I am about a month late to writing this, but I wanted to get to it eventually. I took a side trip to Spain last month and found myself among the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.
Running Late, As Usual
My journey to the titular country started on the overnight train from Lisbon to Madrid. The day was running late, my time running out. I had to turn around quickly from our day trip to Sintra, shower, and make my way on the train. I was nearly packed, just a few essentials left to go. After throwing those things into my luggage, I hurried my way down the steps, printed my tickets at the workspace, and headed to the bus stop. I waited there impatiently, as the bus was running several minutes behind. When it finally came, it passed me by! I couldn’t believe it, just my luck! I was starting to get frantic. I had less than 45 minutes before my train and the station was several kilometers away. Thankfully, Cabify saved the day. I hailed a nice taxi and was en route within just a few minutes. Ironically, we ended up passing by the bus that stranded me.
After just small pockets of traffic and constant staring at the screen to assure myself I’d make it, the taxi dropped me off in front of the station. With little time to spare, I hurriedly made my way up escalators to the track expected to take me east. I’m sure glad there wasn’t a security checkpoint or anything like that. Thankfully, I found the right platform and was ready to head on my way. I waited several minutes on the platform, able to catch my figurative and literal breath, before the overnight train arrived.
The train ride was long and dull. I forgot to take along my books, and there was no Wi-Fi aboard, forcing me to use spotty cell service to keep myself entertained. As I somewhat thought might be the case, I would not be able to catch much sleep on the train. Sitting upright in a semi-uncomfortable position next to an old woman who snored inconsistently made the challenge of snoozing more or less impossible. I wasn’t really too keen on sacrificing a night’s sleep before a short jaunt to another city, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. I did pay an absurd amount for the train tickets, however. So next time I will re-think my rail adventuring if the price isn’t right.
Madrid: Hot, Sunny, Gorgeous
When the train rolled up to the station at 8 AM, the sun was bright and eager to greet me on my solo adventures. I detrained and attempted to make my way from the station to the Airbnb I was staying at. The check-in time was early afternoon, so I just wanted to confirm location. I had a few hours to roam around and find something to do before I could get rid of my baggage. I wound up at a small coffee shop and checked in with work and play.
Afterwards, I headed to my Airbnb, which was extremely conveniently located adjacent to the Plaza del Callao. What a fantastic location! Right in the heart of everything that you could possibly want in the Spanish capital city. My goal for my short time in Madrid was to take a double-decker bus tour to get a brief overview of the major points of interest in this city.
When sunset came, I made my way to Plaza Mayor to observe the beautiful, historic square, built during Phillip III’s reign. I couldn’t get over how breathtaking this square was, with its expansive rectangular layout and bountiful balconies. I think this was one of my favorite sights in Madrid. That day, I also I explored the transit and Madrid Metro.
The next day, I made a trip to the Prado Museum to check out the city’s prized artwork. A lot of the paintings were Christian-centric and depicted Mary or Jesus and the Passion in some way. However, there were also plenty of depictions of leaders of yesteryear and plenty of Phillip III – widely criticized during his reign for the economic fall of Spain and reliance on his corrupt chief minister the Duke of Lerma.
Moving Quick: Onto Barcelona
I only had two not even full days in Madrid. While my time there was short, the city swept me off my feet with its stunning architecture, rich history, and plethora of nightlight and (vegan-friendly!) restaurants. I would love to go back and spend more time to explore and learn the city more in depth. However, I was extremely excited for my second Spain stop: Barcelona.
I found my way to the historic train station depicted above and boarded a high-speed train to Catalonia’s capital city. I’ve never been on a high-speeed train, so this was an experience for me as a transit activist and nerd. Barcelona and Madrid as the crow flies are roughly about as far apart as Lisbon and Madrid are. However, instead of taking a half a da to get there, the high-speed train took under three hours total. Much more manageable than that arduous train ride from Portugal. This led me to book a flight home instead of taking the train back – more on that later…
This high-speed train was a delight. The trip was uneventful, and I paid a small extra fee to be in business class. I had adequate leg room and didn’t feel cramped. I watched the Spanish countryside and landscape roll by at almost 200 miles/hour. Whyyyyy can’t we have this in America?! I would love to take rail over flying to destinations near and far. This made Spain just that much more accessible.
I soon arrived in Barcelona where night was settling in. I made my way off the platform to the metro to find my Airbnb. Like Madrid, I made sure to find a location that was extremely central to everything I could want in the city. My Airbnb was just adjacent to Plaça de Catalunya, a centrally located park with everything on the perimeter. Apple Store, Hard Rock Cafe, cellular shops, department stores, and more surround this city square.
I wanted to take a tour of the Sagrada Família, a beautiful Catholic Church by the architect Antoni Gaudí initially built in the late 19th century. However, this is one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist destinations, and I was not ready to wait in line. I’ll have to make my way back to tour it!
