Goodbye Cadiz and Hello Granada!

Leaving a place you’ve thoroughly enjoyed is always a bittersweet experience. On the one hand you have the knowledge that the next place will most likely be just as good and may even be better, on the other hand you have to acknowledge the end of a small portion of your adventure.  As I waited for my train on the benches in the photo above I spent time thinking about how much fun I had in Cadiz. The people at the hostel and throughout the city had been wonderful, the food had been some of the best on the trip and time spent near the ocean always leaves me feeling wistful.

Eventually my train arrived and I scooped up my day pack.  Fully laden I made my way to my seat, settled in and prepared for the 2 hour train ride to Dos Hermanas where I had a 2 hour rail layover before catching a train east to Granada.  The view out the train windows was beautiful. It’s truly striking how the hands and presence of man has altered everything you see.  Mile after mile the countryside was covered in a patchwork of beautifully manicured, freshly tilled fields…it feels more like a giant, expansive golf course made of brown and light green hues more than the rural Spanish countryside. It’s amazing to think of the landscape as it must have been thousands of years ago – covered by wild, natural forests, covered with rocks, moss and wild animals.

Dos Hermanas was a fun, albeit fairly industrial, city located about half way between Madrid and Cadiz. With 2 hours to kill I decided to set out into the city and explore a bit instead of sitting around at the train station watching the seconds drag by. With my large backpack on my back and my day pack strapped to my front, I wasn’t eager to walk for too long but did want to explore the city and hopefully a local tapas bar.

From the small square in front of the train station I made my way to the left down a series of quiet avenues which looked as though they probably cater in some capacity to tourists during summer.  After passing a number of closed restaurants and pricey looking tapas bars, I eventually came to the main square with a small beautiful fountain and smaller Spanish cathedral. As I paused to rest I enjoyed architecture that reminded me heavily of Mexico.

Feeling as though I’d traveled about as far afield as I was comfortable doing, I picked a small side street that looked as though it paralleled the way I had come and started back towards the train station.  Within a block I found a small hole in the wall with a large number of locals.  To my delight they had a daily tapas list and hearty special.  Before long I was sitting at the tapas bar with my bags leaning against my legs and a full spread laid out in front of me. A glass of Spanish Alhambra beer by my left hand, a small bowl of albondegas with fresh french fries, a bowl of chunks of torro in albondegas sauce and a pork loin sandwich on my right.  Using the bread that came with it I quickly devoured all 3 plates soaking up the sauces and juice before downing the rest of my beer.  Total cost of the meal?  Just under 5 Euro.

With a full stomach and a large smile on my face I continued to the square in front of the train station where I paused to peruse several stands set up with various Moroccan and Middle Eastern items before making my way back inside and reading for a few minutes. As the time for my train grew closer I began trying to figure out which track my train would be arriving on. Unfortunately, the announcements were all in heavily accented Spanish, my ticket wasn’t marked and the station lacked the normal TV screens displaying the arrival track assigned to incoming trains. I asked a few individuals in broken Spanish and received answers that left me waiting for the train on Platform 1.

Much to my surprise and concern a train arrived at track 2 right at the time my ticket had listed – in a flushed rush I flew down the subterranean steps which led to track 2 and bolted up just in time to try and ask several of the passengers on the now nearly departing train.  As I was about to board another train arrived back on Platform 1 and I realized I must be looking at the wrong train.  With a gulp of air it was back down through the walkway and back up the other side where the security guard I had talked to earlier beckoned for me to hop on the train that had just arrived. Feeling rather dense and generally relieved I hopped on board, hoisted my backpack into the overhead shelf and collapsed into my seat relieved.  Luckily the rest of the trip to Granada was uneventful!

I arrived in Granada sometime after dark. I don’t recall when exactly, though I think it was probably around 8PM. The air was significantly crisper than I had gotten use to in Cadiz but still refreshing.  Bundled up I quickly fished my gloves out of my day pack, took a look at my directions and then *sighed*.  The directions mentioned catching a bus straight out from the train station…unfortunately there wasn’t a bus stop to be found.  In usual form I was without a guide book or map and just scratched my head, paused for a moment, took a deep breath and began walking down the large avenue that stretched up a small hill and connected the train station with a main cross street. By the time I reached the cross street I saw several bus stops and made my way over. After reading the text directions I’d printed out I figured out which side of the street I needed to be on and managed a decent idea of which bus lines to take.

