Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Posted on 9/21/03

I have never had so much trouble getting out of a city as I had in Granada. For some reason every fricking seat on every train, bus and poultry truck was booked on the day that I wanted to leave and I was forced to sit around and take the 11:30PM bus to Alicante which would drop me off at the ghastly hour of 4:30 in the morning. This not only put me in the position of having to sit around homeless all day with my ridiculously large and heavy baggage keeping me from wandering very far, but I would also have to wait it out at the Alicante bus station from 4:30AM until whenever the tourist office opened so I could find accommodations. It was going to be an ugly 20 hours. I had nine hours before my bus departed Granada, so I found a bench in the bus station and got comfortable.

After about 15 minutes of that tedium, I was going crazy with nervous energy. Why didn’t I just leave my bags in a locker you ask? Well, since you asked… I couldn’t leave my luggage in a locker because the Granada bus station has the smallest luggage lockers in the world. I don’t think I could have squashed the Barge into one of those things even if it was empty. I don’t call it the “Barge” for nothing. Finally, out of desperation I decided to take a walk to the relatively nearby ancient Monastery of La Cartuja. According to the map, the trek didn’t look too bad and I thought if I took plenty of breaks I could haul everything with me and not die in the process. Unfortunately, the map didn’t indicate that nearly the entire hike was uphill. The constant rise combined with the obligatory getting slightly lost once or twice, pretty much succeeded in destroying me mentally and physically. The good news was that the walk had killed almost an hour. I had eight more hours to fill. I spent a long time recovering in the Monastery parking lot. My only relief was in the knowledge that it was all downhill back into the city. The effort of towing the Barge up the hill had left both my hands sore and petrified in claw-like positions. Rather than injure myself further, I was tempted to just release the Barge at the top of the hill and walk leisurely in it’s wake as it careened wildly back down into the city, flattening stray cats and truant school children along the way. As usual my conscious got the better of me and I carefully maneuvered the Barge down the hill as I contemplated how I was going to pass the next eight hours. Since I was already nearly half way back to the city center, I decided to be a moron and walk the rest of the way into town, where I could burn up several hours writing e-mails and eventually treat myself an appropriately large dinner to help ease the trauma of the coming night.

You may be asking yourself why I didn’t take a bus during any of this exhausting adventure. Well, there were two reasons. The first was that the Monastery was about half way between the bus station and the city and I didn’t feel like shelling out bus fare twice for the same trip. Second, and more importantly, I had developed such a distaste for dealing with bus drivers by that point that I was more willing to destroy by myself hauling my bags for untold miles rather than deal with another bus driver. Ever since Scotland I had been on a frightening and unshakable run of the rudest and meanest bus drivers on Earth. This included city, inter-city and airport shuttle bus drivers. Personal offences committed against me in that time had included:
· Sadistic, violent driving, often while I was still at the front trying to simultaneously pay and keep the Barge from flying to the back of the bus and killing elderly people
· Closing the door on me while I was attempting to board or get off the bus if they felt I was taking too long
· Refusing to stop and pick me up if there was another bus in the way
· Sitting and arguing with me about the name of a bus stop that I needed to go to, delaying everyone else on the bus in the process (an argument that I won, by the way, when she sheepishly let me off at the stop that she claimed didn’t exist)
· And last but not least, the typical unwillingness to answer even the simplest question (i.e. “Do you pass the train station?”) with anything other than a neutral, incomprehensible grunt.
I had become so tired of this treatment that I was now boarding each bus brandishing a bad attitude and prepared to engage in a battle of wits, nerve and resolve to force the person behind the wheel to perform their job duties.

Dinner was done lazily and excessively to kill time and to guarantee I wouldn’t board the night bus on the verge of starvation as I had on the voyage from Prague to Amsterdam. I ended up spending so much time and money at the restaurant that the waitress bought me my third sangria.

The bus ride was especially hideous. One of the only seven obese Spaniards that I had ever seen sat next to me and she reeked so badly of cigarettes that it actually kept me awake. After four and a half hours of that torture, I was deposited in Alicante. The Alicante bus station had your usual late night/early morning crowd of drunks, homeless people and beady eyed, nervous guys standing around with what looked like giant garment bags stuff with bales of dope. I sat down and forced myself to stay upright and awake as I read a large part of “The Bourne Identity,” by Robert Ludlum, which had so little resemblance to the movie that I might have actually wondered if there were two books with the same name, if Matt Damon’s picture hadn’t been on the front cover. My plan was to tough it out for four hours until the tourist office opened and then find a room where I would treat myself to the longest siesta in Spanish history. Around 7:30AM, the sun started to come up and with the street in front of the bus station illuminated, I happened to take a look out the door and discovered to my annoyance that there was a pension directly across the street. I trudged over and after inquiring about their rates, I checked myself in, showered and lost consciousness on the most uncomfortable bed in Spain.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I forced myself out of the bed. I was groggy, annoyed and not remotely prepared for the exertion needed to stagger through a new city. Passing the Grumpy Leif Test is about as easy as passing a kidney stone, but I soon discovered that Alicante was no ordinary city.

