Perhaps a pretentious title for this post, because the planned excursion is more of an awesome bus trip through modern Spain and Portugal than a magical odyssey through a mythological ancient landscape, to be retold for generations to come. But "The Saga Begins" is also the title of a Weird Al song I happen to like, so I’m going with it. Welcome, everyone!
I’m sitting here a little less than a week before the trip (Michelle says "4 days 5 hours 21 minutes! *twirls*", but my saga begins a day later). I suppose I should probably introduce myself, as some of the readers of this blog post aren’t going to know me. I’m Myron, and Michelle and I met on a web forum we both participate in a lot. I love traveling, and have done so both on my own and with Contiki. London, Paris and Copenhagen on my own a few years ago (stayed with friends for a week in Copenhagen, which deserves a blog post all to itself), and a tour of Italy with a friend of mine, booked through Contiki, in late 2009. Then I got busy with other things, and haven’t had an international trip since. Michelle, far as I know, has never done the site-seeing/sight-seeing thing, just visited friends. And so she’s all nervous about things, which is kind of cute. I’d happily show up before her so that she’d have someone there on arrival, but part of her nervousness is the solo flight from Australia, which I can’t help her with, plus she wanted two days of pre-trip to recover from the time zone change, and I only have 4 hours of time zone change, so 2 days to recover isn’t necessary. The Insights tour folks will be there on arrival, with a big sign, so that should be OK.
I was initially going to visit her in Australia, but as I haven’t yet met her in person, only communicated over the Internet, a relative I’m close with objected quite vociferously to that on the grounds that it was insane and I would likely be murdered or put in jail as a foreign terrorist, or get AIDS. I countered with statistics on the murder rate in Australia, a review of the mutual basis of both the Canadian and Australian legal systems in British common law and our common cultural heritage, and the fact that I’m not a terrorist and we won’t be having sex. But she was still very worried, the worry didn’t abate despite my sound use of logic and statistics over a period of weeks (drat!), and I don’t like worrying my family. So instead, we’re going on a guided tour of Spain (which is high on my list of places to visit, I had books on it since 2005) with around 30 other people and a tour guide to make sure nobody dies. This should hopefully reassure our families somewhat (I understand Michelle’s family also has concerns…). Personally, I’ve known Michelle for a few years now, so I’m not at all concerned that she will turn out to be a dude. I’m quite cautious actually, but when someone’s personality hangs together while communicating with them quite frequently over a period of years, I think it’s reasonable to eventually conclude you’re getting to know the real person and not a cleverly constructed persona designed to entrap you into going on a fun trip.
And I do think it will be fun. Contiki was a blast, and this is likely to be a lot like it, except possibly with less binge drinking, which I won’t miss. Michelle and I both enjoy food, particularly weird food (although I’m not quite sure what’s with her obsession with chili and lime) so we’re going to eat every odd thing we can find. She has packed a small bag full of medications to deal with the potential gastro-intestinal consequences, but I’ve been food-adventurous all my life and it’s never backfired on me, so I’m not too worried. And there are all kinds of amazing non-food things booked in on this trip too. I’ve never been in a mosque, and I’m going to get to see one of the oldest ones, plus palaces and Roman sites and churches and such. Medieval and earlier churches are amazing. If you haven’t been in one, it’s an experience you should have. And I’m going to get to drink port in Porto. How cool is that? And we’ve both been watching this show, From Spain With Love, by a professional cook turned filmmaker who tours the country and talks about the culinary heritage – so I now know it is possible to make ice cream out of olive oil, and am really looking forward to Spanish hot chocolate, which is allegedly thick enough that you can almost stand up a stick of fried dough in it. Mmm… dough… Combine all of that with getting to share the experience with 30 or so other people from all over the world (I love meeting people from different countries and cultures), and it’s… memorable, to say the least.
To prepare, I’ve read large chunks of a Lonely Planet book, and I tried taking some Spanish courses this past fall, but I’m not sure I got a lot out of it other than "Spanish is a lot like French" and some very basic vocabulary, most of which has faded from my memory and needs to be refreshed. When I was in Italy, I didn’t understand Italian, but I noted that it was also a lot like French (which I am capable of speaking at roughly the level of a 3 year old). One night while I was trying to talk to a Spanish guy on the same tour and an Italian bartender, I switched from English to French, and they both understood roughly what I was saying, better than they would have done if I’d continued trying in English. So I’m planning to muddle through by using Franish as necessary. We’ll see how that goes – I predict many disapproving looks, and a lot of pointing at things and nodding vigorously.
And off we go to Spain and Portugal! Wish us luck!