Having said that, it's here, now: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...
Day 1 – Monday 6th April
After a two-hour delay, the blame for which was nearly pinned on them, Sophie and James (or Stupendous to those of you who are unlucky enough to not be his friend...) finally arrived in Madrid. I have been living in Spain since September 2008; I have spent six-and-a-half months in this country, without having been back home, not even for Christmas. I haven’t seen a single friend from home – barring Lauren, my housemate – since then. Imagine the excitement we all felt on seeing each other. Two of my best friends coming all the way to Madrid to begin a week-long road trip around Spain.
We had planned to spend all of Monday in Madrid. However, since I only had around six hours to show them the dizzying heights of my second home, it was something of a whirlwind tour. After lunching on a feast of pasta and pancakes, we toured the city centre, starting at the Plaza de España, through to the Royal Palace, and on to Puerta del Sol via Calle Mayor and Plaza Mayor. From there, we walked down to the Cibeles Roundabout (think Piccadilly Circus, but with lions), passing the Círculo de Bellas Artes, Paseo del Prado (leading to the Prado and Reina Sofia Art Galleries) and the Banco de España Building. Finally, we took the metro back home, unfortunately meaning my guests missed the chance to see the Retiro Park and Gran Vía, but missing out on something gives us an excuse to return, surely?
Dinner was served by yours truly, and we were off to bed early to prepare ourselves for the bus ride down south to Seville.
Day 2 – Tuesday 7th April
Guess what happens when an overly-tired Sanya tries to navigate his way to a bus station for which he already knows the route? That’s right; he takes his friends and himself onto the correct line on the journey, but in the wrong direction. Fortunately that faux pas only set us back about five minutes, but we were in danger of missing the bus: silly Sanya.
Apparently, the view en route from Madrid to Seville is beautiful. I, however, wouldn’t know, since I sent most of the journey in slumber. It was hardly peaceful, though, and we had quite a walk to the hostel, meaning that I spent the majority of the evening tired. I suppose the main reason is that I have lost so much sleep over the course of my Year Abroad, and the fact that I never really got a real break in between the end of the exams and the beginning of the new semester; it has all started to catch up with me. We met a few nice people from around Spain and the rest of Europe. One lone traveller staying on the same floor, Ryan, became something of a fast friend after a couple of conversations in the hostel.
Travel days seem to be better for relaxed evenings, and this one was spent sharing raunchy poetry written by the Earl of Rochester and plan-making. Tomorrow, we explore what this city has to offer. Or, rather, I will be taking the others around the city, explaining what I can remember, probably finishing off with a stroll through the María Luisa Park and along the Guadalquivir River (Rhyme Alert). Sounds like fun.
Day 3 – Wednesday 8th April
Being a walking guide and translator is quite a nice job, especially when with friends. Today, we toured Seville for eight hours. I have already been here, on a two-week-long trip across Andalucía two years ago, so I was rather surprised by how much I could remember of the city.
Our main area of interest was the old Jewish quarter of the city, the Barrio de Santa Cruz. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, Santa Cruz literally translates as “Holy Cross”, which might be deemed a little inappropriate for a Jewish quarter, but there you are. To get there from our hostel, we passed the huge gothic cathedral and its accompanying tower, La Giralda; as well as the old cigarette factory (made famous for being the backdrop setting for Bizet’s opera, Carmen), which now serves as the main building for the University of Seville. Once in the old quarter, we passed and studied pretty much every old building and monument within. Me being an idiot, I have no camera, since it was stolen months ago, back home in Brighton, meaning that all the photos are sitting comfortably in James and Sophie’s cameras. After passing a few hours in Santa Cruz, we moved eastward towards the María Luisa Park, via the truly beautiful and amazing Plaza de España. It is very likely to be the case that every Spanish city and town has a Plaza de España, but most of them are probably squares. Seville is much more beautiful. From above, it is a semi-circle, with a huge fountain in the centre, and a walkway built around the circumference, allowing for people to walk around the perimeter in the shade, or venture out into the midday sun (being Englishmen, we did just that), and experience just how warm it can be in April (around 26º centigrade). The front gate of the Plaza is shared with the back of the María Luisa Park, allowing us to shoot right into it. I had originally expected us to walk around the park, but there was a cheap self-cycle service being offered, so we decided to do something novel. We hired a cycle-car and pretended we could drive, like the cool mothers we are... After that, we walked back to our hostel, passing the Costurero de la Reina (The Queen’s Wardrobe), the Lope de Vega Theatre, the San Telmo Palace, and the Maestranza Theatre and Bullring; with a short detour along the river, Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold – not actually made of gold, of course, but where the riches/loot from the discovery of America and the subsequent empire were held).
Considering our time in each city of our journey is so limited, we managed to cover a good area of the city. It was a shame we didn’t really have time to visit the Palaces and Pavilions of the North Bank of the Guadalquivir, nor the Triana area nor the area set aside for the Expo ’92, Seville’s answer to the South Bank. However, as I said before, not seeing everything leaves you with the chance to return and finish where you left off. Tomorrow lunchtime we set off for Granada. I’ve already been raving about the city to my friends, and they’re probably already sick of me going on and on, but they will soon see I’m not mad, just in awe of the beautiful stop we call next.
Day 4 – Thursday 9th April
Once again, I managed to last about half an hour on the bus before falling asleep; and yet, after arriving in Granada I was still tired.
One conversation I had with Sophie and James was how our friendship had grown and developed over the last ten years. We had met at school, and towards the end of our time there, when we were around 15 years old, we became much closer. Now, all of us are at different universities. Studying different courses, and with very different lives and prospects, but we always come back together and it is as if we are still back at school, sitting in our usual spots by the theatre, or out in the main patio.
Tonight, though, the first real signs of tension began to show. While I wasn’t particularly hungry, the other two were pretty much starving, so we traipsed around the city looking for somewhere decent to eat (the food issue had already been a little odd, since I am low on money, and it hasn’t been easy finding decent cheap restaurants. On Tuesday we ate in Burger King...). After thinking we’d found a restaurant, we sat there waiting: waiting to be served, waiting for our orders to arrive, waiting for the second courses – one of which arrived before the others – waiting for the bill which had apparently been mixed with that of another table, and waiting for the return of the change. Subsequently, Sophie and James left in a bad mood, while I was left feeling completely impotent. I was told to make more of a fuss during the entire debacle, but decided to say the mildest things in the hope that the “softly softly” approach would be the most effective. Although nothing was actually said to me about this, I’m pretty sure this was the cause of tension for the rest of the evening. That and the fact that all my tiredness had caught up with me, and so I was behaving in that typically reclusive manner of mine which probably made me look like something of a sulk and very anti-social. Tomorrow I’m going to take the day off, as it were, and only do the minimum. It might do the other two good to not have me around, for the sake of their own sanity. At some point I’m planning to go up to the Alhambra, that wonderfully inspiring monument which sits and eternally keeps vigil over the city below. That will be our time together.Find out how it all went terribly wrong - or, rather, how I ruined the entire holiday - tomorrow; or the next day, or the next: does it really matter that much...?