Semi-Domestic Bliss in Almería, Spain

I gave myself a month to see Southern Spain, but it wasn’t until I arrived and actually got my feet on the ground that I realized what a tall order “see lots of important things in Spain in one month” actually is. Each person I spoke to insisted on another city, another place, and another event that is, to them, a must-see and since I have an entire month, I must see it. Well, my entire month disappeared somewhere between five days in Barcelona (not enough), two nights in Valencia (enough), one night in Alicante (not enough), five nights in Almería (not enough) and several more cities that I’ve gotten to and plan to go to before March 12th flies me away to Ireland. Somehow what I thought would be a leisurely-paced trip through Spain has turned into a whirlwind tour of only a fraction of the important things this large, complex and gorgeous country has to offer. And while I love to add new cities to my brain’s conversation fodder, I have found myself completely exhausted. That’s why my five days in Almería, a small city on the southern coast of Spain weren’t spent only seeing a few of a multitude of sights nearby, they were spent pretending I was home, even if just for a little bit.

An old friend of mine, Liz, is teaching English in Almería and offered to put me up for as long as I’d like. I arrived thinking that I’d only stay two or three nights, but my friend’s gracious hospitality and equally as incredible Spanish friends reeled me in, and as Liz and I reconnected over cañas and tapas (translation: beer and food) in a small but busy restaurant, I realized that I probably wouldn’t be ready to go as soon as I’d planned.

While I can safely say that I’ve seen the Alcazaba, the second largest Muslim fortress in the province of Andalusia (the largest is Granada’s Alhambra), walked the white, shining streets of Mojácar for a panoramic view of the area, hopped tapas bars around the city, sampling Spanish food and even picked up a postcard along the way, my best memories are a little different, and a little more domestic.

Proof: I did the things you're supposed to do in Almería.
Proof: I did the things you’re supposed to do in Almería, like an obligatory beach picture.

I went running down the boardwalk; the ocean on my left and plenty of other people exercising all around me made me feel like I was part of the daily life, at least for a moment, and it was really just a moment. Within ten minutes I was back to walking, as it turns out you can’t run away from being super out of shape!

We went shopping for fresh produce at a local market and cooked a full dinner for us and friends. There’s something comfortable about shopping for ingredients and creating a meal out of them that I sometimes miss while on the road (even as good as those tapas bars are!). The busy market, the unbelievable amount of fresh vegetables we could pick up for under two euros, and the end result of tons of laughter and excellent food all while sitting on L’s living room couch were much needed after so much of the unfamiliar.

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Liz’s Spanish friends (or shall I say my new Spanish friends? I’m stealing them!) cooked us a homemade, authentic Almerian meal. We all sat together at an old kitchen table decked out with food galore, stuffing our faces and laughing, and enjoying migas. One of the friends is actually a chef, so even though it was a relaxed atmosphere, I essentially got to sit in on a cooking class as I watched him cook one side dish after another, all to be added to the migas (a kind of friend starch) when it was finished.

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Earlier that same day, we toured around an old farm house and then picked organic oranges from an orchard. The chef and his wife showed me the backyard full of olive trees, small plants and other odds and ends that little Spanish farm houses have (like oregano). Standing on the small roof and looking over the nearby landscape wasn’t just beautiful but intimate. Spain felt a little bit more like a place that I could imagine life in. A quick drive down the road and the group of us were in the midst of an orange orchard picking fruits to take back; my Spanish friends said that their parents who are now too old to keep up with the labor are constantly asking them to drive out and pick oranges for them. We were rewarded for our hard work (yeah right!) with way too many oranges for one person to even attempt to eat, alone.

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And, bonus, I watched a herd of goats block the road.

Later my friend and I left to shortly tour Granada before drinking ourselves into oblivion during Carneval in Cádiz (well, other people did that and I mostly just watched) (get excited for those blog posts!), but when I think about Almería, I’ll always think of it as the place where I was most able to immerse myself into Spanish culture and customs, and see a little bit more of what life is really like for those who live here. It was also the place where I was able to rest in between two exhausting bursts of sightseeing and travel. As for things to see, the city didn’t hold a candle to the big bad boys of Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, etc.) but that’s not why I adored being there; it was the laughter and friendship that I’ll always associate with this little town on the ocean. And all of the oranges I had to eat after picking them from the orchard. So. Many. Oranges.

But next time I go, I definitely wouldn’t put up my nose to doing a little more sightseeing, specifically those incredible beaches everyone has been talking about. Laying on the beach does count as sightseeing, right? Right.

