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My final random thoughts on Spain and Rome....
You want to see ballet? Skip the big ticket performance spaces and watch a pedestrian cross a busy intersection in Rome. Rule #1 (actually, it's the only rule): No Fear! (they can smell fear) Walk into the intersection with complete confidence. Assume, like a 2 year old, that you are immortal and cannot be hurt. Watch the bazillion scooters weave around you (and each other) like the finest Russian master dancer. Watch the buses hold the line. Watch the cars challenge you right up the last second and then gracefully swerve in a pas de deux (or pas de 16) with all those scooters. Realize you've made it across the street and no one died. Be amazed.
If you still aren't quite sure it'll work, wait till someone else crosses the street and follow them (especially if it's an old person).
Tapas and the slow eating they encourage in Spain are the best thing to happen to eating since garlic and olive oil.
Never trust a restaurant in Europe (OK, except the British Isles) where everything is in English. They are playing on your insecurity and will almost always serve you lower quality food in exchange for you not having to take any risks with the local language. It's not worth it.
Learn to say "excuse me", "thank you" and "I apologize" in the local language before you leave home. Practice your most winsome smile. Remember to laugh at yourself so everyone else can too. Be willing to communicate in mime if you want to eat. Remember, these people will never see you again!!
Madrid, Barcelona, and Rome were pretty good but the smaller cities were more fun. Like Avis, they try harder because they're #2.
Staying in American-style hotels (Marriott, for example) makes me American-impatient. Staying in some kind of local digs, even upscale digs, makes me think a little more like a local, immerses me more in the local environment. I found my attitude changed depending on where I was staying. The nicer, more upscale, more American the place, the more I expected everyone to cater to me. It was more likely to make me forget that I was a guest in their country. (But I did appreciate the comfort, I will admit!)
I understand the need to warn about pickpockets regularly but it definitely affected my attitude (so, of course, did getting pickpocketed!). I was a little more on edge, clutched my purse a little more tightly, was a little more suspicious of everyone. <sigh> And found (re-found?) my own prejudices against anyone who looked different from me, in a knee-jerk kind of way. <sigh>
I dig art. Since I don't have any "education" in art, since I can't talk about it intelligently, I presume it doesn't do anything for me. Wrong! Beauty affects me whether I know anything about it academically or not. I am one lucky dog to live in Washington DC where most of the museums are free! Somebody should kick me for not taking advantage of that more often. I wish Rich G. had been able to travel with us. I love going to art museums with him. He's such an intelligent observer of art.
I like to draw. I don't do it well, God knows, but I like taking out my little colored pencils and drawing something I see. Often, it's some small piece of something larger -- a corner decoration or a bit of geometric patterning or a single flower. But it helps cement the moment and the place in my memory. I can go back and look at my scribblings and remember the feel, smell, and look of the place.
My favorite combination of travel guides are Lonely Planet + Rick Steves. We aren't quite as backpack-y/party-late as Lonely Planet but we're more backpack-y sleep-cheap than Rick Steves. I love the self-guided walking tours in Rick Steves. I really appreciate the Lonely Planet cheap digs and eats and they have better maps. Lonely Planet does a better job of giving history and cultural background. Rick Steves provides more detail on a given site and is great at distilling the best things to do in a given place. He also tells funnier stories.
We learned we are not "Fodors" people. I'm not saying the LP and RS are the top of the heap. I'm saying they're the best match for us. It's all about finding the travel guide that matches your travelling style best.
We did a great job of staying in one location for 3-5 days and taking advantage of day trips. That's our preferred travelling method these days and it worked out really really well on this trip. It's so nice not to have to pack up every other day and move your stuff.
We bought a first-class rail pass. We didn't need a first class rail pass. Second class on Spanish trains is close enough to first class to not need to pay the extra.
I was expecting Spain and Rome to be more laid-back about schedules and other logistics (translation: late a lot). Everything was on time! The trains left within 2 minutes of the schedule and arrived within 2 minutes of the schedule. I was very impressed. The city buses were just as good (the few times we used them).
My favorite souvenirs are my travelogues. Writing travelogues is how I really give my trip back to myself (if that makes any sense). Thanks for humoring (and even encouraging me!) in this.
I can drink more than I usually permit myself to. I don't drink much at home. In fact, there are people who believe I'm a teetotaler because they've never seen me drink. I'm extremely conservative about alcohol at home because it affects me quickly. But, really, I can enjoy it more than I usually allow myself to, as long as I'm not driving. I really enjoyed splitting a bottle of wine with Jeff, trying all those sangria recipes (!), and getting schnockered on "Valencia Water". It helps that I trust Jeff a lot to take care of me if I've had too much to drink.
I missed my mom more than I probably ever have before. That's a strange experience for me. I have, in my adult life, been pretty independent from my family of origin. But in the last 6 - 9 months I've gotten in the habit of spending a day with my mom a couple of times a month. We usually go to a doctors appointment or two, then have lunch, then do something else for fun or videotape some family history or something like that. I feel like I've gotten to know Mom in a whole new way and I really enjoy it. I'm looking forward to seeing her again next week. She missed me too. :)
I can look girly and it's OK. I can show a little cleavage and the sun won't go dark in the sky. I'm still white-haired and middle-aged and overweight and still can't get a young man to try to pick me up (darn it). But my husband appreciates it and that's nice too. (More men checked me out in Rome than did in Spain, but only marginally so.)
I love dance. I enjoy going dancing too but good, passionate dancing (like flamenco) just plain moves me.
It's great to come home. It's divine to sleep in my own bed, with my own pillows, my own blankets, and my own alarm clock. It so nice to get in a shower and know exactly how to set it to get the temp I want. To know exactly where the shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. are. To have free access to a washer and dryer. To know what's in the fridge and to be free to eat any of it! To know how to use the TV remote control. To be able to spread out. To not have to wear the same clothes three days in a row!
I had a great time, 3 weeks was a good length, I wish I could do that more often, I always wish I could travel more.
The End (till the next trip!)