From what I had heard, Alicante was more or less another resort town like Torremolinos, but in addition to the beach and huge hotels, Alicante had character. It was as if someone had taken Granada and Torremolinos, put them into a paint mixer and then left for siesta. Alicante was beautiful. There were quaint parks, charming squares and long, inviting pedestrian malls where locals and tourists alike could walk, mingle and peruse an endless line of blankets and tarps laid out on the ground, displaying pirated CDs and DVDs.

I quickly learned that the best entertainment in town was right on the main beach pedestrian mall. All you had to do was take a seat on one of the benches and wait for a cop car to slowly roll by. There were a half dozen look-outs working on behalf of the back-alley media vendors and when one of these guys gave the panic signal that a cop was approaching, the frenzied riot of 50-some people hastily packing up their shit and scattering in different directions was better than any street performer and the best part was that the hustlers didn’t walk around asking for tips after each performance.


Alicante was small, but not too small. Unlike Torremolinos, there seemed to be a thriving, appealing city that didn’t revolve entirely around tourism and the best was yet to come. As I made my way onto the beach to dip my toes in the ocean, I happened to turn around and was taken completely by surprise by a humungous, medieval castle looming above the city. There was a steep, winding path and stairway that snaked all the way to the peak, begging to be climbed. Although the bottoms of my feet felt like they had been beaten with perforated spanking boards by Catholic nuns, I resolved to make the ascension to see the castle.

Santa Barbara Castle is reputably one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. With traces of it originating from the ninth century, the castle covers the summit and spills down the sides of Mount Benacantil, 500 feet above the city. The Spanish eventually constructed fortifications around the Castle in an effort to rebuffed 700 years worth of invading foreigners and pirates. Having been destroyed and rebuilt during successive attacks and reigns by the Arabs, French and English, the castle was finally disarmed in the late 1800’s and handed over to the city of Alicante. After being excavated and fixed it up, the Castle was opened as a tourist site, along with an adjoining sculpture park in 1962. Like the Alhambra in Granada, I moved around the castle and fortifications while being overwhelmed by all of the history steeped within it’s massive walls. It was the middle of the afternoon and hot as Hell (the real one, not the one in Norway), so other than one small, easily avoidable Spanish tourist group I was the only one stupid enough to be walking around the castle in that heat, keeping my Rube Tour annoyance to a minimum.

I mention it constantly, but these ancient sights almost do more for me than free sangria. Well, let’s call it a tie. Anyway, the root of this fascination is that nothing even remotely this old and historic exists in the States. Yes, the U.S. is a little handicapped in that, other than the Native Americans, we simply haven’t been around long enough to have a history as rich as the Europeans. To make matters worse, we’ve made a habit of constructing buildings so cheaply that anything that has the good fortune of surviving for more than 150 years is roped off and made into a historical monument, whereas the equivalent structure in any European country would be considered relatively new and still subjected to everyday use. It makes you take pause and contemplate the world around us, especially after having ingested a half bottle of red wine.

That evening, with my lingering night bus hangover combined with a liter jug of sangria with dinner, I had nothing left in the tank and was forced to retire early.

The following day was glorious. I had promised myself an easy day after the walking and sleep deprived nightmare of the previous 24 hours, so I treated myself to a whole day on the beach. The weather was perfect and the women were copious and suitably naked. Other than my day at Legoland®, I had somehow gotten through the summer without a serious sunburn. I had tested the waters with my sun stamina in Torremolinos and came away unscathed. Falsely thinking that I was tan enough to be beyond a sunburn, I decided to ignore my common sense and spent the afternoon in the sun with no sunscreen. Just to tempt God further, I hiked up my swimsuit so that my eternally white upper thighs might get some color too. Oh, they got some color all right. Sangria red, just like my face, shoulders and chest. In my defense, being without a time piece, I lost track of time while I was absorbed in the task of scanning my Spanish/English dictionary to re-familiarize myself with the countless vocabulary words that had slipped my mind since my last trip to Spain. I knew I was in trouble the instant that I put on my shirt and headed back to the pension. I could feel the skin tightness that inevitably precedes the color transformation to an over-cooked lobster red. I tried to salvage the situation by lathering myself with aloe lotion as soon as I got to my room, but it was much too late. The worst was of course the part of my legs that had not seen the sun for several years. If I could have gotten away with walking around bottomless, I would have. The slight brushing from the fabric of my shorts against my thighs was enough to make me want to scream and cry like a little girl. I eventually figured out that if I walked around with my hands in my pockets, holding the fabric away from my skin (and looking totally ridiculous), it wouldn’t feel quite so much like someone was ironing my legs on the permanent press setting.

Having taken in Alicante’s main tourist offering and being too scorched to walk down the sunny side of the street much less visit the beach again, in spite of my general love for the city I decided that I had to move on to the next big city up the coast, Valencia.

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