Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Long (Rail)Road Home

I finally had the right ticket, and only two days to get across Europe to London. Barring any unforseen holdups I should make it to Brussels in about 24 hours, according to the ticket lady-- yes, the same one who gave me the wrong ticket the day before. Catching the evening train out of Sibiu to Medias, I was there by ten and had an hour to wait at the creepy station. They keep the lights down so low you can't see to read, and shadowy figures pass in and out, making you clutch your bags a little tighter each time. In the dim light of an upstairs strange sort of waiting hall I did a little Sudoku and tried to forget where I was.
Then went out to wait for the train. In Romania at many stations you must walk across the tracks to get to your platform. It's an odd feeling at first, doing something that back home you've been told all your life is wrong. It really drives it in how far from home you are. Anyway, in spite of studying a handy diagram on the platform as to which car mine should be, I immediately got on the wrong one. Everyone was rushing so fast to get on I thought the train was going to pull out any moment, and I didn't want to miss it again. And of course, there were no car numbers visible, nor conductors for that matter, so I squeezed past the many people in the narrow aisles in a vain search for my little temporary quarters. I finally found a conductor stretched out in the dining car who told me the wrong car to go to. By this time I felt like you do in those dreams where everyone else is in class, watching you as you search for yours. The couchette cars all looked horribly crammed with people squeezed together trying to stretch out to sleep, and were hot, dark and stuffy; I prayed my berth wasn't in them. I found what I thought was mine, according to the recumbant conductor, and entered the sweetest little cabin you could hope for: only two beds, clean, crisp sheets, extra little cubbys, and best of all, no one else in it. It looked too good to be true.
As it turns out, it was.
Almost immediately a woman conductor brusquely entered and asked to see my ticket, whereupon she stated that I was in the wrong cabin... and look what I had done to the sheets by setting my bags on the bed! When I apologized and asked the matron where my proper car was, she proudly announced that she was not in charge of that car, only this one, and had no idea where mine was. Now, these trains always have the exact same layout, according to the diagram at the station; you would think that someone who works every night on the same 10-car train would eventually get a basic grasp of where each one was. In any event she at least pointed me in the right direction, whereupon I found my berth in a four-bunk cabin with three of the jolliest Romanian fellows I had yet met. They were on a holiday to see Nurenburg, and one of them eagerly asked me if I spoke German. When I could only say "Ein bisschen" (a little) he shrugged and, in very good English, asked me what I thought of Bush. They handed me a Pilsner beer from their cooler and we launched into a discussion on everything from U.S. politics to the war in Iraq to the price of real estate in Romania.
They seemed to be the happiest people from Bucharest there ever were, and laughed at everything from the way I taught them how to open a beer with another bottle, to each other's jokes, which were mostly in Romanian and as such were beyond me but it was nice to see such happy fellows after so much gloomy, rude service I had gotten recently. The youngest of the three was a patisserie chef and passed around some delicious, nutty-flavored cookies.
After a decent night's sleep with only the usual midnight passport check at the Hungarian border and a lot of clanging and bumping in Budapest about 3am, I woke up approaching Vienna and had to sadly say auf Wiedersehen to my bunkmates. They gave me some more cookies and I hit the ground (literally) running as the train was late and my connecting train was due to leave that very minute.
I should explain that in Europe it's pretty unusual for trains to be late, but it does happen. They generally leave right on time-- to the minute-- but holdups along the way can slow them down, and if your connection is leaving soon you have to huff it or miss it. Along with a bunch of backpackers, I ran to what looked like my train. It was going the right way (to Frankfurt) and leaving at the right time (now). We all climbed on and scurried to find seats. I grabbed the first one I found and plopped contentedly into it, only to hear an announcement (only in German, of course) saying something about "rezervations". I overheard someone explaining in English that you needed reservations on this train. It figures, right? My reservation only went as far as Vienna; for the rest I was on my own with my Eurailpass. But if I went inside the station to wait for a ticket agent I would surely miss this train and have to wait, possibly for hours, for another one. I had had enough of being delayed and decided to risk it. I slunk down in my seat and hoped for the best, as the train pulled out. The more time passed, the more nervous I got, sure I was going to be found out and dropped off at the next lonely little whistle stop. But my fears were groundless; when the conductor came around he simply stamped my railpass and moved on. I breathed a sigh of relief.
A bit later, though, at another stop a lady got on who informed me that I was in her seat. I gladly got up from the second-class seat and went in search of the first-class cabin. At this point I should explain that my Eurailpass was for first class seating, but I often found the people were more interesting and the seating almost identical in second class, and I hadn't wished to be noticed before I was sure I was safe. Now I boldly entered the hushed, sleek first-class section with its wood paneling, cushy seats and free coffee, and slid into a seat where I could even plug in my computer to recharge. It was actually a four-seat compartment with bucket seats and a nice big table. I was sure it wouldn't last long and as soon as my ticket was checked they would say something like, "Dumbkopf! Ziss car iss for Ferst-Klass peoples only! Rouse, you fool! Get out! Schnell!" Ironically, when the first-class conductor came around, he took one look at me reaching for my bag and waved me off, saying, "It's ok, I trust you." Me? With my two-day whiskers, ill-fitting baseball cap and scruffy "Stop Animal Abuse" t-shirt? Hm. Ok, whatever. At least I got to stay. He even handed out candy to us. Sweet.
Perhaps it was because I was typing on my little laptop. I was working on this blog, but it was diffucult with the beautiful Austrian and German countryside rolling by. When you leave Hungary and enter western Europe the villages just look prettier, the farmsteads tidier and (best of all) the apartment blocks-- that very symbol of the communist blight-- are almost nonexistant-- or at least not visible from the train. Any factories are hidden or kept discreetly away from the towns, and the buildings don't have that run-down look you see so often in the east. Not to say Romania and Hungary don't have their charms; Sibiu's Old Town was a delight and some of the other villages and such were very nice. And I never got to the beaches at the Black Sea and other resort-y (a word I just made up) places. But when you cross over the border you just know you're not in Krakow any more.
In first class I met a nice couple from San Diego who explained to me what had been happening between Russia and the Georgian Republic. I had only heard scraps and hints, and of course there was no CNN or BBC in Sibiu. It seems I had missed quite a bit. I wondered what else had happened in the world while I was traveling. It's ironic: I used to be a news junkie, but about the only thing I knew about the U.S. in the past 6 months is that George Carlin and Bernie Mac had died. Even more ironic is that I really didn't miss knowing all those petty details that we clutter our lives with. I saw little blurbs on Yahoo about the latest Olympics scandals and didn't care to read any more. I just wanted to connect with those I knew back home and around the world, and thus spent most of my internet time emailing people.
As the day passed we stopped in Linz, Nurenburg, Wurzburg, Frankfurt. To my surprise we even passed right through pretty Bacharach with its wonderful old buildings nestled along the Rhine, which I immediately recognized from my visit there the previous year on a Rick Steves tour; I must have passed it in the dark and not even noticed on my way to Romania. It didn't even appear on my Rail Map of Europe. I was glad I'd already seen it or I would have been angry to have come so close to such a picturesque town and not been able to stop. I wondered how old Herr Jung who gave us a town tour was doing.
The stretch of towns along the Rhine in the area is one of the prettiest I'd seen in Europe. Then after Bonn we approached Koln (Cologne) where I finally had to stop to change trains for Brussels, only there were no more running that night, so I booked the first one in the morning and stepped outside the station to find a hotel. I looked up and almost gasped at the colossal Koln cathedral towering over the platz. Checking back on my list of "things to see in Europe", the "Dom" was the one must-see of Cologne that I had emphasized. And here it was in my lap, purely by chance. In the fading light it looked solemn and mysterious, brooding over a multitude of people who, almost to a person, wholly ignored it. There is an overpass across a street that requires one to walk up the front steps of the Dom to reach it, and I watched passengers leave the banhof station and do just that, but nobody even so much as gave the magnificent structure a glance. It's amazing how quickly one becomes used to things. I took a quick stroll around the area which, as the usual manner of historic cities, has been turned into a pedestrian shopping mall, with the requisite fashion stores, McDonald's and Starbucks, which serve so well to bring history truly alive. I retired to the hotel lobby where I had a final German beer (Kolsch) and caught up on my email, before going to my room and watching some of the Olympics (for the first time with English narrative).

