Archive for October, 2010

Spain-Madrid 19th-20th August-Party time!

Just some of many great architectural marvells of Spain (The Cathedral)

The pouring rain of Switzerland behind, sunny Madrid in front.

Madrid is the capital of Spain and is basically a circular tourist centre, a city within it’s own right totally encircled by ‘the real city’.  It’s big, busy and alive!  You can spend days within the centre of town and never see what’s beyond nor do you need to.

The first night starts off casual with a total pig out of a meal at a local restaraunt.  Four specials, four beers.  Me and the lads like to keep things simple.

We all then meet up for a pub crawl at one of the hostels.  It’s about 10:45pm and there are twenty drunks, mostly Irish out the front of the hostel.

We charge on to the next location to grab a few more people then off to the first pub.  A typical night out in the centre of Madrid is packed bars, overpriced beer and tourists looking around akwardly waiting for an ice breaker.

We find many ice breakers in the form of the Irish who embrace any chance to dive into any conversation with anyone they bump into. 

The following bars are basically the same thing, packed loud and overpriced.  We end up at a dance club that only plays Spanish music, we have no idea what’s going on!

The night ends without incedent however I did overinduldge in some spirits (which I never drink) which I am to pay for the next day during the three hour walking tour around Madrid.  No food, hungover and in the middle of summer, not the best way to see Madrid.

It is an amazing place though.  Due to Spain’s neutrality during the second World War they have the only intact Palace in all of Europe, and what a palace!

The history of Spain is long and varied but multicultural it was and the architecture reflects this.  During the golden years people from all over Europe travelled to experience this amazing and unheard of level of tolerence.

Until the Spanish inquesition of course when the exact opposite occured and people were ridiculed, made second class citzens and even killed based on their religion.  This was people who had been in Spain for hundreds of years, and suddenly they weren’t welcome.  Unimaginable.

Anyway, the result of the centuries of tolernace is a diverse and unique people that exist today seperate from Europe in many ways.

The people of Spain have always fealt inadequet in the eyes of their European neighbours.  They have spent hundreds of years modeling their structures on the cathedrals and palaces of Western Europe.  It’s quite apparant when you see it for yourself.

After a recovery meal of my first Paella, (Spanish dish of rice and seafood, very nice), we head out again to wet our whistle at a few locals, some very nice Tapas is had (bar snacks comprising of bread and various meats and cheeses). 

Our adventure for the night is the one big nightclub in Madrid that everyone visits.  It’s seven levels of chaos.  We head in early and get there at 11pm, remember that Madrid sleeps from 2pm-5pm everyday so the nights start late.

We get to the club and it cost us twenty euro EACH! that’s just entry and one small heiniken stubby, we outnumber the staff and it’s still noisy.. ridiculous!

Anyway we check out the seven levels, from the top if memory serves:

Level 7: the Heiniken bar (still 8euro for a 330ml stub..eek!) it’s kind of like a lounge bar with pool tables I guess.

Level 6: Kind of like a pub or Tavern, small cramped and noisy.

Level 5: Kareoke, Spanish style.

Level 4: Cocktail bar or something… we skipped past it quickly

Level 3: … Another pub.Tavern thing I think…

Level 2: Ok no idea we did start at the top after all…

Level 1: The dance club! The floor is packed and the music is European techno and house… There’s one man and one woman up on stage dancing to the beats for about 45 minutes then they would be replaced with near clones of themselves.  The men were all dark and had bulging muscly arms, the women were all in skimpy gear with so much make up I think their faces could stand up by themselves!

If you like that sort of thing, great.  Me? I’m a pub rat, I like a brew and a quiet chat, so this is not my scene.  What is cool though is the freezing steam that is shot at us every ten minutes or so.  Your lungs shrink away in desperate retreat and you can’t see anything for a few seconds, but what a rush!

After meeting some Dutch girls and chatting to them for an hour our group gets seperated, Bill is gone, as are the three Dutch girls, me and the Melbourne boys are on the dance floor. We decide at 3am it’s time to go! We search ALLLLL seven levels to find Bill to no avail.

