Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 111: Tentin' in Toledo

Ross Roamed into Toledo right before sunset. Leaving Madrid was bitter sweet. I was excited to see a new place but I will miss the friends that I made there. Exiting Toledo's bus station, I was eager to explore a new city.

I was immediately greeted by a steep hill that I wheezed up, carrying my pack on my back. If 18 kilos is the weight of freedom – so be it. Once I reached the top, I came upon Toledo's main square, lined with all sorts of shops selling swords, fancy cakes, and marzipan (which I regret not trying). I decided to make the best use of the remaining light and set off wandering Toledo's small streets.

Toledo's beautiful cathedral.
I've never seen cakes like this. They must be unique to Toledo.

Toledo is a spectacular gem of a town. It is built upon a hill so walking around is a pleasure because between the buildings you can catch glimpses overlooking the rest of the town. I could feel the history of the buildings noticing signs of Toledo's hundreds of years of inhabitation. I am fascinated how towns that were built so long ago can still meet our modern needs.

I think I'll get this photo framed.

Due to its small size, Toledo is easy to explore in a day or two, but everywhere I went was rich with history and life. When it got dark I returned to the main square to hunker down at McDonalds and contact my host. As I logged onto CS I was surprised to see that after his acceptance message he had not provided me with any address. Borp. Long story short, he did not respond. I set off in search of a place to sleep.

There were a metric ton of stray cats all over Toledo.

The bridge connecting Toledo's two hills.
A tower to protect the city.

I walked down the hill and crossed the river, hoping there would be grass on the other side. I hiked up the other hill to find a military base. The Spanish military were none too happy when I tried wandering into their parking lot. I followed the road for a kilometer or two. Exploring Toledo with my pack had sapped all my energy and I was ready to crash. Luckily I found a park with a bunch of trees where I rolled out my sleeping bag and closed my eyes.

Waking up in Toledo.
Friendly signs, compliments of the military!

The next morning I was happy to wake up without having been attacked by bears or bums. Sleeping outside is nice. I packed my stuff, explored the park a bit, and headed back into town. After a nice breakfast of chocolate con churros I began wandering again. While exploring the day before I saw that there was another hill next to Toledo that offered killer views of the city. I headed through the old Jewish quarter, across the river, and to the hills. Thankfully all my walking was well worth it because it was a beautiful day and Toledo is rather photogenic.

Toledo's castle is its highest point.
Hungover steps.
Narrow streets, rich with history.
Roman ruins along the river.
Romeo and Juliet moved to Toledo.
A cool looking inside of a building.
These men are either scientists, doctors, or butchers.
Lush growth along the river's banks.
I love rivers.
The cherry trees were just finishing blooming.
Ross hanging out with Toledo.
Close up of the skyline.
The bridge that I crossed the night before.
Lola would have loved these lizards.
Leaving my mark!

Before I left (or tried to leave) Toledo, I meditated under a tree overlooking the city. Determined to hitch hike to Córdoba, I walked to a spot that I found on Google Maps that I thought would be good. I found an ideal spot, right before the highway with plenty of room for cars to pull over and started dancing. I danced and I danced for two hours; waving my sign and looking like a lunatic. Despite many smiles and much laughter no one was stopping. Frack! I wandered to the other highway entrance but there was no where to catch a ride. My first spot was my only option. I returned, with only an hour of daylight left. I made another sign and resumed my shtick. By some luck I caught a ride within thirty minutes. They took me to the main highway that headed South to Córdoba.

My road-side home for the next two days...

Hitch hiking from Toledo to Córdoba would be ridiculous. Little did I know what the next few days had in store for me. I thought that hitch hiking to Barcelona from Tolouse was difficult – I had no clue...


 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 108: The Myriad of Madrid

It's difficult to put my time in Madrid into words. I spent a great deal of time wandering. Passing street after unknown street, peering into shop windows, laughing at fat spiderman, I discovered something.

A fancy prancy archway thinger.

I flew out of the United States knowing that I had a place to stay in Florence for a few days and nothing more. Throughout this trip I've done very little planning. I have always had such a great time wherever I am, no matter what I'm doing. While wandering in Madrid, it occurred to me why.

Old ladies.

Whenever I plan something I create an ideal in my head. I think if all actions don't go according to plan then I will have missed out because I fell short of my plan. However, if I don't plan anything I appreciate every experience because I don't have anything to compare it to. When something goes my way, it seems much cooler. Anyway, that's how I approached most of my time in Madrid.

