Posts Tagged VaughanTown

Keeping Ms. HalfEmpty Full: Gazpacho

In this third (and long-awaited) installment of my “Keeping Ms. HalfEmpty Full” series, I present you with an easy recipe for gazpacho inspired by a lovely woman from Valladolid, Spain. I met Señora ‘Spacho during our 30/40 World Tour back in 2011 at VaughanTown.

Mr. HalfFull & Señora 'Spacho shopping for fruit in El Barco de Ávila

Mr. HalfFull & Señora ‘Spacho shopping for fruit in El Barco de Ávila

Señora ‘Spacho was extremely passionate about gazpacho, urging me to delve into the history of this Andalusian liquid salad. She explained how Spaniards have been eating variations of bread and olive oil soup for centuries before tomatoes were introduced to Spain! She raved about a deliciously creamy gazpacho recipe (without bread) she makes for her family to enjoy daily all summer long.

Señora 'Spacho and Ms. HalfEmpty during a One-on-One Session @ VaughanTown.  Como se dice "teach my husband how to make this delicious soup?"

Señora ‘Spacho and Ms. HalfEmpty during a One-on-One Session @ VaughanTown. Como se dice, “Teach my husband how to make this delicious soup?”

I made time to sit down and capture her personal recipe. Let me preface this recipe by saying that she strongly urged me to use both Spanish EVOO and Spanish cucumbers whenever possible!

Señora ‘Spacho also stressed that easily making gazpacho requires an extremely expensive Thermomix blender because it’s so powerful that you don’t have to sieve out any vegetable skin or seeds. Sadly, I didn’t even attempt to make her recipe until we bought an expensive (yet more reasonably pricedVitamix blender three years later. We hemmed and hawed about the price of this appliance before finally buying it, but it’s a game changer!

Ms. HalfEmpty loves my version of Señora ‘Spacho’s gazpacho. She even tried to make it herself once…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Days of Fun & Sun in Madrid

After a week in El Barco de Avila, we took the VaughanTown bus back to Madrid for the last few days of our 30/40 World Tour. It was a bittersweet time. On one hand, we were excited to go back home to a life of more than 3 pairs of underwear and the same bed every night. But on the other hand, we were embarking on the last few days of our life of leisure and exploration together. Work? A job? What’s that???

View along Calle Alcalá

The French architecture of Edificio Metrópolis is a focal point along Calle Alcalá near our hotel

Once we got to Madrid, we took the subway to our hotel, but we had no idea the ride would be so exciting. We were joined by a rapper who traveled with his own microphone and speaker to “entertain” us. I think most of the passengers would have paid to make him stop.

Nun outside Retiro Park

Ms. HalfEmpty encounters a nun outside Retiro Park

The pope was about to visit Madrid for World Youth Day, so the city was aflutter in preparation. Workers were erecting stages, screens, speakers, and bleachers in the city. Nuns in habits and volunteers in official t-shirts were a common sight.

During our final few days of touring, we took advantage of the sun and explored outdoor sites in Madrid including Parque del Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Oriente, Plaza de CibelesPlaza de España, and Parque del Oeste.

Headless Man in Retiro Park

This headless man in Retiro Park was one of the best. We saw various inferior imitations throughout the city.

Remember how we talked about street performers in Barcelona? Madrid seemed to be the Mecca of street performers in comparison. We saw several headless men reading newspapers. The first time was a neat sight, but after we saw the same act all over the city, it wasn’t so novel.  Quite a few of them could have used an outside eye to help them look more realistic.

Petrified Street Performers

These guys held the most awkward positions for long periods of time and really looked like clay until you saw the whites of their eyes. Very impressive!

There were street performers who posed as statues with their entire bodies and clothes painted a single color. Some of these guys were just amazing; they were in impossible positions and completely lifeless. You didn’t know they were real until one guy would show the whites of his eyeballs.

Bubbles in Retiro Park

Kids loved the huge bubbles in Retiro Park

Bubbles were another favorite performance art form. Every park, plaza, and monument had a bubble man or woman. The giant bubbles were certainly a winner with the kids.

