Oxtongue Falls

Why August is Where It’s At

I had planned on blogging all through my European adventure before I left. I wanted to regale you with the trip too-many-times-taken by eager and lost 20-somethings and put a fresh, Arinaish spin on it.

Lesson # 427: I want lots of things that probably, in the grand scheme of everything that I want to do, aren’t good for me.

(Also on this list? Nachos. Beer. Dancing all night. Sleeping for longer than I will ever have to work.)

Why did this slip as a priority while I was traveling? Simply said, I’m not a travel blogger. In fact, I have no idea how they do it so seamlessly, (especially my fave, Candice Does the World.) It’s like birds flying, mosquitos getting stuck in your tent, and ice melting; they just do. But not only was this not meant to be a travel blogging experience, but I realized quite early on that I didn’t want to turn it into one.

I feel that one of my weaknesses as a writer is my secrecy and inability to share my most meaningful writing with the world in meaningful ways. But I wanted to really dig into my thoughts, my feelings, and my preconceptions about the world on this trip, and even though I only had a half-baked point-and-shoot with me, I want to share all sorts of beauty with you that isn’t just blurry shots from my phone camera.

Time to form my impressions and better photo quality is why my posts stalled only a few weeks into my trip. What I’m hoping to provide from now on is some kick ass posts about Europe, waxing poetic and prosaic once I’ve had some time to mull.

Since returning, I still haven’t spent one consecutive week at home – which, at this point, is a couch in a tiny box-like-room in my parents house that my cat arbitrarily uses as his litter box. It’s excellent. I’ve made more headway into Ontario’s cottage country this August than I have in my entire life, however, and I’ve been trying to appreciate and live in the moment.  This has made it difficult to find a moment, though now I should be more focused. I’ve been getting a lot of clean air in my lungs, first at a cottage with my entire family for a week, and then camping with friends.

My parents burst out laughing (and wouldn’t stop, frustratingly) when I told them I was going camping for the first time, probably because they know how much of a princess I can be about certain things. Well bully for them, because I enjoyed my time camping without any reservations – I even think I’d like to do it again some day. A day far in the future, but a day nonetheless. I think it’s probably my European trip that made me less sensitive to certain comforts that I would gladly indulge in, had I the money to do so. I’ve found that I can live on meagre means and be plenty happy, as long as  am fed and in good company.

That being said, my trip to Europe probably changed my life. How has yet to be seen and dissected by myself, but I know it has. What now? I’m not sure. 11 weeks travelling has kind of wiped out my energy but provided me with an intense network of new friends spread all over the world. I’ve added more places to my “to visit” list in the past couple of months than I have in my entire life – I think it’s fair to say I’m officially a lifelong traveller, but I’m tired of planes, trains, and automobiles *for now*.

I need to regroup, refocus, and earn some more moola so I can make my way into the wilds of my friends couches. I’m looking forward to exploring Canada and the States more in the next few years, and definitely making a foray to China/Japan. Travel becomes much more focused once you’ve cut “a place to sleep” out of your expenses. I say focused because usually my thought process goes “I WANT TO GO EVERYWHERE”. If you have a couch somewhere specific? Yeah, let’s go there for now.

I think what I’m trying to get across is a few things. I’m focusing on writing. I’m focusing on my health. I’m focusing on my family. And I’m focusing on becoming more financially independent. WOO CRAZY LIFE GOALS THAT LITERALLY EVERYONE IN THE WORLD HAS.

But they’re goals. They’re good ones. And they’re mad achievable. So let’s get cracking, shall we?

Granada & Valencia, Mass Intelligentsia

I really wanted to rhyme Valencia with something, OK? But it kind of works anyway because these two cities & their tours and outings dropped some serious knowledge on me.

