The Romance (or not) In Travel

(As previously seen on Writer With a Passport.)

View of Alicante from the Castillo de Santa Barabara.

View of Alicante from the Castillo de Santa Barabara.

I’m a writer and artist living abroad for the summer, experiencing a new culture and language, and developing a routine in order to thrive creatively. Read that first sentence aloud, and it sounds sexier than simply reading it in your mind. But it’s not all romance when traveling abroad, especially when you’re alone.

Today, I woke up before the sunrise–which in Spain, during this time of year, is before 7am. Most people had just arrived home from the night just an hour before that, and I definitely heard them. ALL. Nevertheless, I felt refreshed and ready to start the day.

I made myself cafe con leche and had some croissants with jam and butter while reading articles, slowly waking up. Then I read for an hour or so and took my time getting dressed and putting on makeup. After I finished, it was 11am, and I was ready to go for my daily walk. At this point, I’m sure you’re not so convinced of this “non-romance” I hinted at earlier.

My walk towards the coastline was wonderful. It’s Saturday and EVERYONE is out. Everyone, that is, except for the party-goers of last night, all of whom were probably still sleeping off their hangovers. After walking down one of the main streets, La Rambla, I made it to the coastline, which is where it gets really touristy and, sometimes, annoying.

The vendors, who are mostly African men (and some women), were all out and about, trying to sell their loot: fake designer purses, sunglasses, battery-operated toys, you name it. One began to follow me, speaking in Spanish: “Hola! Mira aqui! Hola, guapa!” I just ignored him, walking away without even looking to the side. When I failed to respond in Spanish, or in any language for that matter, he tried Italian. He finally gave up, and I found a quiet bench that overlooked the port, and sat for a bit while soaking up the sun.

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When I began to walk again, ready to hit up my new favorite cafe for lunch, I got clicked at. Yes, CLICKED at. Perhaps that’s the Spanish mating call? The guy who did it wasn’t bad-looking–at all–but I was so surprised that I continued to walk, without any reaction, while processing this new way of being cat-called. Then I kind of chuckled to myself and carried on about my business.

I made it to the cafe without any further incident, ordered a tortilla espanola with vino blanco, and settled in to read a book while I waited. Honestly, it was bliss. I sat there, uninterrupted, eating my meal and drinking some wine. Then, because I felt like it, I ordered a cafe con leche and continued to read.

Something I really appreciate about the Europeans is that they don’t come and check on you all the time like in America. I cannot fully express how nice it is to eat in peace without having someone come to to check on me every ten minutes: “How’s your food? Can I get you anything else? Is everything okay?”

One of the books I'm currently reading. It's very fascinating and I highly recommend it.

One of the books I’m currently reading. It’s very fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate hospitality, but the Europeans have something right about meals that we Americans fail to understand: meal time is sacred. It’s a time to either socialize with friends, or individually regroup and reflect on the day, etc. Here in Spain, if I want something, I get the server’s attention and ask for it–even the check (la cuenta). It may be alien to those who have never traveled here before, but once you get used to it, it’s really nice. At least, it is for me. (Says the “ambivert” who needs social AND alone time every day.)

Corte Ingles is like Target, JC Penny, the gourmet food section of Whole Foods, and a supermarket all in one.

Corte Ingles is like Target, JC Penny, the gourmet food section of Whole Foods, and a supermarket all in one.

After lunch, I walked back to my apartment (passing a Corte Ingles) and climbed the six flights of stairs–which I’m still getting used to. My building doesn’t have a lift, and I prefer it to be that way. Walking up all those stairs those is definitely not a romantic part of living and traveling abroad. Still…it’s surprising what you get used to when you accept that things are done in a different manner in other parts of the world.

Okay, so perhaps my traveling life thus far has more “romance” than otherwise. I can agree with that. But I also came here, expecting to not be catered to. I mean, I’m not even sure if people know I’m an American, which is fine by me. I force myself to stumble through the language and go out every day–even if it’s just for a walk and coffee. The other night, someone asked me for directions and I was actually able to direct them to the right place. Perhaps I’m blending in better than I thought.

But even when there’s a lack of this romance in the day-to-day of being somewhere else, I look for magic and always find it. I find the magic in the old, dirty windows of my bedroom that let in too much noise. I find it in the bathtub that clogs within 20 seconds of being in the shower. I find it in the broken lamp on my nightstand. I even find it when the Internet is dodgy in the middle of writing a blog post. I feel it, see it, and hear it all around me. And that’s where the romance in travel shows itself to me and I embrace each experience and nuance. So, I smile, remember to be grateful for every minute of my life and look forward to what’s ahead.

Plaza de los Lucero, right by my apartment.

Plaza de los Lucero, right by my apartment.

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