It's laundry day. I walked around all day with these pants.

Madrid is a huge metropolis with many fruits to offer. Puerta del Sol and Madrid's Plaza Mayor are full of colorful characters. I wish I had photos but when I explored them I didn't bring my camera. If you go to Plaza Mayor be sure to get a photo with fat spiderman. The indoor food market, Mercado San Miguel,  is amazing. Treat yourself to a hefty sampling of tapas, sangria, and patatas fritas. The museums in Madrid, such as the Prado, Reina Sophía, and Thyssen are some of the most famous in the world. You're also welcome to enjoy, prostitution and drinking outside, although I didn't partake in either.

Madrid's Plaza Mayor!
This guy tried to screw me out of some dinero.
Mi encanto Mercado San Miguel.
Fishy tapas are delicious tapas.
Olive oil fried patatas fritas.

Two beautiful women were kind enough to host me while I was in Madrid. The first one, Lee Ann, was introduced to me by one of my professors from Pratt. One of the many reasons why I enjoyed staying with her was because she was the first non-CouchSurfer that I stayed with in nearly three months. I could tell that she wasn't used to strangers staying in her apartment. I really enjoyed this experience because it made me reflect on my hosts.

The madhouse of El Tigre.
How come more Europeans arn't fat?
'The House of Feet' wouldn't sound as sexy in English.

Lee Ann and I enjoyed many days worth of good times together. I did a lot of cooking and some of my meals turned out pretty delicious. I'm sure she'll confirm in a comment, but I cooked a pretty mean tart with jamon, onion, olive, red peppers, and cheese. We also spent a lot of time talking, sipping coffees, and noshing on dulce de leche at the café across the street. One night we went out to a Flamenco performance. We stopped by El Tigre, an all you can eat tapas bar (it was gross and amazing). Then we waddled into Casa Patas for some Flamenco dancing. I had no idea how erotic this dance was. Every aspect, from the voice of the singer, to the dancing, to the rhythm seethed sexual tension. Tease and release were seductively apparent – I had an amazing time. If you're in Madrid, despite the hefty price tag, going to see a Flamenco dance will be worth your while.

Sexy singing.
Sexy rhythm.
Sexy faces.
Sexy ladies.
Sexy dancing. 
Sexy time!!!

My second host was a friend of one of my good friends from Pratt. It was excellent staying with someone that I knew from the United States. Four months into traveling the absence of family and friends is starting to wear on me. Lolly was an awesome host, despite that she didn't give me the jar of peanut butter she promised me. She showed me around her neighborhood, including a cathedral with some of Goya's frescos, it was also where he was buried. We also enjoyed a gorgeous sunset on top of a look out point. The skies in Europe seem much larger than the skies in the north of the US. If you've ever traveled to the South of the United States you know that the skies seem to stretch on forever – same in Europe.

It was so good to see Lolly.
How come all of my best photos are lucky accidents?
A magnificent sunset!
Thanks ladies!

Madrid was most excellent. Although I had a great time, I secretly prefer Barcelona! It is hard to beat Barcelona's combination of culture, architecture, and beaches. The nice thing about Madrid is that it's so central and easy to visit other cities. Besides refining the art of aimless wandering, I enjoyed many parts of Madrid. In particular, visiting the Reina Sofía and the Prado museums was most inspiring. Log online to find out when they are free but get there as soon as you can because you'll need the entire amount of time to absorb it all. Muchas gracias to Madrid and my gracious hosts!


 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day 106: Living in the Moment

After a pleasant week in Madrid, I'm heading South to Cadiz for Carnival. This afternoon I arrived in the antique city of Toledo. I had a couch all set up, but my host hasn't responded with an address. It's been a while since I've busted out the tent. As I sit outside, leeching internet from a McDonalds, I feel this is the perfect time to elaborate on some thoughts I've been having lately.

Living in the moment is a simple concept that is difficult to achieve. Since meditating with Aras, I have been endlessly fascinated with living in the moment. I have caught brief speckles and shimmers of what this experience is like but I've also enjoyed mulling it around in the ol' brain hole.

Everyone finds different ways of living in the moment. It can be becoming totally absorbed in an activity whether it be sport, book, movie, or music. So intense is your concentration that it takes no effort to concentrate; you don't even realize you're concentrating; you don't realize you're not thinking about anything else. There is no past or future – you just are and you are completely.