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Granada Inn Hostel

Granada was chilly when I first arrived, and had sagged under the weight of the clouds overhead. I wasn’t much looking forward to shivering through my tours and waking up in the early mornings to stand in long lines. In the cold. In Spain. Un-bloody-heard-of and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I’m assuming my utter refusal to partake in cold weather is the single most important contribution to the weather actually warming up in subsequent days. Because clearly I am a goddess with weather powers. Weather superpowers, you might say, if you were so inclined.

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Garden in Albaycin.

I ended up extending my stay in Granada in a night and pushing Valencia back because sometimes when you’re booking as you go you don’t make all the calculations about train times and check out times and time correctly. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to hit up the Alhambra, which is a huge reason to go to Granada in the first place. I’m sure Cordoba is nice, but all the people I had spoken to on the way vouched for Granada over Cordoba, so there I went. Talking to people, travelers, here is like Facebook… But in real life! Weird how that works.

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Part of the Alhambra - women's quarters.

I took 2 tours with my hostel – 1 to the Albaycin neighborhood, and 1 to the Caves. I kinda wished I had had time to go to the waterfalls in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but I only have so much time. The Albaycin tour was amazing. The neighbourhood is so charming, with its gardens and pomegranate trees and tiny streets with people and motorbikes crowding through. There are so many stunning viewpoints of Granada and the Alhambra because it is on the opposing hill. Its history is, of course, intertwined with that of Moorish, Arabic, Catholic and Jewish kings and people. One would build, the other buy. One would marry, the other abdicate. And so the story goes. The fountains here spout pure drinking water. And the guide told stories about its history using Game of Thrones and other TV shows as stand-ins, so.. That was hilarious and so worthwhile.

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Overlooking Albaycin.

Granada is where a huge part of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon played out: one of my favorite, twisted historical stories of two kingdoms and betrayal and cousin-marrying. And Alhambra is where they lived! Going through those rooms after standing in line for 2 hours at 6am was so… Surreal. Isabella walked through these rooms. Moorish law clerks, and princes and sultans walked on these stones. In one of the rooms, it was said that an entire royal family was slaughtered (of course I can’t remember because audio guides don’t get into my brain as they should).

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Lion fountain in the middle of Alhambra

The final thing I saw in Granada was the caves up above Albaycin. These are free caves in which people live for free. I’m stressing free because while they don’t pay rent, they also don’t have running water, electricity or toilets. And they have to bring all their food and water up a huge mountain. Its insane and so cool. There are some caves in better states than others, but it all looks pretty hippy to me. You would sometimes see these “alternative” looking dudes walking around town with no shoes, dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos, and parts of their heads shaved. They were stunningly beautiful. I could barely look away, and not because of the remnants of my teenage rebellion against “typical” looking people (really against my dads ideas), but just because they were. They had an aura around them that was very hard to resist. And while their abodes were incredibly humble, they were also somewhat satisfying in their simplicity. I don’t know if I could ever live in a place like that in the side of a mountain (a house, maybe, which to be truthful, people in Russia do all the time: the compost toilet, the handmade, gravity shower, the lighting by candlelight), but only because I’d be scared of it caving in. I’d probably do it for a story though! Offer is on the table, newspapers!

The best thing about Granada, by far, is the fact that you get free tapas with a purchase of alcoholic drink in the pubs and cervecerias. Yum and weight-gain and yum.

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The less known beach in Valencia

After Granada, I finally made my way to Valencia, which in many ways was my relaxation city. I read in the Park Turia (it used to be a river that they rerouted and is now a 10km stretch of parks and gardens and community areas), walked it, and finally, on my last day, biked through it and the Ciudad des Artes y Ciencias to get to an out of the way beach, which isn’t as great as the main beach, apparently. But oh well. I got a short tan on my legs from that ride, which I thought would never happen. My legs don’t tan! They are usually not those sort of legs, but Spain has made them into such things.

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Paella Valenciana

In Valencia I also ate a lot of tapas and I tried paella Valenciana, because it is said that paella originated there. It was worth every bite. A few new friends and I also tried Agua De Valencia, which is kind of like a punched up mimosa with fresh OJ (using Valencia oranges) and adding some vodka and gin to the champagne already in there. It makes for a tasty, and deceptively strong, drink.

