Ernest Hemingway once called Spain “The last good country left.” While that assessment is certain to invite other nominations, there is no doubt that Spain offers a unique palette of travel experiences: from ancient Roman ruins to the 20th century splendour of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao; from alpine skiing in the Pyranees to the sub-tropical beaches of the Canary Islands; and a distinctly Mediterranean mood in every way.
Spain is the focus for the May issue of the TravelPod Newsletter. We have a selected some great TravelPod travel writing and photos that should nudge some of you off the fence and into a taxi. And we have listed a few of the terrific festivals for which Spain is noted in the Celebrate! section.
Your Words is back in this issue. This month the inspiration comes form TravelPod Member Shane, an Aussie of Scottish extraction currently teaching English in China (making him another great example of the global sensibility that makes TravelPod Members so special.)
By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to the April Newsletter, we’ve simply bumped it. From now on, the TravelPod Newsletter will be published at the beginning of each month, rather than the end. Makes more sense to look forward than back, we think, and look forward we will, right now, to Spain….
BEING THERE: SPAIN
Espana - The Kingdom of Spain - is perhaps best known for the tradition of the bullfight. In Pamplona, in the foothills of the Pyranees, it is the incierro, the Running of the Bulls, that draws thousands during the Fiesta of San Fermin each July. If you’re considering a walk – or a run, more likely – in Hemingway’s shoes, you may want to consider “special risk insurance.” If you prefer to stay out of harm’s way, a double run of fence lines most of the half-mile route, but for the ultimate in safety and comfort, a private balcony rented from the homeowner is just the ticket.
But Spain is so much more than the bulls. Unique architectures, both ancient and modern, mix to startling effect in Barcelona. Fancy a chanting crowd? Join 74,000 of fans of Real Madrid, one of the most successful football (soccer) clubs in the world, at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.
Breaking away from the excitement, the Canary Islands lay out lustrous sub-tropical beaches year-round, and for an unequalled combination of beaches and beats, the Mediterranean island of Ibiza boasts as many dance clubs per square mile as you’ll find anywhere on the planet.
Got your passport ready? Let’s go!
• Population – About 40 Million
• Languages – Castilian Spanish (Espagnol) nationwide; Catalan, Galician, and Basque regionally
• Currency – Euro (EUR) = about $1.26 USD (01/04/06)
• Capital and Largest City – Madrid (Pop approx 5.7 million)
• Top Tourist Draw – La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Roman Catholic basilica in Barcelona (more than 2 million visitors each year)
• While the world thinks of Spain as a singular nation, the country actually comprises in 17 autonomous regions including Galicia, Catalonia, Andalusia, and the Canary Islands.
• The Running of the Bulls through the streets of Pamplona is actually a week-long affair. Each morning from the 7th to the 14th of July the bulls enter the streets at 8:00 AM and the running is completed a short three minutes later, assuming all bulls stick to the route, of course. (On the morning of the 15th, you can expect to see a silly parody of the Running of the Bulls as the last of Fiesta San Fermin revelers run in front of the early morning buses on Santa Domingo street.)
• The Canary Islands were named not after the birds but after the large dogs (from the Latin canes) found living there by the first to settle.
• Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi worked on La Sagrada Familia, the magnificent basilica in Barcelona, from 1884 until his death in 1926. He is said to have joked: “My client is not in a hurry.” Fortunate perhaps, as La Sagrada Familia remains under construction to this day.
Spain By TravelPodders
TravelPodders have posted more than 500 travel journal entries featuring Spain and uploaded more than 8,000 photos and videos. From these we chose a handful that do an especially good job of capturing the first-person colour of Espana. Enjoy!
TravelPod Posts From Spain
The Pyranees by modernoddyseus
Avila, Segovia and Toledo by cullism
Cool City, Creepy Cathedral by amybing
Barcelona by shmikes
More Spain Travelogues
Spain Photos From TravelPod
Clockwise from left
Sagrada Familia by whereisej.
Flamenco Line by fredchristman.
Granada Alhambra Mountains by fredchristman.
More Spain Photos
TravelPod-Recommended Links For Spain
Official Site – The Government of Spain… in Spanish only.
