The 2017 European adventure begins.

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Si quieres hacerle a Dios reír, dile tus planes. 

So originally this European adventure was going to be my hasta luego to Europe as I introduce my mom to some places she grew up reading about and dreaming of visiting. Immediately after my mom got the trip, I was offered my old job at a different school near València. So yay, I could stay in València, but I would be out of town for the month of November, and I would also have to find a new place to live (that place I found in August did not work out for reasons I’m not going into here!) El plan original de esta aventura europea era mi “hasta luego” a Europa mientras enseño a mi madre unos sitios que siempre de que ha leído y ha soñado visitar. Justo después de la compra del viaje de mi madre, me ofrecían la oportunidad de volver a mi antiguo trabajo pero en un instituto diferente cerca de València. Muy bien. Puedo quedarme en València, pero estaré fuera de València durante todo el mes de noviembre. También tendré que encontrar un sitio nuevo para vivir (el sitio que encontré en agosto no me iba bien para razones de que no quiero hablar.)

My mom arrived on Nov. 1 to València. It was great to see her, and I had so much planned. What she didn’t tell me is she had fallen in the Lisbon airport and was barely able to walk. Mi madre llegó el día 1 de noviembre a València. Estaba bien verla, y tenía mucho planificado. Pero no me dijo que se cayó en el aeropuerto de Lisboa y apenas podía caminar. 

All my plans to show her my beloved home of València had fallen through. I tried to see some of the most famous places by myself with a fresh pair of eyes, but the city just felt too much like home. It’s the third largest city in Spain with around 800,000 residents in the city centre and about 1.5 million in the urban area. It’s famous for paella, ortxata, oranges, the Ciutat de les Artes i Ciencies, Bioparc, the beaches and Falles. Oh yeah! I can sell my city. Todos los planes que tenía para mostrarle mi hogar querido de València estaban en el aire. Intenté ver los sitios famosos valencianos yo solo con una mirada de alguien que nunca había visto la ciudad, pero la ciudad es mi hogar. Es la tercera ciudad española con una población de 800.000 habitantes en el centro de la ciudad y 1.5 millones de habitantes en la zona metropolitana. Es conocido por paella, ortxata, naranjas, la Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, Bioparc, sus playas y las Falles. Pues sí, se vender mi ciudad. 

We are continuing on the trip as planned, but not at all as planned. The next stop would be Milano. She always had dreams of seeing Il Duomo which she loved to draw pictures of as a child. We needed to get special assistance as soon as I saw how bad off she was once we arrived to the Valencia airport on Friday. We arrived to Milan in one peace, but the trip would be nothing like I had spent weeks planning for her…Estamos intentando seguir el viaje como planificado pero a la misma vez no como planificado. La próxima parada era Milano. Siempre soñaba con ver Il Duomo. Cuando era niña le encantaba dibujar la catedral milanes. Cuando llegamos al aeropuerto, tuvimos que pedir asistencia cuando vi que la pobre no pudo caminar bien. Llegamos a Milán bien, pero el viaje no iba como el viaje que trabajé durante semanas planificando por ella. 

A continuación.

The worst trip ever!

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

This is a popular Spanish refrán (saying) that I first heard in the 2000 Mexican film Amores perros, and it stuck with me. It’s the perfect quote for ANY trip, whether it be just a day trip to that beautiful place an hours drive from your home or that dream honeymoon you’ve planned since you were eight. Things happen, and things never go as planned.

While I think I’ve only had one genuinely bad trip in my life (Mallorca, I’m looking at you), I have had a lot of trips where things go wrong.

In Santiago de Compostela in 2009, I lost my debit card. I was there during the middle of Semana Santa, which meant all the banks were closed for the Easter festivities. I was able to report it missing, but I had about 20€ on me with the journey back to Madrid and on to Linares awaiting me. I was worried sick as I had a café con leche and tarta de Santiago, using the free wifi at that cool café to email my mom asking for money. I was very lucky she was able to put money in my American account so I could get back to where I was living.

