Planes and trains and automobiles – Traveling Southern Spain
Fears are a part of everyday modern life. Anxiety, stress, panic attacks … we know them all too well.
What is more, traumatic life events have the power to amplify our worst fears, simple things we used to love become a real challenge.
Three months into the grieving process I found myself afraid of almost everything. Afraid of the future, afraid to walk into a room full of people, afraid to get on a bus or a train, afraid to drive. I was desiring to make the best of my new situation but was afraid I would not be able to do so.
And the biggest fear of all – afraid that my fears would immobilize me. I had to find a way forward.
I was motivated by this excerpt from “Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield. “Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past. We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution.”
Little by little I started attempting to become mobile. One day, I got dressed, threw my backpack over my shoulder, and approached the trolley in San Diego, all the while talking to myself, “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it.”
I got on the train and then the bus and then walked through the city to the park. It felt good, I felt powerful and confident. The more I did, the less I feared. I did this again and again and even took myself out to lunch at a fancy restaurant one day. It was huge for me. Learning to move through unfamiliar places alone.
Having done the work of confronting my fears, I was able to say “yes!” when my friend Crystal suggested we travel to Spain for a week. I wanted to check out Spain for a possible long term winter stay. I knew the week would be challenging indeed but also amazing. Crystal is opposite to me in almost every way. She is an extrovert and I an introvert. She stays up late and I get up early. She thrives on interaction with new people and I love to experience architecture and art. But I could not say no. I was flying to New York for yet another family funeral gathering and it seemed the perfect way to deal with the situation. After all, if you are flying all the way to the east coast, why not continue on and fly to Europe? It’s the same amount of flight miles!
We arrived at Madrid international airport at 8:00 am after a 3600-mile overnight flight. Our intention was to drive to Granada the first day and stay in the city center. A mere four and a half hour trip, how hard could it be? Crystal was an experienced world traveler and expert driver, and I, a confident navigator.
The airport was new and beautiful and the car rental desk easy to find. The exit from the airport was also easy as well as the highway out of the city, much less stress than New York, Boston, or even San Diego. We drove with confidence for a few hours and got extremely tired. We stopped at a rest area and slept in the car, drive a few more hours, stopped at a hotel, slept a few more hours. We were determined to press on, even though it would be dark by the time we completed our 260-mile trek to Granada. We passed mile after mile of olive trees but not much else. The short of it, driving on the highways in Spain, no problem. They have clean, smooth roads, and plenty of places for gas and a snack.
City driving, not so much. One way streets only wide enough for a tiny European car are the norm. If you miss your turn you might not get another chance for a long while. Thank goodness for GPS. But what the GPS doesn’t tell you is that you have to press the call button to lower the blockade on the street you absolutely must go down to reach your hotel. Finally figured that out. Totally jet lagged, we scramble to find a meal. Tapas and wine were the perfect antidote to our frustration. Fabulous!
We awoke to a most beautiful city, my favorite of the trip, and spent a good part of the day shopping and exploring. We decided that Granada was indeed the most wonderful of the cities we visited but too cold for a long winter stay. I would go back for visit anytime though.
Pressing onward, we started our 111-mile trip to our accommodations in Costa Del Sol near Malaga, planning to arrive before dark this time. Malaga seemed too daunting to explore so we opted for Marbella the next day. A lovely little city right on the Mediterranean, obviously catering to tourists. It’s absolutely perfectly clean, bright, and sunny with small plazas and lovely little shops. (They even vacuum the plazas and streets!) Try as we did, we could not find a way to get to a beach or even just close to the sea. There were no parking spots even in the offseason! One must rent a home right on the water to experience it. Disappointing indeed.
The next day we drove 16 miles up into the mountains to Coin. Gorgeous scenery on the way up and overlooking the city, but the town did not seem to be accessible as far as public transportation for a future stay.
