Real Life On Hold - these are the adventures of California native Travis Emmel, as he takes time off from the rat race to travel and see the world.

Journal Entries

The Bull Never Wins

Saturday, June 30, 2007

This entry is a little behind the times and may be a little've been warned.

I was conflicted about seeing a bull fight in Seville; on the one hand, I had heard the gruesome and inhumane acts that transpired in the ring, on the other hand, I felt like it was a deep-rooted part of the culture and heritage of Spain and was something that I should experience. Cultural curiosity won out and Dave and I headed to the bullring late on a Sunday afternoon.

My anticipation grew as we sat sweating, the warm afternoon sun in our eyes. The dirt in the ring was being hosed down for the evening's event and the crowd was growing restless. Finally, the trumpeters audibly announced the beginning of the first fight. Three picadores entered the ring and 1000 pounds of angry bull soon followed. In the first stage of the fight, these picadores (the matador's assistants) toyed around with the bull, provoking it with their capes and then ducking behind thick wooden walls when the angry beast would get too close. To me, this seemed to be the only "fair" portion of the fight. During the next part, men on horseback entered the ring, carrying with them long lances with blades on the end. It was their job to drive the lances in between the bull's shoulder blades, drawing large amounts of blood and severely weakening the animal. In the third stage, three banderillas were in the ring and, after provoking the bull to charge in their direction, would stab the bull with barbed spears, furthering the bloodletting.

By the time the matador's portion of the fight came around, I found myself really hoping that somehow the bull would get a good shot in. No need to kill the guy, but a slight goring wouldn't hurt - just a little something to even the score. However, given the animal's state, I knew that this was a long shot, at best. Thoroughly exhausted, discombobulated and back glistening with blood, the bull allowed himself to be led around by the flash of the matador's cape, trying in vein to fight back until his ultimate death.

At last, the matador and bull are in front of death's door and the time has come for the former to push the latter across the threshold by driving his sword into the bull's neck, severing its spinal cord and, theoretically, killing the animal instantly. Perhaps it was the inexperience of the matadors fighting that day or some other mitigating factor, but we only witnessed one clean kill in four fights (there are six fights in a match, but I'd seen enough after four and called it a day). Had any PETA members made it this far, the final stage would surely cause them to pass out, for the lifeless carcass of the bull is then dragged around the stadium by a team of horses as the crowd cheers maniacally.

Such was my first bullfight. As much as I tried to understand everything, I still found the whole thing to be unsettling. It makes very little sense to me that the matador receives all of the acclaim, yet by the time he faces the bull, the animal is already half dead; whereas the performers in all of the other stages seemed to be in more danger. And, while I'm sure it's seeped in tradition, much of the fight seems to be gratuitous cruelty. I can't say that I enjoyed the experience overall, I am still glad to have witnessed it on some level and, should I ever find myself watching another fight, I will continue to pull for the bull.

More on bullfighting

We Could Learn Something From The Spanish

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It´s a lazy day in San Sebastian; the rain is pouring down outside the window in our pension as Chris and I take a midday siesta. If Tangier is Europe´s Tijuana, than San Sebastian is its Cancun; and while I have become quite accustomed to viewing cities amidst bad weather, active precipitation and beach cities don´t seem to mix. A typical day here starts around 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning with a light breakfast, lunch is consumed around 2:00 in the afternoon and consists of a smattering of pintxos (the Basque equivalent of tapas) and perhaps a beer or two or some Spanish wine. After a restful siesta, it´s time for dinner (9:00PM) which can either consist of hopping from pintxos bar to pintxos bar or a real sit down meal (San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin stars in Europe). Full of good food, people pour out into the streets and the city becomes alive as everyone crawls the bars, carried on waves of music, laughter and jubilation. For the really adventurous, the clubs start to open their doors at 3:00AM allowing people to party until the sun comes up. They may not be an economic leader or a military powerhouse, but Spanish have figured out how to live a good life.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Dear Crack,
I am writing to let you know that I have made the acquaintance of your confectionery cousin and I am in need of some sort of rehabilitation. Our meeting came at the Confeitaria de Belém on a recent trip to Lisbon where I was accompanied by my friend, Michelle (who may also need help weening). From that first intoxicating bite of creamy goodness, I knew that many more sugary hits would be in order. And, when I found myself inexplicably returning to purchase more after devouring those first two pastéis de nata, I knew I had met my match. But, perhaps the crème de la crème of wake-up calls came the following morning, when I found myself powerless to resist eating not only my lone, saved pastél, but Michelle´s as well.

