Alone at the seaside

In the middle of a crazy week, I took a break. This time, I was was smart enough not to stay at home because staying home meant trying to relax while gritting my teeth at unfinished work. It was time to go to the beach.

I headed out before the sun (which admittedly isn’t that difficult if you live in Spain). On the dim streets of the early morning–Are people really out and about this time of day!? Who knew?— predawn workers hurried with backpacks and work clothes. With my backpack and grungy beach outfit, I felt like I fit in. No one pointed out that I was, in fact, an imposter, on holiday rather than heading to work. Plus, I was carrying a travel mug and, well, no one does that.

One street smelled like weed. Someone trying to make it through another day, I supposed as I wound through the prolonged construction. I took just a moment to fill my lungs with the pastry aroma panting through the supermarket vents. For not really liking sweets, there are these luscious braided pastries that taste like flaky pecan pie and…. well… I marched on.

At the bus stop, I waited with the crew of sullen morning people that all kind of looked alike in an Eastern European sort of way. They stood in a row in front of me, dark hair in a perfect line, round faces turned in the same direction. Trees that had all been planted the same day. And I wondered how they could tell themselves apart.

The sun rose while we waited for the late bus, eliminating some of the romance of the early morning escapade. But as we headed out of town, the sun was still just a yellow yolk resting on the bed of white plastic greenhouses. Suddenly, I was hungry for toast. I don’t even like toast.

The sea gave a glorious welcoming roar. I stretched out on my towel dug my toes in the sand and watched the handful of retirees paddling through the chilly water. I thought through my answers for a survey I needed to fill out as I sipped my coffee and ate my soggy granola. And then I read and thought– not about food prep for an event, not about who I needed to visit, not about English lesson plans, not about my dirty floors. Instead, I thought about who God created me to be and how I fit in my current world.

Really, someday I will try to write about introversion in my line of work, as long as you promise to help me out and then give me feedback. Meanwhile, don’t mind me while I disappear to the seaside for a few alone hours.

Along the coast

I felt more at home with the worn travelers and scruffy men bumming cigarettes than I had browsing a mall full of things I didn’t need and lounging in Pad Thai Wok after my pad thai was gone and all I had left was C.S. Lewis.

I moved on to Willa Cather at the bus station. A French speaker asked for a cigarette. A worn man asked for 80 cents. Neither bothered me. I belonged enough not to care that I had a bad hair day and the hem of my skirt was brown from being too long on dirty streets two days in a row.

A group of loud Americans clambered off the bus. I knew they were American before I heard them speak. –Why are we such a loud culture?– Their laughter pulsated under the metal roof.

A retired Baptist preacher introduced himself. We’re involved in the same sort of work, he said. But he’s short term and I’m long term. That’s about as far as we got before my bus pulled up and nearly bumped us with its stout nose.

It was the end of my stay in Málaga for a two-day literacy training. I could post pictures of my trip, but the truth is, the hours I wasn’t in training, I was parked on my airbnb couch, basking in the aloneness.

Besides my trip to Málaga shortly before the coronavirus lockdown, my roommate and I also spent a day in Adra. Yes, there is a pattern: both Málaga and Adra are along the coast. Sound lovely?

Well, I’m not going to lie; the trip to Adra wasn’t great. The wind quickly banished my dream of lounging on the beach for countless hours. To say nothing of the few rude people that cast a shadow over the rest of the trip. But, I’ll flood you with pictures that make you believe our trip was a blast. Really, it was okay, but it might be a while before I go back. (And next time, I’ll bring my own personal bathroom and a can of pepper spray.)

Finally in Granada

“It’s just so close. I want to see some of the cities that are farther away now because I know I’ll see Granada some day.”

That’s what I said until someone told me that I was being so pokey that I probably would never see Granada after all.

He was right, I realized. And when I realized it, I organized a group of Granada-bound ladies. (“Organized,” as in, “sent out a message in a whatsapp group chat.”)

And we went! Granada is subject to higher temperature extremes than the coast. So we bundled up in scarves and gloves and inch-thick socks, printed off our Alhambra tickets, and started out far too early one Wednesday morning.

Below are photos from the Alhambra, the Cathedral of Granada, and on the streets of Granada.

(Disclaimer: I realize that my pictures look like every other tourist’s pictures of Granada… except maybe lesser quality. We were standing outside the Alhambra and I snapped a picture on my Canon, only to discover that my SD card was still stashed in my laptop’s card reader at home. So I hauled around a pointless camera all day and took sub-par pictures on my phone. Lesson learned, I hope.)

When in North Africa- Part 2

“My family wants to meet you. And my husband’s family too.”

My friend had told me this long before we left on our trip. “I’m not from Bollywood. I’m just your friend.” 

