first week was tough. I started going every day, hitting the elliptical hard. The hottie monitor told me to try a bunch of classes and come back to him with which ones were working and which ones weren’t. I was nervous, but I did what he said. Body Balance, a mix of yoga and pilates, was kinda boring. The monitor laughed at my ineptitude of never having lifted weights before at the age of 29 when I tried Body Pump. But Body Combat was just right. The best monitor, Sergio, motivated us warriors to be the best we could be and also worked hard to make sure the class was boring (something my current gym would be keen to learn. We’ll get there in a moment.) I was only here for a few months, but I have fond memories. I got back down to 65 kilos extremely quickly, although I was still super scared of lifting weights. Alas, my destiny then was not Valencia and I found myself in Madrid.

I was in Madrid for two years, and when I had to move halfway through that period, my main thing was that it had to be close to Fisico. I think now the gym has changed hands and Oscar Peiro, the BEST COMBAT MONITOR EVER and his wife Sara Rodríguez (congrats to them on their new baby) are owners of the new Smart Club. I’m pretty sure they kept the awesomeness of Fisico. Oscar is friends and has trained with Dan Cohen, the guy in charge of Les Mills Body Combat and who choreographs the class. Cohen is responsible for a new release every three months and has visited the gym on occasion. I still am excited about that class I had with him in November 2012. It might have been the highlight of two hellish years in Madriz.

In addition to awesomely led group classes (shot out to Mario’s Combat and Pump classes, as he’s the only one who doesn’t make me feel ashamed to go to the Pump classes!) , Fisico/Smart Club has state-of-the-art equipment and is at the forefront of any fitness trend in the world. I began to build muscle thanks to Nieves and her awesome tablas she made for me, and I kept around 70 kilos during my time there. I have to admit the stress of my job made it harder for me to stay away from the sweets, but 70 kilo is a good weight for me.

While Bilbao is an amazing city, the “Capital of the World” you might say, it has yet to show me a gym that I truly have loved. I have been spoiled by Fisico I guess. My first month, I went to the polideportivo at the Alhóndiga, a truly fantastic achievement of a building I have to admit. However, their lack of Combat meant it was not to stay. I signed up for a new gym just opening, iFitness, at 29,99 a month. I’m not a fan. Being a cheaper club meant that everyone and their brother and their brother’s ex girlfriend’s ex boyfriend’s boyfriend joins. It’s always crowded, and their classes left much to be desired. The sound system, ever so important for motivation in a Combat class, was worse than my own personal one. I stayed there the three months I had paid for and left. I haven’t been at TwentyFit, another popular low-cost gym in Bilbao, but from what I hear, they are better organized. However, it’s even more crowded. Also, partly due to the medication I was on and partly due to my lack of motivation to go to iFitness, I found myself back at 78 kilos.

At the moment, I am at Metropolitan. It’s about 80€ a month, but the accommodations are incredible. You get what you pay for. However, I feel that I am always being sold some product or something. I sprained my ankle this year at the time I was taking advantage of two free sessions with a personal trainer (it was on my off day between the two sessions), and I feel the personal trainer was more concerned about landing me as a client than the recovery of ankle. He never was able to tell me how much regular sessions would cost, but I’m sure as much as a month at the gym itself. Their schedule also conflicts a lot with mine, and I am only able to make it to one Combat class a week. The Combat class is severely comprised because the Zumba people are impatient and don’t want to give us the needed wind-down time. They also keep the same Les Mills choreography for three months at a time instead of switching it up, and switching it up is what keeps us Combaters motivated to come back. Despite this, I am relatively content with the gym due to the facilities. I hear the new one in Begoña is even nicer and has a better schedule, but this one is just five minutes from my house and the one in Begoña is a good 20 minutes’ walk.

While traveling around the Greatest Peninsula in the World, I tend to wake up with situps and pushups, and I’m now throwing in some squats and lunges too. I’m currently 68 kilo and am learning to make healthier eating designs. I do miss those doner kebabs though…but a Menú del día is healthier and keeps me energetic for the afternoon of seeing the world.

How do you keep fit while on the road?

Madrid. City, province, autonomous community.

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I’m just going to be flat-out honest. I do not like the city of Madrid. Part of the reason is while I like to visit big cities, living there is different. I did not have a good experience living there. I don’t like either football team (in fact, I downright hate Real Madrid with a passion that I will support any team or anything that is playing them.) I find that some (note SOME, not ALL, before the angry commenters come in) people in the city proper are everything they complain that the rest of Spain is (lazier than the andaluces, faker than the andaluces, stingier than the catalanes, colder than the Spanish from the north coast…). They pride themselves on being “open” but I found it next to impossible to find actual friends in the three years I had to call the city “home”. I never felt more than a tourist (another thing I don’t like), whereas both Valencia and Bilbao felt like home immediately. Madrid is a city that never sleeps, and although they don’t understand the comparasion, I find it to be a Spanish New York City. Tons of people and things to see and do, but unless you have a good group of friends and/or family by your side, you’re always going to feel like an outsider.