Forever your sugar slave,

We Call It A Lot Of Work

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I´m trying to check in at my hostal in Barcelona and am forced to wait because the relatively flamboyant man behind the desk is currently on the phone in a very involved conversation. As he finishes, he turns his attention towards me, "[unintelligible Spanish]."

"¿Hablás Inglés?"

"Ah, yes, do you need a room?"

"I have a reservation..." he takes my passport and begins to copy down my information.

"Sorry about the phone, I was talking to do you say in English? uh, not like a wife."

Not sure if he´s referring to his mistress or life partner, I try to play it safe, "you mean your partner?"

"No, like a secret..."

"An affair?"

"Yes! That was my affair calling."

At this point, I´m not really sure what to say, so I just sit there while he finishes the paperwork. Beaming, he hands me the key to my room, "have a good day mister Travis!"


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It has been a long-held stereotype that many Europeans tend to smell because of their irregular bathing habits - I would like to personally debunk that myth. I believe it´s simpler than that, I think there is a EuroFunk that plagues all of the EU. Throughout my travels, I feel as though I have been saddled with a chronic case of BO. Some days, I´m showering two or three times and hours later, I feel like I desperately need another one. If you look closely at some of the pictures of me, you can see the stink lines rising off my body. My American deodorant is no match for this beast. Not helping matters further, the European showers are about the size of a phone booth; god forbid the soap gets dropped because it is irretrievable until the shower is finished. I´ve heard it´s worse in France...

The Taste of Refreshment

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The large droplets beat down in a steady rhythm against the thin black cloth of my umbrella, collect briefly at the back edge and drip onto my full pack. I´m trying to navigate the web of convoluted streets entwined through downtown Lisbon, Portugal in an effort to rendezvous with Michelle at her hotel. Walking seemed like a reasonable choice as I exited the train station given the surplus of time and the map´s illusion of proximity; now, as I finished pacing out the second mile, my ailing feet assure me I have chosen poorly.

I come across a supermarket and duck inside in hopes of quenching my mounting thirst. Arriving at the juice aisle and, not knowing the Portuguese translation, I try to find a carton of orange juice based solely on the pictures printed on the smattering of mixed juice offerings. After looking long and hard, I finally spy a lone glass bottle that contains only pictures of oranges. I pick it up and give it a quick shake, noting that the air bubble trapped inside takes its time in getting to the top of the bottle. Hmm, this juice seems a little thick, must be the full pulp variety.

Back on the street, I undo the bottle´s cap and, anticipating its contained refreshment, take a big sip. Instead of refreshment, a gooey, orange-flavored blob fills my mouth and I realize I have mistakenly purchased orange juice concentrate. Oh well, at least it wasn´t orange-flavored mayonnaise.

Lost in Translation

Thursday, June 14, 2007

When Dave and I had our first meal in Croatia, we were served bread which we then dipped in the olive oil that was already sitting on the table.   Whether or not our state of starvation came into play I can't say, but at the time, it was some of the best olive oil I've ever had.  This set a precedent for the rest of the trip – whenever we sat down to eat, we made it a point to order bread and olive oil.


This continued without incident until Seville.  For breakfast one morning, I had a ham, cheese, tomato and olive oil sandwich at a restaurant that touted the use of a very special olive oil; because it was special, there was a blurb on the menu about it and I took note of the name for olive oil (aceite).   Later, Dave and I were out on a late night tapas run and required our customary bread and oil.  The bread came without any problems, but its cherished mate went missing.   Unable to remember the exact name for olive oil from the morning, I scanned the menu for something that would hopefully jog my memory.  "Ali oli" caught my eye and I pointed it out to Dave who quickly grabbed our waiter – "Es possible, ali oli por favor?"   The waiter nodded and disappeared; moments later, he placed a large brown bowl in front of us containing something that appeared to be akin to potato chip dip and tasted like mayonnaise with some herbs in it.   Having made a special request for this condiment, we felt obligated to eat it and started dipping anything we could into it: bread sticks, bread, potatoes, etc.   A couple days passed before we found out that "ali oli" is a mayonnaise and garlic concoction.

