Monday, September 26, 2011

The Thrill of Travel | 17 Days in Spain

"Travel fosters a deep appreciation of both the world at large
and what waits for us back at home" - Tim Patterson
It all began on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 6th.  
We exchanged our dollars for euros, double checked that we had our passports and bid our home farewell; me with my giant suitcase on wheels, Adam with his large backpack.
We arrived to the airport early for departure on our US Airways connecting flight to Philadelphia. The Legal C Bar at Terminal B saw us off with a Bloody Mary for her, a Dark n Stormy for him and an assorted raw bar platter to share.
The feeling of beginning a vacation is probably one of the best there is. At long last, after months of planning; researching cities, booking hotels, saving money and the list goes on, the journey begins. We earned this, might as well start with a delicious splurge.Legal C Bar - Logan Airport Terminal B on Urbanspoon

We boarded our flight on time and were all situated for takeoff, only to hear the pilot announce our 1 hour and 30 minute delay due to the weather in Philly. Nervous thoughts entered my mind - we only have a two hour layover, could we miss our connection? but the eventual quick and smooth one hour flight got us in with time to spare - however not much of it. We boarded the 6:35 pm US Airways International flight to Madrid, and settled in for the 6 hour and 30 minute overnight journey.
After a decent meal consisting of pasta in a spicy red sauce, a light salad, a roll, red wine and a chocolate chip blondie for dessert, I attempted to pass out, but couldn't sleep a wink. I scrolled the movie queue and decided to watch Water For Elephants. I wasn't super impressed for the all too obvious reason, the book far out shined the film. I enjoyed the acting by Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, but the character and story development was seriously lacking. I expected a more compelling drama but perhaps I shouldn't have given I already knew how the story unfolded.
After another loosing battle to sleep, I succumbed to watching Something Borrowed. I didn't find this romcom romantic or comedic, the plot seemed cliche and predictable. The saving grace for me was John Krasninski as the selfless, charming and funny confidante to the mostly like-able main character played by Ginnifer Goodwin. Kate Husdon embraced the part of her obnoxious, self centered, best friend character to a tee. She was intolerable and that somehow translated to entertaining?! How this didn't put me to sleep, I will never know.
Did you forget this was a post about traveling to Spain? So did I. I love having in flight movies to pass the time! When we arrived to Madrid Barajas International Airport I hadn't slept at all, but still felt great. We breezed through customs, and down to baggage claim where we waited.
And waited. And waited until all the passengers on our flight cleared out and it was just us and one other couple at a mostly empty carousel, the same unclaimed bags circling the ramp. I swallowed a lump in my throat as I considered in my head the possibility that our bags didn't make it. The guy next to me had already announced 8 times how this sucks and what a terrible way to start off my vacation. Yeah buddy, we get it. The carousel a few rows over had a plethora of luggage still circling, so I headed there on an instinct. Bags: claimed, sighs of relief: exhaled, and we were off to the Metro. About a mile walk through the airport later (I hardly exaggerate) we navigated the extensive, smooth running subway system to our destination stop of Sol.
Puerta del Sol, to be precise, Madrid's central and best known square. We were able to check into our hotel room right away (major plus, as it was still only 10am or so) and right on time, the jet lag kicked in. A nap to begin our time in Madrid was essential. We spent five glorious days and five crazy nights (all the detailed posts to follow) from September 7th through 12th living it up in a city that completely captivated me from the moment I stepped into the sun at Puerta Del Sol to the moment I stepped back underground and departed from Sol to Atocha Station, where the Renfe AVE high speed train whisked us off to Barcelona.
Actually, it wasn't as simple as I just made it sound. Navigating the Atocha Train Station (with horrendous hangovers to boot) was pure frustration. The ticket counter was a jumbled mess of random chaos and as I sat with a pounding head, the Spanish toddler to my right proceeded to kick me as he squirmed around his seat. When we approached the ticket counter we were waved away and told "you need a ticket." Why yes, I need a ticket! Help me, help you. It finally occurred to us (well, to Adam) that you have to pull a ticket, deli counter style out of a tiny machine - hidden, with no signs, in the corner of a cramped room. Then, as you could probably assume, wait for the number on that ticket to appear on an overhead screen to go and purchase your train ticket. Really? Is this the Massachusetts DMV? Can't we just form a line like every other train station I've ever been too? Head pounds. Chugs water. Lugs bag up the boarding platform, settles in for the scenic 3 hour and 18 minute ride Northeast.
On the train I consumed a life changing, hangover curing, warm jamon y camambert bocadillo along with my usual cafe con leche.
Coming from Madrid, destination number two certainly had a lot to live up to. I wasn't instantly charmed by Barcelona. When we stepped off the metro at the city center, Placa Catalunya, it was hot, crowded and smelled foul. It didn't help that we had a terribly annoying time trying to figure out which of the seven, unmarked, off-shooting roads we needed to venture down to get to our hotel. We love a good map reading session, but the iPhone GPS was necessary in this and only this instance. We were greeted at our hotel buildings entry way with more extremely sour, stale smelling odors. (Which did not permeate the hotel itself, thankfully.) After five days in this Mediterranean coastal city, and it probably wasn't the until the second day, I was as captivated and in love with Barcelona as I was with Madrid.
Maybe more? But maybe not. It's like asking me to pick who I love more, my Mom or my Dad. You love unconditionally both of them, but you love different things about them. How do you choose? You don't!
The departure to destination number three came too soon, at 7:35 am on Saturday, September 17th. The Barcelona Sants train station was a heck of a lot easier to navigate (and not just because we called it an early night) but because they form lines at the ticket counter! Imagine that. For 5 hours and 25 minutes, the Renfe - no high speed for this leg, but I don't mind one bit - quietly rumbled through old stations, slowing as it approached graffiti ridden concrete walls, swiftly speeding along the countryside and twisting into the Pyrenees.
I watched as the sun rose that morning, and as quaint clusters of small towns set against a backdrop of rugged mountains came and went.
Vast sprawling tan and green landscapes stretch outward, some vibrant and alive, others deserted and abandoned.
I peered out the window, hanging into every passing moment in between reading, writing and giving in reluctantly to sleep.
I've decided - or rather, been reminded, that train rides through Europe rank up there as one my all time favorite things to do. I also realized that bocadillos are my travel food of choice.
Upon arrival to San Sebastian we were met with our first gray and rainy day. The rain continued on and off for three out of the four days we stayed. It didn't matter. The time spent in this coastal gem of a city in Spain's northernmost Basque Country was remarkable. We grudgingly checked out of our favorite hotel of the trip on September 21st, to catch the 8:42 am train back to Madrid. 5 hours and 18 minutes more of the Spanish countryside? Si, por favor.
We spent our final night at an airport hotel, departing on Thursday, September 22nd at 12:35 pm to Philadelphia. An 8 hour flight against the jet stream saw more mediocre movies, a terrible meal of soggy tortellini and later a decent provolone cheese and sun dried tomato baguette washed down by a Segram's Ginger Ale.
Bringing up the rear after baggage claim #1 and a slew of never ending custom check points was a most rewarding dirty martini consumed at the bar in PHL Terminal C, followed by two Amstel Light drafts.
All that drinking can only mean one thing - if you guessed that our connecting flight to Boston was delayed, you would be correct. We made it back to Logan an hour later than scheduled. I had no problem extending the journey home, even if it meant drinking at a crowded airport bar. As we made our final descent, a sweeping night sky with a beacon of orange sunset in the distance ushered us home.
For me, it is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Every imperfect moment or frustrating scenario is met with equal moments of ease, reward and satisfaction. Travel is an all consuming force that heightens my senses and enlivens my being. And as for Spain? It is an amazing country full of culture just waiting to be embraced, that I encourage anyone who enjoys traveling to Europe, or who is looking to start, to visit.