We end up getting outside and finding our way back to the more normal part of town where our hostels are situated.  Unfortunately by this stage Tom is so drunk that Lee and I have to carry him as he yells out broken Spanish to the women walking past including CIAO BELLA! (which is actually Italian for those among you not as multi lingusticallarararaly gifted as I.  I mean as me…) :s

Well last night was my drunk night so I gues it’s Tom’s turn.  Don’t panic though folks we

Me and some Paella, nice stuff

get back ok and Bill has beaten us back! He through the hostel card at the taxi driver and got driven back without a drama.  He went up and down the nightclub levels and obviously just dodged us over and over…  The Dutch girls were no where in sight… Oh well.

Two crazy nights,  two more days in Madrid and then… Tomato festival! Lets hope we make it!

Tom in full swingMe and some Paella, nice stuffJust some of many great architectural marvells of Spain (The Cathedral)

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Switzerland August 17th-19th

What can one say about Switzerland?

It’s beautiful yes, it’s diverse in nature and the people and there is a lot to see and do.

All true facts but you may just want to bring a truck load of money with you.  It seems that everything has a tourist tax on it… and everything everywhere is touristy.

We had less then two hours to pull up our pants after the ‘contiki salute’ fairwell to the rest of the tour.  We (the four of us, my good self and the equally odd Bill from Queensland, Tom and Lee from Melbourne) went to the amsterdam airport and by 2pm we had arrived in Switzerland.

A not so quick travel card purchase (which gets u access to just about any kind of travel in the country) and we were off to Interlarken.

The adventure capital of Switzerland sits timidly in a valley surounded by the swiss alps (you’ve probably heard of those :s). The town literally looks like a MASSIVE square around a huge park containing sports fields and the like.  The surrounding buildings are mostly restaraunts and Hotels and tacky shops… A nice chocolate guru can oft’ be found, and oft’ find them we did!

 The first night has the four lads on a recovery dinner after our contiki adventure… Nothing too drastic, just some pizza and water…. no beer!

The next day finds us training up the Alps and then Hiking up to the 2km mark, simple enough despite the rain.

Tom buys the most rediculous poncho which gives us all a good laugh.  Some swiss cheese and hot chocolote give us the strength to continue…. downwards… It’s late in the day and we’re spent.

The views greet us again on the way down…. Swiss Alps nothing more to say really.

A quiet night doing some washing at the Hostel finds Tom and I up until 2am deleriously tired.  With only two machines and a hostel of demand it’s no surprise really.

We have a few beers and a good old chat to some local gals who speak French well and English, not so well.  Our French needles to say was non-existant… Oh well, good for a laugh.

The next day and an earlyish start has us bussing it out to the canyons.. That’s right it’s canyoning time.

What is Canyoning?  Ab sailing, diving into freezing water, crapping yourself… All vital activities.

We kit up, my helmet is named ‘The Hoff’ for better or worse.  We drive up the cliff and the stop on the narrow road.

“Everybody out!”  Watch the traffic, tourist busses and whatnot as we walk to the railing and walk off the side. 50 meters straight down and you hit the floor, softly hopefully.

Hmm that’s rather a brisk start isn’t it?

“Ok  Hoff you’re up!”

Oh great.  Off I go, hmm I’m currently perpendicular to the nice safe rock.  My legs are shaking, they don’t normally shake, what’s going on.

In a matter of moments I find I can’t go any further, oh I’m at the bottom of the cliff.  Not quite sure how I got here!

The rest of the group follows and we make our way down little by little through the narrow river bed.  Whenever we reach some pools of water it’s a quick dive into the FREEZING fresh mountain water.

It’s so cold that you get a solid brain freeze in the back of your skull.  Shrinkage you say? yes well lets just say I was Asexual for about 4 hours of canyoning….

Moving on, a few dives into the pools of water, sometimes a nice slide down a steep embankment and few more brain freezes and the like and we reach the end of the canyon.

Now do you want to do a five metre jump or ten metre jump?

Most elect for the 10.  So how high is ten metres when you need to jump OVER an overhand and into some remarkably shallow water?  REALLY FREEKIN HIGH!

I’m not a fan of heights, nor am I a sufferer of what the medical profession would call a “Phobia”, I am however very cautious… Why not, that’s what you would call natural instinctive caution right?