The Moroccan Standoff

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"...We can sit here all day, buddy," Dave assured our Moroccan "tour guide."  This guy has no idea who he´s facing off against; I´m sure the other tourists crack after a few minutes, but we´re talking about David Lee here, I hope his afternoon is open.   Dave and I are in Tangier, Morocco, and have accidentally picked up yet another local who wants to play tour guide in exchange for monetary compensation.  We had just finished visiting the Kasbah and planned to walk over to a bar to grab a drink.  Instead, we were now sitting on a cliff, overlooking the Straight of Gibraltar, in a stand-off with Moristopher who would not leave our side despite Dave´s constant pleas to be left alone and who felt he deserved a few Euros for walking along-side us for a couple hundred yards.  Clearly lacking Dave´s fortitude, I threw the guy a Euro in hopes that he would leave us alone, which worked about as well as throwing chum in the water to get rid of a few sharks.  Eventually, we had to just sit and stare at the water in complete silence for about 45 minutes before we were sans guide.  Tack on another 30 minutes of waiting to be sure that he wasn´t waiting just out of eyesight and we were finally able to go about the rest of our afternoon.  It was the most exhausting peaceful moment I´ve ever had.

A Foreign Diplomat I Was Not

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Today was a bad day in terms of my foreign relations.  Prior to leaving the States, it seemed impossible to have a conversation regarding Europe with anyone without being subjected to repeated warnings to ´be safe´.  Receiving this advice hundreds of times, coupled with additional 1st- and 2nd-hand accounts of people being mugged, robbed or taken advantage of, has left me on heightened alert the entire time I´ve been in Europe (of course, this annoys/amuses David to no end).
Today, I was walking back to the hostel in the middle of the day and was approached by a group of gradeschool children.  One of them had a folder open and started to ask me a question about a paper in the folder; instinctively I tensed up and turned away from them, saying, "no, no gracías" and made my way to the door. 
The second I was inside, I quickly realized how ridiculous I was being and that these innocent kids were in no way going to harm me.  This, of course, left me feeling like quite a jackass given that I blew a perfect opportunity to talk to and interact with some of the local residents.  Further, they probably now have the impression that Americans are rude and neurotic.

Bikes, Dykes and Red Lights

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam: The two gate changes and additional delays don´t seem to faze the middle aged man who sits across from me, decked out in his purple shirt, white pants secured by a wide, black belt that proclaims ´Pure Performance´ in large white letters and is deeply immersed in his porno magazine. I, on the other hand, can barely keep my eyes open having just survived three nights in Amsterdam. Thoughts from this fine city...

The Dutch are quite fond of their coffee, as evidenced by the seemingly endless number of coffeeshops scattered throughout the city.

They take their bar closings very seriously in Amsterdam. The minute the clock strikes one o´clock in the morning, everyone is kicked out the door and the lights are off within 5 minutes. (If people don´t start moving towards the door at closing time, the staff start letting everyone know that they, "don´t intend on staying late that night")

Bikes are very big in the Amsterdam transportation scene. Crossing the street often involved looking for bikes, cars, trains and buses, all in the same road space and coming from all directions. Thankfully, I survived without being impaled by someone´s handlebars.

Our hostel accommodations were pretty good, with one exception. Any time we had to take a shower, we were forced to play ´Beat the Drain´. For some reason, after the first night, the drain in the shower failed to remove water from the shower basin in anything resembling a timely manner, so it became a real challenge to bathe without A) flooding the bathroom floor, or worse, B) flooding the entire room.

Finally, the Dutch are doing amazing things with junk food. This place is a [junk] foodie´s paradise. One night, we decided to just pick up random things from a variety of street shops. Our meal consisted of pomme frittes with ketchup and spicy chile mayonaise sauce, hot dogs that were dressed up like pizza ( i.e. hot dog bun and hot dog as base, then covered with tomato sauce, cheese and choice of toppings), we followed that up with a deep fried waffle that was dipped in chocolate and then a couple hours later, had some falafel. Kuato failed to enjoy the variety of that outing.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007


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Buses: Not Conducive to Sleep

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I've had a few very memorable nights of bad sleep in my life; there was the time I visited a friend up in Berkeley and was forced to sleep on her hardwood floor, with a towel instead of a blanket and no pillow. Or, the time Michael and I went to run my car on the track and arrived at the hotel too late to check into a room so we decided to sleep in the MR2 for the night. Neither experience could be described as 'restful'. I chalked up another really bad night's sleep on the bus from Pula to Split in Croatia. David and I took the 10 hour, overnight bus, figuring that we would just be able to sleep on board and not have to pay for lodging for a night. The bus would stop every 30 minutes or so (or, however long it would take me to fall asleep), the lights would come on and people would bump our chairs on their way on or off the bus. The driver had the radio on some Croatian talk radio show, loud enough for the entire bus to hear. And people's cell phones were going off at all hours. Of course, the real irony is that it was still more comfortable than RyanAir.

