The beginning of the end

As I prepared to do just as Nina did and leave Madrid for Paris to begin the journey home, I reflected on our journey together. Sure, I took a slight detour or two, Estapona and Lanzarote – but our paths merged for one last time that final night in Madrid. Prior to leaving Madrid, Nina spoke to the maid, Rosita, about all the places she missed out on visiting. I too am thinking about places I missed out on seeing but more importantly, I am reflecting about all the places I have been. Not just in following Nina’s footsteps on this trip but my whole gap year. I was preparing to return to Paris – back to where it all began.

I took my last paseo from my hostel, up and through the Puerta del Sol towards the Plaza Mayor. I looked around me as I wandered through Sol. The usual buskers, beggars, touts and lottery ticket sellers were there. I remembered Nina’s description of the paseo. She wrote:-

“All the street-sellers are out, and all the beggars. Shabby and dusty, the necktie vendor moves hither and thither offering to the strolling crowd a score or so of silk ties flung loose across his arm. The cake-seller stands against the wall, an uncovered basket at his feet from which passers-by who have no fear of germs may purchase sugared buns or fine little pipes of bread or sponge-cakes smeared with jam and then rolled in coconut. The peanut man, the lottery-ticket man, the cool drinks man, the newsboys are all aboard for the paseo shouting their wares.”

The beggars and the lottery-ticket sellers remain but newsboys and peanut man are long gone, as are the tie-sellers and cake-sellers. Now the street-sellers offer trinkets from north Africa and children’s toys. There are mini trumpets that the children in prams blow loudly as their parents push them through the crowds. There are plastic things that light up brightly when propelled into the air by elastic bands. They don’t last long – after three to four trips up in the air the elastic gives and the children cry. Another plastic gadget changes the sound of a voice when it is spoken through. There are glasses and ears and headbands that light up in flouro-colours. African women walk through the crowds in traditional dress with baskets on their heads. Make eye-contact and the baskets are whipped off to show the wares, hand made leather wrist-straps, elephant and camel key rings, fruit baskets that fold into a bread board shaped like an apple. The statue buskers stand still hoping for a few coins to be thrown to them. Others dress up and charge one or two euros for a photo with them. Sol’s Christmas light and decorations shine brightly and the Christmas tree stands tall and shines brightly in its ever-changing colours. People stop to take their photos in front of the tree – and while all of this is happening, the Madrid crowd surges past at its own pace with its own sound.

I looked around Sol before seeing more of the same in the Plaza Mayor. I moved with apprehension. Not because of the Madrid nightlife or its people but I knew the following morning I would leave for Paris. Paris – it is the beginning of the end. It is the beginning of my trip home. It is the beginning of resuming a normal life at home. This time, home will not be to pick up a few months work in a different city. This time home is back to Sydney. To live, to work, to once again be with family and friends. The apprehension stems from the knowledge that I will have to find work and to start life over again. My optimistic self is telling me it will be ok. The pessimist inside is rolling her eyes and sighing heavily. There is the nine-to-five to get used to again. The crowded public transport, the traffic, the people – yet before all of this, there will be Paris. I reminded myself about Christmas in Paris before one night in London and home on New Year’s Eve. It seems to appropriate to sleep the last night of 2017 in Australia and wake up and begin a new life again in 2018 on its very first day.

When Nina spoke with Rosita before leaving for Paris they listed off places Nina should visit in the future. Reflecting on where I have been, I thought I would make some lists.

Top seven places I visited during 2017 that I had never visited before

  • Seville
  • Granada
  • Lanzarote
  • Sicily
  • Dresden
  • Burgos
  • Naples

Top seven experiences

  • Walking the Camino – this will be number one for life
  • Climbing Mt Etna
  • Boating around the feet of Malta
  • Spending quality time with friends in Melbourne and Victoria
  • Meeting the Italian relatives in Molochio
  • Feeling like a Parisian
  • Driving around Lanzarote (don’t mention the guard rail!)

Worst seven experiences

  • Gibraltar – what a let down.
  • Taxi strike in Madrid
  • Hitting that guard rail with my little red car in Lanzarote
  • Avoiding all the cyclists that train in Lanzarote. I was pleased I avoided them it was just an added anxiety getting past them safely
  • My last dinner in Madrid
  • Loneliness that crept up on me at unexpected times.
  • My break-down on the Camino when the pain got too much

Places to visit or re-visit

  • Sicily
  • Seville
  • Lanzarote
  • The rest of the Canary Islands
  • Bilbao
  • San Sebastián
  • Granada

I guess that means I’ll be travelling to Spain again some day. Preferably not alone.

4 thoughts on “The beginning of the end”

  1. Thank you Gen. I have loved travelling vicariously with you – revisiting much loved places and discovering new ones. May 2018 bring new and wonderful adventures.

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  2. I’ve enjoyed keeping a blog but I’ll soon wind it up.
    Joyeux Noël, Gen. I’m sure that you and Jackie will have a great Christmas together.

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  3. I think you may have left a certain annual report off your ‘seven worst experiences’ list (they’re talking about vicarious trauma on the radio as I write, would you believe?). I’ve really enjoyed your blog and will miss hearing about your adventures. Joyeux Noel (almost a day late) and Bonne Annee and have a safe trip home. All the best, Paula

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