Of course, musicians staked out their territory throughout Retiro park, as well. The park is beautiful with green spaces, statues, fountains, and waterways. It was filled with people enjoying picnics and exercisers in hot pursuit of fitness. We even saw an inline skating class.

Lobster & Clam Paella

Lobster & clam paella and sangria — delicious!

After a disappointing paella experience in Barcelona, we knew we had to try again before leaving Spain. This time we got recommendations from our VaughanTown friends who lived in Madrid, and scored with lobster and clam paella.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is filled with people

The next day, we ventured to Puerta del Sol, a huge square filled with tourists. Earlier in the summer, it was an occupied tent city. It seems unimaginable since it was already so crowded with tourists and no tents while we visited.

Chocolatería San Ginés

Ms. HalfEmpty dips a churro in chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés

It is also home to the popular Chocolatería San Ginés where patrons dunk churros in chocolate.  After waiting in line, we purchased our chocolate and attempted to find a place to stand along the crowded bar. Fortunately, Mr. HalfFull and I only ordered one cup of chocolate to split. It was so rich, we didn’t even finish it.

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza statues in Plaza de España

After getting fueled with chocolate, we headed to Plaza de España.  The main attraction is a statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; everyone wants their photo with this duo.  But the park is also full of statues of other famous Spaniards like Cervantes.

Egyptian Temple

Egyptian Temple in Parque del Oest

Our final destination of the day was Parque del Oeste where we saw an Egyptian Temple.  I’ve been to Egypt, but didn’t expect to see such a sight in Spain!

Go-kart ran out of gas/electricity

Not a good day for the guy pushing the go-kart that ran out of gas/electricity!

On our way back to the hotel, as we thought about our tired legs, we felt like we were running out of fuel.  But we weren’t the only ones…there was a man pushing a go-kart down the street.

Gin Bar

Massive drinks at Gin Bar.  I know it doesn’t look massive in this photo, but it’s all perspective.  You’ll have to trust me.

On our final night in Madrid, we met the VaughanTown program director for drinks out on the town.  Apparently, she is an avid gin drinker, so we all met at Gin Bar.

XXX Café

For some reason (perhaps the drinks???) Ms. HalfEmpty ended up in sunglasses at XXX Café

The drinks were massive and I only planned on having one, but of course the program director bought another round!  Then she suggested we move to a bar down the street — XXX Café.  Woah!  I certainly didn’t need any more drinks, but when in Spain…

When we arrived at XXX Café, we were the only patrons.  Perhaps it was too early for Spaniard night owls.  We sat in the window and could see a few passers-by check out the scene inside.  The program director informed us that it’s a gay bar, so perhaps we scared all the regulars away!

End of Night

Ms. HalfEmpty collapses on the hotel bed after a night of drinking

By the time we got back to our hotel, I was certainly feeling the effects of the alcohol.  Plus I knew I had a flight back to reality the next morning.  A rough transition lay ahead…

 

 

 

  • Do you start thinking about going back to work toward the end of your trip?
  • Is it better to give money to a performer to satisfy his monetary needs for the day in hopes that he will stop, or does this encourage further “entertainment?”
  • What beautiful or intriguing sites have you seen (or do you hope to see) in Madrid?
  • Is drinking the night before your flight a good way to cap off the trip or a recipe for a painful ending?
Cibeles Palace

Cibeles Palace (now City Hall)

Royal Palace

Royal Palace of Madrid in Plaza de Oriente

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metropolis Building

Metropolis Building at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía

Royal Palace

Manicured gardens and statues surround the Royal Palace

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Exposing Ourselves to Spaniards!

Mr. HalfFull and I participated in VaughanTown (an English immersion program for Spanish business people) as English-speaking volunteers.  And boy did we speak!  It was a heck of a lot of talking for an introvert like myself, but even Mr. HalfFull’s extroverted social battery was happily drained by the end of our week.

When we applied for VaughanTown as we were planning our 30/40 World Tour, we were excited at the prospect of cultural exchange with Spaniards.  After traveling for an extended period of time, all the churches, monuments, and town squares start to blend together.  What you really want is the human story and the insider’s perspective.