After a 5 minute wait, the bus I needed pulled up.  It was packed to the point that even standing room wasn’t really an option. Not in the mood to get pick-pocketed or accidentally kill someone with my backpack, I elected to wait for the next one. Another 5 minutes passed and running behind schedule, the 7 line showed up.  I asked the somewhat unfriendly bus driver if the bus went to the stop I needed and got a gruff ‘no’.  Apparently, it was his last run.  With two strikes down I was pondering just trying to walk the 4 stops to where I needed to go but without a map or any clue where the bus line might turn I elected to wait and give it one last shot.

Ten minutes later another bus from another route arrived. Luckily, as with the others, this stopped at the stop I needed.  Unlike the others it was nearly empty which made the trip nice and easy.  A 5 minute ride later I was standing on the street corner glancing at my directions.  In short order I found the street I needed and began heading up hill into the winding maze that is the old Moroccan Albayzin. Just as I was starting to get into the warren of small, shoulder-width streets I saw a sign for Oasis Backpackers hostel.  The sign led me down a sequence of streets before eventually dumping me at the hostel’s front door.  Relieved, but with a knot in my stomach, I headed inside.

I hadn’t quite gotten around to booking ahead when I left Cadiz and had arrived in Granada a bit later than anticipated. Tired and a little grumpy from the bus experience I got buzzed in and slightly out of breath asked about availability. The Swedish guy working the front desk was sympathetic but informed me that they were all booked up for the night.  Only slightly put off I asked about the following 2 nights and quickly reserved them with the intention of returning the following day – Oasis had been highly recommended to me by several people, including my buddy Scott Dare who is an Australian I’d met on my previous trip to Europe.  I’d also thoroughly enjoyed Oasis Granada’s sister hostel Oasis Seville and was eager to repeat the experience.

With my following 2 nights booked, I got a map and hostel recommendation for the night from the Swede working the front counter. Eager for a shower and a place to dump my bags I set off into the Albayzin. Unfortunately for me the hostel he had recommended was the Makuto Backpackers Hostel which is a great little hostel but located at the very top of the Albayzin.  By the time I left Oasis it was easily 9:00PM – slightly worried about getting mugged in the maze of small, winding alleyways-that-were-streets I began my ascent.  Legs pumping, out of breat, I followed the directions he had drawn on the rather clunky map he’d given me.  As I made my way up the steep hillside I saw a backpacker walking ahead of me. As I gained on her, I realized she was a traveler and assumed she was looking for the same hostel.  Eager to team up and sympathetic to how she must be feeling as she made her way through the deserted Albayzin at night, I called out to her and quickly asked if she was also seeking the Makuto. After a quick look of alarm she turned, took in my backpack and with a somewhat relieved look on her face introduced herself. She was a Slovenian girl who was biking across Spain.

Together we tackled the rest of the hill and after a few dead ends and wrong turns found the hostel.  The hostel was a great little place with a small bar, hookah tent, kitchen, clean rooms, nice bathrooms and a TV room.  If it had been somewhat busier I probably would have gladly stayed there for the rest of my time in Granada. We both got checked in and then went our separate ways. Tired I elected to settle for a quick shower and the 3rd and last quiet evening of the trip.

I unloaded my bags, made my bed and checked my e-mail before asking the receptionist for a good place nearby to eat. Her recommendation was a small place about a 5 minute walk away that she said was affordable and had great Couscous.

The place was a fun little hole-in-the-wall. Nothing spectacular but it smelled good and I was starving. I took a seat and placed my order.  The owner spoke excellent English…French and Spanish as well.  He made several recommendations which I followed. I failed to check the price as I normally do. 10 minutes later I had the meal (detailed in the video above) steaming in front of me.  Lamb couscous, a delicious broth soup and a soda left me hankering to dive right in. The food was good if somewhat bland but did a wonderful job warming me up.  I finished up, got the bill and after a slight grumble to myself prepared to make my way back to the hostel. Total cost of the meal was about 15 Euro – which compared to the 17 Euro hostel I was staying in left me a bit annoyed with myself.  The Couscous alone had been just over 10 Euro – not exactly the affordable meal I had in mind when she recommended the place.

