Sunday, June 03, 2007

The science of siesta

I can remember as a kid, laying awake in my bunk bed thinking “wow, even through these double brick walls, I can still hear dad snoring”.

It wasn’t dad.

This is the first time since I was a baby that I’ve shared a room with my mum, and to use the words of my sister: she snores like a warthog. We’re talking surgery required at the nearest hospital degree of snoring. I’m quite a light sleeper, so if someone (anyone), has woken me up with their “rub it in your face, I’m getting better night’s sleep than you” snoring, I crack the shits and wake them up. I remember on a bus trip to Melbourne (I think it was for the Radiohead concert that never materialised), Jules was asleep next to me and across the isle an older guy would sporadically burst into ear-splitting fits of snoring. Despite the super comfortable bus seating and my rolled up jacket pillow, I was having a hard time sleeping. Around the Nhill point of the journey, just as the rumble of the road was lulling me off to a world where road lines are the staple diet of buses, another eruption of snoring fires off over the demilitarized zone of the isle. As this had been a running theme all night, Jules starts to giggle at both the guy and my pissed reaction. That was it. My sleepless fury had peaked and something violent snapped inside of me. In an action I’ve never been able to repeat since, I gripped the sleeve of my jacket, whipped it out from under my head, snapped it directly on the offending nose and returned it to it's previous pillow state under my head in one frog tongue like action. The snoring guy woke up startled as Jules and I tried to keep our laughing to ourselves.

Sleep in the same room as me and snoring wont be tolerated. I've been told that I snore softly, and that it is a gentle sound that inspires sleep in those around me rather than urgent midnight calls to an ENT doctor. I have, however, dismissed this as lies. I’ve never heard myself snore.

After a sleepless night and a day of walking and planning, we head for the train station to sort out the tickets for the next day train journey to Granada. This turned into a marathon effort thanks to the 3 people serving and the 200 people waiting. We grabbed our ticket (464), look up at the big red numbers (227), and find a corner to dig into. Queues are a war of attrition. Patience is tested. Fortitude is rewarded. It felt a bit like the scene in Beetlejuice, where he’s in a waiting room and is given a ridiculously high number compared to the “Now Serving” display. In the time we sat there, we watched several backpackers fade from the wait time and waddle off (possibly to become street performers), a couple having a bit of a tiff in the next row of seats (amazing what you can pick up from body language alone), and flirted with the idea of getting a Eurail pass but could only find details about it in Spanish. European train stations are fun place to just sit and watch. The silent games you can play as people pass are always amusing. Guess the Nationality is fun. Canadians are always piss easy to pick, thanks to their mandatory “I am not a fucking American” Canadian flag sewn to their packs. Germanic types north of Bavaria do that sandal sock thing, which only occurs elsewhere in bearded, outdoor loving year 9 English teachers from Australia. Aussies have this swagger that comes from either thinking they own the place or walking all day in shorts and thongs. Americans talk loudly. Eastern Europeans, thanks to James Bond movies and a rough night on a train, always have that look that they will stab you in your sleep. Japanese backpackers rarely travel with company, are very quite and either carry the contents of their shoebox apartment back at home, or just a magical Mary Poppins bag that is light as feather but has everything they need for 3 years of travel.

If your thinking of trying this experiment in Adelaide. Forget it. Our national train station, for some ungodly reason, is not part of the central station, was designed with Neo-Brutal Soviet apartment blocks in mind and is no where near anything interesting (unless you find surprise sex in the parklands and Bunnings interesting). I hear the new bus station is taking shape, but all you’re going to see is backpackers getting off, dropping their bags at some hostel on Flinders street or jumping the tram to a Glenelg backpackers. If you’re lucky enough to catch them the next day as they cram onto the Firefly to Uluru, you see them ticking off Adelaide in their little travel book as done and dusted. Go on, walk up and ask someone who looks like a traveller and ask what they are looking for and what they’ve seen. If you got the time, show them your favourite part of the Botanic Gardens, take them to Vegos and loving it, educate them on the joy that is Coopers, show them the basement at Bigstar, sit on the upstairs seats at Cibo that overlook the Frome Road - Rundle Street intersection. Do your home town proud kids, sign up for couchsurfing and show some random foreigners around. Just before I left, I had a couple of German girls stay with me. Rather than doing the cookie cutter Rick Steve’s adventure they had planed, Pip and I took them out to see a band play at the Grace Emily, entertained them with tales of Adelaide's dark past and fed their hangovers with a tasty Store breakfast and a pie and ice coffee at the St Peters 7th Avenue bakery. Is that a hint of home sickness peaking through? Eee gads.

Ok.. Where was I.. Ah. Barcelona Train Station.