“One, two,” oh crap oh crap, “THREE!”

A leap into the water, I missed the overhand, thank goodness.  Not a graceful jump but I’ll take the “hey you didn’t cripple yourself or drown” award.

We’re all stuffed from a big day, we’re now faced with three or so hour train trip around to the lovely city of Geneva.

A quick look and a check in to a dodgy hostel and we’re off to slumber land.

The next day we fly out to Madrid, but not before we have a chance to look at the city for about three hours.

Oh no says mother nature, rain for you lads.

It BUCkETS down for over an hour and we get absolutely soaked.  Help is at hand though and Tom and Lee search a local building to find a nice cleaning lady who gives us four garbage bags to wear.  To add to the comedy we decide to wear them over us in a fashion that disables our arm movments so that we all waddle like penguins through the main streets of Geneva.  Crossing the traffic, waddling into each other and smiling and waving from underneath our garbage bags is not a usual thing for us.

The locals seem to love it as they smile, wave and honk their horns at us.

Ok so Geneva wasn’t a total bust, we didn’t get to see much but those odd moments of humiliation make life…. life!

Love every minute!

Up next.. Madrid 

Tom and Lee… Classic

Contiki pt4 15th-17th AMSTERDAMAGE

Rightio, see here goes!

The tour left ‘Grandma’s house’ nice and early and we found ourselves in Holland.  Our first windmill and our first photo opportunity in the country. 

We end up in a smaller village for a start where a leisurely bike ride is cut short when our group ‘shows no respect!’ according to the the bike rental lady.  somebody did a skid on a bike or something and she thought, ‘well these 50 people have already paid so I’ll cut this 1 hour bike ride down to 15 minutes…’

Anyway, moving on.

The landscape of Holland is vastly different from germany. It’s flat, really flat.  In fact, with the lack of wind breaks we find it quick chilly despite the fact it’s the middle of their supposed summer.

The various canals in the country and the cities themselves set Holland apart from any country in western Europe.

The fields after fields seperate it from the more obvious mountain ranges that seem to engulf the European continent.

The villages and cities seem so calm and relaxed by Western standards.   Nobody seems to be in a hurry and everyone seems to be happy with peddling around on bikes we wouldn’t have thought were more suitable for our grandparents.

Well they should be ralaxed.  Yes that’s right we’re talking about Amsterdam now!

We head into the city, and find our accomodation.. A rather mediocre Hostel that is prohibitively distant from the excitment of the city.

After collecting oursleves we bus it back in to the centre and Abes our tour manager takes us through the red light district. 

Firstly down ‘fat lane’. The girls are of a lower standard there in case that was too subtle.  Abes also explains that the ‘red light’ windows mean 50euro gets you 15minutes of fun, whilst the blue light gets you 15minutes of transgender action.

I never did see a single blue light, so they mustn’t be in much demand for better or worse.

Anyway, we spend a little bit of time in the cafe ‘grasshopper’, the beer is the MOST expensive I have encountered which is a bad start but any other ‘erbs you wish seem to be readily available.

I chat to one of the lads on the tour and I ask if he’ll be indulging in the extra caricular activity.

He states simply that he hasn’t touched any drugs since a nasty incident with a friend a few years back, but he may give a space cake a nibble just because it’s amsterdam.

I offer to share the cake with him as I’ve no interest in getting into the culture of the place at full throttle like some of the other crew have.

We both down a space cake, half each.  No effects.  We go back to the main square to meet Abes at the appointed time and he leads us to the ‘sex club’.  We’ve all elected to partake in a show, amsterdam style.

My expectations are non-existent.  by no means am I a naive country boy, but sex shows aren’t exactly a normal thing for me.

We all line up, fifty contikians in various states of drunk/stoned.  Me and my friend are suffering no ill effects at this stage.

He tells me that you’ll know you’re stoned ‘when your cheaks hit your eyes and u smile like a chinaman’.  I wouldn’t know, this is my first (and what will be my last) dabble in the herbal arts.

One chap in our group has had three space cakes and is confident he’ll be ok… wait for it, wait for it!