“I know, I know.”

Despite her “knowing,” the family treated my roommate and me like queens. But as the week wore on, their attentiveness to our every perceived need wore off. We were grateful. 

We could actually scrub our own clothes, help mop the floors, and vacuum the salon rug. They let us cut up vegetables for couscous. And I made a hot kettle of Indian chai just because my friend likes it.

My friend wasn’t about to let my crazy side go unnoticed. She had known me too long. That’s why at breakfast one morning, she said, “Trish, do your camel noise!”

I wasn’t about to MRRRRAAAW in front of an assembly of people I barely knew. (And I couldn’t remember why I ever had reason to MRRRRAAAW in front of my friend in the first place.) I talked my way out of it.

We visited various nearby cities, glutting ourselves on grilled seafood (including caviar, which was a thoughtful touch if not a tasty one), taking a boat ride, eating too-sweet ice cream in the welcome shade of an ice cream truck, and haggling prices while shopping. We spent an entire evening in my favorite city, staring at the ocean and smelling the fresh sea creatures in the fishing port. My roommate and I nudged each other as we passed a table full of snake-like eels, a sting ray, and a shark.

Another evening, we picnicked on the beach and came home to play games and chat until we had laughed ourselves to tears.

boats in a lagoon
shaded table full of fried seafood
North Africa market street
cliffs along atlantic seaside
silhouettes swimming along atlantic coastline

I wanted to hold on to some of those moments. I tried to savor them while they lasted, but when I look back, their ghostly flavor still lingers in my mind, proof that I never finished tasting them. 

During that final supper under the grape arbor, they made me balance on a stool on top of the table to cut down a cluster of ripe grapes.

They scolded us for quoting the proverb that guests and fish stink after 3 days. “But,” a brother said kindly. “After 3 days, you’re not guests anymore; you’re family.”

When in North Africa- Part 1

Last year, a fellow immigrant in Spain asked me to visit her when she went back to her country for the summer. I didn’t. 

But this year I did. My roommate and I navigated buses, taxis, and even a pre-Eid ferry that made us stand in line for hours to get a simple passport stamp. 

Just as our final taxi approached the place where we would meet my friend, we lunged over a pothole and I dumped my water bottle on myself. I was so soggy that when I got up, leftover water pooled in the leather seat. 

From the backseat, I reached my suitcase and managed a swift and subtle change while the other passengers remained in blessed oblivion. 

My friend, her husband, and her mother were waiting at the taxi stand. 

“Gather yourselves.” My friend called her sister as we approached the sprawling countryside house that would be our home for the week.

grape arbor above salmon colored house
large watermelons hiding in vines

My roommate and I had long since resigned ourselves to the possibility of a public sleeping area, a dirty squatty, and bucket showers. Instead, we were shown into a salon the size of our entire apartment. And the bathroom was bigger than my bedroom at home. Outside the kitchen door was a grape arbor heavy with weaving vine and plump grape clusters. 

The house was surrounded on three sides by peanut and melon crops. The fourth side led down a steep hill to the ruggedly beautiful beach. Rolling land of green fields tuned my farm girl soul. I stood on the roof and drank in the fresh air. 

landscape of beach and the atlantic

“The air is still new,” my friend pointed to the chilly sea.

We began to meet the family. The house was alive with adult children and a handful of grandchildren. Most of the family resided within the walls of the family home. But there seemed space enough. Faces began to blur as the night wore on and we grew sleepier.

Our hosts spread a table with tea and all of its accompaniments. When we had filled to the brim, someone asked when we wanted dinner. Given that it was 11 p.m., we sat with widened eyes until I worked up the polite courage to ask, “What time do you usually eat?”

My friend laughed. “We don’t usually eat another meal,” she admitted and laughed again when we noticeably relaxed. 

They sent us to bed, still chuckling about the ominous beef and prune tagine.

A day in Málaga

We only had one day in Málaga. Málaga is a large city and we knew we wouldn’t have the time or energy to hop hither and yon on public transportation. Therefore, we narrowed our scope [predictably] to Málaga’s Alcazaba and Castle of Gibralfaro. We also got to zip around the Atarazanas Market and gaze up at the Málaga Cathedral, known as the “La Manquita,” or “The One-Armed Lady” (due to the south tower never being completed).

towering cathedral facade

And of course, there was food. The restaurant will go unnamed. The food was delicious, but if only we wouldn’t have had to get hangry while watching customers who had sat down after us finish their meals before anyone came to take our order. Living in Spain, one must get accustomed to bad service, but really?!