Before I started traveling, not knowing where I was going to sleep would have worried me sick. But my travels have taught me there's no point in stressing out. Life will lead me as it will. Plus, the weather is warm and a night in the tent would be rather nice. But the concept of living in the moment extends beyond this. I have so many little meaningless stresses. Thoughts about the future wondering how something is going to turn out. Not only do these distract me from what I'm doing but they also stress me out!

When I was in Salamanca a few days ago I didn't have enough money to buy a bus ticket back to Madrid. I went to sleep that night knowing that I was going to be hitch hiking the next day. Even though I enjoy hitch hiking and have done it many times, my head was full of "What if's."

When a thought enters my mind during meditation, I let it go and refocus on my breath; it's the same in daily life. When I feel overwhelmed with "What if's" I bring my attention back to the present by focusing on my breath, just like I'm meditating.

I feel that I have so many of these thoughts that I am unable to free myself of them yet. Even after meditating daily for nearly half a year I realize that I am just at the beginning. Being able to realize that I'm having these thoughts and that they are bringing me stress is the first step. I'm not worried about how to deal with them because I have a feeling I will resolve it subconsciously.

My fascination with living in the moment has made me appreciate ways in which other people live in the moment. I mentioned how activities like sports, books, movies can help us live in the moment. Before the Superbowl, I doubt that the members of each team are thinking about what they're going to eat afterwards. In fact, I'm curious what they are thinking about. But in a less extreme example, I see similar tendencies in normal people playing sports, reading, listening to music, or watching movies – forgetting about the past and future and just being. I've even learned to enjoy washing dishes.

Attempting to think about nothing has been such a fascinating exercise for me because it's so different than how I've been educated. I recently read a book called "Parallel Thinking" by Edward de Bono. Edward is the self proclaimed leader in teaching methods of thinking. In one part of this book he was discussing the value of questions ad attention directing devices. "Look at that guy's nose. Listen to the birds chirping. Smell those freshly baked cookies." Indeed this method of focusing our attention is something that we're taught in school and is an extremely useful device for understanding. But meditation introduces a different approach – thinking about nothing and having a clear mind is the complete opposite of this. Instead of active analysis, it's passive receptivity. So how does the latter differ from the former?

A camera makes a suitable metaphor of this concept. In school we are taught to scrutinize things, to zoom in, examine the finest details, deconstruct, break apart. This is an active process of understanding. What we learn from this is embedded (hopefully) in our conscious memory and is considered to be learning. Indeed, understanding the world through analysis has satisfied me until now.

Meditation is also like a camera. Only it's all the way zoomed out. In fact, you're using a wide angle lens. Actually, you're not using any lens. Realistically, there is just the sensor and its environment. No pictures are being taken. Weird, right? Meditation introduces a completely passive method of understanding your environment. To stick with the camera analogy, there is the subject and the camera. If the camera is broken down into its rough parts there is the lens, body, and film (or sensor). The mind is like the lens. It shapes how light enters the camera. The lens is extremely useful because it creates a clear picture and allows zooming. However, the lens distorts and degrades the photo. The sensor is like the, for lack of a better word, soul. Without the lens it is unable to understand the information that it receives because it is raw, blurry, and bright. But, it receives everything. I would like to be able to experience the world as the sensor. While mainstream learning takes place largely on a conscious level, meditative learning takes place largely on an unconscious level.

As I start to explore this concept, I've found myself wandering aimlessly around or sitting 'doing nothing' for a long periods of time. With my last host in Madrid, I would come back from a day of wandering around and she would ask me what I did and I felt my description was pathetic. "I saw this, that, and this." But I felt unable to describe the feelings and full sensory experiences that I was enveloped in at various periods throughout the day, mainly because I didn't understand them myself.


**I will add photos using pinhole photography to this article shortly, stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 104: Escape from Madrid: Segovia, Ávila, and Salamanca

Madrid's location in the center of Spain makes it an excellent traveling hub. Thankfully you don't need to go far from Madrid to find beautiful cities. A day trip to Segovia, Ávila, or Salamanca make the perfect vacation from your vacation. I visited all three of these cities in one day and ended up staying in Salamanca for two days.

After three hours of trying to find the right bus station (Estacion Norte) I was on a bus headed to Segovia. Originally I was going to hitch hike but I thought it would take too long given that I was trying to do three cities in one day. Good thing that the bus tickets were all around €5 and the rides through the Spanish countryside were amazing. Segovia, Ávila, and Salamanca were all a pleasure to see.