We head into the sex show which is basically just a stage where the audience can view a variety of couples doing their thing.  They are genuine couples, and they are quite full frontal about the whole thing.

By the time the third couple comes out, the chap who had the three space cakes is sweating like the preverbial, another chap (an englishman) is starting to cruise along nicely, but will soon be hitting new highs.

My friend next to me is starting to trip out and get a little bit panicky.  I begin to smile like a chinaman.

I can retrospectively describe the experience as only a reflection upon ones self.  Those who spin out and get angry, are probably really angry people, some freak out a bit and get a bit paranoid, perhaps a little hyper in real life maybe… Me?

I chilled out, I slid down the chair and just kept smiling.

Our stoned English friend at this point gets dragged on stage and gets his shirt taken off, and gets ‘lover boy’ drawn on his stomach by the female performer who uses a pen in her mouth to do the damage.

He seems quite pleased with the outcome!

Two of the lasses in our group are dragged up on stage by a dark man in a police uniform.  A strip tease ensues, the women are required to take a few prime pieces of wardrobe off.  There was much cheering from their not so supportive contiki comrades!

A man in a monkey suit informs us that its time to leave.  We do so, you never argue with aman in a monkey suit, especially when his appendage is showing.

At this point, me and the other space cake chap decide that enough is enough, time to head back.  The ‘3 cake man’ is just about capable of flying home himself at this point but is determined to keep it goin. The group heads out and I find out that the mood gets solemn after that.

My conclusion on the night is we’re all used to having a few drinks and enjoying each others company, adding drugs to the mix sets everybody’s mood to an all time low.  No fun was had… Glad I missed it. 

Half a space cake and I’m fighting fit in the morning, no ill effects (for those non drug users, a space cake is considered fairly lightweight, so a half a one is nothing), but equally I decide my resolve to stay away from the stuff in the future is all the more stronger.  Why bother?

The morning of the last day in amsterdam has us peddling around the cannals in some god aweful peddle boats that leaves us all feeling our hangovers exponentially worse.  Sweating, tired and grumpy we depart the dodgy waterbased torcher devices and head to the heineken brewery for a tour.  Very touristy, but bugger it you gotta give it a go.

Before we know it, we’re kitting up for our last night out on contiki!

We end up at a pub whos name seems rather iralivent at this point.  We decide to hit it old school, no drugs, just a few drinks, crazy dancing and all round good times.

As I said before, when everything is working, why mix drugs into it? no need, we had one of the best nights of the tour, our farewell night with nothing but alcohol and good will to fuel us!

I’ve no clue when we got home but the next morning we were up early and about ten of us had decided to leave the tour and not get the ride back to London.  As a result we have to say goodbye to the crew.

They had been our family for two weeks and will no be easily forgotten.  Most of the crew are still in contact as we speak and we go out of our way to catch up to swap stories of our travels since.

One chap from central queensland rode the bus all the way back to London in nothing other then ‘european swimmers’ a singlet and an oktobafest hat.  Too much package showing but a good laugh.

Truly great life long friends were made and I don’t regret a second.  Not even the contiki salute as the bus drove off.  The six or so that decided to wave goodbye kept the tradition alive.  One browneye each, no waiting.

I think we could see some more conventional horizontal smiles from the people on the bus.

It was largely a ‘goodbye for now’ rather then an outright goodbye.  A sign of more good things to come.

Thanks Contiki, Abes and bazza the bus driver, and thanks most of all to the great people who shared an amazing experience with me!

See you all soon.

Coming up next, my friend bill and I tag along with two Melbourne Contikians to switzerland and Spain… stay tuned!

Contiki pt3 Austria, Germany. 14th-15th August

Munich beer hall

Well well, where were we?

Ah yes, a surprise you ask? Yes, the next morning we head off with the expectation of leaving Italy, driving through Austria and then hitting Germany to spend the night in Munich.

After an hour or two of driving Abes the Tour Manager hops up and announces that we will in fact be stopping in Austria for a lovely lunch at a REAL TOWN instead of a crappy service stop.  A very nice surprise that I look forward to immediately. 