Again, we pressed on in search of the ideal winter place for a girl who can’t take the cold in Maine. I had my eye on Seville, so we booked an Airbnb for three days. Because we took the little trip to Coin the day before we decided to take an alternate route past Gibraltar and Jerez to Seville.
The 160-mile trip was long and uneventful, except for seeing the rock of Gibraltar in the distance. I would not go that way again, it was the one area where I did not feel completely comfortable at the rest stops.
Coin – Southern Spain
Seville left quite a first impression on me, a mixture of old and new, strong traditional Spanish architecture and modern sculpture. The buildings are crumbling in some areas and well kept in others. It is a city of about a million people, filled with every imaginable nationality. The entire sprawling Centro area can literally be seen on foot. I love that!
I am smitten. Perhaps because it is new and exciting and full of possibilities but also very familiar to me. It reminds me of my favorite places in Mexico and San Diego. Well, of course! I am convinced it would make for a good winter stay without the need for a car. Easy to get to by plane and then train. And very reasonable for accommodations and food.
Plaza Espana, Seville
Plaza de la Encarnacion – Metropol Parasol – The world’s largest wooden sculpture
One of the things we loved the most in Seville is shopping. Fabric store shopping to be exact. Make sure to leave plenty of room in your suitcase for beautiful cashmere scarves and designer clothing too!
With one more day left until we flew home, Crystal and I booked a stay at a luxury hotel suite in the heart of Madrid for 126 Euros including breakfast. We ditch the car and take the high-speed train to travel the 330 miles from Seville. It is comfortable and fast, we are there in two and a half hours. A short taxi ride takes us from the train station to the city center.
Seville train station – and below, the McDonald’s at the train station, you know you are in Europe when it looks like this!
I drop my luggage and immediately take off to explore the city. To think, just a month before I was afraid to get on the San Diego trolley and here I am in the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, experiencing the immense and powerful looking architecture and exciting amenities. I take myself out to lunch, this time I order “I am not quite sure what” at a Japanese restaurant with a hint of Spanish fusion. I contemplate my incredibly amazing circumstance.
View from our hotel in Madrid
I consider the choices I have made in the last few months. Some were painfully difficult, with others, it was easy to see a positive outcome. I did not run from my fears but turned around and faced them head-on. I have become stronger both physically and emotionally. Life feels broader and open to many opportunities. Travel 8000 miles in 8 days … I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
The cities we visited in Spain felt very safe. Crime is low and I was not concerned with leaving luggage in the car or carrying a camera. I could walk all around everywhere comfortably. Women walk around the city at night alone. Much activity occurs in the late evening and tons of people are on the streets at night. Older couples are out for an evening stroll, young and old are headed to restaurants for tapas and wine late into the evening.
Even though we successfully navigated by car I would not recommend it. There is little to see off the highway and time and energy are better-spent traveling by train and then taxis.
Don’t miss Madrid. Stay in Madrid for at least a complete day or two as you arrive or on departure. It is 30 Euros by taxi from the city center to the airport.
Don’t bother bringing your hair dryer or other small travel appliances. They will not work with European outlets even with a converter. Use a 2-prong adapter for your laptop or other electronics. Bring an additional travel battery pack to keep your phone GPS going all day. Travel very light and leave plenty of room in your suitcase for shopping. It was so much fun to shop in Spain!
Just a little jet lag side note. With a huge time difference, it does not serve you to try and make sense of the time. Just alternate eating small meals, sleeping, and sightseeing until you feel oriented. It’s really your stomach that can’t catch up with the change in time.
Photography notes: My walk around lens was a Nikon 24mm F 1.8. It was heavy for sure with my Nikon D750. When my shoulders gave out at the end of the trip I used my iPhone 7S which I feel has a great camera. I use the ProCamera app to take raw files. For some reason, the smaller version of this phone is not as good. Ideally, I would love to have an 18-55 mm but they are hard to find in a good FX lens. Sigma makes one for the DX that I love.
Looking to book a shoot in Seville in 2020? Send me a note – firstname.lastname@example.org