The next day, I had just time to step inside the cathedral for a peek (truly an awe-inspiring sight) and snap a few photos of the outside, although I wasn't happy with the light. Then, in just about 3 hours, I was in 5 different countries: after passing thru Aachen, Germany the train sliced across a tiny corner of the Netherlands, then into Belgium to catch the Eurostar chunnel train at Brussels which passes over a bit of France before tunneling under the channel to England. It would be difficult to be in 5 states in the U.S. in that time, I think, although I'm sure it's possible somewhere. By the end of the day I was all the way back in Bicester, England at my brother's house, after a nice, quiet train trip to London, a quick Underground ride to Marylebone (even conductors pronounce it differently) station and just in time to catch the commuter train to Bicester.
After a last night's packing I caught the same train back to London to figure out how to get to Heathrow airport. There were several ways to get there and I didn't have a huge amount of extra time, but luckily I happened to take the route that transfers at Paddington, whereupon I spotted signs for a "Heathrow Express" train. Exactly what I wanted! Instead of riding around and fighting crowds in the underground, I eased into a seat on a nice, quiet train going directly there! And as this was my last chance to use the "first class" aspect of my Britrail pass, I made the most of it, stretching out in the large seats, enjoying the fact that I was the sole occupant of the entire car.
Then after the uneventful flight home where I watched a few movies I was back in the U.S.A., after 6 months of almost non-stop travel. Rest was not to be, however, as I left in two days for San Francisco to check out a job and look for a place to live, should I decide to stay.