As a tourist, it’s hard to meet natives; you don’t travel in the same circles.  But even if you did happen to meet each other, how would you start a deep and meaningful conversation?  It’s unlikely to happen, so VaughanTown is a great way to capture real Spaniards and make them talk to us!

Meals

VaughanTown final dinner

Our final dinner at VaughanTown was served on a long banquet table instead of the 4-6 person tables for normal meals

Each day at VaughanTown, we were required to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in groups of 4 or 6 with even numbers of Spaniards and Anglos to keep the conversation going.  Lunch and dinner were always full service meals at the 4-star hotel with an abundance of wine.

One-On-One Sessions

One-on-One Session

Mr. HalfFull in a One-on-One Session on the hotel steps

But the majority of our time was spent in One-On-One Sessions with one Anglo and one Spaniard.  Anglos were given an idiom to explain to the Spaniard, but aside from that we were just supposed to talk about anything for 50 minutes.  As you can imagine from normal life, this can be easy or excruciating depending on the person.

Gredos Lobby

Ms. HalfEmpty waits in the hotel lobby for her One-On-One partner

I learned a lot about the lives of these Spaniards from the personal to the cultural.  I even got to ask my burning questions about Spanish life.  I was supremely disappointed to find out that most working Spaniards do not take a siesta in modern life.

My favorite part of Spanish life was just shattered!  But the Spaniards explained that it’s not really practical to drive home for lunch and siesta if you have a long commute.  It just extends the day, and they would rather finish their workday earlier.  Makes sense, but still disappointing.

Walking Back to Gredos

Ms. HalfEmpty walking back to the hotel

Remember when I said we did a lot of talking?  There was also a lot of walking.  The grounds around the hotel were beautiful, so we would often walk and chat for our session.

The closest town, El Barco de Ávila, was cleverly located a 25-minute walk away from the hotel.  So just as you approached the edge of town (with all the Spanish speakers), it was time to return to the English enclave at the hotel.

Sleeping

Ms. HalfEmpty in her room during a free session

After a 10 minute break, it was time to move to your next One-On-One Session.  Sometimes, there were more Anglos than Spaniards and we would get a session of free time.  My introverted self loved these breaks.  I often used them for another siesta, in addition to the one after lunch.

El Barco de Ávila

Mr. HalfFull was able to game his way into town.  Some of the Spaniards requested permission to buy fruit during their One-On-One Sessions.  So 2 Spaniard and 2 Anglos (including Mr. HalfFull) spent their session driving to town.

Beers in Town

Mr. HalfFull and the fruit buyers enjoy a surreptitious beer in town

They were supposed to buy fruit and come back to our English oasis.  But instead, they stopped for some beers.  When the program organizer found out, she wasn’t pleased.  But it actually turned out to be a serendipitous occasion.

One Anglo traveled to VaughanTown from India.  His trip ended up taking 3 days, so he missed the group bus from Madrid.  He had to find his own transportation to the nearby town, but never made it to the hotel.  Apparently, the program sent a taxi to town to pick him up, but they missed each other.

Hides

Animal hides hanging from a balcony in town

So what is a weary traveler to do?  Grab a beer, of course!

Church

Look Mom, I tried to go to church, but they wouldn’t let me in!

Somehow Mr. HalfFull heard the Indian man speaking English in the bar and had a feeling it was the missing Anglo from VaughanTown.  Mr. HalfFull introduced himself and bear hugs ensued!  The Indian traveler was so relieved to be rescued by VaughanTown comrades.

Aqueduct

Aqueduct in El Barco de Ávila

The rest of us got to town later in the week on a group outing.  We all walked to town on perhaps the hottest day during at the sun’s peak!

El Barco de Ávila is a quaint village with Roman and Arab influences.  It contains a small aqueduct, a castle, chapels, and even an old prison.  It was fun to finally enter the town we had been walking toward and peering at from afar all week.

Entertainment

Mr. HalfFull Plays a Bull

Mr. HalfFull in his role as El Torro!

Sometimes, instead of One-On-One Sessions, you would be pulled into a group to prepare entertainment — a skit, dance, etc.  Mr. HalfFull often got roped into these.