{Detailed posts of what we did, ate, saw etc in our destination cities coming soon!}


  1. I LOVE Spain and had the best time there, it's such a wonderful country...glad you enjoyed your vacation!

  2. I love that you are splitting these posts up by theme!

  3. Sounds like you had such a great time - cannot wait to hear the details! Really there is nothing better than staring out the windows of a train seeing the countryside...a good drink and sandwich always help ;)

  4. I have the chills and cannot wait to read more! Please tell us what is in a bocadillo!?

  5. Usually a bocadillo consists of jamon or chorizo and cheese, or tomato and cheese. I also had one with bacon and pimento. always on a soft spanish baguette, yum!

  6. You had me at chorizo with the bocadillo. Sounds yummy!

  7. Renfe! :P It's fun hearing names and terms that you haven't heard in years. I LOVE the train. I took a 10 hour train ride from Barcelona to Granada and loved every minute. I'd be fine if you kept these recaps going for months :)

  8. wow that was quite a trip. I would have freaked out when the pilot announced that long of a delay. Luckily you made it in time. PS love all the booze in this post :0

  9. I love Barcelona! And I love your attitude toward travel. I tend to get cranky and want to rush, but I should take more time to enjoy the journey.

  10. Ha, I just lol-ed a lot in my class ;) How Something Borrowed did not put you to sleep I also do not know ;) I think I need some bocadillos in my life!

  11. I love this summary of the trip and can't wait to read all the details!

  12. Oh my goddd, this makes me want to go on vacation so badly!

  13. Train rides in Europe are always the highlight for me. I love everything about them!

    17 days! I wish I could take such a long, fabulous vacation like that. One day!!

  14. PS - I was underwhelmed by Water for Elephants as well.

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