Firstly though I am struck by the beauty of the changing landscape.  Firstly the north of Italy (goodbye Italiano!) and then the southern mountains of Austria (Hallo Oestriches!).  The rolling green mountains have a size and stature comparable to the ones I’d seen in Papua New Guinea.  However these had a more intense beauty to them I couldn’t quite explain but could thoroughly enjoy all the same.

Was it the thicker more pristine green of the leaves? Was it the eerie yet moving mist that seemed to carress the trees and mountains as we sped along?  No idea, but it moved me this place and I vowed to return here to investigate it’s beauty some more! (I did get back to Austria and spent some very anticlimactic days in Vienna.. Stay tuned for that underwhelming story later. )

We arrive at Innsbruck, our stop for lunch.  A beautifully pristine village sitting quite innocently in the middle of the equally pristine valley.  There is a little history to the place, but alas it elludes me now.  Perhaps the reason for my Porus memory is the pace at which we indulged ourselves in the village.

We had precisely 45minutes to see the place… Not long enough, but time enough for some Austrian Snags and Schnitzell!  The group seperated and myself along with some like minded cohorts sped along the main shopping area before departing into a side street and finding a lovely little ‘Tavern’.  An Austrian beer is had to accompany the feast!

We lumber back a little slower to the bus just in the nick of time!

Before we know it we have to say goodbye to this lovely area and are thrust quickly into Germany!

What does one expect from the German landscape, culture and people? Do Germans ever laugh? Do they really drink THAT much beer? Are they all large towering people with blonde hair?

Yes they do, YES THEY DO and no they’re not.

We aussies thought we could handle our grog, but the Germans have mastered.. I say again MASTERED the way to enjoy yourself.  They drink beer alot, with over 1000 breweries in their stunning country then why wouldn’t they? But the culture is so different to anyone else’s I’ve encountered.

It’s not about going out to get legless with your friends, it’s about the family going out, socialising (and yes LAUGHING!).  They can mostly drink for two or three hours without ill effect, they feel no need to rush things.  Why not lay back relax and smile! What a beautiful culture!

I of course didn’t learn all this on contiki.  We spent only a megre 50or so hours in the country (about 20hours of which was driving).  These were discoveries I made on my two later trips to Germany but I just couldn’t hold onto that info until I got to those blogs, so enjoy my inconsistent and confusing timeline!

We hit Munich with a half hour to explore before going to camp and then later returning to a beer hall…. A beer Hall in Munich? How contiki like.

Myself and two different (but equally like minded) cohorts scoot through the streets until we find a beer hall… WOW it’s huge and it’s packed.  We can’t get a seat… Hm out the back is a restaraunt, we head to the bar… and are intercepted by the head waiter, concierge or uptight terd in a jacket, take your pick.

“No party, no party gentlmen,” blast his English is too good, no chance for Bull shitting our way in.

I should explain at this point that me and my two friends were all atired in our fluro vests (see the ‘story about the Sluiten vests’ blog for a full explanation), so the man obviously thought that we were some bux party or something.

We explained our way delicately through explaining that we wouldn’t soil his patrons eyes with our presence for more then one beer. 

We’re in, we get a brew and then tear back to the bus, just in time… again.

Fast forward three hours and we tear into the beer hall ready for action!

Over half the crew is wearing the Sluiten fluro vests and we look like a dog’s breakfast… Our prescence is known shall we say.

The beer is flowing by the stein and we all get a bit loose whilst waiting for our dinner.

Some of the lads start up our usual chant.. I’ll be stuffed if i know where it started but somebody would start it off and the rest would follow.  It went a little something like this:

One fist is pounded above the head, followed by the alternate fist, then three quick punches (each punch accompanied by a “HEY!”).  So it was a HEY… HEY…. HEYHEYHEY! everybody drinks…. Yeah, boys will be boys.

We’d been doing it for days but this time it went something like this.

“HEY…HEY….HEYHEYHEY” Drinking by the contiki lads, simultaneously the head Beer Hall chap looks over at us and a sweat beads on his forehead….

Did they just do the Sig Hail? He is thinking to himself. 

Nobody in our state thought that thrusting our hands up over our heads in GERMANY could possibly be offensive…. two weeks of solid drinking will dull your mind somewhat. 

Anyway, the chap heads over to Abes our tour manager and the following conversation takes place.

