Saturday, December 5, 200
Hola a Todos,
I had decided the morning of to go to Segovia, so I boarded a train from Chamartin, the north part of the Metro map — if taking a trip somewhere were only as easy as merely pointing it out on the map — and headed to Segovia, pleased that I was accomplishing one of my goals here: seeing another city in Spain. However, I was less pleased with myself that I hadn’t researched the trip, unusual for me, and hoped that everything would work out all right — and it did, sort of.
I could’ve sworn that those who had traveled to Segovia had told me that Segovia was only 45 minutes from Madrid, and the map showed it was only a couple of inches away, so I surmised that they couldn’t have been lying!
However, 45 minutes after I had boarded the train, the ticket collector came by, so I bought a ticket, not having had enough time to get one in the station beforehand. As I was purchasing my ticket, I asked the train ticket collector if Segovia was maybe only a few minutes away at this point, since we had already passed the allotted time and had traveled much more than a couple of inches… Maybe I had misunderstood everybody: Maybe downtown Segovia was 45 minutes away from suburban Segovia. While I have a fantastic sense of humor, I don’t have a fantastic sense of humor about these things, except in retrospect, because I normally have a very good memory and am very good with numbers, even possessing a sometimes advanced ability in math, but right now I have so many other meaningless items stored in my head that I don’t really work hard at doing that. (Music and numbers go together is what people tell me, and even when my classical music professor father was dying of a brain tumor and was garbling his speech, he was still citing statistics correctly. He was very good with numbers and math, my sister majored in math, I got a high score on the GREs in math, etc., so I guess math ability kind of runs in the family.)
But the Mr. Train Ticket Collector responded, “One more hour and 15 minutes” in perfect Spanish — considering he was Spanish. I was figuratively rolling my eyes in the back of my head at myself, wondering how I could’ve gotten the time wrong, except for the fact that I hadn’t done even a speck of research for this trip: I had to live with the fact that I had winged the whole thing. However, before I left, I had noticed that the fast-speed train, the “Ave” (Ah-vay), from Madrid, not the train I was riding, took about an hour, which as I recall is about 15 more minutes than 45, to travel to Segovia, an amount of time that didn’t jive with my traveler friends’ calculations. And I was almost certain that they hadn’t been discussing the fast-speed train with me because they wouldn’t have paid the extra money for it. It was all a mystery.
I sat back down, thinking that this type of mixup went with the territory of being a foreigner, especially one who had done no research, and then decided that it all really didn’t matter: I had no other place to be, no other obligations. It’s not as if I had a husband or a child or a boyfriend or even a cat who needed me to be home at a particular time. “Just enjoy the scenery,” I told myself. When you know you’re not a slacker or even a laid-back person (except in some areas, definitely!) — and you think way too much for your own good — you need to tell yourself these things.
When I first moved to Japan, I was talking to a Japanese person about a Canadian teacher who was in my teacher program and was one of four other teachers who had accompanied me on the plane to Japan and was going to be teaching at the high school with me. I knew when I met him for the first time at the second round of interviews, merely a formality, that he was going to be a pill, but then he seemed to be chummy during orientation, which caused me to doubt my first impression of him. (And I can usually count on my first impressions.) The Japanese woman’s response? “There’s always one [person that wrecks a situation, no matter where you are],” and absolutely the same can be said about the train: I was sitting there peacefully, having just reminded myself that I’d better enjoy the scenery in Spain (after all, I am privileged to be given this opportunity to live and work here, so, by golly, I’d better have some fun) — and a group of people got on the train and, from that point, never shut up. Shouting, talking loudly — kind of like my schoolchildren.
When these types of things happen, I occasionally think, “Hallie, you could go over and ask them about their country” [they weren’t from Spain] “or somehow learn a few words of their language or find out what you have in common with them.” That would be the adult action to take, but all I wanted them to do was shut up. I thought they should’ve at least had the courtesy to read my mind. I was contemplating moving to another train car, but then I knew I’d be exposed to a nonstop cell-phone talker or a couple who couldn’t help sharing their most intimate kisses in front of total strangers. There is always one — or a group.