After a leisurely stroll I found my way back to the hostel. I relaxed, read for a while and then crawled into bed.  It had been a full, but good day.

Tomorrow I’ll head down to the Oasis, get checked in and then set about exploring the city!

Cadiz Part III

Clean, refreshed and ready for a full evening I lazily drifted from my room to the common area after a hearty nap.  There, I checked my e-mail, chatted with the other hostel goers and then decided to set out for a snack.  After a leisurely walk exploring the narrow, winding streets around the hostel I eventually made my way back to my favorite greasy spoon.  Just up the alleyway and around the corner from the hostel…the place was a small bustling tapas restaurant with a large wrap around bar showcasing their various tapas options.  With an old style half door into the kitchen three older gentleman worked the bar in a bustle of commotion.  Taking orders, scooping plates of tapas, pouring beers and joking along with the customers. The place was affordable which, combined with it’s diverse selection of seafood/heavy foods, made for a delightful combination.

During previous visits I’d tried their albondigas, beef stuffed cuttlefish and whole wine steamed cuttlefish.  This time I went for something different:

Always one for an adventure I dove into their escargot. The snails were delicious once you got over their appearance and the the realization that they looked just like the garden snails that had plagued our gardens when I was growing up.  I’ve had escargot a number of times in a variety of countries.  Each time, however, they’ve been prepared in very different ways. This was no exception.  They were cooked in a brothy tomato sauce with slight meat undertones not unlike the sauce the local albondigas was served in. With a glass of local beer, tooth pick, plate of green olives and small loaf of bread, I made quick work of the hearty bowl of snails while relaxing and reflecting on the events of the day.

With my palate wet I made my way back into the city and towards the beach where several of the others had mentioned they might be.  After a brief walk I found the beach and before long had stumbled onto a small group – mostly made up of those temporarily working at the hostel.  There I was quickly welcomed into the group as we all sat on a beautiful sand beach, reclining against the seawall while enjoying a beautiful, warm winter day.

One of the guys had brought a guitar, while one of the girls had brought a bottle of champagne. After the guys tossed a ball around for a bit and the rest of us chatted, we cracked open the bottle of champagne, passing it around as one of the guys played a few guitar licks.

After relaxing and enjoying the beach for a while the sun began to set and we all decided it was time to head back to the hostel.  I made my way back where I caught up with the hostelers I knew, met several new faces, and exchanged a variety of horrible, entertaining, delightful and periodically hysterically offensive stories.

Casa Caracol is one of those delightful hostels that’s small enough and personal enough that the owner can usually be found working, socializing, or generally instigating a good time.   Nick – our patron – was usually somewhere to be found and always had fantastic stories, a smart quip for a silly question or a hearty argument for a good debate.

By 7 we had begun to gather, preparing our various contributions to the Christmas potluck. To my relief and as one might imagine, most of those on the road over Christmas aren’t overly religious. The hostel staff and most of my fellow travelers were no exception. Not a fan or believer myself, I was happy to spend the evening with a crowd who took it for what it was. ..A terrific excuse for good food, a great party and camraderie. As people pulled up youtube music videos for music we sat discussing music, shouting out requests and generally teasing each other for our picks.

I conferred with Aaron – a fellow traveler and chef from New York –  on how best to cook the kilo of small shrimp, potatoes, garlic and peppers I’d picked up. I eventually decided on pan frying them in oil.  As I set to frying the small shrimp whole others created a variety of delicious eats.  There was a huge bowl of curry, a platter of taters, green olives, a large bowl of fruit, deviled eggs, a huge Spanish omlette and other foods I can’t recall…not to mention a multitude of Spanish wines and bottles of beer. Even a few pitchers of mojito mix.The following is a quick walk through in the lead up to the meal:

Before long the periodic nibbling gave way to a full onslaught and within 30 minutes we’d left a devastated table behind, cleaned out most of the food and been reduced to a near food coma. With cigarette smoke heavy in the air we all sat around chatting, breaking periodically for spurts of dancing or wildly re-enacted stories.