Have you ever associated a pretty typical city with incredible memories? Have you ever had migas? Want to pay for me to visit these incredible beaches this July? (If so, let me know! I’ll send a postcard.)

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Opposite Travel Styles, Claudia, and Berlin

Not everyone has the same travel style. In fact, even people in love may not necessarily travel well together. When I told Claudia that I’d be in Berlin and we worked out that she’d join me for about a week in Berlin, this wasn’t on my mind. I didn’t think about it. I was just excited to see Claudia after five years and a week with her sounded wonderful, no matter what the circumstances.

And it was. We met at the hostel and exchanged hugs right away. We shared a lot of delicious cocktails outside, took some long walks and generally had a great time in Berlin together. But it wasn’t all cake and champagne, because as we found out within 24 hours, we are complete opposites when it comes to planning. It had me worrying at first. We were supposed to have an amazing week as old friends. How were we going to do this?

Back in the day.
Back in the day.

I’m the kind of traveler that may or may not purchase the Lonely Planet guide ahead of time. I don’t have a list of things I’d like to see ahead of time. My research is kept to a bare minimum and involves mentally adding to a list things people ask if I’ve seen. I’ll sometimes put one thing on my to-see list and spend the better part of the remaining day just wandering the area and finding things to do on my way. I’ll go out of my way to find a highly recommended restaurant. The method to my madness is simply to feel the pulse of a city for a moment. If I feel hungry, I’ll eat, if I’m tired, I’ll go sleep, no matter how much of my mental to-see list was completed. Sometimes this works out really well and I see everything I should, other times I completely miss a huge, iconic part of the city. (Although regardless, I always have a nice time.)

Claudia plans. She had her guidebook, she had read and highlighted things she’d like to visit. She will not stop for the evening until everything is completed and she’ll hurry through one place to make sure that she gets to the next before it closes. She thinks about travel times and knows which bus to take before she gets to the bus stop. She’s prepared and ready for each day before it begins, treating it as a series of things to be conquered. And she does it well, very well. Better yet, I can tell she enjoys it. In the time that we were in Berlin, she managed to fit in a crazy amount of sightseeing. I was impressed.

But we are completely, 200%, 180 degrees different when it comes to planning our time while traveling. Both styles are fine, nice ways to vacation in a new city, but are they compatible?

Our first couple days were a trial. She’d ask me what I want to do and I’d give a noncommittal shrug and say “whatever you want!” This probably drove her crazy, since it was her second time in Berlin and she wanted to make sure I was having a nice vacation; I wouldn’t be back in Berlin anytime soon. Then it would be dinner time, I would get hungry and point out an obscure restaurant some friend on Tumblr told me about with not very exact directions. We’d be on our way to the S-Bahn stop and she would want to sit and figure out our public transportation before boarding the street car, I’d prefer to jump on, head downtown and figure out the exact route while on our way. Claudia loves pizza, I like meaty burritos. Claudia is a vegetarian.

Talk about opposites.

Claudia, planning things.
Claudia, planning things.

But slowly, as the afternoons passed, we somehow figured out how to accommodate each other. She started making her plans and telling me about them, I decided whether I would join or not, or for how long. I let her figure out all of the public transportation ahead of time. She came along when there was something delicious nearby, and I tried to find places in the area from other places she might be more interested in. I quickly learned that Claudia probably wasn’t going to eat the same thing that I wanted, but I should just eat it anyways and then sit through her meal, later. By the end, we were splitting up entirely, but agreed to meet for dinner or drinks at a certain time. When we went to Potsdam, she elected to do a group bus tour and I did an audio guided solo bike tour, instead. We met up afterwards and talked about the things each of us saw (or missed), each of us having enjoyed the tour and also happy to be able to discuss it afterwards.

By giving and taking, doing some things together and plenty of things separate, being clear about what each of us undoubtedly wanted to see or do (or in my case, eat!), we smoothed over the rough patches that inevitably come while traveling with your complete travel planning opposite. The benefit for me of seeing Berlin with Claudia was that she forced me to be a bit more organized than I might have been otherwise, which meant that I saw more of the city. I may have never made it to Potsdam if it weren’t for Claudia, but Potsdam was one of my favorite areas of Berlin. She pushed me to be more efficient, even if I did want to knock her over while she made us run for the subway. I really hate running to catch any kind of train.

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This would have been the perfect moment to knock her over, but instead I just took some pictures.

And I’m sure that she wanted to toss me into oncoming traffic more than a few times as I said, “Eh, it won’t take 30 minutes, probably just 25. We don’t have to leave right now,” or “It doesn’t really matter to me, you can decide,” and “Yeah, I don’t know what my plans are for the morning yet,” ten minutes before bed.

