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Published: September 30th 2017
After accompanying me on every backpacking trip since 2006, I finally retired my grey hoodie. A loyal friend and companion for all those years, keeping me warm on many cold and lonely nights, it was a little too frayed to take on yet another trip.
The replacement is what I think is a purple hoodie (I'm a little colour blind, remember?) which funnily, isn't in much better shape, despite only wearing it a handful of times. I occasionally wore it when working at the gas plant, which had a really messed-up nozzle on the diesel pump. It seemed to always shoot out a little bit of diesel when it released, so I spilled diesel a couple of times on the sleeve.
Each spill required several washings to get rid of the smell, so the new hoodie has been washed WAY more times than the old grey one. That's quite disgusting actually, when you think of how many times I wore that old thing, and how it's only been washed less than a handful of times!
And why the box of granola bars? They're always a great little energy boost when sightseeing. And why are they the "Fibre Source" variety? Well, though Spain is a country where you can't go more than 7 seconds without seeing a beautiful woman walk by, it's also a country where you could go 7 days without even seeing so much as a leaf of lettuce. Fibre is a good thing in Spain ...
Geo: 51.5084, -0.125533
Off to the airport - I noticed a handful of Spanish-speaking families that appeared to be from Spain. Where are they all hiding in Calgary? And more importantly, where are they hiding all their sisters, daughters, nieces, and cousins between the ages of 25-35???
The typical plan before leaving on a trip is to eat Asian food non-stop for a few days beforehand, since most countries I've traveled to seem to offer only Asian cuisine that is generally not terribly appealing, and I seemingly always return craving nothing more than some dim sum or a good bowl of pho. Thai, Vietnamese, Vietnamese subs, Chinese food - that's all I've been eating for the past few days leading up to this trip.
An even more important part of the typical plan is immersion in the Spanish language for several weeks beforehand - Spanish music on the iPod, listening to the local Spanish radio programming in the afternoons, making use of audio Spanish language courses, watching Spanish-language movies, and trying to speak the language as much as possible. But not this time! Though a little while back I had the chance to speak it on a frequent basis, I simply haven't had the
Also retiring is my old, and what I believe is orange, quick-dry towel. Another victim of over-use, it seemingly lost it's quick-dry properties so it's been replaced with this blue one.
Kinda sad that these inaminate objects hold so much sentimental value for me, but some of my best life experiences have happened while traveling, and that old hoodie and towel have been there for the majority of them. I actually bought the hoodie in Lisbon, on what was my first trip to Spain. And the towel was bought for the one big trip I did when I took a sabbatical. Don't ask me why I remember these things, I just do!
time the past few weeks to put any effort into the language, so I'm quite unprepared at the moment. At least this trip involves spending two weeks in Spain, so hopefully my Spanish gets back up to snuff before I leave Spain for France!
A wave of excitement and relief washed over me as I arrived at the airport - my stress level has slowly dropped off in stages in the days leading up to this. Taking possession of the new place, finishing up some things for John and Nugget's wedding, getting through the wedding day, moving in to the new place, and finally, wrapping up some things at work. With each successive item crossed off the to-do list, a sort of mental decompression took place, leading to the incredible excitement of spending another summer backpacking through Europe.
Truthfully, a part of me loves stressing myself out beforehand, which seems to make the trip even more enjoyable. I even get a little stressed out at the airport, with boundless nervous energy gnawing away at me, released in the form of frantically pacing around the airport, counting down the seconds until I arrive.
Having a bit of a nervous stomach, I decided to
A taco before boarding the plane. Crap!
grab a quick snack before boarding the plane - a taco. In hindsight, probably not the best choice for the aforementioned nervous stomach, but I had a few coins I wanted to get rid of and it added up nicely. I've got quite the layover in London, as I arrive at Gatwick at 7:30, and fly out of Heathrow at 17:30, so I headed over to the currency exchange to change some money.
I can't believe how much these airport currency exchange offices gouge you - in addition to giving a terrible rate, they also hit you with a $8 service fee. The service fee is relatively small if you are changing a lot of money, but given that I paid over $80 for only 40 GBP, it's highway robbery!
There is a common misconception about these frequent trips to Spain - not all my reasons for coming involve the lovely Spanish senoritas. Spanish women only account for about ... oh ... 99.9% of these reasons! Funny story - upon learning of the trip, a co-worker who doesn't even know me all that well told me "I hope you meet many Spanish women while you are there." I'm not greedy -
I've never been able to get a really good shot of Westminster Abbey, though I keep trying. This one wasn't bad, but I'll still try again next time.
I only want one!
Aboard the plane, a typically crappy meal was served - not a big deal however, as I'll be eating a lot of crappy Spanish food on this trip, so I might as well adjust now. Chicken with peas and potatoes, served in very small portions, thank goodness for the crackers and cheese. There was also a pesto pasta salad that was actually pretty decent.
London - humid! Factoring in the time to and from the airports, and all the security and customs checks, my time in London will end up only being a few hours. But being such a dynamic and vibrant city, a few hours is better than none!
The flight arrived a bit early and customs was surprisingly quick and I didn't receive the usual grilling from the UK customs officials that I normally do. In downtown London by 8:30, there was no need to hop on the tube to get to the first stop as not much would be open yet, so walking was the transportation mode of choice.