“Excuse me Abes, could you please tell your boys to stop that as it could be percieved as offensive.”

Actually I don’t know what happened, but I’d reckon it went a little more like this;

“Abes, what the F(*K is wrong with those boys? Are they nuts? please sort them out or someone else WILL!”

Either way, the message got back to us and we decided that maybe maybe maybe… we should stop our chant until we hit Amsterdam.

3L of beer later I charge back to the bus, everybody is buzzing, what a blast.  A true warm up for oktobafest, singing, dancing, three woman in the Derndle get ups doing some cow bell tunes and then a chicken dance…. random…. lots of laughs!

We head back to the Hostel and go to the contiki bar, a now all too familiar routine.

Ok, so this is a bar in Munich, what lovely beer do they have on tap?

What? no tap beer? you must be joking.  Ok what German beer do you have…. no… not that one, anyone but that one!

Becks…. The only German beer designed for export, in otherwords it has preservatives. Unlike any other German beer! And it tastes like crap!

The kiwi known as Bex thinks its hysterical that we’re all into ‘her beer’.  No one else seems to think it’s funny.

Regardless our mood can’t be drowned as we tear onto the dance floor and conquer it.  The other guest are pushed uncerimoniously to the side as we get on any table that may (or may not) hold us and we have chants of “Go highlights, Go highlights!” (our tour is called European highlights out of interest).

Even the other contiki tours are gobsmacked by our uniform lust for a good time.  Our comradery can’t be disguised, our group almost without exception embraces each other at every opportunity, dances, laughs and has a ball every night, and tonight it’s a new high… We are here, in GERMANY!

I depart the group to retreat back to my room for a sleep.  I head in for a shower and then take a step out with nothing but a towel on to discover that the previously empty room is now full of about eight fellow contikians.  The Schnapps purchased previously by some (in Austria I think) is unleashed and the party continues.  There are two people in my bed.  One Geordie and one kiwi.  I snuggle up next to them…

If you’re expecting a ‘dear playboy story you’ll be dissapointed, I put in my earplugs, turn around and go to sleep… no mean feat with three people in a one person bunk.

The two lovebirds get the hint and sodd off to some other part of the room.

The party breaks up and I am awakened by the screeching of a demonic animal… What the HELL is that?  It sounds like bigfoot stood on a sharp stick and is taking it out on constipated, equally angry cat.

I open my eyes to find that the kiwi and Geordie managed to get off my top bunk, get to the ground and then crawl to-and then pass out in front of- the bathroom.  The young Kiwi lad was laying on his back and snoring with such definition I thought his tonsils would leap out of his throat in protest.

Somehow I get back to sleep.

The next day we scoot off bright and early as always and head North West.  (Munich being in the South East).  If you weren’t aware Germany is a big country and it does take us most of the day to get to our destination..  ST Goar.  The wine region.

We find the rolling valleys stunning with the vineyards in some instances perched at 60degrees on the hills.. Amazing!

We end up having a looksy at some steins, some of us make apurchase.. I think I still have a photo of me outside the steinery(made up word i think) looking quite chuffed at my purchase of a stein with a piece of the Berlin wall attached.  It’s not longer in production as the remains of the wall are now under close guard.

I’m less enthused when someone I meet about two weeks later tells me that they had been to Germany 10years prior and they simply walked up to the wall and took a piece for free.  Thus saving themselves the 150 euro I had just forked out.

But unbenknownst to me at the time I was pleased with the purchase.  Some wine tasting ensues (more bottles shipped back to OZ) We spend the night at a little cottage called affectinatley, Grandma’s house.  It has a bit of age on it now but its very homely nevertheless. 

Once a year the locals put on a massive fireworks display that runs up and down the river and goes for about an hour or so.  Tonight is that night!

We are treated to the spectacle and enjoy it very much before a retreat back to the bar.  I decline on anymore drinks, I’m off to bed, AMSTERDAM awaits!

The ‘Cat box Lady’ Barcelona 24th-27thAugust

Out the back having dinner. when we made WAY TOO MUCH NOISE!

 

Imagine that you’d just spent two weeks partying your way around Europe, and after only a few rushed days of travel and a quick catch up (and a few drinks) with friends you find yourself on your way to lovely lovely Barcelona, Spain. A four hour bus ride in the mid morning that starts you in good sted but leaves you a sweating wreck.

Could I have overdone it? You ask yourself, perhaps working on a few hours sleep each night, big days and too much grog was not the best thing.

Your body is starting to shut down. A queasy stomach, no energy, chest infection. Sleep, you just need sleep.

After random walking through Barcelona central and going to a few hostels with friends, accommodation is finally found, the 25kg backpack is dragging your shoulders backwards towards your tail bone and exhaustion is setting in.

After a couple laid back hours your whole crew heads out for dinner. A bread roll is all you can handle whilst all chow down on beautiful steak and Paella.

Thoughts of a satisfying meal don’t even enter your mind, just sleep.

Staggering your way back past the street vendors and the crazed performers all working desperately for your spare change, your bed is found to be most comfortable despite the air conditioning being substandard in the 30 degree night time temperatures.

Waking up in a sweat the realisation that you need to find accommodation for the night sets in. With only an hour before checkout a mad check on the internet finds a good little hostel only a few blocks away. With room for two more you and your two friends head off in search of your new temporary home.

A quick metro stop and a block or two should take you all to the hostel. One block, two block, three blocks. The heat of the day, the 25kg backpack and the heaving coughing fits all add up to a bad feeling setting in.

Where the hell is this place?

An internet cafe is found, check the net double check the location. Easy!

Hmm, google was so very wrong, you’re all 10minutes in the wrong direction… What the hell?

Ok, copy the address and head to a taxi driver, bugger this walking business.

Within five minutes you’re at the address… Is this it? Really? The name isn’t the same as the internet. Ok you see one building that has ‘apartments’ written on it. Try the buzzer. No answer. Try again. No answer.

A woman walks up and in broken English says that she is staying in the apartments. Beauty! She buzzes and asks for someone to open the window… ?

We’re let in. Finally. It took someone with bad English to ask for the WINDOW to be opened for us to get in.

Ok you locate what seems to be the lady in charge. A Spanish woman with the frustrating tendency to walk out of the room whilst speaking her very fast Spanish.

After ringing a translator you get shown your room.

Really? She can’t be serious. A room the size of a cat box with a tiny cupboard and small double bed is all that awaits you.

What is wrong with this woman, does she really think that these three backpackers could possibly stay in such a small room? With ONE double bed?

After some lack of communication the translator arrives. One of your friends is sucking on a cigarette on the verge of panic. The other is smiling in a, ‘I’m laughing cause otherwise I’d punch somebody’ kind of way.

You keep your cool and explain that there’s obviously some mistake, look at the room, we can’t all stay here as you can see!

The translator is quite understanding and shows you all to a room on the first floor. It’s nice, really nice. For only a few Euro more you can get a shared apartment with cooking facility.

“We’ll take it!” you say in joy, finally by 3:30pm you have a room!

Hand over your credit card which is your ‘deposit’ to be returned on departure. No problem.

With a discrete question about two other friends staying the next night (this would help subsidise the price of the more expensive room) the translator says, ‘don’t want to know, all yours!’

Great. The three of you head off to find some food for dinner, by the time you return your strength is gone. A coughing fit on the street leaves you coiled up in a ball that nearly has your friends dragging you back to the apartment.

Bang! After collapsing in bed for a sleep you hear the sound of the circuit breaker. An enquiry reveals that one friend was playing chef and the stove top tripped the power.

Bugger! Ok need to find the Spanish lady. Up you go to the third floor. Back down to the second, then the first. No sign. Where the hell is she?

Ok, accompanied by one friend you go for a stroll around the corner. You have the phone number of the apartment, where was the phone service?

That’s right! Next to the Fruit shop there’s an internet and phone shop. A quick call and all will be well.

Ring Ring.

“Hola?”

“Ah hello, do you speak English?”

“Hola?”

“Um, do you speak English?”

“Hola?”

“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

“Hola?”

“…English?”

“….”

“You’ve gotta be bloody joking.”

“Hola?”

“…”

Dial tone.

Why in the hell, if someone asked you if you spoke English you would just say hello over and over again?