As the night carried on (and got progressively more ridiculous) the music got louder, the wine stronger and the stories grew more and more comical.  All set to the backdrop of the seasonally decorated hostel mascot (yes, that’s a donkey doll with a beard and Indian headdress on) and Christmas tree.  I learned various Peruvian card games, cleaned up in a few games of B.S. and learned new and interesting facts about France.

Eventually we elected to set off to one of the local bars – as I recall it was about 2AM or so – but not before we picked up and helped Nick carry a large refrigerator box.  With the box in tow on our heads we made our way through the streets towards the heart of downtown….pausing briefly to gift the box to one of the local homeless men that Nick had befriended. Cardboard box delivered we made our way up a small hill before reaching a number of trendy local clubs.  The mixture of people was engaging and the scene was entertaining. We danced, continued to drink and generally had an amazing time. Sometime around 5:30 we eventually found our way back to the hostel and crawled into bed.

By 1 pm I crawled out of my bunk bed. After taking some flack for snoring heavily I washed up, managed to get my shoes on, ate a quick snack and set out into the city.

The city itself is beautiful in an old, compact, historical sort of way.  I started by wrapping along the peninsula’s coast towards the tip where I’d failed to explore during previous forays. As I passed the main Cathedral I quickly rounded the point and came across the paved walkway that hopped from small searock formation to searock formation as it gently curved out towards the city’s main fortress.  However, before making my way out onto the walkway I paused to take in a spectacular sand carving of a dragon at rest.

After enjoying the artwork for a while I continued out along the walkway as the sandy beaches quickly fell away.  Before long I found myself at the locked doors of the fortress surrounded by a small rocky area just above water level on either side of the raised causeway. To my delight the small waves came crashing in, slowly winding through a series of tunnels under the rocks which had been slowly warn away by the tide’s incessant pummeling. In several places the broken waves came rushing in before eventually crashing against a hollowed-out tunnel which forced the seawater up in a geyserlike fashion.  Always eager for a reason to pause and relax I kicked off my backpack and rested for a while.

Moments like that one are the subtle joys of travel that remind you why life is worth living to its fullest.  After my brief respite and musings I wound my way back down the long walkway before finding another spot too good to pass up.  With beautiful white sand beaches, clear blue waters, beautiful weather and gorgeous, clear blue skies I quickly found myself reclining once more…

A bit sandy but feeling positively amazing I wound along the beach taking in the rest of the old port which now stood vigilant guard over a fishing fleet of small boats. From the beach I set off around the tip of the peninsula before eventually cutting back towards the inland side of the point.  Before long I found myself in a large, beautiful park full of well fed cats, beautifully manicured trees cut in giant cones, amazing spirals and a multitude of other shapes. All decorated with blooming flowers and centered around a small park cafe which was open.  For 4 Euro I snagged a quick soda, 2 chicken skewers and a side of potatoes and then set off through the rest of the park.

After leaving the park I continued along the coast.  As the walls were more protected and no longer faced outwards toward the harsh open ocean, the cement breakwaters were replaced by the city’s old, unadorned defensive wall.  All lined by a beautiful tree-lined walkway and decorated with beautiful wrought iron lamps.

Eventually my path led me back into the beautiful inner city streets.  Paved with cobblestones and lined with lamps the city streets sport an abundance of beautiful painted windows, small flower-laden window sills and countless power lines, wires, and laundry lines stretched across the small gaps between the buildings that the streets create.

Eventually I found my way back to the hostel where I settled in for drinks and the usual evening hostel revelries.  Tomorrow I leave for Grenada.

Eager to see more photos of the places outlined in this post?  View the complete album here!

Cadiz Part II

After the previous night’s sushi and tapas I started the following day with plans to take things easy. The combination of an old injury, hours of walking each day, cobblestone streets and nights full of dancing had done a number on my knee and I needed to rest it.  Still, I was eager to stock up on food and had heard that with Christmas coming the following day all of the markets were closing at 3PM and would remain closed through the following day.