The Alcazaba, or Moorish fortress, was beautiful. Built in the early 11th century, it’s one of the best preserved fortresses in Spain. We explored the nooks and crannies while trying not to trip over the other tourists.

sign outside of the alcazaba
the sprawling malaga alcazaba

Just outside of the Alcazaba was a Roman theater, dating to first century B.C. The view was outstanding, but I can’t say much for the smell. A friend mentioned that it was reminiscent of a zoo exhibit. After that, we kept expecting poo-flinging apes to appear from somewhere below.

roman theater exhibit

The Castle of Gibralfaro was connected to the Alcazaba. However, tourists had to go out and around on the side street. It was hot. It was exhausting. A street musician encouraged us on. I was completely soaked in sweat by the time we stopped for a few soggy pictures. But the view…

bird's eye view of malaga port

No one checked our tickets. They must have figured that anyone who made that climb deserved to be there! Our exploration of the nooks and crannies was severely limited due to our short supply of energy. We found a bus that took us to the bottom of the hill (and asked ourselves why we hadn’t bothered finding one to take us to the top).

My friends humored my Indian craving by hunting down The Great India, an Indian restaurant we had spotted at the beginning of our day. And that, my friends, is the way to end any day of tourism.

Take a hike

I was bustling down the quiet morning street toward the bus stop when it hit me. Today was Saturday. And I had looked at the weekday bus schedule. The Dalías bus had gone ½ hour ago. 

At 10:30, the day was already looking bleak.

My roommate joined me and we hopped on the next bus. We would make the most of the extra hour and a half by exploring a town that was halfway in between Immigrantville and Dalías. The next bus came close to 13:00. I browsed my map and we found a green spot labeled “Parque forestal.”

“Ooo. Let’s go there!” 

So we set off like disgruntled tramps in our hiking clothes. The sun was intense. The map was deceptive. There was a park all right: a dry field of puny trees, dead grass, and greenhouses. There wasn’t even any shade. Of course.

It was 11:30 and the day was only getting bleaker. But at this point, we began to chuckle. And we chuckled our way into El Corte Inglés, past the prim and proper salespeople, to the café on the tippity top floor.

(This was after we did a diligent search and ended up at the downward bound escalator. “Of course,” Roomie said. But we chuckled.)

We feigned confidence as we took our seats in the classy café. The server poured my Aquarius into a goblet as I subtly tried to air out the sweat stain on the back of my grungy T-shirt.

We made it to our bus on time and carefully selected our seat. Then we looked up. “Of course,” said Roomie. And we chuckled. We had carefully selected the seat with a missing “stop” button.

But finally, we were on our way to Dalías!

We didn’t have much experience with taking the bus there and arrived long before we thought we should. Roomie noticed that businesses were starting to mention the town name. I checked my trusty map and lunged forward to push the “stop” button on the seat ahead of us.

We strolled around Dalías, trying to not look too out of place. But as we wandered down a skinny street with a hand’s breadth of sidewalk, I leaned into a window grate to accommodate a passing car. It was probably the only jagged window grate in the entire town.

Rip. And my sleeve was left with a gaping hole.  After the initial surprise, we chuckled. “Of course.”

town square painted white
stairstep flower boxes

We found the hiking trail on my trusty map and our casual wandering soon turned into panting and rolling sweat. Uphill we went, winding through greenhouses and barking dogs and the thick scent of livestock. (Who goes hiking in Spanish July anyway?)

rolling Spanish agricultural countryside

Although it was hot, the scenery was beautiful. And somewhere beyond all of that, there was a restaurant. At least we hoped so. Partway through the hike, as we stared at a dead end, Roomie asked, “How old were the reviews for this restaurant?” She was picturing one of the crumbling buildings along the side of the trail to be the former “Restaurante el Arroyo.”

Despite our pessimism, we made it. Even without dying of sunstroke, being devoured by rabid dogs, or falling down a ravine. We sat across the table from each other, laughing at each others’ red faces. 

“Water please. Cold!”

“You know, there’s air conditioning up there.” The server pointed to an upper room. We dashed upstairs without a second thought as he went to retrieve cold water for the red-faced Americans.

After lunch, I parked myself under the perfect tree beside a cool spring of water and pulled out my Kindle. This was the “of course” that I had planned the day around. The other “of course”s were just there to make this one sweeter.

stream surrounded by trees and spotted shade

Under the Sevillan sun

The sun’s fury didn’t really matter from the front row of the bus. I plugged in ear buds and listened to Los Miserables. (No, that’s not a spelling error; I really am attempting to listen to Hugo in Spanish.)

But I kept drifting into that almost dream state where thoughts don’t make sense and I happily embrace the sleep I know is coming. But then a truck and trailer tried to pull into our lane. The bus driver honked, swerved, and muttered something under his breath. That was the end of my nap.

