[ Saturday ]
Train travel is one of the great wonders of Europe. My parents and I have now taken several trains across the Spanish plains: to and from Segovia out of Madrid, the high speed train to Sevilla, a medium distance train to Granada and now the long haul back to Madrid. For foreigners on holiday, the views afforded by these trains can’t be beat. The flat farmlands around the capital give way to olive groves and roaming hills.
The camino across Andalucia is one of my favorites – miles of scraggly olive trees and orange trees heavy wth fruit lead the way to the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevadas. My parents spot sheep, horses and bulls in the stretches of land between stations. Wind farms with towering turbines, and rows of solar panels dot the countryside. My dad remarks more than once about the sheer abundance of open land, which seems an impossibility in the northeastern US where condos and commercial centers grow like weeds. We see several Caterpillar machines working on the expansion of train tracks outside of Granada and I make a mental toast to my dad’s retirement anniversary. Random roadside shrines and the occasional set of ruins crop up on the hillside as we speed by at 130+ kilometers per hour.
Granada is our last stop and the coldest. When the sun goes down we find ourselves reaching for gloves and adjusting our scarves. It is here the joy of travel is tainted by the small annoyances – the street noise outside of our ground floor apartment, the lack of English TV, the onset of the Spanish schedule (“just how long is siesta, exactly?”). We are tired, and challenged by the food choices or lack thereof. My parents witness the importance of the personal agenda of bus and taxi drivers as they stop to take a cigarette break (locking the bus with us still inside) or shouting out the window to their compatriots. We will not miss the pushy locals or the rude tourists who cannot follow the simple rules of standing in a line or avoiding a roped off area. Did they check their common sense with their luggage or what?
The charm of my long ago home is no match for our exhaustion, and we have our first day of rain. Despite all of this, there are moments of contentment in the shadows of the Albayzin. I will miss the luxury of hot water on demand and the modern convenience of a microwave (so advanced!). I would sell my soul for the jacuzzi tub in our apartment and would just as quickly strike a deal for the marshmallow delight that is the down comforter. Up on the hill the Alhambra lures us back into history and we wander from room to room remarking on the architecture, planting ourselves on marble benches to bake in the sun. My mom finds a print by a local artist that speaks to us both and I spend a long time chatting with the shop attendant – a Colombian girl far from home. We climb to the Mirador de San Nicolas at sunset and are rewarded by the Alhambra in full glory; the dramatic backdrop of the sierras and a quickly darkening sky. I find a magnet with a hand painted mudejar door, and we pick up a copy of Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra.
We visit my university building and the AIFS office in a plaza nearby, enjoying a late morning plate of churros at Café Futbol with the director. In a new lounge area down the hall dozens of smiling faces look down from their respective yearbook covers. Ours is not hard to find with the bright red and yellow background and our fearless leaders striking a Charlie’s Angels pose on the front. Incredibly, it has been 7 years since I first set foot in this city. Where does the time go?
Our last night in Madrid finds us camped out in an airport hotel where the price is right, but even the BBC cannot drown out the sound of water trickling through the pipes in our walls each time a neighbor uses faucet, shower or toilet. We dine on fine Chinese cuisine, where the price is also right. My dad points out that we are in Spain, in a Chinese restaurant, watching an Italian western .. what a treat to see Clint Eastwood and feast on lemon chicken all at once. I have several moments where I am totally disoriented – is this Pennsylvania? Why am I still speaking Spanish? What the hell day is it? My translation powers fade and we collapse in three separate heaps to the sound of water in the walls.
After 12 days of travel, reality rears its ugly head and I put my parents on a plane back to the States. My mother makes me cry big crocodile tears in the middle of Terminal one and I retreat to Atocha to sulk until my train leaves for Sevilla. Somehow, it is the month of March, and Holly will arrive on Monday and I will go back to work. Not only has spring sprung but it is officially speeding by like the AVE train from one month to the next. Within 12 weeks, I will pack my bags and leave Sevilla behind.