After a slow start to the morning I set out into the warren of old winding streets that zig-zagged across the peninsula crowned by Cadiz .  Map in hand, I slowly made my way down beautiful cobblestone streets, pausing from time to time at small intersections just large enough to fit a single pedestrian and car through at once. One might think that with tiny winding streets barely large enough for a compact car, and buildings hundreds of years old, that European cities would be dirty.  While some are, most are incredibly clean. Cadiz is no exception.  Its carefully laid streets are washed on a regular – perhaps even daily – basis leaving clean walking paths devoid of most litter and unmarred by so much as a single weed.

I struggled to internalize the scale of the map as I plotted out my route to the large outdoor market.  I eventually bumped into the ocean.  The day was gorgeous with calm waves gently caressing the large square cement breakwater.  As I traced my way along the ocean I enjoyed the fresh sea scent and gentle crispness to the air.  Before long I found the side street I needed and made my way down a wide, albeit random, set of  stairs which dumped in to a small alleyway being used as a parking area for several compacts.  As is somewhat common in the back streets and side alleys in Europe, the whole area smelled of urine.  Eager to avoid stopping and smelling the roses I quickly made my way back into the internal mix of streets and before long found Cadiz’s old outdoor market.

The original building which looked to be quite old was being renovated. In what I assume was originally a square in front of it, an expansive portable tent had been set up.  As I rounded the side of the old market and prepared to enter the temporary tent, I passed by the following street vendor with a small table set up loaded with a healthy mound of raw sea urchins.  The fisherman had halved urchins sitting out on his table in the same way super markets often display their melons. In retrospect I probably should have stopped and sampled one of the urchins, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the texture or taste and as such decided to skip the snack.

The tent was chock full of hundreds of small vendor’s stands offering everything from fresh crab to exotic olives.  I’ve always loved the ocean and the bounty of creatures that come from it.  I guess it’s no surprise then that I also love fish markets and seafood.

One of my favorite things about European markets is the quantity of fresh food displayed.  From beautiful fresh salmon to fish roe, the seafood section of the market was packed with stalls.  If I had to guess I’d say that there were easily 30 stalls with seafood alone.  Located on the coast, Cadiz has fantastic fresh seafood at incredibly reasonable prices. I candidly filmed the following clip from my hip as I walked through the crowded isle.  I apologize for the quality of the video but hope it conveys part of the experience (make sure to select “watch in High Quality”):


Eventually after taking in the sights for a few minutes and checking out the various vendors prices, I remembered that I was there to pick up food for several meals. Before long I’d purchased 1kg of large tiger shrimp for 8 Euro and another kilo of smaller shrimp for 4 Euro. With bags in hand I wound through the stalls to the next row over which had a mixture of meat, vegetables and fish.

After a few more minutes I’d picked up a kilo of delicious, sweet, mandarin oranges for 2 Euro, a clove of garlic, lemons and a bag of potatoes. With my arms and bag loaded down I began my trip home, pausing at a small super market to pick up a 6 pack of beer and a bottle of wine.

Despite slightly overshooting my hostel I easily found my way back. Once back  I separated my goods into bags, labeled them and then either put them in the hostel fridge or one of the small dry goods bins they had available. After getting everything put away I set to making a delicious shrimp and pasta meal for a late lunch which I shared with several of the other guys who were relaxing in the hostel common area.

Stuffed after several bowls of pasta I cleaned up and made my way to my room for a refreshing shower, pleasant nap and a bit of reading (Dad’s The Spirits in the Ruins).

More to come soon – Stay tuned!

Sevilla Part III and Cadiz Part I

After my little adventure in the local dive, I set out once again through the warren of twisting, winding streets.   My destination was south, past the Cathedral and into new territory marked on my map by large stretches of green park spaces.  As I wound through the streets I found it nearly impossible to keep my bearings.  Beyond a vague sense of direction the twisting, dead end nature of the streets left me more than a little confused and disoriented…no small feat. Eventually I found myself dumped out in the Cathedral plaza.  Re-oriented I made my way southeast into the heavily touristy downtown area.  Full of parks, tourists, trams and trinket shops the area was bustling with life.  After a brief break to pick up several mandarin oranges I continued south across a large, beautiful boulevard and into a major park.