Skit

The bull fighter, Carrie, and Lady Gaga dance as Darth Vader watches. This is high art, people!

In his first performance, he was a bull.  He really took this role to heart.  He tore through the space running into chairs.  He even knocked over a floor lamp, that I was able to catch from my seat.  The other characters from his skit were Carrie from Sex & the City, Lady Gaga, Darth Vader, the famous Spanish bull fighter Enrique Ponce, and Big Bird.  Hilarity ensued.

Bollywood Dance

Mr. HalfFull and his fellow Bollywood dancers perform “Jai Ho”

Mr. HalfFull also started his training as a Bollywood dancer at VaughanTown.  If you know Mr. HalfFull, you know that he believes that nothing good can come from a man dancing past age 25 (unless it’s his wedding).  So you can imagine my surprise when he danced to “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.

Teaching Lindy Hop

Ms. HalfEmpty teaches Lindy Hop

My contribution to the entertainment was to teach Lindy Hop, the original swing dance from the late 1930s.  I taught Lindy-style Charleston to the group and ended with a mini-performance.

Queimada

Mr. MC brews queimada in an elaborate ceremony

On our final night, Mr. MC brewed queimada for the group in the Galician tradition.  The base of this concoction is aguardente, a spirit with high alcohol content, that burns to a fiery blue. While Mr. MC was preparing the punch, others read a spell to confer special powers to the queimada and those drinking it.  It was a rather spooky affair.

Queimada Taste

Ms. HalfEmpty is not a fan of queimada

When I saw that the queimada was flavored with coffee, I was quite excited to try it!  But it was terrible.  I couldn’t even finish my little cup.

The Experience

By the end of the week, I was worn out!  But I am glad that I had the chance to get to know all sorts of Spaniards from recent college graduates to medical doctors and government workers.  Plus, I also got a chance to get out of the city, see a bit of the idyllic country-side, make some personal connections, and even learn about my namesake for free.

 

  • How do you meet natives while traveling?  Do you enjoy making deeper connections?
  • Have you ever found your limit on interaction?
  • What ridiculous characters have you played?
  • If you went to a place like VaughanTown, what talent would you share?

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Happening Upon My Namesake

Four Posts panorama

After our one day layover in Madrid, it was time to take a 3 hour bus trip west to VaughanTown. You won’t find VaughanTown on a map because it’s not actually a town.  In fact, it’s in 5 different towns.  Our VaughanTown was outside the village of El Barco de Ávila.

VaughanTown is an English immersion program for Spaniards.  As native English speakers, our job was to help the Spaniards gain confidence in their ability to communicate in English by exposing them to a wealth of speech and accents (including American, British, Indian, and Australian in our group).  The Spaniards pay for the program individually or through their companies, and the Anglos, like us, are volunteers who are compensated with free meals and a free stay at a 4-star luxury hotel.

Bus to VaughanTown

Anglos and Spaniards on the chartered bus to VaughanTown. Some are getting their last few moments of sleep, and others are already chatting away.

Before we could start our little English haven in the middle of Spain, we had to get out of the city and away from all the Spanish speakers.  Most of the participants took the chartered bus from Madrid with us to the middle of nowhere.  But along the way, we made one stop outside the town of my namesake.

Before our 30/40 World Tour, I didn’t even know why my parents picked my name.  But when my mom heard that we would be in Ávila, she shared this with me:

Ending the 30/40 World Tour in Spain is more than just a wonderful place to visit before heading home, but it is also a symbol of being on the edge between the east and the west.  The Greeks called Italy Hesperia or “land of the setting sun” and referred to Spain, still further west, as Hesperia ultima.

Spain is the place from where Columbus changed the understanding of where the world does not end, going from the known world to discover the new world. It is a place where Miguel de Cervantes created a fascinating hero with Don Quixote, the dreamer chasing the windmills. It is a place where you can hear amazing guitar tunes (La Tuna, Segovia, Sarasate, and Albeniz) and see flamenco dancing. While each region in Spain is unique in food, scenery and history, all Spaniards share a love for living life to its fullest with time for siesta and time for workkeeping soul and body well balanced.

highway exit to Ávila

The bus made one stop outside Ávila on the way to Gredos

More amazing, is that the last landing of the heroine’s journeyis not only in Spain but also in Ávila, the city of the famous Teresa of Ávila. While it is a coincidence and not a pre-meditated plan of Ms. HalfEmpty and Mr. HalfFull, it is a potential revelation for the couple, but especially for Ms. Half Empty.

