In February, some friends and I hopped on a bus down to Spain’s southern coast to experience Spain’s most famous carnaval, which is in Cadiz. The trip wasn’t for the faint of heart; we left at 7 in the morning and came back at 3 in the morning, which left us about 12 uninterrupted hours of carnaval experience in the city. Those 12 hours included some rain and a hefty dose of wind (noticing a trend in my posts yet?) so it was lucky that our 80s aerobics group costume included neon rainjackets.
Highlights include eating fried shark on the cathedral steps, hanging on the beach where Die Another Day was filmed, climbing some trees, and marvelling at creative costumes. I made a video of our trip with the 8mm vintage camera app that I’ve had sitting on my phone for years (previous attempts to record an ATL->MTL roadtrip with the app were lost when my phone was stolen at Montreal Fashion Week, which makes the experience sound marginally more glamorous).
The song is “Ghetto Fácil” by El Guincho because (a) all the songs off 2010’s Pop Negro sound like a sonic carnaval, (b) he’s one of my favorite Spanish artists and (c) he just came out with a new album (and wearable art/media project) called HiperAsia after a long hiatus, followed almost immediately by a new mixtape.
While in Galicia, I was at the very peak of an intense multi-week sinus infection; I couldn’t hear very much and hardly had any sense of smell. The train ride back to Madrid was a miserable time, due to constantly changing altitudes and velocity.
Being so alienated from my sensory experience while walking in the rain by the sea in A Coruña was weird. I’ve been listening to Abra quite a lot recently, and this song featuring her guest vocals really mirrors how dizzy and unmoored I felt in the winds. There’s something dooming, sleepy, and destabilizing about it. And hey, if I can’t romanticize my own sinus infections to the tune of some darkwave jams, then the world is a dark and sad place.
(FYI, Abra is an Atlanta singer-songwriter on Awful Records and I can’t stop listening to her music on slow evenings.)
After wandering around in pilgrims’ footsteps in Santiago, we hopped on a train to our next stop, which was the more modern coastal city of A Coruña. I’ll admit the city is far from the most charming place I’ve ever been; in fact, one of my first thoughts there was something like, “this place is pretty ugly, but damn does it have a surprising amount of cute cafés”.
Besides cafés, the main reason to visit A Coruña is confined within one park at the very end of its outermost Northern edge. In retrospect, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the magic of that one spot was worth the visit.
February kicked off with a long weekend, and Christina and I took advantage of some train ticket sales for a relaxed trip up north in Galicia.
Galicia is an odd region in that it’s a land of rolling green hills and Celtic heritage, which is so incongruous with the Spain most of us know. Our first stop in Santiago de Compostela, however, felt very much like most medieval towns surrounding Madrid.
Well, here comes another iteration of “an American moves to Madrid to teach English and starts a blog”. The thing is, since I’m planning on working in media/communications one day, I should probably have some form of proof that I haven’t forgotten how to write in English after traipsing around the world. Is this a travel blog? It’s a Fiona blog for now, and I’ll see where it goes.
Barrio Las Letras
So for anyone who’s not in the loop, I’m currently living in Madrid and teaching English to a bunch of Justin-Bieber-obsessed Spanish kids. No kidding, he’s an unexpected hit among the pre-teens here. Life is pretty good in this sun-drenched metropolis. I live in the Letras neighbourhood, aka the old literary district where Cervantes and Lope de Vega used to hang out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many bookstores per square block, and most of them have their own cafe/bars (if there’s any nationality that’s incapable of doing anything without double-fisting a café cortado and a glass of Rioja, it’s the Spaniards).
Here’s a little synopsis of what I’ve been up to:
- I’ve been amassing a collection of Neti Pots! I teach seven pre-school classes per week, and while that comes with perks like being called “more beautiful than a dolphin”, it also comes with lots of unwarranted butt-touching (seriously, why is my butt getting touched so much?) and an unholy amount of germs. I’ve been sick every 2-3 weeks on average since I’ve gotten here. Now I have a Montreal pot and a Paris pot, because this household is nothing if not cultivated and cosmopolitan in its homeopathy practices.
- I hit up Lisbon with my friend Christina and fell completely under the charms of this massively underrated city. Maybe it’s just a secret gem the Iberian Peninsula is keeping for itself, because I’d never considered it an essential European destination. I can’t explain why, but no place has ever made me feel like I was walking through a fairytale like Lisbon did. Lisbon was getting lost in a maze of design boutiques in stately mansions, then gliding home through foggy streets at night with seagulls screeching ahead, stumbling upon arresting views of the seven-hilled-city along the way.
- I spent my first Christmas in Europe with the grandparents, and celebrated New Year’s Eve and my birthday in Amsterdam. I’ve been trying to explore Spain too, with some day and weekend trips to Salamanca, Toledo, a hike in El Escorial, and a roadtrip to Cuenca and its surrounding mountains.
- Future travel plans include exploring Galicia, going to London in March, and going to Primavera Sound in Barcelona in June, which has been a dream of mine since I was 14 years old. Madrid has many things going for it, but I do miss the accessibility of Montreal’s indie music scene. Madrid’s understanding of indie music has proven to be pretty laughable in my extremely limited knowledge of the city’s nightclubs, so I’m really looking forward to the festival!