Next: What I learned from my travels.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Romania Revisited

I know what you're thinking: "Dave, you had three weeks left to go anywhere in Europe, and you went to Romania?" I know, I know. I could have seen Provence again, or Venice, or gone down to Naples and the Amalfi Coast. (Hey, I could have seen Capri; why didn't I think of that?) But I've spent a lifetime visiting those kind of places, the ones with the marble palaces, the stunning vistas, the pretty seaside villages; this trip was about seeing the real Europe for once, the places not just for tourists. Anyway, I just had to go back and see everyone I had made friends with (human and otherwise). There's something special about Romania, in spite of its faults. It beckoned to me, and I had to answer. (And it could be argued that a certain Romanian girl named Sanda may have had something to do with it as well.)
And what a busy 10 days it was! We started out checking on some small groups of street dogs that she regularly fed; some had been spayed and re-released and she wanted to make sure they were doing ok. They live behind businesses and places where it's fairly safe from cars. At one site some poor people lived in an old, unused industrial building and (I think) helped feed the dogs. One posed for a photo with Sanda; an interesting-looking fellow, indubitably. I'm not sure I agree with his wardrobe tastes, but perhaps he doesn't have much choice there. Anyway he seemed like a nice guy, which is what really matters, right?
On the way back home we visited my favorite Romanian dog, the famous "Baby". She was still at Grandma's house where I stayed in May; she looked great and pranced around like a puppy, but frustratingly, still won't let me or anyone else pet her. I really wanted to make that my final accomplishment before I left. I was also sad to see Baby still living in the same former chicken coop, and only let out by visitors; they don't want her wandering in the common area shared by Grandma's neighbors, and Granny's too old to watch her.
The next day was spent meeting other old acquaintances; we hooked up with Andrea and Otilia, the two lead volunteers of Animal Friends and brought some puppies out to the shelter and vaccinated them. I found another challenge there: to "tame" four 3-month old feral pups brought in recently. I was told they were so fearful they would vomit and defecate if anyone even went into the cage. It turned out one was already pettable the first day, as it had spent some time in a foster home; the rest were skittish and hiding from me, but came out for treats and ate out of my hand. Clearly they had made progress at the shelter already. I spent an hour in their pen letting them get used to me, but by the end still could not touch the others. They were one of my projects, but I only got to visit the shelter two more times. The second day I got another one calmed enough to pet, and day three saw a third puppy giving in to my caresses. I never could get that fourth one to surrender, darn it. But they'll all make wonderful pets for someone; they sure are cute enough, and still young enough to tame fairly easily.
We dropped by Grandma's again for another session of letting Baby out of her coop (and feeding her treats). She seems happy enough with people but it would be difficult to get her adopted by any but the most dedicated of guardians; not many would take a dog home that they couldn't even pet! I'm sure she will warm up to whoever takes her, she just needs a person with patience and a loving home.
That night we all went out for a drink in one of Sibiu's wonderful squares. I love how they're filled with tables for hanging out on the warm summer nights, and judging by the crowds, it seems that the locals would agree.
Day three was spent helping at a puppy adoption fair in a town park, where I met two girls from Finland (photo) who were there to evaluate some of the dogs for possible adoption back home. They work with other Romanian rescue organizations and were meeting the Sibiu folks for the first time (I was told that my blog helped them decide to come here!) The puppy fair was a success not in that very many dogs were adopted, but they got great coverage from the press. I haven't heard details, but Andreea got interviewed on national television, and I was apparently seen walking some of the dogs! I would love to get a tape of the news broadcast; anyway every little bit of coverage helps and hopefully the Animal Friends group got some good publicity out of it.
I won't bore you with an itinerary of every day, but (along with Sanda) I finally got to see some museums in town-- a nice little one on natural history and a pharmacy museum that packs more antique medicinal items into three rooms than I've ever seen in my life. We also spent a day in Sighishoara (kinda rhymes with stegosaurus), another historic Transylvania town full of towers, cathedrals and colorful cobbled lanes. While there we noticed posters for the "Circo" and I just had to check it out; it turned out to be about like the Circus Roma in Spain, with one lonely elephant hanging out in the hot sun (while we visited, anyway) and a motley assortment of monkeys, parrots, a tiger, even a crocodile and a giant tortoise; some of the animals were obviously just used as a kind of traveling menagerie. At least they had a bit more room in their cages than at Circus Roma, but it still seemed a pretty pathetic exhibition. We talked with the owner's wife who invited us into her little trailer while her kids played in the dirt outside. It's a pity that these kind of people can't find a better profession. Anyway we made a point of tearing as many posters as we could, sometimes having to watch out for policemen. It was our own little form of protest.

