Monday, June 11, 2007

Travelling without moving

Ok.. this is getting silly. Mum has taken off on her own adventure, there’s been another three countries, two weeks and 1,800kms between where I last wrote about, so I’m going to make this quick.

On the train from Granada to Cordoba, we met an American who had read my blog and we all agreed that thanks to the internet, the world is a much smaller place. The Kevin Bacon Experiment in full swing here ladies and germs. We got to Cordoba at around 7pm, and by that time the tourist office had shut and there was no little Spanish nonna corralling us on to a public bus to take us to a place to stay. I asked a girl waiting to point us in the direction of the centre and after walking to the part of town where there seemed to more hotels and cafes, I spotted some young backpackers and said to mum and Peck: “these guys look cheap and leaving somewhere. Let’s asked them where they stayed.” We did and they pointed us a little pension in a side street just off one of the main strips. Nice place. Mum still sounded like a broken Husqvarna chainsaw in need of repair, but I was too tired to care. In the morning we visited the Mezquita, which allowed visitors free entry at the ungodly hour of 8:30 to 9:30. This was a great time to visit the place, as there were hardly anyone in there and the photos from inside turned out great. At some point we lost Peck, and mum and I just wandered about the place marvelling at the architecture. Mum’s brain snapped a few times with the complexities and intricate nature of the Islamic designs and she became angry at the Christians for desecrating such a place. Mum and I pondered what the reaction of a Muslim visiting this place would be and how they would feel that their religions beautiful poetry and aesthetics have been polluted by plastering, idol nailed to trees and coke machines. I have a moment where I realise that after all the shit mum has been through, that she deserves this (and more), and I walk off to have a little tear to myself. Damn her dud boyfriend. He should have been here to enjoy this with her. Instead he’s totally content with his big screen TV, wanky wines, stinky cheeses, expecting mum to make him dinner when she gets home tired from work and footy on Friday nights. You might have guessed that I don’t approve of him. Dud. I plot to drag mum to the Greek Islands some day so she can have her Shirley Valentine moment.

After we finish walking around inside the Mezquita, we exit the building and find a group of Imams hanging out in the gardens, waiting to go in. Curiously I walk up to them and ask if anyone of them speak English. Initially I am greeted quite coldly, with some rather rude and suspicious looks. Eventually I find a guy who speaks English and I ask him what it is like to visit such a place as a Muslim. Having just walked out of the place in complete awe of the beauty myself, his “I find this place disgusting. They came in and took what was ours.” Not wanting to stir shit too much, I skipped my “but you guys stole it from the Romans” remark, opting for the more diplomatic “they left everything that was beautiful and took what was important”. This was the first time I got a smile from him, and his expression changed from “you’re just another white guy that thinks we are all terrorists” to “you understand”.

The rest of the day, mum and I wandered about the backstreets. I discover the best flavour of icecream I’ve ever had (Spanish Nata with roasted pine nuts), find a café that sells Tab (it still tastes like shit), and basically wander around soaking in the oldness. We found a few small alleyways that had banners hanging over the road, which mum could translate for me. One of them had a quote from a Pablo Neruda poem: Podrán cortar todas las flores, pero no podrán detener la primavera- which roughly translates to: You can cut all the flowers but you can never capture the Spring. This marks another special moment for the me and mum journey, as I would have walked past this and totally missed one of the most beautiful sentiments I’ve ever heard. I decide to acquire this as the perfect allegory for my photos from the past year. Later, we sit down at a café near to our pension and Peck wanders past and she joins us for coffee and we compares notes on our day. In the evening, mum takes the night off and us youngins go out for beer and tapas at a local bar. The guy behind the counter explains to me his love for AFL and presents us with an extra helping of fried anchovies as a reward for me being Australian. We then go hunting for more people and beer, and eventually find a stall in a park selling cooked snails with tasty spices. One cup of steamed snails and a beer – 3 Euro. The next morning, Peck heads for Sevilla early, while mum and I are stick around to explore a bit more of the city.