Though heavily kissed by winters embrace the park was still sporting several blossoming flowers, an assortment of well-trimmed greens and several ponds.  Though fairly boring in and of itself, the park led me to a rather large beautiful building.  Curious I followed it around until eventually found a side entrance.  Exploring it, I quickly was dumped out into a beautiful plaza and one of Sevilla´s gems. I remembered it from my youth, but my memories were dwarfed by the sheer, real, beauty of the plaza.  Built for a worlds fair that never came to pass due to the outbreak of war in 1929, the Plaza de Espana is an expansive, beautiful piece of architecture that stretches around in slightly over a half circle.  In addition to the building´s structural beauty, it is ringed by a set of benches featuring tiled artwork scenes representing all of the major powers in Spain. The benches are built into one of the walls of the outer building´s first story providing an excellent spot to pause and rest, enjoy the sight of the plaza, and to take in the afternoon sun.  Inside the benches there´s a rather large walkway that wraps around the interior of the semi-circle.  The next layer, in what might be called an architectural onion, is a canal about 20 feet across which rings the square. Though drained, it hardly detracted from the ambiance of the location.  The canal is crossed by a number of arched bridges which provide an almost Venetian feel while the inner most ring is a large cobblestone area ringing a large, beautiful fountain.  With horse drawn carriages making their way around the inner circle, the experience as a whole is delightful.

After pausing in the sun for an hour or so and reading a bit of one of Dad´s books, I made my way back through the city streets before relaxing and refueling at the hostel.  As I relaxed, I bumped into two dutch girls I´d met the day before – Natalie and Linda.  They were about to set off to explore several tapas bars and after a brief exchange, invited me to join.  Out we went once more into the crowded Sevilla streets.  Dodging the astounding abundance of baby strollers and smoking Spaniards, we eventually arrived at a great little tapas bar just up the street. We all placed our orders, I ended up going with anchovies on lettuce hearts, and quail eggs on Spanish ham. A beer, some bread, and a few mouthfuls later we cycled through the usual dialog … where are you from, what do you do, where have you traveled, what´s your history, etc. and before long migrated to the second tapas bar.  A tiny corner construction with virtually no room and the size of most people´s bedrooms.  The place had a high ceiling, with walls heavily decorated with pigs legs, wine bottles, old objects, and the like.  The place was so small that when you turned around, somewhat hidden on a shelf next to the door, they had all of their cleaning supplies bottles and tools stashed away. I ordered a delicious spinach and Spanish salsa tapas, while the girls tried what was a local delicacy – some sort of flavorful paste in a bowl with diced ham on top.

After enjoying the atmosphere for a bit (the place was packed) we made our way out into the street, only to be greeted by a large crowd. The crowd filled a small square and overflowed well into the sidestreets.  Curious what the draw was, and hearing a bit of a ruckus, we made our way over using our height to look over the crowd. We realized that it was part of the pre-Christmas festivities.  This particular one had a giant virgin Mary on a silver dais being transported by 20 or so older Spanish polebearers.  In a centipede-like fashion the statue made it´s way down the street, then up through the double doors to the nearby church which had been thrown open.  The crowd burst out into song, then crowded into the small church behind the statue, before singing more songs.  The statue made its way in, paused, then began its gradual crawl back out.  After watching for a while, we split off from the crowd, made our way back to the hostel and picked up several of the others before setting back out to the bar and club district. There the usual night of hostel revelry and friend-making ensued.


Contrary to my best intentions, I failed to book my first night in the Cadiz hostel ahead of time, or for that matter, print out directions. My plan had been to wake up, walk over to the internet cafe down the street, reserve my spot, print directions, and then make one of the hourly regional trains which traveled between Sevilla and Cadiz. Murphys law prevailed, the internet cafe was closed. I decided to wing it and make the walk to the train station anyhow. Somehow the twisting, turning, Sevilla streets turned me around, causing me to drastically over shoot the rail station.  Before long I found myself staring at the Cathedral once again.  I´m willing to guess that the Cathedral serves as a central point – Sevilla´s Roman Colosseum if you will.  Annoyed, but dedicated to persevering I once again setout  into the spiders web of streets, this time continuing to overshoot the train station and ending up in a very rural, very rugged, and very industrial part of Sevilla well out of the tourist center.  A bit apprehensive about where I was and my safety, I continued to press on, adjusting my course, before eventually finding a street sign at a major intersection that pointed the way to the rail station. Knee killing me, back tired, footsore, but rather relieved I eventually found my way to the station.  The whole trek had taken about an hour and a half, backpack on and all.