An odd coincidence occured the last few days: while leaving Grandma's one evening we heard a kitten crying in a tree. I climbed up to get her and she turned out to be a sweet, purring bundle of joy. We took her home until we could get her to the shelter. And on my last day there, at almost the exact same spot, I spotted a cute little month-old puppy that had also apparently been abandoned. He was certainly not feral as he came right to me and happily fell asleep in my arms. We checked the neighbors but no one seemed to recognize him, so we brought him to the second puppy fair the volunteers were holding, and as fate would have it, a nice young couple saw him and it was love at first sight! After holding him for a few minutes they declared they would take him home. (The volunteers assured me they would do a home check and make sure he was ok.) It was probably the fasted adoption on record in Sibiu.
But it was certainly strange that two well-fed, socialized animals suddenly appeared on the same street with apparently no owners around; Sanda was sure they were both dumped there, so it would seem it was a popular site for that. Since there is no public animal shelter except what the volunteers built themselves (and is now full), I suppose people believe they have no other choice, and apparently can't be bothered with trying to find homes for them themselves. I wonder how many children are heartbroken in town because Daddy or Mommy decided "that animal has to go". The kitten, that I named "Putsina" for "Little One", is at the shelter and hopefully will find a home one day. We certainly fell in love with her the two days she was at Sanda's place, but unfortunately neither of us could keep her.

So after many goodbyes at the puppy fair, I had to leave for the long train trip back to London and Bicester.
Final note: I was never supposed to be around to find that puppy; I was actually on a train leaving town the night before when I noticed my ticket was dated incorrectly and it was too late night to fix it that night. I had to return and leave again the next night. So maybe things happen for a reason. I guess that pup will never know, but fate sure worked out well for him.
P.S. Oh, and I never really got to pet Baby; the only thing I could do was lightly brush her cheek as she took food from my hand (see video soon). The darn girl was still just too skittish, but hopefully Sanda and the rest will be able to work with her and get her placed. I'd love to come back next year and visit her in some happy home. Well, at least I got a bit of video of her to remember her by.

Next: the final journey home.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Roaming Back to Romania

After getting back to Bicester, England and being able to relax for a couple of days at my brother's house (1st photo), I had a chance to plan the rest of my summer. I was originally going to go up to Scotland, circle back around Ireland, then journey up to Scandinavia to see Stockholm and the rest of the capitals, I suddenly felt overwhelmed and realized I was getting too tired to continue at this pace for 2 more months. Plus my Eurail pass was only good for another 3 weeks and if I wanted to see any more of mainland Europe I'd better do it now instead of going around the U.K. On top of that, the ever-shrinking funds were declining a bit faster than planned due to unexpected costs. For example, it turns out a Eurail pass does not mean you can jump on just ANY train; all the decently fast ones (TGV, etc.) and the overnight trains all required an additional fee-- some pretty hefty. I had tried to stick with the cheap day trains but sometimes, like in Spain, it wasn't possible, or would have taken up to three times as long to get anywhere.
I had always planned to go back to Sibiu, Romania once more before I left, and see once more the friends I had made there (and of course see how Baby was doing!). It was now or never. (Upon reflection it might have been just as cheap-- and a heckuva lot faster-- just to book one of those local European arline flights there, but I had paid a lot for those Eurail passes and I was going to use them, darn it!) 