In fact, there is a strong resemblance between our heroine and the famous saint of Spain who was constantly in search of perfection, while at the same time she challenged many of the existing social norms for women in the 16th Century. One of her most famous books, The Way of Perfection, describes her experiences in prayer which ultimately culminates in rapture.

St. Teresa of Ávila painting

1827 painting of St. Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard

The secret as Teresa explained in prayer is that it does not matter as much to think as to love.  Loving in the first place is allowing oneself to be loved. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift…”  Hopefully, our heroine will discover this on her quest.  It is not about righteousness in perfection, but about letting go to find oneself.

St. Teresa was a trailblazer, a reformer, a Doctor of the Church, and a very smart woman. She was a fascinating señora like our heroine. She liked adventure at an early age; she even ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. She was beautiful and atypical of women of her time by making the most of her intellect and challenging the men of her time. She had a mind of her own, which she manifested as a mystic, writer, teacher of meditation, and founder of the Carmelites. Her work became classic text in Christian spirituality, mysticism, and Spanish Renaissance literature.

Four Posts

Ms. HalfEmpty at the Four Posts, which overlooks the walled city of Ávila in the background.  This shrine marks the place where St. Teresa’s uncle stopped her from running off with her brother to seek martyrdom in battle with the Moors.

Our heroine’s last landing is truly fitting before crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming home to hit the road running and engage in a life of love.

Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos

Our four-star accommodation during VaughanTown — Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos.  Our room was on the top floor with one of those windows peeking out of the roof.

Woah, no pressure Mom!  Those are some big expectations.  But I do still love Mr. HalfFull (even after spending 24 hours a day with him for 10 weeks), so maybe that’s a good start on the life of love.

At the end of our bus journey, we reached Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos, which sits on 15 acres of land in view of the Gredos mountain range.  The location was beautiful and secluded — a 30-minute walk from town.  This would be our home for the next 5 days, during which we would spend 16 hours a day speaking English to Spaniards.

  • Who is your namesake?
  • Have you found a life of love?
  • Have you ever participated in a program like VaughanTown?

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One Day Layover in Madrid with my “Dog”

We arrived in Madrid early in the morning after our overnight train adventure.  Officially, our hotel check-in was at noon (which is pretty common elsewhere in the world, but is usually 3 PM in the US).  But we were so tired after missing a night of sleep that we hoped they would have a room ready for us when we arrived.

They did!  We enjoyed glorious slumber in a fully reclined position (including our feet) with clean sheets, an abundance of pillows, space to spare, and silence.  Beds are so wonderful after trying to sleep in a full train compartment.

Laundry

On this leg of the 30/40 World Tour, we only had a day in Madrid before joining VaughanTown early the next morning.  The program organizers told us that laundry service would be very expensive at the hotel in Gredos, so laundry was one of our priorities. With 3 pairs of underwear, laundry was a consistent concern on our 10-week trip.

We asked at our hotel in Madrid; they didn’t have weekend laundry service.  We wouldn’t have gotten our clothes back until Monday, but were leaving on Sunday.  So we scoured the internet for local laundromats and wrote down the addresses.

We had 3 laundromats on our list.  Surely, one of them would be open.

Lavanderia in Madrid

Closed lavanderia disappoints Ms. HalfEmpty

The first one no longer existed.  We walked up and down the block, but it was long gone.  The second laundromat was still in existence…yay!  But it was closed for the entire month of August…boo!

Isn’t it amazing that much of Spain takes the entire month off?  Plus, they get siestas when they are working!  I think I need to move.

We still had one final laundromat opportunity.  The third time’s the charm, right?  As we approached the third establishment, it looked open.  Our excitement started to build when we saw people inside!