We get off the train from Cordoba and I go to the tourist info spot and sort out a Pension just near the Giralda Tower. We bus it in to the centre and walk to our new digs. Once we get sorted with our room, explosions sounding like cannon fire can be heard firing off in the distance. With my dog like predisposition of getting restless when bright lights and loud noises are about the place, I go for a quick scout around where we are staying while mum has a shower and gets ready. We hit the streets around 7pm and I show mum about the places I had just looked around. The loud bangs go off every couple of minutes, with mum and I instinctively ducking as if we had just come straight outta Compton. I convince mum to follow me towards the loud bangs, and we eventually find our way to the Guadalquivir river and a procession of beautifully dressed Spanish May festival revellers. We followed the procession through the street and there is a wonderful energy just being amongst it. From what I could tell, the tourist to local ratio was at a good level, which meant the pick pocket to mum ratio was at a level of which we could wander about separately. The parade lead us all around the old part of Sevilla and it reminded me a little bit of Friday night skating in Vienna, where you see the city under the guise of a magical experience, rather than on the top of one of those horrible red buses. We stopped at a nice little pub for wine and tapas, and ended up chatting with a small group of English speakers (UK, Sweden and I forget), who have been living in Spain for around seven years. I use this as another point to try and convince mum to live here in Spain for six months and work as a teacher. There is a brief moment where I catch a spark of interest in mum’s eye, but this fades quickly. If she wanted to, she could do it.

The next day, mum and I tour the huge gothic cathedral which was built next to the already standing Islamic Giralda Tower. This place is massive and mum’s head breaks again. The pillars remind me of the Sequoia trees I saw in California. We climb the tower to see Sevilla from where the call to prayer was made over 700 years ago. Inside the tower, there are ramps rather than stairs, as the caller would ride their horse to the top like and old school elevator. The view is amazing. We spend the afternoon and the next morning exploring the city and in the evening, we board the overnight train back to Barcelona so we can take the bus to Andorra.

We arrive in Barcelona, and head to the bus station to take the bus up into the Pyrenees and to Andorra, the lovely little tax haven Europe has fostered over the years. The ride up was spectacular, with so many gorgeous little villages and monasteries hanging from the side of cliffs, with violent rock faces and snow capped mountains lining our view. The environment changes as we enter the valley where Andorra is hidden. It felt a bit like discovering the Eagle’s Nest. We arrive in Andorra la Vella in the afternoon and go to the tourism office to find a place to stay. They arm us with a map and a book, and we decide on a cheap place just off the main strip. When we get there, the stair well had the appearance of a crack house (sorry Luke, a crack home), and from behind a large pile of Styrofoam, a sketchy looking guy (who may or may not have been about to rob us), informs me that the place had been closed for some time. Mum and I go to a café, and use their phone to book into another place just up the road. We dump our bags and go grab some food. After food, we find that the town shuts down at around 9pm, and the excessive amounts of personal security devices for sale in the windows tells us that perhaps the street of Andorra la Vella after dark are possibly not the best place to be (really, it’s quite a safe place, but my Sketch-o-metre has been a little out of whack since Cuba). In the morning we discover the place is all about shopping and I convince mum to trade in her Qing Dynasty shoes for some practical walking shoes. We spend 40 minutes walking around the Andorran equivalent to Big W before I drag mum to an actual shoe store to buy something that may actually b good for her feet. Mum finds a pair of Timberlands that she likes and is surprised that the moment she puts them on, her feet can almost be heard singing thanks for her gift to them. Mum suggests we stick around Andorra for another day, but I say that it would be a crime against France to spend another day in such a vacuous hole. That said, I did find some funky kids spray painting cars for an exhibition at a car show, but when I asked what it was like to grow up in a place that is one big duty free store, they said it was shit. We jump a bus out of there and head for France.