My Kuato's Pissed

Saturday, June 02, 2007

I absolutely abhor McDonalds. Having read multiple books (e.g. Fast Food Nation, Don't Eat This Book, and Omnivore's Dilemma) that provide insight into McDonald's questionable food processing motives and techniques, not to mention the total lack of appeal of their food, I refuse to set foot into any their restaurants. In fact, I won't even eat at Chipotle because they spawned from the Evil Empire that is Mickey-D's. Imagine my surprise then when Dave suggested that we get a snack at a McDonald's in Croatia and I found myself willing to pass through the golden arches.

My consolation for agreeing to subject my body to this culinary assult was the hope that the menu contained something that was exclusive to this part of the world in an effort to impart a unique twist to the experience. Once in the door, I was disappointed to find the menu to be very familiar in content (Pulp Fiction fans rejoice, they serve the Royal Cheese in Croatia). Dismayed, I had to settle for the Chicken McNuggets with curry sauce. While I would like to say the experience was enlightening, it was just like any other McMeal - the fries were bland and artificial tasting, the curry sauce tasted like they just mixed a few of the other sauces together and died it yellow, and I left with feelings of nausea. I still feel like there's a Kuato in my stomach trying to punch its way out.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Dave and I spent the first few days in Cambridge with Lianna and Philip who were gracious enough to put us up for a couple nights and to take us around the town. Their place is really nice and probably spoiled us for the rest of the trip. We were also treated to some really good meals in Cambridge, including a homemade dinner the first night we came in, a traditional English breakfast (egg, toast, baked beans, cooked tomato, sausage, bacon and saute'd mushrooms) the next morning and a couple really good meals out (curry and meat-filled pastry).

I also sampled a couple English ales and I've got to say that they didn't really do it for me. I found them to be a bit too bitter for my tastes; additionally, the temperature at which they were served was a little warm (they weren't room temperature, but not ice cold, either).

Lianna walked us around her campus for a bit and the most entertaining part of the tour revolved around the rule that no one is allowed to walk on the grass on the campus (except fellows). They take it so seriously, in fact, that anyone seen walking on the grass is liable to be tackled by security. So, of course, Dave and I took it upon ourselves to see how much we could annoy Lianna by asking a 1000 questions about the grass rule as well as trying to find ways to circumvent the rule (e.g. could you walk on your hands across the grass?). She was not amused.

Our stint in Cambridge ended abruptly with a 4:30AM ride to the airport on Thursday morning. We had a 7:00AM flight to Croatia from the Stanstead airport aboard Europe's equivalent of Southwest. Actually, this airline makes Southwest look like a first class carrier. As everyone boards the plane, there are commercials playing over the loudspeaker. Trying to squeeze into the seats took a lot of finesse as they were so close together that our knees were touching the seat ahead of us once we were finally seated. This little inconvenience also prevents the seats from reclining. There was a problem with the first plane we were on, so after an hour on the tarmac they had us deplane and switch to another plane. This coupled with the fact that they don't seat anyone in the first four rows for weight distribution for take-off and landing, made the airline seem all the more sketchy.

Once airborne, drinks and snacks could be purchased for a nominal fee. A full menu was passed out to everyone on board. We had originally planned to wait until arriving in Croatia to eat, but with the plane snafu I was so hungry that I decided that I had to get something to avoid passing out. I noticed that they had pizza on the menu, so I tried to order that. Instead, I got "We only have ham and cheese sandwiches today."

Eventually, we made it to Croatia, through customs and out of the airport. According to the guidebook that I have, we were supposed to be able to catch a bus into town from a stop just outside the airport. So, packs strapped on our back, we set out for the bus stop. About a mile down the road, there were no signs of said bus stop and we were starting to wonder if we should just head back to the airport. A couple hundred more yards and we turned back. On the walk back, we noticed a guy on the opposite side of the road with a bunch of bags at his feet. Hoping that he might have some idea of where the bus was, we crossed over to talk to him. Fortunately for us, he spoke English; better yet, he also happened to be a resident of the city we were in (Pula). He too was waiting for a bus but changed his mind when he saw that we were walking back to the airport. A few paces into our trek back, we saw a cab coming down the road and decided to just jump in; our newfound friend, Alexander, opted to join us.

The three of us cabbed it back to the bus station in the middle of town and on the entire ride Alexander was able to give us info on the town and places to visit, eat, etc.

***Time's up at the internet cafe, will continue at the next opportunity...**

Copyright 2007, Travis Emmel