The ride seemed so long that I kept wondering if by the time I got to Segovia, it would be time for me to return to Madrid. When I finally reached Segovia, I walked through the train station toward a big “You are here” map across the street. Some Italians came up to me and asked me, in broken Spanish, something I couldn’t comprehend, so I wasn’t sure how to respond to them. I mean, even if I could have understood them perfectly, I didn’t know a thing about Segovia, so how much help would I have been? I didn’t know how to direct them since I had just gotten there myself, so I said, in Spanish, “Soy Americana.” (I’m American, which is a sentence I figured would get me off the hook. They’d either think I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, didn’t have vacations that lasted more than 2 weeks, so I traveled through every country in 45 minutes, or was just plain ignorant.) They acknowledged me with a smile and left, maybe thinking, “Yes, that’s right. Americans speak only one language, don’t they? Ha-Ha-Ha!” I was still recovering from the length of the train ride, but I probably could’ve said something to them in Spanish, and lots of times I can respond to people in Spanish, but at the moment, I can’t come up with the words fast enough, and most people don’t have the patience to wait.
I stopped in a bar and ordered a “cafe con leche caliente” and asked the bartender where the tourist office was. It sounded as if it was far away, and it was. As I was walking there, I was wondering if I was missing something, because this part of town didn’t look either cute or beautiful, two adjectives my friends had used to describe this place. A lot of shops were closed, too, and even though it was the middle of a Saturday afternoon, I had heard that a couple of weeks before Christmas, shopkeepers work only in the morning or else close their shop altogether, so I assumed that that must’ve been the case. Surely something would be open, though. Lack of planning aside, I still expected something great to appear on the scene.
I walked what must’ve been 2 miles, silently apologizing to my feet along the way, and came upon a plaza and a much more beautiful section of town — with cute shops, restaurants, an enormous wall, a castle, churches, and everything I had secretly hoped would magically appear. I stopped in at the tourist info center, got a map, went into the castle, and then walked to the places the tourist worker had circled on the map: the places to see in Segovia. A cathedral, a castle, shops, etc. Segovia was beautiful and scenic!
A few hours later, not having bought anything except a bocadillo, I walked all the way back to the train station, knowing I had about an hour before the next train arrived, so I stopped in a bar to enjoy a glass of crianza…for myself and my aching feet. On my left were three Spanish guys who were thinking up ways to talk to me and becoming a little more talkative the more they drank. I was pretty much having none of it for a variety of well-thought-out reasons and decided to busy myself with deleting the bad photos from the dozens of photos I had taken that day while trying to shield my camera screen from my curious new “friends,” who were way too interested in what I was doing.
I walked over to the station, boarded the train, and after about 10 minutes realized that the same group I had traveled to Segovia with had picked the same time and car to return to Madrid. The woman was practically lying on top of the man — along three seats. When you ride public transportation as much as I have in the past 18 years, you are exposed to all kinds of people: the nose-pickers, the nail biters, the kissers, the pushers, the starers, the singers, the cell-phone chatterers, the taking-up-part-of-my-seat riders, the shouters, the attention-getters, the money-askers, the instrumentalists/singers (who then become the money-askers) — and then there’s me, noticing it all, so I can bring it all to you. That’s my job, except if I’m wearing earplugs, studying Spanish, reading a book, or listening to my now-stolen iPod.
So Segovia is a trip I highly recommend, and just remember that you heard it from me: From Madrid’s Chamartin, the ride is about 2 hours…or something like this. I honestly can’t remember anymore: I’m researching my next trip.
International Girl in Spain
Hallie Belt, M.A., English
Blogger, Digital Ad Agency Editor and Proofreader (15 years), English and EFL Faculty Member (15 years), Book Editor, Writer: Speeches, Resumes, LinkedIn Pages