Amy and I spent over three weeks here. In that time we saw museums, castles, mountains and breathtaking city views, went hiking, swam in a waterfall, relaxed on the beach, did some shopping, eating and a lot of walking, were in a tomato fight, partied all night before, partied many more times, partied with Erasmus students, danced the night away, gained some friends, lost some weight, and even got food poisoning and nearly got some shit stolen.
The mistakes made that led to the latter two were eating leftover pasta sauce in the hostel fridge in Granada and leaving my iPod under my pillow unattended in a hostel dorm room in Madrid. Thankfully I was able to recover my crappy but scrappy fourth gen four gig iPod but it sure made for an interesting experience.
Long story short, another guy had his cellphone stolen, I dialed it and heard the vibration in another person’s locker. After initial shock, then much deliberation, we badgered the suspect, searched through some of his stuff, soon after he tried to make a run for it hauling a large pack, we ran him down outside the hostel, ushered him back and called the cops. He eventually caved in and gave our stuff back, then took off before the cops arrived. Justice should have been served, but at least we got our stuff back. I am afraid this guy is back on the prowl in hostel dorms around Spain, despite his photo and passport photo having been distributed to many hostels in Spain as a result of the debacle. This story is just one example of a major problem in Spain. I have heard many stories about theft in hostel dorm rooms and pickpocketing in the streets and in the Metro stations. The most elaborate scheme I have heard of is of youth “pretending” to celebrate a soccer match victory approaching you, hugging you, hooking their legs around yours, then digging through your pockets.
Anyway, I don’t mean to scare anyone about coming to Spain. As long as you are aware of the dangers and keep your stuff safe, you will love it here!
The main highlight of Spain was meeting people and making friends. La Tomatina, the 50,000 strong tomato fight in Bunol, was wild, but wouldn’t be the same without the mini United Nations group we stitched together while there. We later visited many of them in their current cities of residence in Spain, and the whole group talks about a reunion in Prague. We had random conversations all over Spain, mostly at hostels, and, on occasion, it led to hanging out together. On a few occasions we even ran into the same people in different cities.
Through meeting locals and going to museums, we learned a lot about Spain’s history and current affairs. Did you know there are four languages spoken in Spain? Castellano is the most common form of “Spanish.” Did you know the Arabs controlled the south of Spain for over 700 years? And that there was a civil war from 1936-1939 that resulted in a dictatorship? It would be ignorant of me not to mention the nation's recent troubles. The austerity measures are really hurting public services such as health and education. Many teachers and doctors among other professionals attended a massive protest last week in Madrid. As a tourist it is difficult to notice any trouble (except for all of the pickpockets) but times are really tough in Spain and it’s almost impossible to find a job.
To name a few tourist highlights, there was La Tomatina, the wildest time I have ever had, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, by a large margin the most beautiful and unique church in the world, way beyond anything else you will ever see in your lifetime (this is no exaggeration!), Alhambra in Granada, an impressive castle constructed in Arabic style, and Museum of Modern Arts Reina Sofia in Madrid, containing mind-bending works by Dali and Picasso. We also ate a lot of good food, particularly tapas which Spain is famous for.
Personally, I feel that I will return to Spain to achieve some unfulfilled goals. Firstly, I have started learning Spanish from PDFs downloaded on my laptop, and want to return to take a course in Castellano. Secondly, I want to complete some, most or all of El Camino de Santiago, a 1200 km long pilgrimage. Thirdly, I am simply not done with Spain. There is still Seville and Tarifa in the south, and San Sebastian and Bilbao in the north. Fourthly, as a side note, I bought a harmonica! If I can reach a certain level of proficiency with it, look for me buskering in the streets around Europe.
PS. Currently in Nice. The south of France along the Cote D'Azur is one of the most gorgeous places on Earth!