Official Tourism Website for Spain
Great one-stop for current political and economic issues in Spain
Spain at Wikipedia
CIA Spain FactBook
Drop in to the TravelPod Forums and share your favourite Spain link.
Spain offers no shortage of fiestas. Most are religious in origin, but a simple promise to enjoy yourself is the only prerequisite for joining the fun. If you go, here is a list of a few of the more unusual events that can help to shape your itinerary.
La Tomatina - The World’s Biggest Food Fight
Fiesta of San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls
La Tamborrada - The San Sebastian Drum Festival
Cordoba Patio Festival - We love this one
And check this link for a list of the more notable Spanish Fiestas
• Start planning your own run with the bulls (or buses). Check for flights to Spain, right now.
• Is there someone else that just has to go with you? Send BEING THERE: SPAIN to family, friends and travelers-to-be.
Shane is now living his dream, but not the dream he expected. Here’s how that works, in his words.
Shane – Melbourne (AUS)
What were your life goals and aspirations before you started traveling?
Strangely, I really didn't have many goals in life. My life was pretty much about being in the right place at the right time, when it came to work and many other things. I loved my work and my career advancement was rapid. I went from the Family Court of Australia, to the Federal Court of Australia to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Australian Football League Tribunal. For a long time I allowed myself to believe these were actually my dreams. I guess my only real goal, the one I suppressed for far too long, was to actually be brave enough to join those walking freely around the globe. I met a guy when I was in my early twenties who had been in Japan teaching English. When I combined my new envy with my dreams of going to Asia my strange new goal in life was to STOP myself in any way from achieving my goal. I guess I didn't believe in myself.
What was your motivation for hitting the road?
My mother is from Scotland and since arriving on Australian shores she has never had the will to leave them. As I grew, I was surrounded by my mother's family and they all had strong Scottish accents. I always wanted to know why they talked so funny and about the strange country they came from. Sadly my family never helped me answer these questions in life. Understandably they were unimportant compared to working to earn money to raise a family.
As I grew older my attention was drawn to Asia. I was captivated by its oddness when I compared it to the world I lived in. The oddness soon changed to a burning desire to walk amongst its people and experience it for myself. My heart left Australia in search of these lands and it took my brain over twenty years to board a plane in search of a part of me that left so long before.
I know my father has always wanted to travel around Australia, unluckily for him my mother had never been bitten by the 'bug' and had no desire to travel. This was and always has been her decision to make. I also know this has caused my father a lot of frustration and pain. Things changed in his life many years ago and I now see regret in his eyes. He should have taken her advice and simply packed his van and fulfilled his dream. She was not going anywhere and would be there for his return. I also see the same regret in many other people's eyes whom far too early in life have made the decision to marry and offer their life to that of a family.
My motivation was for too many years too small. I spent years watching documentaries, looking at photos, eating a diet mainly of Korean, Japanese and Chinese food. This was, I told myself, preparing myself for 'next year' when I was 'gonna go'. Combine this with the exotic smile and almond eyes of an Asian girl and finally, FINALLY understanding the words said by so many: 'I wish…. I could' or 'I wish I had of'…
Finally, I found my motivation.
How did you feel when you stepped off the first plane?
Being the type of person who was 'gonna do this and gonna do that' for many years, my feelings when I stepped off the plane on my first journey overseas was that of unmeasurable relief. I felt bewilderment at myself and the reality of my surroundings. The excitement of it finally consumed me as the humidity of Thailand and its people swept over me.
What is your favourite travel memory?
My most favourite travel memory is on a small island off Japan called Shido-shima. I had spent a beautiful time in the mountains on Shikoku in a town called Awa-Ikeda. Here I met some locals and we walked, tried to talk and played guitar. We also watched a movie called '24 Eyes'. It was in Japanese with no-subtitles. I got the grasp of the story nearly shed a tear on several occasions. I had such a beautiful time and thought life just couldn't get better. I was going to head back to Honshu but a little man I was eating noodles with told me to go to Shido-shima. At the time we were eating Udon Noodles and he believed that Kusabe on Shido-shima was their birthplace. As I've always been a noodle freak I boarded the ferry at Takamatsu and under the bluest of skies I made my way across the bay.