I tend to lose things a lot, and unlike the Spanish kids I teach (Profeeee, someone robbed my rubber! You mean this rubber on the floor next to your desk? Oh, sorry!), I really do feel I lose them and they aren’t stolen. I later left my debit card in a pensión I was staying in Oviedo in 2012, about a month after I finally got the upgrade to one with a chip. I’ve been lucky in the fact I’ve never had any fradulent charges or anything. It’s a good idea to have your credit card company’s number stashed in your luggage somewhere if you don’t have Internet on your trip and need to report it lost or stolen quickly. (Also, let them know you’re travelling abroad! They are becoming more and more strict to protect people from identity theft and stolen cards in the modern world.)

I have also been lucky (just knocked the wooden table I’m sitting at) that I have only had ONE lost suitcase. Last year, returning from Christmas in the States, I met up with a snowstorm in Chicago. After two hours sitting on the runway, we finally took off, and while I made it through the connecting flight in Brussels, my poor suitcase did not. However, they had alerted the Bilbao airport to my luggage being in Brussels, and it was delivered straight to my flat the very next day.

Mallorca for me was a bad trip because of things going on in my life. I had just found out that the guy I had been crushing on for a year only saw me as a friend (always the friend and never the boyfriend! Pfft) and had just been told that my job was not renewing me because I was “too reserved”, so this put a damper on the whole trip. I was a bit annoyed whenever I went into a bar I was greeted not in Spanish, not in Mallorquín but in GERMAN. Is Mallorca no longer Spain? The entire trip was overcrowded with German tourists when I was looking forward to getting to know the Mallorquín culture. I’m planning a trip to Germany next year most likely, and I will learn about their interesting culture and language then. But when I’m in Spain, I want to learn about how different places in Spain do things different, as Spain has 17 distinct cultures and more languages than people. A broken heart and overcrowded touristy places are a sure way to make a trip bad for me.

Things also come up that change your plan. A transport strike in Greece forced me to change virtually all the plans I had been spending months making last-minute upon arrival in Athens. It turned out to be one of the best holidays ever, and I am dying for a return visit. (If I don’t do Germany-Czech Republic-Austria next Semana Santa, it *will* be a return trip to Greece or Morocco).

I had been spending most of my life wanting to try snowboarding, and last March, an opportunity came up with my school to chaperone a day in the snow in La Rioja. I was doing well after the quick snowboard lesson, and one of my students challenged me to a slope that was a step up from the bunny slope. Due to someone NOT getting out of my way, I fell and sprained my ankle in the process. It took two and a half months to finally heal.

When traveling, delays and cancellations are always possible. Sometimes a positive attitude will get you places. In 2005, when my mom and I were going to Puerto Rico, the first plane’s engine was giving problems. Now, it may just be me, but I’d rather have the flight cancelled than to be on a plane with a faulty engine. Yet the poor desk agents were being cursed by angry businessmen. Last time I checked, the desk agents most likely are not trained in plane engine mechanics and are not Supermen/women. When we treated them nicely and with respect, we were booked on the next flight to Orlando to catch our connecting flight. However, this flight would turn into a disaster thanks to a thunderstorm over Orlando that gave the plane two hours of circling before having to make an emergency landing in Daytona to refuel. Eventually we were able to go to Orlando, where we had to run across the airport, pass through security again (thank God we didn’t have any liquids) and were upgraded to first class due to our all troubles.

The less said about my experiences with Ryan Air, the better. I’ve taken a divergent memory serum to forget all about them!

Things happen. Life happens. When it does, just remember to take a deep breath, relax and keep an open mind. It’s annoying to have flights cancelled, lose your wallet or passport or whatever, or be met with transportation strikes. However, remember these things can happen anywhere and to anyone. You’re getting an opportunity to travel and see the world! Focusing on the positive is easier said than done but well worth the effort.

Still…I am asking myself how do I lose so much stuff everywhere I go…

What have been YOUR worst travel experiences? Were you able to turn them around and enjoy the trip?


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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