 So after a nice afternoon tea with sister-in-law Peggy at a local manor house (2nd pic), I booked my flight home to the USA for August 20, and the next morning I left to start the long journey back to Sibiu. I opted to ferry across the English channel again as it totaled only ten pounds whereas taking the chunnel would cost me about fifty. Upon reaching the ferry station in France, I and the other pedestrians de-boarded. Most people bring their cars across, it turns out, but a small band of us travelers were hoofing it. When we got off the bus from the ferry to the ferry station, we found that we had to wait for another bus to take us to the train station. I had to use the bathroom, and when I got out, I saw the bus pulling out with everyone else on it! I could either wait an hour for the next one or walk 1/2 hour to the station, and get to see some of Calaise along the way, as I wanted to do anyway. I did what Bill Bryson would have done and walked. The part of Calaise I walked through wasn't worth photographing, but there were some nice clocktowers and steeples peeking out from behind the rather bland rowhouses. Too bad there was not time to explore.
I had no reservations, but got the next train as far as Lille, which, according to the lady at the station, was as far as I could go that day... to go further "was impossible", she said. When getting to Lille around 8pm, it seemed like a nice enough place. I scanned the destinations for all the departing trains from there and didn't recognize a single one. They all sounded French, and if I got on the wrong one I might end up who knows where. I decided to see if a hotel room was available; if it was, I would stay. Right across the street, surrounded by cafe tables, was the little hotel with the grandiose name "Hotel Continental". The had a decent room for a reasonable price, and best of all, internet, so I took it and set out to explore a bit of Lille's old town in the fading twilight. It actually is a VERY nice town, full of beautiful old buildings, cobblestone-lined streets and cozy cafes and bistros. As usual, there were the local losers who asked me for money; I think I was asked about 6 or 7 times that night. Now, you've seen my photos on this blog: do I look rich? Or just stupid? Wait-- don't answer that. Anyway I got pretty good at giving the brush-off.
There were also the usual "punks with pups", creepy-looking cretins begging for money who always seem to have puppies or kittens with them, getting money from suckers who feel sorry for the animals. I tried asking some where they got them from, but (of course) their english only went as far as "spare euros?". I photographed some, including this long-haired dude.... I'll say one thing: they certainly are the most interesting-looking of all the people there, even if they are a bit weird.
But think about it: if you're reduced to begging on the streets, is a dog or cat really something you should be taking care of? Aside from the food issue, can you really provide a good home and life for the pet? I tried to lecture these guys about their kittens, but they seemed to be in their own world; long-hair seemed proud of his kitten and tried to show me little video clips on his cell phone (yes, cell phone--the nice kind that I don't even have!). The other one just smiled and said that he was from Croatia. I knew I wouldn't get through, but I just thought I'd try.

Anyway I left shortly after to catch a series of trains to Brussels, Frankfurt, then the overnight to Wien (Vienna), then Budapest. At each stop there's always a wait for the next train; sometimes it's just time enough to step outside the station and sniff the air, like in Frankfurt, and look around and say, "So, this is Frankfurt. Huh. Pretty modern-looking," or some such profound quote. Often there's a couple of hours to kill, like in Budapest, where I caught up on things to do at the station (exchanged cash, reserved the next leg, sent a few fast emails) then went out in search of some doggy treats for the ones in Romania. In that country there were no biscuits, no dog houses or beds, no doggie toys or anything except the basic kibble and canned food. So I wanted to bring a dog bed back to Baby and some chew treats for the rest, which I quickly found with the help of some friendly natives of Budapest. I discovered the Arena Plaza Center, a gigantic mall (complete with IMAX theater) comparable to anything in the West. So the rest of the trip to Sibiu I carried a ridiculous-looking pink doggy bed that stuck out of a too-small bag, along with a sackful of biscuits and rawhide treats enough for a hundred eager mouths.
Then I hung out on a series of night trains for the journey into Romania, meeting a motley assortment of colorful characters along the way, like the gay New Zealander who talked with everybody a little too much, or the Romanian taxi driver hanging around the dreary train station at Arad at midnight who was also craving someone to talk to. I almost brushed him aside when he first asked me where I was from, as he seemed like the typical local "wants-something" guy, but he turned out to be a very interesting hour of chatting about Bush, Scandinavia, and the crazy president of Romania. Hey, at midnight in a decrepit train station you take what you can get. I even found a street dog hanging around, being ignored by the locals sitting at a grungy "cafe". I petted it in front of them, no doubt earning their disgust.