On the other hand, the people in the villages and small towns in the province/autonomous comunidad de Madrid are some of the most friendly, most open and charming people you will ever meet. The mountain villages north of the city are incredibly beautiful and offer a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city that gives the province its name. Every chance I got, I went to visit a village near the city. I also worked in a village just south of the city (45 minute commute) in one of the best schools one could ever hope find. So I want to make clear that if I am complaining about Madrid, it is for the capital city and NOT the rest of the comunidad.

Madrid the city does offer a lot for visitors, I will admit. There is the Palacio Real, Parque Retiro, Museo de Prado, Museo de Reina Sofía, Parque de Oeste (so much better than Retiro), Templo de Debod, Gran Vía, Puerta del Sol and relaxing cafés con leche in Plaza Mayor. There are many barrios for partying. Chueca (for the gays pijos, or posh/snooty gays), La Latina (for everyone and more and more for the normal gays), Malasaña (the alternative barrio), or Huertas (for the tourists). The gardens at Atocha (the train station) are remarkable. The metro line, although always too crowded at any hour of day, will get you where you need to go.

However, I prefer off the beaten path. There could be Set Meravelles for the city, sure. (Gran Vía, Parque de Oeste, Chamberi Metro Station is a closed metro station that takes you to the past and only locals visit, Puerta del Sol, Prado, Gardens de Atocha, La Latina/Chueca/Malasaña, etc etc etc.) I’m going to suggest Set Meravelles outside the hustle and bustle of the city, the REAL Madrid, the places that will give an opportunity to escape the madness. Some of them are quite popular destinations already. Some of them aren’     t known to people who don’t live in Madrid. All of them are worth a visit.

Set Meravelles de la Comunidad de Madrid

La Pedriza

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La Pedriza is part of the Guadarrama mountains in the north of Madrid. It offers amazing hiking trails and scenery. It’s famous for its granite rock formations. I’ve been on several day trips here, and it’s located next to the village Manzanares el Real, which is amazing in its own right.

Manzanares el Real

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Speak of the devil. Manzanares is the gate to La Pedriza and a quaint village of 7000 inhabitants located about 45 minutes north of Madrid city. It has a well-preserved medieval castle. The first time I ventured here was on my 28th birthday. It wasn’t my last.

Chinchón

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Chinchón is a small village of around 5000 people located 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of Madrid, and it has a famous circular plaza where that infamous Spanish tradition of bullfighting takes place from time to time. It’s also famous for its chinchón anis and a castle now closed to the public. It’s a great getaway from the city.

Pantano de San Juan

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The “beach” of Madrid. The Pantano de San Juan is located next to the village of San Martín de Valdeiglesias an hour or so southwest of Madrid and is a reservoir with beautiful scenery. It’s popular with families, and in certain areas, popular with naturists (I.E. there is a nudist part away from the families). It’s the closest you’re going to get to the beach in Madrid. It’s the only reservoir (embalse) that allows swimming in the entire Comunidad de Madrid.

Alcalá de Henares

Someone was an idiot and has no photos of the small city of Alcalá de Henares, which is 35 kilometres or 22 miles northeast of Madrid on the way to Guadalajara . I always meant to go back, but never got around to it. It is famous because it’s the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, he who doth wrote that great novel Don Quixote. It’s also the biggest city in Madrid outside Madrid. It also has a university and a population of white storks.

El Escorial

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El Escorial is a monastery in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a village of 18,000 people located 48 km/28 miles north of Madrid and is quite well connected with the capital by bus and Cercanías trains. Felipe II was the one responsible for its construction, which took many, many, many years. It is a World Heritage site with 500,000 annual visitors. I do agree with the popularity as it is amazing architecture, and the village is pretty damn cool itself.

Patones de Arriba

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 A village of less than 400 people located 60 KM (36 miles) north of Madrid, Patones is one of the coolest places I have seen in my life. It’s not well-communicated by public transport (you’ll have to get up extra early to catch the bus, but it is worth the effort to get here. The village is unique because it is constructed almost entirely from black slate, and to enter, you have to park the car outside the village and walk a few metres. It’s a popular day trip for the madrileños, but very few people outside the natives even know about it. It’s one of the best kept secrets. Sorry for spilling.

The joys of hostels.