Once at the station I had a slight adventure booking my ticket, ending up with with a ticket for a train that departed a full two hours later than I´d have liked. Annoyed, but eager to relax my throbbing leg I made my way outside, sat on the steps in the sun and ate sardines and bread rolls while washing it all down with a spot of water.  I read, napped, and listened to music, before boarding my train and making my way south. The ride was very pretty. Southern Spain is amazing in that most of the territory I´ve seen consists of well-tilled, organized, barren fields stretching over gently sloping hills as far as the eye can see.  Because of the season, most of the fields are just tilled dirt which adds to a beautiful uniform feeling.

When I finally arrived in Cadiz, the weather was much warmer than it had been in Sevilla. The train station was devoid of the tourist info stand I´d hoped for, but I did find a small map in front of the station which was a relief.  The station sits outside the city wall, which is raised and leaves one feeling like you´ve reached a beat up dead end, with an imposing castle wall stretching up before you in either direction.  After following the wall for a few hundred feet, the wall leveled out and I was offered an opportunity to make my way into the city toward the tourist information office marked on the map I´d seen back at the station.  I knew the hostel I wanted was in the heart of the city, but that was about it.  Luckily, I found an internet cafe, paid my 1 euro for a chunk of time, checked the hostel location (which read as booked for that night) and with a lump in my stomach made my way to the spot marked on the map.  When I eventually found the door in a tiny alleyway that was, perhaps, 2 shoulders across I was more than a little stressed to discover a ¨we´ll be back at 18:00″ on the door. With only one real hostel coming up for the town, I decided to wait it out at a wonderful little, bustling tapas bar located just around the corner.

As I settled in and ordered tapas from the display window (they usually stretch the length of the bar, full of pre-cooked tapas waiting to be warmed up and eaten) – I decided to try what looked like a mid-sized stuffed cuddlefish.  As I waited for what ended up being a delicious, tender piece of cuddlefish stuffed with chorizo like meats and sauce, served on french fries and with a side of bread and a beer – I started chatting with two guys who were grabbing a few drinks and watching the Spanish synchronized swimming team on TV.  We joked, commented, and generally sat in awe of the swimmers before one of the guys – who I later learned was the hostel´s owner –  asked if I was waiting to check in.  I told him yes, asked if they had any openings, and to my relief he smiled, shrugged, and said not to worry about it.  They headed back to the hostel, I finished off my cuddlefish and then followed suit.

The hostel – Casa Caracol had a great surf-meets-hostel feeling to it. The common area and first floor is an odd zigzag of space in a rough triangular shape with a table surrounded by benches, kitchen, wood burning fireplace and small open space all sandwiched together. The bedrooms were sandwiched on two oddly shaped floors and topped off by a fun rooftop garden.  The Hostelworld rating for the place had been a 70% with a wide mixture of comments.  Though slightly worried it was going to be a dump when I´d first decided to head to Cadiz, I quickly realized that the place had a fantastic personality to it.  The place was a party hostel.  It was loud, it was super social, the staff were friendly, animated, and a bit ridiculous. The place was clean but in a beach house sort of way.

Before long I´d met the owner Nick, a guy who was in effect the hostel´s social chairman, Rob, Yu-Mi a Japanese girl traveling on her own,  (spelled wrong no doubt), a flavorful Aussie guy – David, an east coaster who was also a professional cook – Aaron and a number of others. In a matter of hours we´d all bonded and after Yu-Mi showed up with the basics for Sushi, she and Aaron decided to expand it to a chip in opportunity.  I shelled in my 4 Euro and before long we were enjoying freshly prepared Sushi.  In addition to the Sushi I stepped next door for another go at what has thus far been my favorite tapas bar in Spain.  This time I ended up with a full sized cuddlefish cooked in a delicious wine sauce and covered in spices and chopped onions.  Stuffed, I returned to the hostel where we settled in for a night of wine, stories, bullshitting and cultural shenanigans.

More to come on Cadiz (which is where I spent Christmas) soon!