Finally, exhausted at 6am, I was met at the Sibiu station by Sanda who had generously invited me to stay at her place while there. She took me home where I collapsed for a 12-hour sleep!

Next: final Romanian adventure.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What I did in Madrid

The short and sweet: Madrid, capital of Spain, is pretty nice. True it's a big city, but it's got a huge old section with at least six cafes or restaurants on evey block and four more in every square. The biggest plazas, like Plaza del Sol and Plaza Real (Royal), have many more and shops galore, and are must-sees. I love the "Tio Pepe" sign at del Sol, it's like the neon cowboy of Vegas.
Of course I had to visit the Prado, touted as "One of the great art museums of the world". The local fliers claimed it was "possibly the best in the world." That's debatable, especially as the vast majority of paintings there are Spanish, and the Louvre is probably twice its size, but it was still a nice afternoon well-spent. It was pretty cool to finally see the originals of some art I had long admired, such as Bosch's fantastical "Garden of Earthly Delights", that masterpiece that was centuries ahead of its time. I never realized it was created in the 1500's; it looks so amazingly modern. It was done back when most other artists were still painting the same, tired old Madonna and Child scenes they'd been doing since medieval times. Even portraits of nobles hadn't yet really come into fashion. We're talking truly radical thinking here. There were some others too, and I'm pretty sure I saw every single one that day, which is more than I could ever accomplish at the Louvre.
Another highlight I didn't want to miss was the San Miguel Market, but it was closed for renovations. No problem, it was right around the corner from the Plaza Mayor, an elegant square that once held auto-de-feys of the Inquisition and even bullfights. Today it's a bit more civilized, with street performers and (mostly) charming little shops and restaurants beneath the arcaded perimeter. (Unfortuntately the huge Rastro flea market which I had read about is held only on sundays-- I wasn't there for that).
I spent one evening conversing at a cafe with an American couple from Philly, I think it was. The mddle-aged man didn't even know the Spanish word for beer (cerveza) and was having trouble ordering. Same with his dingy wife who kept asking for water, and hadn't bothered to learn that it's called agua here (and lots of other places, like the other half of her continent-- ever heard of South America, lady?). It annoys me when tourists don't take a little time to learn a few basic words of the local lingo; I make a point of learning hello, please, thank you, yes and no, and goodbye at the very minimum. If you can't even say bon jour when you walk into a shop in Paris you're immediately seen as a clod and a bumpkin (and the prices will immediately rise accordingly). Anyway I helped them out for which they and the perplexed waiter were grateful, and we had a nice discussion about Spain. When you travel alone you tend to remember the few conversations you have in English.
I also spent an afternoon walking the huge Retiro Park with its beautiful ponds hosting ducks, geese and other birds, one lake fronting the all-glass crystal palace (disappointingly empty inside), and the nearby botanical gardens, an impressive collection of trees and plants from all over the world. On the way back I found something quite a bit less appealing: in a local pet shop there were cages overflowing with mice who were all desperately clinging to the inadequate air holes, obviously because the overcrowding was makind the air stale and foul, and probably hot as well. I waited a while to speak to the store clerk about it (not that I expected anything to be done, but just to let him know people notice such things), but here was a line that seemed to be going nowhere while he yakked on the phone. I left frustrated and angry. As usual, even if I was to complain to the authorities I had no idea who, and was certain in Spain nothing would be done anyway. And I was also due to leave in an hour anyway. Just one more example of animal neglect (bordering on abuse, really) ignored by the very people who were supposed to be taking care of them.

The rest of the time was spent wandering the old streets, perusing shops and stopping occasionally at a cafe. By the way, I don't really party much at all while traveling; I'm less like those young Globetrekker people who look for the discos that have bubble-dancing and more like the Savvy Traveler, that greying guy who at the end of a day of sightseeing, relaxes at a table with a glass of wine. That's more my speed. Only it's more often beer, or just hot chocolate. I searched for that ultra-thick cocoa that Samantha Brown touted on one of her shows--where she rested a spoon on top of it-- and found some fairly thick stuff (along with delicious churros to dip in it) but it was never quite like what was shown on tv. Maybe I didn't order it right; next time I'll be sure to research it better before I go.

Next: Back to England and then-- who knows?