I found the Youth Hostel and here I met two Japanese guys who were about to ride around Shikoku. We planned to spend the following day together as they wanted to take me somewhere special. That special place was the movie site where they re-made the movie '24 Eyes'. 24 Eyes means 12 pupils (and their teacher). Here we got to walk around the site and watch both the old and new versions of the film. My friends translated every single word for me. They left the next morning and I spent the following days sitting on a beautiful beach watching boats bob up and down, up and down, up and down. I did nothing and went no where but that beach (and to eat noodles). The weather was just beautiful and I allowed myself to relax for the first time in several months. It seems that many of us forget that sometimes, doing nothing is just as special as doing 'something'.
How about your worst travel experience?
My worst travel experience was my journey across Russia onboard the Trans Siberian. I boarded the train after my government had sent me several warnings NOT to board the train. Of course, I knew better than they did! I travelled across Russia during the Chechnyan War and the Trans Siberian was being used mainly to transport soldiers across the vast land. These soldiers were unarmed, this meant no machine guns. What they did have was a large assortment of weaponary from pistols, machetes, swords and of course many bottles of vodka.
The drunker we all became, the more stupid and fearless they became. I was the only foreigner onboard and was adopted by several of the soldiers. They would do everything except drink my vodka and beer for me. It was fun for them to jump out from the door way when I or another soldier passed and hold a blade or a pistol to some part of the head. The real problems began when a Russian civilian began screaming in rage at me and spitting at my feet. His problem (I think was Religious based) was finalised when he spat in my face. Some of the soldiers carried him between carriages and put his head through two double glazed windows.
Over the following twelve hours, Military Police boarded and left the train. Soon several soldiers were taken from the train in handcuffs. I feared my arrival in Moscow yet I still had several days on board. Unrelated events occurred upon my arrival in Moscow and my fear and paranoia had gown so extreme that I believed they were all one, one huge bad dream.
Who is your most memorable character out there?
I really have no idea who to write about. How can you narrow a world full of beautiful and crazy clowns down to one person? I guess the one that comes to mind right now would be my market place friend's father here in Tianyang China.. As are nearly all stalls and stores in Tianyang, my friends stall is a family run stall or as I call it 'a side walk wok-em-up'. The mother and father usually stay until late and depending on the evening they leave around 11pm. How do they get home? Usually by pedal power. The family car is a three wheeler bicycle with a tray on the back so the can move stock from home to the market place etc. After much food, biajio (rice wine) and good cheer he jumps in the back and she pedals him home.
The reason he comes to mind is this. This family have adopted me and look after me very well when it comes to health, food and who NOT to sit and drink with. They treat me like a son they can't actually talk to with words. We can communicate in words only little. My phrase book helps a lot also. When I am trying to explain some things to them I do as I do in class and begin the game of charades.
After watching me several times my friend's father began to do the same. Now and for many months past as I walk across the highway towards the market place I know what meat we are having for dinner. He squawks like a chicken, barks like a dog, chirps like a bird and snorts like a pig. A lot of nights he even gets out of his chair and actually acts the part like I do. My favourite, along with all the other stall owners is when we are having a meal that includes pork and eggs. We are then witness to a pig laying eggs.
How did you feel when you stepped off the last plane?
I knew when I stepped from my last plane journey that I believed in myself and my dreams more than enough to fulfil them. I had given away all my belongings to allow my life's one real goal finally be accomplished. I had finally stepped foot on Asian soil with no near future plans to return to Australia. I had travelled these lands six years prior but I was not strong enough to live my dream.
What I also felt when I stepped off the plane was to celebrate with a cold beer mate!
With reference to those life goals and aspirations above, where are you now?
Where am I now? I am living my life's dream. I am living in a small farming town in the south of China teaching English to primary school children. With reference to the above goals and aspirations new goals have been born. In Asia I will stay and move from country to country teaching English. My main goal now is to never become a 'gonna do' again. Life is much too short to age with regret and self anger. I no longer own belongings but I own myself and the strength to create a pathway in life to continue to live my past, present and future dreams.
• Ready to answer the same questions in Your Words?
We’re ready to read them and we’ll be choosing the best to show-off in future installments of Your Words.
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