If you remember our laundry experience in New Caledonia, speaking the native language was rather important in a laundromat.  The same was true in Spain.  Between bumbling our way through Spanish (difficult) and reading the signs on the wall (much easier), we learned that they were getting ready to close and were also closed on Sundays.  So once again we wouldn’t get our laundry back until Monday; by then we’d be long gone.  Super bummer!

So we ended up taking our dirty laundry to VaughanTown and planned to do some sink washing.  Apparently, there are many people who are not able to bring clean laundry to VaughanTown despite the warnings, so there was a special announcement about laundry when we arrived.

Before we were even allowed to check into our rooms, Mr. MC gathered the group in the meeting room to go over a list of rules.  Mr. MC was a young humorous Brit, so don’t think it was a long boring lecture.  There were definitely lots of laughs.

One rule concerned laundry:  we were not allowed to do laundry in the bathtub and turn on the jets.  Hahahaha!  A DIY washing machine with agitator!

I know that rules only exist because it happened before.  So I asked Mr. MC about this afterward, and learned that pair of underwear got clogged in a jet during a past session.  How embarrassing is that?  I wonder if the person reported the broken jets or if the hotel staff found the rogue underwear after check-out.

Lunch

Our short trip in Madrid (this time — we’ll have more for you after the VaughanTown posts, Tracy) wasn’t a total bust.  One of my dear friends from home introduced me to her friends from Kansas City who now live outside Madrid.  Mr. and Mrs. Missionary met us for lunch at El Museo del Jamón.

El Museo del Jamón

Mr. HalfFull with Mr. & Mrs. Missionary at Museo del Jamón

As we learned in Barcelona, Mr. HalfFull is unable to resist hanging legs of meat.  I think they make him feel like a manly hunter.  So how could he resist a restaurant called The MUSEUM of Ham???  A museum where you could eat the exhibits!

He was irrationally excited.  In fact, I think he picked our hotel because of it’s proximity to El Museo del Jamón.  Plus, Mr. & Mrs. Missionary didn’t object, so the location was decided.

I’m not sure if Mr. HalfFull realized El Museo del Jamón wasn’t really a museum or that it was a chain restaurant.  But it was inexpensive and the tapas weren’t bad.

The company was great.  We learned that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary had just come from the protests in Puerta del Sol.  As part of the 15-M Movement (because it began on May 15, 2011), young Spaniards occupied the square to protest high unemployment and the political establishment.  Earlier in the summer, they had erected a tent city like the Occupy movements throughout the world.

Mr. HalfFull and I aren’t religious and we didn’t know that Mr. & Mrs. Missionary were missionaries before we met them.  But we were pleasantly surprised to find that they were not singularly focused proselytizers.  We had great conversations on a range of topics.  I don’t think we discussed religion at all.

¿Cómo se dice “Dog?”

Perros No

Mr. HalfFull pretends to tinkle by the “Perros No” sign

I often call Mr. HalfFull Dog (or Dogg, Dawg, etc.).  I’m quite bad with names, but I don’t think I started calling him that until we were married.  So I doubt it was a name placeholder (like the way my dad calls all 4 of his children “Baby” because he can’t remember our names).  I think Dog was in the media at the time and it just stuck.

So in the French-speaking countries on the 30/40 World Tour, like New Caledonia and Mauritius, I would call him Chien.  Of course, in Spain I had to call him Perro (and practice my rolling Rs).

Walking back to our hotel in Madrid, I saw the perfect sign.  It read “Perros No.”  So of course, I had to have my dog pose with it.

Anglos

Eurobuilding 2

Ms. HalfEmpty @ Eurobuilding 2

Our final activity in Madrid before heading off to VaughanTown, was to meet the other VaughanTown volunteers (aka Anglos) at a tapas reception the night before our departure.  Free food and drinks are always a great way to gather a crowd, but this was probably a brilliant idea to make sure everyone could find Eurobuilding 2 and not be late for the early bus departure.

I was surprised to find that many Anglos knew each other and had already been to VaughanTown.  Many of them were expats from the UK and US living in Spain, mostly as English tutors/teachers.

It seemed like an interesting mix of people.  We were nervous and excited about the upcoming week at VaughanTown.

