Getting started

I’ve always kept a travel journal whenever I’ve gone overseas, and a collection of journals sits in a square wicker basket in the Ikea 4×4 bookshelf in the study. I have had good intentions of compiling them into a travelogue, but doubt that I will. All the little bits and pieces – tickets, cards and such – dutifully pasted onto the pages, make the journals special to me.

Those journals covered no more than a month or two of travel. This journal will cover a nine month journey. If I stick to keeping it. Once I decide the voice and point of view. And the focus…and the target audience.

October 2013: the beginning of the adventure.

7 October: Tullamarine International Airport. Lucky me! Not only am I checked for explosives (happens every time I travel), my carry-on luggage is searched and my passport doesn’t scan properly.  All this does not put me in a good frame of mind for a long haul flight to Madrid via Dubai.

Emirates makes economy travel as comfortable as one can hope for at the price.  The food is fine (all those lids and packets to keep one busy) and there was plenty of it, there is some space between one’s knees and the seat in front, and the in-flight entertainment  is good. But 22 hours in the air is still 22 hours of confined space and restricted movement.

Diversions included: spotting the pyramids – the urban sprawl of Cairo presses in so close to them (to achieve shots of pyramids with a desert backdrop, the angles must now be carefully considered); crossing the coast of North Africa and seeing small settlements clinging to the Mediterranean shore and pressing in on all sides the vastness of the desert; crossing over the islands of Formentera and Ibiza and shortly afterwards, the coast of Spain.

Having a British passport meant Entry at Madrid International was a breeze. Then having to wait an hour for the luggage to emerge was tedious. But that’s travel for you. Hurry up to wait. Taxi was the travel choice for the last leg of the journey – public transport required three train changes, would take two hours at least and was just too complicated to bother with at such a time.

Whenever I land in a new city, I like to get a sense of place as fast as possible (which way is north is always helpful), but I was too tired to have a sense of where I was. The cab seemed to go around in circles (the following day I realised that was necessary because many of the narrow streets of the centre of Madrid are one way).

Nice cosy apartment in Malasana-Chueca. The driver found the street, but the instructions were confusing as to which portal: was it number 3 or number 6? Couldn’t contact the owner because the phone wasn’t set up for international roaming. Luckily a nearby bar was open and the bartender – a tall, louche young Spaniard and a solidly built older chef – were most helpful, pouring over the Airbnb travel document, as if reading both sides more than once would clarify where the place actually was. They kindly allowed use of their phone to contact the owner. Two cervesas and 40 minutes later Luis arrived and entry was possible.

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To access Piso 5 meant ascending ten flights of stairs. 18 kgs of luggage became much heavier the further one clambered. “Nine days of stair climbing will do wonderful things for fitness levels,” I gasped encouragingly to myself. “Think positively girl. Next time the luggage is handled is on the way down!” The apartment is a lovely little attico in the roof space of a very old building. A clever renovation has created a neat bathroom and compact kitchen built in under the roof. Watch out for the beams in the sloping ceiling. The sleeping area is mezzanine, accessed by ladder. Again, keep an eye on the beams and stay on your knees. A comfortable living area with parquetry flooring and a small dining area to one side completes the space.