Tuesday 10th August, Barcelona, Spain.
I could have stayed at Jon and Anabelle's forever but I guess that wouldn't make for a real interesting travel journal. They were great hosts and I was totally refreshed and relaxed by the time I left, any lingering effects of my month's travails in Chercos behind me. I must have been a reasonable guest too, because Jon and Anabelle are keen to renew their Globalfreeloaders membership, and also asked me to write down the names of the other hospitality exchange groups that I belong to, so they can join them as well. They're looking forward to receiving other guests, and also using the exchange system in their future travels. In case anyone else is interested, I'll give you the links here...
Maria, my host from Madrid was in Calpe for a week's holiday with friends- fourteen of them in a ten bedroom villa! I met her on the beach on Sunday and swam in the sea for the first time in over a year. Floating around in the gentle, lolling waves was a beautiful sensation, as long as I didn't look back towards the beach, a grotesque image crammed with deckchairs and umbrellas, sunburnt tourists crawling over each other to find a small square of sand. I almost felt it was civilization at its worst... until I saw the nearby resort town of Benidorm this morning!
Jon and Anabelle invited Maria over for dinner on Sunday night, and I was the cook. I can't take credit for the hors d'ouevres- while I wasn't looking Anabelle baked a tray of 'angels on horseback', dates wrapped in bacon. Along with the tasty rose wine, that readied our appetites. I presented with gaspachio (cold tomato soup, a Spanish specialty) and stuffed mushrooms for starters, and stir fried pork in ginger, spring onions and crispy vegetables on a bed of toasted rice for mains. Desert was more rose wine. The rice was a little soggy, but all in all I think everyone enjoyed it. It was about the fourth time I've actually cooked a meal in the last thirteen months, and it made me realize how much I miss cooking. Tonight I'm in a sharing kind of mood, so I'll share my recipe for the mushroom stuffing, which has until now remained a closely guarded secret.
Remove the stalks from some medium sized mushrooms and cut them finely, add breadcrumbs, lemon zest, lemon juice, blue vein cheese and salt and pepper. Mix it well with your fingers (wash your hands first, piggy!) and spoon back into the mushrooms. Brush with melted butter and bake till you reckon they're done. The lemon juice and the blue vein cheese make for a refreshing, tangy surprise, and they're a great accompaniment to soup.
Last night, Jon and Anabelle took me down to the port and treated me to a lovely meal at one of the row of seafood restaurants. The waterfront was packed with tourists, and every restaurant was vying for the passing custom. Enthusiastic staff canvassed outside, offering free sangria just to get you to slow down long enough to appreciate their display of seafood. The restaurant we chose offered us a free jug of sangria and a free bottle of red. I'm not a fan of shellfish or crustaceans, but I ordered a plate of mixed fish. If you're in Calpe, it's a must, since the three course meal, complete with the free beverages, costs a reasonable seven Euros. I must say though, the sangria wasn't a patch on Jon's special recipe. With Jon's permission, I may include his sangria recipe in my The Savage Files cocktail book but for the moment, you'll just have to imagine...
Speaking of books, today was the deadline for placing your orders for "Everywhere but Missouri, mate!" Unfortunately, in spite of a handful of last minute orders, I'm still a hundred orders short of the minimum needed before I go to print. If you haven't ordered a copy or two, what the hell's the matter with you? If you have placed orders, thankyou and I'm sorry that the book's release will be delayed even further while I come up with ways to promote it more widely. I'm open to suggestions, and would appreciate any help you can give to spread the word about "Everywhere but Missouri, mate!"
This morning I struck a bit of bad luck at the Calpe bus station. I'd assumed there would be several buses to Barcelona each day, but we all know what happens when I assume. The bus situation was a bit complicated and involved connecting in Valencia. Even though Jon and Anabelle got me to the bus station by about ten-thirty, it was too late to make the connection to Barcelona. Luckily, my hosts were kind enough to drive me south to the ghastly resort town of Benidorm. The mind boggles as to how so many people all want to squeeze onto the same stretch of beach. It made me think of Australia, and the miles of perfect white beach that I could have almost to myself. That just exacerbated the homesickness that I've been feeling recently. In two days I'll be with my brother and his family in Marseilles. There's at leats another year ahead of me in this trip, and I wondered if I have the energy to keep moving for that long. Anyway, if the book doesn't sell, I'll be home soon enough. I miss my Mum. I boarded the bus to Barcelona quite pensive, and the seven hour trip involved a lot of soul searching.
Another assumption that made an ass out of me was that finding accommodation in Barcelona would be easy. As it turned out, every hostel was booked solid. The main drag La Rambla was a parade of sweaty backpackers, lumbering up and down with their heavy packs, all searching for somewhere to lay their head. I retreated to an internet cafe, and used the worldwide hostel booking search engine that is set up on my index page. That was also fruitless. Every hostel, hostal, pension, doghouse, whorehouse and outhouse in Barcelona was full. My morale was at a new low. It was hot and humid. I was tired and just wanted to sleep. The city of Barcelona has been recommended to me by a number of travellers, and I had planned to spend tomorrow being a real tourist, taking in the popular sights and maybe *gasp* even setting foot inside a museum. But the prospect of sleeping on the street wasn't appealing at all. Barcelona is infamous for pickpockets and petty theives, with reports that muggings are also on the rise. It seemed the only two alternatives were to either spend a hundred Euros on a luxury hotel room, or try to catch a night bus to France, missing Barcelona altogether. By midnight I was pretty annoyed (how dare Barcelona not have a bed for me!) so I started walking to the bus station.
Along La Rambla, I noticed a guy watching me from the central traffic island. Soon enough, he was beside me, and I assumed he was going to offer to sell me hash as had several before him. But no, that was another incorrect assumption. Manuel introduced himself and explained that he rents rooms out in his apartment. He'd seen me walk by three times during the evening and figured I was looking for a place to sleep. So fifteen Euros later, here I am in his bright, airy fifth floor apartment, freshly showered and typing away on my laptop in my own double bed. Two Belgian guys are sharing the room across the hall, and there's still a room empty. How suddenly a situation can change....
I've had some other great news today as well. A Canadian reader has generously offered to pay my webhosting charges for the next six months, which couldn't have come at a better time as I just realized today that I am back in the red already, despite the gruelling month's work I did in Chercos. Also, two more challenges have come in. One of them is a difficult 'find-my-old-friend' challenge, and the other is an interesting ongoing challenge that will potentially earn me ten dollars for every country I visit. Find that challenge on my messageboard titled CONDOM CHALLENGE.