Through Westminster, passing the Abbey and Big Ben, then over to Trafalgar square until arriving at Covent Garden. Always one of my faves because of its
Trafalgar Square. Notice how the London sky is actually sunny and blue, and not the usual cloudy and grey.
buzz, it was unfortunately dead as it was still too early for much of anything to be open. If you want to see how Covent Garden can be, check out http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/pwong/canaries-2007/1198451340/tpod.html
Off to Camden market - also very touristy like Covent Garden, it's got the same buzz and energy, but a little more alternative. The first and only time I have been there was three years ago, and this was the first opportunity to visit it once more.
London is a funny place - it's terribly expensive, but has many great free experiences, like walking around and browsing the markets. But if you factor in the cost of transport to and from the airport, of luggage storage, and of getting around on the tube, I ended up paying $35 just to do some "free" activities! But I get to hear a fair bit of Spanish spoken in the streets, which is always worthwhile!
After lunch at Borough Market and a short walk along the Thames, it was off to the airport, way earlier than necessary - I was absolutely wiped out, and no more than a walking zombie at this point, in desperate need of some sleep. I napped on the ride
St. Martin's in the Field.
to Heathrow which ended up being a good thing, as I was unable to do so at Heathrow. For the cheaper flights, they stick everybody in a common sitting area and don't announce the gate number until 20 minutes before the flight departs. I was hoping to go to the gate three hours early and pass out for a while, but nope!
My flight was with Iberia, probably the largest Spanish airline - of course I was looking forward to this flight, as it likely meant there would be Spanish flight attendants on board 😊 It actually wasn't even an Iberia flight, but operated by Vueling airlines - no complaint from me, as Andrea, one of the flight attendants, was the most beautiful flight attendant I have ever seen in my life! I've been on probably over a dozen Spanish flights, so believe me when I say that it is no small achievement, being the most beautiful Spanish flight attendant.
I normally don't pay for drinks or snacks on board flights, but I had to have a juice just to hear her list off the selections, even though I knew orange, apple, and pineapple were on offer. Unfortunately, the other flight
HSBC - I laughed when I saw this sign. I had the worst experience recently when getting a new mortgage with them. Here's a tip - NEVER use HSBC!!!
attendant interceded - is it too much to ask, to simply hear a beautiful Spanish senorita say "Zumo de naranja, manzana, y o pina"?
And I normally don't pay attention to the safety demos, but I never take my eyes off the flight attendants when they do their thing on Spanish flights - safety first, right? Of course, Andrea's performance was so enthralling that I didn't understand a word of the instructions given over the PA. It was worthy of an Academy award!
The plane arrived at the terminal in La Coruna, but the debarkation took forever as strangely, the customs check took place at a few booths just a few metres away from where the corridor leading from the plane to the terminal ended, leaving passengers backed up into the plane.
The customs lady gave me a nice compliment, saying she was surprised that I spoke Spanish so well. That helped assuage the deep-seated fear I always have that I will lose the language, and wind up speaking it at only the level of a 3 year old. So I speak enough Spanish to communicate the purpose of my visit to a customs official ... but will it be enough to
Dead, but still a fave - Covent Garden.
one day convince a Spanish senorita to marry me? We shall see!
Waiting for the bus to the city centre, I ended up chatting with a very nice local family. The father is actually Irish, but came to Spain many years ago and ended up marrying a Spanish woman. It's every guy's dream! Well ... it's a certain guy's dream ...
Anyway, it was lovely meeting this family, as it was a good first experience in Spain this time around, having the chance to immediately immerse myself in the language and culture. I've heard that Galicians are incredibly friendly, and they certainly proved that fact, as well as a few other locals on the bus. After hearing bits and pieces of our conversation, a few people commented about how great Galicia was, and wished me a pleasant stay.
It made me wonder, how great would my first time in Galicia have been, had I been able to speak the language when I was in Santiago de Compostela? The people of La Coruna supposedly say that it's the real Galicia, a reference to the fact that Santiago is overrun with pilgrims doing the St. James trail. I loved the mystic energy that
This block of ice looked quite impressive in person, but looks quite unimpressive in pictures.
Santiago exuded, but if the people on the bus are any indication of what the real Galicia is like, then I'm definitely going to love it even more here.
Despite the relatively short distance, the ride into the city centre from the airport took quite some time. Though it was 9 PM on a Friday night, there was a ton of traffic heading into town. It seemed odd, but the family confirmed that it was a normal occurrence for La Coruna. The family got off the bus just before the city centre, and also wished me a great stay in La Coruna. While quite nice to hear that, I did wish they instead would have said "Hey, we know a bunch of single Spanish women that you should meet!" But alas, it wasn't to be ...
I always hate taking buses, because you normally don't know which stop is the correct one. I ended up overshooting mine, and having to backtrack several blocks to get to the pension. This wasn't a bad thing, as it reminded me of one of the reasons I love Spain - the buzz and energy you find in a typical Spanish town. Originally, I was just going
Some cool stuff at Camden Market.
to sleep once arriving at the pension given how exhausted I was, but seeing La Coruna's lively centre invigorated me and I decided to got for a walk. It still ended up being a fairly early night as it was only a walk of no more than a couple of hours. I've got two beautiful weeks in beautiful Spain - I needed to get some rest tonight so I can start off this trip properly tomorrow!
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