I wanted to break up this post with a few words on Catalonia. I didn’t know any of the history of the Spanish community. A long and turbulent history of this territory composed of takeovers first by the French then the Spanish. Catalan literature flourished in the later Middle Ages. The Franco-Spanish war proved to be a turning point that led to the Catalan culture and language being banned from official use. This lasted until after the Spanish Civil War.
The Catalan story is one that is rich with its own history and culture. So much so that its residents strongly identify as Catalan rather than Spanish. Catalan and Spanish are the two official languages in use. As of this writing, there is a referendum for Catalonia to secede from Spain.
I really wanted this Catalan flag. I searched a few stores for one. I didn’t find one in time, however, so I will either make my way back to Barcelona or order one online.
Later that evening, I met up with a friend of mine from back home. My buddy Kane was in Barcelona with his family the same time I was there. Here we are halfway around the world, from little ol’ Downriver, and both of us are in now Spain. Wow! It was wonderful to meet up with him and spend time together. We went to a local bar and listened to live music, caught up on work, and shared drinks.
His Airbnb was only about a 10 minute walk from mine, so we hung out a few times. We both share a rebel spirit, so we put on some Catalan history videos which is where I learned a lot of what I mentioned previously. I didn’t realize just how intensely political of a thing this was, and the locals are definitely about it.
As my Airbnb was on the 6th floor in a hot, un-airconditioned apartment, he graciously offered to have me stay the night the last night we were there. Thank you again, Kane! That made the last night much more bearable, as it was hot and sunny during the day. We got dinner, drinks, and brunch together before parting ways on their last day off to France.
My second day I spent on the beach arranging things with work and my return trip back to Lisbon. I booked a flight instead of waiting to take the overnight train again. I didn’t want to lose out on yet another full night’s rest just for transportation that ended up unfortunately not being that much cheaper than a flight. However, the beach was beautiful. I sipped on a sweet drink and ate hummus with fresh vegetables. I dipped my feet in the Mediterranean and felt the cool waves rush over my feet and ankles.
The final day there, I again went to the Sagrada Família to see if the wait was any less. Stymied again by a long line, I resolve to head back at another time. I looked around the city for the flag I so wanted to get, to no avail. I settled instead on some postcards and keychains to take back home. Later that day, I went to Park Güell to get an amazing view of the city and sea in the distance. The beautiful outdoor park did not disappoint and offered spectacular views overlooking the Catalan capital city.
As the day was already winding down, I realized my flight back to Lisbon was getting close. I headed back to grab my luggage and make my way back to my Kublai Tramily still in Lisboa.
Back to Lisbon: A Near-Miss and 400m Dash
I arrived at the airport only a couple hours before my flight’s scheduled take off. However, I walked in and immediately was scared at how long the luggage drop line was. It took me over 45 minutes to check my luggage (if I didn’t have my laptop bag I would’ve probably carried it on). Then, the security line was impossibly long as well. I spent another hour in that line, impatiently waiting on the system to get me through. By the time I made it to the actual checkpoint, I was already 20 minutes past boarding time for my flight. I hurriedly threw all of my things into bins and walked through the metal detector. I was visibly frustrated and only got increasingly so when the security agent asked me to remove my laptop from my bag and sent it through again. Okay, my fault, but still not exactly what you want to hear in a situation where you’re low on time to get to your flight. Then for some reason, he asked me to go through again questioning what was in my bag, which was nothing out of the ordinary. I became upset asking what he wanted out of my bag. He did not speak much if any English, so the language barrier was apparent. As I now angrily ripped apart my bag and threw my stuff out to re-send through the machine, an armed police officer had to come over to tell me to calm down. Not wanting to get shot or arrested internationally, I momentarily controlled myself enough to stop the visible tantrum I was exhibiting, right or wrong.
Finally, I was sent through with only minutes to spare to departure time. I hurriedly tossed everything in messy fashion into my backpack, sprang my way through the end of the checkpoint, and chugged down the escalator steps. Of course, in my attempt to get a running start at the bottom, I didn’t get good footing and slipped, falling in spectacularly dramatic fashion. Nearby onlookers certainly saw me eat it, but nevertheless, I had plane to catch. I quickly got myself up and began a full-throttle sprint towards my gate. It wasn’t reasonably close to the checkpoint, as I had to go down several conveyer belts. I almost mowed down several people on my way, shouting “MOVE” loudly through the corridor when people stood in the way of me and my plane. I couldn’t help but feel anxiety and panic for missing my flight, combing with the breathlessness and exhaustion of a full-on sprint for several hundred meters, which I had not done since track in high school. It felt like that accursed 400m relay all over again.
Finally making my way at the gate, I realized the departure line was still long and that boarding was still in full-swing. I was able to stop sprinting, got in line, and took a moment to assure myself that I was in fact making it on the flight. Pouring sweat with a limp wrist I had landed on from falling, I looked a bit like a madman headed onto the plane. Nevertheless, I was happy simply to be making my way back to Portugal on time. I found my seat, the cabin door closed, and I headed skyward back to the west coast to finish up our July rotation in the Portuguese capital.