We arrive in L'Hospitalet, and at the train station I persuade mum to take the overnight train to Nice, and use that as a base to see the surrounding sites, rather than trying to travel between all the small places each day. The train to Toulouse was ok, but the midnight train from Toulouse to Nice was thoroughly unpleasant. The train station was crawling with sketch (my Sketch-o-metre may be out of whack, but this was sketch), and I hide mum in the café – which we get kicked out of when they close at 11:30pm. We then get onto the train, but board the wrong carriage thanks to some badly marked signs. The carriage is full of drunk, shirtless French yobbos, and we need to pass by them to get to our carriage. Just as we get to the door to leave the carriage, a guy hooks up a pipe to the side and begins to pump out the piss and shit from the previous journeys ablutions. This being a sketchy train station, there is a rip in the hose and a fine spray of poo wee cocktail sprays across the our exit, preventing us from leaving. As if unaware of what was spraying against his legs and soaking into his socks, a conductor stood at the door and instructs us to get off. Mum rightly refuses and I kick up a fuss. Eventually they turn the pump off and we change carriages. I spend the next few hours laying semi awake, watching the sketchys float through the carriage, picking out people to rob while they sleep. Thankfully a guy playing a PSP in the next carriage attracted enough attention away from me and mum and I relax. We arrive in Nice, walk into the central part and find a place to stay. After the south of Spain, Nice has a really dirty, sour and plastic vibe. Street works all along the main road spoil any view of classic French architecture and the whole place fails to resolve as the classic south of France fairy tail ideal which I had built in my head.

That said, there are nice parts of Nice. The old town is gorgeous, the beach (while covered in rocks), was still pretty and the surrounding ports and 600 year old infrastructure. On the second day, mum stops her grumbling about rushing from Andorra to Nice, realising that if we had tried to travel between all the little places she had planned out that we would have spent more time travelling and less time seeing the place. Mum takes a day off and relaxes, doing some ironing and just pottering about the place. I go do some much needed laundry (the dreaded second day socks had turned into the unholy third day socks), and internet is lapped up on both sides. On day three we hire a little green Renault and drive around the surrounding hills. We check out the spectacular Tourettes-sur-loup, drive about the hills near to where Ronin was filmed and spend the afternoon at a perfumery in Grasse.

In the morning, I drive mum to the airport (after a couple of stressful ‘mum can’t read maps’ moments), and I get her to her plane to Ireland. Mum has since toured around the south of Ireland, and met up with my mate Clair who took her out for lunch and entertained mum while she was in Dublin. After the airport, I dropped the car back at the rental shop, and did some solo touring around Nice. As my Couchsurfing didn’t kick in until the next day, I found a hostel for the night and hung out with an American couple who were really lovely. The next day I toured around Eze, where I met a French-Canadian girl and on the bus I spotted a Finnish couple (Marimekko skirts are a dead giveaway), and we ended up hanging out all day and checking out another hanging off a cliff French village. Later, I met up with my French couchsurfing host, Alex, who I planned to stay with over the weekend. On Saturday we took the train to Monaco and hung out at the track, checking out the palace, castle and big church on the hill. This is the best setting for an F1 race, as it is the perfect allegory for the stupid excess that the pinnacle of motorsport represents. That said, there was some moments where I understood what it meant for a Muslim to take the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hmmm… Sacrilicious. To explain my reaction: I was brought up on a diet of Grand Prix (pronounced Grand Pricks), Bathurst, WRC, car chase movies, Gran Turismo and Evel Knievel retrospectives. Coming to Monaco made something in my blood tingle. Seeing that hairpin & walking through that tunnel and imagining the deafening scream of F1 cars fanging it towards the double 90 degree turns and the port side final sector clicked the faith switch in me. I know somewhere in the fuel starved future ahead of us, I will work with cars in some capacity.

The next day was Sunday – a day of rest.

On Monday, I said goodbye to Alex and headed for the train station, with the plan to head to Gap. When I got to the station, something about the words “Strike”, “Train” and “Today” casually hanging out together on a generic Times New Roman sheet of paper told me that I wasn't going anywhere in France. I had had a gutful of Nice, so I flipped a coin and after one of the prettiest train trips I've ever taken, I'm now in Torino, Italy.

No comments: