San Sebastián

It is said by many, that the city of San Sebastián, in the Basque region of Spain, is the best place on Earth to eat… Clearly I wasn’t going to pass this up. So I left Andorra, crossed back into Spain, and traversed across the whole north of the country to reach the seaside city of San Sebastián.
The city is absolutely stunning. With great boardwalk strolls, beaches for swimming and surfing, and an old town, with narrow streets full of Pinxto bars!
Since I’d discovered my new love for pinxto bars in Barcelona, I was beside myself to hear that they were supposed to be even better in San Sebastián. I spent my first evening roaming from one bar to the next with a couple American girls from my hostel. We tried cheeses and octopus and smoked salmon and blood sausages, anything we could find: we drank dirt cheap, delicious red wine and local beers on tap… we were having no fun at all, I assure you.
The next morning the weather matched my mood. A red wine hangover and stormy, windy weather. The rains had finally caught up to me on the trip. It poured and poured and poured. So as a compromise to my full day of sightseeing, I decided to hit up the city’s famous aquarium, where I spent about half the day curled up in front of the shark tank, watching all the fishes go by.
The next day the rains cleared up just long enough for me to explore the length of the city. I walked to the end of the boardwalk where the popular “Peine del Viento” modern art sculpture sits. The sculpture, known in English as “The Wind Comb” was designed by two men, a sculpture and an architect, in an attempt to bring together the sea, iron, wind and rocks. The crashing waves that come in from the sea on the West side of the city, hit the walls and crash upwards. The artists have put star shaped wind holes in the ground that send wind and water geysers shooting up 20 feet or so in the air. The whole piece, which includes large, iron sculptures melded into the rocks, is actually quite impressive! And on a day after a storm, the geysers and waves were in full force.
But apart from wandering the streets and parks when the rains slowed, all I really did in San Sebastián was eat. Which is exactly what I went there for… And the food was amazing! It was a fabulous way to end my time in Spain. I’m definitely going to miss tapas and pinxtos, but I hear France might have one or two types of food I like as well. Time for a new country!

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Barcelona

Like millions of others before me, I was utterly swept off my feet by Barcelona. There are few cities in the world that offer such a variety: culture, history, nightlife, food. I have actually procrastinated writing about Barcelona, because I’m not sure how to capture it’s full essence in words.
In a single day, I walked in the surf along Barcelona’s famous beaches; stood in a square with art and architecture ranging over 2000 years; meandered along Las Ramblas to the Mercado Boqueria for a fruit juice; contemplated life in the Sagrada Familia, a basilica that’s been under construction for over 100 years; ate tapas until I couldn’t move; and ended up at a hotel party at The W, one of the nicest hotels in Barcelona, dancing in the penthouse club with 360 degree views of the ocean and city. All in a day’s work…
The Gothic district of Barcelona is no less than breathtaking. Narrow corridors, cobble stone streets and a shocking amount of history around each corner. Standing in just one place, you can see the layers of history that are so prevalent all over the city. An old Roman wall, built around 40AD, juts out from the side of a stunning gothic era church. The church’s high steeples tower over the square below where people listen to busking musicians and shop at the antique market. Next to the market is a modern art sculpture just erected in the last decade. Behind the sculpture is a wall with a Picasso painting on the side of it; one of Picasso’s rare public works, just sitting above the hoards of busy tourists. 2000 years of history, and you don’t even have to move your feet.
Just Northeast of the gothic district lies the famous Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece, an unfinished basilica that has been under construction since 1882. Although the streets and parks of Barcelona are filled with Gaudi spectacles, the Sagrada Familia is probably the most impressive. I spent almost an hour wandering in and around the basilica, listening to my audio guide and learning everything Gaudi. It is amazing how he paid attention to every minute detail. Everything from the amount of light that is let in, to the acoustics of the choir balcony and the shape of each individual pillar. Gaudi’s architecture reflected the great outdoors, and the Sagrada Familia is meant to connect a person with both God and nature. The pillars are constructed to look like trees, with the tops, flaying out like branches, and rounded detailing to represent the knots on the side of a trunk. Even after 100 years of work, the Sagrada Familia is yet to be completed. The construction end date is still debatable.
How I ended up at the W, is an entirely different matter. I met a woman on my tapas tour that had a gorgeous room at the hotel that she reserved for her and her boyfriend. Fortunately for me I guess, her boyfriend had to work, and couldn’t make the trip. She felt like the room was a waste just for her, and so, when we were looking for our next destination, a hotel after party was suggested.
Her single hotel room had more bathrooms in it than my entire hostel. The master bedroom had an ensuite bathroom with four rooms: one for the sink and powder area, one for the toilet, one for the shower, and one to change in before you got to the shower… This is how the 1% live.
The room had a view that looked right out over the ocean, and apparently is spectacular during the day. I remember walking by the hotel the night before thinking “wow, I’ll never, ever stay in a place like that” and then low and behold, not 24 hours I was drinking wine in the living room of one of the suites. A group of 8 of us sat around, telling travel stories with a bottle of vodka, a couple bottles of wine and beers to go around. Then when the booze ran dry, we went upstairs to the club. According to the Chilean couple we were with, the club upstairs was “the place” to be. With two bars and 360 degree views, I don’t know how anything else could top it. I couldn’t even tell you how much a drink cost, but I’m sure it was out of control. We danced and laughed the night away until we were all dead on our feet. Then it was time to turn back into a pumpkin and head home to the hostel.
But with all the luxury and history that Barcelona had to offer, it was the pinxto’s on Blai that really stole my heart. Blai street is this narrow street on the West side of the city center that is stacked full of tapa bars. Tables tumble out of restaurants and into the street for terrace seating, and every bar serves the same thing: pinxtos. Pinxtos, also known as my new favourite way of eating, are essentially single serving tapas. Usually served on a piece of bread, pinxtos are laid out on platters at the bar, with a toothpick in the middle, free for anyone to grab. You walk in, grab a plate, and stock up with whatever h’ordeurve you’d like! The bartender will gladly get you a drink, and the rest is all eating! At the end, just count up your toothpicks and pay 1€ each! Yup, 1€! Every pinxto is only 1€!
You would think that this would add up quickly, but with the size of each portion, I only ever had a maximum of 7 pinxtos and I always left overly stuffed! And the pinxto’s varied drastically! Pretty much anything could be considered a pinxto! Bread topped with smoked salmon, capers and sun dried tomatoes, mini tacos with ground beef and loads of guacamole, croquettes, caprese salads, avocado with bacon and tomato, mini creme brûlée bowls and slices of cheesecake! It was overwhelming for my foodie taste buds…
One night we hopped from bar to bar, using all our strength to try just one or two at each place. When we went back for the third time, however, we just picked our favourite bar and parked ourselves for hours. There must have been at least 20 pinxto options at each bar at any given time. And when a platter ran out, it was replaced with something new. (And usually something so enticing that we were out another euro). It was a great way to socialize, eat amazing food, and learn self constraint!
In the four days I stayed in Barcelona, I found myself eating pinxtos on Blai three times. It’s the best and cheapest food in the city!
Overall, I think I could have stayed in Barcelona a month and never once felt bored! With so much more still to offer, it’s definitely a place I’ll be back!

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The Long Road to Africa

I woke up Friday morning with a bang. Literally. A thunderstorm had rolled into Seville and the crash of thunder at 7am shook the hostel walls, waking everyone up. Rain was bucketing down and the wind pushed the window shutters wide open. After a late night chatting with new friends in the common room the night before, it took all my strength to drag my butt out of bed to close the window. Turns out rain had been pouring into the room for some time, and completely soaked all our bags that were lying under the window sill. Yup, it was going to be a long day.
I opted for paying the extra 4€ to take a taxi to the bus station, instead of fighting public transportation in the storm. I prayed there were still seats open on the bus to Algeciras. The online sites for bus bookings in Spain for some reason don’t accept Canadian credit cards. Which means all my onwards bus trips have involved crossing my fingers for free space. So far I’ve been fairly lucky, and only had to wait 4 hours for one bus onward to Granada. Luckily again, there was still space on this one too!
It was a treacherous 3 and a half hours drive South in the middle of the storm. Fork lightning crashed down a couple hundred meters from the bus, people were screaming from the thunder bangs, and I was fairly certain I was going to see a wind turbine explode as we drove through a field full of giant metal windmills in an electrical storm.
All I could think was, “there’s no way the ferries will be running to Morocco today. Not in this storm”. Then surprisingly enough, just north of the coastline, we popped out into the sunshine again!
The coast was gorgeous! It was surreal to be able to look across the straight of Gibraltar to see the coast of Africa on the other side.
I had decided to cross the straight from Algeciras to Tangier. Not only did my hostel recommend it, but my guidebook had said it was both the cheapest and most popular route across the straight… Not exactly so.
Had I read the fine print, there’s no way I would have gone the route I did. Sure it was cheap. That’s the only thing this route had going for it. 20€ and I could safely cross to Africa… But not exactly Tangier.
When our bus to Algeciras made a pitstop in Tarifa, and 90% of the bus got off, I should have known. The ferry from Tarifa, although 15€ more expensive, takes 35 minutes, and takes you to the edge of the Tangier Medina. Algeciras, which is a further 30 minutes on the bus from Tarifa, has a ferry that takes between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, and it takes you to Tangier-Med, which is a port in the middle of nowhere, 45 minutes from Tangier city. By the time I had realized this, it was too late. Looks like this journey just got significantly longer…
I managed to dodge the Algeciras touts that told me, not only did they not sell tickets at the port, but the ferry would cost 40€ and leave at 4:00 pm. My instincts told me he was crazy, and when I arrived at the port I was pleased to learn it would be 20€ and was leaving right away!
Well it was scheduled to leave right away. Our 2:00 ferry didn’t actually leave port until 3:15, but at least I was onboard. And the views of the coastline and the town of Gibraltar were enough to keep me occupied.
The route definitely wasn’t popular either. The ferry was large enough to hold hundreds upon hundreds of people… There were 6 of us that walked on the ferry. A few more drove cars on, but the ship was pretty much empty.
We arrived after nearly 2 hours into the deserted Tangier-med port. I was completely without a plan as we landed on the coast of North Africa. Originally, I wanted to head straight to Chefchauoen, but the hostel was fully booked and the last bus left at 12:30 in the afternoon. I had no money, no place to stay, no idea where to go. And yet I had the most amazing first impression of Morocco…
A local man informed us that exchange rates were much better in Tangier, and that we would only be ripped off getting money from Tangier-med. Since I and another couple I met on the ferry only had euros on us, the man paid for us all to take the 45 minute bus to Tangier. He refused to accept any money, and when we arrived, he pointed us in the right direction to a proper bank.
My card wouldn’t work at the atm, and since Friday is a holy day, the bank was closed. Luckily the couple from the UK switched me $20 worth of cash before we went our separate ways.
With $20 in my pocket and no plans, I almost felt a little anxious about what to do before the sun set. But I saw an Internet cafe across the street and looked up a hostel in the area I could book. The man that ran the VERY local Internet cafe was amazingly sweet. Arabic keyboards are more than just a little confusing, and yet he patiently walked me through how to make symbols like “@” or “.” as I needed them. When I was leaving he asked me “Your first time in Morocco?”
“Yes,” I replied
“Okay, let me tell you something…” He started. I thought he was going to warn me of the dangers, or tell me not to travel alone in the Medinas. Instead he said “you know Argan?”
I thought for a second…
“The oil?”
“Yes!” He said with a smile, “make sure you buy some before you leave Morocco. Put it in your hair and it will make it beautiful! It is the best for all the ladies in Morocco!”
I laughed and promised that I would. He then told me to make sure I didn’t pay more than 10 dirham to get to the medina where my hostel was and sent me on my way.
I was so thankful for a kind face after the unease of not knowing where I was. People in Europe were constantly asking me if I was nervous about travelling Morocco on my own as a woman. I wasn’t really, until everyone kept suggesting I should be. So far, everything seemed fine!
I paid only 10 dirham to get to the center of the medina, where many travellers were charged up to 100 dirham to go the same distance.
When I arrived at the medina I tried to translate the directions to the hostel. Medinas are confusing at best. Tiny side streets, very few signs, a chaos of people and vendors and animals all around. Some men encouraging people to eat at their restaurant gladly helped point me in the right direction, but even then I was all turned around.
Exhausted from the day and totally lost, I sat down in a park to take another look at the directions. As I sat down on the edge of a wall, three little girls that were playing nearby came and sat down near me. They whispered to each other and giggled, then inched their bums closer to me. Before I knew it they were practically sitting on my lap.
“Bonjour!” Said one little girl. They were about five or six years old, one of them younger than the other two.
“Oh, bonjour!” I said back.
They laughed, then broke into fluent French, talking rapidly at me.
I stared blankly.
“Espanol?” They asked me.
“Si, hablo Espanol” I said back.
More excited giggling from their side. As they asked me what my name was.
We did the intros, and chatted for a few minutes. Two of them were sisters and the other one their neighborhood friend. They said they wanted to talk to me because I was “muy guapa”. I laughed and thanked them. After we had run out of things I could talk about in basic Spanish I thought I might as well ask them if they had heard of the street Battouta.
At the sound of the word their eyes went wide.
“Battouta!!!! Battouta!!” They looked at each other and screamed in giddy excitement. I told them I needed to go to Al Andalusi hostel.
More screams.
They were pointing all over, jumping up and down. From what I understood in their excited shouting was that they lived nearby. They ran off to their mother, who was on the phone nearby and pointed wildly. Their mother smiled and waved them off. They ran back to me, grabbed my arm and dragged me off the wall yelling “Battouta! Battouta!”
Two of them held my hand and dragged me through the medina corridors. They paused to talk to their friends, and was slightly distracted by a vendor selling chocolate, but within a few minutes, down a side street I never would have found on my own, they pointed at a door that read. “Al Andalusi Hostal”. I had made it! I couldn’t believe they’d found it for me. I offered them a couple dirhams and said “go buy yourself a chocolate bar on me! You three are my first friends in Morocco and I want to thank you for helping me.” They smiled but refused the money. So I left them to finally check in to my hostel, finishing a long, 12 hour journey from Seville.
The hostel was beautiful, right in the middle of the medina with beautiful rooftop views of the city and the Straight of Gibraltar. The staff at the hostel were wonderful, and were so happy to hear about the little girls helping me. Thomas, one of the guys that ran the place, said he would buy them something special one day soon from me, since he saw them almost every morning in the street.
I quickly met some fellow Travellers from Australia and we all went out for a delicious meatball Tagine dinner and some mint tea. I was in heaven!
I could not have asked for a more pleasant welcome to a country. I have a feeling it’s going to be a wonderful couple weeks here…

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Seville

After my two-day love affair with Granada, Seville had big shoes to fill. Luckily, I found that the city had a wonderful sense of importance to it. This was the major hub of ancient times, a city with a rich history of war and trade and wealth: a gateway to Africa and the Americas and, as a result, Seville has some elaborate architecture and some outrageous historic anecdotes. It would be tedious for me to explain each one in full since none of them tie together, so instead, here is just a selection of photos to show you how larger than life this city once was (and still is).

Also, the Alcazar (or ancient royal palace) is half shut down at the moment for more Game of Thrones filming… So lots more giddy excitement from me in the city…

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Granada: Gypsies and Game of Thrones

As I said before, Granada quickly became one of my favourite cities. The free tapas definitely had a pull, but the city offers so much more than just free food and cheap beer (as if that wasn’t enough). Luke and I spent nearly 7 hours hiking around the town of Granada and we never ran out of things to see. Our hostel was in the middle of an Arabic market, right next to the winding corridors of the Jewish Quarter. The walls sported intricate mural graffiti from a local artist that reminded me of the decorated side streets of Valparaiso or Melbourne.
Granada is nestled in a little valley, which means most sightseeing involves some rigorous uphill walking. After wandering the lower streets of the city, we meandered uphill towards the Alhambra.
The Alhambra is the main sight in Granada. Not only it is the most popular tourist attraction, but it can also be seen from almost anywhere in the city. It’s an ancient fortress and palace, clinging to the side of a cliff top. Originally built by Arabs in the 800’s, the Alhambra is a stunning sight. The palaces within the fortress have walls of intricately carved marble and areas with stained glass ceilings. And for those that are Game of Thrones fans like I am, filming for the next season is taking place here and at the Alcazar in Seville. This will be Dorne! (A fact I couldn’t quite get over as I explored the area in childish excitement). There are so many royal gardens and forts and lookouts that the Alhambra takes nearly four hours to walk around completely. We managed to see the major sights faster than most tour groups and finished the highlights in just over two hours. With only one full day to see Granada, we wanted to make sure we saw more than just where the royals lived. We wanted to climb the hill to the church of San Miguel, where we were supposed to find both stunning views of the city, and Gypsies living in caves…
The hike up to San Miguel was more than we had anticipated. It’s definitely an uphill battle when you are climbing in the high heat of the afternoon in all black. But the sights along the way made it all worth it: tiny streets with whitewashed buildings and plazas full of locals, the mirador of San Nicholas with postcard views of the Alhambra, and finally the beautiful and towering church of San Miguel itself. And our guidebook was right: the views were incredible. From the top of the mountain you could see all of Granada in it’s glory, and particularly the immense size of the Cathedral that sits right in it’s center. We sat on a wall surrounding the church and gazed over the hill we had just climbed until we sufficiently caught our breaths. Granada really was amazing.
On our way down we joined up with a young guy from California to explore the gypsy caves. These are natural caves, found in the side of the mountain, that the Gypsy people have turned into homes. While some are very primitive, others have doors and furniture and even wifi! Some budget travelers prefer to squat in the caves with the gypsies instead of paying for a bed in a hostel. Although a great story and a money saver, I suppose you run the high risk of being robbed, or in the case of a man we met that lived there, being bit by a two foot long centipede while taking a siesta.
While some of these caves are homes, others are communal areas where gypsies will put on private Flamenco shows for money. We only explored the “residential” part of the caves… If you could call it that. As the three of us wound our way downhill through bushes and dirt paths, it was less a magical gypsy land and more like the slums of Granada. At one point we were fairly certain of being attacked by a wild dog that gave us a stare down and growled at us the whole way past him. We were very relieved to reach “normal” civilization without getting either robbed or rabies. But all part of the fun of exploring!
On our walk home we meandered along the riverside into the center of town. Probably one of the most picturesque views of Granada I’d seen. It was leisurely and quiet, with some cafés and churches along one side of the path, and the winding river on the other. We arrived back at the hostel almost 7 hours after we had left it and were absolutely famished. At least we’d earned our fair share of tapas for the evening!

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A Bullfight at Las Ventas

Las Ventas. One of the last remaining places on Earth where a person can witness the “Wonderful Nightmare” of a Spanish corrida (bullfight). A blood sport that is as close as possible to witnessing a Gladiator battle a wild beast in the Roman Colloseum over 2000 years ago. Bullfighting is a proud tradition to many Spaniards. It’s a sport that displays both bravery and power: a courageous display of man versus animal.
It’s true that bullfighting is waning in popularity in Spain. Even Barcelona went as far as to ban corridas altogether in 2012. But it’s not all over for the matadors: some 40,000 bulls still die each year from bullfights in Spain, and the spectators at Las Ventas, one of the largest bullrings in the world, are hardcore fans of the bloodshed. At Las Ventas, bullfighting is an outing. It’s a night at the opera, a reason to get dressed up or, believe it or not, a family event…
Although extremely controversial worldwide, protesters may find solace in the fact that bullfighting brings a lot of help to the local communities in Spain. The majority of money raised at the bullfights are given to charity and used for feeding the poor and homeless. The dead bull is eaten, it’s skin is used for clothing: no part is left unused. It’s a long standing tradition with arguments on either side I suppose… I’ll let you decide what you will.
The Las Ventas bullring is stunning: a massive brick stadium, beautifully crafted with the rounded archways of Muslim architect so often seen here in Madrid. The wooden doors that lead into the stadium are an imposing 20 or 30 feet high, intricately carved and sporting equally impressive cast iron hinges. The whole building is awe-inspiring and disturbingly beautiful considering it’s purpose.
Inside the open-aired, circular stadium it is medieval. It’s like walking back in time 1000 years to a more primitive era: an ancient setting for an ancient sport. The stadium seats are long, rounded benches of concrete. They are so tightly crammed together that while sitting, a persons knees are pressed up against the back of the person in front. The benches are labelled with painted numbers, sprayed on the concrete to determine each seating space in the row. These are also so close together that, once the stadium has filled, there is no getting out from where you are placed. The arena floor is a large, sand covered circle. When we arrived, a man was spraying every inch of it down with water: perhaps to stop the sand from spraying into the matador’s eyes during the fight, or maybe for better footing, I’m not exactly sure. Either way, the stadium had a feeling of anticipation. Even before the crowds arrived, dressed in their finest, toting small children, and chatting amongst themselves in rapid Spanish, the arena had an aura of mixed excitement and death…
Now as a side note: I’m not a supporter of animal cruelty. I’ve had mixed feelings about telling people that I wanted to attend a bullfight in Spain. My announcement has received about 50/50 excited and slightly envious support and absolute appalling gasps, shaming my decision. I myself didn’t know how I would react at the fight either; I could just as easily love it as hate it. But my main reason for traveling is to experience new culture, in all it’s glory, the good, the bad and the ugly. So I booked myself a ticket.
I knew basically what a bullfight was about. I knew I was going to see a man stab a sword through a bull’s neck and I knew I was going to watch that animal die. But retrospectively, I think I had slightly different expectations about how it was all going to go down.
In my mind, I had seen the bull as an enemy: a feral beast, out for blood, ready to kill. Similarly, I saw the matador as a lone wolf. Half predator, half prey, standing alone in the middle of a sandy ring awaiting the beast. I could imagine his fear. I could feel his rushing blood and beating heart. I understood how the onlooking crowds would view him as a hero, the epitome of brave, the savior of us all. This was to be a one on one battle of wits. Equal chances for bull or man to die in front of thousands of cheering onlookers. Anything was possible. This was the bullfight I expected. In reality, it was much different.
As soon as the bull entered the ring I knew I was going to hate every moment of bullfighting. This was not a wild enemy of man. This bull was a terrified animal. As it entered through the stadium door, it took one look at the thousands of onlookers and, in fear, tried to run back through the doors it had just come out. Upon finding them now closed, it edged a few steps inward and stood still, unsure of what to do. There was a moment of pause. A peone (a matador’s footman) stood off at one side of the ring with a large pink cape, waving it at the bull, provoking it to charge. The bull was uninterested. It didn’t want to fight the man. It wanted to get out of the ring. As the man moved slowly closer, yelling and waving, finally the bull rushed towards the peone. The man darted backwards, running like a coward behind a wall as the bull came toward him. Then a second peone appeared a little further away, leading the bull to another area of the arena. He too ducked behind a wall, confusing the bull until a third man appeared, taunting the animal with yells and waving capes. After a few minutes of this an armoured horse came out with a picadore (horseman) holding a speared lance in one hand. The bull fearfully backed away from the horse until the three peones cornered him into one side of the ring. The horse sided up along the confused bull, and the horseman jabbed the spear into the animal’s neck. The bull reared in pain, and tried to attack the horse. The horse however, was so heavily armoured that the attempt was frivolous. The bull, now bleeding from the neck, was then lead around the ring by the peones once again, before the horse came out for a second stabbing. Nothing about this was a fair fight. This was a ganging up on a confused animal, with four men, an armoured horse and a long lance. When this part of the fight was over, the next stage was the banderillos. Banderillos are flag men that run towards the bull with spears. When the bull puts it’s head down to charge, the men throw the spears into it’s neck. The floppy and colorful spears hang off the bull’s neck while the next banderillo makes his move. Then the peones come back to tire the bull out once more. When the bull is sufficiently tired, has four or five spears hanging out of its neck, and is losing blood at a rapid pace, it is then, and only then that the matador enters the ring.
The crowds go wild for the matador. Dressed in his traditional attire, a pure white suit with sparkling silver adornments, I thought he looked more like a Spanish Elvis impersonator than a gladiator. The matador strutted around the ring, bowing to the applauding crowd and walking in such a fashion that I actually forgot about the horror and laughed at how silly he looked. He displayed his bravado like a male peacock in a mating ritual as the bull heaved at the side of the ring, trying to catch his breath and find a way to escape the sounds.
Then the fight began.
The matador taunted the bull, who charged at his cape, perhaps out of anger, perhaps out of instinct, or perhaps for survival. Blood ran down his neck and sides, spears hung off his flanks, and the matador stood, waving his pink cape and holding his sword. I admit, the bull still had enough strength to manage a few close calls. At one or two points when the matador got really cocky and faced away from the animal as he plunged at him, I secretly hoped to see the bulls horns gorge the leg of the matador and drag his body in a defiant victory lap around the ring. But this never happened…
With each duck and turn the matador made, the crowds went wild! I’m not sure if there was some points system that was going on, or if close calls evoked more of a reaction, but people were literally at the edge of their seats in excited anticipation. It was a show, and to be fair, the matador took full advantage of the prolonged drama. He danced and dipped, he sliced at the side of the bull, and faked an almost kill for quite a while. But when the time was right, you could feel it. This was going to be the end. This drawn out torture of the confused and scared bull was finally about to be over. The crowd almost hushed as the bull took a final rush towards the smug matador. The matador took a step to the right and plunged his sword into the bull’s neck. So deep that the hilt of the sword was the only thing left to be seen.
But that wasn’t the end. The bull was still standing. It had no fight left, but it was still standing. The peones ran out and joined the matador in the ring, then edged the weary bull towards the side of the arena. The bull stood there for some time, staring at the four men in front of him. The crowds were yelling. Kelsey, Peter and I were staring in utter horror, wondering what was going to happen next. I’m sure it was only a couple minutes, but this stare down seemed to last for an hour. It was hard to see what the bull was doing from where we sat. At one point we thought it fell over, but then we saw it stagger towards the matador one more time. Then the matador was handed a second sword…
The matador held the second sword out in front of him and inched toward the bull, moving the blade closer to it’s head. Just as I thought he was going to push the sword into his neck again, he instead used the tip of his new sword to grab the hilt of the previous one. He then slowly pulled the first sword out of the bull’s neck. The bull teetered on his feet, took another step forward and then finally collapsed on the sand. The crowds were ecstatic. Everyone got to their feet and frantically waved white flags above their heads. Thousands upon thousands of white flags covered the stands in the arena. It was like watching the crowds go wild after a winning goal in a playoff hockey game. The matador bowed. More men and two more horses rushed onto the arena as people yelled their congratulations to the matador on his brave kill. The bulls body was hooked up to long chains attached to the horses, and then unceremoniously dragged across the length of the arena and back out the doors it whence came. And that was that.
Kelsi, Peter and I looked at each other and collectively decided that that was it for us. There’s no way we could watch another five bullfights in the following hours this went on. Along with the South African family sitting behind us, we pushed our way through the throngs of people to escape the stadium. The place was madness, and it took us several minutes to fight our way to the door. Meanwhile, the arena floor was raked, the bloody sand was covered up and the place was restored to normal. As we were walking out the doors I turned around to take a final look at the arena. The last thing I saw before I finally turned around for good was the second bull, thrust into the arena from the same door that the bloody corpse has just been dragged out. It looked around with a startled expression… And the crowds went wild.

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Tapas in Spain

Everyday, multiple people ask me what I’m doing in Spain. Why, of all the places in the world, am I here? Although my answers have varied slightly – to practice the language, to fill an empty gap on my travel map, because I love the laid back lifestyle – more often than not it boils down to one common answer: to eat.
There’s nothing I love more in the world of food than tapas (well, other than cheese of course). Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have an irrational fear of making decisions, or maybe I just prefer the social aspect of it all. But ultimately, I adore the idea of sharing many small dishes instead of eating one large one alone.
When I arrived in Madrid I was ecstatic to start eating. My first evening I ventured to a 10€ all-you-can-eat tapas at a restaurant called El Tigre. It was overwhelming. The restaurant managed to cram over 100 people inside it’s tiny walls. It was a standing only venue, with waiters carrying platters of tapas and trays full of 1/2 litre beers and sangria stacked three tiers high. I felt like a failure as a server after watching these men carry upwards of 24 beers at once through the crowded bar. The tapas, however, were great. So much bread and cheese and meat I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But after 15 minutes of eating such a carb loaded feast, I found myself craving even the smallest of vegetables. But the platters kept coming, and every time I ordered another drink I was handed another platter of tapas: more than enough to fill a table of people.
I was worried this was what all tapas were going to be like here in Spain. Although fairly decent food, I was sure to get scurvy within the week if I kept eating like that!
When Kelsey and Peter arrived in Madrid it was more of the same. We spent the evening floating from one tapa bar to the next getting little snacks here and wine there: calamari, croquettes, chorizo. The food at these more refined restaurants was much better prepared than the quantity over quality of Le Tigre. I was happy to have found a variety of dishes, and ones that didn’t include a chunk of bread with each bite. If this was what Spanish food was like, then I’m in! And then I hit Granada…
Within hours, Granada became one of my favourite cities of all time. And tapas are its finest feature!
I sat next to an Aussie guy named Luke on the bus down to Granada. It just so happened we were staying in the same hostel and the same room when we made it to the city: a sign of insta-friends. After a six hour journey down from Madrid, we were starving. We were recommended a nearby tapas bar to go for dinner and a drink. When we got there we noticed that the menu had no prices on it. In my experience, if you have to ask the price, it’s too expensive. In Madrid, 3.50€-5.00€ was a decent starting price for tapas. Then again, you could run across a place that was closer to 8€ and end up with a crazy bill after a few dishes each. We just about gave up on the restaurant when the waiter came out and I decided to ask what the cost was.
“Cuanto Cuestan?”
He stared at me for a second confused. I figured he just didn’t understand my still shotty Spanish and was about to ask again when he smiled and said “Libre!”
Free. They were free? As long as you bought a drink (and that did not have to be an alcoholic drink) you got your tapas for free! Well in that case, we decided to sit down for a beer!
With the price of beer being 2.50€ and the food for free, we were doing way better than any place I’d been in Madrid!
Turns out, nearly every restaurant in Granada is like this. You can’t drink in the city without having some sort of food! And the food is outstanding. It puts every meal I had in Madrid to shame. On my last evening in Granada, I went out on a tapas crawl with a crew from the hostel. We went to three restaurants, each more delicious than the last. We picked away at pineapple pork skewers and coconut chicken with polenta. We had falafels and mini Moroccan tagines full of delicious meat. We tried grilled cod and baby shwarmas. We spent 4 hours wandering from bar to bar, enjoying glasses of wine, catching up on all our travels, and talking about food. It was exactly how I want to eat every meal I ever have from now until forever!
This is why I’m in Spain. If I am to be truly honest with myself, I’m here for no other reason than to eat!

(Also, I sadly have zero photos of my tapas in Granada. I was just so excited when they arrived, that I had eaten them before thinking about photos!)

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