Oh well, luckily on the next attempt a local with average English acts as translator.

In Broken English he asks if she speaks English, he hands the phone to you and you are greeted by the translator from earlier at the apartments. ‘It took someone with bad English to ask for an English speaking operator’ you think to yourself. There’s a painful pattern emerging here.

You explain that the power is out in your apartment and that the Spanish lady can’t be found anywhere.

“No problem, I’ll sort it for you.”

Within two minutes of returning to the apartment and leaning against a wall (the bedroom is too hot without a fan to lie down in) the Spanish lady turns up and flicks a few switches bringing the power back online.

Beauty! We manage to explain that the stove top was the culprit.

She tests the stove and trips the power. Reinstates the power and tries again, same affect. After the third time of tripping the power you and your friends are looking a little bewildered.

She explains that we shouldn’t use the stove top as it might trip the power (No S&%t!) and then leaves the apartment.

Ok can’t cook, at least you can lie down for a while. 4:30pm, it’s still too hot even with the fan on, but lying down is better at least.

An electrician turns up and establishes that one stove top is buggered, however the other can be used.

No problem! Cooking gets under way and dinner is had. You have a quiet night and try and rest. Even at night the heat is too much to sleep properly.

The next day, recovery hasn’t really happened overnight so a lazy day ensues. One friend leaves to catch a flight, three more friends arrive to take her place and help keep the rent cheap. One more then you expected but no biggy.

Everyone goes exploring for the day, you stay and book your flight for your onward journey.

That night, you all cook dinner and have a nice meal together, the five of you.

It’s 8pm, the sun is still up and you get a knock on the door. It sounds kind of angry.

The Spanish lady returns. She storms in and asks if anyone speaks Spanish.

No you dopey bitch, we haven’t learnt over night to magically speak Spanish.

She explains that the noise is too much for the neighbours.

Noise? You all had dinner and a quiet chat out the back… What damn noise?

She calls the long suffering translator as she waves her arms around angrily at the mess on the kitchen bench.

We had rudely cooked ourselves dinner in our apartment and hadn’t done the dishes yet. She storms over and in discust she turns the washing machine off as the standby light was still on. (the price of electricity must be exorbitant if a standby light is that big a concern.

She yells that there are too many people here! There’s ocho (eight) of you! (there are only five). She points to an extra bed belonging to your friend Lee. Ok technically he’s not officially staying there.

“Just siesta,” you say in your broken Spanish.

In anger she picks up the mattress and bed frame and marches them out the door.

“Oh bugger, that’s my bed!” Lee says hopelessly.

You can’t argue, he’s not technically staying there.

After a while she gives up and leaves.

Your all standing there in disbelief at what has happened. The dishes aren’t done? It’s 8 at night! They’ll be clean before everyone checks out the next day.

Too much noise! Quiet conversation over dinner!

The standby light was still on one appliance! WHAT THE HELL!

A knock on the door. What now? You’re not up to this, sick, exhausted, is she back for one more round?

You open the door to be greeted by the pained expression of the translator. You explain the Spanish lady’s performance to him, her petty complaints to which he nods and says simply.

“Yes, at this time of night I think she needs to take a pill or something.”

He apologises for her behaviour and makes sure we’re ok before departing. He begs us to be quiet when coming back late as to not disturb the crazy Spanish lady.

No problem!

Your friends go out, you stay back to try and recover.

The next morning the friends (who aren’t really staying there) leave early whilst you and the other original clean up.

12pm hits and you are both waiting patiently and nervously for the Spanish lady to arrive.

She knocks on the door and walks in. The sight that appears in front of her is two tired young backpackers in a perfectly clean apartment.

With a resigned smile she hands over your credit card and thanks you both.

You can do nothing but thank her and leave with a similarly resigned expression. Both opponents calling a draw and leaving the battlefield.

So ends the tail of Barcelona’s ‘Cat box Lady’.

Neither side won, or even knew why they were fighting.

“Oh well, says your friend as you both move off to meet the rest of the group, “too bad we wont be there to see her expression when she finds that dirty stinking towel we hid in the cupboard.”

Well maybe not entirely a draw after all.