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My face not reacting well to the sun on top of a cathedral overlooking Valencia

While I liked Valencia, I wasn’t in love with it. I found that the architecture lacked in comparison to Seville and now that I’m in Madrid, the feel of the city is lacking as well. Madrid has a vibrancy that Valencia lacks. I understand that they’re very different cities, but I guess I just didn’t like the feel of that one as much.

In short: Granada, yes. Sevilla, yes. Madrid, yes! Valencia, eh.

Stuck in Seville, Spain

Sevilla is kind of difficult to leave. Like, really difficult. It sucks you deep into itself and leaves you flustered and winded. It is a smallish city that moves at the pace of a big one. Its thin streets and alleys open up towards the water to become elegant boulevards on whose arms impressive facades were built. These things take your breath away, pull it from your body into balloons that you practically float on as you finish the day lost in the labyrinth.

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Streets in Santa Cruz.

The neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, or the Jewish Quarter, is an exaggeration of the rest of the city. The “kissing street” is so narrow that the Spanish balconies, slightly jutting out from the windows with their wrought-iron castings, are almost touching. There is an endless collection of sad stories ground into the cobblestoned streets. There are betrayals the likes of Romeo and Juliet (but with Susona and her cruel lover), where people die and then others, women obviously, from the devastation, commit suicide. There are also the stories, enshrined in squares where synagogues should have stood, of love, of kings being shown up by homeless women in middle-age poetry slams, taking them as their wives and planting a city full of orange trees just to satisfy their new wife’s need for snow (as when the orange blossoms bloom, their flowers are tiny, white, and floating down, cover the city in a blanket of ‘snow’).

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Shadow of orange trees in square.

There is an uncountable variety of cafes and tapas bars, with seniors (politically correct, or no?) who hang out in the warming morning sun with their zuma de naranja, cafe con leche, and toast with mantequilla y marmelade. In Canada, or at least where I live near Toronto, older folks gather in droves in Tim Horton’s, buying small coffees and hot chocolates, being more raucous, sometimes, than the teenagers that drop by post-partying late into the night. There is something more accepting in Sevilla about this, something expected and necessary and comforting. Like the city has made room for its wisest inhabitants openly, instead of sentencing them to cordoned off areas where they won’t disturb the general populace, which, I find, is the mindset behind the building of old-age homes in North America.

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My tour guide told us that the way people behave here is mainly show, seeing as how unemployment is at about 35% city-wide. But do people ever show! Wow. Never have I been in a city better dressed than Seville. The women are immaculate at every time of day and night, donning thick, high heels without an ounce of wobble, carefully tailored (and tight) dresses in all the fashions and colors of the rainbow, and an air of confidence that made me, in my baggy shorts and flip flops, slink back into my head and pretend I was one of them. Alas, living out of a backpack, even one as heavy and densely packed as mine, cannot possibly be as glamorous as these women’s grubby slacks, as if they ever had such a thing. I could learn something from them in my real life though, which is that there is never an occasion too unimportant to not dress up for. I.e. always dress up, and own it!

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The Cathedral of Sevilla as seen from the roof of La Banda hostel.

Finally, there is flamenco, and tapas, and a completely surprising mix of cultures that I would never have gleaned were I not to visit Spain or read about its history. The Cathedral’s minaret and orange tree garden used to be part of a mosque, and the beautiful, peaceful fountains were used for cleansing Muslim’s bodies before prayer. Cultural heritage, invasions and defeats and exploration, these things befuddle me when I think about how rampant racism can be in certain countries. How can it possibly exist when we are all so historically, currently, and unexceptionally linked to one another, not only in “multicultural Canada” but everywhere across the world?

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Looking from the minaret of the Cathedral.

Until next time, when I’m hoping to summarize some thoughts on Granada and Valencia. Bizou!

thoughts strung together by arina kharlamova

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