All posts by Aleksei

Gorgeous Sevilla

What are the top tourist attractions in Spain? The conventional answers to this question would be Barcelona, Madrid, perhaps the Canary Islands. After this trip to Spain I changed my mind completely. The most incredible, fascinating, impressive tourist city in Spain must surely be Sevilla. If anyone should ask me for a travel advice in Spain, Sevilla will be my first suggestion from now on. Like a huge birthday cake full of exquisite and varied flavours, it simply explodes with head turning attractions and authentic experiences. Sevilla surpasses all expectation.

So much so that I even have trouble choosing where to start. Let it be the fairytale-like Plaza Espana. This ensemble was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American exhibition and like the Eiffel tower never left – turning instead to a symbol of the city.

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Annual review 2014

Every year at the end of December I complete the Annual Review exercise. I first got an idea for this tremendously useful annual ritual from Chris Guillebeau’s blog. This is the fourth time I’m doing the exercise: I’ve reviewed 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014; the 2012 review was even published on this blog. Below is the (somewhat abridged) review of 2014.

1. The first part of the review is to ask myself these two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well?

What went well in 2014?

Looking back, 2014 was probably the most amazing year of my life. I spent the whole year literally on the road continuing my Round the World trip that I started back in July 2013. During 2014 I visited 29 countries, many of them for the first time. A whole list of incredible experiences happened on the way, of which the most memorable were:

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Despite its small size, the township of Tarifa is widely known. Firstly, although Gibraltar gave its name to the Strait and controls it militarily, the Southern tip of Europe is in fact in Tarifa. Secondly, due to this geographical fact Tarifa faces the open water on both sides – and therefore it is extremely windy. The winds have made Tarifa a veritable Mecca for all sorts of surfers – from wave surfers to windsurfers to kitesurfers. Thirdly, due to the permanent extreme sports community a kind of a mini-Woodstock atmosphere has formed here.

I arrived in Tarifa at the time when the season was winding down, though not the winds. Tarifa stood half-empty, and yet the weather was warm and of course windy. A dreamy mood at the beach:

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Look at Spain and try to imagine the point closest to the ocean. The one point from where you would try to launch a Trans-Atlantic journey. Well, Cádiz would be it. The lower left corner, the one that almost looks achingly (or greedily?) towards the riches of Latin America. This strategic position immediately behind the Pillars of Hercules, as well as its ideal natural harbour, made Cádiz probably the oldest town in Europe. The Phoenicians founded it in the days when the world was still young and no empire had ever set its sights on the European continent.

Cádiz’s location is surreal. Old Cádiz is found on a peninsula connected to the mainland only by a sliver of narrow land. As if a classical ruler had decided in his flight of fancy to build a fairytale city based on a project imagined by a court philosopher. In our days the town no longer fits to the peninsula and has steadily grown towards and onto the mainland.

When Columbus discovered America, the first base where the riches flowed and where they were counted and distributed was Sevilla. Sevilla is the point where the river Guadalquivir loses its navigability, hence that was where the ships had to stop and unload. Later a disaster struck: Guadalquivir silted and the unloading point with all the riches was moved here, to Cádiz, bringing with it an unimaginable wealth. This went on until the fall of the Spanish colonial empire in the beginning of 19th century.

Here in the distance you can see the narrow strip of land that leads towards the mainland (it has the wide sand beach, whereas Old Cádiz only offers a boring and narrow stone beach).

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The more I examined my data, the more inescapable became my conclusion that tourist attractions are an unplanned typology of structure that provides direct access to the modern consciousness or “world view,” that tourist attractions are precisely analogous to the religious symbolism of primitive peoples.

Dean MacCannell

Welcome to Andalusia: Jerez de la Frontera

Spain is surprisingly heterogenous. Compared to Italy, its geography looks more like a single entity, and yet culturally it is more diverse – take for one the fact that so many of its regional languages and dialects remain in active use. (Gastronomically though Italy is the clear champion.) This means you just have to visit different parts of Spain. And I’ve been to quite a few, though I always wanted to spend a bit more time in Andalusia. My brother spent one winter in Granada with his family and I visited them there, but it was a short visit and Andalusia has many other interesting places apart from Granada. Therefore this time I headed South West from Barcelona – and the first stop was Jerez de la Frontera.

Jerez is most famous thanks to sherry, the famous fortified wine that originates here. The very word sherry is a linguistic derivative of Jerez. The wine is rather strong, up to 20 degrees. I was surprised to find the amazing variety of various sherries to be found in any Jerez restaurant. Wikipedia has a wealth of info on all of them, I will say that I liked the sweet varieties the most – such as Pedro Ximenez.
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What brought me to Andorra? Since my childhood days of pouring over maps of faraway countries I’d been fascinated by the European microstates. Classically there had been six of them: Vatican, San Marino, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Andorra. I would never imagine that I would be in a position to visit all six, but here I was with only Andorra left. I’d never gotten there before due to the fact that it seemed somehow difficult to reach. The impression you got from researching the issue on the web was that there were very little transport, if any. There seemed to exist a (rare) bus from Toulouse; from Spain the only departure point was Barcelona but the bus times were equally rare and inconvenient. I can assure that this impression is all wrong; it’s very easy to get from Barcelona to Andorra, and buses run by different companies are frequent and quick. The only issue is how to get the information and it seems that the easiest is to look for a bus on the spot. I did so in Sants railway terminal – the main railway station of Barcelona. Arriving at a random moment during the day, I found a bus departing in about 20 minutes and soon we were already navigating the zig zagged slopes of the Pyrenees.
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On letting go

I’ve been thinking these last days about the importance of letting go.

One thing that caused this reflection was of course the loss my camera in the middle of October. To be fair, on this 500-day 39-country trip I have lost an uncountable number of physical objects. I forgot my fancy eyeglasses in a hotel in Los Angeles. I left my favourite winter jacket in a hostel in Adelaide. My big rolling bag broke several times – the wheels of the first bag broke in Tokyo, I bought a new one in Australia, this one broke in Fiji and Nepal and so I finally I bought a new (current) one in Andorra. I lost t-shirts and shoes and gloves and socks and underwear too many times to remember. I’ve lost or broke headphones at least six times (Bolivia, Chile, USA, Australia, Barcelona, Romania), lost or broke iPhone cables and chargers many times – first time in Peru, which rendered my iPhone inoperable for a month, other times in Nepal, in Armenia, in Italy.
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I’ve always had a complicated relationship with Barcelona. And yet I realise that I keep finding myself here. This year was the sixth time that I came to Barça, not counting comings and goings within each visit. For example this time I did a change here on my way from Girona airport to Andorra, then from Andorra to a plane to Belgrade, and another time on the way from Sardinia – but all of this I consider as one visit.

Barcelona is a middle sized city, but it feels like a huge one. You can’t come here unannounced and expect to find accommodation easily, the way I do most everywhere in the world on my big trip. In terms of hotel availability and prices Barcelona is in the same league with London, Paris and New York, despite the fact that it’s way smaller. For me Barcelona is full of unexpected twists that are no problem if you know about them, but that keep disorienting you if you come here as a visitor. Above all it is counter-intuitive: things are not where you expect them to be and clear information is hard to obtain.
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