  • When did you most appreciate a bed?
  • Have you ever lost an article of clothing in a laundry attempt?
  • Have you met a friend-of-a-friend abroad?
  • Do you have a silly name for your significant other? 
  • Have you considered living and working abroad?

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Train Ticket Turmoil

Our first morning in Barcelona was spent in our space-themed hotel room at Barceló Sants.  When we finally emerged at 1 PM, we were famished and opted for the nearest food — the hotel restaurant.

Lunch @ Barcelo Sants

A contented Ms. HalfEmpty prepares to enjoy her 3rd lunch course — dessert and a latte

We were the only patrons and weren’t sure if we were early or late for the lunch hour.  After a few misunderstandings due to our limited non-existent Spanish, we were seated and enjoyed a delicious 3-course lunch.  I think wine was included in our meal (as we later learned is customary with 3-course meals in Spain), and our server was quite shocked when we declined the carafe.  She didn’t know that we were still recovering from Germany.

Since we had gotten up at 1 PM and just finished lunch, it was time for siesta.  When in Spain, do as the Spaniards.  You really can’t get enough sleep!

The main reason for including Spain on the 30/40 World Tour was to attend VaughanTown.  It’s an English immersion program for Spaniards in various locations throughout Spain.  The program (including 4-star-hotel accommodations and meals) is free for native English speakers, who are there to help increase the fluency of Spanish business people.

Before meeting up with the VaughanTown group in Madrid, we planned to spend 4 days in Barcelona.  We figured that it would be easiest and perhaps cheaper to get our train ticket from Barcelona to Madrid while in Spain.  So obtaining those train tickets was on our agenda.  We were staying above the train station, so how hard could it be?

It was so much harder than we ever imagined.  But we had an inflexible schedule at this point and needed those tickets.

Our first attempt was online.  Mr. HalfFull was able to see the various times and prices.  He decided that a slow overnight train was our best option because it was less expensive and would save us on a night at a hotel.  He tried several times to book it online, but our credit card never seemed to go through.

At this point, we weren’t too worried.  We just headed down to the train station to buy tickets at the counter.  We saw one area with about 10 windows where people took numbers and waited to be called.  It seemed rather crowded, so we went to the shorter line on the other side of the station.  After waiting for our turn, we were told that this line was only for same day tickets and we needed to wait in the other line.

Sleeping in Train Station

If you had to spend all day in the train station, you might take a nap too! Never miss a siesta…that’s my motto.

Too bad we just wasted time in line, but no big deal.  We went over to the other line and took a number.  Then we discovered that there were 150 numbers in front of us!  It was already 4 PM and unlikely that all those people would be served by closing time.  Plus, we had sites to see.  We decided to try again via the website from our hotel room in the evening.  Hopefully, the site would work better this time.

Mr. HalfFull was so nervous about us not getting to Madrid on time that he stayed up all night trying to use our credit cards on the website.  He even set an alarm to try at various hours to see if that made a difference.  But the transaction always failed.  (We later learned from comments online that only cards issued in Spain will work.  It would have been nice if the website had that info!)

Worrying is usually reserved for me.  Mr. HalfFull is generally the one who tries to ease me out of my tizzy.  But the roles were reversed!

Barcelona-Sants train station

Efficiency was not the strong suit of the Barcelona-Sants train station, but at least Hotel Barceló Sants was right above it, so we could visit often during our ticket quest.

We finally decided that the only way to ensure that we get tickets and don’t spend all day waiting in the train station was to be in line before the ticket counter opened at 6 AM.  Apparently, a bunch of other people also had this idea.  Fortunately, it wasn’t another 150 people.

With tickets in hand, Mr. HalfFull was finally able to relax.  Travel within Spain is not as easy as you might think.  We’ll tell you the tale of the actual train ride from Barcelona to Madrid in an upcoming post.  For now, let’s just say it was certainly another adventure.

  • Do you make travel plans before leaving home?
  • Have you had difficulty with your home country credit card in a foreign country?
  • Have you experienced a painfully difficult time purchasing tickets abroad?
  • Are you surprised that Mr. HalfFull was losing sleep over our tickets?

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