But somehow we did it and still had a great time. We shared cocktails galore, lots of bakery stops in the morning, museum after museum after museum and the joys (terrors) of staying in a party hostel with an actual club outside the window. My last evening in Berlin I spent alone, she’d already flown out, and it was a little quiet and strange. I had a glass of wine outside and endured an hour of a sudden, huge thunderstorm underneath the restaurant umbrella. As the rain came down hard and the wind whipped drops all over my table, I thought to myself that it was a moment I would have liked to have shared. With Claudia.

The final cocktail before she flew home.
The final cocktail before she flew home. Sad day.

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Seeing Pinja or Why I Won’t Delete My Facebook

Sometimes Facebook terrifies me. The fact that I constantly have to keep my privacy settings in check is annoying at best, kind of immoral at worst. I don’t own my photographs once they’re on Facebook, the new graph search is pretty creepy and my older brother always insists on putting weird, sometimes vulgar posts on my wall, because he’s my older brother and that’s what they do. Thanks bro.

But despite all of the concerns I have with Facebook and privacy and the company using my information for advertising or stealing phone numbers from my phone, there’s one thing that stops me from deleting my account entirely. (Actually, if I’m honest, two things: I have to keep up my social media presence for this blog!) It’s because Facebook does what it’s supposed to do and it does it really well: it connects.

When I was 17, a junior in high school, I set off on the adventure of my somewhat-short-so-far lifetime. I went to live with a family in Austria and be a foreign exchange student through the lovely program AFS. We were a group of strangers that left New York together and arrived in Vienna as a group of friends. During our arrival, we met up with all of the various people from around the world that would be living here too. Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Canada and Finland. Hong Kong. Iceland. USA.* We all had one thing in common: we were going to be foreigners in Austria. We all crossed our fingers that our host families would be nice.

I'd like to thank Facebook for allowing me to find and download my friend's picture from 6 years ago.
I’d like to thank Facebook for allowing me to find and download my friend’s picture of us from six years ago.

That semester led to plenty of new Facebook friends, who would later become old Facebook friends and buried under news feed of newer acquaintances as the years passed since our life in Austria together. Occasionally someone would pop up in my feed and I’d click on their profile to try and decipher what they were up to these days. In 2011, I studied abroad in Argentina and had a short but lovely reunion with one of the old AFSers named Berta. We hadn’t seen each other in four years, yet here we were, meeting again in Argentina this time and feeling like no time had passed. For that, I definitely had Facebook to thank. (That also sparked my decision to stop deleting Facebook friends all the time.)

So when I was doing my bi-annual Facebook stalking of all of my old AFS friends earlier this year and saw that Pinja (from Finland) was in Germany at the moment, I immediately messaged her with news that I’d be in Germany this July/August. Soon enough I had a reply and our schedules lined up. If it weren’t for Facebook, I’d have never known to get in contact with her in the first place and I’d probably only have the most ancient email address to do so.

We worked out a plan, I flew to Germany, took a train to Leipzig and did a couple things in between that exact sequence of events. We found each other quickly at the train station. Apparently, I look the exact same as I did when I was 17, but so does Pinja. We started out with a short tour of the city, touring at old churches and noticing the beat down buildings, remnants of communist East Germany. The conversation was endless: we had over six years of catch up to do, yet we slipped into our friendship as comfortably as we’d left it. And it was just as hard to say goodbye, this time, too.

There we are, looking the exact same as when we were 17 apparently.
There we are, looking the exact same as when we were 17 apparently.

The laughter, the old drudged up memories of being a teenager in Austria, the hilarious German vocabulary that only we (and all of Styria) know; these are the things that old friends share. As old friends we, of course, created new memories too: pasta making adventures, the search for baby clothes (don’t ask) and my first curry wurst. But our old friendship was only reignited because of modern technology. Because of Facebook.

So as much as I dislike consonantly monitoring my privacy settings, knowing that people look at the my photographs and information without me knowing and that Facebook is collecting and creating a nice little personality file on me, I will remain. Because as long as Facebook keeps doing it’s main job, keeping me connected to old friends and new friends alike, then I’m going to stick around. For days like the short ones I spent with Pinja, for last year’s reunion with Berta from Argentina, it’s always going to be worth it. Seeing smiling faces and great big hugs after years-long hiatuses are two pretty good reasons, if you ask me, to keep that Facebook page up and running.

 

*I know I didn’t include every country represented, sorry guys. Writing style, ya know?

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