After a day of walking about Barcelona checking off the odd thing here and there that we had missed in the first two days, we return to the Australian themed pension (home to revelations in the field of snoring and a family who immigrated to Australia back in the 50s and then immigrated back to Spain in the 80s), collect our bags and head for the train station. The cabins are separated by gender, and mum gets to inflict her nose on a group of strange women, one of which has a body odour akin to Austrian chess – it smells like a Brunswick taxi driver’s beaded seat massager, but there’s something about that makes you think it would go great with wine and crackers. I get to share it with a guy who has one of those fold up bikes stuffed in his bag; another guy who when he talks, little beads of blood-laced spit form at the corners of his mouth; and a guy who enjoyed testing out all his ringtones on his phone at 3am in the morning.

I must say at this point, mum is doing surprisingly well with keeping up the pace. Sure, there are some moments where the realisation that perhaps bringing a better pair of shoes or that maybe white pants aren’t the best for travel or hanging your wet washing in the train cabin for overnight drying is possibly a bad idea. But all in all, she’s managed to keep up with the early mornings and frantic see everything we can in the short time we have schedule.

I get my best night’s sleep overnight train trips, with the gentle tick tick noises and slight movement provided my favourite variety of nocturnal rest. I get a similar night’s sleep when there’s a fan switched on in my bedroom, which I think has to do with white noise and rhythmic movement. I wake up to find mum excitedly snapping photos out the window of the Southern Spanish country side, which looks a bit more like home than I expected. Cheese lady has since developed a more pungent smell (suited to being served with morphine and a straight jacket), my blood-spit guy has left his complementary toothbrush on my cabin’s sink (imagine a shoe polisher releasing years of built up tension with the only weapon he has at hand), and for some reason I’ve woken up with a look that would make your nanna clutch a little more tightly to her bag if we passed each other on the street.

At the station, we meet two individual travellers (Peck and Yuri), who, because they are both Asian, us whiteys think they are travelling together. Singaporean Peck is on her in between jobs three week European adventure and Japanese Yuri is on a quiet and humble year long world odyssey (Mary Poppins if you're wondering). An old Spanish woman spots us and through our broken Spanish and her non-existent English we broker a deal to stay at her pension, with an alleged bus ride to her place. This bus turns out to be a public bus, but her pension is right near everything pretty and was super chilled. From the window, snow capped mountains backdrop a 17th century church and surrounding Moorish influenced town buildings. The alley below is quiet and lead onto a small square of cafes, restaurants and tourist info boxes. We dumped our stuff, showered and headed out for the day. The nearby tourist box provided us with maps and an idea of what to see, and we wandered about the back street bazaars, marvelling at the colourful silks, dangly pokey-outy eye thingos and trinkets ready made for breakage in your bag on transit home. Mum was having issues with her knees and we called past a chemist to grab some braces. We decided to head north along the river and up the hill to check out the Alhambra from a different vantage point. Along the way, we stopped to watch a painter do his thing in a public square. In his sights was a girl quietly sitting and writing in her journal. Something about her said English speaking and we start chatting to her. Jordan, an American girl over here studying Spanish, was so happy to meet up with some fellow English speakers, spent the rest of the day with us, guiding us through the back streets and showing us some of her favourite little hidden spots on the hill. I think she wants to adopt my mum. Jordan invites us to a flamenco dance performance later that night and after dinner, we meet up with her again. Set in the bunker like cellar of a building built in 1600 and something, the flamenco was cool to watch, with an old guy in his 70s belting out some of the most passionate and powerful singing I’ve heard out of anyone. After it finishes, a reggae and funk dj starts spinning tunes and we have some drinks and dance. Mum looked like she was having fun all night.

The next day we tour the Alhambra. Yuri is headed to Morocco, her time is limited in Granada and she doesn’t join us. We get up early to catch the lighter crowds and find that every other tourist in town have also taken this option. After queuing for about 40 minutes, we are let into this amazing place, which had a similar feel to it as some of the Turkish influenced places I visited in Hungary. Wonderfully ornate wall carvings, elaborate ceilings and infinitely complex mathematical patterns overloaded my eyes. The drabness of the Charles the V Christian architecture when contrasted against the ornate visual orgy of the Islamic architecture emphasises the sacrilege that occurred here. Mum gets emotional a few times and this warms my heart.

Afterwards, Peck, mum and I go have lunch, rest a bit and then jump a three hour train to Cordoba.

1 comment:

Ianto Ware said...

I always show Adelaide visitors the lake on Gouger Street (soon to be turned into a building) and explain the width of the parklands being designed at the length of a canon shot to help defend against Russian invasion.

Also, I travelled with my mother and she snored like some kind of angry beast every night for two weeks. I know your pain.