One of Ávila's churches with the cathedral in the distance.
Buildings going up the hill.

I left Madrid to escape the rain. An hour and a half after departing, Segovia welcomed me with beautiful sunny skies. Segovia was my favorite city out of the three that I visited. The combination of the geography and the buildings was superb. Segovia is built on a hill so after some climbing, you can see for kilometers all around you. If you pay the €2 to go up in the castle's tower (which I recommend you do) then you can see practically forever. Segovia has many famous attractions such as an aqueduct, cathedral, and Alcázar (Segovia's castle). If you go don't forget to check out the Jewish cemetery which is built into a wooded hillside just outside of the city and provides the best views of the city, the castle, and a tranquil retreat from life in the town. I was hoping to get an earlier bus, but three hours was the perfect amount of time for me to see Segovia. I hopped on the 4 o'clock bus to Ávila.

Segovaia's magnificent aquaduct!
From the top of the hill the view is spectacular.
You can make it!
Segovia's cathedral.
These big beautiful birds were soaring all around the city.
The Jewish burial hill on the outskirts of Segovia.
Alcázar, Segovia's castle!
Mr. Serious and the castle.

I was worried that it was going to be dark by the time I got to Ávila but thankfully I had about an hours worth of light. Ávila is a fortified town, so the old section has huge walls around it. Inside the walls are lots of bars, shops, and churches. The next bus from Ávila to Salamanca left at 2200, which meant I had 4 hours to kill. I felt like I saw enough of the city after wandering around for an hour. Besides the wall I didn't feel like there was a lot to see. After such an excellent time in Segovia, I admit, I was a little disappointed with Ávila. With two hours left, I scoured the town for a bar with WIFI, hunkered down, and wrote a blog entry over a caña and tapas. When I returned to the bus station at 10 it was all dark, no ticket counters were open, and I was worried I wouldn't be able to get on the bus. Thankfully when the bus came, the driver accepted my money and I was off to Salamanca.

The plaza between the new and the old city.
The walls of the old city.
A watermelon candy makeshift urinal cake. Smelled like watermelon.
While I was looking for a bar it started snowing big time.
Ávila's cathedral with a full moon.

With its young university crowd and rich history, Salamanca would be a fun place to live. I arrived to my host's apartment, dead tired, at around 12 o'clock. On my way I laughed to myself as I thought about how absurd CouchSurfing is. Something about stumbling through an unknown city in search of a stranger's apartment made me laugh.

The streets of Salamanca.
I totally forget what building this was. Sorry :)
Amazing typography all over the city.
Deco and Victor, two of my CouchSurfing hosts.
The heavens open above Salamanca's cathedral.
A robot charging up in a brick wall.
The Lis is a SUPERB art nouveau and art deco museum in Salamanca.
The buildings are so old they're falling apart!
More of these big beautiful birds.

I was staying with four Brazilians – three dudes and a chick. They were warm, welcoming, and a lot of fun. The next morning my hosts showed me around the city. They told me that after Bologna, Salamanca was home to the oldest university in Europe. As we wandered around the old part of town, it was easy to tell that this city was super old. The limestone on the buildings was crumbling and many of the sculptures were worn from the weather. Walking around the streets of Salamanca was like a living history lesson. The buildings there, from the churches to the university, were all magnificently detailed. Unfortunately, it was after I left that I found out about Salamanca's lucky frog.

Salamanca's secondary cathedral.
Plaza Major was an awesome place to chill.
Right about to enjoy Victor's amazing cooking!

The next day I hitched out of Salamanca using suggestions from HitchWiki. After 40 minutes of dancing on the side of the road, the cops drove by. "Crap!" I thought to myself. Sure enough, they circled back around and parked on the other side of the street. I took the hint and went and hid in a nearby grocery store for a few minutes – using my time to buy markers to make a sign. When I came out they were still there! Fortunately, after a few minutes of reading my book in hiding, I saw their van leave. Suckers! Armed with a sign I caught a ride in less than 5 minutes.

Feelin' good and ready to hitch.
The locals bid me adios.
I got a ride with two amazing girls!

Seeing three towns in one day was pretty exhausting. Despite power naps on the bus, I noticed a huge decrease in energy from town to town. If you're in Madrid and looking for a day trip, grab a bus ticket to Segovia from Estacion Norte, you'll be back in time for tapas!


 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Related Posts with Thumbnails