Once upon a time, I used to stay in youth hostels as they were a cheap way to travel. I didn’t let that cheesy horror flick from the early 00s deter me. However, as I’ve grown older, I’d prefer to pay a couple of euros more and have the privacy and tranquility of my own room. (And in Spain, it’s not that hard to find a cheap pensión or “hostal” (hostel is “albergue”, false friends) After a couple of horror stories, one can imagine why. As I prepare for the Camino de Santiago del Norte from Santander next summer, I am somewhat apprehensive  about the albergues after some of my experiences.

Most of the time, things are fine and people are somewhat normal. They tend to be young university students who are looking to party or interesting older folks who want to see the world in a cheaper way. One of the better experiences I had was in Santiago where I met a guy about my age (I was 27 at the time) who was traveling to see the world, and we went out and had drinks and enjoyed the night. The same happened a few months later in Madrid with a French guy who spoke flawless English and Spanish. In Mallorca the following year, on my worst holiday ever, I met a Brasilian guy living in London who tried his best to seduce me. I turned him down, but we did go out that night. I was so angry I was the only one in the group who knew Spanish and who wanted to meet, you know, locals. Wherever I travel, I am always wanting to meet locals and learn more about the place than I am other tourists.

This spring, I returned to staying in hostels due to Ireland being super duper expensive and a bunk bed in a shared room is more expensive than a private room with a private bath in most Spanish cities. I met some friendly people, but I was on Spanish time (meaning I woke up way too early despite Ireland only being an hour earlier than peninsular time). The hostel in Cork was located a good 20-minute walk from the centre of town, and being there on a weekday meant there was absolutely nothing going on. In Dublin, I shared a room with someone who worked there and an Indian guy who was awake no matter what the time was and on his laptop even more than me. No big problems.

In Pamplona, there was hardly anyone at the hostel except angry German pilgrims doing the Camino Frances who did not understand the Spanish, English and German on their e-mail stating in bold letters that if you cancel a reservation the day of, you will be charged the full night. This is standard procedure in most places in Spain if not Europe. By failure to cancel, the hotel/albergue/pensión misses out on selling a bed, and they need that money in times of crisis. I tried to help explain what the desk clerk was saying in Spanish, and they went off on ME for taking their side about something that had been previously said. The customer is not always right. Lucky for me, the only other person in the room I was in was a madrileño, who in typical madrileño style, did not understand why I ever left Madrid for Bilbao and slept late, missing his important doctoral class he was in town for in the first place.

Another fun time was when I was in Barcelona and went into the kitchen to fill my water bottle and got screamed at by an American “DON’T DRINK THE WATER!” Apparently she thought as Spain speaks Spanish that the water must be like Mexican water and carries with it Montezuma’s revenge. After asking if there was a boil advisory or something, which can happen anywhere, and the girl shrugging saying “You don’t ever drink water in Spain!” I went ahead and filled it up and drank it in front of her. Another American who, like me, lives in Spain rolled her eyes at the tourist and asked me about Valencia versus Barcelona. By the way, I was fine drinking the water. The water from the Mediterranean cities can be a bit hard so many people prefer bottled water, but it is perfectly safe to drink.

In Amsterdam at the age of 21, I just remember the shower leaking through the entire room and me spending as much time as possible outside the hostel.

My first hostel experience was in Barcelona that same year, at 21. It slept about 20 to a room for 10 Euros or so a night. The desk clerk was horrible and unfriendly, and they still had lock outs. So I slept about 2 hours when I arrived at 7 am, and that second night I was nearly pickpocketed and robbed on the Ramblas. Don’t ever walk alone on the Ramblas at night. Now that I’ve spent more time in Barcelona than any other Iberian city that I have not lived in, I just avoid the Ramblas all together.

The best story, and by best I mean HORRIBLE, DISGUSTING, SO BAD IT HAS BEEN FICTIONALIZED IN MY SECOND NOVEL…happened in Rome when I was 26. It was my first Christmas in Europe, first Christmas away from my mom, and I was traveling through Italia for the occasion. I was staying at a pretty famous hostel in Rome. I believe it was the 26th or 27th, my last night in the city. I had seen all the tourist sites and even saw the Pope give Midnight Mass on the 24th. I was tired and ready to go on to my next destination, Milan. At about 5 in the morning, I was suddenly awoken by a drunk guy stumbling in. A few seconds later, there was screaming from the others in the room. WHAT THE **** ARE YOU DOING??

What was he doing? Why mistaking suitcases and the floor for a urinal, of course!

We all rushed downstairs to complain to the desk clerk, who did her best to calm us down as they sent someone to clean the room. When everything was clean, I considered myself lucky that all my stuff had survived the night dry. However, the guy had absconded with some of my rings and bracelets. A small price to pay.

Of course, this is the one experience that sticks with me most about nights staying in hostels…

As the Spanish say, mejor estar solo que mal acompañado.

What are your most memorable, for better or for worse, hostel/albergue experiences? Are they a nightmare for you, or do you love them?

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