But it didn’t matter, because tired or no, I was on my way to Sevilla.

As the Andalusian landscape whizzed by, I enjoyed the rolling olives groves, the plains of ripened wheat, the fields of yellow sunflowers, and the occasional glimpse of stubborn snow on mountain peaks.

My first impression of Sevilla? The realization that there are two bus stations and I was at one and my friend at the other.

Finally reunited, we dropped the luggage in the car and strolled through the Plaza de España, despite the scorching afternoon sun.

brick plaza with horse and carriage in forefront

We met our airbnb hosts and then set out to shop and fill our empty bellies with Udon’s veggie yaki udon.

The next morning, we visited Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation… whose name sounds infinitely nobler in Spanish), a giant structure that provides a lookout of the city. Honestly, the modern bulk seemed a little out of place in the old city; yet, there was something intriguing about climbing a mushroom. And the view was fantastic.

mushroom-shaped structure
white city of sevilla spain

Strolling toward the cathedral, we happily made pit stops to enjoy the lovely city streets and even watch a bit of street flamenco.

At the Cathedral of Sevilla, not only did we behold the grandeur of the outside walls, but were able to walk around inside and observe the ongoing mass.

elaborate facade of cathedral

We stopped for coffee in the Jewish quarter before taking a picnic lunch to the beautiful María Luisa Park. Regretfully (in retrospect), we barely made it beyond the first row of luscious trees. We were tired and hungry.

We strolled home along the Guadalquivir and topped off the evening by attempting a picnic in the Jardín Americano, a park from the 1992 Expo. Not a good idea. If ever a park could give vibes… We backtracked when the only people slinking around looked like they were not the picnicking sort.

Instead, we sat on concrete boulders along the river’s lip and dipped our toes in the water. We talked until long after the sun had gone down.

bridge over river at sunset

The next day was a picnic in the Alamillo Park (see a “picnic in the park” theme?) and time to soak in more of Sevilla’s scenery.

We also met up with friends to experience real flamenco. Photos weren’t allowed, but they wouldn’t have captured the experience anyway. Not the guitarist nor the vocalist. Photos wouldn’t capture the way the dancer’s eyes glittered concentration beneath the changing lights. Or how his face gleamed with the sweat of maintaining perfect control of his feet in time to the music, even while at times keeping his upper body motionless. The whirring fans did little to cool the room packed with eager spectators. Our tippy wooden bench always seemed to fit one more and why not?

On our final morning, we awoke to banging and drilling in the apartment below. We packed up and did a bit more strolling of the streets. Our last adventure was the unexpected and charming Parcería Cafe.

latte and smoothie on wooden tray next to plant

I thought I was ready to head back to Immigrantville, but as the bus pulled out of the station, I admit that there were tears stinging the backs of my eyes.

Belated birthday trip: Florence

Our final stop was Florence, Italy. Since we had already done a quick tour of Pisa the same day, we arrived tired… but still had a long walk to reach our airbnb (due to a [not-so-slight] miscalculation). Our little suitcase rattled long-sufferingly along behind us.

We had to wait for our host to come with the keys. In the meantime, we met some friendly Italians who were curious what we were doing so far out of tourist territory.

We spend 3 1/2 nights in Florence. During the day, we ate, napped, met a few nice people, and browsed the city. Since none of us are touristy at heart, we were less impressed by the normal touristy places and more impressed by the food.

street in florence, italy
white vintage car in front of house with wooden door
florence countryside
florence cityscape
Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.
corner of duomo
The Duomo was more impressive from the lookout where you could see more than just a corner of it at a time.
flowers in windows with green shutters
bridge over the arno river
We spent a lot of time strolling along the Arno. This bridge is the Ponte Vecchio, known for being lined with little shops (and too many tourists).
crowded marketplace
The market place was not our favorite stop. We unanimously decided we didn’t need souvenirs after all and headed home.
plate of gnocchi
Give me rice over pasta any day… unless I’m in Italy. The gnocchi and bucatini were so amazing that we have yet to recover.
pasta aisle of grocery store
The pasta aisle in an average grocery store. And these are only the dry pasta options.
elderly man standing behind gelato counter
We read up on what makes gelato worthwhile. This man had nailed it… and his shop was close enough for us to swing by more than once.
cup and saucer with italian coffee
And the coffee was always worth our while, even when we sipped our cappuccino after 11 a.m. like the ignorant tourists that we were.

We left Florence at 3:30 a.m. and spent most of the day racing from one mode of transportation to the next, with several heart-stopping moments when we thought all was lost (hello, train to Bologna). We made it back to Almería by 10:30 p.m., exhausted. No one seemed interested in brainstorming for our 40th birthday trip. 🙂